South Korea’s coronavirus surge exceeds 7,000 for third straight day

South Korea’s coronavirus surge exceeds 7,000 for third straight day
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said health workers confirmed three more omicron infections on Friday, brining the tally to 63. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 December 2021

South Korea’s coronavirus surge exceeds 7,000 for third straight day

South Korea’s coronavirus surge exceeds 7,000 for third straight day
  • Officials tightened restrictions starting Monday, banning private social gatherings of seven or more people in the greater capital area

SEOUL: New coronavirus infections in South Korea exceeded 7,000 for the third consecutive day on Friday in a record-breaking surge that has crushed hospitals and threatens the country’s goals to weather the pandemic without lockdowns.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during a virus meeting that the country could be forced to take “extraordinary” measures if the virus doesn’t slow soon. Officials issued administrative orders requiring hospitals around the country to designate 2,000 more beds combined for COVID-19 treatment.
Kim said the government will also speed up the administration of booster shots by shortening the interval period between the second and third vaccine injections from the current four or five months to three months starting next week.
The delta-driven spread in recent weeks has been accompanied by a spike in hospitalizations and deaths, many among people in their 60s or older whose immunities have waned after being inoculated early in the vaccine rollout that began in February.
Officials tightened restrictions starting Monday, banning private social gatherings of seven or more people in the greater capital area and requiring adults to verify their vaccination status at restaurants and other indoor venues. But Kim said such measures haven’t yet showed an effect in slowing transmissions.
“If it becomes clear that we aren’t succeeding in reversing this crisis situation within the next few days, the government will have no other choice but to employ extraordinary anti-virus measures, including strong social distancing,” said Kim, South Korea’s No. 2 behind President Moon Jae-in.
Deputy Health Minister Lee Ki-il said officials may further reduce the limit on social gatherings and restore business-hour restrictions at restaurants and bars that were lifted in November if things continue to look bad next week.
“We will try our best to avoid a lockdown,” Lee said during a briefing.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said around 5,300 of the 7,022 new cases reported Friday were from capital Seoul and the nearby metropolitan area, where the virus has hit hardest. The country’s death toll is now at 4,130 after 53 virus patients died in the past 24 hours, while 852 others were in serious or critical conditions.
South Korea has also tightened its borders to fend off the new omicron variant since identifying its first cases last week that were linked to arrivals from Nigeria. The KDCA said health workers confirmed three more omicron infections on Friday, bringing the tally to 63.
Scientists say it’s not yet clear whether omicron is more contagious or dangerous than previous strains of the virus.


UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told
Updated 37 min 50 sec ago

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told

UN unequivocal about right of Afghan girls to education, World Economic Forum told
  • Steiner said first thing that must be reestablished in country is “a rule of law in the sense of fundamental rights”
  • He added that the most urgent priority is saving Afghanistan’s economy from collapse

LONDON: The UN is clear about the human rights it expects authorities in Afghanistan to uphold, one of which is the right of girls to education, an official from the organization said on Monday.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Achim Steiner, the administrator of the UN Development Program, said that girls in the country should be free to complete their education and pursue careers.
The UN “is unequivocal about the fundamental human rights that we expect a country like Afghanistan to uphold and to respect and that includes … the right of girls to attend educational institutions,” he said. “And not just primary school but also secondary school, and their ability to pursue careers and to go to university.
“It is without doubt a grave misjudgment that up to now the Taliban have not fulfilled the commitment that they have repeatedly made to their own public, but also to the international community, that they would reopen the secondary schools” to girls, Steiner added.
The Taliban has barred girls from attending school after the sixth grade, reversing previous promises made by Taliban officials when they took control of the country last year that girls of all ages would be allowed to continue their education.
The group has placed other strict restrictions on females, including ordering all women to wear clothing in public that covers them head to toe with only their eyes visible. They also issued a decree stating that women should leave their homes only when necessary and that male relatives would face punishment for any violations of the women’s dress code, starting with a summons and escalating to court hearings and jail time.
Steiner said the first thing that must be reestablished in the country is “a rule of law in the sense of fundamental rights.” He added: “I think this is perhaps the greatest single litmus test that the international community holds up to the Taliban — and I think quite rightly.”
However, Steiner warned that the most urgent need in Afghanistan is action to save its economy from complete collapse.
“We cannot abandon 40 million Afghans simply on the principle of moral outrage,” he said. “That is why the UN stepped back into Afghanistan and became the backbone of an international community’s presence.
“We are there because we see the desperation of the Afghan people. And while the international community finds a way with the Taliban to conclude a process of political rapprochement, we are trying to essentially intervene in an economy that has to keep people alive.”
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan nine months ago following the withdrawal of US troops triggered an economic crisis. Underpinning this was the decision of the Biden administration to freeze about $9.5 billion deposited by the Afghan central bank in American financial institutions.
President Joe Biden has signed an order to release $7 billion of these frozen assets but only half will be released for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. The remainder will go to the families of Sept. 11 victims.


UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies
Updated 23 May 2022

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies

UN Security Council explores pros and cons of new digital technologies
  • The latest tech has benefited human rights work and efforts to battle bigotry and racism but malicious use has quadrupled in seven years, UN official said
  • Rosemarie DiCarlo called on members to build a consensus on the use of digital technologies for the good of people and the planet, and on addressing the risks

NEW YORK: Digital technologies have profoundly transformed every facet of society. They offer endless opportunities for development, education and social inclusion, and are transforming the process of advocacy on issues such as human rights and humanitarianism, making it possible to mobilize large numbers of people around the world quickly around important topics that require urgent attention.

However, technological advances are also increasingly being misused by governments and terrorist groups to cause instability and exacerbate conflicts, including through the online spread of disinformation and hate speech.

These were among the main points made by Rosemarie DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs on Monday during a Security Council meeting on technology and security. It was the second signature event organized by the US delegation, which holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, after a debate last week about conflict and food security.

The Security Council has become increasingly involved in efforts to address cybersecurity issues and the role of information and communication technologies in influencing and shaping events in modern societies. The UN has also been working to leverage digital technologies to enhance its work in the field.

During a briefing at the start of the American presidency of the council, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, said that the issue is “a new and important focus for the Security Council” and that “it is long past time for the council to fully grapple with the impact of digital technologies.”

DiCarlo said that digital tools are helping to strengthen the UN’s information-gathering and early-warning capacities in many places. In Yemen, for example, the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement has used mapping, geographic information systems and satellite technology tools to enhance its monitoring of the ceasefire in the governorate.

New technologies have also helped to remove barriers to access for groups that traditionally have been excluded from political and mediation processes and, therefore, have helped to promote inclusion, DiCarlo said. She gave as an example of this the digital discussions conducted with thousands of Libyans from all walks of life, which were broadcast on TV and social media.

“This effort increased the legitimacy of the process, as different communities saw that their voices could be heard,” she added.

Similarly, in Yemen digital technologies have enabled the UN’s special envoy to engage with hundreds of women across the country, DiCarlo said, “which provided insight on the gender dimensions of the war.”

However, she also warned that incidents involving the malicious use of digital technologies for political or military ends have quadrupled since 2015, and said that activities targeting infrastructure that helps to provide essential public services is particular concern.

A report by the UN Secretary General published in May 2020 noted that new technologies were too often used for surveillance, repression, censorship and online harassment, and called for greater efforts to develop guidance on how human rights standards apply in the digital age.

The UN Human Rights Council last month adopted a resolution concerning the role of states in countering the negative effects of disinformation on human rights. It called on members to refrain from conducting or sponsoring disinformation campaigns.

“Non-state actors are becoming increasingly adept at using low-cost and widely available digital technologies to pursue their agendas,” DiCarlo said.

“Groups such as (Daesh) and Al-Qaida remain active on social media, using platforms and messaging applications to share information and communicate with followers for the purposes of recruitment, planning and fundraising.”

Referring to the pernicious use of technology by “super-empowered, non-state actors,” Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, said that commercially available drones are now capable of flying faster, traveling greater distances, carrying larger payloads and leveraging artificial intelligence and other tools to operate without manual control.

“Drones do not just operate in the air,” she said. “On March 3, 2020, the Houthi terrorist group used a remotely operated drone boat laden with explosives to attack an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

“If successful, the attack would have had devastating effects not only on the tanker and the crew but on the environment, on local supply routes and on communities along the Yemeni coast who depend on the sea for their livelihood.”

The misuse of social media can also fuel polarization and violence, spread disinformation, radicalization, racism and misogyny, DiCarlo said.

She also expressed concern about the increasing use of internet shutdowns in times of active conflict which, she said, “deprive communities of their means of communication, work and political participation.”

She called on member states to seize what she described as a critical opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used for the good of people and the planet, while addressing their risks.


Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel

Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel
Updated 23 May 2022

Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel

Global economic impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine to be felt for years: WEF panel
  • Former Finnish PM Alexander Stubb: Zelensky can’t give up, and it’s much easier to defend your country and your identity than to attack
  • Alexander Stubb: The Russian military is surprisingly weak, and it’s difficult for Putin to define a victory

DAVOS: The war in Ukraine is likely to continue impacting the economies of Europe and the wider world for years to come, former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said during a panel at the World Economic Forum on Monday.

Stubb said the global economy would feel the pinch as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially in terms of inflation, energy prices and food security.

While Vladimir Putin remains in power in Russia, Stubb said he could not see the return of an equilibrium between Moscow and Europe and that it would be hard for either the Russians or the Ukrainians to define a victory in the conflict.

“Zelensky can’t give up, and it’s much easier to defend your country and your identity than to attack,” he said. “The Russian military is surprisingly weak, and it’s difficult for Putin to define a victory,” he added.

“I think it has to be a territorial definition; for Putin, it’s only Donetsk, perhaps a little bit more, including Crimea.

“Whereas for Zelensky, he could never approve that. I don’t have an answer for when this is going to end.”

Stubb also said he believes that the driving force behind the war is Putin’s desire to make himself a great leader in Russian history.

Stubb’s co-panelist Karin von Hippel, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, said more definition was needed between Putin and the Russian people, calling the Ukraine invasion “Putin’s war.”

She continued: “It’s hard to say if he knows the truth about what’s really going on in Ukraine; we don’t know how far he’s willing to go.”

She said that under Russia’s leadership, Putin would not abandon the ideology that Ukraine should form part of Russia.

“No Western country can shake hands with him after this. Some may, but a large part can’t,” she added.

Von Hippel said that while she believed in global governance and was a supporter of the UN project, she felt “deeply disappointed” by its response to the Ukraine conflict, saying it had “failed” in its duty.

Samir Saran, president of the Observer Research Foundation, said he believed the developing world — in Asia, Africa and Latin America — should not be paying for what he called a war of European making. 

“When will the world start blaming the West for this inflation?” he asked, before concluding the moment would come sooner than European leaders think.

Saran also said that if a reported disconnect between Putin and the Russian people were to disappear and they were to fully supported the conflict, the consequences would be felt by the global economy for at least another decade.


WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis
Updated 23 May 2022

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis
  • Executive director of the UN World Food Programme David Beasley: We’ve got to get those fields (Ukraine) back operational, we’ve got to get those silos full again
  • UAE Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Mariam Al-Mheiri: Let’s keep markets open, the flow of food needs to keep flowing because if food does not flow we get famine

DUBAI: One third of the world’s food supply is wasted every year, which is why the world food crisis was one of the pressing topics discussed on the first day of panel discussions at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.

Panelist David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, said the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

“Because of this crisis, we are taking food from the hungry to give to the starving,” Beasley said.

He explained that if the port of Odessa in Ukraine doesn’t open, it will add to the complexity of the global problem. “We’ve got to get those fields back operational, we’ve got to get those silos full again.”

The WFP executive director said that failure to open the ports is a declaration of war on global food security.

When he took this job there were 80 million people close to starvation, he said. Right before COVID, it had risen to 135 million.

When the pandemic came along, the number shot up to 276 million people and has now increased to 325 million.

“Now here’s the most startling fact, out of that 276 or 325 million there are 49 million knocking on famine’s door in 43 countries, and those are the 43 countries we have got to be extremely concerned about,” he said.

The executive director of the WFP explained that if developed nations do not address the issue in the crisis-hit 43 countries it will result in famine, destabilization and mass migration.

Also participating in the talk was Mariam Al-Mheiri, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, who spoke about the responsibility of countries who are in a better position than others.

“Let’s keep markets open, the flow of food needs to keep flowing because if food does not flow we get famine,” she said. “In a way we are all somewhat to blame for where we are, one way or the other.”

She also urged nations to put in place more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by incorporating more food systems in their NDCs.

Philip Isdor Mpango, vice-president of the United Republic of Tanzania, agreed that actions on a national level are crucial to evade the global food crisis.

“We have to deal with the mega investments currently in agriculture,” he said. “We have to invest in irrigation, we have to invest in rural roads, we have to invest in smart agriculture, and we also have to deal with land allocation issues for larger scale cultivation.”

Beasley said that organizations and donor nations need to be more strategic with how they move into nations that need to improve productivity.

“Every 1 percent increase in hunger is a 2 percent increase in migration,” he said, concluding the session on the global food crisis.

WEF, held this year from May 22 to 26, is an annual meeting that allows Business, tech and political leaders from around the world to share insights and exchange expertise. This year’s conference was held in person for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.


Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023
Updated 23 May 2022

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023
  • The roadshow to Saudi Arabia is an ‘historic moment’ for the Thai tourism industry, says official 
  • Thailand will promote its luxury, health and wellness services to the Kingdom’s travelers

BANGKOK: Thailand is hoping to welcome 100,000 annual Saudi visitors by 2023, tourism officials said on Monday, as the country prepares to attract families, medical tourists and millennials from the Kingdom. 

Thai tourism officials last week held the “Amazing Thailand Roadshow to Saudi Arabia,” marking the Southeast Asian nation’s first tourism promotion campaign since the two kingdoms restored diplomatic ties in late January. 

Bilateral relations, which had stalled in the 1980s, were renewed following Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to Riyadh, which was the first senior leadership meeting between the two countries in over three decades. 

The two governments have since signed cooperation agreements to promote trade, investment and labor recruitment, with officials now set to enhance cooperation in the tourism industry. 

As part of its efforts to attract families, medical tourists and millennials from Saudi Arabia, Thailand is set to promote its luxury, health and wellness services, which officials from the Tourism Authority of Thailand identified as a “niche market.”

“In 2019, there were more than 30,000 visitors from Saudi Arabia to Thailand, and it is expected that the market will grow to 100,000 by 2023,” Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor for international marketing at the authority, told Arab News. 

Kunjara Na Ayudhya described last week’s roadshow, which had involved over 40 Thai stakeholders, as an “historic moment” for the Thai tourism industry. 

“Businesses such as hotels, tour agencies and hospitals received the booking immediately after the end of the event. It is a good sign of the growing Middle Eastern market,” Kunjara Na Ayudhya said. 

More than 2,000 Saudi tourists visited Thailand in March after Saudia launched its first direct flight between the kingdoms after bilateral ties were renewed. Kunjara Na Ayudhya said the number “has grown significantly” in recent months, adding that there were more than 4,700 Saudi travelers visiting between May 1 and 10.  

Thailand is currently the fifth most popular destination for Saudis, according to Riyadh-based online travel agency Almosafer. 

The Thai government will also expand its halal tourism promotion and is encouraging its provinces to have halal food centers, he added.  

Thai officials, in cooperation with Saudia, said they plan on inviting over 30 tourism agencies from the Kingdom to participate in next month’s 2022 Thailand Travel Mart in Phuket.

“It will be the first time that the agencies from Saudi Arabia will join the event in Thailand,” Kunjara Na Ayudhya said.