SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The music blared from the lobby at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino — which was finally packed with tourists and not just emergency workers.
For months, this hotel and others on the island catered to FEMA contractors and National Guard members. It was among the few that didn’t lose power in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, when the hotel scrambled to maintain industrial backup generators as the island’s economy ground to a halt.
“I’m very happy that the island is open for business,” said Jose Gonzalez-Espinosa, the Marriott’s general manager.
It is an island finding its rhythm again.
More than six months after the Category 4 hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, tourists are slowly returning and the U.S. territory’s economic engine is sputtering to life.
“We have seen some of the devastation but I think that they need us more and I didn’t want to cancel,” said Kim Haines, a tourist from Baltimore. “I think now more than ever we have to contribute to their economy because they need the tourism.”
Haines said she and another couple refused to scrap their vacation plans, but some of their friends did.
“I think it’s our responsibility to look out for [Puerto Rico],” said Jamie Behr, another tourist. “This is part of the United States.”
Outside the capital city, however, several mountain communities are still desperate for power, supplies and attention. Though some damaged resorts will still be closed for months, more than 85 percent of the island’s hotels are back up and running. The industry is critical for the long-term recovery here.
Meanwhile, the Carnival cruise ship Fascination — which carries more than 2,000 passengers and departs from San Juan to tour the Caribbean — is sold out.
Tourism officials are hoping for almost 2 million cruise passengers over the next year — pumping a quarter billion dollars into the local economy.
In Old San Juan, business is booming again. Coffee shops are packed and reservations are hard to snag at Marmalade, a high-end restaurant where the roof collapsed during Maria.
“I think the best thing that people can do is come and not donate your money but let us serve you,” said Peter Schintler, the executive chef.
Still, other parts of the island continue to struggle. In southeastern Puerto Rico, blue tarps and splintered power poles still litter neighborhoods in Yabucoa, where the monster hurricane first made landfall.
“It’s like the storm came through yesterday,” Tomas Castro-Vega said. Along with his wife and children, he’s been relying on a generator to survive.
“We need help,” he said.
Six months after the storm, the town’s mayor, Rafael Surillo, said that 70 percent of its residents were still without power. He told NBC News he was furious with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recent decision to scale back resources.
Col. Jason Kirk said that relief effort has brought “unprecedented” logistical challenges.
“At this point, we are moving transmission, distribution, utility workers into those areas that need the effort,” Kirk said. “We have the right numbers to get up into the hills where I can only fit so many workers.”
But in the mountains of Yabucoa, some people here feel they were the first to get hit but last to get help.
For Joel Roman and his wife, it’s another night in limbo. They spend it on the porch — in the dark.
“We don’t even have hope,” he said. “We’re American citizens and they left us behind.”
COVID-19: Millions of Indians travel to celebrate Maha Kumbh Mela despite rising coronavirus rates | World News
They have gathered in their millions in the temple town of Haridwar, in Uttarakhand.
Hindu pilgrims have come to celebrate Maha Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that happens once every 12 years.
And today is a very auspicious day in the religious calendar to take a dip in India‘s River Ganges.
All this amid a raging pandemic.
The festival has been been flagged as a super spreader as more than 50 million people are expected to attend this month-long event.
The country registered almost 170,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, the highest number of COVID-19 cases anywhere in the world.
With more than 13.5 million cases, India is second only to the United States.
In the same period, 839 people died, taking the total number of COVID-19 related deaths to 170,209.
Sarasswati Dattani, 56, has travelled over 400 miles (644km) from Rajasthan with her husband.
She tells Sky News: “Our children had tried to stop us because of coronavirus.
“I am not afraid, Mother Ganga is with us all the time.
“People are getting the virus sitting at home. We have to die once, it’s all in God’s hands.”
Raghav, 25, from Jalandhar in Punjab, says “coronavirus could not stop me from my belief in God, our faith is far stronger than anything at the moment.
“I have also come to pray that this pandemic gets over soon.”
The devotees come from every part of the country and a majority are from smaller towns and villages.
The fear among health activists is that rural India will be exposed to the virus.
Speaking to Sky News, Dr Atulya Mishra, who is the medical officer in charge of a section of the banks, said: “People are very irresponsible, they do not follow any of the COVID-19 behaviour protocols.
“We provide them with face masks but people don’t wear them.
“We put our lives on the line while the public takes the virus very lightly. It is very frustrating for us health workers.”
The administration has enforced COVID-19 protocols – pilgrims must wear face masks and are only allowed to attend with a negative PCR test result.
But in reality, social distancing is almost impossible to enforce.
India is in the midst of a second wave.
The low number of cases in the winter months had lulled people into believing it’s over.
Opening up society, a low fatality rate and vaccinations have led to Indians letting their guard down.
For many weeks the country has been immersed in state elections.
The prime minister, his cabinet and leaders of all political parties are campaigning at rallies with thousands in attendance.
Roadshows expose every nook and corner.
Experts have also said the new variants of the virus are far more infectious but less lethal.
Genome sequencing of all cases in Punjab show around 80% of them are due to the UK variant.
While millions will make their way to the Maha Kumbh over the next few weeks, the rising number of cases are sure of grave concern for the government.
India began its vaccination programme on 16 January but less than 1% of the population have been fully vaccinated.
Though the process had a slow start it has picked up pace over the last few weeks.
India may have one of the lowest fatality rates in the world, but it can ill afford a severe burden on its already inadequate and creaking public health care system.
For decades successive governments have spent just over 1.2% of the GDP on healthcare.
Over 70% of its citizens rely on expensive private health care and one illness can push a family into poverty.
China deploys jets and bombers into Taiwanese airspace in ‘biggest incursion to date’ | World News
Twenty-five Chinese military aircraft have entered Taiwanese airspace in the largest reported incursion to date, according to officials.
The incursions have been concentrated in the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defence zone.
The latest mission on Monday involved 14 J-16 and four J-10 fighter jets – and four H-6K bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons.
Two anti-submarine aircraft and an early warning aircraft also took part, Taiwan’s defence minister said.
It is believed to be the largest incursion by the Chinese air force into Taiwanese airspace, and officials said combat aircraft were dispatched to intercept and warn the intruders away.
Missile systems were also deployed to monitor the Chinese vessels as the aircraft flew in an area close to Thailand’s Pratas Islands, according to the defence ministry.
It came just three days after the US issued new guidelines that will deepen its ties with Taiwan.
The latest guidelines from the US State Department will mean American officials can meet more freely with their Taiwanese counterparts.
America, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it has watched on as tensions between Beijing and the island nation have stepped up in recent years.
Washington’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday that the US is concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan – and warned it would be a “serious mistake” for anyone to try to change the status quo in the Western Pacific by force.
Mr Blinken’s statement came after Taiwan scrambled an aircraft to broadcast a warning message after 12 Chinese jets flew over its airspace on 7 April.
The tense start to 2021 comes after a report released by a government-backed think tank found that China made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s defence zone last year.
China describes Taiwan as its most sensitive territorial issue and a red line the US should not cross.
Beijing sees the island as a breakaway province that will one day become part of the country again. It has never renounced the possible use of force to bring about eventual unification.
However, Taiwanese people see themselves an independent state and the dispute with their giant neighbour has left relations frayed with the constant threat of violence.
China has in the past described its missions as being to protect the country’s sovereignty and deal with “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu has previously said the country will fight “to the very last day” if China attacks.
More widely, China continues to exercise its muscle in the South China Sea.
Over the weekend, military activity near the Philippines spiked as a Chinese aircraft carrier entered the region, and the US military is preparing joint drills with the Philippine military nearby.
Off-duty Italian police officers find stolen Roman statue in Belgium – a decade after it vanished | World News
A first-century Roman statue has been recovered by two off-duty Italian police officers almost a decade after it was stolen.
The statue was stolen from the Villa Marini Dettina, an archaeological site on the outskirts of Rome, in November 2011 and has now been found in an antique shop in Belgium.
It was discovered by the off-duty officers from the Italian police’s archaeological unit.
The Togatus statue, featuring a headless Roman wearing a draped toga, is valued at €100,000 (£86,000).
The two officers were on assignment in Brussels when they took a walk after work in the Sablon neighbourhood, known for its antique shops.
They spotted a statue that they suspected was from Italy and confirmed their suspicions when they cross-referenced it with their stolen antique database.
An Italian businessman, who used a Spanish alias, has been referred to prosecutors for further investigation. He is alleged to have received and exported the statue abroad, police said.
Italian authorities have been attempting to recover stolen antiques for years.
In 2019, a dozen pieces of artwork were returned to Italy by private auction house Christie’s. The items featured a marble fragment from the sarcophagus in Rome’s catacombs of St Callixtus, a piece worth £50,000.
In June 2020, officials found a stolen Banksy mural in Italy that was taken from the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.
The image was created in memory of the victims of the 2015 terrorist attack in the French capital. It was cut out and removed from the concert hall in 2019.
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