Inner City: James Whitmore

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In the line of fire

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‘Exhausted’: Doctors at China’s virus epicenter overworked and unprotected

first_imgDoctors on the frontline of China’s new coronavirus epidemic are facing a daunting task: treat an ever-growing number of infected patients and risk getting infected themselves due to a drastic shortage of masks and other protective equipment.Tired and understaffed, medical workers have had to deal with thousands of new cases per week in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak that first emerged late last year.Many doctors have had to see patients without proper masks or protective body suits, resorting to reusing the same equipment when they should be changed regularly. Some have even worn diapers to avoid having to take off the equipment and make it last longer, according to a health official.One doctor at a community clinic in Wuhan said he and at least 16 other colleagues were showing symptoms similar to the new virus, including lung infections and coughing.”As doctors, we do not want to work while being a source of infection,” he told AFP, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.But “right now, there is no one to replace you,” the doctor explained, adding that all medical staff without a fever are expected to work. Topics :center_img “What would happen if there was no one working on the frontline?”Some 44 percent of the 42,600 cases nationwide — and the majority of more than 1,100 deaths — have been in Wuhan, home to a wild animal market where the virus is suspected of having originated before spreading between humans.The risks medical staff are facing was highlighted on Friday after Li Wenliang, a whistleblowing doctor in Wuhan, succumbed to the disease more than a month after he first raised alarm about a new SARS-like virus in the city.His death unleashed an outpouring of grief and anger on Chinese social media, with 10 academics in Wuhan circulating an open letter calling for political reform and freedom of speech.Mask deficit The deputy mayor of Wuhan said on Friday the city faced a daily shortage of 56,000 N95 masks and 41,000 protective suits.Medical staff in protective suits will “wear diapers, reduce how much water they drink, and reduce how many times they use the bathroom,” said Jiao Yahui, a top official at China’s National Health Commission.Some of them will wear the same protective suit for six or even nine hours, when they should not be worn for more than four hours in a quarantined ward, she said last week.”Of course, we don’t advocate this method, but medical staff really have no alternative,” she admitted.The Chinese government has responded by mobilizing the entire country to increase production of masks and suits.As of Monday, three-quarters of mask and suit producers had resumed work following an extended Lunar New Year holiday, said Cong Liang, an official at China’s top economic planner.China has also imported more than 300 million masks and about 3.9 million articles of protective clothing since January 24, an official said last week.The Red Cross Society of China too has received over 900 million Yuan ($129 million) in donations for epidemic relief — though it has drawn scrutiny for its lack of transparency and efficiency.”Even if we receive more masks, the number of patients increases even faster,” said a doctor at a major Wuhan hospital, who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak with media.Each doctor or nurse uses two to four masks each day, she explained.”The consumption of masks in the hospital is enormous,” she emphasized. “They have a permanent lack of masks.”Doctors have also been forced to don makeshift hazmat suits, which are not adequate protection against the virus, said Xu Yuan, a 34-year-old in the US who donated $5,000 in protective equipment to former classmates working at Wuhan hospitals.”As soon as he put it on, [the suit] cracked because it was too small for him,” she said, describing a friend in Wuhan — who was also forced to wear the same hazmat suit for five days.”Everyday, he disinfects it after use,” she told AFP.”He said it may have been useless, but it is still better than nothing.”Calls for helpHandling the daily deluge of new cases takes another kind of toll too, said the doctor at the large hospital in Wuhan, whose colleagues are handling confirmed cases of virus patients.”They are exhausted,” she told AFP. One of her colleagues, for instance, works at a clinic that receives 400 patients within eight hours.Many are dealing with patients “who die very quickly, whom they have not managed to save,” she said.”They have a lot of pressure,” the doctor said, adding that her hospital had set up psychological monitoring.Many Wuhan residents are worried, too, said the doctor at the community clinic.He and his colleagues receive calls from distressed community members, he said — some of whom are too afraid to leave their homes.”You can hear their calls for help, but your hands are tied,” the doctor said, describing families where patients are stuck at home without medical treatment. “There’s nothing we can do.”last_img read more

Coronavirus time bomb: America’s uninsured and brutal work culture

first_imgLike many Americans, bartender Danjale Williams is worried about the growing threat of the novel coronavirus.What makes the 22-year-old in Washington even more frightened: The thought of medical bills she just can’t afford, as one of almost 27.5 million people in the United States who don’t have health insurance. “I definitely would second guess before going to the doctor, because the doctor’s bill is crazy,” she said. “If it did come down to that, I don’t have enough savings to keep me healthy.” The current figure is about 8.5 percent of the population. Getting through the door Public health experts often worry about the destructive potential of a pandemic in poorer parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. These poverty-plagued regions have hospitals that are ill-equipped to stop the spread of infectious diseases, or to adequately care for patients needing breathing assistance, which the most severe cases of COVID-19 require.By contrast, the US has some of the world’s best hospitals and medical staff, but those not lucky enough to have good insurance through their employer, and not poor enough to qualify for state insurance, often opt out of the system entirely.A routine doctor’s visit can run into hundreds of dollars for those without coverage.”I think that it’s possible if this has the sustained spread, that might highlight some of those health care disparities that we already know about and are trying to work on, but haven’t figured out a way to solve,” said Brian Garibaldi, the medical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s biocontainment unit.That’s not to say uninsured people have no recourse if they fall seriously ill. US law requires that people who are truly sick get the care they need, regardless of ability to pay. Abigail Hansmeyer, a Minnesota resident who along with her husband is uninsured, said that if she did fall ill, “we may seek out the emergency room for treatment.”But being treated doesn’t mean the visit was free and the uninsured can be lumped with huge bills after.”So we have to very carefully consider costs in every situation,” the 29-year-old said.Presentee-ism One of the key messages the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out about the coronavirus is to stay home if you have mild respiratory symptoms, except to go to the doctor once you have called in and if they think you need to.”But a lot of people, depending on their jobs, their position and their privilege, are not able to do that,” said Brown.The US is alone among advanced countries in not offering any federally mandated paid sick leave.Though private companies offer an average of eight days per year, only 30 percent of the lowest paid workers are  able to earn sick days, according to the Economic Policy Institute. For many of these people, missing even a day’s work can make a painful financial dent.An October 2019 nationwide survey of 2,800 workers by the accounting firm Robert Half found that 57 percent sometimes go to work while sick and 33 percent always go when sick.Vaccine cost fears As the global death toll from the virus approaches 3,000 and the US braces for a wider outbreak, the race is on to develop vaccines and treatments. Current timeline estimates for the leading vaccine candidate are 12-18 months, but will it be affordable for all? That question was put to Health Secretary Alex Azar in Congress last week.His response: “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.” Ed Silverman, a columnist for industry news site Pharmalot, panned the comment  as “outrageous.””No one said profits are verboten,” he wrote. “But should we let some Americans who may contract the coronavirus die because the price is out of reach?”Topics : As the virus begins spreading in the west of the country, where the first death was reported Saturday, public health experts warned the US has several characteristics unique among wealthy nations that make it vulnerable.These include a large and growing population without medical insurance, the 11 million or so undocumented migrants afraid to come into contact with authorities, and a culture of “powering through” when sick for fear of losing one’s job.”These are all things that can perpetuate the spread of a virus,” said Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist at UC Riverside.The number of Americans without health insurance began falling from a high of 46.7 million in 2010 following the passage of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), but has risen again over the past two years.last_img read more

Tokyo could lose Olympics if not held in 2020, minister says

first_img“Looking at the contract once again, it says in Article 66 that the IOC holds the right to cancel the Games by deactivating the contract if… the Games are not held in 2020,” Hashimoto said.”At this moment, the Tokyo 2020 committee, the IOC and Tokyo [city government] are doing their best to make sure the Games will be held from July 24,” she added.”The government will fully support that.”COVID-19 has been detected in 76 countries, killing 3,116 and causing chaos as governments clamp down on travel. A long list of sports events have been cancelled or postponed to avoid spreading the virus. Topics : Tokyo risks losing the Olympics if they’re postponed later than this year over the new coronavirus, a government minister said on Tuesday, adding that May looks like the deadline for the decision.The contract for the Games says the International Olympic Committee can withdraw hosting rights if they’re not held in 2020, Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto told parliament.Japan’s government, Tokyo organizers and the IOC have all pledged to hold the Games on schedule from July 24, but the fast-spreading virus continues to raise concerns.center_img Hashimoto added that May looked like an “important benchmark” for deciding whether the Games go ahead as scheduled.”An IOC member has said the end of May is the final deadline for making the decision,” she said, referring to remarks by senior IOC member Dick Pound.”So I think the end of May is an important benchmark,” Hashimoto said.”We’re making utmost efforts so that the IOC can be convinced that the Tokyo Games can be held safely.”Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stepped up national measures to contain the virus, urging schools nationwide to close for several weeks and calling on organizers of large events to consider cancelling or delaying them.Everything from football matches and music concerts have been affected, while sumo’s spring tournament will be held behind closed doors.Also on Tuesday, a wheelchair rugby test event for the Paralympics, which are scheduled to start on August 25, was cancelled over the virus.”Tokyo 2020 nevertheless will carry out the wheelchair rugby test event in some form in April, after ensuring a safe and secure environment,” an organizing committee statement said.last_img read more

New bribe details on 2018, 2022 World Cup votes as execs charged

first_imgTopics : In addition, Trinidad’s long-serving FIFA official Jack Warner “was promised and received” bribe payments totalling $5 million to vote for Russia while Guatemala’s Rafael Salguero was promised a $1 million bribe to vote for Russia.Salguero pleaded guilty to multiple corruption charges in 2016 and was banned from FIFA while Warner, who faces charges in the United States, is currently battling extradition to the US from his native Trinidad.”The profiteering and bribery in international soccer have been deep-seated and commonly known practices for decades,” William F. Sweeney Jr, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement on Monday which announced the charges against Lopez, Martinez and Romy.”Over a period of many years, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the governance and business of international soccer with bribes and kickbacks, and engaged in criminal fraudulent schemes that caused significant harm to the sport of soccer.”Their schemes included the use of shell companies, sham consulting contracts and other concealment methods to disguise the bribes and kickback payments and make them appear legitimate.”Since the FIFA scandal erupted in 2015, the US government has accused a total of 45 people and various sports companies of more than 90 crimes and of paying or accepting more than $200 million in bribes. Of the 45 accused, five have died. A total of 22 pleaded guilty, of which only six have been sentenced to date.A dozen remain in their home countries, where they face prosecution by local authorities or are free fighting extradition. Two former executives with US media giant Fox were charged with corruption, bank fraud and money-laundering on Monday as US federal prosecutors shed fresh light on the scandal-tainted bidding war for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.Former 21st Century Fox employees Hernan Lopez, 49, and Carlos Martinez, 41, face charges along with 65-year-old Gerard Romy, who worked for Spanish media conglomerate Imagina. The three men are accused of paying millions in bribes to officials from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, the governing bodies for football in South America and North America, Central America and the Caribbean.center_img The charges allege the bribes were paid in exchange for lucrative television rights contracts for regional competitions, the Copa America and qualifying games for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.The case forms part of the wide-ranging 2015 corruption scandal that left world governing body FIFA in turmoil and led to the downfall of president Sepp Blatter.An unsealed superseding indictment released on Monday also detailed corruption surrounding the 2010 vote in Zurich which saw FIFA award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.The indictment said former Brazilian FIFA member Ricardo Teixeira and late Paraguayan official Nicolas Leoz, both members of the FIFA committee which voted on the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, received payment of bribes in exchange for voting for Qatar’s bid.last_img read more

US passes 120,000 virus deaths: Johns Hopkins

first_imgMany states have largely lifted lockdown measures, and New York — the country’s epicenter for the pandemic — took a big step Monday by allowing non-essential businesses to reopen.But some 20 states, primarily in the south and west, have seen a rebound in infections.Among them, Florida passed 100,000 cases, of which nearly 3,000 were diagnosed on Monday alone, according to local health officials.President Donald Trump said Monday that the virus death toll in the US could surpass 150,000, though he insisted that two to four million lives would have been lost if the country had not taken steps to slow the spread of the disease. The United States on Monday passed the grim benchmark of 120,000 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak when it added another 425 fatalities in 24 hours, the Johns Hopkins University tally showed.The world’s largest economy is the hardest-hit country by the pandemic, with more than 2.31 million official cases — out of which about 640,000 people have fully recovered, according to the Baltimore-based institution at 8:30pm (0030 GMT Tuesday).The previous day’s toll of 305 deaths in 24 hours was one of the lowest in months, but numbers have tended to be lower during the weekend and just after, depending on the feedback from local health authorities. Topics :last_img read more

Australia deploys police, army to enforce border closure amid COVID-19 outbreak

first_imgTopics : “There will be a significant military and police operation going on to monitor all cross-border activity,” NSW Police Minister David Elliott warned. “There’s serious fines and indeed, a jail sentence, to anyone that wants to push the envelope.”People caught crossing the border without permission via any of the 55 roads that are heavily used by commuters, school children and road freight, or several river and wilderness crossings, will face penalties including a fine of A$11,000 ($7,700) and six months imprisonment.Daily travel permits will be granted to people who live in border towns and cities but with the closure just hours away, the application system was still being developed.Kevin Mack, the mayor of Albury, a border town on the NSW side, said with an estimated 50,000 car movements across the state line every day “it will be a nightmare for everyone.” The border closure was announced on Monday in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, the Victorian capital, which prompted authorities this week to reinstate strict social-distancing orders in more than 30 suburbs and put nine public housing towers into complete lockdown.Victoria was responsible for 191 of the 199 new cases reported nationally on Tuesday, the biggest one-day rise since early April, excluding last week’s addition of historical data from cruise ships.Australia has now recorded almost 8,800 cases and 106 deaths, far below many other countries, but the Melbourne outbreak has worried officials. Some Australian media reported on Tuesday that Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews was considering reimposing some broader lockdown measures across the state.The closure of the border is a blow to Australia’s hopes of cushioning the fall as the country heads into its first recession in nearly three decades, thanks to social distancing restrictions that were imposed in March and have been largely lifted.Border chaosFor businesses on the border, which last closed during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, it also poses an immediate logistics headache.”About a quarter of my staff like me live in NSW, and cross that border every day to come to work,” said Paul Armstrong, who runs a petrol station in Wodonga, a border town on the Victorian side. “I don’t know if they are going to be able to get in.”The closure also comes during school holidays in both states, a peak travel time for many families.Ray Bell, owner of the Twofold Bay Motor Inn in Eden, a coastal town on the NSW side of the border, said he received 37 cancellations overnight, including five guests who were forced to leave early to make it back home.Outside of the border towns, Victoria residents will be able to apply for a permit, but will need to prove a special need for their travel. Freight transporters will be free to cross the border without a permit, but will be subjected to random stops.Meanwhile, Football Federation Australia (FFA) will be forced to request exemptions to allow Melbourne’s three A-League clubs into New South Wales after their plans to exit Victoria by plane on Monday night were scuppered by fog that closed the airport.center_img Hundreds of police officers and army troops are being deployed to enforce the closure of the busy border between Australia’s two most populous states as officials grapple to contain a fresh coronavirus outbreak.The state line between New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, which is highly porous and stretches hundreds of kilometers, is scheduled to close at 11.59 p.m. on Tuesday for the first time in 100 years.Underscoring the need for decisive action, Victoria state reported a record number of new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, taking the national tally to a three-month high.last_img read more

Credit guarantee to boost lending for MSMEs, but risk of bad loans haunts banks

first_imgThe government’s new credit guarantee scheme is expected to boost lending for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but analysts have expressed concerns that risk of rising bad loans now haunts the banking industry.The scheme is one of the most popular stimulus programs for economies across the globe during the virus-induced economic downturn, said Bank Indonesia (BI) senior deputy governor Destry Damayanti. The scheme, she went on to say, would be crucial to stimulate credit growth.“The loan guarantee program is crucial to allow banks to boost their lending for MSMEs and, therefore, support economic recovery,” Destry told an online discussion on Friday, adding that banks were previously reluctant to disburse their money amid fears of bad loans. She stressed that Indonesian banks were better now prepared than during the financial crises in 1998 and in 2008 to deal with liquidity issues and the risk of rising non-performing loans (NPL) in the wake of the pandemic.The government has disbursed credit insurance premiums worth Rp 5 trillion (US$341.02 million) to state-owned credit insurers PT Jaminan Kredit Indonesia (Jamkrindo) and PT Asuransi Kredit Indonesia (Askrindo) to guarantee working capital loans of Rp 100 trillion and help MSMEs survive the pandemic.The scheme will provide guarantees for banks that channel loans to MSMEs until November 2021 and cover loans with a ceiling of Rp 10 billion and a tenor of three years available for 60.6 million MSMEs from all business sectors.But the scheme may lead to mounting bad loans for banks as domestic demand remains sluggish due to weakening purchasing power amid slowing economic activity, said Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef) economist Aviliani. “If businesses have yet to pick up following a slump in demand, then banks are forced to lend money; we are risking mounting bad loans in the next one to two years,” Aviliani said at the same discussion, adding the government would need to step up stimulus spending to boost demand.Indonesian banks’ non-performing loans (NPL), which calculate the ratio of bad loans to total loan value, continued to rise to 3.01 percent in May from 2.89 in April and 2.77 percent in March. Loan growth, meanwhile, fell to 3.04 percent year-on-year (yoy) in May from 5.73 percent in April.“We think the government should move more quickly in spending stimulus money and it must pay special attention to the demand side,” she said, calling for the government to bolster its stimulus on social aid to stimulate demand.The government is allocating Rp 695.2 trillion in stimulus funds to prevent a greater economic downturn, which is expected to shrink by 0.4 percent at worst or grow by 1 percent at best, with the budget deficit expected to reach 6.34 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).Moody’s Investors Service expressed a similar view in a new report in late May, stating that Indonesian banks would see their asset quality and profitability deteriorate because of coronavirus impacts. However, their capital and liquidity will remain strong, providing ample buffers to absorb financial stress.”Restructured loans in Indonesia have grown significantly since authorities relaxed rules for debt restructuring in March to provide financial relief for those impacted by the crisis,” said Moody’s analyst Tengfu Li.”And while this, along with subsidies for consumers and small businesses will provide temporary relief for banks, nonperforming loans will still increase substantially in the longer term, given the scope of economic disruptions stemming from the coronavirus crisis.”Indonesia’s financial authority has so far taken several measures to alleviate banking stress during the pandemic, including loan restructuring, interest relief for MSMEs and liquidity access from the central bank using the repurchase agreement (repo) route, among other measures.According to the Bank Indonesia Banking Survey published on Wednesday, credit growth is expected to slow to 2.5 percent this year, a decrease from 6.1 percent booked in 2019.BI Governor Perry Warjiyo said on Thursday that loan disbursement was limited due to slowing domestic demand, while banks try to avoid risks amid heightening debt restructuring. The central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to 4 percent to further support the economy.The lower benchmark rate is expected to transmit into lower interest rates charged by banks on consumer loans, corporate loans and mortgages, as well as bond yields and other instruments, thereby boosting domestic consumption and investment.Topics :last_img read more

Indofood, ICBP book double-digit growth in first half of 2020

first_imgAgribusiness sales rose 7 percent yoy to Rp 6.88 trillion from January to June. The relaxation of lockdown measures in several countries in the second quarter of the year boosted crude palm oil prices during the period, Kontan reported.Although sales in the firm’s wheat manufacturing segment, Bogasari, contracted 4.5 percent yoy to Rp 11.08 trillion, its consumer-branded product sales managed to record positive growth during the period.Consumer-branded products, which include famous instant noodle brand Indomie operated by ICBP, recorded 4.15 percent yoy growth during the first six months of the year to Rp 23.05 trillion as the sale of instant noodles, the company’s biggest contributor, increased 6.31 percent yoy to Rp 15.49 trillion.The growing top line during the period, however, was mainly supported by its strong sales in the first quarter of the year as sales in the second quarter were slower, Mimi said.“We note that ICBP’s top line in the second quarter of this year also got hit by the sluggish economic activities due to the implementation of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB),” she said, adding that the company’s revenue from March to June saw a quarterly contraction of 8 percent.The PSBB were implemented in most regional administrations across the country as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The measures forced non-essential businesses to shutter their doors and saw millions face unemployment.Despite the weaker sales in the second quarter, ICBP still managed to book Rp 3.38 trillion in profit throughout the first quarter, a jump of 31.4 percent yoy.Anthoni, the former CEO of ICBP, said that the firm would also focus on maintaining the health of its employees and preserve product quality for its customers.“We will also improve our ability to adapt swiftly to the ever-changing market dynamics,” he said.Read also: Investors wary of Indofood CBP’s acquisition of noodle maker PinehillIn the meantime, ICBP has announced that its shareholders have consented to its plan to acquire all of the shares of Pinehill Company Limited (Pinehill Group), which supplies Indomie to the Middle East, Africa and Serbia.Corporate secretary Gideon A. Putro said in February that the company responded to its British Virgin Island affiliates, Pinehill Corpora Limited and Steele Lake Limited, on an offer to acquire Pinehill Group.Pinehill Group’s core business was manufacturing instant noodles in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Turkey, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Serbia under the “Indomie” brand licensed by ICBP’s parent company, Indofood.Indofood’s share price, traded under the code INDF, had gained 4.44 percent to Rp 7,025 as of 2:38 p.m. on Wednesday. Meanwhile, ICBP’s share price went up by 4.74 percent from the day before to Rp 10,500. Topics : “We expect this challenging situation to continue until the second half of the year, so we will continue to maintain supplies and product quality for our clients,” he said in a statement.Mirae Asset Sekuritas analyst Mimi Halimin said that she had expected the solid performance early in the year.“Indofood’s revenue in the second quarter of this year was quite resilient as it was supported by the recovery of its agribusiness segment,” she said.Read also: Consumer goods firms grow in Q1 amid economic crisis Food manufacturing giant PT Indofood Sukses Makmur and its subsidiary, processed food company PT Indofood CBP Sukses Makmur (ICBP), have managed to book double-digit profit growth in the first half of the year thanks to an increase in sales and a drop in production costs.Indofood booked an 11.7 percent year-on-year (yoy) increase in profit to Rp 2.8 trillion (US$195 million) in the first half of 2020. The rise in profit during the period was in line with the firm’s sales, which rose 2 percent to Rp 39.4 trillion, while cost of goods sold declined 1.2 percent to Rp 26.9 trillion.Indofood president director and chief executive officer Anthoni Salim said Tuesday that the company managed to maintain a positive performance despite the global challenges caused by COVID-19.last_img read more