North Korea: ‘All recovered’ after COVID-19 outbreak

North Korea: ‘All recovered’ after COVID-19 outbreak
North Korean state media have meticulously reported the official number of cases, deaths, treatments and recoveries every day since its coronavirus outbreak. (KCNA via KNS/AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2022

North Korea: ‘All recovered’ after COVID-19 outbreak

North Korea: ‘All recovered’ after COVID-19 outbreak
  • Isolated country has maintained a rigid coronavirus blockade since the start of the pandemic
  • North Korea refers to ‘fever patients’ rather than ‘COVID-19 patients’ in case reports

SEOUL: North Korea reported zero fever cases Friday for a seventh straight day, state media said, adding that everyone who had fallen sick since the country confirmed its first COVID-19 infections had recovered.
The isolated country, which has maintained a rigid coronavirus blockade since the start of the pandemic, announced an omicron outbreak in the capital Pyongyang in May and activated a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system.”
State media have meticulously reported the official number of cases, deaths, treatments and recoveries every day since, with leader Kim Jong Un putting himself front and center of the government’s response.
North Korea refers to “fever patients” rather than “COVID-19 patients” in case reports, apparently due to a lack of testing capacity.
“No new fever cases were reported during the past week and all those receiving treatment have recovered across the country,” the official KCNA reported Friday.
“The overall anti-epidemic situation of the DPRK has entered a definite phase of stability,” the report added.
The country will continue to strengthen its monitoring of “new COVID-19 sub-variants and various diseases” and can still mobilize medical workers “in case of a crisis,” it added.
North Korea has recorded nearly 4.8 million infections since late April with just 74 deaths for an official fatality rate of 0.002 percent, KCNA has reported.
The country has one of the world’s worst health care systems, with poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no COVID-19 treatment drugs or vaccines, experts say.
In contrast, South Korea — with its advanced health care systems and highly vaccinated population — has a reported COVID-19 fatality rate of 0.12 percent, according to official data.
“It is hard to believe any country if they say that the confirmed number of patients has suddenly gone to zero,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean studies scholar, said.
“Like its military weapons and nuclear programs, it seems right to say that COVID is also being used to highlight Kim Jong Un’s leadership and shore up loyalty, regardless of what the truth is.”
Pyongyang said in late May it had started seeing “progress” in controlling the outbreak but experts, including the World Health Organization, have repeatedly cast doubt on the claim.
North Korea is not believed to have vaccinated any of its roughly 25 million people, having rejected jabs offered by the WHO’s Covax program.
The Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported that North Korea imported 3,554 invasive ventilators from China in June, sharply up from April, despite an overall decrease in trade.
But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said that Pyongyang’s claim to have brought the epidemic under control seemed “somewhat reliable.”
Things could be getting back to normal as “there are no signs of tighter border control, no official request has been made to Beijing for medical aid or equipment, and Pyongyang-based diplomats remain in place,” he said.


Chad and rebels sign peace deal

Chad and rebels sign peace deal
Updated 16 sec ago

Chad and rebels sign peace deal

Chad and rebels sign peace deal
  • The agreement also includes participation in a national, inclusive dialogue
DOHA: Chad’s transitional authorities and rebel groups signed a peace agreement in Doha on Monday ahead of a broad national reconciliation dialogue later this month.
The agreement also included the participation in a national, inclusive dialogue.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, speaking at the signing, called on groups that had not signed to join the agreement.

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
Updated 58 min 22 sec ago

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
  • Arbery’s killing became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people
  • A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder

SAVANNAH: Months after they were sentenced to life in prison for murder, the three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for federal hate crimes committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man.
US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who blasted Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbor.
Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020, became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the Justice Department bringing federal charges.
When they return to court Monday in Georgia, McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face possible life sentences after a jury convicted them in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three face were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.
Whatever punishments they receive in federal court could ultimately prove more symbolic than anything. A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.
All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of US marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.
Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.
In a court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a US Justice Department investigation focused on violence between inmates.
Arbery’s family has insisted the McMichaels and Bryan should serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as tough. His parents objected forcefully before the federal trial when both McMichaels sought a plea deal that would have included a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea agreement.
A federal judge doesn’t have the authority to order the state to relinquish its lawful custody of inmates to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta lawyer and former US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He said the judge could request that the state corrections agency turn the defendants over to a federal prison.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery had been stealing from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery’s family has long insisted he was merely out jogging.
Still, more than two months passed before any charges were filed in Arbery’s death. The McMichaels and Bryan were arrested only after the graphic video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.
During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Arbery’s killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about Black people. A woman testified to hearing an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015 in which he said: “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Defense attorneys for the three men argued the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t pursue Arbery because of his race but acted on an earnest — though erroneous — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.


Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says
Updated 08 August 2022

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says
  • Grains shipment part of a deal to unblock Ukrainian sea exports

ISTANBUL: Two more grain-carrying ships have sailed from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, as part of a deal to unblock Ukrainian sea exports.
The Sacura, which departed from Yuzni, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, it said, while the Arizona, which left Chernomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.


Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
Updated 08 August 2022

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
  • Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app
  • Under the new system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will cut mandatory hotel quarantine for international arrivals from one week to three days from Friday, Chief Executive John Lee announced in an easing of COVID-19 restrictions that have severely curbed travel.
Once a global logistics and transportation hub, Hong Kong has been largely cut off from the rest of the world for more than two years under its strict adherence to China’s zero-COVID policy.
Under some of the world’s tightest pandemic rules, Hong Kong had required overseas and Taiwan arrivals to undergo seven days of mandatory quarantine and repeated testing while confined to a room in a designated hotel, a restriction that residents and the business community complained had deterred them from traveling.
Lee, Hong Kong’s ex-security chief turned city leader, announced Monday that the quarantine period for arrivals would be shortened to three days’ hotel quarantine plus four days of health monitoring at home or a hotel of their choice.
“We hope to maintain livelihood activities and Hong Kong’s competitiveness, and to give the society the best development momentum and economic vitality,” Lee said.
He denied the easing signalled any departure from China’s policy.
“Staying in touch with the outside world and working to resume quarantine-free travel with the mainland are no contradiction,” he said.
Alongside the new quarantine arrangements, Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app.
Under the system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine.
Overseas arrivals will be given a yellow code and will not be allowed in places such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and cinemas during their four days of self monitoring.


China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan
Updated 29 min 15 sec ago

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan
  • Confirms fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses

TAIPEI: China’s military announced fresh military drills on Monday in the seas and airspace around Taiwan — a day after the scheduled end of its largest ever exercises to protest against last week’s visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations — confirming the fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, which regards the self-ruled island as its own and responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, as well as ditching some lines of dialogue with Washington.

The duration and precise location of the latest drills is not yet known, but Taiwan has already eased flight restrictions near the six earlier Chinese exercise areas surrounding the island.

Shortly before the latest drills were announced, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, telling him she was moved by his determination to visit despite China’s military pressure. “Prime Minister Gonsalves has expressed in recent days that the Chinese military drills would not prevent him from visiting friends in Taiwan. These statements have deeply touched us,” Tsai said at a welcome ceremony for Gonsalves in Taipei.

It was unclear if Tsai had invited Gonsalves before or after Pelosi’s visit. “We don’t disclose internal planning or communications between governments,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said.

Beyond the firing of 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, Chinese warships, fighter jets and drones maneuvered extensively around the island.

Shortly before those drills ended on Sunday, about 10 warships each from China and Taiwan maneuvered at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones had simulated attacks on the island and its navy. It said it had sent aircraft and ships to react “appropriately.”

China’s defense ministry meanwhile maintained its diplomatic pressure on the United States, defending its shelving of military-to-military talks in protest at Pelosi’s visit.

“The current tense situation in the Taiwan Strait is entirely provoked and created by the US side on its own initiative, and the US side must bear full responsibility and serious consequences for this,” defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in an online post.

“The bottom line cannot be broken, and communication requires sincerity,” Wu said.

China called off formal talks involving theater-level commands, defense policy co-ordination and military maritime consultations on Friday as Pelosi left the region.

Pentagon, State Department and White House officials condemned the move, describing it as an irresponsible over-reaction.

China’s cutting of some of its few communication links with the US military raises the risk of an accidental escalation over Taiwan at a critical moment, according to security analysts and diplomats.

One US official noted that Chinese officials had not responded to calls from senior Pentagon officials amid the tensions last week, but that they did not see this as a formal severing of ties with senior figures, such as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Asked directly about those reports, defense ministry spokesman Wu said, “China’s relevant counter-measures are a necessary warning to the provocations of the United States and Taiwan, and a legitimate defense of national sovereignty and security.”