South Korea to extend COVID-19 curbs into Lunar New Year holidays

South Korea to extend COVID-19 curbs into Lunar New Year holidays
A health worker waits to screen passengers at Incheon international airport on Dec. 29, 2020, amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (File/AFP)
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Updated 31 January 2021

South Korea to extend COVID-19 curbs into Lunar New Year holidays

South Korea to extend COVID-19 curbs into Lunar New Year holidays
  • The current regulations include a restaurant curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than four people
  • Health authorities decided to maintain the curbs after a new large outbreak emerged from missionary training schools across the country last week

SEOUL: South Korea will extend its social distancing curbs by two weeks until the end of the Lunar New Year holidays as new infection clusters emerge in the country, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Sunday.
The announcement dashed earlier expectations that the government would ease the rules from the current highest levels, which include a restaurant curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than four people and have been in place since early December.
But health authorities decided to maintain the curbs after a new large outbreak emerged from missionary training schools across the country last week, reversing a recent downtrend in daily infections ahead of the Lunar New Year break, which begins on Feb. 11.
“The government is planning to extend the current distancing levels and anti-virus standards as they are until the Lunar New Year holidays end,” Chung told an intra-agency meeting.
“The third COVID-19 wave, which had temporarily slowed, is again threatening our daily lives following the group infections from the missionary institutes.”
In line with the decision, indoor cafe and restaurant dining after 9 p.m. and any gatherings of more than four people — two key measures that have proved effective — will continue to be prohibited.
Chung said the ongoing spread must be further dampened to facilitate South Korea’s vaccination campaign and the start of the spring school semester, which are respectively set for February and March.
“This decision was not easy,” Chung said.
Some 117,000 doses of vaccines of Pfizer Inc, enough for about 60,000 people, will arrive in as early as mid-February via the global distribution scheme COVAX, Chung said.
AstraZeneca will also ship its products for some 300,000 people starting February, also through COVAX, as the first batch of its shipment of vaccines for at least 1.3 million and up to 2.19 million in the first half of this year, he added.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 355 new cases as of Saturday midnight, as the numbers fell under 400 for the first time in five days due in part to less testing during the weekend.
The missionary school outbreak grew further, with a total of 379 people infected, KDCA data showed.


Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria
Updated 04 August 2021

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria
  • At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured

BERLIN: German police have detained a Syrian man accused of war crimes for firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a group of civilians in Damascus in 2014, officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, identified only as Mouafak Al D. in line with German privacy laws, was detained in Berlin on Wednesday.

German federal prosecutors said he is suspected of firing an RPG at a group of people lining up for food aid in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, home to a large population of Palestinian refugees.

At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured, including a 6-year-old child.

The suspect is alleged to have been a member of the Free Palestine Movement, and previously of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. Between July 2013 and April 2015 the groups exerted control of the Yarmouk refugee camp on behalf of the Syrian government.

Prosecutors said that in addition to war crimes, the suspect faces being charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of serious bodily harm.

A federal judge is expected to determine Wednesday whether the man shall remain under arrest for the duration of the pre-trial investigation.


Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman
Updated 04 August 2021

Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

KABUL: Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman


Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin refuses to resign, delays vote by a month

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin refuses to resign, delays vote by a month
Updated 04 August 2021

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin refuses to resign, delays vote by a month

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin refuses to resign, delays vote by a month
  • Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections

KUALA LUMPUR: Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin refused to resign Wednesday after a key ally pulled support for him, but said he will seek a vote of confidence in Parliament next month to prove his legitimacy to govern.
Shortly after a meeting with King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah at the palace, Muhyiddin said in a national broadcast that he had been informed by the monarch that eight lawmakers from a key party in his ruling alliance had withdrawn support for him.
The party, the United Malays National Organization, is the largest in the alliance with 38 lawmakers, but it is split with some not backing the premier. UMNO’s president declared Tuesday that Muhyiddin had lost the right to govern with the withdrawal of support from some party lawmakers and after an UMNO minister resigned.
Muhyiddin said he told the king that he has received sufficient declarations of support from lawmakers that “convinced me that I still have the majority support” in Parliament. He didn’t give any numbers.
“Therefore, the issue of my resignation ... doesn’t arise,” he said.
Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections. His party joined hands with UMNO and several others to form a new government but with a razor-thin majority.
But since January he had been ruling by ordinance without legislative approval thanks the suspension of Parliament in a state of emergency declared because of the pandemic. Critics say he was using the emergency, which expired Aug. 1, to avoid a vote in Parliament that would show he had lost a majority of support.
Because of persistent questions over his legitimacy, Muhyiddin said Wednesday that a motion of vote of confidence in his leadership will be tabled for a vote when Parliament resumes next month.
“In this way, my position as prime minister and the Alliance National as the ruling government can be determined in accordance with the law and the constitution,” he said.
His government has been seeking to avoid a vote ever since the state of emergency expired, and a five-day session of Parliament last week in which no motions were allowed was suspended after virus cases were found among staff members. Parliament is next due to sit in September.


Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city

Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city
Updated 04 August 2021

Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city

Families flee as Afghan army battles Taliban for control of besieged city
  • ‘There is no way to escape from the area because the fighting is ongoing’
  • The Taliban has taken control of vast swathes of the countryside and key border towns

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Families fled their homes as the Afghan army launched a major counterattack against the Taliban in the southern city of Lashkar Gah, residents said Wednesday.
Dozens of civilians have already died in the intense battle for Lashkar Gah, a city of 200,000 people that would be the Taliban’s biggest prize since they launched a nationwide offensive in May.
Resident Saleh Mohammad said hundreds of families had fled after the military asked people to leave on Tuesday, but many were stuck in the crossfire.
“There is no way to escape from the area because the fighting is ongoing. There is no guarantee that we will not be killed on the way,” Mohammad said.
“The government and the Taliban are destroying us.”
The insurgents have taken control of vast swathes of the countryside and key border towns, taking advantage of the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of US forces.
The Taliban are now targeting cities, with fierce fighting for a week around Herat near the western border with Iran, as well as Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.
The capital Kabul was also rocked by deadly bomb-and-gun attacks on Tuesday targeting Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi and other politicians.
Mohammadi was safe and Afghan forces repelled the attacks, but five people were killed.
No group has yet claimed the Kabul attack, but Washington pointed the finger at the Taliban.
The early morning fighting in Lashkar Gah followed another night of heavy clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in the city, just hours after the military gave an evacuation order for residents.
“Those families which had financial support or a car have left their homes. The families who can not afford to are obliged to stay in their own homes as we are,” resident Halim Karimi said.
“We don’t know where to go or how to leave. We are born to die.”
The loss of Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, would be a massive strategic and psychological blow for the government.
With the Taliban taking control of some radio and TV stations in the city, and moving into people’s homes, the Afghan army on Tuesday flagged a major counter-offensive.
“Please leave as soon as possible so that we can start our operation,” General Sami Sadat, commander of the 215 Maiwand Afghan Army Corps, said in a message to the city’s population.
“I know it is very difficult for you to leave your houses — it is hard for us too — but if you are displaced for a few days, please forgive us.
The United Nations reported Tuesday that at least 40 civilians had been killed in Lashkar Gah in the previous 24 hours.
In Kabul on Tuesday night, the first bomb blew up in the center of the city late Tuesday, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky, AFP correspondents reported.
Defense Minister Mohammadi said it was a suicide car bomb attack targeting his house.
Less than two hours after the car bomb detonated, another loud blast followed by smaller explosions and rapid gunfire, also near the high-security Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission.
A security source said several attackers had stormed a lawmaker’s house after setting off the car bomb and shot at the residence of the defense minister from there.
“Several lawmakers were meeting at the house of this MP to make a plan to counter the Taliban offensive in the north,” the source said.


China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high

China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high
Updated 04 August 2021

China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high

China mass testing shows coronavirus cases at six-month high
  • Health authorities reported 71 domestic cases on Wednesday, the highest since January
  • Long lines of residents waited at outdoor testing stations in the summer heat

BEIJING: China on Wednesday reported its highest daily number of local coronavirus cases in months as mass testing and contact tracing campaigns uncovered a trail of Delta variant infections.
Health authorities reported 71 domestic cases on Wednesday, the highest since January, as China battles its largest outbreak in months by testing entire cities and locking down millions.
The official results of those tests have revealed a low caseload despite the outbreak spreading to dozens of major cities.
Beijing had previously boasted of its success in crushing COVID-19, allowing the economy to rebound and normal life to return while swathes of the globe struggled to douse a pandemic that has killed more than four million people worldwide.
But the latest outbreak is threatening that record with nearly 500 domestic cases reported since mid-July, when a cluster among airport cleaners in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, was found.
Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in 2019, reported its first local infections in over a year this week and said Tuesday it was “swiftly launching” testing of all 11 million residents.
Long lines of residents waited at outdoor testing stations in the summer heat Tuesday, fanning themselves with paper forms while workers in hazmat suits took throat samples.
Meanwhile, Nanjing has tested its 9.2 million residents three times after shutting down gyms and cinemas and closing off residential compounds.
And the tourist destination of Zhangjiajie in central Hunan province, where infected travelers who had been in Nanjing attended a theater performance, abruptly announced Tuesday that no one would be allowed to exit the city after it emerged as an infection hotspot.