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Chinese markets linked to coronavirus re-open selling bats and scorpions

Bats and scorpions are back on sale at Chinese meat markets – just months after the outbreak of coronavirus which has caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world.

A shocking eyewitness report claims huge crowds descended on indoor markets in Guilin, south west China, and Dongguan, southern China, when they re-opened yesterday.

Many places in China, where the killer disease originated, have celebrated "victory" over coronavirus as businesses open their doors for the first time in weeks.

The scene was witnessed by a Mail on Sunday correspondent, who described it as "deeply troubling".

The paper reports that no efforts seemed to have been made to prevent a future outbreak by raising hygiene standards.

In Dongguan, bats – linked to the Covid-19 outbreak – are advertised by a medicine seller.

The Chinese population have been urged by the government to return to normal, with just a tiny number of new infections reported.

The unnamed China-based correspondent said: "Everyone here believes the outbreak is over and there's nothing to worry about any more.

"It's just a foreign problem now as far as they are concerned."

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And in Dongguan, they stated, the only change was that guards were stopping people taking pictures.

"The markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus," they said.

The coronavirus has been traced back to a market in Wuhan, which was completely shut down in the aftermath of the outbreak.

More than 665,000 people have been infected around the world, with Spain, Italy, the US and Britain among the worst-affected countries.

At least 30,900 people are known to have died.

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Business

Morgan Stanley receives approval for majority stake in China venture: sources

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Morgan Stanley (MS.N) has received regulatory approval to take a majority stake in its China securities joint venture, people with knowledge of the matter said, as Beijing opens up the financial sector to foreigners.

The Wall Street heavyweight received the nod from the China Securities Regulatory Commission to raise its stake in Morgan Stanley Huaxin Securities to 51%, the people said, declining to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

A spokesman for Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong declined to comment.

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World News

China in coronavirus propaganda push as US ties worsen

State media lauds China as global leader in fight against disease in bid to defuse criticism it allowed virus to spread.

Chengdu, China – On March 18, China marked a milestone in its “people’s war” against the new coronavirus. For the first time in three months, there were no new local infections in the central province of Hubei, where more than 60 million people remain confined to their homes as part of a nationwide effort to control the deadly outbreak.

The respiratory illness caused by the new pathogen, first detected in late December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, has spread rapidly across the world, infecting more than 465,000 people and killing more than 21,000 as of March 26. 

Europe has become the new epicentre of the disease, also known as COVID-19, with the death toll in Italy and Spain higher than China and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday that the United States might be next.

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But in China, the outbreak appears to be under control, with less than 5,000 patients still undergoing treatment and new cases confirmed only among people returning from overseas.

Authorities in Beijing, who were widely criticised for initially covering up the outbreak, are now hailing their success, highlighting the unparalleled measures that helped quell the outbreak within the country and positioning China as a global leading power in the fight against the coronavirus – all while engaging in an acrimonious war of words with the US.

Prior to the slowing of local transmissions in China, the country’s highly controlled state media was almost exclusively pushing one narrative: the supremacy of the so-called “system with Chinese characteristics” in fighting the outbreak.

News anchors and online reporters praised the central leadership for utilising measures unthinkable in other countries in their bid to contain the virus, including a nationwide quarantine, the use of mass surveillance to track infections bringing the world’s second-largest economy to a near-halt.

“With utmost determination to curb the outbreak growth, China has bought enough time for the world to prepare itself for this pandemic,” Geng Shuang, the spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on March 19, suggesting that China’s draconian measures had slowed down the transmission of the disease worldwide.

‘Global leader against coronavirus’

As the domestic pressure to contain the outbreak eased, state media shifted their focus to featuring China’s recent effort to deploy medics and resources to areas most hard-hit by the virus, particularly Italy and Iran, labelling itself as a global leader in the battle against the virus.

China has sent planeloads of medical equipment, including the much sought-after masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment to the worst-hit countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

CCTV, the official state broadcaster, continuously plays videos of Chinese medics arriving in Bergamo in northern Italy and Iran’s capital, Tehran.

CGTN, the international wing of CCTV, and Global Times, a state-owned English language tabloid, are two of the many state media outlets praising China’s “generosity” and “leadership” during the pandemic.

Positive feedback from global leaders, such as Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, and officials from Venezuela and the Philippines – mostly comments applauding China’s support and leadership  – have also been prominently featured in the state media coverage.

Meanwhile, the social media accounts of government-backed media institutions are at the front line of the propaganda push, including on Twitter and Facebook, which are both banned in China.

‘Shifting domestic anger’

By doing so, Beijing is trying to shift domestic and international attention away from the pent-up anger in the country towards the central government for an initial cover-up of the outbreak that many say paved the way for the rapid spread of the virus.

“By pushing for this narrative, China is avoiding the blame and successfully dodging culpability for its role in spreading the coronavirus,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

“In suppressing information about the virus and allowing it to spread unchecked in the crucial early days and weeks, the regime imperilled the more than 100 nations now facing their own potentially devastating outbreaks.”

Some analysts say what triggered the propaganda machine in China is the deterioration in relations between Beijing and Washington, which are also locked in a bitter trade dispute.

Last week, tensions escalated after China expelled more than a dozen American journalists working for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post newspapers, in a tactic seen as retaliation for the US designating China’s state media as diplomatic missions.

‘Blame game’

Now officials in the two countries are blaming each other for the current pandemic.

Since early March, Chinese officials and state media have been pushing the idea that the new coronavirus could have originated somewhere else – notably the US.

Lijian Zhao, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, has been particularly vocal in questioning the US’s role in the viral outbreak.

On March 12, Zhao posted a tweet saying: “It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan”. And despite widespread criticism over the unsubstantiated claim, Zhao continues to blame Washington.

Articles with titles along the lines of The virus didn’t come from China: the US brought the virus to China as a bioweapon are widely shared across China’s tightly-controlled internet.

Some of these pieces filled with conspiracy theories say the US army brought the virus to China during the Military World Games held in Wuhan in October last year. State media is also calling for an “inquiry” into the US’s role in the emergence of this outbreak, publishing articles that question Washington based on an unfounded assumption that the US was behind the spread of the virus.

Aggressive foreign policy

The WHO and leading medical experts say the virus jumped from an animal host to humans, stressing that the suggestion that the pathogen did not have a natural origin are “dangerous” to the effort to contain the pandemic.

But Chinese academics are also supporting the narrative of US involvement.

Chen Xuyan, a scientist based in Beijing, appeared on CCTV on March 18 and suggested that the fast speed of research on COVID-19 vaccines in the US could be attributed to the possibility that Washington had already obtained the virus long before, by extension implying the US might have sent the virus to China.

“The Xi government is following a very aggressive foreign policy now, engaging in what Mao Zedong called a ‘tongue war’ – the propaganda war,” said Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury who specialises in Chinese politics.

The resentment in China has been exacerbated by US President Donald Trump’s decision to use terms like “foreign virus” and more frequently, “Chinese virus”, to refer to the new pathogen.

Images posted online show that during a recent news conference, Trump crossed out the word “corona” and wrote “CHINESE” in front of the word “virus” in the script of his speech. 

The Chinese foreign ministry has called the moves “irresponsible” and “racist”.

Instead of sweeping Trump’s comments under the rug, which is usually what the state media does for comments that go against the Communist Party line, the government is using Trump’s remarks as a tactic to incite public anger towards the US leader and as an extension, the US as a whole.

“With the US facing its own credibility issues in recent years, China’s false narrative threatens to spread as quickly as the coronavirus,” wrote Matthew Karnitschnig, the chief Europe correspondent of Politico.

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World News

US warship sails through Taiwan Strait amid tensions with China

US says destroyer USS McCampbell conducted ‘routine Taiwan Strait transit’ in accordance with international law.

A United States warship passed through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the US and Taiwan’s militaries said, following heightened tensions between China and Taiwan that has seen Taiwanese air force jets scramble to intercept Chinese fighters.

The ship sailed north through the waterway and was monitored by Taiwan’s armed forces, the island’s defence ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

It described the sailing as an “ordinary mission”, saying there was no cause for alarm, Reuters news agency reported.

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Anthony Junco, a spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet said the ship was the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, which conducted “a routine Taiwan Strait transit March 25 (local time) in accordance with international law”.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue and Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.

The narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the island from China is a frequent source of tension.

In recent weeks China’s air force has carried out several exercises close to Taiwan, causing Taiwan’s mostly US-equipped military to scramble fighters to intercept and warn away the Chinese aircraft.

Taiwan has called the Chinese drills provocative and has called on China to pay more attention to fighting the spread of the coronavirus rather than menacing Taiwan.

The US, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, but is the island’s most important international supporter and main source of arms.

In January another US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait less than a week after President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election by a landslide on a platform of standing up to China.

Tsai visited a military base on Tuesday and again warned of the threat from China during the virus outbreak.

“Everyone knows that although at present there is an intense epidemic situation, the Chinese Communist’s military aircraft continue to harass Taiwan; their threat to Taiwan and regional security has not gone down,” she said.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, China has also stepped up its military activity in the region.

In recent days, it has been reported that Beijing launched two research stations on two disputed islands in the South China Sea, within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

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World News

Drivers to get 6 month MOT exemption as country battles coronavirus outbreak

Motorists are to be granted six-month exemptions from getting their vehicle's MOT in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government announced the new measure on Wednesday morning in order to allow people to continue to make essential journeys after the country went into lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson banned people from leaving their homes on Monday night as he announced an unprecedented new series of measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

People will only be allowed to step outside if they are going shopping for basic necessities, to exercise once a day, medical needs, and travelling to and from work, but only if it is absolutely impossible to work from home.

The move has raised lots of issues for members of the public, but the Government has now moved to clarify what it will mean for people whose vehicle MOT runs out while the country is in lockdown.

All cars, vans and motorcycles which usually would require an MOT test will be exempted from needing a test from March 30.

Lorry, bus and trailer annual MOTs have also been suspended for three months because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Vehicles must be kept in a roadworthy condition, and garages will remain open for essential repair work, transport minister Grant Shapps said.

Under government guidelines, people should stay at home and avoid travel.

These measures have been put in place for those who need to leave their homes to pick up essential items, such as food and medication, or to travel to work if you are a key worker.

Grant Shapps said: "We must ensure those on the frontline of helping the nation combat COVID19 are able to do so.

"Allowing this temporary exemption from vehicle testing will enable vital services such as deliveries to continue, frontline workers to get to work, and people get essential food and medicine.

"Safety is key, which is why garages will remain open for essential repair work."

Legislation will be introduced on March 30 and will come into immediate effect for 12 months.

Drivers who need to use their car between now and March 30 will still need to get their vehicle tested until the new regulations come into force.

Practical driving tests and annual testing for lorries, buses and coaches have also been suspended for up to three months under emergency measures to help stop the fast spreading infection.

  • Boris Johnson
  • China

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World News

China sees drop in new coronavirus cases; all new cases imported

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Mainland China saw a drop in its daily tally of new coronavirus cases, reversing four straight days of gains, as the capital Beijing ramped up measures to contain the number of infections arriving from abroad.

China had 39 new confirmed cases on Sunday, the National Health Commission said, down from 46 a day earlier. All of them involved travellers arriving from abroad, many of whom are Chinese students returning home.

The city of Beijing expanded measures to contain imported infections, diverting all international flights arriving from Monday to other airports in other cities, including Shanghai and as far west as Xian, where passengers will undergo virus screening.

Beijing reported 10 new imported cases, the National Health Commission said on Monday, down from 13 a day earlier. Infections from abroad in the city hit an all-time high of 21 on March 18.

Shanghai and Guangzhou have also said all arriving international passengers will undergo tests to screen for the coronavirus, expanding a programme that previously only applied to those coming from heavily-affected countries.

Shanghai reported 10 new cases on Sunday, down from a record 14 a day earlier.

Guangdong province saw seven new imported infections, Fujian had four and Jiangsu had two. Hebei, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Shandong and Sichuan each saw just one case, bringing the total imported cases in China to 314 so far.

Mainland China saw no new locally transmitted infections.

In Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province, authorities have eased tough lockdown measures as the epicentre of the outbreak in China saw no new infection for the fifth day.

Downtown Wuhan remains the only high-risk area in the province, with other cities and counties in Hubei are now classifed as low-risk.

Wuhan went into a virtual lockdown on Jan. 23 to contain the spread of the virus to the rest of China.

According to authorities on Sunday, people can enter the city if they are certified healthy and have no fever.

Hubei residents who are in Wuhan can apply to leave the city, but they have to go through a test for the virus and if are certified healthy.

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There is still no indication that Wuhan residents can leave the city for non-essential reasons.

As of Sunday, the total accumulated number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 81,093.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China reached 3,270, up by nine from the previous day.

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World News

China's imported coronavirus cases jump as students, expats flock home

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported a record rise in imported coronavirus cases on Friday as expatriates returned home from the United States and Europe, sparking fears of a second wave of infections just as the country recovers from the initial outbreak.

All 41 of the new confirmed cases in China were imported from abroad, the country’s National Health Commission said on Saturday, bringing the total number of such cases to 269.

Beijing and Shanghai were the main entry points for the returnees, many of whom are students who were studying abroad, according to official reports. They have come back after many campuses in the United States and Europe shut down to stem rapidly rising infection rates there.

Also returning in a flight to safety were China-based expats, as businesses begin to reopen.

The pivot to stemming imported cases has led to a tightening of quarantine restrictions in the country.

Guangdong’s health commission said on Saturday travelers who enter Guangdong province from abroad will be subject to a 14-day quarantine on arrival either in personal residences or at a centralized quarantine center at the expense of the traveler.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 81,008 at the end of Friday, the health authority said. The death toll was 3,255, up by seven, a much slower rate than at the height of the crisis.

The lack of locally transmitted cases for the third day running underscored a recovery that has prompted officials to relax restrictions, even in the virus epicenter of Wuhan, which was responsible for all seven new deaths.

City officials said last week that residents could walk around their compounds, loosening restrictions that had kept them to their personal living areas.

On Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency said commercial outlets in residential communities and villages without existing cases of virus can resume business, citing the municipal bureau of commerce.

As well as Beijing and Shanghai, the major transport hub of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has facilitated infected returnees. The southern provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and the eastern provinces of Shandong and Zhejiang, as well as Shaanxi and Sichuan have also all reported cases.

(The story refiles to correct name of province from “Shenzen” to “Shenzhen” in last par)

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World News

Loyal dog saves family from fire after clawing at their doors to wake them up

A woman has praised her dog for keeping her and her family safe after saving their lives out of a house blaze.

Liu Ruihua, from Chifeng of Inner Mongolia in northern China, and her family were sleeping when their heater in the kitchen went faulty on Tuesday.

Luckily, she was alerted by her tiny mongrel, named Maodou, and managed to escape before the fire melted the roof and engulfed the house.

Footage taken after the tragic accident by Ms Liu shows the ruins of the house as she walks around and steps over the charred woods

She thanks Maodou and says: "This little dog saved my life, scratching and knocking on the door.

"This is the dog. I saved its life, now it’s saved mine."

Maodou, which is Chinese for the edamame, usually lives outside the house in the family’s courtyard. The pooch clawed and gnawed at their doors before Ms Liu’s husband went outside, the homeowner recalled.

Ms Liu said she and her family adopted Maodou last summer when they found the scrawny pup abandoned by the side of the road.

In the video, she also urges people not to eat dog meat.

She continues: "My husband asked why the dog was scratching at the door, so he opened the door to check.

"We knew nothing of the fire. It knocked on the front door and then the back door.

"The dog led him to the back of the house, then he saw the fire in the kitchen.

"He came back and called us out. Five minutes later and we’d have all been burned to death.

"We found Maodou as a pup. Nobody wanted it.

"I saved it then. Now it’s saved all five of us."

According to reports, the fire was started by the family’s heating furnace.

Ms Liu did not reveal where they would be living while their home is rebuilt.

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World News

Amazing satellite clip shows China’s pollution disappearing during coronavirus

China’s infamous pollution problem has seemingly completely disappeared during the coronavirus pandemic, with millions of people staying inside.

The Chinese government has banned travel to and from all affected regions and shut factories while the authorities have ordered residents to stay home, but the total lockdown has given residents unexpected "good-quality air days".

In an animated video using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, a significant drop in nitrogen dioxide emissions levels is seen across China between January and February.

Nitrogen dioxide is a gas mainly emitted by cars, trucks, power plants and some industrial plants.

The colour charts represent the density level of the toxic gas in the air. In northern and eastern China where factories and shipping business resides, the chart indicates yellow and red in the December-January period.

But as soon as the government announced the ban in late January, the map is cleared with no nitrogen dioxide emission recorded on the satellite.

Claus Zehner, ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, comments: "We can certainly attribute a part of the nitrogen dioxide emission reduction to the impact of the coronavirus.

"We currently see around a 40% reduction over Chinese cities, but these are just rough estimates, as weather also has an impact on emissions."

Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, was quoted by Science Alert as saying: "This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event."

Some said such drop is usually seen during the Lunar New Year as factories are closed and workers go home for celebration, but the reductions have continued long after the end of the festival.

At the end of the video, it shows the emissions levels going up again in March when the Chinese government started lifting travel bans and factories reopened for business.

The Sentinel-5P satellite is dedicated to monitoring air pollution by measuring a multitude of trace gases as well as aerosols – all of which affect the air we breathe.

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Economy

China unexpectedly keeps lending benchmark rate unchanged

SHANGHAI, March 20 (Reuters) – China kept its benchmark lending rate steady on Friday, defying expectations for a reduction to ease borrowing costs in an economy jolted by widespread disruptions to businesses from the coronavirus pandemic.

The one-year loan prime rate (LPR) was left unchanged at 4.05% from the previous monthly fixing while the five-year LPR remained at 4.75%.

Forty respondents, or 71.4% of all participants, in a Reuters snap survey had expected a reduction in the LPR, with 36 predicting either a five basis point or 10 basis point cut in the one-year tenor and no change to the five-year rate.

The LPR is a lending reference rate set monthly by 18 banks. The People’s Bank of China revamped the mechanism to price LPR in August 2019, loosely pegging it to the medium-term lending facility rate.

However, the PBOC left borrowing cost on its one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans unchanged on Monday, despite its U.S. counterpart’s decision to slash interest rates to near zero to counteract the economic shock from the coronavirus outbreak.

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