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International News

Tying the knot without a face mask in China


Indian shepherd combats water scarcity by building ponds


Hong Kong street refrigerator keeps giving


Concern among Muslims over halal status of COVID-19 vaccine


U.S. bans second Malaysian palm oil giant over forced labor


Chinese drugmaker says vaccine is 79.3% effective in final tests


No snake soup for Hong Kong’s young snake catcher


China clamps down in hidden hunt for coronavirus origins


Beijing tells residents to stay put for holidays


Japan adopts green growth plan to go carbon free by 2050


Japan halts all foreign arrivals over U.K. variant


Japanese spacecraft’s gifts: Asteroid chips like charcoal


From The Asian Reporter, V31, #1 (January 4, 2021), page 2.

Amid virus fears, China urges workers to skip holiday travel

BEIJING (AP) — China is encouraging tens of millions of migrant workers not to travel home during February’s Lunar New Year holiday to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The measure from the National Health Commission (NHC) is not a direct travel ban but is still extraordinary because Lunar New Year is China’s most important traditional holiday and the only time of the year when many workers have an opportunity to travel home to see their families. The NHC said it was encouraging provincial governments to persuade workers to follow the suggestion while taking into account their personal wishes. It also said workers who stay behind should be paid overtime and offered other opportunities to take vacation. China has all but eradicated local transmission of the coronavirus, but authorities remain on high alert over a possible resurgence. Already, schools are scheduled to begin the Lunar New Year vacation a week early and tourists have been told not to visit Beijing during the holiday.

Abe apologizes, not charged for cherry blossom scandal

TOKYO (AP) — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized after prosecutors declined to indict him for illegal payments his office made involving dinner receptions for his supporters during Japan’s popular cherry blossom season. When Abe resigned in September, he cited ill health but critics have suggested the scandal might have been a reason. His successor, Yoshihide Suga, scrapped the annual cherry blossom viewing party the day he took office, but his government has seen its public support plunge due to delayed coronavirus measures and a spate of scandals involving Abe’s former ministers. The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office cited a lack of evidence in deciding not to press charges against Abe. But it formally indicted a longtime aide who allegedly failed to report fees and payments for the receptions from 2016 to 2019. Abe has denied wrongdoing and said he had no knowledge about the illegal payments until the report about the investigation surfaced in November. "Even though the accounting was done without my knowledge, I am keenly aware of my moral responsibility," Abe told a packed news conference. "I would like to deeply and sincerely apologize to the people." The scandal started after opposition lawmakers raised question about a 2018 dinner party for which Abe’s guests paid a 5,000 yen ($48) fee. They have said that was low for a party at an upscale Tokyo hotel and alleged Abe’s office covered the difference.

Thailand finds new coronavirus clusters in south, east

BANGKOK (AP) — Health officials in Thailand say more new clusters of coronavirus cases have been found that appear to be linked to a major outbreak discovered a week earlier among migrant workers in an industrial province near Bangkok. The new cases were found in 19 members of a motorcycling club who held a holiday gathering on Lanta island in the southern province of Krabi, and in nine people who were in a gambling den in the eastern province of Rayong, said the Disease Control Department. The first of the motorcyclists to be diagnosed with the virus had come from Samut Sakhon province, where the outbreak among migrant workers occurred. Thailand currently has more than 8,400 cases. At the beginning of December, the country had 4,008 cases. The death toll had remained at 60 since early November. Until recently, almost all new cases had been found among people who were quarantined upon arrival from abroad. Cases linked to the Samut Sakhon outbreak, which was first found at a major seafood market, have now been reported in 33 provinces. The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, which coordinates Thailand’s battle against the virus, said that unless social distancing and other restrictions are observed, a nationwide lockdown might have to be implemented by March. Thailand had been considered a success story in controlling the disease by taking early significant measures, including banning the arrival of virtually all foreign tourists. It has recently been seeking to restart its lucrative travel industry, but the discovery of more than 1,300 cases in Samut Sakhon among the migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar, has put the authorities on high alert. Restrictions, including limiting the nighttime hours of public places and temporary closings of schools, have been tightened province by province according to the number of infections.

Thousands demand ouster of Nepal leader

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Tens of thousands of supporters of a splinter group in the governing Nepal Communist Party rallied in the capital demanding the prime minister’s ouster and the reinstatement of the parliament he dissolved amid an escalating party feud. The protesters chanted slogans against Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli while they marched peacefully in the center of Kathmandu as thousands of riot police kept close watch. Participants said they would hold larger protests if parliament isn’t reinstated. Several petitions have also been filed in the Supreme Court against the prime minister’s action. President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved parliament on December 20 on the recommendation of the prime minister and announced new elections would be held on April 30 and May 10, 2021. Oli became prime minister after his Nepal Communist Party won elections three years ago. Oli’s party and the party of former Maoist rebels had merged to form a unified Communist party. Tensions, however, have grown between Oli and the leader of the former rebels, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is also co-chair of the party. The two had previously agreed that they would split the five-year prime minister’s term between them, but Oli has refused to allow Dahal to take over. The opposition has also accused Oli’s government of corruption and his administration has faced criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

McDonald’s sells "Spam burger" with cookie crumbs in China

BEIJING (AP) — McDonald’s sold a sandwich made of Spam topped with crushed Oreo cookies in China in an attention-grabbing move that raised eyebrows. Global brands from restaurants to automakers sometimes roll out offbeat products to appeal to Chinese tastes in the populous and intensely competitive market. This is undoubtedly one of them. "I thought it was delicious," said a comment signed Feifei Mao Enthusiast on the Sina Weibo microblog service. "Is that because I love McDonald’s too deeply? Or is something wrong with my taste?" The sandwich is made of two slices of Spam, a product of Hormel Foods LLC, and Mondelez International’s Oreo cookies, topped with mayonnaise. McDonald’s Corp. said the sandwich was part of a series of "members only" promotions to be released on Mondays in China. "There is no need to release unnecessary products," said a comment left on the company’s microblog account. It received more than 2,000 "likes." McDonald’s said it planned to sell no more than 400,000 of the "Lunchmeat Burgers." It wasn’t clear how many were sold or how many people who flooded social media with scathing comments had eaten one. "When you hate someone but have to invite him to dinner, you can ask him to eat McDonald’s Oreo lunchmeat burger," said a separate comment on Sina Weibo.

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