Five people were killed, 18 were injured and several more were left stranded after an island volcano popular with tourists erupted unexpectedly in New Zealand on Monday.
Police said some 50 people were visiting White Island when it exploded suddenly in the early afternoon — hurling ash and rock high into the air.
Two dozen people made it off the island, five of whom have since died. The rest are being treated for injuries, including severe burns.
Nothing is yet known about a group — now estimated to number in the double digits — who are still trapped on the island.
“We’re unsure of the exact numbers on there and we’re unsure of their wellbeing,” said deputy commissioner John Tims.
As night fell, he said volcanic activity made a rescue attempt too dangerous.
“The island is unstable, there’s a danger of further eruptions, it is physically unsafe for us to return to the island”
“I’ve got to consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff.”
The eruption occurred at 2:11pm, thrusting a thick plume of white ash 3.6 kilometres into the sky.
Seconds before, live camera feeds showed a group of more than a half dozen people walking on the crater floor. Then the images went black.
A “considerable number” of those caught up in the disaster are believed to be Australian, according to officials in Canberra.
As many as 30 people are also believed to be cruise passengers on a day trip from the vessel Ovation of the Seas, Kevin O’Sullivan, chief executive officer of industry body the New Zealand Cruise Association told AFP.
The ship’s operator Royal Caribbean — who had billed the trip to White Island as “an unforgettable guided tour of New Zealand’s most active volcano” — said “a number of our guests were touring the island” but did not confirm that number.
The ship has a capacity of around 4,000 people and set sail from Sydney last week on a 12 day voyage.
Tourist Michael Schade, made it off the island just in time and was able to capture footage of the devastation.
His videos showed groups of startled tourists clustered by the shoreline, waiting to be evacuated as the ground around them smouldered, the sky filled with white debris. An ash-caked helicopter lies damaged nearby.
As his ship hurtled away, the caldera became virtually invisible, shrouded by a thick bank of ash.
Volcanic Air said they had landed a helicopter on the island shortly before the eruption carrying four visitors and one pilot. All were now accounted for.
“It had landed on the island. What happened after that we don’t know, but we know that all five made it back to Whakatane on one of the tourist boats,” a company spokesman told AFP.
Guillaume Calmelet, the co-director of Skydive Tauranga, saw the eruption from above as he took a customer on a tandem skydive from a plane 12,000 feet above the Bay of Plenty.
“As soon as the parachute opened there was this huge cloud that was really different to whatever we’ve seen before,” he told AFP. “I could see it coming out in free fall, so probably about 30 seconds for the whole cloud to form, if that. It was pretty quick.”
The country’s National Emergency Management Agency described the eruption as “moderate”, although the plume of ash was clearly visible from the mainland and from satellites flying overhead.
“We have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption. There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently, there are no signs of escalation.”
White Island — – also known as Whakaari — is about 50 kilometres offshore in the picturesque Bay of Plenty and is popular with adventurous tourists willing to don hard hats and gas masks.
It is New Zealand’s most active volcano cone and about 70 percent of it is underwater, according to government-backed agency GeoNet.
Around 10,000 people visit the volcano every year. It has erupted frequently over the last half-century, most recently in 2016.
In August of that year the New Zealand Defence Force airlifted a 2.4-tonne shipping container onto the island to serve as an emergency shelter in case of an eruption.
“Sudden, unheralded eruptions from volcanoes such as White Island can be expected at any time,” said University of Auckland volcanologist Shane Cronin.
“The hazards expected from such events are the violent ejection of hot blocks and ash, and formation of ‘hurricane-like’ currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent.”
“These can be deadly in terms of causing impact trauma, burns and respiratory problems. The eruptions are short-lived, but once one occurs, there are high chances for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.