International roundup

By Agencies

Austria took what its leader called the “dramatic” step Monday of implementing a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who haven’t recently had COVID-19, perhaps the most drastic of a string of measures being taken by European governments to get a massive regional resurgence of the virus under control.

The move, which took effect at midnight, prohibits people 12 and older who haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping, going to school or university or for a walk — or getting vaccinated.

The lockdown is initially being imposed until Nov. 24 in the Alpine country of 8.9 million.

It doesn’t apply to children under 12 because they cannot yet officially get vaccinated — though the capital, Vienna, on Monday opened up vaccinations for under-12s as part of a pilot project and reported high demand.

Officials say police patrols and checks will be stepped up and unvaccinated people can be fined up to 1,450 euros ($1,660) if they violate the lockdown.

“We really didn’t take this step lightly and I don’t think it should be talked down,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio.

“This a dramatic step, about 2 million people in this country are affected… What we are trying is precisely to reduce contact between the unvaccinated and vaccinated to a minimum, and also contact between the unvaccinated.”

“My aim is very clearly to get the unvaccinated to get themselves vaccinated and not to lock down the vaccinated. In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown and that can’t carry on ad infinitum, is only vaccination,” Schallenberg added.

About 65% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, a rate Schallenberg described as “shamefully low.”

All students at schools, whether vaccinated or not, are now required to take three COVID-19 tests per week, at least one of them a PCR test.

The leader of the far-right opposition Freedom Party vowed to combat the new restrictions by “all parliamentary and legal means we have available.”

Herbert Kickl said that “2 million people are being practically imprisoned without having done anything wrong.”

On Monday, Kickl announced on Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days, so he won’t be able to attend a protest in Vienna planned for Saturday.

Authorities are concerned about rising infections and increasing pressure on hospitals.

Austria on Monday recorded 894.3 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days.

That is far worse than neighboring Germany, which has set its own pandemic records of late, and has 303 new cases per 100,000 residents over 7 days.

Berlin on Monday became the latest of several German states to limit access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have been vaccinated or recently recovered, shutting out other unvaccinated people, even those who have tested negative.

Under-18s are exempt.

On Thursday, the German parliament is due to vote on a new legal framework for coronavirus restrictions drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next coalition government.

Those plans are reportedly being beefed up to allow tougher contact restrictions than originally planned.


The signs that an attack was imminent inside the largest prison in Ecuador’s coastal city of Guayaquil could not have been clearer.

There had been talk among inmates of the Litoral Penitentiary for days that a group was going to attack another.

Then, early Friday morning, police arrested three men trying to smuggle two rifles, five handguns, three grenades, sticks of dynamite and hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the lockup.

Hours later police announced what the prisoners inside Litoral already knew:

The three men detained belonged to a prison gang that was stockpiling weapons.

What happened hours later confirmed there were many more weapons already inside.

Late Friday, a brutal attack was launched and clashes among rival gangs lasted for hours into early Saturday.

When the dust settled and authorities had regained control, they found at least 68 inmates dead and 25 wounded in what was only the most recent massacre in Ecuador’s troubled penitentiary system.

So far this year, at least 334 inmates have died in different clashes in the Guayaquil prison, including 119 inmates in an attack in September.

The Associated Press contacted a prisoner in one of the 12 cell blocks, or pavilions, that make up the prison to hear firsthand what happened before and during the deadly confrontation, and how gangs operate inside the lockup.

AP confirmed the identity of the inmate, who asked not to be identified for fear of being killed.

He has served five years of a 25-year sentence for murder but says he is not a member of any gang and tries to stay neutral.

In the days before the attack, inmates had already heard that an attack was coming and that the target would be Pavilion Two, the “transitory” pavilion where new inmates arrive and are held until space is found to accommodate them, he said.

The rumors turned out to be true.

The inmate said the shooting began at 7 p.m. Friday and he hid under his cement bunk in a cell of about eight square meters (about 85 square feet) that held 12 inmates.

He asked that his cell block not be identified to prevent gang members from finding out who he is.

Prison officials talk of at least six factions: the “Lobos,” “JR,” “Tiguerones,” the “Fito,” “Samir” and “Ben10. ″

Police have not said which group was behind Friday’s attack.

They say some gangs have connections with Mexico’s Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation drug cartels.

“Here you sleep with one eye open,” the inmate said. And now, he said, word is spreading inside the prison of attacks on other pavilions in a few days.

“They want to break you … and gain control of the drug-trafficking routes and micro-trafficking,” or local drug sales.


Xiomara Ruiz woke up before dawn and boarded a bus with her son to make a one-hour trip to the bridge connecting Venezuela to Colombia, which they crossed on foot.

Their goal: to get the 8-year-old vaccinated against the coronavirus.

By 7 a.m. the 27-year-old nurse and the boy were lining up at a vaccination center in Villa del Rosario, a Colombian town on the border with Venezuela.

About two dozen Venezuelans also stood in line for the shots, while an aid worker in a khaki vest yelled out instructions on a megaphone and told the crowd to keep a safe distance from each other as they waited for the vaccination center to open.

“In the town where I live there are still no vaccines for children,” said Ruiz, who traveled to Colombia from the border state of Tachira.

She was concerned by a recent announcement by Venezuela’s government that children under 12 will be vaccinated with Soberana, a coronavirus vaccine developed in Cuba.

“That one is not approved by the World Health Organization. It’s better to make the trip here,” Ruiz said.

Hundreds of Venezuelans have been traveling to Colombia recently for coronavirus shots, as Venezuela struggles to get enough doses for its people.

These trips replicate previous efforts by Venezuelans to seek medical care abroad as their country’s health care system crumbled amid years of medicine shortages, economic recession and mismanagement of public hospitals.

But travel restrictions and regulations associated with the pandemic have made it more challenging for Venezuelans to get vaccines in neighboring Colombia.

Colombian border states, which provided thousands of Venezuelan children with vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis for free before the pandemic, only started to provide coronavirus shots to Venezuelan travelers in October.

Now that the gates are open many are seizing the opportunity to get shots in Colombia, which has greater access to European and North American vaccines and only uses shots that have been approved by the WHO.

“Vaccine coverage is very low in Venezuela,” said Huniades Urbina, a pediatrician and spokesman for the Venezuelan Academy of Medicine.

“So for many people, especially those living in border states, it’s worth it to travel into Colombia to get their children vaccinated, instead of having to go several times to vaccination centers within Venezuela.”

In the Colombian state of North Santander, where the main border crossing is, more than 34,000 people registering at vaccination centers with Venezuelan ID cards have gotten coronavirus shots since Oct. 25, when vaccination for non-residents began, according to the state’s health department.

That includes undocumented migrants living in North Santander as well as Venezuelans who traveled just to get the shots.

In the state capital of Cucuta, the number of vaccines applied daily has doubled to 9,000 since the end of October, said Astrid Urbina, the nurse leading the city’s immunization program.


This week, Spain’s foreign minister said that the Cuban government’s decision to revoke the press credentials of journalists working for the Spanish state news agency in Havana is “unacceptable” and demanded that all the credentials be returned.

The Cuban government has given no explanation for its decision to revoke six EFE press credentials last Saturday, two days ahead of planned protest marches in Havana that have generated tension.

“We do not think it is acceptable to revoke credentials for no reason. Freedom of the press is vital in any country in the world,” Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs José Manuel Albares said.

Albares summoned the chargé d’affaires at the Cuban embassy in Madrid, Cuba’s top diplomat in Spain because it currently has no ambassador there, to the foreign ministry for a meeting about the issue.

But the Cuban official said he couldn’t attend the Monday talks due to COVID-19, providing no further explanation.

Albares said that Juan Fernández Trigo, Spain’s Secretary of State for Ibero-America and the Caribbean, discussed the matter on the phone with the chargé d’affaires.

Albares said he has also asked the Spanish ambassador to Cuba to “stay on top of” the issue.

The Cuban government revoked the credentials of six journalists, including three text reporters, two photographers and a cameraman.

Two of them, a text writer and a cameraman, had the passes returned to them on Sunday.

Gabriela Cañas, EFE´s president, said that returning two credentials was “insufficient.” Albares said “We will not cease to demand the return of all credentials.”

Another journalist working for foreign media, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, a regular contributor to the Washington Post, has not been allowed to leave his house by authorities.

It is not unusual for the Cuban government to limit the movement of journalists, especially when demonstrations are expected.