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South Korea says slain man tried to defect to North Korea



SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea said Tuesday that a government official slain by North Korean sailors wanted to defect, concluding that the man, who had gambling debts, swam against unfavorable currents with the help of a life jacket and a floatation device and conveyed his intention of resettling in North Korea.

Senior coast guard officer Yoon Seong-hyun said at a televised briefing that there was a “very low possibility” that the man could have fallen from a ship or tried to kill himself because he was putting on a life jacket when he was found in North Korean waters last week.

Yoon said tidal currents at the time would also make it extremely difficult for him to drift into North Korean waters naturally.

The coast guard said its assessment was based on an analysis of tidal currents in the area, a visit to a government boat the official had been aboard before his disappearance, investigation of his financial transactions and a meeting with South Korean Defense Ministry officials.

Yoon said the man conveyed his wish to defect before his death. He cited intelligence showing North Korea knew the man’s name, age, height and hometown as an evidence of his communication with the North.

Yoon didn’t elaborate. But some experts said he likely was referring to South Korea’s interception of communications among North Korean officials about the man.

Coast guard officials have previously said the 47-year-old official was a father of two with some debts. Yoon said Tuesday the debts totaled about 330 million won ($282,240), 80% of which were from gambling.

It’s still unclear whether Tuesday’s announcement would sooth mounting questions about why the man was in North Korean waters. The brother of the late official has said it was more likely that he fell into the sea by accident. The official had been aboard a government inspection ship before he disappeared.

South Korea has accused North Korea of having fatally shot him and burning his body. North Korea acknowledged that its troops killed him because he refused to answer to questions and attempted to flee. But North Korea said its troops only burned the man’s floatation device.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has offered a rare apology over the man’s death, but his government hasn’t confirmed the man was trying to defect.

The man’s shooting has triggered a huge political firestorm in South Korea, with conservatives launching fierce political attacks on liberal President Moon Jae-in, who espouses greater ties with the North.



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South Coast Plaza reopens for indoor shoppers



South Coast Plaza, Orange County’s renowned upscale shopping center, reopened for in-person shopping Monday as California relaxed some business restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Although not all boutiques are open and store hours vary, officials said more than 100 shops had reopened this week, with outdoor dining, takeout and curbside pickup available at more than 20 restaurants.

The Costa Mesa mall’s hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Seniors, those with underlying health conditions and other at-risk groups have reserved blocks of time for shopping — 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and Saturday.

In announcing the reopening, center officials said their “ongoing commitment to your health and safety is unwavering” and that they had adopted “higher-than-ever standards for cleanliness, based on advice from public health officials and top industrial hygienists.”

“Our numerous efforts include installing a state-of-the-art air treatment system, implementing social distancing practices, improving our protocol for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces frequently throughout the center and more,” according to South Coast Plaza’s website.

Face coverings are required, and some amenities — such as valet parking, drinking fountains, stroller and wheelchair rentals, and carousels — will remain unavailable for now.

Despite the precautions, center officials acknowledged there was “an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 in any public place where people are present, and our shopping center is not immune.”

That, officials wrote on South Coast Plaza’s website, “is what makes our health and safety protocols for the center, such as mandatory face coverings, social distancing, continuous sanitizing, improved air quality and taking the temperatures of our employees, so important.”

South Coast Plaza, like businesses throughout California, has had to navigate a shifting landscape of coronavirus-related health orders over the last several months.

The center closed in mid-March after a store employee tested positive for the coronavirus. The closure was originally planned to last two weeks, but officials later announced the mall would remain closed indefinitely.

South Coast Plaza reopened June 11, welcoming back long lines of shoppers, but had to shutter enclosed access to its boutiques and restaurants roughly a month later, when California reimposed many business restrictions in response to a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Under new rules Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled Friday, retail stores and shopping malls are now permitted to open at a maximum of 25% capacity.

The coronavirus outbreak has prompted the center to find creative ways to operate.

Earlier this month, South Coast Plaza opened what it called the Pavilion — a collection of by-appointment, open-air shopping suites in its northern parking structure.

The center also launched a contact-free curbside pickup program, called SCP 2 Go, in May.





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Shark kills teenage surfer in Australia’s New South Wales


The aftermath of a shark attack at Wooli Beach in New South Wales, Australia, 11 July 2020Image copyright
Reuters

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Other surfers tried to save the teenager

A teenage boy has been killed in a shark attack off the northern coast of New South Wales in eastern Australia, police say.

The 15-year-old was surfing when he suffered severe leg injuries at Wooli Beach, 630km (390 miles) north of Sydney, according to witnesses.

Nearby surfers came to help, including one who is reported to have tried to pull the shark away.

First aid was given on the beach but the boy died at the scene.

“Several board-riders came to his assistance before the injured teen could be helped to shore,” a police statement said.

  • How do you stop sharks attacking?

An official investigation has been launched, but the authorities have not released the name of the teenager

One witness said the shark may have been a great white. They are active in the area at this time of year.

This is the fifth fatal attack by a shark in Australia this year.

In April, a shark attacked and killed a 23-year-old Queensland ranger on the Great Barrier Reef.

In another fatal attack in June, a shark bit the leg of a surfer off Kingscliff, 800km (500 miles) north of Sydney.

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Media captionDrones used to spot sharks on Australian beaches



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Chaos between North and South Korea sees Kim Jong Un’s sister emerge stronger than ever


Kim applauded these athletes alongside dignitaries like Moon, US Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It was a tremendous photo op. But a trip to the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential residence, was a whole different ball game.

Kim Yo Jong would be the first member of North Korea’s ruling family ever to enter the halls of power of a sworn enemy.

The morning after the opening ceremony, Kim exited a black sedan to enter the Blue House. She ambled down a red carpet with immaculate posture and her head held high, exuding the confidence of a woman who had been meeting important world leaders for years. She dressed all in black and clutched a black briefcase in her left hand, dark tones that all drew attention to the red lapel pin over her heart emblazoned with the faces of her smiling father and grandfather.

As she approached the building’s threshold, she paused and, out of the corner of her eye, looked to her left. Then she slowed her gait to allow the man by her side — a nonagenarian named Kim Yong Nam who was North Korea’s ceremonial head of state at the time — to enter first, adhering to Confucian values of respecting one’s elders despite the fact her family is revered with near religious fervor back home.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, shakes hands with Kim Yo Jong, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's sister.
Kim Yo Jong was North Korea’s chief propagandist at the time, and her ability to craft an image was on full display in Seoul. She proved to be the perfect emissary for her country: a savvy, urbane operator who could counter the narrative of her homeland as a strange, backward, nuclear-armed relic of the Cold War that allegedly holds more than 100,000 people in forced labor camps.

Park Ji-won, a former South Korean lawmaker and presidential chief-of-staff, said after four meetings with Kim Yo Jong, he came away with the impression of a woman whose intelligence and quiet confidence was beyond her years.

“She takes after her father and brother,” said Park. “She is very smart and quick thinking. She is courteous, yet speaks her position clearly.”

Kim left after three days and would be credited for helping lay the ground work for the first summit between Moon and her older brother, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. She was, after all, the one who extended his invitation.

But the trip also set the stage for something else, a development that’s only become clear in the past several days: that Kim Yo Jong was about to become the boss when it came to North Korea’s relations with South Korea and arguably the second-most powerful figure in her country, answerable only to Kim Jong Un.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, walks with Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, and Kim Yong Nam, center, North Korea's former ceremonial head of state, at the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, February 10, 2018.

‘The future of unified prosperity’

At 1 a.m. on May 31 this year, the “Fighters for a Free North Korea” gathered on the southern side of the border, near the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula in two.

The group of North Korean defectors had hoped that by meeting in the middle of the night, they would avoid the prying eyes of nearby police, soldiers or passers-by who might take issue with what they were about to do.

They were on a mission to bring information about the outside world to their former countrymen. North Koreans are forbidden from consuming any information that’s not approved by Pyongyang’s strict censorship apparatus.

The defectors, led by a man who himself was once targeted by a North Korean assassin wielding a pen armed with poison, stuffed 20 large balloons with 500,000 leaflets, 500 booklets and 1,000 SD cards filled with content that would surely infuriate Kim Jong Un’s top advisers.

Then they let the balloons float into the sky, anticipating that as the sun rose, the wind would push the contraband toward their former home.

What Kim Yo Jong's rise to the top says -- and doesn't say -- about being a woman in North Korea
Officials in Pyongyang were irate. Information about the outside world is like a virus within North Korea, something that can spread quickly and shatter a society built on a veneer of the Kim family as peerless demigods.

“What scares North Korea the most is the truth about themselves, the truth about their regime, the truth about the outside world,” said Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean diplomat. Chun led his country’s delegation at the Six Party Talks, a multilateral effort to get North Korea to denuclearize, from 2006 to 2008.

Any insults against the Kims are tantamount to blasphemy, Chun explained, and require a full-throated response.

That responsibility fell to Kim Yo Jong.

Kim said the leaflets were a direct violation of the agreement reached at the Inter-Korean summit in April 2018, the very meeting she laid the groundwork for during her Olympic visit. As part of the deal, both leaders agreed to cease “all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets” along their shared border.

The text did not differentiate between government-led campaigns and those spearheaded by private individuals, and the distinction was thought of as irrelevant inside North Korea. Kim ordered North Korea to cut off all communication with South Korea, including a hotline meant to directly connect the leaders of the two countries.

She demanded the South Korean government punish the defectors, whom she called “betrayers,” “human scum” and “riffraff who dared hurt the absolute prestige of our Supreme Leader representing our country and its great dignity,” according to a statement carried by North Korean state news agency KCNA.

The South Korean government said it has asked police to investigate the defectors, but muzzling them could set a bad precedent in a liberal democracy where citizens enjoy freedom of speech.

However, it became clear this week that North Korea was truly upset.

Thirty months ago, on that brisk February day when Kim Yo Jong walked into the Blue House, she thanked Moon Jae-in for caring if she was too cold at the opening ceremony and writing in the residence guest book that she looked forward to a “future of unified prosperity.”

On Tuesday, she gave the order to blow up an $8 million building paid for by South Korea so Moon’s government would “pay dearly for their crimes.”

Fanning the flames

A lot can happen in 30 months, and while the leaflets surely had North Koreans heated, most experts believe they’re a spark that could lead to an inevitable breakdown in relations.

But it’s the tinder below that’s to blame for any flames. Unmet expectations, lofty but unrealistic goals and poor communication set the stage for a potentially dramatic collapse, and perhaps nowhere was that more clear than during US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s second summit in Hanoi last year.

That summit took place at the end of February 2019, more than a year after Kim Yo Jong visited South Korea. By that point, her brother had already met Moon Jae-in, Chinese President Xi Jinping and in a historic first, President Trump. But despite the apparent breakthrough, working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang failed to yield any progress on a deal trading North Korea’s nuclear weapons program for sanctions relief.

Since it came to light that the Kim family was pursuing nuclear weapons about 30 years ago, four different US administrations have tried and failed to get them to abandon the program. While the carrots have differed, the sticks have always involved sanctions.

When the Trump administration came to power, the White House kicked it up a notch. As North Korea tested missiles after missile in 2017, Washington responded by proposing incredibly punitive measures at the United Nations Security Council in an attempt to hamstring North Korea’s economy. By the end of the year, Pyongyang was barred by international law from selling almost anything abroad.

So when Trump and Kim decided to meet in person again, both hoped their second summit could help their respective sides find common ground.

But as they haggled in Hanoi over which nuclear facilities to trade and how much they were worth in terms of sanctions relief, it quickly became clear that there was a wide gap.

Both parties abruptly left when they realized they were not going to be able to agree on the contours of a deal in just several hours.

Lower-level talks have gone nowhere since, and North Korea believes it has been hoodwinked.

Statements published by important North Korean political figures paint the country as the aggrieved party, a nation that the United States and South Korea took advantage of for their own domestic political gains. This narrative ignores the fact that most experts believe the steps North Korea has taken so far are largely symbolic and do not preclude the regime from continuing to develop fissile material and further refine its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

In North Korea’s world, it is the one taking all the diplomatic risks. The Kim regime returned the remains of Americans killed during the Korean War. The Kim regime blew up the tunnels at a nuclear test site. And the Kim regime has so far refrained from testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.

But the US-led sanctions that are strangling North Korea’s economy are still in place. The South Koreans, who were supposed to provide economic assistance and cooperation, are still refusing to do so in order to abide by international law and avoid running afoul of the United States.

“(The) North Koreans are very disappointed that the diplomacy with the United States and South Korea has not yielded what they promised the North Korean people … a better living standard” said Joseph Yun, the former US special representative for North Korea policy.

Yun said the North Koreans “need to explain to their own people” why “their big diplomatic initiative has not yielded anything.”

The job seems to belong to Kim Yo Jong. And while she may be new to the game, she’s playing it like an old North Korean pro.

Manufacturing crisis

Experts have for years accused North Korea of manufacturing crises either to create a sense of urgency in negotiations, to gain the upper hand in talks, or to sow discord between the United States and South Korea.

After the Soviet Union and the United States divided Korea in two, the North became a communist state and the South a capitalist one — each backed by the rival side in the Cold War. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the North Koreans were left without a powerful benefactor, while the South Koreans could still rely on a global superpower and treaty ally for protection thanks to the thousands of American troops and modern weaponry stationed on the Korean peninsula.

Experts say that one of North Korea’s key objectives is to level the playing field. And what better way to do that than create chaos driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul?

The Kim family may be genuinely upset about the leaflets, but it’s clearly taking a page out of Pyongyang’s old geopolitical playbook in an attempt to force the South Koreans to, as former top State Department Asia expert Evans Revere described it, “put something really appetizing on the table, if you will.”

“You see the North Koreans engaged in a very interesting attempt to hold the South Korean government’s feet to the fire by increasing the intensity and the level of their other rhetoric against South Korea,” Revere said.

By many accounts, the Moon government is eager to provide assistance to North Korea to foster harmony and cooperation. As chief-of-staff to former President Roh Moo-hyun, Moon was a key player in what was known as the “Sunshine Policy” in the 2000s, a strategy of engaging and investing in North Korea in order to bring about change.

Today, Moon must play a particularly difficult balancing act, because his options for carrots are extremely limited — almost everything the North Koreans want from South Korea runs afoul of sanctions spearheaded by South Korea’s treaty ally, the United States.

“The North Koreans are pretty smart in how they play this game, and if they can not only get South Korean concessions — and they’re off to a good start — but if they can also drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, that’s a pretty good day’s work,” Revere said.

The latest major play came Tuesday, when Kim Yo Jong gave the order to destroy the joint liaison office in the city of Kaesong, a city in North Korea where Seoul and Pyongyang have worked together on projects during times of peace.

Kim had hinted in a statement days earlier that the office, which had sat idle for months, would be “completely collapsed.” No one outside of North Korea could be sure if that was a metaphor or meant the building would literally be blown to bits until they heard the actual boom.

The building was paid for by South Korean taxpayers and meant to facilitate dialogue and cooperation, so razing it was a bombastic symbol of North Korea’s displeasure — and a way to communicate that sentiment at a physical cost of only bricks and mortar.

It was a brilliant piece of theatrics, sure to grab the attention of the international media amid a global pandemic, rising racial tensions in the United States and a deadly conflict brewing on the border of the world’s two most populous nations.

And, according to North Korean state media, the credit goes to Kim Yo Jong.

The youngest Kim takes center stage

When Kim Yo Jong was just a child, her father allegedly told a Russian diplomat that she had an aptitude for politics and predicted she might have a future in it.

History has proved Kim Jong Il right, and the headline-grabbing decision to demolish the joint liaison office is unlikely to be the last time the world hears from Kim Yo Jong.

Experts believe her rising profile is part of a carefully choreographed publicity campaign by North Korean state media to signal that she’s being groomed for something. Though there are other members of the Kim family still alive, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un and their father and grandfather are the only ones lionized in North Korean media as members of what the country calls the “Paektu bloodline,” a reference to the mythical mountain on North Korea’s border with China.
The fact that she’s a Kim trumps the powerful patriarchal forces at play in North Korea, a country where women are mostly expected to be dutiful and subordinate wives and doting mothers before all else.

“You see her every several months or so being given a new title, a new position, new responsibilities and checking all the key boxes to demonstrate her capacities and her responsibilities are growing,” said Revere, the former State Department Asia expert.

“Not a day that goes by that some of the other newspapers don’t have an article about some statement that’s made and photographs of her.”

But while the North Koreans hear more from Kim Yo Jong, they seem to be seeing less of Kim Jong Un.

The North Korean leader has been mysteriously absent for a couple of long stretches this year, fueling rumors about his well-being — he is overweight and reportedly a heavy drinker and smoker — and speculation that Kim Yo Jong’s increasing visibility meant she was being readied as a potential successor should something occur.

The truth is unlikely to come out anytime soon. Kim Jong Un’s health is one of North Korea’s most closely guarded secrets, on par with the nuclear weapons program, because it has the potential to dent the carefully curated image of Kim as the infallible Supreme Leader.

Kim’s sudden absence from the spotlight has precedent — he disappeared for several months in 2014, reportedly after ankle surgery. But Kim is a leader known among his people for keeping a busy schedule and pounding the pavement. He’s constantly photographed interacting with regular North Koreans, smiling alongside them and even hugging others.

For someone like that to just suddenly vanish from public view for weeks on end is unusual.

Similarly, Kim Yo Jong’s own long-term future is far from certain. North Korea is a country driven by paranoia about an impending invasion from its enemies, so everything it does is shrouded in secrecy, including leadership plans.

Some speculate she’s filling the role of bad cop to her brother’s good cop, allowing him the opportunity to swoop in and save the day. Analysts say getting into a fight with the South Koreans is a great way to boost a North Korean’s street credentials as a tough fighter.

Others believe she’s being propped up to become more than just a North Korean consigliere, but fill a role more like a vice president: a big player who enjoys the confidence of her brother and can help ease his workload.

Whatever is next for Kim Yo Jong, power politics are a dynamic and dangerous game in North Korea, and tectonic shifts can happen at the drop of a hat. Analysts say any potential rift with her brother could have dire consequences, as it did for their uncle, Jang Song Thaek — who was executed for treason — and half-brother Kim Jong Nam, who was assassinated by North Korean agents in 2017.

But Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jong Un share an important connection. They lived together in Switzerland and at home, surrounded by adults and handlers. Their childhoods were remarkable but uniquely solitary and lonely. They lost their mother at a young age and their father as young adults.

All they endured, they endured together.



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North Korea halts all communications with South in row over leafleting


North Korean students take part in a rally denouncing "defectors from the North" as they march from the Pyongyang Youth Park Open-Air Theatre to Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang on June 8, 2020Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

North Korean students held a rally to denounce defectors on Monday

North Korea has said it will cut off all inter-Korean communication lines with the South, including a hotline between the two nation’s leaders.

The North said this was the first in a series of actions, describing South Korea as “the enemy”.

Daily calls, which have been made to a liaison office located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, will cease from Tuesday.

The two states had set up the office to reduce tensions after talks in 2018.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because no peace agreement was reached when the Korean War ended in 1953.

  • South Korea plans to stop balloons to North Korea
  • What do we know about North Korea?

North Korea “will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the North and the South, which has been maintained through the North-South joint liaison office… from 12:00 on 9 June 2020,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report said.

Military communication channels will also be cut, North Korea said.

When the liaison office was temporarily closed in January because of Covid-19 restrictions, contact between the two states was maintained by phone.

  • Could North Korea handle a Covid-19 outbreak?

The two Koreas made two phone calls a day through the office, at 09:00 and 17:00. On Monday, the South said that for the first time in 21 months, its morning call had gone unanswered, although contact was made in the afternoon.

“We have reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face-to-face with the south Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay,” KNCA said.

Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, threatened last week to close the office unless South Korea stopped defector groups from sending leaflets into the North.

She said the leaflet campaign was a hostile act that violated the peace agreements made during the 2018 Panmunjom summit between the South’s Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionSouth Korean activists launch propaganda balloons over border (2014 video)

North Korean defectors occasionally send balloons carrying leaflets critical of the communist region into the North, sometimes with supplies to entice North Koreans to pick them up.

North Koreans can only get news from state-controlled media, and most do not have access to the internet.

Ties between the North and South appeared to improve in 2018, when the leaders of both countries met three times. Such high-level meetings had not taken place in over a decade.

But Pyongyang largely cut off contact with Seoul following the collapse of a summit between Kim and US president Donald Trump in Hanoi last year that left nuclear talks at a standstill.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-1953 Korean war ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.



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As South Korea Eases Limits, Virus Cluster Prompts Seoul to Close Bars


Go out, socialize and have fun, South Korea’s government told its people, declaring the start of “a new daily life with Covid-19” — while keeping a vigilant eye out for any sign of backsliding, any need for restrictions to snap back into place.

It didn’t take long.

On Saturday, just the fourth day of the new phase, the mayor of Seoul ordered all the capital’s bars and nightclubs shut down indefinitely after the discovery of a cluster of dozens of coronavirus infections.

Government officials, health workers and much of the public know full well that until there is a vaccine, relaxing restrictions will lead to more infections, and possibly more deaths. The trick will be to do it without allowing the contagion to come roaring back.

Other nations, eager to reopen but fearful of the consequences, will be watching closely to see what happens in South Korea.

“A second wave is inevitable,” said Son Young-rae, a senior epidemiological strategist at the government’s Central Disaster Management Headquarters. “But we are running a constant monitoring and screening system throughout our society so that we can prevent it from exploding rapidly into hundreds or thousands of cases like the one we had in the past.”

“We hope to slow the spread and keep the size down to small, sporadic outbreaks, hopefully of 20 to 30 cases, that come and go,” he said, “so that we can handle them while the people go on with their daily lives.”

The country adopted a massive, multipronged approach, including aggressive testing and contact-tracing, near-universal use of masks, social distancing, and localized clampdowns on hot spots. It was aided by a high degree of public cooperation.

Now it is counting on the same tools to prevent a resurgence, creating a new strategy on the fly.

“We can’t sustain our society with our daily life and economic activities standing still​,” said Health Minister Park Neung-hoo.​ “But unfortunately, we could not find a precedent for what we are trying to do​. More likely, our experience, with its trials and errors, will serve as a reference for other nations​ down the road.”

After a 29-year-old man tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, epidemiologists quickly learned that he had visited three nightclubs in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul, on May 2. By Saturday evening, they said they were tracking down 7,200 people who had visited five Itaewon nightclubs where the virus might have ben spread.

So far, 27 cases have been found among the club-goers and people who had close contact with them, Kwon Jun-wok, a senior disease-control official, said during a news briefing on Saturday.

The mayor, Park Won-soon, cited a higher figure, saying that at least 40 infections had been linked to the nightclubs. As he closed the clubs, he scolded patrons who had failed to practice safeguards like wearing masks, accusing them of putting the entire nation’s health at risk.

“Just because of a few people’s carelessness, all our efforts so far can go to waste,” he said.

Under the newly eased policy that went into effect on Wednesday, the government is urging people to reclaim pieces of their daily lives, and gathering places like schools, museums, libraries, stadiums and concert halls are expected to reopen in the coming weeks.

If it weren’t for the ubiquitous masks, South Korean cities these days would look almost as they did before the virus. Subways have filled up with commuters. Long lines have started forming on sidewalks in Seoul, not to buy masks but to get seats in favored restaurants.

​The government estimates that the medical system can ​comfortably ​control Covid-19 if there are fewer than 50 new cases per day, and epidemiologists can trace the source of infection at least 95 percent of the time — milestones the country passed last month.

But things are far from normal. Nightclubs and bathhouses take the temperatures of everyone who enters. Students wear masks in class and are not allowed to play contact sports. At Suwon Hi-Tech High School in Suwon, a city south of Seoul, every student’s temperature is checked four times a day.

“Complacency is the biggest risk,” said Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

​South Korea still finds occasional patients whose origin of infection ​cannot be established. Ms. Jung said, “this means that the virus that has infected these people is still out there in the community.”

A government task force of ​economists and sociologists, as well as infectious-disease experts, drafted a 68-page “guidebook for distancing in daily life.” It outlined measures like installing partitions at cafeteria and dining-hall tables, keeping masks on in church and having visitors to weddings, funerals, karaoke bars, nightclubs and internet-game parlors write down their names and telephone numbers so they can be traced later.

It calls for workers with even minor potential symptoms of Covid-19 to call in sick for a few days — a tall order in a culture where reporting for work even when sick is considered a virtue.

The draft was posted online in mid-April ​for public feedback. One change made with citizens’ suggestion: keeping every other seat empty in movie theaters.​

“There is no going back to the life we had before Covid-19,” said Kim Gang-lip, a senior policy coordinator at Central Disaster Management Headquarters. “Instead, we ​are creating a new set of social norms and culture.”



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Coronavirus: South African bride and groom arrested over lockdown wedding


The bride getting into a police vehicleImage copyright
IamMzilikazi/Twitter

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This is not how the couple had hoped their day would end

Married life got off to an unexpected start for a pair of newlyweds in South Africa when police showed up to the party.

They had received a tip-off that the wedding in KwaZulu-Natal was happening on Sunday despite a nationwide ban on all public gatherings because of coronavirus.

All 40 wedding guests, the pastor who conducted the ceremony, and the newlyweds themselves were promptly arrested and taken to a police station outside Richards Bay.

The whole group is to be charged in court on Monday.

Widely circulated videos show the moment the besuited groom helps his wife into the back of a police van in her white wedding dress, complete with train and veil:

The couple have not yet been named by police or local media.

South Africa, which has 1,655 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 11 deaths, is now in the second week of one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.

It has seen mobile testing units as well as drive-through testing centres being rolled out. Soon the country will be able to test 30,000 people every day.

Nothing but essential movement is permitted, and there is even a ban on buying alcohol and cigarettes.

Correspondents say South Africa’s response to the pandemic has been ruthlessly efficient.

The lockdown has been imposed for an initial period of three weeks.



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#Kazakhstan bars entry to South Korean nationals due to #Coronavirus


Kazakhstan will bar entry to nationals of South Korea from March 8 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, deputy industry minister Berik Kamaliyev said on Thursday (5 March), writes Tamara Vaal.

Health Care Minister Yelzhan Birtanov told the same briefing that the Central Asian nation stood ready to deport foreigners who arrived from South Korea and other countries such as China from where it has banned nationals from entering Kazakhstan due to the virus.

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‘This primary isn’t a game’: Elizabeth Warren won’t drop 2020 bid despite poor South Carolina result



After a projected fifth-place finish in South Carolina, Elizabeth Warren closes out a fourth consecutive primary with a loss in her race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I’ll be the first to say that the first four contests haven’t gone exactly as I’d hoped”, she told supporters in Houston, Texas. “[But] Super Tuesday is three days away.”

Joe Biden’s crucial victory in South Carolina gives the former vice president a much-needed boost after disappointing results in the first three primary states after his once-ascendent campaign struggled to capture support.


Bernie Sanders, who made history as the first candidate to win popular votes in the first three primaries, is projected to finish in second place in South Carolina, edging closer to 20 per cent to Biden’s 50 per cent. Warren, meanwhile, is expected to come in fifth – trailing behind her third place finish in Iowa and fourth place finishes in New Hampshire and Nevada.

The Massachusetts senator congratulated Biden on his win but made it clear that she has no intention of dropping out of the race, banking on winning contests in 14 states – including Texas – on Super Tuesday, when more than a third of all delegates will be selected to choose the party’s nominee.

“We want to gain as many delegates to the convention as we can”, she said. “It might take days or even longer to know the results from Super Tuesday, but they will be critical in sorting out who will be the nominee this year. My campaign is built for the long haul.”

She took aim at Donald Trump’s response to a coronavirus outbreak, after slamming Mike Pence – who was tapped to lead the administration’s response – as “the worst person” to be appointed to the role, and being the first among the Democratic candidates to announce a plan to combat infectious diseases.

With fears of a pandemic and ensuing economic crisis, “who do you trust to actually run this country?”, she asked her supporters in Texas.

“This crisis demands more than a former vice president so eager to cut deals [with Republican-controlled Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell]. This crisis is a reminder that this primary isn’t a game.”



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Flood watch issued for B.C.’s South Coast


B.C.’s River Forecast Centre has issued a flood watch for some parts of the South Coast, as flooding in several communities caused road closures, power outages and prompted a local state of emergency on Vancouver Island.

As of Saturday morning, the North Shore and Metro Vancouver remained under the alert that was posted Friday. Areas of concern include the Coquitlam River, Alouette River, Kanaka Creek and MacKay Creek. The western and southern parts of Vancouver Island are also on alert for flooding.

An atmospheric river pounded the South Coast Friday, and overnight, with the heaviest rainfall measured on the west coast of Vancouver Island and along the North Shore Mountains.

Some rivers flooded, and on Vancouver Island a local state of emergency was declared in Cowichan Valley.

A statement from the Cowichan Valley Regional District says widespread flooding forced more than two dozen residents to evacuate early Saturday as key transportation corridors were cut off by rising flood water.

The district says in a statement that about 28 evacuated residents from North Cowichan and the Halalt First Nation were staying at the local community centre.

Several roads were closed because of washouts on Saturday, according to Drive B.C., including Highway 1 on Vancouver Island. The southbound lane was closed because of flooding at Exit 6 in Saanich.

Provincewide telecommunications issues were being reported, with Bell customers and B.C. Transit Police among those affected.

Hundreds of skiers and snowboarders were trapped overnight at Sasquatch Mountain Resort after heavy rain and a landslide washed out a one-kilometre section of Hemlock Valley Road in Agassiz.

The slide had left the road impassable to vehicles in both directions. The mountain suspended all skiing and said it was serving food to guests that had to stay on the mountain.

The Ministry of Transportation said in a statement Saturday that residents of the Hemlock Valley community are advised to stay at home.

“People who are currently at the Sasquatch Mountain Resort are advised to stay at the resort until crews can clear the debris from the road for safe travel,” the statement said.

The route is the only available exit for residents of the Hemlock Valley community and for those at the Sasquatch Mountain Resort.

A statement from the resort said it had no choice but to suspend activities until the road is reopened.

Shelby Lim, the director of marketing at the resort, says more people than usual are at the resort because a race was scheduled for the weekend. She says as many as 500 people are in the village and at the resort, including about 100 staff.

The Ministry of Transportation also said that it will require five to six days to create single-lane alternating traffic. A helicopter company is offering a shuttle service off the mountain to the nearby Chilliwack airport for $150 per person.

DriveBC reports that an update on the Hemlock Valley situation will be next provided at 9 a.m. Sunday.

At Harrison Hot Springs, the ministry reports that Rockwell Drive between Dogwood Lane and Rockwell Lane is closed in both directions due to a washout. There is no detour and some residents are being evacuated as of Saturday evening.

In Coquitlam, thousands of BC Hydro customers were without power after the rainstorm brought down some power lines Friday night.

B.C. Hydro crews were also dealing with the Alouette Reservoir in Maple Ridge, which reached capacity Saturday, for the first time since 1995.

B.C. Hydro spokeswoman Tanya Fish said that despite crews’ efforts to discharge water from the reservoir, the extremely heavy rain caused water from the reservoir to be released over the spillway into the Alouette River.

However, she said the total amount of water being discharged to Alouette River is expected to remain the same, as crews reduce discharge from a controlled gate.

“As the heavy rain from last night has subsided, local inflows into the river downstream of Alouette Dam are receding and under the current weather forecast, we do not anticipate water levels on the river to go above peak levels observed overnight,” said Fish, on Saturday afternoon.

“We are asking the public to use caution around the Alouette River and be aware that water levels may change throughout the day.”

B.C. Hydro reports that crews are working in the eastern Fraser Valley to clear debris in order to restore power.

 

Golden Ears Park Road was also closed because of water damage from the storm, according to a tweet from Alouette Parks.

Highway 1 was also closed because of rock slides from Lytton to Yale, and at Spences Bridge, 19 kilometres south of Cache Creek.

In Maple Ridge, 112 Avenue east of 240 Street was closed due to a slide caused by the intense rain. The city posted on Twitter that the street would be closed until crews were able to remove the debris and stabilize the slope.

Meantime, a rainfall warning that was in effect has been lifted and a much drier day was expected on Saturday. Environment and Climate Change Canada forecasted a mainly cloudy, but windy day, with a chance of showers clearing up near noon, and some sunny breaks.

The agency posted rainfall totals on Saturday, showing that many parts of Metro Vancouver exceeded 100 mm since Thursday, including Abbotsford which saw 119 mm and Pitt Meadows, which record 138 mm. Squamish was drenched in 166 mm, while Vancouver had nearly 80 mm.

The River Forecast Centre said that while some snowmelt was expected during this weather event, snowpack at higher elevations should absorb the water.

Another cold front is moving across the region this weekend, and freezing levels are expected to rise, according to Matt MacDonald, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

On Saturday, the temperature was forecast to drop to 4 C in the afternoon with an overnight low of zero. Then there is a chance of snow at higher elevations on Sunday.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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