Beijing urges millions to keep working from home amid COVID-19 outbreak menace

Five of the Beijing’s 16 districts advised residents to work from home and avoid gatherings. Those who have to go to work should have a negative result on a PCR test taken within 48 hours. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Beijing urges millions to keep working from home amid COVID-19 outbreak menace

  • The Chinese capital on Monday reported 99 new cases were detected on May 22, up from 61 the previous day

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Beijing authorities extended work-from-home guidance for many of its 22 million residents to stem a persistent COVID-19 outbreak, while Shanghai deployed more testing and curbs to hold on to its hard-won ‘zero COVID’ status after two months of lockdown.
On Monday, the Chinese capital reported 99 new cases were detected on May 22, up from 61 the previous day — the largest daily tally so far during a month-old outbreak that has consistently seen dozens of new infections every day.
In Shanghai fewer than 600 daily cases were reported for May 22, with none outside quarantined areas, as there has been the case for much of the past week.
Analysts at Gavekal Dragonomics estimated last week that fewer than 5 percent of Chinese cities were reporting infections, down from a quarter in late March, in a COVID-19 outbreak that has cast a pall over growth in the world’s no. 2 economy. But vigilance, and concern, remains acute in Shanghai and the capital.
While there were no new announcements of areas being closed in Beijing, five of the city’s 16 districts advised residents to work from home and avoid gatherings. Those who have to go to work should have a negative result on a PCR test taken within 48 hours, and must not deviate from their home-to-work commute.
“The city’s epidemic prevention and control is at a critical moment,” Beijing’s Tongzhou district posted on its WeChat account late on Sunday, asking residents who work in five other districts to do their jobs from home this week.
“One step forward and victory is in sight. One step back, and previous efforts would be wasted.”
Beijing had already curtailed public transport, asked some shopping malls and other stores and venues to close and sealed buildings where new cases were detected.
In one large residential compound not under isolation orders, shelves have been set up for deliveries at the entrance, according to residents, fueling concern that preparation was in place for tougher controls on movement.
The curbs in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere in China are leaving behind significant economic damage and disruption to global supply chains and international trade.
The highly-transmissible omicron variant of the virus first discovered in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 has proven hard to defeat even with strict measures that starkly contrast the resumption of normal life elsewhere in the world.
“We’ve been massively hit,” said a convenience store owner surnamed Sun, whose shop in Beijing has only been allowed to operate during daytime rather than its usual 24/7 hours.
“Even during the Wuhan outbreak we could stay open the whole time.”
In Shanghai, which reopened more than 250 bus routes and a small part of its sprawling subway system on Sunday, many towns and districts announced more mass testing for the coming days and asked residents not to leave their compounds.
The commercial hub of 25 million has allowed more people to leave their homes for brief periods over the past week, but it generally plans to keep most restrictions in place this month, before a lifting its two-month-old lockdown from June 1.
However, while more people are being allowed outside, several residents in various areas of Shanghai said they had been told of new infections in their vicinity that required new curbs on movement.
One resident in Hongkou district, which has not reported any new community-level cases since May 7, said he was told last week not to leave his flat, having been allowed to move within his compound previously.
Hongkou was among six districts which have announced some tightening of curbs in recent days to “consolidate” the results of their efforts so far.
But such moves made some people fear the virus was making a comeback.
The top comment on a post by state agency Xinhua on China’s Twitter-like Weibo post on Shanghai’s latest numbers read: “This can’t be accurate, zero COVID cases at community level? Our compound had one new case yesterday.”
Asked to comment, the Shanghai government said that all cases found in recent days were in “sealed” high-risk areas or quarantine centers, and that any community transmission cases would be announced on official channels.


Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Updated 05 July 2022

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

  • The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines

MANILA: A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last week.
Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by New People’s Army rebels along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the seven soldiers, regional army commander Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.
“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.
The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.
The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.
On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said.
Marcos Jr. must deal with decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with longstanding territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.
During the campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.
The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.
Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.
The new president is the son of the late leader Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was known for killings, torture and disappearances of suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.
The elder Marcos was overthrown in an army-backed 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into US exile.
After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they achieved a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family image on social media, critics say.


US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

Updated 05 July 2022

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

  • The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement

SEOUL: US Air Force F-35A stealth fighters arrived in South Korea on Tuesday on their first publicly announced visit since 2017 as the allies and nuclear-armed North Korean engage in an escalating cycle of displays of weapons.
Joint military drills had been publicly scaled back in recent years, first in 2018 because of efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea and later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has sought to increase public displays of allied military power, including exercises, to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.
North Korea also appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.
The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defense posture of the US-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK and US Air Force,” the ministry said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name.
The aircraft deployed from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.
A USFK spokesperson said it was the first public deployment of the 5th generation fighter aircraft to South Korea since December 2017, but did not elaborate whether there had been unannounced visits.
A former senior US official previously told Reuters that during diplomatic talks many drills had in fact continued but had not been publicized.
South Korea has purchased 40 of its own F-35As from the United States, and is looking to buy another 20. The South Korean air force F-35As will be among the aircraft participating in the joint drills, USFK said.
North Korea has denounced joint exercises as well as South Korea’s weapons purchases as an example of “hostile policies” that prove US offers to negotiate without preconditions are hollow.


NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

Updated 05 July 2022

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

  • A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two

BRUSSELS: The process to ratify Sweden and Finland as the newest members of NATO was formally launched on Tuesday, the military alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg said, marking a historic step brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This is a good day for Finland and Sweden and a good day for NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters in a joint press statement with the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers.

“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” he added.

The NATO secretary general was speaking ahead of a meeting in which the ambassadors from NATO’s 30 member states were expected to sign the accession protocols for the two Nordic countries, opening a months-long period for alliance countries to ratify their membership.

 

“We are tremendously grateful for all the strong support that our accession has received from the allies,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

“We are convinced that our membership would strengthen NATO and add to the stability in the Euro Atlantic area,” she added.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Sweden and Finland in parallel announced their intention to drop their military non-alignment status and become part of NATO.

A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two, after Turkey won concessions over concerns it had raised and a US promise it would receive new warplanes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Sweden and Finland of being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush, and for promoting “terrorism.”

He also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed for Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan has kept the rest of NATO on tenterhooks by saying he could still block Sweden and Finland’s bids if they fail to follow through on their promises, some of which were undisclosed, such as possible extradition agreements.

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Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Updated 05 July 2022

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

  • Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens

QUETTA, Pakistan: At least six people, including women and children, were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed in heavy rains lashing southwestern Pakistan and other parts of the country, a provincial disaster management agency said Tuesday.
There were fears the death toll could be higher as several people went missing after flash flooding hit southwestern Baluchistan province’s remote areas overnight, according to a statement from the agency.
Authorities say the latest spell of torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued on Tuesday, also damaged dozens of homes in Baluchistan.
Since June, rains have killed 38 people and damaged more than 200 homes across Pakistan, including in Baluchistan, where over the weekend, a passenger bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep ravine amid heavy rain, killing 19 people.
Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens.


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.