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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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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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