Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak

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Customers wearing face masks shop live seafood at a Carrefour supermarket, following new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in Beijing, China June 17, 2020. (Reuters)
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People wearing face masks wait for the delivery of goods they ordered online in a residential area in Xicheng district which is under lockdown after a new COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak near the closed Xinfadi Market in Beijing on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Medical workers stand on the roadside watching people who had their car number plates recorded in the area of the Xinfadi market where a new COVID-19 coronavirus cluster emerged last week, walk to do swab tests for the coronavirus at a testing centre in Beijing on June 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2020

Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak

  • All schools have been ordered to close again and return to online classes
  • Officials have closed 11 markets and disinfected thousands of food and beverage businesses in Beijing

BEIJING: Beijing’s airports canceled two-thirds of all flights on Wednesday and schools in the Chinese capital were closed again as authorities rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak and warned infections may rise.
The city reported 31 new cases while officials urged residents not to leave Beijing, with fears growing about a second wave of infections in China, which had largely brought the contagion under control since its emergence in Wuhan late last year.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been tested so far following the fresh outbreak, which is believed to have started in the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market.
Almost 30 residential compounds in the city are now under lockdown.
“Because the Xinfadi market is the largest marketplace selling daily necessities, with thousands of migrant workers and a large number of visitors, it is hard to control the spread,” said Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We may see a rise in confirmed cases in the coming days,” Pang told a regular press briefing.
Beijing has reported 137 infections over the past six days and 95 percent of them were “mild cases,” Pang said.
The city has ramped up its testing capacity and is gathering about 400,000 samples a day, said Zhang Qiang, an official from Beijing’s epidemic prevention task force.
Since June 13, 356,000 samples have been tested. That includes swabs from workers and visitors to different markets in Beijing and communities near to spots where outbreaks have been registered.
A shortage of expensive testing machines has led to delays in processing.
At least 1,255 scheduled flights were canceled Wednesday, state-run People’s Daily reported — nearly 70 percent of all trips to and from Beijing’s main airports.
The outbreak had already forced authorities to announce a travel ban for residents of “medium- or high-risk” areas of the city, while requiring all other residents to take nucleic acid tests in order to leave Beijing.
Several provinces were quarantining travelers from Beijing, where all schools — which had mostly reopened — have been ordered to close again and return to online classes.
Officials have closed 11 markets and disinfected thousands of food and beverage businesses in Beijing after the outbreak was detected.
In addition to the cluster in Beijing, two domestic cases — one in neighboring Hebei province and another in the eastern province of Zhejiang — were reported Wednesday, while there were 11 imported cases.
A local case was also reported in Tianjin, a large city located just outside Beijing to the southeast, state television announced late in the day.
The 22-year-old man, a hotel restaurant worker, reportedly had not left Tianjin in the two weeks before displaying symptoms — fueling speculation about another possible cluster.
Authorities have so far banned group sports, ordered people to wear masks in crowded enclosed spaces, and suspended inter-provincial group tours in response to the outbreak.
Bars in Beijing’s trendy Sanlitun area were ordered to shut down, while shops were seeing lighter foot traffic.
Officials said that since May 30, more than 200,000 people had visited Xinfadi market, which supplies more than 70 percent of Beijing’s fruit and vegetables.
Until the new outbreak, most of China’s recent cases were nationals returning from abroad as COVID-19 spread globally, and the government had all but declared victory against the disease.
China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the virus type found in the Beijing outbreak was a “major epidemic strain” in Europe.


Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

Updated 1 min 47 sec ago

Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

  • “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said
  • He hailed the text saying it is “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France”

PARIS:President Emmanuel Macron praised French Muslim leaders on Monday after they agreed on a “charter of principles” aimed at combatting sectarianism and radicalized teachings blamed for a surge in jihadist attacks in France in recent years.
The charter offers “a clarification of how the Muslim community is organized,” Macron said after a meeting with representatives of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), his office said.
It will also provide a framework for a new National Council of Imams that will be responsible for vetting imams practicing in the country.
“This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.”
Macron had urged the council to act against “political Islam” in November after the killing of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded outside his school after showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed as part of a free-speech lesson.
The attack prompted a crackdown against extremist mosques and Islamist associations, along with a vigorous defense of French secularism.
The new 10-point charter “states clearly that the principles of the Muslim faith are perfectly compatible with the principles of the republic,” CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui told journalists after the meeting.
The accord was hammered out Saturday during a meeting with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values.
Moussaoui said all eight of the CFCM’s federations, representing various strands of Islam, approved the charter, but three had yet to sign the accord because “they need a bit more time to explain what it means to their followers,” an Elysee official said.
Hakim El Karoui, an author and expert on Islam in France, called the intention of the charter “praiseworthy,” but said it also shone a harsh light on internal tensions at the CFCM which he said consists of “five federations financed by foreign countries and three federations that are Islamist.”
El Karoui said “the charter was adopted by people whose interests clash with the text.”
Franck Fregosi, an Islam expert at research institute CNRS, said no other country, and no other religion in France, had a comparable charter.
“I’m not certain that this text, even once it gets signed, will get wide backing from Islam on the ground,” he said.
The imam of the mosque in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Tariq Oubrou, said the charter had been developed back-to-front.
“It should be Muslim scholars and theologians who write a text and then submit it to the CFCM, not the other way around,” he said.
The charter rejects “instrumentalising” Islam for political ends and affirms equality between men and women, while denouncing practices such as female circumcision, forced marriages and “virginity certificates” for brides.
“No religious conviction whatsoever can be invoked as an exemption from the duties of citizens,” it states.
It also explicitly rejects racism and anti-Semitism, and warns that mosques “are not created for the spreading of nationalist speech defending foreign regimes.”
Macron has also said that authorities plan to expel the roughly 300 imams in France sent to teach from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria.
The charter accord comes as a parliamentary commission began debate Monday over a new draft law to fight “pernicious” Islamist radicalism with measures to ensure France’s strict separation of religious bodies and state in the public sphere.
The legislation would tighten rules on issues from religious-based education to polygamy, though Macron has insisted the goal is to protect all French citizens without stigmatising the country’s estimated four to five million Muslims, the largest number in Europe.