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Lebanese group gives a home away from home to health workers

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Lebanese group gives a home away from home to health workers

BEIRUT — In the middle of the destroyed Beirut neighborhood of Gemmayzeh, a small team in masks and gloves were sanitizing and packing oxygen machines to be sent to those in need.

It’s the latest venture of a Lebanese civil group that arose with the coronavirus pandemic and has been finding new avenues to help as the country’s crises expand.

“No one is exempt from COVID. Nobody. Nobody has super-power immunity,” said Melissa Fathallah, one of the founders of Baytna Baytak, Arabic for Our Home is Your Home.

“We saw that our own relatives and our colleagues are suffering with this, we decided, okay, we are going to start another fundraiser and to specifically focus on the oxygen machines.”

Raising more than $27,000, they currently have placed 48 machines with those who need it across the country.

Baytna Baytak, with 110 staffers, launched at the start of the pandemic with a very different initiative: Finding a home away from home for front-line workers who were worried about exposing their families to the virus. During Lebanon’s first lockdown in March, they housed 750 front-line workers in various apartments.

Chloe Ghosh, a 26-year-old medical resident at a government hospital in Beirut, has been living in accommodations provided by the group since the start of the pandemic.

Her family is from Tannourine, a small town 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Lebanon. For her, putting her family at risk was another burden she couldn’t fathom.

“If I got COVID or anyone my age got COVID, we could survive,” Ghosh said. “But our families, no.”

Her first accommodation with the group was wrecked when another disaster struck Beirut, the massive Aug. 4 explosion at the city’s port. The blast killed more than 200 people, injured 6,000 others and destroyed thousands of homes.

Ghosh was unharmed. She moved to another place provided by Baytna Baytak across town in Hamra street. She now shares a four-bedroom apartment with three other medical workers who work in different hospitals around the city.

On a recent afternoon, Gosh and one her apartment mates, Issa Tannous, were decompressing after a long day, sipping a cup of coffee in front of the lights strung across the apartment’s windows. It was a rare instance when they were home at the same time.

“At the end of the day, someone cared for us,” said Tannous, a 28-year-old medical resident at private hospital. “Someone appreciated what you are going through and all that is going through our heads. It gave us space not to be afraid, not to worry that we might actually hurt someone.”

The apartment was donated to Baytna Baytak by a philanthropist to help accommodate the front-line workers. The same donor gave several other properties around Beirut for the same purpose.

After the port explosion, Baytna Baytak rushed to expand its efforts to help those whose homes had been shattered. It placed them in temporary housing while it helped raise funds to fix their homes. Within the first 24 hours of the call for housing, they had six apartments donated.

Baytna Baytak grew out a lack of services provided for front-line workers in Lebanon, Fathallah said.

“As far as the government is concerned, we don’t have a government. Let’s just get that out of the way,” she said. “If we actually want to acknowledge their existence, then they are a completely failed government in every which way possible.”

Lebanon’s health sector is overworked and stretched thin, even more so after the explosion.

Doctors are working multiple shifts a day to cover for colleagues infected with the virus. More than 2,300 Lebanese health care workers have been infected since February, according to the Order of Physicians.

Lebanon has over 14,000 medical doctors and 17,000 nurses, but many doctors have also left the country, reeling from a crippling economic crisis that preceded the pandemic.

After the explosion, Lebanon saw a major surge in COVID-19 infections that only worsened by the end of 2020, forcing Baytna Baytak to put some of its work on hold. Donors also were fewer.

Currently, they have 100 front-line workers placed in six apartments, a few hotels and a Covent.

Still, the group has continued to work amid a 24-hour lockdown that started mid-January. Even while distributing oxygen machines, the team was getting fined for violating curfew.

Fathallah is determined to keep going.

“We took it upon ourselves because of the greater good, because of the bigger picture because of the country and the citizens. We took it upon ourselves.”

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Hawaii considering a rescue fine if hikers don’t follow signs

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Hawaii considering a rescue fine if hikers don't follow signs

Hikers who don’t follow trail signs in Hawaii could face more than just danger to their lives — they could also be required to pay for their own rescue. 

Hawaiian lawmakers are considering a bill that could require hikers to reimburse local rescue teams if they had to be saved because they left marked trails, entered clearly-marked private property or ignored signs saying a trail is closed, according to recent reports. 

SB 363 would also give those hikers additional, criminal fines for petty misdemeanor charges.

State lawmakers are also considering another bill, SB 700, which has been revised to allow local rescue teams to choose whether they have hikers reimburse them for any fees associated with their rescue. 

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, similar bills have previously been introduced in Hawaii’s House and Senate before.

This time, the bills are being considered as a way to help Hawaii’s budget, which is “straining” because of the coronavirus pandemic, the newspaper reported.

“It’s an issue that has been brought up in the past in a number of ways, especially in times when budgets are thin and resources are limited,” state Sen. Chris Lee told the Star-Advertiser. “It’s a discussion that everybody is interested in having this year.”

According to the newspaper, the state’s Fire Department opposes the bills. 

“The Honolulu Fire Department does not want to deter anyone from calling 911, thinking there is going to be a cost associated with them getting help,” HFD spokesperson Carl Otsuka told the Star-Advertiser.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Chairwoman Suzanne Case, previously supported an earlier version of SB 700 that required hikers to pay back their rescue costs in written testimony, according to the Star-Advertiser.

“The Department is in support of any strategy that will incentivize the general public to stay within authorized managed areas and already has statutory penalties for violation of laws and rules adopted specifically for going into closed areas,” Case wrote. “While these penalties are in place, absent enforcement and citations, they are clearly not a deterrent.”

The Star-Advertiser reported that Case also noted in her testimony that the DLNR would defer to counties — who are responsible for search and rescue operations — on whether they required hikers to pay for their rescue or not.

According to the Star-Advertiser, hikers frequently get into trouble on the islands and rescuing them can be a dangerous and expensive task.

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

For people fatigued with quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study from Germany recommends what to do after getting out of the house.

Don’t go out to eat or get a haircut, don’t go shopping for food or go to the gym —  go to a museum.

According to the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) in Germany, the risk of COVID-19 infection via aerosol particles is far lower in museums than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices and on public transportation.

Variables considered were the quality of the airflow, the type of activity carried out in the space, and the dose of aerosol particles inhaled by people in a room.

“What is clear from the study is that it is above all the situations in which we like to be that are unfavorable,” said Martin Kriegel, who helped lead the study. “Situations in which many people come together in a confined space: there you can not ventilate sufficiently, it will always be an unfavorable situation.”

Outdoor activities all increased last year in the face of canceled indoor events and cautions about the dangers of catching the virus while around other people inside.

The study said food shopping, dining indoors or exercising in a gym are at least twice as risky as visiting a museum to view art.

Museums, however, haven’t been considered essential to the populace.

Celeste DeWald, the executive director of the California Association of Museums, told the New York Times earlier this month: “It’s frustrating to see crowded shopping malls and retail spaces and airports, yet museums are completely closed and many have not been able to reopen at all for the last 10 months. […] There is a unique impact on museums.”

Critics think museum closure is a political matter.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times, art critic Carolina A. Miranda called California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s policies “absurd.” Museums in the Golden State remain closed to visitors.

“The wildly uneven criteria speak more to the powerful, well-funded lobbies helping shape public health policy than to anything resembling science or even common sense,” Miranda wrote. “At a moment in which it is possible to get a tattoo or paw the goods at Chanel in Beverly Hills, it should be possible to visit a museum. Period.”

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Italian mafia employs new strategies during COVID-19 lockdown: report

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View of the Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda, empty, with no tourists and closed shops and restaurants , on January 27, 2021.

Italy’s mafia reportedly provided stimulus for some struggling small businesses in the country and there is concern that these establishments will become beholden to these mobsters going forward.

The Financial Times, citing a study by Rome’s interior ministry on organized crime, reported that small or mid-sized businesses in the country were given the funds, but the mafia then reverted to the “traditional intimidatory conduct aimed at acquiring control of their economic activities.”

There is fear that these businesses could become “an instrument for money laundering and recycling illicit capital.”

It has been widely reported that Italy’s economy has suffered a dramatic blow from the coronavirus outbreak. The country is pinning its recovery hope on Mario Draghi, its new prime minister who has been credited with saving the euro. He has been tasked with figuring out how to best employ the $240 billion in relief funds from Europe the country will receive to combat the virus and bring back the economy.

Reuters reported that the Italian economy shrank by 2.0% in Q4 2020, and 8.8% over the whole year. The report called it the “steepest annual GDP drop for Italy since WW2.

The FT reported that there has been a drop in some crimes normally associated with organized crime like counterfeiting and robberies, but possible arsons—that could be tied to racketeering—were comparable to 2019.

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