Hospitals still ration N95 masks despite stockpiles. Hate crimes against Asians on the rise. UN warns Myanmar military over protest suppression. Palestine: Israel blocks COVID vaccines to Gaza.
Hospitals still rationing N95 masks despite stockpiles
Across the country, many frontline health workers, including those working with COVID patients, still have to make do with limited personal protection equipment. Last year, health officials feared a shortage of N95 medical-grade masks, which filter 95% of airborne particles. Manufacturers got to work, increasing their production and stockpiles of the masks. A year later, one company, Prestige Ameritech of Texas, is producing 1 million masks every four days. However, their domestic orders remain low, and Prestige has now obtained permission to export the masks to other countries.
Despite this glut of supply, many medical workers still have to use one N95 for their entire shift. Before the pandemic, they would change the mask after dealing with each patient to reduce the risk of contamination. Going from patient to patient with the same mask increases risks both to patients and healthcare workers.
An AP investigation has found that federal failures over the past year to coordinate supply chains are to blame. Federal agencies failed to provide hospitals with clear rules about how to manage their medical equipment, and even deliberately withheld information on production and supply availability of the masks.
Hate crimes against Asians on the rise
Since mid-January, West Coast cities have seen a disturbing spike of violence apparently targeting Asians and Asian-owned businesses. In Portland, vandals have smashed windows of 9 Asian-owned businesses in the area, most of them eateries. In the Bay Area of California, several older Chinese people in Oakland’s Chinatown and elsewhere have been robbed and assaulted. On Chinese New Year, four attackers pistol-whipped a young Asian woman in Oakland and stole her car. In several of the California cases, the assailants were described as young black men. To address this, black and Asian community leaders have come together to support solidarity between the two minority communities.
On the East Coast, Asian people have been victims of vicious attacks. An assailant slashed the face of 61-year-old Asian man in the New York subway. In Baltimore, also on the eve of Chinese New Year, four Asian-owned businesses were burglarized.
UN warns Myanmar coup leaders over protester suppression
Since the February 1 coup, Myanmar’s streets have seen 10s of 1000s marching against the leaders of the military junta. The junta’s leaders have imposed sporadic internet blackouts throughout the country to stifle demonstrations. This had little effect, and the military is now increasing its presence on the streets. The military has also announced stiff legal penalties for protesters. Those “disrupting military operations” could face up to 20 years in prison, while anyone “inciting hatred” against coup leaders could get 5-7 years.
Earlier this month, democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her government were detained. The military leaders allege election fraud, but have so far produced no evidence. Instead, they first charged Suu Kyi with an import violation for owning walkie-talkies. She was due to be released yesterday, but has now been charged with some vague violation of the country’s environmental disaster management law.
The UN has warned the coup leaders of “severe consequences” if they use brutality to suppress protesters. Many countries, including the US, have threatened sanctions. Myanmar’s closest ally and trading partner China and their military ally Russia have adopted a “wait-and-see” stance.
Palestinians: Israel blocks COVID vaccines entering Gaza
Israel currently leads the world in its vaccination efforts. About 80% of those at highest risk have already received their second dose, and the country has seen a huge drop in infections as a result. Vaccinated Israelis are already making post-pandemic travel plans, with the country having struck deals with Greece and Cyprus.
In spite of this success, Israel’s Palestinian population has fallen well behind most other countries. Israel has been accused of thwarting efforts to import and distribute vaccines in the Gaza strip. So far, only Gazans who cross into Israel to work have received vaccines. Now, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila says that Israel’s long-standing blockade of Gaza is preventing access to vaccines. Specifically, Alkaila says that Israel has blocked 1000 Russian made Sputnik-V vaccines destined for Gaza’s frontline health workers.