January 27, 2020
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    Inside the US base attacked by Iranian missiles
    The Pentagon has said that 34 US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) following an Iranian attack on their base in Iraq.Seventeen troops are still under medical observation, a spokesman said.President Donald Trump had said no Americans were injured in the 8 January strike, which came in retaliation for the US killing of an Iranian general.Mr Trump had cited the supposed lack of injuries in his decision not to strike back against Iran.But last week, the Pentagon said 11 service members had been treated for concussion symptoms from the attack.Asked about the apparent discrepancy this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Trump said: "I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it's not very serious.""I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries I have seen," he said when asked about possible TBIs.The Pentagon says no Americans were killed in the Iranian missile strike on the Ain al-Asad base, with most sheltering in bunkers as missiles rained down.
    On Friday, defence department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that eight of the affected soldiers have been sent back to the US for further treatment, while another nine are being treated in Germany.Sixteen troops were treated in Iraq and one in Kuwait before all 17 were returned to active duty, officials say.Mr Hoffman added that the US Defence Secretary Mark Esper had not immediately been aware of the injuries in the days after the attack.Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-profit organisation, slammed the Trump administration for taking so long to reveal the extent of casualties."This is a big deal," its founder Paul Rieckhoff tweeted. "The American people must be able to trust the government to share information about our sons and daughters in harms way. Nothing is more serious and sacred."
    TBIs are common in warzones, according to the US military.The most common cause of a TBI for deployed soldiers is an explosive blast, writes the US Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.They are classified as mild, moderate, severe or penetrating. A mild TBI is also known as a concussion, and can be caused by a blast's "atmospheric over-pressure followed by under-pressure or vacuum".The air vacuum is capable of penetrating solid objects, making it possible for soldiers to avoid blunt force trauma but still receive an invisible brain injury.On Friday, tens of thousands of Iraqis protested in the streets Baghdad against the presence of some 5,000 foreign troops in the country.The Iraqi parliament has urged all foreign fighters - including from the US - to leave.

    Iraq after Soleimani: What is the future for US troops?
    By Nafiseh Kohnavard
    BBC Persian, Union III airbase, Baghdad
    24 January 2020
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    Related TopicsIraq protests
    Image copyrightUS ARMY
    Image caption
    US troops are in Iraq to help in the fight against the Islamic State group
    "Incoming, Incoming!" The loudspeaker screeches out a warning of a rocket attack at Union III, the US-led coalition base in Iraq's capital, Baghdad.

    The compound is in the Green Zone, an area built around what was once former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's palace.

    A few seconds after the first alarm, we hear two loud explosions. Then another announcement, ordering everyone in the base to take cover.

    Just across the road lies the US embassy, the likely target of the three Katyusha rockets.

    After an hour, we are told it is safe enough to come out. One rocket fell into the nearby Tigris river, but two landed inside the embassy compound.

    "This isn't the first and won't be the last," says Pari, a 42-year-old civilian, who lives and works at the base as a hairdresser to support her daughters back home in Kyrgyzstan.

    She used to work at the US base in the Afghan capital, Kabul, but left because it was too dangerous.

    Everyone told her she would have a calmer life in Baghdad, but two rockets hit the street near the embassy on her first night there.

    Watershed moment
    Since October 2019, more than 109 Katyusha rockets have been launched at locations housing US troops in Iraq.

    The coalition says Iran-backed paramilitary groups are carrying out the attacks.

    Then came the US killing on 3 January of Gen Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force at Baghdad airport.


    Media captionSoldiers took shelter in bunkers from the Iranian strike
    Iran's response, five days later, was a ballistic missile strike against US bases in Iraq.

    These attacks prompted new security rules for all coalition bases housing US troops in Iraq.

    Outside activities are now banned and anyone walking in the open has to wear protective gear from sunset until early morning.

    During the coalition's fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, I went on several operations with the US army and travelled to their bases across Iraq.

    I was told it was unnecessary to wear body armour inside the compounds. It was safe, I was assured.

    But the Union III base in Baghdad is far emptier than the last time I was here.

    Many of the coalition forces, including Nato soldiers, have been relocated to Kuwait.

    Officials tell me the soldiers will return when the threat level goes down.

    Strained relations
    But there are bigger and deeper developments being felt by US army officers in Iraq since the attack.

    The Union III base is the main headquarters for Iraqi and coalition forces in their campaign against IS.


    Media captionThe BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Baghdad: Shock and anger among Iran's allies
    When I was last here, both the US and Iraqi officers were keen to show the media how their relationship was deepening on a professional and personal level.

    Both sides were keen to appear on camera to talk about their mutual goal of defeating IS.

    Now, coalition commanders are hesitant to go on the record. Recent developments have cast a long shadow over what was once "a great friendship".

    The deputy head of a pro-Iran paramilitary force, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in the US strike against Gen Soleimani.

    Interestingly, he was in this very base in Baghdad's Green Zone a couple of days before his death.

    Image caption
    A picture of Iraqi militia leader al-Muhandis (second from left), killed by the US, at the Union III base
    His Shia Muslim paramilitary group is supported by Iran, but is also an official part of the Iraqi security forces and has played a key role in the defeat of IS.

    He was here to meet Iraqi army generals, the same commanders who are partners with the US in the battle against IS.

    Muhandis's picture can be seen on the wall alongside other Iraqi military commanders in the same corridor that coalition officials would walk through each day if they wanted to see their Iraqi partners at the base.

    In the dark
    Two senior coalition officials in the Union III compound told me they only found out about the assassination when they checked their phones in the morning.

    "If there is an operation that you don't need to know about, you wouldn't be told," a senior coalition official said on condition of anonymity.

    "No matter if you have to live with its aftermath."

    What does international law say about the assassination?
    Voices from Iran: 'Soleimani did not deserve such a fate'
    Qasem Soleimani: Who was Iran's 'rock star' general?
    In fact, the night Soleimani and his convoy were hit, US drone operators working out of the Baghdad base thought at first that there had been a rocket attack on the airport's diplomatic centre where most of the coalition diplomats and intelligence officers are housed.

    It had been targeted only a few days before the assassination.

    When they saw the fire after the explosion, they assumed it was a drone strike as rockets would not cause that kind of blaze, but were unsure about who had carried it out.

    Image copyrightAFP
    Image caption
    The killings of Soleimani and al-Muhandis have caused a wave of anger in Iraq
    This happened only a few days after US forces in Iraq carried out air strikes on the headquarters of the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia on both sides of the border with Syria; this was in response to rocket attacks on coalition bases and killed at least 25 members of this Iraqi Shia paramilitary group.

    Their funeral turned into a big demonstration against the US and mourners attacked the US embassy in Baghdad. But the drone attack crossed all the red lines, according to Shia paramilitary groups.

    Angry with moves that had nothing to do with the US mission in Iraq to "defeat IS", pro-Iran paramilitary groups and politicians want US troops to leave Iraq immediately.

    But coalition forces hope to start what they say will be the final stages of operations against IS with their Iraqi allies soon.

    Image caption
    Inside the Union III coalition base in Baghdad
    It is this uncertainty that makes commanders on both sides reluctant to talk to the media about it, especially when politicians might contradict them the next day.

    "Our team is looking forward to and believes in the mission. We believe in the Iraqi people, and we believe in the Iraqi security forces," a senior coalition official who has been deployed to Iraq multiple times during the campaign against IS and has worked closely with the same top Iraqi commanders tells me.

    He used to see his Iraqi counterpart almost every day to drink tea together, but since the attack, their relationship has become more formal.

    Image caption
    A question mark hangs over future US-Iraqi operations
    The Iraqi security forces feel they are trapped in a political crisis between Iran and the US.

    "This is not our problem," says Maj Gen Tahseen al-Khafaji, Iraq's joint operation command spokesman. "This is not even a military problem. There is a crisis between Iran and the US and they have put us in the middle.

    "My message is for both these countries: Don't bring your issue here."

    The Iraqi military says the pause in coalition support in the wake of Gen Soleimani's death has left them with no other option but to continue the operation against IS themselves.

    "For the first time, we have flown our F-16 jets to conduct air strikes on IS," says Gen Khafaji.

    "It is right that we can fight alone, but we are still looking forward to working with the coalition if political issues allow."

    For the moment, everything hangs in the balance. The nature of the threats US forces face have been shifted from IS to something completely different.

    US airman Alejandro Pena, who was despatched to Iraq only two months ago, has the final word on this.

    "When we were deployed here, I thought I was coming to fight IS, but after a couple of months I saw that 'ah no! There are others as well.'"

    Huge rally as Iraqis demand US troops pull out
    24 January 2020
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    Media captionProtesters descend on central Baghdad
    Huge crowds have taken to the streets of Iraq's capital, Baghdad, to demand that US forces leave Iraq.

    Powerful Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr earlier called for a million people to join Friday's march, close to the US embassy in the capital.

    Iranian-backed militias were among those protesting in the city.

    The US killing of the top Iranian military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani, on 3 January at Baghdad airport has fuelled tensions.

    What is the future of US troops in Iraq?
    Moqtada al-Sadr: The firebrand cleric who could calm Iraq
    Soleimani attack: What does international law say?
    Also assassinated in the US drone strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who had commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group.


    Media captionThis footage, reportedly of the missile attack, was shown on Iranian state TV
    Iran responded on 8 January to Gen Soleimani's assassination by carrying out a ballistic missile attack on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq.

    The US said at the time that no Americans were wounded in the attack, but a Pentagon spokesman has now disclosed that 34 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries.

    Hours after the strike, Iran's armed forces fired two missiles at a Ukrainian passenger plane over Iran's capital, Tehran, by mistake, killing all 176 people on board.

    What's the latest from Baghdad?
    Protesters started to gather in central Baghdad early on Friday, and several hours later, the area was packed with people.

    Many carried Iraq's national flags as well as placards denouncing the US military presence in Iraq.

    "Death to America!" demonstrators chanted, and some carried a cardboard cut-out of US President Donald Trump.

    A statement was read from Mr al-Sadr, although he did not attend the march.

    Image copyrightREUTERS
    Image caption
    Protesters have been marching towards Baghdad's al-Hurriya Square and around the capital's main university
    The demonstration threatens to eclipse a separate protest movement involving mainly young people who for several months have been demanding a complete overhaul of the Iraqi government, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Baghdad.

    Earlier this month, Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country.

    Some 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group.

    The two airbases targeted by Iran are in Irbil and al-Asad, west of Baghdad.

    How did we get here?
    The assassination of Gen Soleimani - head of the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force and architect of Iran's policy in the region - was a major escalation in already deteriorating relations between Iran and the US.

    The general was regarded as a terrorist by the US government, which says he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops and was plotting "imminent" attacks.


    Media captionWho was Qasem Soleimani?
    He was assassinated following an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad. Protesters were furious over the deaths of militia members in earlier US air strikes.

    Washington blamed Iran for the embassy attack, with US President Donald Trump warning that Iran would "pay a very big price" for any damage or loss of life.

    Iran attacks: Which bases were targeted?
    8 January 2020
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    Media captionQuentin Sommerville had exclusive access to Ain al-Asad airbase for this 2014 report
    The Al Asad air base is so vast that, after the US invasion, it had cinemas, swimming pools, fast food restaurants, and - not one - but two internal bus routes.

    It was built in the 1980s for the Iraqi military, in desert around 100 miles west of Baghdad.

    But after the US invasion in 2003, it became one of the biggest bases for American troops - and was quickly transformed.

    "It's right in the middle of the desert, and surrounded on all sides by scrublands and desert and rocks," Oliver Poole reported for the BBC in 2006.

    "As you emerge into the American section, you come across much better roads... in many ways they've tried to recreate the set-up of a modern US suburban town."

    The facilities were so impressive, some US troops even called it "Camp Cupcake".

    As the US withdrew from the base in 2009 and 2010, it was handed back to the Iraqis. But, as the Islamic State group gained control of surrounding Anbar province, the base came under attack.

    In 2014 - as IS encircled - the BBC's Quentin Somerville gained access via an Iraqi military plane.

    "Reminders of American occupation are everywhere - spent artillery shells and dusty accommodation quarters, with uneaten ration packs strewn across the floor," he reported.

    After the US returned to Iraq to fight IS in the same year, the base was secured and rebuilt.

    However, with far fewer troops, one airman noted in 2017 that "it only offers a fraction of the comforts it once did".

    Inside Iraqi air base as Islamic State closes in
    On 26 December 2018, President Trump visited troops at the base.

    "The men and women stationed at Al Asad have played a vital role in the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and in Syria," he told them.

    But afterwards, he said he feared for his wife's safety during the visit. "If you would have seen what we had to go through," he told reporters.

    In November last year, Vice-President Mike Pence also visited the base for Thanksgiving.


    Media captionMr Trump said he was concerned for Melania during their Iraq visit
    It's thought there are around 1,500 US and coalition troops at Al Asad, and around 5,000 US troops in the country in total. This week, in a non-binding vote, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel them.

    In response, President Trump brought up the cost of the Al Asad air base.

    "We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that's there," he said. "It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We're not leaving unless they pay us back for it."

    The other base that was attacked was in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's relatively stable Kurdistan region.

    In September, the US Army said it was home to "more than 3,600 military and civilian personnel from 13 different nations".

    The base is used to train local forces. Last month, US Central Command reported that the first female military instructors in the region had graduated from Irbil.

    How long the US will stay in Iraq, though, is uncertain. Only this week, Defence Secretary Mark Esper was forced to deny the US was withdrawing troops from the country.




    The World Economic Forum (WEF) currently meeting in Davos, Switzerland has raised world interest in the Climate Change debate and new trends in economic development, moving away from the fossil fuel-driven economic growth and the approach of the next industrial revolution in a Digital Age.

    While global political, economic, business and social leaders meet in Davos and draw international attention to current political, economic and environmental affairs, the attention of the world is also hugely drawn to the spread of the latest coronavirus in China, which has already infected persons abroad, with many deaths in Wuhan, China.

    The WEF is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation. It engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. This is the most important world debate on Climate Change and the Environment since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016.

    The focus of the current 50th annual meeting of the WEF is on global, regional and national initiatives that generate positive impact for all stakeholders. Four global issues that feature prominently are: Addressing climate and environmental challenges that harm the world ecology and economy; transforming industries to achieve a more sustainable and inclusive business models in changing consumption patterns; governing technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution to best benefit society; and, adopting demographic, social and technological trends reshaping education, employment and entrepreneurship.

    President Donald Trump addressing world leaders spoke on his ‘America First’ agenda calling on other nations to adopt a similar nation-focused approach to economics and political relations around the world. “America’s newfound prosperity is undeniable, unprecedented and unmatched anywhere in the world…. America achieved this stunning turnaround not by making minor changes to a handful of policies, but by adopting a whole new approach centred entirely on the well-being of the American worker.”

    “Only when governments put their own citizens first will people be fully invested in their national futures,” he added.

    Donald Trump also told the world’s business leaders to stop listening to “prophets of doom” seen as an attack to teenage activist Greta Thunberg over her climate crisis warnings. He hailed America’s growth record and compared campaigners against global warming with those who feared a population explosion in the 1960s and mass starvation in the 1970s. He mentioned the US move to plant 1 trillion trees to meet climate change issues.

    Greta Thunberg who also addressed WEF at its opening said: “Planting trees is good, of course, but it’s nowhere near enough, and it cannot replace real mitigation and re-wilding nature. We don’t need to lower emissions. Emissions need to stop.” She had three demands for governments and business leaders.

    These were: The halt of all investment in fossil fuel investment and extraction by companies, banks, institutions and governments, an immediate end to all fossil fuel subsidies, and an immediate exit from fossil fuel investments.

    “We don’t want it done in 2050, 2030, or even 2021, we want it done now,” Thunberg said. “You might think we’re naive, but if you won’t do it, you must explain to your children why you’ve given up on the Paris agreement goals, and knowingly created a climate crisis,” she said.

    The current WEF sessions draw more international attention to the challenges of Climate Change amidst the spread of wildfires in Australia, the increasing droughts in many parts of the world and the similar increase in the destruction by floods in many world regions. The subject of Climate Change and Environmental Disaster is fast becoming a dominant aspect of global development and relations, drawing the subject into world politics.

    Coronavirus from China

    There is international concern about the spread of the new coronavirus from China, with Chinese authorities confirming more than 500 cases and 17 deaths. The worries arise after the record of the deaths in many countries due to China originated the SARS virus in 2002 and 2003.

    Wuhan, a Chinese city of eleven million people, has temporarily shut down its public transport as it tries to halt the outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus. Those living in the city have been advised not to leave, in a week when millions of Chinese are travelling for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

    From Thursday, all flights and passenger train services out of Wuhan have been stopped. Bus, subway and ferry services all are shut down, and a special command centre in Wuhan set up to contain the virus, to “resolutely contain the momentum of the epidemic spreading”.

    In the last week, the number of confirmed infections has more than tripled and cases have been found in 13 provinces of China, as well as the municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. The virus has also been confirmed outside of China, in the US, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Health analysts see the definite potential for cases to emerge due to the volume of international air travel, making this a matter of major international worry.

    There are fears that the coronavirus may spread more widely during the week-long Lunar New Year holidays, which started on January 24, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate. A key concern is the range of severity of symptoms – some people appear to suffer only mild illness while others are becoming severely ill. This makes it more difficult to establish the true numbers infected and the extent of transmission between people. The World Health Organization (WHO) and national and international health authorities are keen to take action to stop the spread of the virus, with fears it could be more potent than seen so far.

    The spread of the coronavirus outside China increases the likelihood the WHO will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in the hospital.

    It is noted that healthcare workers could be at risk if they unexpectedly came across someone with respiratory symptoms who had travelled to an affected region. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children. There is a call for people to observe basic hygiene measures such as washing hands. More countries are now setting up measures to check visitors arriving from China by air, sea and across rivers and by land.

    The concern about the new coronavirus from China follows situation caused by the outbreak of SARS in southern China with affecting more than 8,000 between November 2002 and July 2003, resulting in 774 deaths in 37 countries - with the majority of cases in China and Hong Kong, according to the WHO.

    Trump Impeachment

    The impeachment hearing on President Donald Trump is now underway in the US Senate. He is the third US president to be impeached by the Lower House - the House of Representatives - of the Congress, with none yet removed from office by the Upper House - Senate.

    The impeachment hearings in the Senate relates to allegations of President Trump violating the US Constitution in dealings with the Ukrainian government, in a move to have his main Democrat rival in the run-up to the coming presidential election, Joe Biden, probed for alleged corruption; a move by him to delay the sending of US funds for military aid to Ukraine over this alleged probe of a political rival; and also his moves to prevent White House and other key US government staff members from giving evidence at this inquiry.

    Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Chairman, who led the impeachment process in the House, in making his initial statement at the Senate Jury hearing said: “We are here today—in this hallowed chamber, undertaking this solemn action for only the third time in history—because Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, solicited foreign interference in our democratic elections, abusing the power of his office by seeking help from abroad to improve his re-election prospects at home. And when he was caught, he used the powers of that office to obstruct the investigation into his own misconduct.

    “To implement his corrupt scheme, President Trump pressured the President of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign. When the Ukrainian President did not immediately assent, President Trump withheld two official acts to induce the Ukrainian leader to comply—a head of state meeting and military funding. Both were of great consequence to Ukraine and our national interest and security, but one looms largest: President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner at war with Russia to secure foreign help with his re-election, in other words, to cheat.”

    The Senate is strongly divided with a Republican majority that is committed to releasing Donald Trump from the impeachment charges. They have raised strong objections to the moves by the Democrats to get new witnesses to the hearings. The Senate has a 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats and 2 Independents, giving the pro-Trump Republicans a huge majority. In this situation, there is no likelihood of the Senate finding Donald Trump guilty of the charges made. However, opinion polls show there is increasing public opinion that he should be found guilty of the charges, which could be a disadvantage to him in the coming presidential poll for a second term in November this year.

    Australia fires

    Political opposition is rising to Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia as the fires there continue despite heavy rains in many of the fire-affected areas, especially New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria. Damaging winds gusting up to 90kmh for more or less everywhere along the NSW coast to the Victorian border.

    As this column is being written three US citizens have died in NSW when a C-130 water-bombing aircraft crashed.

    Canberra airport has been closed for long periods of the day, and parts of the many areas were choked with toxic black smoke, due to the bushfires burning there.

    The former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has said he “can’t explain” Scott Morrison’s behaviour during Australia’s unprecedented bushfire crisis and that his successor had “downplayed” the catastrophe and had not behaved the way a prime minister should.

    Turnbull made the extraordinary criticism of Morrison during an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, in which he also blamed News Corp and rightwing think tanks in Australia for promoting climate change denialism.


    World leaders seeking an enduring ceasefire in Libya have agreed at a summit to impose sanctions on those breaking an arms embargo and are considering whether to send a multinational force to the country.

    The conference in Berlin of 11 countries was aimed at bringing an end to the fighting between the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army in the country’s east led by Gen Khalifa Haftar. While both sides to the conflict have agreed to nominate five members to a UN ceasefire monitoring committee, they are still far apart and not yet willing to negotiate directly.

    The presidents of Russia, Turkey and France joined other global leaders at the talks hosted by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and held under the auspices of the UN, intending to get foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop interfering in the war -- be it through weapons, troops or financing.

    India - Internet

    India's Supreme Court has given the government a week to review its suspension of internet services in Indian-administered Kashmir, with no access to the internet there for more than 150 days, the longest such shutdown.

    The government suspended internet, mobile phone and landline services in Kashmir before removing the Jammu and Kashmir states partial autonomy in August last year.

    Responding to several petitions challenging the restrictions, “Complete curb of internet must be considered by the state only as an extraordinary measure,” said Justice NV Ramana. He added that access to the internet was part of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the constitution.


    The death toll from a newly-discovered coronavirus in China has risen to 41 on the day of the Lunar New Year.Another 15 deaths in the Hubei province, where the outbreak began, were announced on Saturday.Health officials are struggling to contain the outbreak as millions of people travel for the new year festival, one of the most important dates in its calendar.There are now more than 1,200 confirmed cases in China.

    The virus has also now spread to Europe, with three cases confirmed in France. The UK is investigating a number of suspected cases, while officials there are trying to trace around 2,000 people who have recently flown to the UK from Hubei province.Australia has also confirmed several cases in Melbourne and Sydney, joining a handful of countries treating patients.In China, many events to celebrate the Lunar New Year have been cancelled.What does the virus do?
    The coronavirus, previously unknown to science, causes severe acute respiratory infection with symptoms including a fever and cough. There is no specific cure or vaccine.Based on an earlier report of the fatalities, when just 17 were dead, most of the victims appeared to be older people, many with pre-existing medical conditions.But one of the dead in the most recent update was a doctor at a hospital in Hubei, China Global Television Network reported.

    Pharmacy have been wearing protective clothes and masks serve customers in WuhanSymptoms seem to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, lead to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment.About a quarter of cases are thought to be severe.Wuhan, where the outbreak began, is effectively on lockdown: all bus, metro and ferry services have been suspended, and all outbound planes and trains cancelled.The People's Daily newspaper reports that from Sunday, only special vehicles will be allowed on roads in Wuhan's downtown area.A new hospital is being built in the city, for patients. Chinese media outlets said the new 1,000-bed hospital could be ready within six days.Pharmacies in the city have begun to run out of supplies and hospitals have been filled with nervous members of the public.Residents have been advised not to leave, and roadblocks have been reported.Ezhou, a smaller city in Hubei, shut its railway station. The city of Enshi has suspended all bus services.
    City officials in the capital, Beijing, and Shanghai have asked residents who return from affected areas to stay at home for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus, local media report.Have you been affected? Get in touch: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    Authorities have also shut major tourist sites including the Forbidden City in Beijing and a section of the Great Wall, and cancelled major public events in other parts of the country, including:
    Shanghai's Disney Resort is temporarily closing, as are McDonald's restaurants in five cities.On Thursday, a coronavirus patient died in northern Hebei province - making it the first death outside Hubei.nother death was later confirmed in north-east Heilongjiang province, more than 2,000km (1,200 miles) from Wuhan.Earlier, when the death toll was 17, information from China's National Health Commission said the youngest person who died from the virus was 48 and the oldest was 89.But 15 of the 17 were over 60, and more than half suffered from other chronic diseases including Parkinson's and diabetes. Just four were women.
    French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said one of the French cases, a 48-year-old man of Chinese origin who had been visiting Wuhan, had been hospitalised in Bordeaux. Little was known about the second case, in hospital in Paris, except that the patient had been travelling in China.It was likely other cases would occur in Europe, Ms Buzyn added.She confirmed a third case, in Paris, later on Friday evening.On Saturday, Australia reported its first case, a patient who is in hospital in Melbourne, after arriving from China last weekend. That was quickly followed by the announcement of three cases in Sydney, in the neighbouring state of New South Wales.Earlier on Friday a case was confirmed in Chicago, the second in the US.Singapore confirmed its third case, known to be the son of another patient, also on Friday. Nepal recorded its first case on the same day.Thailand has five cases confirmed; Japan three; Vietnam and South Korea two each; and one in Taiwan.Wuhan: The London-sized city where the virus beganFourteen people in UK tested for new strain
    Other nations are investigating suspected cases, including the UK, US, and Canada.Media captionWHO regional director says China now has "stronger capacity" to deal with infectious outbreaks
    The World Health Organization has not classed the virus as an "international emergency", partly because of the low number of overseas cases."It may yet become one," said the WHO's director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
    How worried should we be?
    By James Gallagher
    Health and science correspondent
    24 January 2020
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    Related TopicsCoronavirus outbreak
    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    The outbreak occurred in the city of Wuhan, south of Beijing
    A virus - previously unknown to science - is causing severe lung disease in China and has also been detected in other countries.

    At least 41 people are known to have died from the virus, which appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

    There are already hundreds of confirmed cases, and experts expect the number will keep rising.

    A new virus arriving on the scene, leaving patients with pneumonia, is always a worry and health officials around the world are on high alert.

    But is this a brief here-today-gone-tomorrow outbreak, or the first sign of something far more dangerous?

    Coronavirus: Your questions answered
    Wuhan: The London-sized city where the virus began
    China coronavirus: What we know so far
    What is this virus?
    Officials in China have confirmed the cases are caused by a coronavirus.

    These are a broad family of viruses, but only six (the new one would make it seven) are known to infect people.

    Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which is caused by a coronavirus, killed 774 of the 8,098 people infected in an outbreak that started in China in 2002.

    "There is a strong memory of Sars, that's where a lot of fear comes from, but we're a lot more prepared to deal with those types of diseases," says Dr Josie Golding, from the Wellcome Trust.

    How severe are the symptoms?
    It seems to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, leads to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment.

    Around one-in-four cases are thought to be severe.

    The coronavirus family itself can cause symptoms ranging from a mild cold all the way through to death.

    "When we see a new coronavirus, we want to know how severe are the symptoms. This is more than cold-like symptoms and that is a concern but it is not as severe as Sars," says Prof Mark Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering declaring an international public health emergency - as it did with swine flu and Ebola.

    How deadly is it?
    Forty-one people are known to have died from the virus - but while the ratio of deaths to known cases appears low, the figures are unreliable.

    But the infection seems to take a while to kill, so more of those patients may yet die.

    And it is unclear how many unreported cases there are.

    Where has it come from?
    New viruses are detected all the time.

    They jump from one species, where they went unnoticed, into humans.

    "If we think about outbreaks in the past, if it is a new coronavirus, it will have come from an animal reservoir," says Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.

    Sars started off in bats and then infected the civet cat, which in turn passed it on to humans.

    And Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which has killed 858 out of the 2,494 recorded cases since it emerged in 2012, regularly makes the jump from the dromedary camel.

    Which animal?
    Once the animal reservoir (where the virus normally camps out) is detected, then the problem becomes much easier to deal with.

    The coronavirus cases have been linked to the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, in Wuhan.

    But while some sea-going mammals can carry coronaviruses (such as the Beluga whale), the market also has live wild animals, including chickens, bats, rabbits, snakes, which are more likely to be the source.

    Researchers say the new virus is closely related to one found in Chinese horseshoe bats.

    Why China?
    Prof Woolhouse says it is because of the size and density of the population and close contact with animals harbouring viruses.

    "No-one is surprised the next outbreak is in China or that part of the world," he says.

    How easily does it spread between people?
    At the beginning of the outbreak, the Chinese authorities said the virus was not spreading between people - but now, such cases have been identified.

    Scientists have now revealed each infected person is passing the virus on to between 1.4 and 2.5 people.

    This figure is called the virus' basic reproduction number - anything higher than 1 means it's self-sustaining.

    We now know this is not a virus that will burn out on its own and disappear.

    Only the decisions being made in China - including shutting down cities - can stop it spreading.

    While those figures are early estimates, they put coronavirus in roughly the same league as Sars.

    There are also concerns that people with no symptoms could be spreading the virus.

    Prof Kwok-Yung Yuen from the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital said "asymptomatic infection appears possible".

    How often or easily this happens is far from clear, but it could make the virus far harder to contain.

    How fast is it spreading?
    It might appear as though cases have soared, from 40 to more than 800 in around a week. But this is misleading.

    Most of the "new" cases were already out there but have only just been detected as China steps up its surveillance.

    There is actually very little information on the "growth rate" of the outbreak.

    But experts say the number of people becoming sick is likely to be far higher than the reported figures.

    A report by the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London said: "It is likely that the Wuhan outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than currently reported."

    Skip Twitter post by @MRC_Outbreak
    UPDATE: Report estimates 4000 cases #coronavirus #2019nCoV

    Our estimate at 4,000 cases is more than double the past estimate due to increase of number of cases outside China. This should not be interpreted as implying the outbreak has doubled in size.

    ?https://t.co/7A77NXZ3iw pic.twitter.com/TwEwUNamnX

    — MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis (@MRC_Outbreak) January 22, 2020
    End of Twitter post by @MRC_Outbreak
    While the outbreak is centred on Wuhan, there have been cases in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, France, Singapore, Taiwan, Nepal and the US.

    Could the virus mutate?
    Yes, you would expect viruses to mutate and evolve all the time. But what this means is harder to tell.

    The novel coronavirus has jumped from one species to another. It could mutate to become easier to spread from one person to another or to have more severe symptoms.

    This is something scientists will be watching closely.

    How can the virus be stopped?
    We now know the virus will not stop on its own; only the actions of the Chinese authorities can bring this epidemic to an end.

    There is also no vaccine to give people immunity to the virus.

    The only option is to prevent people who have become infected from spreading the virus to others.

    That means:

    Limiting people's movement
    Encouraging hand-washing
    Treating patients in isolation with healthcare workers wearing protective gear
    A massive feat of detective work will also be needed to identify people whom patients have come into contact with to see if they have the virus.

    How have Chinese authorities responded?
    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Temperature screening can help identify people who have been infected
    China has done something unprecedented anywhere in the world - by effectively putting Wuhan into quarantine.

    Travel restrictions have also been imposed on a dozen other cities with 36 million people affected.

    Some mass gatherings have been banned and tourists sites, including part of the Great Wall, have been closed.

    Wuhan - the centre of the outbreak - is building a new hospital with a beds for 1,000 patients.

    How is the world responding?
    Most Asian countries have stepped up screenings of travellers from Wuhan and the WHO has warned hospitals worldwide a wider outbreak is possible.

    Singapore and Hong Kong have been screening air passengers from Wuhan and authorities in the US and the UK have announced similar measures.

    However, questions remain about the effectiveness of such measures.

    If it takes five days for symptoms to appear, then someone could easily be halfway round the world and have passed through any screening checks before starting to feel ill.

    How worried are the experts?
    Dr Golding says: "At the moment, until we have more information, it's really hard to know how worried we should be.

    "Until we have confirmation of the source, that's always going to make us uneasy."

    Prof Ball says: "We should be worried about any virus that explores humans for the first time, because it's overcome the first major barrier.

    "Once inside a [human] cell and replicating, it can start to generate mutations that could allow it to spread more efficiently and become more dangerous.

    "You don't want to give the virus the opportunity."

    Are there any vaccines or treatments?

    However, the work to develop them is already under way. It is hoped that research into developing a vaccine for Mers, which is also a coronavirus, will make this an easier job.

    How can China build a hospital so quickly?
    By Sophie Williams
    BBC News
    9 hours ago
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    Related TopicsCoronavirus outbreak
    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Constuction on the site in Wuhan has already begun with staff hoping it will be completed within six days
    The Chinese city of Wuhan is set to build a hospital in six days in order to treat patients suspected of contracting the coronavirus.

    There are currently 830 confirmed cases in China, 41 of whom have died.

    The outbreak began in Wuhan, home to around 11 million people. Hospitals in the city have been flooded with concerned residents and pharmacies are running out of medicine.

    According to state media, the new hospital will contain about 1,000 beds.

    Video footage posted online by Chinese state media shows diggers already at the site, which has an area of 25,000 square metres (269,000 square feet).

    It is based on a similar hospital set up in Beijing to help tackle the Sars virus in 2003.

    "It's basically a quarantined hospital where they send people with infectious diseases so it has the safety and protective gear in place," said Joan Kaufman, lecturer in global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School.

    How is China able to build a hospital in six days?
    "China has a record of getting things done fast even for monumental projects like this," says Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    He points out that the hospital in Beijing in 2003 was built in seven days so the construction team is probably attempting to beat that record. Just like the hospital in Beijing, the Wuhan centre will be made out of prefabricated buildings.

    "This authoritarian country relies on this top down mobilisation approach. They can overcome bureaucratic nature and financial constraints and are able to mobilise all of the resources."

    China coronavirus: A visual guide
    China marks Lunar New Year in shadow of virus
    Mr Huang said that engineers would be brought in from across the country in order to complete construction in time.

    "The engineering work is what China is good at. They have records of building skyscrapers at speed. This is very hard for westerners to imagine. It can be done," he added.

    In terms of medical supplies, Wuhan can either take supplies from other hospitals or can easily order them from factories.

    On Friday, the Global Times confirmed 150 medical personnel from the People's Liberation Army had arrived in Wuhan. However it did not confirm if they would be working in the new hospital once it has been built.

    What happened during the Sars outbreak?
    In 2003, the Xiaotangshan Hospital was built in Beijing in order to accommodate the number of patients showing symptoms of Sars. It was constructed in seven days, allegedly breaking the world record for the fastest construction of a hospital.

    About 4,000 people worked to build the hospital, working throughout the day and night in order to meet the deadline, China.com.cn said.

    Inside, it had an X-ray room, CT room, intensive-care unit and laboratory. Each ward was equipped with its own bathrooms.

    Within two months, it admitted one-seventh of the Sars patients in the country and was hailed as a "miracle in the history of medicine" by the country's media.A woman becomes one of the last patients to leave Xiaotangshan hospital after being treated for Sars
    Ms Kaufman explained: "It was ordered by the ministry of health and seconded nurses and other doctors from existing health facilities to man the hospitals. They had protocols from the ministry of health that talked about how to handle infectious diseases and the critical path of identification and isolation that was specific for Sars."

    She added that during the Sars epidemic, the organisation and costs were covered by local areas but there were a lot of subsidies from the state that flowed down through the system from the costs of staff salaries to building.I can't imagine that the burden of this is going to be on the Wuhan government because it's high priority," said Ms Kaufman.According to Mr Huang, the hospital was "quietly abandoned after the epidemic ended".

    Chinese diasporas on edge over coronavirus
    By Zhaoyin Feng
    BBC Chinese Service, Washington
    9 hours ago
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    Image caption
    China marks lunar New Year in the shadow of virus outbreak
    Hours after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the US, surgical masks began selling out at the pharmacies in Seattle, where a resident recently returned from China had fallen ill.

    "I immediately ordered a box of masks online after I heard of the first US case," said Tina Liu, a Chinese student at the University of Washington, not far from the city.

    Since 8 December 2019, when the first cases of the mysterious coronavirus lung illness were reported in Wuhan, China, more than 500 residents there have been infected.

    On the eve of the lunar New Year holiday on Saturday, billions of people are on edge - but not just in China.

    Though only two cases have so far been reported in the US, and a handful in other countries outside of China, the anxiety sparked among Chinese overseas is palpable.

    'We've been advised not to leave our rooms'
    'We've got enough food to last 10 days'
    How is China coping with the Coronavirus outbreak?
    The outbreak of the most serious epidemic in Asia since 2003 has brought unwelcome memories of the Sars emergency, as well as new anxieties in the age of social media and increased global travel.

    Since the Sars outbreak of 2003, China has undergone a massive transformation.

    Nearly 150 million Chinese travelled abroad in 2018, compared to 20.2 million in 2003.

    Some 360,000 Chinese students study in the US and travel between the two countries frequently.

    Hundreds of millions of Chinese have gained access to social media, which did not exist during the Sars outbreak.

    From thousands of miles away, members of the Chinese diaspora are worrying for their families from afar, or fretting over getting sick themselves.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    "It's hard not to worry, as you're based overseas and can't do much about it," said Rui Zhong, a Chinese-American living in Maryland with family in Wuhan, where millions of residents are under quarantine.

    Thousands of miles apart, Ms Zhong and her family are constantly exchanging information about the outbreak on WeChat, a Chinese messaging platform.

    In Seattle, many Chinese residents are on high alert, Ms Liu told BBC. Some 65,000 Chinese travellers visit the US each year, and the two confirmed cases in the US are individuals who fell ill after recently returning from China.

    Although she had not seen many people wearing masks in Seattle, Ms Liu decided to wear one as a precautionary measure. "It's better to be safe than sorry," she said.


    Media captionWhat's life like in quarantined Wuhan?
    Amid the health emergency, the Chinese government has loosened its censorship controls and sought to apply lessons learnt from the Sars epidemic to prevent a repeat of the 2003 disaster.

    Whereas information about the outbreak was tightly controlled in previous weeks, coverage of the outbreak has been liberalised in China, and news from Wuhan now circulates more freely on Chinese social media platforms.

    Compared to the Sars epidemic, the Chinese government has been "more open" to sharing information, according to Amesh Adalja, an expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

    In the 2003 epidemic, China was criticised by the international community for concealing the scale of the outbreak, which led to the virus spreading to 26 countries and killing nearly 800 people.

    With coronavirus, "China has provided more timely updates about case counts and made the virus sequence public early", Dr Adalja said.

    That has helped the world take more proactive measures to tackle the outbreak, he said.

    China's travel industry counts cost of coronavirus
    Has China learned lessons since deadly Sars epidemic‎?

    Media captionWHO regional director says China now has "stronger capacity" to deal with infectious outbreaks
    Modern technology and the larger global Chinese community means the diaspora is reacting differently, too.

    Overseas Chinese have used social media to launch crowdfunding campaigns to send medical supplies to Wuhan, for examples.

    Muyi Xiao, a Wuhan native who currently lives in New York City, was the first to warn her family about the virus after reading reports in the international media.

    She alerted her family in Wuhan to take precautionary measures in late December 2019. "They didn't think it was a big deal back then," she told BBC.

    But now, she has urged them to cancel their Lunar New Year dinner, even though it is their most important meal of the year. "The feast can wait. The family's health is of the utmost importance," she said.





    The next Parliament sitting has been scheduled to be held from 5th to 7th of February under the patronage of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.This was decided at the meeting of Committee on Parliamentary Business held yesterday (24).Accordingly, the Parliament will meet on February 5 from 1.00 pm to 7.30 pm, on February 6 from 10.30 am to 7.30 pm and on February 7 from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm.


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