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Man United have ‘pretty much’ full squad back for Newcastle trip: Rashford
23 December 2021, 9:02 AM

Marcus Rashford said Manchester United have almost a full squad back in training ahead of a trip to Newcastle United on Monday after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the postponement of two games.

United last played in a 1-0 win over Norwich City on December 11, with their fixtures against Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford among several Premier League games that could not go ahead as planned.

They trail leaders Manchester City by 17 points but have played two games fewer.

“The lads have been training and today we brought all the rest of the lads back to training, there are only a couple left that will be coming in tomorrow,” Rashford told the club’s website.

“So, we’ve pretty much got the full squad back, which is a positive going into the week.”

United then face Burnley in their last game of the year and Rashford said it was important to build momentum if they are to get their hands on silverware.

“If we have a good Christmas period now, then we can keep that momentum going and that will take you into the big games where the trophies are, come the end of the season,” Rashford said.

United’s bench will also feature a new face when they visit Newcastle, with head coach Ralf Rangnick bringing in Ewan Sharp as an assistant coach and analyst, after the hires of Sascha Lense and Chris Armas in recent weeks.

Australian states reinstate COVID-19 curbs as Omicron cases jump
23 December 2021, 7:23 AM

Australia’s two most populous states re-introduced COVID-19 curbs on Thursday as daily infections hit their highest amid an outbreak of the highly infectious Omicron variant and a rush on already-stretched testing clinics.

New South Wales state, home to a third of Australia’s 25 million population, said it was again making it mandatory to wear masks indoors in public places, while venues were told to limit visitors and re-activate customer check-in via QR code.

Victoria state, which has nearly the same population, also re-introduced a mask mandate, citing the need to reduce the stress on the health system.

The changes two days before Christmas are a stumble in the country’s plans for a permanent reopening after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns as the new variant rages through the community in spite of double-vaccination rates of more than 90%.

Hospitalisations and deaths remained low, but the explosion of infections had created a risk of healthcare workers being furloughed by testing positive, the authorities said.

The country recorded more than 8 200 new cases, by far its biggest daily rise since the pandemic began, from a previous record of 5 600 a day earlier, mostly in NSW and Victoria.

“Today’s changes are modest, cautious and take a precautionary approach as we move through this holiday period to the end of January,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters.

Until Thursday, Perrottet had urged the state to hold steady on a plan, agreed between state and federal leaders, to remove restrictions once the vaccination rate exceeded a certain level.

Perrottet had steadfastly refused to re-introduce mandated indoor mask wearing, a move called on by the country’s doctors and health wrokers, saying it was now time to live with COVID-19.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed never to return to lockdowns, saying Australians must now take personal responsibility for managing their health.

In another change of messaging on Thursday, Perrottet urged people to avoid going for COVID tests if they had received a notification of being a possible contact with an infected person but were not experiencing symptoms.

With reports of hours-long wait times at testing centres, blamed on people planning to travel interstate before Christmas, Perrottet said that “this is putting enormous pressure on the system … but we need to make sure those people who need to get tested get tested in a timely way”.

Most states require travellers to have a negative test result 72 hours before departure in order to be allowed entry, even as Morrison has urged them to ease the testing requirement.

Despite the spike in cases, hospitalisations remain far lower than during the Delta wave, with about 800 people in hospital out of nearly 44,000 active cases.

But only 37 of those are Omicron cases, the health department said in an emailed response. Only one case is in intensive care and no deaths have been reported from the Omrican variant.

Even amid the Omicron wave, Australia’s tally of 273 000 infections and 2 173 deaths is far lower than many countries.

Dollar droops as optimism on economic outlook saps demand for haven assets
23 December 2021, 7:05 AM

The safe-haven dollar languished near an almost one-week low against its major peers on Thursday as investors adopted a more optimistic stance about the global economic outlook, despite the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The dollar index, which measures the currency against six rivals, stood at 96.111, not far from the overnight low of 96.020, touched for the first time since December 17.

The risk-sensitive Australian dollar was steady at $0.72125 following Wednesday’s 0.86% surge.

Sterling was little changed at $1.33515 after a 0.63% rally.

Risk appetite has improved since Monday, when markets were rattled by government restrictions relating to the spread of Omicron.

However, data on Wednesday showed U.S. consumer confidence improving more than expected in December, suggesting the economy would continue to expand in 2022 despite a resurgence in COVID-19 infections and reduced stimulus spending.

There was also encouraging news from a South African study, which suggested reduced risks of hospitalisation and severe disease in people infected with Omicron compared with the Delta strain.

The euro was about flat at $1.13325 after a 0.33% overnight advance.

The dollar was little changed at 114.16 yen – another safe-haven currency – holding close to an almost one-month high from Wednesday at 114.37.

Many analysts expect the dollar to strengthen in coming months after a hawkish tilt this month at the Federal Reserve put an interest-rate increase in March on the table, setting the U.S. central bank apart from more dovish peers in Europe, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.

Money markets currently price better than 50-50 odds for a hike by the March policy meeting.

“Ongoing data strength should help bolster Fed pricing, particularly amid reports that Omicron appears to be leading to fewer hospitalisations,” TD Securities strategists wrote in a report.

‘Hurting’ England haven’t given up on the Ashes, says Malan
23 December 2021, 7:00 AM

Dawid Malan says England have not given up on winning the Ashes even if he admits they will need a much improved performance in the third test in Melbourne from Sunday to get themselves back in the series.

The top order batsman said morale in the England camp was “fine” after some honest discussions in the wake of humbling defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide.

“The boys are hurting after our performances in the last two games,” he told reporters at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday.

“We realise we haven’t been good enough across all facets of the game. The boys want to win, we want to win the series too.

“I know it’s a long way for us to come but we have to do well and play our best cricket in this test match to get ourselves back into the series.”

Malan’s batting has provided some of the rare highlights for England with an innings of 82 in Brisbane and 80 in Adelaide, but the 34-year-old conceded even he had to be better.

“Myself and (Joe Root) have been in the position to score hundreds in two innings and haven’t been able to kick on which has probably cost us about a hundred runs as a team at least, and that gets us back in the game,” he said.

“Scoring 80’s good, scoring 180’s brilliant, so that’s the goal.”

With England’s openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed struggling for runs, there has been talk of bringing fresh blood in at the top of the order, most notably Zak Crawley.

“Zak’s a very talented player,” said Malan. “He’s a tall bloke who plays the short ball really well so there’s every chance that he’ll be really good here.”

Malan said he would even consider moving up the order to open himself, if asked.

“I’ll bat wherever to play for England,” he said. “I don’t see myself as an opener but if they’d like me to, I’m happy to do what’s necessary.”

Malan said that England’s disrupted preparation had left many of the less experienced players in the invidious position of having to learn how to play in Australian conditions on the job.

“(But) everyone’s up for a challenge, everyone’s really keen to face up to the Australians,” he added.

“We do it in white ball cricket, we try and take them on, so hopefully we can get that mindset and not just go into our shells and try and survive.”

All hands should be on deck to end COVID-19 in 2022: Ghebreyesus
22 December 2021, 9:03 PM

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus says we should all aim to end COVID-19 in 2022. He says this year gave us hope as we had a number of vaccines to fight against the pandemic.

The WHO briefed the media in Geneva virtually and it also warned that the COVID-19 blanket booster programme will worsen vaccine inequity.

The last media briefing by the World Health Organisation comes as the world has experienced a surge in the cases of COVID-19 due to Omicron variant.

WHO boss says all hands should be on deck to end COVID-19 in 2022. “As we look back in 2021, it gave us hope. Science delivered hope in the form of vaccines which saved many lives. On the other hand, no doubt inequitable sharing cost so many lives.”

The world health body is extremely concerned about Omicron as scientists are still looking for concrete results on its severity.

WHO’s Dr Maria Van Kerhove says, “We definitely see the increase of Omicron. It’s been detected in 106 countries to date. There’s a combination of factors leading to this transmission.”

But it cautions we mustn’t lose hope and vaccines remain the powerful tools we have at our disposal.

WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan says, “A lot of data is coming on Omicron and it’s important to have a holistic view of the vaccine programme.”

Meanwhile, the WHO has reiterated that travel bans may delay infections but they will certainly not stop transmission. They called on countries not to embark on knee-jerk reactions in fighting the global pandemic.

SA study offers Omicron hope

South African data offered a glimmer of hope on Wednesday about the severity of the Omicron coronavirus variant, but World Health Organisation officials cautioned that it was too soon to draw firm conclusions as the strain spread across the globe.

With the second Christmas of the pandemic just days away, countries imposed new restrictions on their citizens while they worried about the damage the variant might inflict on their economies.

Plans for Christmas parties and celebrations were wiped out from London to New Delhi amid the uncertainty.

Omicron was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong. Preliminary data indicated it was more resistant to vaccines developed before it emerged.

But a study South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) suggested that those infected with Omicron were much less likely to end up in hospital than those with the Delta strain.

COVID-19 cases also appear to have peaked in South Africa’s Gauteng province, the region where Omicron first emerged, it said.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, compared South African Omicron data from October and November with data about Delta between April and November.

“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” the NICD’s Professor Cheryl Cohen said.

“Compellingly, together our data really suggest a positive story of a reduced severity of Omicron compared to other variants.”

However, the WHO technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said the UN agency did not have enough data to draw firm conclusions about the severity of the Omicron variant.

The data was still “messy” as countries reported its arrival and spread, she told a briefing in Geneva.

“We have not seen this variant circulate long enough in populations around the world, certainly in vulnerable populations. We have been asking countries to be cautious, and to really think, especially as these holidays are coming up.”

The WHO’s European head told Reuters in Brussels that three to four weeks was needed to determine Omicron’s severity.

Hans Kluge said that Omicron, already dominant in Britain, Denmark and Portugal, was likely to be the main coronavirus strain in Europe in a few weeks.

“There is no doubt that Europe is once again the epicentre of the global pandemic. Yes, I’m very concerned, but there is no reason for panic. The good news is…, we know what to do.”


Meanwhile, governments raced to contain the variant’s rapid spread, urging citizens to get vaccinated as Omicron upended reopening plans that many had hoped would herald the end of the pandemic.

Germany, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and South Korea have reimposed partial or full lockdowns or other social distancing measures in recent days.

Germany’s health minister said he had not ruled out a full lockdown.

Italy was preparing new measures and might make vaccinations obligatory for more categories of workers, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.

Austria is to order a 10 p.m. close in the hospitality sector and classified Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway as risk areas, meaning arrivals from there must go into quarantine if they have not had a booster shot.

Belgium, the Czech Republic and Spain were also considering new curbs. The Indian capital of New Delhi banned Christmas and other celebrations ahead of the New Year.

The Chinese city of Xian – home to the Terracotta Warriors – told its 13 million residents to stay at home as it struggles to contain rising COVID-19 cases under Beijing’s zero-tolerance policy. -Additional reporting by Reuters




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