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Pandemic limbo angers crew on ‘nightmare’ cruises

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The cruise ship industry suspended its operations in mid-March due to the pandemic

When Caio Saldanha and his fiancée Jessica Furlan arrived in the US in early March, they were looking forward to a new life working on board a lavish cruise ship. Working on Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Infinity was supposed to be a fresh start, the next chapter in their lives together.On 13 March, the date of the cruise’s departure, the ship became their home. Little did they know then, it would prove to be their prison.A day after the couple, from São Paulo, Brazil, boarded, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a no-sail order for all cruise ships. On the same day, Royal Caribbean cancelled all its operations around the world. In just 24 hours, the coronavirus pandemic had upended their lives. “This was the first day,” Mr Saldanha, a 31-year-old DJ, told the BBC. “It was a shocking surprise. This was not the plan. It was a nightmare.”More than two months later, Mr Saldanha and his 29-year-old fiancée remain stranded at sea, albeit on a different cruise ship. They desperately want to go home but to their frustration, they, like tens of thousands of other cruise-crew members, have been unable to do so.

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Caio Saldanha

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Mr Saldanha and his fiancée have been stuck at sea for more than two months

While cruise passengers were gradually repatriated through March and April, many crew members stayed behind. Cruise operations were initially paused for 30 days – ample time, it seemed, for the pandemic to blow over. The pandemic did no such thing, leaving crew members in limbo as 30 days turned into 40, 50, 60 and more. The CDC extended its no-sail order and countries, concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, shut down their ports to cruise ships. With no end to the pandemic in sight, there are now an estimated 54,200 crew members on board 85 cruise ships in US waters, the US Coast Guard told the BBC. Many more are stranded at sea elsewhere. In an article on 17 May, the Miami Herald newspaper put the number at more than 100,000 around the world.Royal Caribbean, a US-based company, says it has arranged for British crew members to be flown home from Miami. A chartered plane carrying Royal Caribbean staff landed at Heathrow Airport on Tuesday afternoon.But given the numbers, bringing everyone home has proved logistically challenging for cruise firms. US operators must abide by strict CDC health requirements for repatriating crew on special charter flights.Their ability to uphold that responsibility has been called into question by crew in recent weeks. The recent deaths of several crew members has deepened the sense of unease.

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The CDC issued a no-sail order a day after Mr Saldanha started work on the Celebrity Infinity

Last month, a crew member went overboard from Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas ship. The company told the BBC it was “assisting authorities with their investigation”, but did not confirm the person had died.More recently another firm, Princess Cruises, said a Ukrainian crew member had died after apparently jumping from the Regal Princess near the Netherlands.One Canadian crew member says the deaths have heightened anxiety on board Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, where protests erupted last week. The 36-year-old, who does not wish to be named, says “the atmosphere was very tense”. “I personally didn’t go out much. I didn’t want to be involved with it because people were quite angry,” the Canadian crew member told the BBC.Hundreds of protesters gathered on the deck, where they hung banners bearing aggrieved messages. One, draped over the entrance to the swimming pool, read: “How many more suicides do we need?”

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Jim Walker

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Protesters gathered on the deck of the Majesty of the Seas cruise ship last week

No suicides have been confirmed by Royal Caribbean or any other cruise-ship operators. Royal Caribbean says a confidential mental health helpline is available for crew to call 24 hours a day.The spark for the protests, according to the Canadian crew member, was the postponement of a plan to repatriate staff. He says for some employees, repatriation arrangements had been delayed or changed several times, causing confusion and anger. On one ship, Romanian crew members held a hunger strike in protest.Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer who is assisting crew, says the cruise operator has “calmed everyone down”, but adds that many were “still in the dark”.”Legally, the repatriation of people is one of the most fundamental, long-standing maritime rights there are. You can’t keep people hostages on a ship. You can’t abandon them at sea,” Mr Walker told the BBC.

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Jim Walker

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Crew members say repatriation plans have been repeatedly delayed

On Monday night, Denise Gruby, the mother of a British crew member, said her son had all but given up hope of being flown home. She said her son, 37-year-old entertainer Christopher Gruby, had opted to stay on board the Majesty of the Seas, which is due to depart from Miami to Southampton on Tuesday.”They’ve just been abandoned. It must be an awful position to be in,” Ms Gruby told the BBC.Other crew members have been more fortunate. A Romanian employee, who wished to remain anonymous, says Royal Caribbean paid for him to fly home on 22 February. He expected to be reunited with his boyfriend, who also worked for the company, a few months later. But the agonising wait goes on.”My boyfriend is trapped on board the Majesty of the Seas. I can see that he’s not in the best mood, but I’m trying to cheer him up,” he says.
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Media captionDavid Abel, one of 3,700 people quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess, speaks about his experience of isolation at seaRoyal Caribbean insists repatriation plans are now in motion. “So far, we have successfully repatriated over 16,000 crew members, and we are working with governments and health authorities around the world on our plans. We appreciate our crews’ patience and understanding in this ever-changing global situation,” the company says.But as crew await repatriation, some are not being paid. Those on Royal Caribbean ships are receiving a goodwill payment, amounting to $13 (£10.60) a day, employees say. For Mr Saldanha, though, it is not enough.”After the 25 April, we stopped getting paid in full,” Mr Saldanha says. “We are consuming food and drink on the ship. So we think, maybe, the company is earning its money back. Perhaps even making a profit.”On top of the financial burden, the desperation of being cooped up on an empty cruise ship has taken its toll on Mr Saldanha and his fiancée. For 21 days, they were kept in quarantine on the Celebrity Infinity ship, confined to a small cabin.

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Caio Saldanha

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The cabin where Mr Saldanha and his fiancée stayed on the Celebrity Infinity

“We had a window, but we didn’t have access to the fresh air. We stayed there for 21 days, against our will. We tried desperately for help,” Mr Saldanha says. Last week, the couple were transferred to the Celebrity Reflection, where they feel more comfortable. Yet, they are still unsure when Royal Caribbean will repatriate them.Mr Saldanha says there are plans to fly Brazilian crew home from Barbados in May – but he’s not keen on the idea because similar attempts have been cancelled in the past. “They’ve already done this five times,” he notes.

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Caio Saldanha

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Royal Caribbean is making arrangements to fly Brazilian nationals home

Instead, Mr Saldanha wants the Brazilian government to make arrangements to bring them home. “We are here against our will. My fiancée and I are hostages. We need to be rescued,” he says.

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Microsoft Surface Pro X to Get SQ2 Chip Upgrade, Platinum Colour Option: Report

Microsoft Surface Pro X, the company’s ARM-powered tablet, is reportedly getting a refresh with an upgraded Microsoft SQ2 processor, a new platinum colour option, and new Type Cover colours. The updated version is expected to launch in October this year, and Microsoft reportedly aims at pushing the Surface Pro X to the mainstream market with…

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Microsoft Surface Pro X, the company’s ARM-powered tablet, is reportedly getting a refresh with an upgraded Microsoft SQ2 processor, a new platinum colour option, and new Type Cover colours. The updated version is expected to launch in October this year, and Microsoft reportedly aims at pushing the Surface Pro X to the mainstream market with the new processor, hue variant, and accessories. The original Surface Pro X debuted last year and the upgraded version seems to be coming right on time.In a report, Windows Central cited sources that the Microsoft Surface Pro X will soon start shipping with the company’s latest SQ2 processor. This is a significant upgrade from the SQ1 chip that powered the earlier Surface Pro X model. It is being speculated that the new SQ2 chip is based on Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen2 SoC that promises to offer a notable boost in performance.The report also suggests that Microsoft is planning to announce x86 64-bit app-emulation. As of now, the ARM version of Windows 10 can only emulate 32-bit apps. Given the improved performance of the SQ2 chip, the 64-bit app-emulation could boost demand for the Surface Pro X.Apart from the new chip, the Surface Pro X could also be getting a platinum colour option, similar to the one already available on the regular Surface Pro offerings. Currently, the Surface Pro X is only available in a black colour option. The Surface Pro X Type Covers are also reportedly getting colour variants similar to the regular Surface Pro Type Covers. With the new colours and accessories, the report suggests that the tech giant plans to promote the Surface Pro X as “ready for mainstream.”The report also points out that there are no significant design changes in the refreshed Surface Pro X variant.Microsoft Surface Pro X price in IndiaThe Surface Pro X is currently available in two storage variants in India. The 8GB + 128GB storage option is priced at Rs. 98,990. On the other hand, the 8GB + 256GB storage variant carries a price tag of Rs. 1,43,950.Microsoft Surface Pro X specificationsThe Surface Pro X is touted as the company’s thinnest and lightest 2-in-1 device to date. With a thickness of 7.3mm, it weighs only 774 grams. It features a 13-inch display with a resolution of 2,880×1,920 pixels and an aspect ratio of 3:2. It boasts of a battery life of up to 13 hours, with support for fast charging. The compatible Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard and Surface Slim Pen are sold separately.Is Android One holding back Nokia smartphones in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.Affiliate links may be automatically generated – see our ethics statement for details.

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Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition Gaming Laptop With AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU, 32GB RAM Launched

Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition gaming laptop has been launched in China. Asus has collaborated with Munich-based fashion brand ACRONYM for the limited edition laptop and it carries the ‘ZPHRYS’ branding on the bottom panel and a dotted top panel with an unique design. It boasts of a 2K display and is powered by…

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Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition gaming laptop has been launched in China. Asus has collaborated with Munich-based fashion brand ACRONYM for the limited edition laptop and it carries the ‘ZPHRYS’ branding on the bottom panel and a dotted top panel with an unique design. It boasts of a 2K display and is powered by an AMD Ryzen processor, accompanied by a dedicated Nvidia graphics card. The Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition comes in a single RAM and storage configuration.Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition priceThe Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition is priced at CNY 20,999 (roughly Rs. 2.28 lakh) in China. It is up for pre-orders in the country through Asus store, JD.com, and TMall. It will go on sale from September 19. As of now, it is unclear if and when the Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition will arrive in markets outside China.Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition specificationsThe Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition features a 14-inch QHD (2,560×1,440 pixels) IPS panel with 16:9 aspect ratio and 60Hz refresh rate. The display is Pantone validated for accurate colours. It is powered by the AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS with eight cores and 16 threads. The graphics are handled by the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. The Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition comes with 32GB RAM clocked at 3,200MHz and a 1TB SSD for storage.It is backed by a 76Wh battery that can last up to eight hours. For connectivity, you get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an HDMI port, three USB 3.0 ports, and a USB 3.1 port. There is no webcam on the Asus ROG Magic 14-ACRNM Limited Edition. In terms of dimensions, the thin and light laptop measures 324.6×222.4×19.9mm and weighs 1.7kg.The top panel has perforations all over it with a design in white towards the back. The bottom panel is filled with patterns and designs in white, along with the ‘ZPHYRS’ branding.Should the government explain why Chinese apps were banned? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below. 

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150,000 Covid-19 cases quarantined so far in Abu Dhabi

‘These are common public health practices that contribute to preventing the spread of infectious diseases’ More than 150,000 cases of Covid-19 were admitted to quarantine centres or underwent home isolation in Abu Dhabi so far, the local health authority said on Saturday. The Department of Health (DoH) said more than 70 isolation centres have been…

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‘These are common public health practices that contribute to preventing the spread of infectious diseases’

More than 150,000 cases of Covid-19 were admitted to quarantine centres or underwent home isolation in Abu Dhabi so far, the local health authority said on Saturday. The Department of Health (DoH) said more than 70 isolation centres have been established across the emirate.
“The DoH, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre (ADPHC) and the authorities concerned, has prepared quarantine and home quarantine and home isolation locations that have been set up for Covid-19 patients and those who have been in direct contact with them,” the DoH said its tweet. “The DoH is keen to provide the best healthcare services, raise the absorptive capacity according to the needs of the sector, and establish a clear working mechanism with a preventive framework to track cases, control infection and limit the spread of the virus.”
The health authority noted that people are sent to quarantine facilities and home isolation according to the situation. Suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients are kept at isolation centres to avoid the spread of the virus. And quarantine facilities are for separating and restricting the activities of healthy people for a period of time as determined by the health authorities concerned.
“These are common public health practices that contribute to preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Isolation and quarantine are imposed on infected individuals or those who have had contact with an infected person, by separating them from healthy people in order to prevent the spread of disease.”

DoH, in collaboration with @adphc_ae & the concerned authorities, has prepared quarantine and home isolation locations that have been set up for #COVID19 patients & those who have been in direct contact with them. pic.twitter.com/9V3Feda3aF
– ????? ????? – ?????? (@DoHSocial) September 19, 2020
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre is placing awareness notices at the entrances to residential units with self-quarantine cases. The initiative is aimed at limiting the spread of the virus and increasing community awareness on the importance of safe distancing measures.Also, people arriving in Abu Dhabi have to undergo a mandatory Covid-19 PCR test and wear a tracking wristband during a 14-day home quarantine.

@adphc_ae to provide awareness notices at entrances to residential units with self-quarantine cases, as part of efforts to limit the spread of the virus and increase community awareness on physical distancing measures. pic.twitter.com/hsfZJWY36V
– ???? ?????? ???????? (@admediaoffice) September 18, 2020
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Ashwani Kumar
I am a newspaperman from the emirate of Abu Dhabi. A journalist at heart. I get my stories from the streets. A south Indian born in the Hindi heartland, I easily connect with people from different nationalities and cultures. I am calm like a monk, sensitive and very patient reporter. On the ground, I cover a range of topics related to community, health, embassy, tourism, transport, business and sports. I will go out on a leg to do what’s right and stand by what I believe in.

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