The moves come after months of rulings and changes that seek to address work-life imbalances within Chinese society, alongside wealth and education inequities.
Less Gaming for Kids
Chinese authorities have enacted sweeping changes across most aspects of society over the past week in hopes of reducing student stress and improving people’s work-life balance, though some of the changes are likely to face backlash.
Among the least popular changes, at least for those they affect, are restrictions regarding the amount of time minors can spend playing video games. New rules enacted on Friday now state that minors are only allowed to play video games on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or on holidays for one hour per night between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. The government hopes to reduce the time children spend gaming so they can instead focus on other activities that are seen as more productive to a healthy lifestyle, such as sports and extracurriculars.
The changes are stricter than a past law, which limited playtime to 1.5 hours during the week and three hours on the weekends and holidays. However, minors were able to largely circumvent the rules. Gaming in China requires using an I.D., so children would simply use an adult’s I.D., such as their parents, to play as long as they’d like. That practice is likely to continue for some time, at least until tech companies can comply with new laws that force them to implement systems to verify who is playing the game. One such system in development by the gaming giant Tencent would have facial recognition technology to continuously monitor who is playing.
It’s unclear if the changes will actually encourage minors to engage in other activities, but it will clearly impact the country’s growing esports scenes, as most players start when they are minors.
Aside from gaming restrictions, other changes include moving forward with plans to ban exams for children between the ages of six and seven. In a statement Friday, the Ministry of Education said exams harm the “physical and mental health” of such young students. It has also limited the number of exams other students can take, writing, “First and second grades of elementary school will not need to take paper-based exams.”
“For other grades, the school can organize a final exam every semester. Mid-term exams are allowed for junior high.”
The Ministry added that students were not allowed to organize their own exams and said, “examinations disguised under various names like academic research is also not allowed.”
All of these changes follow a ban on homework for young children and a 1.5 hour nightly limit on homework for older kids. Additionally, the country moved last month to ban for-profit private tutoring, a major industry in China that was criticized for placing undue pressure on low-income families who felt they needed the services so their children could “compete” with wealthier students when it came to college entrance exams.
Overall, officials hope that education inequities, and the related wealth inequity, within Chinese society will diminish with what is viewed as a more “even” playing field.
996 Schedule Scrutiny
The changes to education have a direct effect on China’s tech industry, as many of the industry giants had established lucrative subsidiaries in the space. However, the government has sought to curb the power of these companies. Beyond limits to for-profit tutoring, agencies have also moved to ban other practices that they view are detrimental to the lives of everyday people.
Of particular concern is the industry’s use of 996, or the practice of forcing employees to work 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. six days a week. While Chinese law allows for some mandatory overtime, 996 practices blatantly break the law and push employees into experiencing extremely unhealthy work-life balances.
Following months of criticism by current and former officials, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the practice was illegal. It, alongside the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, issued a warning to employers about continuing the use of 996, leading many to assume the government is serious about cracking down on the practice.
According to an interview conducted by The South China Morning Post with Lou Jiwei, a former finance minister, tech companies saw the 996 schedule as a “gift” to employees, despite the fact that it clearly violated Chinese labor laws.
“If there is no proper regulation, everyone will adopt 996, which will reduce jobs and be harmful to society,” he continued.
Meanwhile, tech moguls like Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, have defended the schedule. In fact, Ma claimed in an essay that 996 was a “gift” that allowed Alibaba, Tencent, and other tech giants to grow into the behemoths they are today.
Read what others are saying: (BBC) (South China Morning Post) (The Guardian)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.