At least 3 dead in apparent gas explosion in north China

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, policemen and firefighters walk through damaged shophouses following an explosion in Shenyang in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 26 October 2021

At least 3 dead in apparent gas explosion in north China

  • China is replacing decades-old infrastructure, with gas lines an especially dangerous part of the project
  • That blast appeared similar to one that occurred in the northeastern port of Qingdao in 2013

BEIJING: An apparent gas explosion gutted part of a high rise in northern China on Thursday morning, killing at least three people and injuring 30.
It occurred at a hotel in Shenyang, a city of more than 8 million people and a major industrial center that is in the process of renovating and replacing decaying gas lines, state media reported.
Images posted online by news website The Paper and state broadcaster CCTV showed a cloud of dust and debris blowing onto a busy street, leaving the bottom three floors of the building a gutted shell. Concrete blocks were piled in the street and a three-wheeled delivery vehicle lay on its side.
China is replacing decades-old infrastructure, with gas lines an especially dangerous part of the project. In June, a gas line explosion at a market and residential area in the central city of Shiyan killed 25.
That blast appeared similar to one that occurred in the northeastern port of Qingdao in 2013, in which 55 people were killed when underground pipelines ripped open following a leak.
Along with the deteriorations caused by age, weak adherence to safety standards, poor maintenance and corruption among enforcement bodies are all considered contributors to such disasters. Among China’s worst accidents was a massive 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port city of Tianjin that killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers.


US screened 2.45 million passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020

Updated 57 min 5 sec ago

US screened 2.45 million passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020

  • Despite fears the jump in demand could strain the system, US air travel was relatively smooth over the holiday period
  • Airlines are also worried about new travel restrictions that the United States imposed on eight southern African countries that bar nearly all foreign nationals in response to a new COVID-19 variant

WASHINGTON: The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.45 million airline passengers on Sunday, the highest number of daily passengers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said Monday.
The tally was the highest for one day since mid-February 2020. Volume for the 10-day Thanksgiving travel period was 20.9 million, about 89 percent of pre-pandemic travel numbers, TSA added, and more than twice the volume over 2020.
Despite fears the jump in demand could strain the system, US air travel was relatively smooth over the holiday period, in part due to favorable weather. US airlines have been racing to add more staff and flights to handle the rising number of travelers, offering bonuses and other incentives for current staff.
Airlines are also worried about new travel restrictions that the United States imposed Monday on eight southern African countries that bar nearly all foreign nationals in response to a new COVID-19 variant, and are concerned these curbs may expand to other routes with higher traffic.
On Nov. 8, the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries including China, Brazil and much of Europe.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said that in the week ended Nov. 14, US airline passenger volumes were 10 percent below pre-pandemic levels, with domestic air travel down 8 percent and international down 25 percent.
Travel group AAA had forecast 53.4 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13 percent from 2020, with most travelers going by car.


Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

Updated 29 November 2021

Russia: Latest Zircon hypersonic missile test successful

  • Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles
MOSCOW: Russia said Monday it had carried out another successful test of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, as world powers race to develop the advanced weaponry.
Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.
As part of “the completion of tests” of Russia’s hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Zircon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the defense ministry said.
“The target was hit,” the ministry said, describing the test as successful.
The missile has undergone a number of recent tests, with Russia planning to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.
Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9.
Russia’s latest Zircon test came after Western reports that a Chinese hypersonic glider test flight in July culminated in the mid-flight firing of a missile at more than five times the speed of sound over the South China Sea.
Up until the test, none of the top powers had displayed comparable mastery of a mid-flight missile launch.
China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.
Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.
Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

Updated 29 November 2021

Couple caught fleeing Dutch COVID-19 quarantine moved to ‘forced isolation’

  • Pair left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa

AMSTERDAM: A couple caught trying to escape from COVID-19 quarantine in the Netherlands after testing positive for the coronavirus have been transferred to a hospital where they were being held in isolation, an official said on Monday.
The pair, a Spanish man and Portuguese woman, left the hotel where travelers who tested positive for the virus were staying after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa.
“They have now been transferred to a hospital elsewhere in the Netherlands to ensure they are in isolation. They are now in so-called forced isolation,” said Petra Faber, spokesperson for Haarlemmermeer municipality, where Schiphol is located just outside of the capital.
“We don’t know who tested positive for the new variant and we wouldn’t say because of privacy,” Faber said.
The couple fled the hotel on Sunday and had boarded a plane to Spain when they were detained by military police at the airport, said Faber. They were among 61 out of the more than 600 passengers who arrived on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town on Friday and tested positive for COVID-19.
At least 13 of those infected have the newly identified omicron variant of the virus, Dutch health authorities said on Sunday.
Security at the hotel has in the meantime been increased to ensure the quarantined guests stay in their rooms. It is being guarded by regular police and military police.
The discovery of omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.
Dutch authorities are also seeking to contact and test some 5,000 other passengers who have traveled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe.
In the Netherlands, tougher COVID-19 measures went into effect on Sunday to curb record daily infection rates of more than 20,000 and ease pressure on hospitals.


India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

Updated 29 November 2021

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

  • Narendra Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament on Monday passed a bill to repeal three laws aiming at deregulating agricultural markets, bowing to pressure from farmers who have protested for over a year to demand that the laws be rolled back.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration introduced the farm bills last year through an executive order, traditionally reserved for emergency legislation, triggering India’s longest-running farmers’ protest. Parliament then passed the legislation via a voice vote, drawing widespread criticism that it had rushed through the laws without proper debate.
In a bid to end the protests ahead of the state assembly election in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament.
As parliament reconvened for its winter session on Monday, both the lower and upper houses passed the bill to withdraw the laws meant to deregulate and open up agricultural markets to companies. Farmers have said the laws would leave them with scant bargaining power against big private purchasers.
The controversial laws saw tens of thousands of people, including many elderly growers and women farmers, brave extreme weather and a severe second wave of coronavirus infections to camp out on the outskirts of New Delhi over the past year.
In addition to their repeal demand, protesting farmers are also asking that Modi’s administration introduce a law to secure government prices for produces beyond just rice and wheat.
The government currently buys rice and wheat at state-set Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), but the subsidies only benefit about 6 percent of India’s millions of farmers.
Protesters are demanding MSPs for all crops – a move that has galvanized growers across the country and taken the protest beyond India’s grain-growing states of Punjab and Haryana.
The government has not yet made any comment on the protesters’ demand for MSPs.
Farmers celebrated the development but said the protest would only be called off when the government promised legislation on MSPs for all produce.


Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

Updated 29 November 2021

Greeks urged to evacuate Ethiopia

  • Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa
  • The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital

ATHENS: Greece’s foreign ministry on Monday urged Greek nationals to leave Ethiopia, warning that conditions in the war-torn country were becoming “increasingly unpredictable.”
“It is recommended to Greek nationals living in Ethiopia that they leave the country on available commercial flights as soon as possible,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said safety conditions in Ethiopia were “particularly fragile.”
It said Greeks who chose to remain should limit their movements, stock up on food, water and fuel, and stay in contact with the Greek embassy in Addis Ababa and the ministry’s crisis management team.
The US, Canada and other nations have also told their citizens to leave the country amid fears that Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital.
The war erupted in November 2020 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into the Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The civil war has left thousands dead and displaced more than two million people.