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More than 500 Infected on Japanese Cruise Ship After 14-Day Quarantine

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  • As of Tuesday morning, 1,875 people have died from the coronavirus outbreak, with nearly all of those deaths occurring in China. More than 73,000 people have been infected worldwide.
  • Outside of China, only a few hundred cases have been confirmed, with the largest outbreak occurring on a Japanese cruise ship where 542 people have been infected.
  • That ship, the Diamond Princess, is expected to end a 14-day quarantine period on Wednesday.
  • On Sunday, the U.S. evacuated 340 Americans from the ship. They will now undergo another 14-day quarantine at air bases in California and Texas.

Diamond Princess Cases Rise

As the Diamond Princess cruise ship prepares to allow passengers to disembark following a 14-day quarantine, the coronavirus infection rate aboard the ship continues to rise.

On Tuesday, 88 more cases were confirmed aboard the Japanese cruise ship docked in Yokohama, bringing the total to 542 cases. The outbreak on the ship has become the largest outside of mainland China, where more than 72,000 have been infected and 1,870 have died. 

Outside of mainland China, there have only been several hundred confirmed cases and five deaths: one each in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and France.

Despite a surge in cases, the Diamond Princess will allow passengers who test negative for the virus, now known as COVID-19, to disembark beginning Wednesday. Because passengers will be released in the order they were tested, the disembarkment is expected to last until Friday.

Twelve medically vulnerable guests who have already tested negative for the virus, however, were allowed to leave early on Feb. 16.

How Did the Infection on the Ship Get So Bad?

Because they are enclosed spaces, cruise ships are known to be hotspots for infection. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, multiple cruise ships have been forced to initiate quarantine measures, but the situation on the Diamond Princess has led to about one in seven people on board testing positive for the coronavirus.

The incident began on Jan. 20 when an 80-year-old man from Hong Kong boarded the ship, which then traveled from Yokohama to Hong Kong. On January 25th, that man disembarked in Hong Kong.

On Feb. 1, he reportedly went to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with the coronavirus. After that, medical staff on the Diamond Princess began testing passengers for the virus.

On Feb. 4, the Diamond Princess finished its voyage and docked in Yokohama; however, it canceled its next voyage, which was supposed to begin the same day. Later that evening, cruise officials confirmed that 10 people onboard the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus.

They were then taken to land by the Japanese Coast Guard and transported to local hospitals for treatment. Notably, the other 3,700 people on the ship were told they would not be allowed to leave and would be subject to a 14-day quarantine as required by Japan’s Ministry of Health.

Soon after, 10 more people tested positive. By Feb. 6, 41 more people tested positive for the virus, including 8 Americans. On Feb 8, Princess Cruises announced 6 more cases aboard the ship. On Feb. 9, it announced 66 more cases. Then, another 39 on Feb. 10. And so on.

What Is Life Like on the Ship?

The Diamond Princess has imposed a strict quarantine even onboard the ship. Reportedly, its passengers are largely confined to their cabins. 

If passengers don’t have windows in their rooms or outside access, they arere allowed to go on deck, but they are only allowed outside for up to an hour and a half and must stay three feet from anyone else.

While confined to their rooms, guests have been reliant on the crew, who have delivered everything from meals to towels to medicine to their doors. 

“They’ve basically been told that they need to take care of all these potentially sick people,”  one passenger told TIME Magazine. “They’re kind of the unsung heroes here.”

According to TIME, some people have taken to posting messages on their cabins doors thanking the crew.

“Thank you, all!” one reads. “We know and appreciate everything you are all doing. Stay Healthy, stay strong, and please know you are the real heroes!”

Another photo shows thanks notes written in multiple languages.

Source: Time Magazine

Of the some 500 infected, 33 of those have been crew, but unlike passengers, they’re not afforded a lot of the same protections. For one, there are a lot more risks involved because they must go door to door to deliver items to passengers. For two, they’re also bunking with multiple people, sharing toilets, and eating in mess halls. 

After one crew member who had been delivering meals to guests reportedly came down with a fever last week, he isolated himself in his cabin and was told to take acetaminophen, a common pain-killer. When he ran out, he said it took more than a day for the medical team to replenish his supply. 

During this time and even after recovering from his fever, he was still sharing a cabin.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he told TIME. “There’s not enough cabins for those sick crew members [to isolate themselves in] so they decided to tell us to just stay in our cabins.”

Later, both the man and his cabin-mate were taken to the hospital after testing positive for the virus. 

Last week, Princess Cruises offered its crew aboard the Diamond Princess two months paid vacation for their work onboard the ship.

The United States Evacuates Americans Aboard the Ship

On Sunday, the U.S. made the decision to allow American passengers still aboard the Diamond Princess to fly out of the country on charter planes. 

According to the U.S. Embassy in Japan, no symptomatic or infected passengers would be allowed to board, and all passengers would be screened before the flights. 

Those passengers were then flown to air bases in Texas and California, where they have begun another two-week quarantine. That means, by the time they are allowed to be released, they will have spent almost a full month under quarantine. 

Even though the U.S. said it wouldn’t fly out passengers who were infected with the coronavirus, 14 people tested positive for the virus during their journey to the airport. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the State then decided to allow those passengers to board and be taken home but separated them in “specialized containment area[s].” 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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Image via Pixabay
  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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