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Explosion In Commercial Building In Canada's Ottawa, 6 Feared Dead
[Ottawa] --- Six people were feared dead after an explosion and subsequent fire at a commercial building in Ottawa, police said on Friday, as authorities searched for missing employees.

Three men were taken to the hospital after the blast Thursday afternoon in the Canadian capital's Nepean area, and authorities were searching for five others who are accounted for, Ottawa police said.

Police said they did not expect to find any survivors in their search for the missing four men and a woman.

One of the men taken to the hospital died due to their injuries, while another remained in serious but stable condition, police said, adding that the third man had been released.
19 Dead In New York's 'Worst' Apartment Fire In Decades. Cause: A Heater
[New York] --- Nine children were among at least 19 people killed and dozens injured when a fire tore through a high-rise apartment building in New York on Sunday in one of America's worst residential fires in recent memory.

New York Fire: The blaze comes just four days after a fire in Philadelphia killed 12 people

At least 200 firefighters responded to the blaze, which broke out just before 11:00 am (1600 GMT) on the second and third floors of a 19-story building in The Bronx.

Witnesses reported seeing trapped residents screaming for help from windows during the deadly inferno that the city's fire chief said had been caused by a portable electric heater, leaving victims on "every floor."

"There were a lot of kids crying, 'Help! Help! Help!'" 38-year-old Dilenny Rodriguez, who escaped with her children, told AFP.
Landslide At Construction Site In China Claims 14 Lives
[Beijing] --- A landslide at a construction site in southwest China's Guizhou province has killed at least 14 people, state media reported Tuesday.

Landslide In China: Rescue crews worked overnight under floodlights at the site.

Workers were reinforcing a hillside when the landslide happened on Monday evening, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Rescuers have found 14 bodies, as well as three injured people, with the cause of the accident "still under investigation", Xinhua reported.

Rescue work is "completed", with the three injured currently in stable condition, Xinhua added.
5 Dead, 21 Injured In Russia Bus Accident
[Moscow] --- Five people died and 21 were injured in a bus accident south of Moscow on Sunday, Russian authorities said.

The Federal Road Traffic Inspection agency said the crash happened at 5:45 am local time (0245 GMT) in the Ryazan region.

"As a result of the accident five people died. Twenty-one were injured," the agency said on Telegram, adding that two of the injured were under-age.

It said the injuries were of "various severity".

The agency published photographs of the badly damaged coach, which hit a pillar under a railway bridge. The front of the bus appeared to be entirely crushed.
1 Dead, 18 Injured During Celebratory Gun Fire On New Year's Eve In Pakistan
[Karachi] --- Celebratory gun-firing on New Year's eve claimed the life of an 11-year-old boy and injured 18 others in Karachi, officials said on Saturday.

The boy, Reza was hit by a stray bullet in Ajmer Nagri on Friday night and succumbed to his wounds at Jinnah Hospital in Karachi, police said.

"Due to the aerial firing, 18 other people were admitted to hospitals with bullet wounds," an official said.
Two Years Of Pandemic: Where Does Covid Go From Here?
[Geneva] --- Two years in, as the now Omicron-fuelled Covid crisis rages, there is still hope the pandemic could begin fading in 2022 -- though experts say gaping vaccine inequalities must be addressed.

It may seem like a far-off reality, as countries impose fresh restrictions to address the fast-spreading new variant and surging cases and a depressing feeling of deja vu sets in.

"We're facing another very hard winter," World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.

But health experts say we are far better equipped now than a year ago to tame the pandemic, with ballooning stocks of safe and largely effective vaccines and new treatments available.

"We have the tools that can bring (the pandemic) to its knees," Maria Van Kerkhove, the top WHO expert on the Covid crisis, told reporters this month.

"We have the power to end it in 2022," she insisted.

But, she added, they must be used correctly.

Glaring inequity

A year after the first vaccines came to market, around 8.5 billion doses have been administered globally.

And the world is on track to produce around 24 billion doses by June -- more than enough for everyone on the planet.

But glaringly unequal vaccine access has meant that as many wealthy nations roll out additional doses to the already vaccinated, vulnerable people and health workers in many poorer nations are still waiting for a first jab.

About 67 percent of people in high-income countries have had at least one vaccine dose, but not even 10 percent in low-income countries have, UN numbers show.

That imbalance, which the WHO has branded a moral outrage, risks deepening further as many countries rush to roll out additional doses to respond to Omicron.

Early data indicates that the heavily-mutated variant, which has made a lightning dash around the globe since it was first detected in southern Africa last month, is more resistant to vaccines than previous strains.

While boosters do seem to push protection levels back up, the WHO insists to end the pandemic, the priority must remain getting first doses to vulnerable people everywhere.


Allowing Covid to spread unabated in some places dramatically increases the chance of new, more dangerous variants emerging, experts warn.

So even as wealthy countries roll out third shots, the world is not safe until everyone has some degree of immunity.

"No country can boost its way out of the pandemic," Tedros said last week.

"Blanket booster programmes are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it."

The emergence of Omicron is evidence of that, WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan told AFP.

"The virus has taken the opportunity to evolve."

Gautam Menon, a physics and biology professor at Ashoka University in India, agreed it was in wealthy countries' best interest to ensure poorer nations also get jabs.

"It would be myopic to assume that just by vaccinating themselves they have gotten rid of the problem."

'Part of the furniture'

Ryan suggested increased vaccination should get us to a point where Covid "settles into a pattern that is less disruptive".

But he warns that if the world fails to address the imbalance in vaccine access, the worst could still lie ahead.

One nightmare scenario envisions the Covid pandemic left to rage out of control amid a steady barrage of new variants, even as a separate strain sparks a parallel pandemic.

Confusion and disinformation would shrink trust in authorities and science, as health systems collapse and political turmoil ensues.

This is one of several "plausible" scenarios, according to Ryan.

"The double-pandemic one is of particular concern, because we have one virus causing a pandemic now, and many others lined up."

But better global vaccine coverage could mean that Covid -- though not likely to fully disappear -- will become a largely controlled endemic disease, with milder seasonal outbreaks that we will learn to live with, like the flu, experts say.

It will basically "become part of the furniture", Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California in Irvine, told AFP.

Overwhelmed hospitals

But we're not yet there.

Experts caution against too much optimism around early indications that Omicron causes less severe disease than previous strains, pointing out that it is spreading so fast it could still overwhelm health systems.

"When you have so many, many infections, even if it is less severe... (hospitals) are going to be very stressed," top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci told NBC News last week.

That is a depressing prospect two years after the virus first surfaced in China.

The scenes of intubated patients in overcrowded hospitals and long lines of people scrambling to find oxygen for loved ones have never ceased.

Images of improvised funeral pyres burning across a Delta-hit India have epitomised the human cost of the pandemic.

Officially, nearly 5.5 million people have died worldwide, although the actual toll is likely several times higher.

All vaccine hesitancy could increase that toll.

In the United States, which remains the worst-affected country with over 800,000 deaths, the constant flow of short obituaries on the FacesOfCovid Twitter account include many who did not have the jab.

"Amanda, a 36-year-old math teacher in Kentucky. Chris, a 34-year-old high school football coach in Kansas. Cherie, a 40-year-old 7th-grade reading teacher in Illinois. All had an impact in their communities," read a recent post.

"All deeply loved. All unvaccinated."
Antibodies Aren't The Only Defence Against Omicron. Here's Why
[Washington] --- In the fight against the coronavirus, one key component of the human immune system has hogged the limelight: antibodies.

These Y-shaped proteins have made top news recently because Covid-19 shots don't produce as many of them that work against the heavily mutated Omicron variant compared to past strains -- at least, not without a booster.

Trained by both vaccines and infection, antibodies grab on to the spike protein that studs the surface of the coronavirus, stopping it from penetrating cells and sickening the host.

But while antibodies are rightly celebrated, they're not the only game in town.

In fact, "there's a complex and coordinated response that is really beautiful from an evolutionary standpoint," Harvard immunologist Roger Shapiro explains.

Here are some key points:

'Carpet Bombers' Of The Innate Immune System

In the minutes and hours after the virus first comes calling, signaling proteins send out alarms to recruit the tough-but-dim brutes of the "innate" immune system.

First to the scene are "neutrophils," which make up 50 to 70 percent of all white cells and are quick to fight, but also to perish.

Others include hungry "macrophages" that snarf down pathogens and spit out key bits to help train their smarter colleagues, menacingly named "Natural Killer" cells and "dendritic" cells that pass on their intel to more elite fighters.

"It's sort of like carpet bombing the whole area and hopefully you damage the invader as much as possible... at the same time calling into the headquarters to get your SEAL units ready to go," said John Wherry, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

B And T cells: Intelligence Officers And Trained Assassins

If the invaders aren't driven off, the "adaptive" immune system comes into play.

A few days into a first infection, "B cells" wise up to the threat and start pumping out antibodies.

Vaccination also trains B cells -- mainly inside lymph nodes in our armpits, near the site of injection -- to be primed and ready.

Shapiro likened them to intelligence operatives, holding vital information about threats.

The most potent kinds of antibodies, known as "neutralizing," are like chewing gum sticking to the business end of a key, stopping it from unlocking a door.

There are other, less heralded antibodies that aren't as sticky as the neutralizing kind -- but still help grab a hold of the virus, dragging it towards immune cells, or calling for help and escalating the overall response.

B cells' key partners are "T cells," which can be broadly split into "helpers" and "killers."

"Killers are like assassins, and they go and attack the cells that have been infected," said Shapiro -- but these assassins also inflict collateral damage for the sake of the greater good.

The helper T cells "are like generals," added Shapiro, marshaling troops, spurring B cells to up their production and directing their lethal counterparts toward the enemy.

Stopping Severe Disease

Because of its heavily mutated spike protein, the Omicron variant may more easily slip by neutralizing antibodies conferred by prior infection or vaccination.

The bad news is this makes people more prone to symptomatic infection. But the good news is that T cells aren't nearly as easily fooled.

T cells have a "periscope" into infected cells, where they can look for the constituent parts of the virus during its replication cycle, said Wherry.

They're much better at recognizing tell-tale signs of foes they've encountered before, even if their clever disguises get them past antibodies.

The killer T cells carry out search-and-destroy missions, poking holes in infected cells, bursting them open, and triggering reactions to bring inflammatory proteins known as "cytokines" to the fight.

Depending on the speed of the response, a vaccinated person with a breakthrough infection might get mild, cold-like symptoms, or moderate, flu-like symptoms -- but the chances of severe disease are drastically reduced.

None of this detracts from the case for boosters, which skyrocket the production of all types of antibodies, and also seem to further train B and T cells.

"Omicron is concerning, but the glass is still half-full -- it's not totally going to evade our responses," Wherry said.
Omicron Can Become Dominant Variant In Europe In 1 Month, EU Chief Warns
[Strasbourg, France] --- EU chief Urusula von der Leyen on Wednesday warned the Omicron variant of Covid-19 could become dominant in Europe next month, but insisted her 27-nation bloc had ample vaccines to fight the virus.

"If you look at the time it takes for new cases to double in number, it seems to be doubling every two or three days. And that's massive. We're told that by mid-January, we should expect Omicron to be the new dominant variant in Europe," von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
Omicron 'Very High' Global Risk, Severity Not Clear Yet: WHO Update
[Geneva] --- The Omicron coronavirus variant, reported in more than 60 countries, poses a "very high" global risk, with some evidence that it evades vaccine protection but clinical data on its severity remain limited, the World Health Organization says.

Considerable uncertainties surround Omicron, first detected last month in South Africa and Hong Kong, whose mutations may lead to higher transmissibility and more cases of COVID-19 disease, the WHO said in a technical brief issued on Sunday.

"The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high for a number of reasons," it said, reiterating its first assessment of Nov. 29.

"And second, preliminary evidence suggests potential humoral immune escape against infection and high transmission rates, which could lead to further surges with severe consequences," the WHO said, referring to the virus' potential ability to evade immunity provided by antibodies.

The WHO cited some preliminary evidence that the number of people getting reinfected with the virus has increased in South Africa.

While preliminary findings from South Africa suggest that Omicron may be less severe than the Delta variant - currently dominant worldwide - and all cases reported in the Europe region have been mild or asymptomatic, it remains unclear to what extent Omicron may be inherently less virulent, it said.

"More data are needed to understand the severity profile," it said.

"Even if the severity is potentially lower than for the Delta variant, it is expected that hospitalisations will increase as a result of increasing transmission. More hospitalizations can put a burden on health systems and lead to more deaths."

Further information was expected in coming weeks, it added, noting the time lag between infections and outcomes.
On Omicron, WHO Shares A New Concern
[Geneva] --- The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday it remained unclear whether additional Covid-19 vaccine doses are needed to protect against the new Omicron variant, and urged wealthy countries to avoid hoarding the jabs.

The UN health agency's vaccine advisors warned that a rush to stockpile more jabs, especially without clear evidence they are needed, would only exacerbate the already glaringly inequal vaccine access around the globe.

"As we head into whatever the Omicron situation is going to be, there is a risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccine to protect (their populations)... in a sense in excess," WHO vaccines chief Kate O'Brien told reporters.

Her comment came after preliminary results published Wednesday indicated that three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine were needed to obtain the same level of protection against Omicron as two doses provided against the initial strain.

O'Brien said the WHO was examining the data, and that it may turn out that "additional doses have benefit to provide added protection against Omicron", but stressed it was still "very early days".

While there was still little evidence that additional doses were needed to protect against developing severe Covid disease, many vulnerable people and health workers in poorer nations have yet to receive a single dose and remain at great risk.
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O'Brien pointed out that the world had only just begun addressing the dangerous inequity in vaccine access in the past two months, with more donated doses and large shipments going to underserved countries.

"We have to make sure that it continues," she said, warning that efforts by wealthy countries to stockpile more jabs for their people would only prolong the pandemic.

"It's not going to work from an epidemiologic perspective, and it's not going to work from a transmission perspective, unless we actually have vaccine going to all countries," she said.

"Where transmission continues... is where the variants are going to come from," she warned, urging "a much more rational global perspective from countries about what's actually going to shut down this pandemic."
France May Need More To Work-From-Home, Says Top Advisor Amid Covid Surge
Coronavirus In France:

France registered 19,778 new cases on Tuesday, the highest 24-hour increase since August 25.
Amid Climate Crisis, Nuclear Power Finally Has 'Seat At Table': UN Agency
[Glasgow] --- For more than two decades, promoters and purveyors of nuclear energy felt shunned at UN climate change conferences.

At the COP26 summit underway in Glasgow, however, they have been welcomed with open arms, the UN's top nuclear regulator told AFP.

The spectre of Chernobyl and Fukushima, along with the enduring problem of nuclear waste, kept energy generated by splitting atoms on the sidelines, even if that energy was virtually carbon free.

But as the climate crisis deepens and the need to transition away from fossil fuels becomes urgent, attitudes may be shifting.

"Nuclear energy is part of the solution to global warming, there's no way around it," said Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in an interview.

It already accounts for a quarter of "clean" -- that is, carbon-free -- energy worldwide, and Grossi said this COP is the first where it has "had a seat at the table".

"The winds are changing."

To have even a 50/50 chance of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels -- the threshold for dangerous tipping points that could trigger runaway warming -- global greenhouse emissions must be slashed by almost half within a decade, scientists say.

But things are still moving in the wrong direction: a report on Thursday said emissions in 2021 are approaching record levels.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned they could hit new heights by 2023.

That is helping refocus attention on nuclear.

"At the 2015 COP in Paris, nuclear wasn't welcome," said Callum Thomas, head of a recruitment firm for the nuclear industry, who was spotted at COP26 sporting a T-shirt saying "Let's Talk Nuclear".

"There was a belief it was not needed. Now many countries are looking at the feasibility, especially with the rise in gas prices."

'Never stops'

From the time he took the IAEA's helm nearly two years ago, Grossi, an Argentine diplomat, has been a tireless advocate for the industry.

At his first COP in Madrid he "went in spite of the general assumption that nuclear would not be welcome".

On the contrary in Glasgow, where nearly 200 countries are still trying to put flesh on the bone of the 2015 Paris Agreement, he said "nuclear is not only welcome, but is generating a lot of interest".

Grossi argues that the technology can not only speed the transition away from fossil fuels, but also power research on technologies needed for adapting to climate impacts, from finding drought-resistant crops to eradicating mosquitos.

He acknowledges that it carries serious risks.

The meltdown of three reactors at Japan's Fukushima power plant in 2011 following an earthquake and a tsunami profoundly shook confidence in nuclear.

The industry also has yet to find a way to dispose of nuclear waste, which remains highly radioactive for thousands of years.

But Grossi said these issues are not disqualifying, arguing that statistically the technology has fewer negative consequences than many other forms of energy.

It could also be a complement to renewables.

"Nuclear energy goes on and on for the entire year, it never stops," he said.

Even so, with prolonged construction times, many argue that it is too late to build enough nuclear capacity to effectively join the battle against global warming.

But Grossi said he thinks part of the answer lies in keeping existing reactors up and running.

100-year-old reactors?

Many power plants designed to run for 40 years are now licensed for 60 years under strict national safety standards supervised by the IAEA, he said.

"What could be more efficient than a facility that you build that gives you energy for close to 100 years?" he said.

He acknowledged that plants running that long might be a "bit of a provocation".

"But it still might be possible."

In their projections on how to limit the rise in global temperatures and satisfy a growing global demand for energy at the same time, the IEA takes all non-carbon sources on board.

The UN's climate science advisory panel, the IPCC, has also given a place to nuclear in its models, even as it says that its deployment "could be limited by social preferences."

Indeed, attitudes towards nuclear power vary sharply across nations.

While New Zealand and Germany are opposed, India is in discussions with French energy giant EDF to build what would be the largest nuclear power plant in the world.

Meanwhile, both Canada and the United States are developing so-called "small modular reactors", although only Russia has put into operation a floating reactor using this technology.

Price is also not the barrier it used to be, said Grossi.

"Countries see in smaller units a very interesting alternative, which is not in the range of billions but of hundreds of millions," he said. "When it comes to energy projects, this is quite affordable."
Over 80 Nations Vow To Cut Methane Emissions By 30% By 2030: EU
[Glasgow] --- More than 80 countries have signed up to a US and EU pledge to slash methane emissions by 30 percent by the end of the decade, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.

Cutting the powerful greenhouse gas by a third from 2020 levels will "immediately slow down climate change", she told the COP26 climate conference.

She said around 30 percent of global warming since the Industrial Revolution is due to methane.

"Today global methane emissions grow faster than at any time in the past," she said adding that reducing methane is one of the most effective ways to reduce near-term warming and keep the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming alive.

"It is the lowest hanging fruit," she said.
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A 48-year-old woman was allegedly sexually harassed by her son's friend in the Bag-Sewania area of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
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Since marrying into Britain's most famous family in 2011, the former Kate Middleton has emerged to become one of the most popular royals -- and a figure central to its future.
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