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Majority Omicron variant cases were asymptomatic: African Health Official

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A senior health official from Botswana said on Tuesday that 16 of the total 19 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant detected in the country were asymptomatic, while President Mokgweetsi Masisi said travel bans on its citizens were unfair and unjustified.

Pamela Smith-Lawrence, Acting Director of Health in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, told Reuters in an interview that the majority of the 19 people who were found to be infected with the new Omicron variant have already tested negative.

While 16 people were asymptomatic, the remaining three had “very, very mild” symptoms.

Botswana on Friday said the country was investigating certain mutations of the coronavirus that were found in four foreign nationals who were in the country on a diplomatic mission. It has since reported another 15 cases of the new variant.

While it is still not established where Omicron first emerged, on Nov. 25 South Africa, followed by Botswana a day later, announced they had detected a new variant whose mutations were different from the dominant Delta variant.

This prompted immediate air travel curbs on southern African countries from several European and Asian countries, a decision which has been criticised by both South Africa and Botswana.

“The decision to ban our citizens from travelling to certain countries was hastily made and is not only unfair but is also unjustified,” President Masisi said on state-run TV.

“In light of the new variant, we are constantly monitoring our COVID-19 detection indicators and they remain stable,” Masisi said, adding that the country has experienced a decrease in infections and deaths over the last three months.

The four foreign nationals, aged between 30 and 65, came to Botswana on Nov. 7, tested positive on Nov. 11 and the new mutations were found on Nov. 22, Smith-Lawrence said, adding the government uploaded the data on the international database the next day.

Without giving further details, she said that 14 out of the 19 people so far detected with the variant were foreign nationals.

She said within the next two to three weeks the government would be in a position to give more clarity on whether Omicron is more virulent than its predecessors or not.

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Bitcoin rises 2.1% to reach $50,000

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Bitcoin rose on Sunday to reclaim levels above $50,000.

The world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency gained 2.11% to $50,445.34 at 1803 GMT on Sunday, adding $1,044.80 to its previous close.

Bitcoin is up 81.9% from the year’s low of $27,734 on Jan. 4

Ether , the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, rose 0.26% to $4,100 on Sunday, adding $10.78 to its previous close.

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Israeli PM Bennett on historic visit to UAE

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Israel’s Naftali Bennett arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday (Dec 12) for the first official visit by a prime minister of the Jewish state, after the countries established diplomatic ties last year.

The trip announced by Bennett’s office comes with Israel making a renewed diplomatic push against international talks which global powers resumed with its arch foe Iran over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.

Bennett on Monday meets Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to discuss “deepening the ties between Israel and the UAE, especially economic and regional issues,” the prime minister’s office said.

There was no immediate comment from the UAE on the visit which Bennett called “historic”.

He was received in Abu Dhabi by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and an honour guard, according to his office.

The prime minister said he appreciated the “very warm hospitality”.

“I’m very excited to be here … as the first official visit of an Israeli leader here. We are looking forward to strengthening the relationship.”

Bennett’s Abu Dhabi visit follows a trip to Washington by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who has repeatedly stressed that military options must be ready if negotiations with Iran collapse.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was in London and Paris last month, where he called for tighter sanctions against Tehran.

Since the Abraham Accords were signed, Israel and the UAE have inked a series of deals on economic and trade cooperation.

Palestinians strongly condemned the Abraham Accords as they broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognising Israel until it signs a peace establishing a Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem.

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Narendra Modi’s twitter account briefly hacked

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal Twitter account has been “very briefly compromised,” the prime minister’s office has said.

A swiftly deleted tweet from his main @narendramodi handle declared India had adopted Bitcoin as legal tender and was distributing the cryptocurrency to citizens.

It said the Indian government had officially bought 500 Bitcoins and was “distributing them to all residents of the country”, along with a scam link.

The matter was escalated to Twitter and the prime minister’s personal Twitter handle was immediately secured, Modi’s office wrote in a tweet late on Saturday.

Any tweet shared during the brief period when the account was compromised must be ignored, it said.

It was not immediately known how long the personal Twitter handle of Modi, which has more than 73 million followers, was compromised.

Twitter users grabbed screenshots of the since-deleted tweet.

A Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters news agency that the company took all necessary steps to secure the compromised account as soon as it became aware of the activity. An investigation revealed no signs of any other affected accounts, the spokesperson added.

Modi’s account was previously briefly compromised in September 2020, when hackers asked followers in a series of tweets to donate to India’s National Relief Fund through cryptocurrency.

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