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North Korea declares emergency in border town over first suspected COVID-19 case

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(Last Updated On: July 26, 2020)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency and a lockdown in a border town after a person suspected of being infected with the novel coronavirus returned from South Korea after illegally crossing the border, state media said on Sunday.

If confirmed, it would be the first case officially acknowledged by North Korean authorities.

Kim convened an emergency politburo meeting in response to what he called a “critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country”, the North’s KCNA state news reported.

A person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the fortified border that divides the two Koreas to the town of Kaesong this month with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, KCNA reported.

“An emergency event happened in Kaesong City where a runaway who went to the south three years ago, a person who is suspected to have been infected with the vicious virus returned on July 19 after illegally crossing the demarcation line,” KCNA said.

KCNA did not say if the person had been tested, but said an “uncertain result was made from several medical check-ups of the secretion of that person’s upper respiratory organ and blood”, prompting officials to quarantine the person and investigate anyone he may have been in contact with.

One analyst said the announcement was important, not only because North Korea was for the first time reporting a suspected coronavirus case but also because it suggested it was appealing for help.

“It’s an ice-breaking moment for North Korea to admit a case,” said Choo Jae-woo, a professor at Kyung Hee University.

“It could be reaching out to the world for help. Perhaps for humanitarian assistance.”

North Korea is under huge economic pressure because of international sanctions over its nuclear program.

Cho Han-bum, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said it was significant that North Korea was reporting its first suspected coronavirus case was imported.

“North Korea is in such a dire situation, where they can’t even finish building the Pyongyang General Hospital on time. Pointing the blame at an ‘imported case’ from South Korea, the North can use this as a way to openly accept aid from the South,” Cho said.

KCNA did not elaborate on how the “runaway” had crossed one of the world’s most heavily guarded borders but said the incident was being investigated and the military unit responsible would face “severe punishment”.

South Korean officials were checking to see if a defector had indeed crossed back into the North this month, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported.

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Thousands cross border after Spin Boldak opens for one day only

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

Spin Boldak border crossing opened on Saturday amid tight security, allowing thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis to cross into their home countries.

Officials opened the border crossing for one day, after having closed it early this month following heightened tension between the security forces in the area. 

One official at the border crossing told Pakistan’s Dawn News on Saturday night that “over 15,000 people, including women and children, crossed into their countries smoothly and amid tight security arrangements.” 

Tensions boiled over on July 31 when at least nine civilians were killed and 50 others wounded in Pakistani forces’ artillery attacks, the Afghan Defense Ministry said at the time. 

On Thursday, hundreds of Afghans staged a protest in Spin Boldak district, in Kandahar, to condemn the incident. 

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Afghan Cricket Board agrees tour of Zimbabwe now ‘not feasible’

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

Responding to Zimbabwe’s announcement that it had canceled the T20I cricket series, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) said late Saturday night that it respects Cricket Zimbabwe’s decision and agrees it is not feasible for the series to be held given the continued COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a press release issued late Saturday night, the board said that the “ACB understands that under the current situation where the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a grave threat to the health and safety of everyone concerned, it is not currently feasible for the series to be held.”

The tour was scheduled to start later this month.

In the statement, the ACB said it had always adhered to health and safety guidelines around the  COVID-19 outbreak and pointed out that the pandemic has had an extreme impact on the cricketing calendar for 2020. 

“ACB, therefore, respects and conforms to Cricket Zimbabwe’s decision in this regard and cites it as a fair decision under the relevant circumstances and looks forward to bilateral cricket between both sides in future. 

“As ACB and Cricket Zimbabwe share a good history of bilateral cricket, the possibility of a series between the National teams of both countries will be discussed again once the threat of COVID-19 is tackled effectively,” the statement read. 

The planned Twenty20 International cricket tour was called off on Saturday by Zimbabwe after the host government declined to approve the tour, citing health risks.

 The tour was expected to start this month and despite the Zimbabwean cricket federation having applied to government for the tour to go ahead, the five-match series was canceled. 

Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission’s (SRC) director-general Prince Mupazviriho said: “It will not be proper at the moment for foreigners to come to Zimbabwe for sport considering that there won’t be enough time to go through the required quarantine period.”

“We also took into consideration the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and felt that such a tour would put the players and everybody at great risk. So the minister responsible (Sports minister Kirsty Coventry) decided not to approve the tour.”

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) chairman Tavengwa Mukuhlani said the Afghanistan series cancellation was a huge setback for his country’s cricket team but added that the country is now hoping to travel to Pakistan in October to begin it’s World Super League commitments, a new ICC model that creates a pathway to the 2023 World Cup.

 

 

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US to reduce troop levels to less than 5,000 by end of November

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2020)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that the United States will withdraw the number of troops in Afghanistan to below 5,000 by the end of November.

“We are going down to a number less than 5,000 before the end of November,” Esper said in an interview with Fox News.

Esper said the Pentagon would still need to brief members of Congress on the plan, and would also need to ensure the “United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan.”

This comes after US President Donald Trump said in an interview with Axios last week, he would like to have “probably anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000” troops in Afghanistan by the time of the election on November 3.

Over the past six months, the US has reduced the number of troops to about 8,600 from 14,000. 

This was in accordance with the Doha agreement, signed in February, between Washington and the Taliban. 

However, US officials have stated that the second phase will be conditions-based, but have yet to define this. 

In his interview last week, Trump told Axios he will reduce American troop levels in Afghanistan down to about 4,000 “very soon”. 

He said: “We are largely out of Afghanistan”.

 “We’ll be down in a very short period of time to 8,000, then we’re going to be down to 4,000, we’re negotiating right now”, he said adding that the US had “been there now for 19 years and we will be getting out.”

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