'You have protests, COVID pandemic, and now the wildfires. What next?'

Updated: 14 September, 2020 10:03 IST | Agencies | Salem

It's an ominous harbinger of fall for the region that was the first to be hit hard by the coronavirus and where the cries for social justice have rung especially loud this summer with protests in Portland for more than 100 days

Aerial view of homes destroyed by wildfire in Oregon
Aerial view of homes destroyed by wildfire in Oregon

The path of devastation spans thousands of miles where flames have consumed people, homes and cars while leaving a barren, gray landscape. But the massive wildfires aren't done chewing through the West, shrouding the skies with choking smoke or driving residents from their homes.

It's an ominous harbinger of fall for the region that was the first to be hit hard by the coronavirus and where the cries for social justice have rung especially loud this summer with protests in Portland for more than 100 days.

"What's next?" asked Danielle Oliver, who had to flee her home southeast of Portland ahead of the deadly flames. "You have the protests, coronavirus pandemic, now the wildfires. What else can go wrong?"

Nurses in scrubs covered in fake blood, holding posters depicting UK Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (L) and PM Johnson (R), protest in London, demanding a pay rise for NHS nursing staff. Pic/AFP
Nurses in scrubs covered in fake blood, holding posters depicting UK Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (L) and PM Johnson (R), protest in London, demanding a pay rise for NHS nursing staff. Pic/AFP

Fear of COVID-19

Oliver, 40, who fled her Portland-area home, has an autoimmune disorder. She was nervous about going to a shelter because of the coronavirus, but her other option was sleeping in a car with her husband, teen daughter, two dogs and a cat. The temperature checks and social distancing at the American Red Cross shelter helped put her mind at ease. Oliver has lived through homelessness before and now can only hope the family's house survives.

"I'm tired. I'm tired of starting all over. Getting everything, working for everything, then losing everything." She's one of tens of thousands of people displaced by wildfires in Oregon, California and Washington state, even as COVID-19 is surging across the US, which reported 2,45,584 cases over the past seven days, according to CDC, taking the total count to 6,427,058, including 1,92,388 deaths. Many more are living with air contamination levels at historic highs.

Fire-charred landscapes looked like bombed-out cities in Europe after World War II, with buildings reduced to charred rubble piled atop blackened earth. People caught in the wildfires died in an instant, overcome by flames or smoke as they desperately tried to escape.

Cases rising fast in Dakotas

Infections in the Dakotas are growing faster than anywhere else in the US, fuelling impassioned debates over masks and personal freedom after months in which the two states avoided the worst of the pandemic.

North Dakota and South Dakota lead the country in new cases per capita over the last two weeks, ranking first and second respectively.

But requiring masks has been controversial. In Brookings, opponents said they believed the virus threat was not as serious as portrayed and that a mandate was a violation of civil liberties.

Here's what's happening in other COVID-hit countries

. Victorian Parl shut down
Victorian Parliament in Melbourne was shut down on Sunday after one of the security guards tested positive for novel Coronavirus. "Contact tracing has commenced to identify any people who may have had close contact with that person," news.com.au quoted Speaker Colin Brooks and President Nazih Elasmar saying in a joint statement. The development comes just days ahead of parliamentary sittings that is to be held between Tuesday and Friday.

. 2 new cases in New Zealand
New Zealand has sent five workers of Jet Park Hotel in Auckland in isolation after one of their colleagues tested positive. "This case is still being investigated to determine if the infection came from the community or from within the quarantine facility," the Guardian quoted the health ministry as saying. The second is an imported case, now in isolation.

. Czech Republic sees record spike
The Czech Republic once again reported a record spike in daily COVID cases, Reuters reported. The country, which has been recording over 1,000 daily cases for the past five days amid a sudden surge in cases, on Sunday recorded 1,541 confirmed infections.

. Seoul to ease curbs
South Korea says it will ease physical distancing rules in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area following a declining number of new cases. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said on Sunday Seoul area recorded about 80-110 new daily cases last week, down from 110-180 in the previous week. Under eased rules effective for two weeks, ban on dining at restaurants after 9 pm has been lifted.

. Domestic air travel recovers in Wuhan
Domestic air travel in Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, has returned to pre-pandemic levels, authorities say. The operator of Wuhan Tianhe International airport said 64,700 passengers were transported aboard 500 domestic flights on Friday. The airport is preparing to also resume international passenger flights to a few destinations.

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First Published: 14 September, 2020 08:10 IST

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