Sunday, 24 May 2020

Masks On vs Masks Off

Here's an interesting article from The Times which reports on Coronavirus developments around the world including the news that Spain has made the wearing of face coverings mandatory in public places.

Spain makes masks mandatory in public places
Hundreds of right-wing protesters rally in the streets to complain at two-week lockdown extension

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, wears a mask at a parliamentary session in Madrid - Photo EPA

By Foreign Staff - The Times

Spain’s government has announced that the use of facemasks will be mandatory in public places as parliament voted to extend a state of emergency.

The wearing of masks will be obligatory from tomorrow for all people over six years old in public places, including streets and closed areas where social distancing of more than two metres is impossible.

The order from the Socialist-led coalition government of Pedro Sánchez advises that children between two and five years old wear masks. People with respiratory illnesses that may be aggravated by wearing masks are exempt.

Mr Sánchez has asked parliament to extend the state of emergency for two weeks. The country has imposed one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns and is cautiously unwinding it in a four-phase de-escalation plan.

Spain is among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with 27,778 known deaths and 232,037 infections, and its tourism-dependent economy forecast to contract by up to 12.4 per cent this year.

The state of emergency is set to expire on May 23 and Mr Sánchez had initially said he would seek an extension of about a month. The government reduced the request to two weeks to secure the support of the centre-right Ciudadanos party in the 350-seat parliament, where his coalition governs in a minority with the far-left Podemos party.

The lockdown was imposed on March 14 and has been renewed four times, despite growing criticism of Mr Sánchez over his management of the crisis, notably from right-wing opponents who did not support the last extension two weeks ago.

“The de-escalation and the state of emergency is working. No one should squander what we have achieved,” Mr Sánchez told parliament, adding that the MPs who had supported the measure had “saved thousands of lives”.

However, Pablo Casado, the leader of the main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), said: “Sánchez is incapable of protecting Spaniards other than through this brutal detention.”

In recent days groups of hundreds of right-wing protesters draped in the Spanish flag have staged street rallies in well-heeled districts of Madrid and other cities, banging pots and demanding Mr Sánchez’s resignation amid cries of “freedom”.

The protests and right-wing rhetoric of the PP and the ultranationalist Vox party have underscored that the initial national unity over the epidemic has almost disappeared as Spain’s fragmented and polarised politics has resurfaced.

A survey by the state-run Centre for Sociological Studies, published yesterday, shows that 95 per cent of Spaniards support the lockdown and 60 per cent believe it should be extended.

However, a month ago only 10 per cent approved of the opposition’s criticism of the government during the crisis, compared with 19.7 per cent now.

It was unreasonable and “very narrow-minded” to accuse China of trying to seize global leadership by providing virus assistance, a senior government spokesman has said.

Guo Weimin, a senior official of the party’s propaganda department, accused US politicians of waging a smear campaign against Beijing to evade their own responsibilities.

“Many foreign leaders, government officials, think tanks and some organisations have positive, friendly words to say about China,” said Mr Guo, spokesman for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group to the national parliament, which is to convene tomorrow.

“But, some politicians from a few countries including the United States have politicised the epidemic . . . and created public opinions to smear China. They claim the virus was from China, from Wuhan, and some claim China is providing virus assistance to ‘boost its geopolitical influences, to seize the global leadership’.

“They do so out of the need of domestic politics, to shift the focus, to deflect responsibilities, or to point fingers at China, to smear China out of ideological biases,” he said. “Such attempts are doomed to fail.”

China has launched an international public relations drive to defend its global image in the wake of the outbreak, especially after reports surfaced that the country botched its initial response when the first cases surfaced in the central city of Wuhan in December.

After the country brought the epidemic under control, Beijing began to dispatch experts to share experiences and ship masks, personal protective equipment, testing kits and other medical supplies when conditions outside the country deteriorated.

President Trump, who once praised President Xi for his work against the virus, started to criticise Beijing when the outbreak spread to US soil. Chinese diplomats fought back by suggesting the virus was brought to the country by the Pentagon, without producing any evidence.

The European Union bowed to pressures from Beijing and agreed to remove a reference to Wuhan as the source of the epidemic in an editorial. It also toned down a report critical of China amid fears that Beijing could withhold medical supplies in retaliation.

This week China banned Australian beef after its government led the call for an international inquiry into the virus’s origin. Mr Xi told the World Health Assembly that China supported an “overall evaluation on how the world responded to the epidemic” after it was brought under control.

The Dutch authorities fear that an infection has taken place from mink to man at a fur farm. An employee at an unnamed farm was infected and tests found similarities with the specific mutation of the virus found in the mink — which initially caught it from humans.

“All companies are screened and visitors are banned from visiting the stables,” said Carola Schouten, the Dutch agriculture minister, stressing that the risk to humans was low. Extra safety measures will be taken at fur farms, protective clothing will be improved for staff and more testing will take place before any decision on culling the mink.

“We first want to get a broader picture of all breeding farms. Culling is the ultimate measure, first we want to take other measures,” Ms Schouten said. Other farm animals and domestic pets are also being investigated for the coronavirus. “We want to investigate the transfer between animals and humans.”

Mayors and regional governors are furious that young Italians have been crowding back into piazzas to celebrate the end of lockdown and drink cocktails, often with their masks slung around their necks.

Cafés and bars reopened on Monday but social distancing is still in force and crowds are banned to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

“We’ll be waiting for them outside the hospitals,” said the Veneto governor Luca Zaia after seeing images of crowds enjoying a night out in Padua. “They will be infected in ten days. If the contagion grows, we will re-close the bars, restaurants and beaches and we will be sealed up at home again.”

Critics say the figures indicate that Russia is either covering up the true number of Covid-19 deaths, or that healthcare workers are exposed to more risk because of a lack of personal protection equipment - REUTERS

Healthcare workers in Russia are 16 times more likely to die from the virus than their colleagues in Europe and the United States, statistics indicate. At least 186 medical personnel have died after testing positive, according to an investigation by Mediazona, an independent news website.

The figure represents almost 7 per cent of Russia’s official nationwide death toll. In Britain fatalities among healthcare workers make up 0.53 per cent of the national toll. In Germany, Spain and the US the number is less than 0.5 per cent.

Critics say the figures indicate that Russia is either covering up the true number of Covid-19 deaths, or that Russian healthcare workers are exposed to more risk because of a widespread lack of personal protection equipment.

Today the authorities reported the highest daily toll, with 135 fatalities, as the number of infections passed 300,000.

Doctors and nurses have frequently complained that they have not been provided with adequate protective kit. “It’s so bad that we are using snorkelling masks,” said Ilya Kulikov, a doctor in Yaroslavl, a city north of Moscow. Russia has the second-highest number of cases in the world after the US.

A court has sentenced a man to hang via the teleconference app Zoom, in keeping with the country’s strict social distancing rules.

Punithan Genasan, a 37-year-old Malaysian citizen, was sentenced to death for arranging the smuggling of heroin. He was in prison when he received the sentence, which is mandatory for the smuggling of drugs over a certain amount, while the judge and his lawyer took part in the hearing from separate locations.

He denied the charges of orchestrating the trafficking of 28.5g of heroin by two other men in 2011. “Singapore tries to hide from the world that it executes scores of people every year but by remotely sentencing a man to die in this case, they have brought back welcome attention to their . . . practices,” Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, said.

“It’s shocking the prosecutors and the court are so callous that they fail to see that a man facing capital punishment should have the right to be present in court to confront his accusers.”

Restrictions on movement have dramatically cut traffic fatalities on the country’s notoriously dangerous roads.

The number of deaths during the Songkran holiday period in mid-April fell by 60 per cent, to 167 compared to 386 last year, according to government statistics.

Many Thais travel to their home provinces and there are mass gatherings, celebrations and drunk driving during the holiday, which marks the Buddhist new year. Thailand has had one of the highest rates of deaths on the road in the world, second only to Libya.

Until this week, when commuters returned to their workplaces after a falling-off in infections, the roads have been much quieter. Thailand has reported 3,034 cases of the virus and 56 deaths.

Similar falls in deaths on the road have been reported in countries across Asia, including India, Japan and Malaysia.

The popular Belgian seaside resort of Ostend is to set up a reservation system to preserve social distancing on the busiest stretches of sandy beaches this summer. Priority for reservations will be given to locals, second-homeowners and hotel guests.

“We want to ensure that as many locals, second-homeowners and visitors as possible can enjoy the beach, in a safe way,” Bart Tommelein, the mayor, said.

The Flemish coast is braced for an exceptionally busy, even record, summer because many Belgians are expected not to travel this summer amid uncertainty over border restrictions.