The Chinese State Council plans to launch a probe after the death toll from flooding in Henan Province surged from 99 to 302, according to official media reports. The State Council decided to carry out a “comprehensive and objective assessment” of Henan’s disaster response, which is to be led by the Chinese Ministry of Emergency Management, in a bid to improve disaster prevention and relief, Xinhua News Agency said. The probe would also “hold anyone responsible for dereliction of duty,” the report said. The majority of deaths occurred in the provincial capital, Zhengzhou, where 292 people were killed after torrential waters led to landslides, buildings collapsing and the flooding of underground spaces, the Henan Daily reported. Fifty people are missing across the province, including 47 in Zhengzhou. According to the official tally, 14 people drowned in submerged subway cars, while another six were killed in a swamped tunnel. The deaths prompted residents to ask whether the city government had failed to warn the public, shut down transportation in advance and provide timely rescue efforts. Zhengzhou, a city of 10 million, received a year’s worth of rain in just three days last month, starting July 20. Across Henan — a hub for agricultural and food production, coal and metals as well as heavy industry — more than 14.53 million people were affected, and direct economic losses reached 114.3 billion yuan (US$17.68 billion), the provincial government said. The flood-battered city now faces the challenge of battling a COVID-19 outbreak. It reported a total of 63 infections by Monday evening, including 50 people who were tested positive but have no symptoms, the Zhengzhou government said in a briefing. It has also been conducting city-wide nucleic acid tests since Sunday, after a cluster of SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant infections were found at a local hospital. The director of the
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has appeared in the past few days with a bandage about the size of a few postage stamps on the back of his head, in the latest episode to stoke speculation about his health. The bandage was visible in state media images when Kim appeared at a Korean People’s Army event from July 24 to Tuesday last week, the NK News Web site and Chosun Ilbo newspaper said. There were also images at events late last month in which the bandage was gone and a greenish spot was visible, they said, citing a review of North Korean state media. While the leader’s health is one of the mostly closely guarded secrets in North Korea, it has allowed rare glimpses into the 37-year-old leader’s condition as he tries to revive the economy and battle food shortages. State propaganda has for decades portrayed the supreme leader as being so people-focused that they risk their own well-being. In June, state media cited a citizen as saying that North Koreans broke down in tears over seeing a dramatically thinner Kim, who returned to the public eye having lost weight after being absent for most of May. Kim keeps his hair shaved below the level of his temple, making it difficult to hide any blemishes on the back of his head. By releasing the images to the outside world, North Korea provided fodder for spy agencies looking for clues about Kim’s health. The South Korean National Intelligence Service believes there have been no unusual signs regarding Kim’s health, the Yonhap News Agency reported yesterday. It cited lawmakers who had been briefed by the spy agency, which added that the patch was removed after a few days and there was no scar. NK News, a speciality service focusing on the country, said there was no mark on
In a rarely seen phenomenon in the simian world, a nine-year-old female known as Yakei has become the boss of a 677-strong troop of Japanese macaque monkeys at a nature reserve on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Yakei’s path to the top began in April when she beat up her own mother to become the alpha female of the troop at the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden in the city of Oita. While that would have been the pinnacle for most female monkeys, Yakei decided to throw her 10kg weight around among the males. In late June, she challenged and roughed up Sanchu, the 31-year-old alpha male who had been leader of “troop B” at the reserve for five years. Surprised wardens at Takasakiyama, where there has never been a female monkey boss in the reserve’s 70-year history, carried out a “peanut test” on June 30, putting out nuts for the group and seeing who ate first. Sanchu backed away and gave Yakei first dibs on the treat, confirming her alpha status. “Since then, Yakei has been climbing trees and shaking them, which is an expression of power and a very rare behavior in females,” said Satoshi Kimoto, a guide at Takasakiyama. “She has been walking around with her tail up, which is also very unusual for a female,” Kimoto said, adding that staff at the reserve were at a loss as to the causes of Yakei’s dominant antics. Takasakiyama, established as a reserve for monkeys in 1952, is home to about 1,500 macaques, split between troop A and troop B. The monkeys live mainly in the forested mountain at the center of the reserve, roaming freely and coming down to lower ground for food provided by wardens. The wild population of Japanese macaques is estimated to be more than 100,000 and spread across three of Japan’s
PROBABLY MORE: A Twitter account created by the Ethiopian government called the reports of bodies a fake campaign by ‘propagandists’ in the Tigray forces
Local authorities in Sudan’s Kassala state have found about 50 bodies, apparently people fleeing the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, floating in the river between the countries over the past week, some with gunshot wounds or their hands bound, a Sudanese government official said. A forensic investigation is needed to determine the causes of death, the Sudanese official said on condition of anonymity on Monday. Two Ethiopian health workers in the Sudan border community of Hamdayet confirmed seeing the bodies found in the Setit River, which is known as the Tekeze in Ethiopia. The river flows through some of the most troubled areas of the nine-month conflict in Tigray, where ethnic Tigrayans have accused Ethiopian and allied forces of atrocities while battling Tigray forces. Two of the bodies were found on Monday: a man with bound hands and a woman with a chest wound, said surgeon Tewodros Tefera, who fled the Tigray city of Humera to Sudan. Fellow refugees have buried at least 10 other bodies, he added. He shared a video of men appearing to prepare a shroud for a body floating face-down in the river. Tewodros said that the bodies were found downstream from Humera, where authorities and allied fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have been accused by refugees of forcing out local Tigrayans during the war, while claiming that western Tigray is their land. “We are actually taking care of the bodies spotted by fishers,” Tewodros said. “I suspect there are more bodies in the river.” While it was difficult to identify the bodies, one had a common name in the Tigray language, Tigrinya, tattooed on his arm, the surgeon said. Another doctor working in Hamdayet who saw the bodies said that some of the corpses had facial markings indicating that they were ethnic Tigrayans. “I saw a lot of barbaric things,” said the doctor, who spoke on
A missing Belarusian human rights advocate has been found hanged in a park in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, police said yesterday, adding that they had opened a murder investigation. Shishov headed the Belarusian House in Ukraine, a non-governmental organization helping his compatriots flee repression in Belarus. “Vitaly Shishov, who had gone missing in Kiev yesterday, was today found hanged in one of the Kiev parks, not far from where he lived,” police said in a statement. Police said that they had opened a murder probe and would pursue all leads, including a possible “murder disguised as a suicide.” Shishov went jogging in Kiev on Monday morning, but did not return and could not be reached. On Telegram, human rights organization Vyasna quoted Shishov’s friends as saying that he had been followed by “strangers” while jogging. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been cracking down on any form of dissent since mass protests erupted after last year’s elections, deemed unfair by the West. Many Belarusians have fled, often to Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania. Shishov’s death came as Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said over the weekend that she was forced to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics and threatened with forced repatriation for criticizing her athletics federation. The sprinter, who was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland on Monday, said that she feared being jailed if she returned to her country. Her husband, Arseny Zdanevich, on Monday said that he had fled from Belarus to Ukraine, and hoped to join his wife “in the near future.” In May, Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania so that a dissident onboard could be arrested.
Radwa, a 27-year-old Egyptian woman, said that her blood ran cold when her ex-boyfriend threatened to send nude photographs of her to her parents in revenge for their breakup. In socially conservative Egypt, the sharing of intimate images can have dire consequences for victims — from public shaming to being thrown out of their homes. “I was so terrified,” said Radwa, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. Cases of “sextortion,” involving threats to share private pictures, have been increasing around the world over the past few years. Many of the victims are women and girls targeted by current or former partners seeking to humiliate or coerce them. When her ex’s threats began, Radwa confided in friends who pointed her to an online platform called Qawem, or “Resist,” which was launched a year ago. “I contacted them via Facebook. They offered psychological support, took all the information from me and did not ask for any photographs — just the written threats. Then, they dealt very strictly with the blackmailer,” Radwa said. “Their approach in dealing with the case gave me strength,” she said. Qawem was set up in the middle of last year by Mohmed Elyamani, a 35-year-old marketing manager and social media activist who wanted to help women confront the perpetrators and ensure that the images are destroyed. The crime can have tragic consequences. Last year, Elyamani was contacted by a 17-year-old who was being threatened by her ex-boyfriend. Elyamani urged her to go to the police, but the photographs were sent to the teenager’s brother and, a day later, she took her own life. “It was really tough for me. I felt very sad for the girl, but this encouraged me to launch a platform that can help other women who might be in the same situation,” Elyamani said.
JABS WORKING: Vaccination results in an eightfold reduction in disease incidence, and a 25-fold reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, cumulative data have shown
The US on Monday hit the government’s goal of administering at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 70 percent of adults almost a month late, as the newest wave of infections pushed hospitalizations to levels seen last summer. US President Joe Biden’s administration had initially targeted Independence Day on July 4 to reach the goal and declare victory over the worst of the pandemic, but falling vaccination rates, particularly in politically conservative regions, and among younger people, those with lower income and racial minorities, meant the objective was missed. While 60.6 percent of eligible adults and 49.7 percent of the total population are now fully vaccinated, the US has fallen behind its northern neighbor Canada, which started its immunization campaign later, but has now fully vaccinated 59 percent of its population. It comes as the US is being battered by a new wave of infections driven by the contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, which has sent national daily cases soaring to beyond 70,000, according to data that excludes unreliable weekend numbers. Across the nation, hospitals are seeing on average more than 6,200 daily COVID-19 admissions, while more than 300 people are dying every day. “These cases are concentrated in communities with lower vaccination rates,” White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters. “One in three cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas this past week,” he said. In a silver lining, states that lagged behind in their vaccination rates are now beginning to catch up, the latest data showed. The eight states with the highest current case rates have seen an average increase of 171 percent in their daily vaccination rate compared with three weeks ago, Zients said. They include Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Momentum is also picking up for vaccine mandates in the private sector, with Disney and Walmart implementing new requirements and incentives for
Japan is to hospitalize only COVID-19 patients who are seriously ill and those at risk of becoming so while others isolate at home, officials said, as worries grow about a strained medical system amid a surge in Olympics host city Tokyo and elsewhere. The nation has seen a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and is recording more than 10,000 daily new infections nationwide. Tokyo had a record high of 4,058 on Saturday. Tokyo hospitals are already feeling the crunch, Showa University Hospital director Hironori Sagara said. “There are those being rejected repeatedly for admission,” Sagara said in an interview. “In the midst of excitement over the Olympics, the situation for medical personnel is very severe.” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters fewer elderly people, most of whom are already vaccinated, are getting infected. “On the other hand, infections of younger people are increasing, and people in their 40s and 50s with severe symptoms are rising,” Kato said. “With people also being admitted to hospital with heat stroke, some people are not able to immediately get admitted and are recovering at home.” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who announced the change on Monday, said the government would ensure people isolating at home can be hospitalized if necessary. Previous policy had focused on hospitalizing a broader category of patients. However, some worry the shift could lead to more deaths. “They call it in-home treatment, but it’s actually in-home abandonment,” Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano was quoted as saying by NHK public television. Japan on Monday expanded its state of emergency to include three prefectures near Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka. An existing emergency in Tokyo — its fourth since the pandemic began — and Okinawa is now set to last until Aug. 31. The nation has avoided a devastating outbreak of the virus, with 946,504
Spending more time indoors and on screens because of COVID-19 restrictions could be linked to an increased rate of short-sightedness in children, researchers say. The study, which looked at two groups of children aged six to eight in Hong Kong, is the latest to suggest that lockdowns and other restrictions might have taken a toll on eyesight: data from more than 120,000 children of a similar age in China, published earlier this year, suggested a threefold increase in the prevalence of shortsightedness, or myopia, last year. Jason Yam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a coauthor of the new study, said “near work” — such as reading, writing or watching TV — is believed to be a risk factor for myopia, while increased outdoor time has been consistently shown to have a protective role. However, COVID-19 restrictions had kept many indoors. “In Hong Kong, schools were closed for months, and even recreational facilities such as playgrounds, sports grounds, and even outdoor campsites and country parks, were shut,” Yam said. Small living spaces and a paucity of private outdoor spaces meant that many families had no choice but to stay home or stay indoors. “Naturally, more time was spent on reading, watching television or using computers, smartphones or other digital devices,” he said. Writing in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, Yam and his colleagues reported how they recruited one group of schoolchildren in 2015, and another group between Dec. 1 2019 and Jan. 24 last year, when the pandemic began. The former group was followed up after three years, the latter after eight months. As well as carrying out eye examinations, the team asked children about the amount of time they spent outdoors and on screens, and doing other near work. The results, from 709 children in the pandemic-era group and 1,084 in the pre-pandemic-era group, revealed that short-sightedness was
PRESIDENTIAL PLEA: The announcement came hours after Emmanuel Macron appealed to people to get themselves vaccinated in a message on social media
France’s overseas territory of Guadeloupe is to return to partial lockdown for at least three weeks because of a “catastrophic” surge in COVID-19 cases, officials announced on Monday. The announcement comes days after Martinique, another French Caribbean island 190km to the south, returned to lockdown on Friday last week for at least three weeks, while the French island of Reunion entered a partial two-week lockdown at the weekend, including a 6pm to 5am overnight curfew. From this evening Guadeloupe is to return to an 8pm to 5am curfew, with travel during the day restricted to a 10km radius, Guadeloupe Prefect Alexandre Rochatte told journalists. ‘CATASTROPHIC’ The measures were “indispensable” to stop the surge in cases, he said. “We are in a catastrophic situation,” said Valerie Denux, director-general of Guadeloupe’s regional health agency. “We have passed 3,000 cases a week,” she said, adding that infections had multiplied by more than 10 over the past three weeks. Denux also appealed for help from any qualified medical professionals on the island — including those on holiday. While shops would stay open and restaurants would be able to serve at lunchtime, all bars, gyms, stadiums and swimming pools are to be closed. Nearly 53 percent of the French population has been fully vaccinated, and 63.5 percent have received one shot, but the figures are significantly lower in the French overseas territories. None of the 22 patients in intensive care in Guadeloupe had been vaccinated, Denux said. IN MOURNING Music fans are already mourning the death of Guadeloupean musician Jacob Desvarieux, the cofounder of Caribbean band Kassav’, who died of COVID-19 last week in a Pointe-a-Pitre hospital. News of the latest curfew announcement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to people to get themselves vaccinated in a social media message. He was speaking after an estimated 200,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday, many of them hostile
Hong Kong is to allow vaccinated tourists from all but 10 places in the world to enter the territory from Monday next week, a significant easing of some of the tightest border controls in the world. Vaccinated visitors from nations considered “medium risk” would be able to enter the territory for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, while Hong Kong residents from previously banned places such as the UK would be able to return home. Visitors and residents from medium risk nations must spend seven days in hotel quarantine after they arrive. They are also required to have a positive antibody test from a laboratory recognized by the government to prove they have been vaccinated. Antibody testing facilities at the airport would be available from the middle of this month, a government statement said. The easing also allows children who are not eligible for vaccination to leave hotel quarantine with their inoculated parents after seven days — though they must then self-isolate at home for another two weeks. The easing leaves only 10 places in the world, including the UK, India and Brazil, where non-residents remain banned. For these “high risk” places, only fully inoculated residents can return and they must serve a hotel quarantine period of 21 days. The Hong Kong government also dialed up the pressure on the local population to get vaccinated, saying that only schools that achieve a 70 percent vaccination rate among students can fully resume in-person teaching next month. Teachers must also get inoculated or go for regular testing at their own expense, officials said on Monday.
Experts talked about a cutting-edge treatment, cell and gene therapy, regarding how the treatment is manufactured and treats patients at a videoconference held by Bio Asia-Taiwan 2021 on July.23. CAR-T cell therapy, as one of cell and gene therapy types, is an individualized treatment designed specifically for each patient as it utilizes specifically-altered cells from patients to strengthen their immune system, Didier Dargent, Head of International Market for Cell and Gene of Novartis, told the videoconference. Novartis was the first company obtaining a marketing approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for its CAR-T therapy, corporate data showed. The CAR-T cell therapy requires collecting blood from patients and separating the blood to collect white blood cells to gain patient’s own T cells, which play an important role in human’s immune system as they recognize foreign particles in the body and fight them, Dargent said. The T cells would be reprogrammed, or genetically engineered, with an inactive viral vector and all other necessary information to produce a CAR on their surface; with the CAR, the T cells would be transformed into CAR-T cells and be able to target certain molecules on cancer cells and destroy them, Dargent said. In the final stage, the CAR-T cells would be infused back into the patients and have a better capability to detect and attack cancer cells, Dargent said. As CAR-T cells could multiply, they are described as “living drugs,” and CAR-T cell therapy is viewed as the combination of cell therapy, gene therapy and immunotherapy, the data showed. Unlike traditional pills that are produced in an one-way supply chain, sent from pharmaceutical companies’ factories to pharmacies or hospitals for the doctors’ use, CAR-T cell therapy adopts a closed-loop production, involving patients, cell processing and isolation stations, hospital team and Pharmaceutical company, Dargent said. While only qualified treatment centers can
‘MARRIAGE SQUEEZE’: Imbalance between the number of males and females in a population could lead to antisocial behavior and violence, an international study said
An estimated 4.7 million fewer girls are expected to be born globally in the next 10 years because of sex-selective practices in countries with a cultural preference for male offspring, a trend that could undermine social cohesion in the long term, research showed yesterday. The research suggested that the projected shortfall in the number of girls being born will lead to a surplus of young men in about one-third of the global population by 2030, which could lead to increased antisocial behavior and violence. Sex-selective abortions have been on the rise for the past 40 years in countries throughout southeast Europe along with South and East Asia, with as-yet undetermined demographic impacts. To model what short and long-term effect sex selection will have on societies, an international team of researchers analyzed data from more than 3 billion births over the past 50 years. Focusing on 12 countries where the male-to-female ratio had increased since 1970 and another 17 where that ratio was at risk of increasing due to social or cultural trends, they simulated two scenarios. The first assumed an increase in the rate of sex selection, based on statistical evidence. The second scenario assumed increased sex selection in certain countries, based on observed trends and decreased fertility, but for which specific data were lacking. In scenario 1, countries saw a shortfall of 4.7 million in the number of girls being born by 2030. For scenario 2, the figure jumped to more than 22 million globally by 2100. Authors of the research, published in the BMJ medical journal, said the bias toward male offspring could lead to a “marriage squeeze” in affected countries. “Fewer-than-expected females in a population could result in elevated levels of anti-social behaviour and violence, and may ultimately affect long-term stability and social sustainable development,” they wrote. The UN defines sex-selective
‘LUDICROUS AMOUNTS’: An area five times the size of India, equivalent to all of the farmed land on Earth, needs to turned into forest to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050
Governments and businesses hoping to plant trees and restore forests to reach net-zero emissions must sharply limit such efforts to avoid driving up food prices in the developing world, the charity Oxfam has said. Planting trees has been mooted as one of the key ways of tackling the climate crisis, but the amount of land needed for such forests would be vast, and planting even a fraction of the area needed to offset global greenhouse gas emissions would encroach on the land needed for crops to feed a growing population, according to a report entitled “Tightening the net: Net zero climate targets implications for land and food equity.” At least 1.6 billion hectares — an area five times the size of India, equivalent to all the land farmed on Earth — would be required to reach net zero for the planet by 2050 via tree-planting alone. While no one is suggesting planting trees to that extent, the report’s authors said it gave an idea of the scale of planting required, and how limited offsetting should be if food price rises are to be avoided. Nafkote Dabi, climate policy lead at Oxfam and coauthor of the report, said: “It is difficult to tell how much land would be required, as governments have not been transparent about how they plan to meet their net-zero commitments. But many countries and companies are talking about afforestation and reforestation, and the first question is: Where is this land going to come from?” Food prices could rise by 80 percent by 2050, according to some estimates, if offsetting emissions through forestry is overused. About 350 million hectares of land — an area roughly the size of India — could be used for offsetting without disrupting agriculture around the world, but taken together, the plans for offsetting from countries and companies
The chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei is to be back in a Canadian court today for a final round of hearings on her possible extradition to the US, after nearly three years of court battles and diplomatic sparring. Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), the daughter of company founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei (任正非), is fighting extradition to the US, which wants to try her for bank fraud and conspiracy for allegedly concealing her company’s business dealings, through a subsidiary, in Iran. If transferred to the US for trial and subsequently convicted, she could face more than 30 years in a US prison. Her arrest on a US warrant during a Vancouver stopover in December 2018 — and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadians — caused a major diplomatic rift between Ottawa and Beijing. Meng is due to appear before the Supreme Court of British Columbia today for more than two weeks of hearings. The 49-year-old has denied any wrongdoing, and her defense team says abuses by Canadian and US officials have denied her due process, and therefore the US extradition request should be quashed. “The narrative can simply no longer survive scrutiny,” her lawyer Mark Sandler said in June. “There is no plausible case for committal.” Meng stands accused of defrauding HSBC by falsely misrepresenting links between Huawei and Skycom, a subsidiary that sold telecoms equipment to Iran, putting the bank at risk of violating US sanctions against Tehran as it continued to clear US dollar transactions for Huawei. However, her attorneys say that the US has no jurisdiction and that her rights have not been respected. The case has taken many turns in the almost three years since her arrest. Her attorneys also say that remarks by then-US president Donald Trump 10 days after Meng’s arrest — in which he said he might intervene in
US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday discussed China’s “arbitrary detention” of two Canadian citizens. In a telephone conversation, the two leaders discussed Beijing’s two-year detention of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor, who are both being held on charges of spying. “The Prime Minister and the President discussed China’s arbitrary detention of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The leaders agreed on the need for their immediate release,” a news release from Trudeau’s office said. The two men were detained in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest on a US extradition warrant of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟). A statement from Biden’s office said Spavor and Kovrig had been “unjustly detained” and that during the call, the president had condemned their detention and “reiterated his commitment to stand strong with Canada to secure their release.” Ottawa has said they were taken as virtual hostages to apply pressure in the Huawei executive’s case. The two men first appeared in court in March this year, in hearings that wrapped up quickly.
The District of Columbia’s police department on Monday said two more police officers who responded to the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol have died by suicide, bringing to four the number of known suicides by officers who guarded the building that day. Metropolitan Police officer Gunther Hashida was found dead in his home on Thursday, department spokesman Hugh Carew said in a statement. Hashida joined the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department in May 2003. Another department officer who responded to the Capitol on Jan. 6, Kyle DeFreytag, was found dead on July 10, Carew said. DeFreytag’s cause of death was also suicide, Carew said. He had been with the department since November 2016. Department officer Jeffrey Smith and US Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood also responded to the Capitol riot and later died by suicide. Hundreds of then-US president Donald Trump supporters stormed the building that day in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the US Congress from certifying Democratic US President Joe Biden’s election win. Four people died on the day of the violence. A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. More than 100 police officers were injured. The mayhem led to Trump’s second impeachment trial. More than 500 people have been arrested for their roles in the violence. During emotional testimony last week, four police officers told a US House of Representatives special committee that they were beaten, threatened, taunted with racial insults and thought they might die as they struggled to defend the Capitol against the mob.
A plan by Myanmar’s ruling generals to hold elections in two years shows they are stalling for time and the need for Southeast Asian countries to step up pressure on them, a senior US Department of State official said on Monday. “It’s clear that the Burmese junta is just stalling for time and wants to keep prolonging the calendar to its own advantage,” the official told reporters ahead of a ministerial meeting this week between the US and the 10-member ASEAN, which includes Myanmar. “So, all the more reason why ASEAN has to engage on this and ... uphold the terms of the five point consensus that Myanmar also signed up to,” he said referring to a plan by ASEAN leaders to tackle the turmoil. The official briefing reporters ahead of a week of virtual meetings involving US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and regional counterparts said Washington had proposed expanding engagement with ASEAN to include five new “multi-ministerial”-level dialogues, which it hoped the bloc would agree to soon. The official said one of the areas was climate, but did not list the others. He said he expected Blinken to provide details to ASEAN ministers of continued US support for Southeast Asia in the fight against COVID-19, which has hit the region hard. Blinken would also raise what Washington sees as China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, he said. Asked about China’s warnings that if Washington expected cooperation on issues such as climate, it would need to de-escalate tensions, the official said: “Look, if we can’t force China to cooperate, we can continue to point out the advantages, and hopefully they’ll see that this is also in their advantage to work with us on climate issues.” Washington is seeking to show through Blinken’s participation in five consecutive days of regional meetings that the administration
After a year and a half of silence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sounds of the Latin Vox Machine orchestra have returned to a house in Buenos Aires. The group — made up of Venezuelans who fled their country’s economic crisis — is preparing for a performance of the Symphonic Little Prince, a symphony they created during the lockdown, and that they released on disc at the end of last month. The violas are rehearsing in the living room, while the violins are in the kitchen. Later, the keyboards and choir would take their places to practice. They hope to play their symphony in public for the first time in November. Orchestra director Enmanuel Gonzalez can hardly wait. “The Little Prince is a beautiful project. It was a labor of quarantine and was also an escape, it was all that we thought about,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it and cannot wait to present it.” Inspired by the novella The Little Prince by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the Symphonic Little Prince is an original composition created by the 120-strong Venezuelan orchestra, whose members arrived in Argentina four to five years ago. They were among the millions of people who fled the crippling economic and political crises in their home country. Most of the Latin Vox Machine orchestra were trained in Venezuela’s prestigious El Sistema program, where Gustavo Dudamel, the new director of the Paris Opera, also began his training. Yet after arriving in Argentina, many earned a living busking in the Buenos Aires metro. One of them, Omar Zambrano — who lives in the house where the orchestra rehearses — came up with the idea of forming a Venezuelan musical troupe. However, the pandemic plunged the orchestra into “a dark period” from which they have only emerged thanks to their composition, said Zambrano, the group’s executive director. “We
CAUSE FOR ALARM: The virus has spread through 14 provinces in just a few days despite high vaccination rates, as authorities ramp up containment measures
China is confronting its broadest COVID-19 outbreak since the pathogen emerged in late 2019 after the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant broke through the country’s defenses, with cases now in 14 provinces. While the overall number of infections — more than 300 so far — is much lower than outbreaks elsewhere, the wide spread indicates that the variant has been on the loose for some time and is alarming officials who wield the strictest containment measures in the world. It is the biggest challenge for the world’s second-largest economy since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. China’s strict regulations — including mass testing, aggressive contact tracing, quarantines and occasional lockdowns — crushed more than 30 previous flareups. The arrival of the more infectious Delta variant is testing that approach. The new strain might be exploiting the population’s willingness to lower their guards when it comes to masking and distancing, since much of the country has been free of COVID-19 for months. That, along with increased travel during the summer, created a perfect storm for Delta to gain a foothold. The initial infection arrived via an overseas flight from Moscow into the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing in mid-July, and took hold there among the airport cleaning staff. China reported 99 infections yesterday, including 44 people who tested positive but have no symptoms. By number of cases, it is the biggest outbreak since the the one in Hebei in northern China in January, when 2,000 people were infected. The broad spread is more concerning, with infections having reached highly protected Beijing, and as far as Hainan Province in the south, 1,900km from Nanjing. It remains to be seen if the country’s vaccination rate, close to 60 percent and among the highest in the world, can slow Delta’s spread and keep