North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

The official Korean Central News Agency said over 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2022

North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

  • The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April

SEOUL: North Korea on Thursday reported 262,270 more suspected COVID-19 cases as its pandemic caseload neared 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and scrambled to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.
The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported since the country lacks virus tests and other health care resources and may be underreporting deaths to soften the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s anti-virus headquarters reported a single additional death, raising its toll to 63, which experts have said is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of coronavirus infections.
The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. Most are believed to have COVID-19, though only a few omicron variant infections have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.
North Korea’s outbreak comes amid a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years in March. Experts don’t believe the COVID-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12 and has described a rapid spread since. Kim has called the outbreak a “great upheaval,” berated officials for letting the virus spread and restricted the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.
Workers were mobilized to find people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms who were then sent to quarantine — the main method of curbing the outbreak since North Korea is short of medical supplies and intensive care units that lowered COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in other nations.
State media images showed health workers in hazmat suits guarding Pyongyang’s closed-off streets, disinfecting buildings and streets and delivering food and other supplies to apartment blocks.


 The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April

The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)

Despite the vast numbers of sick people and the efforts to curb the outbreak, state media describe large groups of workers continuing to gather at farms, mining facilities, power stations and construction sites. Experts say North Korea cannot afford a lockdown that would hinder production in an economy already broken by mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures.


Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
Updated 05 July 2022

Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

  • An intense low-pressure system off Australia’s east coast is forecast to bring heavy rain through Monday across New South Wales

SYDNEY: Hundreds of homes have been inundated in and around Australia’s largest city in a flood emergency that was impacting 50,000 people, officials said Tuesday.
Emergency response teams made 100 rescues overnight of people trapped in cars on flooded roads or in inundated homes in the Sydney area, State Emergency Service manager Ashley Sullivan said.
Days of torrential rain have caused dams to overflow and waterways to break their banks, bringing a fourth flood emergency in 16 months to parts of the city of 5 million people.
The New South Wales state government declared a disaster across 23 local government areas overnight, activating federal government financial assistance for flood victims.

A couple walk through flood waters from their semi-submerged car at Richmond on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (AP)

Evacuation orders and warnings to prepare to abandon homes impacted 50,000 people, up from 32,000 on Monday, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
“This event is far from over. Please don’t be complacent, wherever you are. Please careful when you’re driving on our roads. There is still substantial risk for flash flooding across our state,” Perrottet said.
Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke credited the skill and commitment of rescue crews for preventing any death or serious injury by the fourth day of the flooding emergency.
Parts of southern Sydney had been lashed by more than 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) of rain in 24 hours, more than 17 percent of the city’s annual average, Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Jonathan How said.
Severe weather warnings of heavy rain remained in place across Sydney’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday. The warnings also extended north of Sydney along the coast and into the Hunter Valley.
The worst flooding was along the Hawkesbury-Nepean rivers system along Sydney’s northern and western fringes.
“The good news is that by tomorrow afternoon, it is looking to be mostly dry but, of course, we are reminding people that these floodwaters will remain very high well after the rain has stopped,” How said.
“There was plenty of rain fall overnight and that is actually seeing some rivers peak for a second time. So you’ve got to take many days, if not a week, to start to see these floodwaters start to recede,” How added.
The wild weather and mountainous seas along the New South Wales coast thwarted plans to tow a stricken cargo ship with 21 crew members to the safety of open sea.
The ship lost power after leaving port in Wollongong, south of Sydney, on Monday morning and risked being grounded by 8-meter (26-foot) swells and winds blowing at 30 knots (34 mph) against cliffs.
An attempt to tow the ship with tugboats into open ocean ended when a towline snapped in an 11-meter (36-foot) swell late Monday, Port Authority chief executive Philip Holliday said.
The ship was maintaining its position on Tuesday farther from the coast than it had been on Monday with two anchors and the help of two tugboats. The new plan was to tow the ship to Sydney when weather and sea conditions calmed as early as Wednesday, Holliday said. The original plan had been for the ship’s crew to repair their engine at sea.
“We’re in a better position than we were yesterday,” Holliday said. “We’re in relative safety.”
Perrottet described the tugboat crews’ response on Monday to save the ship as “heroic.”
“I want to thank those men and women who were on those crews last night for the heroic work they did in incredibly treacherous conditions. To have an 11-meter (36-foot) swell, to be undergoing and carrying out that work is incredibly impressive,” Perrottet said.


Police arrest suspect after gunman kills six at US July 4 parade

Updated 05 July 2022

Police arrest suspect after gunman kills six at US July 4 parade

HIGHLAND PARK, United States: Police arrested a suspect Monday after a mass shooting left six dead at a US Independence Day parade in a wealthy Chicago suburb, casting a dark shadow over the country’s most patriotic holiday.
Robert Crimo, 22, was identified as a “person of interest” and became the target of a massive manhunt across the town of Highland Park in Illinois, where a rooftop gunman with a high-powered rifle turned a family-focused July 4 parade celebration into a scene of death and trauma.
Firing into the holiday crowd, the shooter triggered scenes of total chaos as panicked onlookers ran for their lives, leaving behind a parade route strewn with chairs, abandoned balloons and personal belongings.
Emergency officials said around two dozen people, including children, were treated for gunshot injuries, with some in critical condition.
After a brief car chase, Crimo was taken into custody “without incident,” Highland Park police chief Lou Jogmen told reporters.
Earlier, police had warned that he was armed and “very dangerous.” A Chicago musician of the same age and with the same name goes by the stage moniker “Awake the Rapper” online.
The shooting is part of a wave of gun violence plaguing the United States, where approximately 40,000 deaths a year are caused by firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.
And it cast a pall over America’s Independence Day, in which towns and cities across the country hold similar parades and people — many dressed in variations on the US flag — hold barbecues, attend sports events and gather for firework displays.
“We were getting ready to march down the street and then all the sudden waves of these people started running after, like running toward us. And right before that happened, we heard the pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, and I thought it was fireworks,” Emily Prazak, who marched in the parade, told AFP.
Don Johnson, who attended the parade, said he initially thought the gunshots were a car backfiring.
“And finally, I heard the screams from a block down and people running and carrying their kids and everything, and we ran into the gas station, and we were in there for three hours,” he told AFP.
“I’ve seen scenes like this over and over again on the TV and in different communities, and didn’t think it was going to happen here ever,” he said.
Police officials said the shooting began at 10:14 am, when the parade was approximately three-quarters of the way through.
“It sounds like spectators were targeted... So, very random, very intentional and very sad,” said Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman Christopher Covelli.
Five of the six people killed, all adults, had died at the scene. The sixth was taken to hospital but succumbed to wounds there.
Dr. Brigham Temple of Highland Park Hospital, where most of the victims were taken, said that it had received 25 people with gunshot wounds aged eight to 85.
He said “four or five” children were among them, and that 16 people were later discharged.
Police said the shooter used a “high-powered rifle,” and “firearm evidence” had been located on the rooftop of a nearby business.
“All indications is he was discreet, he was very difficult to see,” said Covelli.
A Mexican was among those killed, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.
“We stand with the Chicago community in its pain and sadness over this tragedy,” he tweeted.
President Joe Biden voiced his shock and vowed to keep fighting “the epidemic of gun violence” sweeping the country.
“I’m not going to give up,” he said.
Last week, Biden signed the first significant federal bill on gun safety in decades, just days after the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a fundamental right to carry a handgun in public.
The deeply divisive debate over gun control was reignited by two massacres in May that saw 10 Black supermarket shoppers gunned down in upstate New York and 21 people, mostly young children, slain at an elementary school in Texas.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 309 mass shootings carried out in the US so far in 2022 — including at least three others on July 4, though without any fatalities.
“It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague,” Illinois governor JB Pritzker told reporters Monday.
“A day dedicated to freedom has put into stark relief the one freedom we as a nation refuse to uphold — the freedom of our fellow citizens to live without the daily fear of gun violence.”


Fruit growers in Indian-administered Kashmir face losses as trucks caught in pilgrimage traffic jams

Updated 04 July 2022

Fruit growers in Indian-administered Kashmir face losses as trucks caught in pilgrimage traffic jams

  • Thousands have come to contested region to visit Hindu shrine for Amarnath Yatra
  • Fruit-laden trucks were stranded as security forces held up traffic to check for threats

SRINAGAR: Fruit growers in Indian-administered Kashmir said on Monday they were facing huge losses as truck-loads of apples, pears and other produce got caught up in traffic jams caused by a security crackdown during an annual Hindu pilgrimage.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come through the contested region to visit a shrine in a Himalayan cave for the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage.

Numbers are even higher this year, as the event was shut down in 2021 during the pandemic - and security is tighter after police said last week they had uncovered a militant plot to attack pilgrims.

Fruit-laden trucks were stranded as security forces held up traffic to check for threats, Bashir Ahmad Basheer, from the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union, told Reuters.

"Freshly harvested plums, peaches, pears and apples need to be transported outside Kashmir or else they may rot in this heat and we will face heavy losses," he said.

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who leads the region, acknowledged there was a problem and said the government was working on plans to ease traffic.

"Trucks will only be stopped when pilgrims travel on the highway and trucks loaded with perishables won’t face any inconvenience," he told reporters.

Indian soldiers carrying automatic assault rifles and wearing flak jackets have been out guarding roads since the Hindu pilgrimage began in the Muslim-majority region in June.

"Pilgrims are our guests but our trucks should not be stopped," orchard owner Ghulam Mohammad Malik told Reuters.

He said farmers and traders would together face losses of 30 million Indian rupees ($380,000) per day if congestion did not ease.

Fruit cultivation is the backbone of Kashmir's economy, and gives work to about 3 million people, according to the growers union.

During the pilgrimage, Hindus cross glaciers and waterlogged trails to reach the mountain cave which contains an ice stalagmite that is considered a physical manifestation of the god Lord Shiva.

The cave is covered in snow for most of the year, but authorities let pilgrims visit it for 45 days over the summer as rising temperatures clear the passes.

India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir, which is divided between them but both claim in full, and it remains at the heart of decades of hostility.


Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Updated 04 July 2022

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

  • ‘Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to press ahead with Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine after troops took control of the entire Lugansk region.
“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” Putin told Shoigu.


Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

Updated 04 July 2022

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

  • Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday
  • Activists: Death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates

KUALA LUMPUR: Anti-death penalty activists in Malaysia urged Singapore’s government on Monday to halt the execution of a convicted Malaysian drug trafficker this week, the second in less than three months.
Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday, activists said. The execution of another Malaysian in late April sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be mentally disabled.
The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network delivered a statement to Singapore’s embassy urging that Kalwant’s execution be suspended to allow him an opportunity to file for clemency.
It said Kalwant, who was 23 when he was arrested in 2013, had been threatened with violence and forced to make drug deliveries to Singapore to repay a football gambling debt, and that factor was not adequately considered during his trial.
It said the death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates.
“The government of Singapore’s persistence in maintaining and utilizing the death penalty has only led to global condemnation and tarnishes Singapore’s image as a developed nation governed by the rule of law,” it added.
The hanging in April of Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be intellectually disabled with an IQ of 69. Another Malaysian drug trafficker who was to be hanged in April was given a reprieve pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
A Singapore activist, Kokila Annamalai, said convicted Singaporean drug trafficker Norasharee Gous is to be hanged on Thursday, the same day as Kalwant. She said they are the seventh and eighth executions scheduled this year. So far, two people including Nagaenthran have been hanged while four other executions were delayed by last-minute legal challenges, she said.