Celine Dion cancels shows because of stiff person syndrome

Celine Dion has put a halt on all performing after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.

 

In an emotional video messages posted in French and English on Thursday on Instagram, Dion said stiff person syndrome was causing spasms that affect her ability to walk and sing.

 

“Unfortunately, the spasms affect every aspect of my daily life, sometimes causing difficulties when I walk and not allowing me to use my vocal cords to sing the way I’m used to,” she said.

 

Dion said she had no choice but to postpone her “Courage” tour, which was to restart in February after several delays. Her spring 2023 shows have been moved to 2024 and her summer 2023 concerts have been canceled.

 

“I miss seeing all of you, being on the stage, performing for you. I always give 100% when I do my shows, but my condition is not allowing me to give you that right now,” she said.

 

Celine Dion announces Courage World Tour, new album in 2019

 

Stiff person syndrome causes rigid muscles and painful muscle spasms, which can be triggered by such things as loud noises or light touch. The cause isn’t known but it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. Severe cases can cause difficulty walking and hunched posture.

 

Dion, who has five Grammy Awards and two Academy Awards, is the best-selling female artist of all time with hits like “I’m Alive” and “My Heart Will Go On.”

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

Officials predict more arrests over German far-right plot

German officials say they expect more people to be detained in connection with an alleged far-right plan to topple the government that saw 25 people rounded up Wednesday, including a self-styled prince, a retired paratrooper and a judge.

 

The plot was allegedly hatched by people linked to the so-called Reich Citizens movement, which rejects Germany’s postwar constitution and the legitimacy of the government.

 

Georg Meier, the top security official in Thuringia state, told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Thursday that he expects a second wave of people being detained as authorities review evidence.

 

Meier accused the far-right Alternative for Germany party of fueling conspiracy theories like those that allegedly motivated the plotters detained across the country this week.

 

Those held include a former Alternative for Germany lawmaker, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, who is also a Berlin judge. The party condemned the alleged coup plans.

 

Germany commits EUR 15 million to pay poor rural people for their work to preserve ecosystems

 

Also detained was Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, whom prosecutors consider one of the two ringleaders of the plot. The 71-year-old member of the House of Reuss continues to use the title of ‘prince’ despite Germany abolishing any formal role for royalty more than a century ago.

 

Some in Germany have questioned whether the suspected extremists would actually have been able to pull off any serious attack.

 

But Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, said it would be wrong to underestimate such groups, especially if their members include people who are trained to use firearms, such as soldiers or police officers.

 

The head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police, Holger Muench, said officers searched about 150 locations across the country. At about 50 locations they found weapons, he told public broadcaster ZDF late Wednesday, without elaborating.

 

Germany postpones decision on mandatory speed limits

 

Muench said he expected the raids and detentions to continue in the coming days.

 

Thomas Haldenwang, who heads Germany’s domestic intelligence agency BfV, said authorities had been monitoring the group since the spring of this year.

 

The threat posed by the group had gradually become more concrete as members had obtained weapons, he said.

 

Germany is highly sensitive to far-right extremism because of its Nazi past and repeated acts of violence carried out by neo-Nazis in recent years, including the killing of a regional politician and the deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019.

 

Two years ago, far-right extremists taking part in a protest against the country’s pandemic restrictions tried and failed to storm the Bundestag building in Berlin.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

PM hands over Begum Rokeya Padak to 5 women

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday handed over the Begum Rokeya Padak 2022 to five women for their outstanding contributions towards society, women’s education and women empowerment.

 

Sheikh Hasina distributed the Padak at a programme in the city’s Osmani Memorial Auditorium, marking the 142nd birth and 90th death anniversary of Begum Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain.

 

The women and children affairs ministry arranged the event to celebrate Begum Rokeya Day 2022 and distribute Begum Rokeya Padak 2022.

 

Rahima Khatun from Faridpur received the award this year for her contribution to women’s education, Professor Kamrun Nahar Begum (Advocate) from Chattogram for her contribution to the establishment of women’s rights, Farida Yasmin from Khulna for her special contribution to women’s socio-economic development, Dr Afroza Parveen from Narail for her contribution to the enlightenment of women through literature and culture, and Nasima Begum from Jhenaidah for her contribution to rural development.

 

Dr Afroza, on behalf of the recipients, shared her feelings on this occasion.

 

Each of the recipients received a gold medal, a cheque for Tk4 lakh, and a certificate of appreciation.

 

State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Fazilatun Nessa Indira chaired the event, while Women and Children Secretary Md Hasanuzzaman Kallol delivered the welcome speech.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

Developing countries face impossible trade-off on debt: UN

Spiralling debt in low and middle-income countries has compromised their chances of sustainable development, the UN trade facilitation agency has said.

 

Rebeca Grynspan, the head of UNCTAD, said between 70 and 85 percent of the debt that emerging and low-income countries are responsible for is in a foreign currency.

 

This has left them highly vulnerable to the kind of large currency shocks that hit public spending – precisely at a time when populations need financial support from their governments.

 

Speaking at the 13th UNCTAD Debt Management Conference in Geneva recently, Rebeca said so far this year, at least 88 countries have seen their currencies depreciate against the powerful US dollar, which is still the reserve currency of choice for many in times of global economic stress.

 

And in 31 of these countries, their currencies have dropped by more than 10 percent.

 

This has had a hugely negative impact on many African nations, where the UNCTAD chief noted that currency depreciations have increased the cost of debt repayments by the equivalent of public health spending in the continent.

 

A wave of global crises has led many developing countries to take on more debt to help citizens cope with the fallout.

 

Government debt levels as a share of GDP increased in over 100 developing countries between 2019 and 2021, said UNCTAD. Excluding China, this increase is estimated at $2 trillion.

 

“This has not happened because of the bad behaviour of one country. This has happened because of systemic shocks that have hit many countries at the same time,” Rebeca said.

 

With interest rates rising sharply, the debt crisis is putting enormous strain on public finances, especially in developing countries that need to invest in education, health care, their economies and adapting to climate change.

 

As debt burdens rise, developing country governments end up in a vicious circle, unable to invest in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and grow their economies, making it even harder to pay their debts.

 

If a country defaults, the terms of debt restructuring are usually set by groups of creditors competing to get the best terms, rather than giving priority to economic and developmental concerns, or how sustainable it is to keep up with payments.

 

“To resolve these issues equitably, this needs to be done in a manner that maintains the debtor countries’ ability to grow and meet its current and future debt obligations, while also fulfilling its commitments to the SDGs,” Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a statement delivered by the country’s permanent representative in Geneva Ambassador Gothami Silva.

 

UNCTAD said if the median increase in rated sovereign debts since 2019 were fully reflected in interest payments, then governments would pay an additional $1.1 trillion on the global debt stock in 2023, estimates show.

 

This amount is almost four times the estimated annual investment of $250 billion required for climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, according to a report from the UN agency.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

Police control of BNP office at Nayapaltan continues amid mounting tension

The central office of BNP at Nayapaltan remained locked on Friday morning although police authorities assured of reopening from this morning.

 

Besides, police again put up barricades in front of Nightingale restaurant in Kakrail and Fakirapool intersections restricting the traffic movement from 7am after 11 hours of being normal.

 

Police earlier lifted the blockades on this road from 4 pm on Thursday.

 

A large number of law enforcers remained deployed in the area since this morning.

 

Police are not allowing anyone to enter this area without the identity card and proper checking.

 

Several leaders and workers of BNP gathered at Fakirapul intersection and were chased by the police at 11am.

 

An on-duty police member told UNB the step has been taken to ensure public security.

 

Motijheel Division Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Deputy Commissioner Hayatul Islam Khan said the surrounding area including Nayapaltan is under police control. No BNP leaders activists will be allowed to enter this area.

 

He said some leaders and activists tried to gather in the surrounding areas in Nayapaltan since morning, but they were dispersed.

 

There are dozens of armoured vehicles, prison vans and police cars on the blocked road.

 

Meanwhile, BNP Organizing Secretary Syed Emran Saleh Prince was supposed to join the Nayapaltan office at 10am, but was barred from entering the area.

 

The gate at the central office of BNP is locked with two security guards inside. They said that no one from the BNP came to the office after the police raid last Wednesday. They have no idea if anyone will come.

 

A tense situation is prevailing in the area.

 

Regarding the two top leaders of the party being picked up by detectives, the leaders of the BNP standing committee are supposed to sit in a virtual meeting for the next course of decision.

 

BNP in the early hours on Friday claimed that plainclothes police picked up its Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Standing Committee member Mirza Abbas from their homes in separate raids in the capital city.

 

Earlier on Thursday night, a BNP delegation had a six-hour meeting with the DMP commissioner where they talked about holding the rally on Saturday (December 10) either at Kamalapur Stadium or Mirpur Bangla College ground.

 

Later, Abbas with some BNP leaders visited the two venues.

 

At that meeting, police authorities assured of reopening the BNP office at Nayapaltan.

 

On Wednesday, a Swechchasebak Dal leader was killed and around 50 others were injured in a clash between police and the BNP activists in front of the party’s Nayapaltan central office ahead of its December 10 rally.

 

Following the clash, police raided the BNP office and arrested around 300 party leaders and activists from there.

 

On Thursday, a Dhaka court sent 445 BNP leaders and activists to jail in two cases filed over Wednesday’s violence.

 

Party’s Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, Dhaka south city unit convener Abdus Salam and Publication Secretary Shahiduddin Chowdhury Annie were among the top leaders who were sent to jail, pending further legal procedures.

 

According to BNP’s earlier announcement, Dhaka’s divisional rally is scheduled to be held on Nayapaltan tomorrow (Saturday).

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

Magura road crash: Two Rab men killed while ‘chasing drug-laden pickup’

Two members of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) were killed in a road accident on the Magura-Jhenidah highway early Friday while chasing a pickup van suspected to be transporting illegal drugs, police said.

 

The pickup van driver also died from the impact of the crash.

 

The dead were identified as Corporal Anisur Rahman, 38, and Constable Faruq Hossain, 38, of Rab, officer-in-charge of Magura Police Station, said. “However, the pickup van driver’s identity could not immediately be confirmed.”

 

Another Rab member Nazmul Hossain who was injured in the accident was taken to a Dhaka hospital.

 

The accident occurred around 4:30am when a Rab patrol car crashed with the pickup van in the Rautara area of Magura Sadar upazila, leaving three people dead at the scene.

 

Earlier, Rab set up a check-post on the Magura-Jhenidah highway after being tipped off about a pickup van transporting illegal drugs.

 

“Spotting the vehicle, Rab members signalled it to stop. But the pickup van driver accelerated towards Magura. Then a Rab car chased it. As the Rab car sped past the pickup van and tried to stop it, the vehicles collided,” the OC said.

 

Two separate cases have been filed with police over the crash, he added.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

BNP to hold press conference this afternoon

The BNP will hold a press conference on Friday afternoon following the detention of the party’s two top leaders and the uncertainty over holding a rally at Nayapaltan.

 

Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, the most senior member of the BNP’s standing committee, will address the conference at the party chairperson’s Gulshan office at 3pm, said Sayrul Kabir Khan, a BNP media cell member.

 

Also, the other members of the standing committee will be present at the press conference.

 

To decide their next course of action regarding the detention of two top leaders of the party by detectives, the leaders of the BNP standing committee are now having an online meeting that started at 11:40am.

 

The BNP in the early hours of Friday said plainclothes police picked up its Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Standing Committee member Mirza Abbas from their homes in separate raids in the capital.

 

On Thursday night, a BNP delegation had a six-hour meeting with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner where they talked about holding the rally on Saturday either at Kamalapur Stadium or Mirpur Bangla College ground.

 

On Wednesday, a Swechchasebak Dal leader was killed and around 50 others were injured in a clash between police and the BNP activists in front of the party’s Nayapaltan central office ahead of its December 10 rally.

 

Following the clash, police raided the BNP office and arrested around 300 party leaders and activists from there.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

Dec 10 rally venue: 2-member BNP delegation to meet DMP commissioner

A two-member BNP delegation is going to Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner’s office to try to end the impasse over the party’s December 10 rally in Dhaka.

 

BNP vice chairman Dr AZM Zahid Hossain and law affairs secretary Kayser Kamal will go to DMP office at 2pm to finalise the venue for the rally on Saturday.

 

BNP sources said their party is now thinking of holding the rally at Dhalpur ground while the government is willing to permit holding it at Mirpur Bangla College.

 

The delegation will talk to the DMP Commissioner Khandker Golam Faruq seeking permission to hold the rally at Dhalpur ground or any other ground in Dhaka south city.

 

To decide their next course of action regarding the detention of two top leaders of the party by detectives, the leaders of the BNP standing committee have sat for an online meeting that started at 11:40am.

 

Meanwhile, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, the most senior member of the BNP’s standing committee, will address a conference at the party chairperson’s Gulshan office at 3pm, said Sayrul Kabir Khan, a BNP media cell member.

 

BNP in the early hours on Friday claimed that plainclothes police picked up its Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Standing Committee member Mirza Abbas from their homes in separate raids in the capital city.

 

Earlier on Thursday night, a BNP delegation had a six-hour meeting with the DMP commissioner where they talked about holding the rally on Saturday (December 10) either at Kamalapur Stadium or Mirpur Bangla College ground.

 

Later, Abbas with some BNP leaders visited the two venues.

 

At that meeting, police authorities assured of reopening the BNP office at Nayapaltan.

 

On Wednesday, a Swechchasebak Dal leader was killed and around 50 others were injured in a clash between police and the BNP activists in front of the party’s Nayapaltan central office ahead of its December 10 rally.

 

Following the clash, police raided the BNP office and arrested around 300 party leaders and activists from there.

 

With only 24 hours left of the Dhaka rally on December 10, it becomes totally uncertain to hold the rally at the designated timeframe as the venue has not finalised yet as well as the detention of the party’s two top leaders.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan

Twenty-seven people were lashed in public on Thursday in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as punishment for alleged adultery, theft, drug offenses and other crimes, according to a court official.

 

Afghanistan’s new authorities have implemented hard-line policies since they took over the country in August 2021 that have underlined their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.

 

The country’s Supreme Court issued the final rulings after appeals. In a statement, the court said the lashings took place in the northern province of Parwan, with 18 men and nine women punished in all.

 

Abdul Rahim Rashid, an official with the court, said the men and women were each lashed between 25 to 39 times. An unspecified number of those punished also received two-year prison terms in Charakar, the provincial capital, he added.

 

The lashings were carried out before a “public gathering of locals and officials,” Rashid added.

 

Rights group: Taliban unlawfully killed 13 ethnic Hazaras

 

Provincial officials and local residents attended the public punishments, during which officials spoke about the importance of Sharia law, added the court statement.

 

Thursday’s lashings come a day after the Taliban authorities executed an Afghan convicted of killing another man, the first public execution since the former insurgents returned to power last year.

 

The execution, carried out with an assault rifle by the victim’s father, took place in western Farah province before hundreds of spectators and many top Taliban officials, according to Zabihullah Mujahid, the top government spokesman. Some officials came from the capital Kabul.

 

The execution was met with international criticism. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the death penalty cannot be reconciled with full respect for the right to life,” spokeswoman Stephanie Tremblay said.

 

In comments late Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. condemned the public execution. Price said the Taliban’s future relationship with Washington depended “largely on their actions when it comes to human rights.”

 

No foreign state has officially recognized the Taliban government that took over as U.S. and NATO troops withdrew last year. The Taliban formerly ruled Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion of 2001.

 

On Thursday, spokesman Mujahid rejected international criticisms of the Taliban government.

 

“Unfortunately, a number of countries and institutions still do not have a proper knowledge and understanding of Afghanistan,” he said.

 

Now silent under Taliban, a Kabul cinema awaits its fate

 

Mujahid pointed out that capital punishment was practiced in many other countries including the United States.

 

A separate court statement said that earlier this week, three men convicted of theft were lashed in public in the eastern province of Paktika.

 

During the previous Taliban rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the group carried out public executions, floggings and stonings.

 

After they overran Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban initially promised to allow for women’s and minority rights. Instead, they have restricted rights and freedoms, including imposing a ban on girl’s education beyond the sixth grade.

 

The former insurgents have struggled in their transition from warfare to governing amid an economic downturn and the international community’s withdrawal of aid.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

Begum Rokeya’s dreams about women empowerment fulfilled in Bangladesh: PM Hasina

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday said the post of deputy leader in Parliament will be fulfilled by a woman again.

 

“We’ve almost fulfilled Begum Rokeya’s dreams as we, four key persons, in Parliament– the Speaker, the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the House were women. Unfortunately, our deputy leader Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury passed away a few days ago. We’ll fulfill the vacant post by a woman again,” she said.

 

The premier was speaking at a programme arranged in the city’s Osmani Memorial Auditorium to celebrate Begum Rokeya Day-2022 and distribute Begum Rokeya Padak-2022.

 

Hasina handed over the prestigious medals to five women for their outstanding contributions towards the society, women education and women empowerment.

 

The Women and Children Affairs Ministry organised the event marking the 142nd birth and 90th death anniversary of Begum Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain.

 

The PM focused on her endeavours to ensure the presence of women in different sectors and posts, including the higher court, the armed forces, Border Guard Bangladesh, the posts of secretary, deputy commissioner (DC), superintendent of police (SP) and even Officer In-charge (OC) after formation of her government in 1996 and 2009.

 

“Today there is the presence of women everywhere,” she said.

 

“We’ve largely implemented dreams of Begum Rokeya. Had she (Begum Rokeya) been alive today, she would be happy,” said Hasina, adding that the AL government established a college and university after her (Rokeya’s) name and also arranged training for women in her birth place.

 

The five noted women who received Begum Rokeya Padak this year are –Rahima Khatun from Faridpur for her contribution to women’s education; Prof Kamrun Nahar Begum (Advocate) from Chittagong for her contribution to the establishment of women’s rights; Farida Yasmin from Khulna for her special contribution to women’s socio-economic development; Dr Afroza Parveen from Narail for her contribution to the enlightenment of women through literature and culture; and Nasima Begum from Jhenaidah for her contribution in rural development.

 

Dr Afroza Parveen, on behalf of recipients, shared her feelings on this occasion.

 

Each recipient received a gold medal, a cheque for Tk 4 lakh, and a certificate of appreciation.

 

State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Fazilatun Nessa Indira chaired the event, while women and children secretary Md. Hasanuzzaman Kallol delivered the welcome speech.

 

The PM said Begum Rokeya had dreamt that one day women would be judges, magistrates, take different responsibilities and be present everywhere. “We’re on the way now to gradually attain what she had desired,” she said.

 

Recalling the women’s participation in the country’s freedom struggles, S Hasina said both men and women had also equally joined the Language Movement in 1952.

 

She said the contribution of Begum Rokeya is there behind today’s achievements over women education and awakening of women. “Hadn’t she received education and taken steps for women’s education breaking the stalemate, none of us could be in our present positions,” she said.

 

She said Begum Rokeya showed the women the path of standing on their own-feet by receiving education and attaining economic-dependency.

 

The premier asked all to value the household work as the management of household affairs is a huge task but remains uncounted.

 

She highlighted different steps implemented and taken by her government for the wellbeing of the women. “We’ve started construction of hostels for employed women even in district and upazila level,” said Sheikh Hasina.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

 

Fakhrul, Abbas being questioned, not arrested: DB Chief

The Chief of Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Harun Or Rashid on Friday said the BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Standing Committee member Mirza Abbas who were picked up from their house in the early hours are being questioned.

 

“They have not been arrested. They were brought to the DB office for questioning on some issues,” he told the media at the capital’s Minto road.

 

“They are still at DB office premises. Our next step in this regard will be informed after the questioning”, he said.

 

“We can question them if we feel it’s necessary. The situation that arose two days ago when at least 50 to 60 police members were hurt and we are questioning them about the overall issues,” said the DB Chief replying to a question.

 

“In Yesterday’s discussion, BNP proposed Kamalapur Stadium for December 10 rally venue but we suggested Bangla College Field as there is synthetic grass laid in the stadium for the cricket match which will get destroyed,” he said replying to another question.

 

Police have decided on approving Bangla College Field. But some of the BNP leaders are now talking about Golapbagh field which was not discussed at the meeting,” added DB Chief Harun.

 

BNP in the early hours on Friday claimed that plainclothes police picked up its Mirza Fakhrul and Mirza Abbas from their homes in separate raids in the capital city.

 

BNP’s Media Cell member Sayrul Kabir Khan said that a team of Detective Branch (DB) of police went to Fakhrul’s Uttara house at the dead of night and picked him up around 3:00 am.

 

He said another team of the DB police raided the house of Abbas at the same time and picked him up from his Shahjahanpur home in Dhaka.

 

Meanwhile, BNP standing committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain condemned the detention of the two top party leaders and said their party’s decision about Saturday’s rally will be announced after a virtual meeting of the standing committee that was supposed to begin at 11:30am.

 

Talking to reporters on Friday morning, Fakhrul’s wife Rahat Ara Begum said four DB police members came to the upstairs of their house around 3am while som others were staying downstairs.

 

“I asked them the reason behind their arrival here at the dead of night. They said they came here to take him (Fakhrul) away as per the directives of the higher authorities,” she said.

 

Rahat Ara said as she asked them whether they had any warrant for his arrest, the law enforcers said he was accused in two or three fresh cases that were filed yesterday.

 

“I was asleep when Abbas woke me up and said they (DB members) were going to take me with them and I couldn’t believe it at first,” said Mirza Abbas’s wife Afroza Abbas.

 

They said they will return him after discussion with him, she said.

 

Earlier on Thursday night, a BNP delegation had a six-hour meeting with the DMP commissioner where they talked about holding the rally on Saturday (December 10) either at Kamalapur Stadium or Mirpur Bangla College ground.

 

Later, Abbas with some BNP leaders visited the two venues.

 

At that meeting, police authorities assured of reopening BNP office at Nayapaltan.

 

On Wednesday, a Swechchasebak Dal leader was killed and around 50 others were injured in a clash between police and the BNP activists in front of the party’s Nayapaltan central office ahead of its December 10 rally.

 

On Thursday, a Dhaka court sent 445 BNP leaders and activists to jail in two cases filed over Wednesday’s violence.

 

Party’s Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, Dhaka south city unit convener Abdus Salam and Publication Secretary Shahiduddin Chowdhury Annie were among the top leaders who were sent to jail, pending further legal procedures.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh

China struggles with COVID infections after controls ease

A rash of COVID-19 cases in schools and businesses were reported by social media users Friday in areas across China after the ruling Communist Party loosened anti-virus rules as it tries to reverse a deepening economic slump.

 

Official data showed a fall in new cases, but those no longer cover big parts of the population after the government on Wednesday ended mandatory testing for many people. That was part of dramatic changes aimed at gradually emerging from “zero-COVID” restrictions that have confined millions of people to their homes and sparked protests and demands for President Xi Jinping to resign.

 

Social media users in Beijing and other cities said coworkers or classmates were ill and some businesses closed due to lack of staff. It wasn’t clear from those accounts, many of which couldn’t be independently confirmed, how far above the official figure the total case numbers might be.

 

“I’m really speechless. Half of the company’s people are out sick, but they still won’t let us all stay home,” said a post signed Tunnel Mouth on the popular Sina Weibo platform. The user gave no name and didn’t respond to questions sent through the account, which said the user was in Beijing.

 

The reports echo the experience of the United States, Europe and other economies that have struggled with outbreaks while trying to restore business activity. But they are a jarring change for China, where “zero COVID,” which aims to isolate every case, disrupted daily life and depressed economic activity but kept infection rates low.

 

Xi’s government began to loosen controls Nov. 11 after promising to reduce their cost and disruption. Imports tumbled 10.9% from a year ago in November in a sign of weak demand. Auto sales fell 26.5% in October.

 

“Relaxing Covid controls will lead to greater outbreaks,” said Neil Thomas and Laura Gloudeman of Eurasia Group in a report, “but Beijing is unlikely to return to the extended blanket lockdowns that crashed the economy earlier this year.”

 

China eases controls, gives no sign when ‘zero COVID’ ends

 

The changes suggest the ruling party is easing off its goal of preventing virus transmission, the basis of “zero COVID,” but officials say that strategy still is in effect.

 

Restrictions probably must stay in place at least through mid-2023, public health experts and economists say. They say millions of elderly people need to be vaccinated, which will take months, and hospitals strengthened to cope with a surge in cases. Officials announced a vaccination campaign last week.

 

On Friday, the government reported 16,797 new cases, including 13,160 without symptoms. That was down about one-fifth from the previous day and less than half of last week’s daily peak above 40,000.

 

More changes announced Wednesday allow people with mild COVID-19 cases to isolate at home instead of going to a quarantine center that some complained were crowded and unsanitary. That addressed a major irritant for the public.

 

A requirement for subway riders, supermarket shoppers and others to show negative virus tests also was dropped, though they still are needed for schools and hospitals.

 

A post signed Where Dreams Begin Under Starlight by a user in Dazhou, a southwestern city in Sichuan province, said all but five students in a public school class of 46 were infected.

 

“It’s really amazing that the school insists students go to school,” the user wrote. The user didn’t respond to a question sent through the account.

 

The requirement for hundreds of millions of people to be tested as often as once a day in some areas over the past two years helped the government spot infections with no symptoms. Ending that approach reduces the cost of monitoring employees and customers at offices, shops and other businesses. But it increases the risk they might spread the virus.

 

This week’s changes follow protests that erupted Nov. 25 in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities against the human cost of “zero COVID.”

 

It isn’t clear whether any of the changes were a response to protests, which died out following a security crackdown.

 

The ruling party’s Politburo on Wednesday declared stabilizing weak economic growth its priority, though leaders have said local officials still are expected to protect the public.

 

“The re-pivot to growth and the exit from zero-Covid are clear from the top level,” said Larry Hu and Yuxiao Zhang of Macquarie Group, an Australian bank, in a report. However, they warned, “uncertainties remain high,” including “how disruptive the exit of zero-Covid could be.”

 

Party leaders stopped talking about the official 5.5% annual growth target after the economy shrank by 2.6% from the previous quarter in the three months ending in June. That was after Shanghai and other industrial centers shut down for up to two months to fight outbreaks.

 

Private sector economists have cut forecasts of annual growth to as low as below 3%, which would be less than half of last year’s 8.1% and among the weakest in decades.

 

Social media posts suggested some cities might have outbreaks that weren’t reflected in official figures.

 

China reports 2 new COVID deaths as some restrictions eased

 

Posts dated Thursday by 18 people who said they were in Baoding, a city of 11 million southwest of Beijing, reported they tested positive using home kits or had fevers, sore throats and headaches. Meanwhile, the Baoding city government reported no new cases since Tuesday.

 

Drugstores were mobbed by customers who bought medications to treat sore throats and headaches after rules were dropped that required pharmacists to report those purchases, prompting fears a customer might be forced into a quarantine center.

 

Also Friday, the market regulator announced prices of some medicines including Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional flu treatment, rose as much as 500% over the past month. It said sellers might be punished for price-gouging.

 

Lines formed outside hospitals, though it wasn’t clear how many people wanted treatment for COVID-19 symptoms.

 

People waited four to five hours to get into the fever clinic of Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing, according to a woman who answered the phone there and would give only her surname, Sun. She said no virus test was required but patients had to show a smartphone “health code” app that tracks their vaccine status and whether they have been to areas deemed at high risk of infection.

 

Hong Kong, which enforces its own anti-virus strategy, has faced a similar rise in cases as the southern Chinese city tries to revive its struggling economy by loosening controls on travel and the opening hours of restaurants and pubs.

 

Hong Kong reported 75,000 new cases over the past week, up about 25% from the previous week. But those don’t include an unknown number of people who stay at home with COVID-19 symptoms and never report to the government.

 

Source: United News of Bangladesh