Thousands of people in western Myanmar have been fleeing their villages over the past week after an evacuation order from officials due to clashes between the government and ethnic rebels.
The Rakhine state government, in an order last Tuesday, instructed village administrators in Rathedaung township to tell residents to stay away from their homes due to military plans to conduct a “clearance operation” against the rebels. “Clearance operation” is Myanmar military parlance for counterinsurgency action.
“Since the day the order was issued, more than 10,000 people from the operation area fled their villages,” Khin Maung Latt, an upper house member of parliament for Rathedaung township, said Monday, reports Associated Press on Tuesday.
The government has been embroiled for more than a year in an intermittent conflict with the Arakan Army, a well-trained and well-armed guerrilla force representing members of the area’s Rakhine ethnic group.
In Rakhine in 2017, the military carried out counterinsurgency operations against insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority, but critics charge they employed a campaign of terror to drive the Rohingya out of the country. An estimated 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they remain in refugee camps.
The Rakhine are Buddhist, the religion of almost 90 percent of Myanmar’s people.
“We have to flee the village as we don’t want to face the soldiers from the military. They were shooting into the village, arresting the villagers to use as human shields,” said Aye Mg, a 58-year-old resident of Rathedaung township’s Kyauktan village, where the government previously detained dozens of suspected Rakhine militants.
Civil society organisations and Buddhist monks are helping the newly displaced villagers find shelter.
“People can’t live in their places any longer due to the fighting. We are hosting over 300 displaced people at our monastery; around 100 of them have arrived recently,” Okkahta, a monk, said from the Tahtipati Sipintharyar Monastery in Rathedaung town.
“It’s like doomsday for them,” lawmaker Khin Maung Lat said, explaining why villagers fled. “They are in fear. This is the impact of the evacuation order to stay away from the village during the military operation.”
“Even most of the village administrators are fleeing from the villages,” he said. “Even they are scared to go back to their villages.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union on Tuesday announced a list of nations whose citizens will be allowed to enter 31 European countries.
As Europe’s economies reel from the impact of coronavirus, southern EU countries like Greece, Italy and Spain are desperate to entice back sun-loving visitors and breathe life into their tourism industries.
More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans head across the Atlantic.
Many people both inside and outside Europe remain wary of travel in the coronavirus era, given the unpredictability of the pandemic and the possibility of second waves of infection. Tens of thousands of travelers had a frantic, chaotic scramble in March to get home as the pandemic swept across the world and borders slammed shut.
EU envoys to Brussels have launched a written procedure which would see the list endorsed Tuesday as long as no objections are raised by member countries. The list is expected to contain up to 15 countries that have virus infection rates comparable to those in the EU, reports AP.
Infection rates in Brazil, Russia and India are high too, and they are also unlikely to make the cut.
The countries would also have to lift any bans they might have on European travelers. The list of permitted nations is to be updated every 14 days, with new countries being added or even dropping off depending on if they are keeping the disease under control.
The daily number of new confirmed cases in the US has surged over the past week. The US has the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with nearly 2.6 million people confirmed infected and over 126,000 dead, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say understates the pandemic’s true toll due to limited testing and other reasons.
In contrast, the virus’s spread has generally stabilised across much of continental Europe.
The EU imposed restrictions on non-essential travel to its 27 nations, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are part of the Schengen open-borders area, in March to halt the spread of the virus. Non-EU citizens who are already living in Europe are not included in the ban.
The EU list does not apply to travel to Britain, which left the EU in January. Britain now requires all incoming travelers — bar a few exceptions like truck drivers — to go into a self-imposed 14-day quarantine, although the measure is under review and is likely to ease in the coming weeks. The requirement also applies to U.K. citizens.
The Indian government has imposed a ban on using 59 Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, which is operated by Chinese internet firm Bytedance amid a border standoff between the Asian giants.
On Tuesday, Indian TikTok users awoke to a notice from the popular short-video app saying their data would be transferred to an Irish subsidiary in what is being seen as a tit-for-tat response.
Digital experts say the quick workaround showed the ban was largely symbolic since the apps can’t be automatically erased from devices where they are already downloaded, and is a response to a border clash with China where 20 Indian soldiers died earlier this month.
“They want to send a message. This is a decision based on a geopolitical situation,” said digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa.
Indian protesters have been calling for a boycott of Chinese goods since the June 15 confrontation in the remote Karakoram mountain border region.
Late Monday, the government said that it was banning 59 Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok. It cited privacy concerns that it said pose a threat to India’s sovereignty and security.
The banned apps include some that enable TikTok users to add visual effects and music to their posts, as well as dating apps, privacy apps and multiplayer games.
India’s information technology ministry issued a statement saying it had received reports that mobile apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data."
The compilation of such data, and its mining and profiling by elements hostile to India is “a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,” the statement said.
Chinese products are ubiquitous in India, from toys to smartphones to Made-in-China Hindu idols. Two-way trade grew from $3 billion in 2000 to $95 billion in 2018, according to Indian government data, with the balance strongly favoring China.
“There is too much of Chinese presence in the everyday life of the average Indian,” said Alka Acharya, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The soldiers’ deaths meant the Indian government had to hit back, Acharya said.
The ban on Chinese apps, signed by India's powerful Home Minister Amit Shah, asked phone companies to begin blocking the applications Tuesday, as top Army officers from India and China were set to meet for a third time to try to quell tensions and rein back on military build-ups in the disputed border area.
Supporters of the ban hailed it as a way to curtail China's growing influence.
“They are earning from us and then bullying us,” 30-year-old Sonu Mishra said in New Delhi.
Others bemoaned the potential loss of jobs at the app companies' Indian offices. Some slammed it as an encroachment on free speech.
TikTok "continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government,” the company's India chief, Nikhil Gandhi, said in a statement.
This isn't the first time TikTok has been banned in India — the Madras High Court in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu banned it last year over hate speech concerns, but quickly vacated its order.
Chinese-owned apps have found a fast-growing market in India, with some companies creating India-specific apps that have exploded in popularity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has used the country’s 500 million internet users — second only to China — as a lure in getting tech giants including Twitter to localise Indians' data. It is expected to sponsor data localization legislation later this year.
Among the list of newly-banned apps, Alibaba’s UC Browser, Meitu’s Beauty Plus camera app and Bigo’s Likee video editing app are among the top 100 most downloaded apps in India, according to app intelligence firm App Annie.
India is one of TikTok's largest markets. As of April, 30 percent of TikTok’s 2 billion downloads were from India, according to app data analytics firm Sensor Tower.
Bytedance also operates the now-banned Helo social networking app, which was created for the Indian market and has over 50 million users.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China was very concerned about the Indian move and seeking more information. The Indian government has the responsibility to uphold the legitimate rights of foreign investors, while Chinese companies should abide by local laws, he said.
The Karakoram clash fanned already growing anti-Chinese sentiment amid the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in China in December. India is the fourth worst affected, with nearly 570,000 cases and more than 16,000 deaths. In response to the crisis, a movement has emerged to promote India as an alternative to China for Western markets and to shun Chinese goods.
TikTok has sought to cultivate goodwill: in April it said on Twitter that it had donated 30 crore rupees (about $40 million) to PM Cares, a fund set up by Modi’s office to battle the coronavirus.
The antagonisms carry risks for India: A broader boycott could backfire if China were to retaliate by banning exports of raw materials used by India’s pharmaceutical industry. So far, it has not.
In the longer term, Chinese companies might avoid investing in India's technology sector and Indian start-ups might be reluctant to accept Chinese investments for fear of repercussions, said Shaun Rein, managing director of market intelligence firm China Market Research Group.
“Chinese investors are going to become very wary of investing in India. They’ll be worried that they might invest billions of dollars into the country and either Indian consumers will boycott and protest against them, or the government will just ban them because they’re backed by Chinese,” Rein said.
Chinese scientists have expressed concern after detecting another new strain of flu that has the potential to become a pandemic.
The newly emerged flu virus is carried by pigs, but can infect humans and transmit from human to human, they say.
The researchers expressed their concern that it could mutate further so that it can spread easily from person to person, and trigger a global outbreak, reports BBC.
Although it is not an immediate problem, they say, it has "all the hallmarks" of being highly adapted to infect humans and requires close monitoring.
As it is a new type of virus, people could have little or no immunity to it, the scientists said.
Measures to control the virus in pigs, and close monitoring of swine industry workers, should be swiftly implemented, they wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
New Pandemic threat
When the world is struggling with Covid-19 pandemic, experts have been watching for a new strain of influenza is among the top disease threats.
Earlier in 2009, a swine flu outbreak began in Mexico- but that was less deadly than initially feared, largely because many older people had some immunity to it.
The virus, called A/H1N1pdm09, is now covered by the annual flu vaccine to make sure people are protected.
The new flu strain that has been identified in China is similar to 2009 swine flu, but with some new changes.
So far, it hasn't posed a big threat, but Prof Kin-Chow Chang and colleagues who have been studying it, say it is one to keep an eye on.
The virus, which the researchers call G4 EA H1N1, can grow and multiply in the cells that line the human airways.
They found evidence of recent infection starting in people who worked in abattoirs and the swine industry in China.
Current flu vaccines do not appear to protect against it, although they could be adapted to do so if needed.
Prof Kin-Chow Chang, who works at Nottingham University in the UK, said "Right now we are distracted with coronavirus and rightly so. But we must not lose sight of potentially dangerous new viruses."
While this new virus is not an immediate problem, he says: "We should not ignore it."
Prof James Wood, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said the work "comes as a salutary reminder" that we are constantly at risk of new emergence of pathogens, and that farmed animals.
“Humans have greater contact than with wildlife, may act as the source for important pandemic viruses,” he added.
CanSino Biologics company of China on Monday announced that a Covid-19 vaccine they have developed is safe and somewhat efficient.
The vaccine candidate was developed jointly by CanSino and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology in the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, reports NDTV.
The military of China received the green light to use a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by its research unit and CanSino Biologics after clinical trials, the report said.
The Ad5-nCoV is one of the eight vaccine candidates being developed by Chinese companies and researchers approved to be moved into human trials for the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The shot also won approval for human testing in Canada, the reports said.
Earlier on June 25, the Central Military Commission of China approved the use of the vaccine by the military for a period of one year, CanSino said in a filing.
"The Ad5-nCoV is currently limited to military use only and its use cannot be expanded to a broader vaccination range without the approval of the Logistics Support Department," said CanSino.
The Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials showed that the vaccine candidate has potential to prevent diseases caused by the coronavirus, which has killed half a million people globally, but its commercial success cannot be guaranteed, the company said.
No vaccine has yet been approved for commercial use against the illness caused by the new coronavirus, but over a dozen vaccines from more than 100 candidates globally are being tested in humans.