Connect with us

International

New Zealand Reopens While Brazil Sparks Transparency Concerns Over Coronavirus Data Sharing

Published

on

Photos via WikiCommons

  • New Zealand’s last COVID-19 patient has recovered and it has no active cases, meaning wide-scale reopenings, including public gatherings and concerts, can begin in the country. 
  • Meanwhile, Brazil will be limiting its COVID-19 data sharing, and instead of reporting cumulative totals, it will only show data on cases and deaths for the last 24 hours. 
  • While Brazil’s president said this will lead to more accurate data dissemination, others are saying he is trying to hide information from citizens.
  • A report analyzing the effectiveness of lockdown measures in several countries showed that these interventions prevented hundreds of millions of infections worldwide, and as many as 60 million in the U.S. alone.

New Zealand Hits Zero Active Cases

New Zealand’s last COVID-19 patient has recovered, meaning the country has no active cases of the virus. 

This comes over two weeks after their last new case was reported. New Zealand will now enter “Alert Level One,” meaning citizens can return without restriction to work, school, sports, and domestic travel. People can gather with as many others as they want, and large events like weddings and concerts can come back. Retail, public transportation, and other businesses can resume normal operations as well. 

Border restrictions in the country will still remain in place, meaning international travel is very limited. Those who do come in from abroad must go through a health screening, testing and enter a quarantine or isolation. 

“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. “We will almost certainly see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus. But if and when that occurs we have to make sure — and we are — that we are prepared.”

Brazil Limits COVID-19 Data Sharing

While New Zealand is seeing great progress, other countries are still grappling with new cases. One of those countries, Brazil, is also making headlines over a new data policy.

Brazil’s government is limiting the coronavirus data that gets shared to the public. They are removing statistics on cumulative totals and only sharing information on cases and deaths within the last 24 hours.

Behind the United States, Brazil has the second-most coronavirus cases in the world, totaling over 691,000 according to Johns Hopkins. Some experts believe the country has yet to reach its peak, and that the case total is actually much higher than data reflects because of insufficient testing.

The move to limit information sharing was led by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been repeatedly criticized for underplaying the severity of the virus. Bolsonaro has compared it to the flu, called it a media trick and encouraged people to go back to work, despite warnings from health leaders.

On Twitter, he stated that this new measure will allow each region to receive more accurate data. 

“The dissemination of 24-hour data allows us to follow, in real-time, the reality of the country’s situation and define appropriate strategies for serving the population,” he added. “The case curves demonstrate situations, like the most critical scenarios, the return of cases, and the need to prepare.”

He is not the only official in Brazil who has undermined data related to the pandemic. Carlos Wizard, the Health Ministry’s new Secretary of Science and Technology told the Washington Post that local health leaders had inflated their coronavirus numbers “purely in the interest of getting bigger city and state budgets.” The Post stated that he offered no evidence to back this claim. 

But all of this has led to a lot of backlash from other Brazilian leaders. The country’s National Council of Health Secretaries put out a statement calling this choice “authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical.” 

“It offends Secretaries, doctors and all health professionals who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to saving lives,” they added. 

Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes called it a “maneuver of totalitarian regimes.” He claimed that attempts to hide information will not exempt leaders from their responsibility in what he called an “eventual genocide.” 

Study Shows Lockdowns Prevented Millions of Cases

Data tracking has been an essential component of monitoring and controlling the coronavirus. A new study shows just how controlled its spread may be.

A U.S.-conducted study shows that lockdown measures, stay at home orders, and other interventions could have prevented as many as 530 million coronavirus infections worldwide. 

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and published in a medical journal called Nature. Researchers followed interventions done in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States. Their findings showed that these methods “prevented or delayed on the order of 62 million confirmed cases, corresponding to averting roughly 530 million total infections.”

The numbers range so widely because so many cases are not formally diagnosed, so the confirmed cases number is much lower than the possible total infections. 

These measures likely impacted China the most, where as many as 285 million total infections may have been prevented. In the United States, lockdowns may have stopped as many as 60 million total infections. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Washington Post) (CNBC)

International

Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps

Published

on

The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.


Detained for Growing a Beard

The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.

According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.

Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.

Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.

The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.

One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.

The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.

One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.

Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.

One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”

The Most Militarized Schools in the World

The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”

Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.

Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”

The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.

If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.

Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.

“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Newsweek) (The Guardian)

Continue Reading

International

Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China

Published

on

Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.


Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

Continue Reading

International

Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

Published

on

Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

Continue Reading