Singapore confirmed six new COVID-19 cases on Saturday (28 November), taking the country’s total case count to 58,205.5 imported cases »
Britain and France signed a new agreement to try to stop illegal migration across the Channel on Saturday, upping patrols and technology in the hope of closing off a dangerous route used by migrants to try to reach the UK on small boats. UK interior minister Priti Patel said that under the deal, the number of officers patrolling French beaches would double, and new equipment including drones and radar would be employed. This year, hundreds of people, including some children, have been caught crossing to southern England from makeshift camps in northern France - navigating one of the world's busiest shipping routes in overloaded rubber dinghies.
Police in London said on Saturday that they had made 155 arrests as they tried to break up anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protests. The police said the arrests had been made for different offences including assaulting a police officer, possession of drugs and breaching coronavirus restrictions. Earlier police lined up in a number of streets in central London's West End shopping district and confronted crowds of protesters in St James's Park, near Westminster.
Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed on Friday, led a life of such secrecy that even his age was under wraps but much about the clandestine nuclear weapons programme he is believed to have run has long been known. The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it suspected Fakhrizadeh oversaw secret work to fit a warhead on a ballistic missile, test high explosives suitable for a nuclear weapon and process uranium. Iran insists it never had such a programme nor any ambition to make a bomb.
Pope Francis created 13 new cardinals on Saturday -- including the first African-American -- putting his personal stamp on the body that will one day choose his successor.
Hundreds of black-clad protesters clashed with police at the end of a demonstration against police violence in Paris on Saturday after masked protesters launched fireworks at police lines, put up barricades and threw stones. The majority of the thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully, but small groups of masked protesters dressed in black smashed shop windows and set two cars, a motorcycle and a cafe on fire. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds and in early evening water cannon sprayed remaining groups of protesters on Place de la Bastille.
Malaysia will go to the polls when the coronavirus pandemic is over, the prime minister said Saturday, two days after winning lawmakers' backing for his government's 2021 budget.
A plan to let Hong Kong voters cast their ballots in mainland China may not come to fruition in time for a major election next year, the city’s leader has revealed, blaming complexities her staff had overlooked.The proposal – which sparked fears among opposition politicians that it would undermine the fairness and integrity of the city’s electoral process – was expected to be unveiled in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng-yuet ngor’s policy address on Wednesday.But Lam told a radio show on Saturday her administration only came to know about the complexities involved in the electoral reform process after floating the idea about two months ago.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.The Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Bureau first felt the need for electoral reforms as many Hongkongers were stranded on the mainland because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Debate over proposal to allow voting in mainland China, with critics raising fears of fraudBut the Electoral Affairs Commission, a statutory body responsible for ensuring fairness in polls, later started advising the bureau about the legal issues involved, as well as the procedures required to keep electoral malpractice at bay.“Initially, it was thought that it could be done because of the demands from Hong Kong people on the mainland. But after a certain period of time, it turned out to be very complicated,” she said.Lam said the government intended to give it some “leeway”.“We are not saying we will definitely not do it now,” she said.But if it failed to materialise by the Legislative Council elections next year, she said the government would proceed with other plans to improve the electoral process up its sleeve, such as setting aside a separate queue for senior citizens.The city’s pro-establishment camp had campaigned for such a voting arrangement given that 540,000 Hong Kong permanent residents lived in Guangdong province alone.But the opposition camp said it would give rise to manipulation, with political scholars fearing the use of electronic voting, for example, could widen the possibility of electoral fraud, with candidates left unable to scrutinise the process.Political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung, from Chinese University, said the plan touched a nerve with the central government as it would have introduced a democratic voting process on the mainland for Hong Kong elections, while Beijing already had alternative ways to bar opposition candidates from running, including disqualifying them. Carrie Lam expected to lay out plan to expand voting for Hongkongers in mainland China“This doesn’t take the situation [for the opposition camp] any more optimistic,” he said.Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the government’s move simply showed it would like to focus its attention on social and economic issues, as well as combatting the pandemic.He added given the uncertainties of the pandemic, the government might have to postpone the elections once again next year, leaving it with more time to roll out a new voting policy.Pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said she was disappointed. “We always believe that if there’s a will, there’s a way. This is typical bureaucratic lethargy,” she said.But Starry Lee Wai-king, leader of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the biggest pro-establishment party in the city, said the government would have to deal with many technical issues.“I understand why they are doing so,” she said.When asked whether the government was slowing down because almost all opposition lawmakers had either resigned or been disqualified by Beijing, Lee expected other candidates to take part in the coming elections.But the Civic Party, which had three members disqualified by Beijing earlier this month, was undecided about whether to run in the elections next year.“Whether the party will stand in future elections will depend on whether Hong Kong people see a road [for it],” chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said.Leong said he believed the mainland voting plan would have created “ground for rampant election rigging and corrupt practices”.Additional reporting by Rachel YeoMore from South China Morning Post: * Hong Kong elections: debate over proposal to allow voting in mainland China, with critics raising fears of fraud, lack of scrutiny * Carrie Lam expected to lay out plan to expand voting for Hongkongers on mainland China in next week’s policy addressThis article Plan to expand voting for Hong Kong residents living in mainland China may not take shape by next year, Chief Executive Carrie Lam says first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Sanctions imposed by the incoming Biden administration that target specific Chinese industries could be one of the biggest risks to the economy next year, a leading economist has warned.David Li Daokui, a professor at Tsinghua University and a former adviser to China’s central bank, also warned that economic planners should not rule out the possibility that Donald Trump will make a comeback in four years’ time.He told a forum at Renmin University in Beijing on Saturday that there were signs that the president-elect might continue Trump’s hard-line approach to China.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.“If you ask me what are the risks facing Chinese economy next year … Number one, will Biden introduce restrictive policies that are precisely targeted at certain China’s industries? That remains a question mark,” he told the China Macroeconomy Forum.Li argued Barack Obama’s recently published memoir showed that the Democrats were worried about China’s rising technological prowess. How might China test new President Biden?“They are concerned that China is, little-by-little, eroding America’s military, technological and financial advantages, and have talked about the necessity of restricting China’s technology to maintain US superiority,” he said.“Next year, China’s foreign policy, certain industries and certain companies are likely to face some risks.”He argued that the two nations were likely to face a tough transition period in the early days of the next administration.Relations between the two countries have rapidly deteriorated since Trump’s inauguration in 2017, with clashes over everything from trade and technology to Hong Kong and the South China Sea.He said one consolation was that Biden’s team offered a greater degree of certainty compared with Trump’s.“It is of course much easier to communicate with Biden’s team than with Trump’s team because we are familiar with members of the team … we know each other very well,” he said.However, Li also warned that China should still be prepared for a Trump comeback in 2024, saying Biden’s victory was a “close call”. How Biden’s administration will engage with China on key issues“This is a huge unknown, we must take [a Trump comeback] into consideration when discussing the 14th five-year-plan [which runs until 2025] and the Chinese macro economy,” he said.He argued that although Trump lost the popular vote by a margin of around 6 million his supporters were more committed.“These over 70 million votes were cast on-site by so many people who waited for four or five hours in the cold wind,” Li said, “but a lot of votes for Biden were mail ballots made at home or even with the help of election staff.”Trump has reportedly told senior members of his team, including Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that he plans to seek a second term.“It is very likely [that Trump will run again], he is still very healthy,” Li said.Li said economic planners had other factors beside US policies to consider when drawing up the next five-year plan, which sets out the key social and economic policies between 2021 and 2025.The Chinese leadership had identified this a key moment if it wants to overcome the middle-income trap, where countries achieve a certain level of development but them find themselves unable to make further progress. ‘We must not have high expectations’: will Biden reset US-China relations?Li also warned that the economy faced domestic problems including stagnating incomes, the pace of urbanisation and toxic local government debts.He said many local governments would not be able to make long-term reforms because of their immediate problems.“We hope that the decision-making departments will calmly analyse the situation instead of going back to the old playbook,” he said.The Communist Party released a detailed blueprint for the five-year plan at the start of the month, with the final draft – which sets out the country’s main targets – to come out in March.More from South China Morning Post: * US-China relations: Beijing sees chance for thaw in ties under Biden, but keeps expectations in check * US-China relations: Biden’s pick for secretary of state seen as ‘someone Beijing can work with’ * Joe Biden’s foreign policy team to reject Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra * China should be prepared in case relations with US get worse under Joe Biden, government adviser warns * Don’t assume US-China relations will get better under Joe Biden, government adviser warnsThis article Joe Biden could be biggest risk to Chinese economy next year if he puts sanctions on certain industries, says leading economist first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Over 1,300 people in Britain were inaccurately informed they were infected with coronavirus after a laboratory error at the government's NHS Test and Trace system, the Department of Health and Social Care told Reuters on Saturday. The government has announced an extra 7 billion pounds ($9.31 billion) for its COVID-19 testing and contact tracing system as part of an expanded programme of mass testing. The NHS Test and Trace system has been heavily criticised after a series of high-profile failures since its launch earlier this year, and ministers concede it has not performed as well as they had hoped.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Saturday that military operations in the country's northern Tigray region were "completed" after the army claimed control of the regional capital, declaring victory in a three-week-old conflict that has left thousands dead.
Protests have been stepped up this week despite threats by Prayuth, a former junta ruler, to use all available laws against protesters who break them and charges of insulting the monarchy against several protest leaders. Protesters are seeking the removal of Prayuth, accusing him of engineering an election last year to keep power that he seized from an elected government in a 2014 coup. Protesters have also broken taboos by seeking reforms to curb the powers of the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, saying the institution has enabled decades of military domination.
Coronavirus-related travel restrictions have forced smugglers to use cargo shipments over human couriers, resulting in Hong Kong logging a 12 per cent rise in the amount of seized endangered species this year, valued at HK$149 million (US$19 million).Law enforcement sources said the monetary value of the seizures rose because cargo shipments usually carried larger volumes of endangered species, while customs officers also seized more high-value products this year.On the other hand, the number of endangered wildlife smuggling cases detected at passenger channels of local control points dropped dramatically this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.Up to November 11 this year, reports of smuggling involving passenger channels decreased to 29 per cent of cases, or 72, from 66 per cent or 433 cases in the whole of 2019.Customs officers confiscated endangered species worth HK$133 million last year and HK$73 million in 2018.But the total number of wildlife smuggling cases dropped to 250 so far this year from 659 in 2019. There were 745 such cases in 2018.In monetary value terms, the biggest amount seized was 46.4 tonnes in total of American ginseng worth HK$61.8 million. Last year, more than 600kg of American ginseng was seized, valued at HK$430,000.Totoaba fish maws – a gas-filled organ that helps control the fish’s buoyancy – came in second this year. Customs officers seized 307kg of totoaba bladders, valued at HK$49 million, this year. The haul is more than eight times the amount seized over the past 18 years.Authorities are still investigating the main reasons behind the sharp rise in the seizure of American ginseng and totoaba bladders.One source said it was possible some people liked to collect highly endangered species and this created a market for smuggling totoaba. He added that dried totoaba bladders, like other expensive dried fish maw, could be kept for a long time.Customs officials believed the totoaba had been caught in the Gulf of California off Mexico before being airmailed into Hong Kong. Globally, it is considered to be among the most endangered species on the planet.Protected wood grabbed third place in terms of high-value seizures as law enforcers confiscated 196 tonnes of rare wood, such as red sandalwood, valued at HK$15.8 million this year. In 2019, the volume seized was 335 tonnes but the total value was the same as this year.Law enforcers also noticed a surge in seizures of dried shark fin this year, finding 31 tonnes with an estimated value of HK$11 million. Last year, 6.3 tonnes of shark fin, worth HK$4.3 million, were seized. ‘One of world’s biggest wildlife crimes’: how Hong Kong supermarkets sell European eelsLast year, the most high-value seizures were pangolin scales – 8.9 tonnes worth HK$43.8 million – 211kg of rhino horns valued at HK$42.2 million and two tonnes of ivory products worth HK$20.7 million.The seizures of all three products dropped sharply this year. Up to November 11, one tonne of pangolin scales valued at HK$6.1 million, 3kg of rhino horns worth HK$610,000, and HK$500 worth of ivory items were seized.The source said he believed smugglers reduced the volume of illegal trade in these three kinds of endangered wildlife products after suffering huge losses last year.“Illegal traders usually smuggle different types of contraband to meet the demand and those with high profit and they also change their tactics to avoid detection,” he said.He said he believed most of the endangered species seized in the city were destined for other neighbouring areas.Officers from customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau have been tasked to identify rackets behind such wildlife smuggling activities.Another source said smugglers usually made false declarations to camouflage endangered species or mingle the wildlife products with general commodities, and used circuitous routes to avoid detection.Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, import or export of an endangered species without a licence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$10 million fine. Illegal wildlife trade still needs tougher penalties, say Hong Kong expertsA spokesman for the customs department said: “Based on an effective risk-assessment strategy, officers vigorously conduct checks on passengers, cargoes, postal packets and conveyances at various control points and sea boundaries for combating the smuggling of contraband and the endangered species.”The department said it would continue to strengthen its enforcement and step up cooperation as well as intelligence exchange with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and other law enforcement agencies to fight against smuggling attempts.More from South China Morning Post: * Biggest ginseng seizure in Hong Kong history nets HK$47 million of traditional medicine from seagoing smugglers * Coronavirus restrictions linked to sea-smuggling surge as Hong Kong customs seizes HK$150 million worth of contraband goods this yearThis article Covid-19 pandemic forces endangered species smugglers into using cargo shipments, resulting in Hong Kong seizing HK$149 million worth of goods first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Hong Kong’s leader has again voiced her concerns about the limitations and even adverse consequences of carrying out a citywide mandatory coronavirus screening, amid mounting calls from the pro-establishment camp and mainland public health experts for such a scheme.Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor reiterated her reservations about such a move – seen by pro-establishment politicians as the ultimate step to resume cross-border travel – during a radio show on Saturday, citing differences in the political landscape of the city and mainland China.She also said she had conveyed to mainland authorities why she thought the strategy would not work for Hong Kong.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.“I don’t have the advantage of your system and I don’t have the relative obedience of your citizens,” she recalled telling Beijing officials.“If we have to forcefully adopt the approach deployed on the mainland, not only will we not achieve the result we want to see, it may even result in an adverse effect,” she told the radio show.The idea of universal Covid-19 screening of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population has been increasingly politicised with critics fearing it would lead to an invasion of privacy.The chief executive has been under growing pressure from key pro-establishment figures and experts from Beijing, who want Hong Kong to get rid of its 14-day quarantine arrangements to facilitate cross-border movement.She was pressed repeatedly by pro-establishment lawmakers on when the border could be reopened during a question-and-answer session on Thursday following her policy address the previous day.The pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions published an online survey on Friday, saying out of 18,740 people it had interviewed over the past week, 97 per cent of respondents supported the mass screening initiative. Though the sample was not randomly selected, the group said its previous surveys attracted hardly 1,000 people, meaning that at least the desire among the group’s supporters to get tested was exceptionally high this time.On the same day, veteran Chinese infectious disease expert Zhong Nanshan also said Hong Kong should conduct citywide testing of all residents, following a voluntary screening scheme that drew about 1.78 million people in September. Covid-19 cases scuppered Carrie Lam’s hopes of restarting cross-border travelFormer chief executive Leung Chun-ying, also recently wrote on his Facebook page that another round of mass testing was a matter of “do or die” for the city.But Lam, who has spoken against the idea multiple times, reiterated on Saturday that such a tactic would only work if accompanied by a lockdown, lasting up to four to five weeks.“Hong Kong will have to pay a very heavy price,” she said, adding that the suggestion lacked a scientific basis.“At the World Health Organization level and even in our country, not all 1.4 billion people took the test. It was done in a precise and rapid way,” she said.She also said the past year of social unrest, triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, had made her work to combat the pandemic even more difficult as some people had lost trust in the government.But pro-establishment lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen, from the Federation of Trade Unions, accused Lam of being unscientific. She said Lam had rejected the idea of universal testing outright, without even studying the possibilities.She also said lockdown arrangements could be discussed further to minimise their impact.Pro-establishment heavyweight Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, said Beijing was treating the matter with care. But he said he had not been involved in discussions in which the mainland authorities gave their views on mandatory testing in Hong Kong. A government source said testing was all about efficiency, and the administration currently found targeted compulsory testing more effective. Fears over untraceable Covid-19 infections as Hong Kong confirms 84 new casesLam’s current approach is to test high-risk groups, including a recent dance club cluster, after the Executive Council granted health authorities the legal power to commence mandatory testing earlier this month. “If the city goes for universal testing, the yield will be much lower, but the cost – not just in terms of money but also in terms of lockdown and other intangible measures – will be much higher,” the source said.Another source close to the matter said contractors engaged by the government had not been told about any need to increase their testing measures drastically.More from South China Morning Post: * Coronavirus: debate erupts over how Hong Kong can achieve target of ‘zero infection’ as fourth wave rages with 81 new cases confirmed * Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s fourth wave has arrived, health minister says, as more than 60 new confirmed and preliminary cases emerge * Hong Kong third wave: city’s top officials unite behind universal Covid-19 testing scheme even as some in opposition camp hope to derail itThis article Coronavirus fourth wave: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam raises concerns over limitations of mandatory universal screening first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
China has said recovered Covid-19 patients must wait at least six months before giving blood.The Beijing News reported that the latest policy would be introduced nationwide despite no proof that people can catch Covid-19 through blood transfusions.It cited a medical practitioner in Wuhan, the city where the disease was first identified, who said traces of the virus have been identified in the urine and blood of patients who were being treated for Covid-19.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.The October issue of Blood, a US-based medical journal, also recorded that traces of the virus had been confirmed in the blood of some serious cases.A haematologist told The Beijing News that although genetic material from the coronavirus has rarely been found in blood donated by asymptomatic patients, it was not possible to completely eliminate the risk of infection.“There is still a lack of solid evidence suggesting the novel coronavirus can be transmitted via blood transfusions. But we will halt all blood donations from recently recovered patients for the safety of blood donors and recipients,” said the specialist.The new guidelines, issued by the National Health Commission, also said someone who had been given the Covid 19 vaccine or a flu shot should wait 28 days before donating blood. More heat than light in quest for origin of the new coronavirusResearchers have found that antibodies found in the blood plasma of recovered patients can greatly reduce mortality rates for seriously ill Covid-19 patients.But the newspaper reported that blood donation centres had long stopped collecting plasma for this reason because there were so few cases in China now..More from South China Morning Post: * Where did Coronavirus originate? These virus sleuths are assessing every theory * Coronavirus: WHO to look at controversial Italian samples in search for origins * China has zeroed in on frozen food imports as it tries to keep a lid on Covid-19This article China tells recovered Covid-19 patients to wait six months before giving blood first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Hong Kong’s homebuyers shrugged aside concerns of a fourth wave of coronavirus infections in the city to snap up new property over the weekend, confident in their belief that mortgage rates would remain low in the near future.Minmetals Land, the property subsidiary of one of China’s largest metallurgical producers, sold 246 of the first 279 units on offer at its Montego Bay project in Yau Tong as of 9:30pm, with as many as 17 buyers bidding for every available flat, agents said.At Nam Cheong, Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) found buyers for 52 of the 78 leftover apartments at its Cullinan West III project, agents said. On Friday, Henderson Land Development sold 65 of the first batch of 68 flats at its Arbour project in Tsim Sha Tsui.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.“Homebuyers are not too concerned about the fourth wave of Covid-19, especially when new property projects are launched,” said Midland Realty’s chief executive of the residential division Sammy Po Siu-ming, pointing out that developers are offering discounts to help them sell. “The Montego Bay flats [are priced] at a reasonable level. There also remains a lot of demand for new flats. There is a lot of capital flowing in the markets and interest rates remain low, so prospective buyers will continue to enter the market.”The weekend sale, Hong Kong’s first since Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor delivered her fourth annual policy address, underscores how the city’s fragile confidence is adjusting to its worst economic recession and a flood of cheap capital emanating from global central banks. The government abolished a double stamp duty for commercial property, a move that is likely to stimulate acquisitions and economic activity, with the potential to spill over to the residential segment and boost home sales, agents said.The policy relaxation for non-residential property “would help spur economic recovery and indirectly benefit the residential market,” said Centaline’s vice-chairman and Asia-Pacific residential department chief executive Louis Chan Wing-kit.Hong Kong’s government identified 330 hectares of land on which to build 316,000 public housing units over the next 10 years. Quick relief will also be provided for about 90,000 people in the long queue for public housing, including a cash allowance for low-income applicants and turning hotels and guest houses with low occupancy rates into transitional housing.Besides initiatives focusing only on public housing, the government should also look into demand for private housing, especially for middle class and young potential buyers, said Cushman & Wakefield’s Greater China chief executive Chiu Kam-kuen.“The government should also consider revitalising traditional industrial zones and changing neighbourhood public transport and industrial land use to residential, so as to meet surging housing demand,” Chiu said.Prices at the first batch of Montego Bay started at HK$4.9 million, or HK$15,964 per square foot, going up to HK$18.5 million (US$2.4 million) with a 20 per cent discount. The apartments start from 271 square feet for one-bedroom flats to three-bedroom units measuring 832 sq ft.A larger 1,212 sq ft four-bedroom flat in the project was also put up for tender, and was sold for HK$35.3 million (US$4.55 million) in the morning, agents said, without identifying the buyer.The trajectory of the fourth wave of coronavirus infections will impact Hong Kong’s property market in the near term, said Louis Chan Wing-kit, Centaline’s vice-chairman and chief executive of residential in Asia-Pacific. Hong Kong reported 84 confirmed new cases on Saturday.“If the fourth wave of the pandemic is contained, rigid demand will remain unchanged and property prices will stay resilient,” said Chan.This article Homebuyers pile into new flats, as low rates spur them to shrug aside concerns of Hong Kong’s fourth wave of Covid-19 infections first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
The World Health Organization is looking into controversial research suggesting the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was circulating in Italy months before it was first detected in China, the health body said on Friday, while cautioning against using such data to speculate about the disease’s origins.The WHO plans to run tests with the Italian researchers who made waves earlier this month for their peer-reviewed findings based on tests of blood samples from a cancer screening carried out starting before the pathogen was detected in China.The team found antibodies specific to the coronavirus in over 11 per cent of the 959 subjects. Positive samples dated back to September last year, several months before the world’s first recorded case from early December in China.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.“We’ve reached out to these researchers and they have generously offered to work with us and to collaborate with us on some further studies looking at those samples,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for Covid-19. Where did Coronavirus originate? These virus sleuths are assessing every theoryBut while the WHO was working with scientists around the world to track and examine any detection or “unusual” published results, the investigation it was leading into the origins of the virus would start in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first cases were detected.“We need to be careful with our speculation here,” Mike Ryan, WHO health emergencies programme executive director, said when asked whether signs that the virus was in Europe earlier than previously known could mean it was circulating in humans outside China before it was found in Wuhan.“It’s highly speculative for us to say that the disease did not emerge in China. But we do know that the first clusters of human cases that were detected were in Wuhan.”He said that to understand the origins of the virus, it was crucial to start the investigation in the city where it was first identified.“After that, the evidence should take us where we need to go, but to speculate on where the virus emerged precisely, without starting where the human disease emerged for us doesn’t represent the best way forward,” he said.The comments come as Chinese officials and state media have ramped up rhetoric, saying that just because the virus was first identified in China did not mean it came from the country.Though scientists generally agree that the virus originated in a bat, before passing into humans, perhaps via an intermediary species, where and how this happened is unknown. The novel virus’s closest known relative was detected in southwestern China.Last month, without providing specific evidence, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist for the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggested that the pathogen could have originally arrived in China via imported seafood.Chinese health officials linked subsequent sporadic Covid-19 outbreaks in major Chinese cities to refrigerated imported food, though other specialists question whether this could be a significant driver of infection. Officials have yet to release comprehensive information about investigations into the early spread of the virus in Wuhan.Zeng Guang, former Chinese CDC chief epidemiologist, cited the Italian research in a speech at a recent academic conference, saying Wuhan was where the coronavirus was first detected, but it might not be where it originated. WHO names line-up for international team looking into coronavirus originsBut researchers have raised concerns about conclusions drawn from the Italian study. For one, serological testing, which detects antibodies in the blood that indicate if a person has already been infected, is less precise than DNA-based tests that can be done on fresh or frozen samples.Hong Kong University virologist Malik Peiris, who was a key figure in identifying the Sars virus during that outbreak nearly two decades ago, said the data from the Italian study “still needs further clarification”.Due to limitations in how the team extrapolated data from their samples, we “cannot say with confidence this is a genuine result”, he said.The tests could also be picking up other coronaviruses, even an unknown but related virus, according to Gavin Smith, a professor in the emerging infectious diseases programme at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.“It’s really difficult to tell. It is possible that it could be this Sars-CoV-2 virus, specifically, that they are picking up,” he said, referring to the formal name for the new coronavirus.However, Smith said, if that were the case, “the fact that it is picked up in Italy doesn’t necessarily mean that it started in Italy”.“Based on the weight of historical evidence, it’s likely that it emerged in Asia, but it’s impossible to say anything definite about this [at this time],” he said.Infectious diseases specialist Sanjaya Senanayake from the Australian National University said it would be “very interesting to see if things went that far back”.“This would suggest that [the virus] flew under the radar for a long time,” he said, noting there should be “no stone left unturned” when it came to gathering information on Covid-19.He pointed to other signs of an earlier spread, such as the retrospective discovery of a Covid-19 patient in France in late December, nearly a month before the country confirmed its first cases. Scientists in Italy have also found traces of the new coronavirus in wastewater collected that month.The WHO’s Van Kerkhove said on Friday that global efforts were continuing to understand the spread of the virus, including testing of retrospective wastewater samples and analysis of genome sequences.“There are a lot of sources of information, but ... the [origin] studies need to begin where the first cases were detected in Wuhan,” she said. “Then we follow the science.”More from South China Morning Post: * Coronavirus was on many continents before Wuhan outbreak, Chinese team says * Coronavirus: more heat than light in quest for origin of Covid-19 * China’s ‘bat woman’ virologist rules out Covid-19 virus in fresh tests on old cave samples * Coronavirus: WHO and Chinese experts launch origins mission – onlineThis article Coronavirus: WHO to look at controversial Italian samples in search for origins first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Islamic State-linked extremists killed four people in a remote Christian community on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, authorities said Saturday, with one victim beheaded and another burned to death.
Israel put its embassies around the world on high alert on Saturday after Iranian threats of retaliation following the killing of a nuclear scientist near Tehran, Israeli N12 news reported on Saturday. A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the ministry did not comment on matters of security regarding its representatives abroad. Iran has blamed Israel for the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died on Friday after gunman ambushed him in his car.
Thousands of troops guarded polling stations as Indian Kashmir on Saturday held its first direct elections since the government stripped its semi-autonomy last year.
Los Angeles county on Friday announced a temporary ban on gatherings of people from different households under a new "safer-at-home order" triggered by a spike in Covid-19 cases, with religious services and protests exempt.
China’s Operation Fox Hunt, a state-sanctioned chase around the world for fugitive suspects, relies as much on goodwill between international law enforcement agencies as legalities.As there is currently little love between Beijing and Washington, China is now having a frustrating time trying to get its hands on citizens that fled the country, often under clouds of corruption charges.China and the United States had a standing Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, said Professor Wang Jiangyu, director of the Centre for Chinese and Comparative Law at City University in Hong Kong. But it largely depended on good relations between both sides to work, he said.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.“When the Sino-US relations were normal, such cooperation had been carried out quite effectively before 2018,” he said. “But now, there is no such goodwill to carry out such soft international obligations, given the unprecedented tension.”Wang said both China and the US lost out as a result.According to China, the US is the favoured destination of high-profile fugitives, along with other countries in the “Five Eyes” security alliance – Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Britain.Many of those fleeing criminal charges in China chose those countries because they had better protection of human rights, said associate professor Alfred Wu from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. How the elite 'fox hunt' police task force scours the world for fugitives who have fled overseas“Many trials in the Chinese courts still remain opaque and its human rights protection record also needs improvement,” Wu said. “That made extradition from these countries to China more difficult as many will claim that they will not receive a fair and transparent trial in China.”An example is a Swedish court that last year refused China’s request to extradite former government official Qiao Jianjun on charges of embezzling US$11 million. The court ruled he could face persecution because of his political activities.Qiao was then extradited to the US in June this year to face charges there of money laundering and visa fraud.It has become evident that some fugitives discover a political conscience when they arrive in the West, suggesting criminal suspects are using the human rights card to try to avoid prosecution.While China’s deteriorating ties with Five Eyes nations may undermine present and future law enforcement cooperation, overall, Operation Fox Hunt has already arrested thousands of fugitives.The country reported the repatriation of 2,041 suspects last year and the recovery of 5.4 billion yuan (US$820 million), both an increase of more than 50 per cent from 2018. Why is the Five Eyes intelligence alliance in China’s cross hairs?Fox Hunt was set up in 2014 under the Chinese Ministry of Public Security to chase down officials who fled the country amid allegations of wrongdoing. The operations are part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption among bureaucrats and Communist Party officials that has resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people.Xi’s critics have said the anti-corruption campaign was also a means to remove any political rivals as he cemented control on power. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has also weighed in, saying Fox Hunt is as much a means to silence dissidents overseas as it is to capture criminals.Law enforcement relations got more frosty on October 29 after comments by John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security at the US Department of Justice.He said Fox Hunt repatriation squads operated in the country “without coordination with the US government” and targeted critics of the Communist Party. Fox Hunt employed illegal, unauthorised and often covert techniques outside the bounds of the law, he said.The US comments were “nothing but slander,” according to a response from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party’s top anti-corruption watchdog, on November 18.The CCDI raised the case of Xu Jin, the former director of the Wuhan Development and Reform Commission, to make its argument.The statement said Xu fled to the US in 2011 with his wife Liu Fang and there was “sufficient evidence” to prove that between 2006 and 2009, they embezzled 198 million yuan through a state-owned land transfer and accepted bribes.In 2012, Interpol issued a “red notice” against the couple, a worldwide alert to police agencies that an individual was a criminal suspect.The attempted repatriation of China’s top 100 fugitives with such red notices appears to have slowed. In 2016, 19 of those on the list were extradited, followed by 13 the next year, and dropping to four in 2018 and six last year.The last reported case was on September 11 last year – the extradition of Huang Ping, former general manager of state-owned Guanghong Huaqiao Aluminium Processing Co.However, the decline in high-profile extraditions might also be a sign of the success of Operation Fox Hunt, or that China has repatriated most of the fugitives in countries it has better relations with, such as Asean nations. Now it must go after those in the West.According to the CCDI, of the 40 people remaining on the 100 most wanted list drawn up in 2015, 35 are suspected to be living in Five Eyes countries.The US has the most at 19. Canada and New Zealand both ranked second, each with six suspects. Australia has three and one is in Britain.If China wants extradition cooperation from those countries, the overall diplomatic language has not helped.The countries in the Five Eyes alliance recently protested against a Beijing decision to oust opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong. Such countries risk “having their eyes poked out” was the response from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on November 19.Meantime, Wang at City University in Hong Kong said identifying genuine dissidents and corruption suspects could be difficult and unscrupulous lawyers added to the problem through “asylum mills”.US federal immigration officials have investigated immigration lawyers on charges of helping mostly Chinese immigrants to fraudulently obtain asylum, with one probe in 2012 called “Operation Fiction Writer” resulting in the arrest and conviction of lawyers. Thirty-somethings leading China’s fox hunt fugitive chaseA New York lawyer who said he had helped prominent Chinese dissidents to obtain asylum in the US agreed this was a problem.“There are so many people from China applying for asylum and many made negative comments about the Chinese Communist Party only after they came to the US,” said the lawyer, who declined to be named, citing the need to protect his clients.“Although most of the dissidents I handled still managed to get asylum, I am still worried that the fake ones will crowd out the genuine ones.“The people in the FBI will have to answer many questions from the Department of Justice in every extradition case, making sure the extradited will face a fair trial is always a top concern.”More from South China Morning Post: * US warns China over undercover 'Fox Hunt' for corrupt Chinese officials * US-China relations: Beijing sees chance for thaw in ties under Biden, but keeps expectations in check * Family of Hong Kong fugitive detained in Shenzhen calls letter signed by him ploy by authorities * China warns US travelling on ‘wrong road’ after fresh round of sanctions targets more Hong Kong, mainland officialsThis article China-US animosity frustrates Beijing’s ‘Fox Hunt’ for overseas fugitives first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Iran's supreme leader promised on Saturday to retaliate for the assassination of the Islamic Republic's top nuclear scientist, who the West and Israel believed was the architect of a secret Iranian programme to make weapons. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority who says Tehran has never sought nuclear arms, promised in his statement on Twitter to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died on Friday after gunman ambushed him in his car near Tehran. The killing, which Iran's president was swift to blame on Israel, threatens to spark a new Middle East confrontation in the final weeks of U.S. President Donald Trump's term.
Germany's partial lockdown measures could be extended until early Spring if infections are not brought under control, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said in a newspaper interview published on Saturday. Altmaier told Die Welt it was not possible to give the all-clear while there were incidences of more than 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants in large parts of Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with leaders of Germany's 16 federal states on Wednesday to extend and tighten measures against the coronavirus until at least Dec. 20.
Hospitals in England risk being overwhelmed if lawmakers do not support the government's new plan for restrictions, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Saturday. More than 20 million people across large swathes of England will be forced to live under the toughest category of COVID-19 restrictions when a national lockdown ends on Dec. 2. Lawmakers are due to vote on the restrictions the day before.
Sun Dawu, the 66-year-old founder of a private conglomerate in the northern Chinese province of Hebei, was detained earlier this month by armed police in a new twist in the life of an outspoken figure that many see as a cautionary tale for Chinese entrepreneurs under the watch of a powerful state.Sun, the founder of Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, was among a number of people taken into custody early on November 11 on suspicion of crimes such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “sabotaging production and operations”, the Gaobeidian public security bureau said in a brief statement that day.The bureau did not specify how many people were detained or why Sun, whose company was not registered in Gaobeidian, was taken away by officers from the county-level city.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China. Reformist calls for China to reassure the private sector ahead of key Communist Party meetingBeijing-based China News Weekly reported two days later that 28 people had been detained, including Sun, Sun’s wife, his two sons, his two daughters-in-law as well as Dawu executives. Only four were released on bail within 48 hours, the report said.On Wednesday, a social media account run by magazine Business 2.0 published three police detention documents for Sun’s two daughters-in-law and Dawu’s chief financial officer. According to the documents, all three were held on suspicion of “illegally appropriating public deposits”.In addition, a bail request for Sun’s wife, Liu Huiru, was rejected by the police, according to the report.There were no details about others taken into custody.Provincial authorities have not provided any details about Sun’s case in the last two weeks and the Gaobeidian police declined to comment further when contacted by the Post. The Gaobeidian Communist Party branch also declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Liu.An assistant to Sun, who declined to be named, confirmed the detentions, adding that private businesses in China had to deal with this “misery”. China’s Xi Jinping calls for loyalty from private sector as Beijing readies for battle with USThe dramatic way in which Sun, his family members and the Dawu executives were detained, and the lack of official explanation about the grounds for the swoop, has fanned concerns that local authorities have infringed Sun’s rights for their own purposes.The case is also being widely watched to see whether Beijing’s promises to protect entrepreneurs will be honoured by local authorities.Jia Kang, former head of research at China’s Ministry of Finance and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said at a forum on November 17 that Sun’s detention would have a chilling effect on private business owners.“A group of armed police from a neighbouring region, with automatic machine guns and police dogs, smashed in doors at one o’clock in the morning to arrest 28 people,” Jia said, describing the police action. “The central government has always emphasised a rule-of-law business environment, and many people are concerned about this case. If Sun is really a criminal suspect who must be arrested, at least there has to be a clear explanation.”The transcript of Jia’s speech was published on his social media but was later censored. European firms seek Chinese private sector allies in push to reform state sectorIn a post that was also later removed, Wu Danhong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, wrote in a blog on November 20 that Sun’s case was just one of many, with “such things happening across the country every single day”.Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based independent economist who knows Sun, wrote on his social media account on November 17 that Sun could be the victim of China’s unreasonable land control system and had become a target for local authorities for being uncooperative.It is not the first time that Sun has been in trouble with local authorities – he was arrested in 2003 for “illegally appropriating public deposits” and he was later sentenced to three years in prison. The sentence was suspended for four years and Sun was set free after the trial.The reasons for Sun’s detention now are not known. According to a report by the China Times newspaper, the arrest could be related to a land dispute between Dawu and a state-owned farm. Dawu employees had a violent clash with workers at a state farm in August, resulting in the detention of 39 Dawu employees. Neither the police nor Dawu have confirmed any link between Sun’s detention and the land dispute.However, Sun has made speeches and public comments embarrassing local officials in the past. In 2019, for instance, he accused Hebei authorities of covering up the real damage to the region’s pig population caused by African swine fever.And in Beijing in October last year, Sun said many Chinese entrepreneurs were “on the road to jail” because China’s legal and bureaucratic system favoured state enterprises and local governments in conflicts between the state and private sectors.“Is the legal system fair? No government department will be charged with wrongdoing, no state-owned enterprise will be charged with a crime, but we private companies can be the criminals,” Sun said.More from South China Morning Post: * Chinese pig farmer, managers of agricultural firm ‘detained over land dispute’ * Reformist calls for China to reassure the private sector ahead of key Communist Party meetingThis article Sun Dawu vs the state: a cautionary tale for China’s private sector? first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.