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Omicron in Europe before South Africa reported first cases******
Travelers from South Africa are tested for the coronavirus on arrival in a specially designed test street at Schiphol airport, on November 30, 2021. Dutch health authorities said on November 30 that the new COVID-19 variant was already present in the Netherlands a week before a cluster of cases on two flights from South Africa. The Omicron cases were discovered on November 19 and 23 and authorities are checking whether they had links to southern Africa, and how far the new strain has spread.
The Omicron coronavirus variant was present in Europe before the first cases were reported in South Africa, new data from the Netherlands showed Tuesday, as Latin America reported its first two cases in Brazil.
In the week since the new virus strain was reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel restrictions – most targeting southern African nations.
But the World Health Organization warned Tuesday – as Canada expanded its restrictions to also include Egypt and Nigeria – that "blanket" travel bans risked doing more harm than good.
And the likely futility of broad travel restrictions was underscored as Dutch authorities reported that Omicron was present in the country before South Africa officially reported its first cases, on November 25.
The new variant – whose high number of mutations the WHO believes may make it more transmissible or resistant to vaccines – was found in two Dutch test samples from November 19 and 23, with one having no travel history.
With countries now on alert for the Omicron variant, a clearer picture is emerging by the day of where it has been circulating, and for how long.
So far, well over a dozen countries and territories have detected cases, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Israel, Italy and Portugal.
Among European countries, Belgium and Germany have both reported cases of the new strain prior to November 25, but both linked to foreign travel.
Latin America reported its first two cases Tuesday – in people who traveled from South Africa to Brazil – and a first case was confirmed in Japan, one day after it barred all foreign arrivals.
While much is still unknown about the Omicron variant – it could take weeks to determine whether and to what extent it is vaccine-resistant – it has highlighted that the global fight against COVID-19 is far from over.
Asian, European and US markets all fell on Tuesday, while the benchmark US oil price tumbled more than five percent after the boss of vaccine manufacturer Moderna warned existing jabs might be less effective against the new variant.
"All the scientists I've talked to ... are like 'this is not going to be good'," Moderna boss Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times, warning against a "material drop" in the effectiveness of current jabs against Omicron.
Moderna, US drugmaker Pfizer and the backers of Russian vaccine Sputnik V are already working on an Omicron-specific vaccine.
On the treatment front, meanwhile, a panel of US health experts voted Tuesday to endorse Merck's COVID pill for high-risk adult patients, which is already authorised in Britain.
In a briefing to WHO member states, the body's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was understandable for countries to seek to protect their citizens "against a variant we don't yet fully understand."
But he called for the global response to be "calm, coordinated and coherent", urging nations to "take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures."
The UN agency cautioned in a travel advisery that "blanket" travel bans risked placing a "heavy burden on lives and livelihoods" and could ultimately dissuade countries from sharing data about the evolving virus – as South Africa did in reporting the latest variant.
But it did advise that people not fully vaccinated and considered vulnerable to COVID-19, including over-60s, should put off travel to areas with community transmission of the virus – after correcting a previous statement that indicated all over-60s should defer travel.
Omicron has emerged as much of the world was already bracing for a new winter wave of the pandemic – leaving even nations with high vaccination rates scrambling to stem infections and prevent health services from being overwhelmed.
Governments, particularly in western Europe, have already reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns – leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.
In Germany, incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz said parliament would vote on making COVID vaccines compulsory by the end of the year – and a source from Scholz's party told AFP he had "signalled his sympathy" for such a rule.
Greece went ahead Tuesday in making vaccines compulsory for over-60s, while Norway will offer booster shots to all adults before Easter, as preferable to a lockdown.
Britain meanwhile set a target of delivering third jabs to all adults within two months, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying vaccination centers would be "popping up like Christmas trees."
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Analysis: Four things we learned from Spain's Matchday 17******
MADRID, Dec. 13 (Xinhua) -- Real Madrid's win at home to Atletico Madrid in the city derby on Sunday night means that Carlo Ancelotti's side have effectively knocked the reigning Champions out of the title race, while Real Sociedad have also fallen by the wayside and FC Barcelona are in danger of humiliation. Here are some things we learned in LaLiga this weekend.。
1 Firepower makes all of the difference for Real Madrid。
Real Madrid's 2-0 win at home to Atletico Madrid leaves Atletico 13 points off the top of the table and effectively out of the title race and it is hard to see who can now mount anything like a successful pursuit of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.。
Once again Real Madrid's firepower and a series of saves from Thibaut Courtois made the difference in a game where Atletico had more than twice as many shots on target as Real Madrid, only to be frustrated by a man who used to play for them, while at the other end Vinicius set up Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio for clinical finishes.。
Real Madrid continue to give their rivals' chances before breaking their hearts and LaLiga is clearly theirs to lose, perhaps the big problems will come in Europe, where their rivals won't be quite as forgiving.。
2 Barcelona's new start looks like the same old story。
FC Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said after his side's painful exit from the Champions League on Wednesday that it marked the start of a new period at the club, but Sunday's 2-2 draw away to Osasuna looked like the same old story.。
Xavi once again gave starts to youngsters Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Abde Ezzalzouli, with the last two scoring his side's goal. Samuel Umtiti also made his first start of the season as the coach struggled with a long injury list, while summer signing Eric Garcia was again on the bench.。
The youngsters scored, but Barca never looked secure and it was no surprise when 'Chimy' Avila leveled for Osasuna with 10 minutes to play. Xavi may be looking for a new start, but with his current squad and a long injury list any change will have to be slow。
3 Real Sociedad running out of steam。
Real Sociedad were leaders in LaLiga just a month ago, but a run of just one point in four games has seen their title hopes evaporate and their current state was highlighted with a painful 4-0 defeat to Betis on Sunday evening.。
Betis sit third in the table after four consecutive wins and with striker Juanmi, who used to play for Real Sociedad, in arguably the best form of his career, they brushed past their rivals.。
A tough Europa League group stage and a busy fixture list looks to have taken its toll on Real Sociedad, who have a difficult cup game in Zamora on Wednesday before facing an improving Villarreal next weekend in LaLiga.。
4 Goals win matches, just ask Athletic Club...。
Athletic Club Bilbao fans are still shaking their heads in wonder at how their side lost at home to Sevilla on Saturday after peppering the Sevilla goal (especially in the first half), hitting the post twice and seeing several guilt-edged chances go begging.。
Saturday was a repeat of Athletic's season, and despite plenty of solid performances, the Basque side have scored just 13 goals in 17 games, with just four in their last 8 games. After Saturday they have had 56 shots without scoring, with just two goals in their last 99 shots, of which 25 were on target.。
No matter how well you play, if the ball doesn't go into the net, it's impossible to win. Enditem。