- The World Health Organization said it will support an independent investigation into how it has handled the pandemic, as well as an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus.
- The move, announced at the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly, was made after China agreed to the idea. China had previously opposed an inquiry, arguing that it would be used to blame them for the outbreak and politicize the event.
- The WHO director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also warned countries against opening up too early.
- The warning comes as China was forced to re-impose a lockdown of 100 million people, while the U.S. and other hot-spot European countries continue to reopen and Brazil surpasses Spain and Italy in cases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that it will agree to an independent investigation into the organization’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the origins of the virus.
The announcement was made at the WHO’s 73rd annual World Health Assembly, where leaders from all over the world gathered virtually for the two-day event.
The meeting of the 194 member countries comes at a crucial time during the coronavirus pandemic when the international spotlight is firmly placed on the WHO and its role throughout the global outbreak.
A resolution calling for both investigations was at the top of the agenda as member states went into the highly-anticipated meeting, and the proposal had been in the works for some time.
Australia first floated the idea of an independent inquiry last month, but China fervently rejected the proposal, arguing that any investigation was just an attempt to blame them for the outbreak or politicize the situation.
Angered with Australia’s plan, China threatened to boycott Australian goods and moved to cut off major imports to the country last week.
However, China started to warm up to the proposition as drafts of a resolution calling for an investigation started gaining more support among member countries and began to shift focus on the international effort to manage the pandemic rather than where the virus started.
By Monday, the resolution had the backing of more than 120 member nations. In his opening remarks to the WHO assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a stunning reversal and announced that China was backing the plan.
“China supports a comprehensive evaluation of the global response to the epidemic after the global epidemic is under control, to sum up experiences and remedy deficiencies,” he said.
While Xi did not address criticisms that Chinese officials had covered up early warnings of the outbreak in Wuhan, he did call on other countries to “step up information sharing.”
“All along we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility,” he continued. “We have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need.”
The Chinese leader also said that he would be giving $2 billion to help the international fight against COVID-19. Xi did not say exactly what he was giving the money to, but he called on member nations to support the WHO and the work it has been doing.
“At this critical juncture, to support the WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle to save lives,” he said.
The remarks appear to be a jab at President Donald Trump, who withdrew U.S. funding from the WHO last month after he accused the organization of being too close with Beijing, covering up China’s mistakes, failing to share information in a timely manner, and generally bungling its response to the pandemic.
The move received was widely condemned by global leaders, but Trump has not been the only one to accuse China of covering up the virus in its early stages. He has also not been the only one critical of the WHO and its director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has been criticized for repeatedly praising China’s response to the virus.
Tedros, for his part, also voiced his support for the resolution following Xi’s opening statement.
“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” he said.
Tedros also called for a more comprehensive global framework for pandemic preparedness and warned against countries reopening too soon.
“Countries that move too fast, without putting in place the public health architecture to detect and suppress transmission, run a real risk of handicapping their own recovery,” he added.
Countries Reopen as Cases Grow
Tedros’ remarks come at a significant time when countries all over the world move to ease restrictions, even as infections and deaths continue to rise.
As of Monday morning, over 4.7 million cases and nearly 317,000 deaths have been confirmed worldwide. At the same time, the global community is seeing more countries beginning to reopen and more complications arising from that process.
More than 100 million people in China’s northeast region are now being forced back under lockdown conditions because of a new, growing cluster of infections.
For China, which moved swiftly and authoritatively to clamp down on the virus and only reopened when nearly all cases were eradicated, the move marks a highly significant landmark in the global effort to lift restrictions.
“China’s swift and powerful reaction reflects its fear of a second wave after it curbed the virus’s spread at great economic and social cost,” Bloomberg explained in an article published Sunday.
“It’s also a sign of how fragile the re-opening process will be in China and elsewhere as even the slightest hint of a resurgence of infections could prompt a return to strict lockdown.”
But a multitude of countries, including some that have not gotten as strong of a handle on the virus, are still pushing to reopen.
In the U.S., a vast majority of states have begun to ease restrictions in at least some form despite the fact that cases are still growing. As of Monday morning, the U.S. had reported nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases and nearly 90,000 deaths.
This is especially alarming in some states like Texas, where gyms and movie theaters were set to open Monday, just two days after the state reported its highest single-day increase of new cases.
But widespread reopenings are not limited to the U.S. On Monday, Italy lifted many of Europe’s strictest restrictions and is now allowing restaurants, cafes, clothing retailers, hairdressers, and museums to open.
Meanwhile, Spain and other European nations have also begun to reopen shops and other small businesses.
While former hot-spots like Spain and Italy begin to lift restrictions, on Sunday, it was reported that Brazil officially surpassed both countries in confirmed cases. On Monday, the country reported over 244,000 infections.
The spike in Brazilian cases comes as the country’s second health minister in less than a month resigned over President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
Bolsonaro has received significant backlash for how he has managed the outbreak in his country. He has repeatedly downplayed it, pushed against distancing and quarantine measures, and even joined protests calling to end distancing and bring back military dictatorship-era policies.
During a recent interview, when a journalist asked him about the rapid spread of the virus in Brazil, he responded, “So what? What do you want me to do?”
Brazil, however, is not alone. Other Latin American countries are also grappling with growing outbreaks across the continent. According to reports, cases have also been surging in Mexico and Peru.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (NBC News) (Bloomberg)
Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests
- Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
- In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
- TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.
Navalny Calls for Protests
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.
Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.
Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.
Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”
“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.
Censorship Payoff Unknown
For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.
According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.
It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.
See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Accusations Against Chinese Actress Shine Light on the Nation’s Surrogacy Laws
- Chinese actress Zheng Shuang is facing major backlash after her former partner, Zhang Heng, accused her of abandoning her two children born through U.S.-based surrogates.
- Beyond public outcry and losing brand deals, Zheng is likely facing legal consequences after a Chinese government agency said that using a legal loophole to obtain a surrogate from abroad was “definitely not innocent.”
- Zheng denies the claims and hasn’t confirmed if the children are actually hers, although she’s listed as their mother on their birth certificates.
- As for the children in question, Zhang has been taking care of them in the U.S.
American-Based Surrogacy Cause Controversy
Chinese social media users have launched into debates surrounding how the rich and elite circumvent domestic laws in order to obtain surrogate services.
The latest controversy is surrounding actress Zheng Shuang. Though she has never confirmed this publicly, Zheng allegedly went to the U.S. with her-now-ex Zhang Heng and had two children with the help of American surrogates. However, on Monday, Zhang accused Zheng of abandoning the children and leaving him to take care of them in the U.S. The couple reportedly broke up before the babies were born due to Zhang’s alleged infidelity.
According to the South China Morning Post, Zhang’s friend released a voice recording on the Chinese platform NetEase Entertainment. In it, Zhang and Zheng are allegedly having a discussion with their parents over what to do with the then-unborn children. Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zheng reportedly expressed annoyance that they could not be aborted so late in pregnancy.
Legal Grey Zone Likely Won’t Help
Beyond public outcries, Zheng lost a recent brand deal with Prada that she signed just eight days before the accusations were made. Additionally, other brand partners, such as Aussie, have distanced themselves from the actress. She also faces multiple awards she has won being revoked as well as potential legal consequences.
Currently, surrogacy is illegal in China; however, the laws have a legal grey zone. Technically, providing surrogacy is what is illegal, but obtaining one from abroad is not explicitly mentioned, even if it goes against the spirit of the law.
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party commented on the situation in a Weibo video post, saying that using this legal loophole to get a surrogacy was “definitely not innocent.”
“Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product.,” it continued. “As a Chinese citizen, the act of traveling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law.”
Following the post, companies like Blued, a gay dating app in China, took down sections of their apps that helped users set up services with surrogacy firms overseas.
Surrogacy is a controversial subject in China, with many actors and actresses obtaining them overseas, but many social media users across the country are against the practice. Officially, the government claims that it “overlooks life” and “tramples the bottom line [of human morality].“
Zheng has denied claims that she abandoned any children, and has never confirmed whether or not she actually has any, although she is listed as the mother on the children’s birth certificates.
As for the children in question, even though Zheng’s father suggested abandoning them in the hospital, her ex has been taking care of them in the U.S.
See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Straits Times) (New York Times)
American Influencer Kristen Gray To Be Deported From Bali
- In a viral Twitter thread, influencer Kristen Gray encouraged people to move to Bali like she did while promoting her eBook and other resources on how to do so amid COVID-19 restrictions.
- Many criticized her for encouraging an influx of travelers during the pandemic. She also sparked conversations about gentrification and was slammed for falsely characterizing Indonesia as queer-friendly.
- The local government promised to deport her Tuesday, arguing that selling her book and offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit. They also say she was “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
- “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia,” Gray told reporters. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”
Kristen Gray Goes Viral
Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday that they will deport Kristen Gray, an American influencer who has caused international outrage in the last week.
Gray moved to Bali with her girlfriend in 2019 with plans to stay for six months. In reality, the couple ended up staying much longer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in a viral Twitter thread, Gray shared how positive their experience has been.
Gray pointed to several benefits of moving to Bali in her posts, like its safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, as well as its queer-friendly and Black communities.
She also encouraged others to make the same move and promoted their $30 eBook “Our Bali Life Is Yours” for tips on how to do it. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting to Indonesia during COVID,” she even wrote in one post.
The thread sparked outrage for encouraging an influx of travelers to a country that has closed its borders over the worsening pandemic. On top of that, it sparked conversations about the gentrification of neighborhoods there.
Bali is a major tourist destination for Americans, Europeans, and Australians in particular, and like areas all over the world, it has suffered from the loss in visitors this year.
However, many online noted that locals have been steadily priced out of certain areas of the island as foreigners open businesses to cater to tourists. Others argue that poorly regulated development is also destroying industries that Balinese people have historically relied on.
Aside from those criticisms, many people also took issue with Gray characterizing Bali as a queer-friendly when the reality for locals is far different.
“It well may be the case for you. However, please recognize that it is because a) you’re a foreigner and b) you have economic leverage since the Indonesian local community is financially dependent on keeping you happy so they don’t mess with you,” a user named Kai Mata said in a viral TikTok.
“Please realize for the rest of us Indonesians on the island, this is not a queer-friendly place. Our gay communities are often shut down and raided by authorities and Indonesia at large has tried to mandate conversion therapy for us the LGBTQ+ Community.“
The local government responded to the public outrage over Gray’s thread Tuesday. In a statement, it said selling her book and also offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit, which was valid until January 24.
Gray was also accused of “spreading information that could unsettle the public” by saying Bali is queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners travel there during the pandemic.
According to Reuters, she was being held at an immigration detention facility Tuesday and was to be deported as soon as a flight was available.
In a brief statement to the Balinese press, Gray defended herself. “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT,” she explained.
Many of her fans believe her and also argue that she is seeing this level of criticism because she is a Black woman.