Hong Kong Scraps Mandatory Vaccines for Foreign Domestic Workers

Hong Kong on Tuesday scrapped a plan to make coronavirus vaccines mandatory for foreign domestic workers after the proposal sparked an outcry and a diplomatic tussle with the Philippines.

Health officials planned to roll out mandatory inoculations for the 370,000 domestic workers in the city, mostly poorly paid women from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Those wanting to apply for work visas — or renew their current ones — would need to show they had received two doses.

But on Tuesday city leader Carrie Lam announced a U-turn. 

“The government has decided not to request mandatory vaccination when helpers renew their contracts,” she said, adding the decision had been made after meetings with officials from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Philippine foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin had previously warned the initial proposal “smacked of discrimination”.

Hong Kong health officials announced the mandatory vaccination plan after two domestic workers were found to be infected with one of the more virulent strains of the coronavirus.

They said domestic workers were “high risk” because they often work with the elderly and meet in parks on Sundays — usually their one day off a week.

Labour groups representing domestic workers said they felt they were being singled out, noting that the families they worked for — as well as locals working in environments such as care homes — were not required to get vaccinated.

They also pointed out that wealthier foreign migrants such as the city’s white-collar financial workers were not forced to get vaccines when outbreaks of the coronavirus were traced to their well-heeled districts.

Thanks to strict quarantine measures and economically painful social distancing rules, Hong Kong has kept infections to just under 12,000 cases and 210 deaths.

It has secured ample vaccine doses but the public take-up has been very low.

So far just 16 percent of the city’s 7.5 million people have received one or more doses, a long way from the 60-70 percent considered necessary for herd immunity.

Regular polling shows Hong Kongers have some of the lowest support ratings for inoculation in the world.

Some of Hong Kong’s BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines will pass their shelf-life in September and officials fret they may be in the unenviable position of throwing away good doses.

The vaccination drive has been hampered by the government’s public trust deficit.

After huge democracy protests exploded in 2019, Hong Kong’s unpopular unelected leaders — with the backing of Beijing — have overseen a sweeping crackdown in dissent in the city.

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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper starts three Black forwards for regular-season finale in what ‘was a pretty cool moment’

SUNRISE, Fla. — Daniel Walcott was already excited to be in his first NHL game. He got even more excited when he got to see how his debut would happen.

The Tampa Bay Lightning started three Black forwards in their regular-season finale against the Florida Panthers on Monday night, a rarity in NHL history — if not an absolute first. Walcott, Mathieu Joseph and Gemel Smith were out together for the opening face-off and didn’t know they would be starting together until just minutes before game time.

“First of all, they’re all in the NHL for a reason,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “They deserve to be here and have worked their tails off. To have them all together, they had a little chemistry. Moving forward in the league, you hope it isn’t a story anymore and will be the norm. It was a pretty cool moment for all those guys.”

Florida won the game, 4-0. The teams will meet in the first round of the NHL playoffs that start this weekend.

Roughly 3% of NHL players are Black, even though hockey and its teams have increased efforts in recent years to add to diversity within the sport through various feeder programs, some of them funded by the league.

The starting lineup was even applauded by the Panthers. Florida forward Anthony Duclair, who is Black, said he noticed it in the Panthers’ locker room pregame and was moved.

“That’s great to see,” Duclair said. “The way that the NHL is moving forward, it’s great to see for those guys and I’m sure it was a special night for them.”

It’s unclear how many times such a trio of Black forwards have been on the ice together in any pro league before, but it has happened — at least in the minor leagues.

Earlier this season in the American Hockey League, the Los Angeles’ Kings top affiliate in Ontario, California, dressed an all-Black line of Akil Thomas, Quinton Byfield and Devante Smith-Pelly. Thomas is one of the Kings’ top prospects, Byfield as the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft was the highest Black player selected in NHL history and Smith-Pelly was a playoff hero for the Washington Capitals when they won the Stanley Cup in 2018.

Thomas told reporters in March that his father, Khalil Thomas, once played on a team that started five Black players — everyone but the goalie — in the minors.

“Hopefully one of these days we’ll see that happen,” Akil Thomas said.

Smith was in his fifth game of the season and Joseph has been in the lineup for all 56 Tampa Bay games in 2020-21.

“It was great, man,” Joseph said. “A step in the right direction. It was fun to have some progress and it was great to see and I was glad I was part of it. … Any players of color in this league want to showcase to our families or other people of color. I thank the coaching staff for doing this.”

Walcott said he hopes young Black kids with an interest in hockey look at something like Monday night and find hope. He said he got the word from Cooper on Sunday night that he was likely to make his debut, but wasn’t told who his linemates would be for the game.

“A whirlwind of emotion, a long time coming,” Walcott said. “To get into that starting lineup was great. … Coop did something really special here to promote this for young kids.”

The Stanley Cup-champion Lightning ended the season with three consecutive losses, two to their first-round opponent by a combined score of 9-1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tokyo Olympics Liz Cambage backs down from boycott threat, says she will go to Games

Australian basketball star Liz Cambage has backtracked on threats to boycott the Tokyo Olympics in a racially based protest.

The Opals’ star centre has confirmed she’ll play at the Tokyo Games after last week accusing Australia’s Olympic fraternity of “white-washing” after a photo shoot lacking racial diversity.

Cambage, born to a Nigerian father, took umbrage with photos of predominantly white Australian Olympians, saying people of colour had been marginalised and she would “sit this one out”, referring to the Tokyo Games.

But the 29-year-old now says she will compete at her third Olympics in Tokyo.

“For everyone wondering so desperately what my decision is for the Opals, I’m in, baby … I’m in,” Cambage wrote on Instagram.

“I’m going to play with my sisters that I’ve been playing with since I was a wee little thing and I’m going to ball out for all those young brown kids back in Australia watching me, baby.

“I’m going to do it for you.”

The Australian Olympic Committee conceded there was some merit to Cambage’s criticism of a pre-Games photo shoot.

Rugby sevens player Maurice Longbottom was the sole Indigenous Olympian included in the shoot for an underwear sponsor.

Last week, Cambage posted on Instagram: “If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, HOW AM I MEANT TO REPRESENT A COUNTRY THAT DOESN’T EVEN REPRESENT ME.

“Australia, wake the f— up. I’m not playing these games no more, I’m not.

“It’s sad, the whitewashing is sad. Your black athletes lead you everywhere. Indigenous athletes are some of the best athletes we have. An y’all don’t use them at all.”

Cambage, a long-time advocate for social justice causes, said in her latest post that made no apologies for speaking out.

“There’s the people who have the balls to stand up and say something and make change,” she wrote.

“That’s me. I was born for this … I am such a narcissist.

“All the hate that you give me, I love it. It makes me go harder. It makes me push for more.”

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Seattle Mariners expected to call up top prospect Jarred Kelenic this week, sources say

The Seattle Mariners are expected to call up their top prospect Jarred Kelenic on Thursday, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Kelenic, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 amateur draft, is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball, according to ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel.

While things can change, the plan is to promote Kelenic, an outfielder, for the first game of Seattle’s home series against the Cleveland Indians.

Kelenic, 21, was sidelined early in spring training by a strained adductor muscle in his left knee. He is batting 9-for-20 with 2 home runs, 6 RBIs, 6 runs scored and 2 stolen bases in five games with Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers.

In late February, Kelenic indicated that his service time was being manipulated by the Mariners based on comments from former team president and CEO Kevin Mather that drew the ire of the MLBPA. Among multiple controversial comments made in an online video that led to his resignation, Mather divulged information about contract negotiations with Kelenic to a Bellevue, Washington, Rotary Club on Feb. 5. In the video, Mather said neither Kelenic nor pitcher Logan Gilbert would be with the major league club on Opening Day as a way to keep club control for longer.

In the wake of Mather’s comments becoming public, Kelenic and one of his agents told USA Today that it was “crystal clear” that the Mariners’ decision to not call him up to the majors in 2020 was based on service time after he turned down a guaranteed contract in 2019.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto personally apologized to Kelenic at the time but denied that the team was manipulating Kelenic’s service time.

“I’m not sure how you construe a service-time manipulation with a 21-year-old player who has played [21] games above A-ball and has not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player,” Dipoto told reporters in February. “That would be an unprecedented run to the big leagues that hasn’t happened in three decades.

“While Jarred is a wildly talented player, we do want to make sure that he has checked off the boxes in development because it’s incumbent on us, not just for the good of the Mariners but for the benefit of Jarred Kelenic, to make sure he has been fully developed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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China Reports Population Growth Closer to Zero in 2020

China’s population growth is falling closer to zero as fewer couples have children, the government announced Tuesday, adding to strains on an aging society with a shrinking workforce. The population rose by 72 million over the past decade to 1.411 billion in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said. It said annual growth averaged 0.53%, decelerating from the previous decade.

Chinese leaders have enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth but worry the working-age population is falling too fast, disrupting efforts to create a prosperous economy. They have eased birth limits, but couples are put off by high costs, cramped housing and job discrimination faced by mothers.

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Gritty fulfills a Philadelphia Flyers fan’s request by throwing a cake at her

The Philadelphia Flyers will not be going to the Stanley Cup playoffs and their season ends Monday night. Gritty, the Flyers’ mascot, is using the occasion to reflect on the season:

“I got naked (a lot), played in a ball pit, rode a mechanical bull, vacationed in Tahoe, hired (and pretty much immediately fired) my first intern, threw some cake, and danced my lil dancey dance,” Gritty said, recapping his year, in a tweet on May 6.

Gritty also realized how selfish he had been, doing antics only for himself.

“I’ve been doing ME, whatever I wanted to do,” Gritty said. “But I didn’t even consider asking.. what do YOU want me to do?”

Enter one persistent Flyers fan. Since January of 2020, a Flyers fan known as @KnittyKitty has requested that the mascot throw a sheet cake at her.

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NBA referee Tony Brown diagnosed with cancer, will miss rest of season

NEW YORK — Veteran referee Tony Brown, who worked his first NBA Finals last season, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and will miss the rest of the season.

The NBA announced Monday that Brown has been undergoing treatment since his diagnosis last month.

Brown, 54, has officiated 1,109 regular-season games, 35 playoff games and the 2018 All-Star Game in Los Angeles in his 19 seasons as an NBA official.

“He’s a heck of an official in the league,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said before Monday night’s game at the Golden State Warriors. “You get to know guys, and someone that’s not only an excellent official but just a quality person. We wish him well and we’re thinking about him.”

Before moving to the NBA, Brown worked for four seasons in both the NBA G League and CBA and three seasons in the WNBA. During that time, he refereed the 2002 WNBA Finals, the 2002 WNBA All-Star Game and the 2001 CBA Finals.

“Tony is a beloved member of the NBA family, and in particular, our officiating family,” said Monty McCutchen, NBA senior vice president for referee development and training. “In addition to exemplifying what it means to be a world-class referee on the court, Tony also touches so many lives off the court.”

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Lakers star LeBron James likely to return vs. Knicks on Tuesday

LeBron James will likely return for Tuesday’s game against the New York Knicks as his injured right ankle has been pain-free after several days off, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James was a full participant in practice Monday but did not officially reveal his status for Tuesday’s game.

“We did some drill work. We did some contrived scrimmages and we did a short, full scrimmage,” Vogel said when asked what Monday’s practice entailed. “And he did all of it.”

James missed six weeks due to a high right ankle sprain before a two-game return against Toronto and Sacramento. He then missed the next four games in an attempt to rest the ankle.

James visited an ankle specialist last week, sources told ESPN, and has made considerable improvement in his on-court workouts without experiencing the “sharp pain” he reported in the losses to the Kings and Raptors. He previously had difficulty making hard cuts and elevating, sources told Wojnarowski.

Lakers center Marc Gasol, quite coyly, downplayed James’ activity as much as possible. “He’s around. He’s been doing basketball stuff,” Gasol said after Monday’s practice. “He was shooting the ball a couple times today.”

The Lakers listed James as out for Tuesday’s game in a status report released Monday evening. However, the last two times James came back from extended absences because of injury — returning from a groin injury in January 2019 and the ankle sprain earlier this season — the Lakers similarly listed James as out, only to upgrade his status to questionable on gameday morning before he eventually appeared in the starting lineup.

Los Angeles is No. 7 in the Western Conference — a full game behind No. 6 Portland — with home back-to-back games against the Knicks and Houston Rockets and road back-to-back games against the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans remaining. The Lakers will raise their 2020 championship banner on the night of the Rockets game, with approximately 3,000 fans expected in attendance

Because the Blazers own the series tiebreaker after a win against the Lakers last week, L.A. needs to go 4-0 with the Blazers splitting their last four games in order to avoid the play-in tournament.

The Lakers are 28-15 when James plays this season and 10-15 when he doesn’t.

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20 Killed as Israel Strikes Gaza After Hamas Rocket Barrage

Israel launched deadly air strikes on Gaza Monday in response to a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas and other Palestinian militants, amid spiralling violence sparked by unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

At least 20 people were killed, including nine children and a senior Hamas commander, and 65 others wounded, Gaza authorities said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas had crossed a “red line” by directing missiles towards Jerusalem and that the Jewish state would “respond with force”.

“We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Those who attack us will pay a heavy price,” said Netanyahu, who held meetings with the heads of the army and the Shin Bet security agency.

Israel’s army said 150 rockets had been launched from Gaza, dozens of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System, with no casualties reported.

“We have started, and I repeat started, to attack military targets in Gaza,” army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said. “We have made preparations for various scenarios, including high intensity ones… Hamas will get the message.”

The military said it had targeted “two rocket launchers, two military posts”, a tunnel and eight Hamas operatives in Gaza.

Hamas sources confirmed to AFP that one of their commanders, Mohammed Fayyad, had been killed.

Tensions in Jerusalem have flared since Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinian worshippers on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in the city’s worst disturbances since 2017.

Nightly unrest since then at the Al-Aqsa compound has left hundreds of Palestinians wounded, drawing international calls for de-escalation and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.

Diplomatic sources told AFP that Egypt and Qatar, who have mediated past Israeli-Hamas conflicts, were attempting to calm tensions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken strongly condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas, saying they “need to stop immediately”.

“All sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down,” he said.

Adding to the sense of chaos, a huge fire engulfed trees in the compound that houses the mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, as hundreds of Jewish Israelis watched from the Western Wall esplanade below.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, earlier Monday warned Israel to withdraw all its forces from the mosque compound and the east Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah, where looming evictions of Palestinian families have fuelled angry protests.

Sirens wailed across Jerusalem just after the 1500 GMT deadline set by Hamas as people in Jerusalem, including lawmakers in the Knesset legislature, fled to bunkers for the first time since a 2014 Gaza conflict.

A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing the Qassam Brigades said the rocket attacks were in response to Israeli actions in Sheikh Jarrah and around the Al-Aqsa mosque.

“This is a message that the enemy must understand well: if you respond we will respond, and if you escalate we will escalate.” A house in Beit Nekofa, about 10 kilometres (six miles) west of central Jerusalem, was also damaged by rocket fire, AFP TV reported.

The Israeli army said on Twitter that, separate to the rockets, “as a result of an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza, an Israeli civilian in a nearby vehicle was lightly injured” in the Gaza border area.

Fears of further chaos in the Old City had temporarily eased when Israeli organisers of a march to celebrate the Jewish state’s 1967 capture of east Jerusalem cancelled the event.

But then came the Hamas warning, followed by the rockets, which also forced the evacuation of the Western Wall and other sites.

Militants in Gaza have recently also deployed incendiary balloons that have sparked dozens of fires in Israeli territory.

On Monday evening, as during the previous nights since Friday, Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.

That came after morning clashes which left the ground littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris as loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls.

There were dozens of newly wounded demonstrators. The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least 395 Palestinians were wounded, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition.

Siraj, 24, was wheeled into surgery at the large Makassed Hospital after suffering a spleen injury from being hit by a rubber bullet.”They shot everyone, young and old people,” he said. Makassed director-general Adnan Farhoud said most of Monday’s injuries were to the head, chest, and upper and lower limbs.When “you mean to harm someone you shoot to the head”, he told AFP.

The Israeli police reported 32 injuries in their ranks. The violence since Friday has been fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to evict several Palestinian families from their nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal in the case originally set for Monday was pushed back by the justice ministry due to the tensions.

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