World Newsletter

31 January 2020


The World Health Organization declared the outbreak sparked by a new virus
in China that has spread to more than a dozen countries a global emergency
after the number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the
highest death toll in a 24-hour period reported Friday.
China counted 9,692 confirmed cases with a death toll of 213, including 43
new fatalities. The vast majority of the cases have been in Hubei province
and its provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. No deaths
have been reported outside China.
The U.N. health agency defines an international emergency as an
"extraordinary event" that constitutes a risk to other countries and
requires a coordinated international response.
China first informed WHO about cases of the new virus in late December.
Eighteen other countries have since reported cases, as scientists race to
understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.
Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among
people in China and have noted with concern instances in other countries -
including the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and
Vietnam - where there have also been isolated cases of human-to-human
Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros
Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the worrisome spread of the virus between people
outside China.
"The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in
China but because of what is happening in other countries," he said. "Our
greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with
weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it."
"This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China," he said. "On
the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China's capacity to
control the outbreak."
Earlier in Geneva, the WHO's DG Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the
outbreak as a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" (PHEIC)
after a closed-door meeting of its emergency panel. It's only the 6th time
that the WHO has declared a PHEIC since the International Health Regulations
(IHR) mechanism was set up in 2005.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday hailed US President
Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan as a new opportunity after flying to
Moscow to discuss it with President Vladimir Putin.
"I think there's a new and perhaps unique opportunity here," said the
Israeli premier, who stood alongside Trump at the White House when the plan
was announced Tuesday and called it a victory for Israel.
Trump's plan angered Palestinians by proposing Israel retain control over
Jerusalem as its "undivided capital" and giving the green light to annex
Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
"I'd like to speak to you and hear your insights and see how we can combine
all our forces for security and peace,"Netanyahu told Putin at the start of
their Kremlin meeting. "You're actually the first leader I'm speaking with
after my visit to Washington about President Trump's Deal of the Century,"
he added.
The Russian leader did not mention the peace plan in his public remarks.
Netanyahu, facing graft charges, is contesting March elections and hoping
the proposal will boost his re-election chances.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hail the "dawn of a new era" on Friday, as
the UK prepares to leave the European Union after 47 years.
In a speech to be shown at 22:00 GMT - an hour before the official departure
time - he will say Brexit is "not an end but a beginning".
He will describe severing ties with the other 27 EU nations as "a moment of
real national renewal and change".
Little will change immediately, as the UK begins a "transition period".
Most EU laws will continue to be in force - including the free movement of
people - until the end of December, by which time the UK aims to have
reached a permanent free trade agreement with the EU.
In a statement, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the country not to "turn
inwards" and instead "build a truly internationalist, diverse and
outward-looking Britain'".
To mark Brexit, Mr Johnson will hold a cabinet meeting in Sunderland - the
city that was the first to back Brexit when results were announced after the
2016 referendum - on Friday morning.
In his address, filmed in Downing TStreet, Mr Johnson will also say: "This
is the dawn of a new era in which we no longer accept that your life chances
- your family's life chances - should depend on which part of the country
you grow up in.
"This is the moment when we begin to unite and level up."


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday called China's ruling
Communist Party "the central threat of our times" that challenges Western
"The Chinese Communist Party presents the central threat of our times,"
Washington's top diplomat said at a joint appearance with Britain's Foreign
Secretary Dominic Raab.
He added that Western allies must "ensure that the next century is governed
by these Western democratic principles".
Pompeo's remarks came as Washington presses Britain and other European
states to exclude China's Huawei tech giant from their next-generation 5G
mobile networks.
Britain on Tuesday decided to allow Huawei to build "non-core" elements of
5G that do not handle sensitive personal data.
It also capped Huawei's market share to 35 percent and promised to lower it
in the future.
Brussels adopted a similar policy for EU member states on Wednesday.
US officials have warned that Washington might have to stop sharing
intelligence with London if it included any elements of the Chinese company
in its new network because of the security risk.
But Pompeo appeared to walk back that threat on Thursday.
The US-UK intelligence sharing "relationship is deep, it is strong, it will
remain," Pompeo said.
He added that he was "confident ... as we move forward together to make sure
the next generation of technology is secure".


Australian officials declared a state of emergency for the capital city of
Canberra and surrounding regions on Friday, as soaring temperatures and
strong winds threatened to propel a large bushfire beyond the control of
Andrew Barr, Chief Minister for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), said
the decision to declare the first state of emergency since fatal wildfires
in 2003 indicated the potential danger over the weekend.
Officials said an uncontrolled fire in the ACT's south, on the doorstep of
Canberra, had grown to 185 sq km, almost 8% of the territory's land mass.
"This fire may become very unpredictable. It may become uncontrollable," Mr.
Barr told reporters in a televised briefing. "The combination of extreme
heat, wind, and a dry landscape will place suburbs in Canberra's south at
Australia's federal parliament is located in Canberra, which is also home to
several government and independent institutions as well as national museums.
Four people died and almost 500 homes were destroyed in the 2003 Canberra
The state of emergency declared on Friday will run for 72 hours, giving
authorities greater powers to order evacuations, close roads and take
control of private property.
Heatwave conditions are also expected to sweep through Victoria and New
South Wales states over the weekend, where some 80 fires are burning.


Russia said Thursday it was closing its border with China to prevent the
spread of the new coronavirus and would stop issuing electronic visas to
Chinese nationals.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin told a government meeting that the order
had been signed "to take measures to close the border (with China) in the
Far East".
"We have to do everything to protect our people," he said.
The Russian foreign ministry said that as of Thursday it would stop issuing
Chinese citizens with electronic visas, which can be used to cross into
parts of the Far East and western Russia.
The foreign ministry also advised Russians to refrain from travelling to
China and for those in China to get in touch with the Russian embassy.
Russia does not have any confirmed cases of the new virus but the Russian
government has set up a task force to prevent its possible spread.


An arrest warrant was issued Thursday for Nissan's former chairman Carlos
Ghosn, who skipped bail while awaiting trial in Japan and is now in Lebanon.
Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon, so there is little
chance for his arrest. Lebanon indicated earlier this month that it will not
hand over Ghosn.
Tokyo prosecutors also issued arrest warrants for three Americans they
said helped and planned his escape, Michael
Taylor, George Zayek and Peter Taylor. Deputy Chief Prosecutor Takahiro
Saito declined to say where the three men were thought to be located. He
said Michael Taylor and George Zayek are suspected of helping Ghosn flee by
hiding him in luggage at an airport in Japan, and getting him into a private
jet to leave the country.


The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on a Moscow-based private
railway company that last month opened passenger service between Russia and
Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.
The sanctions target Grand Service Express, its CEO and seven people who
were slapped with European Union sanctions earlier in the week for their
role in organizing Russian local elections on Crimea in September. The EU
and the US imposed economic sanctions on Russia after the annexation and
refuse to recognise Moscow's authority over the region.
The Treasury Department handed down the new sanctions on Wednesday two days
before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due in Kyiv to meet with the
Ukrainian president and other officials. They may be intended to send a
message of support from the Trump administration during the impeachment
trial of President Donald Trump over his dealings with Ukraine.
"Treasury's action, taken in close coordination with our international
allies and partners, reiterates our unwavering support for restoring free
and fair democratic processes in Crimea," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
said in a statement.


Flash floods and landslides have killed at least nine people and forced
thousands into temporary shelters on Indonesia's Sumatra island, the local
disaster agency said Thursday.
Torrential rain in North Sumatra this week sparked the disaster, with most
victims drowning or hit by logs swept away in the current, the agency added.
"We suspect (two victims) were killed after getting hit by logs," said
Safaruddin Ananda Nasution, head of Central Tapanuli's disaster mitigation
Rampant illegal logging in the area may have contributed to the disaster by
loosening the soil and making it susceptible to landslides, he added.
Several thousand residents have fled to shelters.

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