Fourteen Europeans held hostage in the Sahara by Algerian militants for over five months arrived in Germany yesterday after being freed in the West African country of Mali. \nA German air-force jet carrying the hostages landed at the military section of Cologne airport just before 7:30am in western Germany after a six-hour flight from Mali's capital Bamako. \n"I can tell you that my impression of the state of their health is exceptionally good and they are in very good mental condition, but they will need time to deal with this," said Juergen Chrobog, Germany's top official handling the case. \nThe exact terms of their release to Malian authorities on Monday remain unclear and Germany has not commented on reports that a ransom was paid. Mali's president thanked Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for helping, but did not say how. \nThe nine Germans, four Swiss and one Dutch tourist were among 32 seized in separate incidents in February and March while traveling in southern Algeria, famous for its grave sites but notorious for smuggling and banditry. \nSeveral wore blue tracksuits and smiled and waved to the media as they arrived, but made no comment to reporters as they boarded buses that drove them to an undisclosed location to be reunited with their families. \nOne hostage, Michaela Spitzer, died of heatstroke in the Sahara. \n"I am happy that 14 of the 15 hostages have arrived back safely," said Chrobog, who flew to Germany with the hostages. "We mourn the death of Frau Spitzer who didn't survive this expedition." \nThe group was moved to Mali last month after Algerian commandos rescued 17 hostages in May. Algeria said the hostages had been seized by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, who are fighting for a purist Islamist state. \nThe kidnappers kept their captives on the move, hiding among rocks and dunes of the vast Sahara in temperatures that regularly topped 45 degrees centigrade. \nMalian officials said last week that kidnappers had demanded a ransom, but their impoverished country could not pay it.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,