Teams heading to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France will be allowed bigger squads and will benefit from greater gaps between matches, the organisers announced on Monday.
In order to improve player welfare, squads will be expanded from the 31 used in 2019 to 33 while all teams will have a guaranteed five-day break between pool matches which means that tournament will run one week longer than in Japan.
The 2023 edition will kick off on September 8 and conclude with the final on October 28.
The announcement came after the Rugby World Cup Board, the World Rugby executive committee, the France 2023 organising committee and international players’ representatives agreed a “ground-breaking” package of player welfare principles.
“For the first time in modern Rugby World Cup history, no team will have a rest period of less than five days, optimising recovery and preparation… particularly for emerging nations,” said a press release.
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In the past, emerging nations, who have less depth in their squads, have had shorter breaks between pool matches.
“The game has become too physical and competitive for short turnarounds,” said former Ireland and British and Irish Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll, the World Cup’s International Rugby Players’ representative.
“All teams have found it tough, particularly those without the squad depth of the major nations.
“This is a positive step forward for the game and further demonstration of how International Rugby Players and World Rugby can work together towards better outcomes.”
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World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont, a former England captain before the World Cup era began in 1987, applauded the moves.
“This is a landmark day for Rugby World Cup and the sport,” he said in the press release.
“As a rugby father, former player, fan and administrator, player welfare is at the very top of my agenda.
“This continued focus for a player-first decision reflects that commitment.
“This decision means that every player and every team will have a fairer chance to perform to their potential in every fixture.”
France will find out on Wednesday if this weekend’s Six Nations clash with Scotland will go ahead after captain Charles Ollivon was among five players to be ruled out after testing positive for Covid-19.
The French Rugby Federation (FFR) announced on Monday that Ollivon, Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Romain Taofifenua and Brice Dulin have been withdrawn from the squad after contracting the virus.
The new cases take the total number in the France camp to 14, including coach Fabien Galthie and scrum-half Antoine Dupont.
Six Nations Testing Oversight Group (TOG) saying it would review the situation on Wednesday although there is no suggestion as yet of postponing the match.
“A decision on whether the France v Scotland fixture can go ahead will be made at that stage,” said the TOG in a statement.
“Should the decision be that the fixture cannot go ahead, the match will be rescheduled for the earliest possible date.”
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The French players who tested positive on Monday have all left the group, with the remainder of the squad, all of whom tested negative, training with restricted movement and no close contact for the next 48 hours.
“The return to collective training is set for Wednesday subject to the results of tests carried out every 24 hours,” the federation said in a statement.
Scottish Rugby said that they were keen for the match to go ahead as any postponement could mean more than 10 players being unavailable for a rearranged fixture due to player-release agreements with clubs.
“We will be working closely with our Six Nations counterparts to press the case for this game to go ahead, should it be medically safe to do so,” the statement read.
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Dupont tested positive last week and had already been omitted from the 31-man squad for Sunday’s game in Paris. The FFR also revealed that hooker Julien Marchand and centre Arthur Vincent had tested positive on Saturday.
Dupont, the Six Nations player of the season last year, is reportedly asymptomatic and could, in theory, have observed a seven-day quarantine and returned for the game at Stade de France.
The French government is increasing the length of quarantine to 10 days from Monday.
Marchand and Vincent were also left out as were prop Mohamed Haouas and winger Gabin Villiere who tested positive on Friday.
Uncapped forwards trio Gaetan Barlot, Thierry Paiva and Cyril Cazeaux were added to the 31-man squad on Monday, along with back-rower Baptiste Pesenti and full-back Thomas Ramos.
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France are top of the Six Nations table after beating Italy comfortably in Rome and then edging Ireland 15-13 in Dublin on February 14.
– ‘We will be ready’ –
Team manager Raphael Ibanez said on Sunday, before the latest positive tests, that the French were fully expecting to meet the Scots.
“We are entering a week of preparation and I can assure you that we will be ready to face Scotland at the Stade de France,” said the former France captain.
With a host of different players joining the squad the staff, which is already without Galthie and forwards coach William Servat, faces a difficult task to ready the team to face Scotland.
“We have prepared an adaptation plan, you can trust Fabien,” said Ibanez. “If other cases turn out to be positive, we have in any case taken exceptional measures with the help of the Covid group which is watching over the France squad.
“The tests will be tripled, we will have a test every day.” Ibanez struggled to pinpoint how and when the coronavirus infiltrated the French ranks.
“It’s not just the French,” he said. “The English coach has been affected… and many others.
“Nobody can know how (the French contracted the virus). Was it in Ireland? Why didn’t it affect the media who are invited to observe the training?
“All it takes is an infected doorknob for the contamination to spread. “It gives us a real reason to have a great game against Scotland.”
France squad: Forwards: Dorian Aldegheri, Uini Atonio, Demba Bamba, Gaetan Barlot, Teddy Baubigny, Pierre Bourgarit, Hassane Kolingar, Thierry Paiva, Killian Geraci, Cyril Cazeaux, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Gregory Alldritt, Dylan Cretin, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Pesenti, Cameron Woki Forwards: Sebastien Bezy, Baptiste Serin, Maxime Lucu, Louis Carbonel, Matthieu Jalibert, Pierre-Louis Barassi, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana, Damian Penaud, Teddy Thomas, Donovan Taofifenua, Anthony Bouthier, Thomas Ramos
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The threat was clear: Pinned to the door of a medical clinic in the small town of Fronton in south-west France in late January, the page said health professionals who discuss COVID-19 on television were turning the country into a giant drug dispensary, and that “silencing them is a matter of public health.” Underscoring the message at the bottom was a chilling drawing: Two nooses.
To the clinic physician Dr. Jerôme Marty, this was just one more nerve-racking moment during months of harassment leveled against him for supporting lockdowns, masking—and now vaccines. “People call me and say: ‘We are coming to your house, and we are going to skin you alive,’” says Marty, who as president of the country’sNational Union of Independent Doctors has become a regular guest on French television. He says the threats have grown increasingly personal against himself and many other doctors who share similar views. “They post pictures of my home online,” he says.
In the race to vaccinate its populations, the European Union has fallen behind both the United States and the neighboring United Kingdom. As of Feb.14, the E.U. had administered 4.9 doses per 100 residents, vs 16 doses in the U.S. and 23.7 in the U.K. Blame for what has gone wrong can be assigned to any number of individuals and organizations, but one clearcut failure was the E.U.regulator’s sluggish effort to approve and purchase vaccines for its 27 nations.
There is one major factor that helps explain the snail’s pace of France’s vaccine program: Widespread distrust, and even hostility, among millions of French towards vaccines in general, but specifically towards the new generation of shots currently being rolled out. In an October poll of 18,000 people across the world,France was the most reluctant out of 15 countries to get a hypothetical COVID-19 vaccine, with only 54% of French willing to be immunized, were a shot to be approved. Anti-vaccine sentiment has eased worldwide as the drugs have been rolled out—but only slightly in France. In a Kantar Public poll this month, over one-third (37%) of French said they would definitely or probably not get vaccinated, compared with 26% in the U.S., 23% in Germany and just 14% in the U.K. The strongest anti-vaccine feeling in France was among those in their 20s.
Among the French skeptics, a core of hardline anti-vaxxers has now seized on the pandemic as its line in the sand. In numerous interviews with TIME over the past week, doctors, scientists, and pro-vaccine activists describe months of relentless trolling and verbal abuse. No health professional has been physically attacked, yet. But the rise in extremist views is unmistakable. “We have seen for the past year the growth of a movement of people who are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, they see it as a conspiracy,” says Marty, the doctor in Fronton in south-west France. “They have begun to threaten doctors.”
The militant anti-vaccine movement
Back in 2017, long before “coronavirus” became a household term, French President Emmanuel Macron’s government was considering increasing the number of immunizations children required in order to attend school, sparking outrage from many parents. A number of concerned citizens set up a Facebook group,Les Vaxxeuses, in order to rebut their often erroneous or misleading claims. When the mandatory vaccines increased from three to 11 vaccines in 2018, Les Vaxxeuses began countering anti-vaccine arguments on social media, and in the comments sections of news sites, using scientific data.
During the pandemic, Lex Vaxxeuses has intensified its work and gained a new public profile—it now has over 25,000 followers, and its savvy pro-vaccine memes are widely shared. That work has opened a flood of verbal assaults against them, which has grown more vicious in recent months, as the COVID-19 vaccines have begun to roll out. In an interview on an encrypted call, three of the group’s moderators said they had decided to remain anonymous when they launched in 2017, fearing verbal, and maybe physical, attacks. But this was worse than anything they anticipated; among text and Facebook messages seen by TIME are several threatening Les Vaxxeuses members with long-range rifle shots, others suggesting sexual assault, and one saying the group’s members deserve maximum-security prison for endangering people’s lives.
On the group’s encrypted call with TIME, a middle-school teacher who asks to be identified only as Anna says she has isolated herself from colleagues, and doesn’t dare to express her pro-vaccine views at work. “Some of the other teachers are anti-vaxxers, and every time someone says anything about vaccines, they are very aggressive,” she says. “They say it is crap, that it is to kill us. Every time we meet in the restroom, they look at me very, very angrily.” When I ask Anna how fellow teachers might respond to her involvement in Les Vaxxeuses, she says, “I do not want to imagine what would happen.”
She says her teenage students seem to have absorbed their teachers’ anti-vaccine views. The youth voice a range of fears and suspicions, including that the COVID-19 vaccines are simply a money-making scheme by the pharmaceutical industry or “Big Pharma,” a phrase widely used (in English) in France. “Kids are frightened,” Anna says. “They ask if it is true that we will have microchips in our vaccines. It is a nightmare.”
Anti-vaccine sentiment was high in France before COVID-19, in part the legacy of major French health scandals, including donor blood found to have been contaminated with the AIDS virus in the 1990s; a furor, also in the 1990s, over a supposed link between Hepatitis B vaccines and autism, which has been disproven; and millions of euros spent needlessly on H1N1 flu vaccines in the late 2000s.
Trust in Macron’s government was also eroded after it made some serious missteps when the COVID-19 pandemic hit (though they were hardly alone). The government first told the French public thatfacial masks were useless; in fact, a previous administration had destroyedthe national stockpile of a billion masks. It also said only those with symptoms needed tests; in reality, the government wanted to limit the number of people seeking tests because testing labswere drastically short of supplies. Coronavirus survivors havesued the government for bungling the crisis, with charges that could land Prime Minister Jean Castex up to two years in jail if the case goes to trial and he is convicted.
Now that vaccines are here, many French doubt their government’s word can be trusted. “There is a really, really strong link between skepticism of the vaccine, and distrust of political institutions,” says Antoine Bristielle, a researcher with the Jean-Jaurès Foundation in Paris, who has conducted several polls on vaccine views. “We have a very, very high level of political distrust,” he says.
So when the government began rolling the vaccines out, it did so tentatively. Only one French politician—Health Minister Olivier Véran—has been vaccinated live on television, unlike the dozens of senior political figures who have done so in the U.S. For weeks, the French government allowed only doctors—and not nurses or pharmacists, for example—to administer COVID-19 vaccines. The first recipients were senior citizens in nursing homes, who were given a five-day reflection period to confirm their choice. “A lot of people are fiercely against vaccines,” says Françoise Salvadori, an immunology researcher at France’s University of Burgundy, and author of a book on vaccine skepticism. “It explains the government’s very prudent plan. The health minister is walking on eggshells.”
But that caution seems to have backfired, as millions of French now wonder why other countries’ vaccine programs are working so much better than theirs. “Macron overestimated the anti-vaxx trend in France,” says Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at Saint-Antoine Hospital in Paris. “The government was really afraid of promoting the COVID vaccine, in case there were problems, and they would be held responsible.”
Down with Big Pharma
Far-right leaders like Florian Philippot, head of Les Patriotes party, which wants France to leave the E.U., have fueled the rising anti-vaccine feeling, through weekend demonstrations outside the Health Ministry; 11 rallies are planned across France on Feb. 20. On stage, and on television, Philippot denounces Macron’s “coronafolie,” or corona madness, and rails against lockdowns and possible vaccination passports. His message appears to have caught on, as those supporting widespread COVID-19 vaccines are cast as a tool of Big Pharma—a familiar villain in a country with long distrust of large multinationals, among both left-wing and right-wing French.
And while only a minority of vaccine skeptics are hardline anti-vaxxers, that minority’s actions can be terrifying. Lacombe learned that first-handlast year. Last April, she said publicly that COVID-19 could not be cured by hydroxychloroquine—a therapy touted by infectious-disease specialist Didier Raoult in Marseille, andendorsed by U.S. President Donald Trump. Lacombe went on television to debunk the claims. “I said on TV that I was amazed by the gullibility,” she says.
The reaction against Lacombe was immediate—and vicious. “There was a video on the Internet with a gun to my head,” she says. Hundreds of calls jammed the switchboard at the hospital where she works, many hinting at physical violence against her, and accusing her of working for Big Pharma. She shut down her Twitter account after thousands of menacing tweets jammed her account. Fearing the threats of violence, she fled her apartment. “I felt sure someone was waiting for me in my house, so I stayed with friends,” Lacombe says. “It was really, really difficult.”
Months later, Lacombe sees a direct connection between the current fury against pro-vaccine doctors like herself, and the furor last spring over hydroxychloroquine. Raoult’s supporters and their message appear to mesh closely with that of the anti-vaxxers, she says. “People are very against the pharmaceutical companies.”
That antipathy greatly complicates mass immunization, given that of the three authorized vaccines in the E.U, two are manufactured by American pharma giants Pfizer and Moderna—and overseen by a government that many far-right and far-left French have portrayed as being intertwined with big business. Deepening that suspicion in the minds of some,Macron hired the U.S. consultancy McKinsey last month to help it speed up France’s vaccine program.
Despite the harassment, the vaccine defenders refused to be cowed into silence. Les Vaxxeurs say that as the anti-vaccine talk has grown increasingly aggressive, they too have become more vocally active, trusting that their anonymity protects them from physical harm. “We like to think that these are only words, and that they will stay words,” one member told TIME on the encrypted call.
Lacombe, for her part, is still deeply shaken at the campaign against her last year, but continues to speak frequently in favor of accelerating vaccines, and was awarded with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civil honor, last month. “It is very, very important that we do not shut up when we are harassed,” she says. “What we are saying about the vaccines is true, with science.”
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In what has been a tough place for France to win, they took both of their chances to score tries, and in a superb display of gritty game management the defence did the rest.
They corralled the deep-passing Irish, who struggled to get over the advantage line. The one try France conceded was a solo opportunist score by hooker Ronan Kelleher. Kicks by Ross Byrne closed the gap to two points but Ireland never looked like bridging that over the last 16 minutes. The game finished when Ireland, after 16 phases, were turned over on halfway by Antoine Dupont.
“Ten years we had not won here, the storyline is incredible,” Dupont said. “We appreciate the victories even more when they come with pain. We were waiting for this Irish fight. We were not disappointed.”
The drama in Dublin was heightened by Ireland having a try disallowed and France five-eighth Matthieu Jalibert missing three of his five kicks at goal.
The Irish enjoyed the early running on a wet field. Billy Burns, in for the injured Jonathan Sexton, was directing his kicks well and France were under set-piece pressure. Burns shanked his first kick, reviving memories of his missed touch-finder that ended the loss to Wales in round one, but only three minutes later he received a second regulation attempt and nailed it.
Le Roux then was sin-binned for tripping Keith Earls, and his absence at the next lineout was exploited by Ireland. Robbie Henshaw, Burns and fullback Hugo Keenan set up wing James Lowe to crash over. But the try was ruled out as France fullback Brice Dulin knocked Lowe’s foot into touch.
France, a man down, then showed marvellous maturity and style by pinning down Ireland and scoring against the run of play. Offloads by backs Jalibert, Dupont and Gael Fickou gave Ollivon a clean run to the line.
Jalibert converted and added a penalty for 10-3 as Ireland’s possession dried up in the second quarter.
“You’ve got to punish people when you have an extra man and we didn’t do that,” Ireland stand-in captain Iain Henderson said. “A penalty or try in there (by us) and it’s a different-looking second half and it changes the way France play. We didn’t capitalise.”
In an eventful 42nd minute, France hooker Julien Marchand’s burst to the tryline was stopped but Burns, who had produced a tidy first Six Nations start, was forced off by a head knock after tackling No. 8 Gregory Alldritt and replaced by Byrne. Seconds later, Henderson and prop Cian Healy smashed heads and were forced to the blood bin. They eventually returned.
France were in the ascendency. From scrum ball, Jalibert switched direction, found Dulin free, and the tracking Penaud touched down in the right corner.
Kelleher’s first act as replacement Ireland hooker was a lineout cut off by Ollivon. But the tap down bounced kindly for Kelleher who hared to the line.
Byrne converted Kelleher’s first Test try and added a 40-metre penalty but France allowed no more. Ireland harmed their own cause with 16 handling errors.
“The guys showed a real strong mindset,” said Fickou, the captain of France’s defense. “With this mentality, we can do great things.”
France next host Scotland on February 28 with Ireland travelling to Italy.
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PONTOISE, France — In the town of Pontoise, which gently slopes upward from the Oise River about 15 miles northwest of Paris, Mayor Stéphanie Von Euw is laser-focused on her new vaccination center — a blocky, sand-colored recreational facility where up to 450 shots are administered daily to those over 75 or otherwise at high risk.
Ms. Von Euw was energetic on a recent visit, chatting with doctors and vaccine recipients. But here in Pontoise, as in many other parts of France, there is no hiding that a winter of pandemic doldrums has set in.
“To keep my chin up, I try to follow this rule: I take one day at a time,” Ms. Von Euw said across a table covered with chocolate boxes left by recent vaccine recipients. “If I look to the future, I lose myself.”
Caught between infection rates that remain stubbornly high despite months of economically damaging restrictions and a slow-moving vaccine rollout, there is a growing and glum sense in France that the country’s battle against the pandemic has stalled.
Last month, the country was bracing for a third nationwide lockdown when President Emmanuel Macron unexpectedly decided against it. He made a calculated gamble that he could tighten restrictions just enough to stave off a new surge of virus cases while avoiding the heavier economic and social toll of more drastic measures like those currently in force in Germany or Britain.
Weeks later, it is still unclear whether that bet will pay off or if, as some health experts have warned, there is little chance of containing the spread without a strict lockdown.
The average number of daily infections, at about 20,000, has neither spiked nor fallen much over the past month. But more contagious variants from other parts of the world are spreading.
Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist at the Institut Pasteur who is also a member of the government’s Covid-19 advisory council, said on Sunday that the chances of containing the epidemic without a tight lockdown are thin.
“Everything will depend on our ability to control the spread of the British variant,” Mr. Fontanet told the Journal du Dimanche. “If we wait too long, we could be taken by surprise by the epidemic’s acceleration.”
Hospitalizations are stable but still at high levels, with about 28,000 Covid-19 patients across the country, including about 3,300 taking up more than half of the capacity in intensive care units.
Some experts said they worry that a plateau in infection numbers at these higher levels leaves little room to maneuver if hospitals face a new spike in cases.
The government is projecting optimism, and the health minister even told Franceinfo radio on Tuesday that the country might not have to go under lockdown ever again. But the public’s mood is one of uncertainty.
“There is a lot of wavering,” said Odile Essombé-Missé, 79, who was standing in line at the vaccination center in Pontoise for her 85-year-old husband’s injection. Asked about a new lockdown, she just shrugged.
“We put up with it,” she said finally, with her eyeglasses, perched atop a colorful blue and orange face mask, fogged over.
Mr. Macron has vowed that all adults who want to get vaccines would be offered them by summer’s end.
More than 2.2 million out of France’s population of 67 million have received at least one dose so far, and nearly 250,000 have been fully vaccinated. But with 3.1 doses administered per 100 people, according to a New York Times database, France still trails neighbors like Italy or Spain.
“We could double, even triple the rhythm,” Ms. Von Euw said, if her center were allocated more supply of vaccines.
But the European Union has struggled in recent weeks to secure a steady supply of doses. The French government has managed to open up a promising 1.7 million new appointment slots in the coming weeks as deliveries roll in.
“I’m not yet immune, but I’m still reassured,” said Eliane Coudert, an 80-year-old retiree who had come from the neighboring town of Éragny to Pontoise for her shot. She was sitting patiently with a handful of newly inoculated companions in a small waiting area, where doctors monitor for adverse side-effects.
Ms. Coudert, who is diabetic, said she was determined to get vaccinated so she could see her great-granddaughters again.
“I see them a bit outside,” she said. “But we can’t kiss each other.”
France has been under a night curfew since mid-January and restaurants, cafes, museums or movie theaters are closed, turning even the liveliest of French cities into ghost towns after 6 p.m.
So in some ways, the vaccination center — where the local Rotary Club sometimes brings croissants and other pastries — represented a much-needed social outing for seniors who have spent weeks or months in near-isolation.
“The restrictions imposed by social distancing are starting to exasperate everyone,” said Dr. Edouard Devaud, an infectious diseases specialist at the Centre Hospitalier René-Dubos, the main hospital in Pontoise. “There isn’t any speck of light at the end of the tunnel.”
Variants of the virus, mainly the British one, now account for one in seven of every new infection. Some areas, like the Paris region, have reported even higher proportions. But the country’s infection numbers have otherwise remained frustratingly stable.
Dr. Devaud said the average number of Covid-19 patients in his unit — about five to 10, plus another dozen in intensive care — was completely manageable so far thanks to better understanding and treatment of the disease.
But the prospect of a new lockdown worries him.
After the first lockdown last spring canceled all non-urgent care, doctors were alarmed to see the consequences of deferred treatment, like deteriorating cancers.
Health professionals have also seen an increased incidence of young people with severe mental health issues.
“So we need to get out of this pandemic,” Dr. Devaud said.
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While there isn’t the same expectation placed on the Wallabies as there is the Australian cricket team when touring sides arrive, there is a belief the men in gold should beat northern hemisphere opposition on home turf.
The Wallabies managed just one win from Dave Rennie’s first six matches in charge, and only points difference last year stopped Fabien Galthie’s side from claiming the their first Six Nations title since 2010.
The often enigmatic rugby nation were the only team to topple Eddie Jones’ England side – a feat the Wallabies haven’t achieved in their last seven attempts – during the Six Nations and their young core is the envy of every other European nations.
“I think it would be a really, really good result for Australia to win that series,” Mehrtens said. “No matter what team they bring out, I think that would be a really good result.
“And I don’t think there is any shame in losing a 2-1 series to France the way they are these days. 3-0 wouldn’t be acceptable but I think winning at least one Test, getting on the front foot and winning the first Test would be a really important one because it could make or break the French tour.
“I wouldn’t be expecting an Australian victory in that series. If that were to happen, it would be an over-achievement.”
Mehrtens will add a New Zealand perspective to Nine and Stan Sport’s coverage of Wallabies Tests and Super Rugby matches this year.
He will be joined by fellow panellists Tim Horan, Drew Mitchell, Justin Harrison, Allana Ferguson and Morgan Turinui.
Nick McArdle and Roz Kelly will be the hosts on rugby’s new broadcaster and the lead callers will be Sean Maloney and Andrew Swain.
Discussions are ongoing with Sonny Bill Williams about a commentary role but the cross-code superstar is yet to sign.
Before the Wallabies can worry about taking on France, there is an entire Super Rugby season to play.
The Waratahs are considered a big chance of claiming the wooden spoon after Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons and Ned Hanigan departed but Mehrtens believes the absence of expectations may set Rob Penney’s side on the right path.
“When you look back to the Crusaders and the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter who were huge figures in the game – when they left the younger players rebuilding stepped up and grew and took control of their own culture and their own methods and it’s ended up being very, very successful for the Crusaders,” he said. “It’s an exciting period of building for the Waratahs.
“You still have to get results but ultimately, the leniency that people show towards a rebuilding team at times allows you to judge them on what they’re delivering on the field performance wise or heart wise, rather than just looking at results.
“That’ll be good for them.”
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 enforced lockdown in Western Australia has seen the Brumbies postpone their trial with the Force until next Tuesday.
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Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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France’s Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has confirmed the national team will participate in the 2021 Six Nations despite Covid-19 restrictions.
Maracineanu said matches would go ahead at the “scheduled date, in a bio-secure bubble, like the Tour de France”.
It means visiting players from the UK will be exempt from the seven-day quarantine period required by the French government.
France begin their campaign against Italy in Rome on Saturday (14:15 GMT).
Les Bleus will also play away in Ireland and England, while Scotland and Wales will visit the Stade de France.
“It was a decision everyone in rugby was awaiting,” the minister told French television. “The FFR (French rugby union federation) submitted to us a rigorous, strict protocol, which was (then) submitted to the health authorities.
“The decision has been taken within government to ensure that the Six Nations championship is held on the scheduled date, starting February 6, with a bio-secure bubble, as was the case with the Tour de France.”
Maracineanu added that visiting players would be excluded from periods of quarantine “since they will be tested every three days and remain in a closed bubble”.
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Another 36 migrants including women and children braved ice and snow warnings to make the latest crossing from France to the UK.
Border Force detained the group during the early hours on Saturday who battled the dangerous conditions in a small boat over the Channel.
They were brought into Dover Marina in Kent and escorted up the gangway to be processed by immigration enforcement.
Groups were seen huddling under light blue blankets for warmth as temperatures plummeted to 39F (4C).
As many as two children, who appeared to be under the age of 10, were hoisted out of the back of the Border Force cutter by an adult migrant.
Another 36 migrants, including women and children, were rescued from a boat on Saturday after battling the weather warnings for snow and ice. Pictured: Migrants arrive at the Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne, East Sussex on January 9, after a rescue operation was launched to save a boat ‘in difficulty’
Officers then held their hand to help them around the mooring in the darkness.
French authorities also prevented 30 people, including seven children, from making the perilous 21-mile journey over the weekend.
This included a group of ten migrants – some severely hypothermic – spotted getting into difficulty off the port of Gravelines on Saturday by crew on the bridge of a DFDS ferry.
Coastal maritime surveillance boat Scarpe, of the maritime gendarmerie, rescued them and returned them to Dunkirk shortly after 6.30am.
An emergency operation was launched to rescue the group which included three people who appeared to need medical attention.
The French Navy’s Dauphin helicopter was deployed to picked up a medical team and drop them off on one of the rescue ships.
The 30 migrants were returned to port where they were checked over by paramedics.
The latest migrant crossings mean 206 people have arrived on UK shores by small boat so far this year.
Saturday’s group of migrants were detained by Border Force during the early hours on Saturday. Pictured: A person is helped ashore during a migrant rescue in East Sussex on January 9
Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: ‘These are illegally facilitated crossings and migrants should been claiming asylum in the first safe country they reach.
‘The Government continues to undertake substantial steps to tackle the unacceptable problem of illegal migration, including legislative changes so crossings of this nature are treated as inadmissible where migrants have travelled through a safe EU country.
‘The Government will continue to seek to return those with no legal right to remain in the UK.’
The latest interception of migrants in a small boat comes as earlier this month Border Force stopped a boat ferrying up to 35 migrants towards Sussex coast.
Lifeboats rescued the migrants from a boat, believed to have been carrying children and five injured people.
At the Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne, East Sussex, migrants were pictured arriving, including children and 5 who were reportedly injured.
Emergency service teams – including lifeguards and police offers – were seen helping people ashore, including children wrapped in blankets being carried to safety.
Children are believed to be among those helped during the rescue both in East Sussex and off the coast of Gravelines, France. Pictured: A young migrant is carried by police officer during a rescue mission in East Sussex on January 9
The Home Office told the MailOnline that UK authorities dealt with six incidents involving 103 people on Saturday, January 9, while French authorities prevented three boats with 29 people on board entering UK waters.
In 2020, four times as many migrants made the dangerous crossing than in 2019, official figures show, with more than 8,400 making the dangerous crossing, up from 1,844 the previous year.
In response to the MailOnline’s request for comment, Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: ‘People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making a dangerous and illegally-facilitated crossing.
‘The Government has taken substantial steps to tackle this unacceptable problem of illegal migration. These efforts have contributed to a 70% reduction in crossings since September on fair-weather days, by direct intervention on the French beaches. This means that we have been able to change the patterns of crossings that resulted in a surge of small boat activity 2018 and 2019.
‘Post EU exit, this Government will work to fix the broken asylum system. Legislative changes to the law are being made to enable cases to be treated as inadmissible if they have travelled through a safe country. The Government will continue to seek to return those with no legal right to remain in the UK.’
Though Britain’s new trade deal came into force on January 1, and new laws on asylum seekers along with it, the rules remain largely the same for those attempting the crossing.
Britain has said it will no longer accept asylum claims at sea, paving a way for those crossing The Channel to be returned to France.
But the UK will not be permitted to do that until an agreement with France is reached.
Home Secretary Priti Patel signed a new deal with France at the end of November, after 757 people crossed, in an attempt to prevent crossings from disembarking from their shores.
She pledged up to £28milllion to double patrols along a 90-mile stretch of French coastline to scupper people smuggling gangs – seen as one of the root causes of the issue.
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Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said the establishment of an independent Palestinian state should not threaten Israel’s security.
“The existence of an independent and contiguous Palestinian state alongside a secure state of Israel is the main guarantee for achieving stability in our region,” he said.
The Palestinians suffered numerous setbacks under the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump and have complained about what they say were pro-Israeli steps from Washington. They have said, however, that they were ready to work with the incoming Biden administration. Democrat Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20.
Trump has sidelined the Palestinian Authority, recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv. His administration also slashed financial assistance for the Palestinians and reversed course on the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with the ministers on Monday, according to his office.
“A settlement to the Palestinian cause will change the reality and condition of the entire region for the better, by opening new paths and horizons for regional cooperation between governments and peoples,” Sissi said.
On the same day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the construction of another 800 Jewish settler homes in the occupied West Bank, anchoring the projects in the final days of the pro-settlement Trump administration. Palestinians condemned such construction as illegal. The timing of the move appeared to be an attempt to set Israel’s blueprint in indelible ink before Biden, who has been critical of its settlement policies, becomes US president.
Sissi said the peace efforts by the four countries were aimed at breaking the deadlock in the Middle East peace process, “taking into account the political changes on the regional and international stages”. He was apparently referring to Biden’s election and the establishment of ties with Israel by four Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – a series of deals brokered by the Trump administration known as the Abraham Accords.
Le Drian urged Israel and the Palestinians to initiate and announce their commitment to a solution to the conflict and refrain from taking unilateral measures.
“We continued this morning our efforts to define these commitments according to the ‘small steps approach’ that could first recreate the necessary climate of trust between the parties,” he said.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that the ministers discussed “tangible confidence-building measures” that would be delivered to Israel and the Palestinians and other players.
“It remains our firm belief that a two-state-solution is the best basis for peace in the Middle East. We will continue to work to uphold this possibility – until Israel and Palestinians will return to direct negotiations,” he tweeted.
There was no immediate comment from either Israel or the Palestinians.
In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an international conference early in 2021 to launch a “genuine peace process,” based on the UN resolutions and past agreements with Israel. The Palestinians no longer see the US as an honest broker.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said last month that the Palestinian Authority was ready to cooperate with the incoming Biden administration, and urged Israel to return to talks based on a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For more than three decades, the Palestinians have sought an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but imposed a crippling blockade when the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized power from Abbas’ forces in 2007.
There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since Netanyahu was first elected more than a decade ago, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.
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Hi, this is Archie Bland picking up the liveblog, and beginning with the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council, who said on Monday morning that requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for international travel is akin to workplace discrimination and should be rejected.
“We should never require the vaccination to get a job or to travel,” said the industry body’s Chief Executive Gloria Guevara, speaking on a Reuters Next conference panel.
As governments race to deploy vaccinations and stem the coronavirus pandemic, some policymakers have suggested immunisation should be necessary for air travel. Qantas Airways has said it plans to introduce such a requirement.
“I totally disagree with the approach from Qantas,” said Guevara, whose organisation represents a sector accounting for as much as 10% of global employment. “If you require the vaccination before travel, that takes us to discrimination.”
The director general of the World Health Organization Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has welcomed news that an international team of experts will travel to China.
It is not clear whether or not the team will even be able to visit Wuhan, where the pandemic began, and experts have played down the likelihood of hard conclusions being reached as a result of this trip alone.
A fresh lockdown will be imposed in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and five other states, the prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, has said, as the country’s cumulative cases grew to more than 135,000 as of Sunday.
Muhyiddin said interstate travel would also be barred during the two-week lockdown, but five essential sectors would be allowed to continue operating under strict regulations.
A World Health Organization investigation team is unlikely to reach any conclusions on the origins of the pandemic as a result of its trip to China this month, a health expert affiliated with the body has said. Dr Dale Fisher told the Reuters Next conference:
I would be inclined to set the expectations of a conclusion very low for this visit.
China has been accused by some of a cover-up that delayed its initial response, allowing the virus to spread. The United States has called for a more transparent WHO-led investigation and criticised the terms of the current effort, which have allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research. Fisher, who took part in a WHO mission to Wuhan last year, said:
I think it’s an important meeting but it shouldn’t be overrated in terms of an outcome this time.
The experts will meet their Chinese counterparts and exchange notes on what data they have and what studies they will further have to do, Fisher added.
Though he did not expect all the answers from this trip, Fisher said he believed the chances of finding the origin of the pandemic were much better than a year ago because experts now knew a lot more about what data they would need to collect based on information they already had.
Business owners at France’s Chamonix ski resort, their earnings slashed because of the lockdown, are worried they might not be able to welcome back skiers at all before the snows melt and the season ends.
French ski resorts were prevented from opening their cable cars and ski lifts at the start of the season, driving away the large portion of their visitors who come for downhill skiing.
The French government had discussed the possibility of reopening the ski lifts from 7 January. But last week it said that with virus cases still high, that would be premature. A decision is now due on 20 January, leaving little time before the season ends. Mathieu Dechavanne, the head of Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, which operates cable cars in the region, said:
If we have to close to the end of season, that’s going to cost us several billion euros. The economic impact will be catastrophic.
At the weekend on the slopes above Chamonix, a few winter sports enthusiasts did their best to enjoy the mountains. Some hiked using snow shoes, others tobogganed, or walked up the slopes before skiing down. But the streets of Chamonix were unusually quiet.
Reuters reported that the restaurant Le Serac was shut, except for takeaway, and owner Francois Montorcier said he was taking just 10% of normal revenues. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said. “We don’t see things getting better.”
The French government provides financial assistance, but it does not cover all losses. At his ski equipment rental shop, co-owner David Pot said he and his partners had lost half their revenue since the pandemic began.
He was angry, he said, because skiing did not expose people to a high risk of infection, yet government ministers had still cracked down on ski resorts. “There’s no logic in the way they take decisions,” he said.
Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, said that a dangerous over-reliance on the coming vaccines by some governments meant herd immunity could not be achieved in the near term, telling the conference:
The Indonesian government thinks that vaccine is the best solution for controlling the pandemic, and they forget that surveillance like testing … communications, to educate public to practice low-risk behaviour, is also important because the vaccine itself needs time to cover most of the people who need it.
Vaccination programmes will not provide herd immunity from the pandemic this year, several health experts have said, citing limited access for poor countries, community trust problems and potential virus mutations.
Dr Dale Fisher, the chair of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) outbreak alert and response network, told the Reuters Next conference:
We won’t get back to normal quickly. We know we need to get to herd immunity and we need that in a majority of countries, so we are not going to see that in 2021.
There might be some countries that might achieve it but even then that will not create ‘normal’ especially in terms of border controls.
That was a best-case scenario, based on current knowledge of the vaccines being rolled out, Fisher said.
Herd immunity refers to a situation where enough people in a population have immunity to an infection to be able to effectively stop that disease from spreading.
Teachers in Malta have returned to their classrooms and ended a two-day strike after the government agreed to give them priority in the vaccination campaign.
Schools on the small Mediterranean island have been open since September but unions called a strike last week following a rise in infections, with a record 245 cases reported last Thursday.
The Malta Union of Teachers said that after talks with the government it was agreed that teachers would be vaccinated sooner than planned, immediately after medical staff and vulnerable elderly persons.
Malta’s medical authorities have said that to limit the spread of Covid-19, it is better to keep schools open rather than closed.
Charmaine Gauci, the superintendent of public health, said a study of virus cases had shown that children and their families did not have many social events while children were at school, and therefore mixed less.
The issue of whether to keep schools open has been a hot debate in many countries, with various governments opting for different policies.
In Malta’s closest EU neighbour, Italy, high schools have still not returned to normal after a nationwide shutdown was ordered last March. Face-to-face teaching had been expected to resume on Monday but the date has been put back to 18 January.
In Malta, the authorities have reduced the number of pupils in each classroom and created bubbles within which pupils cannot mix with other children. School arrivals and departures have been staggered.
“The measures have worked, we have not had any infection clusters in schools since September,” Gauci said.
Indonesia’s food and drug agency has granted emergency use approval to a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, as it becomes the first country outside China to give the regulatory green light to the vaccine.
Interim data from a late-stage human test in Indonesia showed the shot was 65.3% effective, said Penny K Lukito, who heads the country’s food and drugs authority BPOM.
England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, has tacitly criticised Covid deniers who have sought to downplay the scale of the epidemic, saying this winter “is in a completely different league” for the NHS. He told the BBC:
We will get through together, but at this point in time we’re at the worst point in the epidemic for for the UK.
There are always going to be noises of people coming up with absurd theories, and suggestions of things that are either obviously not true, or a misunderstanding of what’s going on.
But I think anybody who looks at some of the reports that the BBC and other news outlets done from hospitals, anyone who talks to a doctor or a nurse working in the NHS, anybody who actually reads any newspaper, they will know this is a really serious problem – this is not a typical winter.
Every winter there are problems. This is in a completely different league.
Whitty also said during a Q&A on BBC Radio 5 Live that people may need to be revaccinated in the future.
I don’t think we’ll have anything on this scale that we’re going to have to do over the next several months but I think there is a reasonable chance that, rather like with flu, we have to vaccinate every year – we may well have to revaccinate for Covid.
England’s test and trace system does not work effectively and needs to be fixed, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation has said, as he warned of high infection rates. Speaking to Sky News, Danny Mortimer said:
We need the rate of infection to go down well in advance of the benefit of the vaccination programme. We still, for the last few weeks now, have seen growing incidences of infection in our communities.
We’ve struggled as a country to have a test, trace and isolate system that works effectively – it just doesn’t work as well as it does in countries like Australia and various other parts of the world. That has to be fixed.
Here’s a little more detail on Fontanet’s suggestion that France should think about closing its borders. He told BFM television
It is important that we consider whether we need to close the borders to a limited number of countries, notably the United Kingdom and Ireland. This is certainly a point for the agenda. It is not up to the scientific council to decide this, but we want to raise the issue.
French authorities said on Sunday that the more infectious variant had now been detected in the Mediterranean port of Marseille and in the Alps. And Fontanet said:
The new Covid variant is nearly a new epidemic within the epidemic.
He said it was more contagious but that for now there were no signs that its mortality rate was higher.
Russia has reported 23,315 new cases, including 4,646 in Moscow, taking the national tally – the world’s fourth highest – to 3,425,269 since the pandemic began. Authorities also confirmed 436 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 62,273.
France should consider closing borders, says government adviser
France should consider closing its borders with the UK and other countries that have a strong presence of the UK variant, a French epidemiologist and government adviser has said.
Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the French government’s scientific council, also said on BFM television that to get the epidemic under control, France needed to vaccinate 10-15 million people by the end of March and 25-30 million people by the end of June.
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