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Singapore on Covid restrictions, living with Covid and travel lanes

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People walk at a pedestrian crossing along the Orchard Road shopping district in Singapore on September 7, 2021.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore announced Saturday it will further tighten Covid restrictions for the unvaccinated, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong predicted it will take between three to six months to get to a “new normal” of living with Covid.

Singapore’s ministry of health said the move was aimed at protecting those who have not been vaccinated.

Those who are not vaccinated will no longer be allowed to enter malls, said Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s trade minister and co-chair of the government’s coronavirus taskforce, in a briefing Saturday. Even those vaccinated will now be subject to a limit of two people when entering malls, he said.

The unvaccinated will also not be allowed to dine-in at coffee shops and food centers — open-air food establishments in the country, where they were previously allowed to do so, limited to two people per table.

Those restrictions will kick in on Wednesday.

In a speech on Saturday, Lee elaborated on when Singapore’s “new normal” could occur.

“How will we know when we get to the new normal? It will be when we can ease off restrictions, have just light [safe management measures] in place, and cases remain stable – perhaps hundreds a day, but not growing,” Lee said. “When our hospitals can go back to business as usual, when we can resume doing the things we used to do, and see crowds again without getting worried or feeling strange.”

He urged the nation not to be “paralyzed by fear,” and said that “sooner or later, every one of us will meet the virus — this means all the elderly will meet the virus too.”

He said regions like Europe reached this state, but “paid for it dearly” with many lives lost.

“It will take us at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months to get to this new norm,” Lee added.

Singapore had maintained a zero-Covid strategy for the most part of the pandemic, but started opening up after the population’s vaccination rate hit more than 80%. As of Oct. 7, 83% of the population has completed two doses of a Covid vaccine.

But after loosening restrictions, the number of cases started spiking, reaching daily record highs and hovering above 3,400 in the last few days.

Authorities in Singapore last month tightened Covid measures again in a bid to slow community transmissions and protect hospitals from being overwhelmed. They reduced group sizes for social gatherings from five to two, and set working from home as the default, encouraging the vulnerable population such as the elderly to stay home as much as possible.

As of Friday, the total number of infections stands at 120,454, with 142 deaths. However, 98.4% of infected people over the past 28 days had no symptoms or mild symptoms, according to the country’s health ministry.


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Brazilians seek pre-pandemic normalcy as deaths top 600,000

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Brazil has topped 600,000 virus deaths as it bids to return to pre-pandemic normalcy


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Xi Jinping vows Taiwan’s ‘reunification’ with China will be fulfilled | Taiwan

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China’s president, Xi Jinping, has vowed to realise “reunification” with Taiwan, without mentioning the use of force, after a week of tensions.

Democratically run Taiwan has come under increased military and political pressure to accept Beijing’s sovereignty, but Taiwan says it is an independent country, using its formal name: the Republic of China.

Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Saturday, Xi said the Chinese people had a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.

“Taiwan’s independence separatism is the biggest obstacle to achieving the reunification of the motherland, and the most serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation,” he said on the anniversary of the revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty in 1911. Taiwan marks 10 October, when the revolution began, as its national day.

Xi said “reunification through a peaceful manner is the most in line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan compatriots”, but added that China will protect its sovereignty and unity.

“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said.

“The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled.”

He struck a slightly softer tone than in July, his last major speech mentioning Taiwan, in which he vowed to “smash” any attempts at formal independence.

In 2019, he directly threatened to use force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.

China’s air force mounted four straight days of incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone from 1 October, involving close to 150 aircraft.

Speaking shortly before Xi, Taiwan’s premier, Su Tseng-chang, noted that China had been “flexing its muscles” and causing regional tensions.

“This is why countries that believe in freedom, democracy and human rights, and based on shared values, are all working together and have repeatedly warned that China should not invade Taiwan,” Su said.

With Reuters and Associated Press


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Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov win Nobel Peace Prize

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Ressa is the CEO of Rappler, a news outlet critical of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime, while Muratov heads the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Both have faced legal and physical threats during their careers, as their respective governments cracked down on the rights of journalists.

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said as she announced the prize in Oslo on Friday.

She said the pair are “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.” Reiss-Andersen added that the committee’s choice was intended to “underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.”

Ressa, a former CNN bureau chief and TIME Person of the Year, has been engulfed in legal battles in recent years and says she has been targeted because of her news site’s critical reports on Duterte.

“We need to sound the alert to every person in a democracy,” she told CNN in 2019 on her fight for freedom of expression. “These freedoms are being eroded in front of our eyes … If you don’t have facts, you can’t have truth.”
Ressa becomes the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize this year. The awards in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature were given out earlier this week.

Six staff members at the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta have been killed since Muratov co-founded the outlet in 1993, the committee said. He has served as the paper’s editor-in-chief since 1995.

“The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media,” the committee said.

It added that Muratov has “consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.”

Press freedom curtailed worldwide

The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to recognize two journalists comes as countries around the world roll back the rights of reporters.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, themselves considered a contender for the prize, said in its most recent Press Freedom Index that journalism “is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others.”

Last year the organization told CNN that had a free press been allowed in China, the world would have known about the coronavirus outbreak far earlier and the virus may not have been allowed to spiral into a global pandemic.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public,” Reiss-Andersen said during Friday’s ceremony. “These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict.”

From Belarus to Hong Kong, journalists 'are bearing the brunt of the global surge in repression'

The crackdown on journalistic freedom is closely felt at both Rappler and Novaya Gazeta. Reacting to his win, Muratov said the prize is a testament to the newspaper’s dedication to free speech and his colleagues who have died fighting for it, Russian state media TASS reported.

“I worked, I was busy. They called me from the Nobel Committee, but I didn’t pick up the phone. I didn’t even have time to read the entire text,” he told TASS. “I’ll tell you this: this is not my merit. This is Novaya Gazeta. These are those who died defending the right of people to freedom of speech.”

Anna Politkovskaya, once a leading voice in Russia reporting on the Chechnya war for Novaya Gazeta, was killed 15 years ago on Thursday.

“I am in shock,” Ressa said during a live broadcast by Rappler on Friday, according to Reuters. On Thursday, a day before she won the prize, Ressa spoke to CNN about next year’s Philippine elections. “I have covered this country since 1986, I’ve never been the news but the only reason I’ve become the news is because I refuse to be stamped down, I refuse to stop doing my job the way I should,” she said.

Maria Ressa during a press conference in Manila in 2018.

Ressa added that while she was at CNN, she “had enough of a network to be able to fight back” against threats to freedom of expression. “I’m not fighting against the Duterte administration, I’m fighting for my rights. I’m still idealistic,” she said.

Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, congratulated the pair on their victory, calling Ressa and Muratov “two fearless journalists and symbols of the struggle for press freedom.”

It is the 102nd time the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Polish dissident Lech Walesa, the Soviet Union’s last leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and four US Presidents. Last year the UN’s World Food Programme claimed the prize.
The prize has at times attracted controversy. In 2019, the award was given to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has since become an international pariah for his role in presiding over a protracted civil war in Tigray that, by many accounts, bears the hallmarks of genocide and has the potential to destabilize the wider Horn of Africa region.

Reiss-Andersen was asked to comment on whether Ahmed has lived up to the committee’s expectations during Friday’s press conference, but avoided the question.


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