Hong Kong will cull hundreds of hamsters after some tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday, as the city pushes to maintain its strict "zero-Covid" strategy.
The Chinese territory's staunch adherence to the mainland's "zero-Covid" policy has kept the number of cases low, but maintaining it has cut the finance hub off from the rest of the world for the last two years.
The decision to cull about 2,000 hamsters and other small animals comes after health officials recorded Covid cases at a Hong Kong pet shop.
Health secretary Sophia Chan said the move will protect public health after a pet shop employee and a customer handling hamsters tested positive.
The employee was found to be infected with the Delta variant, which has become rare in Hong Kong.
"Internationally, there is no evidence yet to show pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans, but... we will take precautionary measures against any vector of transmission," Chan said during a press conference.
Eleven preliminary positive samples were found on hamsters for sale at the Little Boss pet shop in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay.
Officials believe they were imported from the Netherlands and urged anyone who bought a hamster after December 22 to give up their pet for culling.
About 1,000 animals from Little Boss and its warehouse will be seized and put down, while staff and customers have been sent for testing.
Health officials also issued quarantine orders for around 150 people who visited the pet shop as well as more than 20 warehouse employees.
The shop was shuttered Tuesday.
Another 1,000 hamsters from dozens of other pet shops across Hong Kong will also be killed and the businesses have been ordered to close temporarily.
Imports of small mammals will be suspended, officials added.
Deputy agriculture chief Thomas Sit defended the cull as a precautionary measure when asked why the decision was made without a clear scientific basis.
"The public should avoid kissing their pets and keep their homes clean," added agriculture director Leung Siu-fai.
"They should not abandon their pets on the streets under any circumstances."
Reaction from hamster lovers in Hong Kong was swift -- and angry.
"Is there anyone who can save the hamsters and other small animals?" said one person in a Facebook group called Hamster Blog HK -- which boasts more than 10,000 members.
Another ridiculed officials over the cull, telling them to "go to Wuhan and help the bats there wear two masks", referring to the Chinese city where Covid-19 first emerged two years ago.
© 2022 AFP
Rescue workers on Tuesday searched for survivors after an earthquake in a remote western region of Afghanistan killed at least 26 people and damaged hundreds of houses, officials said.
Monday's 5.3-magnitude shallow quake jolted the province of Badghis and wrecked houses, mostly in Qadis district -- a rural area not easily accessible by road.
"The earthquake caused massive damage to houses, about 700 to 1,000 have been damaged," Badghis provincial spokesman Baz Mohammad Sarwary said in a video message.
"There is the possibility that the casualties could increase."
Images circulating on social media showed residents, including children, searching through the rubble of collapsed homes for belongings and essential items.
Taliban government spokesman Inamullah Samangani said rescue workers were helping find survivors and transferring the wounded to local hospitals.
A Taliban team was in the area assisting in the relief work.
Some of the victims, including women and children, died when the roofs of their houses collapsed, officials said.
The quake also inflicted damage on the residents of Muqr district but details, including casualties, were still unavailable.
The epicentre of the quake was near the city of Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis, less than 100 kilometres from the Turkmenistan border, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Afghanistan is already in the grip of a humanitarian disaster, worsened by the Taliban takeover of the country in August when Western countries froze international aid and access to assets held abroad.
The United Nations has said it needs $5 billion in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and offer the ravaged nation a future after 40 years of suffering.
A devastating drought has compounded the crisis, with earthquake-hit Qadis one of the worst affected areas.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Even weak earthquakes can cause significant damage to poorly built homes and buildings in the impoverished country.
In 2015, nearly 280 people were killed when a powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across South Asia, with the bulk of the deaths in Pakistan.
In that disaster, 12 young Afghan girls were crushed to death in a stampede as they tried to flee their shaking school building.
© 2022 AFP
Jan. 6 was literally a white supremacist assault on democracy. Has anyone in the media come out and said that?
Public opinion polls and other research have repeatedly shown that white racist attitudes, whether presented as "old-fashioned" racism or in less direct fashion as racial resentment and racial hostility, are strongly associated with support for Donald Trump and his Republican fascist movement. It is certainly true that feelings of economic insecurity, inequality and social alienation among the white working class are central to understanding the rise of American neofascism. But throughout American history, those forces have primarily manifested through white racism in its various forms.
As social theorist Stuart Hall described this dynamic: "Race is the modality in which class is lived."
W.E.B. Du Bois explained it this way in a memorable passage from "Black Reconstruction":
Slavery bred in the poor white a dislike of Negro toil of all sorts. He never regarded himself as a laborer, or as part of any labor movement. If he had any ambition at all it was to become a planter and to own "niggers." To these Negroes he transferred all the dislike and hatred which he had for the whole slave system. The result was that the system was held stable and intact by the poor white.
President Lyndon Johnson offered a famous observation in a similar vein: "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."
In this sense, the Age of Trump is the latest iteration of a much older politics of white rage and white supremacy whose origins extend well back before the Founding.
Last January Trump's agents and allies attempted to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Their plot consisted of a multifaceted nationwide plan to disqualify Joe Biden's votes -- and some participants literally suggested deploying the military after declaring a national state of emergency to cement Trump's control over the country.
The evidence shows that the Capitol attack of Jan. 6 was an integral component of Trump's coup attempt, intended to delay the certification of the Electoral College votes and prevent the final and formal election of Biden as president. In none of these events was race in any way a peripheral or irrelevant issue.
It is simply factual to describe Jan. 6 as a white supremacist attack on multiracial democracy. But if one were to rely on the consensus of the America's mainstream news media on the one-year anniversary, one might come away with the belief that racism and white supremacy played little or no role in the events of that day.
Very few of the personal essays and reflections from journalists and others who were at the Capitol or nearby on Jan. 6 explicitly mentioned that Trump's attack force was almost entirely all white. Instead, those accounts depicted a race-less and colorless horde of angry political hooligans attempting to overthrow American democracy.
Other writing about the events of Jan. 6 focused more impersonally on the role of authoritarianism and "populism." But again, the specific racial marker was missing: It was not described as "white" populism or "white" authoritarianism or, better yet, "white fascism," "white terrorism" or "white violence."
Likewise, Trump's attack force and coup plotters were involved in an "insurrection" — but not a "white" insurrection. They were "enraged" about the 2020 election and its results but not driven by "white rage."
By not centering the role of race in the events of Jan. 6, other realities are obscured as well. Trump's attempted coup and the ongoing attacks on American democracy are a function of toxic white masculinity, militant "Christianity," collective narcissism and other pathologies, including a profound societal impulse towards violence, self-destruction and death.
Many journalists may object to this criticism by responding that race and racism are not their "beat," and they lack expertise in that area. My response would be that they are neglecting one of the most important aspects of American society, and therefore failing to understand crucial context for the current political crisis.
To those who say they don't want to "make a mistake" when writing about race and racism, I would respond: Learn and study. Talk to experts, ask questions and educate yourself. Treat those topics as you would any other matter of critical societal importance.
If the answer is, "I chose to not write that story," I would say you made a choice to ignore a central element of the Age of Trump, and America's actual or potential descent into fascism and racial authoritarianism. If the answer is more that the role of race on Jan. 6 "did not occur to me." The luxury not to "see" or understand racism and white supremacy is itself an example of white privilege and how it works on day-to-day manner. I do not question your good intentions — but those have little, if anything, to do with racist or white supremacist outcomes.
If the answer is to respond that it's "obvious" that the Trump attack force was white and it serves no purpose to mention said fact, I would explain how that is still a form of racial erasure which is doing the work of white supremacy. Assuming that these things are "obvious" helps to make invisible the myriad ways that whiteness and white power structure American society.
The power of racial colorblindness as a tool of white supremacy is easily understood: If the Jan. 6 attackers had been black or brown or Muslim, there would have been no such racial erasure. They would have been described in racial terms by the media, and in public discourse more generally, likely almost every single time the event was mentioned.
My concerns about racial erasure and the events of Jan. 6 are directed primarily toward the mainstream news media and its "reasonable" liberal or moderate voices. Right-wing media is a propaganda machine that serves the interests of white supremacy, and has no legitimacy or credibility in this discussion. But if mainstream "centrist" and liberal voices in the media are to play any kind of effective role as defenders of democracy in this moment of crisis, they must remove the blinders of whiteness.
At its core, American neofascism is a white supremacist project. To blind yourself to that fact is to limit your ability to understand it — and to grasp the magnitude of the existential danger now facing American society. That is the road to defeat, and the literal end of America's experiment in multiracial democracy. Mainstream media can do better — and it absolutely must.