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China Arrests Leaders Behind Massive Fake Vaccine Scam

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  • Chinese authorities have arrested at least 70 people connected to a series of COVID-19 vaccine scams.
  • The scams are believed to have started as far back as August and involved falsely claiming that syringes filled with saline solution or mineral water were vaccines.
  • A leader behind one of the criminal rings appeared in court on Monday and is accused of helping his group profit nearly $3 million from fraudulent vaccines.
  • At least 600 of his vaccines were sent to Hong Kong and shipped internationally, although it’s currently unknown exactly where those counterfeits were sent.

Catching Counterfeits

Since August of last year, China has been dealing with a particularly malicious aspect of the coronavirus epidemic: counterfeit vaccines.

Over the last week, Chinese authorities have released more information regarding the scams, which involved various groups and individuals. At least 70 people have been arrested over their links to providing fake vaccines.

While the counterfeits vary in some respects, they’re all largely made up of just saline solution or mineral water in a syringe. Some of these were given to the public at make-shift clinics. Others were sold privately or were sent abroad. There were even some attempts to sell these counterfeit vaccines to hospitals.

One group alone, according to court documents released on Monday, made a profit of nearly $3 million. That group’s leader was arrested and was only identified as “Kong.”

Investigators said he researched the packaging of real vaccines in order to better pass off his 58,000 counterfeits, of which at least 600 were sent to Hong Kong and shipped abroad. It’s currently unknown exactly where those counterfeits were shipped to.

Vaccine Concerns

On Monday, Chinese authorities vowed to further crackdown on vaccine scams, although many believe there more pressing vaccine issues worthy of attention. Notably., the country is struggling to meet vaccination goals.

The country had planned to vaccinate 100 million people to-date, but so far has only managed to vaccinate around 40 million. Despite this shortfall, the pandemic is widely considered to be under control in the country, which has employed draconian lockdown measures and intense contact tracing.

All of this comes amidst doubts about the efficacy of China’s two vaccines, made by Sinovac and Sinopharm. Both were initially claimed to be around 78% effective, but trials in Brazil and other countries have found Sinovac’s to be around 58%. That vaccine is currently used in Turkey and China, with the Brazilian rollout paused after its findings.

Sinopharm, China’s first vaccine backed by the state has issued assurances that its 78% efficacy is true.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Tribune India) (Global Times)

International

Police Cause Stampede Killing 125 at Indonesian Soccer Stadium

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The sports game turned bloodbath was among the deadliest in the sport’s history.


Trampled by the Crowd

At least 125 people died after police fired tear gas, sparking a chaotic stampede toward the exits at a soccer match in Indonesia, according to local officials.

The game between Arema, the home team in East Java’s Malang city, and Persebaya Surabaya took place Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.

The event organizer had prohibited Persebaya fans from attending the game in an effort to prevent rivalrous brawling, but that only ensured the stadium would be exclusively packed with riled-up Arema fans.

When Arema lost 3-2, hundreds of spectators poured onto the field and some reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the players and managers. Several cop cars were also toppled outside the stadium and set ablaze.

Eyewitness accounts claim that riot police beat people with shields and batons, then fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd and even into the stands.

Hordes of people, many of them dizzy and blinded by the chemical, clambered desperately for the exits.

The ensuing stampede quickly left 34 people dead, both from being trampled and suffocated, including two police officers and possibly some children, according to some reports. Many more were badly hurt and rushed to hospitals, but as dozens of them succumbed to their injuries, the death toll climbed to at least 125.

An official estimate initially put the number at 174, but it was later revised down due to some deaths being counted twice.

As many as 300 other individuals may have sustained injuries during the incident.

Who is to Blame?

Some human rights groups pointed fingers at the police for provoking the mayhem by improperly deploying tear gas.

“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.

The Foundation also blamed the local soccer committee, which sold 42,000 tickets in a stadium only meant to seat 38,000 people, for filling the venue over capacity.

Typically, tear gas is meant to put distance between the rioters and police, dispersing the crowd in an intended direction, not to be used indiscriminately in a secure location like a sports stadium.

Moreover, the global soccer governing body FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas.

“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” President Joko Widodo said in a televised address. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”

He said he had asked National Police Chief Listyo Sigit to investigate the incident and ordered an evaluation of security at soccer matches.

East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas in a news conference on Sunday.

“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he said.

Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.

Dozens of Indonesians have died in soccer-related violence since the 1990s, but Saturday’s tragedy is among the deadliest in soccer history.

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

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Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Florida Braces for Devastation

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When it hits the sunshine state, Ian is expected to be a category 3 hurricane.


Ian Lands in Cuba

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba Tuesday morning as a major category 3 storm, battering the western parts of the country with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, and mudslides are expected. Officials said that around 50,000 people have been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon. 

According to reports, flooding has damaged houses and tobacco crops in the region, and widespread power outages have also been reported.

As dangerous conditions continue in Cuba, Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and pass west of the Florida Keys later on Tuesday, becoming a category 4 before the end of the day.

Officials predict it will drop back to a category 3 before making landfall as a major hurricane in Florida, which it is expected to do Wednesday evening.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said that Ian is currently forecast to land “somewhere between Fort Meyers and Tampa.” She added that the storm is expected to slow down as it hits Flordia, extending the potential devastation.

Uncertain Path

Forecasts of Ian’s path, however, remain uncertain, leaving residents all over Florida scrambling to prepare for the storm.

Schools have closed down, airports have suspended operations, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has activated the National Guard and taken steps to ensure power outages can be remedied, warning that many should anticipate losing power.

There are also numerous storm and surge watches and warnings in place across Florida and in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.  

Evacuation warnings have been implemented throughout many parts of Florida, and officials have said that around 2.5 million people were under some kind of evacuation order by Tuesday afternoon.

Mandatory evacuations have been put in place in several counties, largely focused on coastal and low-lying areas. Some of those evacuation orders have extended to parts of Tampa — Florida’s third-largest city.

Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in over a century — a fact that just further emphasizes the unusual path this storm is taking. 

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has a tool to track evacuation zones, as well as more resources at floridadisaster.org. For those looking for shelter, the Red Cross has a system to find one nearby. 

Continued Threats

The current evacuations are being driven by a number of very serious threats posed by Hurricane Ian. According to the NHC, hurricane-force winds, tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and flooding are expected throughout much of the region.

“Considerable” flooding is also expected in central Florida and predicted to extend into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.

One of the biggest threats this hurricane poses is storm surge flooding at the coast — which has been a driving factor in the evacuations.

“Life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning is in effect, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned Tuesday.

As many experts have pointed out, these dangerous threats of storm surges and catastrophic flooding have been drastically exacerbated by climate change. Specifically, sea level rise driven by climate change makes surges and flooding more likely and more extreme.

According to Axios, a profound example can be found in St. Petersburg, Florida — which is expected to be impacted by Ian — and where sea levels have risen by nearly nine inches since 1947.

That, however, is not only the real-time impact of climate change that is evident from this storm. In addition to climate change being “linked to an increase in rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes,” Axios also notes that Ian “has been rapidly intensifying over extremely warm sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean that are running above average for this time of year.”

“Climate change favors more instances of rapidly intensifying storms such as Hurricane Ian, due to the combination of warming seas and a warmer atmosphere that can carry additional amounts of water vapor,” the outlet added.

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

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Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy

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Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.


An Election Without Precedent

Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.

She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.

The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.

The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.

Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.

Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.

Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.

But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

The Next Mussolini?

During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.

“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”

Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.

She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.

“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.

For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.

But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.

But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.

In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.

Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (NPR)

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