China’s highest-profile entrepreneur, e-commerce billionaire Jack Ma, appeared Wednesday in a video posted online, ending a 2 1/2-month disappearance from public view that prompted speculation about his status and his business empire’s future.
In the 50-second video, Ma congratulated teachers supported by his charitable foundation and made no mention of his absence from public view and scrutiny of his Alibaba Group and Ant Group by regulators.
The video appeared on Chinese business news and other websites.
Normally voluble and press-friendly, Ma was last seen in public after criticizing financial regulators in an Oct. 24 speech at a Shanghai conference. Days later, regulators suspended Ant’s planned multibillion-dollar stock market debut.
That prompted speculation on the internet about whether Ma, China’s biggest global business celebrity and a symbol of its tech boom, had been detained or might face legal trouble.
Some people suggested the ruling Communist Party was making an example of Ma to show entrepreneurs couldn’t defy regulators. But finance experts said President Xi Jinping’s government already was uneasy about Alibaba’s dominance in retailing and Ant’s potential financial risks before Ma's speech.
Anti-monopoly regulators warned executives of Alibaba and five other tech giants in December not to use their dominance to block new competitors from entering their markets. The central bank and other regulators have ordered Ant to overhaul its business before its market debut can go ahead.
India’s homegrown vaccine developer Bharat Biotech has warned people with weaker immunity and other medical conditions that include allergies, fever, or a bleeding disorder to consult a doctor before getting the shot — and if possible avoid the vaccine.
The vaccine by Bharat Biotech ran into controversy after the Indian government allowed its use without concrete data that showed it was effective in preventing illness from COVID-19. Tens of thousands of people have been given the shot in the past three days after India started inoculating its health care workers last weekend in what is likely the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
The company Tuesday said those receiving jabs should disclose their medical conditions, medicines they are taking and any history of allergies. It said symptoms of a severe allergic reaction in vaccine recipients may include difficulty in breathing, swelling of the face and throat, rapid heartbeat, body rashes, dizziness and weakness.
India on Jan. 4 approved the emergency use of two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another by Bharat Biotech. But the regulator took the step without publishing information about the Indian vaccine's efficacy.
Most hospitals in India are inoculating health care workers with the AstraZeneca vaccine. But the turnout, particularly in those hospitals where the Bharat Biotech vaccine is being administered, has been relatively low, health officials said.
Hospitals in New Delhi that have been administering the Bharat Biotech vaccine have seen many doctors hesitate to take the shot.
India’s health ministry on Monday said that 381,305 people have been vaccinated in the country.
India is second only to the U.S. in the number of confirmed cases, with more than 10.5 million. The country ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the U.S. and Brazil, with over 152,000.
China successfully launched a new mobile telecommunication satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province on Wednesday.
The Tiantong 1-03 satellite was launched at 00:25 a.m. (Beijing Time) by a Long March-3B carrier rocket and entered the planned orbit successfully.
Tiantong-1 is a satellite mobile communication system independently developed and built by China. It consists of a space segment, ground segment, and user terminal.
Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology, the Tiantong 1-03 satellite will establish a mobile network with ground facilities to provide all-weather, all-time, stable and reliable mobile communication services such as voice, short message and data for users in China and its surrounding areas, the Middle East, Africa and other related regions, as well as most sea areas in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean.
Wednesday's launch was the 358th by the Long March rocket series and also the country's first space launch in 2021.
Having volunteered to take part in the phase III trials of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine in a private hospital here, Majid Abbasi had mixed feelings.
Though some members of his family expressed concern, the 21-year-old student was eager to have the vaccine administered because it would give him a better chance to defeat the disease, and in a broader sense, a safe and effective vaccine could be a way out for humanity to beat the pandemic.
Also read: Pakistan approves Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
"The pandemic has hit Pakistan hard. Hundreds of thousands of people got infected and thousands died," Abbasi said.
"I believe that volunteering for the vaccine will not only help me to get myself protected from the disease, but I will proudly tell my friends and family that I made a small effort to help the world get (a) vaccine by being one of the volunteers to be a part of the trials," he told Xinhua after being vaccinated.
According to the country's National Institute of Health (NIH), some 17,500 people from different social circles and areas of the country have volunteered to take part in the trials underway at five different sites in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, the major cities of Pakistan.
The vaccine, referred to as Ad5-nCoV, is developed by China's CanSino Biologics and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology. Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad is collaborating with the NIH on the Pakistani side.
"The criteria for volunteers is very simple: anyone who is healthy and age is over 18 may come and take part in the trial," Omeira Naseer, supervisor of the vaccine trial at Shifa, told Xinhua.
"Initially it was quite a challenge for us to motivate the volunteers because it is a new experience for Pakistanis," Naseer said. "But to our surprise, more and more people and even whole families of volunteers are contacting us to undergo the trial due to the positive word of mouth from other volunteers, which created a general awareness about the safety of the vaccine and its trials."
Naseer, who has been hired by the NIH to supervise the vaccine administration, said that she opted for the "challenging and risky job" as she knew the work requires interaction with a lot of volunteers and she would risk catching the virus and passing it on to her children.
But being a doctor, she said she knew how to protect herself "by following the protective measures."
It was also a new experience for Naseer in a phase III trial of a vaccine.
"I have studied phase III trials in books like all of the other doctors in Pakistan, because the country doesn't have enough resources and research to conduct the trials. So it is a great opportunity for Pakistan to conduct such trials here," she said, adding: "It helped us to be in the countries working on vaccine development and further strengthened Pak-China friendship."
Naseer said that Chinese experts provided them with all technical support and the knowhow about the trials, enabling the trials to be conducted efficiently. About 95 percent of the trials have already been completed, she added.
Trial sample will be sent to a third-party observer which will give its final evaluation of the vaccine, she said.
HIGH DEMAND EXPECTED
According to the NIH, half of the volunteers get a placebo dose, while the rest get the vaccine for research purposes through computerized entry. Neither the volunteer nor the supervisor knows if the dose is a placebo or not, but those who got the placebo will get vaccine after its formal launch.
In a conversation with Xinhua, Qaisar Sohail, area manager of AJM Pharma, a pharmaceutical company which is a partner of the trial and would sponsor the vaccine in Pakistan after its final launch in China, said that people are eagerly awaiting the vaccine in Pakistan to combat the hike in COVID-19 cases and fatalities during the second wave, which is also a motivating factor for the trial volunteers.
"The NIH targets to rope in 18,000 people in the trials, and the current results indicate that the vaccine is very suitable for Pakistanis, so it is expected to have high demand in the country after its formal launch in China," Sohail said.
"The trials have developed a confidence in people here about the safety of the Chinese vaccine, as a large number of people had it and stayed safe," Sohail added.
Ejaz Ahmad Khan, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Shifa, is the principal investigator of the vaccine trials in Pakistan and keeps close contact with the volunteers to monitor their condition after vaccination.
"The trial has been very smooth until now, we have had no major serious adverse events so far ... We think that this initial period has, to some extent, proved its safety and suitableness for Pakistanis," said the investigator.
NEW VISTA OF COOPERATION
Medical experts here have also expressed their belief that the vaccine trials have opened up a new vista of Pakistan-China cooperation in the health sector, in addition to bilateral ties in energy, infrastructure and industrialization under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
"China has always played a major role in helping Pakistan in different sectors ... Now China offered us phase III clinical trials, helping us to upgrade in the health sector," Ghazala Parveen, chief of Biological Production Division at the NIH, told Xinhua
She said that many developing countries, including Pakistan, have high hopes for China to develop and distribute a vaccine.
Pakistan's health departments say Chinese vaccines are ideal. "It can be stored at 8 degrees Celsius, the same temperature at which most of the other vaccines available in the country are stored. It has only one dose, an ideal choice for the society badly awaiting," Parveen said.
Earlier this month, in the latest telephone conversation between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, they agreed to finish the trial in Pakistan at an early date to get the vaccine out to the public.
China is willing to provide Pakistan with as much support as possible to help Pakistan defeat the coronavirus, said Wang.
The Electronics and Information Technology Ministry has asked WhatsApp to immediately withdraw the "discriminatory" policy for Indian users, barely four days after the messaging app itself deferred its new policy on information sharing with Facebook.
In a letter to WhatsApp's global CEO Will Cathcart, the Ministry has made it clear that the new policy of WhatsApp that proposes to share the metadata of users' chat with business accounts with other Facebook companies is "discriminatory".
The Ministry has also conveyed to WhatsApp that the new policy "would create a honeypot of information about users with Facebook groups, which can create security risks and vulnerabilities for users", an official told the Indian media.
India is WhatsApp's biggest market.
UNB had earlier reported that more and more people in India were migrating to other instant messaging apps like Signal and Telegram, after WhatsApp announced its data-sharing policy change.
Signal witnessed some 7.5 million installs globally through the Apple App and Google Play stores from January 6-10, according to California-based mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. Similarly, Telegram saw over 5.6 million downloads globally in the same period.
In India, over a million have already downloaded Signal and Telegram in the past week, according to an estimate.
"Though WhatsApp is a household name in India, people have started migrating to other more privacy-focused messaging apps, particularly Signal. The figure, as per our estimates, is at least a million," technology expert Rahul Gaba told UNB.
"So, it's privacy over convenience, for Indians, particularly the urban class. Moreover, the trend clearly shows that Signal is going to gain more ground in India," Gaba added.
WhatsApp recently rolled out notifications informing users about an update in its Terms of Service that would pave the way for the app to share data with Facebook. WhatsApp gave users time till February 8 to agree to the policy in order to continue using the service.
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