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Oh Se-hoon Wins Seoul Mayoral Election

SEOUL — In his last year in office, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has seen his approval ratings in a tailspin. His trademark North Korea diplomacy remains in tatters. Citizens are fuming over his ​repeatedly ​botched attempts to arrest soaring housing prices.

And on Wednesday, voters in South Korea’s two biggest cities dealt another crushing blow to the beleaguered leader.

Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party lost the mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan to the conservative opposition, the People Power Party. Critics are calling the results of the two by-elections a referendum on Mr. Moon and his government.

“The people vented their anger at the Moon government through these elections,” said Kim Chong-in, head of the People Power Party, referring to large margins by which its candidates won.​

policy of engagement toward North Korea.

Wednesday’s mayoral elections showed that the Democratic Party faces steep challenges as voters once loyal to Mr. Moon — especially those in their 20s and 30s — abandon it in droves.

Oh Se-hoon, the People Power Party candidate, won the race in Seoul, the capital city ​of 10 million people. He routed Park Young-sun, the Democratic Party candidate and a former member of Mr. Moon’s cabinet, by more than 18 percentage points, according to voting results announced by the National Election Commission.

The Seoul mayor is considered South Korea’s second-most powerful elected official after the president.

died by suicide last year following accusations of sexual harassment. The former mayor of Busan, Oh Keo-don, stepped down ​last year ​amid accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple female ​subordinates.

The former mayors were both members of ​Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party and the president’s close allies. Their downfall ​weakened the moral standing of Mr. Moon’s progressive camp, which ​has cast itself as a ​clean, ​transparent​ and equality-minded alternative to ​its conservative opponents. Mr. Moon’s two immediate predecessors — Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak — were both conservatives and are now in prison following convictions on corruption charges.

Mr. Moon was elected ​in 2017, ​filling the power vacuum created by Ms. Park’s impeachment. As a former human rights lawyer, he enthralled the nation by promising a “fair and just” society. He ​vehemently criticized an entrenched ​culture of privilege and corruption ​that he said had taken root while conservatives were in power, ​and vowed to create a level playing field for young voters who have grown weary of dwindling job opportunities and an ever-expanding income gap.

Mr. Moon spent much of his first two years in power struggling to quell escalating tension between North Korea and the United States, successfully mediating diplomacy between the two countries. He shifted more of his attention to domestic issues after the two summit meetings between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Donald J. Trump failed to produce a deal on nuclear disarmament or the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

But things quickly turned sour on the home front ​as well.

In 2019, huge outdoor rallies erupted ​over accusations of forgery and preferential treatment in college and internship applications​ surrounding the daughter of Cho Kuk, Mr. Moon’s former justice minister and one of his closest allies.

The scandal flew in the face of Mr. Moon’s election promise of creating “a world without privilege,” and prompted outrage against the “gold-spoon” children of the elite, who ​glided into top-flight universities and cushy jobs while their “dirt-spoon” peers struggled to make ends meet in South Korea’s hobbled economy.

won by a landslide in parliamentary elections last year as Mr. Moon leveraged his surging popularity around South Korea’s largely successful battle against the coronavirus. But Mr. Moon’s virus campaign has lost its luster.

In recent months, South Koreans have grown frustrated with prolonged social-distancing restrictions, a distressed economy and the government’s failure to provide vaccines fast enough. On Wednesday, the government reported 668 new coronavirus infections, the highest one-day increase in three months.

Mr. Moon’s most devastating setback came last month when officials at the Korea Land and Housing Corporation — the state developer — were accused of using privileged insider information to cash in on government housing development programs. Kim Sang-jo, Mr. Moon’s chief economic policy adviser, stepped down last month when it was revealed that his family had significantly raised the rent on an apartment in Seoul just days before the government imposed a cap on rent increases.

“People had hoped that even if they were incompetent, the Moon government would at least be ethically superior to their conservative rivals,” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “What we see in the election results is the people’s long-accumulated discontent over the ‘naeronambul’ behavior of the Moon government exploding. Moon has now become a lame duck president.”

The real-estate scandal dominated the campaign leading up to Wednesday’s election. Opposition candidates called Mr. Moon’s government a “den of thieves.” Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party called Mr. Oh, the new mayor in Seoul, an incorrigible “liar.”

resigned as Seoul mayor in 2011 after his campaign to end free lunches for all schoolchildren failed to win enough support.

Pre-election surveys this month showed that voters who planned to vote for Mr. Oh would do so not because they considered him morally superior to his Democratic Party rival. Instead, it was because they wanted to “pass judgment on the Moon Jae-in government.”

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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Vaccinations Accelerate as Variants Linger

three million doses are being given on average each day, compared with well under one million when Mr. Biden took office in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every state has now given at least one dose to a quarter or more of its population. About 62.4 million people — 19 percent of Americans — have been fully vaccinated.

“Today, we are pleased to announce another acceleration of the vaccine eligibility phases to earlier than anticipated,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said on Monday, announcing that all Maryland residents 16 or older would be eligible from Tuesday for a vaccine at the state’s mass vaccination sites, and from April 19 at any vaccine provider in the state.

Also on Monday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said residents 16 or older in his state would be eligible on April 19. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington said later on Monday that city residents 16 or older would also be eligible on April 19.

That leaves two states, Oregon and Hawaii, keeping to Mr. Biden’s original deadline of May 1. Their governors did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether they would broaden eligibility sooner, but Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon announced on Monday that all frontline workers and their families, as well as those 16 or older with underlying health conditions, would be eligible immediately.

In Hawaii, 34 percent of residents have received at least one dose; in Oregon, the figure is 31 percent. Alabama has vaccinated the lowest proportion of its residents, at 25 percent.

But as Ms. Brown noted in her announcement about eligibility — and as experts have warned for weeks — “we’re in a race between vaccines and variants.”

Along with dangerous coronavirus variants that were identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, new mutations have continued to pop up in the United States, from California to New York to Oregon.

The shots will eventually win, scientists say, but because each infection gives the coronavirus a chance to evolve further, vaccinations must proceed as fast as possible.

As that race continues, the optimism sown by the steady pace of vaccinations may be threatening to undermine the progress the nation has made. Scientists also fear Americans could let their guard down too soon as warmer weather draws them outside and case levels drop far below the devastating surge this winter.

Cases are now rising sharply in parts of the country, with some states offering a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over: New cases in Michigan have increased 112 percent and hospitalizations have increased 108 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database.

The United States is averaging more than 64,000 new cases each day, an 18 percent increase from two weeks earlier. That’s well below the peak of more than 250,000 new cases daily in January, but on par with last summer’s surge after reopenings in some states, like Arizona, where patrons packed into clubs as hospital beds filled up. The United States is averaging more than 800 Covid-19 deaths each day, the lowest level since November.

Yet again, governors across the country have lifted precautions like mask mandates and capacity limits on businesses. Medical experts have warned that these moves are premature, and Mr. Biden has urged governors to reinstate the restrictions.

Travel is up again, too, with more than one million people passing through airport security each day in the United States since March 11, according to the Transportation Security Administration. On Sunday, more than 1.5 million people passed through T.S.A. checkpoints. The C.D.C. said last week that fully vaccinated Americans could travel domestically with low risk, but should still follow precautions like wearing masks.

Several businesses in China are offering incentives for those getting inoculated, including this Lego stall outside a vaccination center in Beijing.
Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

In Beijing, the vaccinated qualify for buy-one-get-one-free ice cream cones. In the northern province of Gansu, a county government published a 20-stanza poem extolling the virtues of the jab. In the southern town of Wancheng, officials warned parents that if they refused to get vaccinated, their children’s schooling and future employment and housing were all at risk.

China is deploying a medley of tactics, some tantalizing and some threatening, to achieve mass vaccination on a staggering scale: a goal of 560 million people, or 40 percent of its population, by the end of June.

China has already proven how effectively it can mobilize against the coronavirus. And other countries have achieved widespread vaccination, albeit in much smaller populations.

But China faces a number of challenges. The country’s near-total control over the coronavirus has left many residents feeling little urgency to get vaccinated. Some are wary of China’s history of vaccine-related scandals, a fear that the lack of transparency around Chinese coronavirus vaccines has done little to assuage. Then there is the sheer size of the population to be inoculated.

To get it done, the government has turned to a familiar tool kit: a sprawling, quickly mobilized bureaucracy and its sometimes heavy-handed approach. This top-down, all-out response helped tame the virus early on, and now the authorities hope to replicate that success with vaccinations.

Already, uptake has skyrocketed. Over the past week, China has administered an average of about 4.8 million doses a day, up from about one million a day for much of last month. Experts have said they hope to reach 10 million a day to meet the June goal.

“They say it’s voluntary, but if you don’t get the vaccine, they’ll just keep calling you,” said Annie Chen, a university student in Beijing who received two such entreaties from a school counselor in about a week.

Millions of people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine without safety problems, but reports of rare blood clots have raised concerns.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

A top vaccines official at the European Medicines Agency said on Tuesday that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was linked to blood clots in a small number of recipients, the first indication from a leading regulatory body that the clots may be a real, if extremely rare, side effect of the shot.

The agency itself has not formally changed its guidance, issued last week, that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, but any further ruling from regulators would be a setback for a shot that Europe and much of the world are relying on to save lives amid a global surge in coronavirus cases.

The medicines agency said last week that no causal link between the vaccine and rare blood clots had been proven. Only a few dozen cases of blood clots have been recorded among the many millions of people who have received the vaccine across Europe.

But the vaccines official, Marco Cavaleri, told an Italian newspaper that “it is clear there is an association with the vaccine,” and that the medicines agency would announce “in the next hours” that it had determined there was a link. The medicines agency did not immediately respond to questions about its plans.

Those comments represented the first indication by a leading regulatory body that the blood clots could be a genuine, if extremely rare, side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Previously, health officials in several European countries temporarily restricted the use of the shot in certain age groups, despite the European Medicines Agency’s recommendation to keep administering it.

Regulators in Britain and at the World Health Organization have also said that, while they were investigating any rare side effects, the shot was safe to use and would save many lives.

Mr. Cavaleri told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that European regulators had not determined why the vaccine might be causing the rare blood clots, which generated concern because the cases were so unusual. They involved blood clots combined with unusually low levels of platelets, a disorder that can lead to heavy bleeding.

The most worrisome of the conditions, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, involves clots in the veins that drain blood from the brain, a condition that can lead to a rare type of stroke.

The clots are, by all accounts, extremely rare. European regulators were analyzing 44 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, 14 of them fatal, among 9.2 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine across the continent. Emer Cooke, the European Medicines Agency’s director, said that the clotting cases in younger people translated to a risk for one in every 100,000 people under 60 given the vaccine. Younger people, and especially younger women, are at higher risk from the brain clots, scientists have said.

In Britain, regulators last week reported 30 cases of the rare blood clots combined with low platelets among 18 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed with the University of Oxford. No such cases were reported in people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Britain.

Regulators in Britain have said that people should get the vaccine “when invited to do so.” But British news reports indicated Monday night that regulators were considering updating that guidance for certain age groups.

Monika Pronczuk and Emma Bubola contributed reporting.

The North Koreans at the closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Credit…Edgar Su/Reuters

North Korea said on Tuesday that it had decided not to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The North’s national Olympic Committee decided at a March 25 meeting that its delegation would skip the Olympics “in order to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection,” according to Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website.

It is the first Summer Olympics that the North has missed since 1988, when they were held in Seoul, the South Korean capital.

North Korea, which has a decrepit public health system, has taken stringent measures against the virus since early last year, including shutting its borders. The country officially maintains that it has no virus cases, but outside health experts are skeptical.

North Korea’s decision deprives South Korea and other nations of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the isolated country. Officials in the South had hoped that the Olympics — to be held from July 23 to Aug. 8 — might provide a venue for senior delegates from both Koreas to discuss issues beyond sports.

The 2018 Winter Olympics, held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, offered similar hope for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Yo-jong, the only sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, grabbed global attention when she attended the opening ceremony, becoming the first member of the Kim family to cross the border into South Korea.

Mr. Kim used the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a signal to start diplomacy after a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Inter-Korean dialogue soon followed, leading to three summit meetings between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Mr. Kim also met three times with President Donald J. Trump.

But since the collapse of Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump in 2019, North Korea has shunned official contact with South Korea or the United States. The pandemic has deepened the North’s diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties amid concerns over its nuclear ambitions. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on March 25 in its first such test in a year, in a challenge to President Biden.

Since North Korea’s first Olympic appearance in 1972, it has participated in every Summer Games except for the Los Angeles event in 1984, when it joined a Soviet-led boycott, and in 1988, when South Korea played host. North Korean athletes have won 16 gold medals, mostly in weight lifting, wrestling, gymnastics, boxing and judo, consistently citing the ruling Kim family as inspiration.

The Tokyo Games were originally scheduled for 2020 but were delayed by a year because of the pandemic. The organizing committee has been scrambling to develop safety protocols to protect both participants and local residents. But as a series of health, economic and political challenges have arisen, large majorities in Japan now say in polls that the Games should not be held this summer.

Even though organizers have barred international spectators, epidemiologists warn the Olympics could still become a superspreader event. Thousands of athletes and other participants will descend on Tokyo from more than 200 countries while much of the Japanese public remains unvaccinated.

The Australia-New Zealand travel bubble is expected to deliver a boost to tourism and to families that have been separated by strict border closures.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand announced on Tuesday that her nation would establish a travel bubble with Australia, allowing travelers to move between the countries without needing to quarantine for the first time since the pandemic began.

The bubble, which will open just before midnight on April 19, is expected to deliver a boost to tourism and to families that have been separated since both countries enacted strict border closures and lockdown measures that have all but eliminated local transmission of the coronavirus.

The announcement came after months of negotiations and setbacks, as Australia battled small outbreaks and officials in both countries weighed testing requirements and other safety protocols.

“The director general of health considers the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence,” Ms. Ardern said at a news conference.

Since last year, Australia has permitted travelers from New Zealand to bypass its hotel quarantine requirements. New Zealand’s decision to reciprocate makes the two countries among the first places in the world to set up such a bubble, following a similar announcement last week by Taiwan and the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Australians flying to New Zealand will be required to have spent the previous 14 days in Australia, to wear a mask on the plane and, if possible, to use New Zealand’s Covid-19 contact tracing app. In the event of an outbreak in Australia, New Zealand could impose additional restrictions, including shutting down travel to a particular Australian state or imposing quarantine requirements, Ms. Ardern said.

She warned that the new requirements would not necessarily free up many spaces in New Zealand’s overwhelmed hotel quarantine system, which has a weekslong backlog for New Zealanders wishing to book a space to return home. Of the roughly 1,000 slots that would now become available every two weeks, around half would be set aside as a contingency measure, while most of the others would not be appropriate for travelers from higher-risk countries, Ms. Ardern said.

Before New Zealand closed its borders to international visitors in March 2020, its tourism industry employed nearly 230,000 people and contributed 41.9 billion New Zealand dollars ($30.2 billion) to economic output, according to the country’s tourism board. Most of the roughly 3.8 million foreign tourists who visited New Zealand over a 12-month period between 2018 and 2019 came from Australia.

Ms. Ardern encouraged Australians to visit New Zealand’s ski areas, and said she would be conducting interviews with Australian media outlets this week to promote New Zealand as a tourism destination.

The bubble would also make it easier for the more than 500,000 New Zealanders who live in Australia to visit their families.

“It is ultimately a change of scene that so many have been looking for,” Ms. Ardern said, addressing Australians. “You may not have been in long periods of lockdown, but you haven’t had the option. Now you have the option, come and see us.”

Fans filled the seats on Monday for the Texas Rangers opening day game in Arlington, Texas, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Credit…Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There was no need to pipe in crowd noise at Globe Life Field on Monday, as the Texas Rangers hosted the Toronto Blue Jays in front of the largest crowd at a sporting event in the United States in more than a year.

From the long lines of fans waiting to get into the stadium to the persistent buzz of the spectators during quiet moments, the game in Arlington, Texas, was a throwback to a time before the coronavirus crippled the country.

“It felt like a real game,” Rangers Manager Chris Woodward said. “It felt like back to the old days when we had full capacity.”

The official crowd of 38,238 fans, which was announced as a sellout, represented 94.8 percent of the stadium’s 40,300-seat capacity. It topped the Daytona 500 (which allowed slightly more than 30,000 fans) and the Super Bowl (24,835), both of which were held in February, as the largest crowd at a U.S. sporting event since the pandemic began last year.

The lifting of capacity restrictions in Texas made the enormous crowd possible. And for Major League Baseball, which claims its teams collectively lost billions during a largely fanless 2020 season, it was a hopeful sign that large crowds can return to all of the league’s games before too long. The open question is whether such events can be safe as the pandemic continues.

M.L.B. requires all fans over age 2 to wear masks at games this season, but a large percentage of the fans in Arlington went maskless. That will undoubtedly raise fears of the event resulting in a spike in coronavirus cases.

A garment worker in Cambodia signaled support for a campaign demanding relief for garment workers who have lost jobs and reform of the apparel industry, including a severance guarantee fund.
Credit…Enric Catala/Wsm

Garment workers in factories producing clothes and shoes for companies like Nike, Walmart and Benetton have seen their jobs disappear in the past 12 months, as major brands in the United States and Europe canceled or refused to pay for orders after the pandemic took hold and suppliers resorted to mass layoffs or closures.

Most garment workers earn chronically low wages, and few have any savings. Which means the only thing standing between them and dire poverty are legally mandated severance benefits that are often owed upon termination, wherever the workers are in the world.

According to a new report from the Worker Rights Consortium, however, garment workers are being denied some or all of these wages.

The study identified 31 export garment factories in nine countries where, the authors concluded, a total of 37,637 workers who were laid off did not receive the full severance pay they legally earned, a collective $39.8 million.

According to Scott Nova, the group’s executive director, the report covers only about 10 percent of global garment factory closures with mass layoffs in the last year. The group is investigating an additional 210 factories in 18 countries, leading the authors to estimate that the final data set will detail 213 factories with severance pay violations affecting more than 160,000 workers owed $171.5 million.

“Severance wage theft has been a longstanding problem in the garment industry, but the scope has dramatically increased in the last year,” Mr. Nova said. He added that the figures were likely to rise as economic aftershocks related to the pandemic continued to unfold across the retail industry. He believes the lost earnings could total between $500 million and $850 million.

The report’s authors say the only realistic solution to the crisis would be the creation of a so-called severance guarantee fund. The initiative, devised in conjunction with 220 unions and other labor rights organizations, would be financed by mandatory payments from signatory brands that could then be leveraged in cases of large-scale nonpayment of severance by a factory or supplier.

Several household names implicated in the report made money during the pandemic. Amazon, for example, reported an increase in net profit of 84 percent in 2020, while Inditex, the parent company of Zara, made 11.4 billion euros, about $13.4 billion, in gross profit. Nike, Next and Walmart all also had healthy earnings.

Some industry experts believe the purchasing practices of the industry’s power players are a major contributor to the severance pay crisis. The overwhelming majority of fashion retailers do not own their own production facilities, instead contracting with factories in countries where labor is cheap. The brands dictate prices, often squeezing suppliers to offer more for less, and can shift sourcing locations at will. Factory owners in developing countries say they are forced to operate on minimal margins, with few able to afford better worker wages or investments in safety and severance.

“The onus falls on the supplier,” said Genevieve LeBaron, a professor at the University of Sheffield in England who focuses on international labor standards. “But there is a reason the spotlight keeps falling on larger actors further up the supply chain. Their behavior can impact the ability of factories to deliver on their responsibilities.”

Jon Laster performing on Friday at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan.
Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

More than a year after the pandemic brought down the curtain at theaters and concert halls around the world, the performing arts are beginning to return to the stage.

A smattering of theater and comedy shows lit up New York stages over the last few days, but next week will see one of the higher-profile arts returns. The New York Philharmonic is scheduled to give its first live performance in a concert hall since the pandemic began: “a musical musing on Goethe,” at the Shed at the Hudson Yards development on April 14.

The reopenings come at a confusing moment in the pandemic. Vaccinations are rising in the United States — Saturday was the first time the country reported more than four million doses in a single day, according to data compiled by The New York Times — but so are case counts.

While new cases, deaths and hospitalizations are far below their January peak, the average number of new reported cases has risen 19 percent over the past two weeks.

Still, performance spaces are carefully starting to welcome audiences, at a fraction of their capacity. There remains much debate over what regulations to impose on attendees. In Israel, concertgoers are required to have a Green Pass, which certifies that they have been vaccinated, though enforcement can be spotty.

In New York, as at the Daryl Roth Theater, an Off Broadway venue, temperatures were checked as a small audience streamed in for an immersive sound performance based on the José Saramago novel “Blindness” — a dystopian tale from 25 years ago whose resonances eerily align with the present. Mayor Bill de Blasio, masked and sneaker-clad, greeted some theatergoers on the sidewalk outside with wrist and elbow bumps.

But that optimism has been tinged with more halting news that underscores how fragile these reopenings are.

The Park Avenue Armory had to postpone one of the most high-profile experiments to bring indoor live performance back to New York. A sold-out run of “Afterwardsness,” a new piece that addresses the pandemic and violence against Black people, was canceled after several members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company tested positive for the virus.

At the Comedy Cellar, a Greenwich Village club that has nursed the early careers of many comics, laughter filled the room for its first show, but reminders of reality were impossible to miss: Performers’ microphones were swapped out between each set, every fresh one covered with what looked like a miniature shower cap.

John Touhey, 27, said that his reason for coming was simple. “Just to feel something again,” he said.California officials have announced guidelines for indoor concerts, theater, sports and other events, which will be permitted beginning April 15. Capacity will be linked to a county’s health tier.

Los Angeles County, for example, on Monday moved into the orange tier, which would allow venues that hold up to 1,500 people to operate at 15 percent capacity, or 200 people. The number rises to 35 percent if all attendees are tested or show proof of vaccination.

In Minneapolis, pandemic-weary music fans may have to wait longer, but the results will be louder. First Avenue, a legendary club, last month booked its first new, non-postponed show since the pandemic began, The Star Tribune reported. The band is Dinosaur Jr., led by J. Mascis, one of the most durable indie rockers of the last 30 years. The show is scheduled for Sept. 14.

“Those people have not been catered for,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, a surgeon who is a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent in North London.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Minority communities in Britain have long felt estranged from the government and medical establishment, but their sense of alienation is suddenly proving more costly than ever amid a coronavirus vaccination campaign that depends heavily on trust.

With Britons enjoying one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world, skepticism about the shots remains high in many of the communities where Covid-19 has taken the heaviest toll.

“The government’s response to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has been rather limited,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, 52, a surgeon who is also a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent, an ethnically diverse area of North London. “Those people have not been catered for.”

As a result, communities like Brent offer fertile ground for the most outlandish of vaccine rumors, from unfounded claims that they affect fertility to the outright fabrication that shots are being used to inject microchips.

With the government seen as still disengaged in Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities even as they have been hit disproportionately hard both by the virus itself and by the lockdowns imposed to stop its spread, many local leaders like Dr. Riaz have taken it upon themselves to act.

Some are well-known and trusted figures like religious leaders. Others are local health care workers. And still others are ordinary community members like Umit Jani, a 46-year-old Brent resident.

Mr. Jani’s face is one of many featured on 150 posters across the borough encouraging residents to get tested for the virus and vaccinated, part of a local government initiative.

The goal is to reframe the community’s relationship with the power structure, and perhaps establish some trust.

“In Brent, things have been done to communities and not in partnership,” said Mr. Jani, who said he had seen the toll the virus has taken on the area’s Gujarati and Somali communities.

A line for meals at the Bowery Mission in New York last month. Some people who would benefit most from the stimulus are having the hardest time getting it.
Credit…Andrew Seng for The New York Times

For most Americans, the third stimulus payment, like the first two, arrived as if by magic, landing unprompted in the bank or in the mail.

But it’s not as straightforward for people without a bank account or a mailing address. Or a phone. Or identification.

Just about anyone with a Social Security number who is not someone else’s dependent and who earns less than $75,000 is entitled to the stimulus. But some of the people who would benefit most from the money are having the hardest time getting their hands on it.

“There’s this great intention to lift people out of poverty more and give them support, and all of that’s wonderful,” said Beth Hofmeister, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project. “But the way people have to access it doesn’t really fit with how most really low-income people are interacting with the government.”

Interviews with homeless people in New York City over the last couple of weeks found that some mistakenly assumed they were ineligible for the stimulus. Others said that bureaucratic hurdles, complicated by limited phone or internet access, were insurmountable.

Paradoxically, the very poor are the most likely to pump stimulus money right back into devastated local economies, rather than sock it away in the bank or use it to play the stock market.

“I’d find a permanent place to stay, some food, clothing, a nice shower, a nice bed,” said Richard Rodriguez, 43, waiting for lunch outside the Bowery Mission last month. “I haven’t had a nice bed for a year.”

Mr. Rodriguez said he had made several attempts to file taxes — a necessary step for those not yet in the system — but had given up.

“I went to H&R Block and I told them I was homeless,” he said. “They said they couldn’t help me.”

People dining indoors in Northville, Mich., on Sunday. Coronavirus cases are rising even as restrictions are eased, with a more transmissible variant of the virus making up many of the cases in Michigan and elsewhere.
Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

U.S. coronavirus cases have increased again after hitting a low late last month, and some of the states driving the upward trend have also been hit hardest by variants, according to an analysis of data from Helix, a lab testing company.

The country’s vaccine rollout has sped up since the first doses were administered in December, recently reaching a rolling average of more than three million doses per day. And new U.S. cases trended steeply downward in the first quarter of the year, falling almost 80 percent from mid-January through the end of March.

But during that period, states also rolled back virus control measures, and now mobility data shows a rise in people socializing and traveling. Amid all this, more contagious variants have been gaining a foothold, and new cases are almost 20 percent higher than they were at the lowest point in March.

“It is a pretty complex situation, because behavior is changing, but you’ve also got this change in the virus itself at the same time,” said Emily Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Michigan has seen the sharpest rise in cases in the last few weeks. B.1.1.7 — the more transmissible and more deadly variant of the coronavirus that was first discovered in Britain — may now make up around 70 percent of all of the state’s new cases, according to the Helix data.

Higher vaccination rates among the country’s older adults — those prioritized first in the vaccination rollout — mean that some of those at highest risk of complications are protected as cases rise again.

But almost 70 percent of the U.S. population has still not received a first dose, and only about half of those ages 65 and older are fully vaccinated. And in many states, those with high-risk conditions or in their 50s and 60s had not yet or had only just become eligible for the vaccine when cases began to rise again, leaving them vulnerable.

A gym in Saarbruecken, Germany, reopened on Tuesday to anyone with a negative coronavirus test in the previous 24 hours.
Credit…Oliver Dietze/DPA, via Associated Press

The tiny German state of Saarland, home to around 990,000 people, is making a cautious return to a new kind of normal in a pilot project that state officials hope could show how to keep the local economy open while controlling infections. From Tuesday, residents who test negative for the coronavirus will be able to use outdoor dining areas, gyms and movie theaters and even attend live theater performances.

Even as cases have continued to rise in Germany, prompting calls for a harsher national lockdown to halt a third wave of the pandemic — which has already shut down many of its European neighbors.

“More vaccinating, more testing, more mindfulness, more options: That’s the formula we want to use as Saarland break new ground in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” Tobias Hans, the governor of the state in southwestern Germany, said last week as he announced the reopening plans.

Under the guidelines, as many as 10 people can meet outdoors, and anyone with a negative test result within the previous 24 hours can visit stores, gyms, theaters and beer gardens — places that have largely been closed across Germany since the country announced a “lockdown light” in November.

(Many stores have been open since March, when a court overturned the rules.)

The Saarland project begins the same day that new regulations require travelers from the Netherlands to present a negative coronavirus test to cross the border into Germany. Travelers from the Czech Republic, France and Poland face similar measures.

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North Korea Bows Out of Tokyo Olympics, Citing Covid-19

North Korea said on Tuesday that it had decided not to participate in the 32nd Tokyo Summer Olympics because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision was made when the North’s national Olympic Committee met on March 25 in Pyongyang, where it decided a delegation would skip the Tokyo Olympics, to be held on July 23 to Aug. 8, “in order to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection,” the Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website, said.

North Korea, which has a decrepit public health system, has taken stringent measures against the virus since early last year, including shutting its borders. The country officially maintains that it has no Covid-19 cases, but outside health experts remain skeptical.

North Korea’s decision deprives South Korea and other nations of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the isolated country. Officials in the South had hoped that the Olympics might provide a venue for senior delegates from both Koreas to meet to discuss issues beyond sports.

attend the opening ceremony.

Mr. Kim used the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as the signal to start diplomacy after a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Soon, inter-Korean dialogue followed, leading to three summit meetings between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Mr. Kim also met with President Donald J. Trump three times.

But since the collapse of Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump in 2019, North Korea has shunned official contact with South Korea or the United States. The pandemic has deepened its diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties amid concerns over its nuclear ambitions. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on March 25 in its first such test in a year, in a challenge to President Biden.

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North Korea’s Arsenal Has Grown Rapidly. Here’s What’s in It.

SEOUL — North Korea test-launched what it called a newly developed tactical guided missile ​on Thursday, violating international sanctions.

It was the country’s first ballistic missile test in a year and its first provocation to the Biden administration, prompting the​ American president to warn that there will be “responses” if North Korea continues to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The United States has tried both sanctions and dialogue to persuade North Korea to ​give up its ​nuclear ​weapons programs.

Neither has worked.

Instead, North Korea​ has rapidly expanded its nuclear program and modernized its missile fleet under Kim Jong-un, the country’s young leader. The expansion of the arsenal is a growing threat to the United States and allies​ in the region. ​Here’s what’s in it.

last and most powerful nuclear test was conducted in September 2017, when North Korea claimed to have detonated ​a thermonuclear​, or hydrogen, bomb. ​Estimates of the device’s explosive power ranged from 50 to 300 kilotons.

Arms Control Association.

Although the world is preoccupied with the North’s nuclear weapons, the country has also stockpiled thousands of tons of chemical and biological​ weapons​ ​agents​ that it can deliver with its missiles​​. When Mr. Kim’s estranged half brother, Kim Jong-nam, was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, North Korea ​used the internationally banned VX nerve agent in the operation.

In 2017, North Korea made big strides in its weapons capabilities.

That year, the country fired its intermediate-range ballistic missile, Hwasong-12, over Japan and threatened an “enveloping” strike around the American territory of Guam. It also test-fired Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles.

By the end of the year, Mr. Kim claimed that his country had the ability to launch a nuclear strike against the continental United States.

threatened to end his moratorium when talks with President Donald J. Trump collapsed in 2019.

During a nighttime military parade last October, North Korea displayed a new, untested I.C.B.M. that looked bigger than any of the previous ones.

party congress in January, Mr. Kim doubled down on his nuclear arms buildup, offering a laundry list of weapons he said he planned to develop. They included “multi-warhead” nuclear missiles, “hypersonic” missiles, land- and submarine-launched I.C.B.M.s that use solid fuel, and “ultramodern tactical nuclear weapons.”

Whether North Korea has mastered the technology needed to send an intercontinental nuclear warhead into space and then guide it back through the earth’s atmosphere to its target is still unclear. North Korea has yet to demonstrate that its warhead can survive the intense heat and friction created by re-entry.

When North Korea resumed missile tests in 2019 following the collapse of the Kim-Trump talks, the tests featured three new weapons, code-named KN-23, KN-24 and KN-25 by outside experts.

They each marked big advances in North Korea’s short-range ballistic missile program.

Unlike its older missiles that used liquid fuel, all three of the new missiles used solid fuel. The new solid-fuel weapons, mounted on mobile launchers, are easier to transport and hide and take less time to prepare. And at least two of them, KN-23 and KN-24, could perform low-altitude maneuvers, making them harder to intercept.

At a military parade earlier this year, North Korea displayed what looked like a bigger, upgraded version of KN-23. Photos released by the North Korean media indicate that was the weapon tested on Thursday.

The new missile was developed to be larger than KN-23 in order to carry a bigger warhead and more fuel.

Pukguksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles since 2015.

During the military parades held in October and earlier this year, North Korea displayed what looked like two upgraded versions of its Pukguksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The country currently has only one submarine that can launch a ballistic missile, but says it is building a new one with greater capabilities.

North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world, with more than one million soldiers. But much of its equipment is old and obsolete, and the military lacks fuel and spare parts.

North Korea has sought to make up for its shortcomings by building nuclear weapons.

Mr. Kim justifies his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea by saying that the nuclear arsenal his government has built was a “treasure sword” keeping North Koreans safe from foreign invasion. He tells his people that they are under the constant threat of an American attack.

At the January party congress, Mr. Kim said that his weapons program “never precludes diplomacy” but “guarantees its success.” He has also said he no longer holds any expectations for dialogue unless Washington makes an offer that satisfies his government.

The test this week reflected Mr. Kim’s determination, analysts said.

It showed that “North Korea was pushing ahead with the plans” set down by Mr. Kim during the party meeting, said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “As it had stated before, North Korea had no intention of moving first to offer a concession or make a proposal.”

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North Korea Fired 2 Ballistic Missiles, U.S. and Japan Say

SEOUL — North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday, in its first significant provocation against the United States under President Biden, United States and Japanese officials said.

South Korea confirmed North Korea had launched two unidentified projectiles, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan was the first regional leader to identify them as “ballistic missiles.” A senior United States official also confirmed that the projectiles were ballistic missiles.

“It threatens the peace and security of Japan and the region, and is a violation of United Nations resolutions,” the Japanese leader said on Twitter, referring to the United Nations Security Council’s ban on the North’s developing and testing ballistic missile technologies. “I strongly protest and strongly condemn it.”

The missiles dropped into waters between North Korea and Japan and outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Mr. Suga said. The Japanese military said that the missiles flew 280 miles, reaching a height of 62 miles.

past four U.S. presidents. Each approached the country with different incentives and sanctions, but all failed to persuade it to stop building nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.

fired missiles over Japan and threatened to launch an “enveloping” strike near the U.S. territory of Guam.

After the country launched its first intercontinental ballistic missiles later that year, former President Donald J. Trump hoped direct talks with Mr. Kim would persuade the impoverished and isolated country to end its program.

Despite three face-to-face meetings, the leaders were unable to reach an agreement, depriving Mr. Trump of what he had hoped would be a crowning foreign policy achievement. Instead, the failed summits gave Mr. Kim more time to further develop his weapons, experts say.

Analysts are closely watching Washington to see if Mr. Biden’s approach to North Korea will follow that of former President Barack Obama, rather than the more direct engagement of Mr. Trump.

The Biden administration has been studying how to deal with North Korea, which Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has called “a hard problem.” When Mr. Blinken was in Seoul last week, he said the Biden administration planned to complete a North Korea policy review in the coming weeks in close coordination with South Korea and Japan. He said the review included both “pressure options and potential for future diplomacy.”

During the first months of his presidency, Mr. Obama was also greeted by a North Korean provocation when the country detonated a nuclear bomb. Rather than negotiate, Mr. Obama opted for a policy of “strategic patience,” which meant gradually escalating sanctions. In his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Blinken said the Biden administration would “review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem.”

In the weekend test, missiles were launched from a site near Nampo, a port southwest of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, said Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by intelligence officials on Wednesday.

it unveiled a new, untested intercontinental ballistic missile that looked bigger and more powerful than the intercontinental ballistic missile it tested in late 2017 before Mr. Kim started diplomacy with Mr. Trump.

In a party meeting in January, Mr. Kim vowed to further advance his country’s nuclear capabilities, declaring that it would build new solid-fuel I.C.B.M.s and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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How Illicit Oil Is Smuggled Into North Korea With China’s Help

On an overcast day in May 2020, a satellite captures this image over the sea near Taiwan. At first it appears to just show clouds, until you look closer and enhance the image. What you see here is a transfer of oil to a ship that will end up in North Korea in a possible violation of international sanctions. Covert oil deliveries are crucial to North Korea’s economy and its ballistic and nuclear weapons program. Our investigation focuses on one way oil is getting to North Korea. We followed the movements of a single tanker and the opaque corporate structures that surround it. We spent months unraveling the story of the ship. It’s called the Diamond 8, and it’s been identified by the United Nations multiple times for its illicit trips to North Korea. We visited businesses, ports, and tracked tankers at sea, all to find out who was behind these voyages. What we discovered were elaborate networks, many that connect to the Singapore-headquartered oil trader the Winson Group, primarily through its Taiwan operation Winson Shipping. “Catering to your needs. Winson Group.” Our investigation, which includes findings from a new report by the research groups RUSI and C4ADS, reveals for the first time how the Winson Group plays a role in North Korea’s bid to get oil. The path from a single tanker to Kim Jong-un’s regime is convoluted. When we laid it all out in a flow chart, it looks like this — so we’re going to simplify it by focusing on the Diamond 8. And we’ll also look at two tankers that transport oil to it — the Ever Grandeur and the Superstar. These ships are connected by more than just their meet-ups at sea. They have ties to a handful of people who on the surface seem unconnected, but when we looked deeper, we found that most of the key individuals are linked to the same village in China’s Fujian Province. And they all have connections to both Winson Shipping and the Winson Group. Let’s first look at how the oil gets to North Korea. We analyzed photos and past videos of the Diamond 8, matched them with satellite imagery and took measurements to create a visual fingerprint. This allowed us to follow the Diamond 8’s movements last year. We confirmed our findings with experts who track oil tankers in North Korean ports. We’re going to show you two of its trips to North Korea. The first one, in February 2020, starts here, idling empty in the waters off of Fujian province, a region where oil smuggling has historically been rampant. It heads out and picks up oil from the Ever Grandeur near Taiwan and goes straight to North Korea. That trip is pretty direct. The one we uncovered in May 2020, not so much. But here’s what we know. The Diamond 8 sets off down Taiwan’s coast. It passes a port on April 30, where a second, much larger red tanker is loading up oil. That tanker, called Superstar at the time, follows the Diamond 8 to international waters, according to the ship’s transmissions. Cloudy skies that day appear to shield the operation from satellites, but as we saw, a hole in the clouds reveals the oil transfer. For three weeks, the Diamond 8 doesn’t enter any ports. It’s mostly just lingering in open waters. Then it sails north. Its required transmission signal disappears for eight days, but we found it during that window in this port in North Korea. The dimensions and features match the Diamond 8, a finding confirmed by experts. When we spot it again, its signal is back on and it’s back near Taiwan, meeting up with the Superstar to get more oil. We wanted to know who was behind the Ever Grandeur and Superstar, the two ships that supplied the oil to the Diamond 8, so we looked at shipping records to examine their history and management. Let’s start with the Ever Grandeur. We actually went and filmed it while it sat idle in the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Only five miles away is the company that controls the ship. It’s called Glory Sparkling. Chien Yuan Ju, a Winson Shipping executive, told us they didn’t set up Glory Sparkling. But we found clues the companies are interconnected. Glory Sparkling’s address was on floors owned by Winson Shipping. Its address changed only after we started asking questions. And Glory Sparkling’s website, it was registered with the name of a Winson Shipping employee. We also have evidence showing that a high-ranking Winson Shipping manager named Zuo Fasheng, seen here with the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, has also worked for Glory Sparkling. We found his signature on documents for both companies, including on paperwork for the Ever Grandeur. Officials from Panama, where the Ever Grandeur is registered, told us their records show Zuo Fasheng is currently listed as the operator of the ship. Now let’s take a closer look at the Superstar, the second ship supplying oil to the Diamond 8. It’s actually much more straightforward. Winson Shipping owns it, and they confirmed the May 2020 transfer to us, but told us the ship was leased to someone else when the operation took place. But they haven’t said who. Together, these details indicate how Winson Shipping is connected to both ships that provided oil to the Diamond 8, even after the ship had been publicly outed by the UN for illicitly delivering oil to North Korea. So let’s look at the Diamond 8 itself. Winson Shipping actually owned it until 2016. And from then until 2018, every company linked to it listed their addresses and office space as owned by Winson Shipping. When we talked to their shipping manager, he said that Winson Shipping sold the ship years ago, but he also made a bold statement: It’s “ten thousand percent impossible” that it ever went to North Korea. That’s not true. Our investigation and U.N. reports show the Diamond 8 has been to North Korea at least four times since late 2019. So finding out exactly who is behind the Diamond 8 is not straightforward or easy. To learn more, we had to look to Indonesia. The registered owner of the ship is Tan Jeok Nam, a 62-year-old retiree who lives here in a modest neighborhood. He told us that he was simply a sailor who couldn’t afford to buy the $1.4 million vessel. Something clearly doesn’t add up. So we set out to find who sold him the ship — at least on paper. When we reviewed the bill of sale, we noticed the seller appears to be the daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Tsoi Ming Chi. Tsoi is also linked to the company that manages the Diamond 8. When we visited that company in Indonesia, there was no sign of a shipping business. It’s another dead end. So back to the retired Indonesian sailor, Tan. There’s one more thing you need to know about him. He actually used to work on oil tankers. One of the tankers belonged to a Hong Kong company owned by the late Wong Tin Chuk. Wong, Tsoi — these two businessmen have something else in common. They both have links to Winson companies, including through a leased office space, mortgages, and have exchanged ships with each other, according to a report by research groups RUSI and C4ADS. And there’s a personal nexus, too. Wong and Tsoi are tied to the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, through the same village in China’s Fujian region, population 2,600. In fact, all three belonged to the village’s hometown club and the alumni association of the same middle school. Two of them have been accused of smuggling in the past. Take Tony Tung, for example. He’s faced multiple smuggling and bribery investigations. His only conviction was later overturned. Soon after he founded the Winson Group in the 1990s, Tung and his brothers were accused of smuggling cigarettes and oil into China, according to court documents and state media. One of Tung’s brothers was sentenced to life in prison. He served three years and was later pardoned. At the time of the trial, Tung had already left China. Over the last five years, Tung has stepped down from executive positions at the Winson Group and handed over the reins to his daughter, Crystal Tung. In a statement to The Times, she said, “The allegations against Winson Group are unfounded and false. Winson Group did not take any actions in violation of applicable sanctions against North Korea or any sanctioned countries.” After The Times asked questions about the company’s involvement in oil deliveries to North Korea, Winson Shipping Taiwan changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Chien Yuan Ju, the executive who spoke to The Times, was also replaced as the official representative of the company. The mysterious retired sailor, the oil trader, the maze of companies — taken together, they expose an elaborate system that conceals one way oil is getting to North Korea despite some of the strongest sanctions in history, and how Kim Jong-un continues to defy the international community. As for the Diamond 8, it’s back in Fujian, China, awaiting its next orders. Its operators are now using a new trick: transmitting a fake ship name to hide its true identity. “Hey, this is Christoph, one of the reporters on this story. We spent months investigating who is providing oil to a sanctions-busting tanker that is delivering oil to North Korea. We looked at a lot of satellite images, reviewed corporate records and interviewed key players. It was a massive team effort involving reporters in four countries. What you’ve just watched is only a small part of our reporting, and you can find more details at nytimes.com/ visualinvestigations. If you have any other info on this story, we’d love to hear from you. And, of course, if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to The New York Times. Thanks.”

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North Korea Launches Missile Test as Tensions Rise With U.S.

SEOUL — North Korea test-fired two short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, South Korean defense officials confirmed Wednesday, adding to a series of provocations and statements in recent weeks that experts say are warnings to Washington.

The test took place off the west coast of North Korea on Sunday, just days after the country accused the United States and South Korea of raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula with their annual military drills. It did not violate United Nations resolutions, which ban North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies. It did, however, mark the country’s first missile test since President Biden took office in January.

When North Korea launches missile tests, they are usually celebrated through state media and quickly confirmed by the South Korean military. ​But North Korean media has not reported on Sunday’s test. South Korean officials​ said Wednesday that they had​ detected the test when it occurred, but decided not to immediately report on it. They did not elaborate on their decision.

South Korean defense officials tend to consider short-range cruise missile tests less of a provocation than ballistic launches. They also tend not to highlight what they consider minor provocations from the North when trying to promote inter-Korean dialogue. Sill, when North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles off its east coast in April last year, they were promptly confirmed by South Korea. ​In this case, South Korean officials only confirmed the test after it was first reported by The Washington Post.

extradite the North Korean businessman, who is set to face trial in an American court on charges of money laundering and violating international sanctions. North Korea accused Washington of being a “backstage manipulator” in the case, and warned that it would “pay a due price.”

It also said​ that it felt no need to respond to recent attempts by the Biden administration to establish dialogue, dismissing them as a “delaying-time trick.”

As Washington strengthens its alliances with Tokyo and Seoul​, Mr. Kim and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, have vowed to bring their two communist countries closer together.

In a message to Mr. Xi reported in North Korean media this week, Mr. Kim stressed the need to strengthen the unity between the two countries in order to “cope with the hostile forces.” In his own message to Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi vowed to ​help ​preserve “peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s latest missile test suggests Mr. Kim “will tolerate continued economic reliance on China in order to come out of the pandemic on the offensive against Washington and Seoul,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

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How We Tracked Secret Oil Deliveries to North Korea

On an overcast day in May 2020, a satellite captures this image over the sea near Taiwan. At first it appears to just show clouds, until you look closer and enhance the image. What you see here is a transfer of oil to a ship that will end up in North Korea in a possible violation of international sanctions. Covert oil deliveries are crucial to North Korea’s economy and its ballistic and nuclear weapons program. Our investigation focuses on one way oil is getting to North Korea. We followed the movements of a single tanker and the opaque corporate structures that surround it. We spent months unraveling the story of the ship. It’s called the Diamond 8, and it’s been identified by the United Nations multiple times for its illicit trips to North Korea. We visited businesses, ports, and tracked tankers at sea, all to find out who was behind these voyages. What we discovered were elaborate networks, many that connect to the Singapore-headquartered oil trader the Winson Group, primarily through its Taiwan operation Winson Shipping. “Catering to your needs. Winson Group.” Our investigation, which includes findings from a new report by the research groups RUSI and C4ADS, reveals for the first time how the Winson Group plays a role in North Korea’s bid to get oil. The path from a single tanker to Kim Jong-un’s regime is convoluted. When we laid it all out in a flow chart, it looks like this — so we’re going to simplify it by focusing on the Diamond 8. And we’ll also look at two tankers that transport oil to it — the Ever Grandeur and the Superstar. These ships are connected by more than just their meet-ups at sea. They have ties to a handful of people who on the surface seem unconnected, but when we looked deeper, we found that most of the key individuals are linked to the same village in China’s Fujian Province. And they all have connections to both Winson Shipping and the Winson Group. Let’s first look at how the oil gets to North Korea. We analyzed photos and past videos of the Diamond 8, matched them with satellite imagery and took measurements to create a visual fingerprint. This allowed us to follow the Diamond 8’s movements last year. We confirmed our findings with experts who track oil tankers in North Korean ports. We’re going to show you two of its trips to North Korea. The first one, in February 2020, starts here, idling empty in the waters off of Fujian province, a region where oil smuggling has historically been rampant. It heads out and picks up oil from the Ever Grandeur near Taiwan and goes straight to North Korea. That trip is pretty direct. The one we uncovered in May 2020, not so much. But here’s what we know. The Diamond 8 sets off down Taiwan’s coast. It passes a port on April 30, where a second, much larger red tanker is loading up oil. That tanker, called Superstar at the time, follows the Diamond 8 to international waters, according to the ship’s transmissions. Cloudy skies that day appear to shield the operation from satellites, but as we saw, a hole in the clouds reveals the oil transfer. For three weeks, the Diamond 8 doesn’t enter any ports. It’s mostly just lingering in open waters. Then it sails north. Its required transmission signal disappears for eight days, but we found it during that window in this port in North Korea. The dimensions and features match the Diamond 8, a finding confirmed by experts. When we spot it again, its signal is back on and it’s back near Taiwan, meeting up with the Superstar to get more oil. We wanted to know who was behind the Ever Grandeur and Superstar, the two ships that supplied the oil to the Diamond 8, so we looked at shipping records to examine their history and management. Let’s start with the Ever Grandeur. We actually went and filmed it while it sat idle in the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Only five miles away is the company that controls the ship. It’s called Glory Sparkling. Chien Yuan Ju, a Winson Shipping executive, told us they didn’t set up Glory Sparkling. But we found clues the companies are interconnected. Glory Sparkling’s address was on floors owned by Winson Shipping. Its address changed only after we started asking questions. And Glory Sparkling’s website, it was registered with the name of a Winson Shipping employee. We also have evidence showing that a high-ranking Winson Shipping manager named Zuo Fasheng, seen here with the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, has also worked for Glory Sparkling. We found his signature on documents for both companies, including on paperwork for the Ever Grandeur. Officials from Panama, where the Ever Grandeur is registered, told us their records show Zuo Fasheng is currently listed as the operator of the ship. Now let’s take a closer look at the Superstar, the second ship supplying oil to the Diamond 8. It’s actually much more straightforward. Winson Shipping owns it, and they confirmed the May 2020 transfer to us, but told us the ship was leased to someone else when the operation took place. But they haven’t said who. Together, these details indicate how Winson Shipping is connected to both ships that provided oil to the Diamond 8, even after the ship had been publicly outed by the UN for illicitly delivering oil to North Korea. So let’s look at the Diamond 8 itself. Winson Shipping actually owned it until 2016. And from then until 2018, every company linked to it listed their addresses and office space as owned by Winson Shipping. When we talked to their shipping manager, he said that Winson Shipping sold the ship years ago, but he also made a bold statement: It’s “ten thousand percent impossible” that it ever went to North Korea. That’s not true. Our investigation and U.N. reports show the Diamond 8 has been to North Korea at least four times since late 2019. So finding out exactly who is behind the Diamond 8 is not straightforward or easy. To learn more, we had to look to Indonesia. The registered owner of the ship is Tan Jeok Nam, a 62-year-old retiree who lives here in a modest neighborhood. He told us that he was simply a sailor who couldn’t afford to buy the $1.4 million vessel. Something clearly doesn’t add up. So we set out to find who sold him the ship — at least on paper. When we reviewed the bill of sale, we noticed the seller appears to be the daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Tsoi Ming Chi. Tsoi is also linked to the company that manages the Diamond 8. When we visited that company in Indonesia, there was no sign of a shipping business. It’s another dead end. So back to the retired Indonesian sailor, Tan. There’s one more thing you need to know about him. He actually used to work on oil tankers. One of the tankers belonged to a Hong Kong company owned by the late Wong Tin Chuk. Wong, Tsoi — these two businessmen have something else in common. They both have links to Winson companies, including through a leased office space, mortgages, and have exchanged ships with each other, according to a report by research groups RUSI and C4ADS. And there’s a personal nexus, too. Wong and Tsoi are tied to the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, through the same village in China’s Fujian region, population 2,600. In fact, all three belonged to the village’s hometown club and the alumni association of the same middle school. Two of them have been accused of smuggling in the past. Take Tony Tung, for example. He’s faced multiple smuggling and bribery investigations. His only conviction was later overturned. Soon after he founded the Winson Group in the 1990s, Tung and his brothers were accused of smuggling cigarettes and oil into China, according to court documents and state media. One of Tung’s brothers was sentenced to life in prison. He served three years and was later pardoned. At the time of the trial, Tung had already left China. Over the last five years, Tung has stepped down from executive positions at the Winson Group and handed over the reins to his daughter, Crystal Tung. In a statement to The Times, she said, “The allegations against Winson Group are unfounded and false. Winson Group did not take any actions in violation of applicable sanctions against North Korea or any sanctioned countries.” After The Times asked questions about the company’s involvement in oil deliveries to North Korea, Winson Shipping Taiwan changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Chien Yuan Ju, the executive who spoke to The Times, was also replaced as the official representative of the company. The mysterious retired sailor, the oil trader, the maze of companies — taken together, they expose an elaborate system that conceals one way oil is getting to North Korea despite some of the strongest sanctions in history, and how Kim Jong-un continues to defy the international community. As for the Diamond 8, it’s back in Fujian, China, awaiting its next orders. Its operators are now using a new trick: transmitting a fake ship name to hide its true identity. “Hey, this is Christoph, one of the reporters on this story. We spent months investigating who is providing oil to a sanctions-busting tanker that is delivering oil to North Korea. We looked at a lot of satellite images, reviewed corporate records and interviewed key players. It was a massive team effort involving reporters in four countries. What you’ve just watched is only a small part of our reporting, and you can find more details at nytimes.com/ visualinvestigations. If you have any other info on this story, we’d love to hear from you. And, of course, if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to The New York Times. Thanks.”

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What We Learned From Our Investigation into Covert Oil Deliveries to North Korea

On an overcast day in May 2020, a satellite captures this image over the sea near Taiwan. At first it appears to just show clouds, until you look closer and enhance the image. What you see here is a transfer of oil to a ship that will end up in North Korea in a possible violation of international sanctions. Covert oil deliveries are crucial to North Korea’s economy and its ballistic and nuclear weapons program. Our investigation focuses on one way oil is getting to North Korea. We followed the movements of a single tanker and the opaque corporate structures that surround it. We spent months unraveling the story of the ship. It’s called the Diamond 8, and it’s been identified by the United Nations multiple times for its illicit trips to North Korea. We visited businesses, ports, and tracked tankers at sea, all to find out who was behind these voyages. What we discovered were elaborate networks, many that connect to the Singapore-headquartered oil trader the Winson Group, primarily through its Taiwan operation Winson Shipping. “Catering to your needs. Winson Group.” Our investigation, which includes findings from a new report by the research groups RUSI and C4ADS, reveals for the first time how the Winson Group plays a role in North Korea’s bid to get oil. The path from a single tanker to Kim Jong-un’s regime is convoluted. When we laid it all out in a flow chart, it looks like this — so we’re going to simplify it by focusing on the Diamond 8. And we’ll also look at two tankers that transport oil to it — the Ever Grandeur and the Superstar. These ships are connected by more than just their meet-ups at sea. They have ties to a handful of people who on the surface seem unconnected, but when we looked deeper, we found that most of the key individuals are linked to the same village in China’s Fujian Province. And they all have connections to both Winson Shipping and the Winson Group. Let’s first look at how the oil gets to North Korea. We analyzed photos and past videos of the Diamond 8, matched them with satellite imagery and took measurements to create a visual fingerprint. This allowed us to follow the Diamond 8’s movements last year. We confirmed our findings with experts who track oil tankers in North Korean ports. We’re going to show you two of its trips to North Korea. The first one, in February 2020, starts here, idling empty in the waters off of Fujian province, a region where oil smuggling has historically been rampant. It heads out and picks up oil from the Ever Grandeur near Taiwan and goes straight to North Korea. That trip is pretty direct. The one we uncovered in May 2020, not so much. But here’s what we know. The Diamond 8 sets off down Taiwan’s coast. It passes a port on April 30, where a second, much larger red tanker is loading up oil. That tanker, called Superstar at the time, follows the Diamond 8 to international waters, according to the ship’s transmissions. Cloudy skies that day appear to shield the operation from satellites, but as we saw, a hole in the clouds reveals the oil transfer. For three weeks, the Diamond 8 doesn’t enter any ports. It’s mostly just lingering in open waters. Then it sails north. Its required transmission signal disappears for eight days, but we found it during that window in this port in North Korea. The dimensions and features match the Diamond 8, a finding confirmed by experts. When we spot it again, its signal is back on and it’s back near Taiwan, meeting up with the Superstar to get more oil. We wanted to know who was behind the Ever Grandeur and Superstar, the two ships that supplied the oil to the Diamond 8, so we looked at shipping records to examine their history and management. Let’s start with the Ever Grandeur. We actually went and filmed it while it sat idle in the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Only five miles away is the company that controls the ship. It’s called Glory Sparkling. Chien Yuan Ju, a Winson Shipping executive, told us they didn’t set up Glory Sparkling. But we found clues the companies are interconnected. Glory Sparkling’s address was on floors owned by Winson Shipping. Its address changed only after we started asking questions. And Glory Sparkling’s website, it was registered with the name of a Winson Shipping employee. We also have evidence showing that a high-ranking Winson Shipping manager named Zuo Fasheng, seen here with the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, has also worked for Glory Sparkling. We found his signature on documents for both companies, including on paperwork for the Ever Grandeur. Officials from Panama, where the Ever Grandeur is registered, told us their records show Zuo Fasheng is currently listed as the operator of the ship. Now let’s take a closer look at the Superstar, the second ship supplying oil to the Diamond 8. It’s actually much more straightforward. Winson Shipping owns it, and they confirmed the May 2020 transfer to us, but told us the ship was leased to someone else when the operation took place. But they haven’t said who. Together, these details indicate how Winson Shipping is connected to both ships that provided oil to the Diamond 8, even after the ship had been publicly outed by the UN for illicitly delivering oil to North Korea. So let’s look at the Diamond 8 itself. Winson Shipping actually owned it until 2016. And from then until 2018, every company linked to it listed their addresses and office space as owned by Winson Shipping. When we talked to their shipping manager, he said that Winson Shipping sold the ship years ago, but he also made a bold statement: It’s “ten thousand percent impossible” that it ever went to North Korea. That’s not true. Our investigation and U.N. reports show the Diamond 8 has been to North Korea at least four times since late 2019. So finding out exactly who is behind the Diamond 8 is not straightforward or easy. To learn more, we had to look to Indonesia. The registered owner of the ship is Tan Jeok Nam, a 62-year-old retiree who lives here in a modest neighborhood. He told us that he was simply a sailor who couldn’t afford to buy the $1.4 million vessel. Something clearly doesn’t add up. So we set out to find who sold him the ship — at least on paper. When we reviewed the bill of sale, we noticed the seller appears to be the daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Tsoi Ming Chi. Tsoi is also linked to the company that manages the Diamond 8. When we visited that company in Indonesia, there was no sign of a shipping business. It’s another dead end. So back to the retired Indonesian sailor, Tan. There’s one more thing you need to know about him. He actually used to work on oil tankers. One of the tankers belonged to a Hong Kong company owned by the late Wong Tin Chuk. Wong, Tsoi — these two businessmen have something else in common. They both have links to Winson companies, including through a leased office space, mortgages, and have exchanged ships with each other, according to a report by research groups RUSI and C4ADS. And there’s a personal nexus, too. Wong and Tsoi are tied to the Winson Group’s founder, Tony Tung, through the same village in China’s Fujian region, population 2,600. In fact, all three belonged to the village’s hometown club and the alumni association of the same middle school. Two of them have been accused of smuggling in the past. Take Tony Tung, for example. He’s faced multiple smuggling and bribery investigations. His only conviction was later overturned. Soon after he founded the Winson Group in the 1990s, Tung and his brothers were accused of smuggling cigarettes and oil into China, according to court documents and state media. One of Tung’s brothers was sentenced to life in prison. He served three years and was later pardoned. At the time of the trial, Tung had already left China. Over the last five years, Tung has stepped down from executive positions at the Winson Group and handed over the reins to his daughter, Crystal Tung. In a statement to The Times, she said, “The allegations against Winson Group are unfounded and false. Winson Group did not take any actions in violation of applicable sanctions against North Korea or any sanctioned countries.” After The Times asked questions about the company’s involvement in oil deliveries to North Korea, Winson Shipping Taiwan changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Chien Yuan Ju, the executive who spoke to The Times, was also replaced as the official representative of the company. The mysterious retired sailor, the oil trader, the maze of companies — taken together, they expose an elaborate system that conceals one way oil is getting to North Korea despite some of the strongest sanctions in history, and how Kim Jong-un continues to defy the international community. As for the Diamond 8, it’s back in Fujian, China, awaiting its next orders. Its operators are now using a new trick: transmitting a fake ship name to hide its true identity. “Hey, this is Christoph, one of the reporters on this story. We spent months investigating who is providing oil to a sanctions-busting tanker that is delivering oil to North Korea. We looked at a lot of satellite images, reviewed corporate records and interviewed key players. It was a massive team effort involving reporters in four countries. What you’ve just watched is only a small part of our reporting, and you can find more details at nytimes.com/ visualinvestigations. If you have any other info on this story, we’d love to hear from you. And, of course, if you like what you’re seeing, subscribe to The New York Times. Thanks.”

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