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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)

International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

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