■ Hong Kong
Schoolchildren hit by virus
In a city braced nervously for a possible return of SARS this winter, more than 400 schoolchildren were treated yesterday for a mass outbreak of viral gastroenteritis. An emergency hotline was set up by the Department of Health as children at four schools spread out across the territory have been hit by the virus which causes severe vomiting, diarrhoea and fever. The outbreak signals that Hong Kong has entered the flu season when experts say there is the highest risk of a return of SARS.
Families and pets downsize
Houses built in Australia have doubled in size in the past 50 years but the family pet is just a quarter of what it was. Yes, the global fad for dinky dogs has hit the continent-sized country. The fun-size maltese terrier has taken over from the family-size labrador retriever as the companion of choice. The downsizing has been tracked by the New South Wales state government, which requires that dogs and cats be registered and microchipped. The miniaturization is not all that surprising. A plunging birth rate means the family has been miniaturized too.
Music swapping first
Three students in Sydney have been convicted of swapping music files over the Internet, in the first case of its kind in the world. The students, Charles Kok Hau Ng, 20, Peter Tran, 19, and Tommy Le, 21, pleaded guilty to 68 copyright infringement charges. Ng and Tran were both given 18-month suspended sentences, while Ng and Le were also given 200 hours of community service. The trio set up the MP3/WMA Land Web site which had an archive of 390 CDs and 1,800 tracks to download. Ng's lawyer, Chris Levingston, said the trio had made no financial gain and that the music industry had made no loss, although Australian police said the site could have cost the industry £24 million.
■ Hong Kong
Croc still on the loose
A crocodile that has eluded capture for nearly three weeks foiled an Australian expert yet again when it didn't bite on a special trap baited with mice, chicken heads and fatty pork. Croc farmer John Lever set the trap late Wednesday but the beast stayed away. Lever then hunted into the early hours of yesterday and reportedly spotted the croc again several times but was unable to bag his 1.2m prey. Even though the croc avoided the new trap -- equipped with sensitive doors that can close quickly -- officials will make a second similar one, said Viola Kwan, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. "Now it's a personal challenge," the South China Morning Post quoted Lever as saying.
S Korea wants POW
South Korea has asked China to release a man who says he is a South Korean taken captive by the North during the Korean War and who escaped to Chinese territory where he was arrested while trying to return home, an official said yesterday. "Apparently he is war prisoner, so we have requested that the Chinese authorities send him to South Korea," said an official at the South Korean embassy in Beijing who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are still negotiating." The man, Jun Yong-il, was arrested on Monday at Hangzhou Airport in eastern China while trying to board a plane to South Korea using a forged South Korean passport.
SARS screening eased
Canada is easing SARS screening at its international airports, including a halt in the use of thermal scanners to detect people with fever, Health Minister Anne McLellan announced Wednesday. The change comes more than five months after the last new case of severe acute respiratory syndrome was detected in Canada, where the disease killed 44 people and sickened more than 200 others in the Toronto area earlier this year. McLellan said the fever-detecting scanners could be quickly reinstalled if needed, but acknowledged the machines have limited effectiveness.
Drinking champ dies
Alexander Nakonechny triumphed at a vodka drinking marathon in Russia after guzzling three half-liter mugs of vodka in quick succession, but failed to collect his prize after dying on the spot. The weekend contest in the southwestern city of Volgodonsk also left four other male contestants fighting for their lives at the local hospital. Nakonechny's feat of winning the contest -- which earned him a prize of 10 bottles of vodka -- should have been cause for celebration. But prosecutors in Volgodonsk have slapped charges of causing death through negligence on the organizers of the drinking competition, who face
up to three years in jail if convicted.
■ United States
Time lists newsmakers
Major players in the Iraq war dominated the shortlist for Time magazine's Person of the Year award and film-star-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also made the cut, Time said. With most of the year's headlines about Iraq, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are all under consideration. Schwarzenegger is vying with them after an unprecedented election that recalled California Governor Gray Davis. The winner will appear on the cover of Time's Dec. 22 issue.
■ United States
Lewinsky's dating woes
Monica Lewinsky says her White House liaison is a liability on the dating scene. The intern infamous for her affair with former US president Bill Clinton said in next month's issue of GQ magazine that she dates occasionally but her romantic relationships have been short-lived. Lewinsky, 30, said, "If I were a guy and I'd heard all those things about a girl, I don't know that I'd want to take her out ... the one thing I don't do well with, with a guy, is ambivalence. I want to shake them and say, `C'mon, just like me! Do what I say!'"
■ United States
Elderly fish honored
Rome may be the Eternal City, but San Francisco could be home to an eternal fish. On Tuesday, aquarium officials at the Steinhart Aquarium honored an Australian lungfish, Methuselah, who arrived at the aquarium in 1938 as a fully grown adult. That makes it at least 65 years old. Aquarium officials had said Methuselah was the oldest fish in captivity, but learned they were mistaken on Wednesday. The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has a lungfish, Granddad, that arrived as an adult in 1933. An eel-like fish with large scales, the Australian lungfish is rare even in its native waters. Methuselah, who is one meter long and weighs about 18kg, is known for its sly grin.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete