World News

UK cruise liner will require all passengers be 'fully vaccinated against COVID-19'

nicepix4u/iStockBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Saga Cruises, a U.K.-based cruise operator, announced it was requiring all passengers to have received the COVID-19 vaccine before embarking on a trip.

The cruise industry as a whole has grappled with multiple deadly outbreaks of the virus aboard ships since February 2020, and many cruise liners were forced to halt operations entirely amid the pandemic.

Saga Cruises' vaccine requirement appears to be a first for major cruise operators. The company said it is moving the restart date for its cruises to May to allow time for more people to receive the vaccine.

"The health and safety of our customers has always been our number one priority at Saga, so we have taken the decision to require everyone traveling with us to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19," a Saga spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Thursday. "Our customers want the reassurance of the vaccine and to know others traveling with them will be vaccinated too."

"Our new vaccination policy will be in addition to the detailed arrangements we have already put in place for when cruises and other holidays restart," the spokesperson added.

The company said it has already written to customers intending on traveling in 2021 informing them of the new vaccination policy, which requires them to be fully vaccinated against the virus at least 14 days before travel.

In addition to the vaccine requirement, Saga said it will require pre-departure COVID-19 testing, have reduced capacity of customers onboard, enhanced cleaning regimes and has doubled its medical staff, among other precautions.

Early last year, more than 700 people contracted COVID-19 aboard the Princess Cruises' Diamond Princess ship, making it one of the first major outbreaks of the disease outside of China.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

World leaders react to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration day

Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- World leaders have reacted to a "new dawn" in U.S. politics after Joe Biden was sworn is as the 46th president of the United States.

Historic allies in the EU and U.K. have struck the most upbeat tone, with Ursurla von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, saying there's a "friend in the White House" after four years where transatlantic relations often were strained.

"This is a historical achievement, and this also makes this day very special," she said. "This new dawn in America is the moment we've been waiting for so long. Europe is ready for a new start with our oldest and most trusted partner."

She added: "This will be a very strong starting point for our renewed cooperation, and of course, way more is to come."

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulated Biden ahead of the inauguration ceremony.

"As I said when I spoke with him on his election as president, I look forward to working with him and with his new administration, strengthening the partnership between our countries and working on our shared priorities from tackling climate change, building back better from the pandemic and strengthening our transatlantic security," he said.

The British ambassador to the U.S., Dame Karen Pierce, said the Biden presidency was "very good news" for the U.K. Queen Elizabeth II also sent her congratulations to Biden, in a private message before the inauguration.

Germany's president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called Inauguration Day a "good day for democracy."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his congratulations to both Vice President Harris and President Biden on their "historic inauguration."

"I look forward to working with you to further strengthen the US-Israel alliance, to continue expanding peace between Israel and the Arab world and to confront common challenges, chief among them the threat posed by Iran. I wish you the greatest success," he said in a statement. "God bless the United States of America. God bless Israel."

President Emmanuel Macron of France used his message to welcome back the U.S. into the Paris Climate Agreement.


To @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris.
Best wishes on this most significant day for the American people!
We are together.
We will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet. Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) January 20, 2021


At a Chinese Foreign Ministry press conference on Thursday, spokesperson Hua Chunying said she was "very moved" by the fireworks display on inauguration day, and that the "people of China and the United States deserve a better future."

She criticized the previous administration, and especially former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for burying "too many mines in Sino-US relations that need to be eliminated; too many bridges have been burned and need to be repaired." Pompeo was sanctioned by China in a largely symbolic move, along with several other former Trump administration officials, which will see them barred from entry to Hong Kong and denied Chinese visas in the future.

Several other world leaders congratulated Biden and Harris on social media.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to react to Biden's historic day but Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov phoned into a press briefing to say that he did not foresee a change in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

"Nothing will change for Russia. Russia will continue to live just the way it has lived for hundreds of years, seeking good relations with the U.S.," he told reporters on Wednesday. "Whether Washington has reciprocal political will for that will depend on Mr. Biden and his team."

Biden faces a series of foreign policy challenges, and Russia has sent an immediate public invitation to the new administration to extend the New START arms treaty, the last remaining arms control agreement between the two countries, which is in danger of lapsing this month after the Trump administration failed to agree to extend it.

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said of the incoming administration: "If you fulfill all your obligations, we will fulfill all our obligations as well."

"If you do not do so, we will not bow down to you. If you do fulfill your obligations, we don't owe you anything," Rouhani said.

On a different note, Vice President Kamala Harris' ancestral village in India, where her mother's family hails from, marked the day with special prayers and pictures of Harris displayed in public and celebrations.

Thulasendrapuram, a tiny village just over 200 miles from the city of Chennai, is where Harris' maternal grandfather was born.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

'Pharmacy of the World will deliver': India begins COVID-19 vaccine exports

nevodka/iStockBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- India has begun exporting Covid-19 vaccines to neighboring countries with the first batches being shipped Wednesday to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles, the foreign ministry said.

“First consignment takes off for Bhutan!” was the first of a flurry of tweets from the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Anurag Srivastava, as he posted pictures of batches leaving and arriving at different destinations.

“Indian vaccines reach Maldives, reflects our special friendship,” he tweeted.

“India is deeply honoured to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted Tuesday as he announced the first shipments would be sent Wednesday.

India is sending these vaccine batches “under grant assistance,” a foreign ministry press release said, as the government had “received several requests for the supply of Indian manufactured vaccines from neighboring and key partner countries.”

Dubbed “Neighbourhood First”, Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy focus has often been on improving ties with India’s immediate neighbors, which would explain the destination of these first vaccine shipments.

India’s External Affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said his country was fulfilling “its commitment to give vaccines to humanity…The Pharmacy of the World will deliver to overcome the COVID challenge,” he tweeted. India is home to the world’s largest vaccine producer by volume, the Serum Institute of India (SII), based in Pune.

The Serum Institute is producing the vaccine developed by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca under the local brand name COVISHIELD and will distribute it to India, its neighboring countries and other low and middle income countries.

SII is currently producing approximately 60 million doses of COVISHIELD a month and aims to increase this to a 100 million doses by March. SII has also agreed to supply COVAX, the WHO backed alliance created to ensure equitable access to vaccines, with 200 million doses to be distributed at the beginning of 2021.

But the Serum Institute is not the only major vaccine producer in India. Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine was also authorized for use by the Indian government in early January.

At the time this move was criticized with several experts accusing the government of rushing their decision as the data from the vaccine’s phase 3 trials had not been published.

Full data on the vaccine’s efficacy is still awaited and COVAXIN is not part of these initial exports but, alongside COVISHIELD, is being rolled out internally.

India kicked off the world’s largest vaccination program last Saturday and aims to reach 1.3 billion people as quickly as possible.

India’s announcement of these vaccine exports comes at a time when the international community is warning that many lower income countries are being left behind in the global vaccine roll out.

"The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure," World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday at the opening of the WHO's annual executive board meeting. "The price for this failure will be paid for with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries."

India’s announcement was immediately met with approval by Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and an immunologist who advises the U.K. government.

“This is a very important and very much appreciated move from India to supply vaccines globally in an equitable way. A public health, scientific & economic imperative,” he tweeted.

Wednesday’s move makes India the first to provide vaccines to these countries in southern Asia, putting it ahead of China and indeed COVAX.

Significantly, it will not be shipping any vaccines to its direct neighbor Pakistan with whom bilateral trade has broken down due to political disagreements over the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

US calls China's abuses of Muslim minorities 'genocide' and 'crimes against humanity'

Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- With less than 24 hours left in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday issued a determination that the Chinese government has committed "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" against Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities.

The determination is a final parting shot that will complicate U.S.-Chinese relations long after President Donald Trump and Pompeo leave office -- but one that President-elect Joe Biden's campaign called for months ago.

"This genocide is ongoing, and ... we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state," Pompeo said in his statement, adding the Chinese government is "engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image."

The Chinese government has denied any human rights abuses, saying instead that its mass campaign targeting Muslims in Xinjiang province is about economic development and counter terrorism, even as it has severely restricted access to the western province by journalists, human rights groups, or United Nations observers.

Survivors of that repressive campaign, including the "re-education" camps that reportedly have detained more than one million people, report widespread abuses, including restrictions on freedom of movement, religion, and expression; forced labor; and torture.

More recently, survivors and researchers have said that the Chinese government has employed forced sterilization and abortions amid a sharp decline in birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities.

In the determination, the State Department references these alleged human rights violations, which Pompeo calls "morally repugnant, wholesale policies, practices, and abuses."

Pompeo's statement doesn't include any new actions along with the designation, as genocide determinations don't have inherent legal repercussions. But this will be a stain on China's image on the world stage and a cloud over the future of U.S.-Chinese relations.

During the 2020 presidential election, Biden's campaign used the "genocide" label -- a rare subject of bipartisan agreement in Washington.

The State Department will continue to collect evidence on the "ongoing atrocities," Pompeo added, calling for international bodies to join the U.S. determination and investigate. The International Criminal Court said last month that it would not, for now, investigate the allegations of genocide or crimes against humanity because the alleged actions took place inside China only and China, like the U.S., is not a party to the court.

This is the first U.S. genocide determination since the Obama administration determined ISIS's crimes against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria amounted to genocide.

Notably, Pompeo weighed, but never issued a genocide determination for the Rohingya, the Muslim minority group in Myanmar that faced killings, rape, and torture and were driven from their land by Myanmar's military -- even after his agency published a detailed report of those crimes.

While Pompeo has repeatedly targeted Chinese provincial authorities with sanctions over Xinjiang, and the Department of Homeland Security has barred entry of any cotton or tomato products from the region, Trump is accused of backing the program. According to his former national security adviser John Bolton, Trump encouraged Chinese President Xi Jinping to build the mass detention camps.

Trump later denied that was the case, but he told Axios last June that he had blocked sanctions on Chinese officials over the camps because he was in the "middle of a trade deal" negotiation.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

French culinary first: Vegan restaurant earns Michelin star


(PARIS) -- It's a culinary first in France: A vegan restaurant in southwest France has been awarded a coveted Michelin star, the first plant-based restaurant in the country to receive the distinction. ONA, which stands for "Origine Non-Animale" ("animal-free origin") in the town of Arès, near Bordeaux, is run by chef Claire Vallée.

The Michelin guide published its annual French edition Jan.18 and included ONA, a remarkable achievment for the establishment opened by Vallée in 2016 through a crowdfunding campaign. ONA raised 10,000 euros (about $12,131) and over 80 volunteers helped work on the restaurant for two months.

The restaurant serves plant-based dishes on a green terrace and has a garden with 140 plants. Menu items include vegetable foie gras, lemon caviar tartar, panisse, rhubarb, broccoli cooked on hay and a salted floating island.

Vallée's fusion cuisine is inspired by her traveling, especially in Thailand, but also by Indian and African dishes. "I bring back spices, cooking methods, vegetables that I would not have seen," Vallée told ABC News, who did not expect to receive one of the highest awards in France for a restaurant.

"The inspectors come very discreetly, we did not even know if they would have time to come by this year," Vallée told ABC News. "But it's wonderful, especially for a small town, and for the plant movement," she said.

Michelin has previously awarded stars to vegetarian and some vegan restaurants around the world, noting that vegetables and plant-based cuisine are finding their place in high-end establishments where meat and fish dishes are typically centerpiece.

While her establishment is still currently closed to the public under French authorities' measures to fight the spread of COVID-19, Vallée is looking forward to reopening in the spring. After a devastating year for the French restaurant industry due to the pandemic, she is already working on new recipes and has a book project in the works.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

WHO experts tweet from Wuhan quarantine ahead of much-anticipated mission into virus origins

dk_photos/iStockBy BRITT CLENNETT, ABC News

(HONG KONG) -- It’s a question that has generated year-long discord between China and the West: how did this virus that plunged the world into crisis begin in the first place?

Last Thursday, a team of World Health Organization experts touched down in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in 2019, to start a much-delayed mission into the origins of the virus that has now killed more than two million people worldwide.

But first, like all travelers to China, the team of 10 must undertake a strict two-week quarantine. Some of them have been tweeting from their hotels in Wuhan, using Virtual Private Networks to circumvent a ban on Twitter in the country.

On Monday -- day four of their quarantine -- British-American zoologist Peter Daszak tweeted a picture of his breakfast along with a sunrise over Wuhan, ahead of "a day packed with meetings."

Meanwhile, on day three, Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans posted a video of a medical worker in hazmat gear standing outside her door: “Morning call for temperature check. We are well taken care of!”

Their investigation takes place against a backdrop of fierce criticism over China’s handling of the outbreak which has intensified political friction between Beijing and Washington as well as other countries, including Australia.

It hasn’t been easy to get the mission off the ground with months of back-and-forth wrangling and setbacks, including reports of visas being denied, and there’s still lingering skepticism over how much access the team will have.

On Monday, a panel of experts examining the pandemic released a damning report criticizing governments worldwide for responding slowly and ineffectively.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, led by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was also critical of the World Health Organization for not declaring an international emergency until Jan. 30.

Specifically, the review said China could have done more to curb the initial outbreak back in January last year. Responding to the criticism, a Chinese spokesperson said, "Of course we should strive to do better, as should all other countries such as the United States, Britain, Japan."

China’s extreme lockdown approach has seen it emerge as the only major economy to bounce back from a pandemic slump and, until recently, the country had gone months with few new cases.

However, it’s now facing levels not seen since March 2020.

China reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases for a seventh day on Tuesday, including one in the capital city of Beijing.

The recent clusters have prompted authorities to lock down areas in Hebei, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, affecting more than 29 million people.

There are now concerns that the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday could prompt a massive surge of the virus across the country if the usual mass migration takes place when the travel usually starts on Jan. 28. Chinese authorities are urging citizens to stay put.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

How COVID-19 vaccinations are going, on a global scale

MarsBars/iStockBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- "The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure," World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday at the opening of the WHO's annual executive board meeting. "The price for this failure will be paid for with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries."

Since the start of the pandemic, the WHO has said that lower-income countries could get left behind in the race to vaccinate the world, a message echoed by virologists' warnings that large swathes of the world must be vaccinated to build up a form of global herd immunity.

According to Dr. Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College London, even if wealthier nations are vaccinated, there is a chance "if a new mutation arises in strains circulating elsewhere which is a poor match to the vaccine, then a new outbreak can occur in a vaccinated population."

But even high-income countries are experiencing problems with their vaccine rollout. The Trump administration has been criticized for its effort, vaccine supply is in short demand in some places, and anti-vaxxers are campaigning hard across the globe. Through it all, the WHO is attempting to meet inequities with a global effort, COVAX, that's facing challenges to get major players onboard to release vaccine supplies to lower-income countries.

The state of vaccinations

To date, 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered -- 12 million in the U.S., followed by 10 million in China, four million in the U.K. and two million in Israel, according to Our World in Data, a U.K.-based nonprofit that has been tracking vaccine statistics.

Those numbers only equate to 3% and 0.6% of the U.S. and Chinese populations, respectively. The countries that have administered vaccine shots the most per capita are Israel (24%), Bahrain (16.8%), the United Arab Emirates (8.3%) and the U.K. (5.3%).

Meanwhile, the European Union is playing catch up, having begun its rollout on Dec. 27, with some countries within the union proving more successful than others. Those on its periphery are eying the vaccine rollout with jealousy, with many in the Balkans feeling abandoned by their European neighbors.

"Just like in the Titanic sinking, the rich have grabbed all the available lifeboats leaving the less fortunate behind," Professor Dragan Danilovski, a retired epidemiologist from Macedonia, told ABC News. "We have fallen behind in the race, but did we have a fair chance? It's a chronic global inequality."

Among the most recent contenders to join this race are Indonesia and India. India's mass vaccination program will be the world's largest with its bid to reach more than 1.3 billion people. Since it started this weekend, 224,000 people have been dosed according to Our World in Data.

Of the four frontrunners, the U.K. had a small head start as the first country in the world to approve a vaccine and began administering it, on Dec. 8. The Israelis started their program on Dec. 19 and it is being widely hailed as the most efficient, but it is not without controversy. Human rights organizations have condemned the Israeli government as the rollout does not include the more than five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Vaccine approvals

Both Bahrain and the UAE approved two vaccines late last year -- one from the U.S., Pfizer-BioNTech, and one from China, Sinopharm. The decision to tap both producers has clearly helped make them serious contenders in the race to vaccinate.

Few Western countries, however, have been happy to approve the Sinopharm vaccine due to incomplete trial data and confusion around its efficacy. Similarly, the Russian Sputnik V is being met with mistrust in some parts of the world and has not been approved in either the U.K. or the U.S.

"For this vaccine to go forward it's going to have to be that it satisfies the level of scrutiny that we expect in the West, in Europe and the U.S. and the U.K.," Paul Hunter, professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, said.

But the Russian and Chinese vaccines are making significant in-roads in other parts of the world. The Sputnik V vaccine has so far received emergency use authorization in Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Serbia, Belarus, Palestine and Venezuela.

The Gamaleya Institute, responsible for developing Sputnik V, has also signed production agreements with India, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt and Kazakhstan and has allocated millions of doses to Uzbekistan, Nepal and Saudi Arabia, with this list expected to grow.

Likewise, the three Chinese vaccines -- from Sinopharm, Sinovac and CanSino -- are all reaching a diverse market. According to Chinese state media, more than 40 countries have ordered China-made vaccines, among them the Philippines, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, UAE, Bahrain, Pakistan, Hungary, Egypt and Morocco.

Western pharmaceutical companies have also been making bilateral agreements with governments around the world, with several authorizations granted. The vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been authorized for use in the U.K., India, Argentina, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico and Morocco.

The U.S.' Moderna's jab is in circulation in the U.S. and Canada and has also been approved in the U.K., with the first batches expected to be shipped sometime this spring. And Pfizer-BioNtech, the frontrunner, has been approved not only in Europe, Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. but has also been given the WHO's stamp of approval.

COVAX efforts

In a bid to prevent some countries getting left behind, the WHO partnered with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop COVAX, a global enterprise to coordinate procurement and access to vaccines in an equitable way, with a mantra that "we are only safe once we are all safe."

Importantly, China has signed up with COVAX, with President Xi Jinping pledging last May that the Chinese vaccine would be a "global public good."

In contrast, President Donald Trump refused to sign up with COVAX, and it remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will revert that decision. When asked about it by ABC News, a transition spokesperson declined to comment, but said, "We understand that global threats require global solutions."

A Gavi spokesperson told ABC News they are hopeful about the prospect: "The U.S. has already been helpful through its recent approval of U.S. $4 billion for Gavi to use for procurement and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for lower-income countries. We welcome U.S. engagement as we move ahead with COVAX's mission."

That mission is, however, still in the preparatory phases. Pledges have been made and vaccine doses allocated in their millions, but the only vaccine that has been granted Emergency Use Listing by the WHO and can therefore be administered under WHO auspices is the Pfizer vaccine. Crucially, COVAX has yet to strike a deal with the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership.

A Pfizer spokesperson told ABC News they are "in active negotiations with COVAX … and hope to finalize an agreement very soon."

A GAVI spokesperson said, "Those discussions are continuing, and we're hoping for an announcement soon."

But these negotiations have been ongoing for months, and the longer they drag, the longer lower-income countries are forced to wait for their vaccines.

Plus, lower-income countries don't just need the deals -- they need to be logistically ready to receive, distribute and administer vaccines to a population willing to receive them. The Pfizer vaccine with its need to be transported at ultra-cold temperatures poses a particularly difficult logistical hurdle for some countries.

And while Gavi may be bullish about the level of commitment COVAX has received, a spokesperson for UNICEF, which will be supporting the global vaccine rollout, said, "We need more money to get countries ready to receive the vaccines."

Tedros, at the WHO, is amplifying this message and criticizing governments he thinks have not done enough to help the global effort.

"Not only does this me-first approach leave the world's poorest and most vulnerable at risk, it is also self-defeating," he said Monday. "Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Egypt unlocks more secrets in Saqqara with discovery of temple, sarcophagi

David Degner/Getty ImagesBY: HATEM MAHER, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — Egypt uncovered a funerary temple and the oldest coffins ever found in Saqqara, unlocking more secrets in the ancient burial site and marking another major discovery in the vast necropolis south of Cairo.

The country said a mission headed by prominent Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, the former minister of state for antiquities affairs, unearthed the funerary temple of Queen Nearit, the wife of King Teti -- the first pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty of Egypt.

The mission also unearthed 52 burial shafts with more than 50 wooden coffins found inside. They date back 3,000 years, the oldest sarcophagi found in Saqqara.

"These coffins are wooden and anthropoid … many of the gods that were worshiped during this period were represented on the surface of the coffins, in addition to various excerpts from the Book of the Dead that help the deceased pass through the journey of the other world," the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities said in a statement.

In recent months, Egypt unearthed hundreds of coffins of top officials and priests in Saqqara, all dating back to the more recent Late and Ptolemaic periods.

The new discovery is distinguished because older New Kingdom sarcophagi were found, the ministry has said. The New Kingdom period lasted from the 16th century BC to the 11th century BC, covering the 18th, 19th and 20th Egyptian dynasties.

"The discovery confirmed that the Saqqara area was not used for burial during the Late Period only, but also during the New Kingdom," the statement read.

Another "luxurious, mud-brick shrine" was also uncovered at a depth of 24 meters below the ground level, the deepest shaft found yet. Hawass said digging work will continue until the burial chamber is discovered.

"Inside the shafts, the mission discovered large numbers of archaeological artifacts and a large number of statues that represents deities such as the god Osiris and Ptah-Soker-Osiris," the antiquities ministry added.

Egypt has carried out extensive digging operations in Saqqara in recent years, which resulted in a string of discoveries, including the unearthing of a 4,400-year-old tomb of royal priest Wahtye in 2018 and the discovery of hundreds of mummified animals and statues a year later.

Tourism & Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany said in November that Egypt can "find tombs and burial shafts in every single spot in this area," referring to Saqqara, which is also home to 13 pyramids.

Egypt is hoping the findings can help revive the vital tourism industry, which took a fresh blow because of the COVID-19 pandemic just when it had begun to recover from the aftermath of uprisings and civil unrest in 2011 and 2013.

Hawass said the latest discoveries in the ancient necropolis will "make Saqqara an important tourist and cultural destination."

"It will also rewrite the history of Saqqara during the New Kingdom," he added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia extends Navalny's detention as outcry over his arrest grows


(MOSCOW) -- Russian authorities have extended the detention of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in a hastily organized court hearing on Monday despite growing international condemnation over his arrest a day earlier at a Russian airport.

Navalny was detained by police at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport as he landed in the country for the first time since his poisoning with a nerve agent last summer.

Navalny appeared in a court hearing organized inside a police station on the outskirts of Moscow. It was filmed and then posted online by his lawyers. The lawyers said they were informed about it just minutes before it began.

The judge ruled to satisfy a request by police to extend Navalny’s detention until Feb. 15, Navalny’s lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, wrote on Twitter.

Navalny and his colleagues denounced the hearing as a “mockery of justice” and called for his supporters to begin street protests. His team announced plans for a nationwide demonstration to start next Saturday.

“What’s happening here doesn’t have the smallest thing to do with the law of the Russian Federation,” Navalny said during the court hearing. What scared the authorities most were the protests, he noted.

“And so don’t be afraid -- go out onto the streets. Don’t do it for me, do it for yourself and for your future,” Navalny said.

A small crowd of a few dozen supporters of Navalny were outside the police station, chanting for his release, in temperatures around -11 degrees Fahrenheit. No reporters were allowed into the court hearing, except for a few journalists from pro-Kremlin channels who were already inside when the hearing began.

Russia's prison service has said it has detained Navalny for allegedly violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 trial where he was found guilty of embezzlement. The European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled that conviction was politically motivated.

Before Navalny returned, the prison service requested that his nearly four-year suspended sentence be converted into real prison time. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29.

Monday’s ruling means that Navalny will remain behind bars until the end of the month.

Navalny’s arrest has triggered a growing outcry from western countries, with some European countries calling for sanctions against Russia if he is not released. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s Commission, issued a statement condemning Navalny’s detention by Russian authorities.

“They must immediately release him and ensure his safety,” she said, adding that the EU would be monitoring the situation closely.

Joe Biden’s incoming national security adviser on Sunday night also demanded Navalny's release in a Twitter post, calling the attacks on Navalny an “affront to the Russian people.”

France, Britain, Germany as well as many other European countries also made calls for Navalny’s release.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, on Monday dismissed the demands, claiming that Western countries wanted to use Navalny’s arrest to distract attention away from problems at home. He accused Germany of inventing evidence that Navalny had been poisoned and said he was unconcerned by the criticism.

“We should probably think about our image, but we’re not young ladies going to a ball,” Lavrov told reporters.
Navalny says Russian agent accidentally admitted to poisoning him

Navalny had been recuperating in Germany following his poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent, a Soviet-developed chemical weapon used in the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergey Skripal in Britain in 2018.

Russian authorities took extensive measures ahead of Navalny’s arrival on Sunday. Moscow’s Vnukovo airport abruptly changed its rules restricting entry and a heavy police presence was deployed to prevent hundreds of Navalny’s supporters and journalists from meeting him. Police detained at least 40 people.

Navalny's commercial flight was abruptly diverted to Sheremetyevo, a different Moscow airport, away from the waiting crowd.

Navalny said the manner of his detention and the court hearing showed that the Kremlin was afraid of him and his supporters.

“Why is everything so fast, why did no one know about this hearing? Because their approval ratings are high? Because they’re strong? No, of course not!” Navalny told his supporters in his video. “They’re afraid. And they’re afraid of you!”

Navalny is Russia’s best-known opposition activist and has a grassroots following thanks to his investigations into alleged corruption by powerful Russians officials and business people around President Vladimir Putin.

In recent years he has succeeded in organising unusually large street protests in Russia, sometimes gathering several thousand people in Moscow despite tough efforts by police to block them.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement Navalny’s poisoning, which he has accused Putin of ordering.

But last month, the independent group Bellingcat published an investigation identifying members of an alleged FSB hit squad who were present in the Siberian city of Tomsk when Navalny was poisoned. Navalny also published audio where one of the alleged agents unwittingly admitted to the plot in a call with Navalny himself, who posed as a senior Russian official.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Migrants from Honduras moving through Guatemala, hoping to reach US

Luis Vargas/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesBy CHRISTINE THEODOROU and JOSHUA HOYOS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of migrants from Honduras fleeing violence, devastation caused in the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes and economic hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic are in Guatemala and moving towards Mexico, hoping to ultimately reach the U.S.

Calls were made on social media for groups to join together and leave from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Jan. 15, according to the International Organization for Migration. Between Jan. 13 and 15, 3,500 people left from San Pedro Sula, and more people joined up with them in the following days. Between Jan. 15 and 16, 7,500 people crossed into Guatemala, the IOM said.

Guatemala's government has called on Honduras to contain the mass exit and is also calling on other Central American governments to take similar actions to prevent putting citizens at a health risk because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the government said that on Jan. 14, a "state of protection decree" was issued to control the flow of people at the Honduras-Guatemala border. But as of Saturday, they said "some groups have violated the surveillance regulations and managed to enter our territory in violation of legal provisions."

The Institute for National Migration in Honduras said on Facebook more than 200 members of the caravan returned to Honduras and that three border controls have been reinforced.

Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement praising Guatemala for taking steps to attend to the "irregular contingent" that entered its territory, adding that Mexico supports authorized movements, but irregular migrations threaten the lives and health of both the migrating group and host populations.

In June, President-elect Joe Biden promised to reverse many of President Donald Trump's immigration policies. Depending on how this situation develops, it may turn into one of the earlier immigration issues the Biden administration faces.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Prince William is 'proud' his grandparents received COVID-19 vaccine


(LONDON) -- Prince William is taking part in the effort to get people vaccinated in the United Kingdom by joining its vaccination campaign.

In a video posted on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s social media accounts Saturday, Prince William joined a roundtable of frontline workers talking about the National Health Service’s vaccination effort, which is described by one health care worker in the video as “the biggest public health campaign that the U.K. has seen.”

So far, health care workers in the U.K. have administered more than 2.8 million vaccines.

“A huge congratulations to all of you for playing your part in such a monumental moment,” Prince William said in the video.

“This is because we have a world-leading NHS, this is because we have the right people, the right research and development here,” he added about the work that has been done so far.

💉🇬🇧 Thank you to all the staff and volunteers across the country working to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected from coronavirus 👏

— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) January 16, 2021

Britain was the first western country to begin a mass vaccination rollout against the coronavirus. In December, the country began administering the vaccine to its top priority groups, which included front-line health care workers, everyone over the age of 80 and health and social care workers who are at high risk.

Just over a week ago, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, received their COVID-19 vaccines, which were administered by a doctor at Windsor Castle.

In the video, Prince William commended his grandparents for getting the vaccine.

“My grandparents have had the vaccine, and I’m very proud of them for doing that,” William said. “It’s really important that everyone gets their vaccine.”

The British government is aiming to administer vaccine doses to 15 million people by mid-February.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny detained upon arrival in Moscow


(NEW YORK) — Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained by police at a Moscow airport minutes after returning to Russia for the first time since he was poisoned with a nerve agent this summer.

Navalny had pledged to return to Russia despite the assassination attempt and recent threats from Russian authorities that he would be jailed. On Sunday, he flew to Moscow on a commercial flight from Germany, where he had been recuperating from the poisoning.

The flight was diverted at the last minute to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport after authorities suddenly closed the airport where the plane had been scheduled to land and where hundreds of supporters and journalists were waiting for Navalny, along with dozens of riot police.

After he disembarked, Russian police approached Navalny while he was standing at passport control and detained him, which was filmed by a crowd of journalists that had flown with him from Berlin. After kissing his wife, Yulia, Navalny was led away.

Navalny had spent months recovering in Germany, where he was flown for treatment after falling critically ill in August while aboard a flight in Siberia. A German military lab later found he had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, a type of chemical weapon developed by the Soviet Union.

Days before his arrival, Russia’s prison service announced Navalny had been placed on a wanted list for allegedly violating the terms of a suspended sentence he received for a 2014 fraud conviction. The prison service recently requested that the suspended three and a half-year sentence be converted to real jail time. The 2014 trial where Navalny received the sentence was later ruled as politically motivated by the European Court of Human Rights.

The federal penitentiary service on Sunday said it had detained Navalny at the airport in relation to that warrant and that he would now be held until a court hearing, which is scheduled for Jan. 29.

Navalny is Russia’s best-known opposition leader and has built up a large grassroots following with his anti-corruption investigations into powerful figures around President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny had said the threats to arrest him were an attempt by the Kremlin to force him into exile after the attempt to kill him with the nerve agent failed.

After landing, Navalny told the journalists traveling with him that he was “completely happy” to be back and that he had no choice but to return.

“They ask me, am I afraid? I’m not afraid. I, with an absolutely normal feeling, will go up to passport control, go out and go home, because I know that I am right. I know that all the criminal cases against me are fabricated,” he said. Minutes later he was arrested.

Before flying, Navalny had called on his supporters to meet him at the airport, and authorities took elaborate steps to prevent images of a triumphant homecoming. Vnukovo International Airport, where Navalny’s flight had initially been due to arrive, abruptly introduced new rules restricting building entry to only those with a ticket, and a heavy police presence was deployed, with lines of police vans parked outside.

Several hundred people tried to gather at the airport. Inside, police officers in riot gear with helmets and batons shoved supporters and journalists out onto the street, and at least 37 people were arrested.

The flight was abruptly diverted as it approached the airport, leaving journalists and the supporters in the wrong place. Pobeda Airlines said the airport was closed due to sudden “technical reasons” and that two of its other flights had been forced to divert. After the diversion, police for a time blocked the road out of Vnukovo as journalists tried to reach the other airport.

Russia has denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning. But an investigation by the independent investigative journalism website Bellingcat last month published evidence that a team of alleged agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence agency had trailed Navalny for years and were present in the Siberian city of Tomsk when he was poisoned. Navalny also recorded one of the alleged agents unwittingly admitting to the plot to Navalny himself in a phone call where he posed as a senior Russian official.

Last month Putin confirmed that the FSB was following Navalny but denied they had poisoned him, saying if they had, “they would have finished the job.”

In addition to the 2014 suspended sentence, Russian prosecutors last month also opened a new criminal case against Navalny for alleged large-scale embezzlement that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Lebanon enacts all-day curfew after new surge in coronavirus cases

CasPhotography/iStockBy IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News

(PARIS) -- Starting Thursday, people in Lebanon are asked to stay home, day or night, without exemptions for grocery shopping or exercising, to curb a new surge in coronavirus cases.

Lebanon has entered a national state of emergency, which includes a 24-hour curfew prohibiting citizens from leaving their home from Jan. 14 until the morning of Jan. 25, Brig. Gen Mahmoud al Asmar, spokesperson of the Lebanese Higher Defense Council, announced earlier this week.

Only a limited category of essential workers, such as health care workers and journalists, are allowed to venture outside. Travel in and out of the country is also heavily reduced and under further restrictions, including a minimum 72-hour quarantine upon arrival.

The government decided to confine the entire population as it faced the critical situation of the country’s hospitals running out of beds for patients.

The Beirut port explosion in August 2020 destroyed several hospitals, and two years of a dire financial crisis have already put pressure on a weak health care system. Now the country faces its highest daily death toll and highest daily case numbers, with an average of 5,000 COVID-19 cases a day.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Public Health announced Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan tested positive for COVID-19 and is being treated at the hospital.

"The whole health care system is on the brink of collapse," said Dr. Firass Abiad, surgeon and CEO of Beiruit's Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where he said the ICU is running at full capacity. "All hospitals in Lebanon are facing shortages because of the economic crisis and some medical supplies and medication. Unfortunately because of the surge, this situation has worsened at the moment."

Abiad said his hospital has not had to turn patients away yet, but it is something he worries about as emergency rooms fill up.

"We are hoping that the society will show a high compliance with these new measures," he said.

Gatherings over the holiday season are being held responsible for the current surge in cases. The Lebanese government eased measures against the spread of the virus over the holidays, allowing restaurants, hotels and even nightclubs to open up.

Lebanon leads the number of cases per million population in the Arab world, as COVID-19 infections hit new records after the holiday season, according to the Global Health Institute at the American University of Beirut. The country, which has a 6.8 million population, has one of the fastest increasing daily number of cases.

With a 70% increase in contaminations compared to the seven days preceding, the country is one where the epidemic is spreading fastest in the world, after Portugal, Nigeria and Ireland, according to data from Agence France-Presse.

Scenes of panic at grocery stores were plentiful in the last days before the complete closure of the country, as the Lebanese lined up in front of supermarkets to stock up.

However, in a country in the midst of an economic and financial crisis, food insecurity will likely rise under the new lockdown, Soha Zaiter, the executive manager of the Lebanese Food Bank, said.

"We have a lot of people working day by day, if they do not go out in the morning, they cannot buy food or pay the rent," Zaiter told ABC News. "People cannot afford to stay like this, yet the government is not making any plans to cover the expenses of people that are in need. The demand is getting higher and higher."

The Lebanese Food Bank is planning to distribute around 6,000 food boxes across Lebanon, in addition to blankets and heaters for the most in need.

"People need us more than ever before," Zaiter said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Sending carrier back to Middle East will keep tensions low after Soleimani death anniversary, admiral says

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday answers questions during a press conference on June 19, 2020. - Department of Defense/Marvin LynchardBy ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- With tensions running high between Iran and the United States in recent weeks, the Navy's top admiral believes the U.S. has the right naval assets in the Middle East to deter Iranian aggression.

Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, told reporters during a trip to the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, that the recent return of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the waters of the Middle East was intended "to maintain stability, at a time when things could potentially become unstable."

Asked for his assessment of tensions in the region, Gilday said that "right now, things seem to be very stable in the region."

There had been some speculation that Iran might retaliate against U.S. forces in the region on the anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed senior Iranian general Qossem Soleimani on Jan. 3, 2020. And while the date has now passed, tensions between Iran and the U.S. still exist.

American B-52 bombers have recently carried out long-range missions to demonstrate the U.S. military's strategic capabilities and Iran has carried out large scale naval and drone exercises.

"We're sending a very clear signal to Iran and others that we have the capabilities in place to respond should we be required to," Gilday said.

Gilday said the Navy's presence in the region and cooperation with 33 coalition countries has deterred Iranian malign activity and reassured U.S. allies and partners in the region.

"We're not looking for trouble, we're not trying to instigate anything," he said. "Our focus is to maintain stability in the region and right now my assessment is that we have the right forces in place."

Two weeks ago, the USS Nimitz was abruptly ordered to return to the Middle East just days after the Pentagon announced it was headed back to the U.S. following a nine-month deployment.

The original plan to end the carrier's deployment was intended to send a message to Iran that the U.S. was de-escalating tensions ahead of the anniversary of Soleimani's death.

But threats from Iranian leaders aimed at President Donald Trump around the time of the announcement led Trump to reverse the Pentagon's decision and direct the carrier back to the region.

It is unclear how long the carrier will remain in the region after what was already a lengthy deployment.

The extension also means the Navy will have to delay scheduled maintenance to prepare the USS Nimitz for future deployments.

As for the crew of the Nimitz, "They're doing just fine," Gilday said, describing his videoconference with the ship's senior leaders.

"They understand the mission that they've been assigned to do," Gilday added. "Although they've been extended, they understand the importance of it."

During his two-day visit to Bahrain, Gilday said Navy sailors did not ask him about the situation in the U.S. following last week's assault on the U.S. Capitol.

His sense is that sailors are "well-informed" about what has been going in the country, but they understand their sworn mission to support and defend the Constitution.

"That's our job, and I think that we just need to keep our heads down and you would expect the American public would expect that we would be focused on mission, and that there would be nothing but stability in the United States military," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 mutations spark global concerns

Tempura/iStockBy LIEZL THOM, ABC News

(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- The World Health Organization's emergency committee will meet two weeks early on Thursday to discuss the new coronavirus variants from South Africa and Britain that have rapidly spread to at least 50 countries and sparked widespread alarm.

The newly identified variants, which appear to be significantly more infectious than the strain that emerged in China in 2019, come as spiking virus numbers force many nations to enforce new lockdowns.

The committee normally gathers every three months but the WHO said the director-general pulled the meeting forward "to consider issues that need urgent discussion."

"These are the recent variants and considerations on the use [of] vaccination and testing certificates for international travel," the global body said Wednesday.

Mutations to Sars-CoV-2 are raising concerns among scientists who are scrambling to work out if they will respond to vaccines.

In particular, one mutation, detected initially in South Africa and on subsequent variants in Brazil and Japan, has raised alarm among researchers, who are studying the variant, known as 501Y.V2 to determine whether current vaccines will be effective.

Experts say the vaccines will very likely still work against the new variants. Studies to confirm are ongoing, but those experiments take time.

Professor of infectious diseases at the University of Cape Town, Marc Mendelson, told ABC News that it remains undetermined whether the South African variant is really more contagious. "Studies to date suggest that people infected with this variant have an increase in the viral load, which is likely to increase the ability of that person to transmit to others. The evidence is supported by the speed of increase numbers being infected during the second wave, both in South Africa and in the U.K., which has a separate variant which also carries the same mutation at position 501 in the spike protein," Mendelson, who is also the head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital, told ABC News.

Mendelson said a lot of urgent work is underway to study the mutation and he's hopeful that some answers will be forthcoming within the next few weeks. "The most pressing question is around whether the mutations in the variant will affect vaccine responses. Then there's the question of whether the variant is associated with more severe disease? I am not seeing evidence of that on the ground (at my hospital), but subtle differences need a lot of data to pick it up, so that is anecdotal evidence. However at present, there is no signal that it causes more severe disease."

A preliminary study found that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine appears to work against the mutated virus, but more studies are needed because the South African variant has a number of additional mutations, including changes to some to the virus' spike protein.

According to Mendelson, the spike protein is not only vital for entry of the virus, but is also the site targeted by antibodies humans produce to control the viral infection. "Put simply, these antibodies neutralize the virus by binding to specific sequences of the spike protein, preventing it binding to a receptor on our cells and therefore preventing entry. If you can prevent entry of the virus into cells, you can prevent it replicating and inhibit it from causing an infection. The reason for concern is once again, a number of mutations in the genetic code of the virus that the variant has. The resulting changes in structure of the spike protein, could reduce the binding of antibodies to their recognition sites and therefore reduce the ability of our immune system to prevent the virus from entering cells and taking hold."

According to the WHO, the South African identified strain has been found in 20 countries, territories and areas after first being reported to the WHO on Dec. 18.

"From preliminary and ongoing investigations in South Africa, it is possible that the 501Y.V2 variant is more transmissible than variants circulating in South Africa previously," the agency's weekly report said.

"Moreover, while this new variant does not appear to cause more severe illness, the observed rapid increases in case numbers has placed health systems under pressure." The geographical spread of both variants is likely underestimated, said the WHO.

Fears over the increased transmissibility of the new variants are prompting fresh lockdowns and extra measures to contain COVID-19.

The South African strain is causing more concern, however, due to an additional mutation that has scientists on edge, one named E484K, which may render certain vaccines less effective.

The WHO also noted that a third new coronavirus variant "of concern," found in Japan, needs further investigation.

"The more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean that we should expect more variants to emerge," the WHO stated. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. Viruses constantly undergo minor changes as they spread from person to person.

More than 90 million COVID-19 infections have been recorded globally since cases first appeared in December 2019. The death toll from the pandemic is nearing two million people.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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