New Zealand Researchers Aim to Recycle COVID-19 Masks, Gowns

Researchers in New Zealand are testing new techniques to find out whether masks and gowns used by health workers as protection against COVID-19 can be decontaminated and safely used again.   Researchers want to reduce the “mountain” of personal protective equipment, or PPE, that is discarded around the world daily. According to experts in New Zealand, estimates indicate that in China alone, hundreds of thousands of metric tons of PPE are going to the landfill each day.    FILE – Workers in protective suits walk past the Hankou railway station on the eve of its resuming outbound traffic in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province, April 7, 2020.Mark Staiger is an associate professor of materials engineering at the University of Canterbury.   “The amount of waste that is being produced by the pandemic is absolutely huge. It has been estimated that something like 3 million face masks are being used per minute around the world. Other studies have shown that something like 3.5 billion face masks and face shields are being discarded globally every day,” he said. FILE – A discarded N95 protective face mask lies amongst other bits of disposed medical waste at a landfill site, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in New Delhi, India, July 22, 2020.Masks and gowns contain plastics that cannot easily be recycled. Researchers from Canterbury, Otago and Auckland universities are testing a process that would destroy the COVID-19 virus and allow the PPE to be used again.   The aim is to safely disinfect protective equipment so it can be used by frontline workers. If successful, Staiger says the system could increase the supply of N95 masks, which filter out airborne particles, by 40%.    “The particular challenge in decontaminating face masks, for example, is making sure that whatever technique you use for killing off the virus does not affect the materials contained within the mask. For example, N95 masks have a special electrostatic layer inside them, which is used for capturing very small particles, and if that layer is damaged by the treatment that you are using or the decontamination treatment that you are using, this would render the mask ineffective and lose its functionality.”    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said PPE creates a barrier between an individual’s skin, mouth, nose, or eyes and viral and bacterial infections. It is mostly designed to be used only once. The New Zealand university study began in 2020. Its final stage is under way, and it is due to finish later this year. The research team is also building a mobile disinfection unit that could be transported in shipping containers to other countries.   New Zealand has an enviable record of containing COVID-19, in large part because it closed its borders to most foreign nationals in March 2020. It has recorded about 2,700 confirmed or probable infections. Twenty-six people have died.   

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More Than Two Dozen Chinese Warplanes Enter Taiwan’s Airspace

Taiwan’s defense ministry said China flew 28 warplanes within its airspace Tuesday.   The formation of several fighter jets and bombers entered the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, the ministry added. Taiwan’s air force deployed several planes and initiated its air defense systems in response.   China has repeatedly deployed warplanes and naval vessels near Taiwan over the last few years as part of a pressure campaign on the self-ruled island. Beijing sent 25 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone back in April. A Chinese government spokesman said it carried out the mission in response to a statement issued at the end of the G-7 summit Sunday calling for a peaceful resolution to cross-Taiwan Strait tensions. The spokesman accused the G-7 leaders of interfering in China’s internal affairs.   Beijing considers the island as part of its territory even though it has been self-governing since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces were driven off the mainland by Mao Zedong’s Communists. China has vowed to bring the island under its control by any means necessary, including a military takeover. Washington officially switched formal diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but the Trump administration angered China as it increasingly embraced Taiwan, both diplomatically and militarily, after taking office in 2017 and throughout its four-year tenure.   

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N. Korea Hints at ‘Prolonged’ Covid Lockdown

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned of “prolonged” anti-coronavirus measures, the latest indication his country’s strict lockdown will not end anytime soon.  During a meeting of ruling party leaders, Kim discussed the need to maintain a “perfect anti-epidemic state,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday. Kim said the measures were necessary since “the world health crisis is becoming worse and worse due to the malignant virus,” KCNA reported.  The statement did not specify how long the lockdown would last, but said party leaders were preparing for its “prolonged nature.”  North Korea, which has a population of more than 25 million, continues to insist it has not found a single COVID-19 case. It was one of the first countries to seal its borders due to the coronavirus.  The country has given few signs of opening back up. Last month, state media warned that vaccines produced overseas were “no universal panacea.” COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing program, had expected to send nearly 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to North Korea by the first half of this year. But that has been delayed due to global supply shortages and ongoing negotiations between COVAX and Pyongyang.A nurse fills a syringe with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health care center in Seoul, Feb. 26, 2021.In April, North Korea appeared to temporarily loosen its border restrictions. The Seoul-based NK News website reported foreign food items, such as chocolate, dried fruit, and Coca-Cola, began appearing in Pyongyang stores following months of shortages. The website also identified a border facility it said was designed to disinfect imports.  “But all signs currently point to this modest opening being 100% reversed,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll, the founder of NK News, which maintains sources in the country.  Kim’s latest comments suggest “the border will be FULLY closed for much longer than we thought,” O’Carroll added. “This means vital imports like fertilizer and industrial inputs will be lacking, compounding problems.” On Tuesday, NK News reported that the price of some imported goods increased dramatically, with a kilogram of bananas selling for as much as $45 in Pyongyang shops.Fears of a bad harvest are also mounting. During this week’s Workers’ Party meeting, Kim Jong Un acknowledged “the people’s food situation is now getting tense,” saying the North’s agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production plan due to the damage by typhoons that hit the country last year.  North Korea has faced what some analysts call the “triple whammy” of extreme weather, the coronavirus pandemic, and U.S.-led sanctions, which attempt to cut off North Korea from the global economy as punishment for its nuclear weapons program. U.S. President Joe Biden has said he is open to talks with North Korea, but Pyongyang has so far rejected the offer, saying the United States needs to drop its “hostile policy.”  North Korea experienced a devastating 1990s famine that killed at least hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions of people. Kim has repeatedly warned citizens that they must now overcome serious hardship, at times even evoking the same language used to describe the 1990s famine. However, there is virtually no way to know the country’s current situation, since most foreigners, including aid workers and diplomats, have departed because of the pandemic. 

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Many Young People in China ‘Lie Flat’ as Good Life Seems Unattainable

Fed up with a culture of overwork, through-the-roof housing prices and skyrocketing living costs, many Chinese youth are “lying flat” to express their frustration with the lack of upward social mobility.Lying flat includes opting out of getting married, having children, purchasing a home or car, and joining the corporate money-making machine, according to China’s Jiang Shuaihui, 25, a worker from Henan province plays video games in a room he is renting in Tongzhou district of Beijing, Feb. 25, 2016.And because the post-pandemic recovery has been driven by an expansion of blue-collar jobs, according to Ma Zhenguo, a system engineer at RenRen Credit Management Co., sleeps on a camp bed at the office after finishing work early morning, in Beijing, China, April 27, 2016.Government respondsBy late May, the Chinese government was countering such notions. “China is at one of the most important stages of its long road to national rejuvenation. Young people are the hope of this country, and neither their personal situation nor the situation of this country will allow them to ‘collectively lie flat,'” said a May 28 editorial  in the Global Times, a tabloid controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and quoted by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Analysts say the lying flat attitude is rooted in the lack of upward social mobility. People born in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s benefited from Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 policy, a series of transformative economic reforms that opened China up to the international community and foreign investment. The reform set the stage for the emergence of Chinese companies with international reach, such as Huawei and Alibaba.”In the Deng Xiaoping era, China launched the policy to ‘let some people get rich first,'” Xie Fei, a host at Henan Broadcasting System and a current affairs commentator at China’s Zhejiang Television, told VOA Mandarin. “Yet the current generation finds that they no longer have the same opportunities as their parents to achieve upward mobility. In other words, they can’t expect to have the explosive growth of wealth as their parents’ generation.” According to 2017 data from the latest iteration of a recurring Chinese survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Science, people under 35 experienced a high level of unstable employment and relatively low salaries. Lin Thung-Hong, a research fellow at the Institute of Sociology of Academia Sinica in Taiwan, said this is partly due to the economic slowdown in 2015 and 2016. One of the survey’s key findings is that college graduates in China face difficulties finding jobs.”China’s economic development has plateaued, young people have fewer job opportunities, and the lying down attitude reflects the difficulties in the overall economy in China,” he told VOA Mandarin. ’Just not sustainable’Once graduates find jobs, many feel they’re expected to overwork. Lucy Li, 35, works in the banking industry in Beijing. She asked to use a pseudonym, fearing retaliation by her employer.”I know 996 is prevalent in the tech industry, but now it has spread to every sector,” she told VOA Mandarin. “In our bank, the leadership will drop by unannounced around 8 p.m. to see who’s still working, and those still in the office are the ones getting promoted.” ”So everyone ends up working 12 hours a day,” she said. “It’s just not sustainable.”Another worker, Wang, said he quit his job with the tech giant Alibaba because he often started work around 9 a.m., returned home around 7 p.m. and then returned to the office after his two children went to bed, or around 9 p.m. Back at the office, he usually worked until midnight — or as late as 2-3 a.m. if he was developing a product or it was the busy season. He asked VOA Mandarin to use only his surname to avoid attracting attention. ”It’s just a culture. We are doing the things we love, but it’s also pretty draining if you are working 24/7,” he told VOA Mandarin.In 2019, Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, famously said on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo that “it’s a blessing to be able to do 996.” “If you are not doing 996 when you are young, when can you do it? If we are doing things we love, 996 is not a problem at all,” he wrote. Widely criticized, the post was deleted. The 996 culture has led to death by overwork, a phenomenon first recognized in Japan’s workplace culture, or karoshi. Japan passed the Work Style Reform Bill in 2018 to limit brutally long work weeks.Earlier this year in China, the deaths of two employees of the online agricultural marketplace Pinduoduo sparked discussion of overwork. Many young people took to social media to say they didn’t want the 996 lifestyle, and they started to advocate for a more relaxed attitude toward work. On May 28, Weibo polled users about lying flat. Among the 241,000 people who took the survey, 43% firmly agreed with the concept, 31% said they somewhat agree with it, and another 18% said they would like to lie flat, but they have too many other responsibilities.  About 80% of Weibo’s 850 million users are 17 to 33 years old, according to a guide to advertising on the site. The popularity of the lying flat movement concerns Beijing because it runs against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s notion of a Chinese dream. In 2012, Xi used the term when he was first promoted to the top Communist Party post, saying China must “strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”The Global Times quoted Chinese sociologists and educators, saying the younger generations are more self-centered and more sensitive to pressure than their elders. ”Instead of always following the ‘virtues’ of struggle, endure and sacrifice to bear the stresses, they prefer a temporary ‘lying down’ as catharsis and adjustment,” the article said. The official Xinhua News Agency wrote in a commentary published in late May that “lying flat is shameful. Only hard work brings happiness.” Xinhua later posted a video of an 86-year-old Chinese scientist surnamed Zhao who rises at 4 a.m. each morning to work. “After his retirement, he still works for 10-12 hours a day voluntarily for the country and for the people,” Xinhua said. The video sparked a new wave of criticism among Chinese netizens. One post said, “The scientist is at his fifth level of needs, which is to realize his value in life. I’m at the first level, which is survival. How can you compare the two?” The other read, “Lying flat is not something I actually enjoy; it’s a helpless option under the unbearable pressure of life.” Lin, with Academia Sinica, said the immobility in China’s economy, society and politics has led to the stagnation of the entire national mobility system. And without social mobility, there would be no “Chinese dream.””The people are lying flat. The country is dreaming. It’s pretty ironic,” he told VOA Mandarin. 

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China Refutes NATO Statement that it Poses ‘Systemic Challenges’ to International Community

Beijing says NATO’s description that China poses “systemic challenges” to the international community is an exaggeration.   
 
China’s mission to the European Union issued a statement Tuesday in response to a communique issued by the leaders of the trans-Atlantic alliance the day before.  In that statement, NATO leaders pledged to join forces against China’s increasingly aggressive military posture, which it said threatened “the rules-based international order.”
 
The mission said NATO’s accusations were “a slander on China’s peaceful development, a misjudgment of the international situation and its own role, and a continuation of the Cold War mentality and organizational political psychology.”
 
Tuesday’s statement is the second time in as many days that China has countered criticism from Western-based international alliances.  The Chinese embassy in London issued a statement Monday accusing the leaders of the G-7 of interfering in its internal affairs.   
 
The G-7 issued a communique at the end of its summit criticizing Beijing’s human rights record involving its abuses of the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, including the detention of more than one million Uyghurs into detention camps, and its tightening  control of semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
 
The separate communiques came during U.S. President Joe Biden’s first face-to-face summits with Washington’s traditional allies since taking office in January.

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Muslim School for Transgender Women Provides Religious Studies and Safe Space

Sexual and gender minorities continue to suffer discrimination and harassment around the world. But in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, some transgender women are finding solace in religious teachings, as reported by VOA’s Rendy Wicaksana.Camera: Rendy Wicaksana 

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Hearings Resume for Myanmar’s Deposed Civilian Leader

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s ousted de facto civilian leader, returned to a courtroom in the capital, Naypyidaw, Tuesday to stand trial on two of the most serious corruption-related charges brought against her by the military junta that overthrew her government earlier this year. The 75-year-old Suu Kyi is facing charges of violating the Official Secrets Act, accepting illegal payments of $600,000 in cash plus 11 kilograms of gold and misusing land for her charitable foundation.   A separate hearing was held Monday on charges of illegally possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies and violating the country’s Natural Disaster Management Law for breaking COVID-19 restrictions while campaigning during last year’s parliamentary elections.  Khin Maung Zaw, Suu Kyi’s attorney, issued a statement saying Suu Kyi did not appear to be well but “seemed quite interested and paid keen attention” during Monday proceedings.   The attorney said former President U Win Myint also went on trial Monday for violating the Natural Disaster Law. Lawyers have told reporters they expect the current trial to last until the end of July.   Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, has been detained since February 1, when her civilian government was overthrown nearly three months after her National League for Democracy party scored a landslide victory in the elections.  The junta has cited widespread electoral fraud in the November 8 election as a reason for the coup, an allegation the civilian electoral commission denied. The junta has threatened to dissolve the NLD over the allegations. The coup triggered a crisis in the Southeast Asian country that led to deadly anti-junta demonstrations and clashes between several armed ethnic groups and the ruling junta. In a campaign to quell the protests, the government has killed more than 800 protesters and bystanders since the takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks casualties and arrests in Myanmar. 

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Doctor-Activist Defiant Against Myanmar Military

When Myanmar’s military shocked the world by announcing a coup earlier this year, many people inside the country were stunned at the news. After decades under military rule, they had enjoyed 10 years of a developing democracy until the armed forces took back control. Initially, most of the country merely looked on, hesitant to begin a rebellion given Myanmar’s violent past. But as the junta installed its own Cabinet and detained members of the National League for Democracy, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an uprising began brewing. Residents banged pots and pans in anger in the first few days after the coup, signaling their disapproval of the military takeover. Major protests didn’t materialize until the influence of one doctor turned activist became apparent. Spring revolution Dr. Ko Tayzar San, 33, from Mandalay, is largely credited with leading the first anti-coup demonstrations, a movement that is now known as the Spring Revolution. Today, he is on the run. He recalls the first moments of the rebellion against the junta, officially the State Administrative Council (SAC). Infuriated with the armed forces takeover, some people had planned an immediate backlash, but the swirling rumors of a coup could not be verified. “On February 1, they (Myanmar military) turned off the mobile network in the whole country. At that moment, we didn’t confirm any information, what is going on and what is happening,” Tayzar San told VOA. Three days later, he took to the streets of Mandalay to protest with friends and other demonstrators who resisted the military’s power grab. Four of his friends were arrested that day, and one has since been killed. Soon after, the soldiers came for him. The activist knew then that his life would never be the same. “As for me, the soldiers raided and destroyed my home, where my family lived before the coup. They knew my home address, so they came looking for me and smashed and break the whole house, confiscated everything and three cars.” “I already know from that moment I decided to get involved. Anytime I can be arrested. Anytime I could be shot and killed, and life could be ruined. … That we already knew and accepted,” he said.People protest in Mandalay, June 14, 2021.On the run Speaking from an undisclosed location, Tayzar San said he misses his family the most. He added that it was recently his daughter’s second birthday, and he hadn’t seen her for over 120 days. “I have been on the run for a long time. My arrest warrant has been issued since the third week of February. I have not been home since February 2,” he said. But he believes the heightened security concerns are felt everywhere. “If you live in your own home, you could be shot at any time. You can be arrested for no reason, (and) maybe threatened (with) your life. There is no security in the whole country right now.” Until recently, Tayzar San hadn’t been known for his pro-democracy advocacy, especially when compared with other well-known activists who have risen to prominence in response to Myanmar’s deep-rooted political issues in recent years. “Before the coup, my professional work was (as) executive director at Yone Kyi Yar Knowledge Propagation Society, a civil society organization in Mandalay. And I am also a doctor, so I do medical treatment in charity clinics.” But ever since Myanmar’s anti-coup protests first erupted across the country, Tayzar San has been involved. Four and a half months on, he’s still at it, often seen roaring into a megaphone in protest. Efforts noted And his efforts have recently been rewarded. Local media reported how he was the recipient of South Korea’s June Democratic Uprising award, named after the 1987 uprising that led to South Korea’s democratization. “A lot has been given in these four months. Many people have fallen, and many lives have been lost, and people are in prison,” he said, adding that Myanmar is facing both socioeconomic and business crises. “Today, Myanmar is in the darkest time. However, in the midst of so much suffering, the people are fully in the mood to reject the dictator,” he added. Protests peaked during the first two months after the coup, but since then, mass demonstrations have waned, largely due to the military’s violent crackdown on the city. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights-monitoring group based in Thailand, at least 860 have been killed and thousands detained. Tayzar San said demonstrators had been given no option but to respond with “guerrilla protests.” “We will oppose this dictatorship any way we can,” he said. Looking forward As for international intervention, Tayzar San believes implementing an arms embargo would reduce the Myanmar military’s arsenal of weapons. “I believe that the role of the international community will continue to support as long as the people of the country continue to fight,” he said. New opposition movements and organizations have formed since the coup. The Civil Disobedience Movement has led to huge strikes across the country, while the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw includes ousted politicians of the democratic government. The National Unity Government is claiming to be Myanmar’s legitimate administration, with the People’s Defense Force as its armed wing. The junta has declared that illegal. Yet challenges remain. Ethnic minority groups have been fighting for autonomy and land control for over 70 years, and deep historical animosities exist among them. But with the military’s coup so drastic and far-reaching, hopes are pinned on the country to unite against one common enemy. “To make our country peaceful, where people are treated as human beings, it is very clear that this will only happen if we can create a federal democratic union,” Tayzar San said.“For me, the new Myanmar (will be a) happy country that we want to pass on to the next generation,” he added. 

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