China Snubs New World Health Organization Investigation Into Covid Origins 

China Snubs New World Health Organization Investigation Into Covid Origins 

Resident wear a mask while ride through in front of a closed of Huanan seafood market on February 9, 2021 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. (Getty Images)

BEIJING — China has declined the World Health Organization’s (WHO) proposal to participate in the second phase investigation of the Covid-19 origin study, a top Chinese official informed on July 22. 

The announcement was made after the possibility of the virus leaking from a Wuhan lab included in the proposal. 

“Beijing has been surprised to see a lab leak listed as a research objective under the second phase of the investigation,” said Zeng Yixin, Chinese Deputy Head of the National Health Commission.

“In some aspects, the WHO’s plan for the next phase of investigation of the coronavirus origin doesn’t respect common sense, and it’s against science. It’s impossible for us to accept such a plan,” Yixin said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also urged Beijing to be transparent and open to cooperate while addressing a press briefing in Geneva.

“We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened,” Ghebreyesus said.

“We all know there are some challenges that have to be addressed,” he said while answering a question on the status of the Covid-19 probe after the conclusion of phase one study.

“One of the challenges is access to raw data, especially the data at the start of the pandemic that was not shared.”

“Now we have designed the second phase of the study, and we are asking China to be transparent and cooperate, especially on the raw data that we had asked for in the early days of the pandemic,” he said.

Responding to the U.S. claims, Zeng Yixin also said that “no worker or researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology got infected by coronavirus before the first documented cases of Covid-19″.

U.S. officials overseeing an intelligence review into the origins of Covid-19 consider the theory of virus accidentally escaping from a lab in Wuhan as equally plausible as the possibility that it emerged naturally in the wild.

In recent months, the ‘lab-leak‘ theory has gained great traction pushing U.S. President Joe Biden to give the American intelligence team a 90-day deadline to find answers into the virus origin.

A WHO-led team of scientists that traveled to China in early 2021 to investigate the origins of the virus struggled to get a clear picture of what research China was conducting beforehand, faced constraints during its visit, and had little power to conduct thorough, impartial research. 

They said in a joint report in March that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal.

“The introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway,” as per the report.

But countries, including the United States and some scientists, were not satisfied.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Pallavi Mehra)



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Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony Director Sacked Over Holocaust Joke

Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony Director Sacked Over Holocaust Joke

A cleaner wipes a window overlooking the Tokyo Olympic stadium on Shibuya Sky Deck on July 22, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Olympics opening ceremony director, Kentaro Kobayashi, has been sacked on the eve of the event after footage emerged in which he appeared to make jokes about the Holocaust. Mr Kobayashi follows a number of other figures involved in the Tokyo Olympic Games who have had to step down for inappropriate remarks. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

TOKYO — The International Olympic Committee has dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi from his role as director of the team, creating the opening and closing ceremonies of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for making a Holocaust joke.

The decision came after a video surfaced of Kobayashi, a former comedian, making jokes in the past about the Holocaust.

“Tokyo 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony creative team member Kobayashi Kentaro was dismissed from his post after a joke he had made in the past about a painful historical event was brought to light,” International Olympic Committee said in a statement. “Following this, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee relieved Kobayashi of his role as a member of the team.” 

“In the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony, we offer our deepest apologies for any offense and anguish this matter may have caused to the many people involved in the Olympic Games, as well as to the citizens of Japan and the world.”

“As the Ambassador of Israel to Japan and as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I was shocked to hear about the anti-Semitic remarks made in the past by the famous comedian Kentaro Kobayashi and now a director of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020,” tweeted Yaffa Ben-Ari, Ambassador of Israel to Japan. 

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the human rights organization to protect the rights of the Jews, denounced the remarks by Kobayashi. 

“Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” said Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Abraham Cooper in a press release.

“The Nazi regime also gassed Germans with disabilities. Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics.”

International Olympic Committee (IOC) on July 19 accepted Japanese musician Keigo Oyamada’s resignation from the creative team for the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020.

“The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee believes that Oyamada’s actions were absolutely unacceptable,” International Olympic Committee said in a statement. “In light of his sincere apology, we expressed a willingness to allow Oyamada to continue his work on preparations in the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony.” 

Oyamada’s resignation follows days of controversy over his confessions in magazines published in the 1990s in which he boasted about bullying people in his childhood. Oyamada was in charge of composing some of the music for the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Better known by his stage name Cornelius, Oyamada gave those unpopular two interviews to Japanese music magazines in 1994 and 1995, in which he described inflicting horrific abuse on fellow students at school. 

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Praveen Pramod Tewari)



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Vintage Tour: Priceless Wines Forgotten For Decades To Be Exhibited

Vintage Tour: Priceless Wines Forgotten For Decades To Be Exhibited

Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni and Periklis Baltas, the head of the historical archive at the Achaia Clauss winery, with some of bottles found in the Tatoi Royal Palace. (Greek Ministry of Culture/Zenger)

Archeologists at the former Greek royal family’s summer palace have unearthed several thousand bottles of rare alcoholic beverages, including a bottle of Scotch whiskey dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II, in a hidden cellar.

Restorations by the Ministry of Culture at Tatoi Royal Palace, about 17 miles from the center of Athens, uncovered more than 4,000 rare bottles of wine and 235 other alcohol beverages on July 18.

The bottles were discovered in a previously unknown wine cellar in the palace. They are considered of great historical importance as many bear original labels.

Among the finds were bottles of Château Margaux, Château de Vincennes and Château Rothschild’s finest wines.

Chivas whiskey in a ceramic bottle that was made to commemorate the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. (Greek Ministry of Culture/Zenger)

There is also a special edition of Chivas that researchers found was produced to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The 1952 blended Scotch whiskey is in a ceramic bottle that was next to a collection of bottles bearing the estate’s label, officials said.

Researchers also discovered cans of soft drinks that date back to a time before such products were imported into the country. There are about 300 unopened bottle cases.

Ministry officials believe that even more hidden treasures from the Tatoi Palace wine cellar will be found as work continues.

Some of the beverages are considered fit for consumption, according to the Ministry of Culture, despite having been kept in rather poor conditions. They will be cataloged after the restoration ends.

Since expert knowledge is required to assess rare bottles, the ministry has signed a deal with the Achaia Claus winery for pro bono consultancy services during the restorations.

Achaia Claus, dating to 1861, was the first winery to be established in Greece and is still operating as a winery and wine-making museum.

“The Tatoi wine and spirits collection, in addition to its significant collector value, is also of great scientific and research interest,” said Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni. “The restoration work to showcase the former royal estate is complex and requires specialist knowledge of many and varied areas.

“For the evaluation of the wine collection, we are working with specialist scientists who have know-how, both on an oenological level and for its historic validation. Our goal is that, upon completion of the restoration work and the transition of the palace building into a museum, the part of the collection that has been evaluated as fit for display should find its place in the existing space of the palace cellars.

“The Tatoi wine cellar’s over 50-year-old collection, which is of exceptional cultural and oenological value, will be open to the public,” Mendoni said.

Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel



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Yacht-Top: Shipbuilders Want To Turn Retired Navy Aircraft Carrier Into A Luxury Yacht

Yacht-Top: Shipbuilders Want To Turn Retired Navy Aircraft Carrier Into A Luxury Yacht

An artistic rendering of how the Foch will look after it is converted into a luxury yacht. (Mitsi Studio/Zenger)

A team of Germans has unveiled the first effort to convert a 58-year-old French aircraft carrier into a luxury yacht, complete with golf course.

The Foch was the second Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier to serve with the French Navy from 1963 to 2000, after which it was sold to Brazil and renamed São Paulo.

The historically important vessel, which carried 40 modern aircraft, was decommissioned in 2018. Since then, it has been used for scraping recyclable materials. A Turkish company bought it in March 2021 for $1.86 million in order to dismantle the ship.

Several medium-sized German companies from Düsseldorf have now joined forces for a project called the Düsseldorf Initiative to buy out and convert the 869-foot ship flight deck into a luxurious leisure space.

The new concept is based on the Dutch Studio Mitsi’s Super Yacht model, called the Noah Twins Carrier, which is a design for the first aircraft yacht in the world.

Udo Stern, entrepreneur and spokesperson for the Düsseldorf Initiative, said he was looking for an international investor who will buy the ship, pay the transfer costs and finance its renovation. The group companies would then be involved in the yacht deal.

“It’s not about the money for us. I’m thinking of a European ship of cultures, a globally unique project to transform a military into a civilian object,” Stern said.

He also said the 148,000-square-foot hangar under the flight deck holds a sufficient amount of space for exhibitions, sporting events, cinemas and concerts.

A computer animation of how the Foch will look after it is converted into a luxury yacht. Photo from Thomas Loopstra. (Mitsi Studio/Zenger)

The team is waiting for France’s resale approval, which is pending.

Stern said a visionary from the tourism industry could easily — and profitably — convert the ship’s 55 military rooms into hotel rooms, casinos and restaurants.

The Clemenceau-class aircraft carriers Clemenceau and Foch formed the backbone of the world’s second-largest carrier force for the latter half of the Cold War. Both vessels were of CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) design, which was a system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of carriers.

The ship can sail at a maximum speed of 30kt (34 mph), and accommodate 1,920 personnel, including ship company, air group and troops.

The disposal of the São Paulo aircraft carrier carries controversy

The dismantling of the French-origin ship has sparked discussion over the pollution risk associated with the scrap-cutting process.

“The French Courts stopped the scrapping of the asbestos-laden aircraft carrier Clemenceau on the beach of Alang, India, in 2006. Fifteen years later, France is faced with a second toxic headache, said the NGO Shipbreaking Platform in a press release.

“It is estimated that onboard the vessel there are approximately 900 tons of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, hundreds of tons of PCB-containing materials and large quantities of heavy metals.“

“The large amounts of asbestos still onboard the São Paulo need to be handled and disposed of without exposing workers and surrounding communities to the risk of cancer,” said Annie Thebaud-Mony, director of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris.

The Foch aircraft carrier served with the French Navy from 1963 to 2000. (Zenger)

“The contractual clause in the sale of the Foch to Brazil gives France the last say in where the aircraft carrier can be dismantled. French authorities must direct the Clemeceau’s sister ship to an EU-approved facility — anything else would be a scandal,” she said.

The São Paulo-Foch Institute in Brazil — a group of Brazilian and French ex-military personnel — hopes to prevent the aircraft carrier, São Paulo, from being dismantled. They want to turn it into a museum.

“It would be much more profitable and beneficial than dismantling the ship. Approximately 600 tons of asbestos — hazardous for human health and nature — are encapsulated in the ship. Such an agreement would decrease the ship’s dismantling expenses, and transporting the ship to the Mediterranean will be very expensive.”

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform sent a letter to the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Urbanization in June 2021.

“The aircraft carrier should not be allowed to leave Brazil until and unless the IHM [an Inventory Hazardous Materials certificate] is completed.  [The sale of the ship] must therefore be annulled and subject to rebidding, based on legal constraints and a proper and accurate IHM,“ said the NGO.

The dismantling process is to take place at the Aliaga district’s ship recycling facilities.

Edited by Angie Ivan and Fern Siegel



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Import Duties Highest In The World, Says Elon Musk On Launching Tesla Cars In India

Import Duties Highest In The World, Says Elon Musk On Launching Tesla Cars In India

Elon Musk said on Saturday that his company wants to launch cars in India, however, the country's import duties on electric vehicles (EVs) are highest in the world by far. (Tesla)

WASHINGTON — Tesla founder Elon Musk on July 25 said that his company wants to launch cars in India, however, the country’s import duties on electric vehicles (EVs) are “highest in the world by far.” 

“We want to do [launch EVs in India] so, but import duties are the highest in the world by far of any large country,” Musk tweeted in reply to a Twitter user who requested Musk to launch Tesla cars in India. 

“Moreover, clean energy vehicles are treated the same as diesel or petrol, which does not seem entirely consistent with the climate goals of India.”

Musk was replying to a tweet by YouTuber Madan Gowri that said, “Dear Elon Musk, please launch Tesla cars in India ASAP!”

The Tesla CEO expressed hope that there will be at least a temporary tariff relief for electric vehicles. 

“But we are hopeful that there will be at least a temporary tariff relief for electric vehicles. That would be much appreciated,” said Musk.

“If Tesla is able to succeed with imported vehicles, then a factory in India is quite likely,” Musk said when asked by another Twitter user whether Tesla will locally assemble vehicles in India. 

Tesla announced its entry in India earlier this year in January. The EV maker registered as Tesla India Motors in Karnataka, months after its Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk had hinted at Tesla’s entry into the country.

The company recently added Hindi as one of the languages on its infotainment User Interface recently.

Later, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari also said Tesla is set to start its operations in India by this year and may set up a manufacturing unit as well.

Tesla is yet to set up its own manufacturing facility in India, the first of its electric vehicles for the Indian customers are likely to be imported. 

Tesla recently announced monthly self-driving subscriptions. 

The company had sold its Full Self Driving package for a one-time fee of $10,000 till now, but a new subscription feature has been launched, ‘the monthly subscription,’ that lets users take advantage of the Full Self Driving features without a long-term commitment. 

“Car as a subscription service Tesla is a bundle of hardware & software; I would argue that the value of the software in Tesla is much higher than hardware. Software should naturally be a subscription service. Hardware is anyway available on monthly Easy Monthy Installments. Interesting pricing innovation!” tweeted Rajesh Sawhney, Founder, GSF Accelerator India, a leading Indian startup accelerator.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Praveen Pramod Tewari)



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Only 10 Percent Indian Children Using Smartphones To Study, Claims Research

Only 10 Percent Indian Children Using Smartphones To Study, Claims Research

Representative Image

NEW DELHI — New research by India’s apex child rights body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), has said that only 10.1 percent of children use their smartphones for online learning and education. However, 59.2 percent use smartphones for instant messaging applications.

“Around 59.2 percent of children use their smartphones/internet devices for chatting [using WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat],” the study states. “But only 10.1 percent of children like to use smartphones for online learning and education.”

“It is also interesting to note that 30.2 percent of the children of all age groups [8 to 18 years] already possess their own smartphones and use the same for all purposes.”

Titled as the Effects (Physical, Behavioral, and Psycho-social) of using Mobile Phones and other devices with Internet Accessibility by Children, the study said that 37.8 percent of 10-year-olds have a Facebook account, and 24.3 percent of the same age group have an Instagram account, as per the study.

The trend line of the percentage of children using their own smartphones has shown a steep rise from the age of 13 years onwards. However, that of children using laptops/tablets to access the internet is evidently stable across all ages.

“This can lead us to the deduction that parents/guardians are more willing to provide smartphones to their children from the ages of 12-13 years onwards as against a laptop or tablet,” the study said.

The total number of responses collected comprised 5,811 participants, consisting of 3,491 school-going children, 1,534 parents, and 786 teachers from 60 schools across six states in the country.

It was a nationwide study of all regions with 15 locations selected across three areas and 1,000 respondents per region, and stakeholders including schoolchildren, parents, and teachers.

Age distribution among all the children who participated in the study was also diverse, with the mean age of the child participants being 14.05 years, the median was 14 years.

“NCPCR in a study reveals 59.2 percent children use their smartphone for social media messaging and only 10.1 percent children like to use their smart devices for online learning education,” career analyst Jayaprakash Gandhi said in a tweet. “It’s going to affect our educational system very badly unless corrective measures are taken.”

The study also noted that there is a direct relationship between age and having a social media account.

“Use of mobile before sleeping leads to adverse impact on children like sleep disorders, sleeplessness, anxiety, and tiredness, etc.,” the study said.

The study showed 72.70 percent of teachers had no prior experience of using smartphones, around 54.1 percent believe that the use of smartphones in the classroom is “immensely or somewhat distracting.”

Experts working for early detection and prevention of internet addiction at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Behavioural Addiction clinic said that parent’s supervision of their child is of paramount importance. 

“Parents must introduce other life skills to children to ensure reduction in screen time,” the study said. 

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Praveen Pramod Tewari)



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