Jack Ma: The billionaire trying to stop coronavirus (and fix China’s reputation)

The richest man in China opened his own Twitter account last month, in the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak. So far, every one of his posts has been devoted to his unrivalled campaign to deliver medical supplies to almost every country around the world.

“One world, one fight!” Jack Ma enthused in one of his first messages. “Together, we can do this!” he cheered in another.

The billionaire entrepreneur is the driving force behind a widespread operation to ship medical supplies to more than 150 countries so far, sending face masks and ventilators to many places that have been elbowed out of the global brawl over life-saving equipment.

But Ma’s critics and even some of his supporters aren’t sure what he’s getting himself into. Has this bold venture into global philanthropy unveiled him as the friendly face of China’s Communist Party? Or is he an independent player who is being used by the Party for propaganda purposes? He appears to be following China’s diplomatic rules, particularly when choosing which countries should benefit from his donations, but his growing clout might put him in the crosshairs of the jealous leaders at the top of China’s political pyramid.

Other tech billionaires have pledged more money to fight the effects of the virus – Twitter’s Jack Dorsey is giving $1bn (£0.8bn) to the cause. Candid, a US-based philanthropy watchdog that tracks private charitable donations, puts Alibaba 12th on a list of private Covid-19 donors. But that list doesn’t include shipments of vital supplies, which some countries might consider to be more important than money at this stage in the global outbreak.

No one else other than the effervescent Ma is capable of dispatching supplies directly to those who need them. Starting in March, the Jack Ma foundation and the related Alibaba foundation began airlifting supplies to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and even to politically sensitive areas including Iran, Israel, Russia and the US.

Ma has also donated millions to coronavirus vaccine research and a handbook of medical expertise from doctors in his native Zhejiang province has been translated from Chinese into 16 languages. But it’s the medical shipments that have been making headlines, setting Ma apart.

“He has the ability and the money and the lifting power to get a Chinese supply plane out of Hangzhou to land in Addis Ababa, or wherever it needs to go,” explains Ma’s biographer, Duncan Clark. “This is logistics; this is what his company, his people and his province are all about.”

A friendly face

Jack Ma is famous for being the charismatic English teacher who went on to create China’s biggest technology company. Alibaba is now known as the “Amazon of the East”. Ma started the company inside his tiny apartment in the Chinese coastal city of Hangzhou, in the centre of China’s factory belt, back in 1999. Alibaba has since grown to become one of the dominant players in the world’s second largest economy, with key stakes in China’s online, banking and entertainment worlds. Ma himself is worth more than $40bn.

Officially, he stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman in 2018. He said he was going to focus on philanthropy. But Ma retained a permanent seat on Alibaba’s board. Coupled with his wealth and fame, he remains one of the most powerful men in China.

It appears that Ma’s donations are following Party guidelines: there is no evidence that any of the Jack Ma and Alibaba Foundation donations have gone to countries that have formal ties with Taiwan, China’s neighbour and diplomatic rival. Ma announced on Twitter that he was donating to 22 countries in Latin America. States that side with Taiwan but who have also called for medical supplies – from Honduras to Haiti – are among the few dozen countries that do not appear to be on the list of 150 countries. The foundations repeatedly refused to provide a detailed list of countries that have received donations, explaining that “at this moment in time, we are not sharing this level of detail”.

However, the donations that have been delivered have certainly generated a lot of goodwill. With the exception of problematic deliveries to Cuba and Eritrea, all of the foundations’ shipments dispatched from China appear to have been gratefully received. That success is giving Ma even more positive attention than usual. China’s state media has been mentioning Ma almost as often as the country’s autocratic leader, Xi Jinping.

Coronavirus: Doctors seek extension to lockdown

Ahead of the imminent review of the lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian Medical Association has advised the Federal Government to again extend the lockdown, which ends on Monday (tomorrow).

This, the association said, would help to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus disease.

It added that with the “exponential” rise in the number of cases recorded across the country daily, people should not see the lockdown as a punishment but a necessary measure to contain the spread of the deadly virus. It, however, stressed the need for fair distribution of the palliatives to cushion the hardship the restriction had caused Nigerians.

But the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture; the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association; and the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Muda Yusuf, opposed the possible extension of the total lockdown, saying the government should consider the partial opening of the economy.

The President had on March 29 imposed a 14-day lockdown on the FCT and the two states to contain the spread of the virus. At the end of the 14 days, which terminated on April 13, the President extended the lockdown, saying the pandemic had become a matter of life and death and that it was no longer a joke.

However, barely a day to the end of the extension, stakeholders have disagreed on whether the President should extend the lockdown or ease it. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, had maintained that only the President could decide on whether there would be an extension of the lockdown or it would be lifted.

As of April 13 when the President extended the lockdown, the number of cases was 343 in 19 states and the FCT. The number of deaths was 10 while 91 persons had been discharged. But, there were 87 new cases on Saturday, pushing the number of cases to 1,182 in 28 states and the FCT. The number of deaths rose to 35 while 222 persons had been discharged.

The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, said on Sunday that the state had yet to reach its COVID-19 peak despite recording the highest case so far. He had also warned on March 27 that the state might see up to 39,000 cases but that if everyone practised good social distancing, the figure would be limited to 13,000.

During the week, the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, had also hinted that the virus would eventually spread to all the 36 states. “There is no reason why it won’t (extend to every state in Nigeria), it is a respiratory virus,” he added.

The DG also said on Tuesday that the President would make tougher decisions in the coming week on measures to contain the spread of the virus. He, however, advised Nigerians to be prepared for the tougher directives. “Next week, Mr President will make some very difficult decisions for the country in terms of the lockdown in three states but also across the country in different ways,” he added.

Already, there is increasing tension and impatience among people in the affected states and the FCT over the possibility that the lockdown might be extended.

Coronavirus: US records 2,494 new deaths in 24 hours

The United States recorded 2,494 more coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, according to figures reported Saturday night by Johns Hopkins University.

The country now has an overall death toll of 53,511, with 936,293 confirmed infections, according to a tally by the Baltimore-based university at 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Sunday).

The United States is by far the hardest-hit country in the global pandemic, in terms of both confirmed infections and deaths.

The toll of 2,494 was a jump from Friday, when the US recorded the lowest number of virus deaths — 1,258 — in nearly three weeks.

AFP

Football: Arsenal players to resume training next week

Arsenal’s squad will be allowed back to their training ground from next week, although the club stressed they would still have to maintain British government guidelines designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Premier League side’s players will have access to training pitches but on a strict rotational basis that will see them uphold social distancing measures.

“Players will be permitted access to our London Colney training grounds next week,” said a club spokesperson.

“Access will be limited, carefully managed and social distancing will be maintained at all times.

“All Colney buildings remain closed. Players will travel alone, do their individual workout and return home.”

This week saw Arsenal become the first Premier League club to agree a coronavirus pay cut with their players as manager Mikel Arteta and his stars slashed their wages by 12.5 percent.

There are reports Arsenal, whose yearly wage bill is around £230 million ($286 million), will give players their money back in the event that they bridge an eight-point gap and qualify for the Champions League when football restarts.

Football is currently suspended indefinitely in England, with the UK under lockdown.

(AFP)

Lockdown relaxed in Anambra state as churches resume activities

Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, has relaxed the coronavirus lockdown imposed on the state and has asked churches to commence full activities.

The governor stated this in a broadcast to the people of the state on Saturday evening.

Before the broadcast, church activities had been restricted for 14 days as one of the measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Saturday, Obiano asked churches to resume full activities, stating that the worshippers must wear face masks and observe the World Health Organisation’s guidelines during worship.

The governor announced that movements around the state were not restricted, stressing, however, that all boundaries in the state remained closed.

He said, “With regards to religious groups, leaders of the church should ensure that worshippers comply with the standards protocols of COVID-19 which includes wearing of face masks to church, use of hand sanitizers, social distancing and regular washing of hands.

“Church leaders should decide how best to conduct mass and service in strict adherence to the principles of social distancing to ensure that worshippers are not endangered. Please note that there should be no crusades and vigils for the time being.

“All food and drug markets in the state are to open with immediate effect.

“I will meet with market leaders on Monday, 27th April, for further discussion. When to re-open the schools as well as when civil servants will be allowed to go back to offices will be announced soon.”

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Anambra has recorded one case of over 1000 cases of coronavirus in the country.