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Haitian prime minister forced to flee official ceremony after armed gangs appear

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The deteriorating security situation in Haiti was starkly underlined on Sunday when the country’s prime minister and his security detail were forced to flee an official commemoration in the capital by heavily armed gang members who then paraded in the delegation’s place.

A day after a dozen US missionaries and their children were kidnapped in a brazen attack to the east of the capital Port-au-Prince, video circulating on social media and reports in the Haitian media showed the country’s most notorious crime boss, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, officiating at the ceremony to commemorate the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of Haiti’s revolutionary founding fathers.

The annual ceremony in the Pont Rouge area of Port-au-Prince marks where Dessalines was assassinated in 1806 after defeating a Napoleonic army and abolishing slavery in the new Black republic.

On Sunday, the prime minister, Ariel Henry, and his security detail reportedly tried to reach Pont Rouge to lay a floral wreath but were driven back by armed gang members firing their weapons.

Video from the event showed several official SUVs apparently leaving Pont Rouge amid the crackle of gunfire as other figures fled the scene on foot.

Later pictures showed Cherizier, a former policeman and notorious head of the G9 and Family gang alliance, dressed in a white suit and shirt with a wing collar – the dress code for officials on national holidays – with his armed followers making the floral offering.

Among Cherizier’s armed supporters were a number wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the face of the late Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated earlier this year, and the slogan “Justice for Jovenel”.

While Pont Rouge has in recent years been a gang stronghold and no-go area, the demonstration on Sunday – the 215th anniversary of Dessalines’ death – was seen as a provocation and a show of strength barely 24 hours after the high-profile kidnapping of the US missionaries in a bus en route to the airport.

Cherizier, who has been accused of providing gang muscle for the late Haitian president who was shot down in his home by a hit squad which included Colombian mercenaries, has been under US Treasury sanctions over his alleged involvement in the 2018 La Saline massacre while he was still a serving police officer, along with two of Moïse’s officials.

According to the US Treasury website: “Throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier led armed groups in coordinated, brutal attacks in Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods.

“Most recently, in May 2020, Cherizier led armed gangs in a five-day attack in multiple Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods in which civilians were killed and houses were set on fire.”

The latest gang-related incident in the increasingly turbulent Caribbean state occurred as police continued to search for the 17 western hostages who are being held by another gang, the 400 Mawozo, which operates to the east of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s gangs, which have become increasingly powerful and aggressive amid mounting social and political unrest, have long been associated with political parties and leaders for whom they provide deadly muscle.

Cherizier, in particular, has been associated with the Parti Haitien Tet Kale of Moise and has been seen by some observers as manouevring into the vacuum left by Moïse’s high-profile murder.

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COVOD-19

U.S. issues ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory for eight African countries

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department on Saturday advised against travel to eight southern African countries after the White House announced new travel restrictions in response to a new COVID-19 variant.

The CDC raised its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High” for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana while the State Department issued parallel “Do Not Travel” advisories Saturday. On Monday, the CDC had lowered its COVID-19 travel advisory for South Africa to “Level 1: Low” from “Level 3: High”

Of the eight countries, only Botswana was previously listed as “Level 4.”

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains. It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the variant’s mutations and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it.

The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic.

The new variant prompted the White House to announce Friday it would bar nearly all foreign nationals who have been in any of eight countries within the last 14 days from flying to the United States effective Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET (0500 GMT). Travelers on flights that depart before that time will be allowed to land in the United States. But foreign nationals must be vaccinated and have tested negative within three days.

Britain detected two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday, even as Australia and other countries joined nations imposing restrictions on travel from southern Africa in an effort to stop its spread.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa and had also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

A U.S. official told Reuters Friday the Biden administration could also add other countries to the travel curb list if the variant spreads. The United States only lifted travel restrictions on South Africa and 32 other countries on Nov. 8.

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COVOD-19

New York Declares State Of Emergency To Hike Hospital Capacity Ahead Of Omicron Variant

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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Friday declared a state of emergency aimed at increasing hospital capacity and addressing medical staffing shortages as the nation braces for the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The new protocols will take effect Dec. 3 and the order will remain in place at least until Jan. 15, when it will be reassessed.

The emergency declaration will allow the state Department of Health to limit nonessential and nonurgent hospital procedures in situations where a hospital has less than 10% staffed bed capacity.

The order will also expand state purchasing capability to obtain emergency medical supplies.

“We’ve taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic. However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,” Hochul said.

“In preparation, I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months,” the governor said.

“The vaccine remains one of our greatest weapons in fighting the pandemic. I encourage every New Yorker to get vaccinated, and get the booster if you’re fully vaccinated,” she added.

President Joe Biden announced Friday that travel to the U.S. from South Africa and seven other countries in the region would be restricted beginning Monday.

The World Health Organization announced Friday that the highly transmissible omicron variant has a “large number of mutations,” including some that are “concerning.”

It has been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, Israel and Hong Kong. The first European case has been identified in Belgium.

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Health

Doctor Suspended by Houston Methodist for Spreading COVID Misinformation Resigns

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Houston-based doctor on Monday resigned her privileges at Houston Methodist Hospital after the hospital temporarily suspended her for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Dr. Mary Talley Bowden, an ear, nose and throat specialist in private practice, was granted provisional privileges at the Texas Medical Center hospital within the last year. She had never admitted a patient before Friday, when the hospital temporarily pulled those privileges for unprofessional behavior, including spreading “dangerous misinformation” about COVID-19 and using vulgar language on social media, the hospital said.

Bowden’s resignation comes days after Houston Methodist suspended the doctor’s hospital privileges and accused her of “using her social media accounts to express her personal and political opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine and treatments.”

Bowden claims she has treated more than 2,000 patients with COVID-19 and has been outspoken on social media recently about vaccine mandates and treatments.

Through a public release, here is how Bowden responded:   

“I do not want to be part of an institution that treats its doctors the way they do,” said Bowden. “They have tried to paint me as dangerous simply because my views may be different than theirs about the efficacy of vaccines and possible treatment decisions. That is what is dangerous. I want the best for my patients. I do not believe the vaccine is a one size fits all solution, nor do I believe unvaccinated Houstonians should be treated by medical doctors as second-class citizens, but to the government and Methodist Hospital it’s one size fits all no matter what. If you voice any concerns then you are attacked, you are bullied. If you don’t follow government orders, you are the one they now call dangerous. That’s China. That’s not America. I don’t feel like we are in America when we start attacking doctors who are simply trying to look out for what they believe is in the best interest of their patients. We are treating unvaccinated people like they don’t deserve our help. Every day we are still learning about COVID and these vaccines. I will not be silenced for giving my advice. I took an oath.”

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