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Daily Archives: March 27, 2022

Charts: 10-year JGB Yield Climbed to 6-year High

Source : Bloomberg and Trading Economics

Humour: News in Cartoons

China Doesn’t Have a COVID Exit Plan. Two Years In, People Are Fed Up and Angry

Simone McCarthy wrote . . . . . . . . .

For two years, people in China have largely tolerated living under some of the world’s most stringent Covid-19 controls.

Restricted borders, constant digital tracking, and the potential for mass testing and snap lockdowns whenever a handful of cases appeared were all trade-offs for a comparatively Covid-free life while the pandemic raged overseas.
But China’s inability to bring its latest outbreak under control so far has prompted online rumblings from frustrated citizens, as questions about Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy break into the mainstream for the first time.

In the tech hub of Shenzhen on Sunday, videos shared online showed residents protesting in a locked-down district, after restrictions lasted for several days longer than scheduled, according to social media posts.

“You can’t do this — we need to eat and pay the rent,” a man among a crowd of protesters is heard yelling in anguish at health care workers, who stood behind high plastic barriers, according to a video shared online.

“Unlock! We demand lifting the lockdown!” others shouted in a second clip.

In another instance, in the neighboring city of Guangzhou earlier this month, thousands of people were seen in video footage trying to escape being caught up in a snap lockdown at a trade fair. Some hopped fences to avoid being locked inside the venue after a single positive case was found.

Such scenes are largely unprecedented in China’s more than two-year fight against the virus. And while many remain supportive of keeping Covid-19 at bay, these instances are not the only signs of changing attitudes, as millions remain under lockdown and cases continue to climb in China’s worst outbreak since early 2020.

The case against living with the virus

The extreme measures are being rolled out even as the toll of Covid-19 within the highly vaccinated country has been limited, so far.

The caseload this month has now exceeded 56,000 cases across 28 provinces. Though it is not clear how many of these cases are severe, only two deaths have been reported since the beginning of the newest outbreak. Earlier this month, when the caseload stood at 29,000, officials reported some 95% were mild or asymptomatic.

Some Chinese citizens now appear to think the health measures are more onerous than the illness.

On China’s popular — and heavily censored — social media platform Weibo, a question about why China can’t relax its Covid-19 restrictions like other countries was the top trending hashtag on Wednesday, racking up over 500 million views.

The top post linked to an interview, given by the head of the National Health Commission’s expert panel on Covid-19, that stressed China must “persist” in its strategy to protect the vulnerable.

The prominence of such a conversation is itself a radical departure from how questions had been dealt with in the past.

Last summer, for example, esteemed Shanghai infectious disease physician Zhang Wenhong came under a vitriolic nationalist online attack for merely suggesting the country would need to eventually find a way to coexist with the virus.

Now, these conversations are playing out in the open as huge swaths of the country face significant restrictions to their daily lives in the latest outbreak.

At least 25 million people across four cities are under lockdown in the northern provinces of Jilin and Hebei, and an untold number of others have been subject to district or neighborhood level lockdowns this month, including in the affluent first-tier cities of Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Measures take their toll

A stark example of the human toll of China’s stringent measures came on Wednesday, when an off-duty nurse died of an asthma attack in Shanghai after reportedly being turned away from several hospitals, including Shanghai East Hospital, where she worked.

In a statement Friday, the hospital said that its emergency room was temporarily closed for Covid-19 disinfection when the nurse’s family drove her there. Several outpatient and emergency departments across Shanghai have been shut due to exposure to positive cases.

Wu Jinglei, director of Shanghai health commission, offered his condolences to the nurse’s family and vowed to reduce the disruption to normal medical service, especially for emergency rooms, while hospitals are being disinfected.

Reports of residents not being able to receive non-Covid medical treatment or having inadequate access to supplies in Shanghai circulated on social media earlier in the week. These were noted by Shanghai’s prominent specialist Zhang, who called for such issues to be “addressed in the future.”

“Otherwise, the significance of the success of the fight against Covid-19 will be largely compromised,” Zhang, who is head of the Center for Infectious Diseases with the Shanghai-based Huashan Hospital of Fudan University, wrote on his verified Weibo account Thursday.

Shanghai is facing its most serious outbreak yet, with 1,609 Covid-19 cases reported Thursday. And while authorities have denied they plan to lock down the city of 25 million people, numerous residents tell CNN that a growing number of neighborhoods are being temporarily sealed off to undergo mass testing — as part of a “rolling lockdown” strategy — with local officials vowing Wednesday to “further strengthen the prevention and control measures.”

And even in a city with some of the best infrastructure in the country, social media complaints suggest that systems to ensure residents have what they need are failing, as lockdowns are extended without notice.

“How can I buy groceries? … I can’t get medicine for my kids …how can we order this online when we can’t even get a hospital appointment?” wrote one social media user, who said their Shanghai neighborhood had been closed for 15 days.

Another complained that she was without staples after listening to the government’s assurances that supplies were sufficient and there was no need to hoard.

“They said there was enough food … but they didn’t mention there weren’t enough people to deliver it,” she said.
On Wednesday, Shanghai’s health authorities responded to a question about how citizens in the city’s Jiading district could report problems buying groceries. Officials noted they were making “every effort” to ensure supplies by supporting residents to use online platforms to get what they needed or arranging bulk purchasing and distribution. They also explained that some neighborhoods may see control periods extended if positive cases are found, as screening will need to start again.

End game

As for those wondering when the zero-Covid strategy will end, China’s health officials have been ambiguous.

When asked at a news conference on Tuesday, government epidemiologist Liang Wannian said China must “not waver” and stick to its plan, while waiting for a range of things to happen: outbreaks to ease overseas, the virus to mutate to become less dangerous, and better treatments and vaccines to become available.

“Under these circumstances, I believe we will thoroughly evaluate the situation of the epidemic in China….and then take more adaptive measures to counter the disease,” he said.

But for those in China who are counting the days until they can be released from lockdown, such answers may not be reassuring.

As one social media user, who expressed concern that a lockdown in his Shanghai complex could be continually extended, wrote on Weibo this week: “Have the people in charge really not studied this issue carefully? The price paid by people inside is endless.”

Source : CNN

Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Higher Cancer Risk

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

“Sugar-free” might sound healthy, but a new study hints that people who consume a lot of artificial sweeteners may face a slightly higher cancer risk.

Experts stressed that the findings do not prove sugar substitutes are the culprit. But they said it is wise for people to limit not only added sugars, but also the processed foods that carry sugar-free boasts.

The study, of more than 100,000 French adults, found that the roughly one-fifth with the highest intake of artificial sweeteners were 13% more likely than non-consumers to be diagnosed with cancer. The risks were specifically seen with cancers where obesity is thought to play a role — including breast, colon and ovarian cancers.

Over the years, lab research has suggested that artificial sweeteners are capable of promoting cancer — possibly by feeding chronic inflammation in the body, contributing to DNA damage, or affecting the composition of bacteria in the gut.

Meanwhile, some studies have found relatively higher cancer risks among people who regularly consume diet drinks.

The new study appears to be the first to quantify people’s intakes of various artificial sweeteners (not just diet drinks) and look at the relationship to cancer risk, according to researchers Charlotte Debras and Mathilde Touvier.

They are both with the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research.

“In this large (study population), artificial sweeteners — especially aspartame and acesulfame-K, which are used in many food and beverage brands worldwide — were associated with increased cancer risk,” Debras said.

She noted that the connection to aspartame and acesulfame-K, specifically, may simply reflect the fact that they were the most commonly consumed sweeteners. And the study cannot prove that any sugar substitute directly contributes to cancer.

But the researchers did dig into many possible alternative explanations: People who consume a lot of artificial sweeteners may weigh more, be more likely to have diabetes, or eat fewer fruits and vegetables, for instance.

After those differences were accounted for, high intake of artificial sweeteners was still tied to a modest increase in cancer risk, the investigators found.

In a written statement, a group representing the sweetener industry said there is “no credible evidence” to suggest that sweeteners cause cancer.

The Calorie Control Council said the new findings contradict “numerous global health organizations who have regarded each of the named sweeteners as safe, following rigorous assessments.” Its statement added: “Low- and no-calorie sweeteners are safe and serve as effective tools in weight management, sugar reduction and blood glucose management.”

Meanwhile, Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of the American Cancer Society, called the research important.

“It addresses an area of public health interest,” she said, praising the study for its “thorough assessment” of the types and amounts of sugar substitutes that people consumed.

It’s still possible that other factors, like weight gain, at least partly account for the findings, McCullough noted. But from a health standpoint, she said, it’s best for people to strive for plenty of whole foods — including fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich grains — while limiting processed foods, sugar-free or not.

“Some highly processed foods advertised as ‘sugar-free’ can have very little nutritional value,” McCullough said.

Amy Bragagnini is an oncology dietitian with Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids, Mich.

She cautioned that it is challenging to tie something as complex as cancer to one diet component. And she agreed that overall diet quality is key.

Specifically, Bragagnini said, it’s helpful for people to think about the healthy foods they can add to their daily life rather than what they will ban. That’s what she encourages when working with cancer patients.

“I’ll ask, how many fruits and vegetables are you eating every day?” she said. “Let’s start there.”

Artificial sweeteners can fit into a healthy diet, according to Bragagnini — if, for instance, that one sugar-free cookie satisfies your sweet tooth, or you are replacing a daily sugary drink with a diet version.

Problems can arise, she said, if people overindulge because of the sugar-free label.

The study — published in the journal PLOS Medicine — included nearly 103,000 French adults who were 42 years old, on average, at the start. Every six months, they answered detailed questions about what they’d eaten over the past 24 hours, for three consecutive days.

Almost 38,000 participants consumed artificial sweeteners. Half were considered “higher consumers” — typically downing 17 to 19 milligrams or more per day.

Over eight years, 3,358 study participants were diagnosed with cancer. And after the researchers accounted for other factors, the group with a higher intake of artificial sweeteners had a 13% greater risk of cancer compared to non-consumers.

Bragagnini encouraged people to be more “intentional” about what they eat — including thinking about what they actually enjoy, and the serving size that will hit the spot.

If a small portion of regular ice cream is satisfying, she said, that’s probably a better choice than half a box of sugar-free cookies.

Source: HealthDay

Video: Body Composting – ‘Green’ Burial Trend Takes Root in USA

At a morgue near Seattle, Washington State, human bodies inside metal containers are slowly being turned into compost in a process known as “terramation”.

The process, legalised in Washington in 2019, is becoming an increasingly popular “green” alternative to burial and cremation.

Watch video at France 24 (3:58 minutes) . . . .

From Soundbites to Deep Dives: The Rise of Chinese Nonfiction

Xue Yongle, Fu Beimeng, and Xie Anran wrote . . . . . . . . .

In 2017, the Dutch journalist Tabitha Speelman, then based in Beijing, started the Changpian newsletter. Her goal? To introduce China’s burgeoning nonfiction writing scene to readers around the world. An avid reader of Chinese media, she selected stories from a mix of traditional outlets and emerging WeMedia platforms. The idea was to reach beyond the soundbites that dominated international coverage of China and instead immerse China-watchers in longer narratives about human-interest topics and day-to-day life in the country.

Unlike English-language nonfiction, which is a far broader genre, Chinese nonfiction is a descendant of the country’s decades-old tradition of literary reporting. Speelman started Changpian at a time when this longform reporting tradition was being revived and repurposed for the social media era. Readers devoured real and dramatic stories from around China on platforms like microblogging site Weibo and messaging app WeChat, and major outlets soon started launching new sections dedicated to longform nonfiction writing.

Over the ensuing five years, Speelman’s newsletter has traced the evolution of China’s nonfiction scene. In her view, one of the most interesting elements of the genre has been the way it has elevated the voices of amateur writers and others from outside the traditional media industry. From housekeepers to white-collar workers, miners to retirees, Chinese of all backgrounds are eager to share their stories, and nonfiction is giving them a platform to do so.

In an interview with Sixth Tone conducted over Zoom, Speelman, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Chinese Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, shared her thoughts and observations on the nonfiction boom and China’s new generation of literary reporting. When Chinese voices successfully break through into international media, she says, it is usually through immersive narratives, rather than straight news, in pieces that “emphasize universal feelings … combined with very unique Chinese stories.”

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Sixth Tone: When you look at the theme of “generations” in the Chinese context, what immediately comes to mind?

Tabitha Speelman: For me, it is the Chinese categorization of generations by decades — for instance, I myself could be categorized as a ’80-hou, or person born in the 1980s — and how these generations are often linked to big societal changes. There are also clashes between these generations. Intergenerational communication across these lines and different generations’ pressures and expectations are a big theme in Chinese society. It’s a universal theme, but because of the speed of some of the changes in China and the big internal differences, it’s a theme that really stands out there.

Younger Chinese generations do differ in interesting ways from their predecessors, as well as their foreign counterparts. They grew up at a time when China is becoming increasingly powerful and important in the world, and that has changed their view of the world. But I’m actually surprised to see how similar they sometimes are to their peers elsewhere. I was talking to some young Chinese students in the Hague, some of whom had recently arrived from China, and the topics they cared about — social work, journalism, gender, and other identity issues — are also very relevant to my students at Leiden University. I’m quite interested in how that similarity comes about, despite the communication barriers and societal differences.

I myself also feel I share some lived experience with other ’80-hou. We remember life before the internet and came of age on an overlapping — often U.S.-dominated — media diet. Without losing sight of the significant differences across and within national borders, it seems that for people of my generation, it has been easier to connect to their Chinese peers, and vice versa, than for previous generations.

Sixth Tone: What kind of stories do you hope to read in this year’s Sixth Tone China Writing Contest?

Tabitha Speelman: I’ve been wanting to read some intergenerational stories, and I just hope that someone can do a story for this contest about people of different generations living under the same roof. China has a long tradition of that. Now, many of my friends born in the 1980s have their parents live with them for several years to help with childcare. And I’m really curious about how they experience that. It would be great to hear narratives from both sides of the generational divide — the young parents and the old grandparents — about how they manage the household and how they learn about each other in new ways. In general, more stories about or by members of older generations would be great.

People are writing in English for this contest. Writing in your second or third language can be a really interesting creative exercise. The added difficulty can be frustrating but also make you think harder about the essence of the story you want to tell.

Sixth Tone: What kind of generation-themed China stories do you hope to see less of?

Tabitha Speelman: I hope to see less of the sort of ready-made stories that claim to explain a generation, like “Who are the post-1990 generation?” or “Who are the post-1995 generation?” Often, these stories have a tendency to stigmatize, to say things like, “These youngsters, they’re always getting worse these days, more selfish, less filial, too online.” I don’t think that’s a particularly useful way to understand what drives people. It’s more interesting to look individually at these groups.

Sixth Tone: What are some clichés you’ve identified in coverage of China?

Tabitha Speelman: Any story that sees China as a monolith, portrays China as a country that’s somehow separate from the rest of the world, or sees China as a very special, exceptional place that deserves its own category. These narratives are prominent abroad, but you also hear them in China. They’re often linked to politics, a way of boxing China in. But China is quite a large and complex part of the world. You have to open that box and look at the internal debates and everything else that’s in there.

Sixth Tone: Why do you think nonfiction writing took off in China in the past few years?

Tabitha Speelman: In my observation, it really took off around 2014-2015. There was an interesting combination of some money coming in; a growing interest in IP development, such as TV and film adaptations; and a shift away from other types of journalism like investigative journalism. Some very talented journalists moved from traditional media into fiction — Li Jingrui, for instance — but others moved into nonfiction, like the NoonStory team.

Meanwhile, it turned out there was also just quite a big interest from the audience to read more about Chinese societal developments and the kind of ordinary changes that don’t often get covered by traditional media.

Sixth Tone: Your newsletter Changpian does a wonderful job of introducing foreign readers to longform Chinese writing. What initially led you to become interested in this field, and how did you go about compiling the newsletter?

Tabitha Speelman: First of all, I love reading as a way to understand the world, so it made sense to try to do that in China too. The more interesting reason is that there was more and more attention being paid to China by international news organizations, and I thought it would be a very good thing if people tried to understand Chinese society in more of its diversity and pay more attention to its culture and social media. Chinese voices were emerging in foreign media, but these reports were usually very short, focused on news themes, and largely limited to soundbites from social media. But I loved to read Chinese nonfiction and liked the feeling of staying with a piece for longer and being immersed in someone’s narrative. That kind of immersion often emphasizes universal feelings, but in this case, these feelings are combined with very uniquely Chinese stories. Since I really enjoyed reading those stories, I thought others might as well.

As for compiling the newsletter, I have a broad interest and tend to hoard too many things. So I just saved all these different stories that were either shared by acquaintances who I think have good taste or published by the WeChat public accounts that I follow. Or, maybe the story doesn’t come from a particularly professional account but focuses on a very interesting topic. I tried to first make a big selection and then go through the tabs to decide which are the ones that are really worth reading in their entirety.

Sixth Tone: Who has caught your attention in the Chinese nonfiction landscape?

Tabitha Speelman: I read famous writers like Yuan Ling, Guo Yujie, and Du Qiang. But what’s been really cool about this wave of Chinese nonfiction is that many media platforms, such as TrumanStory, SandwiChina, and theLivings, are editing and helping ordinary people write their own stories. While there are storytelling nights and podcasts here in Europe as well, and first-person narratives seem popular worldwide, I can’t quite think of any equivalent to these online platforms. I’m not sure why that is, but when I reported a story on this trend, a lot of people would point out that there is so much happening in China right now that is worth recording, and that many people feel this is not being done enough. I’d agree that their stories are very much worth reading.

Source : Sixth Tone