indonesia: Indonesia lifts tsunami alert after powerful undersea earthquake – Times of India


JAKARTA: Indonesia lifted a tsunami alert Tuesday following a magnitude 7.3 undersea earthquake that struck off Flores Island, triggering panic in a region prone to fatal quakes but apparently causing no damage or casualties.
According to the US Geological Survey, the quake hit at a depth of 18.5 kilometers (11.5 miles) under the sea, and was located 112 kilometers (74 miles) north of the town of Maumere, the second-largest on the island in East Nusa Tenggara province with a population of 85,000.
After an initial tsunami alert, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii and later Indonesia’s agency lifted the warning hours after the quake.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said residents in the area felt the earthquake strongly. TV footage showed people running away from buildings that shook from the impact.
The chief of Flores Timur district, Anton Hayon, said no damage was reported.
“We asked people in the coastal areas to get away from the beach lines, especially in the northern side … as there was a big tsunami there back in 1972,” Hayon said.
He added that residents had joined a tsunami drill before and they know what to do.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 270 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines that arcs the Pacific.
The last major earthquake was in January, a magnitude 6.2 that killed at least 105 people and injured nearly 6,500 in West Sulawesi province.





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S. Korea marks deadliest day of pandemic as hospitals buckle

The country reported around 6,000 new cases a day last week, including three consecutive days of over 7,000. That was three times the level of 2,000 at the start of November, when the government significantly eased social distancing rules in what officials described as the first step toward restoring pre-pandemic normalcy.



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Your Tuesday Briefing


After two years of zigzagging policy and roller coaster emotions, terrible loss and tantalizing false dawns, closing borders and intermittently shuttered schools, people’s resilience across the globe has dwindled. For their leaders, this poses a quandary: How can they impose yet more restrictions on a fragile, exhausted populace after so much forced separation?

Yet the Omicron variant is a dismal reminder that the Covid era is far from over, dragging on like plagues of old. Health authorities in Denmark and Norway yesterday warned of a sharp increase in Omicron cases, predicting that the new variant will soon dominate both countries. England had already reported similar findings.

In the U.S., Covid has now been responsible for almost 800,000 deaths. One in every 100 Americans ages 65 or older has died from the virus. For people younger than 65, that ratio is closer to 1 in 1,400. The total number of known coronavirus cases in the U.S. yesterday surpassed 50 million.

Quotable: “I know it will only get worse, it won’t stop, the pandemic will only turn more life-consuming,” said Natalia Shishkova, a teacher in Moscow. “It is all chaos, like a fantasy film. You watch all these apocalypse films and realize their writers were real prophets.”

A global wave of inflation is changing the political terrain for the right-wing populists leading countries like Turkey, Brazil and Hungary who have enjoyed wide support for years. Instead of the hot-button cultural issues that once stirred the electorate, voters are now primarily focused on the economy.

Prices are climbing faster than they have in almost two decades in Brazil, a country with a relatively recent history of disastrous inflationary episodes. In Turkey, the unorthodox economic policies of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have set off a full-on currency crisis. And in Hungary, voters are most concerned with the cost of living and low wages.

As the global economy began to heal from the pandemic this year, a combination of supply chain disruptions, central bank money-printing and government stimulus spending ignited a sharp rise in prices around the world. That prompted leaders in many developing countries to tweak their policies — and global investors to rethink their investments in those markets.

Boris Johnson, the tousle-haired British prime minister, faces the most difficult stretch of his leadership yet: a threat of mutiny from his rebellious Conservative Party; collapsing poll ratings; and persistent questions about whether he or his staff flouted the very lockdown rules they imposed on the public by hosting a Christmas party last year.

The cascade of bad news is so extreme that it has raised questions about whether Johnson will even hang on to power until the next election. It is an ominous turn for a leader who has long defied political gravity, surviving scandals and setbacks that would have sunk many other politicians.

With no general election likely for at least two years, Johnson is not under immediate threat from voters. But if Conservative lawmakers feel it would be politically expedient, they can eject him through an internal leadership vote or a vote of no confidence. For the first time, political analysts and party members said, such a challenge seems plausible.

Analysis: “It’s not the end for him, but I think it’s the beginning of the end,” said Jonathan Powell, who served as chief of staff to a Labour prime minister, Tony Blair. “The problem is that these crises have a cumulative effect. As soon as he ceases to be an asset and the party is facing an election, they’ll get rid of him.”

By the numbers: Johnson’s rating has plummeted to 24 percent approval and 59 percent disapproval, the lowest of his tenure, according to a recent poll. The opposition Labour Party now leads the Conservatives by nine percentage points, its largest advantage since February 2014.

The raid, in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, came just after sunset. Plainclothes municipal workers swarmed into a busy neighborhood, seizing contraband as dealers scattered or watched helplessly. It was yet another successful crackdown on eggs.

The place of the humble egg — and other animal products — has become the latest flashpoint in the growing role of religion in everyday life under Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister.

These 193 stories show the reality of climate change in every country in the world.

For the Golden Globes, the show must go on, even when there’s no show. NBC said it would not air next year’s ceremony because of ethical failings by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the scandal-ridden group behind the awards. Yet the H.F.P.A. has announced its list of nominees all the same — one only marginally more diverse than in previous years.

Some background: A series of bombshell reports in The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times revealed financial and ethical lapses within a cloistered membership with zero Black voters. Though the H.F.P.A has since claimed to be cleaning up its act, what little reforms it has made came only after a lot of heel-dragging and half measures.

While the group’s president, Helen Hoehne, projected positivity in her remarks yesterday, it remains unclear what form the Jan. 9 ceremony will take, especially after a rival awards show, the Critics Choice Awards, swooped in to claim the date for its own televised ceremony.

The best director category this year made room for two women, Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Lost Daughter”), and the race for best actor in a drama featured three Black contenders, Will Smith (“King Richard”), Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”) and Mahershala Ali (“Swan Song”).

On the drama side, “The Power of the Dog,” “King Richard” and “Belfast” dominated, while in the comedy-musical categories, significant attention was showered on “West Side Story,” “Licorice Pizza” and “Don’t Look Up.”

Read the full list of Golden Globe nominations.



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China’s Weibo shares tumble 9% after regulator slaps fine on social media giant’s operator


China’s Weibo app on a mobile phone.

Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinese social networking giant Weibo tumbled more than 9% on Tuesday, as its operator was fined three million yuan ($471,151) by regulators.

The Cyberspace Administration of China said on its official WeChat account that it fined Weibo’s operator BJ Weimeng Innovation and Technology Company because some accounts and content violated relevant laws and regulations.

Weibo has faced 44 fines totaling 14.3 million yuan ($2.24 million) in the period from January to November this year, according to the regulator.

Since Weibo’s secondary listing in Hong Kong last week, the stock has lost over 10%. Its Nasdaq-listed shares tumbled 6% overnight on Wall Street, and plunged over 26% year-to-date.

Responding to the fine, Weibo said it will put in place the necessary rectification, exercise its responsibility, and keep improving its governance, according to a CNBC translation.

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi said earlier this month that it will start delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, and make plans to list in Hong Kong instead. Regulators reportedly want Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi to delist from the New York Stock Exchange because of concerns about leakage of sensitive data.

As tensions between the U.S. and China grew, former U.S. President Donald Trump took steps toward removing U.S. investment in Chinese companies, especially those deemed to have alleged ties to the Chinese military.

— CNBC’s Iris Wang, Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.



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European markets head for lackluster open as omicron concerns weigh on sentiment


LONDON — European stocks are expected to open in positive territory but sentiment remains cautious amid the continuing spread of the omicron Covid variant.

The U.K.’s FTSE index is seen opening 18 points higher at 7,257, Germany’s DAX 17 points higher at 15,632, France’s CAC 40 up 5 points at 6,949 and Italy’s FTSE MIB 20 points higher at 26,586, according to data from IG.

European stocks slipped Monday as traders reacted to developments regarding the omicron Covid variant. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed yesterday that at least one patient infected with the new omicron variant of Covid-19 has died in the country.

Mainland China reported its first case of the omicron Covid variant Monday in the city of Tianjin, about a two hours’ drive from capital Beijing.

Investors are also focused this week on central bank action with the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank all due to announce monetary policy decisions.

The Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting begins Tuesday where the policymakers are expected to discuss speeding up the end of its bond-buying program.

The meeting comes as inflation data, released last Friday, came in at 6.8% in November year over year for the biggest surge since 1982. The print was marginally higher than the 6.7% Dow Jones estimate.

U.S. stock index futures were little changed during overnight trading Monday after the major averages started the week in the red as Covid omicron fears hit sentiment. Futures contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 45 points. S&P 500 futures were up 0.11%, while Nasdaq 100 futures were 0.08% higher.

In Asia-Pacific markets overnight, Chinese stocks declined, tracking other losses in the region, as the omicron variant returned to focus. Meanwhile, bitcoin prices continued to tumble after some losses overnight.

Earnings come from Ocado on Tuesday and data releases include U.K. employment data and euro zone industrial production figures for October.

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— CNBC’s Pippa Stevens and Weizhen Tan contributed to this report.



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Myanmar shadow government approves crypto as official currency


National Unity Government says it will allow use of Tether as it tries to fund ‘revolution’ against military government.

Myanmar’s shadow government said it would allow the use of the world’s largest stablecoin, Tether, as an official currency, potentially making it easier for it to raise funds and make payments.

The National Unity Government (NUG), which comprises pro-democracy groups and remnants of Myanmar’s civilian administration that was overthrown in a military coup earlier this year, has been seeking to raise funds for its “revolution” to topple the ruling military government.

The military government has outlawed the NUG and designated it a “terrorist” movement.

Tin Tun Naing, NUG’s minister in charge of planning, finance and investment, said in a December 11 Facebook post that the NUG would officially recognise USD Tether, which he said would enable better and faster transactions.

Tether can be transferred in a similar way to other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, making it hard for governments and other authorities to track or prevent payments.

However, its value is officially pegged to the US dollar and so remains stable, unlike most other cryptocurrencies.

Financial stability

Tether has a market value of $76bn, and following criticism and suspicion about the value of the assets underpinning the stablecoin, the company, also called Tether, publishes regular reports by auditors of its reserves.

Since the coup, Myanmar’s banking and financial system has been in turmoil as opposition groups try to stifle the military’s efforts to consolidate power by encouraging people not to pay taxes, as well as join protests, a civil disobedience campaign, and boycotts of army-linked businesses and a national lottery.

Meanwhile, the NUG is shut off from official access to government funds, and last month it began selling bonds, to largely Myanmar nationals overseas to raise funds.

In the months following the coup, Myanmar’s banks ran short of cash, and the local currency, the kyat, fell by more than 60 percent.

Advocates of Tether say its use by the NUG underscores the advantages of payment methods that are hard for authorities to trace.

However, stablecoins have come under scrutiny by financial regulators in developed economies, partly for this same reason, as they fear their widespread use in an unregulated environment could undermine financial stability due to their relative lack of transparency.





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“List Of Mutations We Never Wanted To See”: Omicron Vs Vaccine Makers


Omicron Covid Variant: In 2020, it took Moderna 42 days to produce original Covid vaccine.

At a plant nestled along a highway 20 miles north of Boston, hundreds of Pfizer Inc. workers are gearing up to produce millions of doses of a new vaccine that looks more and more like the next phase of fighting Covid-19.

Work on the project started the day after Thanksgiving at the 70-acre facility in Andover, Massachusetts, just as the World Health Organization designated a new coronavirus strain, omicron, a variant of concern. The goal of the effort: make a booster shot customized against the highly mutated virus in less than 100 days.

Nobody yet knows how widely omicron will spread, how serious its infections will be or even whether the new shots will be necessary. Top White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci has said that reports on severity have so far been “encouraging.” But if laboratory data rolling in from around the world are reliable, the strain is better able to sidestep existing vaccines than any to date.

Of 43 US omicron infections analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four-fifths were in fully vaccinated people, although almost all the cases were relatively mild. UK health officials expect omicron to overtake delta as the dominant strain there within days.

Researchers are alarmed by some 30 mutations in omicron’s spike, the protein that facilitates coronavirus’s entry to cells. Changes in its appearance make it harder for antibodies to find and destroy the variant. That’s prompted Pfizer, its partner BioNTech SE and their messenger RNA rival Moderna Inc. to start crash efforts to target it directly.

“It was the list of mutations we never wanted to see,” said Moderna President Stephen Hoge, who heads the company’s scientific operations. The vaccine maker, whose mRNA factory stands just 40 miles from Pfizer’s, started working on omicron the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and meetings ran straight through the holiday. Many employees “had their Thanksgivings ruined” by omicron, Hoge said.

Early lab data suggest that three doses of existing mRNA vaccines protect against omicron. What’s less clear is how long that protection lasts, since Covid antibodies have been seen to wane over time. Pfizer hopes to have the first real-world effectiveness data about how its existing vaccine fares against the variant before the end of the year.

While the companies are tight-lipped about the details of exactly where they stand, both are bent on a fast response. When news of the variant emerged from South Africa, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla decided almost immediately to begin large-scale manufacturing of an omicron-specific shot. The work ramped up so quickly that Pfizer hasn’t tallied its costs.

“I couldn’t give you the number right now; I’m not even sure we talked about it,” said Mike McDermott, Pfizer’s global supply chain head, who gives Bourla regular updates on progress. It’s very unusual for a drug company to start large-scale manufacturing on a product that may not be needed, he said.

The production process at Andover could start any day now, McDermott said. Workers are waiting for company researchers in Chesterfield, Missouri, to finalize and deliver a master cell line containing a genetic sequence that will be used in the targeted vaccine.

Pfizer’s Andover plant, acquired in 2009 in the $68 billion purchase of vaccine maker Wyeth, specializes in biologic products. For the Covid vaccine, it performs two early steps: producing large quantities of a DNA template for the vaccine from the cell line, and then converting that into the mRNA that forms the core of the vaccine.

The mRNA will be sent to another Pfizer facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan. That facility makes the lipid nanoparticles that coat the mRNA and protect it from enzymes in the body that degrade it. Kalamazoo also has vaccine vial-filling operations.

South of Boston, Moderna’s Norwood, Massachusetts facility has clean-room suites for making mRNA and the lipid nanoparticles that coat the fragile genetic material. Formerly owned by Polaroid, the factory is the vaccine maker’s first and has been rapidly scaling up since the pandemic began.

In 2020, it took Moderna 42 days to produce batches of its original Covid vaccine and 63 days to start human trials with government researchers. With omicron, “our goal is to hit a timeline like that for sure” Hoge, the Moderna president, said.

One reason that both Pfizer and Moderna can move quickly with omicron is that they have the honed the process with both the original vaccines as well as variant vaccines for beta and delta strains the companies produced earlier this year. While the delta and beta variant vaccines may not be needed, it provided a dry run for omicron.

Even after the vials of vaccine are filled and finished, uncertainties loom, starting with what human trials regulators will require, if any. The FDA’s current guidance, which the agency reiterated in an email, calls for immunogenicity trials to compare the human immune response to virus variants induced by the modified vaccine against the response to the authorized vaccine.

But Pfizer research head Mikael Dolsten says the company is exploring whether, in an emergency, it could obtain clearance without the omicron-specific trials. The agency may allow the drugmakers to submit human data from other variant-specific vaccines that show its approach is likely to be successful.

The FDA declined to comment on confidential discussions with vaccine developers.” It said it encourages them to reach out early and often to discuss clinical data needed for new vaccines to help fight Covid.

Should fresh trials of immune response to the booster be required, they would likely involve a few hundred people and take a couple months to complete, Moderna’s Hoge said. “Ultimately, the FDA has to tell us what they want,” he said.

Another question is how quickly omicron expands outside of South Africa. The strain appeared at a time when the country’s caseload was quite low — there wasn’t that much competition from other variants. In a best-case scenario, the new strain might be outspread by delta in most countries and gradually fade away.

In the meantime, though, the drugmakers can’t bank on that possibility. Pfizer plans to have the new doses ready by February or early March, Dolsten said.



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Global supply chain: Toyota extends Japan production stoppages



The carmaker said components plants in South East Asia had faced disruptions due to the pandemic.



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Indonesians flee homes after 7.3 quake prompts tsunami warning


BREAKING,

Epicentre was north of the island of Flores in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province, where the quake sparked terror.

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Indonesia on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, with monitors briefly warning of the possibility of hazardous tsunami waves before lifting the threat.

The epicentre was north of the island of Flores in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province, where the quake sparked terror after hitting at around 0320 GMT.

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency known as BMKG earlier reported the earthquake as a magnitude 7.4, and warned of “potential tsunami”.

“I was in the field. People ran in panic. I am still… scared,” said Nuraini, a resident of Adonara island in the East Flores regency, told AFP news agency.

No significant damage or deaths were immediately reported from the areas where the quake was felt, but authorities urged caution.

The USGS said the chance of casualties was low, while noting that “recent earthquakes in this area have caused secondary hazards such as tsunamis and landslides that might have contributed to losses”.

“Everyone ran out into the street,” Agustinus Florianus, a resident of Maumere town on Flores island, told Reuters news agency.

Tsunami warnings were issued for the areas of Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara and Southeast and South Sulawesi, after the quake hit 112 km (69.59 miles) northwest of Larantuka, in the eastern part of Flores, at a depth of 12 km.

A 5.6-magnitude aftershock hit Larantuka after the first quake, the agency said.

Alfons Hada Betan, head of East Flores Disaster Mitigation agency in Larantuka also said there were no immediate reports of damage and the quake was felt for several minutes as people fled from their homes.

People said on social media the earthquake was also felt strongly in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

Indonesia experiences frequent quakes and volcanic eruptions due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity where tectonic plates collide that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

Among Indonesia’s string of deadly quakes was a devastating 2004 9.1-magnitude tremor that struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 throughout the region, including about 170,000 in Indonesia.

The Boxing Day disaster was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

In 2018, a powerful quake shook the island of Lombok and several more tremors followed over the next couple of weeks, killing more than 550 people on the holiday island and neighbouring Sumbawa.

Later that year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.

On December 4, at least 48 people were killed and hundreds injured when the Mount Semeru volcano erupted on Java island on December 4.





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Ghana airport will fine airlines if they bring unvaccinated passengers to the country

The operator of Ghana‘s main international airport will fine airlines $3,500 for every passenger they fly in who is not vaccinated against COVID-19 or who tests positive for the coronavirus upon arrival, it said on December 13.

The rule comes into effect on Tuesday at Kotoka International Airport in the capital Accra, Ghana Airports said. It follows a health ministry move last week to require all people entering Ghana to be vaccinated.

The measures are some of the strictest in Africa, where vaccine uptake has been challenged by lack of supply and logistical issues even as the new Omicron variant raises concerns about quicker transmission of the virus.

Ghana’s tightening of restrictions comes as the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced a 75 million euro ($85 million) investment loan to support its pandemic response – the largest such support for a COVID-19 program in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Ghana has taken significant steps to manage the impact of COVID and to unlock long-term investment,” EIB President Werner Hoyer said in a statement.

The authorities launched a massive vaccination drive this month ahead of the enforcement from January 22 of a vaccine mandate for targeted groups, including government employees, health workers and students. It plans to recruit more health workers to be able to double daily inoculation from 140,000.

Ghana, one of West Africa’s largest economies that runs on exports of cocoa, gold and oil, has so far vaccinated slightly more than 5% of its population of 30 million, data compiled by Reuters showed.

Its health service has recorded 131,412 infections and 1,239 deaths from COVID-19, according to the data.

Over the last two weeks, COVID-19 cases recorded at Kotoka airport accounted for about 60% of total infections in the country, the health service said on Friday.



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