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Covid

China Slowly Recovering From Worst Surge Of Covid-19 Since Pandemic’s Start 

The capital city of Beijing, China took a step towards Covid-19 recovery by allowing restaurants to resume in-store dining this week, after a hiatus of nearly a month. Most other businesses are also able to restore in-person operations. 

Shanghai, which has been locked down for nearly two months, also announced reopening plans for their restaurants and in-person businesses, as well as outdoor activities like camping and local parks. 

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The traffic rates in both major metropolitan areas increased this week after weeks of nearly no congestion due to lockdown procedures. Virus testing in both cities has relaxed from every two days to every three days as well. 

Surges of Omicron cases have been spiking throughout China since March, prompting the nation to reinstate many of their “dynamic zero-Covid” policies. The nationwide daily Covid case cound has now fallen to well below 50, according to official data.

“The unsynchronized lockdowns and reopenings across major cities suggest that China’s ongoing post-lockdown growth recovery should be less steep than the V-shaped one in spring 2020.”

“Our high-frequency trackers suggest that barring another severe Covid resurgence and related lockdowns, mobility, construction and ports operation could recover to pre-lockdown levels in around one month,” said Goldman Sachs China Economist Lisheng Wang in a report.

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Local authorities have been enforcing strict travel bans and stay-home orders to control the spread of the virus, a method they’ve been using since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. 

The report from Goldman Sachs also stated that “businesses in the service sector that involve close human contact would find it challenging to achieve a full recovery any time soon.”

The Dragon Boat Festival holiday weekend in China indicated to the government that overall economic recovery will likely be slow. Spending on domestic tourism during the holiday dropped 12.2% when compared to last year. 

The Purchasing Managers’ Index in China showed continuous declines in business plans for hiring new employees as well due to a lack of income overall. 

Even with Beijing and Shanghai reopening, many specific apartment complexes and neighborhoods could remain closed off due to contact with Covid cases. 

NBC Sees Beijing Winter Olympics End With The Worst Ratings Ever

For NBC, everything that could’ve went wrong for the Beijing Winter Olympics, did go wrong. From debates over China and their abuses to doping scandals involving teenagers, the end result was a pitiful total viewership that might have executives mourning what was once thought to be a great business deal.

Perhaps it might be better to start where it all began back in 2014, when NBC locked up the American media rights to the Olympics through 2032 for $7.75 billion dollars. Previously, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London saw a viewership record of 219.4 million while the company reeled in a $120 million third quarter profit.

Eight years later, it’s a very different scene. The Olympics averaged 11.4 million viewers (160 total million viewers) across all of NBCU’s platforms — which include NBC Sports, USA Network, and Peacock — down 42% from the 19.8 million viewers averaged during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. At the time, the 2018 Olympics had been the worst watched, dropping 1.4 million viewers from 2014’s Sochi.

The highest night of primetime viewership — 13.7 million — occured on Feb. 13, which was only due to viewers trickling in after NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI, usually the most-watched program (112.3 million viewers) of the year.

The network did boast that these Winter Games were the most streamed ever with 4.3 billion minutes consumed across NBCU digital and social media, a fact greatly helped by its streaming service Peacock. Still, the damage has been done. “This was probably the most difficult Olympics of all time,” NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua told the Wall Street Journal.

Just a month before the two-year mark, COVID-19 has continued to impact Olympic Games. Bevacqua highlighted the difficulties the virus has caused which in turn affected fans’ interest, which include few spectators, athletes wearing masks, no families of athletes in attendance, and “very harsh protocols” in place by China.

The broadcasting company also was limited in how many announcers they could have on-site. “We had 1,600 people in Stamford [Conn.] and 600 people in Beijing. Normally that would be flipped for us,” Bevacqua said.

Of course, the blaming of COVID can only work so much. Months leading up to the games were filled with protests and anger over China’s authoritarian actions and mistreatment of groups like Uyghur and Uzbek muslims. The drama didn’t end there. 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva entered the Olympics as the favorite to win gold, but tested positive for a banned heart medication. Despite the positive test, her suspension by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was erased, and she continued to participate.

In the free skating competition, Valieva fell numerous times during her routine, leading to a fourth place finish. However, viewers were treated to sights such as Valieva breaking down in tears while fellow skater Alexandra Trusova screamed “I hate this sport” for all to hear after a silver medal finish.

Also not helping were event start times. The time zone of Beijing — 13 hours ahead of New York — made it difficult for American viewers to watch events live, often forcing them to stay in the early morning hours of 1 to 5 a.m. ET if they wanted real-time.

Bevacqua stated that the ratings are in line with what they told advertisers. NBC, worth $35 billion, has not announced yet whether the Olympics turned into a profit or loss. An anonymous source told the Associated Press that the turnout is a “particularly vulnerable moment” for the company and wouldn’t be surprised if NBC is looking to improve its deal with the International Olympic Committee.

However, the source noted it’s highly unlikely they would try to get out of the multibillion deal altogether. After all, even with the down years of Beijing and 2021’s Tokyo — which averaged 15.1 million viewers, down 12.4 million from 2016’s Rio — it’s still a unique property that no other media company possesses. The challenge now for NBC is how to successfully market and strategize for the games down the line in order to avoid another catastrophe.

Study Finds Climate Change And Fake Weather Could Make Winter Olympics Dangerous

As the world’s climate continues to shift, the historic winter competition could be at risk. According to a new study, climate change is making conditions much more dangerous for Winter Olympic athletes and participants.

The study — released Tuesday — was written by researchers from the Sport Ecology Group at Loughborough University in London and Protect Our Winters UK, an environmental group.

Beijing, the host of this year’s games that are set to kick off in nine days, will be using over 100 snow generators and 300 snow guns. It will be the first Winter Olympics to on virtually 100% artificial snow, which the study showed is a significant issue.

“This is not only energy and water-intensive, frequently using chemicals to slow melt, but also delivers a surface that many competitors say is unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”

“Navigating erratic snow seasons and rapid melt of low level resorts are now the norm for many competitors,” the report somberly stated.

Scottish freestyle skier Laura Donaldson explained in the press release that if freestyle super pipes are formed in poor winter conditions from snow-making machines, the walls of the ice are composed of solid, vertical ice, as is the pipe floor. “This is dangerous for athletes, some have died,” she said.

Another study by the University of Waterloo found that climate change is threatening potential future Olympic Game hosts because their locations would be too warm. If the world’s emission rates continue their current course, only one of the previous 21 host cities by the 2080s — Sapporo, Japan — would have the right conditions to host again.

In a low emission future that’s consistent with a successful Paris Agreement, meanwhile, 13 of the 21 cities could host by the 2050s, and 12 by the 2080s. When it comes to “climate sustainability,” Chaminx is deemed “high-risk” along with venues in France, Norway and Austria, while Vancouver, Sochi, and Squaw Valley in the U.S. are “unreliable.”

The risks to athletes are extremely apparent. The study notes that injury rates are higher in winter versus summer Games, while the last three winter Games — PyeongChang, Sochi, and Vancouver — possessed the highest incidence rates recorded among alpine skiing, snowboarding, and freestyle athletes.

There are other impacts beyond the athletes’ health at play, as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) notes. The water used for snow making has been reportedly taken away from local residents and farmers, while the artificial snow can cause erosion, landslides, and harm vegetation, adding onto the longer-term impact of building ski slopes in natural landscapes.

Biologists also raised concerns after planned ski runs were going to run through Songshan Nature Reserve, a protect forest ecosystem in Beijing. Damage could continue to be done if the venues are used long after the games finish.

The country has made some moves to produce sustainability. The games will have natural CO2 refrigeration systems in most of Beijing’s ice venues in an effort to decrease carbon footprints.

Organizers have also tried to ensure that water demand will have minimal effect on supply, and that the water needed for the Yanqing zone — where alpine skiing and sliding will occur — will account for just 1.6% of the water used in the area.

Olympics

Rights Activists Urge Boycotting of Beijing Winter Olympic Games As Protests Continue

Human rights activists are calling for broadcasters, sponsors, participants, and governments worldwide to boycott the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympic Games due to China’s treatment of over two million Uyghur, Uzbek, and Kazakh Muslims, its crackdown on protests, and the “geopolitical bullying” towards Tibet and Taiwan.

Protests are already unfolding before the world’s eyes, with activists having waved a Tibet flag and banner stating “No Genocide Games” from inside the temple of Hera during the flame lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece on Monday. The two activists, who are part of the group ‘Students for a Free Tibet,’ were arrested and have since been released.

Groups such as ‘Students for a Free Tibet’ are a part of the ‘No Beijing 2022’ campaign that’s fighting to stop the allowance of Beijing’s games, which consists of Chinese, Hong Kong, Uyghur, Tibet, South Mongolian, and Taiwanese activists.

During his speech at the ceremony, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach commented that the Olympics must remain “politically neutral ground.” Bach also stated that while the games cannot fix ongoing worldwide problems, they can “set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”

Bach’s sentiments have already been previously echoed by other members of the IOC. According to the South China Morning Post, IOC Vice President John Coates told reporters that the IOC’s remit only concerns the “Olympic movement.”

“We have no ability to go into a country and tell them what to do. All we can do is to award the Olympics to a country, under conditions set out in a host contract … and then ensure they are followed.”

Coates was also asked why the IOC would assist in helping Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, but not interfere in this situation. Coates said that the 100 members the IOC helped to leave the country were part of the “Olympic community.”

In a statement, International Tibet Network’s executive director Mandie McKeown called out the hypocrisy of the IOC and stated how wrong it is for the Committee to be handing the torch to a country whose “ideals are so far removed” from that of the Olympics.

In April, USA Today reported that the U.S. formally accused China of committing genocides and crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people. A State Department report found China engaged in “mass detention” of the Uyghurs in prison and camps, along with evidence of sterilized rape, torture, and forced labor.

In response, China claimed the genocide was fabrication of western researchers and biased media outlets while also condemning the U.S. for meddling in international affairs. China has also stated their actions toward Uyghurs is considered to be “re-educating” due to extremists in the group, and that the camps are “vocational centers.”

Despite the U.S. having issued previous sanctions against Chinese officials while threatening to ban Chinese imports that were made from Uyghur forced labor, there have been no indications that the country, or any others, plan to exit or boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Numerous geopolitical issues have worked their way into the Olympic games throughout history. In 1980, dozens of countries, led by the U.S., boycotted the Moscow Olympics due to Soviet Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Boycotts by various countries also occurred in 1976, 1972, and 1968.

This also isn’t the first time China specifically has been called out by activists during the world games. CNN noted that human rights protests also occurred during the lighting ceremony back in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Winter Olympics will be held from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20 in China’s capitol. It will be the first time a city has hosted both the summer and winter games. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only Chinese residents will be allowed to spectate the events.

Corona Outbreak

Coronavirus Outbreak In Beijing, China Worries Health Officials

Beijing, China is reinstating strict lockdown measures and massive coronavirus testing after a brand new group of cases for Covid-19 appeared in the metropolitan’s vast food market. The government’s main concern is getting a full-on second wave of the virus, as many health care experts have warned that a second wave of the virus in general would likely be much worse than the first wave. 

Initially, Beijing reported 36 new cases of the virus as of Monday June 14th, combined with new cases that appeared last week that’s 79 new infected individuals. The cases are reportedly linked to the Xinfadi market in the southern part of the city. This market is mainly known for carrying fresh fruit and vegetables and has since been shut down. 

China’s government in general has had one of the quickest and most effective methods of containing the spread of this virus, especially when compared to how federal governments abroad have handled the pandemic. Beijing was considered to be one of China’s “safest” cities in regards to the virus after the country effectively stopped the spread of the virus a month ago. Now, the possibility of a second wave has their government scrambling. 

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Citizens, however, are already taking to social media to speak out against the “wartime measures” that the government is implementing in order to prevent a second wave. For example within the Fengtai district of Beijing, where the Xinfadi market is located, officials announced that the launch of a “wartime mechanism” as well as the creation of a command center would be made to curb the spread. 

The Global Times is a tabloid that recently took to Twitter to share a video of a paramilitary police force wearing intense gear and patrolling the market after it was shut down this past weekend. Authorities have also implemented a mandatory lockdown on 11 residential areas that are near the market. The lockdown in those areas is so strict that residents won’t be able to leave their property; all of their food and daily necessities will be delivered right to them. 

Beijing has also set up 193 testing facilities within its city alone and has since tested more than 76,000 residents; 59 tested positive. Fengtai district specifically has also collected test samples from almost 9,000 individuals who were working in the Xinfadi market, so far 6,000 of those samples have been tested as negative for the coronavirus. 

Within the testing they also were able to interview and contact-trace the virus based on each individual’s personal accounts. The Beijing government also released a public statement urging any citizen who visited the market self-quarantine for 14 days. 

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Public school classes were scheduled to resume this week in Beijing, but that has since been cancelled. Life in Beijing was reportedly almost completely back to normal before this week. Multiple businesses, schools, restaurants and malls reopened. This was a testament to China’s intense handling of the virus, as they essentially completely eradicated it before fully reopening. 

“There is no way Beijing becomes Wuhan 2.0. The world will see China’s powerful capacity in controlling the epidemic, including (the) government’s strong leadership, respect to science, public’s willingness to cooperate and nationwide coordination of control measures. We will win again,” Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, wrote in a post.

Beyond just the market, Beijing authorities are still trying to trace the direct source of the outbreak. Initially the virus was detected on a chopping board for fish used by a seller of imported salmon at the market, which has led officials to fear that the virus contaminated a lot more citizens than they currently believe. 

Investigations are still underway, but if China’s response to these new cases is anything like their initial response to the pandemic, residents should be okay as long as they continue to listen to national health and safety guidelines.

Hong Kong Protest

After Pro-Democracy Candidates Win in Hong Kong, China Blames US

The city of Hong Kong has for months been embroiled in violent pro-democracy protests, and a recent election during which pro-democracy candidates won in a landslide has proven that the majority of Hong Kong citizens support the expansion of civil liberties in the territory. While the election was relatively minor politically, as it was limited to district councils, it was broadly seen both by people in Hong Kong and in China as a referendum on the protests. In a historic victory for Hong Kong democracy, around 70% of the eligible population turned out to vote, resulting in several pro-China officials being replaced with candidates favored by protestors across the territory.

Beijing was caught off-guard by the results of the election, as the Chinese government believed that a silent pro-Beijing majority lived in Hong Kong and that voters would side with pro-Beijing politicians in order to end the chaos and violence. After the election disproved this theory, however, Chinese state-run media was initially silent, marking a major change from its pre-election rhetoric, which consisted of arguments predicting an electoral rebuke of protestors. In fact, the state-run media did not even report the results of the election at first, instead announcing that the ballots had been cast and that protests had disrupted the electoral process. Eventually, the Chinese government decided on a strategy for framing their electoral loss by placing the blame on a foreign actor, namely the United States.

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Blaming the West for domestic problems is a favorite tactic among Chinese officials, and the Chinese people react positively to nationalistic messages of this sort. However, the fact that the Chinese government had to switch propaganda tactics so suddenly reflects not only the extent of their loss, but also their own lack of understanding of the political crisis that has animated six months of massive protests. Although there’s no strong evidence that the US interfered with Hong Kong’s recent election, this message is useful for the Chinese as it allows them to shift blame away from themselves and away from the people of Hong Kong.

For months, Beijing’s portrayal of the Hong Kong protestors was that they were violent thugs looking to tear apart the party by colluding with foreign powers. There is little, if any truth to this claim, which has lost a significant amount of credibility after the election, which represented a tremendous embrace of democracy by the Hong Kong people, both in terms of the number of people who voted and how they voted. The fact that Beijing was caught so off-guard by this result also suggests that the Chinese government, at least in part, believes their own propaganda, and doesn’t understand the extent of the outrage felt by the people of Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong’s leadership, which remains firmly in the pro-Beijing camp, sought to downplay the results of the election. Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam acknowledged that people in the territory are upset, but argued against the view that the election had broad implications. After the election, Chinese officials complained about a bill passed by the US Congress called the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which supports the protests. Notably, however, President Trump has remained relatively quiet about the protests, instead focusing on his trade war with China.

The future of Hong Kong’s government remains unclear, but neither side of the conflict shows signs of backing down. Hong Kong protests continue to this day, and enjoy wide support from the territory’s citizens, but China is an extremely powerful country that has ramped up its attacks on the pro-democracy advocates. For the citizens of Hong Kong, particularly the young protestors, the gradual loss of democracy in the territory is unacceptable, and they will go to remarkable lengths to ensure that Hong Kong maintains its autonomy.

Hong Kong Protest

Hong Kong Protests Escalate As 1,000 Citizens Detained at University

The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have been ongoing for several months now and show no signs of slowing anytime soon, and are in fact escalating in intensity as a Hong Kong university was transformed into a battlefield between police and demonstrators, which ended with hundreds of young people jailed. Roughly a dozen protestors remain inside the school after heavily armed police officers surrounded the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, arresting many protestors who eventually surrendered to the authorities. Some students were able to escape without being captured by police by rappelling from a bridge to be rescued by motorbike drivers, while others unsuccessfully attempted to use a sewage pipe to escape. 

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The protests began as a response to proposed legislation to make it easier to extradite Hong Kong residents to China which was feared to impact Hong Kong’s independence and political freedoms. While the legislation in question has since been withdrawn, the aim of the protests has expanded to demand a stronger democracy in Hong Kong, further independence from China, and greater police accountability. The police have escalated their attempts to quell the protestors, using live ammunition on multiple occasions. These actions have only emboldened protesters, who have used bows and arrows and homemade weapons such as molotov cocktails in their ongoing battles with the police. At PolyU, police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against protestors, who retaliated with violence. As the battle at the university concluded, protestors were searched by police and those who were older than 18 were arrested. According to Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, around 200 of the protestors were minors.

The recent events at PolyU resulted in the greatest number of arrests in a single day since the protests began several months ago, and many protesters received serious charges such as rioting and possession of offensive weapons

The dozen protestors who remain, many of whom are high school and university students, have said that they will neither leave the university nor surrender to police, in essence waiting for officers to enter the university and arrest them. Except for the few remaining protesters, the campus has been totally deserted, with debris littered throughout, and unused petrol bombs and pro-democracy grafitti were found on the campus. Roughly 80 people were treated for injuries at the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, and around 200 people were sent to other hospitals. Protesters have set fire to bridges connecting the university to a nearby train station and have destroyed other property as well. The recent events at PolyU resulted in the greatest number of arrests in a single day since the protests began several months ago, and many protesters received serious charges such as rioting and possession of offensive weapons, which carries the threat of serious prison time, leading to reluctance on the part of protesters to surrender to police.

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Last week, protestors clashed with the police at another university, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Over 3,900 Molotov Cocktails were seized at this university, and Kwok Ka-chuen, a spokesman for the police, described the university as a “manufacturing base” for these weapons. At the same time as this drama unfolded at these Hong Kong universities, a Hong Kong court overturned a ban on face masks instituted by Beijing in an attempt to curb the tremendously disruptive protests. The Hong Kong High Court found that this ban violated the constitution of the Hong Kong territory, which is called the Basic Law. The Congress has taken the unusual step of criticizing the court’s decision, saying that the finding “seriously weakened the lawful governing power” of Hong Kong’s government. While this would be an extreme step, the National People’s Congress has the authority to change the Basic Law, meaning they could institute changes that would make the face mask ban legal, potentially having broader implications for civil liberties in the territory generally.