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Russia: At least 52 people – including six rescuers – killed after explosion in Siberian coal mine | World News

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At least 52 people have died after an explosion in a Siberian coal mine.

The blast was caused by a methane gas leak about 250m (820ft) underground.

Flames and toxic fumes filled the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region, forcing the search for survivors to be abandoned.

Ambulances and fire trucks near the Listvyazhnaya coal mine. Pic: AP
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Ambulances and fire trucks near the Listvyazhnaya coal mine. Pic: AP

Six of those killed were rescuers, and all 52 died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

A total of 285 people were in the mine at the time of the explosion, and 239 miners were successfully led to the surface.

One of those rescued, Sergey Golubin, said: “Impact. Air. Dust. And then, we smelled gas and just started walking out, as many as we could. We didn’t even realise what happened at first and took some gas in.”

Another miner, Rustam Chebelkov, described the moment he was saved: “I was crawling and then I felt them grabbing me.

“I reached my arms out to them, they couldn’t see me, the visibility was bad. They grabbed me and pulled me out. If not for them, we’d be dead.”

A criminal investigation into the blast has been launched. Pic: AP
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A criminal investigation into the blast has been launched. Pic: AP

Thursday’s explosion was the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people.

A criminal investigation into the blast has been launched – and officials say the mine’s director, along with two senior managers, have been detained.

President Vladimir Putin has offered his condolences to the victims’ families and three days of mourning has been declared in the region.

After 36 miners were killed in 2016, authorities analysed the safety of Russia’s 58 coal mines – and concluded that 34% of them were potentially unsafe.

The Listvyazhnaya mine was not among them at the time, according to local media reports.

However, an inspection of the site by a Russian watchdog in April registered 139 violations, including breaches related to fire safety.

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COVID-19 cases in South Africa surge – and there is a ‘high probability’ many are linked to new variant | World News

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South Africa is racing to learn more about a new coronavirus variant that could be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines.

Just 53 cases related to the B.1.1.529 strain have been confirmed in the country so far, but there are fears the true number could be much higher.

COVID-19 has been rapidly spreading among young people in Gauteng – South Africa’s most populous province.

And nationwide, there has been “more of an exponential rise” in infections over the past five days or so.

Until recently, South Africa had seen a period of relatively low transmission, and was typically recording about 200 confirmed cases per day.

But the daily number of coronavirus infections rapidly rose above 1,200 on Wednesday alone – and almost doubled again to 2,465 on Thursday.

Experts believe there is a “high probability” that many of these cases are linked to this variant.

In Gauteng, estimates suggest 90% of new infections could be B.1.1.529 – and the strain may be present in South Africa’s eight other provinces.

Scientists in the country are now trying to determine the extent of its spread, but this could take some time.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said: “Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be.”

And at a news conference in Johannesburg, health minister Joseph Phaahla warned: “From the experience of the last 21 months or so, we can almost predict how this is going to move.

“As I’ve said, especially when, like the Delta starting in Gauteng, you can rest assured as people start to move even more over the next few weeks, this will be all over.”

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the South African Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, says the new variant has a “constellation” of new mutations.

A team of scientists from seven universities is now studying B.1.1.529, and they have 100 whole genomes of it so far.

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‘Our scientists are deeply concerned’ – Javid

British officials are keen to acquire live virus cultures of the new variant so it can be examined, but this could take as long as four to six weeks.

Just 41% of South African adults have been vaccinated – and the number of jabs being administered a day is relatively low at under 130,000.

That’s significantly below the government’s target of 300,000 per day.

But this is not because of a shortage – the country is actually having to defer deliveries so they don’t “accumulate and stockpile vaccines”.

Nicholas Crisp, the acting director-general of the national health department, said: “We are getting in vaccines faster than we can use them at the moment.”

South Africa has a population of 60 million people. During the pandemic, it has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID cases and 89,000 deaths.

The health minister says it is currently too early to say whether the government will impose tougher restrictions in response to the variant.

UK experts have described B.1.1.529 as the “worst one we’ve seen so far” – and South Africa is among six African countries that have now been added to the red list for travel.

World Health Organisation experts are meeting on Friday to assess the variant, which on Wednesday was classed a variant under monitoring.

If it is upgraded to a variant of concern, it could be given a name from the Greek alphabet – and would likely be referred to as Nu.

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New COVID variant: UK urgently brings in travel restrictions to stop spread of ‘the worst one we’ve seen so far’ | UK News

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Britain is bringing in travel restrictions for six African countries due to a new COVID variant that UK experts have called the “worst one we’ve seen so far”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency) is investigating a new variant. More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now.

“Six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine.”

Mr Javid said the new B.1.1.529 variant identified in South Africa “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain – and warned “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”.

The UKHSA says it is the “worst one we’ve seen so far” and has a spike protein that is “dramatically” different to the original COVID strain.

The variant also has 30 mutations – twice as many as the Delta variant – and these mutations are likely to evade the immune response generated by prior infection and vaccination.

But the good news is that B.1.1.529 can be detected with a normal PCR test.

Flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from 12pm on Friday – and after 4am on Sunday, new arrivals in the UK will be required to quarantine in hotels.

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‘Our scientists are deeply concerned’: Javid

Scotland and Northern Ireland have said they are also introducing the new rules.

No cases of this variant have been reported so far in the UK, and anyone who has travelled from one of these countries in the past 10 days is now being invited to come forward for a test.

About 500 to 700 people are travelling to the UK from South Africa each day at the moment, but it is expected this figure could increase in the run up to Christmas.

According to aviation analyst Alex Macheras, Virgin Atlantic had reported taking more than 32,000 bookings for South Africa in October alone – and most of them for the rest of 2021.

Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, described the mutations as “really awful” but said cases were currently “super low”.

South Africa is currently getting deliveries of vaccines faster than they can be used
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South Africa is currently getting deliveries of vaccines faster than they can be used

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

Mutations on the spike could therefore potentially prove problematic.

But with only a handful of recorded cases – three in Botswana, around 53 in South Africa and one in Hong Kong from someone who had travelled from South Africa – scientists are hopeful it can be contained.

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

Over the summer, trains were turned into vaccination centres so South Africa could reach adults in remote communities
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Over the summer, trains were turned into vaccination centres so South Africa could reach adults in remote communities

In South Africa, the coronavirus variant has spread rapidly among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

“Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise,” South Africa’s health minister Joe Phaahla said.

Until recently, the country had been reporting about 200 confirmed cases per day – but this has rapidly increased over the past week, hitting 2,465 on Thursday.

Scientists from seven South African universities are now studying the variant, and are trying to determine how many of these new cases are linked to it.

Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, has warned “there is a high probability” that many of the new cases in South Africa are linked to the new variant.

Just 41% of South African adults have been vaccinated and 130,000 jabs are being administered per day – well below the target of 300,000 set by the government.

The country is currently getting deliveries of vaccines faster than they can be used, meaning that officials have been deferring deliveries so they don’t “accumulate and stockpile” vaccines.

World Health Organisation experts are meeting on Friday to assess the variant, which on Wednesday was classed a variant under monitoring.

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If it is upgraded to a variant of concern, it could be given a name from the Greek alphabet – and would likely be referred to as Nu.

However, it could also be classed as a less serious variant of interest, indicating it has characteristics that may affect factors such as transmissibility and disease severity.

It could take weeks to generate all the information needed about this variant’s characteristics.

To date, the Delta variant remains by far the most infectious – and it now accounts for more than 99% of the sequences submitted by countries worldwide.

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Channel deaths: Lifeboatman recalls ‘trauma’ of pulling bodies from water – but people are not easily dissuaded by tales of tragedy | UK News

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Dawn is still breaking when we call in on Charles Devos, the man who saw it all.

Charles is a lifeboatman, just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him. It was his boat that responded to a Mayday call, reporting that 15 people had fallen into the water in the middle of the Channel.

When he arrived, it was a dreadful scene. Charles pulled body after body from the water.

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Deaths ‘no deterrent’’

“Unfortunately we were only able to recover dead people,” he says, standing in the small office building by the town’s port.

He said the boat would have been about 10 metres long, but that it was completely unsuited to the choppy waters of the Channel. By the time he arrived, it had deflated. The boat had become simply a piece of useless plastic.

“Was it a valve that came loose or did it hit something? We may never really know, but I don’t think it was a collision,” says Charles. “The boat was overwhelmed. The sight of these people, drowned, and then having to recover them… it was traumatic.”

But will it change anything? Does death on this scale move the dial? Charles shrugs. “They’re going to continue to try to cross. Calais to Dover is the shortest route. Unfortunately I think there will be more departures.”

He is, of course, correct. As we spoke, other boats were setting off from the beaches up and down this coast. At the main station in Calais, we found dozens of people, many soaking wet, who had tried and failed to get across the Channel and were now being bussed off to temporary accommodation. They will try again, probably quite soon.

Hassan said he would still try to cross the Channel as his life would be "much better" in the UK
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Hassan said he would still try to cross the Channel as his life would be ‘much better’ in the UK

Hassan is a good example. An Iraqi Kurd, he is sleeping rough near Dunkirk. “I heard the news. I have to be honest, I don’t care about other people. If I have my life jacket on I can swim to get to the UK. My heart is strong and I can swim. My life would be much better if I got to the UK. I try every day.”

It is a statement that sounds callous, but is actually born of pragmatism. The people who crowd these camps in northern France are there with only one aim in mind, and that is to reach the shores of Great Britain.

They have often spent months, as well as thousands of pounds, getting this far, eluding police, border guards and enduring pain and discomfort. They are not easily dissuaded, even by appalling tales of tragedy.

The town of Calais was already weary of its reputation as a magnet for migrants, and now the atmosphere is even more taut. Lots of local people find the topic simply too irritating to talk about; others decry the lack of police presence and say Calais has been dragged down by a stream of transient arrivals that stretches back about two decades.

This is what remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people
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The remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people

But there are also those who think the answer lies in better care and more robust accommodation, so as to integrate migrants into the community around them.

The French police often play their own two-sided game, releasing a lot of officers into the area as a show of strength, but then watching as boats are carried down beaches.

The simple fact is that there are no easy answers. The UK and France both blame the other for not doing enough, while the tides that push people towards the migration route to Britain are many and various.

For a long time, migration has seemed like a theoretical discussion, clouded in politics, economics and questions of culture and heritage. But now it has a dreadful, personal history. Out in the cold, bleak waters of the Channel, 27 people died a horrible death, just because they wanted to get to Britain.

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