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Thursday, March 19, 2020

If You Want To Take A Trip During The Pandemic, Try Acid Or Peyote

In early February-- recently back from Thailand and having just canceled a summer trip to the Dordogne region of France-- I wrote a coronavirus travel post, much of it a warning about air travel. Hard to believe only month and a half has passed.

Now we find ourselves in a situation with airlines cancelling flights and governments closing borders and enforcing quarantines. Thousands of Americans are stranded overseas-- Senate Intel chair Richard Burr (R-NC) warned campaign donors but not the public of what was coming-- and the State Department has ruled out rescue flights. Basically, they have no option but to wait, probably for months before they can get home.

On Thursday, the State Department a global Level 4 travel advisory. That's as dire as it gets; there is no Level 5. The State Department is basically telling all Americans not to travel abroad at all and telling Americans who are abroad to either come home immediately-- mostly impossible-- or to "shelter in place." No new passports are being issued other than to people with "life or death emergencies." These are the latest dozen tweets from the Department's travel section-- all from this morning:
Due to #COVID19 related public health measures, effective March 20, passport agencies will only accept applications from customers with life-or-death emergencies who plan to travel within 72 hours. Some passport acceptance facilities may also suspend services. Due to #COVID19 related operational changes, we will not offer expedited passport service on or after March 20 and routine processing (normally 6-8 weeks) may be delayed. More information
#Mauritius: Mauritius has barred admission to all travelers, including nationals, as of Mar. 19, GMT. U.S. citizens considering returning to the US are urged to work with their airlines to make travel arrangements while flights are still available. more
#SouthAfrica: On March 18, South Africa barred admission to travelers who have recently visited the United States, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and China. All US citizen visitors must have visas prior to arrival to enter. more
#Croatia: All travelers barred from admission except Croatian citizens returning home, foreign citizens departing to their home countries, diplomats, law enforcement, medical workers, controlled shipments of goods, and others on a case by case basis. more
#Angola: The Government of Angola announced that all international flights will be cancelled effective March 20. US citizens who are considering returning to the US are urged to work with airlines to make arrangements while flights are still available. more
#Bulgaria: The Bulgarian government has banned the entry of third-country (non-EU) nationals, including U.S. citizens, into the country from March 20 to April 17. This includes all border crossing points and aviation, maritime, rail, and road. more
#Laos: The Government of Laos announced the suspension of the issuance of visas on arrival, visas at Lao Diplomatic Missions, and eVisas, as well as visa exemption programs. These restrictions are scheduled to be in place for 30 days starting March 20. more
#Bermuda: Effective March 20, at 11:59pm, L.F. Wade Airport will close for incoming passenger flights for 2 weeks. Only returning residents will be allowed on flights arriving March 19 & 20. If departing, work with airlines while flights still available. more
#PapuaNewGuinea: Any traveler who has been to or transited through the United States, or any other restricted place, in the 14 days prior to their intended arrival will not be permitted to enter the country. Other restricted places listed here: more
#Bermuda: Several airlines have reduced or suspended flight services between Bermuda and the US. US citizens who are considering returning to the United States are urged to work with their airlines to make travel arrangements while flights are available. more
#Colombia: The Mayor of Bogota announced a drill from March 20-23 during which all people are ordered to stay off the streets or else face possible fines. Additionally, airlines have begun curtailing or ceasing operations in Colombia. more
#Madagascar: All international flights will be cancelled effective March 20, 2020. The Government of Madagascar has also announced cruise ships may not stop in Madagascar. more
This was from Wednesday-- one day ago:

#Ethiopia: Rise in anti-foreigner sentiment revolving around the announcement of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation services, spat on, chased on foot, and accused of being infected. more

As I mentioned Wednesday, Thailand is a heavily tourism-dependent country. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that "Thailand's government is imposing stricter rules on international travel that require people arriving from all countries to have health certificates stating they do not have the coronavirus, along with medical insurance covering the disease. The measures fall short of the total bans on international flights many countries have enacted, but are expected to sharply cut the number of visitors. Thailand has been reluctant to endanger its large tourism industry, which accounts for about 12% of its economy, according to official figures."
The decision comes just two days after the government announced that medical certificates and insurance would be required only for people arriving from “disease infected zones”-- South Korea, China, Macao, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran-- or who had visited "ongoing local transmission areas"-- the United States, parts of Japan, Britain and eight other European countries.

The health certificates now required for all arrivals must be issued within 72 hours of departure, and the insurance must cover $100,000 in medical costs.

Thai citizens also need to have health certificates but not insurance policies. In addition they will have to self-quarantine for 14 days. Quarantine rules for arriving foreigners remain unclear.

"Today we are trying to block those who bring the disease into Thailand, so that's why I tell you that everyone who is about to enter Thailand should have a health certificate," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said. "That is an extension from four countries and two territories, but today we need it from every country as we attempt to control the outbreak in the country and lower the number of infected people as much as we can.

" Thailand on Thursday reported 60 new confirmed cases of the virus, bringing its total to 272. It has registered one death and discharged 42 recovered patients.

On Tuesday the government announced a raft of measures to combat the virus, including postponing a major holiday and shutting down schools nationwide. Provincial governors have been empowered to close venues where people gather, including massage parlors, entertainment places, gyms and sports venues. The popular tourist destination of Phuket on Thursday joined Bangkok and other provinces in applying such restrictions.

Postponing the annual public holiday of Songkran is meant to discourage the gathering and movement of large numbers of people. Millions of Thais normally travel from the big cities where they work to their hometowns during the three-day holiday to celebrate the traditional New Year. It will be rescheduled later this year.
Egypt is also heavily dependent on tourism (3rd biggest source of income)-- or at least they were until the industry evaporated entirely. The airports are shut down and the tourism minister announced he expects to lose a billion dollars a month for as long as there is an emergency situation.

On Wednesday, Forbes' travel write Christopher Elliott tried to look into the future of travel post-coronavirus but starts off with the absurd assumption that things may be headed back to normal in May. And he isn't the only one living in a fantasy world of everything getting back to normal.
Bill Patton wants to know what travel will be like after coronavirus. He and his family of 10 are headed to Antibes, France, in late May to celebrate their 50th anniversary. They've tried to cancel because of the coronavirus, but so far neither their airline or their vacation rental company will offer a refund.

"Our doctor advises we do not travel under the coronavirus conditions," says Patton, who is 76 and has a history of diabetes, allergies and asthma.

So what will France be like in May? What will travel be like after the coronavirus peaks? Will anyone be traveling at all?

A new survey suggests travel is alive and well. More than half of Americans (58%) are planning to travel between May and September 2020, as long as their destinations aren't in quarantine. But they're being careful. A quarter of participants will try to avoid big cities and public transportation, and 21% will choose domestic travel, according to the survey conducted by LuggageHero.

"Demand will come back stronger than ever once the situation is over," says Jannik Lawaetz, LuggageHero's CEO.

Here's how people will travel after the coronavirus:
1- They'll stay in the country. International travel will fall out of favor as people stay closer to the safety of home.

2- They won't travel far from home. "Staycations" and road trips will be favored over flying or cruising.

3- They'll make it quick. A softer economy will mean the traditional two-week summer vacation could turn into a long weekend. 
What will my destination be like this spring?

I know what Southern France is like now because I'm there.

I detoured to Nice, France, on my way to Italy and found an apartment on Vrbo to wait out the virus. It was a little scary at first. All the caf├ęs and restaurants closed. There are police checkpoints in the streets.

But there's also a sense of normalcy and perspective that seems to be lacking in the United States. After all, France has survived its fair share of pandemics and world wars. People here are taking this crisis in stride and are confident it will be over soon-- certainly by the time Patton and his family arrive here.

The borders to Europe are closed for the next 30 days in an effort to contain the coronavirus. After that, things will probably return to normal quickly. By May, Patton and his family might really need that vacation in southern France.

For anyone else with spring travel plans, experts say the outlook is pretty decent. If the borders open up, your destination will happily welcome you.

But that's a big "if."

Will the travel industry come back from coronavirus?

Ask experts and they'll tell you that travel will come back quickly. Probably faster than anyone expects.

"Despite the challenges, it won’t be this way forever," says John Lovell, president of leisure travel and supplier relations and networks at Travel Leaders Group. "Travel and tourism is a highly resilient industry that has come back again and again from diseases and natural disasters."

Industry watchers like Lovell predict a quick bounce back for tourism, despite the current doom-and-gloom headlines. They point out that travel rebounded quickly after other pandemics and disasters, including 9/11.

"You have to assess your own risk tolerance, take reasonable and prudent precautions, and make smart decisions about your travel," he adds. "Right now, there are amazing travel deals to destinations all over the world."

What will travel be like after coronavirus?

Chances are, your destination will immediately begin an aggressive coronavirus recovery program the moment the "all clear" signal is given. That's the prediction of Wayne Smith, chairman of the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the College of Charleston.

"Most destinations will institute a recovery strategy in which discounts may be a part of the overall enticement to return to travel," he says.

But don't look for deep discounts. Smith says the best strategies may not necessarily have cheaper prices but to offer more value.

"Examples I have seen in the past would be a hotel offering free meals with room purchase and maybe even packaging in attraction tickets," he says. "Instead of looking for the cheapest price, I would be looking for the best value. There are going to be plenty of high-value travel packages available."

Some parts of the travel industry might not survive

But it'll be a difficult, and maybe impossible, recovery for parts of the travel industry.

"It's going to be a long recovery," says Sophie Anderson, a marketing manager at Cruise Agency Australia, an Australian travel agency that specializes in cruises. "There are going to be collapses and bankruptcies when it's all over. At least one or two cruise lines might finally sink."

Anderson says for consumers there will be a silver lining-- cruises will be a bargain for the foreseeable future. Of course, if airlines, hotels and cruise lines start to go under, the lower prices will be irrelevant.

That's the most long-lasting-- and potentially disruptive-- effect on travel. Coronavirus will almost certainly claim several well-known travel brands, according to experts.

Yes, even with government bailouts. It's inevitable.

"History tells us that there will be fewer players in the wake of this event," says Paul Metselaar, chairman of Ovation Travel Group. "In the United Kingdom, we have already seen the demise of Flybe, and other carriers are at risk. It is entirely plausible that there will be other casualties in other segments as well.

Here are a few tips for traveling after the coronavirus outbreak

No question about it, people will travel after the coronavirus. But how?

Look for deals but focus on value. Assuming the coronavirus crisis is over, don't hesitate to book if you find a bargain for late spring or summer. But don't focus exclusively on price. Instead, look at the overall value of the deal. Are they throwing in attraction tickets or including meals?

Focus on longevity. Stay away from too-good-to-be-true offers from unknown operators. Chances are, these are fire sales from desperate companies on the verge of bankruptcy. Focus on well-known brands that are financially stable.

Consider travel insurance. A reputable insurance policy will protect you if an operator goes out of business. If you can't find a good policy, use a credit card to make your purchase. It can also offer protections from financial insolvency.

Bottom line: Travel will continue after the coronavirus outbreak. The industry will return sooner than you think, and with some great deals.
That swell bottom line ending to the piece indicates that Mr. Elliott, in all likelihood, takes free trips and free hotel stays from the travel industry-- and very much would like that to continue.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

How Seriously Will Coronavirus Thin The Herd? What Can You Do About Not Being One Of The Ones Being Thinned?

Two or three weeks ago I explained why coronavirus fear had caused me to cancel a trip to the Dordogne region of France. Yesterday Scott McCartney was on the case for the Wall Street Journal: Smart Travel Planning In The Time Of Coronavirus. He began by asking, "Should you postpone or cancel travel because of coronavirus?" and replied "Yes, no and maybe." For him it's about geography-- a mistake. "For some destinations, the answer is a clear yes; others, a clear no. An increasing number are becoming a maybe, where it’s really a question of how much worry and hassle you want to pack into your trip." The disease is too rapid and virulent for there to be any negative answers, or even maybes. He's downplaying it and that's dangerous.
One threat: If you get the flu while traveling, you could end up quarantined somewhere because the symptoms in early stages are very similar to those of Covid-19.

“I think it’s a good time to assess personal risk tolerance,” says Henry Wu, director of Emory University’s TravelWell Center and assistant professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. “There’s a lot of potential for complications for travelers that may happen even if not high-risk for getting the disease.”

With the virus spreading beyond China to new countries, events and conferences are being canceled, airlines are expanding waivers to change reservations without penalty and more travelers are looking to postpone or cancel trips. The spread of the virus to Italy and South Korea changes travel considerations for many.

Travel does present greater risk because you typically encounter more people when traveling, public health experts say. They add that proper precautions-- frequently washing hands, avoiding touching unwashed hands to the face and liberal use of hand sanitizer-- reduce risk.

How to decide whether to go or not? Here’s a guide to help you make informed decisions:

Some Absolutes

First, if you’re sick, don’t travel. This rule applies all the time, but people routinely ignore it. Don’t do that in this climate unless you want to end up quarantined.

Some countries are or will be scanning passengers for increased body temperature. If you have a fever, you may be detained. Further, airline crews-- not to mention passengers-- are on heightened alert for anyone sneezing or coughing. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended flight crews isolate ill passengers. And it’s not negotiable: On an airplane, failure to comply with crew orders is a federal crime.

Second, no matter where you travel internationally, there is increased risk that travel may be disrupted. An outbreak can mean a city is sealed off, flights are canceled and travelers are quarantined. So best to plan ahead for serious disruption, just in case.

Take extra supplies of your medications with you. Take a supply of cold medicine and a thermometer. You might want to take work materials with you that you need after your return in case you end up stuck somewhere. Make sure you have health insurance documentation in case you end up sick. And have someone back home at the ready to help with emergency travel plans if you need to find a way home quickly. A travel agent may be a very good idea.

“As we learn more about the virus, governments can change overnight how they are responding,” says epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Third, consider whether you have a higher risk of getting sick while traveling. Older people or those with underlying medical conditions may want to ground themselves, experts say.

Dr. Wu advises getting a flu shot before traveling if you haven’t already. It can take a week to become effective, but it’s not too late in the flu season to protect yourself.

Fourth, if you want to consider travel insurance, consider only “cancel for any reason” plans. These policies typically cost about 40% more than standard policies and typically reimburse about 75% of nonrefundable trip costs if you do cancel, says Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer for Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison service. That’s a lower payout than other plans, but it’s the only type of travel insurance that will help at this point.

If you have insurance you bought before the outbreak began, it likely will only cover you if you contract the virus. It might cover you if you get sick and your doctor certifies you shouldn’t travel during your planned itinerary. But travel insurance doesn’t cover fear.

“People are just nervous. They aren’t sure what’s going to happen. They simply don’t want to go anymore, don’t feel comfortable going, don’t feel safe going. But those aren’t covered reasons under a standard policy,” Ms. Moncrief says.

Now that the coronavirus outbreak is well known, policies you buy won’t cover it-- it’s a known hazard. It’s the same reason you can’t buy fire insurance as wildfires approach your house.

Some Options

There are some logical ways to make an informed choice about where to go. Use the CDC’s three-level warning system, which is frequently updated and considered reliable.

Level 3 is a high-level warning of serious outbreak and it’s a no-go. The CDC recommends avoiding all nonessential travel. If your destination is Level 3-- mainland China and South Korea, which was added to Level 3 on Tuesday-- the decision is simple.

Level 2 calls for practicing enhanced precautions. You can still go, but a good rule for any travelers nervous about the virus would be to postpone or cancel trips to Level 2 counties-- Italy, Iran and Japan as of Tuesday. Wait for things to resolve.

Level 1 is when a place has been put on watch. Right now, only Hong Kong is listed as Level 1 for coronavirus. But other countries are listed with “apparent community spread”: Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam. The CDC says virus spread isn’t sustained or widespread enough to warrant a travel health notice. But that may be notice enough for you. (Here’s a link to all CDC travel warnings.)

Even without notice, you may find public events canceled and venues closed. And closings to prevent congregating crowds may happen anywhere.

Public health experts say the biggest health risk for domestic travel now is the flu. No part of the U.S. is considered higher risk for coronavirus than any other. But Dr. Nuzzo of Johns Hopkins says she doesn’t believe authorities have a good handle on where the virus is and where it isn’t, including in the U.S., because many countries aren’t testing aggressively.

“I think this virus will turn up everywhere,” she says, because that’s how respiratory viruses tend to spread. She also notes that trying to stop the spread by restricting travel hasn’t worked so far.

Still, Dr. Nuzzo booked a family summer vacation recently to Mexico and plans to go, even though she expects the virus to show up in Mexico. “My risk tolerance is that life needs to go on,” she says.

Flights by themselves aren’t considered higher risk, except that they are crowded situations. Dr. Wu notes there have been no documented or confirmed cases of coronavirus transmission aboard an airplane. The World Health Organization says an airplane cabin by itself isn’t more conducive to spreading infection. But the proximity of passengers does matter.

The WHO says the virus is transmitted by droplets, and only lives on surfaces for short periods, perhaps 30 minutes. Other health groups have questioned that, suggesting it can live much longer on surfaces. If you are concerned, wipe down surfaces you are going to touch on airplanes or other public spaces, such as hotel rooms.

Paper surgical masks are effective at keeping you from spreading disease if you are sick, but not effective at blocking you from ingesting virus. For that, health experts recommend an N95 respirator—a heavy-duty mask.
Americans are not taking this seriously enough, in part because Trump just looks at it through the prism of his own reelection chances and has been foolishly and selfishly playing it down. Tuesday, Australian virologists Ian Mackay and Katherine Arden noted that coronavirus is now showing up in 30 countries outside China and that the rapid spread indicates that "the virus is ahead of our efforts to contain it." They wrote that their post "is based on the assumption that a pandemic will occur at some point and that Wave 1 will impact us, wherever we live, in the coming weeks and months... Planning now and doing something means we can control how well we cope with some of what may be coming."
If we enter into a pandemic, large numbers of people will be sick. Even if that’s just staying home with a fever and bad cough for a week. If COVID-19 is more severe, that will have a greater impact.

And when one family member is sick, one or more others may be involved in their care, removing more people from the workplace. The same effect may result if children being excluded from school. In a worst-case scenario, widespread illness may mean too few workers to drive trucks and trains, buses and taxis, run water treatment, electricity or other government services, teach at schools or staff hospitals. This didn’t happen in Australia during the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. But supply chains may be impacted in a number of ways.

Authorities will try to slow the speed of COVID-19 to prevent hospitals-- which are essential to care for the sickest people-- from being overloaded. Public gatherings-- sports events and concerts-- as well as schools and childcare centres, could be postponed or closed. All of which aims will be to keep people apart, making it harder for the virus to spread quickly. Again, these decisions will differ between places, and may not even have to be made.

...As long as the virus circulates, and as long as you have never been infected, you are susceptible to infection resulting in COVID-19. This will be the case for the rest of your life until you have been infected which should protect you from severe disease. COVID-19 is mostly a mild illness but can cause severe pneumonia in approximately 20% of cases, leading to hospitalization for weeks and in a portion of these cases, to death.

Stay at least 2m away from obviously sick people.
We’re trying to avoid receiving a cough/sneeze in the face, shaking hands, or being in the range of droplet splatter and the “drop zone”
Wash your hands for 20 seconds & more frequently than you do now
Soap and water and then dry, or an alcohol-based hand rub, and air dry
Try not to touch your face.
There is a chance your unwashed fingers will have a virus on them and if you touch/rub your mouth, nose or eyes, you may introduce the virus and accidentally infect yourself. Practice this; get others to call you out when you forget. Make it a game.
While a mask seems like a good idea, and when used by professionals it does protect from infection, it can actually give inexperienced users a false sense of security. There isn’t a lot of good evidence (still!) that shows a mask to reliably prevent infection when worn by the public at large. They are useful to put on a sick person to reduce their spreading of the virus.

If you or a loved one becomes sick, follow the practices of the day. Call ahead before going to a Doctor, fever clinic or hospital and get advice on what to do. Hopefully, this message is already out there and we’ll see it more once transmission of the virus is widespread.

Reducing our risk of running short of food and important goods-- the 2-week list

What we’re looking at here is trying to minimize the impact of any shortages of goods we rely on having at the grocery store or at the end of an online ordering system.

...Below we list things we’ll need to have in case of a more major interruption to supply; a stock that will last 2 weeks. Some of these things will last much longer and include items that may not be a top priority for authorities to keep stocked:
Extra prescription medications, asthma relief inhalers Some of these may be a problem, so talk to your doctor soon.
Over-the-counter anti-fever and pain medications paracetamol and ibuprofen can go a long way to making us feel less sick
Feminine hygiene products
Family pack of toilet paper
In case food shortages limit the variety in your diet
Alcohol-containing hand rub
Household cleaning agents
Bleach, floor cleaner, toilet cleaner, surface cleaning spray, laundry detergent
Tissues, paper towel
Cereals, grains, beans, lentils, pasta
Tinned food – fish, vegetables, fruit
Oil, spices and flavours
Dried fruit and nuts
Ultra-heat treated or powdered milk
Ian is not drinking black coffee, no matter what
Batteries for anything that need batteries
Think about elderly relative’s needs
Their medications, pets, pandemic stash, plans for care
Pet food and care
Dry and tinned food, litter tray liners, medicines, anti-flea drops
Soft drink or candy/chocolate for treats
In a more severe pandemic, supply chain issues may mean fresh food becomes harder to get. So this list is an add-on to the one above, and its items should be the last things to buy if you have a hint of when supplies might slow or stop for a (hopefully short) time.
Bread, wraps
Meat for freezing
Vegetables, fruit
Fuel for your car
To date, looking at data from China (below), most (94%) deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in those aged over 50 years of age, with more than half (51%) in those aged over 70 years. The age group most at risk for death are those aged over 80 years.

Older people with comorbidities have experienced higher proportions of death than those with no comorbidities. Most cases identified in mainland China-- 80.9% of them-- even with the more severe case catching that China has favoured-- have been classified as mild. This is good news although 20% is still a lot of “severe” disease. Mild cases recover in about 2 weeks from the time they showed symptoms, while severe cases can take 3 to 6 weeks to recover.

Because of this, we may see a big impact on our elderly population, both in terms of hospitalisation and death. Residential aged care is likely to suffer and visits to loved ones may be restricted to keep them safe. If you have loved ones in an aged care facility, ask the facility about its plans for keeping their residents safe from flu (a similar situation) and whether they have thought about what they will do if SARS-CoV-2 is spreading widely.

It will be important to check that your parents and grandparents have prepared a Will and have considered an Enduring Power of Attorney in case they are unable to make care-based decisions for themselves. These aren’t fun to organise or think about, but they’re important whether we see a COVID-19 pandemic or not, so just use this as a reminder to get it done.
And when does it become too dangerous to go out to eat in restaurants? Yesterday? Much the way Trevor Noah did last night, but writing for Bloomberg News this morning, Jonathan Bernstein explained that Trump's coronavirus press conference wasn't exactly reassuring to anyone with half a brain. "Yes, he used his usual juvenile nicknames and petty insults for the Democrats he’s going to have to work with. Yes, he blamed the stock market drop on Monday and Tuesday on-- wait for it-- the Democratic debate Tuesday night. Yes, he repeatedly praised himself for solving the problem (setting up a potential 'Mission Accomplished' moment in the likely event the pandemic spreads in the U.S.) and had administration officials praise him as well. All entirely inappropriate and counterproductive. But it was worse than that. He was at times barely coherent even for someone who knew what he was trying to say. I can’t imagine what it was like for the bulk of the nation, folks who only sometimes pay attention to politics but might have tuned in because they want to be reassured that the government is on top of the problem. He must have been almost completely incomprehensible to them, rambling on about how he had recently discovered that the flu can kill lots of people and referring in a totally oblique way to the budget requests he had made to Congress and their reaction. He occasionally said something that sort of made sense, but mostly? Not. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s reaction was what I thought: 'I found most of what he said incoherent.' At no time over the course of the news conference did Trump supply evidence that he had any idea what he was talking about." Yeah... we're all going to die-- although Trump supporters will probably die first; at least there's that.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

In Regard To The Coronavirus, How Unsafe Is Airplane Travel? Will Governments Level With Us?

I'm a fairly intrepid international traveller and I've never thought twice about pandemics when making my travel plans. Until this morning. This morning is when I called my friend Helen, who was putting out summer vacation together in the Dordogne region of France. First off, how cool does this look?

But I told Helen to hold up on reserving the house Sarlat we were planning on. I just got this awful feeling that this coronavirus is way more serious than the public is lead to believe and that by summer, air travel is going to be... well too risky, even just to Europe.

Today the Washington Post reported that both the number of infected people and the number of people dying keeps growing, primarily in Wuhan in central China.
The global death toll from the novel coronavirus reached more than 810 on Sunday, surpassing the 774 fatalities attributed to the outbreak of the SARS coronavirus in 2002 and 2003. Among the dead was the first American, a 60-year-old woman who died Thursday in Wuhan.
Although Wuhan and Hubei province remain ravaged by the disease, Chinese officials say the number of new cases outside Hubei is declining, in a reflection of strict quarantine measures taking effect nationwide.
A World Health Organization-led international team is planning to leave for China on Monday or Tuesday to conduct an investigation of the coronavirus.
Chinese authorities have labeled masks a “strategic resource,” and experts call for most protective masks to be reserved for medical workers amid global shortages.
Hong Kong expanded its quarantine orders to more than 160 people who arrived from the Chinese mainland. People who violate the quarantine face up to six months in jail.
As far as I can tell, infected people in China are being put into what amounts to storage facilities. Oh-- and the Chinese government aren't being very forthcoming about the disease. We don't really know much about anything and I don't trust any of the information China is releasing. The Post reported that "Even as infections overwhelm the afflicted province, the rest of China may be seeing the effects of strict quarantine measures, Chinese health officials said Sunday. In all parts of China excluding Hubei, the daily number of new infections dropped from nearly 900 on Feb. 3 to 509 on Saturday, the officials said." Is it true? I wouldn't count on it.

An international team of experts led by WHO will depart for China on Monday or Tuesday to investigate the outbreak, said the director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Medical experts say available data show the disease-- officially named “novel coronavirus pneumonia,” or NCP, by Chinese health officials on Saturday-- is much more contagious than SARS, but the probability of death for those infected is much lower.

Around the world, cases continue to tick up. The number of confirmed infections rose on Sunday to 70 onboard the cruise liner Diamond Princess, which has been anchored and quarantined off the coast of Japan. Only the sick are able to disembark.

One of the evacuees was Rebecca Frasure, her husband Kent Frasure, 42, told The Post by phone on Sunday from the quarantined ship in Yokohama. The couple from Forest Grove, Ore., had traveled to Disneyland in Hong Kong, Vietnam and other destinations before Japanese medical staff boarded the ship with thermometers. Rebecca Frasure, 35, tested positive for the virus on Thursday, her husband said, and was taken by ambulance to a hospital north of Tokyo.

“She is doing pretty good, no fever or cough,” he said, although symptoms can take as many as 14 days after exposure to appear. Frasure said his wife is being evaluated in a stripped-down contagious disease ward with just a bed, TV and calendar on the wall. Doctors step through a sealed antechamber to see her.

It is an alien experience for her, said Frasure, a technician at Intel. She does not speak Japanese and the physicians use electronic devices to translate confusing medical jargon. But Rebecca, who works for a health-care company, has WiFi and keeps in contact with him and family on FaceTime, he said.

The quarantine on the ship, meanwhile, has become claustrophobic. Frasure had a fever earlier, so he has been restricted to his suite. His Nintendo Switch and reporters calling him for comment help pass the time, he said. The ship captain periodically issues updates over a loudspeaker, but media reports often clue in the passengers before then.

“Usually we know what’s happening before it’s announced,” he said.

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, urged calm as the city-state reported a spike in the number of cases to a total of 40 and raised its alert level. New cases were also reported in Germany and South Korea.

In Hong Kong, where grocery stores have been emptied as worried residents stock up on supplies, the number of cases rose by three to a total of 29 on Sunday. The city’s health authorities said tests for all 3,600 crew and passengers quarantined for the past four days on a cruise ship, the World Dream, came back negative and everyone aboard was released Sunday afternoon.

China faces a crucial test beginning Monday as laborers from across the country trickle back to work in major cities that have been effectively emptied and shut down since the Lunar New Year in late January.

Officials, concerned about another spike in infections, have tried to delay the return to work. Shanghai is asking companies to dissuade nonlocal employees from returning for several more weeks. In Shenzhen, the iPhone assembler Foxconn has told employees that work is suspended until further notice. Officials in cities ranging from Xian in the north to Tianjin on the east coast have warned travelers from other parts of China that they would be immediately quarantined upon their return.

In a sign that governments are still seeking to prolong closures, state media reported Sunday that the populous Hebei province surrounding Beijing would join a number of other major jurisdictions keeping schools closed until March 1 at the earliest.

At the heart of the epidemic in Wuhan, the situation remains dire.

Officials are rushing to transfer patients into three quarantine facilities with 4,000 beds to alleviate a severe shortage of space inside the city’s overwhelmed hospitals. Hotels and university dorms are being requisitioned and converted into spaces for “centralized quarantine” for patients showing symptoms.

Leishenshan, a second makeshift hospital with 1,600 beds, began accepting patients with severe symptoms beginning Saturday night, state media reported.

Wuhan officials had initially asked all but the most ill patients to stay home in recent weeks due to a shortage of hospital beds, but on Saturday Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, the leader of a central government response group, ordered local officials to “take in everyone that should be taken in” to newly established facilities to quarantine confirmed cases.

But risks remain inside medical facilities. Doctors from Wuhan’s Zhongnan Hospital reported that 41 percent of coronavirus patients at their hospital became infected while inside the hospital by other patients and medical staff. The doctors announced their findings in a paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association on Friday.

At another hospital, the Wuhan Mental and Health Center, 50 patients and 30 medical staff were infected due to a lack of caution and protective gear, a doctor, Zhao Ping, told China Newsweek magazine.

Hubei deputy governor Cao Guangjing said Saturday that hospitals in the province had only 80 percent of the masks they required.

Two prominent incidents have become symbols for China’s tight grip on information and simmering tensions among its citizens unhappy with Beijing’s response to the virus.

Chen Qiushi, an attorney and citizen journalist, slipped into the Wuhan hot zone on Jan. 24 to interview citizens about the outbreak, The Post reported, garnering worldwide attention for the city of 11 million where little, if any, information has slipped through government censors.

Chen’s family and friends said this weekend he was forcibly detained in an undisclosed location.

Details of his disappearance emerged days after Li Wenliang, the “whistleblower doctor” considered the first to sound the alarm about the disease, died after contracting the virus in Wuhan.

Millions of Chinese tried to surge past censors by amplifying the social media hashtag #WeWantFreedomOfSpeech, and photos of him flooded the Internet as a digital rallying cry.

One month after patients began flooding into area hospitals, many increasingly sick and desperate households say they still cannot secure care and fear time is running out.

Li Lina, a resident in the Hanyang district, beat a gong and shrieked from her high-rise balcony this weekend to beg for help for her and her stricken mother holed up at home. A neighbor filmed her cries and uploaded it to the Internet, where it went viral.

Reached by telephone on Sunday, Li explained that her mother’s condition was steadily worsening but she has not been able to secure a hospital bed since Jan. 29, because city regulations allow only confirmed coronavirus patients to get spots.

Li was finally able to administer a nucleic acid test on Friday; the result returned positive for coronavirus but ambiguous. Doctors gave her mother a second exam and Li is waiting for the result to arrive Tuesday.

“I don’t even know if she’ll hold out that long,” Li said as she tended to her mother, who is too feeble to speak and communicates by ringing a bell. “I feel helpless. I can’t watch my mother die.”

A friend of mine who lives in Hong Kong told me that the city is better equipped than most places, because of previous hibernations in response to SARS and bird flu potential pandemics, to react by being careful without panicking. BUT the government has virtually no credibility. The consequence of that is the city's medics are on strike demanding a total shutdown of the Chinese border.

There were 7,000 medics on strike last week

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Flying In Misery... More Seats Per Cabin Means Less Room Per Passenger

I used to look forward to airplane flights. Now I dread them and avoid airplane travel when I can. The airline companies have skimped on everything and managed to make it an ordeal rather than a pleasure. Every single aspect of airplane travel is a relative bummer-- from booking flights (not to mention trying to use their scammy frequent flier miles) to the airport experience to the security bullies to the plane configurations to the hostile service from overworked, underpaid employees. On Thanksgiving Day, with thousands of travelers stranded at airports around the country, the Washington Post published a story by Lori Aratani about uncomfortable seats and how Congress has mandated the companies to do something about it. "At a special center in Oklahoma City," she wrote, "researchers from the Federal Aviation Administration are running a series of drills that could affect the comfort and safety of millions of airplane passengers. More than 700 residents have been recruited to help determine whether the space between airplane seats or the size of the seats affects their ability to evacuate an aircraft. The drills mark the first time the FAA is examining whether the trend toward smaller seats and less personal space on today’s planes poses safety risks to those aboard in the event of an emergency."
But consumer advocates and lawmakers are worried that the results of the tests are flawed, because the people the agency recruited don’t reflect the demographics of today’s flying public.

The FAA said the pool of volunteers includes adults between 18 and 60. Lawmakers and consumer advocates note there are no children or travelers with disabilities. The pool also does not include animals, which are a growing presence in today’s cabins, said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

“You’ve got to have a representative sample,” Cohen said. “This is supposed to be a scientific study, but it’s flawed from the get-go.”

An FAA spokesman declined to address concerns about the demographics of the test pool.

The issue is of keen interest for Cohen, a frequent traveler. He, along with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), co-wrote the provision in the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill that required the agency conduct these exercises as part of the push to set minimum standards for seat size and pitch.

There are no federal rules regarding seat size. Manufacturers, however, must demonstrate that there is enough space to allow passengers to evacuate the aircraft in 90 seconds or less.

“The testing is a research project, following standard scientific methods and principles, which requires that we minimize the number of variables to allow proper interpretation of the results,” FAA spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt said. “Inclusion of variables other than the ones critical to the topic of investigation could obscure the effect of study parameters.”

As part of the study, 60 volunteers will be seated in mock airplane cabins that simulate the layout of a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320, two common single-aisle aircraft. They’ll be instructed by flight attendants to evacuate. The seats will then be reconfigured and the tests will be run again. Each group of 60 will do the test four times. The study is being conducted by the FAA’s Cabin Safety Research Team over 12 days this month. The goal is to release the results of the study by next summer, Breitenfeldt said.

John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, said the FAA can’t ignore the fact that space on airplanes is shrinking at the same time the average American is getting bigger. The shift doesn’t just affect comfort, he argues-- it also could affect safety.

Seat width on many of the major airlines has shrunk from about 18.5 inches to 17 inches. And seat pitch-- the distance from one point in a seat to the same point in a seat in front or behind it-- has decreased from an average of 35 inches to 31 inches. On some airlines, the distance is now 28 inches.

At the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American man is about 30 pounds heavier-- 198 pounds-- than he was in the 1960s. The average American woman, who now weighs 170, is nearly 30 pounds heavier than she was in the 1960s. Nearly 93 million Americans, roughly 40 percent of the population, are obese, and that number is projected to reach 50 percent by 2030.

Breyault said limiting the test groups to just 60 people also doesn’t reflect the reality of air travel today. Statistics show that planes are carrying more passengers than a decade ago. Add to that other variables: Because of baggage fees, people are bringing more bags on board. More animals-- whether service dogs or comfort animals-- are also flying.

“The bottom line from our point of view is that the FAA seems determined to find any way around meaningful rulemakings that would improve evacuation safety,” Breyault said.

The National Consumers League was one of 10 consumer groups that wrote to FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, raising concerns about the drills.

The FAA has long resisted calls to set minimum standards for seat size and pitch.

In 2016, the Flyers Rights Education Fund petitioned a federal appeals court to impose a moratorium that would stop airlines from reducing the size of seats. Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the request, but instructed the FAA to explain why smaller seats were not a safety hazard. The FAA responded saying it is up to the airlines to determine the appropriate seat size, noting the issue is one of comfort, not safety.

Lawmakers, however, refused to take no for an answer, which is why FAA researchers are conducting tests in Oklahoma City.

At the request of Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), chairman of the aviation subcommittee, the Department of Transportation’s inspector general launched an audit into the FAA’s evacuation procedures, which will include an examination of whether changes in seating configuration might impact passengers’ ability to evacuate a plane in an emergency. The inspector general’s report is expected next year.

Last year AirFareWatchDog published a piece, US Airlines With the Most Legroom in Economy... and the Least Your worst imaginings are true: "To increase profits, airlines are reconfiguring their cabins to cram in as many seats as possible, and that comes at the cost of your comfort (and knees). That space needs to come from somewhere, and the most common way to find it is by reducing the seat pitch throughout the airplane. For those who aren't familiar with the term, 'seat pitch' is the distance from the back of your plane seat to the seat in front of you. While reducing seat pitch has been going on for years, the recent trend of airlines moving towards Basic Economy and the low-cost carrier model has undoubtedly put a squeeze on customers."

Let's start with the 3 best:
JetBlue- 33-32 inches
Southwest- 32-31 inches
Alaska- 32-31 inches
And the 3 worst:
Sun Country- 29-30 inches
Frontier- 28-31 inches
Spirit- 28 inches
And the big three carriers:
American- 31 inches (average)
United- 30-31 inches
Delta- 30-32 inches
Oh-- and seats are about 3 inches narrower on the major airlines. I wonder which airlines of these re-regulated airlines skimp on safety and routine servicing.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Waiting to Exhale

-by Skip Kaltenheuser

I find myself in the center of a massive pit, surrounded by thousands of rigid warriors tall enough to look down on me. Posture perfect despite their years-- twenty-two centuries-- they stand in defiant battle formation. Overwhelmed, I back up to photograph a wiseacre standing behind a warrior who is missing his head. I accidentally bump against the warrior behind me. Down he goes. Then down go a hundred, like dominos. Thousands of warriors turn to face me, their expressions uniform in anger. Calvary horses paw the earth and tug at chariots. Crossbows lock and load. I leap from the pit and only quit running when I’m in Kazakhstan, refrains from Traffic’s Forty Thousand Headmen playing in my head.

They may have feet of clay, but these mystery men still intimidate my dreams. Fierce terracotta warriors have transformed an impoverished Chinese countryside-- some people still dwell in caves-- into a tourist Mecca. Beijing may have the Olympics spotlight, but it is the ancient capital, Xi’an, in central China, one of the great ancient cities, where Chinese history really built its foundations. Peasant farmers digging a well discovered the first terracotta warriors in 1974. The more archaeologists dug, the more stunned they were. Here the world awakened anew to the former splendor and mystery of China. Now encased by a world class museum, the warriors are part of a vanguard supporting the prediction that by 2020, China will be the world’s number one tourist destination.

Hard to believe the museum, still a work in progress, began in 1976, the last year of Mao’s life. Some communist somewhere was thinking tourism. Perhaps Mao-- China’s last emperor, loosely defined, and ruthless-- felt some kinship to Qin. So how did eight thousand warriors with armor and weapons, with cavalry and horses, congregate here, six thousand in the largest pit, now shielded by a protective hanger structure large enough to house an aircraft factory?

One of the most ruthless of emperors, Qin, had his successes, including launching the endless project of the Great Wall. Qin created the first feudal and centralized empire in China, the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC), by subjugating the various states. But it was a bloody business and many tried to assassinate Qin. He must have anticipated the need for an army to protect him in the afterlife from angry spirits lining up from the scholars he murdered, opposing armies he slaughtered, and his forced labor pool, many of the latter buried alive to maintain tomb secrets. Never mind the 3,000 barren wives and concubines – some revered, some tortured for pleasure – many entombed to keep Qin company. One could assume that he had earned his nightmares. And Qin began earning them young. Becoming king while still twelve, he started building his own tomb in a mausoleum complex spreading over two square kilometers, constructed by 720,000 workers and craftsmen who eventually labored nearly four decades at what was for most of them, the ultimate thankless task.

Embarking on such an endeavor instead of honoring Confucian customs of respecting his late father with a grand memorial brought him the disapproval of 460 Confucian scholars. And because Qin was not keen on critics, he executed them, burning many of them alive. About this time, critics began to see the brilliance in the young emperor’s plan. Qin’s as yet unopened tomb is said to have pearls in the ceiling for stars, and small rivers and lakes filled with mercury.

One distant dig, labeled pit “number five”, surrounded by an orchard, is filled with fragments of armor, like an upended Scrabble game. It is the tip of a huge pit, mostly unexcavated, and thought to contain only armor suits, perhaps tens of thousands of them. As thousands of chariot warriors, infantrymen, cavalrymen and horses were created-- as well as dancers, musicians and acrobats-- Qin’s theory was rather simple: the armor honors those fallen in battle and not properly buried, so the spirits of the dead and dismembered would be less likely to track him down for vengeance.

Today, the museum is visited by over two million people every year, nearly a quarter of them foreigners. Commerce related to the warriors already generates nearly a fifth of the province’s income, not counting what the surviving peasants who discovered them, local heroes, make autographing museum books. Warrior knockoffs of every size are available for sale everywhere, including gas stations and roadside attractions.

It’s an interesting contrast to the technical industries that have gained a presence not very far away-- China’s first satellite and first integrated chip were created in Xi’an, and there are scores of state run laboratories digesting and applying technologies absorbed from around the world. The city itself has contrasts of modernity and the old walled city within it, all of which struggles against the dust and sand blowing in from the advancing Gobi desert. Indeed, the Xi’an sky is as much a signpost of global warming as the world’s defeated glaciers or blanched coral that more often catches the public eye. The sky can be a brilliant blue, but in the morning it can be hard to tell if the dim globe is the sun rising, or the moon. The warriors’ stoic gaze that seems to underpin China’s permanence is mitigated by China firing up a new dirty coal-burning power plant each week.

The sky has the feel of an empire reaching its limits, as empires inevitably do, just as the coal polluted air assaults the terracotta flesh.

At the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeological Research, fragments are assembled in restoration laboratories by German and Chinese scientists who exchange preservation expertise. Fragile artifacts, such as a bronze goose neck and head or sword, are X-rayed and studied to determine weaknesses and original designs. Some are tenderly and meticulously labored over within a sealed glass chamber, the scientists’ arms in long rubber gloves, as if herding renegade microbes. The warriors’ fragility is underscored by the nine or so different moulds that attack the terracotta, said to originate from shifting humidity and tourist breath. Despite the economic boom the warriors generated, funding remains a tough quest. The entire process of putting a single warrior back together can take up to a year.

The Qin Dynasty didn’t last long. Five years after Qin’s burial in 210 BC, a vengeful general Xiang Yu raided the tomb, stealing the real weapons the warriors held, and set a fire in the necropolis that burned for months. Many of the warriors are as shattered as egg shells. They now inspire craftsmanship of a different sort. Today, selected tour operators provide special access for travelers, who photograph themselves with the six and a half foot figures as if they were old chums. Up close and personal, visitors study faces that convey personality, faces that, millenniums ago, would have studied theirs.

It’s the faces that most linger in this writer’s mind, knowing that each, though a notch larger than life, represents a person who walked the earth, fighting in battles that seem otherworldly. We have often seen the idealized faces of emperors across different cultures. We seldom see the faces of Everyman. Their faces speak volumes about the warrior vanities of the day-- the moustaches and goatees, the hair buns. Facial features reveal that many hailed from minority populations to the northwest, likely conscripted from conquered populations. The drama behind their searching faces is enhanced by pondering the armies of craftsmen who gave birth to the clay warriors, and the hardships endured. Perhaps it is respect for these toiling workers, not for the emperor, that the warriors most convey, as thousands of them patiently await their chance to shock and awe.