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Photos: GOP Senators play with fidget spinners at impeachment hearings – Business Insider – Business Insider

January 24th, 2020
  • Republican senators whipped out an arsenal of fidget spinners during Thursday’s impeachment hearings.
  • Sens. Richard Burr, Mike Rounds, Tom Cotton, and Pat Toomey were all seen toying with the device, which was originally designed for restless children.
  • It’s a rotating device set on ball bearings, which spins for a long period of time once flicked. They were all the rage in 2017.
  • The source of the toys was Burr, according to NBC, who handed them to colleagues before the second day of Trump’s impeachment inquiry, where opening statements were heard.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

President Donald Trump’s Thursday impeachment hearings took a trip down memory lane to 2017 as multiple restless Republican senators were spotted playing with fidget spinners.

Soon after House impeachment manager Jerry Nadler began his opening statements, Sen. Richard Burr started flicking a blue fidget spinner.

A fidget spinner is a rotating device set on ball bearings, which spins for a long period of time once flicked. It was designed for restless kids, and even adults.

fidget spinner

A green fidget spinner, a tool to help focus the minds of restless children, and adults.
Shutterstock

New York Times reporter Catie Edmonson tweeted this rendering of Burr at the hearing by a Times sketch artist on Thursday. You can see the fidget spinner on his desk.

Sen. Mike Rounds also got in on the action. This image was shared to Twitter by USA Today politics reporter Nicholas Wu on Thursday.

“They do last for quite a while,” Rounds said of the toy, according to Wu. “Not that it might outlast some of the dissertation we have in there, but it might make the time go a little quicker.”

Sens. Tom Cotton and Pat Toomey were seen with fidget spinners on their desks, too. Cotton’s was purple and Toomey’s was white.

Burr had distributed all these spinners on Thursday morning, NBC News reported.

Sen. Richard Burr R-NC., displays a stress ball as he walks to the Senate Chamber prior to the start of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Sen. Richard Burr displays a stress ball as he walks to the Senate Chamber prior Trump’s impeachment trial at the Capitol on January 23, 2020.
Associated Press

Other Republican senators chose to pass the time with other distractions.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, was spotted reading a book, according to NPR, while NBC News reported that Sen. Rand Paul “appeared to be drawing or tracing a sketch of the US Capitol.”

Trump and many of his allies have dismissed the entire impeachment trial as a hoax.

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Explosion at Houston building shakes city, scatters debris – CTV News

January 24th, 2020

HOUSTON — A large explosion at an apparent industrial building in Houston early Friday left rubble scattered in the area, damaged homes and was felt for kilometres away.

One person was taken to a hospital because of the blast, the Houston Fire Department said. A fire continued to burn at the site hours after the explosion and people were told to avoid the area.

The explosion, which appeared to be centred on an industrial building, shook other buildings about 4:30 a.m., with reports on Twitter of a boom felt across the city.

Houston police tweeted that officers were blocking off streets in the area. Police said people should avoid the area, but no evacuation has been ordered. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said first responders were checking on residents of nearby homes.

Several people told Houston TV station KHOU that the explosion was so loud, they thought a bomb had gone off or that a vehicle had crashed into their homes. At one man’s home about 1/4 mile (0.4 kilometres) away, glass doors were shattered, ceilings were cracked, and the lid of his toilet was even torn off, the station reported.

Southeast Texas has seen a series of explosions in recent years up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, which is home to the highest concentration of oil refineries in the nation. Last July, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown left more than dozen people with minor injuries and put nearby residents under a shelter-in-place advisory for three hours.

In December, two blasts in the coastal city of Port Neches shattered windows and ripped the doors from nearby homes.

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Chinese coronavirus prompts lockdown unlike anything seen before – The Globe and Mail

January 24th, 2020

A worker gestures at a construction site of a hospital to treat patients during a virus outbreak in Wuhan, January 24, 2020. China is rushing to build a new hospital at the epicentre of a deadly virus outbreak that has stricken hundreds of people.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

In the midst of a lockdown unlike any the world has seen before, some 35 million people in China spent the year’s most important holiday in a state of confusion, dread and anger at a late but heavy-handed government action to curb the spread of a SARS-like virus that has already reached to the distant corners of the country.

Further fears arose when authorities disclosed the death of a 36-year-old man in Wuhan, the city of 11 million that is the epicentre of the new coronavirus — and two deaths far from the city, in Hebei and Heilongjiang, a province that borders Russia.

Until now, only older people have died from the fast-spreading 2019-nCoV virus, which by early Friday evening had killed 26 in China and infected 886, including high-speed rail workers in Tianjin, 1,000 kilometres from Wuhan. It is killing 14 per cent of those hospitalized, according to new research published by the University of Hong Kong, and has reached a growing number of other countries, including newly-confirmed cases in Vietnam and Singapore.

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But much remained unknown about the virus, including who is most at risk — or why, exactly, Chinese authorities have now locked down Wuhan and numerous surrounding cities. Transportation has now been restricted in 14 cities and public spaces like theatres and cafes closed in some areas. Flights and trains have been cancelled, commercial vehicles barred from entering Wuhan, highways and tunnels closed and ride-hailing services curbed across the broader region surrounding Wuhan as cities tightened controls to keep people from moving in and out of a huge area at the heart of the viral spread. In Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities, health authorities raised their emergency preparedness alert to its top level. Authorities ordered airlines and train services to provide ticket cancellations without penalties.

Officials shut down large Lunar New Year gatherings in Beijing, closed the Forbidden City, barred access to parts of the Great Wall and, Bloomberg reported, ordered a halt to all sales in China of domestic and international tours. Shanghai Disney closes its gates and cinemas closed their doors during what China calls the Spring Festival season.

The lockdowns, infectious diseases experts said, constitute an unprecedented response to isolate a large population, but one that only served to raise the anxiety among local residents about the trustworthiness of information provided by Chinese authorities, who have begun a more rigorous clampdown on unauthorized information after a few days in which censors exercised a comparatively light touch.

“I am absolutely scared. This is a question of our lives,” said Huang Zhengjun, 27, a hotel worker in Ezhou, one of the cities around Wuhan where roads and transportation services were, with little notice, shut down. “It’s not fair,” he said. “Locking people up before the city is prepared, and before people have a chance to react, isn’t fair anywhere.”

He also suspected that authorities knew more than they were letting on. Why had Ezhou, which is 70 kilometres southeast of Wuhan, been locked down when there were no official reports of people infected there? There must be “many buried cases,” Mr. Huang said. He was aware that authorities had arrested people for spreading rumours when they posted information about the virus, which began to draw attention in mid-December, before its seriousness was formally acknowledged. “As an ordinary resident here, I have to say that I don’t think the government has fulfilled its responsibilities on this matter.”

Even on Friday, “we can only get updates from WeChat and social media, half-believing and half-doubting what information we have. It feels terrible,” Mr. Huang said. Videos circulating on social media channels showed scenes of desperation and fear among medical workers and local residents alike. But because officials had provided assurances until this week that the problem was not serious, Mr. Huang said, “we missed the best point in time to take preventative measures. Now we know how it tastes when everything is covered up.”

Meanwhile, people in China took to social media with detailed stories about loved ones refused treatment or diagnosis by overwhelmed hospitals, raising questions not only about the effectiveness of the Chinese health care response but also about the accuracy of statistics on the numbers of affected people. China’s State Council, the country’s national Cabinet, on Friday pledged serious consequences for concealment or under-reporting about the epidemic.

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Construction has already begun on a thousand-bed medical facility that, authorities said, would use prefabricated components to allow its completion within a week. Journalists in Wuhan posted images of long queues at hospitals and patients attached to intravenous drips on the streets, an indication of an overwhelmed health care system.

Two lawyers who spoke to The Globe and Mail said they had received copies of a notice from Shandong province describing a need to “strengthen the positive guidance of lawyers in the region and ensure that lawyers do not take the opportunity to speculate and do not have a negative impact on the overall situation.” The notice urged the deletion of negative remarks and promised to deal seriously with lawyers who made improper remarks.

Some virologists have questioned the value of the lockdown, which was imposed long after many had left Wuhan for hometowns around the country. Only two Chinese provinces and regions remain formally unaffected: Qinghai and Tibet.

The last major quarantine of an entire urban area took place “in Sierra Leone surrounding the 2014 Ebola epidemic,” said Raina MacIntyre, a doctor and epidemiologist who leads the biosecurity research program at the University of New South Wales. What China is doing is “unprecedented,” she said. “We haven’t seen a lockdown at this level before.”

But it’s a measure that could help prevent a Chinese health crisis from becoming a global one, she said. The World Health Organization has held back from declaring the Wuhan virus an international emergency, with spokesman Tarik Jasarevic saying Friday, “It’s still too early to draw conclusions on how severe the virus is.”

By halting air travel from the region, “it will instantly reduce the risk of cases ending up in other countries,” Dr. MacIntyre said. “Perhaps while there’s so much uncertainty about what’s the source of this infection, what’s the exact mode of transmission — we need to know those things to control the disease — then it’s probably a good strategy.”

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Early data show a fatality rate of 14 per cent among those hospitalized for the Wuhan virus, a study published by University of Hong Kong researchers. That compares to roughly 12 per cent of all cases in SARS, and 24 per cent for the subsequent Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERCS), also a coronavirus.

Those figures show that the Wuhan virus does not appear to be as serious as SARS or MERS, since hospitalized cases tend to be the most serious, Dr. MacIntyre said. But the Wuhan virus remains “a serious infection.”

She also raised questions about the information coming from Chinese authorities. “Was there really an increase from 40 to 800 cases in a period of two weeks?” she said. “It’s really hard to say whether the cases just weren’t reported, or whether they just began testing more actively.”

Such questions, however, did little to ease the restrictions on life for those inside the lockdown zone. Liu Nan, 24, lives in Tuanfeng County, a small district in Huanggang City. Officials cut off roads in the area at 10 a.m. Friday, she said, and “we can’t go anywhere now.”

There, too, there were no officially reported cases. “The problem is we have a right to be informed about the real situation,” Ms. Liu said. “The fact that our county is blocked suggests that there are cases of infection, but the government has not disclosed anything. This is making people more nervous and more scared.”

There was, too, a sense of bleakness over a festive season poisoned. Mr. Huang had abandoned plans to return to his hometown, and most of his friends were refusing to go out.

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It’s “a nightmare,” he said.

“This was supposed to be one of the happiest festivals for Chinese people. But it has turned out to be so miserable.”

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She was fighting corruption in Ukraine when she was attacked with acid. Critics say the case raises hard questions for Canada – Toronto Star

January 24th, 2020

KYIV, UKRAINE—When a critical mass of mostly young Ukrainians brought down a corrupt government in a wave of protests in 2014, Katya Gandziuk’s friends never imagined she would end up murdered four years later for exposing corrupt officials.

They had fought in Kyiv’s main square, the Maidan, and some died for a vision of a new Ukraine less tied to Russia and the country’s corrupt Soviet past. And they won, at least that battle.

Today, however, that vision is no sure thing. Even after ex-comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy swept to an unprecedented electoral victory on an anti-corruption ticket less than a year ago, daring to expose corruption remains a dangerous, even deadly business. Gandziuk, a prominent anti-corruption activist, was murdered for it and those who ordered the killing safely evade justice.

Gandziuk’s close friend Kateryna Mola came face to face with that impunity on a recent afternoon in Kyiv, picking up her phone to find a video that made her stomach turn. Staring back at her was the man widely believed to have ordered the murder of Gandziuk in a grisly attack in 2018. A friend of hers had spotted him shopping in a ritzy commercial district in the Ukrainian capital and captured the video.

It was almost a year since the daylight attack outside her home in the eastern port city of Kherson, on the banks of the Dnieper river, and her friends and family were still coming to terms with its savagery.

It also raised questions for Canada, which in 2017 opened the door for Canadian defence contractors to export weapons to Ukraine despite concerns from a Canadian parliamentary defence committee over high levels of corruption, which Ukrainian human rights groups have linked to Gandziuk’s murder.

On a late July morning, a man ran up behind the 33-year-old and doused her with a litre of sulphuric acid as she left home for the city council office, where she worked as an adviser to the mayor. Minutes later, in an ambulance racing to the hospital, she messaged friends photos of the burns via WhatsApp, saying she didn’t think they were that bad.

They were. The acid had splashed over her head and run down her back, arms and legs, ultimately covering nearly 40 per cent of her body.

At the hospital, her friend Roman Sinitsyn remembers her doctors saying they had never seen such extensive chemical burns and had to pull out their textbooks to brush up on treatment. Within days, they transferred Gandziuk to a Kyiv military hospital for more advanced care. There, she endured nearly a dozen painful surgeries over three months before dying of her injuries on Nov. 4, 2018.

Kateryna Mola, a friend of slain Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Katya Gandziuk

Before her killing, Gandziuk cut a conspicuous figure in Kherson, one of the last stops along the route from Kyiv to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula. In her unique perch as a city official and activist, she gained a reputation for brazenly calling out local and regional officials for alleged corruption in sharply worded Facebook posts. They earned her a profile and credibility among Kherson’s reform-minded set, but made her enemy number one for the targets she exposed.

In the lead-up to the attack, she accused the regional governor and the head of the regional parliament, the man in the video, of covering up an illegal logging scheme. Her friends believe it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and spurred her killers to action.

News of Gandziuk’s death galvanized a Ukrainian public already resentful of rampant government corruption. Protests erupted in Kyiv and other cities. In the face of public anger, then-president Petro Poroshenko promised to bring the killers to justice.

Western governments took notice, too. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out, as did Chrystia Freeland, who was Canada’s foreign affairs minister. Freeland took to Twitter, calling Gandziuk’s death a “tragic loss,” and demanded that her killers be brought to justice. Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine visited Gandziuk in hospital.

But with the international spotlight fading over the last year, the investigation has floundered. Five men were handed sentences ranging from three to six years for carrying out the murder on orders. Gandziuk’s father, Viktor, has called the sentences “laughable,” in part because the men saw their charges reduced as part of a secret plea agreement without the elder Gandziuk’s knowledge. No one has been tried for ordering the murder.

In the year since her death, the case has become emblematic of Ukraine’s struggle to bring the rule of law to bear on the everyday lives of Ukrainians.

Gandziuk’s mourners are not alone. Joining them in their search for justice are the survivors of dozens of other attacks against Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and the families of other murdered victims. In the last two years, Ukrainian human rights groups have documented 55 attacks against anti-corruption activists and four murders.

A November rally in Kyiv marked the massive Maidan Square protests of six years earlier, and honoured some of the people killed in the 2014 revolution that followed. The regime has changed but the battle against corruption remains.

Human rights groups say the attacks are enabled by a pattern of corrupt relationships between criminals and local authorities common across Ukraine enables the violence.

“These attacks are often connected with criminal and semi-criminal circles on the local level merged with local authorities, the prosecutor’s office, and the police,” said Tetiana Pechonchyk.

Pechonchyk, the head of ZMINA Human Rights Center, a Kyiv-based human rights organization, added that these officials help cover up each other’s illegal acts to maintain the ability to illicitly profit from their official positions.

The continued prevalence of this kind of corruption puts Canada, a close ally of Ukraine, in an awkward position. In 2017, after studying whether Canada should provide Ukraine with lethal weapons in its war against Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence recommended that Ukraine should first show it was “actively working to eliminate corruption in all levels of government.

But as Canadian weapons flow into Ukraine two years later, organizations who monitor international corruption suggest that has yet to be done. Ukraine placed 120th out of 180 on Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. Despite repeated promises over the last five years from Ukrainian politicians to prosecute corrupt high-level officials, not a single one has been convicted of corruption-related crimes.

In October, the International Monetary Fund froze talks with Ukraine over a crucial $5 billion (U.S.) loan because of stalled progress on a corruption case involving the theft of $5.5 billion from a major Ukrainian bank. The bank blames two previous owners for stealing the money, including notorious Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.

The fund has since reopened talks after promises to regulate the banking sector more strictly. But since his election earlier this year, President Zelenskiy has been trailed by criticism that he is too close to Kolomoisky, and has not moved quickly enough to recover the missing billions.

Kolomoisky’s personal lawyer now serves as the president’s chief of staff, even though this man is not legally permitted to work in a government post. Kolomoisky himself, who is under investigation by the FBI for financial crimes, had been in self-imposed exile from Ukraine, but returned shortly after Zelenskiy’s election win. He is also the owner of the television network on which Zelenskiy rose to fame.

Ukrainian civil society groups say Gandziuk’s murder should be seen as part of this wider trend of stalled progress on corruption.

Katya Gandziuk's father, Viktor, pictured in Kyiv, has called the sentences handed out in relation to his daughter's killing "laughable."

High-level officials, including the head of Kherson’s regional parliament, are suspected of involvement in the plot to kill her. Ukrainian investigative journalism outlet Slidstvo.info obtained phone records showing that in the days before and after the attack, another suspected collaborator was in contact with local prosecutors and police. He has since fled the country, leading to suspicion that the police warned him his arrest was imminent.

Even the man in the video, Vladislav Manger, has seen his charges lessened, and the case has been lost in seemingly endless postponements, leading Katya Gandziuk’s friends to doubt he will ever face justice.

Sipping a cappuccino at a Kyiv café, Gandziuk’s friend Roman Sinitsyn worries how a trial might play out in Ukraine’s corrupt judicial system. Manger is wealthy, he says, and Ukraine’s courts are notorious for judges taking money in exchange for favourable verdicts. Judicial reform is considered among the most disappointing failures of Ukraine’s reform process.

But human rights groups say the murders and attacks go beyond the problem of corrupt local officials. To them, the corruption that enables the violence reaches high into the Ukrainian government, and one powerful man is responsible for the attacks and the failure to properly investigate them: Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. In his ministerial post overseeing police, Avakov has been widely criticized for blocking substantive reforms meant to root out police corruption.

In May 2019 as Zelenskiy assembled his new cabinet, Transparency International Ukraine and at least 19 other human rights and transparency organizations launched an appeal to have Avakov removed and for western countries to level sanctions against him. They allege that Avakov and Ukraine’s then-general prosecutor are guilty of a “silent coverup,” and are “politically responsible” for the attacks and murders for having blocked police reforms meant to weed out corruption.

Arsen Avakov, left, who is Ukraine's interior minister, has been accused of interfering in a criminal case involving his son.

Those reforms, meant to clean up Ukraine’s national police force, only made it as far as the Patrol Police, the force responsible for traffic enforcement and street patrols. While considered a moderate success, and financed in part by the Canadian government, these reforms left detectives and chiefs in the upper ranks of the national police force, where experts say the potential for corruption is greatest, untouched.

“There was no political will to seriously reform the police, because the leaders of the country and of law enforcement wanted to keep all their corrupt schemes going,” said Pechonchyk, the human rights advocate.

Avakov is no stranger to corruption allegations. Beyond accusations of attacks on activists, he has been tied to violent far right militias, which he denies, and stands accused of interfering in a criminal case against his son. In 2018 Ukraine’s main anti-corruption investigation agency, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, arrested Avakov’s son, Oleksandr, on embezzlement charges related to a deal to sell equipment to the Ukrainian military at inflated prices.

Following the arrest, the interior ministry, which has no official connection to the younger Avakov or the case against him, inexplicably issued a press release attacking the charges as politically motivated. The case was later controversially closed by Ukraine’s special anti-corruption prosecutor, who has himself been reprimanded for improperly interfering in corruption investigations.

Artem Sytnyk, the anti-corruption bureau’s director, told the Star in an interview that the evidence against Avakov’s son was strong, and that there was “no legal reason why the case was closed.”

After the prosecutor dropped the case, a violent mob ransacked the anti-corruption bureau’s Kyiv offices. Sytnyk would not directly blame Avakov for the violence, citing a lack of evidence, but a cryptic post appeared on the bureau’s website soon after the incident, appearing to accuse him of complicity.

It alleged that the attack was connected to “a close relative of the Minister of Internal Affairs whose actions have been investigated by the (bureau) detectives.” It also accused the police, nominally under Avakov’s control, of standing aside and allowing the mob to break into the building, destroy furniture and threaten employees.

In another instance of alleged retribution, police launched an investigation into the forensic expert whose opinion was used to build the case against Avakov’s son. The expert, Nadia Bugrova, believes Avakov is abusing his position as a powerful minister to take revenge on her.

At the interior ministry, Avakov is no marginal government player. He is deeply involved in negotiations to end the five-year-long war with Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, a sign of his privileged place in Zelenskiy’s government. But why he remains there despite his seemingly compromising past is a source of consternation, bewilderment and conspiracy theories among the Ukrainian public.

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According to Serhiy Shvets, a member of parliament from Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party, even members of his own party were against his appointment. On the eve of the vote to approve the new cabinet, Shvets said, Zelenskiy assembled MPs to address the controversy around Avakov.

Zelenskiy “explained that he knows the problems connected with this person, but for a few reasons, he asked us to vote for him as a member of cabinet.”

Shvets declined to discuss those reasons.

Despite initially agreeing to an interview in Kyiv, Minister Avakov’s office later cancelled, citing his busy schedule, and has not responded to emailed questions.

Gandziuk’s friends and supporters want countries like Canada to say something about Avakov.

“Push the Avakov problem, please. Push internationally. We need to get rid of him,” Sinitsyn said, adding that it would be “impossible” for Ukraine to build strong, honest law enforcement bodies with Avakov in power.

Canada does not seem ready to do that. In July 2019, Global Affairs Canada and Minister Freeland hosted Avakov in Toronto at a conference to promote reform in Ukraine. He appeared as a speaker on a panel about fighting corruption, and hobnobbed with Canadian cabinet ministers.

“Good to meet Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov at tonight’s dinner honouring Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelenskyy,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan commented on a photo of himself and Avakov posted to Facebook on July 2.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, at the time Ukraine's president-elect, stands with Canada's Chrystia Freeland in Kyiv last May. In July, Global Affairs Canada and Freeland, who was foreign affairs minister, hosted Arsen Avakov in Toronto at a conference to promote reform in Ukraine. Avakov has been dogged by corruption allegations.

For some observers, Avakov’s attendance was at odds with Canada’s public statements on fighting corruption in Ukraine.

“Canada invested so much effort and money to the reform of law enforcement,” Pechonchyk said. “And then (Avakov) is invited to Toronto to a reform conference sponsored by the Canadian government to speak about the success of police reform? It’s ridiculous. He is anti-reform.”

The Department of National Defence refused to comment on the July conference or on Ukraine’s progress on corruption and how it might influence the defence relationship between the two countries. A 2017 DND intelligence assessment, however, shows the latest available example of internal thinking on Ukraine’s progress on corruption. It paints a brief but grim picture.

Under the heading “little progress,” the heavily redacted intelligence assessment from the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command states that “almost two years of international engagement in support of Ukrainian anti-corruption measures and socio-economic reforms have not produced any momentum beyond meeting the minimal required steps necessary to secure international assistance.” It was obtained by the Star using access-to-information laws.

A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence declined to answer questions about whether the intelligence assessment is representative of current thinking inside the department, saying only that “an intelligence assessment provides an understanding of a situation at a particular time; it is not an official position.”

“It would be inappropriate for DND to take a position on a foreign country’s political situation,” the spokesperson, Andrée-Anne Poulin, added.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, which hosted the conference, also refused to comment on Avakov’s presence, saying only that the conference “provided an opportunity for Ukraine and its friends and partners to reaffirm their full political and practical commitment to robust reforms — including in the fight against corruption.” The department also declined to comment on whether it had considered sanctions such as those requested by Ukrainian human rights groups.

Canada’s Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act — Known as the Sergey Magnitsky Law — allows Canadian MPs to level sanctions against foreign officials responsible for corruption and human rights violations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s December mandate letter to the new minister of foreign affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, includes an order to “build the Magnitsky sanctions regime to ensure increased support for victims of human rights violations.”

But regardless of corruption, Ukraine is indeed in military trouble. Any dilemma Canada faces in arming Ukraine is underscored by the reality that the country is in desperate need of military aid as it seeks to deter Russia from further aggression. Since the double onslaught of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and fomenting a war in Ukraine’s east, where Russian-backed separatists still hold territory, the government has struggled to keep the country together.

Consequently, when U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to cut off hundreds of millions in military aid last summer unless Zelenskiy announced investigations into Democrat Joe Biden and his son, the president and his advisers were forced into a corner, and were reportedly ready to capitulate.

Canada, for its part, stood up for Ukraine early on, at first providing military training, equipment and aid money, before allowing Canadian arms manufacturers to apply to export lethal weapons to Ukraine as of December 2017.

Global Affairs Canada says that since 2014, Canada has committed more than $785 million in assistance to Ukraine. In 2018, the latest year for which figures are available, $5.2 million worth of controlled weaponry was exported to Ukraine, including over half a million dollars’ worth of firearms and their parts.

Not included in those figures is a deal reported by Ukrainian media last November for Winnipeg-based PGW Defence Technologies to sell an expected $1 million in sniper rifles to the Ukrainian government. Zelenskiy also recently expressed interest in buying light-armoured vehicles from Canada.

Leading up to Canada opening the door to weapons exports, several experts told the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence that military aid is badly needed to deter further Russian aggression. Fifteen thousand Ukrainians have been killed so far in the war. Canadian human rights and disarmament groups, however, opposed allowing arms exports, citing the checkered human rights record of Ukrainian security forces dating back to violent crackdowns on protesters in 2014.

Global Affairs Canada told the Star all applications to export weapons are judged on a “case-by-case basis” against criteria that include human rights considerations. Canada’s contribution, however, is unlikely to tip the balance. Ukraine’s future, for better or worse, is expected be decided in negotiations among France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia that began in December.

But for Ukrainians fighting to expose corruption, their human rights are not cards to be played or discarded in a geopolitical poker game. And as the weapons continue to flow and negotiations continue, they are fighting not to be forgotten.

On a cool, wet evening almost a year after Gandziuk’s death, many of them gather at a protest outside the president’s office in Kyiv to demand justice for Gandziuk. Among the hundreds assembled, some hold placards calling for Avakov to be fired, others plastered with photos of Gandziuk. Gandziuk’s friend Kateryna Mola is there, chatting quietly with friends. As she speaks with this reporter, the crowd erupts in a chant: “Who killed Katya Gandziuk?”

Despite the display of support, Mola is downcast.

“There are not as many people here as I’d hoped.”

Katya’s father, Viktor, is here, too. Leaving the protest in a car with a reporter, he looks out on the Maidan, where thousands of Ukrainians protested, and scores died, for closer ties to Europe and a western-oriented Ukraine governed by the rule of law.

“I used to drive this route to visit Katya in hospital,” he said.

Looking back to the beginning of Zelenskiy’s term, he remembers his optimism about the new president’s promise to find Katya’s killers and fight corruption.

But as time drags on, his confidence has waned.

“It’s a big disappointment.”

Corbett Hancey is the 2019 Michener-Deacon Fellow for Investigative Reporting

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Samsung Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20+ names officially confirmed – GSMArena.com news – GSMArena.com

January 24th, 2020

Samsung is introducing a trio of Galaxy S flagships, and their S20 moniker was all but confirmed at this stage it’s always nice to get official backing. Today two of the phones with code names SM-G980F/DS and SM-G985F/DS have been certified for use in Thailand by the local NBTC organization with the names Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+.

Samsung Galaxy S20 and Samsung Galaxy S20+ certifications Samsung Galaxy S20 and Samsung Galaxy S20+ certifications
Samsung Galaxy S20 and Samsung Galaxy S20+ certifications

The model numbers are in line with previous flagships, and the letter F in the end usually is used for the international units that are not carrier-locked. The DS add-on means Dual-SIM, but not all phones come with the ability to host two cards simultaneously.

Interestingly enough, one of the phones is actually named Galavy S20, but that’s clearly a typo. The devices are filed by Samsung Thailand, but the certification says they are manufactured in South Korea. Sadly, the NBTC does not reveal any actual specs, but we expect to see the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20+ with Infinity-O displays, 120 Hz refresh rate of the screen and redesigned camera setup.

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Samsung to debut AirDrop competitor alongside Galaxy S20, report claims – Circuit Breaker

January 24th, 2020

Samsung is developing its own alternative to Apple’s AirDrop file sharing service that will launch with the upcoming Galaxy S20, XDA Developers reports. Screenshots of the feature show that it will work similarly to AirDrop, allowing you to “share instantly with people nearby,” so long as their device has Quick Share turned on. You’ll also be able to restrict who can send you files to just people in your contacts, or else leave it wide open so that strangers can send you pictures of space sloths.

Despite how useful AirDrop has been on iOS and macOS since its initial launch in 2011, Android has struggled to come up with a viable competitor. For a while Android included an NFC-based version called Android Beam, but this was discontinued with Android 10. Google’s Files app also contains similar functionality, but it’s not the same as having the feature built directly into Android.

There are signs that this could change soon. XDA Developers has reported multiple times on an upcoming Android feature called Nearby Sharing which appears to be accessed directly from the operating system’s quick settings panel. The feature was first spotted under the name Fast Share back in June 2019, but appears to still be under development as of earlier this month.

As well as letting you share with other Samsung smartphone users, Quick Share also lets you transfer data to SmartThings devices. To do so, it uploads your file to Samsung Cloud, before downloading it on the device itself. This mode appears to be more limited, with a data cap of 1GB at a time, up to a maximum of 2GB a day.

Samsung isn’t the only Android manufacturer working on an AirDrop competitor. Last year, three of China’s biggest smartphone manufacturers — Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo — announced that they are working on a peer-to-peer transfer protocol that will work across their devices. The feature is expected to launch next month. Meanwhile, OnePlus also has its own file transfer system called FileDash, which is limited to its own devices.

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 is expected to launch on February 11th, where we could also see Quick Share officially detailed. XDA Developers says the feature is likely to come to all devices launching with One UI 2.1 or later, but speculates that it may end up on older Samsung devices in time.

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Ottawa transit boss now ‘concerned’ by how often issues arising – CBC.ca

January 24th, 2020

Ottawa’s transit boss has often said he expected the city’s four-month-old LRT to have growing pains, but now he’s concerned by how often things go wrong.

“All these things — door issues, flats, slippage — those are all normal. The issue is the frequency,” transportation general manager, John Manconi, told an emergency meeting of the transit commission.

On Monday, consultants from JBA Corp. will arrive to begin a deep dive of how Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) operates and tackle a list of at least a dozen issues to fix.

The tipping point for Manconi came New Year’s Eve, he said. After a “good run” that lasted several weeks, suddenly trains lost power just as the free holiday service began that night.

It turned out the electrical apparatus on the train rooftop was caked in carbon and salt that had dripped from road overpasses. RTM stepped up its cleaning regimen.

But it turned out to be the first of many problems to beset the LRT in the new year. Here’s some of what the public and commissioners learned Thursday:

Wheels aren’t round

Transit managers can’t remember this ever happening on the north-south Trillium Line, but many new electric Alstom trains on the Confederation Line are suddenly developing flat spots on their steel wheels.

“You would hear an audible noise when you’re riding the train. It would be a repetitive thump,” RTM’s Peter Lauch explained.

RTM employees are working day and night at the garage to scrape the wheels over lathes and make them round again.

At one point, 13 trains had “wheel flats”, said Lauch. Wheels were the single biggest reason for this week’s shortage of trains.

Braking hard and skidding even once can cause a wheel to lose its roundness, explained Matthew Slade, who works on Ottawa’s LRT for Rideau Transit partner EllisDon. The safety system could be triggering emergency brakes, he posited.

“The likelihood of the wheels locking up is higher in winter. Same with your car, when there’s snow on the ground your [anti-lock brakes] will operate when you come to a stop more frequently,” Slade said.

The 17 promised trains

We’ve had a shortage of working trains in the past week, with the worst day seeing just eight trains carrying passengers during the morning rush hour, instead of the usual 13. 

The $2.1 billion contract for Stage 1 included 34 vehicles, coupled into pairs to form a fleet of 17 trains. So where are they?

On Thursday, transit staff confirmed that all 17 were ready for service when the city accepted the new train system last August. All have been out on the line at some point.

Ottawa LRT trains move through the snow Nov. 12, 2019 (Francis Ferland/CBC)

At any given time, however, three trains are being worked on in some way, including one undergoing serious maintenance.

“Right now, the one that’s in heavy maintenance is literally up on jacks,” said Lauch.

That leaves 13 usually available for rush-hour service, plus one in reserve. And while the morning and afternoon peak periods have so far operated with 13 trains, the goal is to soon increase that to 14.

LRT struggles with winter

Five times in January, switches that allow trains to move between tracks had problems, which caused train delays for riders. French train-maker Alstom is responsible for the switches.

“The majority of the issues we’ve had have been weather-related,” explained Lauch. When a storm is at its height, ice gets packed between the rail and the moving piece, called a tongue.

Manconi expects the external rail experts will look at improving the electric heaters at the switches.

Councillors asked about the Trillium Line, which doesn’t experience such issues, and learned those switch heaters are powered by natural gas or propane. They may also be of a higher quality.

An Ottawa LRT train moves through the snow Nov. 12, 2019. (CBC)

Manconi’s boss has his back

Riders have called for various people at City Hall to lose their jobs over the transit nightmares they’ve endured since light rail took over for the crosstown buses. 

One citizen commissioner, Leah Williams, stated publicly to CBC this week that Manconi should resign.

But Manconi and his team “aren’t going anywhere,” according to Steve Kanellakos, the city manager and Manconi’s boss.

City manager Steve Kanellakos, left, seen here with John Manconi on Nov. 6, said Manconi and his team at OC Transpo have “pulled miracles” and have his full support. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

He praised and defended Manconi and his team, saying “they’re pulling miracles out there.”

If councillors believe staff have not done their best to improve LRT, Kanellakos told them to move a motion next week to dismiss him.

“If you’re taking out leadership, you take out me. I am ultimately accountable. Look at the [organizational] chart and you’ll see my face on it. I’m accountable to council — I’m your only employee.”

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Holocaust survivor in famous Auschwitz liberation photo says rising anti-Semitism ‘scares me’ – CBC.ca

January 24th, 2020

Miriam Ziegler sees it as a call of duty: She’s going back to a place of horror to honour those who did not make it out — and to remind the world what unchecked hate can do.

On Jan. 27, the 84-year-old Canadian will stand alongside dozens of other Holocaust survivors from around the world as they gather in Poland to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

“All the six million… I feel I have to honour them,” said Ziegler.

She was nine when the Russians liberated the camp, making Ziegler one of the youngest people to have survived Auschwitz. The number of survivors dwindles every year, which means this year’s ceremony is likely to be the last major international gathering of its kind.

More than 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazi regime made it the key killing ground for its plan to exterminate the Jewish people.

It was surreal to meet Ziegler in her lovely condo in north Toronto. An elegant and proud mother and grandmother, she surrounds herself with family photos and mementos of a life well-lived in Canada.

She recounted the trauma and terror she endured as a child during the Second World War in Poland. It’s painful to relive. For years, she didn’t even tell her own children.

And for years, Ziegler herself didn’t know that she had appeared in one of the most famous and haunting photos from the end of the war. The image shows Ziegler standing among a group of children behind the wire at Auschwitz. Soviet soldiers liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. The photo appeared in newspapers worldwide.

‘They only knew you by number’

The image is deceiving — the children don’t look emaciated, like other concentration camp prisoners. That’s because they are wearing several layers of clothing under their striped prison garb. The Germans had fled Auschwitz a few days earlier, and the kids had scavenged leftover clothing from the abandoned barracks in order to stay warm. 

Ziegler, second from left, is wearing an old, oversized coat and holds out her arm. 

This photo was taken at Auschwitz after the camp was liberated by the Russians in January 1945. Miriam Ziegler can be seen second from left, showing the prison number tattooed on her arm. (Associated Press)

At the time, the Russian soldiers were asking the children their names. In response, Ziegler showed them her tattoo: prisoner number A16891.

“In the camp, they didn’t call you by name. They only knew you by number,” said Ziegler. “So I wanted to show the Russians.”

Before they abandoned the camp, German soldiers led tens of thousands of prisoners on a march out, telling them they would be taken to safety. Ziegler and a cousin joined the line, but a great aunt intervened and told the children to stay behind.

She told Ziegler, “‘No! You are not going. If you have to live, you can live here. You are not well enough to march.’ And she dragged us [back] and she saved our lives, because [the soldiers] killed everybody … On the march, they killed every single person.”

That’s how a group of hungry, sick, freezing children found themselves at the gates of Auschwitz to greet the Russians.

Ziegler remembers the moment clearly. “Of course — I remember everything since I was four years [old].”

Sharing the memories

Ziegler wants to put the memories that have tormented her to good use while she can. The Holocaust can be hard to comprehend, especially for a generation that has never known war. But she’s been amazed at how young people respond.

After speaking to a class of high school students, Ziegler was overwhelmed with thank-you notes explaining how her story had helped make the horror real for them.

The students told her that reading a book about it was one thing, “‘but to meet a person that went through it and the way you told it… We never believed it before. Now we believe it.'”

Ziegler was four when she saw her first murder: Nazis shot and killed a buggy driver that her mother had hired to try to take Miriam to safety in the countryside, outside their hometown of Radom, Poland.

Before that, she’d been a happy child in a large, wealthy extended family that owned several large clothing and general goods stores. But beginning in the late 1930s, Ziegler lived in hiding, sometimes with her parents, sometimes with strangers.

She was hidden in farms, work camps or compounds. She was taking refuge in an attic with several people during one particularly gruesome Nazi raid.

Ziegler holds out her arm to show her Auschwitz prisoner tattoo. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“I heard them coming up the stairs. I hid myself under a pile of rubbish and clothes. I pushed myself underneath and covered myself. And they shot everybody in that attic… I was lucky. This was my first real escape from being killed.”

In 1944, her family was taken to Auschwitz. She remembers the train trip, the crowded cattle cars filled with terrified people. When they arrived, she was separated from her parents. Tattooed. Shaved. And then sent to the showers. 

She was eight years old.

“By that time, we knew already about the gas chambers. From the ghettos in the camps, we knew that this is what they were doing. They were killing everybody and we didn’t think we would come out from the showers.”

‘I never saw him again’

Ziegler lived a year in daily fear, but she survived. She would later learn her mother, grandmother and an aunt had also survived. But not her father.

“He was taken away. I never saw him again. He was put through the gas chamber.”

In the final months of the war, the infamous gas chambers at Birkenau were shut down. But Ziegler says the medical experiments continued, and she did not escape that. She doesn’t remember much beyond that she was taken to a room one day with instruments and people in white lab coats. And she remembers the pain.

Three Holocaust survivors walk outside the gates of Auschwitz in January 2015. (Alik Keplicz/Associated Press)

She knows it won’t be easy to return to the scene of this trauma in the coming days. When she attended the 70th anniversary in 2015, she caught a glimpse of herself in a film clip taken on the day the camp was liberated.

“A ghost,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it was me.” What happened to Ziegler as a child was unfathomable to the woman watching.

The 2015 trip took a physical toll on her that lasted months. She fell ill when she returned to Toronto. At the time, Ziegler was caring for her husband, Roman, another Holocaust survivor, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. 

The Auschwitz anniversary experience left her weaker, but Ziegler said she has no choice but to do it again. She sees hatred on the rise again in the world and wants to speak out.

“It scares me. And that’s why I want as many people as I can to tell my story to. I wouldn’t want anybody to go through what we went through, it doesn’t matter what nation. And that’s why I’m scared.”


Susan Bonner and the World at Six will host a special edition from Auschwitz, Poland on Monday, Jan. 27  to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It can be heard CBC Radio 1 and the CBC Listen app.

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China expands city lockdowns, building 1,000-bed hospital to treat virus – CBC.ca

January 24th, 2020

LATEST:

  • Quarantine expands to 10 cities in effort to curb coronavirus outbreak.
  • A total of 26 people have died, health authorities say, as cases rise.
  • Beijing cancels major public events including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, to close The Forbidden City.  Shanghai Disneyland will be closed from Saturday to help prevent spread of the virus.
  • WHO panel of experts meets and says it’s ‘too early’ to call outbreak an international emergency.

China is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least 10 cities with a total of about 33 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and nine of its neighbours in central China’s Hubei province.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice, the city is constructing a hospital modelled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing. The facility will be a prefabricated structure, slated for completion Feb. 3.

The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

In Wuhan, normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation.

Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

China will take stricter and more targeted measures to curb the spread of outbreak, state television reported citing a state council meeting on virus control on Friday. It did not elaborate on what these measures would be. 

Tourist attractions close

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were cancelled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations.

The Forbidden City, a major tourist destination in Beijing, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday. On Friday, authorities said Shanghai Disneyland will be closed from Saturday to help prevent the spread of the virus. Sections of the China’s Great Wall will also be closed to visitors from Saturday, the Beijing government said. 

Beijing city government is urging residents returning from coronavirus outbreak areas to stay at home for 14 days to prevent its spread, the Beijing Daily said Friday. Shanghai government also urged people coming to the city from “key areas” to stay at home or under centralized quarantine for two weeks.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said Friday morning.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

WATCH | China tightens travel restrictions to prevent spread of virus:

China has tightened restrictions on travel for at least three more cities as the new coronavirus appears in more locations. 1:56

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city, but scattered cases have occurred beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday, and cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. 

Many countries are screening travellers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization (WHO) decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Cases of the virus are likely to continue to rise in China, but it is too soon to evaluate its severity, WHO said Friday.

“The focus is not so much on the [case] numbers, which we know will go up,” WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told a Geneva news briefing “It’s still too early to draw conclusions on how severe the virus is.”

The WHO and its network of experts may look at treatments and vaccines against MERS for possible use against coronavirus, he said.

Large-scale quarantines rare

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak late last month were connected to a seafood market, and experts suspect transmission began from wild animals sold there. The market is closed for investigation.

A worker stands amid heavy equipment at a construction site for a field hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, on Friday. (Chinatopix via The Associated Press)

Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.

Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations.

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China expands lockdowns, builds hospital to treat virus – CBC.ca

January 24th, 2020

LATEST:

  • Quarantine expands to eight cities in effort to curb coronavirus outbreak.
  • A total of 26 people have died, health authorities say, as cases rise.
  • Beijing cancels major public events including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, to close The Forbidden City.
  • WHO panel of experts meets and says it’s ‘too early’ to call outbreak an international emergency.
  •  Shanghai Disneyland will be closed from Saturday to help prevent spread of the virus.

China is swiftly building a hospital dedicated to treating patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities home to millions of people during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least eight cities with a total of about 25 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and seven of its neighbours in central China’s Hubei province: Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhijiang, Jingmen and Xiantao.

The Wuhan government said Friday it was building a designated hospital with space for 1,000 beds in the style of a facility that Beijing constructed during the SARS epidemic. The hospital will be erected on a 25,000 square-metre lot and is slated for completion Feb. 3, municipal authorities said.

Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation.

Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were cancelled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations.

The Forbidden City, a major tourist destination in Beijing, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday. On Friday, authorities said Shanghai Disneyland will be closed from Saturday to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said Friday morning. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

WATCH | China tightens travel restrictions to prevent spread of virus:

China has tightened restrictions on travel for at least three more cities as the new coronavirus appears in more locations. 1:56

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city, but scattered cases have occurred beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday, and cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. 

Many countries are screening travellers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak late last month were connected to a seafood market, and experts suspect transmission began from wild animals sold there. The market is closed for investigation.

A worker stands amid heavy equipment at a construction site for a field hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, on Friday. (Chinatopix via The Associated Press)

Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.

Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations.

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