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Chinese cities, factories lock down as severe outbreak lingers

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All 17 million people in the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen began their first full day under lockdown Monday, as restrictions spread across Shanghai and other major cities to combat an outbreak challenging the nation’s zero-tolerance Covid strategy.

The southern city of Shenzhen imposed the measure on Sunday to counter an Omicron flare-up in factories and neighbourhoods linked to nearby Hong Kong, which is recording scores of daily deaths as the virus runs rampant.

Major Apple supplier Foxconn suspended its operations in Shenzhen, the company said Monday, as the lockdown bit hard into economic activity across the factory hub.

Shenzhen is one of ten cities nationwide to have locked down all residents, though the measure was taken Monday in some parts of other major hubs including Dalian, Nanjing, and Tianjin, which neighbours the capital.

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Health officials have warned tighter restrictions could be on their way, as concerns mount over the resilience of China’s “zero-Covid” approach in the face of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

Authorities reported 2,300 new virus cases nationwide on Monday and almost 3,400 a day earlier, the highest daily figure in two years.

“There have been many small-scale clusters in urban villages and factories,” Shenzhen city official Huang Qiang said at a Monday briefing.

“This suggests a high risk of community spread, and further precautions are still needed.”

A Shenzhen resident showed housing compound entrances blocked by large plastic barriers, as residents swapped jokes on social media about their rush to grab laptops from offices before the lockdown.

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Tech stocks plummeted on the Hong Kong exchange on Monday, as concerns over the impact of the virus spread in Shenzhen — home to hubs for Foxconn, as well as Huawei and Tencent — spooked investors.

In Shanghai, residential areas and offices in some neighbourhoods remained sealed Monday as city authorities try to avoid a full lockdown.

Police tape, metal gates and rows of community workers in hazmat suits surrounded shuttered shops and homes in closed-off parts of the city.

Streets were noticeably quieter across the megacity, which reported around 170 new virus cases on Monday — enough to seed anxiety among businesses over the economic pain ahead.

A restauranteur with four outlets in different parts of Shanghai said he has to wade through a morass of hyper-local restrictions, giving an indication of how ordinary life in China is still spun on its head by a pandemic that the rest of the world has learned to cope with.

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“Different districts adopt different policies,” he told AFP, requesting anonymity.

“I want to close one and keep the rest open and see how it goes later. What else can I do except tough it out?”

Other outbreak epicentres have been less lucky.

Jilin province in the country’s northeast recorded over 1,000 new cases for the second day in a row, and authorities banned residents from leaving their cities without police permission.

At least five cities in the province have been locked down since the beginning of March, including the major industrial base of Changchun, whose nine million residents were confined at home Friday.

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Health official Lei Zhenglong told state broadcaster CCTV that more than 10,000 domestic infections had been recorded in March so far across dozens of provinces, and warned the situation in many areas was “still developing”.

While the caseload is low in global terms, it is deeply alarming in China where authorities have been unrelenting in squashing clusters since early 2020.

At least 26 officials in three provinces have been dismissed due to their handling of local outbreaks, state media reported.

China has so far managed to control sporadic domestic outbreaks through a combination of snap lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions, but the latest outbreak is testing the limits of its playbook.

Top medical expert Zhang Wenhong said Monday that China cannot relax its zero-Covid policy just yet despite the low fatality rate of Omicron.

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“It is very important for China to continue to adopt the strategy of community Covid-zero in the near future,” Zhang wrote on social media.

“But this does not mean that we will permanently adopt the strategy of lockdown and full testing.”

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Crime

Union Bank keeps mum as EFCC arraigns employee over fraud (Photos)

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday arraigned a former employee of Union Bank, Abdulmalik Salau, and two others for cybercrime and money laundering involving about N1.403 billion.

The other accused persons are Ismaila Atumeyi and Ngene Dominic. EFCC announced the arrest of the defendants in November.

The anti-graft agency’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said in a statement that the trio were arraigned before the trial judge, Tjinani Ringim, of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos.

They face 18 charges to which they all pleaded “not guilty” on Monday.

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Following their “not guilty” plea, the prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, called for the commencement of their trial, a request he anchored on the provision of section 273 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).

“Therefore, we will, with all humility, ask your Lordship for the acceleration of this trial.

My Lord, Section 300 of the ACJA also expects the prosecution to give a very brief summary of the case it has against the defendants,” the lawyer said.

How defendants allegedly diverted bank’s N1.4billion’

Mr Oyedepo also informed the judge that the prosecution had lined up six witnesses to testify against the defendants.

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He said the prosecution would, through the witnesses, show to the court “how the defendants agreed among themselves to hack into the database of Union Bank Plc, transferred funds belonging to the bank and its customers and used the proceeds of this unlawful activity to acquire properties for themselves.”

He added that the prosecution would show how the third defendant, a former member of staff of Union Bank Plc, allegedly worked with the others and “succeeded in hacking into the database of the bank”

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He alleged that the defendants, in different instalments, moved over N1.4 billion into the accounts of FAV Oil and Gas Limited and Atus Homes Limited.

The prosecuting lawyer added: “The exhibits that the prosecution will tender include the documentary exhibit that shows that the sum of $480,000 was found in the possession of the third defendant and that the sum of N326, 400 million cash was found in a black Escalade car in the possession of first and second defendants.

“My lord, the case is such that, in its nature, requires the cooperation of both the prosecution and the defence team to see its expeditious determination.

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“I, therefore, urge your lordship, pending the determination of the case, to remand the defendants in a correctional facility, where adequately trained personnel will see to their welfare and wellbeing.”

EFCC alleged that part of the offences allegedly committed by the defendant was contrary to and punishable under section 16(1) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015.

Another of the offences was also said to violate section 18( a), 15 (2) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011, as amended and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.

Defence lawyers deny allegations, apply for bail

Responding to the prosecuting counsel, Bolaji Ayorinde, the lawyer representing the first and second defendants, Messrs Atumeyi and Dominic, said: “No iota of evidence has been admitted against the first and second defendants.

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The defendants having pleaded “not guilty” to the charges, Mr Ayorinde said “they are constitutionally and legally under the presumption of innocence until otherwise determined by the court.”

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The defence lawyer added:* “In order to further the presumption of innocence of the first and second defendants, we filed on November 30, 2022, an application for bail seeking your lordship’s admission to bail of the first and second defendants pending the hearing and determination of the charge against them.

“The prosecution has responded to the application by serving on the first and second defendants a counter filed on 5 December 2022.”
He said in ensuring an expeditious and speedy dispensation of the case, he was prepared to move the application for bail immediately.

The application for bail for the first and second defendants is ready for hearing. The summons for bail is dated November 30, 2022. Since it seeks admission of the defendants to bail in very liberal terms, the grounds of the application are well stated in the summons,” he said.

Mr Ayorinde, who described the offence as bailable, stated that the defendants, “who were arrested and detained as far back as November 1, 2022,” would not jump bail.

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He maintained that the “incarceration of the first and second defendants ought not to continue, even if on some terms. Their rights to bail have not been taken away; the charges preferred against them are bailable.”

The third defendant’s lawyer, Babatunde Ogunwo, also denied the allegations levelled against his client and “adopted “wholeheartedly” the argument of Mr Ayorinde.

EFCC’s lawyer, Mr Oyedepo, opposed the defendants’ bail applications.

“In the very unlikely event that the court disagrees with our submissions, we pray your lordship to impose such conditions that will secure the attendance of the defendants, particularly the first and second defendants whose applications are being argued.”

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The judge adjourned until Tuesday for ruling on the bail application of the first and second defendants.

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One year old boy drowns after falling into bucket of water in Anambra

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A boy, 1, has d!ed after falling into a bucket of water in Nnewi, Anambra state.

The child’s parents reportedly left him in the care of his siblings when the tragedy occurred on Saturday, Dec. 3.

The siblings were busy playing when the child made his way to buckets of water arranged outside and fell into one.

He was found too late.

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Videos shared online show loved ones praying for the boy to come back to life. No one is seen performing CPR in the video.

Sadly, the boy gave up the ghost.

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Men who refuse polygamy contributing to prostitution – Ned Nwoko

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A Nigerian lawyer and politician, Prince Chinedu Munir Nwoko, popularly known as Ned Nwoko, has accused men who do not marry more than one wife of contributing to immorality in society.

The former lawmaker, who stated this in his recent interview with the Guardian, urged Nigerian men to emulate the northern men by marrying more than one wife.

He said: “Many women are out there without a husband, especially in the southern part of the country, and there is a high level of prostitution. If the southern men emulate their northern counterparts by marrying more than one wife, that could probably change the situation.

“An average southerner may have one wife with girlfriends, and he is spending money on the girlfriends, sometimes even more than his wife.

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“For instance, the man, who has three wives, concentrate on them, every money he makes is spent on his family, and he is more likely not to have a girlfriend or concubines. The money those with several girlfriends spend on them is a gift, not an investment in the family.”

Nwoko, who has multiple wives, noted that he and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, are serving Nigeria by marrying many wives.

Ned, who further claimed to have the same background as Ooni, explained that their grandfathers were kings and had served Nigeria in that capacity. “And we are now also serving Nigeria by marrying many wives.”

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