- Many countries have implemented travel restrictions on China and foreigners who have visited China to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
- In Hong Kong, hospital workers launched a 5-day strike after leader Carrie Lam refused to fully close the city’s border with China, despite pressure from across the political spectrum and the fact that other countries have closed their shared border with China.
- China slammed the U.S. in particular for its strict travel restrictions, arguing that U.S. media condemned the Trump administration’s decision to impose the new rules.
- Some disputed that claim, noting that media outlets in the U.S. have received criticism for sensationalist headlines and fostering xenophobia.
WHO Announces More Coronavirus Cases and Deaths
More and more countries around the world have ramped up travel restrictions as fears over the coronavirus continue to spread.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that there have been 17,238 confirmed cases and 361 deaths in China.
He also said that there were 151 confirmed cases in 23 other countries and one death, which was reported by the Philippines on Sunday.
“Last week I declared a public health emergency of international concern over the outbreak of #2019nCoV.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 3, 2020
As of this morning, there are 17,238 confirmed cases in 🇨🇳 & 361 deaths. Outside 🇨🇳, there are 151 confirmed cases in 23 countries & 1 death”-@DrTedroshttps://t.co/JvKC0PTett
In a warning to his colleagues at the WHO executive board meeting, Tedros stated that “panic and fear” were the real challenges in addressing the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s no reason to really panic now,” he said. “The chances of getting this going to anywhere outside China is very low, and even in China, when you go to other provinces, it’s very low.”
Tedros also reiterated that there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” a point the WHO has repeated since it declared that the coronavirus an international emergency.
U.S. Travel Restriction
But global leaders appear to be ignoring that warning.
The U.S., for example, has already implemented some of the strongest measures. On Friday, President Donald Trump’s administration declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and imposed strict travel restrictions.
In the announcement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that all foreign nationals who have been to China in the past 14 days will be barred from entering the states starting Sunday.
Those restrictions do not apply to immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
The secretary also described restrictions for the Hubei province, which houses Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first broke out. Under the new rules, U.S. citizens who visited the Hubei province in the last two weeks will be subject to quarantine for 14 days.
U.S. citizens who have been to other areas of mainland China in the last two weeks will be subject to screening for 14 days as well.
Following Azar’s announcement, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman criticized the Trump administration’s response.
“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way,” she said. “Certainly not a gesture of goodwill.”
Other Countries Impose Restrictions
The U.S. is not the only country to impose travel restrictions.
According to reports, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand have implemented similar travel bans on foreign nationals who have gone to China.
Other countries like Japan and South Korea have denied entry from foreigners who visited the Hubei province.
Italy and Israel have reportedly stopped all incoming air traffic from China, while airlines all over the world have also announced they will not fly to or from the country.
North Korea and Mongolia, which share borders with China, have sealed them entirely.
But Hong Kong, which is an autonomous city-state of China and shares a land border, has not fully closed its borders with the country.
That decision, however, has been highly contested in Hong Kong, which has reported 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Pro-democracy protestors, hospital workers, businesses, and even some pro-government lawmakers have all called on the city’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, to close the border shared with China immediately.
Lam put some travel restrictions in place last week. On Monday she announced the closure of four more crossing points along the city’s border with mainland China, defying calls for full closure and leaving three crossing points open.
In response, thousands of hospital workers in Hong Kong have launched a five-day strike calling for all border crossings to be sealed. Lam, for her part, has said a full closure would be “a discriminatory approach.”
But others have argued that Lam is just listening to directives from the Chinese Communist Party, and is putting her obligations to the party before her own people in the face of a growing public health crisis.
Chinese Response and Media Criticism
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a statement Monday that China respects the decision of some countries to “adopt or enhance quarantine measures at border entry,” but added, “some countries, the US in particular, have inappropriately overreacted, which certainly runs counter to WHO advice.”
The spokeswoman said that the U.S. response “could only create and spread fear, which is a very bad example.”
“Even American media and experts doubted the government’s decision, saying that the US government’s restrictions on China are precisely what the WHO rejects, that the US is turning from overconfidence to fear and overreaction, and that banning the entry of visitors who traveled to China in the past 14 days is suspected to be violating civil rights instead of reducing risks of virus spreading,” she continued.
Following this statement, some argued that the opposite may be true, noting that the media, especially in the U.S., has been criticized for creating hysteria and fearmongering around the coronavirus outbreak.
Some have even blamed the media for fostering a recent spike in xenophobia. According to reports, the University of California Berkeley faced backlash after the administration stated that “xenophobia” is a “common” or “normal” reaction to coronavirus.
However, reports of xenophobia are not limited to the U.S. Chinese Canadians have also reported an uptick in nationality and race-based prejudice, which they say is largely due to social media.
On Monday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte called on his country to stop stirring up anti-Chinese sentiments.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”