Train crash kills 48 in Taiwan’s deadliest rail tragedy for decades

Picture taken on Aug. 21, 2019 shows a staff member standing next to a train of the Danhai Light Rail in New Taipei City. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 April 2021

Train crash kills 48 in Taiwan’s deadliest rail tragedy for decades

  • Officials in Hualien county said rescue efforts were continuing
  • Media reported 350 passengers were on board

HUALIEN, Taiwan: A Taiwan express train with almost 500 aboard derailed in a tunnel on Friday, killing at least 48 passengers and injuring 66 in the island’s worst rail disaster in almost four decades.
Images from the scene showed carriages in the tunnel ripped apart by the impact, with others crumpled, hindering rescuers in their efforts to reach passengers, although by mid-afternoon no one was still trapped.
“People just fell all over each other, on top of one another,” a woman who survived the crash told domestic television. “It was terrifying. There were whole families there.”
The crash, north of the eastern city of Hualien, killed the driver of the train carrying many tourists and people heading home at the start of a long weekend traditional holiday to tend to family graves.
Taiwan media said many people were standing as the train was so crowded, and were tossed about by the crash impact. Media showed pictures of survivors being led out of the tunnel.
The train, traveling from Taipei, the capital, to the southeastern city of Taitung came off the rails after apparently hitting a truck that had slid off a road from a nearby construction site.
At the site, Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung told reporters that it had been carrying about 490 people, higher than an earlier figure of 350 provided by fire authorities.
The official Central News Agency said the truck was suspected to have slid off the sloping road into the path of the train, as its handbrake had not been engaged, and added that police had taken in its driver for questioning.
The fire department showed a picture of what appeared to be wreckage of the truck beside the derailed train, with an aerial image of one end of the train still on the track next to the construction site.
“Our train crashed into a truck,” one man said in a video on Taiwan television that showed pictures of the wreckage. “The truck came falling down.”
Passengers in some train carriages still in the tunnel had to be led to safety, the railway administration said.
Images showed an injured passenger carried away on a stretcher, with her head and neck in a brace, while others gathered suitcases and bags in a tilted, derailed carriage as some walked on the roof of the train to leave the tunnel.
The accident came at the beginning of a long weekend for the traditional Tomb Sweeping Day holiday.
Taiwan’s mountainous east coast is a tourist destination. The railway that snakes down from Taipei hugs the coast and is known for its tunnels, in one of which the crash took place. The link to Taipei opened in 1979.
Taiwan’s state-owned railways are generally reliable and efficient, but have had a patchy safety record over the years.
In 2018, 18 people died and 175 were injured when a train derailed in the island’s northeast. In 1981, 30 were killed in a collision in its north, while a train crash in 1991 killed 30.


Pakistan allows AstraZeneca shot for under 40s to help its expatriates

Updated 41 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan allows AstraZeneca shot for under 40s to help its expatriates

  • Pakistan, which relies heavily on remittances from its expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia, has primarily used Chinese vaccines

KARACHI, Pakistan: Pakistan has lifted a rule barring the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for people below 40 years old, in a bid to help inoculate people who need to travel for education or jobs abroad, particularly Saudi Arabia, a health official said.
Pakistan, which relies heavily on remittances from its expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia, has primarily used Chinese vaccines — Sinopharm, CanSinoBio and Sinovac — in its inoculation drive and, till now, only used AstraZeneca for those above 40.
The Saudi authorities have not approved the Chinese shots, so people with only those vaccinations still need to quarantine, which is unaffordable for many, Faisal Sultan, a health adviser to the prime minister, said.
“From today, we have lifted the restriction for use of AstraZeneca for below 40 years,” Sultan told private news channel Geo television on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia has approved four COVID-19 vaccines for arrivals wanting to avoid quarantine, namely AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.
Pakistan has received 1.2 million doses of AstraZeneca under the COVAX facility.
Sultan said the government was using diplomatic channels to see if Saudi Arabia would approve Chinese vaccines in future.
As of June 11, 1.3 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million people had been fully vaccinated and 3.8 percent had received at least one dose, mostly Sinopharm or Sinovac, official figures show.
Saudi Arabia is the largest source of foreign remittances to Pakistan, which depends on these funds to support its current account given the country’s yawning trade deficit.
In the current financial year, Pakistan received $7 billion in remittances from Saudi Arabia, making up more than a quarter of overall remittances.

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Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations

Updated 47 min 43 sec ago

Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations

  • After a strict five-week lockdown, authorities in Delhi have fully re-opened shops and malls, and allowed restaurants to have 50% seating
  • Suburban rail networks can run at 50 percent capacity, and offices have been partially reopened

NEW DELHI: Having barely got over a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, India was gripped with alarm on Tuesday over risks of a resurgence as crowds thronged railway stations and shopping malls a day after major cities relaxed curbs on movement. The capital New Delhi, in the north, and tech hub Bengaluru, in the south, were among the cities that have begun lifting strict lockdowns as the nationwide tally of new infections dropped to its lowest level in more than two months.
After a strict five-week lockdown, authorities in Delhi have fully re-opened shops and malls, and allowed restaurants to have 50 percent seating. Suburban rail networks can run at 50 percent capacity, and offices have been partially reopened.
“Delhi’s top #mall saw a footfall of 19,000 people last weekend- as soon as it reopened. Have we gone totally mad?” Ambrish Mithal, a doctor with a Max HealthCare hospital in New Delhi said on Twitter. “Wait for #COVID19 to explode again- and blame the government, hospitals, country.”
Disease experts have cautioned that a race toward resuming business as usual would compromise vaccination efforts as only about 5 percent of all 950 million eligible adults have been inoculated.
Doctors say Delhi’s near-complete re-opening is concerning. The city’s authorities have said they would reimpose strict curbs if needed.
Thousands died in the capital in May, as oxygen supplies all but vanished and families pleaded on social media over scarce hospital beds. Many died in parking lots, and morgues ran out of space.
Yet, the city government said inoculation centers for people aged between 18 and 44 would start shutting down on Tuesday, as doses were scarce.
Challenge of inoculations, testing
India has been administering an average of 2.4 million shots a day. Health officials say vaccinations need to be at least four times higher to avoid a third wave of infections.
At the height of the second wave in April and May as many as 170,000 people died.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, has accelerated infections. And worryingly, the virus has spread to India’s vast hinterland where two-thirds of the population lives and vaccinations have been even slower.
As restrictions are lifted in big cities, migrant workers have begun returning from the countryside.
In the southern state of Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru, media reported large crowds of workers at railway stations.
“Unfortunately, citizens equate the government’s response to reopening, as a victory,” Dr. Vishal Rao, a member of the expert committee on Karnataka’s COVID task force, told Reuters.
Nationwide, India reported 60,471 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, the lowest since March 31, data from the health ministry showed.
India added 2,726 deaths overnight, taking the overall tally to 377,031.
Both the death toll and the case-load of infections, at 29.57 million, were the second highest after the United States, but experts say the official numbers are a gross underestimate. Only people who have tested positive are counted, and in India testing has been woefully inadequate.
The Times of India on Tuesday reported a staggering 100,000 people were issued fake ‘negative’ reports for COVID-19 infections in the northern city of Haridwar when tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered on the banks of the Ganges river for the ‘Kumbh Mela’, or pitcher festival, in April.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was widely criticized for failing to call off the Kumbh — he only belatedly urged religious leaders to celebrate symbolically — and for addressing large rallies during state elections also in April.
“One in every 4 tests during Kumbh was found fake. That is from just 1 sample collection agency. 8 more to go.” Rijo M John, a professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the southern city of Kochi, said on Twitter.
“Basically, just the tip of the iceberg.”

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Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations

Updated 15 June 2021

Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations

  • India has barely recovered from deadly second coronavirus wave at the height of which in April and May 170,000 people died
  • India has been administering average of 2.4 million shots daily, vaccinations need to be four times higher to avoid third wave

NEW DELHI: Having barely got over a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, India was gripped with alarm on Tuesday over risks of a resurgence as crowds thronged railway stations and shopping malls a day after major cities relaxed curbs on movement.
The capital New Delhi, in the north, and tech hub Bengaluru, in the south, were among the cities that have begun lifting strict lockdowns as the nationwide tally of new infections dropped to its lowest level in more than two months.
After a strict five-week lockdown, authorities in Delhi have fully re-opened shops and malls, and allowed restaurants to have 50 percent seating. Suburban rail networks can run at 50 percent capacity, and offices have been partially reopened.
“Delhi’s top #mall saw a footfall of 19,000 people last weekend- as soon as it reopened. Have we gone totally mad?” Ambrish Mithal, a doctor with a Max HealthCare hospital in New Delhi said on Twitter. “Wait for #COVID19 to explode again- and blame the government, hospitals, country.”
Disease experts have cautioned that a race toward resuming business as usual would compromise vaccination efforts as only about 5 percent of all 950 million eligible adults have been inoculated.
Doctors say Delhi’s near-complete re-opening is concerning. The city’s authorities have said they would reimpose strict curbs if needed.
Thousands died in the capital in May, as oxygen supplies all but vanished and families pleaded on social media over scarce hospital beds. Many died in parking lots, and morgues ran out of space.
Yet, the city government said inoculation centers for people aged between 18 and 44 would start shutting down on Tuesday, as doses were scarce.
CHALLENGE OF INOCULATIONS, TESTING
India has been administering an average of 2.4 million shots a day. Health officials say vaccinations need to be at least four times higher to avoid a third wave of infections. 
At the height of the second wave in April and May as many as 170,000 people died.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, has accelerated infections. And worryingly, the virus has spread to India’s vast hinterland where two-thirds of the population lives and vaccinations have been even slower.
As restrictions are lifted in big cities, migrant workers have begun returning from the countryside.
In the southern state of Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru, media reported large crowds of workers at railway stations.
“Unfortunately, citizens equate the government’s response to reopening, as a victory,” Dr. Vishal Rao, a member of the expert committee on Karnataka’s COVID task force, told Reuters.
Nationwide, India reported 60,471 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, the lowest since March 31, data from the health ministry showed.
India added 2,726 deaths overnight, taking the overall tally to 377,031.
Both the death toll and the case-load of infections, at 29.57 million, were the second highest after the United States, but experts say the official numbers are a gross underestimate. Only people who have tested positive are counted, and in India testing has been woefully inadequate.
The Times of India on Tuesday reported a staggering 100,000 people were issued fake ‘negative’ reports for COVID-19 infections in the northern city of Haridwar when tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered on the banks of the Ganges river for the ‘Kumbh Mela’, or pitcher festival, in April.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was widely criticized for failing to call off the Kumbh — he only belatedly urged religious leaders to celebrate symbolically — and for addressing large rallies during state elections also in April. 
“One in every 4 tests during Kumbh was found fake. That is from just 1 sample collection agency. 8 more to go.” Rijo M John, a professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the southern city of Kochi, said on Twitter.
“Basically, just the tip of the iceberg.”


Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

Updated 15 June 2021

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

  • Experts say that gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers west of Hong Kong
  • In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory

HONG KONG: China’s government said Tuesday no abnormal radiation was detected outside a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong following a news report of a leak, while Hong Kong’s leader said her administration was closely watching the facility.
The operators released few details, but nuclear experts say based on their brief statement, gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers (85 miles) west of Hong Kong.
A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, gave no confirmation of a leak or other details. He responded to reporters’ questions by saying, “there is nothing abnormal detected in the radiation level surrounding the plant.”
In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.
Framatome, a French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province, said Monday it was dealing with a “performance issue.” It said the facility was operating within safe limits.
That followed a report by CNN that Framatome told US authorities about a possible leak.
“With regards to foreign media reports about a nuclear plant in Taishan, Guangzhou, the Hong Kong government attaches a high degree of importance to this,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Lam said her government would ask authorities in Guangdong for information and tell the public about any developments.
China is one of the biggest users of nuclear power and is building more reactors at a time when few other governments have plans for new facilities because the cost of solar, wind and other alternatives is plunging.
Chinese leaders see nuclear as a way to reduce air pollution and demand for imports of oil and gas, which they deem a security risk. Government plans call for Hong Kong to use more mainland nuclear power to allow the closure of coal-fired power plants.
The Taishan plant, which began commercial operation in December 2018, is owned by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France, the majority owner of Framatome. A second reactor began operating in September 2019.
They are the first of a new type called European Pressurized Reactors. Two more are being built in Finland and France.
CNN reported Framatome wrote to the US Department of Energy warning of an “imminent radiological threat” and accusing Chinese authorities of raising acceptable limits for radiation outside the plant to avoid having to shut it down.
US officials believed there was no severe safety threat, CNN said.
The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN body, told The Associated Press it was aware of the issue and awaiting information from China.
Electricite de France said Monday it was informed of the increase in concentration of “certain rare gases” in Taishan reactor No. 1.
That suggests fuel rods are leaking noble gases, a byproduct of nuclear fission, according to Luk Bing-lam, an expert on nuclear engineering at the City University of Hong Kong.
“If the leakage is more severe, then you will start seeing more radioactive material like cesium, rather than gas,” said Luk, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Nuclear Society.
Such leaks “happen every so often” in China and plants “usually can handle it themselves,” Luk said. But he said this incident might be complicated if the Taishan plant uses US technology that is covered by export restrictions.
China’s state-owned nuclear power companies are on Washington’s “entity list” that bars them from obtaining US technology without government approval.
The French partner might ask for permission because Framatome previously licensed technology from Westinghouse, Luk said.
“With the situation now, that becomes difficult,” he said. “For even a small problem, they need US government approval.”
China has 50 operable reactors and is building 18 more, according to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group. It is largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction but is “making full use of Western technology while adapting and improving it,” the association says on its website.
China has constructed reactors based on French, US, Russian and Canadian technology and has developed its own Hualong One reactor, based on Westinghouse technology, marketing it abroad since 2015.
Hong Kong gets as much as one-third of its power from the Daya Bay nuclear power plant east of the territory in Guangdong.
Luk, who has worked with Chinese nuclear power plant operators, said he asked the company for information about the leak but managers won’t talk about it.
“I suspect the leakage is far more widespread than just a single assembly,” he said. “Because of that, they probably need some special technology to resolve this leakage problem.”
Previously, the Taishan facility leaked a “small amount” of radioactive gas on April 9, the National Nuclear Safety Administration said on its website. It said the event was “Level 0,” or “without safety significance.”
Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, defended China’s nuclear safety record and said the nuclear agency works with regulators in other countries and the IAEA.
“China’s nuclear power plants have maintained a good record in operation and no incidents affecting the environment or public health have occurred,” Zhao said.


At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp

Updated 15 June 2021

At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp

  • The officer said the bomber was disguised among recruits queueing up outside the General Dhegobadan Military Camp
MOGADISHU: At least 15 army recruits died Tuesday when a suicide bomber attacked a military training camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, an officer said.
“I have counted about 15 new recruits who have been killed in the blast,” said army officer Mohamed Adan, adding the toll could be higher.
Adan said the bomber was disguised among recruits queueing up outside the General Dhegobadan Military Camp when the explosion occurred.