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New COVID-19 strain: Planned visit of Ramaphosa to Nigeria raises concern

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Following the outbreak of a new strain of COVID-19 in South Africa and the travel restrictions imposed on Southern African countries by several countries, concerns have been raised over the proposed visit of the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to Nigeria.

Barring any last-minute change, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to receive Ramaphosa and other top government functionaries of his administration, who are scheduled to undertake a three-day visit to Nigeria between November 29 and December 1.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases had revealed that there were 22 positive cases linked to the new strain of COVID-19, adding that the percentage testing positive was “increasing quickly”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared the strain identified as B.1.1.529 as a “variant of concern” and named it “Omicron.”
The heavily-mutated new variant has so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong.

This development has prompted the ban of travellers from Southern African countries by the 27-member European Union (EU), and the United States, Britain, Canada, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and UAE.

The EU’s executive “will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” EU chief, Ursula Von der Leyen, had tweeted on Friday.

The EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

The US announced on Friday that it would be restricting travel from eight southern African countries over fears of the new variant, which some had expected to be named Nu but which has now been dubbed Omicron.

Travel would be mostly banned starting Monday (tomorrow) from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi, a senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration, had reportedly said
However, only US citizens and permanent residents will still be able to travel from the eight countries.

Canada also banned travellers from seven African countries – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe – over concerns about the variant.
The United Kingdom had also placed South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe on its red list, which means that direct flights from the six countries were banned from Friday until Sunday (today) at 4 am.

Passengers arriving from these countries from today, at 4 am, would have to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.

Ramaphosa’s planned visit has raised concerns in Nigeria following the new strain of COVID-19.
“What is the federal government’s dilemma over the visit? Is Nigeria going to receive the South African President and other officials when other countries are banning travellers from South Africa? Is the federal government going to tell them not to come? Under what structure are they going to come?” a top official of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) queried.

The visit will be President Ramaphosa’s first visit to Nigeria in his official capacity as the substantive president since he was elected some three years ago.

He had visited Nigeria in 2018, as the acting president, following the exit of former President Jacob Zuma from office.
There are about 120 South African firms in Nigeria, including the telecommunication giant, MTN, DSTV whose parent company, Multichoice, remains the number one leading player in the cable TV ecosystem in the country.
However, only a few Nigerian firms are operating in South Africa.

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Google set to invest $9.5bn in US

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Google has announced plans to invest $9.5bn in its US offices and data centers around the country in 2022, up from more than the $7bn it spent in 2021.

According to CNN, the big bet on office space was coming at a point Google was embracing a hybrid work model. The Alphabet-owned company has called for many of its employees to work in an office three days a week after two years of being fully remote.

The Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet and Google, Sundar Pichai, said, “It might seem counterintuitive to step up our investment in physical offices even as we embrace more flexibility in how we work.

“Yet we believe it’s more important than ever to invest in our campuses and that doing so will make for better products, a greater quality of life for our employees, and stronger communities.”
Google said it would open an office in Atlanta this year and continue to develop and expand office space in Austin and New York. It added that it planned to continue investing in data centers in Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, among other states.

As part of the announcement, Google said it expected to create at least 12,000 new full-time jobs at the company this year.

Google and other tech companies were among the first businesses to shift to remote work when the pandemic hit in early 2020. But that shift always appeared to be temporary. Like others in Silicon Valley, Google had previously invested billions in expansive campuses and lavish office benefits for workers.

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European markets pull back amid doubts over latest Russian pledges over Ukraine

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European stocks retreated on Wednesday following the latest round of talks between Russia and Ukraine, aimed at finding a solution to the conflict.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 fell 0.8% in early trade, with autos shedding 1.9% to lead losses, while oil and gas stocks gained 1.7%.

In terms of individual share price movement, Finland’s Nokian Tyres fell 6.6%, while Sweden’s Lundin Energy added 4.7%.

Investor sentiment was boosted on Tuesday following negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials in Turkey, at which Russia’s deputy defense minister claimed Moscow had decided to “drastically” cut back its military activity near Ukraine’s capital.

Alexander Fomin, who spoke following the talks in Istanbul, said Russia would slow its military operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv in order for peace talks to progress. Russia previously claimed that it would reduce military operations in other parts of Ukraine but then continued its advance.

Growing hope for a cease-fire appeared to boost investor sentiment Tuesday, as Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 200 points, or 0.6%. S&P 500 futures also climbed 0.6%, while Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 0.7%. Meanwhile, the price of U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil, which spiked on the heels of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fell more than 4% to $100 per barrel.

Doubts have set in over the pledge, however, and while the Russian military has begun moving some of its troops in Ukraine away from areas around Kyiv to positions elsewhere in Ukraine, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby warned the troop movements do not amount to a retreat.

Shares in Asia-Pacific were mixed in Wednesday trade as investors watch for developments surrounding the war in Ukraine. Stateside, traders are keeping tabs on a slew of key economic reports, while also monitoring the Federal Reserve’s planned interest rate hikes.

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey on Tuesday showed 11.3 million job openings, higher than the 11.1 million expected. The ADP will also release its private payrolls data ahead of the closely watched monthly jobs report, on Friday.

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Lagos Assembly kicks against harassment of residents by police

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Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, yesterday, cautioned police in the state against harassment, intimidation and extortion of residents.

Obasa said this on the floor of the House when lawmakers honoured outgoing Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, who has been promoted to Assistant Inspector-General, and is due to retire in January 2022.

Obasa said Odumosu was honoured as the first Commissioner of Police in the state to stand before the lawmakers and address Lagosians on his experience policing the state.

The Speaker thanked Odumosu for his openness and responsiveness to issues affecting the peace of the state.

“It is important to call on those behind you to know that the relationship between the police and the people need to be constantly improved upon,” Obasa said, adding that men of the Nigeria Police Force need to build more trust among the people.

“Everybody must be treated with respect, dignity and honour. And that is how we can earn respect. Policing should not be about harassment and extortion but building trust among the people and making them comfortable,” Obasa said.

The Commissioner of Police, who led a team of officers to the House, thanked the lawmakers for their support. According to him, nothing could have been achieved in terms of security and peace in the state without assistance of the House.

He said he would remain grateful to Lagosians for making it possible for him and his team to effectively manage the security of the state.

Odumosu, who described Lagos as ‘mini-Nigeria’, said proactivity of the Assembly led to the creation of laws that helped the police remain successful in the state.

He said the Cultism Prohibition Law also helped to reduce illegal associations in tertiary institutions in the state and enlightened property owners and residents.

“We promise to continue to excel in providing watertight security for people of the state,” he told the lawmakers. He also promised he would encourage his successor to sustain the relationship between the police and the House, while urging the lawmakers to extend their support to his successor.

“Policing Lagos is not a tea party. Without the laws in Lagos, it would have been difficult to police the state. Don’t get tired, don’t relent in making laws that would make Lagos maintain its place as the most peaceful state in Nigeria,” he said.

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