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Anger Over Whistleblowers Mount in China as Coronavirus Deaths Pass 1,000

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  • The death toll for the coronavirus now sits at 1,018 as of Tuesday morning, but only one person outside of China has died. 
  • There are more than 43,000 cases worldwide but just under 400 outside of China and only 13 in the U.S.
  • A day after describing most of the cases in China as “mild,” the World Health Organization said a clinical trial is underway in the country.
  • In China, many citizens are displaying rare signs of public anger against the government after the whistleblower doctor who warned about the disease died and a journalist went missing. 

How Many Deaths and Cases Have Been Reported?

As of Tuesday morning, 1,018 people have died from the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, and 43,101 cases have been confirmed worldwide.

Though China saw its deadliest day with 108 deaths and nearly 2,500 reported cases on Monday, the virus still lacks that same impact outside of the country. Currently, only about 400 cases outside of China have been confirmed since the beginning of the outbreak. Of the over 1,000 people who died, only one was reported outside China. That death occurred in the Philippines. 

In the U.S. alone, there are only thirteen confirmed cases — seven of which are in California. No one in the country has died of the virus, though it reportedly did kill one U.S. citizen in Wuhan.

What is the World Health Organization Saying?

On Monday, an advance team with the World Health Organization arrived in China. It is expected to lay the groundwork for a larger international team.

According to Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the WHO, there is still a good chance of stopping the outbreak of the coronavirus, which was officially named as COVID-19 at a press conference on Tuesday.

“If we invest now in rational and evidence-based interventions, we have a realistic chance of stopping the COVID19 outbreak,” he said at the conference.

According to Adhanom, one of the biggest concerns of the WHO remains the potential for the virus to “create havoc” if it reaches a country with a weak health system. 

Additionally, the WHO’s executive director Michael J. Ryan said a clinical trial is “already on the way” in China. Thursday, China also began enrolling patients in a clinical trial of the antiviral drug, remdesivir.

On Monday, Adhanom said most cases of the virus are still mild. 

Whistleblower Doctor’s Death 

In a rather surprising turn of events, many Chinese citizens have engaged in a rare criticism of their authoritarian government on social media. 

Much of the criticism stems from the death of 33-year-old doctor Li Wenliang. On Dec. 30, Li warned his medical school alumni group about the coronavirus, telling them that several people had been quarantined at Wuhan Central Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness that seemed like SARS.

Li sent the message over the messaging app WeChat, and after someone screenshotted and shared that message publically, it went viral. The same day, the Wuhan Health Commission published a notice that several people had contracted pneumonia, possibly at a seafood market. 

Then, on Jan. 3, Li was reportedly approached by Wuhan authorities, who forced him to sign a letter admitting that he had made “false comments” online. 

Of course, a couple of weeks later, more cases of the coronavirus began popping up, with the virus becoming a very serious and real issue. 

In that time, Li had resumed his work at the hospital, but soon after, he ended up contracting the virus from an infected patient. On Jan. 12, he checked himself into the hospital. He also continued to speak out against misinformation on his Weibo account while a patient himself.

“I was wondering why [the government’s] official notices were still saying there was no human-to-human transmission, and there were no healthcare workers infected,” he said from his hospital bed on Jan. 31

On Feb. 7, however, Li died from the virus. 

Li’s Death Sparks Rare Criticism of Government in China

Because of Li’s censure and ultimate death by the virus, many are blaming Wuhan authorities for causing the virus to get out of hand. In fact, China’s Supreme People’s Court condemned those authorities, saying that listening to the rumor “…might have been a fortunate thing for containing the new coronavirus, if the public had listened to this ‘rumor’ at the time, and adopted measures such as wearing masks, strict disinfection and avoiding going to the wildlife market.”

However, many Chinese citizens have taken the criticism one step further by directly challenging the whole of the Chinese government. 

On Feb. 8, 10 Wuhan professors signed a letter to the government asking it to enforce its own freedom of speech articles laid out in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, apologize to and compensate several other whistleblowers, and recognize Dr. Li as a national martyr.

Also following Li’s death, many Chinese citizens flooded social media sites with negative messages against the government. Some even seemingly tried to invoke the idea of a revolution by posting clips of the Les Misérables song “Do You Hear the People Sing?” 

Source: Weibo

In response, the Chinese government dispatched a team to investigate “issues related to Dr. Li that were reported by the public,” though it failed to give specifics.

Journalist Goes Missing in Wuhan

That anger exacerbated after the disappearance of Chinese journalist and human rights activist Chen Qiushi, who has been missing since Feb. 6. 

Chen operated a YouTube page where he has been uploading content featuring him visiting hospitals to speak with patients and doctors. 

In a video shared to both Chen’s YouTube and Twitter, Chen’s mother asked people to help find her son, who has not been seen by family or friends since his disappearance. 

The incident was enough to lead to speculation that the Chinese government is attempting to stop another whistleblower. On social media, many criticized the government by saying it is trying to silence the true conditions in Wuhan. 

Many comments about Chen have since been wiped from Weibo. 

Chen, however, is no stranger to run-ins with the government. Reportedly, he had been detained in August for covering the Hong Kong extradition protests. 

In a second video posted on Feb. 7, a message from Chen’s mother revealed that Chen had been forcibly detained and quarantined. His mother then reportedly asked where and when Chen was taken, but police wouldn’t tell her. 

On Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which based in New York, said, “Chinese authorities must immediately account for the whereabouts of journalist Chen Qiushi, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan without fear of retribution.”

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Reuters) (CNN)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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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)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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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)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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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.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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