Hong Kong leader defends COVID-19 flight ban policy

Hong Kong leader defends COVID-19 flight ban policy
Temporary flight bans have been frequently invoked, throwing travel plans into chaos as residents scramble to book new routes and change mandatory hotel quarantine bookings. (AFP)
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Updated 07 April 2022

Hong Kong leader defends COVID-19 flight ban policy

Hong Kong leader defends COVID-19 flight ban policy
  • City’s airport was previously one of the world’s busiest but has been largely cut off throughout the pandemic
  • Six airlines including Emirates and Cathay Pacific have had routes banned this week

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s leader on Thursday defended her policy of temporarily banning flight routes that bring in coronavirus cases, as a leading airline industry figure warned the city had fallen “off the map” as an aviation hub.
The city’s airport was previously one of the world’s busiest but has been largely cut off throughout the pandemic as Hong Kong hews to China’s strict zero COVID-19 policy.
“Circuit breaker” rules mean any airline that brings in three or more infected passengers on a single flight is suspended from flying that route for seven days.
City leader Carrie Lam defended the policy on Thursday, saying flights were bringing in infections “probably because of the very relaxed approach adopted in many places” around the world.
Authorities have given some ground, lifting a complete flight ban on nine countries earlier this month following growing anger from the business community and Hong Kongers stranded overseas.
Lam said more than 1,000 residents have returned to Hong Kong daily this month, compared to just 200 a day previously.
“It is not right to say that this travel easing has no impact,” she said.
Her comments came as the director general of the International Air Transport Association, Willie Walsh, warned Hong Kong was “effectively off the map.”
“(Hong Kong) is going to lag significantly behind the recovery that we’re seeing elsewhere,” Walsh told reporters on Wednesday in quotes carried by Bloomberg News and the South China Morning Post.
Temporary flight bans have been frequently invoked, throwing travel plans into chaos as residents scramble to book new routes and change mandatory hotel quarantine bookings.
Six airlines including Emirates and Cathay Pacific have had routes banned this week.
Emirates’ Dubai-Bangkok-Hong Kong route has been suspended six times for a total of 77 days this year, according to Bloomberg.
Walsh said Hong Kong’s restrictions have been “very severe and have led directly to the cancelation of a lot of services, with airlines effectively finding it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to operate there.”
Last month 11 airlines and logistics giants sent a letter to the government calling for the removal of COVID-19 testing requirements for flight crews before take-off and on arrival.
Prior to the pandemic, Hong Kong’s airport hosted about 200,000 passengers a day.
But the finance hub — which dubs itself “Asia’s World City” — is now one of the world’s most isolated places.
Lam’s administration says there can be no change from zero-COVID-19 even though the controls proved largely ineffective this year when the omicron variant tore through.
Hong Kong has since recorded one of the world’s highest mortality rates from the virus.


Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News

Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News
Updated 21 min 53 sec ago

Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News

Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News

Chinese and Russian leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin will attend the G20 summit in Bali in November, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told Bloomberg News on Thursday.
“Xi Jinping will come. President Putin has also told me he will come,” Jokowi, as he is popularly known, told the news agency.
The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Indonesia presidential palace officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Indonesia is chairing the Group of 20 major economies and has faced pressure from Western countries to withdraw its invitation to Putin over his country’s invasion on Ukraine, which his government calls a “special military operation.”
Jokowi has sought to position himself as mediator between the warring countries, and has traveled to meet both Ukraine’s and Russia’s presidents. This week, Jokowi said both countries have accepted Indonesia as a “bridge of peace.”
Leaders of major countries, including US President Joe Biden, are set to meet in Indonesia’s resort island of Bali in November. Indonesia has also invited Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.


UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist

UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist
Updated 19 August 2022

UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist

UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist

Russia has failed to gain ground in cyberspace against Ukraine almost six months after its invasion of the country, the head of Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service said on Friday.
Jeremy Fleming, the intelligence head, in an op-ed in The Economist, wrote that both countries have been using their cyber capabilities in the war in Ukraine.
“So far, president Putin has comprehensively lost the information war in Ukraine and in the West. Although that’s cause for celebration, we should not underestimate how Russian disinformation is playing out elsewhere in the world,” Fleming wrote.
“Just as with its land invasion, Russia’s initial online plans appear to have fallen short. The country’s use of offensive cyber tools has been irresponsible and indiscriminate.”
Fleming said Russia had deployed WhisperGate malware to destroy and deface Ukrainian government systems.
He also said Russia has used the same playbook before on Syria and the Balkans and said online disinformation is a major part of Russia’s strategy. However, the GCHQ has been able to intercept and to provide warnings in time, he said.
Without going into much detail, Fleming said the UK’s National Cyber Force could respond to Russia by deploying a UK military unit that employs offensive cyber tools.


Brain-eating amoeba suspected in 2nd US Midwest death

Brain-eating amoeba suspected in 2nd US Midwest death
Updated 19 August 2022

Brain-eating amoeba suspected in 2nd US Midwest death

Brain-eating amoeba suspected in 2nd US Midwest death
  • People are usually infected when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose while swimming or diving into lakes and rivers

OMAHA, Nebraska: A child likely died from a rare infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in an eastern Nebraska river, health officials said, making it the second such probable death in the Midwest this summer and raising the question of whether climate change is playing a role.
The Douglas County Department of Health based in Omaha, Nebraska, reported Wednesday that doctors believe the child died of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a usually fatal infection caused by the naegleria fowleri amoeba. Health officials believe the child came into contact with the amoeba on Sunday while swimming in the Elkhorn River just west of Omaha.
Officials have not released the child’s identity.
Last month, a Missouri resident died of the same infection likely caused by the amoeba at Lake of Three Fires in southwestern Iowa. Iowa officials closed the lake’s beach as a precaution for nearly three weeks.
People are usually infected when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose while swimming or diving into lakes and rivers. Other sources have been documented, including tainted tap water in a Houston-area city in 2020. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea or vomiting, progressing to a stiff neck, loss of balance, hallucinations and seizures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says naegleria fowleri infections are rare — there are about three cases in the United States every year — but that those infections are overwhelmingly fatal.
There were 154 cases reported between 1962 and 2021 in the US, with only four survivors, according to the CDC. Of those, 71 cases were reported between 2000 and 2021. Texas and Florida recorded the most infections with 39 and 37 cases respectively, and the amoeba is typically found in southern states because it thrives in waters that are warmer than 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius).
But infections have migrated north in recent years, including two cases in Minnesota since 2010, Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsey Huse noted during a news conference Thursday.
“Our regions are becoming warmer,” she said. “As things warm up, the water warms up and water levels drop because of drought, you see that this organism is a lot happier and more typically grows in those situations.”
According to the National Water Information System, the surface water temperature near where the child was swimming was between 86 and 92 degrees.
Jacob Lorenzo-Morales, a researcher at the Universidad de La Laguna in the Canary Islands who has studied naegleria fowleri, said Thursday that an increase in infections since 2000 can be blamed on two factors: better knowledge and diagnosis of the disease, and the rising temperature in bodies of water providing “a perfect environment” for the amoeba to thrive.
Researcher Sutherland Maciver, who has studied the amoeba at the Center for Discovery Brain Sciences at Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland, says not all infections are reported and that the 430 cases that have ever been reported worldwide are almost certainly an undercount. And, he said, scientists cannot say with certainty that the Nebraska case is directly attributable to climate change.
The two researchers co-authored a paper titled “Is Naegleria fowleri an Emerging Parasite?” that examined factors behind the increase in reported cases.
Health officials recommend that freshwater swimmers plug their noses, avoid putting their heads underwater and avoid activities such as water skiing and tubing, which could force water into the nose, eyes or mouth. You cannot be infected by drinking contaminated water.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe
Updated 18 August 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to ask Japan to open talks with main creditors, says Wickremesinghe
  • Sri Lanka, a tear-shaped tropical country of 22 million people, is facing its most severe financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will ask Japan to invite the Indian Ocean island’s main creditor nations, including China and India, to talks on bilateral debt restructuring, as it seeks a way out of its worst economic crisis in decades, its president said on Thursday.

“Someone needs to call in, invite the main creditor nations. We will ask Japan to do it,” President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Reuters in an interview, adding that he would travel to Tokyo next month and hold talks with Japanese premier Fumio Kishida.

Sri Lanka, a tear-shaped tropical country of 22 million people, is facing its most severe financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948, resulting from the combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic mismanagement.

Left with scant foreign exchange reserves, stalling imports of essentials including fuel and medicines, ordinary Sri Lankans have been battling crippling shortages of months amid sky-rocketing inflation and a devalued currency.

Public anger stoked unprecedented mass protests, with thousands of people storming the colonial-era presidential residence in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo in early July, forcing then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa into hiding.

Protesters occupied the residence for days, some of them sleeping in the president’s bedroom and others frolicking in a swimming pool surrounded by manicured gardens.

Rajapaksa, a former military officer, then fled the country to Singapore and resigned, becoming the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term.

Wickremesinghe, who is also finance minister, said he will present an interim budget in September which won a parliamentary vote and took office as president on July 21. Local broadcaster Newsfirst, citing a former ambassador, said on Wednesday that Rajapaksa would return home next week.

Wickremesinghe said he was “not aware” of any such plans, speaking to Reuters at the presidential secretariat, part of which had also been occupied by protesters.

Besides seeking assistance from its allies, Sri Lanka is also negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan package worth between $2 billion and $3 billion, Wickremesinghe said.

Sri Lanka’s total bilateral debt was estimated at $6.2 billion at the end of 2020 by the IMF, according to a March report. An IMF team is expected to arrive in the country at the end of August to continue talks to reach a staff-level agreement.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister who is also finance minister, said he will present an interim budget in September which will focus on fiscal consolidation measures agreed with the IMF.

Expenditure will be slashed by a “few hundred billions” of rupees to channels funds for welfare and to repay high interest rates, he said.

Cuts will include defense, which has retained the highest budgetary allocation despite Singhalese-majority Sri Lanka ending a bloody civil war with Tamil rebels more than a decade ago.

The interim budget will be followed by a full-year budget for 2023, likely to be presented in November, where a broader recovery plan will be outlined.

“So, both those budgets will put out government policy. The first one on stabilization and the second one will look at recovery,” he said.

Overall, Wickremesinghe said he expects the economy, heavily reliant on tourism and tea, to see a recovery in the second half of 2023, reaching a revenue surplus of about 3 percent by 2025.

“I think we are restructuring to make Sri Lanka a very competitive, export-oriented economy,” he said.


Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
Updated 18 August 2022

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
  • Victim appeals to Gujarat government to rescind decision to free her attackers
  • Convicts walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence

NEW DELHI: Indian women took to the streets of New Delhi on Thursday to protest the release of 11 Hindu men convicted of raping a Muslim mother and killing seven members of her family during religious riots in 2002.

The anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat are widely viewed as some of the worst instances of religious unrest in the predominantly Hindu country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister when the violence that killed more than 1,000 people — most of them Muslims — broke out.

The decision to free the 11 convicts after they served 14 years in jail was announced by the Gujarat government on Monday, despite the men being sentenced to life terms. Videos that went viral on social media showed the men welcomed with sweets and garlands when they walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence.

Bilkis Bano was 19 and pregnant with her second child when she was brutally gang raped. The seven family members killed by the assailants included her three-year-old-daughter.

In a statement released by her legal representative on Wednesday night, Bano said that the decision to free the men left her numb and has shaken her faith in justice, as she appealed to the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in peace.

“How can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land,” she said. “My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”

The convicts’ release has raised questions over the government’s stance on women in a country with a notorious gender-based violence record. “We are telling the government that this is not what the women’s movement is going to accept and we are demanding from the Home Ministry of India that this remission by the Gujarat government be revoked, and the convicts be sent back to jail,” Maimoona Molla from All India Democratic Women Association told Arab News from a protest site in the Indian capital.

“If the Home Ministry does not act, then the Supreme Court must take suo moto action and restore women’s dignity, and ensure safety and security for women in India.”

Kawalpreet Kaur, an activist from the All India Students Union, who was also protesting in Delhi, said that the “selective discretion by the Gujarat government to release the rape and murder convicts” has sparked outrage and disillusionment.

“The prime minister in his Independence Day message said that women should come out and women’s dignity and equality should be guaranteed,” Kaur said. “Immediately after that we see that those convicted of such a heinous crime are being released.”

Annie Raja, secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, said that the release of the 11 convicts was also a “blatant demonstration of majoritarianism” and a warning to India’s Muslim community.

“This is a warning for all those who stand for human rights, justice, democracy and secularism,” she told Arab News.

The Gujarat government’s decision has also created uproar among Indian politicians.

“The prime minister spoke big things about women’s safety, women’s power, women’s respect,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera told reporters. “A few hours later the Gujarat government released those behind the rape. We also saw that the convicts in the rape who were released are being honored.”

K. T. Rama Rao, industry minister of the southern state of Telangana, said that the order to release the rapists was “nauseating,” as he took to Twitter to appeal to the Indian prime minister to intervene and rescind the Gujarat government’s remission order, and “make necessary amendments to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure suitably so that no rapist can get a bail through judiciary.”

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