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COVID-19: New coronavirus variant B.1.1.529 identified in Botswana as scientists play down concerns | World News



A new variant of the coronavirus with a “constellation” of mutations has been identified in Botswana.

Designated as B.1.1.529, scientists are still unclear whether existing antibodies would react well to the variant – which has 32 spike protein mutations.

Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, branded the mutations “really awful”.

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Spike proteins are what viruses use to get into human cells, and some of the vaccines work by training the body to recognise the spikes and neutralise them.

Mutations on the spike can therefore potentially prove problematic for mRNA doses, like Pfizer and Moderna.

However, with only a handful of recorded cases – three in Botswana, six in South Africa and one in Hong Kong from someone who travelled from South Africa – scientists are hopeful that COVID cases caused by the new virus specimen will not be widespread.

Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology at University College London, said: “For the time being, it should be closely monitored and analysed, but there is no reason to get overly concerned, unless it starts going up in frequency in the near future.”

She added that the “constellation” of mutations on B.1.1.529 could be because it “evolved during a chronic infection of an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient”.

It comes amid reports that England may be nearer to the “end” of the pandemic than any other European country.

Scientists reckon that high vaccination and infection rates mean that a high level of immunity is now present.

According to The Times, scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimate that – should all restrictions and vaccinations end immediately – England would have around 10,000 more COVID deaths relative to its population of 56 million.

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How many Britons could die of COVID?

This compares to 114,000 estimated in Germany – population 83.2 million – and 16,000 in Greece – population 10.7 million.

Researchers did not directly study Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but they expect similar figures to England.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the UK has had 144,728 COVID-related deaths, Germany 100,123 and Greece 17,612 so far.

Lloyd Chapman, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the reason for England having a better outlook going forward was due to higher infections previously.

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“In a sense we paid a very high price for being further along a path towards having a high level of immunity in the population,” he said.

“Whether that was the right strategy or not, I think in a way only time will tell.”

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Channel deaths: Picture emerges of flimsy boat involved as French minister criticises UK | UK News



A picture of the flimsy boat involved in the death of 27 people in the Channel has emerged as the French interior minister attacked the UK’s migration approach.

Gerard Darmanin said that Britain had handled the crisis badly, and that other countries such as Belgium and Germany could do more to help France tackle illegal migrants and human trafficking issues.

In an interview with French radio station RTL he said migrants are “often attracted” to the UK’s job market and described the sinking of a migrant boat as an “absolute tragedy” – blaming human trafficking gangs who promise people the “El Dorado of England” for large sums of money.

Pregnant woman among the dead amid fears smugglers will continue trafficking in the coming weeks – live updates

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Pregnant woman among the dead

Mr Darmanin did not have further information about the circumstances of the boat’s capsizing, or the victims’ nationalities, but said the two survivors were Somali and Iraqi and had been treated for severe hypothermia.

He also said a fifth suspected people trafficker was arrested overnight and the boat used to cross the Channel was purchased in Germany and had a German vehicle registration.

“Those responsible for the tragedy which took place yesterday in the Channel are the smugglers, who for a few thousand euros promise Eldorado in England. The smugglers are criminals, this tragedy reminds us, painfully,” he said.

“It’s an international problem… We tell our Belgian, German and British friends they should help us fight traffickers that work at an international level,” Mr Darmanin added.

Five women, including one who was pregnant, and a girl were among the victims after their boat capsized in the water on Wednesday, with fishermen reporting more than a dozen bodies motionless in the sea.

Two people were rescued and four suspected people-smugglers arrested shortly afterwards.

The boat which sank was very flimsy, with Mr Darmanin likening it to “a pool you blow up in your garden”.

Around 60 migrants – some of them in life jackets – were transferred on to buses at Calais’s main train station on Thursday morning.

“Have these deaths changed your mind about getting to Britain?” Sky’s Europe correspondent Adam Parsons asked one man as he passed. “No, no,” he replied.

Parsons said: “The political debate may have intensified but the familiar sense of purpose and determination, which I’ve heard many times before among those trying to get across the Channel, seems unabated.”

Franck Dhersin, the vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, told French TV station BFMTV that heads of human trafficking networks who live comfortable lives in the UK must be arrested.

“In France what do we do? We arrest the smugglers…To fight them, there’s only one way – we need to stop the organisations, you need to arrest the mafia chiefs,” he said.

“And the mafia chiefs live in London… They live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City. And so it’s very easy for the tax authorities to find them”.

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French politician Bruno Bonnell said there are many reasons people are attracted to the UK.

“First the language, a lot of people have a basic understanding of English and they find it more comfortable finding a job there,” he told Sky News.

“Plus they have heard from sources that the conditions are better,” added the La Republique En Marche MP for Rhone.

Those who claim asylum in the UK are not normally allowed to work whilst their claim is being considered. They are instead provided with accommodation and support to meet their essential living needs.

The Home Office may grant permission to work to asylum seekers whose claim has been outstanding for more than 12 months through no fault of their own. Under this policy, those who are allowed to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list published by the department – which includes health services and the fields of science and engineering.

27 people died crossing the Channel on Wednesday
27 people died crossing the Channel on Wednesday

The Dover Strait is the world’s busiest shipping lane and more than 25,700 people have completed the dangerous journey to the UK this year.

That’s three times the total for 2020, according to data compiled by PA news agency.

The numbers have prompted some critics to blame Brexit while those in support of leaving the EU have questioned whether the UK has taken back its borders.

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Migrant boat traced to Rotterdam shipyard

Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously said there is no “silver bullet” to solving the issue and the “only solution is wholescale reform of our asylum system”.

In August, she promised to make the route across the Channel “unviable”, but the number of people crossing in small boats has reached record highs.

The issue has become an increasingly tense subject for the UK and France, and each side has been blaming the other.

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How does the UK handle immigration?

The government has accused the French of not stepping up patrols enough, despite giving them millions in extra funding to deal with the problem.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron last night and Downing Street said they had agreed to “keep all options on the table”.

Mr Johnson offered to host and to help with joint patrols, while Mr Macron has called for an emergency meeting of European ministers and an “immediate strengthening” of Frontex, the EU’s border agency.

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Sweden PM Magdalena Andersson resigns on first day in the job | World News



Sweden’s first female prime minister has resigned after less than 12 hours in the job following the collapse of the coalition her party had formed.

Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson stepped down in the wake of the Green Party’s decision to quit their two-party coalition due to parliament’s rejection of the budget bill devised by the alliance.

She said she had told the speaker of parliament she hoped to be appointed prime minister again as the head of a single-party government, a prospect that appeared fairly likely given support from other parties.

“I have asked the speaker to be relieved of my duties as prime minister,” Ms Andersson told a news conference.

“I am ready to be prime minister in a single-party, Social Democrat government.”

The Green Party said it would support her in any new confirmation vote in parliament, while the Centre Party promised to abstain, which effectively amounts to the same as backing her candidacy.

The Left Party has also said it would support her.

Although these parties were unable to agree a budget, they are united in the goal of keeping the Sweden Democrats, a populist, anti-immigration party, from having a role in government.

Sri Lanka became the first country to have a female leader when Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected in 1960. Pic: AP
Sri Lanka became the first country to have a female leader when Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected in 1960. Pic: AP

“The Centre Party will open the door for her (Ms Andersson) to be prime minister,” its leader, Annie Loof, said on Twitter.

“We will make sure, again, that Sweden can have a government that is not dependent on the Sweden Democrats.”

The opposition right-wing Moderates and Christian Democrats are backed by the Sweden Democrats, but cannot secure a majority in parliament.

The fact that it has taken this long for Sweden to get a woman prime minister is considered embarrassing for many in a country that introduced universal suffrage 100 years ago and has long championed gender equality.

Neighbours Norway elected their first woman leader 40 years ago, while Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to do so in 1960.

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Migrants treated ‘like animals’ as border officials accused of taking bribes | World News



An Iraqi people smuggler has told Sky News that officials are helping migrants cross borders illegally, sometimes in exchange for bribes, and huge risks are being taken to send people to the UK.

Speaking in northern Iraq, the smuggler revealed details behind the network that sends thousands of migrants to Europe every year, and admitted that they sometimes work with border guards.

“Yes, things like that do happen,” he told us.

Polish police officers walk at the Belarusian-Polish border amid the migrant crisis, as seen from the Grodno region, Belarus, November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
In recent weeks, migrants have been attempting to cross into Poland from Belarus

“Business is not stopping. More and more people want to go, but due to the Belarus visa no longer being accessible, they can’t. Otherwise, there are a lot of them ready to go.”

He tells us how the migrants are first flown from Iraq to Turkey. From there, they either travel south by sea to Greece or Italy or overland to Belarus.

Some families pay tens of thousands of pounds for the journey and the price goes up as governments close off routes.

“As the routes get harder, we take more money. We have smart smugglers who know how to solve issues and find out new ways.”

And they knowingly take huge risks with the migrants’ lives: “We collect and transport to the UK people via Dunkirk. We put them on lifeboats and fix iron rods under the boat with a motor. Normally this boat holds five persons, but we’ve added more than 15 to 20 persons to the boats travelling to the UK.”

He shows little remorse for those who don’t make it: “We sent people and they drowned in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Italy. They must decide whether to keep on or withdraw because it’s their life.”

The smugglers use cheap burner phones to communicate, regularly switching between hundreds of sim cards so they can’t be traced.

“This business is illegal,” the smuggler says. “If it was legal the people could go via the airport, but our business is smuggling, we send people who are exhausted or desperate to go to Europe.”

The allegation of collusion between smugglers and border officials was confirmed to Sky News by a family who were recently deported from Poland after crossing from Belarus.

Interviewed in a temporary home in Erbil, northern Iraq, the Mahmouds explained what happened in the forests between the two countries:

Migrants walk during snowfall, at a transport and logistics centre near the Belarusian-Polish border, in the Grodno region, Belarus November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Migrants face snowy conditions near the Belarus-Poland border

“They [Belarussian border police] got scissors and they broke the fence. They broke the fence and then went ‘go to Poland’,” 11-year old Bureen told me.

When I ask his older siblings if they believe they’ve been caught in a game between the EU and Belarus, 21-year-old Bria says: “We were like a ball. Like a ball between Belarussian police and Polish police.”

Belarus has been accused of creating a migrant crisis on the EU’s border in retaliation to the increasingly tough sanctions levied against the Lukashenko government.

The Mahmoud family also described their treatment by the people smugglers to whom they paid $30,000 for the journey into Europe.

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Hundreds of migrants rescued off Sicilian coast

“They weren’t good to us. They spoke to us like animals. At first, they weren’t like that, they said they would ‘take us safely, the route is just a few hours and all of your expenses are on us, don’t worry’,” 47-year old mother Yadgar told me.

“But when we got to Belarus, we didn’t even know how to get enough money to eat. He [the smuggler] said ‘I don’t have any money for you’.

“I told him we wanted to go back and he said we can’t go back, ‘I spent my money on you, you have to deal with it.’ He treated us like animals.”

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