Confident, optimistic, anxious: New Zealand readers tell us how they feel about Omicron

Kiwis are experiencing a range of emotions over the expected surge in Covid cases, from resignation to relief, trepidation to fear

This week we asked Guardian New Zealand readers about the arrival of Omicron and how they are feeling and preparing. Hundreds of New Zealanders wrote in, about their hopes and anxieties, preparations and frustrations, confidence and worries.

The country has spent almost two years relatively sheltered from the pandemic’s worst effects, and many said they felt some trepidation at the prospect of widespread Covid, and the threat it could pose to the country’s small health system, as well as its immunocompromised or under-vaccinated communities. Some were concerned about divisions the pandemic had produced: between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, those inside the border and those locked out.

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F-35C crash leaves US fighter jet sunken in hostile South China Sea

Fears that subs from China, which claims the area, could be first to reach wreckage that plunged from deck of aircraft carrier

The US navy is racing to salvage an F-35C fighter jet from the bottom of the South China Sea after it crashed on an aircraft carrier and plunged overboard – taking with it highly classified technology that would be a coup if China retrieved it first.

The F-35C crashed-landed on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson during routine operations on Monday, the navy said, injuring six sailors and the pilot, who ejected from the plane before it fell into the sea.

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Hostage-taking suspect held after doctor attacked and nurse shot in Japan

Doctor’s condition grave after attack in Fujimino near Tokyo as police confirm man aged 50 to 70 in custody

A Japanese man has been arrested for the attempted murder of a doctor he allegedly took hostage overnight, reports said on Friday.

The suspect is also alleged to have shot a nurse, who is severely injured, as he confined the doctor, who is feared dead after the attack, according to public broadcaster NHK.

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Has China fallen into a Covid-zero trap?

From the beginning, China’s response to coronavirus has been to quash outbreaks with ultra-strict lockdowns. But has the Omicron variant left its leaders trapped in the wrong strategy?

Ever since the first Covid-19 outbreak was detected in Wuhan, China has countered the virus with incredibly harsh social measures designed to restrict interpersonal contact and eliminate opportunities for the disease to spread. Closed borders, mass testing and entire neighbourhoods and cities quarantined in response to a single case – that’s what it has taken to maintain China’s strict “Covid zero” policy. And it’s been successful: officially, China’s lost fewer than 5,000 people to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic – that’s fewer than the number of people in the US killed by the virus in the past week.

As our China affairs correspondent, Vincent Ni, tells Michael Safi, for Chinese leaders, Covid zero isn’t just a policy – it’s a major achievement for their authoritarian system of government. But with the mutation of the Omicron variant now causing shutdowns in cities across the country, Covid zero is presenting officials with a new dilemma: what’s the exit strategy?

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North Korea confirms barrage of missile tests as Kim Jong-un visits arms factory

Pyongyang’s regime has carried out six tests in January ‘confirming the power of conventional warhead’

North Korea has test-fired more long-range cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles, state media says, part of a record-breaking streak of launches this year.

Pyongyang has conducted six weapons tests since the start of the year, including hypersonic missiles, one of the most intense barrages in a calendar month on record, while ignoring US offers of talks.

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The Guardian view on Afghanistan’s despair: the UK must step up | Editorial

Britain needs to show that it cares about the lives of starving humans, not just animals

Soon after the Taliban swept into Kabul, with Afghanistan’s economy collapsing, people began to sell meagre possessions, from mattresses to cooking pots, to buy basic necessities. Now we learn that desperate Afghans are selling their children and their kidneys, finding no other way to keep their families from starvation. Almost everyone is short of food; more than half the population faces extreme levels of hunger, and nearly 9 million are at risk of famine. The desperation will only worsen. The foreign aid that fuelled the economy has vanished; huge numbers are jobless; food prices have soared. Drought has worsened the already grim picture.

The UN says that $8bn is needed now: $4.4bn in humanitarian assistance, and $3.6bn to deliver essential services and maintain community infrastructure. Deborah Lyons, the special representative for Afghanistan, noted that donors are worried that they may help the Taliban consolidate their position or seem to be legitimising it. The disappearance of feminist activists last week – after one filmed a video of men she said were Taliban trying to enter her home – is further horrifying evidence of their brutal rule. Many older girls are still barred from school. LGBTQ+ people have reported mob attacks and rape. No one wants to give succour to the Taliban. But it should be possible to deal with them to support ordinary Afghans without formally recognising their government. The alternative is to abandon Afghans, who are suffering twice over: from Taliban control and from the international response to it.

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West plans to tie Afghan teacher aid to girls’ education pledge

Funds will go only to those provinces where girls are in school if Taliban renege on promise, diplomats say

The west is planning to incentivise the Taliban to abide by their promise to allow girls to be educated by providing funding for teachers’ salaries only in provinces in which the pledge is met.

The Taliban claimed this week the group would allow girls of secondary school age to be educated from March, the start of the next school term. Sceptical diplomats said they would need more than verbal assurances, with physical and budgetary evidence of preparations being required.

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