Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bodies found after Yemeni plane crash

An Airbus 310 has crashed into the Indian Ocean with 150 people on board. The aircraft capable of carrying 240 people took off from Moroni in Comoros at 1 a.m. local time and was en-route to Sana'a in Yemen. Authorities say there were 157 on board Yemenia Airlines flight 626/7, the wreckage of which was found at approximately 05:00 GMT. By around 06:00 GMT some bodies had been recovered


On June 1 a French Airbus 330 went down off the coast of Brazil killing all 228 on board. The cause for that crash is still unclear but investigators believe air speed indicators may be to blame.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

China defends H1N1 quarantine policy

China has been accused by the United States of implementing draconian measures to thwart the spread of the A/H1N1 virus, otherwise known as swine flu. But the advised and sometimes enforced quarantines of people arriving in China is seen by the country's authorities as necessary to prevent a widespread health problem.




On arrival in China passengers are not allowed to leave the plane until everyone has had their temperatures checked. Shortly after touchdown health workers wearing face masks and gloves test everyone on board for signs of fever with hand held electronic thermometers. Even before landing everybody is required to fill in forms declaring whether or not they have experienced symptoms commonly associated with the A/H1N1 virus.


At Beijing's International Airport each passenger is screened, passing through three check points where temperatures are once again monitored and each passenger is given a leaflet advising of precautionary self-imposed quarantine.




Although not everyone arriving in the country is put into isolation, each new arrival is encouraged to "self monitor" their health status for seven days and "avoid going to populous public areas or taking public transportation". Every passenger is required to give details of where they are residing and a telephone number where they can be reached.


A health official may call giving the new arrival information leaflets as well as a thermometer and tablets in which to dissolve in water to disinfect surfaces.

For many foreigners the procedures are a little daunting, and perhaps even worrisome, but it considered by Chinese authorities as absolutely necessary to protect a dense and massive population. The country still has memory of the SARS virus which killed hundreds in China around a decade ago.


With a global pandemic now declared by the World Health Organization, and with more than 500 declared cases of H1N1 infection in China, the authorities are taking no chances.




Such measures have however come in for criticism by some western governments after the enforced quarantine of some arrivals. The US State Department has said that the seven day quarantines made travel to the country "unpredictable" and advised its citizens to be cautious about making plans to travel into China.


"Although the proportion of arriving Americans being quarantined remains low, the random nature of the selection process increases the uncertainty surrounding travel to China," the US State Department said in an alert issued over the weekend.

Several Australians who found themselves under enforced quarantine have meanwhile criticized their own government for not representing their concerns.

While there has been some measure of criticism, there are some signs even in the West, that the precautions were necessary given the widespread health risk. In Britain, where more than 1,500 cases of the virus have so far been detected, one doctor of more than 30 years experience told tvnewswatch that the procedures "left Britain standing".


A week after arriving in China, tvnewswatch has learned that anyone not following advice and subsequently affecting others if they develop symptoms may be subject to a fine of between 50,000 and 200,000 RMB. It is thus surely good advice to keep monitoring temperatures and report any illness immediately.

tvnewswatch reporting from Beijing, China

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

tvnewswatch leaving the UK

After 16 years working as a photo-journalist, and more than 4 years blogging, tvnewswatch is leaving the UK to work in China. Regular readers will know that tvnewswatch has been to China several times in the past three years but has managed to continue to post stories. Working there on a permanent basis will pose its own challenges, but tvnewswatch will endeavour to keep the site going. Of course there is no easy access to foreign media, especially broadcast television news, so posts will focus on events as seen from within China itself as well as through channels which are able to be accessed. Having joined Twitter in 2008, tvnewswatch will also continue to keep its feed going.

Making such a move has resulted in much preparation, hence the fewer number of posts in recent weeks. Hopefully, once settled, tvnewswatch will have more time to post updates.
Thank you to all those who have continued to follow tvnewswatch’s blog and on Twitter for the last few years and hope you continue to follow updates and posts in the future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

H1N1 - BMA & GPs clash over opinions

British authorities have insisted that the risk to public health from the A/H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as Swine Flu, remains low despite the first death being reported on Sunday [14th June] [BBC]. But there are mounting fears in some medical circles that increasing numbers of cases may create problems for doctors and the NHS.

In the UK, 1,320 people have so far been identified as having contracted the virus including 59 cases confirmed on Monday.

The fatality is the first reported within Europe, but British health officials have stressed it is not an indication the virus was becoming more virulent. The victim, 38 year old Jacqueline Fleming, had suffered from pre-existing health conditions, authorities have said. She had also recently given birth prematurely but health officials said the baby had not contracted Swine Flu but had subsequently died from unrelated medical problems [BBC].

BMA warns of increasing problems

As the virus spreads across Britain, there are increasing concerns that General Practitioners (GP), also known as primary healthcare physicians or family doctors, may be subject to mounting pressures. The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that some GPs may be forced to withdraw their services should the risks to themselves increase [BBC].

The medical body says that GPs may be at risk not only from the virus, but also from patients angry at what they might perceive as a lack of care.

If the numbers of patients suffering from A/H1N1 increase, hospitals may also be overwhelmed by admissions, the BMA says. This in turn would leave family doctors with a dilemma as to where to send other patients, who may suffer as a result. Such situations may result in a doctor being sued, something the BMA says it is extremely concerned about.

Effectively many family doctors are self-employed and have their own insurance. And this may not cover themselves or their family if they were to die or be sued by a patient, the BMA fears.

Dr Dean Marshall, from the BMA said that doctors “will be putting their lives on the line” and that it was important that they were “properly covered if anything goes wrong.”

GPs unconcerned

However, some GPs have been critical of the medical body. One GP, who preferred not to be named, told tvnewswatch, “I had not heard this report myself since I’ve been working today [Monday], but I’m surprised the BMA should be focused on such a narrow issue of self interest.”

“I don’t care for myself. I took a Hippocratic Oath to help people to best of my ability, so as regards insurance I am not concerned,” he said. “I think they’re missing the centre of the target,” he added. “The BMA should be more focused on what can be done to keep doctors well enough to treat their patients,” the GP said, expressing surprise that the BMA should raise such issues.

If a pandemic were to occur, he said he believed doctors and their teams would work together in what he described as the “Battle of Britain spirit”.

“No one was going to sue in those days,” he said. “Britain invented the queue and people know how to wait their turn,” he added. “I’ve been a doctor for 30 years, and I’m not cynical about how the vast majority of people can work together.”

As regards to publicity, he told tvnewswatch that his surgery had made the decision not to put up posters warning about the spread of Swine Flu. Such measures often had a negative effect, he said, and many people were suffering from “Swine Flu fatigue”. However information pamphlets were available.

Measures to protect staff and patients had been implemented, he stressed. “We do have gloves, masks and alcohol gel in stock as standard. But we have also ordered extra supplies,” the doctor added, “In addition we do take measures to reduce our own chances of getting the flu.”

If visiting patients suffering from flu-like symptoms, he said they might be asked to go to a different room and open the window before the doctor’s arrival. Even the issue of a prescription may be completed in a different room to reduce risks of contamination, he explained.

Strain on health service

The BMA has said the number of admissions to hospital will rise significantly if a pandemic takes hold, putting further strain on the National Health Service (NHS) as a whole.

For every 100 patients with flu symptoms up to four of them may require hospital admission, if there are beds available, the BMA says in a 61 page report issued to GPs.

Around 25 percent may require critical care with an average length of stay in hospital of up to ten days. The BMA also says that scientific models suggest that up to 2.5 percent of all flu victims may die.

In a recent statement, Director-General of the World Health Organisation Margaret Chan described the virus as “unstoppable”. There are also estimates that half of the UK population could contract the disease. Given the BMA’s estimate that 25 in every thousand affected could die, swine flu could account for around 750,000 deaths in Britain alone.

Already the effects of the disease have been felt with dozens of schools being periodically closed across the country as pupils contract the virus.

Meanwhile, the British government continues in its effort to stockpile flu treatments such as Roche’s Tamiflu, and Relenza, which is made by British pharmaceutical giant Glaxosmithkline.

Additionally, efforts are being made to prepare a vaccine, though it may be many months before it becomes available to the general public [BBC].

Global threat

The World Health Organisation last week declared a global pandemic of level 6, for some an indication of the seriousness of the situation.

At least 75 countries around the world are now affected, and some have implemented more stringent health controls. Apart from Mexico, where the virus appeared to originate, Britain, the United States, Canada, Chile and Australia have shown the highest numbers of affected individuals [Map].

However, it is not clear whether the high numbers are more down to a better system of health checks and identification. While some countries have implemented health checks at airports and even quarantine procedures for some visitors, international travel has so far been unrestricted.

Domestically, various governments have launched health campaigns to advise the public on the risks. In Britain, leaflets have been delivered to every household giving information on how the virus is spread and advising how best to protect oneself from it. There has also been a large publicity campaign launched on television and radio in an attempt to persuade people to be more careful when they sneeze.

The main advice to the public is to “catch it, bin it, kill it”, by using a tissue, disposing of it quickly and by washing hands regularly.

While there is an obvious concern from the risks of A/H1N1, so far the virus has not shown itself to be as deadly a threat as some have feared.

An estimated 12,000 people, mainly in the older age group, die every year from seasonal flu in the UK, according to the BMA. In the U.S. tens of thousands die annually from seasonal flu. But so far the entire global death rate from A/H1N1 remains well below 1,000, with the WHO confirming only 146 deaths.

Many of those affected by A/H1N1 are in a much younger age group, and some are otherwise healthy individuals. The greatest fear amongst medical experts is the virus could mutate and become ever more deadly.

In the past, pandemics have killed more than a million around the world. Between 1918 and 1919, the so-called Spanish Flu was responsible for an estimated 20 to 40 million deaths. And in more recent history the Asian Flu in 1957 and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968 killed up to 4 million between them.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

British politics in turmoil

A day before Britons go to the polls in local and European elections, the Labour party is in turmoil. Amid controversy over MP’s expenses several high ranking politicians have announced their intention to stand down from the cabinet. On Tuesday it was announced that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was to step down from her position in the next cabinet reshuffle expected next week.
Within hours of this news breaking four other Labour Members of Parliament announced their intention to step down. Children's minister Beverley Hughes and ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt said they would also resign their positions. Political turmoil continued after it was reported that Ian Gibson, Margaret Moran, Elliott Morley and David Chaytor would be barred from standing as MPs at the next general election scheduled for 2010. And on Wednesday Communities Secretary Hazel Blears announced she was quitting from her cabinet position.

Leadership contest

Gordon Brown has continually insisted he will not resign his position as prime minister nor hold an early general election. But as more and more ministers stepped down his position has been considered untenable by many political commentators.

One political pundit said there was little the prime minister could do except perhaps “saving a drowning kitten from the river Thames”. Speaking on Sky News the Times political correspondent said, “Short of the arch-angel Gabriel coming down I can’t see what he can do”.

On the street anger is building amongst the general public. One lorry driver angry at the current Labour administration told tvnewswatch that “political change was on its way”.

“Gordon Brown is washed up,” he said as he went on to criticise the prime minister’s latest initiatives. “His scrappage scheme is not going to work,” he said, “I drive hundreds of miles across the country and I see thousands of unsold cars parked up near Avon docks near Bristol.”

As a lorry driver he was also worried about his own job. “No-one’s secure in this economic climate,” he said.

Opposition parties were taking particular advantage of the situation with Shadow Commons Secretary Theresa May saying the government had “lost its authority” and was “in meltdown”. The Conservative MP said a general election was needed and that only “David Cameron can take this country forward”.

But many Labour MPs were pulling rank in support of Gordon Brown. “It would be madness to oust the Prime Minister at this stage,” Martin Salter, MP for Reading West, said. “He’s the best person to lead the country through the recession,” he insisted, but he conceded Gordon Brown had been "dealt with a pretty tough hand”.

Even Jacqui Smith, who is standing down as home secretary, insisted that Gordon Brown was the right man for the job and that there were “no wimps in the Labour party”.

A rowdy PMQs

The party in freefall, as it has been described by some, faced a grilling as the prime minister stood up in parliament during PMQs [Prime Ministers Questions]. Leader of the opposition, David Cameron, said the government was “collapsing before our eyes,” and called on the prime minister to “get down to the palace and call for a dissolution” of parliament.

But Gordon Brown defended his position insisting there was "still work to be done” and accused the Conservative party of having no policies. “They are all words, words and words,” the prime minister said.

But Cameron continued, saying that Brown was “in denial” following the resignations and departures of so many Labour MPs. Stuttering his way though his response the PM said there were pressures on all members of parliament in the house.

Cameron’s continued lambasting of the prime minister caused uproar in the house among the Labour benches and brought a threat from the speaker. “There is a danger of the house being suspended if the leader of the opposition is shouted down,” Michael Martin exclaimed.

Cameron went on to describe the government as dysfunctional and said the main issue was one of leadership. He was also critical of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, who was vehemently defended by Gordon Brown who said he was “doing a very good job.”

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also laid into the Labour party. He said the government was “paralysed” and that “Labour was finished”. There was only two choices for voters, he insisted, that of the Conservatives or his own party.

A scathing press

The government has suffered weeks of criticism from the British press with daily reports concerning expenses claimed by MPs. While no party has been spared from the uncomfortable revelations, it is the Labour party that has suffered in the polls and courted public anger. But the press coverage has also angered MPs with Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, calling it a “media frenzy”.

The latest resignations brought strong headlines in many of Wednesday's newspapers. The Daily Telegraph, which broke the details of MP’s expenses, ran with the headline “Cabinet meltdown” and accused the departing Members of Parliament of milking the system “to the end”.

The Daily Mail reported the story with the headline “Rats desert sinking ship”, while the Independent described the situation as “Disarray in Downing Street”.
The Sun called it Labour’s blackest day and ran with the headline “Blunderbird” with a spoof image of Jacqui Smith dressed as a Gerry Anderson Thunderbird puppet. The comparison to the 1960’s children’s television series was more than a little ironic. It will need more than International Rescue to pull the party from the quagmire of the political mud it has found itself.

Important elections

Despite the difficulties the Labour party faces, those within its ranks have urged people to vote on June 4th. “There's an important set of elections tomorrow. My message is simple: get out and vote Labour,” Hazel Blears said in her resignation statement.

Others within the party warned that racist parties such as the British National Party would be given a boost if people stayed away from the polls. Barry Gardiner, a backbench MP, said “I would absolutely urge everybody, whether they vote for my party or any other party, to get out there and vote, as long as they don’t vote for the racists.”

The political infighting seen amongst the Labour ranks is nothing new in British politics. In the 1990s the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was forced out, handing the reigns to John Major who himself had conflicts with some of his cabinet.
He too suffered from internal squabbling and once referred to some of his cabinet as those “bastards”.

John Major was caught on tape talking about possible reshuffles in his cabinet while preparing for an interview with ITN [Independent Television News]. During the conversation, which was not intended for broadcast, Major said, "I could bring in other people. But where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble.”

Then came the punch line. “We don't want another three more of the bastards out there. What's Lyndon Johnson's maxim?..."

It was at this point that someone, presumably an ITN technician, realised what was happening and pulled the plug. "Johnson's maxim" was, incidentally, a reference to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, whom he declined to sack on the basis that "it's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in".

It appears there are quite a few Labour MPs pissing into Gordon Brown’s tent. And as British politics begins to smell a bit rank the electorate will make their voices known.
Though it is widely believed Labour will do badly, it is unclear whether there will be a major endorsement for the other parties.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Air France jet missing over Atlantic

An Air France jet has reportedly disappeared from radar screens in the Atlantic Ocean after leaving Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro airport for Paris last night. Flight AF-447 was expected at Charles de Gaulle airport at 09:10 GMT [11:10 CET] but has failed to arrive. Airport authorities have confirmed the flight was carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew and concern is mounting for the fate of those on board. CNN however reports the aircraft was carrying 231 people.
Brazil’s air force has mounted a search and rescue mission off the coast near to the small island of Fernando de Noronha [-3.9, -32.416667] where the Airbus 330-200 may have gone down. The island is 360 km off Brazil’s coast and some 2,400 km from Rio de Janeiro. Reports say contact with the aircraft was lost shortly after take-off at around 23:00 GMT. However it was not declared missing until 06:00 GMT. Air France says it shares the worry and emotion following the announcement of the missing aircraft. Following the news shares in KLM-Air France dropped significantly, plunging into negative territory [BBC / Sky News / CNN] .
The plane is logged as an Airbus 330-203 with a manufacturer’s serial number of 660. Its first flight was recorded on the 25th February 2005 and delivered to Air France in April of the same year. Flying under the call sign of F-GZCP the twin engine jet failed to be picked up by radar near to the coast of Morocco. Radar stations in Lisbon and Cape Verde have said they did not make contact with the aircraft which puts the plane anywhere between the coast of Africa and Brazil. No mayday appears to have been sent.
Friends and relatives of those concerned about passengers on board flight 447 from were asked to call the Air France helpline on 0033157021055.