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China to advocate ‘one couple, 2 children’ policy

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Chinese lawmakers consider amending the family planning law to allow couples to have two children amid efforts to counter shrinkage of the work force and an ageing population.

“The State advocates that one couple can give birth to two children,” Xinhua cited a draft amendment submitted for review at the bi-monthly session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee which opened on Monday.

The draft came after the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee decided in October to give the go ahead for the universal two-child rule, which will replace the decades-long “one couple, one child” policy.

Li Bin, head of National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), said the CPC’s decision was made to adapt to the transition of China’s population from young to old currently underway.

In order to implement the decision, the top legislature must amend the family planning law which took effect in 2002.

Under the current law, citizens who marry late and delay childbearing may be entitled to longer nuptial and maternity leaves. Couples who volunteer to have only one child in their lifetime enjoy rewards.

The articles were deleted in the draft, implying the new law will likely take effect on January 1, 2016.

The amendment will not affect the welfare enjoyed by the elderly whose family abides by the current family planning law, parents who have only one child and parents whose only child is disabled or deceased.

While clarifying the draft, Li said people who have been receiving rewards and assistance before the law was amended will continue to receive it afterwards.

The draft also allows couples of a reproductive age to make their own choice whether to adopt contraceptive methods. It no longer stipulates that couples shall accept technical services and guidance for family planning.

Medical institutes will also be able to employ assisted reproductive technology after being authorised based on their personnel, facilities and ethical management, according to the draft.

Trade of sperm, ovum and embryo is forbidden. Surrogate pregnancy in any form is not allowed. Those involved in such actions would receive punishment ranging from warnings and fines to criminal penalties, according to the draft.

China’s family planning policy was first introduced in the 1970s to rein in the surging population.

Since its implementation, the policy has resulted in an estimated reduction of some 400 million people in China, but it was also blamed for generating a number of social problems, mainly a decreasing labour force and an ageing population.

In 2013, China relaxed its birth rules, allowing couples to qualify for a second birth if one of the partners was an only child.

The one-child policy was abandoned at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee held in October this year.

The change of policy is intended to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population, according to a communique issued after key meeting.

Experts believe that being able to have two children will benefit about 100 million families around the country.

The change in policy is expected to mean over 30 million more people in the labour force by 2050 and a decrease of two percentage points in the share of elderly of Chinese population, said Wang Peian, deputy head of the NHFPC, in a press conference held in November.

The total population will slightly increase, with its peak reached at 1.45 billion in 2029, Wang said.

The adopting of the two-child policy is also expected to boost China’s economic growth rate by about 0.5 percent, he said.

Wefornews Bureau

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Japan’s Abe lifts state of emergency

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Tokyo, May 25 (IANS) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday lifted the countrys nationwide state of emergency, ending restrictions in the remaining areas where the order was still in effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had very stringent criteria for lifting the state of emergency. We have judged that we have met this criteria,” the BBC quoted Abe as saying said in a televised address to the nation on Monday.

He said the country had managed to control the spread of COVID-19 since issuing the order in some areas on April 7, then later extending it nationwide.

Japan has been easing restrictions since mid-May, but kept several areas, Tokyo included, under watch to ensure the outbreak had been contained.

Unlike other major economies, Japan has endured a relatively limited outbreak of OVID-19, recording 820 coronavirus-related deaths and 16,550 infections as of Monday.

Initially, Japan was criticised for its handling of the pandemic, prompting the prime minister to declare a state of emergency in metropolitan areas on April 7, later expanding it nationwide.

Monday’s decision came after the number of infections and the situation of the health system in Tokyo, the three neighbouring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama and the northern Hokkaido, the only ones where the state of emergency remained in effect, reports Efe news.

The group of experts advising the government appreciated the efforts made by citizens to comply with the recommendations to achieve the target of reducing interpersonal contact by 80 per cent, top government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference on Monday.

The recommendation for citizens to avoid unnecessary trips outside and the request for non-essential businesses to close were not mandatory nor accompanied by fines or other penalties for non-compliance, unlike the stricter containment measures implemented in other countries.

The government had already decided to lift the emergency in 39 prefectures on May 14 after they reported a marked decrease in the number of infections, leaving out the more populated regions such as Tokyo and Osaka.

To avoid new outbreaks of the virus, Abe has urged people to become accustomed to a “new lifestyle” that includes maintaining social distancing, the use of masks outside as well as a series of guidelines for the reopening of shops, restaurants and public facilities.

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UK PM aide’s row overshadows plans to ease lockdown

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Boris Johnson

London, May 25 (IANS) Pressure was mounting on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to act over his senior aide Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip, as the cabinet is slated to met on Monday to discuss plans to ease the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Cummingss, the former Vote Leave chief who was the architect of Johnson’s Brexit strategy, is facing calls to resign after it emerged that he travelled from London to his parents’ home in Durham with coronavirus symptoms during the lockdown, reports the BBC.

Speaking at Sunday’s Downing Street briefing, Johnson said he believed Cummings had “no alternative” but to make the journey at the end of March for childcare “when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus”.

The Prime Minister said he held “extensive” discussions on Sunday with Mr Cummings, who he said “followed the instincts of every father and every parent – and I do not mark him down for that”.

However, the BBC report said that the Prime Minister was finding it difficult to shift the political focus away from his key adviser.

Speaking to the BBC, Acting Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said that the row over Cummings was “preventing the government from getting on and doing its job, and doing it better”.

He said that Johnson should sack Cummings “so the government has more credibility in what it says about public health”.

“The instruction the Prime Minister gave us all to stay at home has been breached by his top adviser and that’s what you can’t get away from in this story, its pretty simple.

“I hope the prime minister will come to his senses, recapture his judgement and reinstall authority on this crisis by acting,” he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, some of the scientists that advise ministers were also concerned that Johnson’s decision to back Cummings would undermine the message on controlling the virus.

Stephen Reicher, a professor of social psychology who has advised the government on behavioural science during the pandemic, told the BBC that trust was vital to maintaining public health measures, adding: “You can’t have trust if people have a sense of them and us, that there’s one rule for them and another rule for us.”

Also responding to the row, Bishop of Leeds, the Right Reverend Nick Baines, said Johnson was treating people “as mugs” and the Bishop of Bristol, the Right Reverend Vivienne Faull, accused the Prime ,inister of having “no respect for people”.

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Seoul kindergarten student tests COVID-19 positive

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Seoul, May 25 (IANS) A kindergarten student in Seoul has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the South Korean capital city’s education office said on Monday.

The development comes just two days ahead of the planned second-phase resumption of South Korean schools, including kindergartens, reports Yonhap News Agency.

The six-year-old student is believed to have contracted the virus from his art teacher at Young Rembrandts, a private art school in Magok .

The teacher, who tested positive on Sunday, had taught 35 students at the institute until Friday and had contact with three other staff members.

The teachers all wore masks and followed the institute’s quarantine guidelines and social distancing rules, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

The art school’s 91 students, three teachers and two parents have been tested for the virus and are awaiting their results, which will come out on Tuesday.

The teacher’s 38 contacts have been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days, and 13 educational institutes in the same building as the art school will be closed for disinfection.

The boy’s kindergarten, 10 nearby kindergartens and five nearby elementary schools will remain closed for two days for disinfection and other precautionary measures, said the Yonhap News Agency report.

Under the government’s phased school reopening plan, schools are scheduled to resume in-person classes for the two lowest grades of elementary school, kindergarten students, middle school seniors and second-year high school students on Wednesday.

High school seniors returned to school last week after more than two months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has so far infected 11,206 South Koreans and killed 267 others.

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