Large new blackout strikes Venezuelan capital, provinces

People line up at a bus stop in an attempt to leave the city during a power outage in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP)
Updated 26 March 2019

Large new blackout strikes Venezuelan capital, provinces

  • Pompeo’s call came after a Venezuelan official said Russian aircraft arrived in Caracas this weekend as part of ongoing military cooperation

CARACAS, Venezuela: A widespread new power outage spread across Venezuela on Monday, knocking offline much of the country’s communications and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation’s largest-ever blackout.
The outage began shortly after 1 p.m. (1700 GMT) and appeared to have affected as many as 16 of Venezuela’s 23 states, according to reports on social media.
Like the previous outage, officials blamed opponents who with the support of the US had carried out sabotage on the Guri dam — source of the bulk of Venezuela’s electricity. They said the “attack” had already been controlled, with service restored in much of the country already and remaining areas expected to come online in the coming hours.
“The damage that took 5 or 6 days to repair in the electrical system after the first attack carried out by the right-wing we recovered today in a few hours,” Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said in a televised address.
But those reassurances, similar to ones last time around, did little to calm the anger of residents in Caracas who even as he was talking filled traffic-clogged streets as they walked their way home after subway service in the capital was suspended
Like other small business owners, 27-year-old restaurant manager Lilian Hernandez was bracing for the worst even as service started flickering back on in parts of Caracas.
“We Venezuelans suffer all kinds of problems,” said Hernandez, who had just recently managed to restock food that spoiled during the previous outage. “We need a real solution that doesn’t obey to political interests.”
Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors Internet censorship, said outage had knocked offline around 57 percent of Venezuela’s telecommunications infrastructure.
The Trump administration, which has made no secret of its desire to remove the embattled socialist, has denied any role in the outages. Electricity experts and opposition leader Juan Guaido faults years of government graft and incompetence.
“This outage is evidence that the dictator is incapable of resolving the crisis,” Guaido wrote on Twitter Monday.
Meanwhile, as Venezuela’s economic and political crisis deepens, many seem resigned to continuous disruptions in their daily routines.
“The important thing is for people not to get desperate,” said William Rodriguez, who sells books at a kiosk under a downtown highway overpass.
Meanwhile, the US government warned Russia that the reported dispatch of military personnel to Venezuela was increasing tensions there.
US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday and said “the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by” while Russia takes steps to support its ally, Maduro.
Pompeo’s call came after a Venezuelan official said Russian aircraft arrived in Caracas this weekend as part of ongoing military cooperation. Reports that two Russian air force planes arrived could not be independently confirmed.
The US and dozens of other countries support Guaido, who says Maduro’s re-election last year was rigged. Maduro alleges the US and Guaido are plotting a coup.


Panama hospitals on verge of collapse as virus cases surge

Updated 18 min ago

Panama hospitals on verge of collapse as virus cases surge

  • With a population of four million, Panama has gone from 200 cases a day to 1,100 over the last few weeks
  • Authorities estimate that of every 100 people infected, 20 end up in hospital

PANAMA CITY: Hospitals in Panama are on the brink of collapse as coronavirus cases spike in the Central American country worst hit by the pandemic, where doctors are already exhausted.
With a population of four million, Panama has gone from 200 cases a day to 1,100 over the last few weeks.
“Our daily number of infected patients has been increasing in a sustained way to the point of passing 1,000 cases,” David Villalobos, head of the intensive care unit at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital in Panama City, told AFP.
“There are no hospitals that could sustain such a number,” he said.
The sharp increase has forced authorities to adapt existing hospitals and look for new spaces, like convention centers, to boost a health system with a range of problems including long waiting lists.
“The fear of the collapse of the public system in our country is evident if the number of cases remains the same,” Domingo Moreno, coordinator of a coalition of health care workers’ unions, told AFP.
“In the next two weeks we probably won’t have anywhere to put beds.”
With 42,000 cases and 839 deaths, Panama has the worst official tally of coronavirus infections in the region.

According to official figures, close to 20,000 people are in isolation at home or in hotels. Another 1,000 are receiving hospital treatment, 159 of whom are in intensive care.
Authorities estimate that of every 100 people infected, 20 end up in hospital — meaning that at the current rate, 200 people a day are being admitted to hospital, and 50 to intensive care.
“It’s exhausting, sometimes we have to go back at night for admissions. But here we are,” Giselle Sanchez, a doctor caring for the most serious COVID-19 patients, told AFP.
Doctors and nurses around the country have protested in recent weeks demanding medical supplies and protective equipment.
“There’s fear of infection, of being in a situation that puts your life at risk. This is a war of attrition,” said Moreno.
President Laurentino Cortizo recently pledged to carry out 4,000 tests a day to find and isolate those infected.
But some people, like Silda Idalia Rios, are afraid of taking the test because of rumors circulating about the pandemic.
The virus “has come to attack us,” she told AFP, conceding that “you need to accept that you have to take a test to see if it’s positive.”
Health Minister Francisco Sucre said he was aware of a significant group of people continuing to go out despite knowing they had contracted COVID-19, making it harder to get the outbreak under control.
“We are directly dependent on what the people can do or prevent in the street. The people really need to understand that we’re going to collapse,” said Malena Urrutia, from the COVID-19 coordination team at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital.
Cortizo said: “As president I would like to tell you that it’s over, but it isn’t. We still don’t have a vaccine. The battle goes on.”