UN warns of catastrophe as Rohingya exodus nears 150,000

People displaced from communal violence boarding a boat at the Buthidaung jetty as they flee south to the city of Sittwe, Rakhine State. UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on September 1 of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in western Myanmar and urged security forces to show restraint after hundreds were reported dead in communal violence and thousands continued to flee. (AFP)
Updated 06 September 2017

UN warns of catastrophe as Rohingya exodus nears 150,000

YANGON/SHAMLAPUR: Nearly 150,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in less than two weeks, officials said on Wednesday after the United Nations chief warned there is a risk of ethnic cleansing in the former Burma that could destabilize the wider region.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the violence in Rakhine state but she made no mention of the exodus of Rohingya since violence broke out there on Aug. 25.
She has come under increasing pressure from countries with Muslim populations, including Indonesia, where thousands joined a rally in Jakarta on Wednesday, to demand that diplomatic ties with Buddhist-majority Myanmar be cut.
In a rare letter to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern that the violence in Rakhine could spiral into a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
According to the latest estimates issued by UN workers operating in Cox’s Bazar, arrivals in just 12 days stood at 146,000. This brought to 233,000 the total number of Rohingya who have sought refuge in Bangladesh since last October.
“People have come with virtually nothing so there has to be food,” a UN source working there said.
Suu Kyi lauds Modi remarks
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday that India shared Myanmar’s concern about “extremist violence” in its Rakhine state, where a security force operation against Muslim rebels has sent about 125,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
Modi spoke after talks with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit aimed at expanding commercial ties as part of an “Act East” policy, and pushing back against Chinese influence.
Suu Kyi told a joint news conference at the presidential palace in the capital, Naypyitaw, that Myanmar was grateful for India’s stance on the attack on her country and they could work together to face the challenge.
“We would like to thank India particularly for its stand that it has taken with regard to terrorist threat that came to our country a couple of weeks ago,” she said in brief remarks.
“We believe that together we can work to make sure that terrorism is not allowed to take root on our soil.” Modi said India and Myanmar had similar security interests in the region.
“We share your concerns about extremist violence in Rakhine state and specially the violence against security forces and how innocent lives have been affected,” he said.
“We hope that all the stakeholders together can find a way out in which the unity and territorial integrity of Myanmar is respected and at the same time we can have peace, justice dignity and democratic values for all.”
Modi’s government has taken a strong stance on an influx into India of some 40,000 Rohingya from Myanmar over the years, vowing last month to deport them all.
That decision has drawn criticism from rights groups and prompted a petition in the Supreme Court to stop the government from doing so.
International concern, in particular from Muslim countries, is growing about the latest exodus of Rohingya.
India is trying to boost economic ties with resource-rich Myanmar, with which it shares a 1,600-km border, to counter Chinese influence and step up links with a country it considers its gateway to Southeast Asia.


As virus spreads to more Chinese cities, WHO calls emergency meeting

Updated 20 January 2020

As virus spreads to more Chinese cities, WHO calls emergency meeting

  • Third death reported in Wuhan, where outbreak started
  • Total number of cases more than triples to 221

BEIJING: An outbreak of a new coronavirus has spread to more Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing and Shanghai, authorities said on Monday, and a fourth case has been reported beyond China’s borders.
China’s National Health Commission confirmed that the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, can pass from person-to-person, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
President Xi Jinping said curbing the outbreak and saving lives was a top priority as the number of patients more than tripled and a third person died.
Adding to the difficulties of containing it, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be traveling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.
Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up screening of travelers from Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first discovered.
“Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high. There is more to come from this outbreak,” said Jeremy Farrar, a specialist in infectious disease epidemics and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity.
Authorities confirmed a total of 217 new cases of the virus in China as of 6 p.m. local time (1000 GMT) on Monday, state television reported, 198 of which were in Wuhan.
Five new cases were confirmed in Beijing and 14 more in Guangdong province, the report said. Another statement confirmed a new case in Shanghai, bringing the number of known cases worldwide to 222.
“People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,” President Xi was quoted as saying by state television.
The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed that two cases of infection in Guangdong province were due to human-to-human transmission, Xinhua said. Some medical staff have been infected, it added, but gave no number.

BEYOND BORDERS
South Korea on Monday confirmed its first case, a 35-year-old Chinese national who had traveled from Wuhan, the fourth patient reported outside China.
Last week, two cases were reported in Thailand and one in Japan. All three involved people from Wuhan or who recently visited the city.
A report by London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated that by Jan. 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with onset of related symptoms. Chinese health authorities have not commented directly on the report.
“This outbreak is extremely concerning. Uncertainty and gaps remain, but it is now clear that there is person to person transmission,” Farrar said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday “an animal source” appeared most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some “limited human-to-human transmission” occurred between close contacts.
The Geneva-based UN agency later convened an emergency committee for Wednesday to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international health emergency and what measures should be taken to manage it.
So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, but a panel of independent experts could do so or make other recommendations to limit spread.
China’s state council reiterated the government will step up prevention efforts and find the source of infection and transmission channels as soon as possible, state television said on Monday.
Shares in pharmaceutical firms and mask makers in China surged Monday because of the outbreak.
“Who knows how many people who have been to Wuhan may be unaware that they have already been infected?,” said one commentator on Chinese social media platform Weibo
The state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial the government needs to disclose all information and not repeat the mistakes made with SARS. Chinese officials covered up the SARS outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumors forced it to reveal the epidemic.
“Concealment would be a serious blow to the government’s credibility and might trigger greater social panic,” the editorial said.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai, Roxanne Liu, Sophie Yu, Judy Hua and Colin Qian and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Joyce Lee in Seoul, Kate Kelland in London, and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Angus MacSwan)