News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

China quarantines school groups

China quarantines school groups

Four British pupils in Beijing hotel

Some of the British teenagers holed up in a hotel room in Beijing

More than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers from the UK and US have been quarantined in Beijing after eight children were found to have swine flu.

The four UK and four US children are being treated in a Beijing hospital and are said to be in a stable condition.

China has this year quarantined hundreds of foreign visitors who have shown symptoms of the H1N1 virus.

The four Britons taken ill are from London schools. A further 52 UK pupils and teachers are under quarantine.

The hospitalised pupils are year nine students, aged 13 to 14; three from the Central Foundation Boys School, Clerkenwell, and one from Parliament Hill School, Camden.

High temperatures

Meanwhile, four of the British pupils under quarantine have told the news from their hotel room they are being well looked after.

The four, who attend Clevedon School in north Somerset, are all in their late teens and are part of a group of 12 from that school, plus two teachers.

“We are quarantined in the hotel and are all currently well as we have daily temperature checks which are all good,” they said in an e-mail sent from their hotel room.

“The hotel is really nice and we have proper toilets. We hope we experience more of China as we should be out within four days.”

One of the boys, Christopher Hicks, said that they had been visiting the Great Wall of China when they were called back, because they had previously shared a bus with a pupil from another school who had tested positive for the virus.

Another pupil, Joe Robinson, said: “We’re being treated very, very well. The food’s great. We’ve got our own individual tellies.”

They also had individual rooms, he said, although they had to wear protective face masks and were not allowed outside of the quarantined zone.

More than 600 Britons are on the trip, organised by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the British Council and Chinese organisation Hanban.

Speaking about the four UK pupils who have swine flu, the SSAT’s Katharine Carruthers said: “They are being extremely well looked after and cared for, to the extent where they’re getting pizza delivered to where they are. They are all happy and getting better.

“There are a number of children in quarantine in very comfortable conditions in a four-star hotel in Beijing, who have been in close contact with the swine flu cases.

“Everyone is in good spirits, getting involved in activities and carrying on their Chinese learning.”

The vast majority of the students are continuing their trip as normal, she said.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, in Beijing, said three of the four UK children were found to have high temperatures when they arrived in Beijing earlier in the week.

They were taken straight from the airport to a hospital where it was confirmed they had the virus. A fourth classmate fell ill later.

Chinese health worker tests flight from London  9.7.09

Chinese health officials monitor passengers arriving in the country

The American children had been in contact with the UK group and four of them were also diagnosed as having the virus.

Amii van Amerongen, from London, told the news that her 15-year-old sister was one of the children under quarantine.

“She called me this morning telling me that she is confined in a hotel and she is being very brave about the whole thing. She said it was quite intimidating – they have these ‘guns’ that they point at your head which measure your temperature,” she said.

Chinese officials told the news that the children were being well looked after and they had regular contact with their families.

Simon Calder, travel editor for the UK’s Independent newspaper, told the news that many countries were using “thermal imaging” at airports to test travellers, and the UK was viewed as a high-risk area.


Have you or your family been quarantined in China? Send us your comments and stories

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December 16, 2008

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

A bus carrying Russian visitors has plunged into a ravine in southern Israel, killing at least 24 people, rescue workers say.

More than 50 passengers were on the bus when it came off a desert road and rolled down a steep slope near the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Several of those hurt were said to be in a serious condition.

The group had only just arrived and were being transported to Eilat from Ovda airport in the Negev desert.

The group had come from the Russian city of St Petersburg. Local media reports said they were travel agents from the city on a trip to survey the Red Sea resort.

Dozens of rescue workers, ambulances and several air force helicopters rushed to the site to evacuate the injured.

Map

Television footage showed the blue bus on its side at the bottom of the ravine.

Several of the passengers were thrown from the bus as it rolled down the slope, an eyewitness said. Luggage and wreckage lay strewn across the slope.

Some of the casualties were taken to hospital in Eilat, where medical personnel attending a conference were drafted in to help out. Others were flown to the town of Beersheba, a police spokesman said.

Six injured people who were trapped in the bus were rescued, an Israeli military officer said.

“They were saved because they were trapped in their seats,” the Associated Press news agency quoted the unidentified officer as saying.

The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said it had sent a representative to the scene of the accident.

‘Overtook’

It is being seen as a tragic accident rather than any kind of attack.

The road where the accident happened links Eilat, a popular holiday destination, with Ovda airport, some 50km (30 miles) away.

The bus lies at the bottom of the ravine

The bus broke through a rail and rolled down a ravine, witnesses said.

It crosses mountainous terrain and involves a series of hair-pin bends.

The driver of another bus said that the vehicle overtook him in a no-passing zone and then crashed through a guard rail, the Associated Press news agency reported.

A taxi driver who saw the accident gave a similar account to Israeli public radio.

“The driver of the bus tried to overtake another bus in a hair-pin curve and lost control of his vehicle,” he said.

Have you been affected by the crash? You can send us your comments

September 7, 2008

Laying to rest Cyprus’s ghosts

Laying to rest Cyprus’s ghosts

A Greek-Cypriot woman holds a picture of relatives missing since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

The issue of the “missing” is still a contentious topic in divided Cyprus

Talks this week on the reunification of Cyprus look more hopeful than many would have dared to think possible. But the discovery of remains from some of those killed during the 1974 Turkish invasion is refreshing old grievances, as Tabitha Morgan reports.

The Cyprus police museum is perhaps not high on the list of must-see attractions for the tourist but it does draw a steady stream of visitors, mostly Greek Cypriot children on school trips.

One of the main exhibits is a dark blue prison wagon, one of a pair used during the final years of the British occupation for transporting captured guerrilla fighters between the central court and Nicosia prison.

Nine of them were hanged there by the colonial authorities during the 1950s, some no more than teenagers.

In transit the prisoners were locked behind a heavy sliding door, while their guards enjoyed marginally greater comfort sitting on a pair of blue padded seats.

Greek Cypriot pupils are shown the bars on the floor of the vehicle to which prisoner’s feet were chained. They are urged to reflect on the courage of those young men who struggled to overthrow colonial rule, and taught to take a pride in the story of their national heritage.

Ethnic identity

What is less well chronicled is how, just three years after Cypriot independence, when inter-communal killings began in 1963 the van was used to transport a Turkish Cypriot prison officer to his death at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries.

Air strike by Turkish Air Force during their invasion of Cyprus, 1974.

An air strike by the Turkish Air Force during the 1974 Turkish invasion

On 21 December 1963 Mustafa Arif, a senior officer at Nicosia prison, was admitted to hospital in what is today the Greek Cypriot side of the city to be treated for a heart condition.

By the next day relations between the two communities had collapsed. Riots broke out in Nicosia, shops were looted and burned and the Turkish Cypriot community retreated behind barricades in the north of the city.

Shortly after, Mustafa received a visit from his Greek Cypriot colleagues who urged him leave the hospital and to go with them in the prison van, to a safer place. He agreed to be driven away.

No-one knows for sure what happened next. Was the sick man allowed to sit on one of the comfortable blue padded seats? How long was it before he realised that something was dreadfully wrong?

On the other side of the city, in the Turkish Cypriot enclave, Mustafa’s 10-year-old son Kutlay had just learned to ride a bicycle. He was eager to show his father what he could do, so every day Kutlay brought his bike to meet the bus that he confidently expected would bring his father home.

But Mustafa Arif was listed as “missing” and for the next 44 years he has been considered “missing”: one of those Cypriots killed because they had the wrong ethnic identity.

Burial sites

Greek Cypriots have their own missing, mostly men killed at the time of the Turkish invasion in 1974. The stories of their grieving children, and of families pulled out of joint, are just as raw.

A man shovels dirt into the grave of relatives in southern Cyprus

Scientists have identified the remains of many missing people

These ghostly figures whose killers have never been punished have a symbolic and political potency. There has been little reconciliation, no attempt to reach across the divide and listen to the stories told by Cypriots from the other side of the island.

But recent work by United Nations forensic pathologists may soon force that to change. Over the last 12 months the scientists have located and identified the remains of many missing people and returned them to their families.

Burial sites that were isolated in the 1960s and 1970s are today in the center of urban development. One excavation took place in the car park of Nicosia’s new multi-screen cinema.

Kutlay is now a middle aged man with a family of his own. Until recently he was the mayor of Northern Nicosia. Earlier this summer he received a phone call from the technicians at the UN lab explaining that most, but not all of his father’s skeleton had been recovered from a well in a Nicosia suburb.

Kutlay and his family were invited to view the remains, spread out on a plastic table draped in a white sheet.

Kutlay has spent much of his career campaigning for the island to be re-united. His views on his father’s killers are clear.

“They were fascist thugs,” he says, “they happened to be Greek Cypriots, but that is not what is important about them.”

While the remains of the missing lay lost underground, issues to do with culpability, justice and retribution could be set aside. Now they are being unearthed, Cypriots will have to decide how deeply they want to search for answers to these more difficult questions.

Mustafa Arif was buried earlier this summer next to his wife. It is a mark of how much times are changing here that one of those present was an official Greek Cypriot representative of the President, Dimitris Christofias.

There is no doubt that among the current Greek and Turkish Cypriot leadership there is a strong desire to overcome the past. What is not so clear is whether Cypriots at large are ready to follow their lead.

New hurricane menaces Caribbean

New hurricane menaces Caribbean

Caribbean nations are bracing for another major storm, Hurricane Ike, coming just days after Tropical Storm Hanna passed through the region.

Ike has regained strength after weakening, with winds of up to 135mph (215km/h) as it nears the Turks and Caicos islands and the Bahamas.

Cuba has issued a hurricane watch for its eastern provinces.

Haitian officials have said that at least 500 people have been found dead as floodwater’s caused by Hanna recede.

That storm has hit the US south-east coast and is dropping torrential rain on North and South Carolina.

Storm warnings are in force along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to New Jersey.

‘Major hurricane’

Hurricane Ike gained strength to Category Four on the Saffir Simpson scale – an “extremely dangerous hurricane” – after weakening slightly earlier on Saturday, said the Florida-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

As of 2100 GMT, Ike was tracking west south-west, moving at 15mph about 90 miles (145km) east of Grand Turk Island.

SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE
Cat 1: Winds 74-95mph (119-153km/h). No real damage to buildings
Cat 2: Winds 96-110mph (154-177km/h). Storm surge 6-8 feet (1.8-2.8 metres) above normal
Cat 3: Winds 111-130mph (178-209km/h). Major hurricane. Coastal flooding destroys smaller structures
Cat 4: Winds 131-155mph (210-249km/h). Large storm surge and widespread damage to smaller buildings
Cat 5: Winds greater than 155mph (249km/h). Small buildings blown away, roofs on large buildings destroyed. All trees and signs knocked down. Widespread coastal flooding.
Source: US National Hurricane Center

The NHC said the storm was expected to pass near or over the Turks and Caicos islands and the south-eastern Bahamas late on Saturday or early Sunday.

After Hanna pummeled the low-lying Turks and Caicos, a British territory to the north of Haiti, earlier in the week, many residents and visitors decided to leave.

Authorities decided to close the airport in Providenciales at mid-day on Saturday.

Ike should hit the northern coast of eastern Cuba by late Sunday or early Monday, according to the NHC forecast.

If it stays on its projected course, Ike will cut across the island from east to west, putting the crumbling colonial buildings of the capital, Havana, at risk.

A storm surge of up to 12ft (3.6m) is expected along with “large and dangerous battering waves” and heavy rainfall, the NHC said.

The center of the hurricane is forecast to pass to the north of Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

But Haiti, already reeling from three major storms in as many weeks, will not be spared, with up to 12in (30cm) of rain due to fall.

As floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Hanna receded, Haitian officials said more than 500 people had been killed.

Hurricane Gustav last week and Tropical Storm Fay two weeks ago killed about 120 people.

Hardest hit by Hanna was the city of Gonaives, which was flooded with up to 16ft of water that has only now begun to recede.

The devastation there has been described as catastrophic.

Police said 500 people were confirmed dead but that others are still missing and the number could rise higher.

The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) said hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced by the flooding.

The WFP has begun distributing food aid but a spokesperson said the scale of the disaster was putting their resources to the test.

Other aid workers say people’s spirits are running low after the successive storms.

“Food supplies and water are scarce and the price of the food that’s left is rising,” said Parnell Denis from Oxfam in Gonaives.

“The morale of people staying in the shelters is so very low; I am afraid to tell them that another storm is on its way.”

More bad weather will hamper the aid effort even further.

In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, there have been no reports of major damage.

However, preparations are under way for the arrival of Hurricane Ike.

“The ground is saturated and some of the dams in the south-east region are fairly close to their maximum capacity,” said meteorological official Gloria Ceballos.

Civil defense director Colonel Juan Manuel Mendez said Dominican troops had been put on alert.

Map of Hurricane Ike's predicted route


Are you in the Caribbean? Have you been affected by the storms? What preparations have you made to deal with the adverse weather? Send us your comments and experiences

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