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Shanghai reaffirms ‘zero-COVID’; WHO says not sustainable

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BEIJING (AP) — Shanghai reaffirmed China’s strict “zero-COVID” approach to pandemic control Wednesday, a day after the head of the World Health Organization said that was not sustainable and urged China to change strategies.

While China’s largest city has seen progress in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak, any relaxation in prevention and control measures could allow it to rebound, deputy director of Shanghai’s Center for Disease Control Wu Huanyu told reporters.

“At the same time, now is also the most difficult and critical moment for our city to achieve zero-COVID,” Wu said at a daily briefing.

“Should we relax our vigilance, the epidemic may rebound, so it is necessary to persistently implement the prevention and control work without relaxing,” he said.

Wu gave no indication he was aware of the comments by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he had been holding discussions with Chinese experts on the need to transition to a new approach in light of new knowledge about the virus.

“When we talk about the ‘zero-COVID,’ we don’t think that it’s sustainable, considering the behavior of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future,” Tedros said at a news briefing Tuesday.

“And especially when we have now a good knowledge, understanding of the virus and when we have good tools to use, transitioning to another strategy will be very important,” he said.

Tedros was joined by Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, who said all pandemic control actions should “show due respect to individual and human rights.”

Countries need to “balance the control measures, the impact on society, the impact on the economy. That is not always an easy calibration to make,” Ryan said.

China’s ruling Communist Party has strictly controlled all discussion about its controversial approach, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks, and said it would tolerate no criticism. The entirely state-controlled media did not report on the comments by Tedros and Ryan and references to them on the Chinese internet appeared to have been removed by censors.

The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-COVID has stirred considerable resentment in Shanghai, where some residents have been under lockdown for more than a month. As of Wednesday, more than 2 million people in the city remained confined to their residential compounds, while restrictions had been slightly relaxed for most of the other 23 million.

However, the easing appears to now be on hold, even as the number of new cases falls in the city that is home to China’s busiest port, main stock market and thousands of Chinese and foreign firms.

Teams in white protective suits have begun entering the homes of infected people to spray disinfectant, prompting worries about damage to property. Residents have in some cases been ordered to leave their keys with a community volunteer when they are taken to quarantine so disinfectant workers can get in, a new requirement that has no apparent legal basis.

People in some areas have been ordered to stay home again after having been let out for limited shopping in recent weeks. On Tuesday, service was suspended on the last two subway lines that were still operating.

Complaints have centered on shortages of food and other daily necessities and the forced removal of thousands of people to quarantine centers after having tested positive or having been in contact with an infected person, standard procedure in China’s zero-COVID approach.

Along with the human cost, the adherence to “zero-COVID” as many other countries loosen restrictions and try to live with the virus is exacting a growing economic toll.

However, the party under leader Xi Jinping shows no sign of backing off amid efforts to ensure stability and shore up its authority ahead of a major party congress this fall.

Chinese experts such as Wu have been careful to toe the party line, saying the strategy has been effective in limiting the official death toll to slightly over 5,000 over the course of the entire pandemic, according to the government’s National Health Commission, and that any let-up risks sparking a major new surge.

Ryan gave China’s death toll as just over 15,000 and the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource center offers a figure of 14,538.

The daily number of new cases in Shanghai reported on Wednesday had fallen to less than 1,500, down from a peak of 26,000 in mid-April. Seven more COVID-19-related deaths were reported, raising the toll from the outbreak to 560.

While China says more than 88% of its population is fully vaccinated, the rate is considerably lower among the vulnerable elderly. Questions have also been raised about the efficacy of Chinese-produced vaccines compared to those from Europe and the United States.

In the capital Beijing, residents have been ordered to undergo mass testing in a bid to prevent a major outbreak like that in Shanghai. The city, which reported 37 new cases on Wednesday, has locked down individual buildings and residential compounds, shut about 60 subway stations and banned dining at restaurants, allowing only takeout and delivery.

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Poilievre among those marching with soldier charged for criticizing vaccine mandates

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre joined the final leg of a march led by a Canadian soldier charged for speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine requirements that has sparked promises⁠ — and fears — of a new wave of protests in the capital.

James Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform, and has since been leading a four-month march to the capital from Vancouver.

His march has been supported by many of the same figures involved in the “Freedom Convoy” that snarled downtown Ottawa for weeks until police used force to end what they and the government described as an illegal occupation.

His arrival in the capital and promises of a new round of protests starting Canada Day have set residents on edge. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city’s interim police chief, Steve Bell, have promised to crack down on any illegal activity.

Poilievre walked alongside Topp for about half an hour after the two met in the parking lot of a strip mall west of downtown Ottawa shortly before noon, where hundreds of people had gathered to see the army reservist.

Video of the meeting shows Poilievre citing to Topp a famous quote by then-prime minister John Diefenbaker about being a “free Canadian” when the latter signed the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960, before expressing his opposition to vaccine mandates.

When Topp says he wants the reinstatement and reparations for anyone who lost their job because of vaccine mandates, Poilievre said: “Everybody who lost their job simply because of a COVID mandate should be restored to their job, no question about it.”

The two also spoke about the divisions within Canada, with Poilievre saying: “People are desperate for hope … I think it’s time to put this country back together, and heal the wounds and reunite our country.”

The two were then followed by about 200 supporters, many of them carrying Canadian flags and some sporting camouflaged backpacks and other gear, as they walked down the sidewalk of a major street for about half an hour before Poilievre left.

Poilievre’s appearance with Topp comes as the presumed Conservative leadership front-runner has been accused of unabashedly cozying up to anti-vaccine protesters and other groups associated with the “Freedom Convoy.”

Topp has said he has no plans to lead an occupation of the capital, and invited Ottawa police to work with him to facilitate his march through the city to the National War Memorial.

However, an organizer for a group calling itself Veterans 4 Freedom said in a recent video posted to YouTube that it plans to set up a semi-permanent camp east of Ottawa called “Camp Eagle” and hold events in the city all summer.

While police have since managed to prevent similar protests from taking over the city, stopping planned demonstrations from getting out of hand during Canada Day is likely to be complicated by the presence of thousands of people celebrating the holiday.

The charges against Topp relate to two videos posted online in the winter in which the army reservist appears in uniform criticizing vaccine requirements for military personnel and other federal employees.

Canadian Armed Forces members are severely restricted in the comments they can make while in uniform, particularly when it comes to criticizing government policies, in large part to protect the military from any perception of politicization.

His lawyer has argued such restrictions should not apply to policies that affect Armed Forces members personally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said police are taking their responsibility to keep people safe during Canada Day celebrations “very seriously,” while Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on those intending to protest in Ottawa to respect the law.

“Folks, be considerate this weekend, you’re going to Ottawa, be considerate. It’s Canada Day, we’re Canadians, just everyone have a good time, a safe time, stay healthy and safe and spend time with your families,” Ford said.

Ford said he is disappointed to see such protests return to the capital.

“I’m all for peaceful protests and you can demonstrate, but no shenanigans this weekend, just be peaceful and let the people of Ottawa enjoy their weekend,” he said.

“Honestly, we shouldn’t even be going through this. It’s disappointing, but it is what it is.”

More than two dozen Conservative MPs hosted Topp and other leading figures in the Freedom Convoy on Parliament Hill last week, posing for pictures, promising their support and listening to a lecture on the purported dangers of COVID-19 vaccines.

Health Canada says only vaccines that meet strict safety, efficacy and quality standards are approved for use in the country, and the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of the disease. About 85 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose.

Topp told the MPs that he was marching in part to get all vaccine mandates repealed, as well as to demand the reinstatement of anyone who lost their job because of such a requirement and compensation for wages lost.

At the same time, he and the others raised the spectre of civil war in describing the state of the country.

“We won’t be intimidated by any group that plans to disrupt the celebrations,” Mayor Jim Watson said during a briefing earlier this week. “We’re prepared and we will not tolerate any illegal activity by anyone.”

Bell said police are prepared for a number of different scenarios, and will respond quickly to any illegal activity, including efforts to set up structures such as stages.

In late April, the Ottawa Police Services Board approved a request from Bell to appoint up to 831 RCMP officers to help with the Rolling Thunder motorcycle events, and made those appointments valid until July 4.

The city is warning that vehicles will be ticketed and towed if they’re found violating no-stopping zones, although the full extent of the areas that will be off limits has not been determined.

Many Ottawa residents remain angry at how the city and police handled the “Freedom Convoy” protests, with several community groups banding together to launch a citizens’ inquiry into how that protest was handled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

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Soldier charged for criticizing vaccine mandates arrives in Ottawa amid protest fears

Published on

By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

A Canadian soldier charged for speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine requirements will march through Ottawa on Thursday, kicking off what organizers are promising — and residents fear — will be a new wave of protests throughout the summer.

Army reservist James Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform, and has since been leading a four-month march to the capital from Vancouver.

His march has been supported by many of the same figures involved in the “Freedom Convoy” that snarled downtown Ottawa for weeks until police used force to end what they and the government described as an illegal occupation.

His arrival in the capital and promises of a new round of protests starting Canada Day have set residents on edge. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city’s interim police chief, Steve Bell, have promised to crack down on any illegal activity.

More than two dozen Conservative MPs hosted Topp and other leading figures in the Freedom Convoy on Parliament Hill last week, posing for pictures, promising their support and listening to a lecture on the purported dangers of COVID-19 vaccines.

Health Canada says only vaccines that meet strict safety, efficacy and quality standards are approved for use in the country, and the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of the disease. About 85 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose.

Topp told the MPs that he was marching in part to get all vaccine mandates repealed, as well as to demand the reinstatement of anyone who lost their job because of such a requirement and compensation for wages lost.

At the same time, he and the others raised the spectre of civil war in describing the state of the country.

The charges against Topp relate to two videos posted online in the winter in which the army reservist appears in uniform criticizing vaccine requirements for military personnel and other federal employees.

Canadian Armed Forces members are severely restricted in the comments they can make while in uniform, particularly when it comes to criticizing government policies, in large part to protect the military from any perception of politicization.

His lawyer has argued such restrictions should not apply to policies that affect Armed Forces members personally.

Topp has said he has no plans to lead an occupation of the capital, and invited Ottawa police to work with him to facilitate his planned march through the city to the National War Memorial.

However, an organizer for a group calling itself Veterans 4 Freedom said in a recent video posted to YouTube that it plans to set up a semi-permanent camp east of Ottawa called “Camp Eagle” and hold events in the city all summer.

While police have since managed to prevent similar protests from taking over the city, stopping planned demonstrations from getting out of hand during Canada Day is likely to be complicated by the presence of thousands of people celebrating the holiday.

“We won’t be intimidated by any group that plans to disrupt the celebrations,” Mayor Jim Watson said during a briefing earlier this week. “We’re prepared and we will not tolerate any illegal activity by anyone.”

Bell said police are prepared for a number of different scenarios, and will respond quickly to any illegal activity, including efforts to set up structures such as stages.

In late April, the Ottawa Police Services Board approved a request from Bell to appoint up to 831 RCMP officers to help with the Rolling Thunder motorcycle events, and made those appointments valid until July 4.

The city is warning that vehicles will be ticketed and towed if they’re found violating no-stopping zones, although the full extent of the areas that will be off limits has not been determined.

Many Ottawa residents remain angry at how the city and police handled the “Freedom Convoy” protests, with several community groups banding together to launch a citizens’ inquiry into how that protest was handled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

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