- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is refusing calls from citizens and other lawmakers to declare a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- But on Wednesday, he did announce that the government will send two reusable masks to every household.
- Abe’s announcement was met with heavy criticism, with many people on social media pointing out that most families have more than two members.
- Many even originally took it as an April Fool’s joke.
- The criticism comes as medical experts warn that Japan’s healthcare system cannot handle a massive outbreak.
Abe Offers Masks But Refuses to Declare Emergency
In a move that has drawn an overwhelming amount of criticism, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the government would send each family in Japan two reusable masks, but he ignored repeated calls for him to declare a state of emergency in response to the spreading coronavirus.
While Japan has largely avoided the coronavirus pandemic (minus the disastrous Diamond Princess incident), that luck may soon run out. According to John Hopkins University on Thursday, Japan has only reported 2,384 cases and only 57 deaths; however, on Thursday, Tokyo alone reported 97 new cases, which is it’s highest single-day jump so far.
Currently, museums and schools in Tokyo are closed, but shops are still open. Restaurants are still allowing people to dine in. It’s also cherry blossom season, an event that typically attracts thousands of visitors each year. Despite concerns that people would ignore social distancing guidelines, this year is no different, and crowds have flocked to see the blooms.
Cue urges from both citizens and lawmakers for Abe to declare an emergency across the country. Though not legally binding, it would allow governors in different prefects to send out stronger messages when it comes to telling people to stay at home.
Still, Abe has refused, saying that such a move isn’t imminent. Instead, he opted to send citizens gauze masks that he says “will be helpful in responding to the rapidly increasing demand” for masks as major cities start to see runs on protective gear.
To put it lightly, Abe’s plan was not met with much praise as people worried how to strap two masks onto grandma, grandpa, and the kids all at the same time.
That conundrum was later part of a viral meme where a family of eight is forced to share two masks, with each family member lined up behind the next (just like any self-respecting family, the pet rightly took priority).
Alongside criticisms like that, both #Abe’sMask and #ScrewYourMasks” began trending on Twitter in Japan.
“At last, PM Abe decided to provide something to Japanese people,” one user sarcastically said. “What he provides us is……2 medical masks made of gauze per one family! Thank you Abe-san we can live as long as [we have] a gauze mask! You are really stupid!!!”
“I wish this had been just an April fool[‘s] joke,” another user said.
However, reportedly, many people considered the idea of the government sending only two masks to each family so outrageous that they actually did think it was an April Fool’s joke at first.
Others criticized the move for how long it will take people to even receive their masks. Reportedly, the government won’t begin mailing those masks until the week after next. By then, many fear the situation in the country could be much more drastic.
This is not Abe’s first instance with coronavirus-related criticism. Critics have accused Abe of consistently downplaying the threat of the coronavirus in order to not push back the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics. Abe has denied such accusations.
Medical Experts Warn that Japan’s Healthcare System Could Fail
The announcement comes a week after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told resident to work from home if possible and after she urged people to avoid bars, restaurants, and public gatherings until April 12.
It also comes as medical officials are warning that a surge in coronavirus cases could be disastrous for Japan’s healthcare system. Reportedly, hospitals in several major cities, including Tokyo and Osaka, are already being stretched thin. According to a government panel, “drastic countermeasures need to be taken as quickly as possible.”
“Fundamental responses should be made as early as today or tomorrow,” Shigeru Omi, head of the Japan Community Healthcare Organization, said at a news conference Wednesday night.
U.S. Governments Weigh Telling People to Wear Masks
In the United States where the situation has skyrocketed, there is also concern around masks and who should wear them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently only recommends masks be worn by those who are sick. Notably, if you are not sick, the CDC says there is no need to wear a mask unless you’re caring for someone who is sick. That recommendation is also part of an attempt to ensure masks are saved for healthcare providers and caregivers.
This past week, however, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the agency is looking at potentially changing those guidelines, saying the data around it is, “being aggressively reviewed as we speak.”
This week, Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force has also indicated that it’s discussing potentially updating that recommendation.
“The idea of getting a much more broad community-wide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the task force,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “The thing that has inhibited that a bit is to make sure we don’t take away the supply of masks from the health care workers who need them.”
“But when we get in a situation where we have enough masks,” he continued. “I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening this recommendation of using masks. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close to coming to some determination.”
Both a city and a county in California have also started to recommend the use of non-medical face coverings even among healthy people while out in public. On Tuesday, officials in Riverside County announced that recommendation and by Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti followed suit.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (Japan Times)
100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says
- 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.
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.
Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition
- 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)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- 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.