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Covid-19: Omicron Spreading At Lightning Speed, Says French PM

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The Omicron variant is “spreading at lightning speed” in Europe and will likely become dominant in France by the start of next year, French Prime Minister Jean Castex has warned.

He spoke on Friday, hours before France imposed strict travel restrictions on those entering from the United Kingdom.

The UK has so far been the hardest hit in the region, with nearly 15,000 confirmed Omicron cases on Friday.

Across the continent, health officials are bracing for a wave of infections.

Additional restrictions were announced in Germany, the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands on Friday as governments seek to stem the tide.

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In Germany – which reported 50,000 new cases on Friday – Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told reporters the country “must prepare for a challenge that we have not yet had in this form”.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, where a third of new cases have been due to the new variant, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said they were expecting “to see infections at a rate that is far in excess of anything we have seen to date”.

Their words came as the UK reported a record number of Covid infections for a third day in a row – more than 93,000 – largely driven by Omicron.

France closed its border to tourists and business people travelling from the UK at 23:00 GMT on Friday, with huge queues forming at the Port of Dover and Eurostar terminals as people tried to enter before the ban came into effect.

Speaking hours before, Mr Castex said the new travel restrictions were part of a series of measures being brought in to stem the tide of infections.

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They include shortening the gap between the second and third dose of vaccine and requiring a full vaccination to enter restaurants and long-distance public transport.

Additionally, all official New Year’s Eve celebrations and firework displays have been cancelled.

Mr. Castex also said the government would announce new steps to tackle vaccine hesitancy next year, saying it was “not acceptable that the refusal of a few million French people to be vaccinated puts the life of an entire country at risk”.

In the Netherlands, Dutch health experts have said the country should go into a “strict” lockdown, local media has reported.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said Omicron could be the country’s dominant strain by January, similar to France.

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Since late November, bars, restaurants and most shops have been ordered to close between 17:00 and 05:00 local time. This measure was meant to end before Christmas, but will now continue until 14 January.

The Netherlands recorded more than 15,400 infections on Friday – less than previous days, but far higher overall than any other time during the pandemic.

The hospitality industry in the Republic of Ireland has said it will be devastated by new rules from Monday that mean pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas must close every night by 20:00 local time.

The move has also been criticised by some politicians from Ireland’s governing coalition, who said the new rules would encourage more gatherings in people’s homes.

Sports venues will have to operate at 50% capacity or have attendance numbers capped at 5,000. Wedding celebrations will be allowed to go on until midnight – with a maximum of 100 guests.

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There is already a limit of four households allowed to socialise together inside a home.

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Nigeria, Cameroon Sign MoU to Fight Trans-Border Wildlife Trade, Others

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The Nigerian government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with neighbouring Cameroon to work together to combat transborder wildlife trade while also promoting ecosystem conservation and forestry resource management.

The agreement was signed on Friday in Abuja by Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, Balarabe Abbas, and Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Jules Doret Ndongo.

During the signing of the MoU (Cooperation Framework Agreement on Transboundary Ecosystem Conservation and Sustainable Management of Forestry and Wildlife Resources), the Nigerian Minister stated that the agreement represents a watershed moment and serves as a foundation for the establishment of a joint transboundary management framework.

He explained that the implementation of the agreement aims to supervise and coordinate identified areas of cooperation, ensure special protocols are consistent with identified areas of cooperation, collaborate in the implementation of common transboundary programmes, and develop the institutional and mobilisation of funds for the implementation of common transboundary programmes.

The Minister stated: “Apart from the global phenomenon of climate change and environmental challenges, social factors such as overpopulation, poverty, and food insecurity have continued to push these resources to the brink of extinction. While this is going on, transboundary criminality such as illegal logging, poaching and wildlife trafficking have further aggravated the trend and seem to have vindicated the reverberating but appalling warning revealed in the landmark Inter-Governmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 2019 Global Assessment Report that about one million species are threatened with extinction, and many within decades.

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“With our common border spanning over 1,500 km, halting and reversing the unsavoury trend cannot be achieved by the political will and commitment in a country alone but more promising is the adoption of bilateral and multilateral approaches particularly when considering the continuum and migratory nature of these resources against the backdrop of the complexities of their transboundary management and conservation.

“To that extent, the event of today is of great significance as it does not only underscore the commitment of the Renewed Hope Agenda of the present Government to collaborate with Cameroon to manage and conserve our shared natural resources but also demonstrates the importance of bilateral cooperation in tackling global challenges. As a result of this long history, this agreement can be viewed as a fitting response to the parties’ international commitments.

“It symbolises a milestone and provides a platform for the establishment of a joint transboundary management framework, which will facilitate cooperation and coordination between our countries on matters relating to the conservation and sustainable use of our natural resources. This framework will be instrumental in ensuring the effective conservation and sustainable management of our forests and wildlife resources, which are critical to our ecosystem services, livelihoods, and sustainable development.

“This agreement will further facilitate the development and implementation of joint programmes and projects for the conservation and sustainable management of transboundary ecosystems, and also foster the sharing of experiences, knowledge, and best practices between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon.”

On his part, the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Cameroon, Jules Doret Ndongo assured that Cameroon would do everything possible to implement the agreement.

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He said, “The over-exploitation of forestry resources and poaching, especially cross-border poaching, are serious threats to the sustainable management of our natural resources and constitute thus one of the causes of climate change.

“Given its significance, I hereby urge all parties involved in this process to become more committed to the implementation of this instrument.Rest assured that Cameroon’s government will do everything in its power to put this agreement into effect,” he said.

“It marks a watershed moment and serves as the foundation for the development of a joint transboundary management framework, which will facilitate cooperation and coordination among our countries on issues related to the conservation and sustainable use of our natural resources.

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ECOWAS Court To Train Sierra Leone Lawyers, Law Students

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Justice Asante and some lawyers

The ECOWAS Court will hold a training programme for Sierra Leone lawyers and law students on the sidelines of its 2024 international conference to deepen their knowledge of the Court and improve their practice, according to the Court’s President, Justice Edward Amoako Asante.

The president stated during a meeting with the executive of the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) in Freetown on Tuesday that the resource persons for the training will be senior lawyers from the Court who will attend the conference.

He stated that the training would hopefully fill a knowledge gap in the Court among legal practitioners in the country, given that the majority of the lawyers appearing before the Court for Sierra Leone cases were from outside the country.

Justice Asante urged the leadership of the SLBA to help with the process for the successful conduct of the training, working in collaboration with other relevant bodies in the country including the leadership of the law school to streamline the participation and other elements of the training.

He announced that the President of the SLBA, Eddinia Michaela Swallow Esq., will deliver a goodwill message at the Court’s 2024 conference, which will be historic because it will be the first time the President of a country’s bar association has been permitted to do so since the inaugural conference in 2004.
Earlier, the President of the SLBA had thanked the Court for the ‘amazing opportunity,’ granted the country to host the conference describing it as the fulfilment of a dream for her and members of the legal profession in the country.

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She suggested that the Court collaborate with Member State bar associations to educate lawyers about the Court’s specifics in order to improve their practice, particularly for those who may appear before the Court.
Justice Asante is leading a 12-member delegation from the Court to discuss arrangements for the successful hosting of the Court’s 2024 international conference, which is scheduled to take place between May 13th and 16th, 2024.

The conference’s theme is “Improving the role, relevance, and effectiveness of the ECOWAS Court of Justice by strengthening synergies between the Court and national stakeholders.”

The President stated that it will serve as a forum for constructive discussions about the Court’s strengths and weaknesses in its relationships with various national stakeholders, as well as practical solutions to improve the Court’s role, relevance, and effectiveness.

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In Amman, Executive Secretary Of NCPC Meets With Jordan’s Minister Of Tourism

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In order to renew the Commission’s strong relationship with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission met with Jordan’s Minister of Tourism in Amman.

This is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which has become a pilgrimage destination for Nigerians in the past three years.

Bishop Adegbite met with Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, as well as senior Ministry officials, in Amman.

The NCPC Boss used the visit to thank God for the opportunity to renew the relationship between the Ministry of Tourism and the NCPC. He also thanked God for his devotion to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which has remained one of the Middle East’s most peaceful and stable nations.

The NCPC helmsman, who is visiting Jordan for the first time since being appointed as the Commission’s fourth substantive Executive Secretary by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on January 4, 2024, revealed that Nigerians and the Christian Community are very excited about the existing cordial relationship between Jordanians and Nigerian pilgrims who have visited Jordan in the last three years.

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He praised the Jordanians for their welcoming attitude towards pilgrims and encouraged them to keep up the pace.

Adegbite assured his Host that Nigerians, particularly Christians, would continue to work with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to advance the cause of Christian pilgrimage by exploring biblically significant Holy Sites.

He stated that, “In Pilgrimage, we will fulfil the life pattern of our Fathers in Faith,” and that the screening of intending pilgrims is typically handled by government professionals to ensure that all pilgrims return to Nigeria after the spiritual exercise.

Bishop Adegbite arranged for the collaboration of relevant Jordanian government agencies to consider the need to upgrade such sites as Jesus Christ’s baptismal site in the Jordan River, the Jabok River, and others to international status with serious religious appeal.

He also advocated for the retraining of their tour guides to ensure effective service delivery, as well as assisting in the deployment of better bus service equipped with modern communication gadgets, which could be achieved through an interface between the Jordanian government and the Ground Handlers.

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Speaking, Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, represented by the Ministry’s Secretary General, Dr. Emad Hijazeen, thanked the Executive Secretary for his first official visit to the Ministry since taking office on February 5, 2024.

He also congratulated him on his appointment by Nigeria’s President, while promising the cooperation of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and assuring him that all concerns raised for improved Pilgrimage operations would be promptly addressed.

He maintained that Jordanians are at ease with Nigerian pilgrims and that the government will do everything possible to strengthen the two countries’ bilateral relations.

This is stated in a press release signed by Celestine Toruka, Deputy Director and Head of Media and Public Relations for the Commission.

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