Tuesday 31 March 2020

Social distancing is a privilege of the middle class. For India's slum dwellers, it will be impossible

For two days, Jeetender Mahender, a 36-year-old Dalit sanitation worker, has not dared to leave his family's shanty in the Valmiki slum of northern Mumbai, India, except to go to the toilet.

His situation is desperate. The tiny home has no running water or toilet, his family is low on food -- and when he doesn't go to work, he doesn't get paid.

Mahender is trying to comply with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 21-day nationwide lockdown, intended to help stop coronavirus spreading further among the country's 1.3 billion people. India has recorded 1,024 cases and 27 deaths.
"Social distancing is not just for the sick, but for each and every person, including you and even your family," Modi said in a nationwide address last week.
Indian migrant workers wait to board buses to return to their home villages as a nationwide lockdown continues on March 28, 2020, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India.

That might work for India's middle and upper classes, who can hunker down in their condos and houses, preen their terrace gardens, eat from their well-stocked pantries and even work from home, using modern technology.

But the chaos unfolding across India in recent days has spelled out that for the 74 million people -- one sixth of the urban population -- who live cheek by jowl in the country's slums, social distancing is going to be physically and economically impossible.

"The lanes are so narrow that when we cross each other, we cannot do it without our shoulders rubbing against the other person," said Mahender. "We all go outdoors to a common toilet and there are 20 families that live just near my small house.

"We practically all live together. If one of us falls sick, we all will."

At least one person in a Mumbai slum has already tested positive for the novel coronavirus. As panic grows among India's most vulnerable, thousands of migrant workers are trying to flee the slums for their rural homes, by bus and even by foot, sparking fears they will import the virus to the countryside.

In a radio address Sunday, acknowledging the chaos the lockdown had brought India's poor, Modi asked the nation for forgiveness. But he also urged listeners to understand there was no other option.

1 toilet for 1,440 people
Water is one of the biggest reasons India's poor need to leave home every day.
Indian migrant workers stuck in the national capital try to board buses to return to their home villages.

Sia, a slum dweller and migrant construction worker in Gurugram, near New Delhi, wakes up at 5 a.m. and defies Modi's call to stay indoors. The reason? She needs to walk 100 meters (328 feet) to a water tank that serves her slum of 70 migrant construction workers.

She is not the only one. Most women from the construction site slum wash together there every morning and collect water for the day. With no showers or bathrooms in their homes, this communal tap is their only water source.

The government's Clean India Mission, launched in 2014 to improve infrastructure and eliminate open defecation, claims that 100% of Indian households now have access to toilets.

But Puneet Srivastava, manager of policy at NGO WaterAid India, said the focus of the Clean India Mission has largely been on building household toilets, and a considerable number of slum-like regions have not been included.

In Dharavi in Mumbai, for example, there is only one toilet per 1,440 residents, according to a recent CFS study -- and 78% of community toilets in Mumbai's slums lack a water supply, according to 2019 Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation survey.
Migrant workers and their family members walk along a highway in a desperate bid to return to their village.

On Sunday, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra said: "There is 100% toilet coverage in India, whether people have access to personal toilets in slums or not doesn't matter. They can use communal toilets."

Sania Ashraf, an epidemiologist who works on water, sanitation, hygiene and respiratory illness, said the Clean India Mission had increased private toilets as well as community or pay-per-use public toilet coverage -- but during a pandemic, having access to a shared toilet means little if it is not clean.

Furthermore, poor ventilation can trap contaminated aerosols and "facilitate transmission of the virus," said Ashraf.

That is especially worrying in light of evidence that patients shed the virus through feces, raising the possibility of transmission in communal toilets and places where there is still open defecation.

Workers at risk
The next reason slum-dwellers cannot isolate is simple: they need to work.

Daily wage migrant workers generally live hand-to-mouth, earning between 138-449 Indian rupees ($1.84-$5.97) per day, according to the International Labour Organization.

"They belong to the unorganized sector, they don't get paid the day they don't go to work," says economist Arun Kumar. "It's not just the past few days since the lockdown started, but the momentum towards it has been building up for the past 20 days.

"Supply chains have shut down. Employment is lost. They have no money to purchase essentials. And unlike the rich, they cannot afford to stock up. They buy on a daily basis but now the shelves are empty."

Sonia Manikraj, a 21-year-old teacher who lives in the Dharavi slum, said: "I have to step out to buy food and since grocery shops here are open only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the roads are quite narrow, there is always a crowd."

Consequently, workers are faced with an agonizing dilemma: go out to work and risk infection, or stay home and face extreme hunger.

Some workers have no choice. Cleaners, for example, are considered to provide an essential service, and are therefore exempted from the lockdown.

"They are required to go to work every day," said Milind Ranade, the founder of Kachra Vahatuk Shramik Sangh, a Mumbai-based organization focused on labor issues. "Some even collect hospital waste and then come back and live in these crowded chawls (slums)."

They are not given any protective gear, such as masks or gloves, said Ranade, and there has not been an awareness campaign to educate them of the dangers of coronavirus transmission.

"What will happen when they fall sick?" Ranade added.

The government's $22.5 billion economic stimulus package includes medical insurance cover of 5 million rupees ($66,451) per person for front-line workers such as nurses, doctors, paramedics and cleaners in government hospitals.

"It may cover the sanitation worker but what about all the others who live around him in the slum and who are equally at risk of contracting the disease from him?" said Raju Kagada, a union leader of sanitation workers in Mumbai.

Kumar said more vigorous coronavirus testing would help. As of March 29, India had conducted 34,931 tests, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research -- or 19 tests per million people. Kumar said testing at a private hospital or lab in India costs 4,500 rupees ($60), while free tests in government hospitals are very limited.

Mahender is a cleaner for a residential community in Mumbai, earning 5,000 rupees ($66) a month, which he uses to support his wife, three children and his 78-year-old father. If he needs medical care, it will not be covered by the stimulus package provisions.

"My phone has been ringing nonstop and the residents of the building where I clean have been calling me back to work," he said. "But I have to go into the building, outside each person's house and collect their trash.

"I have not been given a mask or gloves, not even a soap to wash my hands before my meals. I know if I don't go today, they will hire someone else?"

Migrants who want to go home
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of India's 45 million economic migrant workers began long, arduous journeys back to their rural villages. With India's rail network temporarily shut, many had no choice but to try walking hundreds of miles home.

There was little reason to stay. Most had lost their jobs in the cities due to the lockdown, and the slums have the potential to feed the spread of the virus.

Researchers from the Center For Sustainability said last week that while the reproductive ratio (R naught) for Covid-19 -- the disease caused by the coronavirus -- globally is between two and three, in India's slums it could be 20% higher due to the dense living conditions.

As the slum exodus began, on Saturday the state governments of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana arranged for hundreds of buses to ferry migrants home, causing chaotic scenes as thousands descended upon stations trying to claw their way onto buses.

On Sunday, however, Modi urged all states to seal their borders to stop the virus being imported into rural areas. Officials are now scrambling to find millions of migrant workers who had already returned to small towns and villages across the country, in order to quarantine them for 14 days.

Sia, who lives on the construction site in Gurugram, wasn't able to catch a bus. Her options of escaping the slum during the coronavirus outbreak are looking bleak.
"Since our work has stopped, I haven't been paid for 20 days. I get paid $5 a day, the little money I earn helps my family survive," she said.

"As everything is shutting down, I believe we have no option but to live in this poverty and filth in the city."

(Source: CNN)

Churchgoers all over world ignore physical distancing advice

Services from Moscow to Rio go ahead as clerics disregard coronavirus risk

Millions of people across the world tuned into online church services on Sunday as their usual places of worship were closed, but in some places clerics insisted on their doors remaining open.

The day after Pope Francis delivered a blessing in an empty St Peter’s Square, watched on television by an estimated 11 million people, Sunday services were held at some of Russia’s largest religious sites after Orthodox church leaders said they were an expression of religious freedom.
Russian Orthodox believers receive communion in Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, on Sunday. Photograph: Peter Kovalev/Tass

Dozens of parishioners, many of them elderly, crowded into Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg to receive communion. Earlier this month, the cathedral came under fire for continuing to exhibit a relic of John the Baptist despite fears that visitors kissing the exhibit could hasten the spread of coronavirus.

In virus-hit Louisiana, hundreds of worshippers attended services on Sunday, flouting a ban on large gatherings. An estimated 500 people of all ages filed inside the Life Tabernacle church in Central, a city of nearly 29,000 outside Baton Rouge

The Russian Orthodox church had insisted that mayors could not close churches and that it would continue to “fulfil its pastoral duty” unless given an order from the Kremlin.

But later on Sunday the church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, called on believers to refrain from visiting churches.

Speaking after the liturgy at Christ the Saviour church in Moscow, Kirill said: “I have been preaching for 51 years, calling on people to come to church, overcome the gravitation of their own ill will and external circumstances, I dedicated my entire life to this call and I hope you understand how difficult it is for me to say now: refrain from visiting churches.”

In Romania and Georgia, two countries with strongly Orthodox Christian populations, there has been consternation over the insistence of some priests on continuing to use a shared spoon for the communion ritual.

Last Sunday, the day after Romania had been put into a strict lockdown, footage emerged from the city of Cluj of priests using a shared spoon. In Georgia, while the church has told worshippers not to spend long periods of time in churches and not to come if ill, it has rejected calls to abandon the reusing of spoons, claiming that as communion is a holy ceremony it is not possible to get ill during it.

In devoutly Catholic Poland, coronavirus restrictions limited the number of churchgoers to 50 at a time, and this was reduced again last week to five. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the head of the Polish episcopate, earlier in March called for more church services to accommodate worshippers, as not praying during the epidemic would be “unthinkable”. However, he has since urged faithful to use media broadcasts of services to prayer, especially over the Easter period.

In Brazil, the president, Jair Bolsonaro – who has called the coronavirus a “little flu” and attacked lockdown – included churches in a list of “public services and essential activities” essential for the “survival, health and safety” of the population, provided they followed health ministry guidelines.

Two days after Bolsonaro’s pronouncement, a judge in Rio de Janeiro state suspended his decree. Cathedrals in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are now closed. And while some churches are still open for prayer, mass and services have mostly moved online.

Dom Walmor Azevedo, the archbishop of Belo Horizonte and president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), last week told congregations to “stay at home”. The CNBB and other Catholic organisations called Bolsonaro’s “disinformation campaign” a “serious threat to all Brazilians”.
The liturgy in Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, on Sunday. Photograph: Peter Kovalev/Tass

About half of Brazilians are Catholic, but a growing number – currently 31% – belong to evangelical churches, which largely support Bolsonaro. Brazil’s biggest, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, said on Thursday that where services are not allowed, its churches are open for prayer. Where services are allowed, it controls numbers entering and provides soap and water.

Rio’s Assembly of God Victory in Christ church is open every day for “prayers and to attend those who need it”, said its pastor, Alexandre Camargo, but services went online even after it won a court battle to stay open. Rio’s Attitude Baptist church – frequented by Brazil’s first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro – is only holding online services.

“People are really suffering with this, because they need this spiritual, emotional and financial support,” said Pastor Josué Valandro Jr. “It is very serious to close all the churches.”

The Vatican said at the weekend that Pope Francis did not have coronavirus after testing of Holy See staff resulted in one new case. The total number of people with Covid-19 at the Vatican is now six. “I can confirm that neither the Holy Father nor his closest collaborators are involved,” a spokesperson said.

(Source: The Guardian)

Coronavirus: India's pandemic lockdown turns into a human tragedy

When I spoke to him on the phone, he had just returned home to his village in the northern state of Rajasthan from neighbouring Gujarat, where he worked as a mason.

In the rising heat, Goutam Lal Meena had walked on macadam in his sandals. He said he had survived on water and biscuits.

In Gujarat, Mr Meena earned up to 400 rupees ($5.34; £4.29) a day and sent most of his earnings home. Work and wages dried up after India declared a 21-day lockdown with four hours notice on the midnight of 24 March to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (India has reported more than 1,000 Covid-19 cases and 27 deaths so far.) The shutting down of all transport meant that he was forced to travel on foot.

"I walked through the day and I walked through the night. What option did I have? I had little money and almost no food," Mr Meena told me, his voice raspy and strained.
Informal workers are the backbone of India's big city economies. Getty Images

He was not alone. All over India, millions of migrant workers are fleeing its shuttered cities and trekking home to their villages.

These informal workers are the backbone of the big city economy, constructing houses, cooking food, serving in eateries, delivering takeaways, cutting hair in salons, making automobiles, plumbing toilets and delivering newspapers, among other things. Escaping poverty in their villages, most of the estimated 100 million of them live in squalid housing in congested urban ghettos and aspire for upward mobility.

Last week's lockdown turned them into refugees overnight. Their workplaces were shut, and most employees and contractors who paid them vanished.

Sprawled together, men, women and children began their journeys at all hours of the day last week. They carried their paltry belongings - usually food, water and clothes - in cheap rexine and cloth bags. 

The young men carried tatty backpacks. When the children were too tired to walk, their parents carried them on their shoulders.

They walked under the sun and they walked under the stars. Most said they had run out of money and were afraid they would starve. "India is walking home," headlined The Indian Express newspaper.
Migrant labourers feel they have more social security in their villages. Getty Images

The staggering exodus was reminiscent of the flight of refugees during the bloody partition in 1947. 

Millions of bedraggled refugees had then trekked to east and west Pakistan, in a migration that displaced 15 million people.

This time, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are desperately trying to return home in their own country. Battling hunger and fatigue, they are bound by a collective will to somehow get back to where they belong. Home in the village ensures food and the comfort of the family, they say.

Clearly, a lockdown to stave off a pandemic is turning into a humanitarian crisis.

Among the teeming refugees of the lockdown was a 90-year-old woman, whose family sold cheap toys at traffic lights in a suburb outside Delhi.

Kajodi was walking with her family to their native Rajasthan, some 100km (62 miles) away. They were eating biscuits and smoking beedis, - traditional hand-rolled cigarettes - to kill hunger. Leaning on a stick, she had been walking for three hours when journalist Salik Ahmed met her. The humiliating flight from the city had not robbed her off her pride. "She said she would have bought a ticket to go home if transport was available," Mr Ahmed told me.
Ninety-year-old Kajodi Devi is walking from Delhi to her village. SALIK AHMED/OUTLOOK

Others on the road included a five-year-old boy who was on a 700km (434 miles) journey by foot with his father, a construction worker, from Delhi to their home in Madhya Pradesh state in central India. 

"When the sun sets we will stop and sleep," the father told journalist Barkha Dutt. Another woman walked with her husband and two-and-a-half year old daughter, her bag stuffed with food, clothes and water. "We had a place to stay but no money to buy food," she said.

Then there was Rajneesh, a 26-year-old automobile worker who walking 250km (155 miles) to his village in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. It would take him four days, he reckoned. "We will die walking before coronavirus hits us," the man told Ms Dutt.

He was not exaggerating. Last week, a 39-year-old man on a 300km (186 miles) trek from Delhi to Madhya Pradesh complained of chest pain and exhaustion and died; and a 62-year-old man, returning from a hospital by foot in Gujarat, collapsed outside his house and died. Four other migrants, turned away at the borders on their way to Rajasthan from Gujarat, were mowed down by a truck on a dark highway.

As the crisis worsened, state governments scrambled to arrange transport, shelter and food.

But trying to transport them to their villages quickly turned into another nightmare. Hundreds of thousands of workers were pressed against each other at a major bus terminal in Delhi as buses rolled in to pick them up.
There is a precedent for this kind of exodus during crisis. Getty Images

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal implored the workers not to leave the capital. He asked them to "stay wherever you are, because in large gatherings, you are also at risk of being infected with the coronavirus." He said his government would pay their rent, and announced the opening of 568 food distribution centres in the capital. Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologised for the lockdown "which has caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people", adding these "tough measures were needed to win this battle."

Whatever the reason, Mr Modi and state governments appeared to have bungled in not anticipating this exodus.

Mr Modi has been extremely responsive to the plight of Indian migrant workers stranded abroad: hundreds of them have been brought back home in special flights. But the plight of workers at home struck a jarring note.

"Wanting to go home in a crisis is natural. If Indian students, tourists, pilgrims stranded overseas want to return, so do labourers in big cities. They want to go home to their villages. We can't be sending planes to bring home one lot, but leave the other to walk back home," tweeted Shekhar Gupta, founder and editor of The Print.

The city, says Chinmay Tumbe, author of India Moving: A History of Migration, offers economic security to the poor migrant, but their social security lies in their villages, where they have assured food and accommodation. "With work coming to a halt and jobs gone, they are now looking for social security and trying to return home," he told me.

Also there's plenty of precedent for the flight of migrant workers during a crisis - the 2005 floods in Mumbai witnessed many workers fleeing the city. Half of the city's population, mostly migrants, had also fled the city - then Bombay - in the wake of the 1918 Spanish flu.

When plague broke out in western India in 1994 there was an "almost biblical exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from the industrial city of Surat [in Gujarat]", recounts historian Frank Snowden in his book Epidemics and Society.
The fleeing migrants could spread the disease all over the country. Getty Images

Half of Bombay's population deserted the city, during a previous plague epidemic in 1896. The draconian anti-plague measures imposed by the British rulers, writes Dr Snowden, turned out to be a "blunt sledgehammer rather than a surgical instrument of precision". They had helped Bombay to survive the epidemic, but "the fleeing residents carried the disease with them, thereby spreading it."

More than a century later, that same fear haunts India today. Hundreds of thousands of the migrants will eventually reach home, either by foot, or in packed buses. There they will move into their joint family homes, often with ageing parents. Some 56 districts in nine Indian states account for half of inter-state migration of male workers, according to a government report. These could turn out to be potential hotspots as thousands of migrants return home.

Partha Mukhopadhyay, a senior fellow at Delhi's Centre for Policy Research, suggests that 35,000 village councils in these 56 potentially sensitive districts should be involved to test returning workers for the virus, and isolate infected people in local facilities.

In the end, India is facing daunting and predictable challenges in enforcing the lockdown and also making sure the poor and homeless are not fatally hurt. Much of it, Dr Snowden told me, will depend on whether the economic and living consequences of the lockdown strategy are carefully managed, and the consent of the people is won. "If not, there is a potential for very serious hardship, social tension and resistance." India has already announced a $22bn relief package for those affected by the lockdown.

The next few days will determine whether the states are able to transport the workers home or keep them in the cities and provide them with food and money. "People are forgetting the big stakes amid the drama of the consequences of the lockdown: the risk of millions of people dying," says Nitin Pai of Takshashila Institution, a prominent think tank.

"There too, likely the worst affected will be the poor."

(Source: BBC)

Coronavirus: Why Italy?

Tracy Beanz, the Founder and Editor in Chief at UncoverDC, gives an excellent in-depth analysis into what’s happening in Italy and why Italy is going down with coronavirus. A chilling article. If you are interested in recent global happenings, it’s an eye opener. Difficult to believe, but fact remains the fact. Read on: 

Italy has been ravaged by the Wuhan Coronavirus, but the reasons why are linked more closely to globalism than the age of the infected.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants now live both legally and illegally in Italy, with 300K legally registered and many more illegal.
  • Italy recently entered into a new economic partnership with China called “One belt, One road”
  • China has revitalized northern Italian ports in order to transport goods more efficiently to the rest of Europe
  • The mayor of Florence initiated a social media campaign called “Hug a Chinese” using Chinese produced video as an engine to dispel the “racism” against the Chinese in Italy
Thirty years ago, Italy saw the beginnings of what would become a serious issue with illegal immigration. What was surprising, was that the immigrants couldn’t just walk over a border to enter the country, they had to flock from China. It began with Italians hiring the Chinese off the books at cheap wages to work making garments in towns and villages renowned for their craftmanship, and morphed into Italians seeing the Chinese learn how to do it faster and cheaper; often times watching as their family owned businesses were shuttered because they were outbid. The Chinese took over the Italian craft and made it their own. What didn’t change was the coveted “Made in Italy” label. The NY Times began documenting the trend in 2010 writing:

Over the years, Italy learned the difficult lesson that it could no longer compete with China on price. And so, its business class dreamed, Italy would sell quality, not quantity. For centuries, this walled medieval city just outside of Florence has produced some of the world’s finest fabrics, becoming a powerhouse for “Made in Italy” chic.
And then, China came here.

Chinese laborers, first a few immigrants, then tens of thousands, began settling in Prato in the late 1980s. They transformed the textile hub into a low-end garment manufacturing capital, enriching many, stoking resentment and prompting recent crackdowns that in turn have brought cries of bigotry and hypocrisy.

The city is now home to the largest concentration of Chinese in Europe; some legal, many more not. Here in the heart of Tuscany, Chinese laborers work round the clock in some 3,200 businesses making low-end clothes, shoes and accessories, often with materials imported from China, for sale at midprice and low-end retailers worldwide.

The trend continued as whole villages in Italy became Chinese villages, with the Chinese displacing the Italians who lived there, creating their own neighborhoods, and pushing out decades of Italian family owned business. They weren’t known for following the rules. It caused much local consternation; the Italians were forced to pay their taxes and follow the employment guidelines, while the Chinese seemed to have built flourishing enterprises by skirting the rules, treating their people poorly, and engaging in rich human smuggling operations, to boot. There was little accountability for the Chinese, and much for the native Italians.

Outside of the typical problems one would see with such an influx of immigrants from a far-off land, were also other, more scandalous ones.

In 2017, the Bank of China agreed to pay a 600,000 euro fine to settle a money laundering case involving its Milan branch, court documents showed. The Florence court hearing the case gave four employees of the Milan branch of China’s fourth biggest bank a suspended two-year prison sentence for failing to report illicit money transfers. Florence prosecutors leading the so-called “River of Money” investigation alleged that more than 4.5 billion euros ($4.78 billion) was smuggled to China from Italy between 2006 and 2010 by Chinese people living mainly in Florence and nearby Prato. About half of the money was sent via BOC, the prosecutors said. The court also ordered BOC to pay back 980,000 euros which it said it had earned through the illegal operations. According to the prosecutors, the proceeds sent to China came from a series of illegal activities, including counterfeiting, embezzlement, exploitation of illegal labour and tax evasion. Bank of China said in a statement it had not committed any crime and was not admitting guilt by agreeing to pay the fine, which was a way of closing the case and saving time.

The wheel of corruption kept spinning, and the Italian people became more and more angry. Sometimes, this led to violence. It also led to a nationwide sentiment that something needed to change, and the populist uprising we have been seeing across the globe also began to take a foothold in Italy.

From 2018:
At a time when Europe is filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric, political extremists have pointed to the demographic shifts in Prato as proof that Italy is under siege. In February, Patrizio La Pietra, a right-wing senator, told a Prato newspaper that the city needed to confront “Chinese economic illegality,” and that the underground economy had “brought the district to its knees, eliminated thousands of jobs, and exposed countless families to hunger.” Such assertions have been effective: in Italy’s recent national elections, Tuscany, which since the end of the Second World War had consistently supported leftist parties, gave twice as many votes to right-wing and populist parties as it did to those on the left. Giovanni Donzelli, a member of the quasi-Fascist Fratelli d’Italia party, who last month was elected a national representative, told me, “The Chinese have their own restaurants and their own banks—even their own police force. You damage the economy twice.
Once, because you compete unfairly with the other businesses in the area, and the second time because the money doesn’t go back into the Tuscan economic fabric.”

In March of 2019, Italy entered into a new agreement with China, part of its “one belt, one road” initiative, a sweeping economic agreement with the country that saw the port of Triesta in northern Italy “revitalized” and managed by The PRC.

The project makes enormous infrastructure investments to move Chinese goods and resources. Italy became the first of the Group of 7 nations that once dominated the global economy to take part in China’s “One Belt One Road” throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.

The Trump administration, which tried and failed to stop the deal, focused in the days leading up to Mr. Xi’s visit on blocking any Italian use of 5G wireless networks developed by the Chinese electronics giant Huawei, which Washington warned could be used by Beijing to spy on communications networks.

Italy, which is saddled with crushing debt, hopes to lift its lagging economy by exporting goods to China and inviting more Chinese investment.

But opponents of the project in the Trump administration and in the European Union worry that Italy has turned itself into a Trojan Horse, allowing China’s economic — and potentially military and political — expansion to reach into the heart of Europe.

The detailed reporting on this slow takeover is expansive, and we could continue here for many paragraphs, but let us fast forward to early 2020. As China withheld information about the seriousness and spread of Wuhan corona-virus, many of these immigrants were returning- and arriving – from China. Once news of the virus became mainstream and China felt increasing backlash over the handling of the crisis, they turned to one of their major economic hubs for some help.

It wasn’t chance. It wasn’t age. It wasn’t overall health, and it wasn’t the good-hearted nature of the Italian people that caused the virus to ravage their nation. It was a leadership who are now under the thumb of the Chinese government.
On February 1, 2020, the mayor of Florence initiated something called “Hug a Chinese” day.

This video was released on February 4, and was produced by the Chinese government. Under the guise of being “woke”, the Italian government prodded their citizens to erase the stigma surrounding the virus, and hug one of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who had been living, recently returned, or recently arrived in Italy. Italy had become dependent on China, and their capital is a large percentage of the Italian economy. When “One Belt One Road” began early in 2019, the Italians made clear they were willing to partner with China in their quest for global dominance, and sadly it appears in their attempt to please the purse strings, they put a large percentage of their citizens in harms way.

This may also explain the enormous amount of aid and assistance flowing into Italy now by way of China. Far from being compassionate, the Chinese are likely looking to protect their investment.

So when folks ask, “Why Italy?” the reasons are clear. Along with an ageing population who may not be the healthiest, there is also a government now beholden to China, who acting at their behest, took extreme measures to the opposite of social distancing. For an in depth look at the cluster history inside Italy, please see here.

China’s global dominance has become clear even to the average observer in recent months, as Americans have become aware of the supply line dependence on China for even our most vital commodity; medicine. UncoverDC columnist Carol King detailed some of those issues in a piece that you can read here. We have even witnessed the legacy media seemingly hold water for the communist nation, choosing to parrot the claim of “racism” against China because our President has chosen to correctly name the virus what it is, the Chinese virus – rather than bow to the propaganda of a foreign nation hell bent on our destruction.

If one positive thing can come of the Wuhan corona-virus, maybe it will be that the world will finally open its eyes to just how sinister China has been over the past few decades, slithering in to our households, seemingly unbeknownst to us, and co-opting even our most basic necessities. Time will tell, but one thing is clear- it appears that “Why Italy?” is more nefarious than anyone could have initially thought. 

Tracy Beanz is the Founder and Editor in Chief at UncoverDC. You can follow her on Twitter @TracyBeanz

(Source: UncoverDC)

Coronavirus: Thai king self-isolates in Alpine hotel with harem of 20 women amid pandemic

Tens of thousands of Thais risk breaking law to criticise him online

Thailand’s controversial king has been self-isolating in a luxury hotel in the Alpine resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen with his entourage.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, also known as Rama X, is said to have booked out the entire Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl after the four-star hotel received “special permission” from the district council to accommodate his party.

The 67-year-old king’s entourage included a “harem” of 20 concubines and numerous servants, reported German tabloid Bild. It is unclear if his four wives are living in the hotel with the rest of the group.

Guesthouses and hotels in the region were ordered to close due to the coronavirus crisis, but a spokesperson for the local district council said the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl was an exception because “the guests are a single, homogenous group of people with no fluctuation”.

However, 119 members of the entourage had been reportedly sent back to Thailand on suspicions they contracted the highly contagious respiratory disease.

News of Vajiralongkorn’s apparent self-isolation in a luxury location was met with anger by tens of thousands of Thai people, who risked breaking the country’s lèse-majesté laws by criticising him online.

Under the laws, anyone who insults or criticises the monarchy could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.

But a Thai hashtag which translated to “Why do we need a king?” appeared 1.2 million times on Twitter within 24 hours after an activist claimed Vijaralongkorn was travelling on holiday in Germany while the outbreak continued to spread across Thailand.

The Thai Ministry of Public Health announced on Saturday 109 new cases in the country, bringing the total number of infections to 1,245.

Activist Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who lives in exile in France, posted a series of Facebook posts that claimed Vajiralongkorn was flying from Switzerland to various points in Germany from early March out of “boredom”.

Mr Jeamteerasakul is a vocal critic of Thailand’s monarchy and lèse-majesté laws, and said in one post: “[Vajiralongkorn will] let the Thai people worry about the virus. Even Germany is worried about the virus [but] it’s none of his business.”

The Thai king has not made a public appearance in his home country since February, reported The Times.

His reign in Thailand began in 2016 after the death of his father, Bhumibol. Although there is no way to gauge his popularity among Thais because of severe lèse-majesté laws, it is believed he is not as well-loved as his father, who ruled for over 70 years.

(Source: Independent)

Coronavirus: Mercedes F1 to make breathing aid

A breathing aid that can help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care has been created in under a week.

University College London engineers worked with clinicians at UCLH and Mercedes Formula One to build the device, which delivers oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices are already used in hospitals but are in short supply.

China and Italy used them to help Covid-19 patients.
CPAP devices are less invasive than a ventilator. JAMES TYE/UCL

Forty of the new devices have been delivered to ULCH and to three other London hospitals. If trials go well, up to 1,000 of the CPAP machines can be produced per day by Mercedes-AMG-HPP, beginning in a week's time.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has already given its approval for their use.

Ventilator consortium
Meanwhile a consortium of UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses in the UK has come together to produce medical ventilators for the NHS.

The "VentilatorChallengeUK" consortium includes Airbus, BAE Systems, Ford, Rolls-Royce and Siemens.

Companies in the consortium have received orders for more than 10,000 ventilators from the government, although MHRA approval is still pending.

Production is due to begin next week.

Dick Elsy, chief executive of High Value Manufacturing Catapult, said: "This consortium brings together some of the most innovative companies in the world.

"They are working together with incredible determination and energy to scale up production of much-needed ventilators and combat a virus that is affecting people in many countries."

Rapid response
Prof Rebecca Shipley, Director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, told the BBC: "Normally medical device development would take years but we've done that in days because we went back to a simple existing device and "reverse engineered" it in order to be able to produce them quickly and at scale."

Reverse engineering means they took apart an existing off-patent CPAP device, copied and improved the design and adapted it for mass production.

Early reports from Lombardy in Italy suggest about 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation.

UCLH critical care consultant Prof Mervyn Singer said: "These devices are a halfway house between a simple oxygen mask and invasive mechanical ventilation which requires patients to be sedated.

"They will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill."

How does CPAP work?
It pushes a steady flow of air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose of patients.

This is done at pressure which means the lungs remain open and so it increases the amount of oxygen entering them.

This reduces the effort needed to breathe in, especially when the alveoli - the air sacs in the lungs - have collapsed as a result of Covid-19.

Unlike a simple face mask linked to an oxygen supply, CPAP delivers air and oxygen under pressure, so there needs to be a mask creating a tight seal on the patient's face, over their mouth and nose or a transparent hood over their head.

This is less invasive than a ventilator, for which patients have to be heavily sedated and have a tube inserted into their airway.

But a note of caution was sounded by Duncan Young, Prof of Intensive Care Medicine, University of Oxford, who said: "The use of CPAP machines in patients with contagious respiratory infections is somewhat controversial as any small leaks round the mask could spray droplets of secretions on to attending clinical staff."

Prof Mervyn Singer said if a tight seal is maintained on the mask or, even better, a helmet is worn, and clinical staff have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) then this risk would be minimised.
More than 2,000 Covid-19 patients are receiving CPAP on general wards in Lombardy.

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, said: "The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support… we have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe."

As well as Mercedes F1, the collaboration also included Oxford Optronix, a small business that has manufactured oxygen monitors for the devices.

(Source: BBC)