Virus cases pass 145,000 in new European blackspot Russia

A woman wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus walks past wax faces displayed in a window of a wax museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Monday, May 4, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 04 May 2020

Virus cases pass 145,000 in new European blackspot Russia

  • Russia is emerging as a new hotspot for the coronavirus as many countries in western Europe begin steps to ease lockdown measures
  • The number of new cases in Russia is substantially higher than the European country in second place – Britain

MOSCOW: Russia registered a near record in new daily coronavirus cases on Monday as total infections topped 145,000, cementing its position as the European country reporting the most new cases.
Health officials said there were 10,581 new infections over the last 24 hours, only 52 fewer than Sunday’s record, bringing Russia’s total to 145,268 cases and 1,356 deaths.
Russia is emerging as a new hotspot for the coronavirus as many countries in western Europe begin steps to ease lockdown measures after their rates of new infections and deaths dropped.
The number of new cases in Russia is substantially higher than the European country in second place, Britain, which reported another 4,339 infections on Sunday.
Despite the sharp rise in cases, Russia’s official fatality rate has remained low in comparison to countries including Italy, Spain and the United States.
Officials credit quick moves to close the country’s borders, as well as widespread testing and tracking of infections, but critics have cast doubts on the numbers.
The authorities have extended a non-working quarantine period until May 11 but have also indicated they could then gradually lift confinement measures which vary from region to region.
The head of Russia’s public health watchdog, Anna Popova, said on Monday that this could happen but cautioned: “Today that’s only a hope.”
If Russians start violating the rules, “by May 12 it will be obvious that we need to tighten them,” she said in a televised interview.
Moscow has emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic in Russia, with around half the total coronavirus cases.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is the highest-profile figure to have contracted the virus. He is in hospital but is continuing to work, his spokesman said Sunday.
Russian officials have stepped up warnings to stay at home this week with the country currently on public holidays.
Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin has warned that “the threat is apparently on the rise” and urged residents to respect confinement rules and anti-virus measures over the May holiday period.
“The weather is getting warmer and of course it’s harder for people to stay home,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with Rossiya 24 television on Monday.
“Unfortunately when we go out onto the street, there are a lot of people, a lot of cars. Potentially that is a dangerous violation of the lockdown... the curve of new cases could go up again.”
Putin is set to hold a government meeting on Wednesday after asking officials to come up with a plan for a gradual withdrawal from lockdown, Peskov said.
Russia has several public holidays in early May, including Victory Day on May 9 to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Putin had planned a major celebration for this year’s 75th anniversary, with world leaders in attendance as thousands of troops and tanks paraded through Red Square.
The coronavirus forced him to postpone the parade and the day will now be marked only with military aircraft flying over major cities.
Fighter jets roared over Moscow on Monday spurting red, white and blue smoke as they rehearsed for the event.


Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

Updated 3 min 8 sec ago

Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

  • Hong Kong cancels annual candlelight vigil for the first time in 30 years
  • Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday
BEIJING: China tightened controls over dissidents while pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and elsewhere sought ways to mark the 31st anniversary Thursday of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
That came after authorities in Hong Kong took the extraordinary move of canceling an annual candlelight vigil in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s Victoria Park for the first time in 30 years.
Authorities cited the need for social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite the recent reopening of schools, beaches, bars and beauty parlors. Hong Kong has had relatively few cases of the virus and life has largely returned to normal in the city of 7.4 million.
However, China has long detested the vigil, the only such activity allowed on Chinese territory to commemorate victims of the crackdown, which remains a taboo subject on the mainland. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops assaulted the center of Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 to break up weeks of student-led protests seen as posing a threat to authoritarian Communist Party rule.
Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday. Police and armored vehicles stood sentry on the vast surface the square. Few pedestrians lined up at security checkpoints where they must show ID to be allowed through as part of mass nationwide surveillance measures aimed at squelching any dissent.
The cancelation of the vigil also comes amid a tightening of Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong, with the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, moving to pass national security legislation that circumvents Hong Kong’s local legislature and could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity.
In Hong Kong, a law is being passed to make it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem and 15 well-known veteran activists were arrested and charged with organizing and taking part in illegal demonstrations. Those actions are seen as part of a steady erosion of civil rights Hong Kong was guaranteed when it was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Despite the ban on the vigil, the Asian financial hub was bracing for “pop-up” protests of the type that raged around the city during months of anti-government protests last year that often led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
Thousands have been arrested over the demonstrations, which were sparked by proposed legislation that could have seen suspects extradited to mainland China where they could face torture and unfair, politically biased trials.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China that organizes the annual vigil has called on people around the city to light candles at 8 p.m. and plans to livestream the commemorations on its website www.64live.org.
Alliance Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said protesters still planned to gather at the park to mourn victims of the massacre and show their support for the democratic cause in China. It wasn’t clear what form the activity would take or how many would attend. The entrance to the park was blocked by police barriers on Thursday.
“Hong Kong government tried to please or show loyalty to Beijing and ban our gathering before even the national security comes in. But we are determined,” Lee said at a kiosk set up by the group to distribute flyers in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district near the park.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, are planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government called again this year for Beijing to own up to the facts of the crackdown.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the crackdown anniversary on Tuesday, a day after federal forces used tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House.
Pompeo tweeted criticism of China and Hong Kong for banning the vigil before meeting privately with a group of Tiananmen Square survivors at the State Department. That too drew criticism from China.
Alongside the exchanges of rhetoric, China’s small, beleaguered dissident community has again come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Many have been placed under house arrest and their communications with the outside world cut off, according to rights groups.
China has released the last of those arrested for directly taking part in the Tiananmen demonstrations, but others who seek to commemorate them have been rearrested for continuing their activism.
They include Huang Qi, founder of website 64 Tianwang that sought to expose official wrongdoing. Reportedly in failing health, he is serving a 12-year-sentence after being convicted of leaking state secrets abroad.