Japan battling virus threat ahead of delayed Olympics

Japan battling virus threat ahead of delayed Olympics
People walk through a shopping street decorated with banners of Tokyo's postponed Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Japan battling virus threat ahead of delayed Olympics

Japan battling virus threat ahead of delayed Olympics
  • It was the first time that the New Year greetings had been canceled since 1990 following the death of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously named Emperor Showa, in 1989

TOKYO: Japan has managed to fight the coronavirus pandemic through quarantine, social distancing and states of emergency since the global outbreak of the virus began early last year.
The Japanese health ministry, under the directive of Japan’s minister overseeing vaccinations Taro Kono, began administering vaccines to medical staff on Feb. 17.
The country has so far approved only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and started administering the first shots in a Tokyo hospital.
The uphill battle Japan and the rest of the world faced during this pandemic was no easy feat.
On Jan. 16 last year, the Japanese health ministry confirmed the first coronavirus case in the country.
A week later, the foreign ministry issued a level two travel warning for the city of Wuhan in China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
By the end of January, more cases were detected that were either asymptomatic or showed mild symptoms. By February and March, the outbreak had reached most parts of the world, with talks of lockdowns, quarantine and social distancing measures.
Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe announced in March a 270 billion yen ($2.5 billion) emergency economic package to help fight the pandemic as he sought public support for his government’s fight against the outbreak.
Travel restrictions were also put in place and a state of emergency was discussed in Tokyo as cases continued to rise in and out of Japan.
The country opened back up around June and by August cases began to rise again. By November, Japan’s Imperial Household Agency had decided to cancel the 2021 New Year greetings by the Imperial Family to visitors at the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo due to the threat of the virus.




Hopes remain that the Olympics will go ahead despite coronavirus challenges. (Supplied)

It was the first time that the New Year greetings had been canceled since 1990 following the death of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously named Emperor Showa, in 1989.
On Jan. 2, members of the Imperial Family appear on the balcony of the palace to offer New Year’s greetings to crowds of visitors.
Since the start of the Heisei era in 1989, at least 50,000 people visit to receive royal greetings.
The Imperial Family also greets the public at the palace on the Emperor’s birthday. But visits this year and last year were canceled due to concerns over crowding.
As December rolled around, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations were kept to a minimum, as coronavirus cases began to reach an all-time high. In Jan. 7 of this year, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a new state of emergency in Tokyo.
With vaccines being administered and quarantine measures still in place for travelers, many hope that the situation will subside in time for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Summer Games, despite the obstacles.

 


US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’
Updated 08 March 2021

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

WASHINGTON: The United States has identified three online publications directed by Russia’s intelligence services that it says are seeking to undermine COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna , a State Department spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The outlets “spread many types of disinformation, including about both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as international organizations, military conflicts, protests, and any divisive issue that they can exploit,” the spokeswoman said.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) first reported on the identification of the alleged campaign on Sunday. A Kremlin spokesman denied the US claim Russia was spreading false information about vaccines to the WSJ.
Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A sample article from the OrientalReview.org talking about a plot by Bill Gates and Microsoft to dominate the world using vaccines and microchips, with a patent ominously carrying the numbers 666. 

Russia approved its Sputnik V vaccine in August, before a large-scale trial had begun, saying it was the first country to do so for a COVID-19 shot. Peer-reviewed trials months later proved it was almost 92% effective in fighting the virus.
Pfizer, headquartered in New York, and Germany’s BioNTech, produced the first vaccine that was authorized in the US, which regulators approved in December. The second, made by Moderna, headquartered in Massachusetts, was authorized later that month.
The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, set up to counter propaganda and disinformation campaigns, identified the three outlets, the spokeswoman said.
News Front is controlled by Russia’s federal security service, the center found. New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review are directed and controlled by the Russian foreign intelligence service.
A fourth outlet, Rebel Inside, controlled by the Russian army, was also named by the center but is largely dormant, the spokeswoman said.
“The Department will continue to expose Russia’s nefarious activities online,” she added. “We will also continue to work closely with our allies and partners to provide a global response to countering disinformation.”

 


Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
Updated 08 March 2021

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
  • Myanmar's junta has also detained since February Australian citizen Sean Turnell, an economic policy adviser of Aung San suu Kyi

CANBERRA: Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover of the government and ongoing detention of an Australian citizen.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that Australian diplomats and relatives had only been able to contact economic policy adviser Sean Turnell twice by phone since he was detained in early February. She described the access as “very limited consular support.”
“We believe Professor Turnell has been arbitrarily detained along with senior members of the Myanmar government including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, including the President” Win Myint, Payne told reporters.
“We do not accept the conditions of his detention and the reasons for his detention. We seek a return to democracy. We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed peaceful protesting civilians. And in everything we are doing we are seeking Professor Turnell’s release,” she added.
Australia announced late Sunday it had suspended a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over five years. The program had been restricted to non-combat areas such as English-language training.
Australian humanitarian aid will be directed away from Myanmar government and government-related entities. Instead it will focus on the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities, Payne said.
“One of the things that I do not want to do, and that Australia does not want to do, is to penalize the people of Myanmar,” Payne said.
Australia had previously imposed sanctions including an arms embargo and sanctions targeting five members of Myanmar’s armed forces. These sanctions would continue to be reviewed, Payne said.
Turnell was detained within weeks of arriving in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, from Australia to take up a job as adviser to Suu Kyi’s government.
Turnell’s Australian friend and fellow Myanmar expert Monique Skidmore described Australia’s response to the Feb. 1 military coup as late and “very soft.”
“The reality is that they have enough money, they have enough weapons, they have enough trade partners with China on their doorstep. They don’t need the West,” Skidmore said.
“I assume that we are going more softly than otherwise at the moment until Sean is returned to Australia,” she added.


UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
Updated 08 March 2021

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
  • $20m replica of UAE’s largest mosque was gifted by Abu Dhabi crown prince

JAKARTA: Top Emirati officials have broken ground for a replica of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Indonesia.

The mosque will be constructed in Solo in Central Java province, the hometown of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The replica of the UAE’s largest mosque was gifted to Widodo during the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to Jakarta in July 2019. 

The crown prince’s visit to Indonesia was the first by a UAE leader since that of his father Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in 1990.

On the Emirati side, the ground-breaking ceremony was attended by Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui, and General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments Chairman Dr. Mohammed Al-Kaabi. 

On the Indonesian side, it was attended by Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is Widodo’s eldest son.

“The mosque will be almost 100 percent similar to the one in Abu Dhabi, but it will also incorporate some Indonesian ornaments and will maximize the use of local materials,” Husin Bagis, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UAE, told Arab News on Sunday.

The mosque, which will be built on a 3-hectare plot, will feature four minarets, with the main dome surrounded by smaller domes. It will be able to accommodate about 10,000 worshippers.

The ambassador said it could become a major religious tourism destination in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country. “Now worshippers can go to Solo to marvel at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s splendor,” he added.

The $20 million mosque project is expected to be ready to welcome worshippers in September 2022. 

Construction is being fully financed by the UAE, Qoumas said during the ground-breaking ceremony.

“The mosque, which has a contemporary historical value, will be dedicated to all Muslims and will be managed by the Indonesian government,” he added.

The mosque compound will include an Islamic center to provide UAE-sponsored training for clerics to promote religious moderation.

The ground-breaking ceremony capped a series of events as part of Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya, which started on March 1 and witnessed the signing of a number of agreements.

The visit by Al-Mazroui and his delegation is a follow-up to $22.9 billion worth of UAE investment deals signed by Widodo during his visit to Abu Dhabi in January 2019.

The agreements, which cover energy, infrastructure, defense and mining, are seen as the biggest foreign investment in Indonesia’s history, and a major advancement of its ties with the Gulf state.

In October 2020, one of the roads in Abu Dhabi’s diplomatic quarters was renamed President Joko Widodo Street.

The Indonesian ambassador said: “Following the grand mosque construction in Solo, the UAE will also construct a mosque named after President Widodo on a location near President Joko Widodo Street.”


Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
Updated 07 March 2021

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
  • The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed
  • The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community

ZURICH: A far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in Switzerland won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday instigated by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets.
The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed.
The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
"In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms," Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, had said before the vote.
He called facial covering "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland".
The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community.
"Today's decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority," it said.
It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.
The proposal predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection.
Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.
France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.
Practically no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear the niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The government had urged people to vote against a ban.
"After the ban on minarets, a majority of Swiss voters has once again backed an initiative that discriminates against a single religious community and needlessly stirs up fears and division," Amnesty International said.
"The veiling ban is not a measure for women's liberation, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion."


Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
Updated 07 March 2021

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday reported 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,534 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,322,776 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 89,094.