Coronavirus update: China reports 15 new asymptomatic COVID-19 cases

Coronavirus update: China reports 15 new asymptomatic COVID-19 cases

Beijing: China has reported 15 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases, taking their total to 836 while one new imported COVID-19 infection was confirmed, health officials said on Saturday.

According to China's National Health Commission (NHC), as for Friday 836 asymptomatic cases, including 63 from overseas, were still under medical observation.

The NHC said one imported case of coronavirus was reported on Friday and 15 new asymptomatic cases, all domestic ones, were confirmed in the country.

Most of the asymptomatic cases were being reported from first coronavirus epicentres Hubei province and its capital Wuhan where no confirmed cases were reported for the 35 days, the local health commission said.

Normalcy is returning to the province as the lockdown has been lifted and offices, business and factories have been opened since last month.

The province still has 628 asymptomatic cases under medical observation, after 13 new cases were reported on Friday, the commission said.

Death toll in China remained at 4,633 as no new fatalities have been reported on Friday while the total number of cases stood at 82,887, including 208 patients who were still being treated, the NHC said.


Coronavirus update: Kim Jong Un sends Vladimir Putin letter in outreach amid outbreak Publish

Coronavirus update: Kim Jong Un sends Vladimir Putin letter in outreach amid outbreak Publish

Seoul: North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II and wishing Russia success in fighting its coronavirus outbreak.

The report by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday came a day after it reported Kim sent a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping to praise what he described as China's success in getting its COVID-19 epidemic under control.

Some experts say the North could intensify its diplomatic outreach to neighbors, particularly China, as it seeks economic help after closing its border for months to fend off the virus.

KCNA says Kim's message "sincerely wished the president and people of Russia sure victory in their struggle to build a powerful Russia by carrying forward the tradition of the great victory in the war and to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection."


Indian-American grocery store owner in Silicon Valley charged with price gouging

Indian-American grocery store owner in Silicon Valley charged with price gouging

Washington: The owner of a popular Indian-American grocery story has been charged with price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic, when the entire state is under stay-at-home orders.

Following consumer complaints, an investigation office revealed that Rajvinder Singh, owner of the popular Apna Bazaar in California's Pleasanton, had allegedly increased the prices of grocery items following the emergency declaration by the governor on March 4.

Based on evidence provided by customer receipts, the investigation confirmed that the pricing of several food items exceeded the 10-per cent increase allowed during a state of emergency, with some prices being as much as 200 per cent more than what was previously charged, according to a joint statement issued by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

The food items listed in the complaint include yellow onions, ginger, green beans, instant noodles, tea, chili peppers, pomegranates and red yams.

"We take price gouging seriously and are committed to going after those who break the law during the public health emergency," Becerra said.

Singh faces imprisonment in the county jail for not more than a year and/or a fine of not more than USD 10,000. California law prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 per cent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency.

"The law prevents businesses from profiteering when we are in a state of emergency. All businesses throughout Alameda County must be on notice that we will not sit idly by and allow consumers to fall prey to price gouging. My office will ensure that businesses adhere to the law and do not exploit consumers," said O'Malley.


Coronavirus update: China reports 1 new virus case, no deaths

Coronavirus update: China reports 1 new virus case, no deaths

Beijing: China reported one new case of coronavirus Tuesday and no deaths, marking three weeks since it recorded a COVID-19 fatality.

The National Health Commission said 395 people remained under treatment in the hospital, while 949 were under isolation and observation for suspected cases or after testing positive despite showing no symptoms.

The latest figures come as China strikes back against accusations from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others that the pandemic may have originated in a lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where it was first detected late last year.

The World Health Organization has backed up China's refutations and most experts believe the virus developed naturally among bats and was transmitted to humans via an intermediary animal, most likely the armadillo-like pangolin that is sold for human consumption in wet markets, including the one in Wuhan linked to the pandemic's origin.

China has reported 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,881 cases, but strict travel restrictions, testing, quarantining and case tracing policies appear to have stemmed the virus as warm weather arrives in much of the country.


PM Benjamin Netanyahu lashes out at top court, threatens new elections

PM Benjamin Netanyahu lashes out at top court, threatens new elections

Jerusalem: Israel's prime minister urged the country's Supreme Court on Monday not to interfere in his efforts to build a coalition government, threatening that a decision against him could drag the country toward an unprecedented fourth straight election in just over a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his comments shortly after the court heard a second day of arguments in a series of legal challenges to the coalition deal.

The court's rulings, expected by the end of the week, will dictate whether Israel breaks out of its prolonged political paralysis with Netanyahu and his former political rival Benny Gantz joining forces in government, or whether the country is plunged into another election.

The court is looking into two key questions: whether a politician facing criminal corruption charges, such as Netanyahu, can form a new government; and whether his coalition deal with Gantz violated the law.

Speaking to reporters following a briefing on coronavirus developments, Netanyahu pressed the court not to get involved in the country's political affairs lest it risk forcing new elections.

"We hope the court doesn't interfere. It doesn't need to interfere. There is the will of the people, the clear expression of the will of the people," Netanyahu said.

If a court ruling picks apart the coalition deal, it "increases the chances that we will be dragged to fourth elections, something that will be a catastrophe," he said.

An unusually large panel of 11 justices, all wearing face masks and separated by plastic barriers, heard the case against the emerging coalition. Reflecting the case's importance, the court took the rare step of streaming the proceedings on its website and on national TV.

Since Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges last year, he has stepped up his attacks on the country's legal establishment and sought to portray himself as a victim.

Netanyahu and his allies have long considered the high court a liberal bastion that overreached its boundaries to meddle in political affairs, accusing it of undermining the will of the people as expressed in national elections.

His opponents regard the court as the final safeguard of Israeli democracy that has been under dangerous assault from demagogic populists.

After deadlocking in three closely contested election campaigns, Netanyahu and former military chief Gantz reached a deal last month in which they would be sworn in together for an emergency government ostensibly to battle the coronavirus and its economic fallout.

The deal calls for Netanyahu to serve first as prime minister and Gantz as the designated premier, with the two swapping posts after 18 months. The new position will enjoy all the trappings of the prime minister, including an official residence and - key for Netanyahu - an exemption from a law that requires all public officials, except the prime minister, to resign if charged with a crime.

The court will be asked to rule on this arrangement - and there is a sense of urgency as Thursday marks the deadline for presenting a new government before new elections are called.

Zeev Elkin, a Cabinet minister from Netanyahu's Likud party, warned that any court intervention could trigger a highly unpopular election.

"The coalition agreement is very complex. Moving a single brick could bring the entire structure down and force fourth elections," Elkin told Israel's Army Radio.

Attorney Dafna Holtz-Lechner, who represents one of the petitioners, countered that oversight was required precisely because "someone charged with criminal offenses is also the person who concocted the coalition agreement with all its repercussions for himself." Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals in which he is accused of offering favors to media moguls in exchange for favourable press coverage.

He denies the accusations and says he is the victim of a media-orchestrated witch hunt. His trial was postponed in March due to restrictions his hand-picked interim justice minister placed on the courts after the coronavirus crisis erupted. It is now scheduled to start later this month.

Netanyahu is eager to remain in office throughout his trial, using his position to lash out at the judicial system and rally support among his base. The coalition deal also gives him influence over key judicial appointments, creating a potential conflict of interest during an appeals process if he is convicted.

Netanyahu's attorneys, though, say he will refrain from getting involved in anything pertaining to his own case.

Israel's attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, said in an opinion to the court that while Netanyahu's indictments "raise significant problems," there was no legal basis for barring him from serving while facing criminal charges. But good governance groups have appealed against this, citing the precedent of forcing Cabinet ministers and mayors to resign if indicted.


Italian PM Giuseppe Conte promises new funding to three international organisations

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte promises new funding to three international organisations

Rome: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte used social media to state that Italy was "proud" to contribute to the three multilateral medical organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO).

Conte's remarks came after a broader event called by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen raised 7.4 billion euros (US $8.07 billion) to help find a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

Italy pledged 140 million euros for the three organisations, according to a communique from von der Leyen's office.

Italy will donate 120 million euros to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private group that focuses on immunisations in the developing world.

Additionally, Italy will contribute 10 million euros each to the WHO and to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a public-private foundation that helps fund research projects.

Conte used social media to express his support: "Italy is proud to contribute to accelerating the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics by supporting" the three organisations, he wrote.


Russia virus cases surge past 100,000

Russia virus cases surge past 100,000

Russian Defence Ministry to discuss response to coronavirus outbreak

Russian Defence Ministry to discuss response to coronavirus outbreak

Moscow [Russia]: The Russian Defence Ministry board will discuss the response to COVID-19 outbreak and the construction of medical centres.

"Today, a meeting of the Russian Defence Ministry board will be held in the Russian National Defence Control Centre in the format of a video conference," the ministry said.

"The meeting participants will discuss issues relating to the fight against coronavirus infection, providing assistance to Serbia and Italy by Russian military specialists, as well as the construction of multi-functional medical centres," it added.

Russia's overall number of coronavirus cases has topped 93,500. The country's COVID-19 death toll has exceeded 860. Over 8,450 people have recovered.


Passion for reading gains momentum across China

Passion for reading gains momentum across China

SHENYANG-- Live streaming has provided a lifeline to brick-and-motor bookstores while most people are trapped indoors and finding ways to kill time.

"Few people visited bookstores during the coronavirus period, but we kept in touch with our readers on popular live-streaming platforms," said the couple Gao Ming and Sun Xiaodi who own a bookstore in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province.

While retreating online to seek orders, the couple has seen immediate results with a spike in sales to offset the losses crippled by the epidemic.

Apart from live-streaming, Gao said they also came up with fun ideas to spice up the reading experience. One of the popular choices is the "blind box of books."

Inspired by the blind box toy, the book box leaves readers intrigued about what popular books they will receive. "The uncertainty of what books you will get is a thrill," said a customer.

Best-selling books among young readers include those with unique designs, especially those that provide an "immersive reading experience," said Gao, adding that their procurement closely follows what books are in demand.

A prime example is the interactive novel "S. Ship of Theseus," a popular book worldwide due to its unique way of unfolding a story. The book has also gained popularity in the Chinese market since its Chinese version was published.

"With all the accessories that came along with the novel, it's more of a game than a paper book," said He Xinchen, a new reader of the book.

While bookstores and authors strive to make reading more interesting, fast-paced life often leaves urbanites too busy to choose a good book to start.

According to the latest survey by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, Chinese adults read an average of 4.65 print books in 2019, slightly lower than 4.67 in 2018.

Fan Deng, a previous well-known TV host, can sense the potential in the new business of recommending books to busy office workers and "reading" the books to interested readers via a mobile application.

Early in 2013, Fan began to share his book notes with fans and friends on a social media group noticing that people were increasingly squeezed for time to read.

As his fan base grew, Fan quit his job and set up a book club to invite both ordinary readers and industry experts to share their reading experience.

Fan's Spiritual Wealth Club now has 35 million members worldwide, mostly Chinese readers and overseas readers interested in Chinese culture. Fan said, "most club members are born in the 1980s and 1990s as they are more willing to pay for new knowledge and skills."

Leisure reading can bring people with life-long benefits, Fan said. "If you are too busy to read, a simpler way to start might be to listen to an audio-book, so it's never a bad time to start."

Oxford university kicks off human trials of COVID-19 vaccine in the UK

Oxford university kicks off human trials of COVID-19 vaccine in the UK

Human trials of an eagerly-awaited vaccine, developed by the prestigious Oxford University, against the novel coronavirus began in the UK on Thursday, with scientists giving it an 80 per cent chance of success.

The UK government has pledged 20 million pounds to support the "ChAdOx1 nCoV-19" coronavirus vaccine trial programme, with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying the government would "throw everything at" finding a vaccine against the deadly virus.

"After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it," he said.

The vaccine being trialled is made from a harmless chimpanzee virus that has been genetically engineered to carry part of the coronavirus to be tested on volunteers aged between 18 and 55 who are in good health.

Volunteers in the UK are being offered 625 pounds to take part in the landmark research, with a target of 500 to be enrolled by the middle of next month.

The Oxford vaccine project is headed by Professor Sarah Gilbert and other immunity and human genetics scientists who started work on designing a coronavirus vaccine in January this year.

"Although it seems like a very long time since the work started, in reality, it is less than four months since we first heard of an outbreak of severe pneumonia cases, and began to plan a response," the team said in a statement.

"Our brilliant team has been working tirelessly to get to this point using our skills and experience in vaccine development and testing, and will do the best job possible in moving quickly whilst at all times prioritising the safety of the trial participants," the statement added.

The trial for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 will be carried out through a collaboration between the Oxford Vaccine Group's clinical teams and the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute.

The time it would require to determine if the vaccine is effective would be "heavily dependent" on how much virus transmission there is in the community - initially focussed on trial areas of Oxford and Southampton.

If there's very low virus transmission among the volunteers that are vaccinated, the would have to wait a long time to get the result, explains Professor Gilbert. Therefore, the healthcare workers in hospitals, most likely to have been exposed to COVID-19, will be among the focus groups.

Meanwhile, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine manufacture is already being scaled up in preparation for larger trials.

"We really don't want to find ourselves in a situation where the vaccine can show it's safe, it gives strong immune responses and it protects people, but we haven't got any doses to vaccinate anyone else with," Gilbert said.

The optimistic time-frame being looked at for around a million doses is by September. Deals have been done with the UK and overseas manufacturers to make the vaccine at scale, should it prove effective.

Finding a vaccine that works against COVID-19 is a race against time as it is the only secure option for governments to ease the severe lockdown measures in place around the world to curb the rapid spread of the pandemic.