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Phuket Gazette World News: NYT targeted; Aussies may face new election; Senator in sex tourism scandal

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Phuket Gazette World News: NYT targeted; Aussies may face new election; Senator in sex tourism scandal | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

New York Times says targeted by China hackers after Wen report
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The New York Times said today that Chinese hackers had “persistently” attacked its computers over the past four months since the paper published a story on Premier Wen Jiabao, but sensitive material related to the report was not accessed.

The New York Times said the attacks coincided with its report last October that Wen’s family had accumulated at least US$2.7 billion (about 72 billion baht) in “hidden riches”. China said at the time the report smeared its name and had ulterior motives.

“For the last four months, Chinese hackers have persistently attacked The New York Times, infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees,” The Times said.

“Security experts hired by The Times to detect and block the computer attacks gathered digital evidence that Chinese hackers, using methods that some consultants have associated with the Chinese military in the past, breached The Times‘ network.”

The hackers broke into the email accounts of Shanghai bureau chief, David Barboza, who wrote the story on Wen’s family, and Jim Yardley, the paper’s South Asia bureau chief in India who was previously the Beijing bureau chief, it added.

“Computer security experts found no evidence that sensitive emails or files from the reporting of our articles about the Wen family were accessed, downloaded or copied,” said Jill Abramson, the paper’s executive editor.

Security experts found evidence that the hackers stole the corporate passwords for every Times employee and used those to gain access to the personal computers of 53 employees, most of them outside The Times‘ newsroom, the paper said.

“Experts found no evidence that the intruders used the passwords to seek information that was not related to the reporting on the Wen family.”

Computer security experts at Mandiant, the company hired by the newspaper, said the hackers tried to “cloak” the source of their attacks “by first penetrating computers at United States universities and routing the attacks through them”.

“This matches the subterfuge used in many other attacks that Mandiant has tracked to China.”

The Chinese government has repeatedly said it opposes hacking and that China too suffers frequently from these kinds of attacks.

Australian opposition leader warns of second election
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Australia faces a possible fourth straight year of political instability after opposition leader Tony Abbott, on track to win power in a September election, threatened a second poll if a hostile upper house rejects his plan to scrap a tax on carbon.

One day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard surprised voters by announcing a September 14 election, Abbott today promised to scrap a carbon tax if he wins office, but added he would call a second election if a hostile Senate rejected his plans.

“If it takes a double dissolution to do it, I won’t hesitate to have one,” conservative leader Abbott told the National Press Club in Canberra, referring to the dissolution of both houses of parliament which would mean another election.

Even if Abbott wins a September election, the Greens and Labour will control a majority in the Senate until at least July 2014, and possibly until 2017. A second election of both houses in 2014 could give him the Senate numbers to abolish the carbon tax, or to ensure a joint sitting of both houses to repeal it.

Australia has endured three years of political instability with Gillard’s minority Labour government relying on a handful of independents and Greens to command a one-seat majority and pass legislation.

“Most Australians perceive that it’s been a difficult few years and the prospect of dragging this [political instability] on beyond September this year would be unfortunate,” said Hans Kunnen, chief economist at St George Bank.

“One would wish for more stability, but it’s not a deal killer. Business has to go on and you live with the environment that you have.”

With the next election eight months away, opinion polls show Abbott is on track for an easy victory, with Gillard’s Labour set to lose up to 18 seats. Abbott only needs to win two government-held seats to win power.

But Abbott has one big problem, a seemingly entrenched disapproval rating, which was at 58 percent in January. Gillard is also disliked by voters, with a disapproval rating of 49 percent, but Gillard leads Abbott as preferred prime minister.

Australia’s mandatory voting system will mean both will have to convince disillusioned voters of not only their policies, but that they are also the best person to lead the nation.

Top US senator denies sex tourism claim as FBI raids donor’s offices
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and incoming chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday denied allegations that he engaged in sex with underage prostitutes during free trips to the Dominican Republic provided by a political donor.

The denial from Menendez, 59, who was re-elected to a second term last year, came as FBI agents searched the offices of a prominent South Florida eye doctor who is the donor linked to his alleged unpaid trips.

The FBI did not explain the motive for the raid on the offices of Dr Salomon Melgen, 58, saying only that it was “conducting law enforcement activity” in the vicinity of the medical-office complex where Melgen’s West Palm Beach eye clinic is located.

The sprawling light-blue office building, usually buzzing with customers from Melgen’s booming practice, was cordoned off on Wednesday as news crews stood watch outside. Investigators had been inside the building through the night, and at about 2:30pm agents loaded dozens of cardboard boxes into a white government van.

Dominican-born Melgen did not immediately return a phone call from Reuters seeking comment.

Melgen’s name has been linked in recent months to unsubstantiated reports, first published on the conservative Daily Caller website, that he provided Menendez with free trips aboard his private plane to the Dominican Republic where Menendez allegedly engaged in sex with underage prostitutes.

“Dr Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years,” Menendez’s press office said in a emailed statement.

“Senator Menendez has travelled on Dr Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false.”

Menendez, a Cuban American, is divorced and has two children. He served in the House of Representatives from 1993 until he became a senator in 2006.

Melgen and his family are longtime contributors to numerous political campaigns, including Menendez’s, totalling US$393,000 since 1998.

He has an outstanding lien of $11.1 million from the Internal Revenue Service for taxes owed between 2006 and 2009, according to records obtained from the Palm Beach County recorder’s office.

Melgen fell victim to a Ponzi scheme in

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Transport

Travelling from the UK? Here’s some details on restrictions….

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Travelling from the UK? Here’s some details on restrictions…. | Thaiger
Stock photo of London Heathrow Airport via Flickr

As the summer holiday is just around the corner, many in the UK are wondering if and how they will travel abroad during the Covid pandemic. Despite it being against the law to travel abroad for holiday and leisure in the UK, those who need to travel may want to know what requirements certain countries have in order to enter.

Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Indonesia, are some of the popular places that travellers need to visit, and here we have the latest updates on requirements from those nations.

Australia

After locking down borders early, Australia has spent most of last year living a more normal life than those in the UK have, seeing significantly fewer Covid infections and deaths. But part of why they have been more successful is due to the tough travel measures that are still in place. The country currently is closed to outsiders, except for Australian citizens, permanent residents, or those with an exemption.

If travellers do fall into those categories, they must undergo a 14 day mandatory quarantine on arrival at a designated facility, like a hotel. And, even if you are inside Australia wanting to depart, the strict guidelines apply to those leaving the country as well. Only those with an exemption are able to leave Australia and there has been no indication as to when the country will relax the rules for coming and going. Experts do say that the country may not return to pre-pandemic levels of free travelling until 2024.

New Zealand

New Zealand is another country that has succeeded in tackling the pandemic early on, as most residents are living quite normally. Again, the strict guidelines that were in place are still ongoing as the country is closed to almost all arrivals. Those who are allowed in, must present evidence of a negative Covid test within 72 hours of departing their country of residence.

But, good news is coming later this month as NZ will enter a travel bubble with Australia, allowing its people to travel between the 2 nations without needing to undergo a quarantine.

Thailand

Thailand was also considered to be succesful in combatting the Covid virus, until a 2nd and 3rd wave rocked the country, with experts saying it could be the worst yet to come. As the nation is planning to reopen fully in October, with an even earlier opening in July for its tourist-laden island of Phuket, arrivals still must undergo quarantines of up to 10 days. The quarantine time period depends on where you are entering in the country, as well as whether or not you have been fully inoculated against the Covid virus.

Other restrictions include where you are coming from prior to entering the country, as certain nations with Covid variants may still be required to undergo the full length of the original 14 day quarantine, or could be denied entry altogether.

Indonesia

Since the beginning of this year, all non-Indonesian travellers are currently banned from entering the country, with only a few exemptions in place. Any travellers allowed to enter must provide evidence of a negative Covid test and follow mandatory quarantine arrangements once landing.

The country is currently administering China’s Sinovac vaccine, which has faced criticism over its low effectiveness rates. But, Indonesia has lost 75% of its tourism in 2020, a figure that its government is surely to tackle in the near future.

SOURCE: MyLondon.news

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

US pauses use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after “rare and severe” blood clots

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US pauses use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after “rare and severe” blood clots | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Health officials in the United States have decided to pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine while they investigate a number of cases of “rare and severe” blood clots. According to a CNN report, a 45 year old woman has died and another patient is in critical condition. In total, there were 6 blood clot incidents, out of more than 6.8 million vaccine doses administered. All of the cases involved female patients between the ages of 18 and 48, with symptoms developing between 6 to 13 days after inoculation.

Speaking to CNN, Dr Carlos del Rio from Emory University School of Medicine says that such side-effects are extremely rare, pointing out that they’re more likely to be observed outside clinical trials, due to the larger number of people involved.

“It’s a very rare event. You’re talking about 1 per million, and when you give millions of doses of vaccines, you will see events like this that you couldn’t see in the clinical trial just because you didn’t have millions of people enrolled.”

He adds that blood clotting may be occurring for the same reason seen with the AstraZeneca vaccine, given that both jabs are adenovirus vector vaccines. The other vaccines in use in the US – Pfizer and Moderna – are mRNA vaccines.

Peter Marks from the US Food and Drug Administration agrees that there appear to be similarities between the incidents of blood clots reported with both the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines.

“The AstraZeneca is a chimpanzee adenoviral vector vaccine. The Janssen is a human adenoviral vector vaccine. We can’t make some broad statement yet, but obviously they are from the same general class of viral vectors. We don’t have a definitive cause, but the probable cause that we believe may be involved here – that we can speculate – is a similar mechanism that may be going on with the other adenoviral vector vaccine. That is that this is an immune response that occurs very, very rarely after some people receive the vaccine and that immune response leads to activation of the platelets and these extremely rare blood clots.”

Janssen is the vaccine arm of Johnson & Johnson. Yesterday, the manufacturer issued a statement confirming a decision to delay the European rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine. The statement goes on to say that anyone who has already received the jab and experiences a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within 3 weeks of being inoculated should see a doctor. However, it adds that such side effects are extremely rare.

Last month, the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine became the third jab to be approved for emergency use in Thailand.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

WHO says pandemic reaching critical levels in South Asia

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Stock photo via World Bank Blogs

Despite vaccines being rolled out, the WHO is warning that the Covid-19 pandemic has reached a “critical level” in South Asia as infections keep rising. The virus has already taken 2.9 million lives, infecting 136 million worldwide and the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, says the “trajectory of this pandemic is growing…exponentially.”

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic when we have proven control measures. We are at a critical point of the pandemic right now.”

The US is still the country with the most amount of infections, but India has recently taken the number 2 spot over Brazil, reporting 168,000 new cases in 1 day. India’s total amount of infections is now at 13.5 million, edging Brazil’s 13.48 million into the number 3 spot.

But a race among nations for Covid infections is not what the WHO – or anyone for that matter – is wanting. 28 year old Rohit, a waiter in Mumbai, seems to say that the race won’t end if people continue to not listen to safety protocols.

“The solution is for everyone to stay home for two months and end this (pandemic) once and for all. But the public doesn’t listen. Nobody follows the rules in the restaurant… If we tell customers to wear masks, they are rude and disrespectful to us.”

Ignoring the social – distancing rules has experts up in arms as they warn that huge, mass gatherings are what we all thought they were: a super spreader event for Covid-19.

But the Indian government appears desperate to avoid a repeat of last year’s nationwide March shutdown which saw some of the world’s toughest measures causing misery all around. Thus, the balance between managing a country’s overall health and financial situation is a tedious one.

Bangladesh has chosen health, for now, as it is shuttering both international and domestic airports from tomorrow. Its population of 160 million people, will be sealed off from the rest of the world.

And, in Thailand, a 3rd wave has hit, making plans for a full reopening by October, seem to be in vain. Social distancing and mass gatherings are, again, to blame, as entertainment venues sparked the recent spread. As normally tourism-heavy destinations, like the Andaman island of Phuket, are rapidly inoculating its residents to prepare for a July reopening, the new wave has dampened hopes of reviving the economy.

For now, the efforts to contain the Covid pandemic have been futile worldwide, but history has a habit of repeating itself, especially when safety protocols fall on deaf ears.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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