SINGAPORE: A 47-year-old Malaysian woman living at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent is Singapore’s first reported case of locally-transmitted Zika virus infection, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Saturday (Aug 27).
As she had not travelled to Zika-affected areas recently, she was likely to have been infected in Singapore, MOH and NEA said in a joint news release.
According to MOH and NEA, the patient had developed symptoms such as fever, rash and conjunctivitis from Thursday. She visited a general practitioner (GP) on Friday and was referred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC), where she tested positive for the Zika virus on Saturday.
“She has since been hospitalised for observation at the CDC. The patient is currently well and recovering,” the news release said.
Map of Block 102, Aljunied Crescent. (Map: Google Maps)
MOH is screening the patient’s close contacts, including household members, the release stated, adding that it is also carrying out Zika testing on others living and working in the area, who have symptoms of fever and rash.
“At this point, three other suspect cases – two in a family who live in the area and an individual who works in the area – had preliminarily tested positive based on their urine samples. They are pending further confirmation tests,” the release stated.
The release said MOH has alerted all GPs around the patient’s home and workplace to be extra vigilant and to immediately report patients with symptoms associated with Zika virus infection to MOH. As an added precaution, all suspect Zika cases will be isolated while awaiting confirmation of the blood test results, the release added.
Block 102 Aljunied Crescent, where the patient lives.
“MOH and NEA will also actively alert residents in the vicinity to seek medical attention should they develop symptoms,” the release said.
This comes after Singapore reported its first imported Zika case on May 13. The patient, a 48-year-old man, had travelled to Brazil from Mar 27 to May 7.
“With the presence of Zika in our region and the volume of travel by Singaporeans as well as tourists, it is inevitable that there will be imported cases of Zika into Singapore. There is also risk of subsequent local transmission, as the Aedes mosquito vector is present here. While MOH and NEA have stepped up precautionary measures, we expect that there may be further cases, as most infected persons may display mild or no symptoms,” the release added.
Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said: “MOH and NEA are working together to carry out vector control and testing of residents in that area with fever and rashes so as to reduce the risk of further spread. I encourage those who are unwell and with these symptoms to visit their doctors for medical attention. We have also alerted our clinics in the area to look out for suspect cases and refer them to the CDC for testing.”
INTENSIFIED VECTOR CONTROL OPERATIONS IN VICINITY OF ALJUNIED CRESCENT
The release also said NEA has intensified vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in the vicinity of Aljunied Crescent by deploying about 100 officers to inspect the area.
- Inspecting all premises, ground and congregation areas
- Conducting mandatory treatment such as ultra-low volume (ULV) misting of premises and thermal fogging of outdoor areas to kill adult mosquitoes
- Increasing frequency of drain flushing and oiling to prevent breeding
- Public education outreach and distribution of insect repellents
When Channel NewsAsia visited Aljunied Crescent on Saturday evening, NEA flyers were seen on lift landings, informing residents of the symptoms and dangers of the Zika virus. There were also flyers stating that fogging would be carried out on Sunday, due to dengue cases in the area.
“NEA is also conducting outreach efforts and distributing Zika information leaflets and insect repellents to residents living in the area,” the release said.
Additionally, the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force will be activated to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading further.
The release also noted that the patient’s residence at Aljunied Crescent is not located in an active dengue cluster, but there are two active dengue clusters nearby, each with two cases. It added that as the majority of people infected with the virus do not show symptoms, it is possible that some transmission may already have taken place before this case of Zika was notified.
“Hence, even as NEA conducts operations to contain the transmission of the Zika virus, residents are urged to cooperate fully with NEA and allow its officers to inspect their premises for mosquito breeding and to spray insecticide to kill any mosquitoes. NEA may need to gain entry into inaccessible premises by force after serving of requisite Notices, to ensure any breeding habitats are destroyed quickly,” the release said.
Authorities also urged members of the public to take immediate steps to prevent mosquito breeding in homes by doing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout every alternate day, and protect themselves from mosquito bites by applying insect repellent regularly.
“Zika is generally a mild disease. It may cause a viral fever similar to dengue or chikungunya, with fever, skin rashes, body aches, and headache. But many people infected with the Zika virus infection do not even develop symptoms,” the release stated.
“Zika virus infection can however cause microcephaly in the unborn foetuses of pregnant women. We advise residents, especially pregnant women, in the Aljunied Crescent area to monitor their health. They should seek medical attention if they are unwell, especially with symptoms such as fever and rash. They should also inform their doctors of the location of their residence and workplace. Those without these symptoms but who are concerned that they have been infected with the Zika virus should consult and follow the advice of their doctors regarding the monitoring of their pregnancy,” the release added.
Members of the public should refer to MOH’s webpage on Zika for the latest health advisory, authorities added.
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SINGAPORE: A pall cloaked Singapore on Friday (Aug 26) as haze from central Sumatra was blown in by the prevailing westerly winds, according the the National Environment Agency (NEA).
Several people took to social media and called in to Channel NewsAsia to say that they detected a burning smell in various parts of Singapore. Readings on the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) crept into the Unhealthy range from 4pm, and was highest in the west at 7pm at 114.
Cloudy skies seen at Clarke Quay at around 10.25am. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)
Hazy skies seen over western Singapore on Friday (Aug 26) morning.
The 1-hr PM2.5 readings, which peaked at 216 µg/m3 in the West at noon have since dropped to about 59 to 84.
The PSI incorporates six types of pollutants – sulphur dioxide, particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), particulate matter that is 10 micrometres in diameter or smaller (PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Of the six, PM2.5 is considered particularly hazardous as the small size of the particles enters the human lungs more easily.
PSI TO BE IN UNHEALTHY RANGE: NEA
In a statement at around 11.50am, NEA said the haze was likely to have been blown in by westerly winds over Singapore. A total of three hotspots were detected in central Sumatra on Thursday with localised smoke plumes were visible, the authority said, adding that the low hotspot count was due to cloudy conditions.
By 6pm, NEA said the overall PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Unhealthy range and that the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration is expected to fluctuate between Elevated and High.
A view of central Singapore on Friday. (Photo: Calvin Oh)
Haze blanketing Singapore, as seen from Beach Road. (Photo: John Choo)
Grey skies above Tampines.
National University of Singapore Assistant Professor of Geography Winston Chow said the haze was caused by a change in wind direction from southerly or southwesterly to westerly winds on Friday morning, combined with hotspots in central Sumatra that generated smoke plumes that were carried over the Malacca Straits.
He also said how long the haze would last in the immediate term would depend on the wind direction as Singapore would be affected by plumes from central Sumatra as long as there were westerly winds. “That said, it’s forecast that there is a likely change in wind direction over the next few days to a more south or southeasterly direction, which should improve air quality as long as there are no hotspots and smoke plumes from South Sumatra or West Kalimantan.”
7,000 PERSONNEL ON THE GROUND TO FIGHT FIRES: INDONESIA
Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Friday evening that the haze which appeared in Singapore skies was from forest fires in Indonesia’s Riau province.
In a statement, BNPB said that monitoring posts on the ground had reported 67 hotspots in the province, with most of the hotspots from the Rokan Hilir district.
BNPB said that efforts to put out the fires in Riau were continuing, and that more than 7,000 personnel were on the ground to extinguish the flames. Assets to conduct water bombing, including three helicopters and two Air Tractors aircraft, have been deployed. One Casa aircraft has been mobilised for cloud seeding operations.
The Chief Executive Officer of NEA has written to his Indonesian counterpart to register concern. “NEA urged Indonesia to continue taking the necessary actions to prevent and mitigate the fires during this dry season, and asked for an update on the situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan,” the agency said.
Back in March this year, when a burning smell was detected in some parts of Singapore, the NEA said it could have been caused by some local vegetation fires.
It added that fires and some wind convergence over Singapore could have also contributed to the deterioration in the air quality in some parts of the island.
NEA said on Friday that the health impact of haze was dependent on one’s health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity.
“Given the air quality forecast for the next 12 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention.”
SINGAPORE: In the unpredictable world of Olympic sports, there are few things which can be said with near certainty. China winning table tennis gold medals is one of them.
Since the sport was introduced into the Summer Games in 1988, China’s players have won 28 out of the 32 gold medals.
In the last three Olympics – Beijing, London and Rio – they swept all the gold medals on offer.
China has such an abundance of top players that its exports playing for other countries, including Singapore, regularly pick up silver and bronze medals.
Such dominance is not normal. No other country has held such a stranglehold over a sport, or even comes close to it.
South Korea’s strength in archery is one of the closest. It has won 23 out of 40 gold medals since modern archery was introduced in the Olympics in 1972.
But their win percentage of 57.5 is far from the bull’s eye mark of the Chinese paddlers, who have managed 87.5 per cent of gold medals.
And in case you’re wondering, such dominance is not normal even for China. The country has done superbly in diving and badminton, but they remain a distance from the supremacy of their table tennis compatriots.
China has won 71 per cent of the gold medals in diving since participating in the 1984 Games, and a rather humble 53 per cent of the badminton titles.
Clearly, China’s state-run sports system of a large talent pool, early scouting, and ruthless internal culling are not the only explanations for the unique success of its table tennis players.
There is something special about the sport in the world’s most populous country.
Chinese schoolboys show off their table tennis skills during a practice session at a sports school in Beijing in 1996. (Photo: AFP)
A critical person behind the sport’s unique status in China is a filmmaker from London named Ivor Montagu.
The scion of a Jewish banking dynasty in England developed a strong interest in table tennis, codified the rules of the sport, and set up the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) in the 1920s.
He was also a fervent communist who believed that table tennis could help spread the ideology throughout the world.
The simple game was perfectly suited for the proletariat during a workday and the “balls were so light they flew best in windowless rooms”, meaning workers could play table tennis in factories, wrote Nicholas Griffin in The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World.
When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over China in 1949, Montagu was convinced that table tennis could help the new People’s Republic connect to the rest of the world.
So while the rest of the sporting world, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), continued to recognise the Republic of China, the ITTF had the foresight to invite Beijing to join in 1951.
Chinese athletes carrying a huge portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong on Oct 1, 1955 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing celebrating National Day. (Photo: AFP)
MAO’S SPIRITUAL NUCLEAR WEAPON
For the young People’s Republic, which was ostracised by much of the rest of the world, Montagu’s welcome was a godsend.
The CCP’s leaders like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai were already playing the sport and Mao quickly declared table tennis the “national sport”, or guo qiu, of the country. That status remains till today.
In 1959, the country made a major breakthrough. Rong Guotuan won the men’s singles title in the World Table Tennis Championships in Germany.
He was the first Chinese world champion of any sport since the founding of the People’s Republic. Japan, the powerhouse of the sport at the time and arch enemy of China after World War II, swept all the other titles, making Rong’s win extra sweet.
National pride soared and the propaganda value of the victory took on extra significance since it occurred during the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic’s founding.
Table tennis became the symbol of China’s rise after a century of humiliation by the Western powers and Japan.
Mao congratulated Rong personally and hailed table tennis as China’s “spiritual nuclear weapon”. China would successfully test its first actual nuclear weapon only five years later in 1964.
WHEN DOMINATION BEGINS
The sport truly took off in China. The low-maintenance game was a perfect fit for the impoverished nation.
All that was needed was a concrete slab acting as a table and a row of bricks standing in as a net.
Cramped Chinese urban neighbourhoods had no problems finding space for it, as compared to a tennis court, for instance.
In the countryside, peasants could easily rustle up a table, two paddles and a ball for hours of low-cost enjoyment.
Most Chinese who grew up in that era knew only one sport: table tennis. For example, former top leaders like Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao showcased their ping pong abilities during visits to Japan.
China grew stronger in the sport and began winning more world titles in the early 1960s at the expense of Japan.
The growth was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution in 1966, when top players were persecuted by the Red Guards. Rong committed suicide in 1968 after a period spent in detention.
An American delegation of tennis table players pose with Chinese communist leaders in April 1971. (Photo: AFP)
PING PONG DIPLOMACY
But China bounced back in the 1970s and an epochal event further cemented table tennis’ special place in the hearts of the Chinese people.
In the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, a 19-year-old hippie American player named Glenn Cowan boarded a bus carrying the Chinese team.
The Chinese version of this story says that Cowan went up the bus mistakenly. Cowan said he was invited aboard by the Chinese.
An American tennis table player trains with a Chinese tennis table player in Beijing in April 1971. (Photo: AFP)
George Brathwaite returns a shot to China’s Liang Geliang on Jul 24, 1997 at the UN in New York during an exhibition match celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Ping Pong Diplomacy”, which marked the start of a US-China dialogue initiated by the Nixon administration in 1971 and 1972. (Photo: AFP)
Regardless, the top Chinese player Zhuang Zedong, who had already won three world singles titles, approached Cowan on the bus with a gift.
The exchange gave Beijing the opening it was looking for to seek détente with the United States, its erstwhile Cold War adversary.
Mao seized on it and invited the American ping pong team to visit China. The US paddlers became the first Americans to officially visit the People’s Republic.
This famous ping pong diplomacy paved the way for US President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China the next year.
Chairman Mao Zedong (L) welcomes US President Richard Nixon on Feb 22, 1972. President Nixon urged China to join the United States in a “long march together” on different roads to world peace. (Photo: AFP)
By 1979, the US transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The IOC followed suit the same year, opening the way for China to participate at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for the first time.
In more ways than one, table tennis was the vehicle which helped China to reach out to the world during and after decades of isolation.
This has earned the sport an exalted status in the country, drawing resources and attention in a manner which surpasses other games.
When Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008, then President Hu attended the women’s table tennis team final between China and Singapore and knew all the details of the players on both sides.
Barring a major change in politics in China, such devotion and sentimentality to the sport from the highest echelon to the grassroots, is likely to continue.
Expect China to reign supreme in table tennis for many more years.
* The writer is author of When the Party Ends, winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2016, and former China bureau chief of The Straits Times. He is also the founding partner of The Nutgraf, a writing and communications agency.
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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak paid tribute to the late former Singapore President S R Nathan when he signed the condolence book at the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on Friday (Aug 26).
Mr Nathan passed away peacefully at the Singapore Gerneral Hospital on Aug 22, three weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 92.
Mr Najib thanked him for his many contributions, describing him as “a great advocate of closer ties” between Malaysia and Singapore. Mr Nathan served as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia from 1988 to 1990.
“On behalf of the government and people of Malaysia, I express my heartfelt condolences,” Mr Najib wrote. “The late President when he was a high commissioner and subsequently, President of Singapore, was a great advocate of closer ties between Malaysia and Singapore and for this we are very much appreciative of his contributions.”
The Malaysian delegation attending the funeral in Singapore Friday afternoon will be led by Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai. The delegation includes Youth Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Minister in the Prime Minister’s department Joseph Kurup.
Mr Najib Razak’s condolence note at the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
AMMAN: Animals evacuated this week from a zoo dubbed the “world’s worst” in the Palestinian Gaza Strip have arrived at an animal shelter in Jordan, an AFP photographer said on Thursday (Aug 25).
Two turtles, two eagles, two porcupines, a pelican, an emu and a deer arrived late Wednesday near Amman after travelling from Gaza via Israel, said Amir Khalil, a vet from the charity organising the transfer.
(Photo: AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI)
Animal welfare charity Four Paws on Wednesday said it evacuated 15 animals – including Gaza’s last tiger Laziz – out of the Khan Yunis zoo, as they headed for a new life outside the Israeli-blockaded territory.
The tiger was put on a plane and flown to South Africa where it arrived on Thursday, while five monkeys remained in Israel, Khalil said.
The animals that arrived in Jordan were placed in quarantine at the New Hope Centre, a shelter near Amman, “while waiting to be transferred somewhere bigger”, the vet said.
The animals would now have access to food and necessary treatment, Khalil said.
Dozens of animals had died at the Khan Yunis zoo, some of starvation, and badly stuffed bodies of dead crocodiles, lions and others were left in the open, surrounded by piles of bones.
(Photo: AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI)
Four Paws says on its website that Khan Yunis had “been known as the ‘worst zoo in the world’ since it became public last year that the zoo was crudely mummifying the animals that died in their care and displaying them.”
There were more than 100 animals housed at the zoo in the years after its 2007 opening, but they were decimated by repeated wars and shortages of customers.
The Israeli blockade of the enclave and Egypt’s closed border have suffocated its economy, making it increasingly hard for Gazans to find money for leisure.
SINGAPORE: Statutory audits and high-quality financial reports are most valued by institutional and retail investors in Singapore, according to the findings of a survey released on Thursday (Aug 25) at the Singapore Accountancy Convention 2016.
The study which surveys the views of investors, was commissioned by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA), and conducted by the NUS Business School. Over 200 retail and institutional investors were surveyed.
The study found that investors rated financial statements as the most important source for making investment decisions, compared to other sources such as company announcements and analyst reports. Financial statements that have been audited were also found to be more valued by investors.
Meanwhile, transparency was also a key area of focus in the survey, where a majority of investors want audit committees to explain their basis of choice for auditors. They also want audit committees to use ACRA’s audit quality indicators (AQIs) framework that was introduced last year when evaluating appointment of auditors.
Investors also tend to focus on directors’ experience, remuneration and independence, as well as the company’s internal controls and risk management policies when assessing the quality of corporate governance.
Associate Professor of NUS Business School Mak Yuen Teen said: “The survey supports the importance of regulatory programmes and other initiatives to improve financial reporting and audit quality, and ACRA’s efforts in this regard have contributed significantly to the trust that local and international investors have in the quality of financial reporting and audit especially for Singapore-incorporated companies.”
Commenting on the study, Chief Executive of ACRA Kenneth Yap said: “Companies should develop a culture of disclosure by default and engage investors early and in a timely fashion. Audit committees are urged to openly address key financial concerns and respond to key audit matters raised by auditors in the new reporting format.”
The survey findings have also provided the impetus for a new guidebook to better educate investors, said ACRA in a press statement.
Speaking at the convention, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah announced ACRA is working with ISCA and the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) SIAS to develop a guide for investors to explain the disclosures under the enhanced auditor’s report.
She said: “The guide will also help investors understand how they can use these enhanced audit disclosures to obtain greater insights into the company’s financial statements.”
The guide is expected to be issued early next year, in time for the next annual cycle of Annual General Meetings traditionally held in March and April.
Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah at the Singapore Accountancy Convention 2016. (Photo: Calvin Hui)
NEW REGULATIONS TO RAISE AUDIT QUALITY BAR
Separately, Ms Indranee also announced several new regulations to raise the quality bar among auditors in Singapore. These were developed from audit inspections conducted under its Practice Monitoring Programme (PMP), which is an audit inspection programme.
According to Ms Indranee, audit firms that conduct listed company audits have consistently shown improvements over the years and are on course to meet a key audit quality target set by the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators (IFIAR).
The target set is for such audit firms to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in the percentage of inspected audit engagements with at least one finding in 4 years’ time. Between 2015 and 2016, inspection results have already shown a 27 per cent reduction.
To ensure auditors continue to maintain such standards, ACRA will soon implement several measures, including meeting the standard of IFIAR. Six Audit Quality Indicators (AQI) targets will also be introduced, which will provide firms as well as audit committees with a common yardstick to compare audit quality.
ACRA will also publish the names of auditors who fail their inspections twice and received a hot review or restriction. Already, ACRA publishes the names of auditors whose licenses have been suspended or cancelled for serious audit deficiencies found during ACRA’s inspections.
These measures will apply to inspections conducted from 1 April 2017.
To help auditors raise standards, ACRA will also introduce a supervisory process, where suitable auditors will review the work of auditors who are under inspection.
“I would like to stress this is not meant to be a punitive measure. Public accountants found to be deficient tin their initial inspections will be given an opportunity to improve and rectify deficiencies before a revisit inspection take place”, said Ms Indranee.
YANGON: A powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar Wednesday (Aug 24), killing at least three people and damaging some 60 pagodas in the famous ancient city of Bagan, officials said.
The quake, which the US Geological Survey said hit at a depth of 84 kilometres (52 miles), was also felt across neighbouring Thailand, India and Bangladesh, sending panicked residents rushing onto the streets.
Two girls, aged 7 and 15, were killed in Magway region where the quake struck, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information.
A collapsed building in a nearby town also killed a 22-year-old man and injured one woman, local police told AFP.
Heavy damage was reported in Bagan – Myanmar’s most famous archaeological site and a major tourist destination some 30 kilometres north of the quake’s epicentre.
“About 60 pagodas in Bagan were damaged. Some were seriously damaged,” said Aung Kyaw, the director of Bagan’s culture department.
Photos showed clouds of dust billowing around some of the site’s massive temples, with bricks crumbling down their tiered facades.
A tourist police officer from Bagan said a Spanish holidaymaker was slightly hurt when the quake knocked her from the temple where she was watching the sunset.
Scaling Bagan’s ancient structures to watch the sun set over the city’s 2,500 monuments is a daily ritual among tourists and local pilgrims.
The temples, built between the 10th and 14th centuries, are revered in the Buddhist-majority country and a top draw for its growing tourism industry.
Myanmar, which has opened its doors to a rising tide of visitors since emerging from junta rule in 2011, is eager to see the ancient capital designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The ancient Sulamuni temple is seen shrouded in dust as a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Bagan (Photo: AFP/Oe Moe Aung)
Soe Win, a local politician from Chauk – the riverside town closest to the epicentre – said the tremors were the worst he had experienced in years.
“More than eight pagodas in town collapsed,” the 50-year-old told AFP, referring to Chauk. “Two buildings collapsed as well, while some others were cracked. People in town are still scared.”
Damage was also reported in the capital Naypyidaw some 200 kilometres away, with MP Thiri Yadanar posting photos on Facebook of cracked glass windows inside a parliament building.
People stand outside their offices after they rushed outdoors following tremors in Kolkata, India. (Photo: AP/Bikas Das)
The earthquake caused high-rise buildings in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon to sway, as well as those in the Thai capital Bangkok and the Indian city of Kolkata.
“Services of the underground railway have been suspended fearing aftershocks of the quake,” Kolkata Metro Railway spokesman Indrani Banerjee told AFP.
The quake was also felt throughout south and southwestern Bangladesh close to the border with Myanmar, with residents running outside.
At least 20 people were injured as workers tried to flee a building in the Savar industrial district outside Dhaka, ATN Bangla television reported.
“All of us ran to the streets leaving the houses and shops unsecured as the quake seemed very dangerous,” Nazmus Sakib, from the southern city of Chittagong near the Myanmar border, wrote on his Facebook wall.
Earthquakes are relatively common in Myanmar, although the country has not suffered a major one since 2012.
That powerful tremor – also of 6.8 magnitude – struck the centre of the country, killing 26 people and injuring hundreds.
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