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Japan Prime Minister to Step Down Over COVID-19 Response

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Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, who is already wildly unpopular throughout the country and within his own party, has faced particular criticism in recent months over his refusal to cancel the 2020 Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


COVID-19 Related Downfall

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide announced Friday that he is steppping down and will not contest his party’s leadership race on Sept. 30.

The decision comes as his ratings continue to fall below 30% and amid the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which many view as lacking.

Japan has struggled with consistent record-high case counts and daily averages in recent months. The rising cases have been attributed to several factors, though many locals have specifically blamed the 2020 Olympic Games, which the vast majority of the population wanted canceled.

On June 27, one month before the games began, daily new cases for that week averaged 1,482. Then, when the Olympics formally began, they averaged just above 5,000. Cases peaked just a month after the games started and two weeks after they ended, which coincides with the two-week period needed for most symptomatic cases to be identified. At that point, on August 25, average daily cases peaked at over 23,000. Since then, cases have slowly fallen but continue to hit nearly 20,000 new cases each day.

It’s unclear whether the games actually caused a spike in cases or if the timing was just a coincidence. Regardless, the perception is still there among the public.

Adding to the frustrations against Suga is that his government took far longer than other nations to approve COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, with widespread vaccinations not being available until shortly before the Olympics. Currently, about 27% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated, far behind other developed nations.

No Clear Solution

In a press conference Friday morning, Suga told outlets that he made the decision after wondering if he could both handle the pandemic and a campaign, saying, “Both require a lot of energy. … So I felt I should focus on measures to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19.”

The decision to step down indicates that senior party leadership lost faith in Suga, who has been in a senior position with the Liberal Democratic Party since 2012 when he was the spokesperson for Abe Shinzo. However, Suga has been unpopular with younger politicians for months. Many even felt they couldn’t mount effective reelection campaigns with Suga as the face of the party.

In the next few weeks, there will likely be a small power struggle within the Liberal Democratic Party, as many old-guard officials are seen as “tainted” for being involved in what citizens view as an inadequate COVID-19 pandemic response. As of Suga’s announcement, there is no clear frontrunner to take his position, and he won’t officially be out of office until the party votes later this month.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Kyodo News) (The Hill)

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names in our coverage are written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

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Quebec Introduces Legislation To Ban Anti-Vax Protests at Schools and Hospitals

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Lawmakers said they are tired of anti-vaccine protesters intimidating students and hindering access to hospitals while hosting their demonstrations.


Outrage at Anti-Vaccine Demonstrations

Quebec lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday that would regulate where anti-vaccine protesters can hold demonstrations.

While there have been large anti-vax protests across Quebec, small protests at schools and hospitals have specifically triggered concern. Though such protests typically feature about a dozen people, there have been reports of demonstrators harassing students and blocking access to hospitals when gathering at these locations.

Legislation aimed at addressing the issue has been in discussion for weeks. Following reports of these types of gatherings Tuesday, Premier Francois Legault said, “I cannot accept to have anti-vaccine people in front of our schools and hospitals. So I will use whatever is necessary to stop that.”

Prior to Legault’s comments, Education Minister Jean-F. Roberge tweeted out his own outrage at an anti-vaccine protest in front of a high school in Louis-Riel.

“I am appalled by these demonstrators who have used the tragic death of a young girl to fuel disinformation,” he wrote. “It is an irresponsible gesture and I offer my condolences to the relatives of the victim and to the school staff.”

Fifty Meter Standard

If approved, the new legislation would ban all forms of protests within 50 meters of a school, hospital, or daycare.

Police would be allowed to levy a $10,000 fine to anyone protesting at one of these locations depending on their demeanor. If the protests are related specifically to COVID-19 health regulations or vaccines, another fine of up to $6,000 can be added. Protesters intimidating someone, which is open to interpretation, can face another $10,000 fine.

The bill would also ban inciting or encouraging protests, including through posts on online platforms such as Facebook, where many protests are organized.

All of Quebec’s major parties said they support the bill, but it could still be held up by a single vote from Claire Samson. The conservative lawmaker broke with her party over concerns that the provisions don’t have an expiration date, despite them applying to more than just protests over COVID-19 regulations.

Some experts have argued that the new proposal is unnecessary since the government and police already have unenforced laws on the books to crack down on unruly protesters. However, the largest concerns regarding the legislation stem from its constitutionality.

Constitutional Muster

Many on the right claim that such provisions limit the freedom of speech and assembly, both of which are explicitly allowed in Canada in various forms.

Still, while Canada has the freedom of speech and assembly just like the United States, it also has what American legal analysts call “time, place, and manner” restrictions.

As Pearl Eliadis, a human rights lawyer who teaches at McGill University in Montreal explained to Global News, “The issue is not really freedom of expression. No one’s telling them they can’t say stuff. It’s just where they’re saying it.”

“I think there’s a strong argument to be made that children, in particular minor children, should not in any way be intimidated or frightened for going to school,” Eliadis added.

“If you’re a patient going into a facility, or trying to get into a facility, and you’ve been intimidated or frightened, your right to access has been diminished.”

Similar laws in Canada have already withstood legal scrutiny. In 2016, Quebec banned demonstrations within 50 meters of an abortion clinic. Since then, other provinces have introduced their own bans on protests near abortion clinics. Alberta has its own spin on such regulations against people protesting energy and oil companies. Quebec’s proposal also has the possibility of inspiring national legislation. While campaigning in the recent federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also promised legislation to restrict protests in front of schools and hospitals.

The proposals, according to proponents, are meant to protect students and those seeking medical care from unnecessary harassment by individuals who are likely unvaccinated in the midst of a pandemic.

See what others are saying: (Global News) (CTV) (La Presse)

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New Zealand Considers Offering Vaccines at Fast-Food Chains Like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell

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Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson discussed the move as a possibility Thursday, saying, “We want to make sure we’re going to where people are.” 


Government Discusses Vaccine Partnership With Fast-Food Industry

The New Zealand government is reportedly in talks with fast-food brands about offering customers COVID-19 vaccines at their locations.

Auckland Councillor Josephine Bartley tweeted Wednesday that Restaurant Brands — the company behind KFC, Pizza Hut, Carl’s Jr., and Taco Bell in New Zealand — was speaking to the government about a potential partnership.

“We want to make sure we’re going to where people are,” Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson also told Radio New Zealand on Thursday.

New Zealand’s 90% Vaccination Goal

New Zealand has had a good handle on the virus over the last year thanks to its strict safety protocols. For instance, in August, it went straight into another lockdown after recording its first case of COVID in six months.

Despite its general success in fighting off the virus, the country is still hoping to increase its overall vaccination rate. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday that lockdowns measures could be dropped for good if enough people get vaccinated.

Her goal is for New Zealand to have a 90% vaccination rate. According to government data, 40% of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated as of Thursday while 75% have had one dose. 

Some believe strategies, like this potential fast-food partnership, could help boost those numbers, especially since New Zealanders apparently love fast-food. In fact, the Guardian reported that the country has one of the highest per-capita distributions of KFC and McDonald’s outlets in the world.

Just this week, the government finally eased some restrictions in Auckland, ending nearly five weeks of the strictest lockdown in its most populous city. That meant restaurants could reopen for takeout and delivery again, and once that happened they were met with massive lines of people waiting to order.

Still, in his interview Thursday, Robertson did admit that there could be some issues to consider with this plan.

“There’s a few logistics to work through, one of which is obviously making sure that people wait,” he said. “When someone gets the vaccines, as you know you wait in the waiting room to make sure everything’s going okay.”

He went on to suggest that such a requirement could be challenging considering the time crunch fast-food restaurants deal with. However, he also said the government is working through the options and looking at other spots people frequently visit, not just fast-food chains.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian)(The Independent)(Insider)

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Northern Ireland Police Arrest Two More Men Over Murder of Journalist Lyra McKee

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Lyra McKee was covering a riot in 2019 when members of the New Irish Republican Army opened fire on police, accidentally killing McKee in the process.


Police Making Headway

Police in Northern Ireland announced Wednesday that they have arrested two more men in connection with the April 2019 murder of journalist Lyra Mckee.

According to authorities, the 24- and 29-year-old men were detained under the Terrorism Act and are specifically suspected of being with the actual gunmen who shot McKee, rather than involved in other crimes that occurred that night.

Three other men have been charged with murder for her death, including 33-year-old Peter Géaroid Cavanagh and 21-year-old Justin Devine, both of who were arrested last week. They were similarly charged under the Terrorism Act while two additional men were arrested on rioting and petrol bomb offenses on the night McKee was killed.

McKee died while covering a demonstration that turned violent in Derry. She was reportedly standing near police when members of the New Irish Republican Army (New IRA) opened fire. The group’s role in her death has rarely been in doubt, as it was quick to take responsibility for the crime.

“In the course of attacking the enemy, Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces,” it said in a statement to The Irish Times, which the paper confirmed via a series of code words. “The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”

McKee was considered an upcoming journalist who focused on LGBTQ issues in relatively conservative Northern Ireland. Despite her death and seeming remorse from the New IRA, the group was unwilling to give up its members. Information about her death was slow coming, with police taking nearly a year before making any substantial arrests.

Prosecutors Fail to Block Bail

One of the first people arrested in connection to this case was 53-year-old Paul McIntrye, who has been on bail for more than a year. His current freedom led prosecutors to fail in a bid on Wednesday to keep Devine, Cavanagh, and 21-year-old Joe Cambell (who is accused of throwing petrol bombs) from being released on bail. A judge told prosecutors, “It’s difficult to distinguish the case against McIntyre and that against Devine and Cavanagh.”

“The prosecution have not sought to differentiate between these applicants and McIntyre in terms of involvement.”

McKee is one of many deaths inflicted by the New IRA and its predecessors. The group originated in 2012 when various republican dissident groups within Northern Ireland banded together. Most of these organizations, including the New IRA, claim to be the legitimate successors of the “IRA,” a nebulous term that encompasses many groups that engaged in anti-British activities throughout Northern Ireland until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The New IRA rejects the agreement and seeks a united Ireland through the use of physical force.

The defendants currently released on bail are all expected to return to court on October 7.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (Independent)

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