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Divers set to search for AirAsia wreckage after debris, bodies found

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Divers set to search for AirAsia wreckage after debris, bodies found
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Divers and ships will search for the wreckage and the all important black boxes of a doomed AirAsia plane on Wednesday after Indonesian rescuers found several bodies and debris floating in shallow waters off the coast of Borneo.

Aviation experts believe the fuselage may be easily found as the aircraft probably only broke up when it hit the water.

“The fact that the debris appears fairly contained suggests the aircraft broke up when it hit the water, rather than in the air,” Neil Hansford, a former pilot and chairman of consultancy firm Strategic Aviation Solutions, said on Wednesday.

Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

The Airbus A320-200 was carrying 162 people, mostly Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his priority was getting bodies off the bottom of the Karimata Strait in the Java Sea, where rescuers retrieved a plane door and other debris on Tuesday, so victims could be identified.

“I feel a deep loss over this disaster and pray for the families to be given fortitude and strength,” Widodo said in Surabaya on Tuesday after grim images of the scene in the Java Sea were broadcast on television.

AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes, who has described the crash as his “worst nightmare”, was rushing to Surabaya where relatives of the missing are gathered at a crisis center in Indonesia’s second-largest city.

Widodo said AirAsia would pay an immediate advance of money to the families, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the television pictures of debris.

The navy initially said 40 bodies had been recovered, although other media later quoted the head of the search and rescue agency, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, as saying only three bodies had been retrieved.

Dozens of Indonesian navy divers are expected to begin the underwater search at first light on Wednesday, a source close to the investigation said.

The United States said its missile-guided destroyer USS Sampson and combat ship USS Fort Worth were awaiting instructions from the Indonesian search command on the recovery operation. Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to pick up pings from the black boxes, which contain cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.

NO DISTRESS CALL

The plane, which did not issue a distress signal, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic.

It was travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response from the aircraft.

Online discussion among pilots has centered on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow, and that it might have stalled.

Investigators are focusing initially on whether the crew took too long to request permission to climb, or could have ascended on their own initiative earlier, said a source close to the probe, adding that poor weather could have played a part as well.

A Qantas pilot with 25 years of experience flying in the region said the discovery of the debris field relatively close to the last known radar plot of the plane pointed to an aerodynamic stall, most likely due to bad weather. One possibility is that the plane’s instruments iced up in a tropical thunderstorm, giving the pilots inaccurate readings.

The lack of a distress call indicated the pilots may have realized too late they were in trouble and were too busy struggling to control the aircraft to issue a call, the Qantas pilot said.

The Indonesian pilot, a former Air Force jet fighter pilot with 6,100 flying hours under his belt, was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

GRIM YEAR FOR MALAYSIA AVIATION

Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the country’s aviation industry and spooked travellers across the region.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing in March on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline’s Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

In an additional incident, an AirAsia plane from Manila overshot the runway on landing at Kalibo in the central Philippines on Tuesday. No one was hurt.

On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Locals not rushing to book Singapore ‘staycations’

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Locals not rushing to book Singapore ‘staycations’ | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Todayonline

Tokyo residents can escape the city with a hike up Mount Fuji. New Yorkers can head to Long Island for a weekend. In Indonesia locals will be able to fly to the beaches of Bali. And in Thailand anyone living here now can visit the island of Phuket for a beach retreat.

Such is the Covid era ‘staycation’, the solution for domestic tourist economies around the world. Or is it?

Residents of Singapore have less of an option as, well, Singapore is tiny so any staycation won’t take you far away from home. With the island’s borders closed to foreigners, hotels and tourist attractions are hoping ‘staycationers’ will plug the gap in the battered $20 billion-a-year tourist industry. But despite industry enthusiasm, the Singapore locals haven’t been rushing to book staycations just yet.

Michael Issenberg, CEO Accor South East Asia, the largest hotel operator in Singapore says that unless there is a return to international business, the hotel industry is going to be decimated.

“Up to 90% of our bookings come from international travellers.”

While tourism internationally has been profoundly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, a gradual re-opening of some domestic travel is giving a shot in the arm to airlines and hotels. Both industries, and the downstream travel agents, tour companies, taxi and passenger bus drivers, and cleaners, etc, have been particularly hard hit as border closures and lockdowns have shuttered hotels and ground entire fleets of planes.

Locals not rushing to book Singapore 'staycations' | News by The Thaiger

Singapore’s tourism sector faces an even tougher challenge with hotels given a green light just last week to request approval to welcome domestic tourists. But locals have been saying they’d prefer to save their money and wait for travel to resume in nearby holiday spots in Thailand and Malaysia rather than spend it on a hotel just around the corner in Singapore.

Thailand and Malaysia are also promoting local versions of ‘staycations’. In Thailand the government is rolling out a three month stimulus package which gives users a 3,000 baht digital ‘wallet’ to use for expenses on rooms, flights and food.

Back in Singapore, the 5.7 million Singaporeans are now rebooting their economy after two months of lockdown, including a huge spike of new cases in April, the borders are still mostly closed. The city-state registered a historic low of just 750 foreign visitors in April, down from 1.6 million in the same month last year. May wasn’t much better – 880 visitors.

Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp says that in the short term, hotels, restaurants and attractions can shuffle their businesses to draw interest to staycationers by adding attractions and food discounts,.

“However, our inherent small domestic market size implies it may not be a longer-term sustainable solution.”

Tourism has been an increasingly vital industry for Singapore, helping to re-invent the economy from its traditional finance and shipping hub strengths. World class attractions including – Marina Bay Sands hotel, casino, Universal Studios and the Singapore Zoo have drawn tourists from around the world. The island has found its advantages as a cheap shopping stop-over and financial hub have been taken over by other south east Asian mega cities.

Last year, Singapore hosted a record 19.1 million visitors, while tourism receipts rose to S$27.7 billion (US$19.8 billion), fun 3% from the year before. Singapore’s tourism industry, employing about 65,000 people, contributes about 4% to the island’s GDP.

The border closure means Singapore needs to persuade locals to spend more money at home. Tourism Board CEO Keith Tan is confident the locals will be keen to travel locally and support the Singaporean economy.

“They may therefore be open to take time off in their own city and rediscover all that Singapore has to offer.”

“Singapore has set aside S$90 million for the tourism sector and a task force is developing domestic and international recovery plans to be shared soon. The board also aims to strengthen Singapore’s brand abroad by spending S$2 million to encourage content creators to produce compelling stories about the city-state.”

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Facebook blocks Hong Kong’s user data requests after China’s new security law

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Facebook blocks Hong Kong’s user data requests after China’s new security law | The Thaiger

Facebook is blocking requests from Hong Kong to receive user data after China’s passing of a new national security law that reportedly aims to crack down on government critics. WhatsApp and Twitter are also included in the blocking of data requests with Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone saying it is stopping the review of such requests until it evaluates the new law and consults with international human rights experts.

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”

The new national security law was revealed at the end of June and has already had a muting effect on the city that has long been a haven for free speech and internet access from China’s mainland. Facebook reportedly works with law enforcement communities to promote safety, on and offline, but it reviews every request by law enforcement agencies to make sure they are legitimate.

Facebook and Twitter are accessible in Hong Kong, as part of the decrease in oversight under the “one country, two systems” commitments by Beijing. However, human rights advocates have criticised the new national security law, partly because China did not release a draft for the public to review before it took effect.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 increasingly linked with patients who lose their sense of smell

The Thaiger

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Covid-19 increasingly linked with patients who lose their sense of smell | The Thaiger

Wake up and smell the roses. But a group of Covid-19 patients simply can’t as they’ve lost their sense of smell.

Anosmia, losing the ability to smell, can be psychologically difficult to live with and has no real treatment. Anosmia has been linked to some Covid-19 patients, both before they develop full symptoms or after they recover from the major respiratory symptoms. Others, who were asymptomatic, have also developed Anosmia.

An increasing number of Covid-19 patients are paying the price after surviving a brush with the virus. Some are facing a long-term inability to smell.

The president of anosmie.org says Anosmia “cuts you off from the smells of life, it’s a torture.”

“If you have the condition you can no longer breathe in the smell of your first morning coffee, smell the cut grass of a freshly mown lawn or even the reassuring smell of soap on your skin when you’re preparing for a meeting.”

Anosmia, also known as smell blindness, is the loss of the ability to detect one or more smells. Anosmia may be temporary or permanent. It differs from hyposmia which is a decreased sensitivity to some or all smells.

“You only truly become aware of your sense of smell when you lose it. Eating is a completely different experience too, as so much of what we appreciate in food is what we can smell.”

There is already evidence from South Korea, China and Italy, some of the countries hit earliest with the coronavirus outbreaks, that significant numbers of patients with Covid-19 infection have developed anosmia or hyposmia. In Germany it is reported that more than 2 in 3 confirmed cases have anosmia. In South Korea, where testing has been more widespread, 30% of patients testing positive have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases.

There are also other causes of anosmia – nasal polyps, chronic rhinitis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Now the novel coronavirus has been added to that list with the symptom alone allowing a diagnosis of Covid-19 in some cases.

Doctors report that when patients lose their sense of smell and don’t get it back they note a real change in the quality of life and a level of depression that is not insignificant.

“According to the first numbers, around 80% of patients suffering from Covid-19 recover spontaneously in less than a month and often even faster, in eight to 10 days.”

“For others it could be that the disease has destroyed their olfactory nerves, the ones that detect smells. The good news is that these receptors, at the back of the nose, are able to regenerate.

Two Paris hospitals, Rothschild and Lariboisiere, have launched a “CovidORL” study to investigate the phenomenon, testing how well different nose washes can cure anosmia.

In addition, there has now been a rapidly growing number of reports of a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 patients presenting with anosmia in the absence of other symptoms. This knowledge has been widely shared on medical discussion boards by surgeons from around the world managing a high incidence of cases.

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