Virus-hit British cruise ship docks in Cuba

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The British cruise ship MS Braemar docked, after it was stranded for more than a week in the Caribbean due to several confirmed cases of COVID-19, in the Port of Mariel, Cuba. (Reuters)
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The British cruise ship MS Braemar docked, after it was stranded for more than a week in the Caribbean due to several confirmed cases of COVID-19, in the Port of Mariel, Cuba. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 March 2020

Virus-hit British cruise ship docks in Cuba

  • The MS Braemar has more than 1,000 people aboard including five confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 50 people in isolation
  • The ship operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and carrying 682 passengers and 381 crew docked at 7:00 am (1100 GMT) in the Port of Mariel

MARIEL, Cuba: A British cruise ship that was turned away from Barbados and the Bahamas over coronavirus infections docked in Cuba on Wednesday.
The MS Braemar has more than 1,000 people aboard including five confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 50 people in isolation due to showing flu-like symptoms.
The ship operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and carrying 682 passengers and 381 crew docked at 7:00 am (1100 GMT) in the Mariel industrial port 45 kilometers (30 miles) west of the capital Havana, AFP reporters at the scene said.
Cuba’s government had agreed to allow the ship to dock for “humanitarian reasons.”
“We are very grateful to the Cuban government for swiftly enabling this operation and for their close co-operation to make sure it could be successful,” said British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.
After disembarking, the passengers and crew will be taken to Havana’s Jose Marti international airport before they are transported to Britain in four planes.
“We’ve applied all the measures for a secure, hospitable and rapid transfer of the ship’s passengers and crew,” foreign ministry head of press, Juan Antonio Fernandez said on Tuesday.
According to the Fred Olsen Internet page, those that have contracted the virus and those displaying flu-like symptoms, alongside their families, will be repatriated on a separate flight with “medical professionals available.”
On arrival they will be obliged to “self-isolate for 14 days.”
“Any guests who are considered not to be well enough to fly will be offered support and medical treatment in Cuba,” the UK-based but Norwegian-owned company added.
Cuba has recorded just seven coronavirus cases but unlike much of the rest of Latin America has so far kept its borders open.
The Caribbean island nation is largely reliant on tourism revenue.


Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 32 min 38 sec ago

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.