In Briefs

Angola declares end to world’s worst yellow fever epidemic in decades

Reuters (LUANDA): Angola declared the end of the world’s worst yellow fever epidemic in a generation on Friday after a UN-backed vaccination campaign of 25 million people that resulted in no new cases in six months. The outbreak began a year ago in a slum in the capital, Luanda, before spreading throughout Angola, a war-scarred southeast African nation, and into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. In all, more than 400 people died. More than 15 million Angolans and 10 million Congolese were vaccinated under a campaign coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO). In a statement entitled “The end of the epidemic of Yellow Fever in Angola”, the health ministry in Luanda said the vaccination campaign had stopped the spread of the disease. The WHO said in September the epidemic was under control but that it was too early to say it had been completely stamped out, with up to 6,000 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne disease.  The vaccination campaigns depleted the global stockpile of 6 million doses twice this year, forcing doctors to switch to administering one-fifth of the normal dose, a tactic that the WHO says gives at least temporary protection. The risk of such outbreaks globally has risen in recent years due to urbanisation and the increasing mobility of the population. It was particularly acute this year because of the El Nino weather phenomenon which multiplied mosquito numbers. Yellow fever is transmitted by the same mosquitoes that spread the Zika and dengue viruses. The “yellow” in the name refers to the jaundice that affects some patients.


Huge crowds cheer Japan

emperor on 83rd birthday

TOKYO (AFP): The biggest crowds of his nearly three-decade reign thronged Japan’s Imperial Palace on Friday to celebrate Emperor Akihito’s 83rd birthday on what could be his last such appearance after expressing his desire to abdicate. It was his first birthday since he announced in August that his advancing age and weakening health mean he may no longer be able to carry out his duties, setting the stage for Japan to prepare for an historic abdication. The Imperial Palace said some 33,300 people - the biggest crowd since Akihito ascended to the throne in 1989 - attended his birthday address, waving small Japanese flags as crowds shouted “Banzai” or “Long live”. “If this is going to be his last time, I’m glad I got to see him,” said Reiko Takahashi. Also attending the emperor’s address, Takako Miyazaki expressed the view of many Japanese. “The emperor is quite old and if he says he wants to abdicate I think he should be allowed to,” she said. Flanked by Empress Michiko and other members of the royal household, the soft-spoken monarch greeted well-wishers from a glass-covered balcony at the palace, surrounded by stone walls and mossy moats. “I wish you all health and happiness, and I pray the next year will be cheerful and peaceful,” the emperor said in his address.

Ahead of his birthday, Akihito thanked the country for considering his message indicating his desire to abdicate, telling reporters: “I am profoundly grateful that many people have lent an ear to my words and are giving sincere thought to the matter in their respective positions.”

Deliberations over his retirement wish are under way in an advisory panel set up by Prime Minster Shinzo Abe in September to study a possible legal mechanism for a royal departure, which currently does not exist.

Any eventual move by Akihito to step down, which would see him replaced by his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito, appears to have wide support, according to recent opinion polls.

TV Asahi, quoting a key member of the panel, reported it may propose special legislation allowing the current monarch to retire to reduce his mounting duties.

The six-member panel is expected to compile a summary on the issue in January.

Akihito has had surgery for prostate cancer and heart problems, both of which he alluded to in his address, though he stressed that he currently enjoys good health.

Speculation about Akihito’s future emerged earlier this year with reports he had told confidantes that he would like to step down in a few years, in what would be the first abdication from the Chrysanthemum Throne in two centuries.

Japan’s imperial house is said to be the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, and according to legend stretches back some 2,600 years in an unbroken line. It is deeply ingrained in the nation’s native Shinto religion.

Akihito has keenly embraced the role of symbol of the state imposed after World War II ended. Previous emperors including his father, Hirohito, had been treated as semi-divine.

Akihito is credited with seeking reconciliation both at home and abroad over the legacy of the war fought in his father’s name, venturing to a number of locales that saw intense fighting, including Okinawa in Japan and Saipan, Palau and the Philippines overseas, offering prayers for the souls of all the dead.





‘Smartphone toilet paper’ at Tokyo airport

TOKYO (BBC): Don’t forget to wipe before you swipe the next time you are at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. Toilets at the airport have been equipped with “toilet paper” that you can use to disinfect your smartphone. Paid for by Japanese mobile giant NTT Docomo, the sheets also include information about the firm’s public Wi-Fi networks as well as details about its smartphone travel app. Social media users have reacted to the move with humour and disbelief. The bizarre dispensers have been installed in seven restrooms and will remain in place until March next year, local media cited NTT Docomo as saying. Japan is globally renowned for revolutionising its public toilets, many of which are clean, modern and boast very elaborate high-tech features. “There are more than five times of germs on a smartphone screen as compared to a toilet seat,” NTT Docomo said in a post on its official YouTube page. It added that the special cleaning rolls were “made to clean screens so foreign tourists could enjoy their travel hygienically”. In true Japanese fashion, a quirky two-minute instructional video demonstrated how to correctly use the sheets, and also the “shower” or bidet function found in most public toilets in the country. News of the smartphone toilet paper spread rapidly among Facebook users.

“Give your smartphone a wipe while you answer the call of nature,” commented Roger Chen in Singapore.

“What if you’re tired and jetlagged and accidentally mix up the smartphone toilet paper with the regular roll,” asked another user.

Others like Gale Gayol welcomed the move.

“I need this. I have the habit of wiping my smartphone with tissue and alcohol every night after work,” she said in a Facebook post.

“Don’t laugh. Your own toilet experience will always be crappy compared to this,” said Mike Putro. “Trust the Japanese to think of something so clever.”

“Welcome [to] Japan, where [the] way things are designed is pretty amazing in the sense that they seem to have thought of everything,” said another user.

“Even things that you didn’t think you needed suddenly become items you just can’t live without.”




Balloonatic fined for piloting a lawn chair

OTTAWA (AFP): A Canadian man was sanctioned Thursday for a stunt in which he flew high over Calgary in a lawn chair attached to 110 large helium balloons, local media said. Daniel Boria, 27, whom prosecutor Matt Dalidowicz called a “balloonatic,” was ordered by a judge to pay a Can$5,000 (US$3,700) fine. Boria also agreed to donate Can$20,000 (US$14,800) to charity after pleading guilty to dangerous operation of an aircraft, public broadcaster CBC said. He also had to hand over video of the July 5, 2015 voyage to the court to prevent him from using it for self-promotion. The Calgary Herald newspaper quoted Dalidowicz as telling the Alberta provincial court that the flight, in which Boria reached an altitude of more than two kilometers (1.2 miles), could have caused a collision with any of two dozen aircraft landing or departing from the city’s airport that evening. It would have caused “catastrophic damage” to a passenger jet, he said. The court clerk could not immediately confirm the sentence. The stunt was reminiscent of a flight in 1982 in California that has been imitated by others around the world and even spawned the extreme sport known as cluster ballooning. Boria took off in his makeshift flying machine from a golf course with an oxygen tank, a radio and a parachute.

During the escapade, which was intended to promote his small cleaning business, two jetliners reportedly flew underneath him. But air traffic controllers were never able to pinpoint his exact location with radar and lost sight of him in the clouds. After bailing from his chair in a parachute in high winds that threw him off course, Boria was arrested by police who had been monitoring his movements across the prairie sky.


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