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Coronavirus-Stricken Cruise Ships Will Dock in Florida

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  • The Zaandam, a cruise liner holding passengers sick with the coronavirus, has been stranded at sea for weeks waiting to dock. 
  • Of the 2,000 on the ship, over 200 have reported flu-like symptoms and nine have tested positive for COVID-19. At least four died onboard.
  • Officials say the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, its sister ship that was sent for support, will finally be able to disembark in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after initial resistance from local authorities.
  • Disembarkation is expected to be completed by Friday evening.

Cruise Turned Nightmare

Two cruise ships that have been stricken by the coronavirus and stuck at sea for weeks will finally disembark at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The decision was reached by multiple local and federal officials including Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, Homeland Security, the Broward County Commission, and the cruise line, Holland America. Healthy passengers will be allowed to go home while the sick will remain on board. 

“It was the right thing to do,” Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr told the Guardian. “We’ve been letting people in and out of this port for 100 years in good times and bad times. I’m proud we could do this.”

The deal comes after a suspenseful back-and-forth that has involved multiple parties and left over 2,000 passengers and crew members waiting onboard for weeks. More than 200 of these people have reported experiencing flu-like symptoms, and nine tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Holland America officials. Many guests are from countries other than the U.S. 

The Zaandam cruise liner embarked for a trip along the coast of South America on March 7. The journey was supposed to end in Chile on March 21, but the coronavirus quickly escalated and things went awry. 

After the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Holland America suspended its operations. The Zaandam continued to travel north after Chile closed its borders, but more countries denied the ship entry.

Then passengers on the boat started getting sick, exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Last week, Holland America deployed a second ship, the Rotterdam, to meet the Zaandam off of Panama. The Rotterdam was sent with medical supplies, more staff, and coronavirus tests. 

Asymptomatic guests were transferred to the Rotterdam as well. 

On Friday, Holland American announced that four elderly people on board had died. Carnival Corporation, Holland America’s parent company who owns the ship, said two of the dead had tested positive for COVID-19. 

The nightmare has carried on for nearly four weeks now, but an end is finally in sight in Fort Lauderdale. 

Back and Forth

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was initially resistant to the idea of allowing those on the ship to embark in his state. Cruise ships have shown to be a cesspool for the coronavirus and there are complications in the repatriation of people who are stranded at sea. 

DeSantis has expressed worries about further spread of the outbreak as well as excess strain on medical facilities in the state. 

“We view this as a big, big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in southern Florida right now,” DeSantis told Fox News.

But those aboard the ships have grown desperate. Family members of those onboard have pleaded for them to disembark. Holland America President Orlando Ashford wrote an open letter urging countries to show support in this “humanitarian crisis.”  

President Trump himself offered a compassionate stance on Wednesday night as the situation dragged on.

“They’re dying, so we have to do something, and the governor knows that, too,” Trump said of those stuck on the sister ships. “We have to help the people. They are in big trouble.”

In updates on their website, Holland America outlined a plan for the passengers on the pair of ships. They said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will clear passengers for entry into the country.

The nearly 1,200 guests fit for travel under CDC guidelines will be unloaded onto sanitized coaches. Person-to-person contact will be limited and masks will be worn, and these people will be taken straight from the ship to flights home, the majority on charter flights. Florida residents will return home immediately via private cars.

Holland America said the guests who still have symptoms and are unfit to travel will continue to isolate onboard until they recover.  There are currently less than twenty people in need of immediate critical care, and they will be taken to local hospitals for treatment. 

It wasn’t until these detailed disembarkation plans started to form that Florida officials softened their resistance against allowing the ship to dock on the state’s ground.

Mayor Trantalis, who was originally against the idea of allowing the ships into Florida, expressed more openness to it after hearing Holland America’s proposals. 

“Their tone has completely changed to address the concerns we had,” Trantalis told the Guardian on Wednesday. “I was concerned that they were just going to let these people off to mingle with the people of my city. That would have been a nightmare.”

“But based on the conversation I had with the [Holland America] president, we are much further along in resolving this situation,” Trantalis said. 

On Wednesday, DeSantis said the 52 Floridians onboard the ships would “clearly” be accepted and said he hoped a solution for the others was near. 

DeSantis showed more of a change of heart on Thursday when he told Fox News that transferring critically ill patients to hospitals was “the humanitarian thing to do.”

“There is no easy solution to this,” the Governor said. 

Yet it appears some kind of solution has finally arrived, and many aboard will return home very shortly. 

“I look forward to a safe operation that protects the well-being of all involved,” Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine tweeted on Thursday.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (CNN)

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Anti-Asian Hate Crimes on the Rise in British Columbia

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  • A report given to Canadian police in Vancouver, British Columbia last week showed a 717% in hate crimes against Asians over the last year and a 97% increase in hate crimes overall.
  • Prosecutors have been urged to more seriously pursue hate crime charges, despite them being harder to prove in court.
  • The trend has been mirrored in Ontario, another Canadian province with significant Asian populations.

Massive Surges in Hate Crimes

The U.S. has struggled with anti-Asian hate crimes over the last year, especially in municipalities like New York City, which reported upwards of a 1,900% increase from one incident to 19 within the year.

However, the U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with the issue. Similar trends have been reported in Canada as well. A report given to the Vancouver police board last week found that in 2019, there were just 12 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the city. In 2020, there was 98, which marks a 717% increase. Those numbers helped drive the stats of hate crimes in the city up 97% overall.

To be clear, crime overall has been on the rise, likely fueled by struggling local economies dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hard To Pursue Charges

The report has caused Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth to push local prosecutors to seek more hate crime charges.

The region has failed to actually bring charges for most reported hate incidents, with the past year only seeing just one charge filed despite police evidence of such hate crimes. The issue at hand is that adding a hate crime charge makes getting a conviction much harder.

The incidents have led to a push for more strict anti-racism legislation in the province, a position that John Horgan, the British Columbian Premier, has pushed for as far back as June 2020.

British Columbia, according to an assortment of Asian-Canadian advocacy groups, has the most incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes, followed by Ontario. This is especially notable because they are the number two and number one locations of Asian populations in Canada, respectively.

See what others are saying: (Vancouver Sun) (CBC) (CTV News)

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Japan Appoints ‘Minister of Loneliness’ To Combat Rising Suicide Rates

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  • Earlier this month, Japan appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as the country’s Minister of Loneliness, tasked with addressing rising suicide rates.
  • Suicides were declining worldwide, except in the U.S., ahead of the coronavirus pandemic but have since seen startling spikes.
  • In October, Japan reported 400 more suicide deaths than all COVID-19 related deaths in the nation until that point.
  • While suicide cases among men in Japan are higher, the country has seen a drastic increase in suicides among women, who are more likely to have unstable work that is susceptible to market disruptions from the coronavirus.

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.

Loneliness Is a Rising Issue

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshinori appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as its Minister of Loneliness earlier this month.

Sakamoto is already in charge of combating Japan’s declining birthrate and regional revitalization efforts, but his new role will see him combating Japan’s rising suicide rate. Suicides were actually on the decline in Japan until the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically exacerbated the issue.

That trend reached a milestone in October 2020 when Japan suffered 2,153 suicides – nearly 400 more than all COVID-19 related deaths in Japan until that point. Currently, monthly suicides no longer exceed the total amount of deaths from COVID-19, as Japan faced an outbreak at the end of the year and has over 7,500 COVID-19 deaths.

Even though monthly suicides no longer outstrip total coronavirus deaths, the rate hasn’t let up. While men still make up the vast majority of suicides, there’s been a drastic increase in women taking their own lives. Between October 2020 and October 2019 there was a 70% increase in female suicides.

According to Ueda Michiko, a Japanese professor at Waseda University who studies suicides, women are particularly affected because they often have more unstable employment that is more susceptible to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

She went to tell Insider, “A lot of women are not married anymore. They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard.”

Internationally Suicides on the Rise

Sakamoto hasn’t outlined any specific plans to combat loneliness in Japan, but he has a blueprint to work from as he’s not the world’s first Minister of Loneliness. The U.K. appointed one in 2018 after a report found more than 9 million Brits said that they often or always felt lonely.

But the job doesn’t seem very easy or desirable, as the U.K. has gone through three ministers of loneliness since then.

COVID-19 has been a massive disruption to suicide rates globally, which had actually been steadily declining for decades. The notable exception to this is the United States, which has faced increases nearly every year since 1999 adding up to almost a 30% total increase over the past two decades.

If you’re in the U.S. and feeling suicidal or have thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

For reader across the globe, here are resources in your nation.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (NDTV) (Insider)

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Thailand Pushes Marijuana as Next Cash Crop

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  • The Thai government issued a statement Sunday urging farmers to grow cannabis as a cash crop.
  • A relatively small amount of farmers currently grow the crop for the nation’s medical marijuana industry, but state-run entities are now offering to buy it for $1,500 per kilogram, which is exponentially higher than other cash crops.
  • For reference, a staple like rice goes for about $1 per kilogram.
  • While other countries in the region have followed Thailand’s footsteps in approving medical cannabis, no others allow local farmers to grow the plant.

Underlying Shift in Region

In a drastic change for marijuana policy across Asia, the Thai government made announcements on Sunday that pushed for farmers to grow marijuana as a cash crop for the country’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry.

The decision is in stark contrast to much of East and Southeast Asian marijuana policy, which often features extreme punishments for trafficking the drug, and nearly as harsh punishments for using it recreationally or for medical purposes.

Thailand was the first to approve cannabis for medical use at the end of 2018, with the law practically going into effect in 2019. Since then, according to deputy government spokesperson Traisuleee Traisoranakul, “…2,500 households and 251 provincial hospitals have grown 15,000 cannabis plants.”

“We hope that cannabis and hemp will be a primary cash crop for farmers.”

Worth Its Weight in Gold

The push for more farmers to partake in the marijuana industry comes after hospitals and the nation’s state-run pharmaceutical company found that they needed more of the plant. Currently, the government’s pharma company is hoping that their price of $1500 for 1 kilo of marijuana that contains 12% cannabidiol (CBD) will be enough incentive.

That’s considerably more than what the government pays for other staple crops, such as rice, which goes for about $1 per kilogram.

Additionally, the government also announced that marijuana can now be used in foods and beverages at restaurants as long as it comes from an approved producer. This opens the door for a tourism industry akin to Amsterdam’s coffee shops

While Thailand is leading the way when it comes to marijuana policy, other nations in the region are following in their footsteps. In 2019, South Korea approved the plant and its derivatives for medical use, and Japan has opened the door for clinical research into the drug and its compounds. Still, those nations require that THC and CBD be imported, and their use is heavily restricted.

Thailand’s move to cultivate a homegrown marijuana industry is a huge shift and will likely help the nation secure a hold in the growing industry, which the industry marketing firm Market Research Future believes will be worth over $50 billion by 2025.

See what others are saying: (Bangkok Post) (Reuters) (Chiangrai Times)

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