Top Asian News 4:42 a.m. GMT
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Tonga will enter a lockdown Wednesday evening after finding coronavirus infections in two port workers helping distribute aid arriving in the Pacific nation after a volcanic eruption and tsunami. The urgent announcement by Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni appeared to confirm fears that accepting the aid following the disaster last month could usher in a second disaster by bringing COVID-19 into a nation that had been virus-free. The volcanic eruption and tsunami last month tainted drinking water, severed communications and left dozens homeless. Three people died in Tonga and two in Peru after the tsunami crossed the ocean.
BEIJING (AP) — The three-day torch relay for the Beijing Olympics, shortened considerably because of concerns about the coronavirus, started Wednesday with an 80-year-old former speedskater carrying the flame. The relay opened at the Olympic Foreign Park. Luo Zhihuan, the country’s first internationally competitive speedskater, ran the first leg. The torch will be carried through the three Olympics zones, starting with downtown Beijing before heading to Yanqing district and finally Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei Province. The Beijing Games have already been impacted on a scale similar to that experienced by Tokyo during last year’s Summer Olympics. China says only selected spectators will be allowed to attend events, and Olympic athletes, officials, staff and journalists are required to stay within a bubble that keeps them from contact with the general public.
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese people rang in the Lunar New Year on Tuesday despite pandemic restrictions, as small crowds gathered at temples to offer traditional prayers for the Year of the Tiger. At the Lama Temple in Beijing, dozens of people bowed in prayer before the ornate west gate of the Tibetan Buddhist site that was shut because of pandemic restrictions. Wang Ying, who works at an accounting firm, said praying outside the temple was better than burning incense at home. “I think sincerity is more important than burning incense sticks,” she said, after finishing her devotions. Wang also said she is looking forward to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday.
NEW DELHI (AP) — It’s mandatory to wear a mask in India. And police are out on the streets, watching people to make sure they are in place. People caught without wearing a mask are fined. Some local governments, like the one in the capital New Delhi, have recruited new staff to ensure the rules are followed. But the scrutiny doesn’t extend to the type of mask that is worn, nor the safety criteria. Some people wear N95 masks, which is considered the best protection against the coronavirus, and some wear surgical masks. But more common are cloth masks — which are less effective against the ultra-contagious omicron variant.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — As they headed home at night from a wedding, everyone in the car went quiet when they approached the checkpoint in Kabul manned by two Taliban with automatic rifles. One of the fighters shone a light into the car. Fatima Abdullahi was in the backseat, her two children perched on her lap, squeezed between her younger sister Zainab and a work colleague. The fighter waved them through. Seconds later, two shots rang out. Zainab slumped against her sister. Abdullahi screamed, pleading with her to wake up. Zainab, 25, was dead. “I took her face in my hands but she didn’t move.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States called for the U.N. Security Council to meet Thursday on North Korea’s most recent test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam, its most significant launch in years that could target American territory. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Sunday’s launch, saying it broke the North’s announced moratorium on such launches and clearly violated Security Council resolutions, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. The U.N. chief urged North Korea “to desist from taking any further counter-productive actions,” expressing “great concern” that Pyongyang again “disregarded any consideration for international flight or maritime safety,” Haq said Tuesday.
BANGKOK (AP) — A nationwide strike marked the one-year anniversary Tuesday of the army’s seizure of power in Myanmar, as protests and sporadic violence across the country renewed concern over the ongoing struggle for power. Photos and video on social media showed a “silent strike” emptied streets in the largest city of Yangon and other towns as people stayed home and businesses shut in a show of opposition to army rule. Violence was reported as well, as the country faces an insurgency that some U.N. experts now characterize as a civil war. Local media said an explosion killed at least two people and injured dozens at a pro-military rally in a town on the eastern border with Thailand.
TOKYO (AP) — Washington is “fully committed” to working with Japan to confront growing regional tensions, the new U.S. ambassador to Tokyo, Rahm Emanuel, said Tuesday. Emanuel was speaking at a meeting with Japanese Foreign Miniser Yoshimasa Hayashi, where the two discussed issues including North Korea’s missile advancement and China’s increasingly assertive actions in the Asia Pacific. “The United States is fully committed to working with Japan as a full ally to counter the challenges and to really realizing our shared vision for a truly free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Emanuel. The American envoy criticized China’s use of “coercion, intimidation and disinformation” as its influence rises in the region.
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — As the Chinese government tightened its grip over its ethnic Uyghur population, it sentenced one man to death and three others to life in prison last year for textbooks drawn in part from historical resistance movements that had once been sanctioned by the ruling Communist Party. An AP review of images and stories presented as problematic in a state media documentary, and interviews with people involved in editing the textbooks, found they were rooted in previously accepted narratives — two drawings are based on a 1940s movement praised by Mao Zedong, who founded the communist state in 1949.
BEJING (AP) — People around Asia ushered in the Year of the Tiger on Tuesday, celebrating the Lunar New Year with colorful decorations, wild dances, tributes to their ancestors and prayers for good fortune in the year to come. It is the third Lunar New Year since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, and again celebrations were more subdued than usual, with people taking strict health and safety precautions, and some traditional festivities either reduced in size or cancelled. Each year is named after one of twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac in a repeating cycle. The Year of the Tiger follows the Year of the Ox.