Home » Entries posted by JOSHUA GOODMAN Associated Press

Global COVID-19 deaths hit 4 million amid rush to vaccinate

Global COVID-19 deaths hit 4 million amid rush to vaccinate

The death toll from COVID-19 has eclipsed 4 million as the crisis increasingly becomes a race between the vaccine and the highly contagious delta variantBy JOSHUA GOODMAN Associated PressJuly 8, 2021, 2:53 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 4 million Wednesday as the crisis increasingly becomes a race between the vaccine and the highly contagious delta variant.The tally of lives lost over the past year and a half, as compiled from official sources by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the number of people killed in battle in all of the world’s wars since 1982, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo.The toll is three times the number of people killed in traffic accidents around the globe every year. It is about equal to the population of Los Angeles or the nation of Georgia. It is equivalent to more than half of Hong Kong or close to 50% of New York City.Even then, it is widely believed to be an undercount because of overlooked cases or deliberate concealment.With the advent of the vaccine, deaths per day have plummeted to around 7,900, after topping out at over 18,000 a day in January.But in recent weeks, the mutant delta version of the virus first identified in India has set off alarms around the world, spreading rapidly even in vaccination success stories like the U.S., Britain and Israel.Britain, in fact, recorded a one-day total this week of more than 30,000 new infections for the first time since January, even as the government prepares to lift all remaining lockdown restrictions in England later this month.Other countries have reimposed preventive measures, and authorities are rushing to step up the campaign to dispense shots.At the same time, the disaster has exposed the gap between the haves and the have-nots, with vaccination drives barely getting started in Africa and other desperately poor corners of the world because of extreme shortages of shots.The U.S. and other wealthy countries have agreed to share at least 1 billion doses with struggling countries.The U.S. has the world’s highest reported death toll, at over 600,000, or nearly 1 in 7 deaths, followed by Brazil at more than 520,000, though the real numbers are believed to be much higher in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government has long downplayed the virus.The variants, uneven access to vaccines and the relaxation of precautions in wealthier countries are “a toxic combination that is very dangerous,” warned Ann Lindstrand, a top immunization official at the World Health Organization.Instead of treating the crisis as a “me-and-myself-and-my-country” problem, she said, “we need to get serious that this is a worldwide problem that needs worldwide solutions.”

Driven by pandemic, Venezuelans uproot again to come to US

Driven by pandemic, Venezuelans uproot again to come to US

DEL RIO, Texas — Marianela Rojas huddles in prayer with fellow migrants after trudging across a slow-flowing stretch of the Rio Grande and nearly collapsing when she stepped on American soil for the first time.“I won’t say it again,” interrupts a U.S. Border Patrol agent, giving orders in Spanish for Rojas and a group of 14 other Venezuelans to get into a detention van. “Only passports and money in your hands. Everything else — earrings, chains, rings, watches — in your backpacks.”It’s a frequent scene across the U.S.-Mexico border at a time of swelling migration. But these aren’t farmers and low-wage workers from Mexico or Central America, who make up the bulk of those crossing. Among them are bankers, doctors and engineers from Venezuela, and they’re arriving in record numbers as they flee turmoil in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves and pandemic-induced pain across South America.Two days after Rojas crossed, she left detention and got a bus out of the Texas town of Del Rio. The 54-year-old fled hardship in Venezuela a few years ago, leaving a paid-off home and career as an elementary school teacher for a fresh start in Ecuador.But when the housecleaning work she found dried up, she decided to uproot again.“It’s over, it’s all over,” she said on the phone to loved ones. “Everything was perfect. I didn’t stop moving for one second.”Last month, 7,484 Venezuelans were encountered by Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border — more than all 14 years for which records exist. The surprise increase is a harbinger of a new type of migration that has caught the Biden administration off guard: pandemic refugees.Many of the nearly 17,306 Venezuelans who have crossed the southern border illegally since January had been living for years in other South American countries, part of an exodus of millions since President Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013.While some are government opponents, the vast majority are escaping long-running economic devastation marked by blackouts and shortages of food and medicine.With the pandemic still raging in parts of South America, they relocated again. Increasingly, they’re being joined at the U.S. border by people from the countries they initially fled to — like Ecuador and Brazil — as well as far-flung nations hit hard by the virus, like India and Uzbekistan.Compared with other migrants, Venezuelans garner certain privileges — a reflection of their firmer financial standing, higher education levels and U.S. policies that have failed to remove Maduro but nonetheless made deportation all but impossible.The vast majority enter the U.S. near Del Rio, a town of 35,000, and don’t evade detention but turn themselves in to seek asylum.Like many of the dozens of Venezuelans The Associated Press spoke to this month in Del Rio, 27-year-old Lis Briceno had already migrated once before. After graduating with a degree in petroleum engineering, she couldn’t get hired in the oil fields near her hometown of Maracaibo without declaring her loyalty to Venezuela’s socialist leadership. So she moved to Chile a few years ago, finding work with a technology company.But as anti-government unrest and the pandemic tanked Chile’s economy, her company shuttered. Briceno sold what she could to raise the $4,000 needed to get to the U.S.“I always thought I’d come here on vacation, to visit the places you see in the movies,” Briceno said. “But doing this? Never.”While Central Americans and others can spend months getting north, most Venezuelans reach the U.S. in as little as four days.“This is a journey they’re definitely prepared for from a financial standpoint,” said Tiffany Burrow, who runs the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition’s shelter in Del Rio, where migrants can eat, clean up and buy bus tickets to U.S. cities.They first fly to Mexico City or Cancun. Smugglers promoting themselves as “travel agencies” on Facebook claim to offer hassle-free transport to the U.S. for about $3,000.The steep price includes a guided sendoff from Ciudad Acuna, where the bulk of Venezuelans cross the Rio Grande and which had been largely spared the violence seen elsewhere on the border.“If you’re a smuggler in the business of moving a commodity — because that’s how they view money, guns, people, drugs and everything they move, as a product — then you want to move it through the safest area possible charging the highest price,” said Austin L. Skero II, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector.Once in the U.S., Venezuelans tend to fare better than other groups. In March, Biden granted Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans, protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work legally.Also, Venezuelans requesting asylum — as almost all do — tend to succeed, partly because the U.S. government corroborates reports of political repression. Only 26% of asylum requests from Venezuelans have been denied this year, compared with an 80% rejection rate for asylum-seekers from poorer, violence-plagued countries in Central America, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.“I can write their asylum requests almost by heart,” said Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, Texas, who has represented over 100 Venezuelans. “These are higher-educated people who can advocate for themselves and tell their story in a chronological, clean way that judges are accustomed to thinking.”Even Venezuelans facing deportation have hope. The Trump administration broke diplomatic relations with Maduro in 2019, so air travel is suspended, even charter flights, making removal next to impossible.Briceno said that if she had stayed in Venezuela, she would earn the equivalent of $50 a month — barely enough to scrape by.“The truth is,” Briceno said, “it’s better to wash toilets here than being an engineer over there.”———Follow Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman.

Driven by pandemic, Venezuelans uproot again to come to US

Driven by pandemic, Venezuelans uproot again to come to US

DEL RIO, Texas — Marianela Rojas huddles in prayer with her fellow migrants, a tearful respite after trudging across a slow-flowing stretch of the Rio Grande and nearly collapsing onto someone’s backyard lawn, where, seconds before, she stepped on American soil for the first time.“I won’t say it again,” interrupts a U.S. Border Patrol agent, giving orders in Spanish for Rojas and a dozen others to get into an idling detention van. “Only passports and money in your hands. Everything else — earrings, chains, rings, watches — in your backpacks. Hats and shoelaces too.”It’s a frequent scene across the U.S.-Mexico border at a time of swelling migration. But these aren’t farmers and low-wage workers from Mexico or Central America, who make up the bulk of those crossing. They’re bankers, doctors and engineers from Venezuela, and they’re arriving in record numbers as they flee turmoil in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves and pandemic-induced pain across South America.Two days after Rojas crossed, she left detention and rushed to catch a bus out of the Texas town of Del Rio. Between phone calls to loved ones who didn’t know where she was, the 54-year-old recounted fleeing hardship in Venezuela a few years ago, leaving a paid-off home and once-solid career as an elementary school teacher for a fresh start in Ecuador.But when the little work she found cleaning houses dried up, she decided to uproot again — this time without her children.“It’s over, it’s all over,” she said into the phone recently, crying as her toddler grandson appeared shirtless on screen. “Everything was perfect. I didn’t stop moving for one second.”Last month, 7,484 Venezuelans were encountered by Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border — more than all 14 years for which records exist.The surprise increase has drawn comparisons to the midcentury influx of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist rule. It’s also a harbinger of a new type of migration that has caught the Biden administration off guard: pandemic refugees.Many of the nearly 17,306 Venezuelans who have crossed the southern border illegally since January had been living for years in other South American countries, part of an exodus of nearly 6 million Venezuelans since President Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013.While some are government opponents fearing harassment and jailing, the vast majority are escaping long-running economic devastation marked by blackouts and shortages of food and medicine.With the pandemic still raging in many parts of South America, they have had to relocate again. Increasingly, they’re being joined at the U.S. border by people from the countries they initially fled to — even larger numbers of Ecuadorians and Brazilians have arrived this year — as well as far-flung nations hit hard by the virus, like India and Uzbekistan.U.S. government data shows that 42% of all families encountered along the border in May hailed from places other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the traditional drivers of migratory trends. That compares with just 8% during the last sharp increase in migration in 2019. The Border Patrol recorded more than 180,000 encounters in May, a two-decade high that includes migrants’ repeated attempts to cross.Compared with other migrants, Venezuelans garner certain privileges — a reflection of their firmer financial standing, higher education levels and U.S. policies that have failed to remove Maduro but nonetheless made deportation all but impossible.The vast majority enter the U.S. near Del Rio, a town of 35,000 people, and they don’t try to evade detention but rather turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents to seek asylum.Like many of the dozens of Venezuelans The Associated Press spoke to this month in Del Rio, 27-year-old Lis Briceno had already migrated once before. After graduating with a degree in petroleum engineering, she couldn’t get hired in the oil fields near her hometown of Maracaibo without declaring her loyalty to Venezuela’s socialist leadership. So she moved to Chile a few years ago, finding work with a technology company.But as anti-government unrest and the pandemic tanked Chile’s economy, sales plunged and her company shuttered.Briceno sold what she could — a refrigerator, a telephone, her bed — to raise the $4,000 needed for her journey to the U.S. She filled a backpack and set out with a heart lock amulet she got from a friend to ward off evil spirits.“I always thought I’d come here on vacation, to visit the places you see in the movies,” Briceno said. “But doing this? Never.”While Central Americans and others can spend months trekking through the jungle, stowing away on freight trains and sleeping in makeshift camps run by cartels on their way north, most Venezuelans reach the U.S. in as little as four days.“This is a journey they’re definitely prepared for from a financial standpoint,” said Tiffany Burrow, who runs the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition’s shelter in Del Rio, where migrants can eat, clean up and buy bus tickets to Miami, Houston and other cities with large Venezuelan communities.They first fly to Mexico City or Cancun, where foreign visitors are down sharply but nearly 45,000 Venezuelans arrived in the first four months of 2021. Smugglers promoting themselves as “travel agencies” have cropped up on Facebook, claiming to offer hassle-free transport to the U.S. in exchange for about $3,000.“We’re doing things the way they do things here — under the table,” a smuggler said in a voice message a migrant shared with the AP. “You’ll never be alone. Someone will always be with you.”The steep price includes a guided sendoff from Ciudad Acuna, where the bulk of Venezuelans cross the Rio Grande. The hardscrabble town a few hundred wet steps from Del Rio is attractive to both smugglers and migrants with deeper pockets because it had been largely spared the violence seen elsewhere on the border.“If you’re a smuggler in the business of moving a commodity — because that’s how they view money, guns, people, drugs and everything they move, as a product — then you want to move it through the safest area possible charging the highest price,” said Austin L. Skero II, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector.But the number of smugglers caught with weapons has recently increased in the area, and agents who normally hunt down criminals are tied up processing migrants.The uptick in migrants crossing is “purely a diversion tactic used by the cartels” to carry out crime, Skero said as a group of Haitians carrying young children emerged from a thicket of tall carrizo cane on the riverbank.Once in the U.S., Venezuelans tend to fare better than other groups. In March, Biden granted Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans. The designation allows people coming from countries ravaged by war or disaster to work legally in the U.S. and gives protection from deportation.While new arrivals don’t qualify, Venezuelans requesting asylum — as almost all do — tend to succeed, partly because the U.S. government corroborates reports of political repression. Only 26% of asylum requests from Venezuelans have been denied this year, compared with an 80% rejection rate for asylum-seekers from poorer, violence-plagued countries in Central America, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.“I can write their asylum requests almost by heart,” said Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, Texas, who has represented over 100 Venezuelans. “These are higher-educated people who can advocate for themselves and tell their story in a chronological, clean way that judges are accustomed to thinking.”Even Venezuelans facing deportation have hope. The Trump administration broke diplomatic relations with Maduro when it recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader in 2019. Air travel is suspended, even charter flights, making removal next to impossible.Meanwhile, as the migrants leave Del Rio to reconnect with loved ones in the U.S., they are confident that with sacrifice and hard work, they’ll get an opportunity denied them back home.Briceno said that if she had stayed in Venezuela, she would earn the equivalent of $50 a month — barely enough to scrape by.“The truth is,” says Briceno, hustling to catch a bus to Houston where her boyfriend landed a well-paying oil industry job, “it’s better to wash toilets here than being an engineer over there.”———Follow Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman.

Family finds matriarch's mementos amid condo collapse rubble

Family finds matriarch's mementos amid condo collapse rubble

A father and son who rushed to the site where where a Florida condominium tower had collapsed hoped to find a sign that their family’s 92-year-old matriarch, Hilda Noriega, had somehow survivedBy JOSHUA GOODMAN Associated PressJune 27, 2021, 6:11 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Fla. — When a father and son rushed to the site where a Florida condominium tower had collapsed, they hoped for any sign that their family’s 92-year-old matriarch, Hilda Noriega, had somehow survived.Among the flying debris, they stumbled across mementos that bore witness to Noriega’s life on the sixth floor of the 12-story building known as Champlain Towers South: an old picture of her with her late husband and their infant son, and a birthday card that friends from her prayer group sent two weeks earlier with the acronym “ESM,” Spanish for “hand-delivered,” scrawled across the yellow envelope with a butterfly etching.“There was a message in the mess of all this,” said Mike Noriega, who last spoke with his grandmother the day before the disaster. “It means not to give up hope. To have faith.”The death toll from Thursday’s collapse of the beachfront condo building in Surfside has risen to nine, and authorities and loved ones fear the toll will go much higher. More than 150 people remained unaccounted for as of Sunday.The Noriega family described Hilda as a fiercely independent and vivacious retiree — in Mike’s words, “the youngest 92-year-old I know … 92 going on 62.”Hilda Noriega had called Champlain Towers South home for more than 20 years. But six years after her husband’s death, she was ready to leave. The condo was for sale, and she planned to move in with family.She loved living near the ocean and friends, but “when you lose a spouse, you want to be surrounded by family … and she wanted to spend more time with her family and grandchildren,” said Sally Noriega, Hilda’s daughter-in-law.Hilda Noriega was a loving person who built a life with her husband and raised a family after coming to the U.S. from Cuba in 1960, her daughter-in-law said.“She was just one of those people who from the first time she met a person she instantly loved that person, and that person instantly loved her,” Sally said.Carlos Noriega, Hilda’s son and police chief of nearby North Bay Village, was one of the emergency responders atop the pile.The Noriegas don’t entirely know what to make of the treasured mementos found amid the chaos, but Sally said: “We are a family of faith. We’ll just leave it at that.”