The Grand Princess cruise ship that carries thousands of people, including 21 coronavirus patients, docked at the Port of Oakland Monday after being held off at sea for days.
The ship, with more than 3,500 passengers and crew members aboard, sailed through the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco around noon Monday and arrived at Oakland, where the passengers will disembark and the crew members will remain quarantined on board the ship.
Authorities said the disembarkation process is expected to take several days.
Officials said passengers with immediate medical needs and those experiencing symptoms or testing positive for the coronavirus will disembark first. They will be followed by other passengers from California and other U.S. states.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said earlier that most of the nearly 1,000 California passengers will be quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Northern California, while others will be sent to a military base in San Diego for a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The cruise ship, which was originally scheduled to return to San Francisco, has been barred from docking at the Port of San Francisco after 21 people, including 19 crew members and two passengers, tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Of those aboard the vessel, 46 had been tested after testing kits were airlifted to the ship Thursday.
Words of the ship arrival at Oakland caused some fears among local residents as some alleged the passengers from the ship would be quarantined at a hotel in the city of Oakland.
However, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf reassured the public about their safety in a tweet Sunday, and defended the state government's decision to offload the passengers in Oakland.
"Oakland's role in this operation is to support our state and federal authorities as they conduct a critical public health mission to help those impacted by the COVID-19 virus," Schaaf said.
She stressed that "no one will be quarantined in Oakland, nor will any passengers be released into the general public."
According to the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, 20 Chinese nationals are on the Grand Princess cruise ship, including 11 crew members and nine passengers.
The cruise ship is linked to the first coronavirus-related death in California.
Measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus will be extended to the entire country in the next hours, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late on Monday.
"All movements will be restricted across the entire country, but for those justified by three specific reasons: provable work reason, emergency cases, and health needs," Conte told a televised press conference.
"There will be no more red zones and free zones ... There will be only one Italy, as entirely protected (area)," said the prime minister.
The new rules are to be included in a decree that will enter into force by Tuesday, and stay in force at least up to April 3, according to Conte.
He explained this drastic step was deemed necessary by the cabinet to protect the entire national community from the spreading of the new coronavirus across the country, which is now the most affected after China in terms of fatalities linked to COVID-19.
Conte specified limitations would include public gatherings, which will be banned both in open air, in bars, pub, restaurants, and in all of the venues where social life usually takes place.
Such restrictions have been applied since Sunday morning to the entire Lombardy region and 14 provinces across Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Marche, and Veneto regions.
Yet, several episodes of people leaving restricted areas in the north to join their families in southern regions took place over the weekend, and many people -- especially the younger generations -- have kept hanging out in public places.
All sporting events, including Italy's soccer Serie A League, were to be suspended on the entire national territory starting from Tuesday.
The current closure of all schools and universities will be extended up to April 3 as well, from the previous deadline of March 15.
"We understand the need of sociality of the people, and especially of the younger one. Yet, this is the moment of responsibility for everyone ... and the best decision for citizens now is to stay at home," Conte said.
Up to Monday, the number of COVID-19 infection cases grew to 7,985, and death toll increased by 97 cases to 463, according to the Civil protection Department.
Some 102 new recoveries were also recorded, bringing the total number to 724.
The chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that the novel coronavirus has got a foothold in so many countries and the threat of a pandemic has become very real.
His words came as Cyprus confirmed its first two COVID-19 cases, which means all EU members have reported infection cases.
European countries have begun to upgrade their containment measures. In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Monday evening that measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus will be extended to the entire country in the next hours.
"THREAT OF PANDEMIC VERY REAL"
COVID-19 is an uneven epidemic at the global level, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a daily briefing, reminding that different countries are in different scenarios, requiring a tailored response.
It would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled, the WHO head also noted. He called on all countries to take a comprehensive blended strategy for controlling their epidemics and pushing this virus back.
Tedros also said of the around 80,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in China, more than 70 percent have recovered and been discharged. Among the countries with the most cases, China is bringing its epidemic under control.
He stressed that the transmission of coronavirus can be slowed down and infections can be prevented through decisive and early actions.
"Countries that continue finding and testing cases and tracing their contacts not only protect their own people, they can also affect what happens in other countries and globally," said Tedros.
INFECTIONS KEEP RISING IN EUROPE
The Italian authorities said Monday the number of people who tested positive for the new coronavirus reached 7,985, an increase of 1,598 new infections compared to the previous day, and did not include recoveries or fatalities.
Considering all data (including deaths and recoveries), the number of assessed coronavirus cases in the country was 9,172.
Also on Monday, Germany confirmed the first two deaths from COVID-19, both in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), German local media Focus reported.
According to official data, the number of confirmed cases in Germany rose to 1,112 by Monday morning, 484 of which are in NRW.
In France, 1,412 cases of coronavirus infection have been confirmed and 25 patients have died, Director-General of Health Jerome Salomon announced on Monday evening.
Both Spain and Denmark eyewitnessed rapid growth in confirmed cases on Monday. The number of confirmed cases in Spain rose from just under 600 on Sunday to over 1,000, with the death toll increasing from 10 to 26.
Denmark saw its total number of COVID-19 infections rise to 90 by Monday afternoon, a sharp increase from Sunday's 35, according to an update on the website of the National Board of Health on Monday evening.
The virus has affected some international organizations. The Brussels-based North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) confirmed a case of coronavirus infection in its headquarters on Monday morning. The staff member is currently at home in self-isolation.
NEW MEASURES TO STEM SPREAD
European countries have stepped up efforts and put in place new containment measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
In France, all gatherings of more than 1,000 people are now prohibited across French cities. Only events considered "useful to the life of the nation" will be maintained.
The new measures also included a decree making telemedicine more flexible and available to the public.
In addition, hospitals would trigger the "white plan" of extra mobilization systems to cope with the additional influx of patients linked to the coronavirus. It allows to reinforce additional nursing and administrative staff, offer more beds and limit patient visits.
In Spain's autonomous community of Madrid, schools and universities will be closed for 14 days starting from Wednesday, the region's president Isabel Diaz Ayuso confirmed.
Romania also unveiled similar plans. The country's interim Prime Minister Ludovic Orban announced that all primary and secondary schools, as well as kindergartens across the country, will be closed on March 11-22.
Romanian Interim Interior Minister Marcel Vela added that the road and rail transport of people to and from Italy will be suspended from Tuesday to the end of the month.
In Poland, medical controls have been introduced on the borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.
"I want to emphasize that in the next several dozen hours we will be expanding the scope of these checks to other border crossings," said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
In Croatia, the National Civil Protection Authority introduced new protection measures, requiring all foreign nationals from the outbreak's hotspots to stay in mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
In the Czech Republic, the national security council decided to ban visits to inpatient hospital wards, which will take effect on Tuesday.
In Slovenia, Health Minister Ales Sabeder announced that the checking of passengers arriving at Ljubljana JoZe Pucnik airport is expected to be introduced in a few days.
As for airlines, Air Malta, Malta Air and Ryanair have announced cancellations of all flights to and from north Italy.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged European countries to coordinate actions to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
"In order to face COVID-19 ... I call on our European partners to take urgent action to coordinate health measures, research efforts and our economic response," Macron said in a tweet.
A barber in Beijing is supporting his wife and child by charging food and other expenses to a credit card while he waits for his employer's shop to reopen. A waiter at a barbecue restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, washes his hands more often and hopes for the best. A parcel delivery driver in Britain worries about getting sick from the people who sign for their packages.
While white collar workers trying to avoid contagion can work from home or call in sick if they experience symptoms of the virus, such precautions are not an options for the millions of waiters, delivery workers, cashiers, ride-hailing drivers, museum attendants and countless others who routinely come into contact with the public.
Their dilemma is compounded by spotty sick leave policies or inadequate health insurance coverage, which leave them vulnerable to the fast-spreading coronavirus that has already claimed thousands of lives and put them in a financially precarious position.
"The recommendations on what people should be doing to protect themselves really gives a sharp indication of the divide between white collar and blue collar workers," said Shannon Liss-Reardon, a workers rights attorney in Boston. "Our social safety net is just not equipped at this moment to deal with a crisis like this, and it will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable low wage workers."
While tech companies like Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have implemented work-from-home policies, only 29% of U.S. workers have that option, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means retail workers like Mendy Hughes must fend for themselves. The Walmart cashier in Malvern, Arkansas, serves hundreds of people a day and her big worry is what will happen to her income if she catches the virus or comes in contact with someone who's had it and must self-quarantine for 14 days.
"If I can't go to work, I could try to take a leave but it will be unpaid," said Hughes, who earns $11.60 an hour. "I don't know what I would be doing about taking care of my family."
Hughes, a diabetic and mother of four, gets 48 hours of sick leave a year but she fears it wouldn't be nearly enough time to recover.
In the United States, about 27% of private sector workers don't have access to paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some countries, like Britain, are looking into helping out its non-permanent workers. There is no federal sick leave policy in the U.S., but 12 of the 50 states and Washington D.C. require employers to offer paid sick leave.
Some House and Senate Democrats have been pushing legislation that would require employers to allow workers to accrue seven days of paid sick leave and to provide an additional 14 days in the event of any public health emergency, including the current coronavirus crisis. President Donald Trump said he was seeking help for hourly-wage workers to ensure they're "not going to miss a paycheck," and he would outline the proposals Tuesday.
In Britain, parcel delivery driver Ed Cross worries about catching the virus from the machine he hands people who sign for their packages.
"People have coughed on their hand and then got hold of my machine and you sort of make a joke of it trying to point it out," Cross, 53, said. "But yeah, it's what we face daily."
"We only have to go to the wrong house and we could catch it, as simple as that," said Cross, who on a recent day handed packages to 110 people on his route in Whitby, northern England.
The British government last week made it easier to collect statutory sick pay and is working on changes to help millions of non-permanent workers like Cross who aren't eligible for it. In a sign the industry is waking up to the problem, his parcel company, Hermes, announced a 1 million pound ($1.3 million) fund to help couriers who need to self-isolate.
Uber, meanwhile, said it would compensate drivers and couriers for up to 14 days if they get sick or have to be quarantined.
The viral outbreak has revealed gaping holes in health care coverage at a time when people may need it most. Most European countries and Canada have universal healthcare systems, but the U.S. relies on a patchwork of public and private insurance. About 69% of private industry workers in the U.S. have access to healthcare benefits, but that drops to 43% of service workers. U.S. employers with 50 or more employees are required to offer health insurance. But the same protection isn't provided to part-time workers or independent contractors.
Waiter Joey Ingham, who works at a barbecue restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, popular with business travelers, says he doesn't have insurance. His protection? Washing his hands more often.
"If I wasn't able to come into work, it would be hard to make ends meet," said Ingham, who waits on 80 to 120 people a shift. If he felt sick, he'd "probably talk to a manager" about what to do, but noted management hasn't yet outlined any policies.
Liss-Reardon said most gig workers — independent or temporary contractors — she represents don't have health insurance.
"We won't have a fully insured population until we get universal healthcare," he said. "There are going to be these huge gaps. The burden is falling on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. This is just another example."
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends workers without insurance contact a local health department or community health center for help. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends emergency room visits only for patients who are very sick.
In France, where people have the right not to work and get full pay when they consider their workplaces to be dangerous, some service staff briefly stayed home because of contagion concerns. Workers at the Louvre, the world's most-visited museum, refused to work for two days and were only coaxed back after management introduced a raft of new anti-virus measures.
"We are asking for gloves. We are asking for disinfectant gels, and masks for the drivers," said Bastien Berthier, of the Paris metro's UNSA union.
In China, where the outbreak has been raging for two months, many service industry workers have it far worse, with business evaporating as people are forced to hunker down at home.
A barber in Beijing who would give only his surname, Long, said he is supporting his wife and child by charging food and other expenses to a credit card while he waits for his employer to reopen.
"I can ask for sick leave or compassionate leave, but I get nothing without working," said Long, 33.
Jiang Yanlin, a tour guide in eastern China's Huangshan region, said she hasn't earned anything since mid-January and doesn't have any social welfare benefits to fall back on. Usually she can earn up 300 yuan ($42) a day during the normally busy Lunar New Year holiday.
"If I don't work, I don't get paid. Everyone here in the Huangshan tourist zone is like this," said Jiang, 33. "No one is coming to travel. Everyone is so scared."
Inside a giant decontamination facility at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant, workers in hazmat suits monitor radioactive water pumped from three damaged reactors, making sure it's adequately — though not completely — treated.
Three lines of equipment connected to pipes snaking around in this dimly lit, sprawling facility can process up to 750 tons of contaminated water a day. Four other lines elsewhere in the plant can process more.
From there, the water is pumped to a complex of about 1,000 temporary storage tanks that crowd the plant's grounds, where additional tanks are still being built. Officials say the huge tanks will be completely full by the summer of 2022.
The decontamination process, which The Associated Press viewed on a recent tour, is a key element of a contentious debate over what should be done with the nearly 1.2 million tons of still-radioactive water being closely watched by governments and organizations around the world ahead of this summer's Tokyo Olympics.
The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, says it needs to free up space as work to decommission the damaged reactors approaches a critical phase. It's widely expected that TEPCO will gradually release the water into the nearby ocean following a government decision allowing it to do so. The company is still vague on the timing.
But local residents, especially fishermen, are opposed to the plan because they think the water release would hurt the reputation of already battered fisheries, where annual sales remain about half of the level before the nuclear accident, even though the catch has cleared strict radioactivity tests.
TEPCO Chief Decommissioning Officer Akira Ono says the water must be disposed as the plant's decommissioning moves forward because the area used by the tanks is needed to build facilities for the retrieval of melted reactor debris.
Workers are planning to remove a first batch of melted debris by December 2021. Remote control cranes are dismantling a highly contaminated exhaust tower near Unit 2, the first reactor to get its melted fuel removed. At Unit 3, spent fuel units are being removed from a cooling pool ahead of the removal of melted fuel.
The dilemma over the ever-growing radioactive water is part of the complex aftermath of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit on March 11, 2011, destroying key cooling functions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Three reactors melted, releasing massive amounts of radiation and forcing 160,000 residents to evacuate. About 40,000 still haven't returned.
Except for the highly radioactive buildings that house the melted reactors, most above-ground areas of the plant can now be visited while wearing just a surgical mask, cotton gloves, a helmet and a personal dosimeter. The area right outside the plant is largely untouched and radiation levels are often higher.
The underground areas remain a hazardous mess. Radioactive cooling water is leaking from the melted reactors and mixes with groundwater, which must be pumped up to keep it from flowing into the sea and elsewhere. Separately, even more dangerously contaminated water sits in underground areas and leaks continuously into groundwater outside the plant, experts say.
The contaminated water pumped from underground first goes through cesium and strontium removal equipment, after which most is recycled as cooling water for the damaged reactors. The rest is filtered by the main treatment system, known as ALPS, which is designed to remove all 62 radioactive contaminants except for tritium, TEPCO says.
Tritium cannot be removed from water and is virtually harmless when consumed in small amounts, according to Japan's industry ministry and nuclear regulatory officials.
But despite repeated official reassurances, there are widespread worries about eating fish that might be affected if the contaminated water is released into the sea. Katsumi Shozugawa, a radiology expert at the University of Tokyo who has been analyzing groundwater around the plant, said the long-term consequences of low-dose exposure in the food chain hasn't been fully investigated.
"At this point, it is difficult to predict a risk," he said. "Once the water is released into the environment, it will be very difficult to follow up and monitor its movement. So the accuracy of the data before any release is crucial and must be verified."
After years of discussions about what to do with the contaminated water without destroying the local economy and its reputation, a government panel issued a report earlier this year that narrowed the water disposal options to two: diluting the treated water to levels below the allowable safety limits and then releasing it into the sea in a controlled way, or allowing the water to evaporate in a years-long process.
The report also urged the government to do more to fight the "reputational damage" to Fukushima fishing and farm produce, for instance by promoting food fairs, developing new sales routes and making use of third-party quality accreditation systems.
TEPCO and government officials promise the plant will treat the water for a second time to meet legal requirements before any release.
At the end of the tour of the treatment facility, a plant official showed a glass bottle containing clear water taken from the processing equipment. Workers are required to routinely collect water samples for analysis at laboratories at the plant. Radiology technicians were analyzing the water at one lab, where AP journalists were not allowed to enter. Officials say the treated water will be diluted with fresh water before it is released into the environment.
Doubts about the plant's water treatment escalated two years ago when TEPCO acknowledged that most of the water stored in the tanks still contains cancer-causing cesium, strontium and other radioactive materials at levels exceeding safety limits.
Masumi Kowata, who lives in Okuma, a town where part of the plant is located, said some of her neighbors are offering their land so that more storage tanks can be built.
"We should not dump the water until we have proof about its safety," she said. "The government says it's safe, but how do we know?"