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New Zealand PM Delays Election by 4 Weeks After New COVID-19 Outbreak

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  • New cases of COVID-19 appeared in New Zealand last week, after 102 days without any known community transmission. So far, at least 69 active cases have been reported. 
  • Now the country is on lockdown, with the most strict measures set in the city of Auckland. 
  • The lockdowns sparked concerns about the upcoming general election, with citizens and politicians arguing that the delays in campaigning would not allow for a fair vote. 
  • In response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved the election back by four weeks, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 17.

New Coronavirus Cases Spark Concerns 

New Zealand is postponing its national election by four weeks in response to new coronavirus cases that have suddenly appeared. 

Last week, a new cluster of cases were reported in Auckland, the country’s largest city. As of Monday, there are believed to be at least 69 active cases.

Citizens quickly received confirmation of an outbreak and by last Wednesday the government had enacted a strict level three lockdown. Under it, people are required to stay home unless for essential activities, and public venues like museums, playgrounds and gyms are to remain closed. This was a huge deal for New Zealanders because they had just made it through 102 days without any known community transmission. 

When the virus first appeared in New Zealand in March, the country spent five weeks under one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. That quick action and public cooperation allowed New Zealand to effectively eliminate the virus. While border controls remained in place, the country was able to return to fairly normal life, so this new wave of cases has caught many by surprise. 

While Auckland has the most strict measures in place, the rest of the country was put into a level two lockdown, which caps gatherings at no more than 100, among other things. Both were extended until at least August 26 based on the most recent confirmed cases. However, that news made a lot of people concerned because the country’s general election was supposed to be just around the corner. 

The election was set for September 19, with campaigning expected to really pick up in the weeks before, following the dissolution of parliament. Because of the outbreak, both citizens and politicians felt it would be impossible to proceed with a vote in a way that was fair. Among the list of concerts were arguments that there wouldn’t be enough time to rebook venues, print materials, and reorganize the election workforce. 

Last week, National Party Leader Judith Collins, who is the leader of the opposition, called for the election to be delayed until November or potentially even until next year. Meanwhile, Winston Peters, deputy prime minister and leader of the New Zealand First Party, sent a letter to his coalition partner, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, also calling for a delay. 

At the time, he said that until the alert level is dropped, the “playing field is hopelessly compromised.”

Prime Minister Delays Election 

In a live-streamed press conference Monday, Prime Minister Ardern announced that she was delaying the election by four weeks, to October 17. 

Ardern said that while she had the sole authority to determine when people cast ballots, she did consult with all the major parties in the country before making such a major decision.

“In the end what matters most is what is in the best interests of voters and our democracy,” she said. “Any decision to review the election date must be as free from partisan political interests as possible.”

Ultimately, she said that this compromise “provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we could be campaigning under, for the electoral commission to prepare and for voters to feel assured of a safe, accessible and critical election.”

The new date keeps Election Day within the time frame set under New Zealand law, with the latest date possible being Nov 21. However, Ardern added that even if the outbreak gets worse, “we will be sticking with the date we have.”

The government can reassess if a further delay is needed, but there is currently no evidence to suggest it will be. 

Public Opinion of Ardern

With the election delayed, now the New Zealand government can focus primarily on the coronavirus cases. According to local reports, health officials are moving quickly to test thousands of workers at airports and other points of entry to figure out how the virus reemerged. 

So far, it seems that all of the cases appear to be linked through family or work connections and the infections outside Auckland were traced back to relatives in the city. Still, questions remain about whether or not this new wave could hurt Ardern. 

According to the New York Times, Ardern’s approval ratings skyrocketed after the country’s first lockdown. However, Ardern is facing some scrutiny as officials try to determine what recently went wrong and how long this new set of restrictions will last.

Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand told the Times: “If it transpires that there was a considerable oversight, lax regulation or flawed implementation, that could have a very significant impact on the narrative.”

Still, he noted that there “is a deep reservoir of good will toward the prime minister,” and it is possible that her handling of the upcoming election will actually help her stay in many’s good graces. 

“She might have just added 5 percent to her polling by making an announcement that many New Zealanders will think is reasonable, fair and sensible,” Shaw added.

In fact, a poll taken over the weekend from the New Zeland Herald-Kantar showed that 60% of New Zealanders favored a delay and early opinion polls indicate that Arbern’s Labour party is favored to win a second term.

Arderns response to the newest outbreak and any major decisions she makes in the next coming weeks could prove to be crucial for the Labour party.  

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

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Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem

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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)

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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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