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EU Countries Ban UK Flights Over COVID-19 Mutation Fears

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BERLIN (AP) — Several European Union nations moved to banned flights from the U.K. on Sunday and others were considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from establishing a strong foothold on the continent.

France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy all announced restrictions on U.K. travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be canceled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

Johnson immediately put those regions into a strict new Tier 4 restriction level, upending Christmas plans for millions.

France banned all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours from midnight Sunday, the prime minister’s office announced. The French statement said the short two-day period would buy authorities time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat. It specified that “flows of people or transport to the U.K. are not affected.”

The German government said it was banning flights coming from Britain in reaction to the new coronavirus strain. The transportation ministry said all U.K. flights with the exception of cargo flights were no longer allowed to land in Germany starting at midnight Sunday. It didn’t immediately say how long the flight ban would last, but news agency dpa reported it would be in place at least until Dec. 31.

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, also called a special crisis meeting on Monday to coordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year while Belgium issued a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight and also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar. Austria and Italy said they would halt flights from the U.K. but did not say exactly when that would take place.

Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said an order signed Sunday blocks flights from Britain and prohibits entry into Italy by anyone who has been in the U.K. in the last 14 days. The order bans plane travel until Jan. 6.

The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain.

High-speed train operator Eurostar canceled its trains between London, Brussels and Amsterdam beginning Monday, but kept trains operating on the London-to-Paris route.

Johnson said Saturday that a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England in recent weeks. But he stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Sunday he was issuing the flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution.”

“There are a great many questions about this new mutation,” he said, adding he hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday.

Beyond Europe, Israel also said it was banning flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa because those were the countries where the mutation is found.

The World Health Organization tweeted late Saturday that it was “in close contact with U.K. officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant” and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned.

The new strain was identified in southeastern England in September and has been spreading in the area ever since, a WHO official told the BBC on Sunday.

“What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.

Studies are under way to better understand how fast it spreads and and whether “it’s related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behavior,” she added.

 

She said the strain had also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that didn’t spread further.

“The longer this virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change,” she said. “So we really need to do everything we can right now to prevent spread.”

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands of different mutations among samples of the virus causing COVID-19. Many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.

British health authorities said that while the variant has been circulating since September, it wasn’t until the last week that officials felt they had enough evidence to declare that it has higher transmissibility than other circulating coronaviruses.

Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said officials are concerned about the new variant because it contained 23 different changes, “an unusually large number of variants” affecting how the virus binds to and enters cells in the body.

Officials aren’t certain whether it originated in the U.K., Vallance added. But by December, he said it was causing over 60% of infections in London.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. surgeon general said Sunday that the emergence of the new strain doesn’t change the public health guidance on precautions for reducing the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands.

“While it seems to be more easily transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it,” Vivek Murthy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s no reason to believe that the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus, as well.”

Europe has been walloped this fall by soaring new infections and deaths due to a resurgence of the virus, and many nations have reimposed a series of restrictions to reign in their outbreaks.

Britain has seen over 67,000 deaths in the pandemic, the second-highest confirmed toll in Europe after Italy. Europe as a whole has recorded nearly 499,000 virus deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is an undercount, due to limited testing and missed cases.

The European Medicines Agency, meanwhile, is meeting Monday to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine for the European Union’s 27 nations, bringing vaccinations closer for millions of EU citizens. The vaccine made by German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer is already in use in the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries.

The EMA moved up its assessment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by a week after heavy pressure from EU governments, especially Germany, which has said that after the EMA approval it could start vaccinating citizens as early as next Sunday.

In an urgent address to the nation on Saturday, Johnson ordered all non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms in London and large parts of southern England closed and told Britons to reorganize their holiday plans. No mixing of households is now allowed indoors in the region, and only essential travel is permitted. In the rest of England, people will be allowed to meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of the five that were planned.

After he spoke, videos emerged online that showed crowds of people rushing to London’s train stations, apparently making a dash for places in the U.K. with less stringent coronavirus restrictions before the new rules took effect. Health Secretary Matt Hancock called those scenes “totally irresponsible.”

While Hancock insisted officials had acted “very quickly and decisively,” critics said Britain’s Conservative government should have moved against rising infections and hospitalizations much earlier.

“The alarms bells have been ringing for weeks, but the prime minister chose to ignore them,” said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party. “It is an act of gross negligence by a prime minister who, once again, has been caught behind the curve.”

___

Sylvia Hui reported from London. Raf Casert in Brussels, Colleen Barry in Milan, Karel Janicek in Prague, and John Hanna in Washington, contributed to this report.





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22 Of The Funniest Tweets About Cats And Dogs This Week (Nov. 19-25)

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“boyfriend is out hunting (picking up food order) while I am domesticating wild beasts (giving cat little kisses)”



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Ben Platt Announces Engagement To Noah Galvin: ‘He Agreed To Hang Out Forever’

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Ben Platt celebrated Thanksgiving this year by popping the question.

The star of Netflix’s “The Politician” revealed on Instagram Friday that he and longtime boyfriend Noah Galvin had gotten engaged.

“He agreed to hang out forever,” Platt wrote alongside a series of photos of the proposal, which took place at the Laser Wolf restaurant in Brooklyn, New York.

Galvin, a fellow actor and singer, echoed those sentiments on his Instagram account, noting: “I said yeehaw and then cried for like 7 hours.”

One of the images shared by both men shows a close-up of Galvin’s engagement ring, which was designed by Grace Lee and features an emerald-cut diamond.

Galvin, whose credits include “Booksmart” and “The Good Doctor,” first confirmed he was in a relationship with Platt in May 2020.

Noah Galvin (left) and Ben Platt at the 2022 Grammy Awards.

Frazer Harrison via Getty Images

Interest in the couple’s romance was heightened by their shared professional history. In 2016, Platt originated the title role in Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” winning a Tony and a Grammy award. When he left the hit musical in 2017, he was succeeded by Galvin.

Appearing on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” in 2021, Platt explained that he and Galvin had been “friends for five years” and then began dating shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their shared time in self-isolation, he noted, only strengthened their relationship.

In a separate interview with Out magazine that same year, Platt praised Galvin for having “a really unique ability to help me to … be present where I am and to make the life that’s happening day to day too wonderful to not want to be on the ground for it.”

Earlier this month, Platt returned to the New York stage in a production of the musical “Parade,” receiving rave reviews. He can currently be seen in the Amazon Prime comedy “The People We Hate at the Wedding,” which also stars Kristen Bell and Allison Janney.

He and Galvin are set to appear in the forthcoming movie “Theater Camp,” a musical comedy they also co-wrote.





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Broadway’s Victoria Clark Reimagines ‘December Songs’ For 2022

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Thirty-eight years after making her Broadway debut in “Sunday in the Park with George,” Victoria Clark is celebrating a new professional chapter with a stirring album and theatrical performance.

The actor and singer, who won a Tony in 2005 for “The Light in the Piazza,” unveiled “December Songs,” her recording of composer Maury Yeston’s classical-crossover song cycle, earlier this month. The CD edition of the album is out Friday on the PS Classics label.

New York’s Carnegie Hall commissioned Yeston to write “December Songs” in 1991 in honor of its centennial celebration. However, Clark believes the sense of unintended isolation relayed by Yeston’s lyrics and inspired by Franz Schubert’s 19th-century composition “Winterreise” will resonate deeply among COVID-19 pandemic-weary listeners in 2022.

“This woman who sings these songs feels very much alone, and if we take the setting of the songs literally, she is actually alone, taking a long walk in nature,” she said. “Hasn’t that been the journey all of us have taken in the past two and a half years? We have been isolated and worried, but many of us have also found the joy of silence and contemplation. Relationships, to one another and to oneself, have become most precious.”

HuffPost caught a peek at the recording process of “December Songs” via the video below. In it, Clark performs tender renditions of songs from the album, including “I Had a Dream About You” and “I Am Longing.”

To Broadway fans, Yeston is best known for having composed the scores of 1982’s “Nine” and 1989’s “Grand Hotel.”

Clark and Yeston have enjoyed a close friendship for years, having first collaborated professionally on the 1997 musical “Titanic.” So when Yeston reached out last winter about putting out a new recording of “December Songs,” Clark couldn’t resist the opportunity.

“There is no question that recording this album was one of the greatest gifts of my professional life,” she said.

The release of “December Songs” comes as Clark is enjoying a professional resurgence. Earlier this month, she made her long-awaited return to Broadway in the musical “Kimberly Akimbo,” garnering rave reviews.

Victoria Clark returned to the New York stage this fall in “Kimberly Akimbo,” now playing on Broadway.

After noting that she’s “incredibly grateful and a little surprised” by her latest triumphs on stage and in the recording studio, Clark said, “I hope this surge of energy and interest in the work of someone fairly far along in life gives hope to other artists over 50 and over 60, knowing that the best is yet to come.”

“Wherever I go, my deepest wish is for those who experience my work to understand a little bit more about themselves and what it means to be human,” she added. “And if that’s happening, I’m happy!”





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Game Show Contestant’s Conspiracy Theory Is Hilariously Undone With Her Answer

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A player called Laura told host Larry Emdur that she loves aliens and “anything to do with space and all that kind of thing” in an episode that aired last month and is still going viral on Reddit, where it’s been praised as “peak comedy.”

Emdur asked Laura if she believed that man has walked on the moon. She said she didn’t. When pressed, she said she thought it “was a conspiracy.”

The presenter later asked the question: “The first person to set foot on the moon was U.S. astronaut Neil who?”

“Correct,” said Emdur.





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Seth Meyers Hits Donald Trump And Sons With A Thanksgiving-Themed Zinger

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Seth Meyers on Thursday contrasted Joe Biden’s comments during presidential traditions like the pardoning of the White House turkey at Thanksgiving to those made by former President Donald Trump at similar events.

Biden on Monday was mocked for offering the microphone to one of the birds he pardoned. But it was a “nice change of pace” from Trump, said Meyers, who would frequently use the addresses to grouse about his enemies.

“You know Trump would never share the spotlight with two turkeys, unless he was posing for a family photo,” cracked Meyers as a photo of Trump and his two eldest sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump appeared on the screen.

“They do puff their chests out like they’re turkeys,” added the “Late Night” host.

Watch Meyers’ monologue here:





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Gabrielle Union Shares Why Dwyane Wade Tattooed Her Initials And Not Her First Name

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The retired NBA star didn’t want to do the same, she explained.

“My former spouse got a very large ‘Gabrielle’… in a very distinct font that you can’t miss it,” she said. “And then we broke up.”

“So D was like, ‘I will never get your name tattooed on me because I want us to work,’” she explained.

When co-host Kelly Ripa asked if Wade chose to tattoo Union’s initials for superstitious reasons, she responded: “He was like, ‘I don’t need to learn that lesson.’”

Union had posted a video on Instagram earlier this month showing the moment Wade surprised her with his tattoo tribute. The actor was with Wade when he got the tattoo during their visit to Cape Town, South Africa, earlier this month. They had been traveling throughout Africa to celebrate Union’s 50th birthday on Oct. 29.

“The moment you find out your man has made you his 17th tattoo,” she wrote in the post’s caption, adding that the body art was the “best bday surprise.”





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Adidas To Investigate Complaints Kanye West Showed Employees Porn

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“It is currently not clear whether the accusations made in an anonymous letter are true,” Adidas said in a statement. “However, we take these allegations very seriously and have taken the decision to launch an independent investigation of the matter immediately to address the allegations.”

In Rolling Stone’s report, published Tuesday, former employees who worked with Ye’s Yeezy fashion brand accused the rapper of disturbing workplace conduct that they said Adidas leadership declined to confront. The magazine said it interviewed more than two dozen former Yeezy and Adidas staff.

Those people alleged Ye engaged in provocative, intimidating and sexualized behavior with staff, particularly women, over the course of a decade. Former staffers claimed that, among other incidents, Ye played porn in staff meetings and showed prospective and existing team members an explicit video and photos of Kim Kardashian, as well as his own sex tapes. Ye and Kardashian married in 2014 and filed for divorce early last year.

Several former high-ranking staff reportedly sent Adidas executives a letter on Tuesday calling for action from company leadership, whom they accused of ignoring Ye’s “predacious behavior toward women” and the “toxic and chaotic environment” he created.

Adidas, under pressure to cut ties with the designer following multiple incidents of hate speech, ended its partnership with Ye last month.

Ye has also been dropped by most of his other professional partners, including his talent agency and other brands such as Balenciaga and Gap.





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