Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency

Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency

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People eat and drink at a restaurant after 8 p.m., the time the government suggests to close under the ongoing state of emergency, in the famed Asakusa tourist spot in Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. On Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

TOKYO (AP) – Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months as the country starts to gradually ease virus measures to help rejuvenate the pandemic-hit economy as the infections slowed.

At Tokyo’s busy Shinagawa train station, a sea of mask-wearing commuters rushed to their work despite an approaching typhoon, with some returning to their offices after months of remote work.

The emergency measures, in place for more than half of the country including Tokyo, ended Thursday following a steady fall in new caseloads over the past few weeks, helping to ease pressure on Japanese health care systems.

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Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga thanked the people for their patience and cooperation, and asked them to stick to their basic anti-virus measures.

“Once again, I seek your cooperation so that we can return to our daily lives feeling safe,” he said.

The lifting of the emergency marked a fresh start for some people.

Office worker Akifumi Sugihara, 46, said he is back to the train station for the first time in about a year. “I had been working from home for more than a year, and I came to the office in Tokyo as (the emergency) was lifted today,” he said. “It’s really been a while. I feel it’s a new start.”

Another office worker, Kaori Hayashi, 37, said it was an ordinary Friday. “In my mind nothing really has changed,” she said. “We still need to be careful. I will stay vigilant and carry on my life as usual.”

Japan is eager to expand social and economic activities while balancing the need to prevent another wave of infections as the weather turns cooler. Officials say the government still needs time to create more temporary COVID-19 treatment facilities and continue vaccinations to prepare for any future resurgence.

The emergency measures have mainly involved requests for eateries to curb alcohol and hours. They can now serve alcohol and operate an hour longer but still have to close at 9 p.m.

Daily reported cases have fallen to below 1,600 as of Wednesday nationwide – less than one-tenth of the mid-August peak of around 25,000. Experts attributed the declining numbers to the progress of vaccinations and to people increased their social distancing efforts after being alarmed by the collapse of medical systems during the summer.

Nearly more than 59% of Japanese people have been fully vaccinated. Japan has had about 1.69 million cases and 17,641 deaths from COVID-19.

Naomi Osaka says she’ll donate Cincinnati prize money to Haiti

Naomi Osaka says she’ll donate Cincinnati prize money to Haiti

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In this July 27, 2021, file photo, Naomi Osaka, of Japan, reaches for a shot by Marketa Vondrousova, of the Czech Republic, during the third round of the tennis competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Seth … more >

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By Jeff Wallner

Associated Press

Monday, August 16, 2021

MASON, Ohio (AP) — In addition to donating prize money to relief efforts in Haiti following a deadly earthquake, tennis star Naomi Osaka said she plans to do more.

“I feel like I’m not really doing that much,” Osaka said on Monday. “I’m trying to figure out what I can do. The prize money thing was the first thing I thought I could do that would raise the most awareness. I guess that is the reason I announced it.”

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the region on Saturday, with an estimated death toll of 1,400.

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On Saturday night, Osaka tweeted her decision to donate her prize money from this week’s U.S. Open tune-up tournament in Ohio.

Osaka, who has a Haitian father and Japanese mother, has an opening-round bye in Cincinnati. She will face the winner of Tuesday’s match between Coco Gauff and qualifier Hsieh Su-Wei.

When asked about Haiti during Monday’s news conference, Osaka became emotional and had to step away for a few minutes before returning to answer more questions.

Haiti is also dealing with the fallout from last month’s assassination of president Jovenel Moise, and now the effects of a tropical storm which is hampering earthquake recovery efforts.

“It’s really scary,” Osaka said. “I see the news every day, and honestly the earthquake was kind of close to my parents’ school there, so I’m honestly not really sure how that’s doing and I haven’t seen any pictures or video of it yet.”

Osaka, who is ranked No. 2 in the world, won her second career Australian Open earlier this year, but withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon because of mental health concerns.

“It was something I needed to do for myself,” Osaka said. “I was a little bit embarrassed to go out because I didn’t know if people were looking at me in a different way. The biggest eye-opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say that they were really glad that I did what I did. I’m proud of what I did.”

Osaka also said she reached out to U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who withdrew from the U.S. women’s team final in Tokyo for her own mental health needs.

“I sent her a message,” Osaka said. “I also wanted to give her space because I know how overwhelming it can feel.”

Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron in the opening ceremony in Tokyo, said she took time off after returning and said she’s motivated to do well in Cincinnati after having to withdraw from last year’s event with a hamstring injury.

The Western & Southern Open is considered a tune-up for the US Open, which begins Aug. 30 in New York.

“I felt like I played well in Tokyo,” Osaka said. “But there was still some decisions that I didn’t make that well, so I just wanted to get that feeling back because I honestly haven’t played many matches this year. I guess I’ll see how well I do in this tournament and sort of lead it on from there into New York.”

Olympics now ended, Japan races to vaccinate as the coronavirus surges

Olympics now ended, Japan races to vaccinate as the coronavirus surges

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In this Aug. 10, 2021, file photo, people wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk under the scorching sun in the Ginza Shopping district in Tokyo. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is pinning his hopes … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Friday, August 13, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympics have ended, but it’s still vacation season in Japan, and many people are ignoring government pleas to avoid travel and stay away from bars and restaurants even as the coronavirus spikes at record levels.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is pinning his hopes on vaccinations, which started slow but now are making good progress. How this race between shots and disease finishes may determine Suga‘s political future, not to mention the health of tens of thousands.

Suga seems optimistic vaccines will win, but with only about 36% of the population fully vaccinated, experts say the virus’s highly infectious delta variant is pulling ahead. They are urging the government to put more teeth in its weak state of emergency. Japan has managed the COVID-19 pandemic better than many countries, without the kind of restrictive lockdown used in other nations, but some believe that may now be needed.

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Japan’s daily coronavirus cases have topped 10,000 for more than a week, and the total has doubled in the past four months to exceed 1 million. Tokyo’s daily caseloads tripled during the Games that ended Sunday. And as hospitals fill up, nearly 18,000 infected people are isolating at home, over 10 times more than a month ago.

Suga has stressed the progress of the vaccine rollout despite its late and slow start.

More than 80% of Japan‘s elderly population of 36 million have completed their vaccinations since they started getting shots in mid-April. Suga says high inoculation rates among seniors have contributed to a significant decline in the number of elderly patients, serious cases and deaths, relieving strain on the medical system.

“This clearly shows the vaccine efficacy,” Suga said, pledging to accelerate vaccinations among younger people. “The most effective way to slow the infections and minimize serious symptoms would be to give everyone two shots as soon as possible.”

Serious cases are now mostly among people in their 50s or younger, who are still largely unvaccinated. So far, 14 million – less than 20% of those aged 12 to 64 who are eligible for shots – have been fully vaccinated, according to Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations.

Suga said his goal of fully vaccinating all willing elderly people by the end of July has been mostly achieved. As he pushes to inoculate younger people, Suga aims to fully vaccinate 40% of all those 12 years and older by the end of August, and to complete shots for all those who wish to do so by October or November.

But vaccines alone might not be enough, experts and officials say.

“With the ongoing surge accelerated by the delta strain, it is extremely difficult to deal with the infections just by promoting the vaccines,” Kono told a recent online program. He noted that young adults in their 20s and 30s account for about half of daily cases and urged them to stick to social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing.

Japan‘s delayed vaccinations began in mid-February, with medical workers getting the first shots. The pace, initially slowed by logistical bungling, inefficiency and shortages of vaccine supplies, dramatically picked up in May, and the number of daily shots has since risen beyond 1 million, meeting Suga‘s ambitious target.

Officials expect the vaccination pace will slow when young adults get their turn because of their reluctance to get jabs, in part because of false rumors about side effects. Many of them also think they are less likely to develop serious symptoms.

For Suga, who has been criticized for forcing through the Games despite strong local opposition, showcasing the relative safety of the Olympics and Japan‘s vaccination progress may be key to his political survival. Suga has repeatedly said there is no evidence of the virus spreading from the Olympics, and organizing officials agree. While some 400 positive cases were reported inside the Olympic “bubble” from early July until the closing ceremony, that positivity rate is only a fraction of Tokyo‘s overall, they say.

Suga said his government is urgently tackling the surge of infections, but his government has repeated the same set of unpopular emergency measures that mainly target bars and restaurants, requiring them not to serve alcohol and close early. Department stores, entertainment facilities and other non-essential businesses are also requested to close at 8 p.m.

Though businesses that comply receive a daily compensation of up to 200,000 yen ($1,800) and those that defy could be fined, thousands are staying open later than 8 p.m. The authorities can stiffen the requests to orders and eventually impose fines on those who defy, but punishment is rare amid growing criticism that the measures unfairly target eateries.

Measures aimed at the public, including masking, disinfecting and avoiding non-essential trips, are only requests, and many people still roam around, go to restaurants, gather in parks and streets to drink and commute on packed trains.

Economy Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, also in charge of virus measures, noted this week that large infection clusters have been detected in classrooms, department stores and “pachinko” pinball parlors, and asked that people avoid traveling during the summer vacation season.

Despite increased support for the Games thanks to a record 58 Japanese medals, post-Olympic media surveys show support ratings for Suga’s government dropped below 30%.

“The government should come up with measures on the premise that people won’t listen to its requests,” former Osaka governor and political critic Toru Hashimoto said on a television talk show this week. “Many people think it doesn’t make sense that only they have to keep restraining their activity even though the government forced through the Olympics.”

The state of emergency is no longer working, some say, because measures have dragged on and people are tired of following the government requests.

“If the infections continue to escalate, we may have to start discussing the possibility of legalizing a lockdown,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical adviser. “Political leaders did not send a unified, powerful and clear message” to persuade the public to cooperate in order to slow the virus’ spread.

Hiroshima marks 76th anniversary of US atomic bombing

Hiroshima marks 76th anniversary of US atomic bombing

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A child prays in front of the cenotaph dedicated to the victims of the atomic bombing at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Hiroshima on Friday marked the 76th anniversary of the world’s … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Friday, August 6, 2021

TOKYO (AP) – Hiroshima on Friday marked the 76th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing, as the mayor of the Japanese city urged global leaders to unite to eliminate nuclear weapons just as they are united against the coronavirus.

Mayor Kazumi Matsui urged world leaders to commit to nuclear disarmament as seriously as they tackle a pandemic that the international community recognizes as “threat to humanity.”

“Nuclear weapons, developed to win wars, are a threat of total annihilation that we can certainly end, if all nations work together,” Matsui said.

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The United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people. It dropped a second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, ending World War II and Japan’s nearly half-century of aggression in Asia.

Countries stockpiled nuclear weapons during the Cold War and a standoff continues to this day.

Matsui renewed his demand that Japan’s government immediately sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga did not mention the treaty in his speech at the Hiroshima Peace Park ceremony, where aging survivors, officials and some dignitaries observed a minute of silence for the 8:15 a.m. blast. At a news conference later, Suga said he has no intention of signing the treaty.

“The treaty lacks support not only from the nuclear weapons states including the United States but also from many countries that do not possess nuclear arms,” Suga said. “What’s appropriate is to seek a passage to realistically promote nuclear disarmament.”

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons took effect in January after years of civil effort joined by atomic bombing survivors, or hibakusha. But while more than 50 countries have ratified it, the treaty notably lacks the U.S. and other nuclear powers as well as Japan, which has relied on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its defense since the war’s end.

After the ceremony, Suga apologized for inadvertently skipping parts of his speech. The sections that were dropped included a pledge to pursue efforts toward achieving a nuclear-free world as head of the world’s only country to have suffered atomic attacks, according to his speech posted on the Prime Minister’s Office website.

Some said Suga skipping those parts of his speech spotlighted what could be seen as government hypocrisy over nuclear disarmament and the treatment of atomic bomb survivors.

“The important point is that his heart simply wasn’t there,” former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said on an online news conference later Friday.

Akiba has proposed a moment of silence by Olympic athletes and participants to mark the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, urging the International Olympic Committee to take action and not just talk about world peace.

Although a moment of silence didn’t occur at the Olympics on Friday, there will be “a moment of remembrance” at Sunday’s closing ceremony for all lives lost, including those in Hiroshima, organizing committee spokesman Masa Takaya said.

Many survivors of the bombings have lasting injuries and illnesses resulting from the explosions and radiation exposure and face discrimination in Japanese society.

The government began to provide medical support to certified survivors in 1968 after more than 20 years of effort by them.

As of March, 127,755 survivors, whose average age is now almost 84, are certified as hibakusha and eligible for government medical support, according to the health and welfare ministry.

Suga announced last month that medical benefits will be extended to 84 Hiroshima survivors who had been denied aid because they were outside a government-set boundary. The victims were exposed to radioactive “black rain” that fell in the city after the bombing and fought a long legal battle for their health problems to be recognized.

Matsui urged Suga’s government to further widen the support and quickly reach all those still suffering from the physical and emotional effects of radiation, including black rain survivors who were not part of the lawsuit.

Thursday’s ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was scaled down significantly because of the coronavirus pandemic and was also eclipsed by the Olympics being held in Tokyo, where even NHK public television quickly switched after the main speeches.

Tokyo new virus cases near 2,000 a day before Olympics open

Tokyo new virus cases near 2,000 a day before Olympics open

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World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wearing face masks pose for a photo at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Thursday, July 22, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, one day before the Olympics begin, as worries grow of a worsening of infections during the Games.

Thursday’s 1,979 new cases are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on Jan. 15.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to hold the Olympics, placed Tokyo under a state of emergency on July 12, but daily cases have sharply increased since then.

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The emergency measures, which largely involve a ban on alcohol sales and shorter hours for restaurants and bars, are to last until Aug. 22, after the Olympics end on Aug. 8.

Japan has reported about 853,000 cases and 15,100 deaths since the pandemic began, most of them this year. Still, the number of cases and deaths as a share of the population are much lower than in many other countries.

The Olympics, delayed for a year by the pandemic, begin Friday. Spectators are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences allowed at a few outlying sites.

Suga’s government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing the Olympics over the nation’s health. His public support ratings have fallen to around 30% in recent media surveys, and there has been little festivity ahead of the Games. On Thursday, the director of the opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was dismissed over a past Holocaust joke.

In Olympics-related diplomacy, Suga is to meet with U.S. first lady Jill Biden on Thursday and have dinner at the state guest house. Earlier in the day, he was visited by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Also Thursday, Emperor Naruhito received a courtesy visit from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the Imperial Palace. Naruhito said he hoped all athletes will compete in good health and achieve their best performances. Bach said the Olympic community is doing its best not to pose any risk to the Japanese.

Experts say virus infections among unvaccinated people younger than age 50 are rising sharply.

Japan’s vaccinations began late and slowly, but the pace picked up in May as the government pushed to accelerate the drive before the Olympics, though the pace has since slowed due to a shortage of imported vaccines.

About 23% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, way short of the level believed necessary to have any meaningful effect on reducing the risk in the general population.

Experts warned on Wednesday that infections in Tokyo are likely to continue to worsen in coming weeks.

FBI warns of hackers potentially interfering with Olympics

FBI warns of hackers potentially interfering with Olympics

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Katerina Siniakova, of the Czech Republic, practices at the Ariake Tennis Center at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David Goldman) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Hackers and cybercriminals of all sorts may seek to disrupt or otherwise attack the already delayed 2020 Olympics, the FBI warned ahead of the Summer Games set to start Friday in Tokyo.

The FBI issued an alert Monday warning about the possibility of hackers launching attacks on private-sector targets either directly or indirectly related to the upcoming Olympics.

While the FBI said it was unaware of any specific threat on the Olympics or a related entity, it noted there is potential for malicious cyberactivities to occur and encouraged vigilance.

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The FBI specifically warned about the likelihood of hackers using distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, ransomware, social engineering, phishing or insider threats to meddle with the Olympics.

Hackers risk causing problems ranging from disrupting live broadcasts and stealing and leaking private information, to holding sensitive data hostage and disabling Olympics infrastructure, the FBI noted.

“Malicious activity could disrupt multiple functions, including media broadcasting environments, hospitality, transit, ticketing or security,” the FBI said in the five-page private industry notification.

“Large, high-profile events provide an opportunity for criminal and nation-state cyber actors to make money, sow confusion, increase their notoriety, discredit adversaries and advance ideological goals,” the FBI explained elsewhere in the bulletin. “The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics may attract additional attention from these actors, as they are the first to be viewed solely through broadcast and digital platforms due to the prohibition on in-person spectators.”

The FBI recommended following cybersecurity best practices, such as keeping computer systems up to date, as well as providing end-user awareness and training to prevent employees from being hacked.

Postponed from last year because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Olympics are set to take place in and around Tokyo until the closing ceremony, scheduled for Aug. 8.

With no summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-into skip Olympics

With no summit, South Korean president to skip Olympics

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A protester stands to oppose South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s possible visit to Japan in front of a building which houses Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, July 19, 2021. Moon has decided not to visit Japan for the … more >

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By Kim Tong-Hyung

Associated Press

Monday, July 19, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in has decided not to visit Japan for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, citing a failure to set up a summit with Japan‘s prime minister that would produce meaningful results in improving relations.

Moon’s office said Monday that officials from Seoul and Tokyo held talks over longstanding disputes about wartime history and a “future-oriented” development of their relations, but did not find enough common ground to support a summit between their leaders.

The countries had been discussing the possibility of Moon visiting Tokyo to participate in the Olympics’ opening ceremony and having talks with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga about repairing bilateral ties that have sunk to postwar lows in recent years with disputes over history, trade and military cooperation.

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It was unclear how close they came to setting up a summit. Seoul said their talks were damaged by a “last-minute obstacle.”

The announcement by Moon’s office came after the South Korean Foreign Ministry on Saturday summoned Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi to protest remarks made by another senior Japanese diplomat who, according to a local broadcaster, used lewd language with its reporters to ridicule Moon’s hopes about using the Olympics to improve relations.

According to JTBC, Hirohisa Soma, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy, said Moon would be “masturbating” if he thinks he would have a summit during the Olympics, saying Suga has more on his plate than just South KoreaJapan relations.

When asked whether the incident influenced Moon’s decision not to go to the Olympics, a senior South Korean presidential official acknowledged that the “internal atmosphere” at the Blue House “shifted toward skepticism” after the JTBC report. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing, did not provide details about the discussions with Japan on setting up Moon’s visit.

Suga told reporters he hopes to “continue to communicate firmly” with South Korea‘s government in order to restore a healthy relationship between the neighbors. He said Soma’s comments were “very inappropriate and regrettable.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said no decision has been made on whether Soma will be removed from his current position.

The South Korean government delegation at the Olympics will be led by Hwang Hee, the minister of culture, sports and tourism.

“The Tokyo Olympics are a festival of peace for people around the world, and we hope that Japan holds the Olympics safely and successfully,” said Park Soo Hyun, Moon’s spokesperson, reading a statement on TV. “We also hope our athletes, despite the difficult conditions, fully display the skills they have developed in competition and return home healthy.”

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained since South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered some Japanese companies to compensate Korean forced laborers for their ordeals during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The rulings led to further tensions over trade when Japan imposed export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019.

Seoul accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade and threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo that was a major symbol of their trilateral security cooperation with Washington. South Korea eventually backed off and continued the deal after being pressured by the Trump administration, which until then seemed content to let its allies escalate their feud in public.

The countries have been trying to improve relations since the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has called for stronger three-way cooperation in the face of North Korean nuclear threats and challenges posed by China. But progress has been slow and friction between the countries has continued as the Olympics approach.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said South Korea and Japan have squandered an easy opportunity to signal their willingness to improve relations.

“The Moon administration has not made enough domestic progress in addressing legal and historical challenges to diplomacy. Meanwhile, the Suga government has mismanaged the situation by insufficiently prioritizing Korea to the point of discourtesy,” Easley said.

“Members of the Biden administration are no doubt disappointed while leaders in North Korea and China delight in the disunity of U.S. allies.”

Also on Saturday, South Korea’s Olympic Committee removed banners at the Olympic athletes’ village in Tokyo that referred to a 16th-century Korean naval admiral who fought off an invading Japanese fleet after the International Olympic Committee ruled they were provocative.

In agreeing to take down the banners, the South Koreans said they received a promise from the IOC that displays of the Japanese “rising sun” flag will be banned at stadiums and other Olympic venues. The flag, portraying a red sun with 16 rays extending outward, is resented by many people in South Korea and other parts of Asia who see it as a symbol of Japan’s wartime past. ___

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi and video journalist Haruka Nuga in Tokyo contributed to this report.

South Korea removes banners at Olympic village after IOC ruling

South Korea removes banners at Olympic village after IOC ruling

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A woman walks on a bridge past a Tokyo 2020 banner ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Tokyo. Tokyo is under a fourth state of emergency, which began Monday and requires restaurants and bars to … more >

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By Kim Tong-Hyung

Associated Press

Saturday, July 17, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s Olympic committee said Saturday it removed banners at the Olympic athletes’ village in Tokyo that referred to a 16th-century war between Korea and Japan after the International Olympic Committee ruled they were provocative.

In agreeing to take down the banners, the South Koreans said they received a promise from the IOC that the displaying of the Japanese “rising sun” flag will be banned at stadiums and other Olympic venues. The flag, portraying a red sun with 16 rays extending outward, is resented by many people in South Korea and other parts of Asia who see it as a symbol of Japan’s wartime past.

The South Korean banners, which drew protests from some Japanese far-right groups, had been hung at the balconies of South Korean athletes’ rooms and collectively spelled out a message that read: “I still have the support of 50 million Korean people.”

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This borrowed from the famous words of 16th-century Korean naval admiral Yi Sun-sin, who according to historical lore told King Seonjo of Korea’s Joseon Kingdom “I still have 12 battleships left” before pulling off a crucial victory against a larger Japanese fleet during the 1592-1598 Japanese invasions of Korea.

South Korea’s Olympic Committee said it was told by the IOC that the banners invoked images of war and went against Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which says “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

The committee said it agreed to remove the banners after the IOC promised to also apply the same rules to the rising sun flags and ban them at all Olympic venues.

“Under the agreement, the committee will not raise any further debate to allow athletes to fully focus on competition, while the IOC will ban the displaying of the rising sun flag at all Olympic venues so that no political problems would arise,” the South Korean committee said in a statement.

Toshiro Muto, the CEO of Tokyo’s organizing committee, said the IOC thought the South Korean banners were “not appropriate” and asked them to be taken down.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, acknowledged there “may be many ways of thinking” over the issue.

“If the message is regarded as political, it goes against the message of the Olympics and the Paralympics to bring the world together as one,” she said.

The Japanese officials made no comments about the South Korean announcement that the IOC also banned the rising sun flag at the games.

South Korea in 2019 had first formally asked the IOC to ban the rising sun flag at the Olympics, comparing it to the Nazi swastika. South Korean Olympic officials then said Tokyo’s organizing committee rejected their demands for the flag to be banned, saying it was widely used in Japan and was not considered a political statement.

Many South Koreans still harbor animosity over Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, and the countries have seen their relations sink to new post-war lows in recent years with disputes over history, trade and military cooperation.

The countries have been trying to improve relations since the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has called for stronger three-way cooperation with the traditional U.S. allies in the face of the North Korean nuclear threats and challenges posed by China. But progress has been slow.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday summoned Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi to protest remarks made by another senior Japanese diplomat who, according to a local broadcaster, used lewd language to ridicule South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to improve bilateral ties while meeting with its reporters.

The countries had been discussing the possibility of Moon visiting Tokyo to participate in the Olympics’ opening ceremony and having talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga over improving relations.

Jill Biden to attend Tokyo opening ceremonies; 85% of Olympic Village will be vaccinated

Jill Biden to attend Tokyo opening ceremonies; 85% of Olympic Village will be vaccinated

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In this July 8, 2021 photo, first lady Jill Biden delivers remarks before the start of the finals of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Jill Biden will attend the opening ceremony … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

First lady Jill Biden will travel to Japan for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, the White House said Tuesday.

President Biden in June said his wife was eyeing the trip, but officials hadn’t confirmed the July 23 visit as it examined the COVID-19 situation.

The Office of the First Lady said it would release more details soon.

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It is common for world leaders and dignitaries to attend the Olympic ceremonies as a symbol of national pride and global camaraderie. Preparations for the games in Japan have been anything but typical, however, after a yearlong delay and fears the event could spread the coronavirus.

Though Mrs. Biden will make this trip, congressional lawmakers are calling for a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing in February given the communist government’s oppression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and threats against Taiwan.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach might have been thinking ahead as he offered assurances Tuesday to the “Chinese people,” only to quickly correct himself with “Japanese people.”

Mr. Bach said Tokyo is the best-ever prepared city for the Olympic games” as it puts the final pieces in place for the events from July 23 to Aug. 8.

“The Japanese people can have confidence in all the efforts we are undertaking to make these games for them secure and safe, with all the intensive, most strict COVID countermeasures, with the great vaccination program we’ve been undertaking worldwide,” Mr. Bach told Seiko Hashimoto, head of the organizing committee. “We are sitting in one boat and we are rowing together with full force in the same direction.”

Organizers are trying to lift spirits 10 days before kickoff.

A pandemic state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan forced the committees to ban spectators from venues, capping a series of setbacks for the showcase that was delayed for one year.

The IOC said the majority of the 11,000 athletes will be staying at the Olympic Village along the Harumi waterfront in Tokyo.

Organizers estimate that 85% of village residents will be vaccinated against COVID-19. They must wear masks, sanitize their hands and maintain physical distancing. They’ll also face regular testing and restrictions on their movements around the area.

“After all this additional stress during the pandemic, finally they can shine on the Olympic stage,” Mr. Bach said. “And I hope that they will, under these circumstances nevertheless, enjoy it to the fullest.”

IOC’s Bach slips up and refers to Japanese as ‘Chinese’

IOC’s Bach slips up and refers to Japanese as ‘Chinese’

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IOC President Thomas Bach, left, speaks to Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto, not in photo, during their meeting at the Tokyo 2020 Headquarters Tuesday, July 13, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Bach appeared in public on Tuesday for the first time … more >

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By Stephen Wade

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach appeared in public on Tuesday for the first time since arriving in Tokyo last week and with the pandemic-postponed Olympics opening in just 10 days.

Bach spent his first three days in isolation at the International Olympic Committee’s five-star hotel in central Tokyo, and his movements are limited — like almost everyone entering for the Olympics — for the first 14 days.

His first stop was the headquarters of the organizing committee to deliver a pep talk with the beleaguered games set to go ahead without fans in almost all venues.

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Organizers and the IOC decided last week to ban fans from all but a handful of outlying venues, a move that came after the Japanese government instituted a state of emergency in Tokyo forced by rising coronavirus cases. The state of emergency went into force on Monday and runs through Aug. 22.

The state of emergency will be in effect throughout the entire duration of the Olympics, which open on July 23 and close on Aug. 8. Its main impact is to push bars and restaurants to close early and stop selling alcohol, a move aimed at cutting down circulation on crowded trains.

“You have managed to make Tokyo the best-ever prepared city for the Olympic Games,” Bach said in his opening remarks to organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto and CEO Toshiro Muto. ”This is even more remarkable under the difficult circumstances we all have to face.”

Bach tripped over his words, referring to the “Chinese people” rather than “Japanese people.”

“Our common target is safe and secure games for everybody; for the athletes, for all the delegations, and most importantly also for the Chinese people — Japanese people,” Bach said, catching his mistake quickly.

Bach‘s comments in the briefing were interpreted from English to Japanese, but the slip was not included in the interpretations. Still, the Japanese media quickly reported it and there was backlash on social media.

Bach ended his speech with a Japanese phrase: “Gambari mashou,” which translates as “Let’s do our best.”

Bach’s visit on Tuesday coincided with the official opening of the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay. Organizers did not offer an immediate count of how many athletes were on hand.

Bach is scheduled to visit Hiroshima on Friday in an effort to tie the Olympics to the city’s effort to promote world peace. IOC Vice President John Coates is to visit Nagasaki the same day.

Japan’s Kyodo news has reported that a group in Hiroshima is opposing Bach‘s visit.

A small group of protesters gathered on Saturday outside Bach’s hotel carrying placards that said he was unwelcome.

Organizers have been criticized for pressing ahead with the Olympics during the pandemic amid polls that show — depending on how the question is phrased — that 50%-80% of the public oppose the Olympics taking place.

The Olympics will involve 11,000 athletes entering Japan along with tens of thousands of others including officials, judges, media, and broadcasters.

Also on Tuesday, police in Tokyo said a group of four U.S. and British men working for a power company contracted to the Olympics were arrested on suspicion of using cocaine.

Aggreko Events Services Japan confirmed it employed the suspects and apologized for the trouble. NHK public television reported the four suspects entered Japan from February to May and were staying in Tokyo.

New virus cases in Tokyo were reported at 830, up from 593 one week ago. It is the 24th straight day that cases were higher than seven days previous.

The office of the Japanese prime minister said Tuesday that 18.5% of Japanese are fully vaccinated.

Delta variant of the coronavirus forces new lockdowns, restrictions around globe

Delta variant of the coronavirus forces new lockdowns, restrictions around globe

Arkansas, Missouri worried about local outbreaks in U.S.; officials say COVID-19 vaccination is the solution

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Nurse Jody Berry draws a syringe full of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, Mo., on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. As the U.S. emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, Missouri is becoming … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, June 28, 2021

The fearsome delta variant of the coronavirus is forcing countries to extend or reimpose lockdowns as the globe races to thwart the evolving pathogen through vaccination.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa banned gatherings of any kind for 14 days and forbid alcohol sales, restaurant dining and travel in or out of the hardest-hit parts of the country.

“We have overcome two decisive waves, but now we have a new hill to climb, a great challenge, a massive resurgence of infections,” he said late Sunday.

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Thailand imposed a new lockdown in Bangkok and surrounding areas, while Malaysia extended one that was supposed to ease Monday.

Residents of Sydney face a stay-at-home order through July 9 and fines as Australia tries to stiff-arm the delta variant after serving as a model for virus control earlier in the pandemic.

Germany, meanwhile, restricted travel from Portugal and Russia after declaring them to be “virus-variant zones,” and Japanese officials said Monday that Olympic athletes from delta-heavy countries will be tested every day for a week.

Athletes must also avoid other people for three days after landing in Tokyo for the Summer Games, which begin July 23.

Global health officials say the new wave of infections and restrictions reflect the power of the swift-moving delta variant first detected in India. It is becoming dominant as countries race to vaccinate larger shares of their populations.

“Delta is the most transmissible of the variants identified so far,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday. “As some countries ease public health and social measures, we are starting to see increases in transmission around the world.”

Scientists believe existing vaccines can wrangle the delta variant, at least enough to avoid severe disease and hospitalization.

The strain is becoming dominant in the U.S., but the crisis is likely to be localized to areas with poor vaccination rates.

Officials say the variant is to blame for an outbreak in southwestern Missouri, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson highlighted it as a worry.

“The delta variant is a great concern to us. We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations,” Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Americans stand trial in Japan, accused in Carlos Ghosn’s escape

Americans stand trial in Japan, accused in Carlos Ghosn’s escape

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This Dec. 30, 2019, image from security camera video shows Michael L. Taylor, center, and George-Antoine Zayek at passport control at Istanbul Airport in Turkey. Americans Michael Taylor and his son Peter Taylor go on trial in Tokyo on Monday, … more >

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By Yuri Kageyama

Associated Press

Monday, June 14, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Two Americans charged with helping former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn flee Japan while he was facing accusations of financial misconduct agreed Monday that they took part in a scheme for him to escape the country.

Statements by Michael Taylor and his son, Peter, on the opening day of their trial in Tokyo suggest the pair don’t plan to fight charges of assisting a criminal. That carries a possible penalty of up to three years in prison.

Keiji Isaji, one of the attorneys for the Taylors, told The Associated Press after the court session that he wants the trial to “proceed efficiently.” He said ending the trial quickly is “in the best interests of his clients.” He declined to confirm his team was hoping for a suspended sentence if they are convicted, meaning no time would be served. He stressed the decision was up to the judge.

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The Taylors appeared calm as they were led into the courtroom in handcuffs, with ropes tied around their waists.

They said little except to answer the judge’s questions, such as “Yes, your honor,” and “I hear you well,” when asked about simultaneous interpreting relayed through headphones.

Prosecutors read out a statement accusing Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, and Peter Taylor of arranging to hide Ghosn in a box for musical equipment. It was loaded onto a private jet that flew him from the western city of Osaka to Lebanon via Turkey in December 2019.

Ryozo Kitajima, one of the prosecutors, said Peter Taylor met with Ghosn at a hotel several times in 2019 and introduced Ghosn to his father. He said Peter Taylor also received $562,500 in two transfers to pay for chartering the jet and other expenses. Peter Taylor arranged for Ghosn to change his clothing at a Tokyo hotel. His father and another man, George-Antoine Zayek later accompanied Ghosn to the Osaka airport, Kitajima said.

Zayek has not been arrested.

The prosecutors said bitcoins worth $500,000 were transferred from Ghosn‘s son Anthony’s account to Peter Taylor in 2020, purportedly to cover the Taylors’ defense costs.

After a brief discussion with Chief Judge Hideo Nirei and their defense lawyers, the Taylors agreed there were no mistakes in the statement.

Prosecutors said that during their detention the Taylors had expressed remorse and that the pair had been misled to believe helping someone jump bail was not illegal in Japan. They said Ghosn‘s wife Carole told them Ghosn was being tortured. The prosecutors quoted the Taylors as saying they were not tortured and were treated in a way that was “fair and professional.”

The trial’s next session is set for June 29, when prosecutors will continue their questioning.

The Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts last year and extradited to Japan in March. Ghosn has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship and Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan. The authorities say Ghosn paid the Taylors at least $1.3 million.

Ghosn led Nissan Motor Co. for two decades before his arrest in 2018. He was charged with falsifying securities reports in under-reporting his compensation and of breach of trust in using Nissan money for personal gain. He says he is innocent and says he fled Japan because he did not expect to get a fair trial. More than 99% of criminal cases in Japan result in convictions.

Peter Taylor told a Massachusetts court in January that he met Ghosn in 2019 in Japan to pitch his digital marketing company to help repair Ghosn’s tarnished reputation. He said Ghosn asked him to bring him gifts, food and DVDs from his wife, and to deliver gifts, including to relatives in Lebanon.

Peter Taylor said he left Japan for Shanghai on Dec. 29, 2019, and was not in Japan when Ghosn is accused of fleeing. He denied he was in touch with his father at that time, court documents say.

No Japanese executives have been charged in the scandal at Nissan, Yokohama-based manufacturer of the Leaf electric car, March subcompact and Infiniti luxury models.

Extraditions between Japan and the U.S. are relatively rare, even for serious crimes. The possible penalty of three years in prison is the minimum required for an extradition.

Separately, the same court is trying another American, Greg Kelly, a former Nissan executive vice president, on charges he under-reported Ghosn’s compensation. That trial began in September.

Kelly’s trial has focused on whether reporting of deferred compensation for Ghosn may have violated the law. Several other senior executives at Nissan, including some non-Japanese, were aware of the arrangements.

Kelly says he is innocent and was only looking for lawful ways to pay Ghosn more to prevent him from leaving for a rival automaker.

Before his arrest, Ghosn was an auto industry star, having orchestrated Nissan’s rebound from the brink of bankruptcy after he was sent to Japan by its French alliance partner Renault in 1999.

Ghosn‘s pay was halved, by about 1 billion yen ($10 million), in 2010 when Japan began requiring disclosure of high executive pay.

The concern was that his relatively high compensation might be viewed unfavorably since Japanese top executives tend to draw lower pay packages than their peers in other countries.

Can the Olympics be held safely? Public health experts say yes — if changes are made

Public health experts: Olympics can be held safely, if changes are made

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A man walks past the Olympic rings in Tokyo, Monday, June 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) **FILE** more >

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By Andy Kostka

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 10, 2021

As the 11,000 athletes and the numerous support staff that flock with them descend next month on Tokyo for the Olympic Games, the unknowns — and the risk those unknowns pose — are still prevalent.

The International Olympic Committee is committed to completing the Games, which were already postponed last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But as the opening ceremony approaches, the guidelines in place leave some public health experts with pause over how prudent the competition may be unless there are changes made before July 23.

With low vaccination rates among Japanese citizens, guidelines that public health experts say don’t fully recognize and address the airborne transmission possibilities of the coronavirus, and a focus on protecting athletes rather than the population as a whole breeds doubt into the current plan.

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“You have kind of the perfect storm setting up right now, of bringing a large group of people in from all over the world,” said Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, a researcher and professor at the University of Illinois. “It’s safe to do anything. The question is, what adjustments are you willing to make to accommodate the current situation?”

Those adjustments will be paramount in the six weeks leading up to the Olympics. And while experts say it’s still possible to hold the Olympics — and hold the Games safely — the current guidelines and plans have several apparent weaknesses.

To Dr. Lisa Brosseau, a research consultant at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy within the University of Minnesota, the most glaring issue is the lack of ventilation to combat a virus that can spread rampantly through aerosol transmission.

In the IOC’s playbook to combat the coronavirus, there’s a focus on social distancing, cleaning surfaces and placing plexiglass barriers between people. There’s a need for ventilation, though, and while the guidelines mention opening windows every 30 minutes to aerate rooms, “that really isn’t adequate,” Brosseau said. “Opening a window every 30 minutes does not ensure you clear out all the particles.”

A simple solution would be the incorporation of portable HEPA air filters in smaller indoor spaces, cleaning the air that circulates. With athletes set to share living quarters, an air cleaner in each bedroom could cut down on possible transmission. And for larger spaces, reducing the number of people present and the time they spend in those locations would help, along with a larger air filtration system.

“But as far as I can tell,” Brosseau said, “they have done no evaluation of ventilation in any of the spaces — living spaces, busses, other transportation, and the indoor venues themselves.”

Changes to the structure of the Olympics at this stage could be difficult to incorporate, with the Games scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8. But if the window was extended to space out competition while also limiting the number of athletes in Japan at one time, that could go a long way in reducing any potential spread of the virus.

“If you’re trying to congregate a lot of people together with unknown infection status, there’s a risk of spreading it,” Jacobson said. “The risk is not directly to the athletes — we know from that age group it just isn’t that much of a personal risk. But there is community risk, and there’s also risk to the people in Japan.”

The IOC has prioritized athlete vaccinations to prevent possible spread of the coronavirus, and IOC President Thomas Bach said he predicts more than 80% of athletes will be vaccinated by the time the Games begin. But Japan has lagged behind other countries with vaccination rates, another worrying factor ahead of the Games. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 4.09% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Vaccine priority has gone to the elderly and medical personnel in Japan — the two groups in greatest need. But many of the volunteers at the Olympics don’t fall within those two categories. So while athletes may be vaccinated, there’s still heightened risk involved for those participating in the Games in other ways.

“There’s been an overabundance of attention on the athletes to the complete exclusion of understanding the risks for the rest of the population, which are like hundreds of thousands of people involved,” Brosseau said, referencing coaches, transportation workers and hotel staff, among many others.

Foreign spectators have been barred from attending the Olympics for months, but Japan is leaning toward allowing domestic fans to attend events, according to a report this week from The Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

That draws more questions, particularly for indoor venues.

“The minute you start talking about spectators, I kind of throw up my hands and say, ‘Really?’” said Dr. Edward Kaplan, a professor of public health at Yale. “Because Japan right now does not have a very good track record in terms of the fraction of the population that has been vaccinated.”

In the latest Olympic playbook released, there are stricter testing requirements, restricted socialization and a phone application for symptom screening. The issue with the latter, Brosseau said, is the possibility for asymptomatic transmission. While athletes will be tested every day, those around them won’t receive daily testing — an oversight that could put unvaccinated people at risk.

As far as socialization goes, Brosseau finds it unlikely athletes will spend the majority of their time sitting in their rooms when not competing.

“Do you really go expecting to spend any time not competing entirely by yourself in a single room? I don’t think that’s possible. That wouldn’t be possible for anyone,” Brosseau said. “I think the IOC seems to be sort of living in some kind of, I don’t know, dream land about what these athletes are going to be able to do.”

And while the IOC stresses the importance for distancing, the organization is providing 160,000 free condoms to Olympic village during the Games.

“If there’s all these condoms,” Brosseau said, “what’s really happening here?”

When Brosseau thinks of the best-case scenario for the Games, there’s still the possibility of infections — and the possibility of unwittingly bringing those infections to other countries during travel. The worst-case scenario is more dire, with the chance of a “serious outbreak” in Japan and elsewhere, only exacerbated by the presence of variant strains of the virus.

But Brosseau and others emphasizes that while there are risks, the IOC can take steps to alleviate some of them.

“The world needs something like the Olympics to bring it back together,” Brosseau said. “But the world needs an Olympics that is safe, and that is the problem.”

‘Like hell’: As Olympics loom, Japan health care in turmoil

‘Like hell’: As Olympics loom, Japan health care in turmoil

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In this April 19, 2021, file photo, a restaurant staff member, center, stands in the middle of a street to promote her establishment at one of the famous commercial districts in Osaka, western Japan, as some of the businesses have … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi and Kantaro Komiya

Associated Press

Friday, May 21, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — As she struggled to breathe, Shizue Akita had to wait more than six hours while paramedics searched for a hospital in Osaka that would treat her worsening COVID-19.

When she finally got to one that wasn’t overwhelmed with other patients, doctors diagnosed severe pneumonia and organ failure and sedated her. Akita, 87, was dead two weeks later.

Osaka’s medical systems have collapsed,” said her son, Kazuyuki Akita. He has watched from his home north of Tokyo as three other family members in Osaka have dealt with the virus, and with inadequate health care. “It’s like hell.”

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Hospitals in Osaka, Japan’s third-biggest city and only 2½ hours by bullet train from Summer Olympics host Tokyo, are overflowing with coronavirus patients. About 35,000 people nationwide — twice the number of those in hospitals — must stay at home with the disease, often becoming seriously ill and sometimes dying before they can get medical care.

As cases surge in Osaka, medical workers say that every corner of the system has been slowed, stretched and burdened. And it’s happening in other parts of the country, too.

The frustration and fear are clear in interviews by The Associated Press with besieged medical workers and the families of patients in Osaka. It’s in striking contrast with the tone in the capital Tokyo, where Olympic organizers and government officials insist the July Games will be safe and orderly even as a state of emergency spreads to more parts of the country and a growing number of citizens call for a cancellation.

Some see Osaka as a warning for what could happen to the rest of Japan if the crisis worsens at a time when officials — and the world — are focused on the Olympics.

Osaka‘s struggles are a “man-made disaster,” Akita told AP in a written message, caused in part by officials lifting an earlier state of emergency despite signs of a rebound in infections. He thinks his mother might have lived if she’d been treated sooner.

Many here are stunned by what’s happening. Japan, after all, is the world’s third-biggest economy and has, until now, managed the pandemic better than many other advanced nations. But the current surge has sent the daily tallies of the sick and dying to new highs.

The turmoil is most evident in Osaka.

Paramedics, clad in protective gear, cannot perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and must take extreme precautions to avoid exposure to aerosols, officials and health workers say. Disinfecting an ambulance takes an hour after it has carried a COVID-19 patient, keeping paramedics from rushing to the next call.

Emergency patients get only the treatment that happens to be available, not what’s most likely to increase their chance of survival, medical experts say.

A patient suffering from heart failure, for example, was rejected by an advanced emergency hospital, and a child in critical condition could not find a pediatric hospital because they were all full, according to an Osaka paramedic who would only give his first name, Satoshi, because he is not authorized to talk to the media. The child later died, he said.

“Our job is to bring people who are dying and deteriorating to the hospital,” he said. “In the current situation, we are not even able to do our job.”

As emergency measures drag on amid surging cases, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has seen support for his government slide. While he insists Japan will safely hold the Olympics, polls show 60% to 80% are against pushing ahead with the Games.

There is no indication so far the Olympics will be canceled. The International Olympic Committee, which was wrapping up its final planning sessions on Friday with Tokyo Olympic organizers, has repeatedly said they are going ahead.

But the IOC’s most senior member Richard Pound, in an interview with Japan’s JiJi Press, said that the final deadline to call it off was “before the end of June.” Pound repeated – as the IOC has said – that if the Olympics can’t happen this summer they will be canceled, not postponed again.

Japanese medical groups say they cannot accommodate the possible health needs of the Olympics as pressure for coronavirus treatment rises and medical workers and government officials try to speed up a slow-moving vaccination rollout. Less than 2% of the total population has been fully vaccinated.

As the vaccination pace gradually picks up, the government plans to open two large inoculation centers Monday using Moderna shots, one of two new vaccines expected to be approved Friday.

This week Osaka passed Tokyo, the nation’s biggest city, with the most total virus deaths, at 2,036. Of about 15,000 patients in Osaka, only about 12% landed at hospitals, while the rest had to wait at home or in hotels. The number of COVID-19 deaths that happened outside of hospitals in April tripled from March to 96, including 39 in Osaka and 10 in Tokyo, police statistics show.

Japan’s daily cases and deaths are small by global standards, and the country has one of the world’s largest per-capita numbers of hospital beds.

So why the struggles?

It is partly because unprofitable COVID-19 treatment is largely limited to public-run hospitals, which account for only about one-fifth of Japan’s 8,000 hospitals. Private hospitals, many of them small, are hesitant or unprepared to deal with coronavirus cases.

The government has also significantly reduced local health centers, which are key to infectious disease prevention, from about 850 in the 1990s to 469 in 2020, causing bottlenecks because of staff shortages and overwork.

Less than 5% of about 1.5 million hospital beds in Japan are set aside for COVID-19 treatment, an increase from less than 1,000 in April of last year, according to Health Ministry data, but still not enough.

The recent surge has seen more serious cases that have quickly filled hospital beds.

More than half of about 55 coronavirus deaths at the Osaka City Juso Hospital are from the latest surge, said Dr. Yukio Nishiguchi, head of the hospital. “It’s like being hit by a disaster,” he said.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, criticized for being too slow, said he regretted not being able to predict the faster-than-expected surge of serious cases.

While acknowledging that Osaka’s medical systems are severely strained, Yoshimura said that patients are being properly sorted by health centers and that those still at home are staying there “by consent.”

Because hospital beds for serious cases have filled up, patients with milder symptoms, but still in need of hospitalization, have to stay home or at hotels. And people who need other, non-coronavirus treatment are also suffering.

Naoki Hodo, a funeral director in southern Osaka, said that in April an emergency operator refused to send an ambulance for his 85-year-old aunt, telling the family to call back when they found a hospital themselves. His aunt had a badly swollen eye and hadn’t eaten for two days.

It took the family six hours of frantic calls to hospitals on a list given by the operator before they found one. The aunt is still hospitalized, and her doctor says she may never see again on one of her eyes.

Nishiguchi, who specializes in colorectal cancer surgery, said the pandemic has caused him to scale down or postpone operations for his cancer patients.

“Our priority is to save the lives under threat right now, and I hope people understand,” he said.

Hodo, the mortician, wears full protective gear when he goes to collect COVID-19 victims’ bodies at hospitals. The dead are placed in double waterproof body bags and then in coffins when they leave the hospital, so families cannot see their faces.

“They can’t even have a proper farewell with their loved ones,” Hodo said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

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In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, exile Tibetans use the Olympic Rings as a prop as they hold a street protest against the holding of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Dharmsala, India. Groups alleging human-rights abuses in China … more >

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By Stephen Wade

Associated Press

Monday, May 17, 2021

Groups alleging human-rights abuses against minorities in China are calling for a full-blown boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, a move likely to ratchet up pressure on the International Olympic Committee, athletes, sponsors and sports federations.

A coalition representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, residents of Hong Kong and others issued a statement Monday calling for the boycott, eschewing lesser measures that had been floated like “diplomatic boycotts” and further negotiations with the IOC or China.

“The time for talking with the IOC is over,” Lhadon Tethong of the Tibet Action Institute said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. “This cannot be games as usual or business as usual; not for the IOC and not for the international community.”

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The Beijing Games are set to open on Feb. 4, 2022, just six months after the postponed Summer Olympics in Tokyo are to end.

Rights groups have met several times in the last year with the IOC, asking that the games be removed from China. A key member in those talks was Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress.

Tethong, herself, was detained and deported from China in 2007 – a year before the Beijing Summer Olympics – for leading a campaign for Tibet.

“The situation where we are now is demonstrably worse that it was then,” Tethong said, pointing out that the IOC said the 2008 Olympics would improve human rights in China. “If the games go ahead, then Beijing gets the international seal of approval for what they are doing.”

The push for a boycott comes a day before a joint hearing in the U.S. Congress focusing on the Beijing Olympics and China‘s human-rights record, and just days after the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said boycotts are ineffective and only hurt athletes.

“People have worked to engage with the IOC in good faith to have them understand the issues directly from the mouths of those most impacted – the Uyghurs at the top of that list and the Tibetans and others,” Tethong said. “It’s clear the IOC is completely uninterested in what the real impacts on the ground for people are.”

The IOC has repeatedly said it must be “neutral” and stay out of politics. The Switzerland-based body is essentially a sports business, deriving about 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights, and 18% more from sponsors. It also has observer status at the United Nations.

“We are not a super-world government,” IOC President Thomas Bach said recently.

China‘s foreign ministry has criticized “the politicization of sports” and has said any boycott is “doomed to failure.” China has denied accusations of genocide against the Uyghur people.

A recent U.S. State Department report stated explicitly that “genocide and crimes against humanity” have taken place in the past year against Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

Tethong said she knows some athletes may be opposed. But she said others, who gained traction from Black Lives Matter movement, may become allies. She acknowledged this as a “gloves-off” moment.

“There are obviously a lot of people who are concerned about the athletes and their lifelong work,” Tethong said. “But in the end it’s the IOC that has put them in this position and should be held accountable.”

American skier Mikaela Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, spelled out the dilemma for athletes in a recent interview on CNN.

“You certainly don’t want to be put in the position of having to choose between human rights like morality versus being able to do your job,” she said.

Tethong suggested coalition members might lobby the IOC‘s top 15 sponsors, American network NBC, which generates about 40% of all IOC revenue, sports federations, civil society groups “and anyone that will listen.”

Activists have already singled out IOC sponsor Airbnb for attention.

“First is the moral question,” Tethong said. “Is it OK to host an international goodwill sporting event such as the Olympic Games while the host nation is committing genocide just beyond the stands?”

In meetings with the IOC, activists say they have asked to see documents in which China has given “assurances” about human rights conditions. Activists say the IOC has not produced the documents.

The IOC included human rights requirements several years ago in the host city contract for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but it did not include those guidelines – the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – for Beijing. Paris is the first Olympics to contain the standards, long pushed for by human rights groups.

Last week, human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts.

At the meeting, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador, Barbara Woodward, called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”

“The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups,” Woodward said. “Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale.”

Hoax bomb threat at Joint Base Andrews briefly shut down main gate; suspect taken into custody

Hoax bomb threat at Joint Base Andrews briefly shut down main gate; suspect in custody

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In this photo taken July 15, 2016, President Barack Obama rides in his limousine as he arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Md. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Joint Base Andrews, the home of Air Force One, was the scene of a bomb threat Friday that was ultimately determined to be a hoax, a military spokesman said afterward.

A motorist approached the main gate of the installation at roughly 4:45pm and told security personnel he had a bomb in his vehicle, said a spokesperson for the 316th Wing of U.S. Force based there.

“After the individual was taken into custody, bomb sniffing military working dogs did an initial sweep of the vehicle and did not find anything relevant,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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The automobile was also examined by a specialized robot and a member of the Air Force‘s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team before it was determined there was no bomb, the official added.

“We take every threat seriously,” Col. Tyler Schaff, commander of both the base and the 316th Wing, said in a statement. “Our team took every precaution to keep our airmen and their families safe.

The motorist was taken into custody and questioned by base security forces as well as partner law enforcement agencies, according to a statement issued by the installation Friday.

Access to the base via its main gate was briefly suspended prior to security personnel determining the area was safe, the statement said.

Officials had not released the name of the motorist as of Saturday but described the suspect as “a civilian with no military affiliation.”

Joint Base Andrews, a joint Air Force and Navy installation, is located in Camp Springs, Maryland, in Prince George’s County, roughly a dozen miles southeast of the White House in Washington.

For nearly 60 years, Andrew has been the home base for the fleet of jets that serve under the call sign Air Force One when the president is aboard. President Biden was not scheduled to travel out of town Friday.

China lands spacecraft on Mars for first time: State media

China lands spacecraft on Mars for first time: State media

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Visitors pass by an exhibition depicting rovers on Mars in Beijing on Friday, May 14, 2021. China says its Mars probe and accompanying rover are to land on the red planet sometime between early Saturday morning and Wednesday Beijing time. … more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, May 14, 2021

BEIJING – China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time in the latest advance for its space program.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration.

Cage The Elephant – Tokyo Smoke Lyrics

Hey man
Hand me down down with the crooked back
What’s your father’s name? Boy, you don’t know where you’re at
Pick yourself up, you don’t look so good
Maybe you should lay down
Taught me how to fall
But you never told me I was supposed to stay down

Stick and move
Sharpen up the knife
Keep it tight
Stay between the lines
Make your mark
Take your own advice
Don’t be surprised when you trip and stumble
I played the fool again
My old unfaithful friend
Stick and move
Sharpen up the knife
Don’t be surprised if you can’t stay between the lines

Quicksand color blind in the hourglass
All spun out ’cause you can’t stop looking back
Better stay still, don’t you make a move
What’d you hope to find here?
Taught me how to fall
But you never told me I was meant to die here

Stick and move
Sharpen up the knife
Keep it tight
Stay between the lines
Make your mark
Take your own advice
Don’t be surprised when you trip and stumble
I played the fool again
My old unfaithful friend
Stick and move
Sharpen up the knife
Don’t be surprised if you can’t stay between the lines

Endless shot rounds
No smoking guns
Fizzled and faded
Now back on the run
My sticks and stones
Tokyo smoke
I played the fool ’til I started to choke
My public smile
My double face
Half in the light
Half in the shade
Need some fresh air
No place tonight
Guess I’ll stay in and continue to fight
Lost, trace of trail
Spiderweb spun
Pale white and blue
Now I’m coming undone
Play sticks and stones
Three shades of black
Two steps away
And I can’t get back

CDC: New real-world study of Moderna, Pfizer vaccines confirms strong effectiveness

CDC: New real-world study of Moderna, Pfizer vaccines confirms strong effectiveness

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Maryjo Morreale receives her second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Registered Nurse Eileen Attar, Thursday, May 13, 2021, at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The Wilkes-Barre Department of Health held the vaccine clinic. Approximately 480 people will be … more >

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By Shen Wu Tan

The Washington Times

Friday, May 14, 2021

The coronavirus vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are highly effective at preventing sickness, a new real-world study among health care workers confirms.

The two-dose vaccines reduced the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 symptoms by 94% among those who were fully vaccinated and by 82% among those who were partially vaccinated, the study found, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This report provided the most compelling information to date that COVID-19 vaccines were performing as expected in the real world,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement. “This study, added to the many studies that preceded it, was pivotal to CDC changing its recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

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The study pulled data from a network that includes more than 500,000 health care workers across 33 sites in 25 states. It compared the vaccination status of participants who tested positive for COVID-19 with the vaccination status of those who tested negative, known as “controls.”

Of 1,843 study participants, there were 623 cases and 1,220 controls. Case-patients were identified as those who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, and who had at least one symptom. Control participants were those who tested negative, regardless of symptoms. Some participants in both groups had received a COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Researchers then calculated vaccine effectiveness by comparing the odds of COVID-19 vaccination in cases and controls.

They found that only 2% of case-patients and 1% of control participants required hospitalization for severe illness. No deaths occurred in either group.

Case-patients were also much more likely than control participants to experience symptoms associated with COVID-19 such as fever (40% versus 23%), cough (56% versus 22%), or shortness of breath (26% versus 7%). Only 5% of case-patients and 14% of control participants reported having only mild symptoms such as sore throat and headache.

Three-quarters of the health care staff enrolled in the study worked at acute care hospitals while 25% worked in outpatient or specialty clinics. The median age was 38 years.

This week, federal regulators granted emergency use authorization for the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years old. The vaccine is also approved for those 16 years and older. The Moderna vaccine is approved for use in adults 18 years and older.

Irish Health Service hit by a ransomware attack

Irish Health Service hit by a ransomware attack

Outpatient visits canceled, emergency services continue

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(Associated Press/File) more >

Print

By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Irish health service closed down its IT systems Friday after a significant ransomware attack.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) canceled outpatient visits and other services but said emergency services and vaccine appointments would continue.

“There is a significant ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems. We have taken the precaution of shutting down all our IT systems in order to protect them from this attack and to allow us fully assess the situation with our own security partners,” the service said on its homepage.

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Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he would be in regular contact with HSE CEO Paul Reid to protect personal information and the system.

“This is having a severe impact on our health and social care services today, but individual services and hospital groups are impacted in different ways,” he tweeted.

The incident comes days after hackers hit the Colonial Pipeline with a ransomware attack. The company shut down the pipeline when it was hacked, causing fuel shortages across the U.S. East.

Pentagon pulls 120 U.S. troops out of Israel

Pentagon pulls 120 U.S. troops out of Israel

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Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Weary Palestinians are somberly marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Hamas and Israel traded more rockets and airstrikes and Jewish-Arab … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Missile attacks against Israel by the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas prompted Pentagon officials to withdraw about 120 Department of Defense personnel from Israel on Thursday.

The personnel, who had been in Israel for a future military exercise planning conference, were evacuated to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft.

“We made this decision to move these individuals in coordination with our Israeli counterparts,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

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Such planning conferences are routine events, Mr. Kirby said.

“When we conduct a major exercise, there are a series of planning conferences that lead up to it because there are a lot of things and details to work through,” he said.

The conference was scheduled to wrap up at the end of the week but out of an “abundance of caution,” the order was given to withdraw the U.S. military personnel a few days early, Mr. Kirby said.

Weary Gaza marks Muslim feast as violence spreads in Israel

Weary Gaza marks Muslim feast as violence spreads in Israel

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Smoke is seen from a collapsed building after it was hit by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. The Israeli airstrike was the latest in a series of assaults on targets in the Gaza Strip after a … more >

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By Fares Akram and Joseph Krauss

Associated Press

Thursday, May 13, 2021

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Weary Palestinians on Thursday prepared for a somber feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Gaza braced for more Israeli airstrikes and communal violence raged across Israel after weeks of protests and violence in Jerusalem.

The latest outburst of Mideast violence has reached deeper into Israel than any since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising, with Arab and Jewish mobs rampaging through the streets, savagely beating people and torching cars.

The last three wars between Israel and Gaza‘s militant Hamas rulers were largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier. But this round of fighting – which like the intifada, began in Jerusalem – seems to be rippling far and wide, tearing apart the country at its seams.

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Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of a month of daylong fasting, is usually a festive time when families shop for new clothes and gather for large feasts.

But in Gaza residents are bracing for more devastation as militants fire one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carries out waves of bone-rattling airstrikes, sending plumes of smoke rising into the air. Since the rockets began Monday, Israel has toppled two high-rise apartment buildings housing Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, urged the faithful to mark communal Eid prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques instead of out in the open, as is traditional.

Hassan Abu Shaaban tried to lighten the mood by passing out candy to passers-by after prayers, but acknowledged “there is there is no atmosphere for Eid at all.”

“It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation,” he said. “May God help everyone.”

Gaza militants continued to bombard Israel with nonstop rocket fire throughout the day and into early Thursday. The attacks brought life to a standstill in southern communities near Gaza, but also reached as far north as the Tel Aviv area, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the north, for a second straight day.

The Israeli military says more than 1,600 rockets have been fired since Monday, with 400 falling short and landing inside Gaza. Israel‘s missile defenses have intercepted 90% of the rockets. Israeli airstrikes have struck around 600 targets inside Gaza, the military said.

The Israeli army shared footage showing a rocket impact between apartment towers in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva early Thursday, apparently sparking a large fire. It said the strike wounded people and caused significant damage.

“We’re coping, sitting at home, hoping it will be OK,” said Motti Haim, a resident of the central town of Beer Yaakov and father of two children. “It’s not simple running to the shelter. It’s not easy with the kids.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll rose to 69 Palestinians, including 16 children and six women. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel says the number of militants killed is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.

A total of seven people have been killed in Israel, including four people who died on Wednesday. Among them were a soldier killed by an anti-tank missile and a 6-year-old child hit in a rocket attack.

While United Nations and Egyptian officials have said that cease-fire efforts are underway, there were no signs of progress. Israeli television’s Channel 12 reported late Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet authorized a widening of the offensive.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in Gaza toward Israeli population centers, but he also urged Israel to show “maximum restraint.” President Joe Biden called Netanyahu to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was sending a senior diplomat to the region to try to calm tensions.

The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound that is revered by Jews and Muslims, where police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters who threw chairs and stones at them.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, launched a barrage of rockets at the city late Monday, setting off days of fighting.

The fighting has set off violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, in scenes unseen in more than two decades. Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use an “iron fist if necessary” to calm the violence.

But ugly clashes erupted across the country late Wednesday. Jewish and Arab mobs battled in the central city of Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, despite a state of emergency and nighttime curfew. In nearby Bat Yam, a mob of Jewish nationalists attacked an Arab motorist, dragged him from his car and beat him until he was motionless.

In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said it thwarted a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two people. The Palestinian Health Ministry said the suspected gunman was killed. No details were immediately available.

Still unclear is how the fighting in Gaza will affect Netanyahu’s political future. He failed to form a government coalition after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, and now his political rivals have three weeks to try to form one.

His rivals have courted a small Islamist Arab party. But the longer the fighting lasts, the more it could hamper their attempts at forming a coalition.

___

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.

German people getting pushy in seeking COVID-19 vaccine

German people getting pushy in seeking COVID-19 vaccine

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A man sits in his car as he is vaccinated with AstraZeneca in a tent on the parking lot of a supermarket in Pforzheim, southern Germany, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. A doctor who could not get rid of her AstraZeneca … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

German vaccinators say people are getting aggressive in their bids for COVID-19 shots and trying to jump the queue early.

A Hamburg site reported 2,000 line-jumpers in one recent week alone. They tended to give their wrong age or occupation to get priority, according to Der Spiegel.

Media outlet Report Mainz found thousands of instances across the country. In another common trick, people claim to provide care for two high-priority people, giving them access.

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“The mood is becoming more aggressive. Some people are very clear that they are not authorized and still try to get vaccinated,” the Hamburg social authority, Martin Helfrich, told the outlet.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week she wants to make everyone eligible for the vaccines by June instead of moving by age groups, citing the need to reopen society without uneven treatment within the population.

Ms. Merkel also broke from President Biden’s plan to waive vaccine patents so that struggling countries can develop generic versions of existing vaccines.

“The limiting factor in vaccine manufacturing is production capacity and high-quality standards, not patents,” the chancellor’s spokeswoman said.

Nancy Pelosi says Israel has the right to defend itself, Hamas rocket attacks risk more lives

Pelosi says Israel has the right to defend itself, Hamas rocket attacks risk more lives

House speaker urges 'all sides' to show restraint

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., arrives for a photo opportunity on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Tuesday condemned “escalating and indiscriminate” rocket attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas, saying they risk civilian lives amid a fierce exchange of airstrikes in the region.

“Israel has the right to defend herself against this assault, which is designed to sow terror and undermine prospects for peace,” the California Democrat said.

Hamas militants in Gaza fired on the metro area of Tel Aviv and while Israel airstrikes reportedly killed 35 Palestinians, including 10 children, in the worst fighting since 2014.

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“Every civilian death is a tragedy that we mourn. Hamas’s accelerating violence only risks killing more civilians, including innocent Palestinians,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “The recent inflammatory provocations including by extremist forces in Jerusalem have exacerbated the situation, and restraint must be shown by all to de-escalate the crisis,” she said. “Let us all pray that the situation will be resolved immediately and peacefully.”

Vladimir Putin moves ‘swiftly’ on gun control after Russian school shooting

Putin moves ‘swiftly’ on gun control after Russian school shooting

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Medics and friends help a woman board an ambulance at a school after a shooting in Kazan, Russia, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Russian media report that several people have been killed and four wounded in a school shooting in the … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin will move “swiftly” on new measures to restrict gun ownership in his country following a mass shooting at a school Tuesday morning, top Russian officials said.
At least eight people were killed in the attack in the city of Kazan, with another 21 hospitalized.

The 19-year-old gunman reportedly received a firearms license just weeks ago.

The Kremlin said it will revisit rules and regulations around private gun ownership in Russia.

SEE ALSO: Shooting in Russia kills 7 kids, 1 teacher; suspect arrested

Mr. Putin has ordered top Russian officials to “hammer out a new regulation on the types of weapons which may be for civilian use and which may be in the possession of citizens, including the types of small arms which the gunman used,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

“The fact is that sometimes hunting weapons are registered as small arms, which in some countries are used as assault rifles, and so on. This, too, will be swiftly hammered out by the National Guard,” he said, as quoted by Russia‘s state-run TASS News Agency.

Shooting in Russia kills 7 kids, 1 teacher; suspect arrested

Shooting in Russia kills 7 kids, 1 teacher; suspect arrested

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Ambulances and police cars and a truck are parked at a school after a shooting in Kazan, Russia, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Russian media report that several people have been killed and wounded in a school shooting in the city … more >

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By Daria Litvinova

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — A gunman attacked a school Tuesday morning in the Russian city of Kazan, sending students running out of the building as smoke poured from its windows. At least eight people were killed in the attack — seven eighth-grade students and a teacher — and 21 others were hospitalized, Russian officials said.

Footage released by Russian media outlets showed students dressed in black and white running out of the building. Another video depicted shattered windows, billowing smoke and sounds resembling gunshots in the background. Dozens of ambulances lined up at the school’s entrance after the attack and police fenced off access to the building. 

Russian media said while some students were able to escape, others were trapped inside during the ordeal. All students were eventually evacuated to nearby day care centers and collected by their families. 

SEE ALSO: Putin moves ‘swiftly’ on gun control after Russian school shooting

Officials said the attacker has been arrested and police opened a criminal investigation into the shooting.

Rustam Minnikhanov, governor of the Tatarstan republic where Kazan is the capital, said four boys and three girls, all eighth-grade students, died in the shooting. His press service later said a teacher was also killed. 

“The terrorist has been arrested, (he is) 19 years old. A firearm is registered in his name. Other accomplices haven’t been established, an investigation is underway,” Minnikhanov said after visiting the school.

Authorities said additional security measures were immediately put into place in all schools in Kazan, a city 700 kilometers (430 miles) east of Moscow. They also announced a day of mourning on Wednesday to honor the victims of the shooting and said all lessons will be canceled in Kazan schools that day.

According to Tatarstan health officials, 21 people were hospitalized with wounds after the attack, including 18 children, six of whom were in “severely grave condition.” 
While school shootings are relatively rare in Russia, there have been several violent attacks on schools in recent years, mostly by students. 

Russian media said the shooter was a former student of the school who reportedly called himself “a god” on his account in the messaging app Telegram and promised to “kill a large amount of biomass” on the morning of the shooting. The account was blocked by Telegram after the attack, the independent news outlet Meduza said.

Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein said on Telegram that the man received his gun license less than two weeks ago. Khinshtein also said the school didn’t have any security aside from a panic button. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded, ordering the government to given them all the necessary assistance.

Putin also ordered Victor Zolotov, head of Russia’s National Guard, to revise regulations on the types of weapons allowed for civilian use in light of the attack. 

Russia’s Emergency Ministry sent a plane with doctors and medical equipment to Kazan and two leading officials, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko and Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov, also headed to the region.

Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency initially said 11 people had been killed in the Kazan shooting but later dropped that report.

Japan’s PM Yoshihide Suga: ‘I’ve never put the Olympics first’

Japan’s PM Suga: ‘I’ve never put the Olympics first’

60% of Japanese want Tokyo games canceled, new poll shows

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga responds to a reporter’s question after he spoke at a news conference in Tokyo on Friday, May 7, 2021. Suga announced an extension of a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas through May … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 10, 2021

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday he never put the Summer Games above the health of the population and insisted the International Olympic Committee has the final say over whether the Tokyo event proceeds.

His comments coincided with the release of a poll from the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper that found 60% of the population wants the games to be canceled.

“I’ve never put the Olympics first,” Mr. Suga said. “My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus.”

SEE ALSO: Olympic-sized battle looms over transgender athletes at Tokyo games

Yet Mr. Suga and the IOC have for months said they’re committed to holding the event from July 23 to Aug. 8, outlining a series of safety measures to deal with COVID-19. They barred foreign spectators and plan to test athletes regularly, among other measures.

Japan is under a state of emergency through May to combat transmission as its vaccination efforts lag far behind those of other developed nations.

For now, the IOC is pushing ahead with the games that were delayed a year.

Organizers say another delay would cause an Olympic pile-up. The 2022 Winter Games in Beijing are around the corner, and Paris will host the Summer Games in 2024.

David Attenborough to address leaders at UN climate summit

David Attenborough to address leaders at UN climate summit

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FILE – In this Thursday, Nov 8, 2018 file photo, Sir David Attenborough poses for photographers at Westminster Central Hall, London. Veteran British broadcaster David Attenborough has been appointed “People’s Advocate” at the COP26 global climate summit later this year, … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, May 10, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Veteran British broadcaster David Attenborough has been appointed the “people’s advocate” at the global climate summit this year, where he is expected to address political leaders about the need for urgent action to tackle the “crippling” threat of climate change.

The 95-year-old, best known for his documentaries on the natural world such as “Planet Earth,” said the coronavirus pandemic has shown how crucial it is to secure international agreements to solve worldwide problems.

“But the problems that await us within the next five to 10 years are even greater,” he said in a short video message Monday.

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Britain is hosting the United Nations’ COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked Attenborough for taking up the role, saying he has inspired millions with his TV work.

“There is no better person to build momentum for further change” ahead of the climate summit,” Johnson said.

As part of his role, Attenborough is also expected to speak at the G-7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall, southwestern England, next month.

Johnson’s government said last month it would commit to a tough new climate target, aiming to cut carbon emissions 78% of their 1990 levels by 2035. The new target, which will be enshrined in law, will include for the first time Britain’s share of emissions from international aviation and shipping.

Britain’s previous target was to slash emissions 68% by 2030, one of the most ambitious targets among developed nations.

___

Follow all AP stories on climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.

U.K. set to ease COVID-19 lockdown measures

U.K. set to ease COVID-19 lockdown measures

British PM Boris Johnson expected to allow pints in pubs, household mixing

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an elbow bump as he leaves after speaking to the media with Conservative Party candidate Jill Mortimer, not pictured, who won the Hartlepool by-election, at Hartlepool Marina, in Hartlepool, northeast England, Friday, May 7, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 10, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom on Monday as his government downgrades the risk of transmission.

Pubs will be able to serve customers indoors again and people will be able to meet in groups of 30 outdoors. Up to six people can mingle indoors instead of strictly adhering to their household “bubbles,” according to the BBC.

Hugs will be OK but should be brief and avoid face-to-face contact.

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Mr. Johnson and the U.K. are pivoting to sunnier days after imposing strict lockdowns to tame a fast-moving variant of the virus that also hit the U.S. and other countries.

More than half of the U.K. population has received at least one dose of a vaccine after the government decided to delay second doses by up to 12 weeks.

Europe’s soccer governing body will meet this week to decide if the May 29 Champions League final — a major event for club teams on the continent — should be moved from Istanbul to London because of travel restrictions as Turkey combats another wave of the virus.

Both teams in the final, Chelsea and Manchester City, are from England.

AP-NORC poll: Biden approval buoyed by his pandemic response

AP-NORC poll: Biden approval buoyed by his pandemic response

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FILE – In this May 5, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden takes questions from reporters as he speaks about the American Rescue Plan, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Biden is plunging into the … more >

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By JULIE PACE and HANNAH FINGERHUT

Associated Press

Monday, May 10, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is plunging into the next phase of his administration with the steady approval of a majority of Americans, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey shows Biden is buoyed in particular by the public’s broad backing for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the fourth month of his presidency, Biden‘s overall approval rating sits at 63%. When it comes to the new Democratic president’s handling of the pandemic, 71% of Americans approve, including 47% of Republicans.

The AP-NORC poll also shows an uptick in Americans’ overall optimism about the state of the country. Fifty-four percent say the country is on the right track, higher than at any point in AP-NORC polls conducted since 2017; 44% think the nation is on the wrong track.

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Those positive marks have fueled the Biden White House‘s confidence coming out of the president’s first 100 days in office, a stretch in which he secured passage of a sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package and surged COVID-19 vaccines across the country. The U.S., which has suffered the most virus deaths of any nation, is now viewed enviably by much of the rest of the world for its speedy vaccination program and robust supplies of the shots.

“We are turning a corner,” said Jeff Zients, the White House‘s COVID-19 response coordinator.

The improvements have also impacted Americans’ concerns about the virus. The AP-NORC poll shows the public’s worries about the pandemic are at their lowest level since February 2020, when the virus was first reaching the U.S. About half of Americans say they are at least somewhat worried that they or a relative could be infected with the virus, down from about 7 in 10 just a month earlier.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, there is a wide partisan gap in Americans’ views of pandemic risks. Among Democrats, 69% say they remain at least somewhat worried about being infected with the virus, compared with just 33% of Republicans.

Despite the overall positive assessments of Americans, Biden‘s advisers are well aware that the next phase of his presidency is potentially trickier. Vaccination rates have slowed, and the administration is grappling with how to persuade those who are reluctant to get the shots about their safety and efficacy.

Biden‘s legislative agenda for the rest of this year also faces obstacles on Capitol Hill. Republicans are resisting his calls for passing a sweeping infrastructure package, and there’s insufficient support among Democrats for overhauling Senate rules in a way that would allow the party to tackle changes to immigration policy, gun laws and voting rights on its own.

There are also potential warning signs emerging on the economy after a strong start to the year. A new government report out Friday showed employers added just 266,000 jobs in April, sharply lower than in March and far fewer than economists had expected. The slowdown was attributed to a multitude of factors, including nearly 3 million people reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus. Some businesses – and Republican lawmakers – also argue that a $300-a-week jobless benefit, paid for by the federal government, is discouraging some of the unemployed from taking new jobs.

Biden, however, argued that the report is an indication that more federal spending is needed to help bolster the economy. He’s pitched to Congress a $4 trillion package for spending on infrastructure, education and children, a measure many liberal Democrats say should be bigger and most Republicans argue is far too large.

“We never thought that after the first 50 or 60 days everything would be fine,” Biden said after Friday’s job report was released. “There’s more evidence our economy is moving in the right direction. But it’s clear we have a long way to go.”

What’s unclear is whether the employment slowdown will continue or how it will impact Americans’ views of Biden‘s handling of the economy. Ahead of Friday’s new jobs numbers, his approval rating on the economy stood at a solid 57%.

Compared with Biden‘s approval ratings on the pandemic, there is a starker partisan divide in views of his handling of the economy. Nearly all Democrats, 91%, back his economic stewardship, while just 19% of GOP voters do.

While the pandemic and the economy have dominated Biden‘s early months in office, other significant issues loom.

Immigration in particular has become a growing concern for the White House as it grapples with an increase in migration, including by unaccompanied minors, at the U.S. border with Mexico. Republicans have tried to tie the uptick to Biden‘s rollback of more stringent border policies enacted by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Immigration is also among Biden‘s lowest-rated issues in the AP-NORC survey. Overall, 43% approve of his handling of the issue, while 54% disapprove.

The president also receives lower marks on gun policy, which has catapulted back to the forefront of the national debate following a string of mass shootings across the country. Americans are largely split over Biden‘s approach to the issue, with 48% approving and 49% disapproving.

The next phase of Biden‘s presidency is also likely to include more action on foreign policy. He announced that all U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by September, and American negotiators have resumed discussions with Iran on a new nuclear agreement. The White House has also signaled that Biden may hold his first in-person meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this summer.

Thus far, a slim majority of Americans, 54%, say they approve of Biden‘s foreign policy.

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The AP-NORC poll of 1,842 adults was conducted April 29-May 3 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.