The best hope for an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan may lie in a sumptuous conference room in Doha’s Diplomatic Club in Qatar. But there may be only one person who knows whether a paper peace deal negotiated there will translate into actual peace on the ground in the long-suffering country 1,000 miles to the northwest: U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
For more than a year, Khalilzad has worked to end America’s fight with the Taliban, using the club and nearby five-star hotels as a kind of ad hoc headquarters. Now Khalilzad is confident he’s on the brink of inking an elusive peace deal between Washington and the militants that sheltered Al Qaeda terrorists while they plotted the attacks of 9/11. He’s so confident, in fact, that his team is already sizing up venues for a signing ceremony, according to Afghan and western officials.
If Khalilzad succeeds, he will deliver a pivotal election-year victory for his boss, President Donald Trump, who has long pledged to end America’s involvement in “endless wars.” If he fails, the U.S. will remain mired in the longest war in American history, a conflict that has killed more than 3,500 U.S. and NATO troops, cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $900 billion, and left thousands of Afghans dead and millions more displaced.
The difference hangs on the convoluted details Khalilzad has hammered out over months shuttling between Doha, Kabul, and Washington, drinking endless cups of tea and flattering, cajoling, and lecturing top players on all side.
At its heart, Khalilzad’s deal offers this basic bargain: the Taliban will reduce its violent attacks on U.S. and Afghan troops, and the U.S. will withdraw much its forces from the country. The Taliban has agreed to a seven-day “reduction in violence” to show that it’s serious. But, crucially, its leaders will not agree in public to the U.S. demand to keep counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.
To get past that roadblock, Khalilzad has come up with a rickety workaround. The deal contains secret annexes, according to three people familiar with details of the current draft. The first is an agreement for U.S. counterterrorism forces to stay in the country. The second is a Taliban denouncement of terrorism and violent extremism. The third annex contains a mechanism to monitor whether all sides are honoring the semi-truce while talks between warring Afghan parties proceed, according to two of the sources, and the last addresses how the CIA will operate in future in Taliban-controlled areas.
Details of the secret annexes were provided in writing to TIME by one of the sources, who insisted on anonymity to disclose details of the confidential talks. A U.S. lawmaker and two Afghan officials confirmed that a long-term counterterrorism force numbering 8,600 U.S. troops, down from the current 13,000, is part of the deal. The State Department and Khalilzad’s office declined to comment, as did the CIA. Khalilzad declined to be interviewed for this article. A Taliban official insisted Thursday that the deal requires a full U.S. troop withdrawal and said that talk of secret annexes were just rumors.
The deal could be signed by the end of the month, according to U.S. and Afghan officials, if everyone stays on board. But a lot can happen in two weeks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo still has to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has never been a fan of Khalilzad’s plan. Taliban ground forces could catch wind that their leaders have covertly agreed to let some U.S. forces stay and launch a new, destabilizing attack. Or Trump could tap out a damaging tweet—and send his envoy back to the negotiating table.
For Afghanistan, where an entire generation has grown up during the war, the stakes couldn’t be higher. For Khalilzad, or “Zal,” has he’s widely known, it would be the deal of a lifetime. Even if peace doesn’t last, Khalilzad can say he has done his part, cementing his status as a dealmaker by delivering an agreement once thought to be impossible.
ZAL HAS COME CLOSE BEFORE. Last September, a U.S.-Taliban deal seemed imminent when it was derailed by a Taliban bombing in Kabul that killed several people, including a U.S. soldier. Trump abruptly called off peace talks in an on-brand tweetstorm on Sept. 7, putting Khalilzad’s coveted deal on ice for months. The talks resumed in December, and this week officials say the deal is again ready to sign—if the Taliban can stop its members from attacking U.S. and Afghan forces for a full seven days.
That’s a big ‘if.’ The Taliban has had trouble in the past maintaining control among its factions, some of which may be disappointed by a deal that fails to deliver a total U.S. withdrawal. Two U.S. soldiers were killed on Saturday when an assailant dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire with a machine gun, bringing to six the number of service members killed in Afghanistan this year. The Taliban pointedly did not take responsibility for killing the troops on Saturday.
The secret annexes could also complicate the deal’s ability to deliver lasting peace. The Taliban rank and file will expect to see all American troops packing up and leaving, but it will become apparent by year’s end that U.S. forces are not going down to zero. “If the Taliban make these agreements known, they will melt down, and fade away,” one of the sources briefed on the draft said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive deal. ”So they keep it secret.”
In some ways the rickety deal is classic Khalilzad. Resembling a gracefully aging Hollywood character actor, the nearly six-foot-tall 69-year-old favors tailored dark suits and slicked-back grey hair. Afghan-born and U.S. educated, Khalilzad served as one of the first U.S. ambassadors to post-9/11 Afghanistan.
Khalilzad’s allies say he is a wily and skillful negotiator who brings a rare combination of regional experience, ambition, charisma and healthy cynicism to the job—and perhaps a measure of bruised pride that his decades of diplomacy have failed to deliver prosperity or stability to the country of his birth.
But his detractors in Washington worry that he’ll say anything to anybody to get them to sign off on a deal for Trump, whether or not it’s built to last. In Kabul, he’s equally controversial, seen by some as a potential political competitor with ambitions to run for the Afghan presidency. As a Sunni Muslim from the Pashtun tribe, which most Taliban members also belong to, many non-Pashtun Afghans simply don’t trust him.
Khalilzad was born in 1951 in a modest neighborhood in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, then a bustling hub of politics and commerce for “Afghan Turkistan” as the area close to the Uzbek border was known. His father was a mid-level civil servant, and his mother married very young and gave birth to 13 children. Only seven survived, including Zal, who got his first taste of life outside Afghanistan as a high school exchange student in California, where he perfected his English practicing in front of the mirror, according to his memoir, The Envoy. He was pulled into the neocon movement in the U.S. while earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1979, and has since held senior positions in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.
After the 9/11 attacks prompted the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power for hosting al-Qaeda, Khalilzad played a key role in selecting Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s next leader. At the 2001 Bonn International Conference, Afghan delegates had first chosen a respected official from the Afghan king’s rule, seen by many as a golden age of equality among the country’s Pashtun, Tajik and other tribes, according to a western official and a former Afghan official who took part.
After 48 hours of arm twisting, Khalilzad convinced the delegates the leader had to be Pashtun—Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group—to unite the country. Specifically, it had to be Karzai. “He gets his way,” griped one Western official who had backed the former royal official as more likely to unite the country.
KHALILZAD HAS TRUMP’S FULL SUPPORT to close this deal, Zal’s allies say. He was one of the few prominent Bush Republicans who endorsed Trump’s run for the highest office early on, by introducing him at a 2016 event sponsored by the publication National Interest. At the time, others he’d served with were signing “Never Trump” letters, a former senior U.S. official recalls, marking it as Khalilzad’s early gambit for a senior role on Team Trump.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended Khalilzad for the peace envoy job, telling the President that he knew the players and had pulled off tough negotiations before. “Zal sold himself to the President as the only guy who could negotiate with the Taliban because of his Afghan heritage, his deal making skills, and his relationships with powerful figures in the country,” says a former official who served in the country.
The talks commenced in early 2019, regularly held beneath the palatial arches of Doha’s dune-colored Diplomatic Club, overlooking the Persian Gulf. Zal convinced the Taliban to talk by agreeing to separate the U.S. peace talks from negotiations with Afghan government, which the Taliban considers to be invalid. The U.S. and Taliban would agree on the conditions for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal; the Afghan talks determining the future of Afghanistan would come later.
Even that deferral of a lasting peace deal required a questionable workaround. Khalilzad got the Taliban to talk with Afghan government officials only by arranging the creation of an intra-Afghan committee of community leaders with whom formal talks would be held. Afghan government officials would attend those talks only in a personal capacity.
Afghan officials have complained the indirect structure shows the U.S. envoy bending over backwards for the militants, instead of demanding that they officially recognize the elected government of the Afghan Republic.
Ghani, the Afghan president, is biding his time, letting this chapter play out rather than play spoiler, one senior Afghan official says. For now, he has designated delegates to join the intra-Afghan committee talks to determine the shape of a future Afghan government, and what the Taliban’s role in it will be. Ghani, and most of the population according to recent polls by the Asia Foundation, want the country to remain a democracy. The Taliban have made no secret they want to return to being an “Emirate” where religious authorities have greater power.
In early conversations with Afghan delegates including women in Doha, the Taliban have said they would support women’s rights, allowing them to be educated and to work outside the home. But that hasn’t been the practice in some parts of Afghanistan now under their sway. Longtime Taliban watchers also doubt the group will follow through with a pledge made as part of the talks to break with Al Qaeda—the terrorist group is now literally family, with many members having married into Afghan tribes in the decades of fighting U.S. troops after 9/11.
Former senior CIA officer Douglas Wise, who served twice in Afghanistan, says the Taliban’s ultimate goal is to reclaim the power it held before the U.S. invasion that followed 9/11. “If you look at the Taliban’s strategic goals, it is to return to power, to expel the Western-imposed expatriate, Afghan-run government and to recreate the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,’” as the Taliban still describes itself. Wise, the former deputy chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, gives little credence to Taliban pledges to respect human and women’s rights. “That’s all BS. They will say anything to get us an agreement to get us to leave. Whatever it takes to get the Americans out.”
Ghani and his advisors evince similar skepticism. They believe the Taliban will have trouble maintaining a future “reduction of violence” during intra-Afghan talks. If violence breaks out, and if Ghani survives opposition challenges to the September election that narrowly gave him another five years in office, his government will abandon the talks and reach out to individual Taliban factions, offering one-off deals to divide and conquer the oft-squabbling tribes.
That would be just fine for Khalilzad and Trump, who could argue that failure of the intra-Afghan talks, or even a full return to Taliban control, would be on the Afghan government, not on Washington.
In the end, critics and admirers alike say that Zal is in it for Zal. That’s why those who trust him say he will deliver this week, with his eyes fixed on a diplomatic prize that could enshrine his name in the history books for bringing troops from his adopted country home. “Never forget,” said one U.S. official who knows Khalilzad well. “Zal is relentless.”
Jeff Bezos Commits to Spending $10 Billion to Fight Climate Change
(NEW YORK) — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said Monday that he plans to spend $10 billion of his own fortune to help fight climate change.
Bezos, the world’s richest man, said in an Instagram post that he’ll start giving grants this summer to scientists, activists and nonprofits working to protect the earth. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change,” Bezos said in the post.
Amazon, the company Bezos runs, has an enormous carbon footprint. Last year, Amazon officials said the company would work to have 100% of its energy use come from solar panels and other renewable energy by 2030.
The online retailer relies on fossil fuels to power planes, trucks and vans in order to ship billions of items all around the world. Amazon workers in its Seattle headquarters have been vocal in criticizing some of the company’s practices, pushing it to do more to combat climate change.
Bezos said in the post Monday that he will call his new initiative the Bezos Earth Fund. An Amazon spokesman confirmed that Bezos will be using his own money for the fund.
Despite being among the richest people in the world, Bezos only recently became active in donating money to causes as other billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done. In 2018, Bezos started another fund, committing $2 billion of his own money to open preschools in low-income neighborhoods and give money to nonprofits that help homeless families.
Bezos, who founded Amazon 25 years ago, has a stake in the company that is worth more than $100 billion.
Apple Sales Will Miss; U.S. Cruisers Quarantined: Virus Update
(Bloomberg) — A case study of a patient who died from the new coronavirus shows similarities with two prior deadly coronavirus outbreaks. Apple Inc. said it would miss its quarterly revenue target because of the virus.The U.S. evacuated citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, including 14 who tested positive for the virus, and will quarantine more than 300 passengers. The U.S. is still figuring out what to do with American passengers on another cruise ship who disembarked in Cambodia, including one who tested positive.Beijing may delay a high-profile political meeting for the first time in decades because of the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 71,000 and killed 1,775 globally. Key DevelopmentsChina death toll 1,770, up 105; mainland cases rise to 70,548Hubei adds 1,933 new cases, up from 1,843 a day earlierFour missed chances for China to contain outbreakFears of global contagion as 3,000 cruise passengers go homeClick VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the novel coronavirus and here for maps and charts. For analysis of the impact from Bloomberg Economics, click here.Apple to Miss Guidance Because of Virus (4:15 p.m. NY)Apple Inc. doesn’t expect to meet its revenue guidance for the quarter ending in March due to work slowdowns from the outbreak of coronavirus in China. The company said it anticipates global supply of the iPhone to be “temporarily constrained.”Read the full story here.Japan Cruisers Quarantined; Westerdam Passengers Loose (3:19 p.m. NY)More than 300 U.S. citizens evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have returned home to begin a 14-day quarantine on military bases and for treatment in hospitals.The repatriation ends a dramatic episode on the virus-struck ship, but came with a fresh complication: As the U.S. cruise passengers were on a bus heading for Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Japanese test results showed that 14 had the virus. And a positive test from another cruise ship that disembarked passengers in Cambodia has raised concerns about further spread of the virus around the globe.Of the Japan evacuees, 171 will be held at Travis Air Force Base between San Francisco and Sacramento, with six people sent to a local hospital for treatment, said William Walters, a senior official with the State Department‘s Bureau of Medical Services.A further 144 passengers evacuated on a separate flight will be housed at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas. Seven people on that flight were flown on to Omaha for treatment at the University of Nebraska.The newly diagnoses cases involved people who did not show any symptoms of the coronavirus but were diagnosed by Japanese lab tests, Walters said.The fate of hundreds of Americans coming off another cruise ship now docked in Cambodia is less clear. One of the passengers, an 83-year-old woman, was diagnosed with the virus while passing through Malaysia, and is being held in isolation there. Roughly 300 U.S. citizens who were on the Westerdam have left Cambodia, according to the State Department. But 92 remain on the ship and a further 260 are staying in hotels in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.Walter said the U.S. government was tracking those citizens but had not yet made a decision on whether to send special flights to bring them home. Health officials across the world have said that catching and isolating cases of the virus before it spreads is crucial to stopping it.Damage Cause by Virus Resembles SARS, MERS (2 p.m. NY)Doctors studying a 50-year-old man who died in China last month from the new coronavirus found that the disease caused lung damage reminiscent of two prior coronavirus-related outbreaks, SARS and MERS.Read the full story here.Cruise Travel Risks Remain ‘Manageable’ Despite Virus, WHO Says: (12 p.m. NY)Cruise ship travel remains a “manageable risk” for now, and it doesn’t make sense to recommend a ban on it, the World Health Organization said, even as the return home of 3,000 travelers from two coronavirus-stricken cruise ships fuels fears of further contagion.“People say we should steer clear of cruise ships, or steer clear of airports or steer clear of certain ethnic groups,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said at a press briefing Monday at the organization’s Geneva headquarters. “We have to be really careful” of such suggestions. “We need an approach to managing risk that allows us to continue to operate as a society.”Hong Kong Virus Stress Worsens With Maids, Nannies Stuck Abroad: (11:05 a.m. NY)The Philippine ban on travel to Hong Kong is taking its toll on migrant workers, mostly women, who are part of Hong Kong’s domestic labor force. In a survey of more than 900 Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong by placement agency HelperChoice, almost half said they were affected by the travel ban or knew someone who was.Virus Outbreak Boosts Tissue Paper Prospects in China (10:30 a.m. NY)As the outbreak ripples through China’s economy, one industry seems to be thriving. Shares of tissue paper maker Vinda International Holdings have surged 40% this year even as the main Hong Kong index is little changed. The rally may have legs. Top pulp exporter Suzano SA expects growth in China’s tissue market to accelerate amid shifts in hygiene habits.El Al CEO Sees Hard Days Ahead for Israeli Airline: (9 a.m. NY)El Al Israel Airlines is facing difficulties because of the spread of the coronavirus and may be forced to make some “painful decisions,” CEO Gonen Usishkin said in a letter to staff, without specifying what that may entail.A decision by Israel’s Health Ministry on Sunday to send travelers returning from Thailand into home quarantine for 14 days has cut demand for this destination, and the company is allowing customers to change or cancel tickets, the CEO said. Last week, the carrier suspended flights to Hong Kong until March 20 and flights to Beijing until April 24.Slump in Global Goods Trade Likely to Deepen: WTO (7:30 a.m. NY)The already slumping state of global goods trade may get even worse with coronavirus, the World Trade Organization warned.The Geneva-based body said its merchandise trade barometer fell to 95.5 from 96.6 in November. That’s before factoring in the effects of China’s health crisis on international commerce.“The slow start could be dampened further by global health threats and other recent developments in the first few months of the year,” the WTO said. In the months ahead, “every component of the Goods Trade Barometer will be influenced by the economic impact of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of efforts to treat and contain the disease.”China Sees Positive Trend in Coronavirus Epidemic: CCTV (7 a.m. NY)China’s anti-virus efforts have led to a positive trend for the epidemic nationwide, according to China Central Television, which cited Premier Li Keqiang’s comments at a meeting. The spread of coronavirus has weakened, and China has avoided a wider outbreak through all-out control, Li was quoted as saying.Top policymakers are seeking to balance the anti-virus fight with shoring up the economy, which has been running at just 40% to 50% capacity in the last week, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.Bundesbank Warns of Hit to German Exporters (6 a.m. NY)The central bank called the outbreak a “cyclical downside risk” and said a temporary decline in overall Chinese demand could damp German export activity. “Moreover, some global value chains could be impaired by security measures put in place,” the Bundesbank said in a report.Outside the European Union, China is second only to the U.S. in importance to German companies, with close to $108 billion of sales a year. The European Commission last week called the epidemic a “key downside risk” to its forecasts, while European Central Bank Chief Economist Philip Lane said the region’s economy could experience a “pretty serious short-term hit.”China’s Economy Seen Growing Slowest Since 1990 (6:52 p.m. HK)The coronavirus outbreak and China’s efforts to stop the spread mean the economy will grow slower this quarter than first thought — the median forecast now is for growth to be the slowest in 30 years.China’s gross domestic product will grow 4% in the first quarter, according to the median of 18 forecasts since Jan. 31. That’s down from 5.9% in the last survey on Jan. 22 and the lowest level since 1990.Chinese City to Start Subsidizing Car Purchases (5:57 p.m. HK)The southern Chinese city of Foshan will start providing rebates for car purchases starting March 1. Consumers who trade in old models will be entitled to 3,000 yuan ($430) of subsidies while buyers who opt for new cars are entitled to 2,000 yuan per vehicle.President Xi Jinping has urged local governments to help boost auto sales, according to a speech by him carried on Qiushi Journal, the Communist Party’s top publication on Saturday.Singapore Issues Stricter Rules for China Returnees (5:34 p.m. HK)Singapore residents or long-term pass holders returning from mainland China must stay in their homes at all times for 14 days and closely monitor their own health, under stricter guidelines issued today.Macau Casinos Allowed to Reopen (5:30 p.m. HK)Casinos in the world’s biggest gambling hub will be able to resume operations on Thursday, following an unprecedented closure for 15 days to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Lei Wai Nong, secretary for economy and finance in the Chinese territory of Macau, said casinos can reopen Feb. 20, though it will be conditional based on criteria that he didn’t specify.Macau closed casinos for a 15-day period that began Feb. 5, in the longest shutdown ever for the world’s biggest gambling hub. MGM said it’s losing $1.5 million a day in Macau, while Wynn Resorts Ltd. said it is losing about $2.5 million a day.Earlier, Sands China President Wilfred Wong told Cable TV he expects few customers when casinos first re-open, and believes it will take two-to-three months before business can return to normal.China May Delay Annual CPPCC Meeting: CCTV (5:09 p.m. HK)Beijing is studying a proposal to delay the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the nation’s political advisory body, state-run China Central Television reported.This follows an official Xinhua report that said China is considering delaying the annual session of the National People’s Congress, its most high-profile annual political meeting, for the first time in decades. The two meetings were originally scheduled to start early March.Japan Says 99 New Infections From Cruise Ship (5:05 p.m. HK)Japan said 99 more people from the Diamond Princess cruise tested positive for the new coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections to 454.A pair of aircraft chartered by the U.S. State Department took off early Monday to bring home Americans from the ship. Australia and Hong Kong will also use chartered flights to evacuate citizens and permanent residents who have been stranded on the ship.Cathay Pacific Warns on Results (4:45 p.m. HK)First-half financial results will be “significantly down” from a year earlier, Cathay Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Ronald Lam said in a statement. Cathay is particularly exposed to the virus because sales from Hong Kong and China account for about half of its total revenue.Separately, China’s three largest airlines reported declines in January passenger traffic because of the coronavirus outbreak, with the shortfalls likely to deepen this month as the epidemic continues to disrupt travel for millions of people. Airlines began suspending flights from about Jan. 23 after the government began locking down Wuhan and other Chinese cities.U.S. Factories in China Don’t Have Enough Staff (3:57 p.m. HK)Most U.S. factories in China’s manufacturing hub around Shanghai will be back at work this week, but the “severe” shortage of workers due to the coronavirus will hit production and global supply chains, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.While about 90% of the 109 U.S. manufacturers in the Yangtze River delta expect to resume production this week, 78% of them said they don’t have sufficient staff to run at full speed, according to a survey by AmCham.Beijing Auto Show Delayed (3:48 p.m. HK)China’s annual auto show, scheduled to be held in Beijing in April, will be pushed back because of the coronavirus outbreak. The new dates will be announced later, the organizer said in a statement on Monday.Taiwan Scours Taxi Driver’s Data to Trace Virus Path (12:44 p.m. HK)Health authorities in Taiwan are scouring travel histories, phone records and security camera footage in an effort to map out everyone who came into contact with a taxi driver who became Taiwan’s first confirmed death from the coronavirus.The victim, a man in his 60s from central Taiwan who died Saturday, had not recently traveled overseas and had no recorded contact with any of the 19 other people diagnosed with the coronavirus in Taiwan, according to a statement from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control.Singapore, Thailand Cuts Growth Outlooks (12:32 p.m. HK)Singapore and Thailand downgraded their forecasts for economic growth this year as the coronavirus outbreak hits tourism and trade.Singapore’s Ministry of Trade & Industry projected growth in a range of -0.5% to 1.5% in 2020, compared with a previous estimate of 0.5% to 2.5%. The city state, which has more than 70 cases of virus infections, is losing as many as 20,000 tourists a day amid travel curbs.Growth in Thailand is seen in a range of 1.5%-2.5% this year, down from a previous projection of 2.7%-3.7%, the National Economic and Social Development Council said.Bridgewater, Dalio Donate $10 Million for Virus Fight (12:27 p.m. HK)Billionaire Ray Dalio’s family charity and his hedge fund Bridgewater Associates LP are donating $10 million to help support China’s coronavirus relief efforts. The money will go to Peking University First Hospital, Union Hospital for Clinical Care and three medical teams led by academics in Wuhan, the world’s largest hedge fund said in an emailed statement Monday.Nintendo Is Likely to Suffer Global Switch Shortages (12:21 p.m. HK)Nintendo Co. is likely to struggle to supply sufficient Switch consoles to its U.S. and European markets as soon as April due to a production bottleneck caused by the coronavirus outbreak, according to people with knowledge of the company’s supply chain.China Stocks Rebound From Sell-off (10:13 a.m. HK)China’s stock benchmark recouped all its losses from a record $720 billion sell-off earlier this month, a sign that investor confidence is improving after policy makers acted to ease the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.China’s government has pumped cash into the financial system, trimmed money-market rates and offered targeted tax cuts. Beijing will also allow local governments to sell another 848 billion yuan ($121 billion) of debt before March, as authorities seek to offset the economic shock of the coronavirus.Coronavirus Cases Top 70,000 (9:13 a.m. HK)China reported 2,048 additional coronavirus cases by the end of Feb. 16, bringing the total case count to 70,548, according to a statement from National Health Commission.China’s Hubei province reported 1,933 additional confirmed cases. While that’s slightly higher than a day earlier, it’s in line with a lower trend over the past several days. The province announced a stunning 15,000 new cases on Thursday after revising its method for counting infections.The death toll in China increased by 105 to 1,770. More than 10,000 patients have been discharged so far. There are now five fatalities outside of mainland China, after France and Taiwan reported deaths over the weekend.\–With assistance from Abeer Abu Omar, Ryan Beene, Dong Lyu, Jing Jin, Cindy Wang, K. Oanh Ha, Isabel Reynolds, Tony Czuczka, April Ma, Takashi Mochizuki, Suttinee Yuvejwattana, Siraphob Thanthong-Knight, Natalie Lung, Jason Scott, Shawn Donnan and Vince Golle.To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Steve Geimann in Washington at email@example.com;Karen Leigh in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Drew Armstrong in New York at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Rachel Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org, ;Adveith Nair at email@example.com, Jeff Sutherland, Anne PollakFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Inside Life on the Crew Decks on Coronavirus-Stricken Diamond Princess Cruise Ship
Three times a day, Gie and her team push a convoy of dining carts through the corridors of the quarantined luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess. Wearing face masks and gloves, they stop at occupied rooms, greeting passengers and delivering meals before moving on to the next deck.
The task runs like clockwork — crew members offload appetizers, the main course, drinks and utensils, largely in that order. (Sometimes, there’s dessert.) But lately, something often interrupts their flow: The thank you notes stuck on many cabin doors, written by passengers and addressed to the crew.
On one suite’s door, the word “thank you” is written in ten languages. On another note, a passenger writes, “Thanks for your dedicated support. Take care of your health.”
“Even though the passengers are wearing masks when they answer the door, I can see their smiles. I can see in their eyes. They appreciate everything we do for them,” Gie, 33, says. “That keeps us going.”
The gratitude from passengers is understandable. With at least 454 confirmed cases, the cruise ship has the largest outbreak of novel coronavirus outside China, and passengers are under strict quarantine, largely confined to their cabins. The crew members have been the only lifelines for passengers. They deliver food, water, towels, medication and anything else passengers request.
“They’ve basically been told that they need to take care of all these potentially sick people,” says Kent Frasure, a 43-year-old passenger from Portland, Oregon. “They’re kind of the unsung heroes here.”
But while the 2,600-some passengers on board enjoy free Internet, streaming movies and TV shows and playing with puzzles and games to pass the time in their private cabins, crew members — mostly from the Philippines and other developing nations — have continued working. Those given food delivery duties are up before 6 a.m. to serve breakfast, to work through as late as 10 p.m. for the end of dinner service.
And they are doing it at risk to their own health. At least 33 crew members have been infected with coronavirus.
Princess Cruises, which is owned by Carnival, said in a statement that, “our guests and crew onboard Diamond Princess are the focus of our entire global organization right now and all of our hearts are with each of them.” The cruise line did not respond to requests for comment.
And as the U.S., Australia, and Hong Kong send chartered planes to evacuate passengers on board the ship, several crew members told TIME they do not know what the cruise line’s plan for them is once the quarantine ends on Feb. 19.
Life below deck
Crew members aboard the Diamond Princess aren’t afforded many of the same protections as the passengers they serve. Public health experts have said cruise ships are especially susceptible to the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19 because passengers are in close, frequent contact with each other. For the crew, it’s even more so.
They live on decks below sea level, bunking with one or two other people and sharing a toilet with them. They dine in shifts at a mess hall, where cafeteria tables seat up to 12 people. Only ten days into the 14-day quarantine did Princess Cruises ask crew members to take an extra precaution when eating — to leave an empty seat between people at a table, upon advice from the Japanese health authorities, according to one crew member interviewed by TIME.
The cruise company has given all crew members thermometers, and those who have a fever must report it. But they aren’t isolated.
Obet, a crew member in his 30s who also asked to be referred to with an alias, had been arranging meals and delivering them to passengers before he came down with a fever last week. When he reported it, he was told to isolate himself in his cabin and take the acetaminophen (a generic pain reliever) he had with him. After he ran out of pills, it took a day for the medical team to give him more.
Although he had recovered from his fever, Obet was told not to return to work. But he was still sharing a room with a cabin mate who was not experiencing any coronavirus symptoms. Obet says he did his best to keep a distance from him, and wore a mask whenever he was in the room.
“There’s nothing we can do,” says Obet. “There’s not enough cabins for those sick crew members [to isolate themselves in] so they decided to tell us to just stay in our cabins.”
Obet and his cabin-mate were tested for the coronavirus last week. On Saturday afternoon, they received the news that both of them were infected. They were taken to a hospital later that evening, where their temperatures and vitals are now being checked at least twice a day. Obet says he is taking pills for a mild cough he still has, but otherwise says he is feeling “energized.” His cabin mate still has no visible symptoms.
“There’s lots of crew also getting infected and it’s becoming more alarming for us,” Obet told TIME before his diagnosis. “We don’t know if we’re still safe on board.”
An assistant cook from India who asked to stay anonymous says kitchen workers wear masks and gloves at all times. To his knowledge, no one in the kitchen has been infected with the virus. “We are taking all the necessary precautions,” he says. “Nobody wants to play with life.”
Of the 1,045 crew members on the Diamond Princess, around half, like Gie and Obet, are from the Philippines. Joining the cruise industry is an attractive option for many from the Southeast Asian nation — they can make more money than working back home, and are free to get off the ship and do their own traveling during off-hours. One crew member who has been in the cruise industry for a little over a year said he had visited 10 countries. But a job on a cruise ship comes at the expense of time with family; most crew members sign on for contracts that keep them away from home for nine months at a time.
Gie, a mother of two, was meant to return to the Philippines next month. It would be the first time she’s seen her family since last July, when she embarked on the cruise. But because of the virus outbreak, it looks unlikely that she can go home as planned.
Other crew members come from countries including India, Indonesia, Thailand, Russia and Ukraine. The passengers they serve come overwhelmingly from richer countries. Japanese tourists make up a majority of the 2,666 passengers onboard the Diamond Princess. The rest are from the U.S, U.K. and Australia, among other nations.
‘We’re just being positive’
Gie has worked as a server on the Diamond Princess for about seven months. Normally, she waits tables at one of the restaurants on deck, taking orders and interacting with the ship’s passengers . But that changed when the ship went under quarantine on Feb. 5, after the company learned a passenger who disembarked earlier had tested positive for the coronavirus. The ship has been docked at Yokohoma, Japan, ever since.
The restaurant Gie used to serve in has been reduced from a bustling eatery to a quiet base for crew to organize food prepared by the kitchen team. “Of course we are really very scared. During the first two or three days, we were ranting, because we didn’t want to deliver, to face the passengers,” Gie says. “But we realize that it’s part of the job. We’re scared, but we’re just being positive. We try not to think about it.”
The cruise line makes sure the crew have sufficient masks and gloves to protect themselves, Gie adds. “We’re very particular with hygiene and sanitation. We wash our hands frequently. Sometimes we double up [on masks].”
Princess Cruises said last week it is offering crew members two months of paid vacation. Authorities in the Philippines said they would bring home the 500 or so Filipino crew members on the cruise, but did not indicate a timeline.
Crew spend the few off-hours they have calling family back home and updating social media. On Facebook, Gie counts down the days left till the end of the quarantine, quotes Bible verses and shares news articles on the rising number of coronavirus cases on the cruise.
In one Facebook post about yet another increase in the number of confirmed cases on the cruise, Gie wrote: “Still our spirits are high, this too shall pass.”
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