Djokovic Out of Australian Open as Court Upholds Deportation

Novak Djokovic’s hopes of playing at the Australian Open were dashed Sunday after a court dismissed the top-ranked tennis star’s appeal against a deportation order.

Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made on Friday by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.

The decision likely means that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, will remain in detention in Melbourne until he is deported.

A deportation order usually also includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia.

The minister canceled the visa on the grounds that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”

Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled on Jan. 6 at Melbourne’s airport hours after he arrived to compete in the first Grand Slam of 2022.

A border official cancelled his visa after deciding Djokovic didn’t qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors. 

 

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Australian Court Adjourns to Consider Djokovic Verdict

Novak Djokovic’s fate now lies in the hands of three Australian Federal Court justices, after his last-gasp appeal against deportation adjourned Sunday pending a verdict that is expected later in the day.

The tennis star’s lawyers told an emergency hearing that the government’s effort to deport him on the eve of the Australian Open was “irrational” and “unreasonable”, but they faced pointed questions from the panel of justices who will now decide his case.

Novak Djokovic’s lawyers painted Australia’s effort to deport him as “irrational” and “unreasonable” Sunday, in an eleventh-hour bid to reinstate the tennis star’s visa and allow him to remain in the country to defend his Australian Open crown.

With just hours to go before the first ball is served at Melbourne Park, Djokovic’s high-powered legal team kicked off an emergency appeal in Australia’s Federal Court.

The hearing will decide whether the Australian Open’s top seed and defending champion can retain his title and become the first male player in history to win 21 Grand Slams.

His lawyer Nick Wood sought to systematically dismantle the government’s central argument that Djokovic’s anti-vaccine views are a public threat and could cause “civil unrest” unless he is deported.

Despite the 34-year-old being unvaccinated, Wood insisted he has not courted anti-vaxxer support and was not associated with the movement.

The government “doesn’t know what Mr. Djokovic’s current views are,” Wood insisted.

Government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said the fact that Djokovic was not vaccinated two years into the pandemic and had repeatedly ignored safety measures — including failing to isolate while COVID-19 positive — was evidence enough of his views.

“He’s chosen not to go into evidence in this proceeding. He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not — that has important consequences,” the government said in a written submission.

Lloyd also pointed to a series of protests already sparked by Djokovic’s arrival in Australia.

Those competing arguments will be weighed by a panel of three court justices, who are expected to give their verdict Sunday, or Monday at the latest.

Because of the format of the court, their decision will be extremely difficult to appeal by either side.

If the Serbian star loses, he will face immediate deportation and a three-year ban from Australia — dramatically lengthening his odds of winning a championship he has bagged nine times before.

‘We stand by you’

If he wins, it sets the stage for an audacious title tilt and will deal another humiliating blow to Australia’s embattled prime minister ahead of elections expected in May.

Scott Morrison’s government has tried and failed to remove Djokovic once before — on the grounds he was unvaccinated and that a recent COVID infection was not sufficient for a medical exemption.

A lower circuit judge ruled that officials at Melbourne airport made procedural errors when canceling his visa.

For a few days, Djokovic was free to train before a second visa revocation and a return to a notorious Melbourne immigration detention facility.

Many Australians — who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions — believe Djokovic gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements.

Experts say the case has taken on significance beyond the fate of one man who happens to be good at tennis.

“The case is likely to define how tourists, foreign visitors and even Australian citizens view the nation’s immigration policies and ‘equality before the law’ for years to come,” said Sanzhuan Guo, a law lecturer at Flinders University.

The case has also been seized on by culture warriors in the roiling debate over vaccines and how to handle the pandemic.

Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke has admitted that Djokovic is at “negligible” risk of infecting Australians but argued his past “disregard” for COVID-19 regulations may pose a risk to public health and encourage people to ignore pandemic rules.

The tennis ace contracted COVID-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling, a youth tennis event, and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest infection was confirmed.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday accused Australia of “mistreating” the country’s biggest star, and a national hero.

“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the 10th trophy in Melbourne, why didn’t you return him immediately, why didn’t you tell him, ‘It is impossible to obtain a visa’?” Vucic said on Instagram.

“Novak, we stand by you!”

‘With or without him’

Djokovic is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.

Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.

“The Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”

Defending Australian Open women’s champion Naomi Osaka called the Djokovic saga “unfortunate” and “sad” and said it could be the defining moment of his career. 

 

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China Tries to Contain Omicron Outbreak Ahead of Winter Olympics

Ahead of the February opening of the Winter Olympics in China, authorities are attempting to contain an outbreak of the omicron coronavirus variant in a southern city.

Officials in Zhuhai suspended the city’s bus service after uncovering seven cases of the highly contagious variant and advised residents to stay home.

In the next week or two, Americans will begin receiving free rapid home coronavirus tests from the U.S. government. Residents will have to request the tests on a designated website. The tests have been almost impossible to find in stores.

India’s health ministry on Saturday said it had recorded 268,833 new COVID cases, which is 4,631 more cases than were recorded Friday.

The Russian government on Friday delayed approving unpopular legislation that would have restricted access to public places without proof of COVID-19 vaccination, amid a surge in new infections.

The Associated Press reports the bill would have required Russians seeking to enter certain public places to have a QR code either confirming vaccination, recent recovery from COVID-19 or a medical exemption from immunization.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said the measure was pulled due to uncertainty regarding its effectiveness as it was drawn up in response to the delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The omicron variant is currently driving a surge in new infections in the country.

She said 783 omicron variant cases have been confirmed across Russia. Moscow officials reported 729 confirmed omicron cases in the capital since Dec. 20.

Meanwhile, a French court suspended an outdoor mask requirement in the streets of Paris. The requirement had been imposed Dec. 31 in an effort to suppress the spread of the omicron variant.

A court in Versailles on Wednesday suspended a similar outdoor masking requirement for the Yvelines region.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Saturday that 323.7 million COVID cases have been recorded and 5.5 million deaths. The center said 9.6 billion vaccines have been administered.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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Manatee Feeding Experiment Starts Slowly as Cold Looms

An unprecedented, experimental attempt to feed manatees facing starvation in Florida has started slowly but wildlife officials expressed optimism Thursday that it will work as cold weather drives the marine mammals toward warmer waters.

A feeding station established along the state’s east coast has yet to entice wild manatees with romaine lettuce even though the animals will eat it in captivity, officials said on a news conference held remotely.

Water pollution from agricultural, urban and other sources has triggered algae blooms that have decimated seagrass beds on which manatees depend, leading to a record 1,101 manatee deaths largely from starvation in 2021. The typical five-year average is about 625 deaths.

That brought about the lettuce feeding program, part of a joint manatee death response group led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It remains a violation of state and federal law for people to feed manatees on their own.

“We have not documented animals foraging on the lettuce,” said Ron Mezich, chief of the joint effort’s provisioning branch. “We know manatees will eat lettuce.”

During winter months, hundreds of manatees tend to congregate in warmer waters from natural springs and power plant discharges. Because this winter has been unusually mild in Florida so far, the animals have been more dispersed.

“They’re moving, but they are not being pressed by cold temperatures yet,” said Tom Reinert, south regional director for the FWC. “We expect that to happen.”

In addition to the feeding experiment, officials are working with a number of facilities to rehabilitate distressed manatees that are found alive. These include Florida zoos, the SeaWorld theme park and marine aquariums. There were 159 rescued manatees in 2021, some of which require lengthy care and some that have been returned to the wild, officials said.

“Our facilities are at or near capacity,” said Andy Garrett, chief of rescue and recovery. “These animals need long-term care. It’s been a huge amount of work to date.”

There are a minimum of 7,520 manatees in Florida waters currently, according to state statistics. The slow-moving, round-tailed mammals have rebounded enough to list them as a threatened species rather than endangered, although a push is on to restore the endangered tag given the starvation deaths.

Officials are also using $8 million in state money on several projects aimed at restoring manatee habitat and planting new seagrass beds, but that is a slow process and won’t ultimately solve the problem until the polluted waters are improved.

People can report any manatee they see that might be distressed by calling a wildlife hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Other ways to help are donating money through a state-sponsored fund or purchasing a Save the Manatee vehicle license plate.

That’s better than feeding manatees personally, which does more harm than good because the animals will associate humans with food, according to officials. People and manatees have struggled to coexist for decades.

“This is a very serious situation,” Reinert said. “Use your dollars and not heads of lettuce.”

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More Evidence Links a Virus to Multiple Sclerosis, Study Finds

There’s more evidence that one of the world’s most common viruses may set some people on the path to developing multiple sclerosis. 

Multiple sclerosis is a potentially disabling disease that occurs when immune system cells mistakenly attack the protective coating on nerve fibers, gradually eroding them. 

The Epstein-Barr virus has long been suspected of playing a role in the development of MS. It’s a connection that’s hard to prove because just about everybody gets infected with Epstein-Barr, usually as kids or young adults, but only a tiny fraction develop MS.

On Thursday, Harvard researchers reported one of the largest studies yet to back the Epstein-Barr theory. 

They tracked blood samples stored from more than 10 million people in the U.S. military and found the risk of MS increased 32-fold following Epstein-Barr infection. 

The military regularly administers blood tests to its members, and the researchers checked samples stored from 1993-2013, looking for antibodies signaling viral infection. 

Just 5.3% of recruits showed no sign of Epstein-Barr when they joined the military. The researchers compared 801 MS cases subsequently diagnosed over the 20-year period with 1,566 service members who never got MS.

Only one of the MS patients had no evidence of the Epstein-Barr virus before the MS diagnosis. And despite intensive searching, the researchers found no evidence that other viral infections played a role. 

The findings “strongly suggest” that Epstein-Barr infection is “a cause and not a consequence of MS,” study author Dr. Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues reported in the journal Science. 

It’s clearly not the only factor, considering that about 90% of adults have antibodies showing they’ve had Epstein-Barr, while nearly 1 million people in the U.S. are living with MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 

The virus appears to be “the initial trigger,” Drs. William H. Robinson and Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University wrote in an editorial accompanying Thursday’s study. But they cautioned, “additional fuses must be ignited,” such as genes that may make people more vulnerable. 

Epstein-Barr is best known for causing “mono,” or infectious mononucleosis, in teens and young adults but often occurs with no symptoms. A virus that remains inactive in the body after initial infection, it also has been linked to later development of some autoimmune diseases and rare cancers. 

It’s not clear why. Among the possibilities is what’s called “molecular mimicry,” meaning viral proteins may look so similar to some nervous system proteins that it induces the mistaken immune attack. 

Regardless, the new study is “the strongest evidence to date that Epstein-Barr contributes to cause MS,” said Mark Allegretta, vice president for research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

And that, he added, “opens the door to potentially prevent MS by preventing Epstein-Barr infection.” 

Attempts are underway to develop Epstein-Barr vaccines including a small study just started by Moderna Inc., best known for its COVID-19 vaccine. 

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Birdwatchers Flock for Glimpse of Rare Snowy Owl in US Capital

The white dome of the U.S. Capitol shone through the night, illuminating a small group huddled down the hill, bundled tightly against the winter cold and carrying binoculars and cameras with long lenses.

The motley crew were not there to photograph Washington’s famous monuments, they had their sights set on a rare creature that flew in from the arctic: a snowy owl.

“There he is!” shouted one of the birdwatchers.

The crowd shifted positions to get a better angle.

“It’s amazing,” said an enthused Meleia Rose, 41. “I’ve been a birder a long time, and this is my first time ever seeing a snowy owl.”

Birdwatching, or birding as it is also known, is a popular pastime in the United States, with hobbyists typically hiking through forests or camping in rural areas to spot different species of birds.

So the majestic owl’s appearance a week ago in the city, much further south than its usual habitat, has proved a magnet.

“You can see the Capitol,” Rose said, wrapped in a big winter coat and accompanied by her partner. “It’s arresting to have the contrast, the wildness with the city — but especially D.C. where it’s so … monumental and iconic.

The couple, who hired a babysitter for the occasion, got a good look at the rare bird, allowing them to mark “snowy owl” off their “life list,” a catalog of every bird they’ve seen.

Like others staring up at the young female owl, identified by its gray and white plumage, Rose was alerted to its arrival by eBird, a network used by birdwatchers to signal particularly interesting finds, which logged 200 million observations last year by 290,000 enthusiasts worldwide.

Users had pinpointed the snowy owl near Union Station, a bustling transportation hub just down the road from the Capitol, where a line of taxis curls around a grassy park, crisscrossed with walkways and dotted with tents set up by the homeless.

At the center of the park, on top of a marble fountain, a pair of yellow eyes peered out, searching for an evening snack, most likely one of the capital’s countless rats.

An ‘arctic visitor’

One recent visitor was Jacques Pitteloud, Switzerland’s ambassador to the United States and a passionate birdwatcher.

“The snowy owl has been on my list a long time,” Pitteloud told AFP, “but it’s truly extraordinary to see it in the middle of Washington, D.C.”

“She was truly the superstar of Union Station!” he added.

With broad white wings, these birds are “like a creature from another world,” explained Kevin McGowan, a professor with Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

Snowy owls live a good part of the year near the Arctic Circle, but most migrate south for the winter, usually stopping near the U.S. border with Canada.

Its visit so far south to Washington is “like having a polar bear coming by your neighborhood,” McGowan said.

“Snowy owls are such a charismatic bird,” noted Scott Weidensaul, the co-leader of Project SNOWstorm, a group that researches and tracks snowy owls.

“And particularly for birdwatchers in the Washington, D.C., area where it is an unusual event to see one down there. You know, that’s a big deal.”

In a black down jacket, Edward Eder was setting up his camera for a second night in a row. It’s equipped with an ultra-long lens for him to see the bird up close.

“A lot of people have taken up or become more enthusiastic birders during the pandemic,” explained the 71-year-old retiree, attributing the trend in part to the ability to easily social distance.

With their parents pointing the way, a small group of children attempt to catch a glimpse of the bird, which some may even recognize as kin to Hedwig, the snowy owl companion to Harry Potter in the cult book and movie series. 

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Shkreli Ordered to Return $64M, Barred from Drug Industry 

Martin Shkreli must return $64.6 million in profits he and his former company reaped from jacking up the price and monopolizing the market for a lifesaving drug, a federal judge ruled Friday while also barring the provocative, imprisoned ex-CEO from the pharmaceutical industry for the rest of his life. 

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote’s ruling came several weeks after a seven-day bench trial in December that featured recordings of conversations that Cote said showed Shkreli continuing to exert control over the company, Vyera Pharmaceuticals LLC, from behind bars and discussing ways to thwart generic versions of its lucrative drug, Daraprim. 

“Shkreli was no side player in, or a ‘remote, unrelated’ beneficiary of Vyera’s scheme,” Cote wrote in a 135-page opinion. “He was the mastermind of its illegal conduct and the person principally responsible for it throughout the years.” 

The Federal Trade Commission and seven states brought the case in 2020 against the man known in the media as “Pharma Bro,” about two years after he was sentenced to prison in an unrelated securities fraud scheme. 

“‘Envy, greed, lust, and hate,’ don’t just ‘separate,’ but they obviously motivated Mr. Shkreli and his partner to illegally jack up the price of a life-saving drug as Americans’ lives hung in the balance,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, peppering the written statement with references to the Wu-Tang Clan, whose one-of-a-kind album Shkreli had to fork over to satisfy court debt. 

“But Americans can rest easy because Martin Shkreli is a pharma bro no more.” 

Messages seeking comment were left with Shkreli’s lawyers. 

Shkreli was CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals — later Vyera — when it raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill after obtaining exclusive rights to the decades-old drug in 2015. It treats a rare parasitic disease that strikes pregnant women, cancer patients and AIDS patients. 

Shkreli defended the decision as capitalism at work and said insurance and other programs ensured that people who need Daraprim would ultimately get it. 

Shkreli eventually offered hospitals half off — still amounting to a 2,500% increase. But patients normally take most of the weekslong treatment after returning home, so they and their insurers still faced the $750-a-pill price. 

Shkreli resigned as Turing’s CEO in 2015, a day after he was arrested on securities fraud charges related to two failed hedge funds he ran before getting into the pharmaceutical industry. He was convicted of lying to investors and cheating them out of millions and is serving a seven-year sentence at a federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, and is scheduled to be released in November. 

The FTC and seven states — New York, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia — alleged in their case that Vyera hiked the price of Daraprim and illegally created “a web of anticompetitive restrictions” to prevent other companies from creating cheaper generic versions. Among other things, they alleged, Vyera blocked access to a key ingredient for the medication and to data the companies would want to evaluate the drug’s market potential. 

Vyera and its parent company, Phoenixus AG, settled last month, agreeing to provide up to $40 million in relief over 10 years to consumers and to make Daraprim available to any potential generic competitor at the cost of producing the drug. Former Vyera CEO Kevin Mulleady agreed to pay $250,000 if he violates the settlement, which barred him from working for a pharmaceutical company” for seven years. 

Shkreli proceeded to trial but opted not to attend the proceedings, instead submitting a written affidavit that served as his testimony. 

The trial record included evidence showing Shkreli kept in regular contact with company executives, even after he went to prison. A spreadsheet kept by one executive showed more than 1,500 contacts with Shkreli between December 2019 and July 2020. 

The record also included recordings of conversations Shkreli had from prison in which he discussed his control of Vyera, saying he had “no problem firing everybody,” boasting how he controlled the board, and comparing himself to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the pharmaceutical company to the social media behemoth. 

 

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WHO Approves Two New Drugs to Treat COVID-19

The World Health Organization is recommending two new drugs for the treatment of COVID-19, adding to a growing list of therapeutic remedies for the deadly disease.

Baricitinib is an oral medication recommended for patients with severe or critical COVID-19.It is part of a class of drugs that suppresses the overstimulation of the immune system and is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

WHO team lead for clinical care, Janet Diaz, says the drug should be given along with corticosteroids, a type of anti-inflammatory treatment. She notes three clinical trials of 2,600 people showed a drop in the mortality of patients with coronavirus infections once they received baricitinib.

She says WHO has also conditionally recommended the use of a monoclonal antibody drug called sotrovimab for treating patients with COVID-19 who have mild or moderate disease. 

“Conditional for those patients that are of the highest risk for complications,” Diaz said. “This would include patients who are older age, unvaccinated or have underlying conditions. This recommendation is based upon one trial, a well-done trial with just over 1,000 patients. And this trial showed a reduction for the need for hospitalization.”

Studies are ongoing on the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies against the omicron variant. While Diaz says early laboratory studies show that sotrovimab continues to be effective against the new coronavirus strain, she says she would not call the drug a game changer.

“I think we have multiple therapeutic options right now for COVID-19 and more are on the way,” she said. “Unfortunately, viruses are known to develop resistance to certain drugs. So, SARS COVID-2 is not different in that respect … and if something happens where the resistance does develop, we try to hopefully reduce the chances that happens.”

The WHO official says other therapeutics are in the pipeline.

She says WHO is committed to equitable and affordable access for all member-states to COVID-19 drugs, and the agency and partners are meeting with pharmaceutical companies to negotiate fair prices and access for low- and middle-income countries to life-saving treatments. 

 

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Drones Spray Holy Water at India Hindu Festival as Crowds Defy COVID Rules

Drones sprayed holy water from the Ganges on thousands of Hindu pilgrims on Friday to reduce crowding during a massive festival being held despite soaring COVID-19 cases in India.

The Gangasagar Mela in the east of the country has drawn comparisons with another “superspreader” Hindu gathering last year that the Hindu nationalist government refused to ban. It was blamed in part for a devastating COVID surge.

Officials had said they expected around 3 million people — including ash-smeared, dreadlocked ascetics — to attend the festival’s climax on Sagar Island, where the Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal.

“At the crack of dawn, there was a sea of people,” local official Bankim Hazra told AFP by telephone.

“Holy water from the river Ganges was sprayed from drones on pilgrims … to prevent crowding,” he said.

“But the saints and a large number of people were bent on taking the dip… Pilgrims, most of them without masks, outnumbered the security personnel.”

An AFP photographer said that there were fewer people than in recent years and that rain put off some pilgrims from making the journey.

But there were still huge crowds, mostly without masks, taking a holy dip in the river.

A police official on duty at the event said that it was “impossible” to enforce COVID restrictions.

“Most pilgrims are bent on defying the rules,” he said.

“They believe that God will save them and bathing at the confluence will cleanse all their sins and even the virus if they are infected.”

No lockdown

Fatalities from India’s current wave of infections remain a fraction of what they were during the surge in April and May last year, with 315 deaths recorded Thursday compared with as many as 4,000 per day at the peak.

Infections are rising fast, however, with almost 265,000 new cases Thursday. Some models predict India could experience as many as 800,000 cases per day in a few weeks, twice the rate seen nine months ago.

Keen to avoid another painful lockdown for millions of workers reliant on a few dollars in daily wages, authorities in different parts of India have sought to restrict gatherings.

In New Delhi, all bars, restaurants and private offices are shut, and the capital is set to go into its second weekend curfew on Friday night.

In the financial capital of Mumbai, gatherings of more than four people are banned.

But in West Bengal state, the Calcutta High Court on Friday allowed the Gangasagar Mela to proceed.

As with 2021’s Kumbh Mela, it has attracted people from across northern India who, after cramming onto trains, buses and boats to reach the island, will then go home — potentially taking the highly transmissible omicron virus variant with them.

Amitava Nandy, a virologist from the School of Tropical Medicines in Kolkata, said the government “has neither the facilities nor the manpower” to test everyone attending or impose social distancing.

“A stampede-like situation could happen if the police try to enforce social distancing on the riverbank,” Nandy told AFP.

Devotee Sarbananda Mishra, a 56-year-old schoolteacher from the neighboring state of Bihar, told AFP: “Faith in God will overcome the fear of COVID. The bathing will cleanse them of all their sins and bring salvation.

“Death is the ultimate truth. What is the point of living with fear?” 

 

 

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Masks Rules Get Tighter in Europe in Winter’s COVID-19 Wave

To mask or not to mask is a question Italy settled early in the COVID-19 outbreak with a vigorous “yes.” Now the onetime epicenter of the pandemic in Europe hopes even stricter mask rules will help it beat the latest infection surge.

Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible — yet, apparently, less virulent — omicron variant spreads through the continent.

With Italy’s hospital ICUs rapidly filling with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks — which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks — must be worn on public transport, including planes, trains, ferries and subways.

That’s even though all passengers in Italy, as of this week, must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19. FFP2s also must now be worn at theaters, cinemas and sports events, indoors or out, and can’t be removed even for their wearers to eat or drink.

Italy re-introduced an outdoor mask mandate. It had never lifted its indoor mandate — even when infections sharply dropped in the summer.

On a chilly morning in Rome this week, Lillo D’Amico, 84, sported a wool cap and white FFP2 as he bought a newspaper at his neighborhood newsstand.

“(Masks) cost little money, they cost you a small sacrifice,” he said. “When you do the math, it costs far less than hospitalization.”

When he sees someone from the unmasked minority walking by, he keeps a distance. “They see (masks) as an affront to their freedom,” D’Amico said, shrugging.

Spain reinstated its outdoor mask rule on Christmas Eve. After the 14-day contagion rate soared to 2,722 new infections per 100,000 people by the end of last week — from 40 per 100,000 in mid-October — Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was asked whether the outdoor mask mandate was helping.

“Of course, it is. It’s not me saying it. It’s science itself saying it because (it’s) a virus that is contracted when one exhales,” Sanchez said.

Portugal brought masks back at the end of November, after having largely dropped the requirement when it hit its goal of vaccinating 86% of the population.

Greece has also restored its outdoor mask mandate, while requiring an FFP2 or double surgical mask on public transport and in indoor public spaces.

This week the Dutch government’s outbreak management team recommended a mask mandate for people over 13 in busy public indoor areas such as restaurants, museums and theaters, and for spectators at indoor sports events. Those places are currently closed under a lockdown until at least Friday.

 

In France, the outdoor mask mandate was partially re-instated in December in many cities, including Paris. The age for children to start wearing masks in public places was lowered to 6 from 11.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced last week that people must wear FFP2 masks outdoors if they can’t keep at least 2 meters apart.

In Italy, with more than 2 million people currently positive for the virus in a nation of 60 million and workplace absences curtailing train and bus runs, the government also sees masks as a way to let society more fully function.

People with booster shots or recent second vaccine doses can now avoid quarantine after coming into contact with an infected person if they wear a FFP2 mask for 10 days.

The government has ordered shops to make FFP masks available for 85 U.S. cents. In the pandemic’s first year, FFP2s cost up to $11.50 — whenever they could be found.

Italians wear them in a palette of colors. The father of a baby baptized this week by Pope Francis in the Sistine Chapel wore one in burgundy, with matching tie and jacket pocket square. But the pontiff, who has practically shunned a mask in public, was maskless.

 

On Monday, Vatican City State mandated FFP2s in all indoor places. The tiny, walled independent state across the Tiber from the heart of Rome also stipulated that Vatican employees can go to work without quarantining after coming into contact with someone testing positive if, in addition to being fully vaccinated or having received a booster shot, they wear FFP2s.

Francis did appear to be wearing a FFP2 when, startling shoppers in Rome on Tuesday evening, he emerged from a music store near the Pantheon before being driven back to the Vatican.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has focused on vaccination, masks have never been required outdoors.

This month, though, the government said secondary school students should wear face coverings in class. But Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said that rule wouldn’t apply “for a day longer than necessary.”

When the British government lifted pandemic restrictions in July 2021, turning mask-wearing from a requirement to a suggestion, mask use fell markedly.

Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Bologna-based GIMBE foundation, which monitors health care in Italy, says Britain points to what can happen when measures like mask-wearing aren’t valued.

“The situation in the U.K, showed that use of vaccination alone wasn’t enough” to get ahead of the pandemic, even though Britain was one of the first countries to begin vaccination, he said in a video interview. 

 

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