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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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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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