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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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U.S. Sanctions 14 High-Level Chinese Officials for Ousting Pro-Democracy Hong Kong Lawmakers

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  • On Monday, the U.S. State Department sanctioned 14 high-level Chinese officials who were instrumental in crafting a measure that allowed the Chinese government to oust four pro-democracy lawmakers last month.
  • In addition to those four ousted lawmakers, all 15 remaining pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong’s legislature then resigned because of the measure.
  • The new sanctions bar the 14 officials from traveling to the U.S. and freeze any of their U.S. assets.
  • The sanctions are seen as part of an effort by President Donald Trump to solidify his hardline stance against China, but they’re not expected to change Chinese policy regarding Hong Kong. In fact, Hong Kong police have continued to arrest protesters since the sanctions were announced. 

U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Chinese Officials

The U.S. State Department on Monday issued sanctions against 14 top Chinese officials for “developing, adopting, or implementing” a measure last month that allowed the Chinese government to remove four sitting pro-democracy lawmakers from their posts in Hong Kong’s legislature.

After those four lawmakers were removed, the legislature’s remaining 15 pro-democracy lawmakers resigned, leaving the Hong Kong government completely stacked with lawmakers loyal to Beijing.

“Beijing’s unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes has gutted its Legislative Council, rendering the body a rubber stamp devoid of meaningful opposition,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday when announcing the sanctions. 

The 14 officials cited in the sanction, as well as their immediate families, are now barred from traveling to the U.S. If they have assets in the U.S., those are now frozen. People in the U.S. are also now generally prohibited from doing business with them.

On Tuesday, China’s vice foreign minister, Zheng Zeguang, called the sanctions “arrogant, unreasonable and vile” and argued that the U.S. is interfering with Chinese domestic policy. 

Will These Sanctions Be Effective?

The sanctions are not expected to be effective in pressuring China to reverse course with Hong Kong.

While the State Department did go after all 14 vice-chairs of the committee that passed the measure, it did so while stopping short of sanctioning the committee’s chair, Li Zhanshu. That’s because Li holds the country’s third-highest office. 

As Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political analyst, told The New York Times, such a move would have sent too strong of a message to Beijing.

“The Americans opted for a kind of watered-down version of sanctions without seriously undermining official interactions between China and America,” he said. 

On top of that, this is just the latest in a series of sanctions against Chinese officials by the U.S. government. Previously, the U.S. has sanctioned lawmakers in Beijing over prison camps that target minority Muslims in China; while Beijing officially labels the internment camps as “re-education camps,” they have been condemned for multiple human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing. 

In August, the U.S. also sanctioned Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is frequently described as a puppet of the Chinese government. Luo Huining, the head of the Hong Kong Central Liaison Office, has likewise been sanctioned by the U.S. 

“Perhaps I should send $100 to Mr. Trump for him to freeze,” Luo joked at the time of his sanction, noting that he doesn’t have assets outside of China.

While Luo appears personally unaffected, these sanctions do seem to be at least somewhat of an inconvenience to Lam.

“Sitting in front of you is a Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR who has no banking services made available to her,” she told Hong Kong media at the end of last month. “I’m using cash every day for all the things. I have piles of cash at home because the government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account.” 

U.S. Sanctions Haven’t Stopped Arrests

While the mental image of Lam crying into a pile of money on her living room floor simply because she’s unable to use a credit card is about as cartoonish as one could imagine, at the end of the day, that’s all it is. 

Later in that same interview, Lam herself admits that she believes the sanctions against her are a “unjustiable honor.”

In fact, neither the sanctions against her, nor this latest wave against those 14 officials, has stopped everyday people from being arrested for voicing anti-Beijing sentiment. 

On Monday, Hong Kong police arrested eight people for protesting outside of a university during a graduation ceremony last month. According to the government, they violated Hong Kong’s new national security law, which bars people from advocating for Hong Kong independence from China.

Tuesday, another eight people, including two former pro-democracy lawmakers, were arrested for a protest that happened back in July.

As Reuters noted, these latest sanctions have been widely seen as an effort by President Donald Trump “to cement his tough-on-China legacy and also box president-elect Joe Biden, before he takes office on Jan. 20, into hardline positions on Beijing at a time of bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress.”

That’s also why the State Department on Monday approved a $280 million sale of advanced military communications equipment to Taiwan, which operates as a self-governing democracy even though China officially claims it as part of its own territory. 

Nonetheless, China has threatened to potentially take back the island by force, and it’s even ramped up military flights near Taiwan.

While China has demanded that the U.S. cancel this sale and threatened to punish U.S. companies involved in these deals, in total, the Trump administration has made 11 arms sales to Taiwan. This year’s sales alone total $5 billion. 

The Biden administration is currently expected to keep issuing these kinds of sales.

On Monday, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would allow Hong Kongers fleeing to the U.S. to be able to work in the country for up to five years without fear of deportation.

Tom Malinowski (D-NJ.), who sponsored the measure, said that it would allow the country to “self-confidently open our doors.” He also argued that such a move was more substantial than “slap[ping] a few sanctions” on Chinese officials.

That measure now moves to the Senate. It has received bipartisan support from lawmakers.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Aljazeera)

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