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Where is Zhang Gaoli? Chinese politician accused by tennis star Peng keeps out of sight

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Even as Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai appeared on a video call with the Olympics chief, the former vice premier she accused of sexual assault has stayed silent and out of sight – maintaining the veil of secrecy that shrouds China’s political elite.

Zhang Gaoli, who turns 75 this month, was accused by the former Olympian in a Nov. 2 social media post of coercing her into sex three years ago. Peng said she and Zhang, who was vice premier when Beijing was awarded the upcoming Winter Games, had conducted an on-off consensual relationship until he broke up with her.

Her post was deleted soon after it was published and the topic has been blocked online in China. But when she vanished from public view for nearly three weeks, international concern for her safety was ignited, accompanied by the #WhereIsPengShuai hashtag.

Peng, 35, made a series of appearances over the past weekend, including a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, but they have failed to dispel doubts among fellow athletes and global organisations over her welfare. Amnesty International accused the IOC and Bach of taking part in a “whitewash of possible human rights violations” by China ahead of the Games in February.

Less attention has focused on Zhang, who retired in 2018 and like nearly all top Chinese leaders stays out of the public eye in retirement. He and the Chinese government have not directly commented on Peng’s claims, which Reuters has been unable to verify.

China’s State Council Information Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and has not commented on Peng’s post or made Zhang available for comment.

“Letting Zhang come out to speak will result in a reputational loss that it doesn’t want just before the Winter Games,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

“Even if the party does decide to take internal disciplinary action against Zhang, they won’t announce it right away, but will wait for the storm to blow over first, so as to show strength,” he added.

TIANJIN BOSS

Zhang’s last appearance was on July 1, when he was seated on the southern ramparts of the Forbidden City in Beijing for the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s ruling Communist Party. The site is not far from the Great Hall of the People where six years earlier he made a “solemn commitment” to a successful Winter Games at the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee’s launch ceremony.

From 2007 to 2012,Zhang was the top political leader in the city of Tianjin. Under his watch, the once run-down provincial-level metropolis southeast of Beijing became China’s fastest growing region in 2011.

As ranking vice premier from 2013 to 2018, he was in charge of economic matters, including President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road initiative, and headed a “leading small group” overseeing the Winter Olympics before handing over to current vice premier Han Zheng in 2018.

In 2016, he met with Bach himself, telling the IOC boss that work was being done to “make sure the 2022 Beijing Winter Games are fantastic, extraordinary and excellent,” according to a report on the English-language website of the Chinese government.

Peng alleged in her Weibo post that she first met Zhang and had sex with him in Tianjin. She said that soon after Zhang retired, he got in touch again through a sports doctor and rekindled the relationship.

“You stopped contacting me after you were promoted to Beijing. I had wanted to bury everything inside my heart. Since you don’t intend to take responsibility, why did you still look for me, and force me to have sex with you at your house?” she wrote.

Peng also alleged in her post that Zhang’s wife, Kang Jie, knew about the relationship. As with wives of most of China’s political leaders, very little is known about Kang, including her age. The couple have a son.

HISTORY OF SILENCE

Zhang’s silence is consistent with how party leaders have dealt in the past with allegations ranging from corruption accusations in the Panama Papers to rumours of extramarital affairs, experts say.

Making a sweeping campaign to root out corruption a hallmark of his nine-year tenure, Xi has demanded that party officials “be able to pass the toughest tests” of political, professional and family morals.

Zhang’s only option is silence, according to Chen Daoyin, formerly an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law and now based in Chile, where he has been closely following the case.

“If he denies, he won’t be credible, because as a result of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, now everyone in China knows it is common for Chinese officials to use power for sex,” Chen said.

Typically, accusations of sexual misconduct by officials are only mentioned after an investigation for political or economic crimes, almost added as an aggravating factor.

Having struggled to gain traction, China’s #MeToo movement has come under fresh focus following the Peng case. No high-level party official has been similarly accused as Zhang.

“The party sees itself as above the law and is not accountable to anyone other than its leaders,” said Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based author, formerly with Tsinghua University.

“If he admits to Peng’s allegation, then Peng could become a symbol that China’s feminist movement can rally around, which can potentially pose a challenge to the power of the party,” said Chen, the former associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

 

(This story corrects attribution in quote to Chen, not Wu, in last paragraph)

 

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe, Simon Cameron-Moore, Leela de Kretser and Sonya Hepinstall)

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As omicron variant spreads, Manitoba couple feel 'criminalized' after return from South Africa – CBC.ca

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A Brandon, Man., couple who are quarantining in a Toronto hotel after a recent trip to South Africa say they feel “criminalized” as travellers after the federal government placed restrictions on 10 African countries due to the presence of a new coronavirus variant of concern.

A day after Lennard and Charlotte Skead left for South Africa, where they’re both originally from, the World Health Organization released information about a new coronavirus variant of concern called omicron, or the B.1.1.529 variant, which was discovered in the country.

The couple, who were in South Africa to access medical care, made several attempts shortly after their arrival to find an airline to bring them back to Canada.

“We were extremely frustrated in not being able to find much [airline tickets] because of course there were hundreds of people, hundreds of Canadians there wanting to get back. Calls to the airlines took hours on hold; it was total chaos,” Lennard Skead said.

On their trip back to Canada, they had to take six COVID-19 tests, which all came back negative, before being allowed to re-enter the country.

The Skeads underwent COVID-19 testing at the Frankfurt airport on their way to Toronto, where they’re quarantining in a hotel. Lennard Skead says they were tested six times on their journey. (Submitted by Lennard Skead)

Skead says he just feels grateful they made it back.

“We were just lucky,” he said, although it cost them a lot of money to return — a total of almost $23,500 so far for flights, COVID-19 tests and hotels.

In addition, their bags were lost and the food they’ve been served in the hotel consistently contains allergens, which the couple has brought to the attention of staff.

Restrictions meant to protect Canadians

Health Canada announced on Nov. 26 that foreign nationals who had travelled through any of the seven affected countries — including South Africa — in the last 14 days will not be permitted entry to Canada, in order to slow the spread of the omicron variant in Canada.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home, but they must quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says the travel restrictions are another way the federal government is working to protect the health and safety of Canadians. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Four days later, three other nations were added to the list of countries with travel restrictions, which went into effect on Wednesday.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference on Friday that Canada has had strong border measures throughout the pandemic to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

“I believe, and that’s what we hear from public health officials, that what we’ve announced last week on Friday [Nov. 26] and on Tuesday is currently the best set of measures, given the necessity and capability with which we are facing when we’re dealing with these issues,” he said.

Duclos said travellers from the 10 countries should expect to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive in Canada and be ready to isolate.

“It will take a few days before we are able to test all targeted travellers, but we’re ramping up our capacity quickly and testing more and more travellers every day,” he said.

Meanwhile, Skead, who is three days into his quarantine, believes travellers like himself and his wife are being treated poorly.

He says he wishes there was a grace period for travellers who were already abroad when restrictions were announced.

“My experience from landing in Toronto Pearson [International Airport] right up into the hotel has made us feel criminalized,” Skead said.

“It has made us feel as though we are not welcome in our own country and that we are carrying some kind of terrible disease that’s going to be the end of the world, despite our six negative COVID-19 tests.”

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Planning a trip over the holidays? Expect airport delays, sudden travel restrictions, experts say – CBC.ca

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As concerns around the omicron variant grow, infectious diseases expert Dr. Gerald Evans says that now is the time for Canadians to reconsider upcoming plans — particularly if they include international travel.

“What we need to do — all of us — is to reduce the opportunities for transmission to occur,” said Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Hidayet Mugjenkar and his family were set to fly to South Africa late last month to visit his ailing parents. They were forced to cancel when the federal government announced a ban on flights entering Canada from several countries in southern Africa.

“I really just wanted to go and see them because I don’t know when we’ll see them again,” he told Cross Country Checkup. “Now, with all this travel ban and with COVID, it’s just hard to predict when you’ll be able to fly back again.”

Following a previous announcement on restrictions for some flights from Africa, the federal government this week announced new testing requirements for those entering the country from outside Canada and the United States. 

Travellers will now be swabbed upon arrival and required to quarantine until they receive a negative result. That’s in addition to the existing pre-departure requirement of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Canada.

WATCH | Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos on new testing requirements for travellers: 

Health minister explains new testing requirements for travellers

2 days ago

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos lays out how the new testing requirements will work for travellers departing from and arriving in Canada. 0:36

“It’s a little bit like déjà vu all over again,” Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, said, reflecting on travel during the early days of the pandemic.

“We’re just starting to understand this, but we don’t have much data. So what the governments have been doing is reacting very swiftly — maybe too swiftly — imposing some travel bans.”

The U.S. government has also announced that Canadians and other foreign visitors must now provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of departure, regardless of vaccination status, to enter the country as of Monday.

Know the travel restrictions at your destination

The latest data on omicron suggests that the variant may be more transmissible, but changes in the severity of illness compared with other variants remain unclear.

Still, Evans cautions against international travel as the situation shifts.

A passenger makes her way through Montreal-Trudeau International Airport on Wednesday. Amid fears about the omicron variant, the federal government has announced that international travellers entering Canada will be required to take an additional COVID-19 test upon arrival and quarantine until they receive a negative result. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

“In a few weeks, with omicron already well established on many different continents, we may be looking at the potential for travel restrictions being brought in that are more widespread or perhaps more onerous than what exists at the moment,” he said.

Travel bans have largely targeted countries in southern Africa, where scientists sequenced the new variant late last month. Evans notes that countries across Europe, including France and Germany, have seen recent spikes in COVID-19 cases. 

That’s a concern echoed by Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who says some countries have not yet focused their screening to detect omicron.

“They might be reporting no [omicron] cases, but when you get there, there might actually be a lot of transmission that might affect your ability to come home,” she said.

In response to the omicron variant, France now requires all travellers from outside the European Union to provide a negative COVID-19 test.

Dimanche encourages anyone travelling this holiday season to be aware of rules and restrictions in their destination country.

‘Travellers don’t like the unknown’

Canada’s latest measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 through travel could also snare travellers at airports in this country, Dimanche warns.

Testing of arriving travellers will take place at airports across the country, according to the federal government, but he says many operators are wondering how that will be implemented — and whether it will delay passengers attempting to board connecting flights or reach their destination.

“There is so much uncertainty because we don’t know how this will be processed. We don’t know how long it will take. We don’t know if people will have to be stuck at the airport before they get the result of the test,” Dimanche said.

“All of those are unknowns, and travellers don’t like the unknown.”

WATCH | Travellers say they’re confused over Ottawa’s latest COVID-19 testing rules: 

Confusion around Canada’s COVID-19 travel rules

2 days ago

Many Canadian travellers have been left confused over the federal government’s new rules around COVID-19 testing, while Ottawa says they are not that complicated. It clarified all passengers coming from non-U.S. foreign destinations will soon have to undergo mandatory testing upon arrival — a requirement airports say will be impossible to achieve. 1:48

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the rollout of the additional testing would be uneven at first, with certain airports better equipped to handle the new rule.

“Let me be very clear: All travellers should be expected to be tested on arrival. We will not be able to test every targeted traveller overnight. It will take a few days,” Duclos said.

When Mugjenkar travelled with his family last year to South Africa, they ended up trapped in the country for four months after rules had changed. Leaving Canada, they had been cleared for travel.

As the omicron variant makes travel unpredictable once again, he says he’s not eager to repeat what happened last time.

“We’ve got friends that are actually stranded in South Africa at the moment and they can’t fly back into Calgary, and they have no idea when the flights will reopen,” he said.

“We’re OK with the fact that the flights are cancelled, so we’re just hoping they understand the variant better and things will open up again sooner.”


Written by Jason Vermes with files from CBC News, Ashley Fraser and Steve Howard.

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Frustration emerges over new COVID-19 related travel rules – Globalnews.ca

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About a week after Tope Akindele returned home to Edmonton from Nigeria, the Canadian government introduced a laundry list of new COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“I don’t think it was thought through,” Akindele said.

He arrived back in Canada on November 22 and eight days later, Ottawa announced a strict set of rules for travellers from 10 African countries where the Omicron variant was first identified.

Foreign nationals who have been in these countries in the last 14 days are not allowed into Canada and any Canadians travelling home from these countries will have to be tested at the airport and quarantine while awaiting their results.


Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Essential, vaccinated workers forced to quarantine amid new travel rules'



2:11
COVID-19: Essential, vaccinated workers forced to quarantine amid new travel rules


COVID-19: Essential, vaccinated workers forced to quarantine amid new travel rules

“Some people were randomly selected to be tested. When we’re coming in — I wasn’t. We were not randomly selected,” Akindele explained.

Akindele was bringing his mother to Canada. When the pair arrived in Calgary before connecting to Edmonton they were told quarantining wasn’t required.

“Upon return, I resumed work. I’ve been working from home — no need to go anywhere,” he said.

But days later he said Health Canada called telling him he needs to quarantine.

“I said ‘no,’ at the time I returned I wasn’t required to quarantine, but all the same, I’ve been home,” he explained.

Read more:

Travelling amid Omicron: What COVID-19 tests are needed to get to Canada, U.S.

Health Canada also instructed him to take a COVID test, which needs to be booked through 811.

Akindele says he hasn’t been able to get through. He also doesn’t drive.

Only adding to the stress, he says a security guard showed up at his door to make sure he’s at home and that he had booked a test.

“The guy banged on the door so aggressively. I was like, who does that? Who is this?” Akindele said.

“In my head, I was like, why send (security) when you could have sent someone to come take a swab? Same trip.”

The new rules, particularly around testing, have created a lot of confusion and frustration.

Travel agent Lesley Paull said she’s fielding many questions, but her clients aren’t cancelling their trips.

Read more:

U.S. reports first case of Omicron variant as officials examine travel rules

“A lot of people are tired. They want to go, they’re double vaccinated or triple vaccinated and they’re going,” Paull said.

“It’s more, what is this variant going to do in the future? Is it going to be something or not?”

Paull said ultimately it’s just a matter of getting another PCR test on arrival.

“You’re not paying for that it’s just the inconvenience of getting another test and waiting for the results,” she said.

“It’s still just really mass confusion that’s the biggest problem with it all I think.”

As for Akindele, he believes at this point in the pandemic the system needs to be better.


Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Confusion, frustration grows over new travel rules'



2:16
COVID-19: Confusion, frustration grows over new travel rules


COVID-19: Confusion, frustration grows over new travel rules

“It’s kind of stressful if you travel during this period of COVID and that’s why I understand when they say don’t travel if it’s not essential,” he said.

Health Canada said it will take a few days before all targeted travellers will be tested, but it’s ramping up capacity quickly and testing more and more travellers every day.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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