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Slovakia's Vlhova defends title at slalom world cup season opener******
BRATISLAVA, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Slovakia's Petra Vlhova edged arch-rival Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States by 0.31 seconds to defend her slalom title at the season opening women's alpine skiing World Cup in the Finnish resort of Levi on Saturday.。
German skier Lena Duerr finished third, trailing by 0.84 seconds.。
Levi has become Vlhova's favorite and most successful resort as she won both slaloms here last year as well as in 2017.。
"I like to ski on the snow in Levi, I am starting to love Finland and the local weather. It doesn't happen often that I win in the same resort two years in a row. I am happy that I did here," admitted the overjoyed Slovak skier after her 21st career victory.。
The 26-year-old dominated both runs in Levi as she had no trouble navigating the rhythmic course laid out by the Swiss coach Christian Brill and made no mistakes.。
"I did better on my second run as I tried to improve in the lower section which cost me some time in the first run. It paid out," said the Slovak skiing star after crossing the finish line.。
Besides a gold medal, Vlhova, as the winner, will also receive a third reindeer calf from the Levi organizers, a tradition of the event starting from 2013.。
Vlhova named the first one she got Igor after her father, the second is called Pepi after her mental coach.。
"I will call the new one Michal probably, that's the name of my boyfriend, the love of my life," said Vlhova about the latest addition to her virtual private zoo.。
After a third place in the season opener in Soelden and not participating in the parallel slalom in Lech, Vlhova is now third in the overall World Cup cup standings. Shiffrin leads with 180 points.。
The event in Levi continues on Sunday with the second slalom race. Enditem。
Western countries lift COVID******
More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the global infections and deaths have waxed and waned in different parts of the world.
As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus appeared more contagious and less lethal, several Western countries, where cases have been falling in recent weeks, decided to lift their restrictions.
In its latest report issued on Tuesday, the World Health Organization said the number of new weekly COVID-19 cases increased by 8 percent last week, as compared to the week prior to it, after "a consistent decrease" in the caseload since the end of January.
"The number of new deaths continued a decreasing trend," globally down by 17 percent last week as compared to the week from February 28 to March 6, the WHO added.
In the United States, the worst-hit country with the highest caseload and the most deaths in the world, President Joe Biden called on Americans to return to the office and "fill our great downtowns again" in his State of the Union Address earlier this month.
The United States has recorded around 79 million cases and over 960,000 deaths, while daily cases continue to drop, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We currently have about 35,000 cases in this country. We expect some fluctuation, especially at this relatively low level, and, certainly, that to increase," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Monday.
Across the Atlantic, the British government said Monday that all remaining COVID-19 international travel restrictions will end Friday to make going on holiday easier for the Easter school vacation.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes will mean people "can travel just like in the good old days."
Britain recorded an average of 73,310 cases per day last week, according to COVID-19 statistics from The New York Times. The country's caseload has increased by 77 percent from the average two weeks ago, while deaths have fallen by 10 percent.
France also lifted most coronavirus bans on Monday, ending the need to wear masks in schools, offices and shops, and allowing the unvaccinated back into bars, restaurants and cinemas.
Official data showed COVID-19 cases in France have increased by 23 percent from the average two weeks ago, while deaths have decreased by 37 percent.
On Tuesday, Dutch Health Minister Ernst Kuiper announced that the government would further scale down COVID-19 rules from next Wednesday. The mask obligation in public transport will disappear, and a negative test is no longer required at events with more than 500 participants.
In Oceania, daily COVID-19 cases have been falling in Australia, but still rising in New Zealand.
Australia said on Tuesday that it is about to ease its entry ban for international cruise ships next month, bringing an end to all major COVID-19 travel bans. Last month, Australia reopened its airports to vaccinated international travellers.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday that the country was "ready to welcome the world back" as the nation continued to ease its coronavirus restrictions.
"Closing our border was one of the first actions we took to stop COVID-19 two years ago. It did the job we needed. But now that we're highly vaccinated and predicted to be off our Omicron peak, it's now safe to open up," she said.