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Japan Accused of Covering Up Lambda Variant Infection During Olympics

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Employees at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases claim the government knew of one Lambda variant COVID-19 case before and during the Tokyo Games but kept it hidden.


Seven Days Before the Olympics

Japan confirmed on Aug. 6 that it had received its first positive case of the Lambda variant of COVID-19, but now, the country’s government is fighting off accusations that it deliberately knew of and hid that information long before the start of the Olympic Games.

According to documents reviewed by many local outlets, as well as The Daily Beast, a woman from Peru arrived at Haneda airport and tested positive for COVID-19 on July 20. Because she was from Peru, the home of the Lambda variant, she was flagged as a probable carrier. While the Delta variant has managed to spread over much of the world, lambda has only been recorded in South America and small pockets elsewhere.

However, it has many concerned because like Delta, it’s more infectious than normal COVID-19. On top of that, there’s a possibility that it might be resistant to some vaccines, but researchers are still conducting tests to confirm whether or not that’s the case.

Either way, there have been accusations that the Japanese government didn’t want information about a possible Lamda-infected arrival reaching the public before the Games began.

On July 21, a day after the Peruvian’s arrival and positive test result, the Ministry of Health released their weekly report that tracked how many new cases of COVID-19 occurred in the country and which variants were involved. In that report, there is no mention of Lambda or this woman’s arrival. According to The Daily Beast, which spoke to employees at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the final sequencing of this patient’s results wasn’t finished until July 25, at which point confirmation that she was indeed a carrier of Lambda was confirmed.

To that end, there’s some understanding as to why the Ministry avoiding putting her variant on the July 21 report. Still, there are questions regarding why her arrival and country of origin were completely removed from the publication.

Clear Coverup Indications

The next public report released on July 30 — three days into the Olympic Games — also showed no indication that a carrier of Lambda had arrived in Japan and tested positive.

Then on August 6, at 12:06 a.m. local time, reporters Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai received information about the still-hidden Lambda case and wrote that Lambda had arrived in Japan. However, that same day, the government’s scheduled report still omitted any mention of the Lambda variant. It wasn’t until late that evening that the Ministry of Health finally admitted that there was at least one case of Lambda following repeated media inquiries.

The Ministry has argued that concerns over the Lambda-variant are overblown, claiming that it still hasn’t “landed” in Japan because the infected individual was identified and isolated at the airport, meaning the variant hadn’t yet spread.

Regardless, the revelations have triggered inquiries from opposition lawmakers and drawn increased ire on the Olympic Games, which was seen as the catalyst for why there was an apparent coverup. The Games were already widely unpopular and seen as a detriment for future elections of Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s party. This situation will likely add to future issues at the polls.

It also erodes what trust the Ministry regained after its last scandal in 2018 when it forged numbers to indicate that certain labor practices were beneficial to workers. It was forced to retract those numbers after it was shown that some workers were alleged to have worked more than 24 hours in a day, an impossibility with the current lack of time-travel technology.

See what others are saying: (Japan Subculture Research Center) (The Daily Beast) (Japan Times)

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Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off

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The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.


Voting App Removed From App Stores

Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.

The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.

Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.

For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.

People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.

Response and Backlash

Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.

“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”

Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”

Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”

Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.

“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.

Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies

The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.

In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.

In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies. 

The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.

Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.

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

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Denmark Moves To Bar Life Prisoners From Starting New Romantic Relationships After Peter Madsen Controversy

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While behind bars, the convicted murderer pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl and a 39-year-old Russian artist who he married in 2020.


Legislation Proposed

Denmark’s government proposed a draft law this week aimed at preventing prison inmates serving life sentences from forming new romantic relationships behind bars. 

If passed, the proposed bill would specifically limit correspondence and visitation rights during the first 10 years of detention to people the prisoner knew before incarceration. It would also ban prisoners from sharing details about their criminal activities on social media or on podcasts. 

Demands for such legislation stemmed from public frustration over Danish inventor Peter Madsen, a 49-year-old who was convicted in 2018 for the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. According to prosecutors, Madsen sexually assaulted Wall while she was on board his submarine for an interview. He then dismembered her body before the submarine sank in what police said might have been an attempt to destroy evidence.

While incarcerated, Madsen reportedly pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl named Cammilla Kürstein. Kürstein has admitted that she fell in love with Madsen after exchanging letters and talking on the phone with him over the course of two years.

However, she became jealous in 2020 when he ultimately married 39-year-old Jenny Curpen, a Russian artist living in self-imposed exile in Finland. Curpen has said her communication and visits with Madsen also began in 2018.

What Comes Next?

While Madsen has earned particular heat for pursuing new romance behind bars, he is far from the only incarcerated person to do so.

“We have seen distasteful examples in recent years of prisoners who have committed vile crimes contacting young people in order to gain their sympathy and attention,” Justice Minister Nick Hækkerup said when speaking of the bill.

“This must obviously be stopped,” he continued, arguing that jail should not serve as “dating centres or media platforms to brag about crimes.”

Denmark’s right-wing opposition in parliament has already signaled support for the bill, which was sent to the committee stage on Wednesday. If approved, it is expected to go into effect in January of next year.

Still, human rights experts said they expect challenges to the law. For example, Elo Rytter, of the University of Copenhagen, told the BT newspaper that it would “interfere with prisoners’ right to a private life.” She also said outlawing public statements might “raise questions about censorship.”

See what others are saying:(The Guardian)(The Washington Post)(BBC)

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World Anti-Doping Agency Will Review Cannabis Ban Following Sha’Carri Richardson’s Suspension

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Any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until 2023.


Cannabis Ban for Athletes Under Review

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced Tuesday that it will review whether cannabis should stay on its list of prohibited substances.

The move comes three months after the agency’s policies notably prevented U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

In July, Richardson was given a 30 days suspension and stripped of her 100-meter win at the U.S. Olympics Trials when THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was detected in her system. At the time, Richardson admitted that she used marijuana in Oregon, where it is legal, after learning that her biological mother had died.

The runner was ultimately met with an outpouring of support from people who argued that the drug is not a performance enhancer and is legal or decriminalized in multiple U.S. states, as well as in countries around the world.

The anti-doping agency did not specifically mention Richardson in its announcement, but it did say the plan is a response to “requests from a number of stakeholders” in international athletics.

It also said that cannabis will remain banned in 2022, and any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until the following year.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(CBS)(The Hill)

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