Starting Wednesday, China is eliminating the requirement for incoming travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test result. This move signifies a pivotal point in China’s global reintegration, concluding a three-year period of isolation that began with the country’s border closure in March 2020. The announcement was delivered by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin during a press briefing held in Beijing on Monday.
In January, China terminated the mandatory quarantine for its citizens returning from abroad and has incrementally broadened the list of nations accessible to Chinese travelers, while simultaneously augmenting international flight options. This shift follows the conclusion of Beijing’s stringent domestic “zero COVID” strategy in December. This policy involved rigorous measures, such as city-wide lockdowns and lengthy quarantines, which had adverse effects on the economy, leading to increased unemployment and sporadic unrest.
Incoming travelers had previously been mandated to undergo weeks of isolation in government-designated hotels. In some cases, residents were forcibly confined to their homes as a means to curb virus transmission. This approach resulted in protests across major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Nanjing, reflecting the most direct challenge to the Communist Party’s authority since the 1989 Tiananmen protests.
The abrupt relaxation of COVID controls in early December led to a surge in infections that overwhelmed healthcare facilities. A recent U.S. study, funded by federal resources, suggests that the swift dismantling of the “zero COVID” policy possibly resulted in nearly 2 million excess deaths over the subsequent two months. This number significantly surpasses the official estimate of 60,000 deaths within the initial month of restrictions being lifted.
During the period of the “zero COVID” approach, local authorities occasionally imposed sudden lockdowns to isolate infections, confining individuals to offices and residential buildings. In a notable instance, Shanghai, home to 25 million people, underwent one of the world’s largest pandemic-related lockdowns from April to June the previous year. Residents were subjected to frequent PCR testing and had to rely on government-provided food supplies, which were frequently inadequate.
Throughout the pandemic, Beijing emphasized its “zero COVID” strategy, highlighting the comparatively lower infection rates as evidence of the superiority of China’s political system over Western democracies. However, since the relaxation of these measures, the government has faced challenges in reviving the economy. The combination of restrictions, diplomatic tensions with Western democracies including the United States, has prompted some foreign companies to scale down their investments in China.
Tragic Bus Accident in Venice Claims 21 Lives, Including Tourists
In a tragic incident on Tuesday, a bus carrying at least 21 people, including two children and foreign tourists, met with a horrific accident in Venice, resulting in multiple casualties. The bus, which was powered by methane, veered off a bridge in Venice and subsequently caught fire, causing extensive loss of life and injuries.
Venice Regional Governor Luca Zaia confirmed the devastating toll, with at least 21 fatalities and over 20 individuals hospitalized. Describing it as a “tragedy of enormous proportions,” Zaia expressed his condolences and reported that efforts were underway to extract and identify the victims. Among the victims, there were people of various nationalities, not solely Italians, as confirmed by the governor.
Reports indicate that among the deceased were Ukrainian tourists, while other fatalities included citizens of Germany and France. Additionally, three Ukrainians, along with a Croatian, a German, and a French national, sustained injuries in the accident.
The bus had been en route from Venice’s historic center to a nearby camping site when the tragic incident unfolded at around 7:30 pm (1730 GMT). The bus careened off a bridge spanning a railway line, connecting the Mestre and Marghera districts in northern Venice, and subsequently burst into flames. Firefighters swiftly arrived at the scene, where they worked diligently to manage the aftermath of the devastating accident.
The investigation into the accident’s cause is ongoing, with Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi mentioning methane as an “aggravating factor” that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire. There are concerns that the death toll may rise as the situation unfolds.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni conveyed her deep condolences and assured that she was closely monitoring the situation, maintaining contact with local authorities. Transport Minister Matteo Salvini suggested that the accident could have been triggered by the sudden illness or incapacitation of the bus driver.
The tragedy drew expressions of sympathy from world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and European Union Chief Ursula von der Leyen. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock expressed deep sorrow over the incident and pledged support for the victims and their families.
As authorities work to manage the aftermath and determine the exact circumstances leading to this devastating accident, the international community joins in mourning the loss of lives in Venice.
Tokyo Tests Self-Driving Bus Service as Part of Transport Revolution
In a bid to address the persistent shortage of bus drivers in Tokyo, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has initiated test runs of a self-driving bus. This autonomous vehicle, capable of reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour, commenced its trial on Monday. Operating along a regular loop route that links Shinjuku Station with two key government buildings, the self-driving bus offers a limited seating capacity of 18 passengers. To secure a spot on this cutting-edge journey, passengers are required to reserve their seats in advance through an online booking system.
The test runs are set to continue until October 13, with the self-driving bus running 12 services during the week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a reduced schedule on weekends and holidays. Tokyo’s metropolitan officials aim to assess the vehicle’s performance in navigating areas with heavy traffic and determine the necessary infrastructure requirements for designated autonomous lanes. Despite Japan’s ambitious strides in pioneering transportation solutions, including level IV autonomous vehicles, experts acknowledge that the widespread adoption of driverless transit in the country still faces considerable challenges.
Bangladesh, India Explore Free Trade Agreement Talks to Strengthen Economic Ties
Bangladesh and India have engaged in discussions regarding the initiation of talks for a free trade agreement aimed at bolstering their economic ties. This noteworthy development emerged during an official-level meeting of the Joint Working Group on Trade (JWG) between the two nations, which took place in Dhaka last week.
The discussions, as outlined by the Indian Commerce Ministry, encompassed a wide array of bilateral issues. These included addressing port restrictions, laying the groundwork for the commencement of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), aligning standards, mutual recognition of standards, and ensuring the supply of essential commodities to Bangladesh.
These annual meetings serve as a crucial platform for both countries to delve into key trade-related concerns and explore opportunities for collaboration, trade expansion, technical cooperation, and diversification of their economic engagement.
CEPA, a variant of a free trade agreement, involves a substantial reduction or elimination of customs duties on a substantial portion of traded goods between the participating nations. Additionally, CEPA facilitates the easing of regulations to encourage trade in services and investments.
In the course of the meeting, discussions also revolved around matters pertaining to the enhancement of road and rail infrastructure, regional connectivity via multi-modal transportation, and the development or fortification of infrastructure at Land Customs Stations and Integrated Check Posts, as well as the establishment of border haats.
Notably, bilateral trade between the two nations has seen fluctuations, with it registering at $14.2 billion in the fiscal year 2022-23, compared to $8.13 billion in the preceding fiscal year 2021-22.
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