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Ryanair doubles annual loss forecast on Omicron restrictions
22 December 2021, 7:46 PM

Ryanair on Wednesday more than doubled its annual loss forecast and cut its January traffic estimate by 33%, blaming travel restrictions in France, Germany and Morocco following the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

But it said it was too soon to say whether similar cuts would be required to its February and March schedules and would wait for further scientific data before making any decisions.

The Irish low-cost airline, Europe’s largest by passenger numbers, flew more than twice as many flights within the continent in the second week of December as any other airline, according to Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic regulator.

But restrictions on British passengers flying to Germany and France – and all EU passengers to Morocco – forced Ryanair to cut its December passenger forecast to a range of 9 to 9.5 million, from 10 to 11 million, a company statement said.

Ryanair plans even deeper cuts in January, reducing its forecast to between 6 and 7 million from 10 million.

Chief Executive Michael O’Leary, one of the most outspoken critics of COVID-19 travel restrictions, last week said the mood in Britain and Ireland in the face of Omicron was one of “panic”.

O’Leary has argued that it is impossible to limit the spread of virus variants and that high quality filters on planes make them relatively safe. Many health experts argue that air travel is nevertheless a high-risk activity.

As a result of the cuts, Ryanair, which just last month announced its first quarterly profit since the start of the pandemic, now expects to post a net loss of between 250 million euros ($283 million) and 450 million in the 12 months to the end of March.

That is down from its earlier forecast of a loss of between 100 million and 200 million euros.

“These figures are hugely sensitive to any further positive or negative COVID news flow,” the Ryanair statement said.

The airline, which normally employs a strategy of filling its planes irrespective of the discounts needed to fill seats, promised an update when it releases financial results for its third quarter, the three months to the end of December, on Jan. 31.

It now expects to fly just under 100 million passengers in the year to the end of March from an earlier forecast of just over 100 million, it said.

Russia agrees to begin security talks with US at start of year
22 December 2021, 7:13 PM

Russia will enter talks with US negotiators on security guarantees it wants from the West at the start of next year, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, amid concerns over a Russian military build-up near Ukraine’s border.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of considering a new attack on Ukraine as early as next month. Russia denies that, despite moving tens of thousands of troops to staging posts closer to Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had no room to retreat in its standoff with the United States over what Moscow views as Washington’s unacceptable military aid for Ukraine and would be forced into a tough response unless the West dropped its “aggressive line”.

He said that Moscow wants legally-binding security guarantees that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed to countries that neighbour Russia and for NATO to halt its eastwards expansion.

Russia has handed over a list of detailed security guarantees to Washington that it wants from the West.

“It is agreed that at the very start of next year bilateral contact between American negotiators and ours will become the first round (of talks),” Lavrov said.

He said Russia had presented American officials with a document concerning US-Russia relations and that foreign policy aides to Putin and US President Joe Biden had agreed to further work.

Moscow wanted to discuss a second document it had presented, a draft agreement between Russia and NATO countries, after the first meeting, but also in January, Lavrov said.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley spoke with his Russian counterpart earlier today and they discussed “regional security-related issues of concern,” the US military said.

“The phone call is a continuation of communication between both leaders to ensure risk reduction and operational de-confliction. In accordance with past practice, both have agreed to keep the specific details of their conversation private,” the military added.

NATO on Tuesday said it would seek meaningful discussions with Moscow early next year to address tensions.

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was created in 2002 to facilitate consultation between the Western military alliance and Moscow, but relations are strained and it last convened in July 2019.

Seven stalwarts bring winning experience back for Cameroon
22 December 2021, 7:05 PM

Hosts Cameroon on Wednesday named seven players from the squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2017 for next month’s tournament where they will seek to replicate that success.

Coach Toni Conceiaco has much experience to call on as they take on Burkina Faso in the tournament’s opening match on January 9 in Yaounde, followed by Group A meetings with Ethiopia and the Cape Verde Islands.

Defenders Collins Fai, Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui and Ambroise Onyango, winger Clinton Njie and strikers Vincent Aboubakar, Christian Bassogog and Karl Toko Ekambi all tasted success when Cameroon beat Egypt in the 2017 final in Gabon to win the last of their five Cup of Nations titles.

They return in a 28-mans squad named by Conceicao with Njie, formerly at Tottenham Hotspur, recalled after being left out for the six World Cup qualifiers played between September and November.

Goalkeeper Andre Onana and Bayern Munich striker Eric Maxim Choupo Moting were selected for the 2017 squad but withdrew before that tournament, wanting to remain instead with their clubs.

But both are available for the delayed 2021 finals, which are set to get under way despite much concern over the home country’s readiness.

There is a first call-up for Angers left back Enzo Ebosse, who has switched his international allegiance after playing for France at junior level. He is one of seven French-born players in the squad.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Jean Efala (Akwa United), Devis Epassy (OFI Crete), Simon Omossola (Vita Club), Andre Onana (Ajax Amsterdam)

Defenders: Jean-Charles Castelletto (Nantes), Enzo Ebosse (Angers), Collins Fai (Standard Liege), Olivier Mbaizo (Philadelphia Union), Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui (Gent), Harold Moukoudi (St Etienne), Jerome Onguene (Salzburg), Ambroise Oyongo (Montpellier), Nouhou Tolo (Seattle Sounders)

Midfielders: Samuel Gouet Oum (KV Mechelen), Martin Hongla (Verona), Pierre Kunde Malong (Olympiakos), James Lea Siliki (Middlesbrough), Jean Onana (Girondins Bordeaux), Yvan Neyou (St Etienne), Andre Zambo Anguissa (Napoli)

Forwards: Vincent Aboubakar (Al Nasr), Stephane Bahoken (Angers), Christian Bassogog (Shanghai Shenua, China), Eric Maxim Choupo Moting (Bayern Munich), Ignatius Ganago (Racing Lens), Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu (Young Boys Berne), Clinton Njie (Dynamo Moscow), Karl Toko Ekambi (Olympique Lyonnais).

WHO: still too soon to say if Omicron more transmissible than Delta
22 December 2021, 6:15 PM

The World Health Organisation does not yet have enough data on the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus to say if it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, an official said on Wednesday, almost a month after South Africa first raised the alarm about its emergence.

“We do have some data suggesting that rates of hospitalisation are lower,” WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing with media.

But she cautioned against drawing conclusions from the early data because “we have not seen this variant circulate long enough in populations around the world, certainly in vulnerable populations”.

She said the data on the new variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November, was still “messy” as countries reported its arrival and spread.

The UN agency’s experts regularly meet drugmakers to discuss the best composition of COVID-19 vaccines as the industry looks at whether shots need to be tweaked to tackle the coronavirus.

The comments on Omicron came as a South African study suggested that those infected with Omicron were significantly less likely to end up in hospital than those with Delta, although the authors said some of that was probably due to high levels of immunity in the population.

The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged countries to learn from the past two years of the pandemic, calling again for greater vaccine equity, in the hope of next year ending a pandemic that has killed over 5.6 million people around the world.

“As we approach the new year, we must all learn the painful lessons this year has taught us. 2022 must be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Death toll from Madagascar boat sinking climbs to 83
22 December 2021, 6:03 PM

The death toll from the sinking of a cargo ship off the coast of northeastern Madagascar rose to 83 on Wednesday as bad weather ended the search for five missing passengers, the maritime agency said.

The ship, which was not authorised to take passengers, was overloaded and water flooded the engine before it sank on Monday, said Mamy Randrianavony, director of operations at sea at the Maritime and River Port Agency (APMF).

Fifty survivors have been found, APMF said. The search for the five remaining missing passengers would resume on Thursday.

One of the search helicopters carrying General Serge Gellé, who heads the national Gendarmerie, crashed at sea late on Monday. Gellé was found alive on Tuesday morning after 13 hours, during which time he used the pilot’s seat as a float.

“Since I couldn’t fight the waves, I knew I wouldn’t make it to dry land. Yet I was very close. I arrived within 500 meters, but the waves sent me back because I was getting tired,” Gellé said in a video posted by the Gendarmerie.

“I thank heaven that there was a fisherman. But the fisherman’s canoe was too small. So he had to come back for a bigger canoe. So I stayed two more hours in the sea,” Gellé said from a hospital in the Madagascan capital.

Another passenger from the helicopter, a mechanic, was also found alive. Two other passengers are unaccounted for.

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