- 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)
ByteDance Lays Off Hundreds of Workers After China’s Private Tutoring Crackdown
Major changes to the massive education industry in China have left many companies scrambling to adapt.
TikTok owner ByteDance laid off hundreds of employees Thursday in response to new Chinese regulations that prohibit private, for-profit tutoring in core curriculum subjects.
These employees worked in ByteDance’s online education businesses, such as GoGokids, which were effectively killed by the new rules. The over 300 workers have been laid off “with compensation,” although it’s unclear just how much compensation they will receive.
The entire education industry, one of the largest in China, was gutted by last month’s new rules, which not only ban private tutoring in the most important subjects but also give preferential treatment to public school students trying to enter China’s top universities.
Some firms, like the $15.5 billion startup known as Yuanfudao, had to largely shut down all marketing while figuring out what to do next. Others have had to shutter nearly all of their facilities. The only exceptions are those that offer tutoring in extra-curricular activities like music, which is still allowed.
Leveling the Playing Field
The move is supposed to help combat inequities within China between wealthier students and those who are poor or from more rural areas. Often, those with fewer resources often struggle to get into top universities because of their need to go to public schools and lack of access to increasingly costly private tutors in subjects like math, Chinese, history, science, and physics.
Those subjects are almost exclusively what Chinese universities look at when considering applicants.
It’s expected that with the ban and preferential treatment to public school students, the percentage of university applicants being accepted will lead to more low-income Chinese people having better opportunities.
Even if the long-term goals have merits, companies like ByteDance and even those outside of China are reeling in the short term.
The new rules not only target for-profit tutoring. They also prohibit most foreign investment into the Chinese education market, bar foreign curriculums, and ban most foreign teachers working in China, effectively shutting off large segments of the worldwide education industry, which catered to sending teachers to China.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Financial Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.