Relaxed COVID rules, deadly crowd crushes mark year in Asia

Natural disasters and crowd-related tragedies have claimed hundreds of lives in Asia and outstripped the COVID-19 pandemic, with most countries easing or completely lifting the harsh restrictions of the previous two years. Even China, the last major country to control virus transmission through a “zero-COVID” strategy, is relaxing the rigorous rules that have sparked rare public protests.

Political unrest has hit debt-ridden Sri Lanka, where protesters stormed the residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and forced him to resign after fleeing abroad. He later returned to the country under a new leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who negotiated a rescue package with international lenders that hinged on sweeping economic reforms.

Japan was shocked by the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a campaign rally on July 8. The suspect cited Abe’s links to the ultra-conservative Unification Church, whose ties to the ruling party have caused major headaches for the new prime minister, Fumio Kishida. .

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In Seoul, 156 young revelers were crushed to death as more than 100,000 people flocked to the city’s popular nightlife district for Halloween celebrations, the first since the country’s strict COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Earlier in October, police fired tear gas at a soccer match in Indonesia after some fans fell onto the pitch, sending people into the exits, some of which were locked, and causing a stampede that left 135 dead. have left

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That same month, the collapse of a newly repaired suspension bridge in India’s Gujarat state killed 134 people as hundreds celebrated the Hindu festival season.

In November, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake hit the Indonesian main island of Java, killing 334 people and injuring nearly 600.

And in Thailand, the country’s deadliest mass killings left 36 dead when a fired police officer stormed a rural daycare center and massacred mostly preschoolers.

China entered the year as host of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, with participants and guests sequestered in a “bubble” as part of strict COVID-19 rules.

But the country’s pandemic approach – which seeks to isolate every single infection at great cost to the economy and freedom of movement – unraveled as thousands took to the streets in major cities to protest the restrictions and leader Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to call down. The party responded with a massive show of force and an unknown number of people were arrested.

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The government under Xi, who has granted himself new powers as China’s potential leader for life, is easing measures and has indicated it will tolerate more cases without quarantine or shutting down travel or business as it achieves its “zero-COVID “Conclude strategy, even if cases increase and threaten to overwhelm health resources.

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