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COVID-19

China lockdown protests pause as police flood city streets

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By Kanis Leung And Zen Soo in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — With police out in force, there was no word of additional protests against strict government anti-pandemic measures Tuesday in Beijing, as temperatures fell well below freezing. Shanghai, Nanjing and other cities where online calls to gather had been issued were also reportedly quiet.

Rallies against China’s unusually strict anti-virus measures spread to several cities over the weekend in the biggest show of opposition to the ruling Communist Party in decades. Authorities eased some regulations, apparently to try to quell public anger, but the government showed no sign of backing down on its larger coronavirus strategy, and analysts expect authorities to quickly silence the dissent.

In Hong Kong Monday, about 50 students from mainland China sang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and some lit candles in a show of support for those in mainland cities who demonstrated against restrictions that have confined millions to their homes. Hiding their faces to avoid official retaliation, the students chanted, “No PCR tests but freedom!” and “Oppose dictatorship, don’t be slaves!”

The gathering and a similar one elsewhere in Hong Kong were the biggest protests there in more than a year under rules imposed to crush a pro-democracy movement in the territory, which is Chinese but has a separate legal system from the mainland.

“I’ve wanted to speak up for a long time, but I did not get the chance to,” said James Cai, a 29-year-old from Shanghai who attended a Hong Kong protest and held up a piece of white paper, a symbol of defiance against the ruling party’s pervasive censorship. ”If people in the mainland can’t tolerate it anymore, then I cannot as well.”

It wasn’t clear how many people have been detained since the protests began in the mainland Friday, sparked by anger over the deaths of 10 people in a fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi. That prompted angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls. Authorities denied that, but the incident became a target for public frustration about the controls.

Without mentioning the protests, the criticism of Xi or the fire, some local authorities eased restrictions Monday.

The city government of Beijing announced it would no longer set up gates to block access to apartment compounds where infections are found.

“Passages must remain clear for medical transportation, emergency escapes and rescues,” said Wang Daguang, a city official in charge of epidemic control, according to the official China News Service.

Guangzhou, a manufacturing and trade center that is the biggest hot spot in China’s latest wave of infections, announced some residents will no longer be required to undergo mass testing.

The U.S. Embassy advised citizens to prepare for all eventualities and said Ambassador Nicholas Burns and other American diplomats have “regularly raised our concerns on many of these issues directly.”

“We encourage all U.S. citizens to keep a 14-day supply of medications, bottled water, and food for yourself and any members of your household,” the Embassy said in a statement Monday.

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby “obviously, there are people in China that — that have — have concerns about that,” referring to lockdowns.

“And they’re protesting that, and we believe they should be able to do that peacefully,” Kirby said at a Monday briefing.

Urumqi, where the fire occurred, and another city in the Xinjiang region in the northwest announced markets and other businesses in areas deemed at low risk of infection would reopen this week and public bus service would resume.

“Zero COVID,” which aims to isolate every infected person, has helped to keep China’s case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries. But tolerance for the measures has flagged as people in some areas have been confined at home for up to four months and say they lack reliable access to food and medical supplies.

The ruling party promised last month to reduce disruption by changing quarantine and other rules known as the “20 Guidelines.” But a spike in infections has prompted cities to tighten controls.

On Tuesday, the number of daily cases dipped slightly to 38,421 after setting new records over recent days. Of those, 34,860 were among people who showed no symptoms.

The ruling party newspaper People’s Daily called for its anti-virus strategy to be carried out effectively, indicating Xi’s government has no plans to change course.

“Facts have fully proved that each version of the prevention and control plan has withstood the test of practice,” a People’s Daily commentator wrote.

In Hong Kong, protesters at Chinese University put up posters that said, “Do Not Fear. Do Not Forget. Do Not Forgive,” and sang including “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Miserables.” Most hid their faces behind blank white sheets of paper.

“I want to show my support,” said a 24-year-old mainland student who would identify herself only as G for fear of retaliation. “I care about things that I couldn’t get to know in the past.”

University security guards videotaped the event but there was no sign of police.

At an event in Central, a business district, about four dozen protesters held up blank sheets of paper and flowers in what they said was mourning for the fire victims in Urumqi and others who have died as a result of “zero COVID” policies.

Police cordoned off an area around protesters, who stood in small, separate groups to avoid violating pandemic rules that bar gatherings of more than 12 people. Police took identity details of participants but there were no arrests.

Hong Kong has tightened security controls and rolled back Western-style civil liberties since China launched a campaign in 2019 to crush a pro-democracy movement. The territory has its own anti-virus strategy that is separate from the mainland.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee is a law-and-order hardliner who led the crackdown on protesters, including on university campuses.

Both the Hong Kong government and the State Council, China’s Cabinet, issued statements Monday pledging to uphold public order and the authority of the National Security Law, which gives authorities sweeping powers to charge demonstrators with crimes including sedition.

Protests also occurred over the weekend in Guangzhou near Hong Kong, Chengdu and Chongqing in the southwest, and Nanjing in the east, according to witnesses and video on social media. Guangzhou has seen earlier violent confrontations between police and residents protesting quarantines.

Most protesters have complained about excessive restrictions, but some turned their anger at Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s. In a video that was verified by The Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!”

The British Broadcasting Corp. said one of its reporters was beaten, kicked, handcuffed and detained for several hours by Shanghai police but later released.

The BBC criticized what it said was Chinese authorities’ explanation that its reporter was detained to prevent him from contracting the coronavirus from the crowd. “We do not consider this a credible explanation,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said the BBC reporter failed to identify himself and “didn’t voluntarily present” his press credential.

“Foreign journalists need to consciously follow Chinese laws and regulations,” Zhao said.

Swiss broadcaster RTS said its correspondent and a cameraman were detained while doing a live broadcast but released a few minutes later. An AP journalist was detained but later released.

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Associated Press writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed.

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COVID-19

Whistleblower shares his role in “Covert military operation observing UK citizens during the pandemic”

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From Dr. John Campbell

In his video presentation Monday, British Health Researcher Dr. John Campbell took a break from his daily dive into the data. Instead he highlighted a breaking news story in the UK about a secret military operation.

A former member of the “77th Brigade” told Britain’s Daily Mail he was brought in to serve on the unit during the pandemic. Although their official task was to uncover foreign interference, the whistleblower says they spent their time monitoring “our own concerned citizens” who were criticizing lockdown policies and other government responses to the pandemic.

While there may have actually been some foreign social media campaigns attempting to sway opinions in Britain, the 77th Brigade instead “compiled dossiers on public figures such as ex-Minister David Davis”, as well as journalists Peter Hitchens and Toby Young.

The information compiled by the 77th Bridage was “reported back to No 10.” The whistleblower says government ministers then pushed social media platforms to remove or downplay this information and “promote Government-approved lines.”

This is all very disconcerting for Dr. Campbell who has found some of his own posts during the pandemic have been deleted.  Campbell finds the government’s effort to thwart a healthy learning environment extremely disturbing.

Dr. John Campbell’s presentation notes with links

The 77th Brigade is part of the British Army

https://www.army.mod.uk/who-we-are/fo…

77th Brigade is an agent of change; through targeted Information Activity and Outreach we contribute to the success of military objectives

Mail on Sunday and Big Brother Watch, official government admission

Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRRGQ…

Up front I would say that our role has been entirely in support of the heroic health care workers on the front line, with humility being very much our watchword in how we give that support.

https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/77th-…

Last year, Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter revealed that, 77th Brigade was involved in countering misinformation online relating to Coronavirus

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023…

The Army’s “information warfare” unit Monitored covid lockdown critics

The 77th Brigade, specialist to counter disinformation, and other online activity deemed harmful to the UK, assisted other government units Such as The Counter Disinformation Unit, was part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)

The Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit, launched in March 2020

Social media posts were scrutinised for accuracy

Mail on Sunday (whistleblower) It is quite obvious that our activities resulted in the monitoring of the UK population … monitoring the social media posts of ordinary, scared people These posts did not contain information that was untrue or co-ordinated – it was simply fear I developed the impression the Government were more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering any potential foreign interference

A government spokesman

Online disinformation is a serious threat to the UK, which is why during the pandemic we brought together expertise from across Government to monitor disinformation about Covid. They did not target individuals or take any action that could impact anyone’s ability to discuss and debate issues freely.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti…

Targeted politicians and high-profile journalists

They compiled dossiers on public figures, such as ex-Minister David Davis, who questioned the modelling behind alarming death toll predictions, as well as journalists such as Peter Hitchens and Toby Young.

Their dissenting views were then reported back to No 10.

Mr Hitchens

Military operatives compiled dossiers on journalists including the Mail’s Peter Hitchens Mr Davis, (member of the Privy Council)

It’s outrageous that people questioning the Government’s policies were subject to covert surveillance

Questioned the waste of public money.

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COVID-19

Preston Manning stepping away from National Citizen’s Inquiry to focus on the Alberta Public Health review

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From the National Citizen’s Inquiry

The National Citizen’s Inquiry (NCI) – a citizen-led inquiry into Canada’s response to COVID-19 – is finalizing plans to hold hearings across the country. With two of five commissioners now in place, the inquiry has booked its first two events – in Atlantic Canada and Central Canada.

Across the country, we are seeing more and more clear signals that Canadians are not only ready to ask the hard questions about how our governments reacted to this pandemic, but also require the answers.

Nation-wide concern

Another Liberal minister has said the quiet part out loud. Former Finance Minister Bill Morneau joined his one-time colleagues Joel Lightbound, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Marcus Powlowski, John McKay and Yves Robillard in expressing dismay that the Trudeau Liberals used vaccine mandates as a political wedge issue, an approach that “stigmatizes and divides people” as Lightbound put it.

In fact, after two years of vaccine distribution, the state broadcaster this week also published one of its first articles chronicling widespread vaccine injuries. The article acknowledged that those suffering from adverse effects also deal with “silence” and “stigma” as a result of the overly politicized tone set by Ottawa.

In Ontario, 164 former health care workers rallied to let the public know that, while the provincial health care system buckles under immense pressure and nurses are shipped in from other parts of Canada, there are hundreds of workers that were terminated because of vaccination mandates – and to the surprise of most – they are still not permitted to resume their careers.

In Alberta, Premier Danielle Smith has commissioned a Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel which will “review the legislation that guided Alberta’s response to COVID-19 and recommend changes to improve the handling of future public health emergencies for Albertans.”

NCI Spokesperson

On that note, Preston Manning will be stepping away from his role as spokesperson for the NCI to chair the Alberta review. The NCI welcomes this positive initiative by Premier Smith and believes the people of Alberta will be well-served by the appointment of Mr. Manning as Chair. Taking over for Manning is acclaimed investigative journalist Trish Wood. Wood worked for 10 years on CBC’s Emmy Award-winning Fifth Estate before exposing the heartbreaking stories of Iraq War veterans in What Was Asked of Us and later pioneering the modern renaissance of true-crime storytelling. This experience has allowed her to hone the kind of unapologetic critical thinking and investigative skills that she will bring to bear in this role.

Hearing Details

Plans for the Inquiry’s in-person hearings – supplemented by virtual participation – are now being finalized. The first hearings will be in Atlantic Canada e.g. Truro/Nova Scotia, March 16,17,18 and Montreal/Quebec, 22, 23, and 24 of March.

Additionally, the Inquiry has appointed its first two commissioners. They are Bernard Massie and Ken Drysdale.

Invitations will soon be sent to government officials at all levels across the country. These individuals will be invited to provide their perspectives and reflect on the decisions that were made.

Invitations are also extended to experts in the areas of economics; health care; mental and physical wellbeing; constitutional expertise; learning; and any other area significantly affected by pandemic response at any level. The Inquiry is also welcoming non-experts with personal stories that will help illuminate any unarticulated and overlooked shortcomings in the government responses. As demonstrated in the article reference above, there are many Canadians who feel silenced and stigmatized. 

Take the example of Christian and Margarita

Immigrants from Mexico, they chose to start a life and a family here in Canada. Christian holds a PhD and was a lecturer at a prominent Canadian university. His wife was a program manager for a regional health authority.

After soberly considering their risk profile against the available data, as well as suspecting that the mRNA vaccination was incompatible with aspects of their faith, they chose to wait.

And in their situation, we see the unfortunate cascading effects of these poorly considered policies, developed in bureaucratic silos.

Christian and his wife – who worked from home, incidentally – were both put on indefinite administrative leave by their employers. Both streams of household income effectively removed.

And because of the Federal government’s policies, they were also deemed ineligible for any employment insurance.

Being immigrants, they also did not have family around them. In fact, their main community connections were from a church they attended. Unfortunately, they were also no longer allowed to attend worship services because of the imposition of the vaccine passport program by the provincial government.

At the time this happened, Christian and Margarita were also living on an island. Federal travel mandates left them effectively stranded.

In the span of a month, these highly skilled individuals – who had made Canada their new home – lost all income; were disqualified from any social assistance; lost their primary community support system; and could not even get on a plane to leave.

Now Christian and Margarita are in the process of returning to Mexico, where they have more confidence that the government will leave them in peace.

It is stories like this that will not be heard at an internal meeting between government officials and senior bureaucrats. It is stories like this that demand a citizen’s inquiry.

About the National Citizen’s Inquiry

NCI is a citizen-led and citizen-funded initiative that is completely independent from government. In early 2023, the NCI will hear from Canadians and experts and investigate governments’ COVID-19 policies in a fair and impartial manner. The NCI’s purpose is to listen, to learn, and to recommend. What went right? What went wrong? How can Canadians and our governments better react to national crises in the future in a manner that balances the interests of all members of our society?

 

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