China virus toll nears 500, airlines cut Hong Kong flights, cases found on cruise ship

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A passenger checks herself with a digital infrared forehead thermometer measurement device at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on February 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Workers set up beds at an exhibition centre that was converted into a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 4, 2020. (AFP)
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This handout from the Royal Thai Navy taken and released on Feburary 4, 2020 shows navy officials preparing for the arrival of a plane carrying Thai nationals who had been evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, at U-Tapao Airport in Rayong. (AFP)
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This photo taken on February 3, 2020 shows a doctor being disinfected by his colleague at a quarantine zone in Wuhan, the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2020

China virus toll nears 500, airlines cut Hong Kong flights, cases found on cruise ship

  • The WHO's statement came as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand all reported new infections not imported from China

BEIJING: The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in China passed 490 on Wednesday, as two US airlines suspended flights to Hong Kong following the first fatality there and 10 cases were confirmed on a quarantined Japanese cruise ship.
China’s National Health Commission said another 65 deaths had been recorded on Tuesday, bringing the toll on the mainland to 490, mostly in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan where the virus emerged late last year.
There have been two deaths outside mainland China. A 39-year-old man in Hong Kong with an underlying illness who had visited Wuhan city, the epicenter of the virus, died on Tuesday. A man died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan, the first virus-related overseas fatality.
Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections, bringing the total accumulated number to 24,324.
Ten people on a cruise liner under quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama tested positive for coronavirus, Japan health minister said, a figure that could rise as medical screening of thousands of patients and crew continued.
The 10 confirmed cases were among 31 results from 273 people tested so far. There are around 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the Carnival Corp. ship.
Another 176 cases have been reported in 24 other countries and regions, according to the World Health Organization.

Two Malaysians who were flown back from the Chinese city of Wuhan have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Southeast Asian nation’s health ministry said on Wednesday, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 12.
Malaysia sent a flight to Wuhan on Monday to bring back over 100 of its citizens who were stranded there since the city was locked down in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
The two cases, a 45-year-old woman and her 9-year-old son, did not show any symptoms when subjected to health screening on arrival in Kuala Lumpur but lab tests confirmed on Wednesday they had contracted the virus, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said at the ministry’s daily news conference on the coronavirus.
"Both are receiving treatment in an isolation ward... and they are in stable condition," Dzulkefly said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT SPREADS
As the economic impacts of the virus spread, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in US exports to China expected from the Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect later this month, the first time a Trump administration official has said the outbreak would hamper the deal.
“It is true the trade deal, the Phase 1 trade deal, the export boom from that trade deal will take longer because of the Chinese virus,” Kudlow said, adding he did not believe the virus would have a catastrophic effect on business supply chains.
Global markets stabilized on Tuesday after days of selling triggered by fears about China’s econmic growth, with many factories closed, cities cut off and travel in and out of China severely restricted.
The financial and health impacts of the epidemic were increasingly being felt in Hong Kong, with American Airlines Group and United Airlines suspending flights to and from the Asian financial hub after this week.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, which relies heavily on passengers who change flights in the financial center, said it plans to cut around 30% of its global capacity over the next two months, including around 90% of its flights to mainland China as it grapples with the coronavirus.

The airline has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave, saying preserving cash was key for the carrier and that conditions were as grave as during the 2009 financial crisis.
Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China, held a second day of strikes on Tuesday to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland after three checkpoints were left open.
“We’re not threatening the government, we just want to prevent the outbreak,” said Cheng, 26, a nurse on strike.
Hong Kong has confirmed about 17 cases. It was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002, killed almost 800 people worldwide and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion.
Neighbouring Macau, also a special administrative region of China lying across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, ordered its casinos to suspend operations on Tuesday, effectively closing off the lifeblood of its economy in a drastic measure to contain the epidemic.
Asian stocks steadied on Wednesday on hopes of additional Chinese stimulus to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.3%. Australian shares were up 0.58%, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index rose 1.19%.

CHINA EVACUATIONS CONTINUE
Beijing has criticized US travel restrictions, barring foreign nationals who have visisted China, as an overreaction and has called on Washington to do more to help China.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex said he hoped China would accept an offer from the United States and the WHO to send epidemiological experts to China.
“We have been requesting this since January 6. The World Health Organization sent names over today. We’re hoping the Chinese will act quickly on that,” Azar told Fox Business Network in an interview.
“This is a novel strain. That’s why we’ve got to get on the ground with the world’s best experts and run the studies to get to the bottom of what is the incubation period. We’ve got to confirm what is the risk of asymptomatic transmission,” he said.

The WHO has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and experts say much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.
Chinese data suggests the new virus, while much more contagious, is significantly less lethal although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
Several countries including Australia and New Zealand continued to evacuate citizens from Wuhan city. The United States said it may stage additional evacuation flights for private US citizens in China’s virus-hit Wuhan on Thursday.
Wuhan authorities are converting an additional eight buildings, including gymnasiums, exhibition centers and sports centers, into hospitals, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
The latest announcement adds to plans revealed earlier this week to convert three other venues in the city into hospitals. Once all 11 buildings are converted, a process that is expected to be completed later on Wednesday, they will be able to accommodate 10,000 patients.
A specially constructed hospital in Wuhan, designed with 1,000 beds, opened to patients on Monday, while the building of a second hospital, with 1,600 beds, is also scheduled to be completed on Wednesday

For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK.


Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

Updated 26 October 2020

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

  • Several members detained on charges of inciting deadly religious riots in Delhi

NEW DELHI: A prominent group established three years ago to fight incidents of hate and prejudice against the Muslim minority community in India said on Monday that it is “gasping for breath” after officials detained some of its founding members under the country’s draconian terror law.

The authorities have accused the United Against Hate (UAH) group of inciting religious riots in New Delhi in February this year.

“The platform which has been fighting against religious and communal hate in society has become a victim of hate itself,” Nadeem Khan, 35, one of the founding members of UAH, told Arab News.

“With the detention of some of our founding members and the questioning of a large number of youths, there is a strong sense of fear among people who are part of such a platform,” he said.

Founded in 2017, when incidents of alleged hate crimes against Muslims – on the pretext of selling or consuming beef – were on the rise, the UAH was one of the few nonpolitical groups which played a significant role in mobilizing the masses against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which became law in December last year.

While the CAA guarantees citizenship for minority Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Buddhist communities from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, it excludes Muslims.

The CAA is part of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise aimed at identifying “genuine citizens” of India.

However, many Indians, and not only Muslims, feel that the CAA is discriminatory as any non-Muslim who does not find a mention in the NRC can seek recourse under the citizenship law.

Muslims, on the other hand, would become stateless.

“People, mostly Muslims, across India came on the streets against the CAA, and the UAH was just an agency for creating awareness. But the Indian government did not like the political mobilization of Muslim masses,” Khan said.

Protests against the CAA, which began in late December, surged for months, resulting in the leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) launching a counter-campaign. 

The heightened communal tensions led to religious violence in the Indian capital toward the end of February, in which more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, died.

“It was a peaceful and democratic protest against the discriminatory policy of the government. This was our right to protest. But the government is now calling our protest sedition and arrested some of our founding members,” said Khan, who has been questioned by Delhi police in connection with the February riots after being named in the charge sheet.

Other UAH members who felt “the need to respond to such hate crimes through a social platform” include 28-year-old Umar Khalid and 36-year-old Khalid Saifi.

They have since been arrested.

“What was the crime of my husband? When has serving people and fighting for unity and secularism of the country become a crime in this nation?” said Khalid Saifi’s wife, Nargis.

Saifi was detained in February for “inciting religious violence” in New Delhi while Khalid was arrested on September 16 and faces multiple charges.

“This is nothing but an attempt to break the spirit of the people, particularly Muslims, and tell the community that they can live in India like ordinary citizens without raising their political voice,” said Nargis, a mother of three.

More than 600 people have been detained in the Delhi riots’ cases, the majority of them Muslims.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced concerns over the large-scale detentions of activists and students for protesting against the CAA and blamed the BJP government for “crushing democratic dissent.”

On Monday, the president of India’s main opposition Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, attacked the government for stifling protesting voices that it brands as “terrorism” and “anti-national activity.”

“The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as terrorism or branded as an anti-national activity,” Gandhi said in an opinion piece published in the leading English daily, the Hindustan Times.

“The Narendra Modi government and the ruling BJP conjure up sinister conspiracies behind every political protest, indeed behind any and everything they see as opposition to them. India’s hard-won democracy is being hollowed out.”

Renowned author and activist Arundhati Roy agrees.

“It is really beyond humiliating to live in this atmosphere where people are funneled and marinated in this hatred. Today, you have a country whose economy is in shreds. People are hungry; people don’t have jobs. Everything is coming apart. But we are held together by a pipeline of hatred, which is funneled by the mainstream media,” she said during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

The BJP denies promoting “hate.”

“We are fighting against hate. We don’t promote an ideology of hate. We can claim to represent India’s real intellectual legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family),” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said.

He described Gandhi’s article as a piece “written in pangs” as the Congress party’s “ecosystem is collapsing.”

“People are leaving the party. And there is no reprieve for the Gandhi family because the BJP is going to be in power for many more years. We can understand the pangs of the Congress chief,” he said.

Political experts, however, say that the broader aim of the governing party is to “disempower people and make them subjects,” who cannot act independently.

“My understanding is that the criminalization of organizations like UAH is the first step towards disempowering all Indians and turning them into subjects who don’t have their agency of their own,” said analyst Professor Apoorvanand Jha, of Delhi University.