Today’s coronavirus news: Canada’s ventilator supply starts to increase; South Korea announces stronger restrictions amid rise in COVID-19 cases


The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7:00 a.m.: Cases of COVID-19 in reopened schools are inevitable, say Toronto public health officials, who are cautioning parents not to expect a shutdown of the entire school whenever a student or staff member tests positive.

“We expect to get cases related to schools,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, the city’s associate medical officer of health, adding Toronto Public Health will take a “conservative” approach in how it handles cases in schools to ensure the risk of transmission is limited.

While TPH and school officials will be tasked with preventing the spread of COVID-19 when hundreds of thousands of children return to school in September, how those efforts will be communicated to the wider school community and the broader public is not yet clear.

Read the full story from the Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro here.

6:23 a.m.: Thousands of British tourists beat a hasty retreat from France, packing out planes, trains and ferries to return to the U.K. by the early hours of Saturday morning to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine at home.

On Friday, many British travellers in the country opted to cut short their vacations to meet the 4 a.m. Saturday deadline that had only been announced the night before. Anyone arriving back from France from Saturday must stay at home for two weeks to make sure they cannot spread the coronavirus beyond their households if they have become infected.

The exodus was prompted late Thursday when the British government took France off a list of nations exempt from traveller quarantine requirements because of a sharp rise in new coronavirus infections there.

6:16 a.m.: Only a small fraction of the 40,000 new ventilators Canada ordered for hospitals last spring have already been delivered but several companies involved say their production lines will start delivering the products faster in the next few weeks.

The promise of new arrivals comes as Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, warned Friday that a fall surge of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm the health-care system, including its supply of critical care beds and ventilators.

“What we know based on what we learned from other countries and cities that had a devastating impact in that initial wave, if you exceeded that capacity the mortality goes up really, really high,” she said.

5:52 a.m.: South Korea on Saturday announced stronger social distancing restrictions for its greater capital area where a surge in COVID-19 cases has threatened to erase the hard-won gains against the virus.

The two-week measures starting Sunday will allow authorities in Seoul and towns in neighbouring Gyeonggi Province to shut down high-risk facilities such as nightclubs, karaoke rooms, movie theatres and buffet restaurants if they fail to properly enforce preventive measures, including distancing, temperatures checks, keeping customer lists and requiring masks.

5:52 a.m.: India’s confirmed coronavirus cases have crossed 2.5 million with another biggest single-day spike of 65,002 in the past 24 hours. India is behind the United States and Brazil in the number of cases.

The Health Ministry on Saturday also reported another 996 deaths for a total of 49,036. The average daily reported cases jumped from around 15,000 in the first week of July to more than 50,000 at the beginning of August. The Health Ministry said the rise shows the extent of testing with 800,000 carried out in a single day. But experts say India needs to pursue testing more vigorously.

India’s two-month lockdown imposed nationwide in late March kept infections low. But it has eased and is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas. The new cases spiked after India reopened shops and manufacturing and allowed hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to return to their homes from coronavirus-hit regions. Subways, schools and movie theatres remain closed.

5:52 a.m.: China’s government reported 22 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday. Eight were acquired locally, including seven in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, the National Health Commission reported. The rest were found in travellers who arrived from abroad.

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The raised the number of confirmed cases on China’s mainland, where the pandemic began in December, to 84,808, with 4,634 deaths.

4:01 a.m.: Plans are being made across the country for how to safely send students back to school in the fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Click here to read what the various provinces have said about getting kids back to classes.

10:33 p.m. Friday: The Canadian Armed Forces says minor problems remain in some Ontario long-term care homes they were deployed to earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

But critics say this does not mean the homes have a clean bill of health.

The military’s concerns outlined in a report dated Aug. 4 and released Friday include worker skills and standards of practice in the seven nursing homes.





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South Korea finance minister sees third-quarter GDP bouncing back to growth quarter-on-quarter



FILE PHOTO: A truck carrying a shipping container travels past cranes at Pyeongtaek port in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, July 9, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

August 14, 2020

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s economy is seen bouncing back to sequential growth in the third quarter given signs of gradual recovery in recent economic data, but a slump in exports remains a major concern, its finance minister said on Friday.

The ministry is currently not considering another supplementary budget, which would be the fourth, that has been discussed to cope with local damages from torrential downpour during the monsoon season, Hong added.

(Reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Himani Sarkar)





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Adelaide taekwondo instructor recounts fleeing North Korea 70 years ago


At the height of the Korean War nearly 70 years ago, seven-year-old Lee Choon Bong and his family made the death-defying decision to escape Pyongyang, the heart of communist North Korea.

But before the war even started and well before they decided to flee, he lost a significant part of his family.

“One day I woke up and my father was gone and then my family said they took him to jail,” Lee said.

Lee’s family were Presbyterians who helped manage a church in the North Korean capital.

But that came with trouble from local police in a state designed to stamp out religious activities.

“They [the North Korean government] didn’t say, ‘Don’t go to church’, but the church had to listen to what they said … if you denied it then you’d get in trouble, they’d put you in jail.”

Lee visits the Korean Presbyterian Church at Beulah Park in Adelaide’s east.(ABC News: Joshua Boscaini)

In late 1950 after the outbreak of war, United Nations forces advanced into North Korea, leading to the fall of Pyongyang.

But the victory was short lived.

“They all disappeared … we didn’t see the UN soldiers. The next day they were all gone,” Lee said.

Over half a million Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River into North Korea, which separates the two countries, and pushed UN forces back beyond the 38th parallel, which now separates the North and South.

North Korean refugees fled south

Lee’s mother decided her family would flee south too. Other North Koreans followed.

UN troops destroyed bridges connecting Pyongyang with the southern banks of the Taedong River to slow the advance of Chinese troops moving south, but it also slowed down thousands of desperate North Korean refugees who were trying to escape during what was a bitterly cold Korean winter.

Lee, furthest to the left, with his two brothers, his sister and his mother in South Korea
Lee (left) with his two brothers, sister and mother in South Korea.(Supplied: Lee Choon Bong)

“[The Taedong River] was too deep and freezing, with ice floating, so we couldn’t go through the river,” Lee said.

“So one of our church deacons, he paid some money [and got] a little boat so the family crossed the river by boat.

Lee said his family made it to Haeju on North Korea’s south-west coast, and waited for the war to end, hopeful of returning to a democratic Pyongyang.

“We stayed there for about three to four weeks,” he said.

“We thought the war would stop … and then one day in the morning we saw North Korean soldiers.”

He said a bloody conflict broke out at the very place they’d escaped to.

A young Mr Lee with his dog
Lee with his dog in South Korea.(Supplied: Lee Choon Bong)

Lee said his family had to move even further south, continuing what had already been a difficult and tiresome journey.

They often traversed through fields and over mountains in the night to avoid getting caught by North Korean forces.

“If you get caught, you get killed,” he said.

The Lee family eventually made it to Gongju, South Korea, where his mother helped set up a church and the family made a living, staying well away from the North.

South Koreans still grateful for Australians’ service

According to the Australian War Memorial, 340 serving Australians lost their lives in the Korean War. About 1,200 were injured and 30 became prisoners of war.

The war claimed the lives of about 2 million people and turned many Koreans, like Lee’s family, into homeless refugees.

Korea and South East Asia Forces Association of Australia’s SA branch president, John Jarrett, was one of the 17,000 Australians who served in the war.

He worked in ordinance in Seoul from 1953 to 1954.

Jarrett said while he wasn’t on the front line of the conflict, he saw the full effects of the war in Seoul.

John Jarrett at his home in Adelaide wearing his service medals
John Jarrett says South Koreans are “generous” to Australians and remain grateful for their service in the war.(ABC News: Joshua Boscaini)

Seventy years since the outbreak of the war, Australian Korean War veterans and members of Adelaide’s Korean community have formed a close friendship, meeting several times a year.

They keep in touch so the Korean community can thank Australian veterans for their service.

Jarrett said the welcome mat did not stop at home, with warm welcomes extended to Australian veterans when they visited South Korea.

“They’re so generous. If you go to Korea and they know you’re an Australian you get anything you want,” Jarrett said.

“They put on four trips a year; one for the ex-service people and their families, one for the bereaved … one for missing in action, and one for disabled. You tell me what other country does that. It’s all paid for.

“They treat you like gods and it’s embarrassing sometimes.”

North and South Korea signed an armistice in July 1953 but the nations remain technically at war, having not signed a peace agreement.

No plans to ever return to North Korea

Following a stint in the South Korean army, Lee studied English at Hanyang University.

Mr Lee standing outside his Taekwondo business on Hyde Street in Adelaide's CBD
Lee has welcomed thousands of eager students to his taekwondo gym.(ABC News: Joshua Boscaini)

He became engrossed in taekwondo and in 1973 moved to Australia after being scouted by the Australian embassy in Korea, which was looking for an instructor.

The same year, he started a successful taekwondo gym which still operates in Hyde Street in Adelaide’s CBD and has welcomed thousands of eager students.

Now 76 years old, Lee credits his mother’s hard work, strength and compassion throughout their family’s journey for their success.

He said he would never consider returning to North Korea.

“We don’t think about going back there, we don’t,” he said.



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North Korea says it will ‘postpone’ plan for military action against South Korea


North Korea appears to be softening its approach towards its neighbor South Korea after weeks of rising tensions, including the dramatic demolition of a liaison office with dynamite.

The secretive communist country decided to “postpone plans for military actions against South Korea,” state media outlet Rodong Sinmun reported on its website on Wednesday. The announcement came after a virtual military committee meeting convened by leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday where they “assessed the current situation.”

“They reviewed and discussed key military policy topics at the meeting … as well as policy alternatives to further strengthen means for deterrence against war,” according to the state news outlet.

The report gave no explanation for the change of heart or further details on what the policy alternatives might be.

According to a spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the virtual conference was “very unusual.”

“We believe that this is the first time that Chairman Kim Jong Un has convened a virtual meeting. Actually, the preliminary meeting of the Central Military Committee also is very unusual and such meeting was never reported in the past,” said Unification Ministry spokesperson Yeo Sang Ki in a briefing on Wednesday.

Tensions escalated earlier this month after North Korea lashed out at both the South and the North Koreans defectors living there for propaganda leaflets and balloons that have been sent into the North.

Earlier this month, Kim’s sister and trusted aide, Kim Yo Jong — who appears to have gained prominence in recent months — threatened unspecified military action against the South. The two countries are still technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

On Saturday, an “enraged” North Korea said it was preparing to pour its own “leaflets of punishment” on the South. Many of the leaflets were being prepared by university students, state news outlet KCNA reported, and would feature the face of South Korean President Moon Jae-in smeared with cigarette butts, an insult comparing him to trash.

Image: FILE PHOTO: Members of an anti-North Korea civic group release balloons containing leaflets denouncing the North’s leader Kim Jong-un at Imjingak pavilion in Paju (Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters)

But since then, there have been further signs of a climb down by the North. South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed reports that a number of official North Korea propaganda websites had removed some articles critical of the South, though the spokesman said it was unclear why.

The apparent change in North Korea’s position comes after it cut off communication hotlines with the South and theatrically demolished an inter-Korean liaison office last week that was set-up in 2018 to foster better ties between the two countries.

Last week, South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees engagement with the North, resigned, taking responsibility for the worsening ties.

Earlier this month, the erratic communist nation also said it was pulling away from its relationship with the United States, claiming there had been no actual improvement in ties since the historic handshake between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore two years ago.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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North Korea threatens to pour ‘leaflets of punishment’ over South Korea


As tensions ratchet up between the two nations, North Korea is preparing to flood the South with “mountain-high” piles of propaganda leaflets denouncing the South Korean president and North Korean defectors, state media in the country reported Saturday.

Many of the leaflets will feature the face of South Korean President Moon Jae-in smeared with cigarette butts, an insult insinuating he is trash, the KCNA news agency reported, adding that they were being prepared by university students from the North.

Although North Korea has distributed propaganda leaflets across the border in the past, the practice is more commonly undertaken by North Korean defector groups in the South who fly balloons or send bottles by river filled with flyers, rice and money.

“The enraged people across the country are actively pushing forward with the preparations for launching a large-scale distribution of leaflets to pour the leaflets of punishment upon those in South Korea,” KCNA, which is known for its bombastic tone, reported.

“Every action should be met with proper reaction and only when one experiences it oneself, one can feel how offending it is … the south Korean authorities will face a really horrible time.”

The move comes amid a serious escalation in tensions between the countries, which are still technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

Last week Kim Yo Jong, a trusted aide to her brother, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, threatened military action against South Korea. Then on Tuesday, Pyongyang showed demolished an inter-Korean liaison office, set up in a border town in 2018 to foster better ties with the South.

Earlier this month, the North also announced it was suspending communication lines with the South, a move analysts believe is the start of an attempt to manufacture a crisis and force concessions from its neighbor.

The secretive communist nation also said it was pulling away from its relationship with the United States, claiming there had been no actual improvement in ties since the historic handshake between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore two years ago.

Kim Yo Jong, right, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, helps Kim sign joint statement.Pyongyang Press Corps Pool / AP file

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement Saturday that it was “extremely regrettable that North Korea has disclosed through media about the plan to disseminate propaganda leaflets to South Korea.”

Demanding that their neighbor “stop the plan immediately,” the Ministry said it did “not help in establishing peace on the Korean peninsula and in the development of inter-Korean relations.”

Seoul also said it would “sternly” deal with any people or organizations in the South sending leaflets to the North.

Yuliya Talmazan contributed.





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North Korea follows through ominous statement by blowing up South Korean liaison office


North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border on Tuesday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said, after days of increasingly virulent rhetoric from Pyongyang.

“North Korea blows up Kaesong Liaison Office at 14:49,” the ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said in a one-line alert sent to reporters.

The statement came minutes after an explosion was heard and smoke was seen rising from the long-shuttered joint industrial zone in Kaesong where the liaison office was located, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unspecified sources.

South Korean soldiers patrol at Imjingak, near the demilitarised zone.

Getty Images

Its destruction came after Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said at the weekend: “Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen.”

Since early June, North Korea has issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of the South over activists sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border – something defectors do on a regular basis.

Last week it announced it was severing all official communication links with South Korea.

The leaflets – usually attached to hot air balloons or floated in bottles – criticise North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for human rights abuses and his nuclear ambitions.

Analysts say Pyongyang may be seeking to manufacture a crisis to increase pressure on Seoul while nuclear negotiations with Washington are at a standstill.

Earlier Tuesday, North Korea’s army said it was “fully ready” to take action against the South, included re-entering areas that had been demilitarised under an inter-Korean agreement.

“North Korea is frustrated that the South has failed to offer an alternative plan to revive the US-North talks, let alone create a right atmosphere for the revival,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a director of the Sejong Institute’s Center for North Korean Studies.

“It has concluded the South has failed as a mediator in the process.” 



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North Korea cuts all communication with the South | World News


North Korea has said it is cutting all communication with South Korea because Seoul has not stopped leaflet-filled balloons being floated over the border.

Severing communication between the countries was the first step to “completely shut down all contact means with South Korea”, said state news agency KCNA.

It said the decision had come from Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, and Kim Yong Chol, a former military intelligence chief.

Image:
Kim Jong Un’s sister was said to be one of those who made the decision to cut ties

Activists and defectors in the South have been sending balloons over the heavily militarised border for years.

They usually contain leaflets criticising Mr Kim’s human rights abuses and his nuclear ambitions.

KCNA said South Korea had “connived at the hostile acts… by the riff-raff, while trying to dodge heavy responsibility with nasty excuses”.

Students and youths attend a mass gathering denouncing 'defectors from the north'
Image:
Students took part in a rally in Pyongyang last week to denounce defectors who flee to the South

It said military and presidential hotlines would shut, as would communications at a Korean liaison office.

North Korea did not answer a daily liaison call on Tuesday morning and also went silent on military hotlines, said a defence spokesperson from the South.

The move comes after Mr Kim’s sister last week called the defectors “human scum” and “mongrel dogs”.

However, it is not the first time that Pyongyang has pulled the plug. They last did so amid rising tensions in 2016, with channels eventually restored in 2018.

The lines allow the countries to maintain vital military communications. File pic
Image:
The lines allow the countries to maintain vital military communications. File pic

Dozens of hotlines are in place over matters such as military affairs, shipping and aviation, and humanitarian affairs.

With the North’s history of proactive missile tests, they are seen as crucial to avoid a potentially catastrophic misunderstanding.

The two countries are technically still at war after the Korean War in the 1950s was halted with an armistice but not a peace treaty.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes part in the 13th Political Bureau meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea
Image:
Kim Jong Un’s regime is under intense pressure from economic sanctions

Experts said the North’s move was likely to be a ploy to win concessions from its neighbour or bolster internal unity – with the defectors’ actions used as a convenient excuse.

“North Korea is in a much more dire situation than we think,” said Choo Jae-woo, a professor at Seoul’s Kyung Hee University.

“I think they are trying to squeeze something out of the South.”

Pyongyang is subject to tough economic sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Talks between Donald Trump and Mr Kim over potentially lifting some of them broke down last year.

Business with its biggest trading and aid partner, China, is also believed to have been hit hard when the latter closed the border due to the coronavirus pandemic.



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The virus is still spreading. In South Korea, churches are a hot spot


Outside Australia, the coronavirus is still spreading. In South Korea, news clusters have been linked to religious gatherings.

South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant in Seoul (Image: EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN)

Outside Australia, the virus is spreading faster than ever, women bear the majority of the economic pain (and shouldn’t expect government help), and could the worldwide protest movements cause another outbreak?

The good news is there is no good news

As attention shifts to massive upheavals in the US and Hong Kong, our own new cases slow to a trickle, and the number of infections appears to be retreating in the hardest-hit countries early on, you could be forgiven for thinking the worst is over.

As it happens, the worst is happening right now. The New York Times reports that more than 100,000 new cases are being recorded worldwide each day, the most of anytime during the pandemic.



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