Teen Pilot One Stop from Finishing Round-the-world Solo Flight

A 19-year-old British-Belgian pilot landed her plane on Wednesday at an airstrip near Frankfurt, Germany, one stop away from becoming the youngest woman to fly around the world solo.

Zara Rutherford told reporters she wanted to “sleep for a week” after she climbed out of the single-seat Shark ultralight aircraft at Egelsbach airfield a few kilometers from Frankfurt. If all goes as planned, Rutherford will land Thursday in Kortrijk, Belgium, where her journey began August 18. 

The nearly 51,500-kilometer journey took her across the Atlantic Ocean, over Iceland and Greenland, and into New York City. Down the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean to Columbia then back up through Central America and up the U.S. West Coast to Alaska and across the Bering Strait to Russia, south to South Korea, Indonesia, India, the Mideast and back to Europe.

The trip was all the more challenging as she flew without the aid of flight instruments or a pressurized cabin. 

Weather, minor equipment issues and visa problems in Asia set her back from her schedule by several days. But at this point, Rutherford told reporters she is glad to be almost done.

She said her big goal is to use her experience to encourage other young women to go into flying or study science, technology and mathematics “and other fields they might not have thought about.” 

Rutherford plans to go to college next September in either Britain or the United States to study engineering.

If she lands in Belgium as planned Thursday, Rutherford will have broken a record set by American aviator Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she set the existing record for the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world solo in 2017. 

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

French Actor Gaspard Ulliel, 37, Dies After Ski Accident

French actor Gaspard Ulliel, known for appearing in Chanel perfume ads as well as film and television roles, died Wednesday after a skiing accident in the Alps, according to his agent’s office. He was 37.

Ulliel portrayed the young Hannibal Lecter in 2007’s “Hannibal Rising” and fashion mogul Yves Saint Laurent in the 2014 biopic “Saint Laurent.” He is also in the upcoming Marvel series “Moon Knight,” and was the advertising face of the Chanel men’s fragrance Bleu de Chanel.

Ulliel was hospitalized Tuesday after the accident in the Savoie region’s Rosiere ski area, the Savoie prosecutor’s office said. The office of the actor’s agent said Ulliel died on Wednesday. It provided no details.

Local broadcaster France Bleu said Ulliel was hospitalized with a skull injury, and that he apparently collided with another skier at a crossing point on the slopes. The other skier was not hospitalized, according to France Bleu. Police and prosecutors would not discuss details of the accident.

Ulliel started in television while still in middle school and went on to win two of France’s top cinema awards, the Cesar. 

Tributes poured in from shocked fans and the corridors of power. French Prime Minister Jean Castex tweeted an homage that said, “Gaspard Ulliel grew up with cinema and cinema grew up with him. They loved each other madly.”

The accident conjured up memories of when Formula One great Michael Schumacher hit his head in a ski accident in 2013 in the French ski resort of Meribel, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from where Ulliel was skiingl. Both were treated at Grenoble University Hospital.

Schumacher, 53, has not been seen in public in eight years, and little has been released about his physical and mental condition. The German auto racing legend suffered serious head injuries when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock off the side of a demarcated slope. He was skiing with his teenage son while on a family vacation in the Alps.

After Ulliel’s accident, the mountain police service for the Rosiere ski area said its personnel have been carrying out five or six rescues per day as the snow hardened in recent days.

In the neighboring Haute-Savoie region, a 5-year-old girl was killed Saturday when a skier crashed into her. The man was handed preliminary manslaughter charges, according to the Haute-Savoie prosecutor, who cited excessive speed as the likely reason for the accident.

Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) – Day 7 and 8

Saturday 01/15/22

Nigeria vs Sudan | 3-1

Guinea Bissau vs Egypt | 0-1

Sunday 01/16/22

Gambia vs Mali | 1-1

Tunisia vs Mauritania |4-0

Ivory Coast vs Sierra Leone | 2-2

Algeria vs Equatorial Guinea | 0-1

 

Racist Comment Results in Growing Awareness of Anti-Asian Sentiment in US

When a Korean American TV news anchor in St. Louis, Missouri, told the story of her traditional holiday meal of noodles, she received a racist message in response. That message, and the anchor’s reaction have sparked a viral conversation about anti-Asian racism. VOA’s Chris Casquejo reports.

The AP Interview: Exiled Artist Ai Weiwei on Beijing Games

Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most famous artists, and many regard him as one of the world’s greatest living ones. Working with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, he helped design the Bird’s Nest Stadium, the centerpiece of Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics. 

The stadium in northern Beijing, instantly recognizable for its weave of curving steel beams, will also host the opening ceremony for Beijing’s Winter Olympics on Feb. 4. 

In the design phase, Ai hoped the stadium’s latticework form and the presence of the Olympics would symbolize China’s new openness. He was disappointed. He has repeatedly described the stadium and the 2008 Olympics as a “fake smile” that China presented to the world. 

Ai expects the Winter Games to offer more of the same. 

Even before his fame landed him the design job, Ai had been an unrelenting critic of the Chinese Communist Party. He was jailed in 2011 in China for unspecified crimes and is now an outspoken dissident who lives in exile in Portugal. He has also lived in exile in Germany — he still maintains a studio there — and in Britain. 

His art — ranging from sculpture to architecture to photography, video and the written word — is almost always provocative, and he’s scathing about censorship and the absence of civil liberties in his native country. 

His memoir — “1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows” — was published last year and details the overlap of his life and career with that of his father Ai Qing, a famous poet who was sent into internal exile in 1957, the year Ai Weiwei was born. 

Ai writes in his memoir: “The year I was born, Mao Zedong unleashed a political storm — the Anti-Rightist Campaign, designed to purge “rightist” intellectuals who had criticized the government. The whirlpool that swallowed up my father upended my life too, leaving a mark on me that I carry to this day.” 

He quotes his father: “To suppress the voices of the people is the cruelest form of violence.” 

Ai responded to a list of questions by email from the Associated Press. He used his dashed hopes for the Bird’s Nest to illustrate how China has changed since 2008. 

“As an architect my goal was the same as other architects, that is, to design it as perfectly as possible,” Ai wrote to Associated Press. “The way it was used afterwards went in the opposite direction from our ideals. We had hoped that our architecture could be a symbol of freedom and openness and represent optimism and a positive force, which was very different from how it was used as a promotional tool in the end.” 

The 2008 Olympics are usually seen as a “coming out” party for China, When the IOC awarded Beijing the Olympics in 2001, it said they could help improve human rights. Ai, instead, termed the 2008 Olympics a “low point” as migrant workers were forced out of the city, small shops were shuttered and street vendors removed, and blocks-long billboards popped up, painted with palm trees and beach scenes to hide shabby neighborhoods from view. 

“The entire Olympics took place under the situation of a blockade,” Ai told AP. “For the general public there was no joy in participation. Instead, there was a close collaboration between International Olympic Committee and the Chinese regime, who put on a show together in order to obtain economic and political capital.” 

Ai writes in his book that he watched the opening ceremony away from the stadium on a television screen, and jotted down the following. 

“In this world where everything has a political dimension, we are now told we mustn’t politicize things: this is simply a sporting event, detached from history and ideas and values — detached from human nature, even.” 

The IOC and China again say the Olympics are divorced from politics. China, of course, has political ends in mind. For the IOC, the Olympics are a sports business that generates billions in sponsor and television income. 

In his email, Ai described China as emboldened by the 2008 Olympics — “more confident and uncompromising.” He said the 2008 Olympics were a “negative” that allowed China’s government to better shape its message. The Olympics did not change China in ways the IOC suggested, or foster civil liberties. Instead, China used the Olympics to alter how it was perceived on the world stage and to signal its rising power. 

The 2008 Games were followed a month later by the world financial crisis, and in 2012 by the rise of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi was a senior politician in charge of the 2008 Olympics, but the 2022 Games are his own. 

“Since 2008 the government of China has further strengthened its control and the human rights situation has further deteriorated,” Ai told AP. “China has seen the West’s hypocrisy and inaction when it comes to issues of human rights, so they have become even bolder, more unscrupulous, and more ruthless. In 2022 China will impose more stringent constraints to the Internet and political life, including human rights, the press, and We-media. The CCP does not care if the West participates in the Games or not because China is confident that the West is busy enough with their own affairs.” 

Ai characterized the 2022 Winter Olympics and the pandemic as a case of fortunate timing for China’s authoritarian government. The pandemic will limit the movement of journalists during the Games, and it will also showcase the state’s Orwellian control. 

“China, under the system of state capitalism and especially after COVID, firmly believes that its administrative control is the only effective method; this enhances their belief in authoritarianism. Meanwhile, China thinks that the West, with its ideas of democracy and freedom, can hardly obtain effective control. So, the 2022 Olympics will further testify to the effectiveness of authoritarianism in China and the frustration of the West’s democratic regimes.” 

Ai was repeatedly critical of the IOC as an enabler; interested solely in generating income from the Chinese market. The IOC and China both see the Games as a business opportunity. Ai suggested many Chinese see the Olympics as another political exercise with some — like athletes — trying to extract value. 

“In China there is only the Party’s guidance, state-controlled media, and people who have been brainwashed by the media,” Ai wrote. “There is no real civil society. Under this circumstance, Chinese people are not interested in the Olympics at all because it is simply a display of state politics. Nationally trained athletes exchange Olympic gold medals for economic gains for individuals or even for sport organizations; this way of doing things deviates from the Olympics’ original ideas.” 

Ai was asked if the planned to go back to China. He said he was doubtful. 

“Judging from the current situation, it is more and more unlikely for me to be able to return to China,” he said. “My main point here is that the situation in China has worsened. The West’s boycott is futile and pointless. China does not care about it at all.” 

No Vaccine, No French Open for Djokovic as Rules Tighten

Novak Djokovic risks being frozen out of tennis as he chases a record 21st Grand Slam title, with rules on travelers who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 tightening in the third year of the pandemic and some tournaments reconsidering exemptions. 

The Serbian, who has not been vaccinated, was deported from Australia on Sunday ahead of the Australian Open after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned. 

Under Australian law, Djokovic cannot get another visa for three years – denying him the chance to add to his nine titles at Melbourne Park – but the government has left the door open for a possible return next year. 

The world number one, however, faces more immediate hurdles in his bid to overtake Swiss Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafael Nadal, with whom he is tied on 20 major titles, as he could be barred from the French Open as things stand. 

The French Sports Ministry said on Monday there would be no exemption from a new vaccine pass law approved on Sunday, which requires people to have vaccination certificates to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas. 

“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice,” the ministry said. 

“As far as Roland-Garros is concerned, it’s in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope it’ll be more favorable. So we’ll see but clearly there’s no exemption.” 

The ministry’s stance was welcomed by Germany’s world number three Alexander Zverev. 

“At least it’s clear what’s going to happen,” he told reporters after winning his opening match at Melbourne Park on Monday. “At least they’re saying, ‘OK, no unvaccinated players are allowed to play in the French Open.’ 

“We know that now in advance, and I can imagine there’s not going to be any exemptions, and that’s OK.” 

Next up 

The next tournament on Djokovic’s calendar is likely to be the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, February 21-26. 

A spokesperson for the event told Reuters that all players would need to provide negative PCR tests before being allowed into the United Arab Emirates. 

“(Players) will then need to adhere to the testing protocols and processes stipulated by the ATP and the WTA,” the spokesperson added. 

Organizers of the Monte Carlo Masters, which Djokovic has won twice, are awaiting French government guidelines for the next edition in April, while Wimbledon organizers AELTC are also yet to finalize safety arrangements for the major. 

However, England’s Lawn Tennis Association said entry requirements for its events, some of which serve as Wimbledon warm-ups, would be determined by the government. 

Currently, unvaccinated people can enter England but must isolate for 10 days. 

Entering US

A U.S. Open representative said last week that the year’s final major would follow New York City Department of Health guidelines. 

Djokovic could have trouble getting into the United States, because foreign air travelers have had to be fully vaccinated since November and provide proof before boarding flights, with limited exceptions. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there are no exceptions for vaccine requirements “for religious reasons or other moral convictions.” 

That rule could also affect Djokovic’s participation in U.S. hardcourt tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami in March. 

The Serbian, who is among three ATP players in the top 100 yet to be vaccinated, could also face issues ahead of the Italian Open in Rome in May due to tough COVID restrictions in Italy. 

Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told La Sexta TV station on Monday that it would “be great” to have Djokovic play in the April 26-May 8 Madrid Open, which he has won three times, though the government would be the arbiter. 

Spain requires visitors to prove they have been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or have immunity based on recovery. 

 

Alekos Fassianos, Known as ‘Greek Picasso,’ Dies at Age 86

Greek artist Alekos Fassianos, whose work drew on his country’s mythology and folklore, died Sunday at the age of 86, his daughter Viktoria told AFP.

Described by some admirers as a modern-day Matisse and by others as the Greek Picasso, his works, which included paintings, lithographs, ceramics and tapestries, have been shown around the world.

While he resisted comparison with Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, he admired both artists, but insisted he had drawn on many different influences.

Fassianos, who had been bedridden at his home in the suburbs of Athens for several months, died in his sleep, Viktoria Fassianou said. 

Ill health had forced the artist to put down his paintbrushes in 2019.

“All the work of Fassianos, the colors that filled his canvases, the multidimensional forms that dominated his paintings, exude Greece,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis paid tribute to Fassianos as a painter who “always balanced between realism and abstraction.”

Fassianos, he added, “leaves us a precious heritage.”

The artist split his time between Greece and France, where he studied lithography at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris.

The website devoted to his work says his style was forged in the 1960s and that his main themes have always been man, nature and the environment. 

From Paris to Munich, Tokyo to Sao Paolo, Fassianos’s works were shown around the world. Examples of his work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and in the Pinacotheque in Athens.

“Greekness has always been his inspiration, from mythology to contemporary Greece,” the artist’s wife, Mariza Fassianou, told AFP during a visit to his home last year. “He has always believed that an artist should create with what they know.”

Her husband would work on the floor or even scratch the corner of a table, she said. “He destroyed what he didn’t like.”

An Athens museum devoted to his work will open in autumn 2022 and display some of the works that currently adorn his home.

His friend, architect Kyriakos Krokos, entirely redesigned the central Athens museum that will showcase his work, collaborating with Fassianos himself.

France has bestowed upon him some of its top awards, including the Legion of Honor (Arts and Letters) and he is also an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts.

MLB’s First Female Minor-league Manager Living ‘American Dream’

Rachel Balkovec is aware of the negativity in her social media feeds and tries to leave it there. Her sisters see it, too, and can’t help but pass along certain disparaging reactions to her barrier-breaking journey.

“It’s hilarious to me,” Balkovec said. “Because it’s the American dream.”

In the clubhouse? She hasn’t seen any of that toxicity there.

Balkovec was introduced Wednesday as manager of the New York Yankees’ Low A affiliate in the Florida State League. In taking over the Tampa Tarpons, Balkovec will become the first female manager in the history of affiliated baseball, an appointment 10 years in the making for the former college softball player.

“If you know my story and you have a pulse, I think it’s pretty hard not to get behind what’s going on here,” she said.

Nearly a decade after changing her name on resumes to disguise her gender and break into baseball, the 34-year-old has smashed several barriers en route to this title. She was the first woman to serve as a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach, then the first to be a full-time hitting coach in the minors.

 

This promotion — a year after former Yankees employee Kim Ng became the majors’ first female general manager with the Miami Marlins — is different. Balkovec will run the clubhouse in Tampa, charged with overseeing the development of future big leaguers for one of the most famous sports franchises in the world.

“The players that I’ve worked with, whether they like me, they don’t like me, they like what I’m saying, they don’t like what I’m saying, I do feel like they respect me,” she said.

It’s a trust she’s earned via an unusual route — one that didn’t exist 20 years ago, but not just because of her gender.

A former softball catcher at Creighton and New Mexico, Balkovec has a master’s degree in kinesiology from LSU and another in human movement sciences from Vrije University in the Netherlands. She’s worked in strength and conditioning with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros since first breaking into pro ball in 2012, and also spent time at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven center that has trained numerous major leaguers. She’s an expert in performance science, precisely the expert teams are coveting.

When the Yankees hired her as a minor league hitting coach in 2019, she was at the forefront among women breaking into uniformed jobs, but she was hardly the only coach without a traditional playing background.

Hitting 95 mph isn’t the same skill as teaching someone else to, and as teams have shifted their focus in the hiring process to reflect that, it’s created a pathway for women like Balkovec or Alyssa Nakken, part of the San Francisco Giants’ major league coaching staff since 2020.

“There wasn’t a ton of debate as to whether baseball was ready or the world was ready,” said vice president of baseball operations Kevin Reese, who made the decision to promote Balkovec. “We’re trying to find the best people and put them in the best position to have an impact here.”

Reese, introduced Wednesday under a new title after being promoted from senior director of player development, helped hire Balkovec in 2019 and has been overwhelmingly impressed with her expertise and ability to lead, including with young Latin American players. The Nebraska native taught herself Spanish after becoming Houston’s Latin American strength and conditioning coach in 2016, and some of her most notable work has been with New York’s Spanish-speaking players, including top prospect Jasson Dominguez.

 

General manager Brian Cashman has had a woman as an assistant general manager since hiring Ng in 1998. When she left in 2001, Jean Afterman was appointed to the role and has been there since. Balkovec has expressed interest in one day working in the front office and potentially becoming a GM herself.

“The sky’s the limit,” Cashman said. “She’s determined. She’s strong. She’s got perseverence.”

She’s needed it. After serving her temporary role with St. Louis in 2012, she began applying for baseball jobs with what she knew was a rock-solid resume. And yet, only one team responded.

Her point of contact with that club said his bosses wouldn’t let him hire a woman in a strength and conditioning role. Even worse, that person called around to other teams with vacancies, and they all told him the same.

“In that very moment, my level of naivete went from a 10 to a zero,” she said.

One of her sisters suggested changing her name to “Rae Balkovec” on her resume, and the tactic worked to at least get hiring managers on the phone. The Cardinals brought her back as a full-time strength and conditioning coordinator in 2014.

She’s seldom had issues with players related to her gender — “so little it’s hardly worth mentioning,” she said. Being the only woman in that trail-blazing role was lonely, though.

 

Now, she believes there will be 11 women with on-field jobs in affiliated ball next year, and she’s able to compare experiences with them. Tennis great Billie Jean King was among the many who congratulated her on the Tampa job, and she’s developed a network of support that’s reinforced her confidence that she’s ready for the role.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Rachel on this historic milestone,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “As manager of the Tampa Tarpons, she will continue to demonstrate her expertise and leadership in the Yankees’ organization. We wish Rachel well in this new capacity and appreciate her mentorship to the growing network of women in baseball operations and player development roles.”

The job ahead of her, though, is the same as any other skipper — get the most out of the players in her clubhouse.

“My goal is really to know the names of the girlfriends, the dogs, the families of all the players,” she said. “My goal is to develop them as young men and young people who have an immense amount of pressure on them. My goal is to support the coaches that are on the staff.

“We’re going to be talking more nuts and bolts of pitching and hitting with them, and defense. It’s really just to be a supporter, and to facilitate an environment where they can be successful.”

Roman Villa Housing Caravaggio up for Auction Amid Legal Dispute

A Roman villa housing the only mural by Caravaggio and at the center of a legal battle between a former Playboy model and the sons of her late husband, an Italian prince, will go up for auction Tuesday.

The sprawling property, valued at 471 million euros (almost $540 million), is a Baroque jewel with gorgeous gardens and a valuable art collection that also includes frescoes by Guercino.

Art lovers are demanding the Italian state step in to buy the spectacular property, arguing that artistic treasures should be protected and available for public viewing.

But the government might not have enough to pay for it — the auction is only open to those who can put up 10% of the starting price of 353 million euros — and rumored buyers include Bill Gates and the Sultan of Brunei.

The auction was ordered by a Rome court following a dispute among the heirs of Prince Nicolo Ludovisi Boncompagni, the head of the family who died in 2018.

The dispute is between the prince’s third and final wife, Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi, a 72-year-old American former real estate broker and actor who once posed for Playboy, and the children from his first marriage.

Auction of the century

The residence of the noble Ludovisi Boncompagni family for hundreds of years, the 2,800-square-meter Casino dell’Aurora is located in central Rome between the Via Veneto and the Spanish Steps.

Its sale is being held behind closed doors and has been dubbed by Italian media as the “auction of the century” in its breathless reporting on the legal wrangling around it and who could buy it.

There are those who believe the cultural gem should be preserved for the nation.

Almost 35,000 people have called on the Italian government to exercise “its pre-emptive right” to buy the building and the Caravaggio, which alone is valued at 350 million euros, according to a petition on change.org.

“Sign this petition to prevent another piece of Italy, such a beautiful one, from being sold off,” it said.

However, the estimated price of the villa represents a quarter of the annual budget of the culture ministry.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini wrote this month to Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the finance minister to raise the issue of the sale, according to reports.

Under Italian law, the government can only exercise its pre-emptive rights after the sale to a private individual, and then within 60 days of the sale’s competition — and for the same price.

‘Beautiful, important building’

The oil mural by Caravaggio — real name Michelangelo Merisi — dates to 1597 and is located on the ceiling in a corridor on the first floor of the palace.

It depicts Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune with the world at the center, marked by signs of the zodiac.

“It’s certainly one of his earliest (works) and is very interesting because the subject is a mythological subject, and Caravaggio painted almost only sacred works,” art historian Claudio Strinati told AFP.

The palace was originally an outbuilding in the grounds of the Villa Ludovisi, of which nothing remains today. Its name comes from a Guercino fresco depicting the goddess Aurora, or Dawn, on her chariot.

“It is a very beautiful, very important building, with some very beautiful paintings,” said Strinati, a former museum curator in Rome.

“It would certainly be a positive thing if it became public property, it could become the home of a museum or particularly important cultural activities.”

The auction is due to start Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) and will last 24 hours.

 

 

Clap, Don’t Chant: China Aims for ‘Zero COVID’ Olympics

Athletes will need to be vaccinated — or face a long quarantine — take tests daily and wear masks when not competing or training. Clapping is OK to cheer on teammates, not chanting. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be sent into isolation and unable to compete until cleared for discharge.

Welcome to the Beijing Olympics, where strict containment measures will aim to create a virus-proof “bubble” for thousands of international visitors at a time when omicron is fueling infections globally.

The prevention protocols will be similar to those at the Tokyo Games this summer, but much tighter. That won’t be a stretch in Beijing, with China having maintained a “Zero COVID” policy since early in the pandemic.

Still, China’s ability to stick to its zero-tolerance approach nationally is already being tested by the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is more contagious than earlier variants of the virus and better able to evade protection from vaccines.

 

With just weeks to go before the Feb. 4 start of the Games, more than 20 million people in six cities are under lockdown after recent outbreaks.

Here’s how the Games will work.

Do Athletes Have To Be Vaccinated?

Yes, athletes and other participants including team staff and news media need to be fully vaccinated to be allowed in the designated Olympic areas without completing a 21-day quarantine. Those areas will consist of the Olympic Village, game venues, other select spots and dedicated transport. 

That’s different from the Tokyo Games, where participants didn’t have to be vaccinated.

Participants are considered fully vaccinated according to the definitions outlined by their countries. Before boarding their flights, everyone also needs to provide two recent negative tests from approved labs.

The threat of being sidelined by a positive test is adding to the pressure for athletes.

Mogul skier Hannah Soar said she’s avoiding contact with people indoors and behaving as if everyone has the virus: “We’re basically at the point of acting like it’s March 2020.” 

What About Daily Life?

Upon arrival at the airport in Beijing, participants will have their temperatures taken and be tested with throat and nasal swabs. An Olympics official who recently arrived on site said at a press briefing the process took him 45 minutes, though organizers note times might vary. 

A bus will then take people to their designated lodging, where they’ll wait up to six hours for test results to clear them to move about in approved areas. Restrictions on movement within that “closed loop” are intended to seal off any potential contact between Olympic participants and the local population.

Throat swabs for testing will be required daily for all participants. In Tokyo, participants spit into vials for antigen tests. 

Standard prevention measures are being encouraged, such as ventilating rooms and keeping a distance of about 1 meter from others – or 2 meters from athletes. 

Masks that are N95 or of a similar caliber will also be required in indoor and outdoor areas with few exceptions, such as when people are eating or drinking. Dining halls will have partitions and seating capacity will be reduced to help maintain distancing. 

In spaces where distancing isn’t possible, such as elevators, talking isn’t allowed. Staff will be stationed in key areas to help guide people and ensure protocols are being followed.

What Happens If An Athlete Tests Positive?

In Tokyo, organizers say 33 athletes tested positive during the Games. Of those, 22 were withdrawn from competition. Even with the tightened precautions in Beijing, experts say some positive tests are likely, especially with omicron in play. 

If an athlete or other participant tests positive but doesn’t have symptoms, they’ll need to go into isolation in a dedicated hotel. They’ll be provided with meals and can open their windows for fresh air but won’t be able to leave their rooms, which organizers say will be about 25 square meters.

Athletes can request fitness equipment for training.  

People with no symptoms can leave isolation after two days of negative tests. Organizers say those testing positive will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but it might still be too late for athletes to compete.

As a general rule, organizers say the panel will review those who keep testing positive for more than 14 days.

Those who test positive and have symptoms have to go into isolation in a hospital. They’ll also need two days of negative tests to be let loose, as well as three days of normal temperatures and symptoms subsiding.

Organizers have said athletes who recover after testing positive ahead of the Games will also be assessed on a case-by-case basis in a “more flexible manner.”

Will There Be Fans?

Spectators from overseas won’t be allowed. As for local fans, Beijing organizers say they’re finalizing rules for their attendance. 

It’s not clear how the recent outbreaks around China will factor into the decisions. But organizers of the Tokyo Games had also planned to allow some domestic fans, before scrapping the idea because of a surge in local cases. The result was surreal scenes of athletes competing in empty stadiums.

Even if some fans are allowed in Beijing, their presence will be muted. Everyone is being asked to clap instead of shouting or singing, as had been the plan in Tokyo.

Can It Work?

Despite the omicron-fueled surge hitting many parts of the world including China, organizers may still be able to pull off the Olympics without as much disruption as some fear. 

Olympic athletes are highly motivated to avoid infection so they can compete, noted Dr. Sandro Galea, a public health expert at Boston University. And even if it’s harder with omicron, he noted it’s no mystery what people need to do to avoid infection — take prevention measures, such as limiting exposure to others.

US Actor Baldwin Hands Over Phone to ‘Rust’ Investigators

Alec Baldwin has handed his cellphone to authorities as they investigate the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the Rust movie set, almost a month after a warrant was issued for the device.

The U.S. actor was holding a Colt gun during a rehearsal for the Western being filmed in New Mexico in October when it discharged a live round, killing Halyna Hutchins.

Police are investigating why live ammunition was present on set, and requested Baldwin’s phone in mid-December on the grounds “there may be evidence on the phone” that could be “material and relevant to this investigation.”

Baldwin’s iPhone was turned over to law enforcement in New York state’s Suffolk County, where he has a home.

They will gather information off the device and provide their findings to New Mexico officials, a Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told AFP.

The sheriff’s office has not yet received the data to be retrieved off Baldwin’s phone, said the spokesperson.

Investigators have said they wanted to view text messages and emails sent to and from Baldwin — a producer and actor on Rust — regarding the project.

The search warrant for his phone said Baldwin had exchanged emails with the film’s armorer about the type of gun to be used in the scene.

Correspondence with Baldwin’s lawyer and his wife contained on the phone will not be handed over, under an agreement between Baldwin and the Santa Fe district attorney.

The sheriff’s office earlier said negotiations over “jurisdictional concerns” had held up the transfer of the phone.

Baldwin posted a rambling video over the weekend in which he insisted claims he was not complying with the investigation were “a lie.”

Prosecutors have not yet filed criminal charges over the tragedy and have refused to rule out charges against anyone involved, including Baldwin.

Baldwin has said he was told the gun contained no live ammunition, had been instructed by Hutchins to point the gun in her direction, and did not pull the trigger. 

 

Djokovic’s Case Moves to Higher Court as He Fights Canceled Visa 

The world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic, had his case to stay in Australia to compete in the Australian Open moved to a higher court Saturday as he fights the second cancellation of his visa for not being vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The 34-year-old Serbian appeared in a Melbourne court Saturday for a 15-minute procedural hearing in which the judge scheduled a further hearing for Sunday morning. The judge ordered lawyers for the government and Djokovic to submit written arguments before the next appearance.

Spent four days in detention

The Australian Open requires all players to be vaccinated unless they receive an exemption. Djokovic received an exemption before traveling to Australia on the grounds that he had COVID-19 last month. However, when he arrived in the country last week, his visa was revoked, and he spent four days in an immigration detention hotel until a judge overturned that decision. 

Djokovic was then released from detention and continued his preparations to play in the Australian Open. However, the government canceled his visa for a second time, with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke saying he was using his discretionary power because “it was in the public interest to do so.” 

In a statement, he said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Djokovic’s lawyers have argued that the government’s decision is not based on any potential health risks that Djokovic poses, but rather on how he might be perceived by those opposed to vaccinations. 

Event begins Monday

The Australia Open is set to begin Monday. If Djokovic plays, he will receive the top seeded position and will attempt to become the men’s player with the most Grand Slam titles. He is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.

Djokovic’s medical exemption to enter Australia despite not being vaccinated provoked a public outcry in the country, which has endured long-running lockdowns to fight the pandemic.

The tennis star contracted COVID-19 in December and has since admitted that he failed to isolate. His detention and appeal have ignited a global debate about his actions and Australia’s response. 

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. 

Africa Cup of Nations – Day 6

Africa Cup of Nations – Day 6 – 01/14/22

Senegal vs Guinea | 0-0

Malawi vs Zimbabwe | 2-1

Morocco vs Comoros | 2-0

Gabon vs Ghana | 1-1

 

Spider-Man Comic Page Sells for Record $3.36M Bidding

A single page of artwork from a 1984 Spider-Man comic book sold at auction Thursday for a record $3.36 million.

Mike Zeck’s artwork for page 25 from Marvel Comics’ Secret Wars No. 8 brings the first appearance of Spidey’s black suit. The symbiote suit would eventually lead to the emergence of the character Venom.

The record bidding, which started at $330,000 and soared past $3 million, came on the first day of Heritage Auctions’ four-day comic event in Dallas.

The previous record for an interior page of a U.S. comic book was $657,250 for art from a 1974 issue of The Incredible Hulk that featured a tease for the first appearance of Wolverine.

Also Thursday, one of the few surviving copies of Superman’s debut, Action Comics No. 1, sold for $3.18 million, putting it among the priciest books ever auctioned.

None of the sellers or buyers were identified.