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World Health Organization Renames COVID Variants To Discourage Use of Country-Based Labels

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Many have welcomed the move following the rise in anti-Asian hate fueled by terms like “China virus.”


New Names for COVID Variants

The World Health Organization announced a new naming system on Monday for COVID-19 variants that uses letters from the Greek alphabet.

The organization hopes the label changes will assist with public discussions around each new strain and prevent people from calling them “by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing & discriminatory.”

The scientific names of each variant, which consist of numbers and letters, will still be used by scientists and in research.

Under this new system, B.1.1.7, which is often called the UK variant, is now “Alpha.”

B.1.351, first detected in South Africa, is now “Beta.”

P.1, first found in Brazil, is “Gamma.” Meanwhile, B.1.617.2, first detected in India, is called “Delta.”

Source: WHO

When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet are used up, the WHO will announce another series.

Concerns Over Discriminatory Labels

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials became concerned that more complex names were causing people to refer to strains by the places where they were first detected.

Over the last year, use of the term “China virus” has helped perpetuate anti-Asian hate, resulting in increased violence and discrimination against the Asian community both in the U.S. and abroad.

The Indian government has also recently pushed back against the use of the term “Indian variant” online and in media.

Many experts have welcomed the change, calling it the right thing to do. Some also believe it could make countries more open to reporting new variants if they’re not afraid of forever being associated with them in the mind of the public.

Still, others say it’s too late for such a change and argue that it just makes discussions more complicated since the variants can now be identified in three different ways.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (CNN) (USA Today)

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Hong Kong’s Apple Daily Raided, Top Editors and Execs Arrested

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Police claim the paper violated a controversial National Security law by publishing articles that asked foreign countries to sanction the Hong Kong and Chinese government.


Apple Daily Raid

Nearly 500 Chinese police officers carried out a raid on Thursday at the headquarters of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, a tabloid-style paper and one of the largest publications in the city.

During the aid, which was live-streamed by the outlet, police arrested top executives and editors while also seizing journalistic materials over violations of the city’s controversial National Security law. Apple Daily said CEO Cheung Kim Hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man, and Online Editor Cheung Chi-wai were arrested and accused of “colluding with foreign forces and external elements to endanger national security.”

Police also froze $1.8 million in Apple Daily assets.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s Security Secretary, told reporters that “this case involves a conspiracy” and added that the police were targeting those who use journalism as a “tool to endanger national security.”

Police claim that since 2019, Apple Daily has published articles calling on foreign countries to sanction the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Many of those articles were published before the National Security law went into effect, meaning the law is being applied retroactively.

However, China’s Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said the law wouldn’t be retroactive, so it’s unclear if there’s been a shift in policy and if authorities are seeking to change how they approach violations that occurred before the law was enacted.

Not Meant to Restrict Freedom of the Press

Thursday’s raid could also have repercussions for other Hong Kongers. The city’s Senior Superintendent of the Police’s National Security Department warned citizens not to repost certain Apple Daily articles by saying, “If you have no real reason to share these types of articles, I would advise everyone not to.”

He claimed that this raid wasn’t targeting the press but rather one individual organization that violated the law. He also said Hong Kong’s government values the freedom of the press, a right that is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Lee concurred with the Senior Superintendent, adding, “Please understand that our actions are not targeting journalistic work. We target perpetrators who use journalistic work as a tool to endanger acts of national security.”

Apple Daily has vowed to carry on with its work while also acknowledging that its fate was out of its hands. In a letter to its readers, the paper wrote, “In today’s Hong Kong, we are unfamiliar and speechless.”

“It seems that we are powerless to deal with it, and it is difficult to prevent the regime from doing whatever it wants.”

See what others are saying: (AP) (The New York Times) (NBC News)

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Hamas Launches Incendiary Balloons Into Israel Over Right-Wing March, Israel Responds With Airstrikes

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No casualties were reported and the tentative ceasefire that ended last month’s hostilities largely remains in place.


10 Minutes of Airstrikes

Alleged Hamas training facilities were hit by Israeli airstrikes early Wednesday morning as a response to the group sending incendiary balloons into Israeli territory late Tuesday night.

The airstrikes, which lasted for 10 minutes, destroyed two compounds while the balloons started about 20 fires across southern Israel. There were no casualties on either side and damage was kept to a relative minimum. By Wednesday morning, calm had returned and neither group pursued further hostilities.

Hamas risked breaking a tenuous ceasefire in order to respond to right-wing Israeli demonstrators that marched through Palestinian neighborhoods to commemorate a holiday that is seen as highly provocative. The ceasefire has gone on to its eleventh day, stopping widespread rocket and airstrike campaigns that left hundreds of buildings in Gaza destroyed and dozens in Israel damaged.

The marchers were celebrating Jerusalem Flag Day, a day to mark Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and its holy sites during the 1967 Middle East War. It was originally supposed to occur on May 10 but was delayed as fighting between Hamas and Israel began last month. Hamas actually listed the celebrations as one of its primary causes for starting hostilities and warned that any further Jerusalem Flag Day events in East Jerusalem would be met with violence.

Tuesday’s march proved to be one of the first big tests faced by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who only just started the job this week. As a right-wing figure himself, he supported the marchers and saw rerouting or canceling the event as giving into Hamas’ demands. However, his center and left-wing allies pushed for the event to be canceled. In the end, security forces slightly amended the route to avoid passing through the Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter.

Those same security forces have been accused by Palestinian protesters of violence as they moved to disperse anti-Israel demonstrations and make way for Flag Day marchers. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, at least 33 Palestinians were injured by police in those clashes.

Chants of “Death to Arabs!”

The celebrations by Israelis were largely peaceful, if not extremely provocative. The entire holiday itself is seen as a celebration of what many Arabs lost in the 1967 Middle East War, and hosting events in what is considered occupied territory puts salt in the wound. However, a large group of young Israelis inflamed the situation after video surfaced of them chanting “Death to Arabs!

Their actions were widely condemned, including by Defense Minister Yair Lapid, who said, “The fact that there are extremists for whom the Israeli flag represents hate and racism is abominable and intolerable.” He added, “It is incomprehensible how one can hold an Israeli flag in one’s hand and shout ‘Death to Arabs’ at the same time.”

The Palestinian Authority, the government of the West Bank, said that there could be ‘dangerous repercussions” because of Tuesday’s right-wing march.

Despite the small rise in hostilities posed by Tuesday’s march and subsequent responses by Hamas and Israel, their ceasefire remains.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal) (BBC)

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India Is Investigating Fake COVID-19 Tests That May Have Fueled Outbreaks

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Private facilities testing at a religious festival in April faked at least 100,000 negative tests, leading the public to believe the event wasn’t a super spreader.


Kumbh Mela Super Spreader Event

Authorities in India said Tuesday that they are investigating COVID-19 testing efforts carried out by private facilities during a major religious festival in Uttarakhand state this past April, which led to hundreds of thousands of fake negative test results.

The religious festival, Kumbh Mela, is among the most widely attended events in the world and millions arrived for the celebrations despite health authorities warning that it could become a super spreader event. Pilgrims weren’t deterred as local politicians praised the safety of the event and encouraged people to come without masks. In the end, the return home by festival goers is believed to have led to the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the world, with new daily cases rising above 400,000 through April and May.

At the time, however, reported positive cases from those at the festival were shockingly low. One district in Haridwar, where part of the festival takes place, reported that out of 251,000 tests carried out locally during Kumbh Mela, only 2,273 were positive. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the state and across India, infections were upwards of 10% of those tested, leading experts to doubt the festival’s results

The narrative that India’s large outbreak wasn’t fueled by Kumbh Mela began to fall apart after a man from neighboring Punjab received a negative COVID-19 test from a private testing facility in Uttarakhand. The private test showed that during his time at the Kumbh Mela festival, he was negative despite never actually attended the festival.

Investigation Findings

Last week, he complained to the Indian Council of Medical Research, who took the situation seriously and asked local authorities to open an investigation into the matter. Preliminary findings from the investigation show that the situation is possibly worse than predicted. Authorities found that one company testing at the festival forged about a fourth of their results, meaning at least 100,000 tests were faked.

As investigators search the books, they’re finding that private clinics filled testing logs up by putting down random names, numbers, and addresses and sending those people negative test results. The clinics would then use the inflated numbers to charge local authorities more for their services.

Clinics also engaged in other scams, such as using the same unique ID code from a negative antigen test, meant for a single individual, for multiple “recipients.”  In one instance, according to Times of India, a single test ID number was used for 700 people.

Because of these findings, Uttarakhand has stopped paying dozens of private testing facilities as it investigates further. 

COVID-19 cases in India have fallen drastically in the last month after spiking to over 400,000 new cases every day partially because of Kumbh Mela. More than 377,000 people have died due to COVID-10 in India to date, though many believe authorities are underreporting deaths.

See what others are saying: (Times of India) (New York Times) (The Economic Times)

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