- Many countries have implemented travel restrictions on China and foreigners who have visited China to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
- In Hong Kong, hospital workers launched a 5-day strike after leader Carrie Lam refused to fully close the city’s border with China, despite pressure from across the political spectrum and the fact that other countries have closed their shared border with China.
- China slammed the U.S. in particular for its strict travel restrictions, arguing that U.S. media condemned the Trump administration’s decision to impose the new rules.
- Some disputed that claim, noting that media outlets in the U.S. have received criticism for sensationalist headlines and fostering xenophobia.
WHO Announces More Coronavirus Cases and Deaths
More and more countries around the world have ramped up travel restrictions as fears over the coronavirus continue to spread.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that there have been 17,238 confirmed cases and 361 deaths in China.
He also said that there were 151 confirmed cases in 23 other countries and one death, which was reported by the Philippines on Sunday.
“Last week I declared a public health emergency of international concern over the outbreak of #2019nCoV.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 3, 2020
As of this morning, there are 17,238 confirmed cases in 🇨🇳 & 361 deaths. Outside 🇨🇳, there are 151 confirmed cases in 23 countries & 1 death”-@DrTedroshttps://t.co/JvKC0PTett
In a warning to his colleagues at the WHO executive board meeting, Tedros stated that “panic and fear” were the real challenges in addressing the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s no reason to really panic now,” he said. “The chances of getting this going to anywhere outside China is very low, and even in China, when you go to other provinces, it’s very low.”
Tedros also reiterated that there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” a point the WHO has repeated since it declared that the coronavirus an international emergency.
U.S. Travel Restriction
But global leaders appear to be ignoring that warning.
The U.S., for example, has already implemented some of the strongest measures. On Friday, President Donald Trump’s administration declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and imposed strict travel restrictions.
In the announcement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that all foreign nationals who have been to China in the past 14 days will be barred from entering the states starting Sunday.
Those restrictions do not apply to immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
The secretary also described restrictions for the Hubei province, which houses Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first broke out. Under the new rules, U.S. citizens who visited the Hubei province in the last two weeks will be subject to quarantine for 14 days.
U.S. citizens who have been to other areas of mainland China in the last two weeks will be subject to screening for 14 days as well.
Following Azar’s announcement, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman criticized the Trump administration’s response.
“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way,” she said. “Certainly not a gesture of goodwill.”
Other Countries Impose Restrictions
The U.S. is not the only country to impose travel restrictions.
According to reports, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand have implemented similar travel bans on foreign nationals who have gone to China.
Other countries like Japan and South Korea have denied entry from foreigners who visited the Hubei province.
Italy and Israel have reportedly stopped all incoming air traffic from China, while airlines all over the world have also announced they will not fly to or from the country.
North Korea and Mongolia, which share borders with China, have sealed them entirely.
But Hong Kong, which is an autonomous city-state of China and shares a land border, has not fully closed its borders with the country.
That decision, however, has been highly contested in Hong Kong, which has reported 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Pro-democracy protestors, hospital workers, businesses, and even some pro-government lawmakers have all called on the city’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, to close the border shared with China immediately.
Lam put some travel restrictions in place last week. On Monday she announced the closure of four more crossing points along the city’s border with mainland China, defying calls for full closure and leaving three crossing points open.
In response, thousands of hospital workers in Hong Kong have launched a five-day strike calling for all border crossings to be sealed. Lam, for her part, has said a full closure would be “a discriminatory approach.”
But others have argued that Lam is just listening to directives from the Chinese Communist Party, and is putting her obligations to the party before her own people in the face of a growing public health crisis.
Chinese Response and Media Criticism
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a statement Monday that China respects the decision of some countries to “adopt or enhance quarantine measures at border entry,” but added, “some countries, the US in particular, have inappropriately overreacted, which certainly runs counter to WHO advice.”
The spokeswoman said that the U.S. response “could only create and spread fear, which is a very bad example.”
“Even American media and experts doubted the government’s decision, saying that the US government’s restrictions on China are precisely what the WHO rejects, that the US is turning from overconfidence to fear and overreaction, and that banning the entry of visitors who traveled to China in the past 14 days is suspected to be violating civil rights instead of reducing risks of virus spreading,” she continued.
Following this statement, some argued that the opposite may be true, noting that the media, especially in the U.S., has been criticized for creating hysteria and fearmongering around the coronavirus outbreak.
Some have even blamed the media for fostering a recent spike in xenophobia. According to reports, the University of California Berkeley faced backlash after the administration stated that “xenophobia” is a “common” or “normal” reaction to coronavirus.
However, reports of xenophobia are not limited to the U.S. Chinese Canadians have also reported an uptick in nationality and race-based prejudice, which they say is largely due to social media.
On Monday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte called on his country to stop stirring up anti-Chinese sentiments.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)
Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion
- Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
- The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
- The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.
Ever Given Still in Egypt
An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.
The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.
The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.
Pushing Back Against The Claim
While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”
“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”
It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.
See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)
Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean
- The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
- The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
- Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
- Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Radioactive or Bad Publicity?
After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”
While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.
According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.
Something Had To Eventually Be Done
Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.
The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.
The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.
Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.
“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.
To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.
Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality
- Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
- “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
- Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
- Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.
The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.
In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.
“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.
“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”
“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.
Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.
“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.
“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.
Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts
According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.
Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.
Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.
Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.
Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.
Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.
At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.
On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.