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Wales was among the hit hardest by Covid. Things are changing

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By Nick Paton Walsh, Jo Shelley, and Christian Streib, CNN
Updated 2:19 AM ET, Tue February 16, 2021

Cardiff, Wales (CNN) — The bitter Cardiff cold, the dawn half-light, and the radio-static pulse of callouts are the same as every shift over the past year, but as paramedic Angie Dymott and her colleague Lynda Stephens climb into their ambulance one recent morning, something small, but vital has changed.

There have been very few Covid-19 emergency calls in the past two days, and they are wondering why.
“A few weeks back, that’s all we were going to,” said Dymott. “Covid after Covid after Covid. Then all of a sudden, it just dropped off quite quickly. So [the change is] surprising, but a good surprise.”
Cardiff, in south Wales, has been hit hard by the virus. But during the two days CNN spent with its teams, suspected Covid callouts fell dramatically.
    Dymott and Stephens get two: One definite positive middle-aged woman, who isn’t that sick, and another 75-year-old woman, who is waiting for a clearer test result. On Thursday there were only four callouts across all of Cardiff’s 400,000 population.
    Wales once had the distinction of being home to some of the worst-hit areas in the United Kingdom, which itself has one of the worst death rates globally.
    But last Friday, it had a new focus: Completing its rollout of vaccines to the most vulnerable ahead of schedule — with greater efficiency than the already fast UK. It’s left some wondering if the vaccines might be playing a role — finally — in the drop in elderly patients in need.
    One possible Covid call the crew answers is a case in point: Khatun Makani, 75, took a home test that was positive, but had a cold and chest infection that might have made that a false positive, said Dymott.
    “I’m shivering and my mouth is very dry,” said Makani, standing just inside her front door. Her frailty is emphasized by the din of a huge family dog locked in another room, and the news that her son, Raheem, a local DJ whom neighbors discuss with affection, died days ago from a heart attack unrelated to Covid. The solitude here is underpinned with intense grief.
    Makani said she did not want to go to hospital, and Dymott agreed she may be better off at home, in the care of neighbors she knows. “She’s broken-hearted,” Dymott said.
    While Makani is visibly short of breath, she said she had a vaccine shot two weeks earlier, and should be starting to see some protection in the coming days.
    This is the new normal for the crew: The elderly and frail patients they would normally rush to treat for Covid have now, here in Wales, mostly had the vaccine. Is this why — over these two days at least — there are suddenly fewer of them?
    Wales’s first minister, Mark Drakeford, told CNN he thought the early lockdown he ordered before Christmas — slightly ahead of that imposed in England — was most likely behind any drop in emergency callouts and cases. But he accepted the vaccines might also be beginning to play a role.
    “It will have begun to make a difference,” he said. “We know it’s three weeks before the vaccine begins to make a difference and we are only 66 days into our program altogether today. What has really made the difference is the decision we made — the really difficult decision — to go into a lockdown before Christmas.”
    While it is too early to determine if the drop in cases that CNN witnessed is connected with social distancing or the vaccines, the UK has recorded a drop in cases nationwide after weeks of nationwide lockdown.
    On Sunday, the UK announced it had met its target of vaccinating the 15 million most vulnerable with at least a first shot.
    For Dymott, it can’t come fast enough: “That’s all we’ve heard is vaccine … people were calling it the Christmas miracle. So it’s nice to see that it’s actually come into play now and it is having some effect.”
    “We really hope there’s not a third wave,” Stephens added. “I think we’re all exhausted now. I hope this vaccine is the answer to get it under control.”
    The Welsh Ambulance Service has been hit hard. Frontline workers have daily had to enter houses where Covid infections have been rife; they have lost four colleagues in the pandemic.
    Last Tuesday, Alan Haigh, 59, an emergency medical technician with 22 years’ service, died in hospital from Covid-19.
    And on Sunday, they lost a fourth. Kevin Hughes, 41, from Valley, Anglesey, worked in a computer support role.
    For a couple of weeks, back in April, Dymott was concerned she too might die from the virus, when an emergency responder became a patient.
    “I had constant nausea, vomiting, headache,” she said. “I didn’t have the persistent cough that everybody says, and I had a high temperature. I was really scared. And I although I kept telling myself, I’m healthy and I’m young-ish, I still kept thinking I could deteriorate at any time now.”
    She said she moved to hospital around the eighth day, haunted by the possibility her condition might suddenly worsen. Eventually, she said: “There was a point that I hated it in there so much, that I just thought, ‘I’m getting out of here now.'”
    Stephens, an advanced emergency medical technician who has worked alongside Dymott for 12 years — to the extent the pair finish each other’s sentences — said Dymott’s hospitalization caused some panic.
    “I was scared, because she had — instead of getting better — taken a turn for the worse.” Stephens said she was unsure if she could have returned to work without Dymott.
    Some patients are lodged in the duo’s memories.
    Last year, Dymott was urgently called to treat her immediate neighbor. “I went in and I immediately knew she wasn’t well,” she recalled. “It was really, really hard. Because I had to look at her not [just] as a friend … but also how I would look at one of my own patients, and tell her that she really, really needed to go in [to hospital]. She passed away five days later.”
    Stephens remembers the all-too-frequent moments at the back of the ambulance, when families say goodbye to their loved ones for what could be the last time.
    “I think everybody is well aware … they might not see their family, that person again. You just let them say their goodbyes and then just comfort the patient on the way into hospital as much as you can.”
      The team rarely learn the ultimate fate of their patients, but Stephens recalls one woman’s face as she left.
      “I possibly think that patient wouldn’t have come back out,” she said. “Other patients who go in, you know they’re very unwell, but you hope they’re going to make a recovery. I think that particular patient probably wouldn’t have.”

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      Nigeria crashed aircraft was on rescue mission for kidnapped schoolchildren

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      By Nimi Princewill, CNN
      Updated 10:13 AM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

      Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigeria’s airforce has said its plane, which crashed shortly after take-off from Abuja airport on Sunday morning — killing everyone on board — was on a mission to rescue the schoolchildren kidnapped last week.

      A spokesman told CNN the aircraft was on surveillance operations in Niger State as part of efforts to rescue at least 42 schoolchildren and staff members taken by gunmen from the Government Science School Kagara last Wednesday. One student died during the attack.
      Air Vice-Marshal Ibikunle Daramola told CNN on Monday afternoon that the air force had donated the military plane to a joint task force coordinating the rescue operation in Kagara.
      “The rescue effort is being coordinated by a multi-agency team… the crashed aircraft was part of the air force’s contribution to the rescue mission,” he added.
        Daramola told CNN that the airforce would continue to support the rescue operation.
          He added that all families of the personnel have been informed, and an investigation launched.
          The ongoing rescue efforts followed a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces and police to ensure all captives are rescued.

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          Protests in Haiti as political standoff continues

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          By Caitlin Hu and Etant Dupain, CNN
          Updated 7:44 PM ET, Sun February 21, 2021

          (CNN) — Large crowds of Haitians took to the streets again on Sunday, as a standoff between President Jovenel Moise and the country’s opposition movement stretched into its third week.

          “Those of us fighting, who want another Haiti, a Haiti pearl of the Antilles, say no to the dictatorship,” one protester told Reuters in capital city Port-au-Prince, where Haitian opposition and civil society groups had called the demonstration. Another criticized the United States and international organizations for supporting the President.
          At the heart of protests is a dispute over the President’s term limit: Moise has served only four years of the usual five, and says his term ends in 2022 — a stance backed by the United States, United Nations and Organization of American States.
          Protesters, however, say he should have stepped down February 7, citing a constitutional provision that starts the clock once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office.
            “We want the international community (to) understand that the Haiti people won’t back down on their demands. Jovenel Moise must leave the national palace for a peaceful transition that can lead us to the elections,” opposition leader André Michel told CNN on Sunday.
            This month’s protests also reflect years of increasing bitterness in Haiti over the country’s economic pain and violent crime. Killings and a wave of hundreds of kidnappings in particular have driven public outrage, according to a recent United Nations report, which recorded a monthly average of 84 demonstrations in the second half of 2020.
            Moise has blamed his administration’s poor record in dealing with such fundamental issues on the country’s system of governance, and on complications and lack of clarity in the constitution itself. “Since the beginning of my term, the country has never known stability,” he acknowledged in a February 12 tweet.
            With an eye toward empowering the office of the president for the future, he has vowed to hold a referendum on changes to the constitution in April. This will be his legacy project, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, told CNN.
            However, critics are skeptical of the legitimacy of any constitutional changes made in the current political climate and without institutional checks and balances in place. General elections are expected to follow in the fall.
              In a speech last Sunday, amid celebrations for Carnival, which he celebrated with large crowds of supporters and revelers, Moise expressed his determination to see the country through another year.
              “Haiti is for me, for my kids, for the people here dancing. The people who don’t want me to do the people’s work will stop, or I will make them stop. I was elected to do a job, and I will do it,” he said.

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              Oil spill leads Israel to close beaches as it faces ‘severe ecological disaster’

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              By Sharif Paget
              Updated 1:41 PM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

              (CNN) — Israeli authorities are trying to locate the source of a suspected oil spill that has been described as one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit the country, threatening wildlife, forcing beaches to close and prompting a mass cleanup.

              Blobs of sticky tar started washing up on the country’s Mediterranean shores last week. Images posted on official government accounts showed sea birds and turtles covered in tar and sticky oil.
              “The enormous amounts of tar emitted in recent days to the shores of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters to hit Israel,” the country’s Nature and Parks Authority said Sunday.
              The extent of the pollution is so bad, Israel’s Ministry of Interior issued an advisory Sunday urging people to stay away from the country’s beaches.
                A massive cleanup is underway but the Nature and Parks Authority said it would take a long time to make the marine area safe again. It has established a registration and information center for volunteers who wish to help.
                “I was very impressed by the exemplary voluntarism of the citizens who came to clean up the beaches. We must maintain our beaches, our country and the environment,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office.
                “I have just spoken with the Egyptian Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister who has come to us, and we proposed that every ship that you see here be powered by natural gas instead of polluting fuel, as happened here,” he continued.
                Gamliel said it was their “moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event,” according to the statement.
                  “We have the possibility of suing the insurance company of the ship that is responsible for the pollution and we will do everything to locate it,” she said.
                  In a separate statement posted to her Twitter account, Gamliel said, “We are making every effort to find those responsible for the disaster, and we will bring to the government’s approval tomorrow a proposal for resolutions to rehabilitate the environment.”

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                  Seven dead in Nigerian military plane crash

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                  Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) Seven people were killed when a Nigerian military plane crashed on approach to Abuja airport on Sunday, a spokesman for Nigeria’s Air Force said.

                  “All 7 personnel on board died in the crash,” Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola said on Twitter.
                  He added that the Chief of the Air Staff has ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.
                  “A military aircraft King Air 350 has just crashed short of our Abuja runway after reporting engine failure enroute [to] Minna. It appears to be fatal,” said the country’s aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, confirming the incident in a statement.
                   

                  AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT

                  This is to confirm that a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja Airport after reporting engine failure enroute Minna. First responders are at the scene. Sadly, all 7 personnel on board died in the crash

                  — Air Vice Marshal Ibikunle Daramola (@KunleDaramola3) February 21, 2021

                   
                  In a follow-up communication Sunday afternoon, a spokesman at the Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, said the “aircraft reported engine failure at time 10:39 and crashed landed on the final approach path of Abuja Runway 22 at time 10:48UTC.”
                  Odaudu said fire fighters have been deployed to the scene to put out a raging blaze that had engulfed the airplane.
                  An aviation worker who asked not to be named — citing lack of official clearance to talk to the press — told CNN that he witnessed the crash.
                  “The crash occurred not very far from the runway. The pilot had tried returning to the runway after taking off,” he said.
                  The worker said the pilot swerved the plane to its crash site which is in a desolate area. He said the aircraft narrowly avoided warehouses and makeshift settlements around the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport.

                   

                   
                   
                   
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                  Why Britain’s anti-immigration politicians are opening the doors to thousands of Hong Kongers

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                  By Tara John, CNN
                  Updated 7:29 PM ET, Sat February 20, 2021

                  (CNN) — Eighteen months ago, Malcolm was at the vanguard of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

                  Full of bravado and often clad in black, the 21-year-old oversaw a group of 60 combative front-liners who embraced confrontational tactics against the police while demanding greater democracy in the former British colony.
                  Today, he is applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, and separated from his family in Hong Kong where he feels he can longer visit. Malcom believes if he returns to the Chinese city he could be arrested under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong last June, which scaled up penalties against dissent to include punishments as severe as life imprisonment.
                  Since then, nearly 100 activists have been arrested under the new law. When Hong Kong police apprehended a protester friend of Malcolm’s in October, he booked a red-eye flight to London. Malcolm asked CNN not to use his real name, for fear that his family — who remain in Hong Kong — could face repercussions.
                    The British government has called the security law a clear violation of the “one country, two systems” policy meant to ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing until 2047. In its wake, the UK has opened a six-year pathway to British citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) passports (BN(O)), a special visa category created for Hong Kong nationals before the 1997 transfer of power.
                    Sze has settled into London life: She already has strong opinions on the snail’s pace of London buses and is counting the days to when lockdown ends and she can go shopping on Oxford Street.
                    While it can be hard to find the authentic Cantonese cuisine she grew up eating in Hong Kong, Sze marvels at how much cheaper food is at British supermarkets.
                    “The food quality is better, the price is cheaper and the rent is cheaper,” she told CNN.
                    Sze cannot get a job until her BN(O) visa is approved, but she is optimistic that the UK’s coronavirus-induced economic slump will not get in the way of her finding work. “I am open to any [job] option — it really depends on how much savings I have,” she said.
                      But her biggest concern is the fate of fellow dissidents going through the asylum process, and whether her compatriots who move to the UK will give up the fight for independence back home.
                      “Hong Kongers should never give up, no matter if they’ve left Hong Kong or not,” she said.

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