TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As the coronavirus pandemic makes direct international contacts more difficult, students at 60 schools in Taipei City and Israel have become pen pals, reports said Tuesday (Jan. 12).
The Taiwanese capital launched contacts between its schools and those in other countries in 2016, with the United States, Japan, and Italy as some of the main partners. The interaction has focused on specific topics, including the environment, animal protection, film, art, and news.
In 2019, Taipei invited elementary schools, high schools, and senior high schools from Israel to join the program, and after one year, 30 schools had given a positive response, officials said.
Originally, students wrote letters and cards to each other, but the virus outbreak last year changed all that, bringing e-mail, social media, and videoconferencing to the fore.
Students at the Taipei Municipal Jinhua Junior High School said they were interested in discussing the stray animal issue in Israel, though the absence of a common language was still a problem in their communication. A first attempt failed because the Israeli schools had closed due to the pandemic.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Renowned orthopedist and E-Da Hospital Superintendent Tu Yuan-kun (杜元坤) said on Monday (Jan. 11) he will donate all of his money to charity and leave nothing for his descendants.
Tu made the statement at a press conference to raise funds for the rebuilding of Saint Camillus Hospital, which was built 70 years ago on Taiwan’s outlying island of Penghu. NT$550 million (US$19 million) is needed for the project, according to a Liberty Times report.
The orthopedist said that when he was a student, he was deeply inspired by Mother Teresa’s dedication to performing good works for the poor. Since becoming a resident physician more than 30 years ago, Tu has been donating half of his salary to charity, over the years totaling more than NT$100 million.
Every year, 10 percent of Penghu’s population is forced to visit a hospital on Taiwan’s main island. More than half of these visitors go to Kaohsiung.
Inspired by the story of an elderly woman from Penghu who sold NT$10 bento lunches to the poor in Kaohsiung for 50 years with catastrophic financial results — which forced her to relinquish her home many times — Tu crosses the sea from Kaohsiung to Penghu to see patients on a volunteer basis every month.
The orthopedist has been doing so for nearly 10 years, saving Penghu patients NT$20-30 million in transportation costs yearly, according to the report.
After a run-in with a serious illness last year, Tu had an epiphany that led him to create a new will, through which he plans to donate all his money to various causes, including the rebuilding of Saint Camillus Hospital. Although Tu has since recovered from his malady, he has not made any changes to his will.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A scooter driver in southern Taiwan was given four tickets for failing to use her turn signal when changing lanes four times within two minutes.
According to the Sanmin 2nd Precinct of the Kaohsiung City Police, a female scooter driver surnamed Wu (吳) violated traffic rules by changing lanes four times without signaling while driving down Dingshan Street in Sanming District on Oct. 29 of last year. A motorist behind her reported the infractions to police within two minutes.
The police issued four tickets totaling NT$4,800 (US$171) in fines. The precinct on Sunday (Jan. 10) announced that it had rejected her appeal because after reviewing the information and video camera footage, they found that the facts of the violation were clear.
According to Article 42 of the Road Traffic Management and Penalty Act (道路交通管理處罰條例), the offense is punishable by a fine of between NT$1,200 and NT$3,600. However, Wu complained that the penalties were excessive, as she had been issued four tickets by police on the same road section and at the same time and date.
Wu claimed that she had been on her way to work and had changed lanes because she was worried a vehicle might pull out in front of her from a side road. She said: "Is this justice? Is [he/she] an evil whistleblower or the devil? As to whether this was excessive punishment, that is for society to decide."
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Weather Bureau (CWB) said Monday (Jan. 11) that the southern Taiwanese cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung have recorded their lowest temperatures in 35 years as a result of the recent cold air masses.
In a Facebook post, the CWB pointed out that this January has been colder than in recent years. It said the average temperature for Taipei in the first half of the month has been 13.85 degrees Celsius, the lowest observed since 2011.
Southern Taiwan, which is known for warmer weather throughout the year, has also been affected by the first two cold air masses of the season, according to the bureau.
The average temperatures for Tainan and Kaohsiung so far this month are 15.2 and 17.2 degrees, respectively. The two tropical cities have not experienced such a chilly January since 1986.
Meanwhile, Miaoli County's Tongluo Township recorded 6.4 degrees at 5 a.m. Tuesday (Jan. 12), the lowest temperature recorded in a flat area in Taiwan since the arrival of the third cold air mass. Meteorologist Daniel Wu (吳德榮) said it is very rare for the island to face three successive cold air masses over a period of only 12 days.
Wu forecast that the weather would be warm and dry across Taiwan from Wednesday (Jan. 13) to Sunday (Jan. 17), with daytime highs reaching 23-25 degrees. However, the mercury will likely drop again on Saturday (Jan. 16) with the approach of a seasonal northeasterly wind, reporters cited him as saying.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese citizens on Monday (Jan. 11) could begin applying for the newly designed passport, which features "Taiwan" prominently on the cover, and those who come on the first day can choose from two promotional gifts.
On July 22 of last year, Taiwan's Legislative Yuan passed a resolution to emphasize "Taiwan" over "China" on both the name of the nation's flagship carrier and its passport. On Sept. 3, the Cabinet revealed that the new passport cover significantly reduced the font size of "Republic of China" (中華民國) and integrated it in the national emblem while greatly enlarging the word "Taiwan" and placing it directly above the word "passport."
In order to attract people to change their passports, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) stated that as long as they go there on the first day that applications are accepted, they will be given a choice of two limited-edition gifts: a spring couplet and a luggage tag that reads "peace and safety" in Chinese characters.
On Monday, a man surnamed Chen (陳), who started waiting outside the Consular Affairs Bureau starting at 3 a.m. in the morning, was the first to arrive. He entered the Bureau of Consular Affairs at about 6:30 and became the first person to complete an application.
Applicants who arrived before 12 p.m. that day will have a chance to receive the first 100 numbered passports. The winners are set to be announced after a drawing is held in the afternoon.
Taiwanese nationals need not change their passports immediately as they can continue to use the old ones until they reach their expiration date. In addition, the fee to apply for the new passports will remain unchanged from the past at NT$1,300 (US$46) for adults and NT$900 for children under the age of 14. The application conditions and procedures remain the same as well.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. (THSRC) plans to extend its southern route to Pingtung County, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) announced on Sunday (Jan. 10).
As part of an effort to boost competitiveness in southern Taiwan, THSRC will extend service from Kaohsiung to Pingtung as well as set up a science park around the new high-speed rail station, CNA cited Su as saying. The premier added that bidding will begin in April for construction of the 17.5-km line to Pingtung, which will replace Kaohsiung’s Zuoying station as the last southbound stop and connect with Liukuaicuo Station on the Taiwan Railways Administration's (TRA) Pingtung line.
The extension is expected to be ready for operations in 2029. Travel time between Taipei and Pingtung will be pared from 124 minutes to 104, with no transfers needed, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.
In addition to the new high-speed extension, a 273-hectare zone will be established around the future Pingtung station for the development of technology. The science park will focus on agriculture, health, and software engineering, according to Science and Technology Minister Wu Tsung-tsong (吳政忠).
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Moisture combined with frigid temperatures from a second cold wave means that snow is likely in mountainous areas of northern and central Taiwan today (Jan. 11).
As a cold wave begins to blast into Taiwan from the north, temperatures will drop to between 9 and 10 degrees by the evening. The Central Weather Bureau (CWB) has issued a cold surge advisory for 19 counties and cities across the country
The CWB issued an orange cold surge advisory for temperatures at or below 6 degrees in: Keelung City, Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, Hsinchu County, Miaoli County, Yilan County, Hualien County, and Kinmen County. It also issued a yellow cold surge advisory for temperatures dropping below 10 degrees in: Hsinchu City, Taichung City, Changhua County, Nantou County, Yunlin County, Chiayi City, Chiayi County, Tainan City, Kaohsiung City, and Lienchiang County.
The bureau forecasts that today through Tuesday (Jan. 12), cold temperatures combined with moisture in the air will likely bring snow to northern mountainous areas ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 m in elevation, while central mountainous regions above 3,000 m could also see snowfall. Northern and eastern areas below those elevations are likely to see rain throughout the day today.
The CWB predicts that dry air will shift south on Tuesday, reducing the odds of precipitation across the country. Temperatures will, however, remain cold, with radiative cooling causing the mercury to drop significantly Tuesday evening.
Temperatures are expected to rise slightly on Wednesday (Jan. 12) as sunny skies return and the cold wave dissipates. The warming trend expected to start that day is anticipated to last four to five days.
LOS ANGELES - Deep within a South Los Angeles hospital, a row of elderly Hispanic men lay hooked up to ventilators - their bodies resting in induced comas - while nurses clad in spacesuit-style respirators checked their patients' bleeping monitors in the otherwise eerie silence.
The intensive care unit in one of the city's poorest districts is well-accustomed to death, but with Los Angeles now at the heart of the United States's Covid-19 pandemic, medics say they have never seen anything on this scale.
"It's hard. We're human, and we're trying our best," said nurse Vanessa Arias. "But we've seen so much death during the past few weeks."
Barely moments earlier, she had informed another tearful family that their mother had just passed.
"We're in the midst of the eye of the storm," she said.
Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital, sandwiched between the neighbourhoods of Watts and Compton, is stretched far beyond capacity by an unrelenting influx of coronavirus patients.
When reporters visited this week, it had converted a chapel and former gift shop into overflow and examination rooms, created new makeshift ICU beds in the post-surgery ward, and built field hospital tents outside its front entrance.
The 131-bed hospital had 215 patients, the majority with Covid. National Guard medics had just arrived to ease the strain on overwhelmed doctors and nurses.
"If Los Angeles is the epicentre of the world, this community is the epicentre of Covid in Los Angeles," said hospital CEO Elaine Batchlor.
Surrounding neighbourhoods are overwhelmingly Hispanic and Black - two demographics hit hardest by the virus.
The US has had more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country in the world. On Thursday (Jan 7), it set a new record of nearly 4,000 Covid deaths in one day, bringing the country's overall total to more than 364,000.
The country's confirmed number of infections was 21.5 million.
At the MLK hospital, many of the patients are essential workers, highly exposed at jobs in grocery stores and public transport, and living in crowded homes where isolating is near-impossible.
Even before Covid, the community suffered from epidemic levels of preventable and chronic disease, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and sepsis.
"We're seeing whole families, groups of them, getting sick at the same time," said Ms Arias, who like many MLK staff is herself Hispanic and grew up locally.
"I could have been one of these people... It's very unfortunate to see people that look like you die."
'Worst I've been to'
The infection numbers affecting Los Angeles since November have been staggering, even after 10 long months of pandemic in the nation's second largest city.
A record 8,000 county residents are currently hospitalised with Covid. Around one in 12 have already been infected, and one in five of those tested recently are positive. More than 11,000 have died.
"I was also in New York when it was really bad. But this has probably been the worst I've been to," said Ms Taylor Reed, a 24-year-old travelling nurse, who also worked in Washington, DC and Minnesota last year.
California was initially praised for its handling of the pandemic in the spring, but skyrocketing cases have sent most of the state back under "stay-at-home" orders.
Ambulance workers have been told to stop transporting some patients with extremely low survival chances.
California hospitals were this week ordered to postpone non-urgent surgeries and to accept Covid-19 patients from elsewhere in the hard-hit state if they have space.
Still reeling from a spike caused by Thanksgiving gatherings that spread infections, state public health chiefs expect the Christmas coronavirus "surge upon a surge" to peak in the next two weeks.
JERUSALEM - Israel tightened a national lockdown on Friday (Jan 8) in a bid to curb a sharp rise in new Covid-19 cases, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising that all Israeli adults could be vaccinated by the end of March.
With a population of nine million, Israel is leading the world in a swift rollout of vaccinations, but the number of new infections has climbed to around 8,000 a day, the highest in months.
Israel imposed its third lockdown on Dec 27.
Many Israelis, however, ignored travel and social-distancing restrictions, prompting stricter measures that will include additional police roadblocks and the closure of most schools and more businesses.
The new edicts will be in effect for at least two weeks.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu said vaccine supply agreements with Pfizer Inc meant that all Israelis over the age of 16 would be able to be inoculated by the end of March, or perhaps even earlier.
Israeli officials have said they hoped Israel could emerge from the pandemic as early as February if the vaccination programme, launched on Dec 19, maintains its speed.
"As part of the agreement (with Pfizer), we agreed that Israel would serve as a model nation, a model for the world in the swift vaccination of an entire country," Mr Netanyahu said in his address, promising accelerated shipments.
Progress towards meeting the vaccination goal could help Mr Netanyahu in a parliamentary election on March 23, Israel's fourth in two years.
According to government and central bank estimates, the tightened lockdown will cost the economy as much as 4.0 billion shekels (S$1.67 billion) a week.
On Thursday, Israel received its first shipment, some 100,000 doses, of Moderna Inc vaccines.
Some 17.5 per cent of the population - and 70 per cent of citizens aged 60 or older - have received their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine, with second-round inoculations set to begin on Sunday.
Eight adults and 14 children were hospitalized on Thursday after suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning at a Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) swimming pool in Tainan, southern Taiwan.
The city's Fire Bureau sent officers and ambulances to the pool at about 5 p.m., after receiving reports that many patrons were feeling unwell, light headed or had vomited.
A carbon monoxide detector showed that the level of the toxic gas in the basement heated swimming pool was 499 parts per million (ppm), far higher than average indoor levels of 0.5 to 5 ppm.
The 22 people affected by the gas were taken to five different hospitals in Tainan, and are all in stable condition, according to the bureau.
The high level of carbon monoxide is believed to have been caused by incomplete combustion of fuel in a water heater at the pool, which occurred because a switch that allows airflow into the heater had not been turned on, a preliminary investigation by the bureau found.
However, two representatives of the YMCA offered slightly different versions of events. Hou Cheng-yen (侯成彥) told reporters that all students, parents and teachers were evacuated from the building when the incident occurred, but they remain unsure how it happened.
In contrast, Chen Chen-chieh (陳振傑) said the YMCA will fix its appliances to ensure no more leaks occur in the future.
Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲), who visited the scene, said he plans to require all businesses in the city to install carbon monoxide detectors at their premises.
Under Taiwan's Indoor Air Quality Act, the permissible level of carbon monoxide is an average of 9 ppm over an eight-hour period. Owners or managers who fail to maintain air quality standards will be ordered to make improvements within a certain time period and those who fail to do so can be fined NT$50,000 (US$1,744) to NT$250,000.
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