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WHO Agrees to Independent Inquiry of Pandemic Response With China’s Backing

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  • 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.

WHO Investigation

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.

China’s Reversal

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)

International

Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse

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The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.


Priest Sparks Outrage

Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.

Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.

To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.

Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.

“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.

“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”

In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.

Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”

Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.

Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims

Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.

Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.

The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.

While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”

With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.

The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.

See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)

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Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases

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Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.


Cases Going Up

The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.

On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.

At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.

Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.

Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.

Doubts About Government Response

The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”

However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.

“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.

He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.

Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal)

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First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession

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Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.


First Conviction Under National Security Law

The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.

A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”

“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.

More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights

A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.

That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.

It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)

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