Hong Kong police make first arrest under national security law

News Network
July 1, 2020

Jul 1: Hong Kong police moved swiftly on Wednesday against protesters gearing up for the first rally since the introduction of sweeping security legislation, making their first arrest under it and warning of punishment for pro-independence material.

Beijing on Tuesday unveiled the details of the much-anticipated law after weeks of uncertainty, pushing China's freest city and one of the world's most glittering financial hubs onto a more authoritarian path.

As hundreds of protesters gathered downtown for an annual rally marking the 23rd anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China, riot police used pepper spray to arrest at least two people, while one metro station closed.

Police, who earlier banned the rally, cited the law for the first time in confronting protesters and they also made their first arrest under it - a man holding a flag advocating independence.

"You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the ... national security law," police said in a message displayed on a purple banner.

The law will punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, heralding a more authoritarian era for the Asian financial hub.

China's parliament adopted it in response to months of pro-democracy protests last year triggered by fears that Beijing was stifling the city's freedoms, guaranteed by a "one country, two systems" formula agreed when it returned to Chinese rule.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few "troublemakers" and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.

But critics fear it will crush the freedoms that are seen as key to Hong Kong's success as a financial centre.

"With the release of the full detail of the law, it should be clear to those in any doubt that this is not the Hong Kong they grew up in," said Hasnain Malik, head of equity research, Tellimer in Dubai.

"The difference is that U.S. and China relations are far worse and this could be used as a pretext to impede the role of Hong Kong as a finance hub."

In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming, executive deputy director of Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters suspects arrested by Beijing's new security office in Hong Kong could be tried on the mainland.

He said the mainland's national security office abided by Chinese law and that Hong Kong's legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland. Article 55 of the law states that Beijing's national security office in Hong Kong could exercise jurisdiction over "complex" or "serious" cases.

Mainland security agencies will also be based in Hong Kong officially for the first time, with powers that go beyond city laws.

"The law is a birthday gift to (Hong Kong) and will show its precious value in the future," Zhang said, adding the law would not be applied retroactively.

On July 1 last year, hundreds of protesters stormed and vandalised the city's legislature to protest against a now-scrapped bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Those protests evolved into calls for greater democracy, paralysing parts of the city and paving the way for Beijing's imposition of the law this week.

'INEVITABLE'

Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover anniversary, the city's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, said the law was the most important development since the city's return to Chinese rule.

"It is also an inevitable and prompt decision to restore stability," Lam said at the same harbour-front venue where 23 years ago the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, a staunch critic of the security law, tearfully handed back Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

Some pro-Beijing officials and political commentators say the law is aimed at sealing Hong Kong's "second return" to the motherland after the first failed to bring residents to heel.

Luo Huining, the head of Beijing's top representative office in Hong Kong, said at the ceremony the law was a "common aspiration" of Hong Kong citizens.

Critics denounced the lack of transparency surrounding the details of the legislation until it was unveiled. It came into force at 11 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Tuesday.

Some pro-democracy activists gave up membership of their groups just before the law came into force, though calling for the campaign for democracy to go on offshore.

"I saw this morning there are celebrations for Hong Kong's handover, but to me it is a funeral, a funeral for 'one country two systems'," said democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki.

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News Network
December 2,2020

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2020 was a year turned upside-down by the novel coronavirus. But with the prospect of several vaccines coming online and less stringent restrictions, experts say it's possible 2021 will return to a semblance of normality.

With a second Covid-19 wave currently battering Europe, the United States battling its third, and Hong Kong facing a fourth, disease specialists say they can't rule out more resurgences in cases and deaths as 2021 gets underway.

France's scientific council, which guides government policy on the pandemic, envisages "several successive waves" of Covid-19 over the winter and well into next year.

Flavio Toxvaerd, lecturer at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Economics, told AFP the question of how many waves the world still faces depends on a variety of factors.

These include "seasonal changes in contact patterns as well as how well the disease is managed through a combination of social distancing and vaccines," said Toxvaerd, who specialises in the economics of infectious diseases and economic epidemiology.

Lessons learned from past interventions could allow countries to fine-tune their counter-virus measures, implementing modified restrictions while avoiding total lockdowns.

Governments will seek to administer "the minimal effective dose" of measures, such as bans on large gatherings or high-risk activities, according to Anne-Claude Cremieux, an infectious diseases expert at Paris' Saint-Louis hospital.

She referred to a strategy of "surgical strikes" against the virus.

That would require full knowledge and control over the transmission chain, with an effective "test, trace, isolate" system and particular care taken over protecting vulnerable and elderly individuals.

"We need to hold on until relief arrives, and the relief is a vaccine," said Cremieux. She, however, cautioned that "it's clear we're not going to vaccinate the entire world in six months".

Even if several vaccines are made available, they alone will not be enough to return to normal.

Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute told RMC/BFMTV television that normality could be restored "only by Autumn 2021" -- and even then only if 80-90 per cent of the population are vaccinated. Universal coverage would be "an extremely ambitious goal given the hesitancy that exists today towards vaccines," he said.

Fontanet echoed concerns expressed by fellow experts that a massive effort is needed to overcome anti-vaccine sentiment worldwide.

With some countries debating making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory, Toxvaerd sounded a note of caution. "In the current climate, making vaccines mandatory may backfire and cause even more resistance to the vaccine," he said.

"Instead, positive incentives to vaccinate should be considered."

He pointed to certain business and social practices -- such as some airlines refusing to admit non-vaccinated passengers -- that would be more likely to bring success than enforced vaccination programmes.

And the logistics of mass vaccination remain dizzying. Even as results from trials need verifying in peer-reviewed papers, little still is known about how long the immunity they render will last.

Fontanet said that even the most effective vaccines could not be treated as a magic wand guaranteeing protection. "There will be people who have been vaccinated who still get sick," he said. But he stressed that didn't mean that "the vaccine doesn't work".

With at least two candidate vaccines undergoing review by health authorities ahead of use authorisation, the safety data from trials is also being pored over.

"This can provide important additional and more precise information on longer-term safety and efficacy of a vaccine against Covid-19," the European Medicines Agency said recently.

Different vaccines will need to be distributed differently, too, with some candidates that have proven to prevent severe illness likely prioritised for at-risk individuals.

Moncef Slaoui, head scientist with the US's Operation Warp Speed vaccination programme, told CNN last month that around 70 percent of the population would need inoculating in order to achieve "true herd immunity".

This level is unlikely to be reached before May 2021, he added.

This year has seen an unprecedented change in personal behaviour prompted by Covid-19, from hand washing and social distancing to the now almost ubiquitous mask wearing.

Experts say these behaviours are unlikely to be limited to 2020 alone, as protective measures will still be needed until everyone is out of the woods.

Leading US scientist Anthony Fauci told AFP in a recent interview he foresaw "a considerable degree of normality" by the third quarter of next year.

Successful vaccination programmes could see for example the Olympic Games, delayed from last summer, take place in Tokyo in late July.

Meanwhile China, where Covid-19 emerged late last year, has largely resumed business as usual, while developing its own vaccine and reacting swiftly to any hint of new cases.

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Agencies
December 2,2020

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London, Dec 2: Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use and said that it will be rolled out from next week.

“The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for use,” the British government said.

“The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the programme would begin early next week.

“It is very good news,” Hancock said.

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Agencies
November 22,2020

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Washington, Nov 23: The overall number of global coronavirus cases has topped 58.5 million, while the deaths have surged to more than 1.38 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

In its latest update on Monday, the University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed that the current global caseload and death toll stood at 58,542,174 and 1,386,454, respectively.

The US is the worst-hit country with the world's highest number of cases and deaths at 12,226,643 and 256,741, respectively, according to the CSSE.

India comes in second place in terms of cases at 9,095,806, while the country's death toll soared to 133,227.

The other countries with more than a million confirmed cases are Brazil (6,071,401), France (2,191,180), Russia (2,071,858), Spain (1,556,730), the UK (1,515,802), Argentina (1,370,366), Italy (1,408,868), Colombia (1,248,417) and Mexico (1,025,969), the CSSE figures showed.

Brazil currently accounts for the second highest number of fatalities at 169,183.

The countries with a death toll above 20,000 are Mexico (100,823), the UK (55,120), Italy (49,823), France (48,807), Iran (44,802), Spain (42,619), Argentina (37,002), Russia (35,838), Peru (35,549), Colombia (35,287) and South Africa (20,903).

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