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Coronavirus Cases and Deaths Rise

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  • The new coronavirus that originated from Wuhan, China has now killed at least 81 people and more than 2,700 cases have been detected worldwide. 
  • Most of the cases are in China, though low numbers have been found in other nations, including the United States.
  • Wuhan’s mayor has offered to resign in wake of criticism for the Chinese government’s response to the health crisis.
  • The United States, France, and Japan have all announced plans to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan and bring them home on limited-capacity flights.

Rising Numbers

The coronavirus outbreak that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan significantly worsened over the weekend, bringing the death toll to at least 81 and the confirmed number of cases to over 2,700.

The majority of the cases have been found in China, but several have been detected in other nations across four continents, including the United States, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and France.  

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed three newly-detected cases of the novel coronavirus in Southern California and Arizona, bringing the overall number of infected people in the U.S. to five. The other cases were found last week in Washington and Illinois. 

“It is likely there will be more cases reported in the U.S. in the coming days and weeks, likely including person-to-person spread,” the CDC wrote. 

“While this is a serious public health threat, CDC continues to believe the immediate risk to the U.S. general public is low at this time,” it added.

No deaths from the coronavirus have been reported outside of China. 

Chinese Government’s Response 

In efforts to control the outbreak of the novel virus, plans have been made to rapidly build a new hospital and travel bans have been imposed around the nation, affecting millions of people. 

As conditions have worsened, Chinese officials are facing criticism from people saying that their response to the outbreak was too slow.

Zhou Xianwang, Wuhan’s mayor, defended himself in an interview with the state broadcaster CCTV, saying that he had to wait for authorization from Beijing officials before he could make certain critical information public. 

Regardless of this point, Mayor Xianwang also offered to step down from his position and said that he and Ma Guoqiang, the city’s Communist Party secretary, will resign and take the blame if it will appease the public.

Xianwang’s comments were broadcasted the same day Premier Li Keqiang, China’s second-highest ranking official, arrived in Wuhan to inspect regulation efforts of the disease. His visit is seen as a move to prove the central government’s adequate involvement with this crisis. 

In further attempts to impose the travel bans, the Chinese government extended the Lunar New Year holiday by three days. The weeklong celebration started on Friday and was supposed to end this Thursday, but the spreading virus threw a wrench in many people’s travel and celebration plans. Now employees won’t have to return to work until Feb. 3.

International Evacuation Plans

Despite China’s imposed travel bans, other nations have devised plans to evacuate their citizens from high-risk areas and bring them home. 

The U.S. Department of State announced its plans to bring select consulate staff members and other American citizens from Wuhan to San Francisco on a flight on Jan. 28. 

“This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus,” the Department said.

France’s government is arranging similar plans to bring French nationals back from the Wuhan area via air travel. Once these passengers return, they will be required to spend a maximum of 14 days in quarantine.  

Japan also said they would be chartering at least one plane this week to bring citizens home from Wuhan.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (CBS)

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Trump Applauds Modi on Religious Freedom Amid Violent Protests in India

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  • Violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims have broken out in New Delhi over a controversial citizenship law.
  • The protests, which have been described as the worst violence in the city for decades, have been ongoing since Sunday. 
  • According to reports, 13 people have died and 150 have been injured.
  • In another part of New Delhi, President Trump praised Prime Minister Modi— who has long championed the law behind the violence— for his efforts on religious freedom.

Trump Applauds Modi

President Donald Trump applauded Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s record on religious freedom as Hindus and Muslims clashed violently just miles away over a controversial law championed by Modi.

The law, called the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), grants citizenship to religious minorities who came to India illegally from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

Those eligible for citizenship under the law include people from every major religion in South Asia except for Muslims.

Critics of CAA say it is anti-Muslim and accuse Modi and his Hindu nationalist party of openly discriminating against Muslims and trying to make them second-class citizens in India.

But Modi and his supporters have repeatedly argued that the law protects persecuted religious minorities who immigrate to India from those Muslim-majority countries.

Protests have been ongoing since CAA was passed by India’s Parliament in December. However, the most recent demonstrations in New Delhi have been described as the deadliest violence the capital city has seen in decades.

The protests first broke out Sunday and have been ongoing ever since. According to reports, 13 people have died and 150 have been injured in that time.

As the violence over the legislation espoused by Modi raged on nearby, Trump praised the prime minister’s efforts on religious freedom while speaking at a press conference.

“The prime minister was incredible in what he told me. He wants people to have religious freedom and very strongly,” the president said.

“We talked about religious liberty for a long period of time in front of a lot of people. And I had a very, very powerful answer,” he continued.

“And as far as Muslims are concerned, as he told me, I guess they have 200 million Muslims in India. And a fairly short while ago they had 14 million. And he said that they are very— working very closely with the Muslim community.”

When asked about the law behind the violence, Trump said that it was “up to India” to handle it.

Protests

It is not entirely clear how the violence started. Both groups blame each other for initiating the clashes and media reports are inconsistent.

What we do know is that protestors who oppose the bill held a sit-in over the weekend that blocked a major road. 

On Sunday, Kapil Mishra, a local leader from Modi’s party, said that he did not want to cause a scene while Trump was visiting, but threatened to send a mob of his supporters to forcibly remove the demonstrators if the police failed to act once the president left.

From there, the reporting gets hazy. While some outlets said that both Muslims and Hindus both started throwing rocks at each other after Mishra threatened the protestors, others reported that Hindu mobs attacked the Muslim demonstrators first, throwing rocks and beating them.

Regardless of the initial confrontation, it is evident situation escalated rapidly. According to reports, both sides threw rocks at each other and at stores. Some people reportedly threw petrol bombs, while others set shops, cars, and other vehicles on fire.

In one viral video, a Hindu mob was seen climbing on and defacing a burning mosque before reportedly hoisting a flag of a Hindu god.

Another viral picture that circulated on social media showed a group of Hindu men beating a Muslim man with sticks and leaving him on the ground covered in blood.

Several journalists were also reportedly attacked.

Police responded with tear gas, grenades, and Molotov cocktails. However, multiple outlets also reported that the police mostly stood by the Hindus and did not do much to stop the violence.

Several Muslim protestors told reporters that police officers watched as they were attacked and did nothing. Some officers even encouraged the Hindu mobs to burn down Muslims’ property, according to some reports.

On Tuesday, officials banned large gatherings, shut down subway stations, and closed schools in the surrounding areas in an attempt to control the violence.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (BBC) (The Guardian)

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Saudi Arabia Orders Rapper’s Arrest After Song Praising Women in Mecca

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  • Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid bin Faisal has called for the arrest of a rapper and her production crew after she posted a music video praising women in Mecca to YouTube.
  • The song, “Mecca Girls,” features singer Ayasel Slay rapping about how beautiful and strong women in Mecca are in comparison to other cities.
  • Bin Faisal has denounced the video as offensive to “the customs and traditions of the people of Mecca.”
  • The Saudi Arabian government has faced accusations of racism, with many saying that Ayasel’s arrest has only been ordered because she is of African descent and not part of the Arab ethnic group.

Ayasel Slay Posts “Mecca Girl”

The Saudi Arabian government is calling for the arrest of a singer after she posted a song called “Mecca Girl” to YouTube last week.

That music video features singer/rapper Ayasel Slay dancing in a coffee shop. In it, she raps about women in Mecca, praising them as the strongest and most beautiful in all of Saudi Arabia.

“A Mecca girl is all you need. Don’t upset her, she will hurt you,” she raps at one point. 

Notably, Slay, who is reportedly of Eritrean descent, also specifically raps about the beauty of both light- and dark-skinned women, saying: “She’s white, shines like a lightbulb. She’s dark, her beauty stings.”

The end of the music video shows kids dancing and having fun. Like Ayasel, many of the children are black.

While the video has garnered praise from activists, it’s also been hit with heavy religious criticism for featuring Mecca. Though also filmed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia’s holiest city, “Mecca Girl” was not filmed at any religious site.  Nonetheless, Muslims consider the entire area sacred.

The mention of Mecca was enough to prompt Prince Khalid bin Faisal, governor of the Mecca province, to call for Ayasel’s arrest, as well as the arrest of her production crew. 

In a post to Twitter, he said the music video “offends the customs and traditions of the people of Mecca and contradicts the elevated identity and traditions of its sons.” He then used the hashtag “You_Are_Not_Mecca’s_Girls.”

Following bin Faisal’s call to arrest Ayasel, she reportedly deleted her YouTube channel, also deleting “Mecca Girl” in the process. Numerous copies of the music video have since been posted to YouTube.

Accusations of Racism by the Saudi Government

Though some have argued that Ayasel’s incorporation of Mecca into her song was the reason behind the Saudi government’s retaliation against her, others have said the government is targeting Ayasel specifically because she is black. 

“The consequences are not equaling the crime, because there is no crime there,” Seattle-based Saudi activist Amani Al-Ahmadi told The Washington Post. “It’s obviously targeted against a woman who they feel doesn’t represent what Saudi and Mecca should be.” 

“It was very modest in nature,” she added. “If anything, it was just talking about how strong women are in the city compared to others… If you changed that city to any other city, you wouldn’t even know the difference. If she wasn’t a woman of color, they wouldn’t have seen her as a minority to target.”

Critics have also pointed to a 2018 music video featuring rapper Leesa, who went viral for singing about the end to a ban that prevented women in Saudi Arabia from driving. 

Like “Mecca Girl,” Leesa’s song featured overt messages of female empowerment.

“I don’t need anyone to take me/ I put the seat belt over my abaya,” she raps at one point. 

Unlike Ayasel’s performance, Leesa’s was more well-received, with critics noting that ethnically, Leesa is Arab. On the other hand, Slay is of African descent—even if Mecca is her hometown.

Online Response

Criticism against Ayasel has also made waves on social media, with many people using the #You_Are_Not_Mecca’s_Girls hashtag to attack Ayasel.

“Immediate deportation is the answer, in addition to holding every foreigner who claims to be from Mecca accountable,” one person said. 

Others, however, doubled down that Ayasel’s arrest warrant wasn’t about race but the fact that she referenced Islam’s most holy city in a song.

By Tuesday, many people had taken the “#You_Are_Not_Mecca’s_Girls” hashtag and flooded it with support for Ayasel, and in turn, criticism of the government. 

“Had it been an affluent, well connected, light skinned Saudi influencer who created the video it would have been used in MBS’s propaganda as a sign of progress and reform. Double standards & hypocrisy at its best,” one user said.

Some people also accused Saudi Arabia of hypocrisy, noting that the country has been trying to change its strict social codes by booking performances from major acts such as Nicki Minaj, BTS, and Liam Payne. 

Notably, all of those acts faced their own criticism for agreeing to perform in the country, especially considering Saudi Arabia’s poor track record with women and LGBTQ+ groups. That backlash then prompted Minaj to drop her performance.

“Shout out to the Saudi government for inviting Nicki Minaj to perform in a bid to appear “modern” but banned and arrested an *actual* Black Saudi female rapper who created a banger about her hometown #AsayelSlay,” one user said. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, it is unclear still unclear whether or not the Saudi Arabian government has taken any action against Ayasel.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Al Jazeera) (Mashable)

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Seoul to Improve Semi-Basement Apartments After ‘Parasite’ Shines Light on Issues

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  • The Seoul city government said it will financially support 1,500 households living in semi-basement apartments like the one depicted in the Oscar-winning film “Parasite.”
  • With the help of the Korea Energy Foundation, the local government will offer up to 3.2 million won (about 2,630 USD) per household for enhancements like new floors, air conditioners, fire alarms, ventilators, and more. 
  • While many have noted that this new initiative won’t lift semi-basement dwellers completely out of trouble, they still feel that’s a step in the right direction that could help prevent thousands from sinking into worse conditions. 

Film Draws Attention to Poor Living Conditions 

After making history at the 92nd Academy Awards, the South Korean film “Parasite” has now inspired the Seoul Metropolitan Government to address poor living conditions in the city. 

The dark comedy thriller, directed by Bong Joon-ho, took home four Oscars at this year’s ceremony and became the first non-English language film to earn the Best Picture trophy. 

But aside from the historic win, the film also shined a light on the realities of living in semi-basement apartments also known as “Banjiha,” the Korean word for cramped basement flat. 

In the film, the scheming Kim family lives in a semi-basement apartment that is prominently portrayed as a dark, smell, and small space. But while the movie is a work of fiction, its portrayal of these apartments is apparently not.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there were over 360,000 semi-basement apartments in South Korea as of 2015, with the majority located in the greater Seoul metropolitan area. Many of the units were originally built as emergency bunkers in the 1970s—an era of intense military tension between North and South Korea. 

Some of these spaces were later converted into cheap rental units and though it was initially illegal to rent them out, the government walked back on their restrictions during the housing crisis in the 1980s, when living spaces began running short in the capital. 

Government Plans to Take Action 

As depicted in the film, Banjiha spaces actually are dark, poorly ventilated, damp, and often far too compact to support the number of residents living inside. But for many low-income people, these are some of their best options for affordable housing. 

The Korea Herald cited city statistics that said 78% of Seoul’s semi-basement dwellers are in the bottom 30% income bracket. So to address the housing issues that became highly discussed since the movie’s release and subsequent success, the Seoul Metropolitan Government vowed to support 1,500 families living in these homes.

According to The Korea Herald, the local government is partnering with the Korea Energy Foundation to offer “up to 3.2 million won [about 2,630 USD] per household to enhance heating systems, replace floors, and install air conditioners, dehumidifiers, ventilators, windows, and fire alarms.”

Residents who live in semi-basement apartments and earn less than 60% of the country’s median income will be able to submit applications to the government to be selected for renovation. The government also said it plans to expand the range of recipients each year. 

While many have noted that this new initiative won’t lift semi-basement dwellers completely out of trouble, they still feel that it’s a step in the right direction that could help prevent thousands from sinking into worse conditions. 

See what others are saying: (IndieWire) (BBC) (The Korean Herald) 

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