Travel chaos erupts as Italy quarantines north to halt virus

Travel chaos erupts as Italy quarantines north to halt virus
A girl walks in Corso Vittorio Alfieri on March 8, 2020 in Asti, a new quarantine zone in Northwestern Italy. A quarter of the Italian population was locked down on March 8, 2020 as the government takes drastic steps to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus that is sweeping the globe, with Latin America recording its first fatality. (AFP)
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Updated 08 March 2020

Travel chaos erupts as Italy quarantines north to halt virus

Travel chaos erupts as Italy quarantines north to halt virus
  • Confusion reigned from Milan to Venice as residents and tourists tried to figure out exactly when the new rules were coming into effect
  • Travelers rushed to train stations and crammed aboard standing-room only trains

ROME: Italy announced a sweeping quarantine Sunday for its northern regions, igniting travel chaos as it restricted the movements of 16 million people — more than one quarter of its population — in a bid to halt the relentless march of the new coronavirus across Europe.
Confusion reigned from Milan to Venice as residents and tourists tried to figure out exactly when and how the new rules were coming into effect. Travelers rushed to train stations and crammed aboard standing-room only trains, tucking their faces into scarves and sharing sanitizing gel.
After Italy saw its biggest one-day jump in infections, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte signed a quarantine decree overnight for the country’s prosperous north. Areas under lockdown include Milan, Italy’s financial hub and the main city in Lombardy, and Venice, the main city in the neighboring Veneto region. The extraordinary measures will be in place until April 3.
“There will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory,” Conte said. “Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.”
The fate of foreign visitors stuck in Italy’s new quarantine zones was not immediately clear.
While the Vatican wasn’t directly affected by the lockdown, the pope, who has been ill, held his Sunday blessing by video instead of in person, describing the strangeness of feeling like he was “in a cage.”
Italy’s move echoed China’s lockdown of some 60 million people in central Hubei province in late January, which is now in its sixth week. The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Sunday tweeted his support for “the government and people of Italy,” saying they were “taking bold, courageous steps aimed at slowing the speed of the coronavirus.”
China has suffered about three-fourths of the world’s 106,000 coronavirus infections and most of its nearly 3,600 deaths. New infections in China have leveled off dramatically, however, and most of those infected, in China and globally, have already recovered.
But infections mounted higher Sunday in other epicenters — South Korea, Iran and especially Italy. And with a nose-dive in tourist traffic and major disruptions to supply chains worldwide, stocks got off to another rocky start Sunday as Mideast indexes opened down 6% to 8%.
Around the globe, more events and festivals were called off, including the women’s hockey championships in Canada. Bahrain said its Formula One race this month will take place without spectators over virus fears while Japan’s time-honored grand sumo tournament opened Sunday in Osaka with no fans and wrestlers in face masks.
Chaos erupted in the hours before Conte signed the decree, as word leaked about the planned quarantine.
Students at the University of Padua in northern Italy who had been out at bars on a Saturday night saw the reports on their phones and rushed back to grab their belongings and head to the train station. Hundreds of passengers, some wearing face masks and rubber gloves, crammed onto the last local train leaving Padua at 11:30 p.m, sitting on their suitcases in the aisles. No conductor came by to check tickets.
“I read two hours ago that they may be putting out an urgent decree putting Padua in the red zone ... so I decided to go earlier,” said student Roberto Pagliara, heading to his hometown of Puglia in southern Italy.
But the governor of Puglia urged people like him to stay away and not bring virus infections down south.
“Get off at the first railway station, don’t take planes to Bari and Brindisi,” Gov. Michele Emiliano said in his dramatic appeal, citing two cities in Puglia with airports. “Turn around in your cars, get off the pullman buses at the next stop.”
Italy on Saturday reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since its outbreak began on Feb. 21. The number of infected people rose 1,247, taking the total to 5,883, and the death toll rose to 233.
Regional politicians in Italy were taken aback by the lockdown. The mayor of Asti, in the Piedmont region, posted an irate video on his Facebook page slamming Rome for not keeping regional leaders in the loop.
“Nobody told me,” Maurizio Rasero screamed, adding that he had hundreds of messages on his cell phone from alarmed citizens. “It’s incredible that information that is so delicate and important would come out in the newspaper first.”
In Rome, some Masses were held outdoors, including one on an asphalted sports field.
“I am near in prayer to persons who are suffering from the current epidemic of coronavirus and to all those caring for them,’’ Pope Francis said in his video service Sunday, before briefly appearing at his window to greet the crowd.
The virus outbreak has left the cruise ship industry in disarray.
The Grand Princess cruise ship, where 21 people have tested positive for the virus, was heading Sunday to Oakland after idling off San Francisco for days. It expects to land Monday. Captain John Smith said ill passengers will be taken into hospitals and healthy Americans will be put into quarantines. He said he was not yet told what will happen to passengers from other countries. The ship had a cluster of almost 20 infections during an earlier voyage that has led to one death.
Another cruise ship is in quarantine on the Nile in Egypt with 45 confirmed virus cases. Two other ships with no confirmed cases were turned away this weekend from Malaysia and Malta amid virus fears.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged older adults and people with severe medical conditions to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowds. A federal official told The Associated Press that the White House had overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and sick Americans not fly on commercial airlines. A spokesman for US Vice President denied the report.
Meanwhile, the US death toll from the virus climbed to 19, with all but three victims in Washington state, and infections rose to over 430.
While many scientists said the world is clearly in the grips of a pandemic — a serious global outbreak – the WHO isn’t calling it that yet, saying the word might spook the world further.
“This outbreak meets all the definitions for a pandemic,” said Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh.
As of Saturday, nearly 90,000 cases have been reported in Asia; nearly 10,000 in Europe; some 7,000 in the Mideast; about 450 in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and fewer than 50 cases reported so far in Africa.
In Iran, fears over the virus and the government’s waning credibility has become a major challenge to leaders already reeling from American sanctions. The virus killed 49 more people in Iran in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 194 amid 6,566 confirmed cases.
China on Sunday reported 44 new cases over the past 24 hours, the lowest level since it began publishing nationwide figures on Jan 20, and 27 new fatalities. South Korea reported 272 new cases, taking its total to 7,313, with 50 deaths overall.
Even islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean have not been spared, with the tiny archipelago nation of the Maldives reporting its two first virus cases.


Top diplomats from Israel, UAE, Greece, Cyprus meet

Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministers held meetings in Cyprus for two days starting from Friday. (Supplied/Greek MOFA)
Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministers held meetings in Cyprus for two days starting from Friday. (Supplied/Greek MOFA)
Updated 1 min 56 sec ago

Top diplomats from Israel, UAE, Greece, Cyprus meet

Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministers held meetings in Cyprus for two days starting from Friday. (Supplied/Greek MOFA)
  • The ministers were discussing economic and security issues, the coronavirus pandemic, and possible travel corridors

PAPHOS: The Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministers held meetings in Cyprus for two days starting from Friday, Cyprus and Israel said.

Israel said the talks in Paphos on the island's west coast would be the first meeting of its kind involving the four nations, as part of efforts to advance regional strategic interests.

The ministers were discussing economic and security issues, the coronavirus pandemic, and possible travel corridors to encourage tourism, Israel's foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Cyprus said the unprecedented four-way talks, lasting into Saturday, would "take advantage of the prospects opened" by "the recent normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates."

The UAE and Israel formalized ties last year, one of four deals the US brokered between Israel and Arab countries.

The talks also follow tensions between Turkey and its neighbours over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Cypriot ministry said the meetings would touch on the "pandemic and its effects, economic cooperation, energy (and) tourism", among other issues, and aimed "to enhance peace, stability, and security in the wider region."


Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government

Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government
Updated 16 April 2021

Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government

Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government
  • Helming the so-called ‘National Unity Government’ is Aung San Suu Kyi, in her position as State Counsellor, and President Win Myint — who is also under house arrest
  • The junta has said anyone working with the CRPH is committing ‘high treason,’ and have announced arrest warrants for hundreds of prominent activists and politicians

YANGON: A “parliament” working in hiding to oust Myanmar’s junta from power announced a new shadow government Friday, with deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi at its helm alongside ethnic minority politicians.
The country has been in turmoil since the military detained Suu Kyi and seized power, triggering a massive uprising that the junta has sought to quell with lethal force.
Besides demanding for democracy’s return, protesters are also increasingly calling for more of a governing role for the country’s minority groups — which have long seen their voices marginalized by the ethnic Bamar majority.
The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) — a group of lawmakers mostly from Suu Kyi’s party attempting to govern underground via a shadow parliament — on Friday announced its leaders.
Helming the so-called “National Unity Government” is Suu Kyi, in her position as State Counsellor, and President Win Myint — who is also under house arrest and facing a barrage of charges from the junta.
They are flanked by a vice president who is ethnic Kachin and a prime minister who is ethnic Karen, said Min Ko Naing, a prominent democracy leader, in an address on the CRPH’s official Facebook page.
“We have organized a government which has the largest number of ethnic minority groups,” he said.
A list of appointed ministers also included prominent leaders from the Chin, Shanni, Mon, Karenni and Ta’ang ethnic groups.
The politicians were chosen based on results from the 2020 election, input from a nationwide anti-coup protest movement, and ethnic minority groups — including armed rebels in the country’s border territories, said Min Ko Naing.
“We have to pull it from the root... we must try to eradicate it,” he said, as he raised the three-finger salute — the symbol of resistance
“Only the people can decide the future.”
The junta has said anyone working with the CRPH is committing “high treason,” and have announced arrest warrants for hundreds of prominent activists and politicians — some of whom now hold positions in the new “National Unity Government.”
Myanmar has more than 130 official ethnic minority groups.
But the country’s political fate has long been tightly held by the Bamar majority — first under a nearly five-decade junta regime which forced a so-called “Bamarization” on minorities; and then under Suu Kyi’s administration.
Since the coup, more than 720 people have been killed in anti-coup unrest, according to the local monitoring group.


Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up

Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up
Updated 16 April 2021

Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up

Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up
  • Hammad Azhar, who was made finance minister less than a month ago, has now been replaced by Shaukat Tarin
  • Pakistan is currently working on national budget and on implementing economic reforms suggested by the IMF

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan appointed a new finance minister on Friday, replacing Hammad Azhar, who received the portfolio less than a month ago.

Shaukat Tarin, the new appointee, is a banker who also served at the same position from 2009 to 2010 under the Pakistan Peoples Party administration of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The news was announced by the newly appointed information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain who shared the notification of the recent cabinet reshuffle in a Twitter post:

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has made changes in the cabinet, the details of these changes are attached.”

 

 

Azhar will now look after the Energy Ministry. He was given the additional portfolio of finance and revenue after Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was recently asked to step down last month over what the government described as rising inflation.

The change to the finance ministry comes at a time when the government is working on the annual budget which is likely to be presented in June. Pakistan's economic managers are also implementing structural reforms suggested by the International Monetary Fund to the country's economy.

Apart from the two cabinet changes, the prime minister also took the Economic Affairs Ministry from Makhdoom Khusro Bukhtiar and gave him the Ministry of Industries and Production.

Omar Ayub, who was previously supervising the Power and Petroleum Divisions, has now been tasked to take care of the Economic Affairs Ministry.

Senator Shibli Faraz has also been assigned the Ministry of Science and Technology which fell vacant when Chaudhry Fawad Hussain was appointed as federal minister for information and broadcasting.

“As info minister my task is to change misperceptions about Pak[istan] and highlight the vibrant effort of the Government,” Hussain wrote on Twitter.

 

 


Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally
Updated 16 April 2021

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally
  • Jimmy Lai currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was jailed for 12 months on Friday over one of the city’s biggest ever protests in 2019.
It is the first time the 73-year-old – who is currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law – has received a sentence for his activism.


Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis
Updated 16 April 2021

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis
  • The shooter wasn’t immediately identified
  • At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures
INDIANAPOLIS: Eight people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and the shooter has killed himself, police said.
Multiple other people were injured Thursday night when gunfire erupted at the facility near the Indianapolis International Airport, police spokesperson Genae Cook said.
At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures. Another two people were treated and released at the scene, Cook said.
The shooter wasn’t immediately identified, and Cook said investigators were still in the process of conducting interviews and gathering information.
Police were called to reports of gunfire just after 11 p.m. and officers observed an active shooting scene, Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.
FedEx released a statement saying it is cooperating with authorities and working to get more information.
“We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport. Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected,” the statement said.
Family members gathered at a local hotel to await word on loved ones. Some said employees aren’t allowed to have their phones with them while working shifts at the facility, making it difficult to contact them, WTHR-TV reported.
Live video from news outlets at the scene showed crime scene tape in the parking lot outside the facility.
A witness who said he works at the facility told WISH-TV that he saw a man with a gun after hearing several gunshots.
“I saw a man with a submachine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open,” Jeremiah Miller said.
Another man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in her car in the driver’s seat when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.
“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”
He said his niece did not know the shooter.