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Question Time: Fiona Bruce in fiery row with health minister over track and trace ‘loopholes’

Health and Social Care Minister Helen Whately was drawn into a fiery row with Question Time host Fiona Bruce over the ‘loopholes’ in the Government’s new track and trace system.

The low-tech test, track and trace system launched on Thursday and could see healthy Brits forced to self-isolate for two weeks at home if they have been in contact with a confirmed case.

Call handlers will interview those in England who have tested positive and ask for details of anyone they have recently been near.

However, the app is not yet ready and a number of issues surround the scheme including what people will do about work and child care.

This sparked a heated exchange during which Ms Whately began tripping over her words as Ms Bruce said: “Follow the guidance, unless you can’t?” in relation to looking after a child if you have to suddenly self-isolate.

For updates on coronavirus, follow our live blog HERE.

Fiona Bruce brought up a number of inconsistencies in the new guidance

The panelists and the 12 virtual audience members from Glasgow – taking part via video link – had been debating the lack of clarity in the latest proposals and whether Brits will continue to be so compliant in light of the Dominic Cummings scandal.

The test and track system is reliant on people being honest about who they have been in contact with, for example – which some on the show felt the Government can no longer necessarily expect.

While audience member Ginette, a cleaning firm owner, said the new system “could close me down every single week” because her self-employed staff may have to isolate repeatedly or look after children during working hours.

Cleaning firm owner Ginette said track and trace will ruin her business

“Who’s going to pick up the pieces?” she added, with it also being pointed out the Government’s furlough support for the self employed runs out in a matter of days.

Ms Whatley said: “What we’ve seen so far is people consciously following the guidance and in fact the guidance has included recognising some situations will be more difficult, for instance, if you are looking after someone who is particularly vulnerable or a childcare situation.”

Ms Bruce said: “Just to be clear, if you have a childcare situation then, Helen, since you mentioned it – if you have a problem with childcare and you have to be identified as one of the people who has to stay at home for two weeks, you may not necessarily have to stay home?”

Health and Social Care Minister Helen Whately was drawn into a row

The minister responded: “You clearly have to ensure your child is safe as any parent should do so…”

But Ms Bruce cut in: “So if you have to leave home to do that, even if you have been told to self isolate, you can do that?”

Ms Whatley said: “If you are contacted because you are a contact of somebody who’s got symptoms and told to isolate at home, you should be able to do so with your child. Everyone will have their scenarios.”

Ms Bruce said: “But just to be clear, because it’s important, because we’re all going to have to adjust to this now, this new system – if you are told to self-isolate at home for two weeks either because you have symptoms or you’ve been in close contact with someone who has symptoms but you have problems with that – you find that difficult because of child care issues – you can behave otherwise?”

Ms Bruce said the minister must be clear because “it’s important”

Ms Whately responded: “You should follow the guidance – I don’t think anyone is suggesting you should have a child in an unsafe situation…”

“So follow the guidance, unless you can’t?” Ms Bruce cut in.

The minister, who had began tripping over her words, said: “No, that’s not what I’m saying, actually, at all.

“You should absolutely follow the guidance and that’s been the case all the way through.”

“But you’re saying unless…” the host began to say.

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Coronavirus outbreak

But Ms Whately composed herself to add: “The guidance has always said that safety would be a factor, and you should clearly be a responsible parent.

“But I think what’s really important is that people follow the guidance.

“And through doing that, that’s how we manage to keep the infection rate under control and so life can get back to normal or closer to normal – which would be so much better for everybody.”

As part of the new scheme, call handlers will interview those in England who have tested positive and ask for details of anyone they have recently been near.

Recent contacts who do not have symptoms will be called and asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

Close contact is defined as being closer than 2metres to someone with symptoms for more than 15 minutes.

Data will be analysed to decide whether workplaces, schools, housing estates or blocks of flats need to be locked down to quell local outbreaks.

As the NHS test and trace app is not ready yet, all tracing will be performed manually.

During Thursday’s Question Time, Ms Bruce also brought up the apparent absurdity in the guidelines surrounding No10 allowing Brits to have BBQs with members of a different household.

Those in attendance must remain two metres apart and outside – leading the host to poke fun at the idea only people with huge gardens could comply – while those in England can have six attendees but Scots can have eight.

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We foster citizen empowerment in time of crisis – VoxEurop (English)

In this Op-ed, European Civic Tech actors reaffirm the importance of their role in protecting fundamental rights and providing citizens with the tools to remain in contact with each other, and for collaboration between citizens and decision-makers.

During this time of global health crisis, governments all over the world have taken emergency measures to protect their citizens. While the need to take strong action to contain the epidemic is clear, we, as civic tech experts and citizens must, nevertheless, be aware of the impact that these measures can have on our fundamental rights and freedoms. 

In liberal western democracies, freedom of movement has been significantly curtailed, public gatherings and protests have been prohibited, elections have sometimes been suspended, and in some countries, democratically elected governments have reduced parliamentary oversight.  Some emergency measures are warranted to fight this virus, yet most of them are unprecedented in peacetime for most of us.

Given the context, it is crucial for us as Civic Tech actors to reaffirm the importance of personal liberties and citizen empowerment. Protecting fundamental rights is ever so crucial even during a health crisis of this proportion, including  in democratic countries.

As citizens, we must look for new solutions to effectively protect our rights and display solidarity with our neighbor. We must devote time and attention to helping each other, with a particular focus on vulnerable people, health staff and other essential workers. Turning initiatives borne out of a crisis into new, sustainable ways of delivering public service, engaging in deliberative democracy, or supporting community resilience is going to take work. How to move on from this crisis in a positive direction is a crucial issue for our societies and democratic institutions. 

Civic Tech gives citizens the tools to remain in contact and dialogue with each other and respond to pressing societal issues. It allows for ongoing collaboration between citizens and decision-makers to develop solutions for a better future, helping to strengthen citizen involvement in their communities.

By co-signing this editorial for Citizen Empowerment in Times of Crisis, we emphasize the continued importance of civic engagement, participatory decision-making, and protecting personal freedoms in these difficult times; and for the future.


Axel Dauchez, President & Founder,

Fotis Talantzis, Co-founder & CEO, Novoville

Florent Barre, President & co-founder, Quorum

Cyril Lage, Co-founder & CEO, Cap Collectif

Chloé Pahud, Founder & CEO, Civocracy

Julie de Pimodan, Co-founder & CEO, Fluicity

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Russia is battling coronavirus across 11 time zones. But Moscow and the regions are worlds apart

The Russian capital has been hardest hit. Of Russia’s total of 281,752 confirmed cases, over half — 142,824 — are in Moscow, the country’s coronavirus headquarters said Sunday. But the virus is now spreading across Russia’s regions, an enormous landmass that covers 11 time zones and includes some of the country’s most remote and impoverished places.

In a video conference meeting on Monday with Russia’s 85 regional heads, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the burden would fall to local leaders to decide whether to continue lockdown measures or to begin cautiously lifting restrictions to reopen the economy.

“We have a big country,” he said. “The epidemiological situation varies across the regions. We factored this in before, and now at the next stage, we have to act even more specifically and carefully.”

According to official statistics, the pandemic has reached all of Russia’s constituent parts, from the Kaliningrad exclave between Poland and Lithuania to the remote Chukotka autonomous okrug, across the Bering Strait from Alaska. Russia’s regions are also starting to report their own numbers, sometimes showing a disparity between the nationally published statistics on mortality and infections published on the stopcoronavirus.rf portal and on local government websites.

Kaliningrad region, for instance, reported 13 deaths as of Friday, while the nation’s coronavirus headquarters reported 11. The contrast between national and local mortality figures was even more stark in Chelyabinsk region in the Ural mountains: Local authorities there reported 10 Covid-19-related deaths in addition to the six deaths attributed directly to coronavirus on the national portal.

Russian Vice-Premier Tatiana Golikova told Russian news outlets this week that the Russian government has not manipulated statistics, but Russia’s mortality figures have become a political football. Observers have noted the comparatively low overall number of deaths in Russia — a total that currently stands at 2,631, according to the country’s coronavirus headquarters — even as the country takes second place in the world for the number of confirmed cases, behind the United States.

People wearing face masks and gloves on a subway escalator in Moscow on Tuesday.

In Moscow, health officials hit back at media reports that it was underreporting Covid-19 fatalities, saying its data was “absolutely open.” But the city’s health department also acknowledged that it only counts deaths that were found through post-mortem autopsy to have been caused directly by coronavirus complications.

And the capital is proceeding with caution. Earlier this week, Putin announced a gradual easing of restrictions around the country, at the discretion of local leadership. But Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin subsequently made clear he was in no rush to end lockdown.

“Premature removal of restrictions carries a real risk of a second pandemic,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Unjustified delays will also hit people in the strongest way.”

Sobyanin, in many respects, has been the public face of Russia’s fight with coronavirus, as Putin shelters at his residence of Novo-Ogaryovo.
President Putin takes part in a video conference call from his Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, on May 14.

As cases began to pick up pace in April Moscow authorities opened a new coronavirus hospital, built in around a month. And Sobyanin’s government oversaw the introduction of electronic passes to enforce lockdown measures, controversial measures ahead of the rest of the country. The city is also launching a large coronavirus screening program that will be free to the public.

Healthcare system in crisis

Moscow, in many ways, is better equipped to deal with the crisis than Russia’s less well-off regions. It has a concentration of wealth and budgetary resources that is the envy of the rest of the country.

Under Sobyanin, the Russian capital, which in pre-coronavirus days was transforming itself into an Instagram-friendly landscape of refurbished parks, hip restaurants and high-end real estate, has enjoyed a municipal spending spree.

The leading business daily Vedomosti reported last year that the city’s budget on beautification projects over the past decade — more than 1.5 trillion rubles ($20.5 billion), according to Moscow budget data — was nearly equivalent to the total amount spent on similar projects around the country.

People in protective gear disinfecting Red Square in Moscow.
Grave diggers bury a COVID-19 victim as relatives and friends stand at a safe distance, at a cemetary in Kolpino, outside St. Petersburg, on Friday.

One doesn’t have to travel far outside of Moscow to see the disparities in living standards and the decrepitude of the healthcare system.

A viral YouTube video recently posted by the popular Russian journalist Irina Shikhman showed a visit to the town of Ivanteyevka, a town just over 10 miles outside the city limits of Moscow of a local clinic as it receives a delivery of personal protective equipment. As Shikhman begins the formal interview, a masked doctor says she had “no complaints” about the supplies and had enough personnel to handle patients.

But the images in the video, which has had more than 3,327,000 views, shows the peeling paint and poorly lit interior of the facility, and underscores the shocking condition of Russia’s provincial healthcare system. It seems that in this sprawling country, time is not the only thing that differs between the capital and the regions.

This story has been updated.

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Americans Sick of President ‘Lies All the Time’

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Saturday celebrated his big Nevada caucus win with supporters in San Antonio, Texas, declaring that the American people are “sick and tired of a president who lies all of the time.”

Multiple media outlets on Saturday evening called the Nevada race for the socialist senator, and he celebrated with supporters in San Antonio:

“I’m delighted to bring you some pretty good news. I think all of you know we won the popular vote in Iowa, we won the New Hamshire primary, and according to three networks and the AP, we have now won the Nevada caucus,” he said as supporters broke out in cheers of “Bernie.”

“No campaign has a grassroots campaign like we do, which is another reason we are going to win this election,” he declared, also proclaiming that he will win the Democrat Primary in Texas and in the general election.

Sanders told supporters that Trump gets “very very upset easily” so “don’t tell him we’re going to beat him in Texas.”

“We are going to win in Texas and across the country because the American people are sick and tired of a president who lies all of the time,” Sanders said.

“They are sick and tired of a corrupt administration. They are sick and tired of a president who is undermining American democracy, who thinks he is above the law, and who apparently has never read the Constitution in this country,” he continued.

“The American people are sick and tired of a government which is based on greed, corruption, and lies. They want an administration which is based on the principles of justice —  economic justice, social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice,” he added.

The socialist senator also told his supporters that Trump and his friends “think they are going to win this election”  by dividing people by race, religion, and sexual orientation.

“We are going to win because we are doing exactly the opposite,” he declared.

President Trump reacted to Sanders’ strong showing in Nevada on Saturday, warning him against allowing the Democrat establishment to steal the nomination from him.

“Looks like Crazy Bernie is doing well in the Great State of Nevada. Biden & the rest look weak, & no way Mini Mike can restart his campaign after the worst debate performance in the history of Presidential Debates,” he said.

“Congratulations Bernie, & don’t let them take it away from you!”:

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Greta Thunberg named Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year

Greta Thunberg named Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year originally appeared on

Greta Thunberg was named Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year on Wednesday morning. She is youngest figure to receive the distinction in its 92-year history.

The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist has become an iconic face in the fight to save the planet from climate change. Last year, she began spending her Fridays protesting by herself outside the Swedish parliament, and that effort grew to her leading a host of student-led climate strikes involving millions of people in over 170 countries.

Thunberg sailed from England to New York this fall for a United Nations climate summit instead of flying, emphasizing it’s less harmful to the environment. She then drew worldwide attention for her fiery speech at the U.N., where she accused world leaders of stealing her dreams and childhood with their inaction on climate change.

(MORE: Slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Capital Gazette staff and persecuted reporters are Time’s Person of the Year)

“Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” she asked at the U.N. in September. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say — we will never forgive you.”

Thunberg has vowed the marches will continue until world leaders give serious attention to protecting the environment for future generations.

Time also named the World Cup-winning U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team as Athlete of the Year, Lizzo as Entertainer of the Year and Disney CEO Bob Iger as Business Person of the Year.

(MORE: The ‘silence breakers’ of #MeToo movement named Time magazine’s 2017 person of the year)

Known as “Man of the Year” or “Woman of the Year” until 1999, the annual issue of Time magazine profiles a person or group, idea or object, that “most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse,” former Time Managing Editor Walter Isaacson wrote in the 1998 issue. Though the outlet runs an online poll for People’s Choice, the final decision is made by editors.

The other finalists for the magazine’s annual title this year were President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the whistleblower and the Hong Kong protesters.

(MORE: Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg arrives in New York for UN summit on sailboat)

The top 10 contenders included Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, U.S. Women’s National Team Captain Megan Rapinoe, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and Trump’s personal lawyer.

Time’s 2018 Person of the Year was “The Guardians” — journalists who have faced persecution, arrest or murder for their reporting — including Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa and the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland.

Time’s first Man of the Year was aviator Charles Lindbergh following his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.

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The Interstellar Comet Has Arrived in Time for the Holidays

It came out of the Northern sky, a frozen breath of gas and dust from the genesis of some distant star, launched across the galaxy by the gravitational maelstroms that accompany the birth of worlds.

It wandered in the deep freeze of interstellar space for 100 million years or so, a locked vault of cosmo-chemical history. In Spring 2019 this ice cube began falling into our own solar system. Feeble heat from the sun, still distant, loosened carbon monoxide from its surface into a faint, glowing fog; the orphan ice cube became a new comet.

Six months later, Gennady Borisov, a Crimean astronomer, saw it drifting in front of the constellation Cancer and sounded the alarm.

On Sunday, Dec. 8 the comet that now bears his name — 2I Borisov — will make a wide turn around the sun and began heading back out of the solar system. As it departs, it will steadily brighten and grow in size as sunlight continues to shake off the dust from a long, cold sleep. On Dec. 28 the comet will pass 180 million miles from Earth, its closest approach to our planet.

This procession is being greeted with hungry eyes by a species only just knocking on the door of interstellar exploration and eager for news from out there.

“I think the sense of excitement stems in part from the timing of these discoveries,” Dr. Laughlin said. Oumuamua and Borisov, he added, augur well for a new telescope the National Science Foundation is building in Chile called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which will sweep the entire sky every few days, producing in effect a movie of the universe.

That telescope will be superbly positioned to find more interloper comets, perhaps even in time to send probes to greet them with Deep Impact-style missions. “The situation is reminiscent of when the first exoplanets were detected,” Dr. Laughlin said.

That discovery occurred in 1995, shortly before the Spitzer Space Telescope, which was built without exoplanets in mind, was launched.

Astronomers have long suspected that if anything came calling from another star system, it would be comets. New stars and planetary systems are surrounded by vast clouds of icy leftover fragments, so the story goes. These snowballs are easily dislodged by passing stars and knocked hither and fro — many inward toward their mother star and its planets, but others outward across the galaxy.

Until now, astronomers have lacked telescopes big and sensitive enough to detect them. Now, with telescopes like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Pan-STARRS in Hawaii, which discovered Oumuamua, they do.

Thus far, the two examples of interstellar comets that humans have observed could not be more different. Oumuamua was mistaken for an asteroid at first because it had no cometary cloud of gas and dust around it, at least that could be seen. But as it was traveling out of sight, small perturbations in its motion suggested that in fact the rock was actually a comet, being pushed around by jets of gas shooting from its surface.

Estimates of the object’s shape — long and cigarlike — spurred speculation that it could be an alien probe or even a solar sail. Recent analysis by Sergey Mashchenko, an astrophysicist at McMaster University in Ontario, has concluded that Oumuamua was less a rod than a thin slab rocking back and forth as sunlight and radiation wore it away.

“It was vanishing as it went away, like a bar of soap in the shower,” Dr. Laughlin said.

Borisov, in contrast, is thriving, sprouting a typically bushy, radiant tail. As a comet, it would be utterly ordinary if not for its origin. “Nothing about Borisov is weird,” Dr. Laughlin said. “With Oumuamua, everything was weird.”

Borisov looked like a comet from the start, enveloped in a cloud of gas, which is what enabled Mr. Borisov to recognize it so quickly. And everything the visitor has done since then has suggested that at least some comets out there are more or less like our neighborhood comets.

Mr. Borisov’s comet underwent an astronomical rite of passage of sorts in October, when the Hubble Space Telescope got a good look at it: a white knuckle at the head of a bluish fan of light.

Subsequent observations by telescopes on Earth have confirmed the presence of alien water and carbon monoxide as well as a growing list chemicals from another part of the universe. As of Nov. 24, the comet’s tail had grown to 100,000 miles long. The comet’s nucleus is only a mile across.

Early in November, the Gemini observatory spotted the wanderer passing about a billion light-years in front of a spiral galaxy “romantically known” as 2dFgrS TGN363Z174, said Travis Rector, an astronomer from the University of Alaska Anchorage who was involved in taking the photograph. As if to tease us humans with a reminder of places unknown and unvisitable, the backdrop to the portrait is speckled with faint smudges of even more distant galaxies and stars.

One of the astronomers waiting for action is Cheng-Han Hsieh, a colleague of Dr. Laughlin at Yale, who has been monitoring the comet daily with a worldwide network of robotic telescopes called the Las Combre Observatory, which has its headquarters in Goleta, Calif. The network includes a set of radio antennas, at Green Bank Observatory, the Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the ALMA array in Chile, standing by for an outburst.

Radio observations might be particularly revealing, Mr. Hsieh said. They could shed light on an age-old issue of whether this comet, as it tracks through our neighborhood, is shedding more than just dust and ice — including, for instance, complex organic molecules that optimistic astrobiologists call “prebiotic.”

The data could also reveal the signatures of the different isotopes of the atoms locked in Borisov’s ice, which in turn might say something about the origin of the comet. What kind of star formed nearby? Was a supernova involved? With luck, we might learn which of those reddish smudges in the cosmic background our visitor once called home.

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‘We are hiring big time’: Calgary tech companies join forces to attract job seekers – Calgary

A Calgary-based group of tech companies held a hiring fair downtown on Saturday to help get the word out that the technology sector needs skilled workers.

Jason Moore was working as a geologist in Calgary for the past eight years until September when he was laid off.

“I left on good terms. They treated me very fairly but it was more just a side effect of what all of Alberta is going through at this time,” Moore said.

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Moore is one of the hundreds of people who attended the first Tech West Collective hiring expo on Saturday. He now considers himself lucky. Moore is learning the world of coding and discovering a passion he never knew he had.

“I think one of the great things about coding is you get to build stuff, and you get to see if it works right away. It’s like the mouse pushing the button and you get the pellet,” Moore said with a laugh.

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Online tool launched to help oil and gas workers find jobs in Calgary’s tech sector

The Tech West Collective is a group of Calgary tech companies that have teamed up to help fill vacant positions.

“We are feeling a talent gap. Now we want to build up the talent pool,” said Tech West Collective organizer Kat Lesperance.

Lesperance works at Showpass, a Calgary-based tech company that provides ticketing solutions for event organizers. Showpass and Avanti Software are two of the seven members of the collective.

“We are hiring big time,” said David Owen Cord, Avanti Software co-CEO.

He said the company is looking for people of all backgrounds — not just tech-related positions.

“It’s been interesting because of the negative headlines here in Calgary and the layoffs that are going on but we are having a very different reality in the business we live in every day. One of our biggest challenges is actually filling the open spots that we are trying to hire for,” Owen Cord said.

Part of the problem is a lack of people with tech skills.

EvolveU is a non-profit educational institution that is helping job hunters transform their careers to adapt to the rapidly changing digital economy.

“There’s so much opportunity right now that people don’t even know about. That’s exciting for me and it’s exciting to watch the students go through the transformation,” said Jen Morrison, program manager with EvolveU, at the job fair on Saturday.

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Calgary working to attract tech talent

Members of the Tech West Collective said it’s time for tech companies to stop poaching talent from each other and get the word out that Calgary’s economy goes beyond oil and gas. Those transitioning from the energy industry said the job hunt in the tech world is more encouraging.

“There [are] more jobs than would be for my old profession. It’s not that they’re handing them out, but there definitely does seem to be more excitement and more opportunity and a desire for more people to enter this industry,” Moore said, adding that he’s taking courses at EvolveU.

According to Calgary Economic Development, the city has over 2,000 open tech jobs.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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China can shut off the Philippines’ power grid at any time, leaked report warns

Lawmakers called for an urgent review of the arrangement this month after the report claimed that only Chinese engineers had access to key elements of the system, and that power could in theory be deactivated remotely on Beijing’s orders.

There is no history of such an attack on a power grid by China, nor has any evidence been presented to suggest that any was imminent, only that it was theoretically possible in future.

The report, prepared by a government body and provided to CNN by a source who requested confidentiality, warned that the system was currently “under the full control” of the Chinese government, which has the “full capability to disrupt national power systems.”

“Our national security is completely compromised due to the control and proprietary access given by the local consortium partner to the Chinese government,” the report warned.

In a statement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “China’s State Grid Corporation participates in projects run by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines as a partner of local companies.”

“The Philippines is a neighbor and important partner of China’s. We support Chinese companies conducting business in the Philippines in accordance with laws and regulations to expand mutual benefits and win-win cooperation,” the statement added. “We hope certain individuals in the Philippines view such bilateral cooperation with an open mind as well as an objective and fair attitude. They shouldn’t over-worry or even fabricate things out of thin air.”

CNN has reached out to NGCP and TransCo — which owns but does not operate the power grid — for comment on this story.

‘With a single switch’

Concerns over the power grid arrangement were raised by senators during a debate over the 2020 energy budget this month. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, representing the government, said that electricity could potentially be shut off remotely, or by foreign actors.

“I was advised by the president of TransCo that they have studied this type of possibility. I was advised that manual operation of transmission lines is possible. A takeover can happen, but TransCo, with their technical capability, can then manually take over,” Gatchalian said Tuesday, without referencing China explicitly.

“With a single switch, no electricity would be transmitted to any of our homes, our businesses, (or) any of our military facilities,” said Gatchalian, who is chair of the Senate Energy Committee. In such an instance, it would take between 24 and 48 hours to get the grid back up and running, he added.

As US and China spar, the rest of Asia risks being stuck in the middle

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said China’s co-ownership of the NGCP brought with it “serious national security concern given China’s recent behavior and hegemonic aspirations.”

“As long as the system operations are controlled and managed by Chinese engineers (they have) an enormous power” over the country’s energy supply, said Hontiveros. “This would pose a great risk to public infrastructure and national security.”

Gatchalian said he shared Hontiveros’ concerns and promised the government would improve supervision and monitoring of the power grid to ensure control “remains in the hands of Filipinos.”

“The (grid) is probably one of the most vital facilities in our country,” said Gatchalian.

Electric transformers seen at a power station in Cebu City, central Philippines on March 1, 2010.

Chinese controlled

The NGCP handles the distribution of electricity across the Philippines, linking power plants and consumers throughout the country, supplying almost 78% of households in the country of over 105 million, according to the internal report.

It was privatized in 2009, with China’s state Grid Corporation taking a major stake, as well as providing staff to help run the systems in the Philippines.

According to the report provided to CNN, the technology upon which the grid is based has increasingly been switched over to Huawei products, which the report claims are “completely proprietary” and can only be operated by Chinese engineers. During the Senate debate, Gatchalian acknowledged that Chinese engineers had control over certain systems and that some manuals were only provided in Chinese, against regulations.

In particular, the report warns the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system used to monitor substations, transformers and other electrical assets is completely dependent on Huawei technology. “None of the local engineers are train(ed) nor certified to operate the system,” the report said.

In a statement to CNN, Huawei said the claims in the report do “not reflect the facts.”

“Huawei has never provided any equipment for NGCP’s control systems,” a spokeswoman said. “As a leading global ICT solutions provider, Huawei has always strictly complied with all applicable laws and regulations of the countries where it operates. Huawei is committed to providing secure and reliable products and services to each of its customers.”

The company has been dogged this year by accusations that it poses a national security risk, with Washington largely blocking it from expanding 5G offerings in the US and pushing allies to do the same. Huawei has consistently said that it is a private company and does not give the Chinese government any access to or control over its technology.

Other systems within the Philippine national grid were also provided and largely operated by Chinese companies, the internal report said, including submarine cables linking power stations across islands, and key control apparatus, some of which are operated by engineers in China over the internet.

It described the system as “operated by foreign nationals (Chinese) at critical access levels,” adding that “critical system operations are all under the control of foreign nationals — locally and offshore.”

The report urged lawmakers to return control and oversight of the key power systems to the Philippine government.

Territorial dispute

While some senators downplayed the threat, with majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri saying “as long as we’re not being invaded,” then potential Chinese control over the grid was not a problem, others remained concerned and urged the government to take action.

“There is obviously a national security concern here,” said Senator Richard Gordon. “We have given (partial) control of our grid to a foreign corporation that has interests that collide with our country in the West Philippines Sea.”

The West Philippines Sea is what Manila calls much of the South China Sea, where it is engaged in a long-running territorial dispute with Beijing. China claims almost the entire sea as its sovereign territory, and has spent recent years militarizing and building up sandbars and islets across the region.

In 2016, a tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a maritime dispute, concluding China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping rejected the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is likely to have lasting implications for the resource-rich hot spot, which sees $5 trillion worth of shipborne trade pass through each year.

“China will never accept any claim or action based on those awards,” Xi said. China had boycotted the proceedings.

Under current President Rodrigo Duterte, however, Manila has pulled back on the issue and sought to cultivate closer ties with Beijing. In 2018, the two countries preliminarily agreed to cooperate on oil and gas exploration in the region.

Following a visit by Duterte to Beijing in September, Chinese state media quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as saying the two nations could take a “bigger step” in joint offshore oil and gas exploration.

“As long as the two sides handle the South China Sea issue properly, the atmosphere of bilateral ties will be sound, the foundation of the relationship will be stable, and regional peace and stability will have an important guarantee,” Xi said.

Duterte said Xi had offered the Philippines a majority stake in the venture if Manila agreed to ignore the 2016 ruling, according to CNN Philippines.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying didn’t comment directly on the reported offer, but said the Philippines was “ready to expedite cooperation with China in the joint exploitation of oil and gas.”

“The two sides announced the establishment of an intergovernmental joint steering committee and a working group between relevant enterprises from the two countries on oil and gas cooperation,” she said.

Tensions remain, however, and some in the Philippines have been frustrated by Duterte’s apparent willingness to cozy up to Beijing at the cost of historical territorial claims.

In April this year, Manila filed a diplomatic protest with China over the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels near a Philippine-administered island in the South China Sea. Duterte then threatened to send his troops on a “suicide mission” if Beijing didn’t “lay off” the island.

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Blue Bombers fan fulfills promise, wears pants for 1st time in 18 years after Grey Cup win

A Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan can finally wear pants for the first time in 18 years after his team won the Grey Cup in Calgary on Sunday.

Blue Bombers fan, who won’t wear pants until they win, touches down in Calgary for Grey Cup

Chris Matthew made a no pants pledge in 2001, promising friends he would only wear shorts until the Bombers won the cup.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan Chris Matthew put on pants for the first time in 18 years after his team won the Grey Cup on Nov. 24, 2019, making good on the promise he made.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan Chris Matthew put on pants for the first time in 18 years after his team won the Grey Cup on Nov. 24, 2019, making good on the promise he made.

Global News

With the Bombers winning the championship — beating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 — Chris’ calves were bare no more.

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Blue Bombers fan hopes to break 18-year ‘no pants’ streak Sunday

“It feels really, really odd. It feels like things are crawling on my legs, to tell you the truth,” he said after putting on army-print pants immediately following the game.

His wife Darla Matthew was happy with the Grey Cup’s result.

“Now he doesn’t have to wear [shorts],” she said. “And this was the most amazing experience.”

Chris said he actually likes wearing shorts.

“After this is all said and done, I can put [pants] on if I have to go to a place now, but other than that, I’m going back to the shorts,” he said. “I quite like it.”


© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Statistics and Stories – Time to Change the Refugee Narrative? — Global Issues

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS
  • Opinion by Farhana Haque Rahman (rome)
  • Monday, November 25, 2019
  • Inter Press Service

Just last year, 13.6 million people were newly displaced, either as refugees crossing borders or as IDPs (internally displaced peoples). Syria accounts for the largest forcibly displaced population in the world, with nearly 13 million people on the move since war erupted in 2011, including 6.7 million refugees escaping across borders. Neighbouring Turkey is the world’s top host country, with 3.7 million displaced Syrians on its territory.

But then there are the images and personal stories that carry so much more impact than the bare statistics. For Syria possibly the most devastating, and also far reaching in political terms, was the picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish beach, drowned trying to reach Europe with his family. And the stories that do convey hope also make it seem possible to the public and donors that something can be done to help, even with relatively small amounts of money. Naturally everyone displaced by conflict has his or her own story, although it must be recognized that some would rather not tell theirs for reasons to be respected. I have my own to share, briefly.

I first became aware of Afghanistan when, as a young child in the ‘60s in what was then East Pakistan I read in Bangla, Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Kabuliwalah”. The tale of the kind, compassionate man who periodically left his family behind to sell goods he carried in a large sack and make loans to Bengalis made a deep impression, as did his sense of humour and his attachment to a little girl Mini, clearly a cherished substitute for his own children back in Kabul. He was at first a rather frightening figure, giving her treats from his sack, but he slowly gained her and her father’s confidence and respect.

Farhana Haque RahmanMy next contact with Afghanistan was more direct, fraught with danger. While a student in an all-girls British run college in Lahore, Pakistan, my country of birth Bangladesh became independent. I fled what was then West Pakistan, avoiding camps and a protracted repatriation, to reach the newly independent country, taking a hazardous route by ‘tanga’ horse drawn carriages, trucks and buses across inhospitable terrain and mountain through Quetta and the border crossing of Chaman into Afghanistan. Along the way, in no man’s land, armed smugglers extorted more money from our group of about 40, some of them families with children, and one night we had to trek over mountains, exhausted to the point of hallucination. Fearing death but quite ignorant of the danger of rape, dressed in a white ‘burqa’ throughout the perilous journey, monitoring with piercing eyes the movement of those who were temporarily my guardian angels, I made it to the Indian embassy in Kabul after spending days in a dilapidated farmhouse in Kandahar, and, with Indian ID papers, we were flown to New Delhi then on to Kolkata by train, eventually making it to Dhaka after 552 hours of 23 harrowing days. I was fortunate to make it; the new country was still reeling from a war that cost millions of lives.

Nearly 50 years later that is so often not the case, and that is why we should consider shifting the dominant narrative, moving beyond the statistics and the stories to convey a fuller understanding of what is happening to these tens of millions of displaced people and why, particularly in Europe.

Reece Jones, a professor of political geography, has researched how in recent decades countries have become inter-connected through complex networks of transport and communication, but the purpose of borders has shifted to become the place where the movement of people is controlled.

“Border security and the construction of walls have increased dramatically in the supposedly borderless world of globalisation,” he says.

As walls and fences go up, so do the dramatic increases in migrant deaths. The Associated Press reports that 56,800 people died or went missing crossing a border from 2014-18.

Countries announcing new border barriers recently include Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. President Donald Trump’s “beautiful wall” on the US-Mexico border was a popular theme in his election campaign. Britain is spending some $200 million on border security in France, including the building of a one-km concrete wall in Calais to stop people hiding
themselves in trucks crossing the Channel.

Prof. Jones says the borders of the EU are “by far the most deadly” with roughly two-thirds of all migration related deaths occurring there or on the way to the EU. The high death rate, he says, is a combination of an extremely dangerous border in the Mediterranean sea coupled with increased enforcement that drives people to use smugglers and take more risks, as tragically seen in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese found in a refrigerated trailer near a UK port last month.

Walls did not work in the past and only divert but do not prevent migrant flows, so why are so many going up? The answer is political. Walls are effective as symbols used by politicians to demonstrate they are addressing perceived economic, cultural and security threats from migrants.

The crucial legal distinction between who a legitimate refugee and an “illegal” economic migrant is one fiercely upheld by politicians and institutions. However, as noted by Daniel Trilling, author of Lights in the Distance: exile and refuge at the borders of Europe, the system of placing people into categories does not always fit the reality of their lives. And when the system breaks down, “people are cast into a legal and moral grey zone that lasts for many months or even years”.

The EU, says Trilling, has perhaps the world’s most complex system to deter unwanted migrants, spending billions of dollars on surveillance systems and patrols on land and sea. In reality the EU tries to prevent even genuine asylum seekers from reaching its territory.

“Asylum seekers are subject to particularly complex and often violent filtering. Once they cross Europe’s frontiers, their movement is restricted: they are locked up or segregated in accommodation far from city centres. Their right to work or to access social security is denied or severely limited. While their claims are being assessed, often by a process that is opaque, hostile and inconsistent, they
live with the threat that the freedoms they do have may be curtailed at any moment.”

A sense of panic and chaos is fuelled in the public by even twists of language, just as the media dubbed the Calais migrant settlements “the jungle”. The idea of a “global refugee crisis” may provoke sympathy among some, but it is also used by populist parties to spread the sense that we are at “breaking point”. More people are displaced by conflict than before but, as Dutch sociologist Hein de Haas points out, more than one in 10 migrants entering Europe do so legally. Well over 80 percent of displaced people remain in the developing world, such as the 4.5 million made homeless by scattered conflicts within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), or 4.6 million Venezuelans who have fled their country, its economy in tatters and under US sanctions.

Over two-thirds of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

In the future far greater displacements of people may occur for complex and interrelated reasons — war, the climate emergency, and outbreaks of diseases like Ebola in the DRC. Rapidly changing circumstances can make refugees of people most unexpectedly. Solutions lie in policy and resources.

Can we change the narrative ?

© Inter Press Service (2019) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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