North Korea faces infectious disease outbreak amid COVID-19 battle | Arab News

2022-06-16 05:08:39 By : Ms. Susan Wong

SEOUL: North Korea reported an outbreak of an unidentified intestinal epidemic in a farming region on Thursday, putting further strain on the isolated country as it battles chronic food shortages and an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 infections. Leader Kim Jong Un sent medicines to the western port city of Haeju on Wednesday to help patients suffering from the “acute enteric epidemic,” state news agency KCNA said, without giving the number affected, or identifying the disease. The term enteric refers to the gastrointestinal tract. “(Kim) stressed the need to contain the epidemic at the earliest date possible by taking a well-knit measure to quarantine the suspected cases to thoroughly curb its spread, confirming cases through epidemiological examination and scientific tests,” KCNA said. The reported outbreak comes as the North tackles its first outbreak of COVID-19 infections. It declared a state of emergency last month, amid concerns over a lack of vaccines and medical supplies. South Korea’s spy agency earlier told lawmakers that waterborne diseases, such as typhoid, were already widespread in the country before it announced the coronavirus outbreak. “Intestinal diseases such as typhoid and shigellosis are not particularly new in North Korea but what’s troubling is that it comes at a time when the country is already struggling from COVID-19,” said professor Shin Young-jeon at Hanyang University’s College of Medicine in Seoul. South Korea is willing to cooperate with the North to tackle the disease outbreak, but Pyongyang remains unresponsive to any offers for dialogue, including Seoul’s earlier proposal to provide COVID vaccines, said an official at South Korea’s unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs, who declined to be named. Adding to the woes, South Hwanghae Province where Haeju city is located, is North Korea’s key agricultural region, raising concerns over possible impact on the country’s already dire food situation caused by a drought. While the possibility of the unspecified disease spreading through crops appear rather low, the key will be disinfecting water supply sources as it’s likely to be waterborne, said Eom Joong-sik, an infectious disease expert at Gachon University Gil Medical Center. Pyongyang has been daily announcing the number of fever patients without specifying them as COVID patients, apparently due to a lack of testing kits. Experts also suspect underreporting in the figures released through government-controlled media. North Korea reported 26,010 more people with fever symptoms on Thursday, with the total number of fever patients recorded across the country since late April nearing 4.56 million. The death toll linked to the outbreak is at 73. The North has said the COVID wave has shown signs of subsiding, but the World Health Organization cast doubts on Pyongyang’s claims earlier this month, saying it believes the situation is getting worse.

ATALAIA DO NORTE, Brazil: A federal police investigator said Wednesday night a suspect confessed to fatally shooting an Indigenous expert and a journalist in a remote part of the Amazon and took officers to where the bodies were buried. Police said at a news conference in the Amazon city of Manaus that the prime suspect in the case confessed Tuesday night and detailed what happened to the pair who went missing June 5. The federal investigator, Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, said Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips of Britain. Torres said Pelado took police to a spot Wednesday where they recovered human remains. The remains had not yet been positively identifiedy, Torres said. “We found the bodies three kilometers (nearly two miles) into the woods,” the investigator said. He said other arrests would be made soon in the case. Another officer, Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas state police, said the missing men’s boat had not been found yet but police knew the area where it purportedly was hidden by those involved in the crime. “They put put bags of dirt on the boat so it would sink,” he said. As federal police announced they would hold a news conference, colleagues of Pereira called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Pereira was on leave from the agency. Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia. That area has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents. Davelopments began moving Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they didn’t identify at the time out on the river toward search parties looking for Phillips and Pereira. An Associated Press photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the city closest to the search zone, witnessed police taking the suspect, who was in a hood. On Tuesday, police said they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and a brother of Pelado, who police already had characterized as their main suspect. De Oliveira told AP on Friday that he had visited Pelado in jail and was told that local police had tortured him in attempts to get a confession. De Oliveira said his brother was innocent. Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pelado brandished a rifle at them on the day before the two men disappeared. Pelado’s family had told AP that he denied any wrongdoing and claimed police tortured him to try to get a confession. Official search teams had concentrated their efforts around a spot in the Itaquai river where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found Saturday by volunteers from the Matis Indigenous group. “We used a little canoe to go to the shallow water. Then we found a tarp, shorts and a spoon,” one of the volunteers, Binin Beshu Matis, told The Associated Press. Authorities began scouring the area and discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater Sunday. Police said that evening that they had identified the items as the belongings of both missing men, including a health card and clothes of Pereira. The backpack was determined to belong to Phillips. Police previously reported finding traces of blood in Pelado’s boat. Officers also found organic matter of apparent human origin in the river that was sent for analysis. Authorities have said a main line of the police investigation into the disappearance has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory. One of the most valuable targets is the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales, the arapaima. It weighs up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) and can reach 3 meters (10 feet). The fish is sold in nearby cities, including Leticia, Colombia, Tabatinga, Brazil, and Iquitos, Peru. Pereira, who previously led the local bureau of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, has taken part in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule the fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and briefly detained. Only the Indigenous can legally fish in their territories. “The crime’s motive is some personal feud over fishing inspection,” Atalaia do Norte’s Mayor Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without providing more details. AP had access to information police shared with Indigenous leadership. While some police, the mayor and others in the region link the pair’s disappearances to the “fish mafia,” federal police have not ruled rule out other lines of investigation, such as narco trafficking. Torres, the federal police officer, reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he could not discuss specifics of the investigation. “We are working with several lines of investigation,” he said.. In 2019, Funai official Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was gunned down in Tabatinga in front of his wife and daughter-in-law. Three years later, the crime remains unsolved. His FUNAI colleagues told AP they believe the slaying was linked to his work against fishermen and poachers.

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a fresh infusion of $1 billion in weapons for Ukraine that includes anti-ship rocket systems, artillery rockets, howitzers and ammunition. In a phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden said he told the embattled leader about the new weaponry. “I informed President Zelensky that the United States is providing another $1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery and coastal defense weapons, as well as ammunition for the artillery and advanced rocket systems,” Biden said in a statement after the 41-minute call. The president also announced an additional $225 million in humanitarian assistance to help people in Ukraine, including by supplying safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and health care, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items. The latest weapons packages for Ukraine include 18 howitzers, 36,000 rounds of ammunition for them, two Harpoon coastal defense systems, artillery rockets, secure radios, thousands of night vision devices and funding for training, the Pentagon said. The aid packages, which come as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting with allies in Brussels, were split into two categories: transfer of excess defense articles from US stocks and other weapons being funded by the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), a separate congressionally authorized program. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Wednesday accused Western countries of “fighting a proxy war with Russia,” telling reporters: “I would like to say to the Western countries supplying weaponry to Ukraine – the blood of civilians is on your hands.” Ukraine is pressing the United States and other Western nations for speedy deliveries of weapons in the face of increased pressure from Russian forces in the eastern Donbass region. Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, told reporters at an event organized by the German Marshall Fund: “We need all these weapons to be concentrated in a moment to defeat the Russians, not just keep coming every two or three weeks.” In May, the Biden administration announced a plan to give Ukraine M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems after receiving assurances from Kyiv that it would not use them to hit targets inside Russian territory. Biden imposed the condition to try to avoid escalating the Ukraine war. The rocket artillery in this aid package would have the same range as previous US rocket shipments and is funded using Presidential Drawdown Authority, or PDA, in which the president can authorize the transfer of articles and services from US stocks without congressional approval in response to an emergency, said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. For the first time, the United States is sending ground-based Harpoon launchers. In May, Reuters reported the US was working on potential solutions that included pulling a launcher off of a US ship to help provide Harpoon missile launch capability to Ukraine. Harpoons made by Boeing Co. cost about $1.5 million per missile, according to experts and industry executives.

DHAKA: As Bangladeshi authorities investigate the causes of a deadly cargo depot fire that shook the country earlier this month, scientists have warned that the disaster will have a longer-term impact on the environment and health of local communities.   More than 40 people were killed and 200 injured — mostly port workers and firefighters — in the fire and subsequent explosions at the depot in Sitakunda, near the southeastern port of Chittagong, which handles most of the country’s garment exports. The fire that broke out on June 4 and took three days to douse was one of the country’s worst industrial disasters in years. Authorities have not determined the exact cause of the fire but said that leakage from a container of hydrogen peroxide was likely the source of the initial blaze. An official report is expected to be released this month. Environmental assessment may take longer. The testing of samples from the area is underway, but Prof. Mohammad Aftab Ali Sheikh, chairman of the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, said that it was already clear that the region will be affected, especially its soil and water bodies.

“Definitely the explosion and fire have some subsequent impacts on the environment in that area. The soil of that area will be contaminated through the water mixed with different chemicals. A portion of chemical-mixed water has flown to water bodies, which will create some hazards. In addition, that area witnessed some rainfall also which carried this chemical-mixed water to the rivers,” he told Arab News on Wednesday. Air pollution resulting from the fire may reach places hundreds of kilometers away. “The gas generated from the explosions and burning had spread over in the air. This air might have flown over the adjunct districts,” Sheikh said. “It might even travel to Dhaka.” In the depot area, increased air pollution has already been observed. “We have noticed increased dust particles in the air of the Sitakundu area,” Mofidul Alam, director of Chittagong Division Department of Environment, said. “This dust will have some negative impact on the trees, plants and biodiversity of this area.” The disaster reflected the haphazard safety standards that continue to affect Bangladesh. The country already has a devastating track record of industrial accidents, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. Its deadliest fire was in 2012, when a blaze swept through a garment factory in Dhaka, killing 112 workers. Last year, a huge blaze engulfed a food and beverage factory, also in the capital, killing at least 52 people. The fire department told Arab News last week that from initial observations, it appeared that safety guidelines and precautions were likely ignored at the depot. Mohammad Manikuzzaman, assistant director at Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense, said that authorities had “only noticed a few fire extinguishers inside the depot” and nothing else related to fire preparedness. But it was not only the preventive measures that were lacking.

Environmental scientist Sharif Jamil, who serves as secretary general of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, a civic movement to protect the country’s environment, said that there should be special zones for handling any type of chemicals, but that such standard practices have been ignored — and not only at the cargo depot. “These types of explosions are not only causing deaths of human beings. The aftermath of these accidents have a long-term effect on air, soil and water,” he told Arab News. “We need to prepare some particular zones to handle sensitive chemicals with proper preparedness and monitoring by the management. Otherwise, these types of incidents would take place again and again.”

LUCKNOW, India: Protests have been erupting in many Indian cities to condemn the demolition of homes and businesses belonging to Muslims, in what critics call a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” aimed at punishing activists from the minority group. On Sunday, authorities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh rode on a bulldozer to raze the home of Javed Ahmad, who they said was connected to Muslim religious protests that turned violent last Friday. Police arrested Ahmad on Saturday. The protests were sparked by derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammed made recently by two spokespeople of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The party suspended one of them and expelled the other, issuing a rare statement saying it “strongly denounces insults of any religious personalities.” Bulldozers also crushed the properties of protesters in two other cities in Uttar Pradesh last week. In April, authorities in New Delhi used bulldozers to destroy Muslim-owned shops days after communal violence in which dozens were arrested. Similar incidents have been reported in other states. “The demolitions are a gross violation of constitutional norms and ethics,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a specialist on Hindu nationalist politics and biographer of Modi, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. On Tuesday, 12 prominent people, including former Supreme Court and High Court judges and lawyers, sent a letter to India’s chief justice urging him to hold a hearing on the demolitions, calling them illegal and “a form of collective extrajudicial punishment.” They accused the Uttar Pradesh government of suppressing dissent by using violence against protesters. Two people who were protesting the remarks by the governing party spokespeople died of gunshot injuries in clashes with police on Friday in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state. Several Muslim-majority countries have also criticized the remarks, and protesters in Bangladesh called for a boycott of Indian products, leaving India’s government scrambling to contain the diplomatic backlash. Violence has been increasing against Muslims by Hindu nationalists emboldened by Modi’s regular silence on such attacks since he was elected prime minister in 2014. Muslims have been targeted for their food or clothing, or over inter-religious marriages. The rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Modi’s party of looking the other way and sometimes enabling hate speech against Muslims, who comprise 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people, but are the second-largest Muslim population of any nation. Modi’s party denies the accusations. Over the weekend, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk-turned-governing party politician, told state authorities to demolish illegal buildings belonging to people linked to Friday’s protests, in which more than 300 people were arrested. On Sunday, bulldozers turned Ahmad’s house into rubble after authorities claimed it was built illegally, which Ahmad’s lawyer and family denied. “If the construction was illegal, why was no action taken earlier? Why did the government wait until the riot took place?” asked Shaukat Ali of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, a political party. Officials say the demolitions only target illegal buildings, but rights groups and critics say they are an attempt to harass and marginalize Muslims, pointing to a wave of rising religious polarization under Modi’s rule. On Saturday, Adityanath’s media adviser tweeted a photo of a bulldozer and wrote, “To the rioters, remember every Friday is followed by a Saturday,” suggesting there would be repercussions. His words sparked an immediate reaction, with many calling the demolitions a clear punishment. “It was a threat that if you raise your voice against the government or the BJP, your house will be demolished,” said Lenin Raghuvandhi of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights.