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- 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)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
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)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
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.