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.”
It Was Already Dangerous To Be Muslim in India. Then Came the Coronavirus
The Islamophobic hashtags began circulating shortly after the news broke in late March.
Indian authorities had linked dozens of cases of COVID-19 to a Muslim missionary group that held its annual conference in Delhi in early March, and health officials were racing to track down anyone who had contact with the participants. Coronavirus fears and religious tension were already at a fever pitch in India, and it didn’t take long for the two forces to intermingle. Videos falsely claiming to show members of the missionary group spitting on police and others quickly went viral on social media, exacerbating an already dangerous atmosphere for Muslims. “Islamophobia has been transposed onto the coronavirus issue,” says Amir Ali, an assistant professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 300,000 times and potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter, according to data shared with TIME by Equality Labs, a digital human rights group. Equality Labs activists say that many of the posts are in clear violation of Twitter’s rules on hate speech and coronavirus, but have yet to be taken down. “We are committed to protect and serve the public conversation as we navigate this unprecedented global public healthcare crisis,” reads a statement Twitter provided to TIME. “We continue to remain vigilant.”
Coming just weeks after religious pogroms conducted by Hindu nationalists left 36 Muslims dead in Delhi, the surge in hateful tweets demonstrates how anxieties over the coronavirus have merged with longstanding Islamophobia in India, at a time when the Muslim minority — 200 million people in a nation of 1.3 billion — feels increasingly targeted by the ruling Hindu nationalists. “One of the key features of anti-Muslim sentiment in India for quite a long time has been the idea that Muslims themselves are a kind of infection in the body politic,” says Arjun Appadurai, a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University who studies Indian politics. “So there’s a kind of affinity between this long-standing image and the new anxieties surrounding coronavirus.”
One of the most popular false #CoronaJihad tweets claims to show a Muslim man from the Delhi congregation intentionally coughing on somebody. The tweet referred to Muslims as “such vile minded people” and listed hashtags including #CoronaJihad and #TablighiJamatVirus, a reference to the religious group that met in Delhi. But the video featured in the viral tweet was actually filmed in Thailand, not India, and there is no proof that the man was a member of the Delhi congregation. Nevertheless, the tweet was still online as of April 3, with more than 4,200 retweets and 503 replies. Another video shared on both Facebook and Twitter purporting to show Muslims intentionally sneezing on each other was debunked by the fact-checking organization AltNews.
Another tweet, which had around 2,000 retweets before it was removed for violating Twitter’s rules, featured a cartoon of a caricatured Muslim man labeled “Corona Jihad” trying to push a Hindu off a cliff. “Corona jihad is this new idea that Muslims are weaponizing the coronavirus to target Hindus,” says Thenmozhi Soundarajan, executive director of Equality Labs. The tweet has since been removed for violating Twitter’s rules, but several other cartoons linking Muslims to the coronavirus, shared by the same account with more than 15,000 followers, were still online as of April 3.
In India, where the politically dominant Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has increasingly launched dogwhistle attacks on Muslims since being reelected with a massive majority in April last year, the coronavirus is just “one more opportunity to cast the Muslim as the other, as dangerous,” says Ali, the professor.
“People are talking about ‘bio jihad’ and ‘corona jihad,’” Ali says. “These are just the latest in a series of different forms of ‘jihad’ that the media has talked about, that have been spread on social media, and that people are gleefully accepting.” Population jihad, for example, is a common trope in Hindu nationalist messaging, claiming that Muslims are trying to turn India into a Muslim nation by reproducing at a faster rate than Hindus. Love jihad is the idea that Muslim men are tricking Hindu women into romantic relationships in order to convert them to Islam. “Corona jihad is the most outrageous one so far, because people are really being infected and dying,” Ali says.
Social media companies have struggled with hate speech for years, embroiling the platforms in a difficult tangle in which freedom of speech runs up against the companies’ responsibility to protect minorities. In the world’s first social media pandemic, hate speech related to the virus is spreading online almost as fast as the virus itself. But recent history demonstrates that inaction on the platforms’ part can allow hate speech to turn into violence. Myanmar’s 2017 genocide perpetrated by Buddhist nationalists against Rohingya Muslims was preceded by a campaign of dehumanizing hate speech on Facebook. Equality Labs’ Soundarajan says social media companies cannot feign ignorance on the issue because her group and others are flagging troublesome content. “They’re aware of it,” says Soundarajan. “Whether they allow it to go viral is now their own responsibility.” (Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TIME.)
Although this pandemic is uncharted territory when it comes to predicting the impact of virus-related hate speech, public health officials have warned against stigmatizing minority groups. Because COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, some — including the U.S. President — have called it the “China virus” or the “Wuhan virus,” a name that appears to be linked to an uptick in global violence against Asians. In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the then-unnamed coronavirus would henceforth be known officially as COVID-19 — a name which purposely did not include a reference to China. “Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time.
Some are working to prevent fears over the virus from becoming entangled with religious divisions. Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, is calling on governments to push back “aggressively” against the rising incidents of “blaming of religious minorities for the COVID virus,” including the rise in usage of #CoronaJihad and other hashtags trending in India. “The governments really should put this down, and say very clearly that this is not the source of the Coronavirus,” he said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “We know where this virus originated. We know it’s a pandemic the whole world is being subjected to. It’s not something from religious minorities. But unfortunately we are seeing that sort of blame game getting started up in different places around the world.”
In India, activists fear the stigmatization of Muslims could exacerbate the coronavirus crisis. “Launching a witch hunt against the attendees of the Nizamuddin congregation will be counterproductive from the public health point of view,” said several Indian intellectuals in an open letter published Thursday, referring to the area of Delhi where the conference was held. “The attendees should be identified without criminalizing them and put into quarantine as per norms.” The virus, they said, does not care about religious or national differences. “The solution will not come through the pursuit of divisive agendas but through scientific endeavors and human solidarity.”
A final irony of the Tablighi Jamaat controversy — which escalated on April 3 when the Indian government announced some members of the group would be charged under India’s National Security Act for violating quarantine — is that it was just one of myriad religious groups that continued to meet after India unexpectedly announced its coronavirus lockdown, yet it has drawn the vast majority of attention.
“They are no different from any other people in India and around the world who have pushed the envelope in terms of good sense,” Appadurai says of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation. “But of course, India is a very dangerous place for Muslims even apart from the coronavirus. It was asking for just the kind of thing that has now happened.”
— WITH REPORTING BY KIM DOZIER/WASHINGTON
Europe Makes Tentative Gains in Containing Coronavirus Spread
(Bloomberg) — New coronavirus infections slowed in Spain and decreased marginally for the second day in Italy, while intensive-care admissions declined in France, tentative signs that the pandemic may be easing in Europe.Austria could become one of the first countries in the region to loosen restrictions that have shut down much of public life. Over the weekend, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government will review data and consider a plan to gradually restart the economy, the Austrian leader told parliament in Vienna on Friday.“Let’s not jump to conclusions because there are some positive signals,” Kurz told lawmakers. “I can promise you, if the numbers support it, we’ll do what we can to return to normality step by step.”Spain — the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe alongside Italy — reported that new fatalities from the virus declined on Friday for the first time in four days.In another positive development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — Europe’s longest-serving leader — left her precautionary quarantine.Despite pockets of improvement, death tolls in Italy, Spain, France and Germany surpassed 31,000, giving governments little leeway to unwind lockdown measures. The four countries account for almost 60% of global fatalities and more than a third of the world’s 1 million confirmed cases.After ending 12 days in voluntary self-isolation in Berlin, Merkel will continue to observe social-distancing standards, government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.The chancellor, who this week prolonged a nationwide lockdown until April 19, addressed the public Friday from the chancellery in Berlin for the first time since the quarantine, making a plea to stay home and avoid social contact through the Easter holiday.Even though a slight slowing of the spread of the disease offers “some hope,” she said it was far too early to set a target date for easing restrictions.Europe’s longest-serving leader took center stage in Germany’s fight against the virus with a rare televised address to the nation on March 18, in which she called the pandemic the country’s gravest challenge since World War II.Merkel’s brush with the virus parallels that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been working from self-isolation at home since March 12 after his wife contracted the illness. European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde also isolated herself temporarily last month following exposure to an infected person. And U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been quarantined for over a week after testing positive for the virus.Lockdown ReviewKurz, who wore a face mask before and after his speech, urged Austrians to persevere with measures to limit contact between people and asked them to refrain from celebrating the Easter holiday with large gatherings of families and friends. His government will review virus statistics with epidemiology experts on Sunday and present its plans on Monday.Growth in new infections in Austria have decreased to less than 5% per day. The number of daily fatalities has fallen for four straight days this week.Spain’s Health Ministry on Friday reported 932 new deaths and 7,472 cases over the latest 24-hour period, both smaller gains than the previous day. The dip in the daily figures could lead to less pressure on overwhelmed hospitals. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government is looking to extend the current lockdown for another two weeks beyond April 11, Spanish media reported.Italy reported 4,585 new infections, while there were 766 fatalities compared with 760 in the previous 24-hour period, civil protection authorities said at their daily news conference in Rome.The pace of both new deaths and new infections has flattened out over past days, even as the containment measures shuttering all non-essential activities and banning most movement take a heavy toll on the economy. In total, the country had 119,827 cases and 14,681 deaths.In efforts to address the economic fallout of the crisis, Germany is planning to set up an extra 300 billion-euro ($324 billlion) aid program to help small- and medium-sized companies, and Switzerland doubled the amount of state credit guarantees for businesses to 40 billion francs ($41 billion).Despite Merkel returning to work, Germany’s fight against the outbreak suffered a setback. Fatalities and confirmed cases rose by more than the previous day on Friday, with total deaths climbing past 1,000. The mortality rate is probably underestimated because of insufficient testing, according to Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute.The country — which has 84,794 infections, the third-most in Europe — may still need additional intensive-care space, even after boosting capacity by more than 40% since the crisis began, the head of Germany’s public health authority said.“My personal appraisal is that it will not be enough,” Wieler said at a press briefing. “I would be happy to be wrong.”For 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.
Mosques Stay Open in Pakistan Even as Coronavirus Death Toll Rises
(ISLAMABAD) — Mosques were allowed to remain open in Pakistan on Friday, when Muslims gather for weekly prayers, even as the coronavirus pandemic spread and much of the country had shut down.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is relying on restricting the size of congregations attending mosques and advice to stay at home from religious groups like the country’s Islamic Ideology Council.
However, some provinces have issued their own lockdown orders to prevent Muslims from gathering for Friday prayers. In southern Sindh province, a complete lockdown is being enforced from noon until 3 p.m., the time when the faithful gather for prayers. Anyone found on the streets will be arrested, according to the provincial local government minister in a statement.
In eastern Punjab province, where 60% of Pakistan’s 220 million people live, checkpoints have been set up in major cities stopping people from congregating.
Still, mosques remain open in Pakistan, even as they have been shut down across much of the Middle East and elsewhere. The Middle East has confirmed over 85,000 cases of the virus and over 3,700 deaths, most of them in Iran.
Iran state TV reported Friday the virus killed another 134 people, pushing the country’s death toll to nearly 3,300 amid more than 53,000 confirmed cases. Iran’s parliament speaker is among those who have contracted the disease.
Pakistan, with 2,450 confirmed cases and 35 deaths, has been sharply criticized for moving too slow to curb large gatherings, including a gathering of tens of thousands of Muslims from several Islamic countries in March. The gathering of Tableeghi Jamaat missionaries is blamed for several outbreaks of the new virus elsewhere in the world. The first confirmed cases that emerged in Gaza were traced to the gathering.
Entire neighborhoods, including outside the capital Islamabad, have been shut down because clerics who had attended the gathering tested positive for the virus.
Despite this, some religious leaders in Pakistan still urge the faithful to defy restrictions and gather at mosques.
Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, head of a committee tasked with spotting the new moon in Pakistan marking the beginning of holy months such as Ramadan, went on television telling people their faith would protect them and they should attend the mosque.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia that can be fatal.
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