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Dutch running short of COVID-19 tests as surge breaks records

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November 17, 2021

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch health authorities said on Wednesday they were running short of COVID-19 tests, as the Netherlands registered more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row, the highest since the pandemic began.

“We are coming up against the maximum of our capacity,” said Jaap Eikelboom, head of COVID-19 operations at the National Public Health Service, in a statement.

The service said it was working to expand test capacity amid a new surge https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/netherlands that has caught health authorities and Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government off guard. Around 85% of the adult Dutch population is fully vaccinated https://tmsnrt.rs/3tUM8ta.

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The National Institute for Health (RIVM) on Tuesday reported a record of more than 110,000 new cases in the week ended Nov. 16, an increase of 44% from the week before, with the strongest rise among children aged 4-12.

Hospital admissions are rising and several are curtailing regular care to accommodate COVID-19 patients.

The latest wave began shortly after the government ended social distancing and other measures in September — a decision that has been reversed as cases skyrocket.

Earlier this month Rutte’s government reintroduced masks in stores, and last weekend it reimposed a partial lockdown https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/netherlands-impose-partial-lockdown-halt-covid-19-surge-media-2021-11-12, including closing bars and restaurants after 8 p.m. But the impact of those measures has not yet been seen in the daily numbers.

Parliament met with Rutte last night to debate whether to restrict access to indoor public venues to people who have a “corona pass” https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/dutch-debate-dropping-corona-pass-indoor-venues-unvaccinated-2021-11-16 showing they have been vaccinated or already recovered from an infection.

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Politicians were sharply divided on the idea, with some arguing that it discriminates unfairly against the unvaccinated and others arguing that it may be necessary anyway as a matter of public health. No law has yet been proposed for a vote.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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