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COVID-19: the backlash against migrants

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We are all migrants written on page

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit migrants harder in almost every country. With borders closing, all mobility has been almost instantly criminalized and migrants were doomed to stay in unhygienic settlements where it is basically impossible to keep the necessary social distancing. More vulnerable to virus and without access to immediate healthcare, the fear of the “infected migrant” came to replace the far-right boogeymen of the “terrorist migrant”.

Here is a short summary of how COVID-19 has led to a backlash against migrants and what is going on in countries across the world when it comes to migrant rights:

HUNGARY

Hungary’s far right leader Viktor Orban has seized the pandemic to pass restrictions and policies tightening his grip on power. Since the start of the virus, Orban has repeatedly blamed foreigners and mobility for its spread. In early March, for example, Hungary suspended the admission of asylum seekers in the transit zones and took advantage of infected Iranian refugees to keep all migrants from entering Hungary due to health and security reasons.

Orban’s statements are very clear about his priorities for Hungary during the crisis. In mid-March, he stated “We are fighting a two-front war, one front is called migration, and the other one belongs to the coronavirus, there is a logical connection between the two, as both spread with movement”.

BOSNIA

Restricting migrants’ mobility for the general well-being seems to be a popular way of managing migration during the pandemic. Bosnia transferred thousands of migrants to a remote makeshift camp. Although the new premises do not seem to have the necessary conditions to halt the spread of the virus, especially when it comes to hygiene and social distancing, but local officials maintain that it is important to keep migrants in one place to keep them from being carriers of the virus.

The lack of resources of the Bosnian government to care for its own population – specially in terms of tests and quarantine facilities – has prompted officials to isolate migrants in favor of the Bosnian population.

GREECE

The situation was already critical in Greek refugee camps due to Turkey’s break with the agreement with the European Union. Hundreds of refugees passed the border and in late February, early March, there were echoes in the press about a new “migrant crisis 2020”.

The pandemic and all the border restrictions imposed by it managed to stop the flood of refugees coming from Turkey. But far-right groups in Greece did not stop attacking refugee camps. The solidarity of the local population was already running out and people were starting to turn against migrants themselves. The virus made the desperate situation in the Greek islands painfully clear for everyone to see, but except for some unaccompanied minors, most refugees are still left without answers.

Although the pandemic has at least stopped deportations, but Greece is also not receiving new asylum requests. The refugees of the Greek islands are now in limbo.

FRANCE

France has its own share of migrant camps, especially in the north of the country. In Calais and Dunkirk, the pandemic has turned the migrants into pariahs. Migrants have reported police violence and hostility of the local population, including having their tents removed and being denied access to supermarkets and public transportation. Aid workers have been reduced by half and the conditions of the illegal camps go completely against all the hygiene requirements to contain the virus.

These migrants are stranded waiting to reach the United Kingdom, but such dreams are impossible during the pandemic.

ITALY

One of the most affected countries in the world, Italy is also struggling to manage migration during the pandemic. Despite border closures, boats of migrants continue to arrive on Italian shores, leading to heightened tensions and conflicts between migrants and the local population.

Although migrant rights have not been the priority during the pandemic, Italy might soon temporarily legalize migrants in order to ensure agricultural production. Without the usual seasonal workers, Italy

UNITED STATES

In the United States, President Trump’s rhetoric of blaming the pandemic on a “foreign virus” has increased xenophobia across the country. Several Americans and immigrants of Asian descent suffered hate crimes and unlike other countries, the U.S. did not halt deportations during the pandemic, including unaccompanied minors from Central America. Although such deportations usually involved a longer process that included the intervention of social workers and other professionals, now they are much faster. It seems the administration is taking advantage of the pandemic to expel migrants at unprecedented rates.

2020 inaugurated the new “Remain in Mexico” program of the Trump administration to manage asylum requests. Instead of the asylum-seekers waiting in the United States, they are forced to remain in Mexico even if they are nationals of other countries. This policy has stayed the same during COVID-19, which means there are now thousands of asylum-seekers in unhygienic camps and shelters in the border cities.

BANGLADESH

The plight of Rohingya refugees has only worsened with the pandemic. The lockdown measures enforced by Bangladesh effectively cut the number of humanitarian workers by 80%. There are almost a million Rohingya refugees living in southern Bangladesh and although the cut down of humanitarian workers might help to stop the virus from spreading, it is also keeping humanitarian aid below minimum standards.  

As for Rohingya’s who have been found infected, the Bangladeshi authorities have forced 29 of them to quarantine in dangerous conditions, without appropriate access to health care in an island prone to floods and cyclones.

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Although there are many more countries exploiting the pandemic to trample on migrant rights, there are already some clear guidelines from this list: neglect, hostility, and violence continue to permeate the experiences of migrants around the world. The crisis could have been an opportunity to explore new and solidary migration policies, as was the case of Portugal, but instead most countries are contributing to the backlash.

Human rights groups are extremely concerned with the aftermath of the pandemic and whether countries will feel emboldened to enforce harsher migration policies in the same of public health.

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How China’s Zero COVID Policy Killed Thousands in Shanghai?

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Covid lockdown in China

Under China’s unbending virus control policy, the country’s most populous city, Shanghai is under full lockdown. In addition, an atrocious policy in place by the ruling regime is separating young children and babies from their parents when tested positive for COVID-19.

But, what has led one of the most developed cities to the nightmare, it is living in today? How China’s Zero-COVID policy is killing thousands across the nation? And is there a way out?

Shanghai and Zero COVID Policy: The Unfolding Nightmare

On many fronts, Shanghai, one of the biggest city globally, is under a strict lockdown. Amongst the deserted market and streets, over 26 million residents are confined to their homes and breaking through the silence, the drones dictating restrictions and instructions of the locked citizens.

Shortage of food, water, and medicines, over-burdened delivery network, and growing protest to open the lockdown depict the chaotic picture of Shanghai. But, Shanghai is not alone; across China, some 23 cities, homing 200 million people are living under full or partial lockdowns.

The impact closure poses a severe impact on the Chinese economy and global supply chain. The lockdowns in the first wave of COVID led to a historic collapse in economic activities in China, and now with the Omicron lockdown, indicators are plunging again.

But, despite the draconian lockdown and security measures, new COVID cases are shooting off the roof, reflecting the high transmissibility of the mutated virus.

What is China’s Zero COVID Policy

As one of the strictest steps taken toward curbing the spread of the contagious virus, China has once again adopted the Zero COVID policy.

The matric watched the number of cases found among people who aren’t yet in quarantines. Unfortunately, this figure may continue to climb in Shanghai, and the authorities will consider an outbreak contained until the indicator known as Zero infection in society reaches zero.

The current approach tries to reduce transmission and extend the time available.

China believes that removing sick people from society is the most effective way to stop the spread of the disease. Still, quarantine facilities are divisive, producing widespread concern and terror among residents.

The primarily variant resulting in the situation is China’s low vaccination rate for the elderly, especially amongst the most vulnerable category of citizen over 80-years-old( a little over 20%). Furthermore, to add fuel to the fire vaccination campaigns have been slowing down dramatically.

How Bad is the Situation in Shanghai?

Shanghai’s local government has some special autonomy under President Xi Jinping’s China; as a province-level city, it is officially under the supervision of the central government, but it has a unique status as the country’s financial capital and an emblem of China’s accomplishments for the rest of the world. 

The local administration had managed the pandemic adequately up until March, with no major breakouts. However, the quick arrival of the Omicron variety and the severe government actions accompanying it are pushing some residents to the edge.

Shanghai reported 27,719 new infections on April 14, a new record high for daily cases. But, astonishingly, 95% of these new infections are now among people in quarantine or living within a closed-loop system. The government has been testing the entire city’s population every day, and anyone who tests positive is removed from their homes and sent to centralized quarantine facilities.

The Chinese political leadership has put itself in a difficult situation by emphasizing the zero-COVID goal. If it persists, it will hamper the country’s economic recovery by exacting expenses that the people no longer consider justifiable.

However, if COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, illnesses and fatalities will skyrocket as the virus spreads across a population lacking the protection observed in most other comparable nations.

When Will the Lockdowns End?

Once the zero COVID is achieved, Shanghai can start reopening the city. There is no timetable on when this can be achieved; however, with the new cases rising every day, it is most likely that the nightmarish lockdowns can continue for several more weeks.

Also Read: End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?

But, people are frustrated, mentally exhausted, and begging to get out. For many, this ordeal will shift how they view China as the future. While different variants of COVID killed millions around the globe, China remained a safe haven.

But, now the tables have turned.

The Urgent Needs for a Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy

Though the Chinese authorities will ultimately get the situation in Shanghai and around the country under control, the collateral damage created by the rigorous lockdown much outweighs the actual deaths inflicted by COVID at the moment.

As more cities in China sweep under lockdown, the country may again be cut off from both the inside and the outside. Moreover, what residents have gone through for the past few weeks can negatively impact their physical and mental health. As a result, the government must likewise place a premium on citizens’ mental and physical well-being.

The most vulnerable individuals should be vaccinated first, and strong safety measures should be put in place to allow regular life to continue in the state. Without these changes, the country’s economy would plummet, local firms would be forced to close, unemployment will soar, and public opinion will shift.

As a result, it’s critical to implement a dynamic zero-COVID policy that allows residents to normally go about their daily lives.

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End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?

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A health care worker in a face shield.

Sajid Javid, UK’s health care secretary, warns COVID could be here forever. Many European countries are calling for a new approach, claiming the infections must not be dealt with as a health emergency but an illness. So, is the pandemic approaching its end? Is it time we learn to live with COVID?

Pandemic to Endemic

After two years of multiple crippling waves, strict lockdowns, and millions dead, several countries are ready to leave the pandemic in the past. The new Omicron wave is breaking infection records across the world, but the hospitalization need and deaths are way down compared to previous waves, especially for vaccinated individuals.

The low mortality is sparking hope in many health care experts that COVID infections can now be treated as an endemic. We have learned to live with many illnesses in the past, and officials are proposing to add COVID to the list.

Also Read: Will Annual COVID-19 Boosters Become the New Norm?

Despite the skyrocketing infections, many countries are easing the curbs, while countries like Ireland and the U.K. are dropping most of the restrictions.

Contrary to the European countries, the World Health Organization is declaring the pandemic far from over. According to the officials, the death rate of the current variant is still too high to go easy on the infections.

“Now is not the time to give up on the strategy. The virus (omicron) is circulating at a very intense level around the world.”

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, American epidemiologist

The Forever Pandemic

Omicron complicates the question of when this pandemic will end, but pandemics do eventually end. Yet coexisting with a virus as contagious as the Coronavirus would not be as easy as flipping a switch.

Also Read: COVID19: 90% Countries Still Facing Disruption In Providing Essential Health Care Services

As an exhausted world tries to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious omicron mutant, cases are at an all-time high and causing chaos. However, this time we won’t have to start from scratch.

Although vaccines do not always prevent mild infections, they offer strong protection against serious illness. Omicron does not seem to be as dangerous as some earlier variants. Those who survive it will have a chance to bolster their defense against other variations of the virus that are still circulating. And perhaps the next mutant will emerge, too.

Also Read: The Looming Danger of COVID-19’s Delta variant

It won’t be long before the World Health Organization determines when enough countries have curb COVID-19 cases sufficiently – or at least, deaths and hospitalization have fallen – to officially deem the pandemic over. However, the exact threshold is unclear.

In that case, some parts of the world will still struggle – particularly those without enough vaccines or treatments – while other parts will be able to transition more easily to what researchers call an “endemic” state.

Could More Deadly Variants Emerge?

The coronavirus is not certain of remaining less deadly: It might evolve again and become more dangerous. Scientists in Sweden share that concern, writing in an opinion piece for POLITICO: “Allowing large amounts of contamination to circulate is like opening Pandora’s box of unpleasant surprises. The last variant we have seen is hardly the last.”

Also Read: New coronavirus variant emerging from the UK: how dangerous is it?

According to Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, there is always the risk of a dangerous mutation. However, he noted that the high level of immunity in the U.K. should guide a different approach. We should perform our own risk assessments instead of relying on top-down decision-making methods like lockdowns. You could, for instance, test yourself before leaving the house for dinner, or avoid potentially infected people if there is a risk, says David.

“The pandemic is no where near over. With the incredible growth of Omicron globaly, new variants are likely to emerge.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General WHO

Fighting & Living with the COVID

Despite the fact that industrialized nations actively aim to protect their populations by boosting their vaccinations for adults and extending vaccinations to children, we can no longer expect to inject people every four to six months in the face of new variants. To counter this threat, vaccinations will have to be provided annually – preferably with products that are effective against all types of Coronaviruses – and repeated exposure to an infection that is certain to become endemic sooner or later.

In the world “living with COVID,” governments and regulators should encourage the innovation of new vaccine technologies that will complement Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer’s mRNA products duopoly. Furthermore, more investment should be made in antiviral drugs that might play a greater role in suppressing symptoms among infected people.

Also Read: Skills to acquire to survive through COVID 19 pandemic

At the beginning of 2020, we might have had a slim chance of eliminating Covid-19, but they are long gone. Controlling the pandemic has been justified so far as a global health emergency; however, they cannot continue forever.

Too many collateral damages would result, including harm to social cohesion, mental health and wellbeing, and the global economy. Sars-Cov-2 and its descendants will require more resilience in the coming year so that the most vulnerable can be protected while causing less disruption.

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Plastic Pollution: Environmental Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

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A facemask lying on the beach.

2020 was supposed to be the “Supper Year” for nature. The world was all set for major opportunities to bring nature back from the verge. And then the catastrophe happened, Coronavirus, setting long-held plans for battling climate change back. And, now the pandemic is adding more complexities to the already dire crisis: Plastic Pollution.

2022: The New Dawn

After falling significantly due to the great lockdowns, Carbon Dioxide emissions are expected to return to the pre-pandemic level in 2022. China has already surpassed its emission due to the extensive use of coal.

Also Read: Air pollution spiking risks of infertility: An inevitable issue

The coronavirus crisis has only given the environment a small intermission. Now an unprecedented consumption boom, encouraged by the leaders to boost the economy, is fueling the demand. Furthermore, as a safety measure, people have started avoiding public transportation and driving more.

But, the most visible legacy of the pandemic, plastic waste, is filling water bodies with toxins.

Masks: Life-Saving Plastic Pollution?

Do you wear masks? How many masks do you own? Are all your masks reusable?

The recent popularity of masks has made them an integral part of our lives. Without a shadow of a doubt, it saves lives and protects us from infections. Yet, the disposal of used masks has been sparking major waste management and plastic pollution discussions worldwide, especially in South Asia.

Also Read: Plastic Pollution: How Vulnerable Communities Are Adversely Affected By Plastic Wastes

A new form of wastes is now turning up into the ocean, masks. Whether higher-grade respiratory masks or basic surgical masks and single-use gloves, these used clinical wastes all belong in incinerators. According to an estimate, over 1.5 million plastic masks ended up in oceans. just in 2021.

Face masks, gloves, and wipes are composed of a variety of plastic fibers, primarily polypropylene, which remains in the environment for decades, possibly centuries, forming smaller and smaller microplastics and nano plastics. According to a study in Environmental Advances, one face mask releases as many as 173,000 microfibers per day into the sea.

Single-Use Plastic Packaging

In spite of the closure of physical shops and financial uncertainty, online sales of goods are on the rise even though consumption (and packaging) may have declined overall. There has been an increase in the use of plastic and another single-use packaging for parcel deliveries from e-commerce.

Also during the lockdown, there has been a decline in the use of single-use plastic containers for food. As many restaurants have shifted to takeout services, packaging has increased and commuting, traveling, and leisure activities decreased. This may have reduced the demand for on-the-go food and drinks.

But the staggering spike in at-home deliveries, drying up recycling market, and economics of plastics have added more to the complexities.

Efforts to curb plastic waste have come at a complicated time with regard to PPE litter. The ocean’s plastic waste is expected to triple, and there is no clear solution in sight. However, the shift would reduce the projected tripling of plastics by just 7 percent if every corporation kept its pledge to use more recycled plastics.

Due to the pandemic, disposable packaging has also increased as people purchase more takeout food. Plastic bag bans have been suspended because of fears that reusable bags will spread the virus. Similarly, a third of recycling companies in the United States have closed due to cash-strapped municipal budget cuts.

Elevated Plastic Pollution

Even before the pandemic, South Asia was the largest source of plastic wastes. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are amongst the top 20 countries notorious for creating the most mismanaged plastic waste.

The Ganges and Indus, flowing through these countries, are listed as some of the most polluted rivers systems, swallowing over 90% of the region’s plastic waste. A report from Washington Post reveals that the world has created about 8 million tons of plastic during the pandemic, most of which are now in the oceans.

Also Read: Global Garbage Crisis: How is the World Drowning in its Own Trash?

Littered masks and gloves are carried like tumbleweeds into rivers and streams, where they reach the sea. As a result, the presence of sea turtles has been documented on beaches in South America, river outlets in Jakarta Bay, in Bangladesh, on the coast of Kenya, and on Hong Kong’s uninhabited Soko Islands. In addition, wasted personal protective equipment has clogged street drains from New York City to Nairobi and is clogging Vancouver, British Columbia’s municipal sewage system.

Plastic Pollution: No Silver Bullet

Now, entering 2022, the super year for nature is still on the waiting list. A single silver bullet can’t solve the plastic pollution problem globally across the rivers and oceans. For sustainable production, management, and disposal, plastics require interventions at all stages of their lifecycle: from production and preventing contamination to solid waste management and transitioning to a circular economy.

Also Read: Microplastics: The Miraculous Solutions to the Toxic Danger

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic pollution has been exacerbated in Asia. The World Bank is working to reduce plastic pollution in South Asian nations for the billions of people whose livelihoods rely on clean rivers and seas. However, to recover from the pandemic in a greener and more resilient manner, countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, will need new policies, investments, and innovations.

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