Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations

Special Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations
Buddhist monks attend the Makha Bucha celebrations at Wat Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok on February 16, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 16 February 2022

Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations

Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations
  • Some believers take part in candlelit circle-around rituals at local temples
  • Makha Bucha Day celebrates and honors Buddha’s teachings

BANGKOK: Thai Buddhists marked Makha Bucha Day on Wednesday in subdued celebrations, with some returning to traditional candle lit circle-around rituals at local temples in the third year of observing one of the religion’s holiest days during a pandemic.

Hundreds of people visited Bangkok’s most frequented temples during the day, including Wat Pho, to commemorate Makha Bucha Day.

Nittaya Duangdao, a volunteer staff member at Wat Pho, expected fewer participants to turn out for Wian Tian during the evening, as “people may still be concerned about COVID-19.”

Wian Tian, which refers to the candlelit procession and circling around the temple, is one of the hallmark rituals of the holy day. Believers also typically take part in meditations, chanting and making offerings of food, among other good deeds.

“In the last two years, only the monks and staff in the temple were allowed to do the activity (during Makha Bucha Day),” Duangdao told Arab News.

In early 2020, as COVID-19 infections began surging around the world, temples across Thailand were prohibited from allowing celebrations for Makha Bucha Day. While some temples allowed people to take part in rituals on a smaller scale in 2021, this year saw an easing of restrictions.

Thailand’s Ministry of Culture announced this week that religious sites must subject visitors to mandatory mask wearing rules and impose one-hour limits on religious ceremonies.

Makha Bucha Day, which falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month annually, celebrates Buddha’s teachings and commemorates a gathering between the Buddha and 1,250 of his first disciples. The holiday is most celebrated in Thailand, as well as other Southeast Asian countries like Laos and Myanmar.

“As a Buddhist I feel that going to the temple and making merits makes me feel good, and I believe that it could bring a good thing to life,” Bowornluk Thongmark told Arab News.

Thailand on Wednesday reported more than 16,000 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number of daily infections in months, though still below its daily case peak of over 22,000. In the last three years, officials have encouraged believers to take part in online ceremonies to contain the spread of the disease.

The Dhammakaya Temple, located in the outskirts of Bangkok and known for its lantern ritual on Makha Bucha Day, created a metaverse link this year and invited adherents to commemorate the religious holiday online.

Though concerns for infections still linger in real life, Thongmark said: “At the end of the day, we will have to return to normal life.

“I think what we can do is to be careful to not spread the virus to others and be responsible to our community.”


Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations

Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations
Updated 7 sec ago

Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations

Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations

TOKYO: Celebrations for the “60th Algeria Independence Day and the 60th Anniversary Ceremony of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Japan and Algeria” were held at the Embassy of Algeria in Japan on Tuesday.

Taro Honda, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, sent a video message to the event.

Honda said he was very pleased to celebrate this memorable day with Ambassador Larbi Katy, noting that Algeria is a friend of Japan in politics, economy and culture. He stated that he would like to further strengthen relationships in various fields, in the future.

“We will continue to work on cooperation that contributes to the economic growth and diversification of Algeria, and further promote the traditional friendship and cooperation between the two countries in this milestone year,” Honda stated.

“On behalf of the Government of Japan, I would like to congratulate the Government of Algeria and its people on the occasion of the 60th Algerian Independence Day. In addition, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Algeria.”

The beginning of the relationship between Japan and Algeria dates back to 1962 before the independence of Algeria. After independence, many Japanese businessmen were engaged in oil and natural gas development.”

Honda also made reference to TICAD 8, which will be held in Tunisia on August 27 and 28: “As African countries seek to recover from the new corona, soaring food and energy prices are having a profound impact on Africa’s economy and society. Based on this situation, TICAD intends to discuss ways for Japan and Africa to create a sustainable world together.”

This story originally appeared on Arab News Japan


Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s
Updated 46 min 3 sec ago

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s
  • Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups
SYDNEY: Australia will offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine to everyone over 30, health authorities said Thursday, as hospitals bulge with patients in a winter wave of infections.
The government said it is recommending a fourth jab for over 50s — but also offering it to everyone over 30 despite benefits to the younger age group being unclear.
It followed a recommendation by the top immunization advisory body, which said it recognized younger people might want a winter booster dose, even though its impact for them “is uncertain but likely to be limited.”
Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups, including those with weakened immune systems.
As new, more infectious omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 race through the population, the number of Australian hospital patients with COVID-19 has jumped by more than 1,000 in a month to about 3,900, with 140 people now in intensive care.
“This is placing real pressure on our health and hospital systems,” Health Minister Mark Butler told a news conference as he announced the decision.
More than 95 percent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated in Australia, where few people now wear a mask or take measures to socially distance.
As restrictions are gradually dismantled in a country that previously shut its international borders for nearly 20 months to exclude the virus, Australia this week dropped all vaccine certificate requirements for foreign visitors.

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules
Updated 07 July 2022

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules
  • Hong Kong has banned more than 100 flights this year
  • Previously, airlines would be banned for five days if they brought in more than five people infected with the coronavirus

HONG KONG: Hong Kong has suspended a rule that banned individual flights for bringing in passengers infected with the COVID-19 virus, as it caused “unnecessary trouble” and inconvenience to residents of the global financial hub, the government said on Thursday.
The city has banned more than 100 flights this year. The bans were a major frustration for businesses and residents used to easy and efficient travel from the former British colony. Its removal paves the way for many residents to return home, with scores stranded overseas due to the flight bans. “The social cost caused by the ‘circuit breaker mechanism’ is quite large, and it also brings unnecessary trouble to these international students and their families,” the government said in a statement.
Previously, airlines would be banned for five days if they brought in more than five people infected with the coronavirus. Earlier this year flights were banned for up to two weeks, making it difficult for airlines to operate.
All arrivals are still required to quarantine for at least one week in a hotel.
The government said it was looking to “improve” quarantine arrangements, “to facilitate the movement of people necessary for social and economic recovery.”
Measures such as the flight bans and mandatory hotel quarantine have hammered Hong Kong’s competitiveness, said business executives who are hoping the city’s new leader, John Lee, will scrap the quarantine rules.
Lee needs to reboot the city, eight business leaders said, because Hong Kong’s border has effectively been sealed since 2020 and international arrivals are subject to stringent quarantine and testing protocols.


Singapore hangs drug traffickers despite opposition

Singapore hangs drug traffickers despite opposition
Updated 07 July 2022

Singapore hangs drug traffickers despite opposition

Singapore hangs drug traffickers despite opposition
  • Singapore is one of just four countries known to have executed people for drug-related offenses in recent years

KUALA LUMPUR: Two drug traffickers were hanged in Singapore on Thursday, bringing the number of executions this year in the city-state to four despite growing calls to abolish its death penalty.
Activists said the prison department handed the belongings and death certificates for Malaysian national Kalwant Singh and Singaporean Norasharee Gous to their families after their execution Thursday morning.
Amnesty International said Singapore is one of just four countries known to have executed people for drug-related offenses in recent years, going against a global trend toward abolishing the death penalty.
“Singapore has once again executed people convicted of drug-related offenses in violation of international law, callously disregarding public outcry,” said Emerlynne Gill, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for research.
“The death penalty is never the solution and we oppose it unconditionally. There is no evidence that it acts as a unique deterrent to crime,” Gill said in a statement.
Kalwant, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, was the second Malaysian to be executed in less than three months. In late April, the hanging of another Malaysian sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be mentally disabled.
Kalwant filed a last-minute appeal on the eve of his execution on grounds that he was a mere courier and that he had cooperated with police, but it was rejected by Singapore’s top court, activists said.
Critics say that Singapore’s death penalty has mostly snared low-level mules and done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates. But Singapore’s government defends it as necessary to protect its citizens.
“We urge the Singaporean authorities to immediately stop this latest wave of hangings and impose a moratorium on executions as a step toward ending this shameful and inhuman punishment,” Amnesty said.
Four others drug traffickers, including two more Malaysians, were scheduled to be hanged earlier but their executions were delayed pending legal challenges.


Shanghai chases karaoke COVID-19 cluster as China looks to curb outbreaks

Shanghai chases karaoke COVID-19 cluster as China looks to curb outbreaks
Updated 07 July 2022

Shanghai chases karaoke COVID-19 cluster as China looks to curb outbreaks

Shanghai chases karaoke COVID-19 cluster as China looks to curb outbreaks
  • Shanghai wants to prevent a repeat of the two-month lockdown that caused great economic loss and mental stress to its 25 million residents

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: Millions in Shanghai queued up for a third day of mass COVID-19 testing on Thursday as authorities in several Chinese cities scrambled to stamp out new outbreaks that have rekindled worries about growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
Local government officials across China were under pressure to prevent the disease from spreading to such degree that, under the country’s “dynamic zero COVID” strategy, would require major restrictions for a prolonged period of time.
Shanghai in particular wanted to prevent a repeat of the two-month lockdown that caused great economic loss and mental stress to its 25 million residents and disrupted global supply chains and international trade in April and May.
“A resurgence of omicron is not an issue in most other countries, but it remains a predominant issue for the Chinese economy,” Nomura analysts wrote in a note, referring to the highly transmissible COVID variant.
As China is “by far the largest manufacturing center in the world, any new waves of omicron are likely to have a non-negligible impact,” they added.
The latest outbreaks in China have weighed on global asset prices this week.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city, is racing to track and isolate infections linked to a building in which a karaoke lounge had re-opened illegally and a food-serving venue offered karaoke services without a license.
Authorities have revoked the licenses of the two businesses and fined them, the city government said on Wednesday. Two local officials were under investigation for failing to conduct proper supervision, it said.
Residents in many of Shanghai’s 16 districts had to comply with two compulsory tests between Tuesday and Thursday. But people need to take frequent tests on their own anyway if they want to enter shopping malls or use public transport.
Shanghai reported 54 new locally transmitted COVID cases for Wednesday, versus 24 the previous day.
Another 50 compounds and venues were locked down on Thursday in the commercial hub, taking the total to 81.
Overall, mainland China reported 338 new local COVID cases for Wednesday, down from 353, with no new deaths, numbers which most countries would now consider insignificant.
Most cases, 167 of them, were in the eastern Anhui province where more than 1 million people in small towns are locked down.
Beijing reported four new infections, down from six.
The capital for the first time on Wednesday mandated COVID vaccinations for most people to enter crowded venues such as libraries, cinemas and gyms, starting from July 11.
The town of Xinjiang in the northern Shanxi province, after finding one case arriving from Shanghai, has tested almost its entire 280,000 population, suspended taxis, ride hailing and bus services, and closed various entertainment venues.
In a different province, Shaanxi, which reported 4 new cases, the cultural and tourism authority requested travel agencies to cancel any group tours into parts of its capital Xian, famed for its Terracota Army.
The eastern Jiangsu province, which has canceled a major sporting event scheduled for November, reported 61 infections.
China has said its uncompromising COVID-19 policy, as opposed to a global trend of co-existing with the virus, was saving lives and the “temporary” economic costs were worth bearing.
Officials have pointed to the millions of COVID-linked deaths around the world, versus the 5,226 reported in China.
Analysts warn, however, that some costs may become permanent if China’s debt burden increases and if curbs lead to investors and talent reconsidering their presence in the country.
China is planning to set up a 500 billion yuan ($75 billion)state infrastructure fund to revive the economy, two people with knowledge of the matter said.