Tag Archives: Hong

7 Hong Kong democracy leaders convicted over 2019 protests

Seven Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates were convicted Thursday on charges of organizing and participating in an unlawful assembly during massive anti-government protests in 2019 that triggered a crackdown on dissent.

The seven include media tycoon and founder of the Apple Daily tabloid Jimmy Lai, as well as 82-year-old Martin Lee, a veteran of the city’s democracy movement. Lai had already been held without bail on other charges related to his pro-democracy activities.

They were convicted for their involvement in a protest held on Aug. 18, 2019. Organizers said that 1.7 million people marched that day in opposition to a proposed bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

The activists, apart from those who have been remanded in custody on other charges, were granted bail on condition they do not leave Hong Kong and must hand in all their travel documents.

They will next appear in court on April 16, where mitigation pleas will be heard before sentences are handed down. Taking part in an unlawful assembly or a riot in Hong Kong can result in a maximum sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment for serious offences.

Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan waves to supporters as he arriving at the West Kowloon Courts for verdicts in landmark unlawful assembly case, in Hong Kong on Thursday. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Ahead of the trial, supporters and some of the defendants gathered outside the court, shouting “Oppose political persecution” and “Five demands, not one less,” in reference to demands by democracy supporters that include amnesty for those arrested in the protests as well as universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous territory.

‘We believe in the people of Hong Kong’

“So on this day, in a very difficult situation in Hong Kong, political retaliation is on us,” Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the defendants, said ahead of the court session.

“We will still march on no matter what lies in the future. We believe in the people of Hong Kong, in our brothers and sisters in our struggle, and the victory is ours if the people of Hong Kong are persistent,” he said.

Previously, two other defendants — former pro-democracy lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung — had pleaded guilty to organizing and taking part in an unauthorized assembly.

Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests in the second half of 2019, sparked by the extradition bill. The bill was eventually withdrawn, but the protests expanded to include full democracy and other demands and at times descended into violence between demonstrators and police.

In the aftermath of the protests, Beijing took a tough stance on dissent, imposing a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong and approving electoral reforms that would reduce public participation in elections and exclude critics from running for the city’s legislature.

China had pledged to allow the city to retain freedoms not permitted elsewhere in the country for 50 years when it took Hong Kong back from Britain in 1997, but its recent steps are seen as a betrayal.

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China moves to tighten control over Hong Kong’s electoral system

China’s ceremonial legislature on Thursday endorsed the Communist Party’s latest move to tighten control over Hong Kong by reducing the role of its public in picking the region’s leaders.

The measure adds to a crackdown against protests in Hong Kong since 2019 calling for greater democracy. That has prompted complaints Beijing is eroding the autonomy promised when Hong Kong return to China in 1997 and hurting its status as a global financial centre.

The National People’s Congress voted 2,895-0, with one abstention, to endorse changes that would give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers, reducing the number elected by the public. Delegates routinely endorse party plans by unanimous vote or overwhelming majorities.

President Xi Jinping and other party leaders sat on stage in front of delegates as they cast votes electronically. The NPC has no real powers but the party uses its brief annual meeting, the year’s highest-profile political event, to showcase major initiatives.

The changes in Hong Kong would give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of its lawmakers, reducing the number elected by the public. Details have yet to be announced, but Hong Kong news reports say the committee might pick one-third of lawmakers.

Supporters of 47 pro-democracy activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion wave mobile phone lights outside a court in Hong Kong on March 5. Four of the 47 activists were released on bail that day. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

The mainland government has rejected complaints it is eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and says the changes are necessary to protect the region’s stability.

Also Thursday, the NPC endorsed the ruling party’s latest five-year development blueprint. It calls for stepping up efforts to transform China into a more self-reliant technology creator — a move that threatens to worsen strains with Washington and Europe over trade and market access.

Last year, the party used the NPC session to impose a national security law on Hong Kong in response to the protests that began in 2019. Under that law, 47 former legislators and other pro-democracy figures have been arrested on subversion charges that carry a possible maximum penalty of life in prison.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi defended the changes in Hong Kong as needed to protect its autonomy and defend its “transition from chaos to governance.”

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Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy figures arrested: reports

About 50 Hong Kong pro-democracy figures were arrested by police on Wednesday under a national security law, following their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year held to increase their chances of controlling the legislature, according to local media reports.

Those arrested included former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists, and the group were arrested on suspicion of subversion under the territory’s national security law, according to reports by local newspaper South China Morning Post and online news platform Now News.

At least seven members of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party — the territory’s largest opposition party — were arrested, including former party chairman Wu Chi-wai. Former lawmakers, including Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting, and James To, were also arrested, according to a post on the party’s Facebook page.

Benny Tai, a key figure in Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy Central protests and a former law professor, was also arrested, according to local media reports. Tai was one of the main organizers of the primaries.

The home of Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who is currently serving a 13½-month prison sentence for organizing and participating in an unauthorized protest last year, was also raided this morning, according to a tweet posted from Wong’s account.

The mass arrests on Wednesday are the largest to date since the national security law was implemented in Hong Kong in June last year. In recent months, Hong Kong has jailed several pro-democracy activists including Wong and Agnes Chow for their involvement in antigovernment protests, and others have been charged under the national security law, including media tycoon and outspoken pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.

Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers had last July held an unofficial primary election to figure out which candidates they should field in a now-postponed legislative election that would boost their chances of gaining a majority of seats in legislature. Gaining a majority would allow the pro-democracy camp to vote against what they deemed to be pro-Beijing government policies.

More than 600,000 people in Hong Kong voted in the primaries, although pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians criticized the event and warned that it could be in breach of the territory’s national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June to quash dissent following months of anti-government protests.

Beijing also blasted the primaries as “illegal,” calling it a “serious provocation” of Hong Kong’s current electoral system.

Following the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British in 1997, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory has operated on a “one country, two systems” framework that affords it freedoms not found on the mainland. In recent years, Beijing has asserted more control, drawing criticism that Hong Kong’s freedoms were under attack.

The legislative elections, originally slated to be held in September, were later postponed for a year after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam claimed that holding elections would be a risk to public health given the coronavirus pandemic. The pro-democracy camp denounced the postponement as unconstitutional.

In November, all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse after Beijing passed a resolution that led to the disqualification of four of its camp.

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Hong Kong court orders media publisher Jimmy Lai back into custody

Hong Kong’s top court has remanded media and publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, the most high-profile person to be charged under the Chinese-ruled city’s national security law, in custody until another bail hearing on Feb. 1.

The Court of Final Appeal’s ruling comes a week after Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists who is accused of colluding with foreign forces, was released on $ 1.3 million US bail along with extensive restrictions that included barring him from using social media.

Prosecutors immediately appealed against the bail decision.

Beijing imposed the legislation on the former British colony in June that critics say aims to crush dissent and erode freedoms in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city — charges that authorities in Hong Kong and China reject.

Lai, a critic of Beijing who had been a frequent visitor to Washington, is widely believed to be a target of the new legislation.

Lai is among a string of pro-democracy activists and supporters arrested by Hong Kong police in recent months as authorities step up their crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. 

On Tuesday, Lai resigned as chairman and executive director of Next Digital, which runs the Apple Daily newspaper, according to a filing made to the Hong Kong stock exchange. He did so “to spend more time dealing with this personal affairs” and confirmed that he had no disagreement with the board of directors, the filing said.

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Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong taken into custody after guilty plea

Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and two other activists were taken into custody Monday after they pleaded guilty to charges related to a demonstration outside police headquarters during anti-government protests last year.

Wong, together with fellow activists Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow, pleaded guilty to charges related to organizing, taking part in and inciting protesters to join an unauthorized protest outside police headquarters last June. The trio were members of the now-disbanded Demosisto political party.

They were remanded in custody at a court hearing Monday, and the three are expected to be sentenced on Dec. 2. Those found guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly could face as long as five years in prison depending on the severity of the offence.

“I am persuaded that neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism,” Wong said, ahead of the court hearing.

“What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world, through our compassion to whom we love, so much that we are willing to sacrifice the freedom of our own. I’m prepared for the thin chance of walking free.”

Wong rose to prominence as a student leader during the 2014 Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests and is among a growing number of activists being charged with relatively minor offences since Beijing in June imposed a sweeping national security law on the region that has severely restricted political speech.

‘I will try my best to face it bravely’

Pro-democracy supporters have said the legal charges are part of a campaign to harass and intimidate them.

Lam, who also spoke ahead of the court hearing, said he too was prepared to be jailed.

Wong wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday that he and Lam had decided to plead guilty after consulting with their lawyers. The two previously pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Supporters of the three activists wave to a Correctional Services Department vehicle outside a court in Hong Kong on Monday. They were taken into custody after they pleaded guilty to charges related to a demonstration outside police headquarters during anti-government protests last year. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

Chow had already pleaded guilty to charges of inciting others and taking part in the protest.

“If I am sentenced to prison this time, it will be the first time in my life that I have been in jail,” Chow wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday.

“Although I am mentally prepared, I still feel a little bit scared. However, compared to many friends, I have suffered very little. When I think of this, I will try my best to face it bravely.”

On June 21 last year, thousands rallied outside the police headquarters to protest what they said was excessive police force against demonstrators.

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Hong Kong opposition stages final protest in assembly before mass resignation

Hong Kong’s opposition staged a final show of defiance in the legislature on Thursday before resigning to protest against the dismissal of four of their colleagues in what they see as another bid by Beijing to suppress democracy in the city.

The withdrawal of the opposition from the city legislature will mean an end for what has been one of the few forums for dissent after Beijing’s imposition of national security legislation in June and coronavirus restrictions ended pro-democracy protests that began last year.

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government expelled four opposition members from the legislature on Wednesday for endangering national security after China’s parliament gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent.

The remaining 15 opposition members of the 70-seat Legislative Council, known as Legco, then said they would quit in solidarity with their colleagues.

“I suppose this is my last protest in Legco,” opposition member Lam Cheuk-ting said after unfurling a protest banner vilifying the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.

The opposition politician had briefly displayed the banner from the building’s second floor, with the message: “Carrie Lam is corrupting Hong Kong and hurting its people; She will stink for 10,000 years.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the expulsion of the four opposition members as being in accordance with the law and dismissed suggestions the legislature would become a rubber stamp. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

The city’s chief executive was not in the assembly at the time.

On Wednesday, Carrie Lam defended the expulsion of the four opposition members as being in accordance with the law and she dismissed suggestions the legislature would become a rubber stamp.

Opposition members have tried to make a stand against what many people in the former British colony see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms, despite a promise of a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula, agreed when it returned to China in 1997.

China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved decisively to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared last year and plunged the city into crisis.

China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office condemned the resignations as “a blatant challenge to the central government’s authority.”

“We would like to warn these opposition members that if they want to use this to encourage radical resistance and beg for intervention from outside forces to drag Hong Kong into chaos again, that is a wrong calculation,” the office said in a statement.

The disqualifications and opposition walk-out are likely to add to concern in the West about Hong Kong’s autonomy as Joe Biden prepares to take over from Donald Trump as U.S. president, promising to promote democracy around the world.

Foreign governments condemn oustings

U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the disqualifications showed the Chinese Communist Party had “flagrantly violated its international commitments” and was “expanding one party dictatorship in Hong Kong.”

Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, said the expulsions constituted an assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Germany, holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency, and Australia also condemned the oustings.

The Chinese parliament cleared the way for the disqualifications with the passing of a resolution allowing Hong Kong to expel legislators deemed a threat to security or not holding allegiance to Hong Kong.

Chinese state media hailed its parliament’s resolution as a “long overdue” step towards “the return of peace and prosperity” in Hong Kong. It also stressed the need for the city to be “governed by patriots.”

The fate of Hong Kong’s political opposition has been in doubt since the government, citing coronavirus risks, postponed September’s legislative elections by a year. Critics saw that as a bid to kill the pro-democracy camp’s momentum.

“The city is dying. It has been dying for some time. Now we’re even more like China,” said student Calvin Fan.

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Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers resign en masse

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers said Wednesday that they were resigning en masse following a move by the semi-autonomous Chinese region’s government to disqualify four of their fellow pro-democracy legislators.

The 15 lawmakers announced the move in a news conference Wednesday, hours after the Hong Kong government said it was disqualifying the four legislators — Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung.

The disqualifications came after China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which held meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, passed a resolution stating that those who support Hong Kong’s independence or refuse to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over the region, or threaten national security or ask external forces to interfere in the city’s affairs, should be disqualified.

“Today we will resign from our positions, because our partners, our colleagues have been disqualified by the central government’s ruthless move,” Wu Chi-wai, convener of the pro-democracy camp, said at the news conference.

“Although we are facing a lot of difficulties in the coming future for the fight of democracy, we will never, ever give up,” he said.

Four lawmakers, from left, Dennis Kwok, Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung, confirmed they were disqualified in a news conference Wednesday. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

Wu said that the pro-democracy legislators would hand in their resignation letters on Thursday. During the news conference, pro-democracy lawmakers chanted, “Hong Kong add oil, together we stand,” while holding hands.

“This is an actual act by Beijing … to sound the death knell of Hong Kong’s democracy fight, because they would think that from now on anyone they found to be politically incorrect or unpatriotic or are simply not likable to look at, they could just oust you using any means,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo.

Clamping down

Beijing has in recent months moved to clamp down on opposition voices in Hong Kong with the imposition of a national security law, after months of anti-government protests last year rocked the city.

“In terms of legality and constitutionality, obviously from our point of view this is clearly in breach of the Basic Law and our rights to participate in public affairs, and a failure to observe due process,” said Kwok, one of the disqualified lawmakers, referring to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said in a news conference Wednesday that lawmakers must act properly, and that the city needs a legislature composed of patriots.

“We cannot allow members of the Legislative Council who have been judged in accordance with the law to be unable to fulfil the requirements and prerequisites for serving on the Legislative Council to continue to operate in the Legislative Council,” Lam said.

A mass resignation by the pro-democracy camp would leave Hong Kong’s legislature with only pro-Beijing lawmakers. The pro-Beijing camp already makes up a majority of the city’s legislature, but the resignations could allow lawmakers to pass bills favoured by Beijing without opposition.

Still, Lam said that the legislature would not become a rubber-stamp body, and that diverse opinion is welcomed.

“I clearly will say that it is unfair to the pro-establishment members that once the 19 members left the Legislative Council, then they will become a rubber stamp of the Hong Kong SAR government,” she said. “That certainly would not happen.”

Barred from elections

Earlier in the year, the four now-disqualified pro-democracy lawmakers were barred from running for legislative elections originally scheduled for September, prior to the government stating that it would postpone the elections by a year due to the coronavirus. They were disqualified over their calls for foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and Beijing.

The four lawmakers later remained in their posts following the postponement of the elections.

The postponement was criticized by the pro-democracy camp as an attempt to block them from taking a majority of seats in the legislature, after they had held an unofficial pro-democracy primary participated in by over 600,000 voters to decide which candidates to field.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that the move to disqualify the lawmakers was necessary to maintain rule of law and constitutional order in Hong Kong.

“We firmly support the [Hong Kong] government in performing its duties in accordance with the Standing Committee’s decision,” Wang said at a regular news conference.

Beijing’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong in June and the ensuing crackdown on opposition voices have brought condemnation from Western democracies. Several countries have suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong, and Washington has barred Lam and other leading figures from visiting the U.S. and ordered a block on any U.S. assets in their possession.

Beijing has rejected all such criticism and lashed out at what it calls gross foreign interference in Chinese politics.

“I want to emphasize that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China,” Wang said, reiterating Beijing’s position. “The issue of qualification of Hong Kong Legislative Council members is purely China’s internal affairs. No countries have the right to make irresponsible remarks or intervene.”

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Hong Kong police arrest at least 60 after pro-democracy protest on Chinese holiday

Hong Kong police arrested at least 60 people on suspicion of unauthorized assembly on China’s National Day holiday Thursday after crowds gathered on the streets of a popular shopping district chanting pro-democracy slogans.

Those arrested included two district councillors, police said in a statement posted on Facebook. They said the people were arrested after they ignored repeated warnings asking them to disperse.

Online calls urged people to join protests, and crowds turned up at Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping district, some people chanting “Disband the police” and “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time,” a popular pro-democracy slogan that has been banned by the Hong Kong government for alleged secessionist sentiments.

A heavy police presence outnumbered the protesters at the scene.

WATCH | Dozens arrested in Hong Kong after anti-government protest:

Hong Kong riot police arrested more than 60 people at a banned anti-government march on China’s National Day Thursday. The march was in part to protest against China’s imposition of a national security law on June 30. 0:46

National Day, which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China, has become a day of protest in Hong Kong by those who oppose Beijing’s increasing control over the semi-autonomous region. Large-scale protests are forbidden because of physical distancing restrictions due to the coronavirus.

Clampdown on anti-government expression

In the afternoon, police cordoned off some areas in the district and searched people on the streets. On several occasions, they unfurled warning banners that urged protesters to disperse, saying they were participating in an illegal assembly.

Protests against the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments swelled last year, and Beijing clamped down on expressions of anti-government sentiment in the city with a new national security law that took effect June 30.

The law outlaws subversive, secessionist and terrorist activity, as well as collusion with foreign powers to interfere in the city’s internal affairs. The U.S. and Britain accuse China of infringing on the city’s freedoms, and the U.S. has imposed sanctions on government officials in Hong Kong and China over the law.

At a National Day reception, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said “stability has been restored to society while national security has been safeguarded” under the new law.

Lam also accused some foreign governments of holding “double standards” and levelling unjustified accusations against the authorities who implement the new law.

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Hong Kong warns it’s on the brink of large-scale coronavirus outbreak

The latest:

  • Toronto, Peel region moving to Stage 3 of COVID-19 recovery plan.
  • B.C. students to return to school in September.
  • Vietnam says every city, province now at risk of infection.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says coronavirus ‘may worsen.’
  • Russian vaccine could soon be approved for local use, sources say.
  • Bosnian minister dies after testing positive for coronavirus.
  • Spike of cases in Hong Kong introduces risk of large-scale outbreak.
  • Doubts emerge about U.S. dollar’s place as a reserve currency as pandemic batters economy.
  • U.S. Democrats, Republicans to resume discussions around coronavirus aid bill.
  • Republican lawmaker tests positive at the White House.
  • Confirmed COVID-19 deaths in U.S. reach 150,000.
  • U.S. officials say Russian intelligence officers are spreading COVID-19 disinformation.
  • Pilgrims begin gathering in Mecca for a physically distanced hajj.
  • European Commission acquires enough remdesivir for 30,000 patients.

With reopening efforts taking place around the world, coronavirus infections continue to rise along with them — prompting the possibility of renewed lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

Hong Kong reported 118 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including 113 that were locally transmitted, as strict new measures took effect, including a restriction limiting gatherings to two people and a ban on restaurant dining.

The measures, which are the toughest introduced since the outbreak, are to last for at least one week as leader Carrie Lam warned the region is on the brink of a large-scale outbreak.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is seen attending the funeral for Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho in Hong Kong. On Wednesday, Lam warned of a potential large-scale outbreak in the city. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides says there’s concern over an upswing of new coronavirus infections in several European countries caused primarily by “complacency and laxity” among the public that isn’t strictly adhering to personal hygiene rules.

Kyriakides also said every country belonging to the European Union has submitted requests for the drug remdesivir. Shortly after, the European Commission said it signed a 63 million euro ($ 97.9 million Cdn) deal to secure thousands of doses, enough to treat about 30,000 patients. The drug is the only licensed experimental drug to treat people with severe COVID-19.

WATCH | Respirologist on rapidly changing concerns around COVID-19:

Dr. Samir Gupta says the drug remdesivir can be helpful for patients who are very sick but not so sick that they need a ventilator. 6:39

Health Canada recently authorized the drug for patients with severe COVID-19, though supply is limited

In the United States, government officials — who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity — told the Associated Press that Russian intelligence officers are spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic through English-language websites, trying to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain before the presidential election in November.

Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, the websites published about 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the U.S.

Russian officials on Wednesday rejected the accusations as “conspiracy theories” and a “persistent phobia.” One of the sites singled out by the U.S. posted a response denouncing as “categorically false” the American assertions that it was linked to the Russian military intelligence service or was involved in propaganda.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak to reporters in Statuary Hall after they met with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Later Wednesday, top members of the Trump administration and Democratic congressional leaders tried to narrow stark differences over a coronavirus aid bill. 

Senate Republican leaders are pushing for around $ 1 trillion US in new aid, on top of more than $ 3 trillion enacted since early this year. Democrats see a far greater need as they back $ 3 trillion in new spending, while President Trump said he was in no hurry.

“We’re so far apart we don’t care. We really don’t care,” Trump told reporters, blaming Democrats as he departed the White House for a trip to Texas.

An hour-long meeting broke up late on Tuesday afternoon with no sign of progress. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were expected to resume negotiations with the two senior Democrats in Congress — House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

One of the key points Democrats are looking for is to extend a $ 600 weekly unemployment benefit, set to expire on Friday. Republicans, arguing that it discourages some workers in lower-paying jobs from seeking employment, have proposed temporarily reducing the federal payment to $ 200 a week, on top of state unemployment benefits.

Sen. John Thune, the second highest-ranking Republican in the upper house, said lawmakers might have a better idea by the end of this week on whether there is even a chance for a deal so “that we could actually get to a package by the end of next week.”

Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert confirmed he had tested positive for the coronavirus when he visited the White House earlier on Wednesday.

Gohmert, in a video posted to Twitter, added he is asymptomatic and said he had worn a face mask frequently in the past week or two, including at a House judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, studies notes during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the oversight of the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, July 28, 2020 in Washington, before testing positive for COVID-19 a day later. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via The Associated Press)

The Texas lawmaker, who had previously refused to wear a mask amid the pandemic, said he tested positive in a quick test at the executive mansion, and in a follow-up swab test.

U.S. deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 150,000 on Wednesday, by the far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The increase of 10,000 COVID-19 deaths in 11 days is the fastest in the United States since early June.

Deaths have risen there for three weeks in a row, while a spike in infections in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas this month has overwhelmed hospitals.

What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 12:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 115,246 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 100,307 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting indicates that 8,948 Canadians have died.

Most students from kindergarten to Grade 12 are to return to British Columbia schools full time in September.

Education Minister Rob Fleming says enhanced safety measures and additional resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will allow the province to move its education restart plan ahead.

Students and essential service workers school are pictured in the classroom in West Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Fleming says the classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, and that’s why the province is working hard to ensure children can spend the school year with their teachers and classmates.

He says, on the advice of the provincial health officer, students will be organized into learning groups to reduce the number of people they come in contact with, cutting the risk of transmitting the virus.

The government is putting up $ 45.6 million to ensure safety measures, including increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, an increased number of hand-hygiene stations and the availability of masks.

WATCH | Ford confirms Toronto, Peel moving to Stage 3:

Calling it a ‘massive step forward,’ Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Toronto and Peel Region will move to Stage 3 reopening on Friday, but said Windsor-Essex will need to remain in Stage 2 a bit longer. 1:49

Staff and students, or their parents, will be expected to assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19.

In Ontario, pediatric hospitals have updated their recommendations for a safe return to school full-time, offering guidelines on the logistical challenges facing educators this fall.

Among the key recommendations from doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and other health officials from across the province is that high school and middle-school students wear masks when distance can’t be maintained, however younger children aren’t expected to wear them.

Toronto and Peel Region will move into Stage 3 of Ontario’s coronavirus recovery plan this Friday, the provincial government said this morning. 

Toronto and Peel, Ontario’s two most populous areas, have both seen steady declines in new daily cases over the last week. In the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 update yesterday morning, the two public health units had just six and seven new cases, respectively.

What’s happening in the rest of the world

Authorities in the Spanish capital Madrid backtracked on Wednesday over a highly criticized plan to give an “immunity card” to people testing positive for coronavirus so they can enjoy higher-risk areas like gyms, bars and museums.

Politicians, rights groups and epidemiologists condemned the project, announced by regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, as potentially discriminatory and medically unsound.

WATCH | U.K. orders travellers from Spain to quarantine amid COVID-19 spike:

The United Kingdom has ordered travellers returning from Spain to quarantine for 14 days as coronavirus cases begin to surge across Europe putting the summer tourist season in limbo. 2:01

After a weekly cabinet meeting of the Madrid authority, her deputy, Ignacio Aguado, told a news conference that the controversial cards would not in fact be issued.

Spain has seen a surge in new infections, including 1,153 in the last 24 hours, prompting regions to reintroduce curbs, and Britain to impose a quarantine on returnees.

Russia‘s first potential coronavirus vaccine will win local regulatory approval in the first half of August and be administered to front-line health workers soon afterward, a development source close to the matter told Reuters.

A state research facility in Moscow — the Gamaleya Institute — completed early human trials of the adenovirus-based vaccine this month and expects to begin large-scale trials in August.

Chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia on June 7, 2019. Dmitriev has denied that Russia’s push for a vaccine is compromising safety. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

The press service of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is co-ordinating and funding Russia’s vaccine development efforts, declined to comment, but its head, Kirill Dmitriev, has denied that Russia’s vaccine push is compromising safety.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the government to prepare for a possible uptick in coronavirus cases, saying that the situation “remains difficult” and “may worsen.” 

Russia has reported more than 828,000 coronavirus cases and 13,673 confirmed deaths. The number of daily new infections has been decreasing since mid-May. But they remain relatively high, with health officials reporting more than 5,000 new cases every day. 

The British government has signed a deal with GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur for 60 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine that could start to be rolled out in the first half of next year.

Britain’s GSK and France’s Sanofi have the largest vaccine manufacturing capability in the world. The government said that if the vaccine proves successful, then priority groups, such as health- and social-care workers, could be given the first doses.

WATCH | Pilgrims gather in Mecca for physically distanced hajj:

Due to the coronavirus, this year’s hajj in Mecca has been limited to about 1,000 pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia. 0:56

Muslim pilgrims, donning face masks and moving in small groups after days in isolation, began arriving at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca on Wednesday for the start of a historically unique and scaled-down hajj experience reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The hajj is one of Islam’s most important requirements, performed once in a lifetime. It follows a route the Prophet Muhammad walked nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.

Rather than standing and praying shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of people from different walks of life, pilgrims this year are physical distancing — standing apart and moving in small groups of 20 to limit exposure and the potential transmission of the coronavirus. 

The minister for veteran affairs in the government of one of Bosnia‘s two highly independent regions has died at the age of 53, a week after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Salko Bukvarevic died Wednesday in a COVID-19 hospital in Sarajevo, where he was admitted last week with pneumonia and breathing problems.

A woman is tested for possible signs of COVID-19 in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia. (Damir Sagolj/Getty Images)

Nearly 80 per cent of the country’s 10,700 cases were registered since mid-May, when a strict, nearly two-month-long coronavirus lockdown was lifted. 

Vietnam, virus-free for months, was bracing for another wave of coronavirus infections on Wednesday after state media reported new cases in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Highlands linked to a recent outbreak in the central city of Danang.

People wearing protective face masks walk along My Khe beach in Danang on Tuesday, as Vietnam suspended all flights and public transport into and out of the city due to the detection of the country’s first cases of coronavirus in months. (Hoang Khanh/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the current wave of infections was different from the second wave Vietnam fought in March, and every province and city in the Southeast Asian country was at risk, state broadcaster Vietnam Television reported.

Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, ordered bars and pubs to shut and banned large gatherings beginning at midnight, after registering its first case linked to the Danang outbreak on Wednesday.

The Dutch government on Wednesday said it will not advise the public to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus, asserting that scientific evidence of their effectiveness is mixed.

The decision was announced by Minister for Medical Care Tamara van Ark after a review by the country’s National Institute for Health. The government will instead seek more adherence to social distancing rules after a surge in coronavirus cases in the country this week, Van Ark said at a news conference in The Hague. 

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Hong Kong issues mask rules amid COVID-19 surge, Russia rejects vaccine hacking claims

The latest:

The coronavirus pandemic has found fresh legs around the world, as confirmed deaths pass 600,000, and countries from the United States to South Africa to India struggle to contain a surge of new infections. Hong Kong issued tougher new rules on wearing face masks, Spain closed overcrowded beaches and Germany reported another outbreak at a slaughterhouse.

Pope Francis said that “the pandemic is showing no sign of stopping” and urged compassion for those whose suffering during the outbreak has been worsened by conflicts.

The World Health Organization said that 259,848 new infections were reported Saturday, its highest one-day tally yet.

While the U.S. leads global infections, South Africa now ranks as the fifth worst-hit country in the pandemic with more than 350,000 cases, or around half of all those confirmed on the continent. Its struggles are a sign of trouble to come for nations with even fewer health-care resources.

Workers wearing personal protective equipment stand outside a church to check the body temperature of people in Hyderabad, India, on Sunday. (Noah Seelam/AFP via Getty Images)

India, which has now confirmed more than one million infections, on Sunday reported a 24-hour record of 38,902 new cases.

In Europe, where infections are far below their peak but local outbreaks are causing concern, leaders of the 27-nation European Union haggled for a third day in Brussels over a proposed 1.85 trillion-euro ($ 2.1 trillion US) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is “a lot of goodwill, but there are also a lot of positions” in the talks, which have laid bare divisions about how the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, such as Italy and Spain, should be helped. She said the talks, which were initially scheduled to end on Saturday, could still wrap up without a deal.

As scientists around the world race to find a vaccine to halt the pandemic, Russia’s ambassador to Britain on Sunday rejected allegations by a number of countries — including Canada — that Russia’s intelligence services have sought to steal information about vaccine efforts.

“I don’t believe in this story at all, there is no sense in it,” Ambassador Andrei Kelin said when asked in a BBC interview about the allegations. “I learned about their [the hackers’] existence from British media. In this world, to attribute any kind of computer hackers to any country, it is impossible.”

WATCH | Hackers target COVID-19 vaccine research: 

A hacker group allegedly backed by Russia is trying to steal COVID-19-related vaccine research in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., according to intelligence agencies in all three countries. 5:25

Confirmed global virus deaths have risen to nearly 603,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The United States tops the list with more than 140,000, followed by more than 78,000 in Brazil. Europe as a continent has seen about 200,000 deaths.

The number of confirmed infections worldwide has passed 14.2 million, with 3.7 million in the U.S. and more than two million in Brazil. Experts believe the pandemic’s true toll around the world is much higher because of testing shortages and data collection issues.

Infections have been soaring in U.S. states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, with many blaming a haphazard, partisan approach to lifting lockdowns, as well as the resistance of some Americans to wearing masks. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday that the situation was so dire in his California city that authorities were considering a new stay-at-home order.

People wear masks on at a beach in Hollywood, Fla., on Sunday. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Even where the situation has been largely brought under control, new outbreaks are prompting the return of restrictions.

Following a recent surge in cases, Hong Kong made the wearing of masks mandatory in all public places and told non-essential civil servants to work from home. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the situation in the Asian financial hub is “really critical” and that she sees “no sign” that it’s under control.

In Spain, police in Barcelona have limited access to some of the city’s beloved beaches because sunbathers were ignoring physical distancing regulations amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections. In the Netherlands, authorities in Amsterdam urged people not to visit the city’s famous red light district and have closed off some of the historic district’s narrow streets because they are too busy.

Police officers patrol a beach in Barcelona on Sunday. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Slaughterhouses also have featured in outbreaks in the U.S., Germany and elsewhere. Authorities in northwestern Germany’s Vechta county said 66 workers at a chicken slaughterhouse tested positive, though most appeared to have been infected in their free time. An earlier outbreak at a slaughterhouse in western Germany infected more than 1,400 and prompted a partial lockdown.

Speaking on Sunday from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for an immediate worldwide ceasefire that he said “will permit the peace and security indispensable to supplying the necessary humanitarian assistance.”

What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

The federal government has said it’s not OK for the Blue Jays to play ball in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ottawa informed the team of the decision on Saturday, citing concerns over the public health risks associated with Major League Baseball’s plan for a 60-game season.

Marco Mendicino, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, told CBC News Network that the circumstances did not warrant a border-crossing exemption, particularly in light of the amount of cross-border travel needed and the risks that remained. The plan called for the Blue Jays and visiting teams to cross the Canada-U.S. border regularly. 

WATCH | ‘We’re taking decisions on the basis of evidence,’ immigration minister says:

Immigration minister Marco Mendicino explains what had to be considered when deciding whether the Blue Jays could play in Toronto. 6:39

As of 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, Canada had 110,340 coronavirus infections. Provinces and territories listed 97,051 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,882.

Ontario added 164 new cases Sunday for a total of 37,604 cases. The province also added 113 new recoveries for a total of 33,407 recoveries.

Quebec announced on Saturday that masks are now mandatory in indoor public spaces across the province.  The new measure is kicking in as the province witnesses a slow but steady increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

“It’s better to wear a mask than to be confined at home,” Premier François Legault said as he made the announcement last Monday. “It’s not fun wearing a mask, but it’s essential.”

People wear face masks at a convenience store in Montreal on Sunday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The new directive, which applies to people aged 12 and older, coincided with tens of thousands of Quebecers spanning out on vacation with the beginning of the traditional two-week construction holiday.

Quebec is the first province to mandate face-covering, despite criticism from some who say the government shouldn’t have a blanket policy when most regions outside Montreal weren’t deeply affected by COVID-19. 

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador logged no new infections on Saturday.

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