US Defense secretary to visit Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam

US Defense secretary to visit Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s Southeast Asian tour would start on July 23. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 July 2021

US Defense secretary to visit Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam

US Defense secretary to visit Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam
  • The US embassy in Hanoi said on Tuesday that Austin’s trip would start on July 23

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Southeast Asia later this month, the Pentagon said, a trip that will include stops in the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the US embassy in Hanoi.
“Secretary Austin’s visit will demonstrate the importance the Biden-Harris Administration places on Southeast Asia and on ASEAN as an essential part of the Indo-Pacific’s architecture,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc.
The US embassy in Hanoi said on Tuesday that Austin’s trip would start on July 23.
“This trip will underscore the enduring US commitment to the region, and our interest in upholding the rules-based international order in the region and promoting ASEAN centrality,” the embassy said in a Facebook post.
The United States under President Joe Biden is looking to reinforce the need for a US role in a region where China has sizeable influence as the dominant trade partner, but testy relationships as a result of its military activities in the South China Sea.
Austin has been to preserve decades-old military ties with the Philippines, a defense treaty partner, after repeated threats to downgrade the alliance by its President Rodrigo Duterte, whose term ends next year.


Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge

Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge
Updated 31 July 2021

Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge

Pakistan locks down Karachi amid new coronavirus surge
  • Lockdown began Saturday and is set to last until Aug. 8, despite opposition from the federal government and the local business community

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities have imposed a lockdown in the southern Sindh province, including the commercial hub of Karachi and other urban centers, amid an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases.
The lockdown began Saturday and is set to last until Aug. 8, despite opposition from the federal government and the local business community.
Sindh’s chief minister Murad Ali Shah said Friday that a sudden rise in virus cases has flooded hospitals in Karachi, the provincial capital. The new surge appears linked to many of the crowd-attracting activities earlier this month during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha.
The Sindh provincial government is closing all markets, except for pharmacies, bakeries, gas stations and grocery stores, which still must close by 6 p.m. All transport between cities is halted and public busses aren’t operating. Private cars and taxis are limited to two people.
Ongoing examinations at schools and universities are also postponed until after the lockdown.
Nationwide, Pakistan on Saturday reported 65 deaths and 4,950 new virus cases in the past 24 hours. The South Asian country has reported 1,029,811 confirmed cases and 23,360 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.


COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest

COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest
Updated 31 July 2021

COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest

COVID-19 cases surge in Sydney as police cordon deters protest
  • 210 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 reported in Sydney and vicinities
  • Lockdown, to last at least until the end of August, spurred violent demonstrations last weekend

MELBOURNE: Sydney’s coronavirus cases continued to surge on Saturday as police cordoned off the city’s central district, preventing a planned anti-lockdown protest from taking place.
There were 210 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 reported in Sydney and vicinities that are under a weeks-long strict lockdown while battling an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant. Saturday’s numbers bring the outbreak to 3,190 cases.
The lockdown, to last at least until the end of August, spurred violent demonstrations last weekend, with protesters vowing to return to the streets on Saturday.
But the police closed train stations, banned taxis from dropping passengers off downtown and deployed 1,000 officers to set up check points and to disperse any groups.
Australian media reported that the rally’s organizers urged their followers on Saturday to avoid gathering and regroup on a later date.
A late-July poll by the NSW-based market research firm Utting Research showed that only 7 percent of the people support the demonstrations. Compliance with public health rules has been one of the key cited reasons behind Australia’s success in managing the pandemic.
Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, mostly of the Delta variant, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of just over 34,000 cases and 924 deaths.
The country has struggled significantly with its vaccination rollout, with the government indicating on Friday it will be months before Australia’s borders reopen. [
In Sydney, there are 198 people in the hospital, 53 of them in intensive care and 27 requiring ventilation, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. There was also one death reported, bringing the total number of deaths in the outbreak to 14.
Parts of the neighboring state Queensland entered into a three-day snap lockdown on Saturday after the state recorded six new coronavirus cases of the Delta strain, putting a number of football, rugby and other sporting events into a limbo.
“We have seen from the experience in other states that the only way to beat the Delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” the state’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said. “That is now the nationally agreed approach.”


China reports 55 new COVID-19 cases as Delta variant spreads from Nanjing

China reports 55 new COVID-19 cases as Delta variant spreads from Nanjing
Updated 31 July 2021

China reports 55 new COVID-19 cases as Delta variant spreads from Nanjing

China reports 55 new COVID-19 cases as Delta variant spreads from Nanjing
  • The National Health Commission says 30 of the new infections were local cases, compared with 21 the previous day

BEIJING: China reported on Saturday 55 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for July 30, compared with 64 cases a day earlier, the health authority said.
The National Health Commission said in a statement 30 of the new infections were local cases, compared with 21 the previous day. There were no new deaths.
The other 25 cases were imported infections originating overseas.
A majority of the local cases were reported in Jiangsu province, the authority said.
The province’s capital city of Nanjing is currently facing an outbreak of the COVID-19 Delta variant that surfaced earlier this month, traced to airport cleaners who worked on a flight from Russia.
The Nanjing outbreak has since spread to other cities in Jiangsu, the Chinese capital of Beijing, and to other provinces including Anhui, Sichuan, Liaoning, Guangdong and Hunan.
Suzhou, a major city in Jiangsu, announced on Saturday it is shutting all games parlours for chess, cards and mahjong, after several people in another Jiangsu city caught the virus while playing in one such parlour.
To curb the outbreak in Beijing, some schools in the city have asked students on summer vacation to return to Beijing at least fourteen days before the autumn semester starts on August 15, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Sunday.
Zhengzhou, the provincial city of Henan province hit by heavy floods this month, announced on Saturday people leaving the city must test negative for COVID. It also reported one asymptomatic case, its first in many months.
China also reported 19 new asymptomatic patients, compared with 25 a day earlier.
As of July 30, mainland China had a total of 92,930 confirmed coronavirus cases.
China’s death toll from the coronavirus remained unchanged at 4,636.


Protests, accusations against Myanmar junta ahead of coup anniversary

Protests, accusations against Myanmar junta ahead of coup anniversary
Updated 31 July 2021

Protests, accusations against Myanmar junta ahead of coup anniversary

Protests, accusations against Myanmar junta ahead of coup anniversary
  • Myanmar’s army seized power on Feb. 1 from the civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi
  • The army has branded its opponents terrorists and says its takeover was in line with the constitution

BANGKOK: Small groups of students protested against Myanmar’s military junta on Saturday in Mandalay and a human rights group accused the armed forces of crimes against humanity ahead of the six-month anniversary of the army’s takeover.
Bands of university students rode motorbikes around Mandalay waving red and green flags, saying they rejected any possibility of talks with the military to negotiate a return to civilian rule.
“There’s no negotiating in a blood feud,” read one sign.
Myanmar’s army seized power on Feb. 1 from the civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi after her ruling party won elections that the military argued were tainted by fraud.
New York-based Human Rights Watch on Saturday said the armed forces’ violent suppression of protests against the coup and arrests of opponents included torture, murder and other acts that violate international humanitarian conventions.
“These attacks on the population amount to crimes against humanity for which those responsible should be brought to account,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement.
The spokesman for the military authorities, Zaw Min Tun, could not be reached on Saturday to respond to Human Rights Watch allegations because his mobile phone was turned off.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says at least 6,990 people have been arrested since the coup. The group says the armed forces have killed 939 people, a number the military says is exaggerated.
The army has branded its opponents terrorists and says its takeover was in line with the constitution.
The military took power in February after alleging fraud in the November 2020 election, which Suu Kyi’s party swept. The former electoral commission had dismissed the military’s accusations.


UN warns hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots

UN warns hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots
Updated 31 July 2021

UN warns hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots

UN warns hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots
  • Ethiopia is at the top of the list, with  thenumber of people facing starvation and death expected to rise to 401,000 — the highest number since the 2011 famine in Somalia — if humanitarian aid isn’t provided quickly

UNITED NATIONS: Hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots in the next three months with the highest alerts for “catastrophic” situations in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, southern Madagascar, Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria, two UN agencies warned Friday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program said in a new report on “Hunger Hotspots” between August and November that “acute food insecurity is likely to further deteriorate.”
They put Ethiopia at the top of the list, saying the number of people facing starvation and death is expected to rise to 401,000 — the highest number since the 2011 famine in Somalia — if humanitarian aid isn’t provided quickly.
In southern Madagascar, which has been hit by the worst drought in the past 40 years, pests affecting staple crops, and rising food prices — 14,000 people are expected to be pushed into “catastrophic” acute food insecurity marked by starvation and death by September. And that number is expected to double by the end of the year with 28,000 people needing urgent help, the two agencies said.
In a report in May, 16 organizations including FAO and WFP said at least 155 million people faced acute hunger in 2020, including 133,000 who needed urgent food to prevent widespread death from starvation, a 20 million increase from 2019.
“Acute hunger is increasing not only in scale but also severity,” FAO and WFP said in Friday’s report. “Overall, over 41 million people worldwide are now at risk of falling into famine or famine-like conditions, unless they receive immediate life and livelihood-saving assistance.”
The two Rome-based agencies called for urgent humanitarian action to save lives in the 23 hotspots, saying help is especially critical in the five highest alert places to prevent famine and death.
“These deteriorating trends are mostly driven by conflict dynamics, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said. “These include food price spikes, movement restrictions that limit market and pastoralists activities alike, rising inflation, decreased purchasing power, and an early and prolonged lean season” for crops.
FAO and WFP said South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria remain at the highest alert level, joined for the first time by Ethiopia because of Tigray and southern Madagascar.
In South Sudan, they said, “famine was most likely happening in parts of Pibor county between October and November 2020, and was expected to continue in the absence of sustained and timely humanitarian assistance” while two other areas remain at risk of famine.
“In Yemen, the risk of more people facing famine-like conditions may have been contained, but gains remain extremely fragile,” the UN agencies said. “In Nigeria, populations in conflict-affected areas in the northeast may be at risk of reaching catastrophic food insecurity levels.”
Nine other countries also have high numbers of people facing “critical food insecurity” coupled with worsening drivers of hunger — Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan and Syria, the report said.
Six countries have been added to the hotspot list since the agencies’ March report — Chad, Colombia, North Korea, Myanmar, Kenya and Nicaragua, it said. Three other countries also facing acute food insecurity are Somalia, Guatemala and Niger, while Venezuela wasn’t included due to lack of recent data, it said.
In Afghanistan, FAO and WFP said 3.5 million people are expected to face the second-highest level of food insecurity, characterized by acute malnutrition and deaths, from June to November. They said the withdrawal of US and NATO forces as early as August could lead to escalating violence, additional displaced people and difficulties in distributing humanitarian assistance.
In reclusive North Korea, which is under tough UN sanctions, the agencies said “concerns are mounting over the food security situation ... due to strained access and the potential impact of trade limitations, which may lead to food gaps.” While data is “extremely limited,” they said recent figures from the country’s Central Bureau o Stations and an FAO analysis “highlight a worrying cereal deficit.”