France’s COVID-19 crisis washes up in ocean territories

France’s COVID-19 crisis washes up in ocean territories
Passengers arrived from Paris prepare to board a bus taking them to a quarantine facility at Roland Garros airport in Saint-Denis de La Reunion on March 31, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2020

France’s COVID-19 crisis washes up in ocean territories

France’s COVID-19 crisis washes up in ocean territories
  • There have been 13 coronavirus deaths in the overseas territories, mainly on the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin, as well as two victims on Mayotte
  • There is also rising concern about the disease’s spread on Reunion in the Indian Ocean, in French Guiana in South America, and on French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific

PARIS: Anxiety is growing over the coronavirus threat for France’s overseas territories, located in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans thousands of kilometers from the mainland, with distance proving no protection for regions with fragile health infrastructure.
The “Outre-mer” or overseas departments, largely a legacy of the country’s colonial past, are considered fully integral to the nation, with inhabitants holding French passports, voting in national elections and sending MPs to the Paris parliament.
For many in France, they are best known as easily accessible and French-speaking destinations for holidays in areas resembling paradise. But the coronavirus crisis risks being even more grim there than on the mainland itself, where thousands have died from COVID-19.
There have so far been 13 coronavirus deaths in the overseas territories, mainly on the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin, as well as two victims on the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte.
But there is also rising concern about the disease’s spread on Reunion in the Indian Ocean, in French Guiana in South America, and on French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific.
France is now sending two helicopter carriers — the Mistral and the Dixmude — to the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean to bolster local hospitals and clinics that risk being overwhelmed if the number of cases rises further.
The Dixmude left its Mediterranean port Friday morning carrying medical equipment including hand gel and over one million surgical masks for the Antilles, the army said in a statement, though it is not expected to arrive until mid-April.
And while the two ships will provide logistical support, they will not be used as hospital ships to take patients on board.
“We are following the situation in the overseas territories very closely and we are aware of the fragilities,” government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said this week. “It is a major subject of concern, attention and mobilization.”
The remoteness of the territories, coupled with their high poverty and unemployment rates, risks turning any outbreak into full-blown epidemic that could quickly overwhelm health professionals.
A source close to discussions between government ministries on containing the crisis, who asked not to be identified by name, told AFP, “It is going to be a catastrophe.”
“We feel there is no pilot on board,” Gabriel Serville, an MP for French Guiana, told AFP. “I fear for the worst for a territory that is behind in health terms, with poor areas where social distancing is not possible.”
Mayotte, where 82 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, often in shanty towns without running water, is a particular source of concern. “There has been no organization or preparation,” said Mansour Kamardine, a rightwing MP on the island.
“It feels like we’re just making it up as we go along.”
On France’s Pacific island territory of New Caledonia, located east of Australia between New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, early spring is usually a time of celebration for the yam harvesting season. But there is no mood for — or possibility of — festivity.
Indigenous Melanesians, known locally as Kanaks and counting for 39 percent of the population, already have prevalent health issues, particularly diabetes and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
If the virus were to spread, the impact would be “devastating,” said Georges Mandaoue, a prominent local politician.
“I’ve put all tribal chiefs in charge of explaining the consequences of the virus and the measures to protect everyone,” he told AFP.
People are aware of the danger, Mandaoue said, for example cultivating fields while respecting security distances. “They go to the river but not to the sea anymore, and greet each other from far away, without handshakes,” he said.
The memory of previous epidemics such as leprosy remains vivid, as do scars from the arrival and colonization of the island by Europeans, who brought unknown diseases with them that decimated the local populations.
“We know that epidemics have happened before, that people had to isolate members of the tribe and not see them before the burial,” said Gilbert Assawa, a tribal chieftain.
Regularly scheduled passenger flights between Paris and the overseas territories have been suspended, though cargo transit is continuing.
Most of the regions have also imposed lockdowns similar to that of mainland France, and some have also decreed nightly curfews.
The government insists that everything is being done to maintain control of the situation.
“The systems that have been put in place in the overseas territories match the same criteria and organization as mainland France,” said Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin.


Taliban leaders, US envoy meet in Doha

Taliban leaders, US envoy meet in Doha
Updated 10 min 39 sec ago

Taliban leaders, US envoy meet in Doha

Taliban leaders, US envoy meet in Doha
  • ‘Both sides expressed their commitment to the Doha agreement and discussed its full implementation’

DOHA: Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan met with the Taliban in Qatar, the insurgents said Saturday, as efforts intensify to revive a peace process faced with mounting violence and a US troop withdrawal deadline.
The envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks earlier this week with Afghan leaders in Kabul, including President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chair of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation which oversees the government’s talks with the insurgents in Qatar.
Taliban spokesman Muhamad Naeem tweeted that Khalilzad and the top US general in Afghanistan met with the insurgents’ negotiating team in Doha, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, late Friday.
“Both sides expressed their commitment to the Doha agreement and discussed its full implementation. Likewise, the current situation of Afghanistan and the rapidity and effectiveness of the Intra-Afghan negotiations were discussed,” he wrote.
Speculation is rife over America’s future in Afghanistan, after the White House announced plans to review a withdrawal deal brokered by Khalilzad and the Taliban in Doha last year.
Under that agreement, the US is set to withdraw from Afghanistan in May, but a surge in fighting has sparked concerns that a speedy exit may unleash greater chaos as peace talks between the Kabul government and Taliban continue to stall.
The accord states that the US will withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, with the Taliban promising not to allow territory to be used by terrorists – the original goal of the US invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Khalilzad’s visit marks the first time he has publicly returned to Qatar since US President Joe Biden took office in January and asked him to stay on in his post.


6 Ukrainians die, dozens injured in bus crash in Poland

6 Ukrainians die, dozens injured in bus crash in Poland
Updated 31 min 1 sec ago

6 Ukrainians die, dozens injured in bus crash in Poland

6 Ukrainians die, dozens injured in bus crash in Poland
  • The accident occurred around midnight on the A4 motorway near the town of Jaroslaw
  • There was no immediate cause given for the accident

WARSAW, Poland: A bus carrying dozens of Ukrainian citizens rolled off an embankment into a ditch in Poland, killing six people and injuring 41, Polish media reported on Saturday.
The accident occurred around midnight on the A4 motorway near the town of Jaroslaw, which is in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine.
TNV24, a private all-news station, reported that the bus had a Ukrainian license plate and was traveling with 57 Ukrainian citizens, including two drivers.
A large rescue operation early Saturday involved dozens of firefighters, paramedics and helicopters to transport the injured to hospitals.
There was no immediate cause given for the accident.
Ukrainians travel for work to Poland, a European Union state on Ukraine’s western border. Ukrainians fill gaps in the labor market in Poland, which has experienced fast economic growth in recent years.


Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC

Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC
Updated 06 March 2021

Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC

Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC
  • Additional claims that terror factions associated with Iran are growing stronger and attracting more support

DUBAI: Iranian militia groups have active cells operating in the US capital Washington DC and other US cities, according to chatrooms used by the groups.
Kawtheryoon Electronic Team, a Telegram network used by Iranian militia groups and supporters, claimed in a recent posting that Iranian “resistance cells are rooted even in America and its capital,” Fox News reported, citing a copy of the English-language posting captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which tracks radical groups.
The militia additionally claimed that terror factions associated with Iran are growing stronger and attracting more support than ever before, as they demanded a withdraw all of American troops from Iraq and the Middle East.
The Telegram post included a picture of caskets containing US soldiers, Fox News said.
The claims of Iranian terrorist cells being present in the US comes as the Biden administration seeks to directly engage Iran in pursuit of inking a revamped nuclear accord.
President Joe Biden has earlier said Iran must cut its uranium enrichment before any return to talks over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program.
Iran nonetheless continues to sponsor terrorism, Fox News reported, and has shown no signs of backing down from its active operations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern hotspots.
It also has continued to support strikes on US personnel stationed in Iraq, and was likely behind a Wednesday rocket attack on an Iraqi air base that houses American troops, it added.


Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott

Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott
Updated 06 March 2021

Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott

Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott
  • Khan was able to secure 178 votes, against the 172 required to win confidence
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan won a vote of confidence from parliament on Saturday in a session marked by opposition boycott and protest.
Khan was able to secure 178 votes, against the 172 required to win confidence, the speaker of the house announced.
Khan had himself volunteered to seek parliament’s confidence after the government’s finance minister lost a high-profile Senate seat election earlier in the week.

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths
Updated 06 March 2021

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 441 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday reported 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,820 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,312,181 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 441 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 88,726.