Japan faces new coronavirus emergencies, three months before Olympics

Japan faces new coronavirus emergencies, three months before Olympics
Japan has seen a comparatively small COVID-19 outbreak, with fewer than 10,000 deaths despite never imposing the strict lockdowns seen in other countries. (AFP)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Japan faces new coronavirus emergencies, three months before Olympics

Japan faces new coronavirus emergencies, three months before Olympics
  • An official declaration of the emergency is expected later Friday
  • The measure will coincide with the annual Golden Week holiday, Japan’s busiest travel period

TOKYO: Japan’s government is to declare virus states of emergencies in Tokyo and three other regions on Friday, exactly three months before the Olympic opening ceremony, as new infections surge.
The measures will be stricter than Japan’s last state of emergency, imposed in parts of the country from January, but still fall short of the harsh lockdowns seen in some parts of the world.
“We have a strong sense of crisis,” Japan’s minister for virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura said Friday.
The measures will ask businesses serving alcohol to shut or stop serving alcohol between April 25 to May 11, and also shutter major commercial facilities such as shopping malls and department stores.
An official declaration of the emergency is expected later Friday – with the measure expected to cover Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo regions initially.
Previous emergencies have been expanded to other areas after being announced, and experts say the term may be extended if the spread of the virus continues.
“We will take strong, brief and focused emergency measures,” said top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato, calling restaurants “key points of infection” after an expert advisory panel endorsed the proposal.
The measure will coincide with the annual Golden Week holiday, Japan’s busiest travel period. It could involve cutting some train and bus services to discourage movement.
Authorities in affected regions are also likely to bar spectators from sports events – but officials have been insistent that the emergency measures will have no impact on staging the Olympics.
Although the measures won’t start until Sunday, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike urged citizens to start observing them right away.
Japan has seen a comparatively small COVID-19 outbreak, with fewer than 10,000 deaths despite never imposing the strict lockdowns seen in other countries.
But cases surged over winter and have rebounded after the previous state of emergency was lifted in March.
Tokyo on Thursday recorded 861 new infections, figures not seen since January, while Osaka logged 1,167 cases, slightly down from a record number a day earlier.
Authorities in Osaka have said health facilities there are already overwhelmed, with beds for seriously ill patients running short.
Japan’s vaccine program is moving slowly meanwhile, with just over 1.5 million people given a first shot and only around 827,000 fully vaccinated.
Only the Pfizer vaccine has so far been approved, and approvals for the Moderna and AstraZeneca formulas are not expected before May at the earliest.
Taro Kono, the minister in charge of Japan’s vaccine rollout, said requests from local authorities for vaccine doses from May 10 had exceeded planned supply.
“I am sorry. There has been an overflow” of demand, Kono said Thursday, adding that a higher-than-expected uptake could result in swift vaccination of Japan’s elderly.


Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker

Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker
Updated 16 September 2021

Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker

Not gone yet: Angela Merkel to hang on as active caretaker
  • Germany votes in national election on Sept. 26

BERLIN: After 16 years in power, Chancellor Angela Merkel is not seeking reelection in Germany’s Sept. 26 election but she is anything but a lame duck.

The likelihood of protracted coalition talks after the vote means Merkel will not be leaving office any time soon and she fully intends to use her time after the election to press on with foreign policy initiatives, government officials say.

Under the German constitution, Merkel will remain chancellor until a majority of Bundestag lawmakers elects a successor, who is then sworn in.

There are no formal restrictions on her powers in this time, though Merkel is a consensus seeker and previous chancellors have not taken radical decisions during the window.

Ukraine and European Union climate talks are two issues in her sights.

“She will have to play an important role, because everybody in Berlin will be involved in the coalition talks,” a leading conservative in Berlin said of negotiations on the EU’s climate protection plans.

Armin Laschet, Merkel’s would-be conservative successor, and Greens co-leader Robert Habeck both expect coalition negotiations to run for the rest of the year. After the Sept. 24, 2017 election, they went on until the following March.

A fractured vote means coalition formation could be more complicated this time, meaning Merkel could easily surpass her former mentor, Helmut Kohl, as the longest-serving post-war chancellor — a record she would set on Dec. 17.

Such a scenario would give Merkel the chance to broker a new round of so-called “Normandy format” talks with Russia, Ukraine and France in an effort to quell the conflict in eastern Ukraine — negotiations she pushed for during a trip to Kyiv last month.

“I advocate working on having another meeting at the political leadership level with myself, the French president and of course the Russian and Ukrainian presidents,” she said during that trip, making clear this could happen after Sept. 26.

One person is especially nervous about her future role: French President Emmanuel Macron.

French diplomats say they are worried that coalition talks could drag on into the first half of next year, when Macron will need a strong German partner both to champion his European agenda during France’s rotating EU presidency and when he faces French presidential elections.

“In that case it would be even best for Macron if Merkel remained in office until the presidential election in April 2022,” said Claire Demesmay, France expert at the DGaP German Council on Foreign Relations.

 

Turbulent climate

Merkel and Macron’s governments have been scoping out what they can agree during the French EU presidency, and a productive tenure would boost Macron’s reelection chances, Demesmay said.

“It would be very bad for him if a new coalition were to form at the beginning of 2022 — because the German partner would then be largely absent for agreements,” she added.

Merkel has already indicated she will have a role to play beyond September in the EU’s climate protection plans, titled “Fit for 55.”

Saying tough negotiations on this could begin while a new German government was being formed and she was still acting chancellor, she said in July: “We want to make sure we have a good handover.”


Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads
Updated 16 September 2021

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads

Somalia’s Farmajo and Roble: the leaders at loggerheads
  • Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo, Italian for cheese, inherited a deeply unstable nation where Al-Shabab extremists still hold swathes of countryside
  • Mohamed Hussein Roble, the Swedish-trained civil engineer, is seen by many as a straight talker who understands Somalia’s complex makeup and is ready to discuss issues openly

MOGADISHU: When Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected president of Somalia in February 2017, his supporters hoped he could be the answer to corruption and extremism in Africa’s most notorious failed state.

But the veteran diplomat triggered a political crisis when he extended his mandate and failed to hold elections, and is now locked in an escalating standoff with Mohamed Hussein Roble, the man he appointed premier just a year ago.

The 59-year-old father of four is popularly known as Farmajo, a name derived from the Italian word for cheese, although it is unclear why he earned this nickname.

He spent several years studying and working in the United States but gave up his American citizenship in 2019.

Farmajo was elected president by MPs in a converted aircraft hangar after a six-month voting process marred by widespread allegations of vote-buying and corruption.

He inherited a deeply unstable nation where Al-Shabab extremists still hold swathes of countryside despite being routed from the capital Mogadishu in 2011.

“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against Shabab and corruption,” a triumphant Farmajo said.

Born in Mogadishu to activist parents from the Darod clan, the politically savvy Farmajo was welcomed by many Somalis who wanted change after a series of Hawiye presidents in a country where clan divisions dominate politics.

He himself had served as prime minister for a brief stint in 2010-11 when he notably implemented the first monthly stipends for soldiers and established an anti-corruption commission.

In 2011, after months of infighting over the staging of a presidential election, a deal was struck to postpone the vote in exchange for Farmajo’s resignation.

He agreed to step down as premier in “the interest of the Somali people.”

The following year Farmajo and members of his former cabinet set up the Tayo (Quality) party, but after he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency he stepped back from politics for several years.

As president since 2017, he has adopted a strong nationalist stance, and at one stage broke off diplomatic ties with Kenya — an approach that earned him support from some Somalis, although he has also made plenty of enemies.

A supporter of a strong central state, Farmajo has been accused of meddling in several state elections by attempting to place his allies in power there.

In April 2021, parliament extended Farmajo’s term after a failure to agree on terms for new elections, setting off an unprecedented constitutional crisis and street battles in Mogadishu.

One rival described him as a “dictator” who wanted to stay in power by force.

Mohamed Hussein Roble won the unanimous approval of parliament in 2020 to become premier despite being a political neophyte, and has won over even the opposition with his even-keeled approach to organizing the long-delayed elections.

While lacking the oratory skills of his predecessor Hassan Ali Khaire, the Swedish-trained civil engineer is seen by many as a straight talker who understands Somalia’s complex makeup and is ready to discuss issues openly.

The 57-year-old technocrat, who had worked at the UN’s International Labour Organization in Nairobi, initially took a back seat to Farmajo.

But the two men increasingly clashed as the premier took on a more high-profile role and challenged his boss on several key issues.

After the crisis over the delayed polls descended into violence this year, he vowed to lead the country into “just, free, fair and transparent elections.”

“I have no personal interest in this election and I have no one to be allied to — all I am working for is justice for all,” was his lofty declaration in June.

People who know Roble describe him as a man of simple tastes but who likes doing things his own way.

But some say his lack of experience and tendency to hasty decisions could make him vulnerable to exploitation by more powerful players.


German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat
Updated 16 September 2021

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat

German police detain 4 on Yom Kippur after synagogue threat
  • On Wednesday afternoon, police had cordoned off the synagogue after receiving tips about a possible attack
  • Dozens of police officers secured the building overnight and were still on the scene Thursday morning

BERLIN:German security officials said Thursday they had detained four people, one of them a 16-year-old, in connection with a suspected plan to attack a synagogue in the western city of Hagen.
The detentions took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, and two years after a deadly attack in another German city on the Yom Kippur holiday.
“One of the four people was a teenager living in Hagen,” police spokeswoman Tanja Pfeffer in nearby Dortmund told The Associated Press. She declined to comment on a report by news magazine Der Spiegel saying the teenager was a Syrian national.
Without identifying sources, newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that a foreign intelligence service tipped off German security officials abut the threat.
It said the teenager told someone in an online chat that he was planning an attack with explosives on a synagogue, and the probe led investigators to the 16-year-old, who lived with his father in Hagen.
The detentions Thursday were preceded by police searches of several homes in Hagen, police said.
The interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Hagen is located, confirmed that there was an attack threat, news agency dpa reported.
Speaking to young police officers in the city of Cologne, Herbert Reul said: ”Your colleagues probably prevented” an attack.
On Wednesday afternoon, police had cordoned off the synagogue after receiving tips about a possible attack. Dozens of police officers secured the building overnight and were still on the scene Thursday morning.
The threat came as Jews were preparing for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Following the threat, a festive service planned for Wednesday night at the synagogue was canceled, dpa reported.
Hagen police said Wednesday night that they were in close contact with the Jewish community.
Two years ago on Yom Kippur, a German right-wing extremist attacked a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle. The attack on is considered one of the worst anti-Semitic assaults in the country’s post-war history.
The attacker repeatedly tried, but failed, to force his way into the synagogue with 52 worshippers inside. He then shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop as an “appropriate target” with immigrant roots.
He posted an anti-Semitic screed before carrying out the Oct. 9, 2019, attack in the eastern German city of Halle and broadcast the shooting live on a popular gaming site.
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht sharply condemned the foiled Hagen attack.
“It is intolerable that Jews are again exposed to such a horrible threat and that they cannot celebrate the start of their highest holiday, Yom Kippur, together,” the minister said.


China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people

China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people
Updated 16 September 2021

China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people

China fully vaccinates more than 1 billion people
  • The government has not publicly announced a target for vaccination coverage
  • Chinese vaccines have nearly 60 percent efficacy against the Delta strain

BEIJING: China has fully vaccinated more than one billion people against the coronavirus — 71 percent of its population — official figures showed Thursday.
The country where the virus was first detected has mostly curbed the virus within its borders, but is racing to get the vast majority of its population vaccinated as a new outbreak flickers in the southeast.
“As of September 15, 2.16 billion vaccine doses have been administered nationwide,” said National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng at a press briefing.
Chinese health authorities said late last month that 890 million people in China had been fully vaccinated and two billion doses administered.
The government has not publicly announced a target for vaccination coverage, but top virologist Zhong Nanshan said last month that the country is likely to have 80 percent of its population inoculated by the end of the year, reaching herd immunity.
China is currently battling an outbreak of the Delta variant in the southeastern province of Fujian that has infected almost 200 people so far in three cities, dozens of whom are schoolchildren.
The Fujian cluster is the biggest rebound in weeks and comes after the country declared the Delta variant under control, in a test of China’s “zero-case” approach to the pandemic.
China reported 49 new domestic transmissions on Thursday, the vast majority in Fujian.
Authorities said the cluster’s suspected patient zero was a man who had recently returned from Singapore to the city of Putian, and developed symptoms after completing a 14-day quarantine and initially testing negative for the virus.
The man’s 12-year-old son and a classmate were among the first patients detected in the cluster last week, shortly after the new school term began.
The variant then raced through classrooms, infecting more than 36 children including 8 kindergartners, city authorities said Tuesday, in the first major school-linked spread the country has seen since the start of the pandemic.
Despite rolling out its vaccine campaign to include minors aged 12-17 in July, most young children remain unvaccinated in China, sparking fears that the latest Fujian outbreak could hit the most vulnerable people in the country disproportionately.
Authorities have rushed to quash the outbreak with targeted lockdowns, travel restrictions, mass testing and school closures before the upcoming October 1 public holiday, a week-long tourism peak.
Chinese vaccines have nearly 60 percent efficacy against the Delta strain, with antibodies rising with a booster shot, Zhong previously said.
The country is also racing to produce its own mRNA vaccine — whose technology is believed to be more effective against the Delta variant — with candidates by state-owned Sinopharm and domestic firm Walvax Biotechnology currently in development.


Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe

Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe
Updated 16 September 2021

Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe

Philippine government will not work with ICC ‘war on drugs’ probe
  • Government data shows 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed by security forces in anti-drug operations since Rodrigo Duterte took office in mid-2016

MANILA: The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said it will not cooperate with an International Criminal Court (ICC) probe into his notorious war on drugs, or allow any investigators into the country.
Judges at the ICC on Wednesday approved a formal probe into Duterte’s bloody campaign, in which thousands of suspected drug peddlers have died, many executed by police, according to activists, who say law enforcement agencies have killed with tacit backing of the president.
Duterte and his police chiefs say killings were in self-defense, while his government insists the ICC has no right to meddle in the country’s affairs.
“If there are complaints, it should be filed in the Philippines because our courts are working. The ICC has no jurisdiction,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told a news briefing.
“When we became a party in the (ICC’s) Rome statute, we did not surrender our sovereignty and jurisdiction.”
Government data shows 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed by security forces in anti-drug operations since Duterte took office in mid-2016.
Rights groups say many thousands more were assassinated in slum communities, mostly users killed by mystery gunmen who were never caught, and accuse police of involvement.
Police reject that.
The judges in The Hague on Wednesday said prosecutors’ materials showed the anti-drug campaign “cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation,” but rather a systematic attack on civilians.
Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo on Thursday said ICC investigators would not be permitted to enter the country. Victims’ lawyers, however, say interviews can be conducted virtually.
The ICC was set up to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity and has jurisdiction if a member state is unable or unwilling to do so itself.
The popular Duterte, 76, has dared the ICC to put him on trial and publicly said he would happily “rot in jail” for killing people intent on destroying his country.
But in March 2018 he unilaterally canceled the Philippines’ ICC membership, a month after its prosecutor said a preliminary examination over the drugs war was underway. The ICC says it can investigate crimes committed while the Philippines was a member, up until 2019.
The investigation comes at a critical time for Duterte, who leaves office next year and cannot run for a second term.
He has confirmed he will seek the vice presidency while his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, a mayor, has this year been widely touted as a potential successor, moves critics believe are designed to insulate him from an indictment, at home or abroad.
“His best option is to support the candidacy of Mayor Sara,” said political analyst Temario Rivera.