Clinics in the Austrian region of Salzburg have set up a special assessment team tasked with identifying Covid patients who have a higher chance of survival; the rest may soon have to take a back seat.

Amid a dramatic spike in Covid cases, medical personnel warn they may soon have to make the heart-wrenching choice of which patients get life-saving treatment and which ones will have to wait, Austrian media report. Intensive care units in the Salzburg region are packed, with the number of patients treated there setting a new grim record on Tuesday, reaching 33. The region ranks amid Austria’s hardest-hit, logging more than 1,500 new infections per 100,000 residents in a week. In an emotional plea for help to the local government, the head of Salzburg’s hospitals warned that soon clinics would likely not be able to guarantee the existing level of standards in terms of medical treatment. A representative for the city clinics likened the situation to “running into a wall.

The region’s governor, Wilfried Haslauer, announced on Tuesday that some of the Covid patients whose condition was no longer life-threatening would be transferred from hospitals to rehabilitation centers to make room for more serious cases.

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In neighboring Upper Austria, the situation is no better, with the number of deaths in intensive care units surpassing figures seen in all the previous Covid waves. Speaking to Austria’s Der Standard paper on condition of anonymity, healthcare workers there said they had free beds “because the infected are dying.

For the time being, the creation of a so-called ‘triage team’ in Salzburg hospitals is being described as a “precautionary measure.” The panel is made up of six people: one legal expert and five providers from various medical disciplines. If push comes to shove, they will be deciding which patients stand a chance and which treatments have little prospect of success.

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An adviser to the EU’s top court has claimed that citizens’ information in Germany is being illegally harvested, after telecom companies challenged bulk data collection.

The German data retention law was criticized on Thursday by an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), who stated that general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data is only allowed in exceptional cases, such as a threat to national security.

According to the adviser, bulk collection of data generates a ‘serious risk’ of leaks or improper access. It also entails a ‘serious interference’ with citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and the protection of personal data.

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This comes after two companies, SpaceNet and Telekom Deutschland, challenged the obligation to store their customers’ telecommunications traffic data in 2016. The Administrative Court of Cologne ruled that the two companies were not obliged to retain data because such an obligation violated Union law. Germany then appealed to the Federal Administrative Court, who asked the CJEU about the compatibility of the data retention obligation.

The CJEU has often stated that indiscriminate mass surveillance does not fit within the general principles of EU law. Over a year ago it saw a similar case involving legal challenges around national bulk data collection under UK and French law. The court then ruled that only limited data collection and temporary retention were allowed. France seeks to bypass the CJEU on data retention and has asked the country’s highest administrative court (the Council of State) not to follow the EU ruling. France is waiting for the conclusion of the procedure launched by the Council of State before “assessing to what extent” national law should be changed. 

Despite recent EU court attempts to curb surveillance powers, leaked papers from June 2021 show that the national governments of the Netherlands, France, Spain, Luxembourg, Slovakia, and Estonia are pushing for a new pan-EU data retention law. They claim that data retention is essential for safeguarding public security and ensuring effective criminal investigations.

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A stream literally flowing with booze emitting a strong beery odor has been discovered in one of the tropical islands of Hawaii. Its waters have been apparently contaminated with alcohol after a leak at a beverage warehouse.

A small river with a distinctive alcoholic smell was recently found on the island of Oahu, some 15 miles (24 kilometers) away from Honolulu, Hawaiian capital. Its waters have been flowing through the Waipio valley and even turned into a 100-foot (30 meters) waterfall on their way.  

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The stream caught the attention of local environmental activists, who noticed the smell in the area.

The other day we came here you would think it was a beer pub that hadn’t opened its doors for three or four days,” activist Carroll Cox told local Hawaii News Now. She also contacted the Department of Health about the issue.

Local media took samples from the unusual stream and had them checked at a private laboratory. It tested positive for alcohol, containing 1.2% percent of the substance in its waters – nearly a quarter the content in regular beer and strong enough to cause a buzz.

Local health authorities got involved, and an investigation into the source of contamination was launched. It was learned that the stream was coming from a drain pipe that was traced back to a warehouse of Hawaii’s largest liquor distributor, Paradise Beverages. Its representatives told local media they were working with officials to eliminate a possible spill, with the booze river apparently closing its free drinks service.

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UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has acted to proscribe the Palestinian group Hamas “in its entirety,” stating that it has significant capacity to carry out terrorist acts and has facilities to train attackers.

In a tweet on Friday, Patel stated that she had banned the Palestinian group Hamas and designated it a terrorist organization, as she reiterated the British government’s commitment to “tackling extremism and terrorism wherever it occurs.”

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“Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities,” she wrote.  

The home secretary’s tweet came during her visit to Washington and followed speculation on Friday morning that she was soon to outlaw the group.

Pre-empting Patel’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed Britain’s intention” on Twitter.

“Hamas is a radical Islamic group that targets innocent Israelis & seeks Israel’s destruction. I welcome the UK’s intention to declare Hamas a terrorist organization in its entirety – because that’s exactly what it is,” Bennett wrote, thanking the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  

Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister, also hailed the expected move against Hamas, saying it was part of strengthening ties with Britain.” 

Until now, only Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had been outlawed by the British government. The EU and the US have already proscribed all of Hamas.

Hamas political official Sami Abu Zuhri rejected Britain’s move, claiming it showed absolute bias toward the Israeli occupation and is a submission to Israeli blackmail and dictations.” 

In a separate statement, the group claimed it had a right to resist occupation by all available means, “including armed resistance.”

Hamas seized total control of Gaza in 2007, on the back of an election victory in 2006.

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Germany has been plunged into a “nationwide state of emergency” because of its current high level of Covid infections, acting health minister Jens Spahn has said. He also refused to rule out further lockdowns.

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The situation is serious, the dynamic is unbroken,” Spahn told a press conference Friday.

The incidence has increased fivefold in four weeks. We see sadly high values in the death rate. We are in a national emergency.”

Spahn refused to rule out the possibility of another lockdown, saying that, in such a drastic health situation, “we can’t rule anything out.”

The head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, added to the gloomy picture by saying that “all of Germany is one big outbreak,” with an estimated half a million active Covid cases in the country – and numbers rising. For the third day in a row, more than 50,000 cases have been registered in the country, while the death toll in Germany since the start of the pandemic is above 98,700, according to figures compiled by the RKI.

Wieler added that, with many hospitals already overwhelmed, more should be done to tackle the spread of the virus. Besides obvious measures such as vaccination and wearing masks, he also suggested closing poorly ventilated bars.

On Thursday, lawmakers in the Bundestag approved new measures in the fight against coronavirus, including requirements to prove vaccination status, a negative test, or proof of recovery from infection before employees can access communal workspaces or use public transport. The measures will have to be passed by the upper house before they can take effect.

Neighboring Austria announced on Friday that it would enter full lockdown as of Monday, November 22.

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Controversial psychologist and author Jordan Peterson claimed Western countries had no “moral right” to force developing nations to reduce pollution output, noting instead that improving their economies was key.

During an appearance on the BBC’s ‘Question Time’ show on Thursday, the Canadian professor noted that the focus of climate change policies should be on incentivizing the development of cheap energy in poorer polluter countries.

“The best long term solution is to try to make developing countries as rich as possible, and the best way to do that is not control their pollution output, but to help them develop the cheapest energy they can possibly manage as fast as they possibly can,” Peterson said.

The debate saw UK undersecretary for employment Mims Davies suggest that measures taken to tackle climate change should not come at the “expense of developing countries.” But Peterson countered that it “absolutely, 100% will be [at their expense].”

I don’t think we have any moral right in the West at all to do that.

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He also criticized the recent COP26 climate change conference for failing to explore ideas on how best to improve national economies in the developing world, noting that he saw “very little of that sort of idea” coming out of the UN summit.

In the final hours of the two-week conference, China and India had intervened to soften the wording around the use of coal in the Glasgow Pact. The two countries demanded a change in the final text of the agreement that called for coal to be phased out, revising this to “phasing down unabated coal.”

The move prompted COP26 president and UK minister Alok Sharma to declare that China and India would have to “justify” their actions to countries that were more vulnerable to global warming effects. However, officials in both Beijing and New Delhi have countered that the criticism was unfair.

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The Chinese foreign ministry has lashed out at Lithuania after the small Baltic Sea nation approved the opening of the Taiwan Representative Office in Vilnius. Beijing says it undermines its One China policy.

Beijing was disappointed that Lithuania had proceeded to grant Taiwan permission to open its ‘representative office’ in Vilnius despite “China’s strong opposition and repeated persuasion,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing on Friday. Taiwan had opened its mission in Vilnius the previous day. 

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Zhao called the move a violation of the One China principle, which he said is undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, while grossly interfering in its internal affairs. The spokesman reminded Lithuania that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory and the Beijing government has sole legal authority. 

As to what necessary measures China will take, you may wait and see. The Lithuanian side shall reap what it sows.

In a “stern warning” to the Taiwanese authorities, Zhao then added that “seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ by soliciting foreign support is a totally misguided attempt that is doomed to fail.”

In August, Lithuania announced that the diplomatic outpost would be named the “Taiwan Representative Office,” angering China. Taiwan’s diplomatic branches – in countries that have de facto relations with the island’s authorities – are normally called “Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices.”

China demanded that Lithuania recall its ambassador from China, which it did. Beijing then withdrew its envoy to the Baltic state.

Chinese officials have repeatedly called on Western nations, notably the UK and US, to stop interfering in Beijing’s internal affairs, stressing that they consider Taiwan to be part of China.

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Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has called on Canadian singer Justin Bieber to cancel his upcoming concert in what it calls the “Zionist occupation state” of Israel.

Bieber announced his 2022 world tour dates this week, with a concert in Tel Aviv planned for next October. On Thursday, Hamas’ Artistic Production Department issued a statement, cited by the Palestinian Sawa news outlet, “condemning and denouncing” the performer. It called on the star to cancel the show and “boycott the Zionist occupation state in protest at its repeated crimes against the Palestinian people.” 

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Bieber has performed in Israel multiple times, his last performance there having been in 2017 at Park HaYarkon – the same venue slated for next year. Since the announcement of the ‘Justice’ tour dates, calls for him to cancel the Tel Aviv show have gained momentum across social media, with many posters condemning the singer for supporting what one called an “apartheid state.”

Some noted that Bieber was set to arrive in Israel after performing in South Africa. “Justin Bieber is really going straight from SA to Israel. From a country that fought apartheid to a country that’s practicing apartheid,” one Twitter user complained.

A petition asking the singer to boycott Israel and exclude it from his tour has been launched online, and had garnered some 3,700 signatures by Friday. 

In 2018, the New Zealand singer Lorde canceled a concert in Israel, subsequently thanking fans for “educating” her on the issue, and, the same year, US artist Lana Del Rey at first defended her decision to perform in the country, saying her appearance would not be a “political statement,” before backtracking and canceling the gig.

Hamas has been designated a terrorist group by the US, the EU, and, as of Friday, the UK. In April 2021, international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch concluded in a report that Israel had committed “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

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The EU’s drug regulator has backed the emergency use of Merck’s pill for the treatment for clinically vulnerable Covid-19 patients as cases surge across the continent.

On Friday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) “issued advice” backing the emergency use of the drug developed by Merck in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, although it has not yet been authorized by national authorities.

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In a statement, the drug regulator said the medicine called Lagevrio – also known as molnupiravir or MK 4482 – “can be used to treat adults with Covid-19 who do not require supplemental oxygen and who are at increased risk of developing severe Covid-19.

It said the treatment should be administered as soon as possible after Covid-19 is diagnosed and within five days of the start of symptoms. The medicine should be taken twice a day for a period of five days.

The EMA listed the potential side effects of the capsules, including mild or moderate diarrhea, nausea, dizziness and headache. The treatment is not recommended for pregnant women.

The watchdog announced earlier on Friday that it had begun reviewing Pfizer’s medicine Paxlovid for Covid-19 with the same goal “to support national authorities” who may decide on its early use prior to marketing authorization in light of rising cases and deaths in Europe.

On Friday, Austria announced it would enter a new nationwide lockdown from Monday and make vaccination mandatory, while Germany’s health authorities claimed the country had turned into “one big outbreak.”

Both Pfizer and Merck have requested approval for their coronavirus medicines from the US Food and Drug Administration, but it is unclear when it might be granted.

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Hospitals in the Netherlands have begun delaying certain operations to free-up ICU beds during a record wave of Covid-19 infections, while an infectious diseases researcher has warned of an impending ‘Code Black’ in the sector.

The country set a daily national record for new Covid infections on Thursday, registering around 23,600 cases. It was the third day in a row of the figure topping 20,000.

To make more staff available for Covid wards, a number of operations, including those for cancer and heart patients, are being canceled from this week on, Dutch healthcare officials have said. Fewer than 200 beds remained available in Dutch ICUs as of Thursday, while Friday figures show almost half (47.8%) of occupied ICU beds were being used by Covid patients.

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“These are cancer patients that should actually be operated-on within six weeks of diagnosis, and that won’t be met in all cases. It’s also heart patients,” said a spokesperson for the National Coordination Center for Patient Distribution (LCPS).

Meanwhile, new calculations by an infectious disease modeller at Wageningen University & Research suggest that a so-called ‘Code Black’ in hospitals is looming. The emergency designation means that patient safety is at risk and, if declared, would mean many people with life-threatening illnesses cannot go to the ICU, while doctors have to prioritize who to treat.

According to recent estimates from the Dutch Healthcare Authority (NZa), up to 200,000 operations were not performed as a result of urgently needed Covid care since the start of the pandemic. On Thursday, the NZa revealed that almost a quarter of operating rooms across the country are not currently in use due to a combination of Covid patient pressures and rising staff absences due to illness.

It is not yet clear what impact the delayed care will have on public health. In December 2020, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) calculated that an estimated 34,000 to 50,000 ‘healthy life years’ had been lost due to the first Covid-19 wave alone.

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