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Dutch, Australians find omicron variant; others curb travel

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Dutch, Australians find omicron variant; others curb travel

By MIKE CORDER and GEIR MOULSON

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands confirmed 13 cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus on Sunday and Australia found two as the countries half a world apart became the latest to detect it in travelers arriving from southern Africa.

Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday — the most drastic of a growing raft of travel curbs being imposed by nations around the world as they scramble to slow the variant’s spread, just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa.

The “act first, ask questions later” approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant that some feared could prolong a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.

But many experts cautioned that so much was still unknown about the new strain — and the World Health Organization called for borders to remain open, noting that closing them often has a limited effect. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, emphasized that there is no data yet that suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous COVID-19 variants. It is also not yet known whether it is more resistant to protection provided by the vaccines.

“I do think it’s more contagious when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa. It has the earmarks therefore of being particularly likely to spread from one person to another. … What we don’t know is whether it can compete with delta,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Collins said the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing.

The Dutch public health authority confirmed that 13 people who arrived from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was implemented. They were immediately put into isolation, most at a nearby hotel.

Authorities in Australia said two travelers who arrived in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the new variant. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival. Two German states reported a total of three cases in returning travelers over the weekend.

Israel moved to ban entry by foreigners and mandate quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.

“Restrictions on the country’s borders is not an easy step, but it’s a temporary and necessary step,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Dr. Ran Balicer, head of the government’s advisory panel on COVID-19, told Israel’s Kan public radio that the new measures were necessary amid the “fog of war” surrounding the new variant, saying it was “better to act early and strictly” to prevent its spread.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry tweeted Sunday that all incoming air travel to the North African country would be suspended to “preserve the achievements realized by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens.” Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccinations in Africa, and kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The United States’ top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the U.S., though it hasn’t yet been detected there.

The U.S. plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday. “It’s going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness,” Fauci said of the ban on ABC’s “This Week.”

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said he asked his country’s public health institute for advice on whether additional travel restrictions are needed, but he wants to coordinate with his European Union counterparts.

Many other countries have already restricted or banned travel from various southern African countries — among the latest to do so were New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates. This goes against the advice of the WHO, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant is thoroughly studied.

South Africa’s government responded angrily to the travel bans, which it said are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.” It said it will try to persuade countries that imposed them to reconsider.

The WHO sent out a statement saying that it “stands with African nations” and called for borders to stay open. “Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based,” it said.

In Europe, much of which already has been struggling with a sharp increase in cases over recent weeks, officials were on guard.

The U.K. on Saturday tightened rules on mask-wearing and on testing of international arrivals after finding two omicron cases, but British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government was nowhere near reinstituting work from home or more severe social-distancing measures.

“We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-COVID health outcomes such as impact on mental health,” he told Sky News.

Spain announced it won’t admit unvaccinated British visitors starting Dec. 1.

Italy was going through lists of airline passengers who arrived in the past two weeks after a business traveler who returned from Mozambique and landed in Rome on Nov. 11 tested positive for omicron. The Lazio region’s top health official, Alessio D’Amato, said that “controls at airports, ports and train stations have been reinforced.”

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that, while his country had no confirmed cases yet, “it is probable that there currently are cases in circulation.”

While it is not clear yet how existing vaccines work against the omicron variant, Veran said France isn’t changing its strategy to fight the latest surge of infections driven by the delta variant that centers on increasing vaccinations and boosters.

David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert and government adviser on the pandemic in Hong Kong, agreed with that strategy.

He said the two people who tested positive for the omicron variant had received the Pfizer vaccine and exhibited very mild symptoms, such as a sore throat.

“Vaccines should work but there would be some reduction in effectiveness,” he said.

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Moulson reported from Berlin. Zen Soo in Hong Kong, Adam Schreck in Bangkok and Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Versatile receiver Deebo Samuel ran 26 yards for a touchdown the play after an interception by Dak Prescott, and the San Francisco 49ers held on for a 23-17 wild-card victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The Cowboys had a final chance with 32 seconds remaining and were at the San Francisco 41 with 14 seconds to go when Prescott took off up the middle intending to slide and spike the ball for a final play.

But Dallas didn’t get the snap off from the 24 until after the clock hit 0:00. After a brief delay, referee Alex Kemp announced the game was over.

The 49ers overcame an interception by Jimmy Garoppolo when they led by 13 in the fourth quarter. Prescott ran for a touchdown to get within a score, and had a chance to drive Dallas to a go-ahead score. But the 49ers got a stop at midfield when Prescott’s desperation fourth-down pass was just out of the receiver Cedrick Wilson’s reach.

After a 14th penalty from the NFL’s most-penalized team in the regular season that helped San Francisco run out most of the clock — and the frantic final seconds as Dallas tried for the win — the 49ers (11-7) clinched their first playoff victory at the Cowboys in a storied postseason rivalry.

Now they head to Tampa Bay for a divisional game, looking for another trip to the NFC championship game.

The wait for Dallas (12-6) to get that far in the playoffs will reach at least 27 years after another first-game flameout in the postseason for Prescott, the second in three trips for the star quarterback. It was his first playoff game since signing a $40-million-a-year contract in the offseason.

The 49ers were in control in the fourth quarter, but not leaning on the running game they figured could carry them to a win when Garoppolo threw an interception to Anthony Brown that set up Prescott’s 7-yard scoring run.

Garoppolo’s mistake wasn’t long after Prescott was picked off at the Dallas 26 by K’Waun Williams and Samuel ran untouched on a cutback up the middle to the end zone on the next play for a 23-7 lead.

San Francisco lost star pass rusher Nick Bosa to a concussion just before halftime when he was crunched in the head and neck area by teammate D.J. Jones. But the 49ers kept enough pressure on Prescott, finishing with five sacks while holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to 307 yards.

San Francisco scored on its first four possessions, but three times settled for field goals from Robbie Gould to help keep the Cowboys close.

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

NEW YORK — After a month at no. 1, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has finally been overtaken at the box office. Paramount Pictures’ “Scream” reboot debuted with $30.6 million in ticket sales over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

“Scream,” a self-described “requel” that is both the fifth film in the franchise and a reboot introducing a new, younger cast, led all releases over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Paramount forecasts that it will total $35 million including Monday’s grosses. “Scream,” which cost about $24 million to make, added another $18 million in 50 international markets.

That made for a solid revival for the self-aware slasher franchise.

Rights to the “Scream” films, once a reliable cash cow for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films, were acquired by Spyglass Media Group, which produced the new film with Paramount. This “Scream,” helmed by Matt Bettinello-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, was the first not directed by Wes Craven, who died in 2015. It features original “Scream” cast members Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette alongside new additions Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega and Jack Quaid.

“All of our traditional measures were indicating a solid opening, but as I kept telling people: We’re still in this thing and it’s very difficult to determine what will actually happen,” said Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount. “Now we’re open, people have seen the movie and we’re off and running. Hopefully this becomes another building block toward building the business back and getting it back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Meanwhile, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” slipped to second place but continued to rise in the record books.

“No Way Home” grossed $20.8 million in its fifth weekend of release. Sony Pictures predicts that with another $5.2 million on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “No Way Home” will reach a domestic cumulative total of $703.9 million Monday, edging “Black Panther” and moving into fourth place all-time.

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

The Miami Dolphins didn’t play a wild-card round playoff game, but they still found a way to lose over the weekend.

The Dolphins’ first-round draft pick took another blow with the San Francisco 49ers’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening.

Now, Miami will be selecting No. 25, at best, in the draft’s first round after the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.

San Francisco now plays at the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers. With another upset, the pick that goes to the Dolphins falls to 29. A 49ers loss Sunday would’ve likely given Miami the 22nd pick.

The Dolphins own the 49ers’ selection while the Philadelphia Eagles have Miami’s pick due to the two trades the Dolphins pulled off with the NFC teams last offseason ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Miami traded back to No. 12 with San Francisco, sending the No. 3 pick, which previously belonged to the Houston Texans, to the 49ers. A move up from 12 to 6, where wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was selected, followed and sent the Dolphins’ 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia.

In the movement, the Dolphins are now selecting at least 10 spots lower than they would be had they traded the 49ers’ pick to the Eagles instead of their own. The Miami selection going to Philadelphia in the upcoming draft is No. 15. The Dolphins also got a 2023 first-round pick from the 49ers in the deal.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is one of the Dolphins’ seven candidates being interviewed for their head coaching vacancy, could theoretically play a role in negatively affecting his first draft pick as Miami head coach should he be the choice for the job.

The Dolphins appear more likely than they once were to keep their first-round pick after the Saturday news that the franchise plans to continue working with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The NFL draft is ordered by first having the 18 non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of record, with lower strength of schedule serving as a tiebreaker. Picks 19-24 are then reserved for the wild-card round losers in reverse order of regular-season record. Picks 25-28 go to divisional round losers and so on until the Super Bowl champion picks 32nd.

Bears interested in Dolphins exec

The Chicago Bears are already seeking interviews with ex-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their two vacancies in the respective roles.

Now, they have requested permission to interview current Miami executive Reggie McKenzie for the general manager job, according to The MMQB.

McKenzie has been with the Dolphins as senior personnel executive since 2019 after spending the previous seven seasons (2012-18) as the Oakland Raiders’ general manager. In 2016, McKenzie was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by Sporting News, The MMQB and the PFWA.

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