- Wuhan officials have announced that the city now plans to test all of its residents for the coronavirus over a 10-day period.
- The announcement comes after the city confirmed six new cases over the weekend, all of which have been traced back to an 89-year-old man.
- Even with the drastic measures, health officials are trying to reassure people by explaining that a small cluster of new cases does not necessarily mean a larger, second wave of the virus.
- Another city in northeastern China, Shulan, reported more than a dozen cases over the weekend and has now re-entered lockdown, declaring itself in “wartime mode.”
Wuhan to Test All 11 Million Residents
After a small but concerning spike in COVID-19 cases, Wuhan officials have announced that they intend to test all of the city’s 11 million residents by the end of next week.
The announcement, made Monday, comes after Wuhan confirmed six new cases over the weekend. While such a number may seem small compared to what the United States is currently experiencing, for many, it’s a worrying sign of a potential second wave of cases.
That’s because, before these new cases, Wuhan went 35 days without seeing any new infections. On April 8, the city even reopened, ending a 76-day lockdown.
According to a notice ordering these tests, “Each district should make plans and arrangements to conduct nucleic acid tests on the entire population in its jurisdiction within a 10-day time limit.”
Because of that, each district will also pay for testing all of its residents.
The notice also went on to say that the first round of testing will focus on vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those who are immunocompromised. It will also reportedly focus on densely populated communities such as those with concentrated migrant populations.
According to the Chinese financial news agency Yicai, more than one million people in the city have already been tested.
The Cluster of Cases Leading to this Testing
On Sunday, local health authorities reported that five people in a single residential compound— the Sanmin compound in the East West Lake district of Wuhan—had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
All of those cases were then linked back to an 89-year-old man who was confirmed to have the coronavirus the day before.
Notably, this compound houses about 5,000 people. During the lockdown, 20 people there tested positive for the coronavirus. According to reports, that man was never tested, but it seems that he may have also contracted the virus during the lockdown.
That’s because on March 17th, he reportedly developed a fever, but he later recovered at home within ten days. Last month, however, his health issues resurfaced. He then seemingly spread the virus to his wife and two other elderly couples.
As to why his symptoms seemingly came back out of nowhere, Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention told China Central Television, “…the course of disease could last 30 to 50 days for some patients. The virus could take longer to manifest itself in patients with weak immunity, who are also prone to ‘ons’ and ‘offs’ of symptoms.”
Wu also stressed that this small cluster of cases shouldn’t be considered the start of a second wave in Wuhan.
“There will not be a new minor peak,” he said. “We have had the epidemic under control after more than three months of efforts and accumulated considerable experience in both diagnosis and [epidemic] notification. Therefore, we will not allow scattered cases to develop into massive outbreaks.”
When asked if he believed it truly necessary to test everyone in Wuhan, Wu said that tests could be targeted to areas with known infections but that there’s no need to do it in residential areas without any cases.
Another Chinese City Re-enters Lockdown
On Tuesday, the National Health Commission reported only two new confirmed cases for Monday, both of them imported and neither in Wuhan. One is located in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region while the other is in the Shanghai municipality.
That doesn’t mean Wuhan is the only city in China seeing smaller clusters of cases. Over the weekend, the northeastern city of Shulan reported 14 new cases and has now declared that it’s in “wartime mode.”
Like the cases in Wuhan, they’ve all been traced back to a single person. This time it was a 45-year-old woman who was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Thursday, though it’s unknown how she actually contracted the virus.
Because of that, the city has now gone back into lockdown until the end of the month.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004
- New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
- Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
- Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
- The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.
Smoke Free 2025
New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.
Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.
“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday.
“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”
The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.”
The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.
Not Without Flaws
The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat.
There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals.
“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.
Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.
“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote.
The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.
See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)
Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion
- 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)
Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean
- 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.