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Thousands of Hong Kongers locked down to contain coronavirus

HONG KONG (AP) — Thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening outbreak in the city, authorities said.Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. Over 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40% of the city’s total. Coronavirus cases in Hong Kong’s Yau Tsim Mong district – a working-class neighborhood with old buildings and subdivided flats – made up about half of the infections in the past week. Sewage testing in the area picked up more concentrated traces of the COVID-19 virus, prompting concerns that poorly built plumbing systems and a lack of ventilation in subdivided units may present a possible path for the virus to spread.Authorities said in a statement Saturday that an area comprising 16 buildings in Yau Tsim Mong will be locked down until all residents have undergone tests. Residents will not be allowed to leave their homes until they have received their test results to prevent cross-infection.“Persons subject to compulsory testing are required to stay in their premises until all such persons identified in the area have undergone testing and the test results are mostly ascertained,” the government said in a statement.Hong Kong has previously avoided lockdowns in the city during the pandemic, with leader Carrie Lam stating in July last year that authorities will avoid taking such “extreme measures” unless it had no other choice.The restrictions, which were announced at 4 a.m. in Hong Kong, are expected to end within 48 hours, the government said.It appealed to employers to exercise discretion and avoid docking the salary of employees who have been affected by the restrictions and may not be able to go to work.Hong Kong has seen a total of 9,929 infections in the city, with 168 deaths recorded as of Friday.

Speculation over Tokyo Olympics: 2021, 2032 or not at all?

GENEVA (AP) — Just about everybody, especially the organizers in Japan and Switzerland, want the Tokyo Olympics to open on July 23 — as scheduled.And yet, 2021 is starting on a similar path that led to the decision last March to postpone the games for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee moved quickly Friday to dismiss a report by The Times of London that quoted an anonymous government official claiming it has been concluded the games will be canceled.“Categorically untrue,” Japan’s government said in a statement endorsed by the IOC.The same unidentified government official said Tokyo could instead host in 2032, after Paris and Los Angeles take their turns in 2024 and 2028, respectively.It follows surveys suggesting Japanese people feel less and less enthusiastic about an Olympics already costing the host nation about $25 billion of mostly public money.When will the Tokyo Olympics be held, if at all?CANCELLATION?Speculation was fueled this month when Japan’s government put Tokyo under a state of emergency order to curb a surge of COVID-19 cases. The virus is resistant to being brought under control worldwide. Its future path is uncertain as more transmissible mutant strains emerge. Vaccination programs have been slower than hoped for in some wealthier countries that secured significant numbers of doses.If an unwanted cancellation decision must be made, it should be led by Japanese authorities. The United Nations could be asked to help, a veteran IOC official suggested this month.If clarity is needed soon, with more than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes due to compete in Tokyo, March has key dates in the Olympic calendar.The IOC has meetings scheduled March 7-12 in Athens, Greece, if such gatherings are possible. The full membership is set to re-elect Thomas Bach unopposed for a second presidential term.On March 25, the torch relay is due to start in Japan. It will involve 10,000 runners across the country. The postponement last March was announced two days before the torch relay was to start.2021?It’s this year or never: So runs the consistent message out of Tokyo and the IOC’s home city of Lausanne, Switzerland. “There is no Plan B,” Bach told the Japanese news agency Kyodo on Thursday.However, he also insisted last year there would be no postponement, and it soon became inevitable.For the games to go ahead as planned, the travel, quarantine and safe conduct rules will be strict. These would apply also to any fans allowed to enter venues.Organizers plan to publish within weeks “Playbooks” that “outline the personal responsibilities each person attending the games must follow,” the International Paralympic Committee said Friday. The Tokyo Paralympics start Aug. 24.2022?There was support last year in Japan for a two-year postponement direct to 2022.One factor tempts some to think 2022 is open: There is no soccer World Cup in its usual June-July slot.The other global sports behemoth was moved in 2015 by FIFA to play in Qatar from Nov. 21-Dec. 18 next year.Postponing again would inconvenience two key Olympic sports that already moved their 2021 world championships to make space for Tokyo.The swimming worlds are now in May 2022 in Fukuoka, Japan. Track and field’s worlds are now in July 2022 at Eugene, Oregon.A bigger barrier to this option is the extra costs and fatigue in Japan of extending contracts for one more year. For staff, venue rentals, hotels and, crucially, the athlete village.Owners of pre-sold apartments in the 5,600-unit complex are already being compensated for waiting one more year to access their property.2032?The next available slot in the four-year Summer Games cycle is 2032, after Paris and Los Angeles.Could Tokyo be offered it to cancel this year and re-start in several years’ time? That would upset would-be hosts already talking to the IOC.An Australian bid centered on Brisbane is a front-runner in a new process that aims to be more pro-active and cut costs. The is promoted by Australian Olympic official John Coates, a key Bach ally. FINANCESFinancial implications for Olympic stakeholders of canceling Tokyo are huge though likely not crippling.The IOC earned $5.7 billion in the four years to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and would have expected more from Tokyo.Broadcast and sponsor deals are at risk, though the IOC has strong relationships with long-term commercial partners.The most consequential deal, NBC’s broadcast rights in the United States, is worth $7.75 billion through the 2032 Summer Games.The IOC was insured against a cancellation in 2020 but that policy did not cover a postponement. It does have substantial reserves, including an Olympic Foundation portfolio worth $989 million according to the published accounts for 2019. The fund’s purpose includes “to cover the IOC’s operating cash requirements in the event of a cancellation of any future Olympic Games.”The IOC is due to share about $600 million among 27 sports as their share of its Tokyo Olympics revenue.Canceling Tokyo is a big hit for some of those governing bodies, though most have their own reserves. They also had access to loans from the IOC and government of Switzerland, where most are based. ___More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Talks between Indian farmers, government reach stalemate

NEW DELHI (AP) — Talks between leaders of protesting farmers and the Indian government ended abruptly in a stalemate Friday when the agriculture minister said he had nothing more to offer than an 18-month suspension of contentious agricultural reform laws.Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar asked the farmers to reconsider their rejection of a government offer two days ago to set up a committee to look into their concerns about the laws, which have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years.The farmers’ organizations announced Thursday that they would not accept anything other than the repeal of the three laws. No date was set for another round of talks between the government and protest leaders. Tomar told reporters that he is ready to meet again if they decide to accept the government proposal.Tens of thousands of farmers have been blocking key highways connecting the capital with the country’s north for nearly two months and have threatened to intensify their protest by organizing a massive tractor rally in New Delhi during Republic Day celebrations next Tuesday.Shiv Kumar Kakkar, a farmer leader, complained that police have been issuing threats to the farmers to call off their protest.Farmers say the legislation passed by Parliament in September will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture, make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed and devastate their earnings.The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment. It has repeatedly ruled out withdrawing the legislation but says it could make some amendments.

Japanese husband baffled by wife’s ‘special homemade meal’

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Making a homemade meal can ensure your family eats fresh ingredients while adding some fun to your family's lunchtime....

Japan vaccination uncertainty casts doubts over Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — Japan is publicly adamant that it will stage its postponed Olympics this summer. But to pull it off, many believe the vaccination of its 127 million citizens for the coronavirus is key. It's an immense undertaking in the best of circumstances and complicated now by an overly cautious decision-making process, bureaucratic roadblocks and a public that has long been deeply wary of vaccines. Japan hopes to start COVID-19 vaccinations in late February, but uncertainty is growing that a nation ranked among the world’s lowest in vaccine confidence can pull off the massive, $14 billion project in time for the games in July, casting doubt on whether the Tokyo Olympics can happen.Japan has secured vaccines for all its citizens, and then some, after striking deals with three foreign pharmaceutical makers — Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca and Moderna Inc. Its swift action was seen as proof of its resolve to stage the games after a one-year postponement because of the pandemic. The country needs foreign-made vaccines because local development is only in its early stages.Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in a speech this week, said vaccines are “the clincher” in the fight against the pandemic and vowed to start vaccinations as soon as late February, when health ministry approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the first applicant, is expected.Suga pledged to provide "accurate information based on scientific findings, including side effects and efficacy,” an attempt to address the worries of vaccine skeptics. Under the current plan, inoculations will start with 10,000 front-line medical workers. Then about 3 million other medical workers will be added ahead of high-risk groups such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and caregivers. The rest of the population is expected to get access around May or later, though officials refuse to give an exact timeline.Japan is under a partial state of emergency and struggling with an upsurge of infections. There have been about 351,000 cases, with 4,800 deaths, according to the health ministry. Many people are skeptical of the vaccination effort, partly because side effects of vaccines have often been played up here. A recent survey on TBS television found only 48% of respondents said they wanted a COVID-19 vaccination. In a Lancet study of 149 countries published in September, Japan ranked among the lowest in vaccine confidence, with less than 25% of people agreeing on vaccine safety, importance and effectiveness. Many Japanese have a vague unease about vaccines, said Dr. Takashi Nakano, a Kawasaki Medical School professor and vaccine expert. “If something (negative) happens after inoculation, people tend to think it’s because of the vaccine, and that’s the image stuck in their mind for a long time.” The history of vaccine mistrust in Japan dates back to 1948, when dozens of babies died after getting a faulty diphtheria vaccine. In 1989, cases of aseptic meningitis in children who received a combined vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, prompted lawsuits against the government, forcing it to scrap the mix four years later. A 1992 court ruling held the government liable for adverse reactions linked to several vaccines, while defining suspected side effects as adverse events, but without sufficient scientific evidence, experts say. In a major change to its policy, Japan in 1994 revised its vaccination law to scrap mandatory inoculation. While several Japanese companies and research organizations are currently developing their own coronavirus vaccines, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. will distribute the Moderna vaccine and produce the Novavax vaccine in Japan.Masayuki Imagawa, head of Takeda's Japan vaccine business unit, said his company last year considered developing its own vaccine. But instead it decided to prioritize speed and chose to import Moderna's product and make the Novavax vaccine at Takeda's factory in Japan. He said the decision was not influenced by the Olympics.Experts also worry about running into logistical challenges and bureaucratic roadblocks in staging a massive inoculation project that involves five government ministries along with local towns and cities. The government has budgeted more than 1.5 trillion yen ($14 billion) for the vaccine project.Thousands of medical workers would have to be mobilized to give the shots, monitor and respond in case of any problems. Securing their help is difficult when hospitals are already burdened with treatment of COVID-19 patients, said Hitoshi Iwase, an official in Tokyo's Sumida district tasked with preparing vaccinations for 275,000 residents. While vaccines are considered key to achieving the games, Prime Minister Suga said they won't be required.“We will prepare for a safe and secure Olympics without making vaccination a precondition,” Suga said Thursday, responding to a call by opposition lawmakers for a further postponement or cancellation of the games to concentrate on virus measures.Uncertainty over vaccine safety and efficacy make it difficult to predict when Japan can obtain wide enough immunity to the coronavirus to control the pandemic.“It is inappropriate to push vaccinations to hold the Olympics,” said Dr. Tetsuo Nakayama, a professor at Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences. "Vaccines should be used to protect the people’s health, not to achieve the Olympics.” ___Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

AP PHOTOS: Long lines as Beijing expands mass COVID testing

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing has ordered more coronavirus tests for about 2 million people in its downtown area after new cases were reported in the Chinese capital. The city health department said all residents of the Xicheng and Dongcheng districts are required to undergo testing on Friday and Saturday. Results are usually delivered by smartphone app within a few hours. In one neighborhood in Dongcheng, several thousand people lined up in freezing temperatures around a corner and down several blocks, waiting to enter a building for testing. They included a group of street sweepers who stood out in their high-visibility red and green uniforms from others wearing dark winter jackets. Everyone wore a mask. Compulsory testing has been a key feature of China’s push to contain a new wave of virus outbreaks, and many shops, office buildings and residential compounds now require proof of a recent negative test carried on a cellphone app to gain entry. Beijing has recorded just over a dozen new cases in the past week but rigorous tracing has prompted orders to test all those who might have come into contact with someone who is carrying the virus. Recent confirmed cases have largely been in suburban areas, but some of those had traveled downtown before testing positive for the virus.

With new album, Epik High endures in South Korea music scene

SEOUL (AP) — Popular South Korean hip-hop trio Epik High was working on a song called “End of the World” before the pandemic hit last year. Now, the band's frontman Tablo says, “I wish that this song is not relevant.”His group had 2020 all planned out, from a Coachella performance to a world tour. Then early last year, Tablo said he and bandmates Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz saw their plans "completely becoming dust." With the world sharing their feelings of “fear, confusion and trepidation," the group stayed home to document the moment in songs, crafting a new double album called “Epik High Is Here.” The just-released first half is a collection of 10 songs featuring a diverse roster of artists including K-pop heavyweight CL, rising rapper Woo and Kim Sawol, the South Korean folk and rock singer-songwriter. Tablo said one of his favorite songs in the album is “Rosario,” one of two lead tracks, which reflects duality in his inner world - and perhaps this moment in the pandemic. “I have some demons that I can’t shake off,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m very optimistic.” He said the trio had given lots of thought to the flow of the album, balancing it with a mix of “dark and very hard-hitting” songs and those that give “a moment to breathe.” The ups and downs reflect the band's career. Epik High has had an unusually long career spanning almost two decades in a competitive South Korean entertainment scene. They didn’t gain fame immediately upon their official debut in 2003, but soon the trio uprooted South Korea’s nascent hip-hop scene. Their music was different, with an experimental mix of genres, poetic lyrics skillfully weaving English and Korean, punchlines abounding with homonyms, and dense rhymes. The band has a knack for making songs about touchy subjects in South Korea, from its white-collar work culture, overly competitive educational system to religion - highlighted on their “ Lesson ” series. By 2010, the trio had topped domestic music charts and received multiple accolades. Tablo married well-known actress Kang Hye-jung and was expecting a baby. Then, his career came to a halt with the spread of online rumors that he’d lied about graduating from Stanford. At the time, South Korea was reeling from fake diplomas scandals involving government officials and celebrities. As rumors started making headlines, more than 200,000 people signed up for an online group titled “TaJinYo,” a Korean acronym for “We Request the Truth from Tablo.” South Koreans started flooding the inboxes of Stanford professors asking if Tablo had really graduated. He had. Tablo said his family started getting death threats. Strangers knocked on the family home and work places. In the street, he was recognized and insulted. Even close friends turned their backs. To clear his name, he returned to his alma mater with a camera crew in tow as he toured the school and revisited professors and friends. It was a turning point that finally cleared his name. Tablo describes the three years of online and offline harassments and lawsuits as “the lowest point” in his career. His father, whose health had deteriorated from the stress of the scandal, died in 2012. “The problem is … I lost someone that is irreplaceable,” he said. “I lost my dad … as a direct result of what people did … for no reason.” Tablo says he's still haunted by the scandal. “It’s been a long time, yes, but it’s not something that I can ever be OK with and that will affect everything I do,” he said. “There is a hole that can’t be filled.”Despite bittersweet lyrics, Tablo said the name of the new album - “Epik High is Here” - represents his wishes to live in the present. “Maybe the map we drew all those years ago was merely meant to show us the vastness of this world, and just how many of us are lost - together - in it,” Tablo wrote on the first page of the new album package. “Whatever the case, this is our current location.” “Epik High is Here” is available now.

Timeline: China's COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown of Wuhan

WUHAN, China (AP) — The Chinese city of Wuhan is looking back on a year since it was placed under a 76-day lockdown beginning Jan. 23, 2020. It was the most extreme step taken up to that point against the coronavirus. China presents the lockdown as a huge sacrifice that bought the rest of the world time to prepare for the pandemic. Critics say earlier, more decisive measures would have prevented more people from leaving the city and spreading the virus around China and globally.Some events before and during that crucial period:— Mid-December 2019: Patients begin showing up in Wuhan hospitals complaining of flu-like symptoms including high fever, cough and breathing difficulties. — Dec. 27: A Chinese lab assembles a near-complete sequence of the virus, showing it to be similar to the coronavirus that caused the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. The lab alerts health authorities, but the information is kept under wraps.— Dec. 30: Doctors begin warning about the disease independently on social media — most prominently Dr. Li Wenliang, who shares a lab report indicating the pathogen is a SARS-like virus. — Dec. 31: Officials close Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which was linked to dozens of the earliest cases. Li is punished by police and his superiors and told he is “spreading rumors.” — Jan. 3, 2020: The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention obtains a full sequence of the virus but doesn’t release it. China reports the outbreak to the WHO, but Chinese authorities order labs and medical institutes to destroy patient samples.— Jan. 9: WHO says Chinese investigators have conducted gene sequencing of the virus, an initial step toward treatment and a vaccine. It does not recommend any specific measures for travelers.— Jan. 13: The first case outside China is identified in Thailand. — Jan. 14: Chinese health officials say in an internal meeting that “clustered cases suggest human-to-human transmission is possible” and order emergency preparations for a pandemic. In public, they downplay the virus’s ability to infect. — Mid-January: The Lunar New Year travel rush — the world’s largest annual human migration — gets underway, with millions of people leaving Wuhan to return home or passing through on their journeys. — Jan. 18: Tens of thousands of Wuhan families take part in a mass Lunar New Year banquet hosted by the city. Many became infected.— Jan. 20: A top Chinese medical expert, Dr. Zhong Nanshan, announces on state television that the virus is transmissible between people.— Jan. 22: Wuhan’s top officials attend a Lunar New Year gala. Dozens of actors, dancers and musicians perform. Some have sniffles and sneezes. — Jan. 23: The Wuhan lockdown begins with a notice sent to people’s smartphones at 2 a.m. announcing the airport and train and bus stations will be shut at 10 a.m. Construction begins on the first of two hastily built field hospitals as thousands of patients overwhelm the city's health care system. Eventually, most of the rest of Hubei province would be locked down, affecting 56 million people. — Feb. 2: The first field hospital, Huoshenshan, opens 10 days later. Eventually, more than a dozen venues such as gymnasiums and conference centers are converted to sprawling medical wards to treat and isolate the less serious cases. — Feb. 7: Li Wenliang, the doctor reprimanded for sharing a lab report about the virus, dies of COVID-19. His death brings a national outpouring of grief and anger at authorities for punishing him. — February-March: Wuhan’s streets are deserted apart from ambulances and security personnel as the city’s 11 million people are confined to their homes. Doctors and nurses arrive from around the country to help the city's exhausted medical staff, many of whom were infected in the early days when protective gear was in short supply and not always used.— March 24: Authorities announce they will end the lockdown of most of Hubei province at midnight, as new cases subside. Wuhan remains locked down for two more weeks. — April 8: Wuhan’s lockdown is lifted. Residents celebrate their freedom after 76 days with riverside parties while the city puts on a sound-and-light show emphasizing its resiliency and the courage and sacrifice of first responders.

Truck with quarry explosives blasts in India, killing 5

NEW DELHI (AP) — A truck carrying explosives detonated at a stone-crushing unit in southern India, leaving at least five people dead, police said Friday. The cause of the explosion on Thursday night is being investigated, said district administrator Shiv Kumar.The Press Trust of India news agency put the death toll at six near Shivamogga, 300 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state. Two people, including a contractor at the stone-crushing unit, were detained for questioning, PTI said.The blast shattered windowpanes and left cracks in several homes, sending people fleeing in panic. Kumar said police were investigating whether those killed were in the truck that blew up or workers at the stone-crushing unit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet said he was pained by the loss of life in Shivamogga. The state government is providing all possible assistance to those affected, he said.

Relatives of plane's victims cast flowers into Indonesia sea

THOUSAND ISLAND, Indonesia (AP) — Relatives of the crash victims on Friday prayed and threw flowers into the Java Sea where the Sriwijaya Air jet plunged into the water almost two weeks ago, killing all 62 people on board.An Indonesian navy vessel took dozens of grieving relatives to the site. Many people wept as they prayed and cast flower petals into the water, and officials from the navy, the search and rescue agency, and Sriwijaya Air employees threw wreaths into the sea.The airliner’s President Director Jefferson Irwin Jauwena hoped by visiting the location to help relatives accept what happened to their loved ones and ease their grief.“We also do feel sad and lost... we lost our crew, they were part of our beloved Sriwijaya Air big family,” he told reporters on board the navy ship. “I, personally, feel so devastated by this accident.”The jet nosedived into the water minutes after taking off from Jakarta, the capital on Jan. 9. Searchers have recovered plane parts and human remains from an area between Lancang and Laki islands in the Thousand Island chain.Those retrieval efforts ended Thursday, but a limited search is continuing for the missing memory unit of the cockpit voice recorder which apparently broke away from other parts of the device during the crash.The flight data recorder, which tracks altitude and other parameters of the plane's flight, was recovered earlier, and investigators are working with Boeing and engine maker General Electric to review information from the device. A team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration is part of the investigation. The 26-year-old Boeing 737-500 was out of service for almost nine months last year because of flight cutbacks caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Regulators and the airline said it underwent inspections before resuming commercial flights in December.Indonesia’s aviation industry grew quickly after the nation’s economy was opened following the fall of dictator Suharto in the late 1990s. Safety concerns led the United States and the European Union to ban Indonesian carriers for years, but the bans have since been lifted due to better compliance with international aviation standards._____Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to the report.