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China weighs whether to abandon Covid zero-tolerance approach

China‘s current Covid-19 outbreak would barely register as a blip for most countries, with 125 cases recorded Monday among its 1.4 billion people.

But infections have risen sharply since the middle of July, and some observers question whether Beijing’s drastic zero-tolerance tactics, which crushed previous surges, will be enough to extinguish the highly transmissible delta variant, which is fueling the current wave.

“The jury’s out on whether or not China’s traditional methods will be able to contain it this time,” said Craig Allen, a former U.S. ambassador who is president of the U.S.-China Business Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

“Has the virus outsmarted them? We don’t know the answer to that, but that is the real-life drama being played out,” he said.

Chinese officials have kept a lid on the pandemic by deploying a zero-tolerance playbook that would be considered extreme in the West.AFP – Getty Images

While Covid-19 was first identified in China, the country has rarely officially recorded more than two dozen cases a day for over a year. Compare that with the U.S., where daily infection numbers have often been in the tens of thousands.

The U.S. and others have accused China of not being transparent about the early months of the pandemic, including questions about its early reporting of cases and the unproven theory that the coronavirus accidentally escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, which Beijing rejects out of hand.

But for months, it seemed clear that the contagion had been all but eradicated across much of China, with daily life largely returning to pre-pandemic normality.

Chinese officials have kept a lid on the pandemic by deploying a zero-tolerance playbook that would be considered extreme in the West: sealing off entire cities and enforcing mandatory testing on tens of millions of people.

The current wave started July 10, officials said, when nine airport workers tested positive after having cleaned an Air China flight that arrived in the eastern city of Nanjing from Moscow.

Officials have once again revved up the zero-tolerance machine, banning anyone from leaving the city of Zhangjiajie, canceling flights and trains across the country and shutting tourist sites. Nevertheless, infections have spread to 15 of China’s 31 provinces, state media reported Friday.

He Qinghua, a senior official with China’s National Health Commission, acknowledged Thursday that tackling the delta wave would be more complicated than in the past, particularly because it struck at the peak of summer travel.

“As long as local authorities strictly implement various prevention and control measures, I think the epidemic will be largely under control within two to three incubation periods,” he said at a news conference.

But whether or not China does get a handle on the most recent outbreak, some experts outside the country doubt that imposing lockdowns every time a few dozen cases pop up is the answer.

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“I don’t think zero tolerance can be sustained,” Xi Chen, a health economist at the Yale School of Public Health, told The Associated Press. “Even if you can lock down all the regions in China, people might still die, and more might die due to hunger or loss of jobs.”

Nomura, a Japanese investment bank, downgraded its growth forecast for the Chinese economy from 8.9 percent to 8.2 percent, citing “draconian measures” by the government.

And Allen, of the U.S.-China Business Council, said “interprovincial transportation of products is becoming a challenge,” as transportation routes between towns and cities are gummed up.

“For factory products that are made in city A but assembled in city B, that supply chain is being disrupted, and workers are not able to get to work,” he said.

A potential problem is that it is unclear how effective China’s vaccines are against the delta variant. China has not released clinical or real-world data, making peer-reviewed analysis difficult.

Dr. Zhang Wenhong, who advises the Chinese government and is sometimes referred to as “China’s Dr. Fauci,” says China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac shots work against the delta variant. But other countries that have used them, including Indonesia and Chile, have reported high numbers of breakthrough infections and deaths.

It is only through widespread vaccination campaigns that some Western countries are trying to live with high levels of infection in the hope that they will not cause mass deaths. In June, Singapore flipped from the “zero-Covid” policy favored by China and Australia to something resembling the Western model, which it called “a new normal.”

“With vaccination, testing, treatment and social responsibility, it may mean that in the near future, when someone gets Covid-19, our response can be very different from now,” Singaporean government ministers said in a statement.

“Some countries have surrendered to the virus, believing that it is impossible for humanity to win the battle against it,” an editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper said.

Aly Song / Reuters

There have been similar murmurings in China, which some international observers have interpreted as a willingness to follow suit.

Shi Zhengli, an influential virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told the People’s Daily newspaper on Wednesday, “We must let go of our fear and be prepared to coexist with the new coronavirus for a period of time.”

Zhang posted on the social media site Weibo last week, “Most virologists in the world now recognize that this may be a permanent virus, and the world must learn to coexist with this virus.”

And Liu Guoen, an economics professor at Beijing’s Peking University, said Friday at an event hosted by the Chinese tech firm Baidu that China must decide whether to “adjust and optimize the current strategy.”

But the prospects of a U-turn any time soon look slim.

The state-run China Daily newspaper published an editorial Sunday pushing back against those who “argue that China should abandon” its position.

“Some countries have surrendered to the virus, believing that it is impossible for humanity to win the battle against it,” it said. “But they have never tried as hard as China did to tame it in the first instance, and they never won a victory over it as China did.”

The country’s position is extremely unlikely to change, at least until after the Beijing Winter Olympics in February and the National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022, said Steve Tsang, a professor and the director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London.

“The zero-tolerance policy came directly from Xi Jinping,” Tsang said, referring to the Chinese president. “So until Xi decides to change his mind, it doesn’t matter what any other experts say.”

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Pop mogul Simon Cowell was a racing flop with ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec – that didn’t win a penny

SIMON COWELL conquered the music world – but his foray into racing ended in disaster with an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec.

The music mogul, 62, has done it all with bands like One Direction, Little Mix and solo acts Olly Murs and James Arthur, to name but a few.

Cowell owned an 'awful' £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec - but the runner didn't win a single penny in six races

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Cowell owned an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec – but the runner didn’t win a single penny in six racesCredit: PA:Press Association
Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

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Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

His Syco label – plus shows such as Britain’s Got Talent – have dominated the entertainment industry and brought him an estimated net worth of £385m.

A lover of Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby, he looked perfectly poised to strike a knockout blow in the world of thoroughbreds.

But it turns out his runner was far from No1 in the charts – and never even finished better than fifth during a doomed six-race career.

Things looked promising at the start.

Named It’s A Yes From Me, the runner was trained with the respected James Fanshawe and sent off at 8-1 for his first race in June 2014.

But coming last of five by 13-and-a-half lengths was unfortunately about as good as it got for the gelding.

A month’s rest followed before he was sent off at 40-1 in a six-furlong sprint at Doncaster.

But there he could only manage fifth again, and it was same at Redcar the next month.

‘Dreadfully slow’

By October that year – with further finishes of sixth and tenth – It’s A Yes From Me came second-last in a one-mile race at Kempton.

One analysis of the race warned punters the horse was ‘one to tread carefully’ with.

Well, Cowell and Ant and Dec took that advice to heart as they never raced him again.

The horse was penniless from six races, never finishing high enough to recoup some of that £35,000 investment.

It’s doubtful Cowell, with hundreds of millions in the bank, lost any sleep over that.

But Ant and Dec revealed just how bad things has got with the horse during an interview last year.

Dec said of It’s A Yes From Me: “It was awful, it was a dreadfully slow horse.

“It wasn’t a racehorse it was just a horse, because it didn’t race.

“Every time we got to the BGT studio Simon would say, ‘I keep paying stable fees on this horse, but I’ve never seen it run’.”

Cowell originally wanted to name the nag after himself, but they settled on It’s A Yes From Me when they bought it in 2013.

‘It was awful’

Dec revealed its eventual fate: “I think it got rehomed.”

Of course it’s not all been bad for Cowell at the races.

He was one of the exclusive few at the Epsom Derby in June, having a great time with partner Lauren Silverman and Piers Morgan.

And two weeks later he was at Royal Ascot – where he first discovered his love of racing.

Cowell told SunSport’s Matt Chapman during a chat at Epsom: “I’ve got my son Eric with me today.

“My mum and dad years ago used to take me to Ascot and I was probably about his age – seven or eight.

Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this year

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Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this yearCredit: Getty
It's A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races

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It’s A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races
The music supremo tweeted about his horse's bad start... which never got much better

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The music supremo tweeted about his horse’s bad start… which never got much better

Most read in Horse Racing

“So the fact I can now bring him to the races as well is brilliant. It brings back a lot of good memories.

“Making TV shows is my passion. But racing is actually my second passion.”

He hasn’t made that passion the money-maker his music label is, but don’t rule out Cowell staging his own comeback at the track in the near future.

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Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org

Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org
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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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