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Is April Fools’ Day Canceled? K-Pop Star’s Stunt Backfires While Countries Warn Against Misinformation About Coronavirus as Pranks

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  • Many are warning against April Fools’ Day pranks as the world deals with coronavirus outbreaks, but others say laughs are needed now more than ever.
  • Companies like Google have pulled their annual pranks while countries like India, Thailand, and others announced punishments for those spreading coronavirus misinformation on this day. 
  • K-pop star Kim Jaejoong has already come under fire for lying about being hospitalized with the virus as an April Fools’ stunt, then later passing it off as an attempt to raise awareness about social distancing. 

April Fools’ Day Debate 

Internet users are weighing in on whether or not April Fools’ Day is officially canceled this year as the world battles against the growing coronavirus pandemic. 

For some, the annual day devoted to pulling practical jokes and hoaxes feels completely inappropriate given the current state of society. 

But others argue that we need some fun and laughter during this dark time. 

One of the biggest companies to take a side in the debate was Google, a company that has pulled major April Fools’ Day pranks for two decades. Earlier this week, the company said it would “take the year off from that tradition out of respect for all those fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

“Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one,” it added.

Other brands are likely to follow Google’s lead, especially since many people are waiting to call out anyone who they feel has crossed a line. The Verge, for instance, even promised to keep an eye out and make a list of brands pulling pranks this year. 

K-Pop Star Lies About Coronavirus 

But of course, despite desperate calls for people to think twice about insensitive pranks, reports have already surfaced of coronavirus-related stunts. On Wednesday, K-Pop Star Kim Jaejoong, of the group JYJ, told his nearly 2 million Instagram followers that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

“It is a result of my negligence, ignoring the cautionary words shared by the government and those around me,” he wrote according to a translation by K-pop news site Soompi.

“A person’s individual actions can have such a big impact on society as a whole. I am so sorry to those who may have been infected because of me. My foolish judgment to live as though it couldn’t happen to me is why I am like this today. I am currently hospitalized. I am reflecting on my past a lot and feeling both grateful and sorry. There are many things I want to say. There are many people I want to see so much,” he added. 

Soon after, he was of course flooded with support in the comments and fan sites began reporting his shocking announcement. 

His agency, CJeS Entertainment, even released a statement saying they were trying to confirm the news after seeing the post themselves. Less than an hour later, Jaejoong edited his caption, replacing it with a message clarifying that he doesn’t actually have the virus. Instead, he tried to suggest that his prank was intended to raise awareness for the importance of social distancing.

“What if the people we love, someone precious to us, contracted the virus? It’s such a heart-wrenching thing to think about. Despite this, so many people walk the streets and live their lives without their guards up, ignoring it… and thinking it won’t happen to them, and it makes me so worried that my family and friends might get sick,” he wrote in the updated post.

He went on to say that a number of his acquaintances are testing positive and encouraged people to “stay alert.”

“Although this did go quite far for April Fool’s Day, so many people worried about me in a short span of time. Oh… and I don’t think of this as an April Fool’s joke. My family and my friends are getting sick.. and dying.. It’s never!! just someone else’s problem. I wanted to tell you that protecting myself is protecting the precious people around us,” he continued.

“I will accept all punishment I receive from this post. I hope all of you are healthy.”

Jaejoong Apologizes 

Jaejoong eventually deleted the entire post and was hit with a ton of backlash from people who were upset by his lie. Many called it disrespectful while others noted that there are better ways to raise awareness if that was truly his intent.  

Following the outrage, he posted longer statement to his Instagram account apologizing. “I am also personally aware that it was something that shouldn’t be done…I want to express my sincere apologies to the people who have suffered because of COVID-19 and to the people who were disrupted in their administrative work,” he wrote.

He called his post “bad judgment” and again expressed that he was trying to raise awareness about the virus. 

“My post today… it went very far, but I thought that if people paid a large amount of interest to it, then they might listen. This method has hurt a lot of people and I am receiving criticism for it.

“For causing distress, I sincerely apologize to the government agencies and medical professionals who are working hard because of COVID-19 and to the many people who are following instructions to give up on their lifestyles and are doing all they can to overcome this,” he concluded. 

Countries Warn Against Spreading Misinformation About COVID-19 as Pranks 

Jaejoong’s initial post is essentially what many people are afraid of seeing on this day. But even aside from lying about having the virus, more people are worried that misinformation will be spread under the guise of April Fools’ jokes. 

Governments worldwide have been taking steps to combat this issue. Police in Thailand, for instance, warned that anyone disseminating false information about the coronavirus on April Fools’ Day could face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to about $3,000.

Taiwan’s president warned people not to pull virus-related pranks, adding that anyone spreading false rumors or information could face up to three years in jail and/ or a fine of up to $99,200.

In India, Maharashtra’s cybersecurity unit promised to pursue legal action against anyone spreading misinformation or rumors today as well, with Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeting “the state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumors/panic on #Corona.”

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Germany’s health ministry issued a similar warning under the heading “Corona is no joke,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, authorities in South Korea have said misinformation related to the virus would fall under laws on obstruction of official duties and defamation.

For those who choose to take their coronavirus pranks a step further by pulling them against others in person, keep in mind that anyone who threatens or attempts to spread COVID-19 in the U.S. can be hit with terrorism charges.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Forbes) (The Hill

International

New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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International

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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