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Jerusalem advances thousands of new homes in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem

Over 1,400 new units planned for area between Har Homa and Givat Hamatos, which critics say would block Bethlehem from capital; over 2,000 more homes okayed in French Hill

This photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, shows the East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
This photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, shows the East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

Kazakhstan calls on Russian-led alliance for help against ‘terrorists,’ amid mass-protests

Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev says he had appealed to a Moscow-backed security alliance for help quelling protests across the ex-Soviet nation that he said were led by “terrorists.”

“Today I appealed to the heads of CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) states to assist Kazakhstan in overcoming this terrorist threat,” he says on state television, adding that the “terrorist gangs” leading protests had “received extensive training abroad.”

Demonstrators stormed the mayor’s office in Almaty earlier in the day and attempted to break into the presidential residence, according to local news reports, as intensifying protests led the Central Asian country’s government to resign.

Kazakhstan also cut internet and mobile phone access as its president promised a harsh response to what he says are “massive attacks” on security forces.

Many of the demonstrators who converged on the mayoral office in Almaty carried clubs and shields, and flames were seen coming from the building, according to the reports, but it was unclear how extensive the fire was.

Smoke rises from the city hall building during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Yan Blagov)

US-led coalition says rocket attack hits base in northeast Syria

The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group says one of its bases in northeast Syria came under fire today from Iran-backed groups, the latest in a string of attacks.

The development comes one day after coalition forces say they foiled a rocket attack on the same base, located in a part of Syria under the control of Kurdish forces.

“Coalition forces were targeted this morning by eight rounds of indirect fire at Green Village” base, a statement says.

“The attack did not cause any casualties, but several rounds impacted inside the coalition base and caused minor damage.”

The coalition said it responded by firing six rounds of artillery towards the source of the attack, outside the eastern town of Al-Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor province.

It blames “Iran-supported malign actors” operating from “civilian infrastructure.”

“Our coalition continues to see threats against our forces in Iraq and Syria by militia groups that are backed by Iran,” coalition chief Maj. Gen. John W. Brennan, Jr. is quoted as saying.

“The coalition reserves the right to defend itself and partner forces against any threat.”

The attacks targeting US installations come as Tehran and its allies across the Middle East are holding emotional commemorations marking the second anniversary on Monday of the assassination of Iranian commander General Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Police arrest six at ultra-Orthodox protest against Jerusalem cellphone store

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators are protesting outside a store in Jerusalem that apparently sells regular cellphones, as many in the community shun such devices.

Police say damage is caused to the store, and officers arrested six suspects so far for “causing damage and disturbing public order.”

Many ultra-Orthodox people use so-called kosher phones — devices stripped of social media and most other apps, at the advice of rabbis.

Video from the scene shows police dispersing the protesters with a water cannon.

At least one demonstrator is taken to hospital after being hit directly by the water cannon, according to Ynet.

Jewish groups defend J.K. Rowling over claim ‘Harry Potter’ goblins are antisemitic

Jewish figures and groups defend “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling after comedian Jon Stewart alleged the author’s goblin characters were clearly antisemitic.

Dave Rich, the director of policy for the UK-based Jewish nonprofit Community Security Trust, tweets that “sometimes a goblin is just a goblin.”

Rich tells the Hollywood Reporter that he does not believe Rowling “is an antisemite or is responsible for creating antisemitic caricatures. There is nothing in her record to suggest that she holds antisemitic views: quite the opposite in fact as she has spoken out consistently and repeatedly in support of the Jewish community and against antisemitism.”

David Baddiel, a British Jewish comedian and prominent voice against antisemitism, also weighs in.

“The goblins in Harry Potter need to be seen not in a simplistic #teamRowling vs #antiteamRowling way but in a many-centuries long, deeply subconsciously embedded cultural context,” he tweets.

Rowling herself has not weighed in on the controversy yet.

Liberman files complaint against Chief Rabbi Lau over freezing conversions to Judaism

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman filed a complaint today with the ombudsman of public complaints against Chief Rabbi David Lau, after he froze all conversions to Judaism as long as the government continues to advance a plan to ease the process and dilute the Chief Rabbinate’s control over it.

Lau’s authorization is currently required for all conversions in the country. Halting the process impacts two significant segments of the population — immigrants from Ethiopia and from the former Soviet Union.

In a letter to the ombudsman, Liberman calls Lau’s move an “implicit threat, not to mention extortion,” Channel 13 news reports.

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana proposed legislation will allow for conversions outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, authorizing municipal rabbis to supervise the process.

Right-wing activist assaults journalist outside hospital where Palestinian detainee held

A right-wing activist is seen attacking a journalist outside the Shamir medical center where a Palestinian detainee is being treated.

Hisham Abu Hawash ended his hunger strike yesterday after 141 days, after a deal was reached between his lawyers and Israel, which will see his administrative detention end and not be renewed.

Due to his condition, he is only expected to be released from the hospital in some two months, Channel 12 news reports.

Right-wing activists are gathering outside the hospital this evening to protest the decision to release Abu Hawash. In a video shared on Palestinian media, one demonstrator is seen assaulting a journalist.

It is not clear what led up to the confrontation.

Abu Hawash has been held in Israel without charges since October 2020.

According to the Shin Bet, Abu Hawash is an Islamic Jihad member involved in terror activity. He was previously imprisoned for aiding other Palestinians who committed attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

Over 12,500 new coronavirus cases confirmed Tuesday, setting new record

The Health Ministry now says there were over 12,500 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, setting a new all-time daily record, though it may only stand for a single day.

The new tally of 12,554 for Tuesday smashes the previous daily high of 11,345 and adds nearly 600 new cases to the previously announced Tuesday tally of just under 12,000.

Another 8,135 cases are confirmed for Wednesday as of late afternoon, bringing the number of active cases to over 62,400.

The number of patients hospitalized and in serious condition, which experts say may be a better metric of health given the Omicron variant’s high spread factor, continues to climb, hitting 290 and 129 respectively.

The death toll mounts as well, hitting 8,253 since the start of the pandemic.

‘Insurrection Barbie’ complains of being treated like ‘Jew in Germany’

A woman who took part in the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 says she and other white people are being treated like “Jews in Germany.”

Texas realtor Jenna Ryan, who has earned the epithet “Insurrection Barbie” after trying to turn her involvement in the riot into a right-wing media career, tells NBC News she is being made into a scapegoat because of the way she looks.

“They have no idea who I am as a person, what my beliefs are, what I’ve been through, who I am,” she says. “They see me as a one-dimensional caricature. They don’t see me as a human.”

“And so, that is the epitome of a scapegoat. Just like they did that to the Jews in Germany. Those were scapegoats. And I believe that people who are Caucasian are being turned into evil in front of the media,” she adds.

The comments were aired this week but made by Ryan last month before she entered prison to serve a 60-day sentence for her role in the insurrection.

Israeli truck driver, Palestinian hurt during confrontation in Hebron hills

An Israeli tow truck contractor working for the police is hurt after Palestinians hurled stones at his vehicle in the south Hebron hills in the West Bank, a law enforcement spokesperson says.

The driver was hurt in his head from a stone and was taken for further treatment, police say. His condition is not known.

Police say the driver was working with officers to confiscate vehicles that are technically listed as dismantled and are prohibited from use in Israel, but have continued to stay on the roads in the West Bank.

A damaged windshield on a truck whose driver was hit by a stone in the Hebron area of the southern West Bank on January 5, 2022. (Courtesy)

According to Palestinian media reports, one Palestinian is seriously hurt after being hit by the truck during the confrontation.

A spokesperson for the police says it is aware of “a Palestinian who apparently ran in the direction of the tow truck,” and was evacuated by the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Michigan Rep. Tlaib to run for new seat after redistricting

Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib announces she will seek reelection in a new Detroit-area seat created through redistricting, hours after fellow Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence said she will retire from Congress rather than run in the district.

The new 12th District includes portions of Detroit and suburbs including Dearborn and Southfield. Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, said the seat has nearly two-thirds of people she currently represents.

The move leaves open the new 13th District, which includes much of Detroit along with other areas of Wayne County. Declared candidates so far include state Rep. Shri Thanedar and former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, who’s now on the Detroit school board.

“I am excited about the opportunity to expand our work to include more communities that want the same access to a better quality of life, including clean air and water, affordable housing, economic justice and more,” Tlaib, who is in her second term, said in a statement.

Jerusalem okays thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem

A Jerusalem municipal planning committee advances 1,465 housing units in East Jerusalem, in an area that left-wing groups say would make establishing a contiguous Palestinian capital in the city far more difficult.

The new neighborhood is being planned for the land between the Jewish neighborhoods of Givat HaMatos and Har Homa, both of which were themselves controversial due to their location.

Left-wing Israeli groups and Palestinians oppose Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, which they hope will one day become the capital of a Palestinian state. Right-wing Israelis, who oppose Palestinian independence, support an “undivided” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

An engineer surveys Har Homa. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
An engineer surveying land between the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Har Homa, pictured, and Givat Hamatos in 2012. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

According to Peace Now, the planned units would “conclusively prevent territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods and Bethlehem.”
The committee’s approval is merely the first stage in the planning process. The proposal will be formally discussed at the Jerusalem District Planning Committee on January 17, 2022; if it passes there, the plan will go on to the “deposit” stage, at which point it will be far more difficult to suspend.

Another 2,092 housing units are advanced in the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill, which also lies over the Green Line.

IDF chief: Pilots crash landed chopper in way that allowed naval officer to survive

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi lauds the pilots who were killed when their helicopter went down off the coast of northern Israel on Monday night, as well as a naval officer, Cpt. Ron Berman, who survived the crash.

“He did all that he could to save his friends, the pilots, unfortunately it didn’t succeed. And they did all that they could to land the helicopter in the best way possible, and that seems to be what allowed Ron to stay alive,” Kohavi says, as he leaves the hospital where Berman is recuperating.

On Monday night, the left motor of the Eurocopter AS565 Panther helicopter in which the three were traveling malfunctioned, according to an initial investigation. Pilots Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Maj. Chen Fogel attempted to make an emergency landing on the water.

Berman managed to jump out of the helicopter and made several attempts to pull Sachyani and Fogel from the aircraft, but was unable to. Using his personal cellphone, Berman called the commander of their squadron and reported the crash, which the pilots had not called in due to a power failure onboard following the motor malfunction. Berman was pulled from the sea shortly after the crash by a maritime police patrol boat.

“He is an extraordinary person, and we are blessed to have officers like him,” Kohavi says.

Pro-Iran militias target bases housing US troops in Iraq, Syria

A Katyusha rocket has struck an Iraqi military base hosting US troops at Baghdad’s international airport, shortly after eight rounds of indirect fire hit a base in Syria where members of the US-led coalition are located, the Iraqi and US militaries said.

No damage or casualties are reported from the Iraq attack, the third in as many days. The attacks started on Monday, the anniversary of a US airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad two years ago.

The attack in eastern Syria hit a base run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces with a small coalition advisory presence. It also caused no casualties but several rounds landed inside the base, causing minor damage, the coalition says in a statement.

Coalition forces, acting on intelligence, responded swiftly and fired six rounds of artillery towards the point of origin of the attack just outside the eastern town of Mayadeen, a stronghold of Iran-backed fighters, the statement says.

The statement says that “Iran-supported malign actors fired … from within civilian infrastructure with no regard for civilian safety.”

Mourners and security forces attend a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the deaths of General Qassim Soleimani, third photo from left, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, second photo from right, in Baghdad’s Green Zone, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP/Ali Abdul Hassan)

US-led coalition forces earlier conducted strikes to eliminate several launch sites of indirect fire rockets near the base known as Green Village, the statement says.

Israel to propose UN resolution adopting definition of Holocaust denial

Israel will bring a resolution aimed at combating Holocaust denial before the United Nations General Assembly for a vote later this month, Ambassador Gilad Erdan announces.

The resolution will provide a definition for Holocaust denial, using the working definition put together by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It will provide actions expected of signatory countries in order to address the phenomenon, and it will demand social media networks remove posts that fall under the IHRA definition, Erdan says in a briefing with reporters.

The envoy says the decision to advance the resolution followed a “dramatic rise in antisemitism and Holocaust denial” in recent years and particularly following last year’s Gaza conflict.

Erdan acknowledges that like all GA resolutions, this one will not come with an enforcement mechanism. However, he expresses hope that by setting a new “international standard” for what constitutes as Holocaust denial and for how social media companies are meant to act in response the resolution will have significant ramifications on the discourse moving forward.

If it passes as Erdan anticipates, the initiative will be just the second time since Israel’s establishment that a resolution submitted by Jerusalem has been adopted by the GA. The first time came in 2005 when the body passed an Israeli resolution declaring January 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp — as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The vote will be held on January 20 — the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference organized by the Nazis to coordinate the implementation of Hitler’s Final Solution.

Meeting on objections to E1 settlement plans postponed — report

A meeting of the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration to discuss plans to expand settlement building in a controversial tract east of Jerusalem has been delayed indefinitely, the Haaretz daily reports.

The meeting had been planned to hear public objections over plans to build thousands of homes on 12 square kilometers next to Maaleh Adumim in an area known as E1. The area is viewed by the international community as a vital corridor for Palestinian movement, and settlement building there has been vociferously opposed by the US, EU and others.

Some 100 Palestinians attempted to voice objections during a previous meeting, but were hampered by the fact that it was held over Zoom, according to the paper.

The Civil Administration tells Haaretz that the decision to cancel the meeting is based on “the opinion of certain experts in the Civil Administration.”

One in 10 Londoners had COVID last week, new data shows

More than one in 20 people in Britain had COVID-19 in the last week of 2021, the highest infection rate recorded during the pandemic, official data shows.

An estimated 3.7 million people in the UK had the virus, up from 2.3 million the previous week, as the Omicron variant surged nationwide, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The unprecedented case levels were highest in London where as many as one in 10 people had it, according to the ONS, which is seen as one of the most reliable counts as it randomly samples the population.

Across England, an estimated one in 15 people in the community were infected with coronavirus, it reported.

People are seen at the St Thomas’ hospital in central London on December 23, 2021. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

“#COVID19 infection rates continued to increase across all age groups in England in the week ending 31 Dec 2021, with the highest rates still seen in school age children and young adults,” the ONS said.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where devolved governments have reimposed some restrictions in recent weeks, rates were slightly lower at between one in 20 and one in 25 people.

President, first lady go 4-for-4 on vaccine doses

President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal Herzog have joined the masses of Israelis over 60 getting a second booster dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

“Omicron is spreading throughout Israel and may reach every house in Israel. There is no other choice—go out and get vaccinated,” Herzog orders from Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center, where he helps launch a fourth dose campaign.

President Isaac Herzog receives a second booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine at Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem on January 5, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Over 72,000 people have gotten the fourth shot in Israel as of this morning, according to the Health Ministry.

Kazakh president’s residence on fire as protests ratchet up

The presidential residence in Kazakhstan’s largest city is engulfed in flames and armed protesters have stormed another government building, according to news reports, as demonstrations sparked by a rise in fuel prices escalate sharply.

In response to the protests, the government has resigned and the president vowed to take harsh measures to quell the unrest. Kazakh news sites have since become inaccessible, and the global watchdog organization Netblocks says the country is experiencing a pervasive internet blackout.

But Russia’s Tass news agency reports from Kazakhstan that the presidential residence in Almaty, where thousands of demonstrators had gathered outside, was on fire and that the city’s main administration building that includes the mayor’s office was burning from top to bottom hours after demonstrators broke in.

Many of the demonstrators who converged on the mayoral office carried clubs and shields, according to earlier reports in Kazakh media.

Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh hospitalized after reporting chest pains

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the predominantly Arab Joint List party, has been taken from the Knesset to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital via ambulance after he reported pain in his chest.

Reports say Odeh went to the Knesset health clinic and after an examination, doctors decided to send him to the hospital to be monitored.

Iran said intending to prosecute 127 people over Soleimani killing

Iran says it intends to prosecute 127 people for alleged involvement or cooperation with the assassination of its Quds Force terror chief Qassem Soleimani two years ago by the US administration of Donald Trump.

According to Fars News, which is run by the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a judiciary spokesperson has said the country sent 11 letters to nine countries, asking them to take measures against the alleged culprits.

Pro-Iran militias said to fire rockets at US base in east Syria

Pro-Iran militia fighters fired shells toward a US base in eastern Syria’s Al-Omar oil field, causing damage but no casualties, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

The development comes one day after the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria said they had foiled a rocket attack on a US base called “Green Village” in the eastern Deir Ezzor region.

Today’s attack, also in Deir Ezzor, saw at least three shells land in Al-Omar, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria but has been accused of inaccurate reporting on multiple occasions in the past.

One fell on a helicopter landing pad, while the two others hit an open area, the Observatory says.

The war monitor blames the attack on pro-Iran militia groups that are active in the Deir Ezzor region which borders Iraq.

It says coalition forces retaliated by striking the source of the artillery fire outside the eastern town of Al-Mayadeen which is a hub for Tehran and its Syria proxies.

There are no immediate reports of casualties.

The attacks targeting US installations came as Tehran and its allies across the Middle East held emotional commemorations marking the second anniversary on Monday of the assassination of Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Yesterday, US-led coalition forces shot down two armed drones targeting an airbase in western Iraq, according to a coalition official.

On Monday, the coalition shot down two armed drones targeting its compound at Baghdad airport.

UN peacekeepers attacked in south Lebanon near Israel border

Unknown perpetrators attacked a group of UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, vandalizing their vehicles and stealing official items from them, a UN official says.

Such scuffles with UN peacekeepers are not uncommon in southern Lebanon since the peacekeeping force was expanded following the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

The UN force, known as UNIFIL, calls on Lebanese authorities to “investigate quickly and thoroughly, and prosecute all those responsible for these crimes,” says Kandice Ardiel, a UNIFIL press official. She adds that the attack occurred last night.

Local media reports that residents of the southern town of Bint Jbeil scuffled with Irish peacekeepers who they said were taking photographs of residential homes. The reports add that the UN force was not accompanied by Lebanese troops.

Bint Jbeil is a Hezbollah stronghold and large parts of it were destroyed during the 2006 war.

Ardiel says that contrary to the alleged disinformation being spread, the peacekeepers were not taking photos and were not on private property. She adds that the peacekeepers were on their way to meet members of the Lebanese army for a routine patrol.

“UNIFIL condemns attacks on men and women serving the cause of peace, which are violations of both Lebanese and international law,” Ardiel says, adding that UNIFIL also condemns those who manipulate local residents to serve their purposes.

Gantz meets Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman to discuss regional stability

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan, discussing shared security and diplomatic concerns, Gantz’s office says.

In the meeting, the Jordanian king stressed the “importance of maintaining calm in the Palestinian Territories and taking all measures to create the horizon needed to achieve just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution,” the Royal Hashemite Court says in a tweet, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The meeting is attended by top Israeli defense officials, including Gantz’s chief of staff, Maayan Israeli; the director of the ministry’s influential Policy and Political-Military Bureau, Zohar Palti; and his military secretary, Yaki Dolf.

“Minister Gantz thanked His Majesty for his leadership and for the Kingdom’s critical role in maintaining regional peace and stability. He also welcomed the expansion of relations between Jordan and the current Israeli government, and expressed his commitment to further developing security, economic and civilian exchanges,” Gantz’s office says in a statement.

Israeli ties with Jordan were at a nadir for the past few years, owing in large part to personal differences between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abdullah, and both sides have worked to improve them in recent months.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro says he’s been cleared for release from hospital

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has been cleared to leave the hospital after being treated for an intestinal blockage.

“Authorized to leave now. Thanks to everyone,” the 66-year-old president tweets along with a photo of himself surrounded by his doctors at the Sao Paolo hospital to which he was admitted Monday.

Opposition parties slam Bennett for ‘derogatory remark’ toward MK in Knesset

Right-wing opposition parties slam Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for allegedly shouting “get out of my face” at Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock during a stormy Knesset vote that okayed hooking up Arab homes to the power grid.

“The thuggery and loss of control by Bennett at the Knesset and the coarse discourse toward MK Orit Strock are unacceptable,” Religious Zionism says in a statement. “Derogatory remarks toward her humiliate the speaker and the public in Israel. Bennett, apologize.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party says it “condemns the coarse and misogynistic attack by Bennett on MK Orit Strock,” adding: “Bennett’s loss of control doesn’t justify an embarrassing assault on a Knesset member.”

Committee publishes final list of 9 candidates for attorney general

The committee searching for the next attorney general publishes the final lists of candidates to replace Avichai Mandelblit, who ends his term on February 1, after six years.

The list includes nine people, including the three candidates recommended by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar: Roi Scheindorf, the current deputy attorney general for international law; Raz Nizri, the current deputy attorney general for constitutional affairs; and Gali Baharav-Miara, who previously served eight years as the Tel Aviv district attorney for civil affairs.

The list also includes judge Michal Agmon-Gonen; Defense Ministry legal adviser Itai Ofir; Bar-Ilan University law Prof. Ariel Bendor; head of the Kohelet Policy Forum Dr. Aviad Bakshi; Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon; and Hebrew University law Prof. Barak Medina.

Israel records almost 3,000 flu hospitalizations in a week

Alongside record daily COVID-19 rates, the Health Ministry also reports a steep rise in flu cases throughout the country, urging the population to vaccinate against the flu.

The ministry says 2,825 patients with the disease have been hospitalized in the past week, including 863 children and 181 pregnant women and new mothers.

It also says there is a sharp increase in “flu-like” illness.

The ministry notes that the flu vaccine may be taken alongside a coronavirus vaccine, or at any time gap from it.

Hospital managers have warned that unlike in previous COVID-19 waves, staff is currently already strained before an expected influx of Omicron patients, due to rampant flu cases and many employees being in quarantine.

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