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Italy Issues Nationwide Coronavirus Lockdown Amid Panic and Prison Riots

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  • On Sunday, Italy extended quarantine measures to 14 northern provinces in the country, locking 16 million people—a quarter of Italy’s population—in the region. 
  • Inmates at more than two dozen Italian prisons rioted in protest of overcrowded conditions as the country deals with a massive coronavirus outbreak.
  • Some prisoners escaped while six others died after they broke into an infirmary and overdosed.
  • By Monday, the Italian government announced it would further expand travel restrictions to the entire country of 60 million people.

Italy Quarantines 16 Million People

The Italian government has imposed a massive quarantine measure affecting all of Italy and its 60 million residents.

Monday, it announced that the country’s travel restrictions would be expanded across all of Italy. On Sunday, Italy issued a similar quarantine in 14 northern provinces on Sunday, preventing 16 million people—a quarter of the country’s population—from leaving the region.

The decree, which will not be lifted until April 3rd, also shuts down movie theaters, gyms, bars as well as public and private events. Those private events even include weddings and funerals. 

Italy faces one of the worst outbreaks in the world, with 7,300 cases as of Monday morning. It now compares to South Korea which also has recorded 7,300 cases, but only 50 people have died.

In Italy, the death rate has been much higher, with the death toll jumping from 233 to 366 between Saturday and Sunday. 

Notably, most of those deaths have occurred in the northern region of Lombardy. 

With an increasingly worsening situation, the Italian government planned to close the region on Sunday, but on Saturday, an Italian newspaper leaked a draft of the decree that extended Italy’s “red-zone” quarantine to 14 northern provinces. 

That leak then prompted people to flee the region in buses and trains before the lockdown was imposed. Many have even described the measure as “draconian,” because even though China issued a similar lockdown, it is a communist nation while Italy is a democracy. 

If caught leaving one of the red zones, people can be fined or even face jail time. 

Italian Prison Riots

In prisons, the situation escalated, with prisoners in more than two dozen facilities protesting overcrowded conditions and fearing that the coronavirus could easily spread among cells.

Reportedly, those protests quickly turned into riots with several prisoners escaping from one facility. Other prisoners at a different facility also escaped prison walls and climbed onto the roof, holding up a painted sheet that read, “Indulto,” the Italian word for “pardon.”

In one prison, six inmates died on Monday after they broke into an infirmary and overdoses on drugs. 

Outside of prisons, inmates’ families protested on the streets, some clashing with police. Part of the reason why those inmates’ families showed up is that in addition to overcrowded conditions, prisons have stopped allowing visitors to see inmates to reduce the spread of the virus. 

Health Officials Say U.S. Is Past the Point of Containment

In the United States, the number of cases has also climbed, with nearly 550 cases reported Monday morning. Of those, 22 people are dead, and 19 of those deaths are from Washington state alone.

Washington’s outbreak began after several patients at a nursing home came down with the coronavirus. 

Several health officials have also indicated that the U.S. is past the point of containment. Now the goal is to try to protect as many people from catching the virus as possible. 

“Initially, we had a posture of containment so that we could give people time to prepare for where we are right now,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CNN. “Now, we’re shifting into a mitigation phase, which means that we’re helping communities understand you’re going to see more cases. Unfortunately, you’re going to see more deaths, but that doesn’t mean that we should panic.” 

Adams went on to say that communities need to decide whether or not to close schools, have employees work from home, and cancel large gatherings. As the outbreak in the U.S. continues, many schools have already shut their doors. Some cities have even started canceling large music events such as  Ultra Music Fest and South by Southwest.

Adams, however, did note that he believes the virus is contained in certain parts of the country. 

Democrats Blame Trump Administration for “Mixed Messages”

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion coronavirus aid package. Though Trump originally proposed a $2.5 billion plan, this bill easily passed through the House, and later, the Senate.

It will now fund prevention efforts, medical supplies, and vaccine research. 

After signing that bill, Trump then visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, where he held a press conference with CDC officials. 

“It will end,” he told reporters. “People have to remain calm.” 

When asked whether or not Americans should start canceling their travel plans, Trump said it was important to look at where they are traveling before making the decision.

“I think it’s fine if they want to do it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an overreaction. But I wouldn’t be generally inclined to do it. I really wouldn’t be.” 

One of the big takeaways from Trump’s press conference stemmed from confusion over who could be tested if they think they may have the virus.

“Anybody, right now and yesterday, anybody who needs a test gets a test. They’re there,” Trump said on Friday after CDC officials announced four million tests would be mobilized by the end of this week.

On Thursday, however, Vice President Mike Pence said that though the government would provide testing for people it believes have been exposed or are showing symptoms, it doesn’t “have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”

On Saturday, Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo criticized the Trump Administration on MSNBC, saying it was sending “mixed messages” in regard to if every American could be tested.

Cuomo’s message is not unfamiliar from that of other Democratic governors in states with outbreaks of the coronavirus. Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom also called the U.S.’s testing capacity, quote, “simply inadequate.”

A couple of weeks ago, Washington Governor Jay Inslee also criticized the Trump Administration, saying that Washington’s “work would be more successful if the Trump Administration stuck to the science and told the truth.”

At his CDC press conference Friday, Trump retaliated against Inslee, calling him a “snake” and saying, “If you’re nice to him, he will take advantage.”

Sunday night, Trump also directly responded to Cuomo on Twitter. There are no mixed messages, only political weaponization by people like you…”

This morning, he added, “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American.’”

See what others are saying: (ABC News) (Reuters) (CNBC)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • 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)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • 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.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • 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.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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