‘I’m Asian, so I can never be American’

Attacks on East Asian people living in the US have shot up during the pandemic, revealing an uncomfortable truth about American identity.

Though she was not born in the US, nothing about Tracy Wen Liu’s life in the country felt “un-American”. She went to football games, watched Sex and the City and volunteered at food banks.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Liu, 31, didn’t think anything of being East Asian and living in Austin, Texas. “Honestly, I didn’t really think I stood out a lot,” she says.

That has changed. With the outbreak of the pandemic that has killed nearly 100,000 people in the US, being Asian in America can make you a target – and many, including Ms Liu, have felt it.

In her case, she says a Korean friend was pushed and yelled at by several people in a grocery store, and then asked to leave, simply because she was Asian and wore a mask.

In states including New York, California, and Texas, East Asians have been spat on, punched or kicked – and in one case even stabbed.

Whether they have been faced with outright violence, bullying or more insidious forms of social or political abuse, a spike in anti-Asian prejudice has left many Asians – which in the US refers to people of east or southeast Asian descent – wondering where they fit in American society.

“When I first came here five years ago, my goal was to adapt to American culture as soon as possible,” says Ms Liu.

“Then the pandemic made me realise that because I am Asian, and because of how I look like or where I was born, I could never become one of them.”

After her friend’s supermarket altercation, she decided to get her first gun.

“I hope the world never comes to a day when we have to use that,” she says, adding: “That would be a very, very bad situation, something I don’t even want to imagine.”

Authorities in New York City and Los Angeles say that hate incidents against people of Asian descent have increased, while a reporting centre run by advocacy groups and San Francisco State University says it received over 1,700 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination from at least 45 US states since it launched in March.

Police in at least 13 states, including Texas, Washington, New Jersey, Minnesota and New Mexico, have also responded to reported hate incidents.

Critics say those at the very top have made things worse – both President Donald Trump, and Democratic hopeful Joe Biden have been accused of fuelling anti-Asian sentiment to varying degrees with language they’ve used while talking about China’s role in the outbreak.

And for many Asian Americans, it can feel as though, in addition to being targeted, their identity as Americans is being attacked.

How serious is anti-Asian prejudice in the US?

Large numbers of Asian Americans, and Asians in the US – have described a sharp change in their experiences following the outbreak.

Kimberly Ha, 38, says she noticed the difference in February, after a stranger began shouting at her as she walked her dog in New York.

“He yelled: ‘I’m not scared of radioactive Chinese people’ and started pointing at me, shouting ‘you people shouldn’t be here, get out of this country, I’m not scared of this virus that you people brought over,'” the Chinese Canadian, who has lived in New York for over 15 years, said.

In the weeks that followed, she also noticed that “about one in 10” people she encountered in public appeared angry when they saw her. “I’ve never felt that level of hostility before,” she says.

On the opposite side of the US in California, Madison Pfrimmer, 23, had heard about anti-Asian attacks, but “didn’t think it was as prevalent as everyone made it seem”.

Then, in April, she helped translate for an elderly Chinese couple in a supermarket in Los Angeles when they were confronted by an angry woman who swore at them at length, threw water at them and sprayed them.

“She yelled ‘how dare you come to this store where my family shops, how dare you come and ruin my country. You are why my family is not able to make money,'” Ms Pfrimmer, who is half-Chinese, recalls.

Ms Pfrimmer says she tried to reason with the woman, who berated her for translating for the couple and hurled water from a bottle at her, soaking her legs and feet.

The woman walked by them again when they were waiting for the cashier, spraying them with something that appeared to be air freshener or disinfectant – and then followed the elderly couple to their car, where she took photos of them while shouting “it’s your fault”, and directing expletives at “China”, “all those dirty people” and “communism”.

“I ran to the couple, told them in Mandarin to just get in their car, and loaded their groceries for them – I handed the man the eggs through his window,” says Ms Pfrimmer. The woman followed her in her car – until Ms Pfrimmer purposefully drove near a police station.

Asian rights groups and San Francisco State University teamed up to start the STOP AAPI HATE database, which records reports of Covid-19 discrimination directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US. They received examples from 45 states, with California and New York making up the bulk of cases.

The incidents recorded fall on a broad spectrum. Verbal harassment is by far the most common, but shunning, physical assault, workplace discrimination, being barred from establishments, and vandalism also feature in the database – with women more likely to be targeted than men.

Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University who has been running the database, says he found so many incidents of people “being coughed or spat upon” that he added it as an additional category.

That’s what happened to Ted Nghiem, a Vietnamese American in Philadelphia. He says in March, a man swore at him, yelling “get out of here, you caused coronavirus” – but it didn’t particularly bother him.

However, later that month a man spat at him as he walked past, which got him “really down for a day or two”.

“I did inform the cops but I don’t know if anything happened… luckily I didn’t catch anything,” says Mr Nghiem, 37.

The STOP AAPI HATE database is based on online self-reporting. A separate BBC analysis of interviews and US media reports found coverage of more than 100 alleged incidents since January that appeared to target Asians.

About 70% of those incidents had a clear link to the pandemic, and about 40% of cases were reported to police.

Some incidents reached the bar of hate crimes. New York City police say they have investigated 14 hate crimes related to Covid-19, involving 15 Asian victims. There have been at least nine physical attacks in the state.

In California, an elderly man was attacked with an iron bar, and a teenager was taken to hospital after being physically assaulted.

In Texas, an Asian family, including a two-year-old and six-year-old, were stabbed in a supermarket. An FBI report obtained by ABC news said that “the suspect indicated that he stabbed the family because he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus”. The family was Southeast Asian.

Statistics on Anti-Asian incidents in the US:

Sources: Ipsos, STOP AAPI HATE, New York City Commission on Human Rights, New York City Police, Los Angeles County Commission on Human Rights, Seattle Police, Network Contagion Research Institute, BBC research

Some Asians have also reported being refused service from hotel rooms, or Uber rides, as a result of their ethnicity.

Matt (not his real name), a Chinese American emergency room doctor in Connecticut, noticed that several patients asked to be admitted to hospital because they said an Asian person had coughed near them.

He experienced what appeared to be anti-Asian bias more personally, when he tried to treat a patient thought to have Covid-19.

“I had my protective equipment on, walked in and introduced myself. Once they heard my surname, they were like ‘don’t touch me, can I see someone else – can you just not come close to me’.”

Many other minorities face more “overt types of discrimination which are worse”, Matt says – but he fears that incidents such as what he experienced would be demoralising for medical workers.

“This is a pretty stressful time – we’re working a lot more, wearing very uncomfortable equipment all the time, and a lot of us are getting exposed to Covid-19.”

‘If he looks Chinese, he gets attacked’

The virus originated from Wuhan, China, and much of President Trump’s rhetoric has focused on what he calls the country’s failings to contain the outbreak.

Earlier this year, he regularly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” – a term that critics said did not distinguish between China, the Chinese government, and people of Chinese ethnicity.

He later called for Asian Americans to be protected, saying “the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way shape or form”.

But that hasn’t stopped Chinese Americans from being blamed – or other East Asians from being targeted.

Prof Jeung says about 40% of the reports he received were from ethnic Chinese people – but a majority of cases were from people of other East Asian ethnicities.

“That’s an example of racial profiling – that ‘if he looks Chinese, he gets attacked’.”

Back in February – before cloth masks were recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Dahyung Oh, 23, remembers a woman staring at her in a hostile manner on a New York subway platform.

“She started approaching me, pointing at me and saying ‘Why aren’t you wearing a mask, you should be wearing a mask’,” the university student, from South Korea, says.

The woman did not wear a mask herself, and Ms Oh felt “singled out, because there were literally 10-20 people around us who weren’t wearing masks”.

“I felt really angry at the situation, as if I was singled out because I’m Asian, and a small sized woman that could be easier for someone to target.”

That incident didn’t end in violence – but Ms Oh was lucky. In two separate incidents in New York in March, Asian women were physically attacked for not wearing masks. Many others have been harassed while wearing masks.

Prof Jeung says face masks can be a lose-lose situation for Asians when it comes to discrimination, because “if they wear a mask, they are suspected of being infected – and if they don’t wear a mask, they’re suspected of being infected but negligent”.

It’s not just in the US either – there have been several high profile cases of physical attacks against East Asians in the UK and in Canada. Vancouver’s police department has said that 20 anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported in 2020 so far.

Meanwhile, in China, there has been discrimination of African residents – with reports of people being forced into quarantine, and a McDonald’s barring African people from entering.

Many say they have been singled out for multiple Covid-19 tests, or been evicted, following online rumours that two Nigerians who had tested positive for the virus escaped.

“I think it is very consistent with past times of crisis, where typically one group is scapegoated,” says Carmelyn P. Malalis, head of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. She cites the HIV/Aids crisis and Ebola as past examples.

In the US, there has been “underlying anti-Asian discrimination” even before the pandemic, but little awareness of it, because there are typically lower levels of reporting, and “people often think of racism as a black-white thing, not realising that racism exists in many forms,” she adds.

Why are Asian Americans still seen as outsiders?

Asians in the US come from a wide range of ethnicities, countries and backgrounds, and often have different political beliefs and identities.

Some 20 million US residents – or about 6% of the US population – are Asian, according to census data. The figure includes Asian Americans, as well as people from South and East Asia living, studying or working in the US.

Some Asian residents, such as Bhutanese Americans, are more likely to be immigrants born abroad, while others, such as Japanese Americans, are most likely to come from families that have been in the US for generations.

About three million tourists from China alone visit the US each year.

But race-based prejudice against Asians in the US is indiscriminate, whether one identifies as Asian American, hopes to become American, or is simply visiting.

Asian Americans have described some common experiences – including that they’ve been seen as “perpetual foreigners” even before the pandemic.

“Race, like many social categories, [is a] thing that says you’re part of this category [that is] plainly visible for everybody to see,” says Debbie Ma, a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge.

“Because of that,” she adds, “it’s very easy to quickly label and assign stereotypes and associations with those categories” – that an East Asian person is foreign, even if they are not, for example.

A 2008 study she co-authored found that respondents – US university participants of various racial backgrounds and ages – were more likely to implicitly think of Kate Winslet, the English actress, as “American”, than Lucy Liu, the New York-born star of Chinese heritage.

Matt says he is regularly told “you speak great English”, and asked where he is actually from, even when he explains he was born in the US.

Meanwhile, Prof Jeung says: “Even though my family’s been in the US for five generations, I’m still seen as a foreigner.”

Dr Ma notes that these are “specific burdens” that Asian people in America experience differently from other minorities. For example, “nobody is surprised when a black American speaks English really well,” though African Americans face other sets of prejudices, she says.

This has made a person’s Asian appearance – something “we wear so apparently”, as Dr Ma puts it – a reason to target them amid the outbreak.

Nor is it the first time race has been used as cover to marginalise or act against East Asians in the US.

Asian Americans were interned en masse in the US following attacks on Pearl Harbour in World War Two, and sweeping caricatures of East Asians were used as racist propaganda to exclude immigration from China and other eastern countries in the 19th Century.

Today, some Asian Americans still describe feeling “on probation”, and needing to prove their status as US citizens – a situation that has significantly worsened amid the outbreak.

Andrew Yang, a former Democratic candidate for president, wrote in April in the Washington Post: “Some level of background disdain or alienation has grown into outright hostility and even aggression.”

He called on Asian Americans to “show our American-ness in ways we never have before” by helping neighbours and wearing “red white and blue”. However, he was also accused of victim-blaming for appearing to internalise the notion that Asian people, by virtue of their ethnicity, are not American enough.

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns have also come in for criticism. An advert for the Trump campaign described Mr Biden as soft on China, and showed a montage of video clips of him with Chinese officials.

The montage included a shot of Gary Locke – the Chinese American former Washington governor who served as the US ambassador to China – leading to accusations that the ad was implying Mr Locke was a foreign official.

The Biden campaign came under fire after an attack ad emphasised that “Trump let in 40,000 travellers from China into America” after announcing a travel ban – even though many of those would have been American citizens.

Both campaigns have denied any xenophobia or targeting Chinese Americans.

How are Asian people in the US responding to attacks?

For some, the rise in anti-Asian sentiment has felt clear and dangerous.

There is no comprehensive data on race and gun purchases in the US, but reports from gun shop owners suggest that many have seen more Asian buyers amid a general rise in sales.

Chinese American Donghui Zang, 49, has started organising neighbourhood patrols in Queens, New York, where the group’s more-than-200 members take turns driving around and reporting suspicious activities to the police. A dozen of members in the patrol group, including Mr Zang, have recently applied for firearms permits.

Mr Zang, who describes himself as socially conservative, believes Chinese Americans should arm themselves “in case of social turmoil and skyrocketing crime”.

The view is not shared by everyone.

Max Leung, a co-founder of the San Francisco Peace Collective, says his group conducts patrols in Chinatown to help stop cases of vandalism and theft.

“Although I do believe and am a huge advocate of self-defence, we do not promote our members bearing arms while on patrol,” Mr Leung, 49, says. “The culture I want to create within our group is that of promoting peace, not perpetuating violence.”

Artists and comedians have also been inspired to speak out – including hip hop artist Jason Chu, who started the campaign Hate is a Virus, and wrote a rap about anti-Asian incidents.

He says the rap aimed to show “the ridiculousness of people targeting Asian Americans”, and also “emphasise the fact that Asian Americans belong here”.

“We’re not guests in America – we were born here – this is where our parents raised us. We’re saying that hate has no place in our country.”

More generally, there are hopes that this new awareness of discrimination will lead to stronger Asian communities in the US – and more solidarity with other ethnic minorities.

Matt recalls hearing negative comments about the African American community as he grew up – including from Asian Americans.

By contrast, “now I see a lot of Asian Americans standing up for Ahmaud Arbery”, the black jogger shot dead in a Georgia suburb by two white men now charged with murder.

Matt believes that Asian American communities have become more vocal in recent years about politics and representation.

“A lot of my friends have seen this anti-Chinese rhetoric going on, and become more interested in talking about the discrimination that other communities face” as a result.

Prof Jeung says he has seen examples of Asian Americans “recognising their common interests, and mobilising as a political group and community”.

Asians from different walks of life now “find themselves having a common experience” due to discrimination related to the pandemic.

“We’re all facing this process, of racial profiling, together. So hopefully, we’ll come together to fight the racism, and develop empathy with other people who are racially profiled.”

Additional reporting by the BBC’s Xinyan Yu

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As CHSAA lifts moratorium on in-person workouts June 1, districts are left to make own decisions for summer – The Denver Post

The Colorado High School Activities Association will lifts its moratorium on in-person training between coaches and high school students starting June 1.

CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green sent an email to schools Tuesday addressing the change, as it will soon be up to local school districts to make decisions on player-coach contact during the summer months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s likely those decisions will vary based on differing conditions and local health orders across the state.

Multiple districts in the Denver metro have prohibited player-coach contact until July 1, while Jeffco Public Schools’ prohibition remains in place until Aug. 1. Jeffco schools athletic director Jim Thyfault said that date could be moved to the start of July, however, if public health orders from local authorities change.

“Right now I think you have to remain fluid,” Thyfault said in a phone interview. “I heard one of our athletes say it best last week when he said ‘I don’t want the decision made today, because I’m not too sure I’d like the decision.’ I thought that was a great point. We all know where we’re at right now, and where we’re at right now makes it pretty difficult.”

Like other districts in the metro, Cherry Creek School District’s facilities are closed through the end of June. Thus, it won’t be able to allow player-coach contact until July 1 at the earliest. And even that date remains in question, with Cherry Creek athletic director Larry Bull saying his district intends to re-evaluate the situation in mid-June.

Current state social distancing guidelines call for no more than 10 people in a room, with all those in the room at least six feet apart. Although, some counties can be granted a variance.

While those standards may allow for limited player-coach contact, there is no doubt things will have to change for sports to fully return this August. As Thyfault said Friday, any return to high school sports will have to be accompanied by a return to the classroom.

“We’re just going to remain optimistic that this thing is going to continue to get better over the course of the next two and a half months and in the end we’ll be able to have sports,” he said. “Whether that’s middle of August startup or a middle-of-September startup, it could be that we have to adjust seasons a little bit to make it happen.”

Last week, CHSAA announced the creation of a task force to solicit ideas for how and when high school athletics can return to play for the 2020-21 school year. There is no established timetable for when the association will make those decisions.

All summer bylaws remain in place for CHSAA. After June 1, the association’s administrative oversight on player-coach contact will not resume until camps, clinics and fall sports practice dates are scheduled.

In the email sent out to schools earlier this week, Blanford-Green provided administrators with a list of suggested guidelines to follow during the summer. Among those recommendations were that all training sessions be voluntary, that districts establish safety plans approved by administrators at the district and school levels, and that those plans are shared with all participants.

“Decisions to return to coach/participant contact will need to be made with an abundance of caution and within the state guidelines,” the email read. “As much as the return to athletics and activities is invading our every thought and the external pressure from coaches and parents mounts with each passing day, we must continue to make our decisions based on the safety and well-being of all those under our care.”

Other recommendations listed in the CHSAA email:

  • Federal and state social distancing guidelines must be followed.
  • The number of participants per session should align with federal and state public gathering mandates.
  • Groups should be divided into “pods” and should include the same participants and coaches at each session.
  • All participants should be screened prior to each session with temperature checks and health surveys.
  • Signage should be posted in highly visible areas with questions pertaining to COVID-19.
  • No use of locker rooms and showers, with athletes and coaches dressed to participate upon arrival.
  • All equipment should be properly sanitized after every time it is used, with areas disinfected between staggered “pod” training sessions. And there should be no shared equipment, including balls, bats, clubs, rackets, sleds, helmets and masks.
  • Hand sanitizer should be provided during all sessions.
  • Participants should bring their own water bottles, with use of shared water sources prohibited.
  • Spectators and non-essential individuals should not be allowed to attend, and outside groups should not be invited.
  • Masks are recommended during all sessions.

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Fees awarded to Larry Castle in his successful defense against the state are dropped significantly

The eight-year legal battle between the Colorado attorney general’s office and Larry Castle and his now-shuttered Denver law firm appears to be over.

In a five-page order issued Friday, Denver District Judge Morris Hoffman reduced by nearly 85% a record $1.9 million in attorneys’ fees he had assessed against the AG’s office in its failed prosecution of Castle and others for alleged price gouging during the nation’s foreclosure crisis.

The $277,243 in refigured attorneys’ fees is the result of a state appellate court decision in September that reversed Hoffman’s earlier calculation, saying the judge had made the award inaccurately.

Hoffman’s order likely ends the courtroom fight the two sides had waged since the state began investigating Castle and his foreclosure work in 2012. The state unsuccessfully accused the law firm and two other defendants – Absolute Posting & Process Services and Colorado  American Title – of reaping millions of dollars in illegitimate profits by padding their billings.

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“The attorney general’s misguided crusade against the Castle Law Firm wasted millions of dollars,” said Larry Pozner, Castle’s attorney. “Colorado taxpayers deserve an investigation and an apology. ”

The AG’s office said it’s moving on.

“We hope this ruling brings the case to a close,” AG spokesman Lawrence Pachecho said in an email to The Denver Post.

In all, the state spent about $612,000 in taxpayer dollars and landed only a $119,500 judgment against Castle on one count of the lawsuit. That award was ultimately overturned in April 2019.

The state’s case, which has lasted through three state attorneys general, beginning with now-Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, initially sought more than $26 million in damages.

In a companion case against now-closed law firm Aronowitz & Mecklenburg, which was Castle’s biggest foreclosure competitor, the state landed a $10 million settlement.

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In the Amazon, an indigenous nurse volunteers in coronavirus fight

MANAUS, Brazil (Reuters) – Vicente Piratapuia, 69, of the Piratapuia tribe had a high fever and could hardly breathe, but he refused to leave his home on the outskirts of the Amazon rainforest’s biggest city.

It took a stern word from a trained nurse in his community to convince him he would die if he refused a ride with her to the emergency room.

Vanderlecia Ortega dos Santos, or Vanda to her neighbors, has volunteered to provide the only frontline care protecting her indigenous community of 700 families from the COVID-19 outbreak ravaging the Brazilian city of Manaus.

It is an uphill battle. The ramshackle settlement of descendants from 35 different tribes, called Parque das Tribos, lacks plumbing and electricity in most homes.

Ambulances regularly refuse to pick up the seriously ill because there is no public health clinic nearby.

As the coronavirus pandemic has begun spreading across Brazil, indigenous people who live in and around cities have been caught in a dangerous limbo. The country’s indigenous health service, Sesai, focuses its resources on those living on tribal reservations.

Sesai has reported 10 indigenous deaths from the pandemic on native lands, but indigenous umbrella organization APIB estimated this week it has taken the life of at least 18 indigenous Brazilians if fatalities in urban areas are counted. The real number of cases in often remote villages across Brazil’s vast hinterland is difficult to ascertain.

“Our people are dying from this disease here and they are not being recognized as indigenous people by the state and Sesai,” said Vanda, a member of the Witoto tribe from the upper reaches of the Amazon river on the border with Colombia.

Sesai has said indigenous people living in cities should use Brazil’s public health service.

A spokeswoman for the mayor of Manaus said indigenous health was a federal issue and not the responsibility of city hall.

Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas, which is suffering Brazil’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak per capita, has seen the disease overwhelm hospitals, cemeteries, and officials’ ability to tally the dead.

Vanda, 32, was born in the river village of Amatura and moved down river 10 years ago to Manaus, where she trained as a nurse technician. She works treating skin cancer patients at a clinic in the city.

But since the outbreak started she is using her free time to make house calls in her community, tracking potential COVID-19 symptoms through a WhatsApp group she set up.

This week she has been monitoring some 40 suspected coronavirus cases. She referred five people in serious condition to emergency services, including an old woman who had to be taken by car for lack of an ambulance.

Vanda gives her patients painkillers and other basic medicines, while offering guidance on limiting contagion. She makes house calls wearing a protective apron, gloves and mask – sometimes under a traditional Witoto headdress of macaw feathers.

Hunger arrived in the community before the virus, she said. Social distancing measures imposed to slow the outbreak have hammered the local economy and wiped out incomes for both the women who make crafts or work as maids in Manaus homes, and the men who labor on building sites.

“Because we were so devoid of public assistance, I took the initiative to start a campaign on social media to receive donations of food and hygiene kits,” Vanda said.

She also started a workshop at her mother’s house where women sew cloth masks for the community, turning out 30 a day on one sewing machine.

When Brazil’s health minister visited Manaus this week, Vanda and two of her friends greeted him with a protest outside the city’s main hospital, demanding medical attention for indigenous people.

She and two other women wore masks made by her mother, emblazoned with the phrase “Indigenous Lives Matter.”

The demonstration prompted a meeting with Sesai head Robson Santos da Silva, who said a field hospital in Manaus promised by the federal government would have a wing for indigenous patients with the coronavirus.

However, a ministry spokesman said construction of the field hospital would have to wait while the government focuses first on expanding existing facilities in Manaus.

Photo essay: reut.rs/35F183o

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‘I lost my mum to coronavirus on Mother’s Day’

In the weeks leading to Mother’s Day, 33-year-old Aya (not her real name) was preoccupied with which gift to get her mum. Little did she know that she would be burying her instead.

Aya’s mother was among Egypt’s first 10 coronavirus deaths.

Although Egypt announced the presence of Covid-19 in mid-February, it was not until the first week of March when the country started seeing new cases regularly.

So far, more than 1,500 people in Egypt have been infected and at least 103 have died with the disease.

‘I want to hug you but I can’t’

Even though her mother had been poorly for a week, Aya never thought this would be the end.

She recalls collapsing upon hearing the news.

“I told my brother he was lying. He told me earlier that she was getting better,” Aya says.

“We were hoping that she’d be back home in time for her birthday in April, since she’d been admitted to hospital a few days before Mother’s Day. We were going to combine both celebrations.”

Aya’s mother was taken to a quarantine hospital in Helwan district, south of Cairo, one day before her death after testing positive for Covid-19.

The 69-year-old had been at a private hospital since Monday of that week, when she first tested negative for coronavirus before repeating the test a couple of days later, Aya says.

“The last time I spoke to her was on Tuesday… I was with my dad all the time as he had a coronary stenting procedure on Sunday.”

Not being able to say goodbye was not the only challenge for Aya.

On the same day of Aya’s mother’s death, all prayers and sermons were suspended across the country. All mosques were ordered to shut down as well.

So, Aya found herself forced to perform the funeral prayers inside the hospital’s mortuary.

The process of getting her mother’s body out of the hospital took a long time, so they only managed to bury her at night, she says.

“Very few family members came. We were all wearing masks and gloves. My sister-in-law held my hand and whispered: ‘I want to hug you but I can’t’. My brother’s mother-in-law was devastated. But none of us could comfort the other.”

“My dad couldn’t say goodbye to mum as well. He attended the burial but he hadn’t seen her for a week”.

After her mother’s death, Aya’s father was admitted to the same quarantine hospital, as he tested positive for Covid-19.

“When he left, I lost it. I kept wailing on the floor,” she says.

Her father made a recovery and returned home this past weekend.

Although neither Aya nor her brother tested positive, they both had to stay in isolation.

“As a family, we couldn’t even be there for each other.”

‘My mum is a martyr’

Realising the challenges faced by those who have lost loved ones, Rana Sameeh created a WhatsApp group with the aim of circulating the names of those who have died so that people could pray for them.

Rana, a 31-year-old engineer, collects these names from social media posts. Also, some of those who have lost loved ones reached out to her asking to include the name of their deceased relative in the group’s list.

“Mosques are closed but people won’t stop dying. Funeral prayers are very important for us,” says Rana.

There is more than one Hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) that speak about the value of having a large number of people participating in the funeral prayer.

Rana’s WhatsApp group was created on 24 March and in few days it reached the maximum number of members allowed by the app: 256.

A similar group was created on Facebook.

Ramy Saad set up “Salat al-Ghaib”, which translates as “absentee funeral prayer”, after seeing a picture of a small group of people praying in the street in front of a coffin.

Usually, many people would take part in such prayers.

“It was a very sad scene. So, I decided to do something about it,” Ramy, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, says.

The group was also created on 24 March and attracted over 4,000 followers in just 10 days.

Aya says the virtual groups started out as to get more people to pray for lost loved ones, but they have become much more than that.

“I received many condolence messages from people I don’t know when they read about my mother’s death on Facebook… a fourth-grade classmate even called me to offer his and his mother’s condolences. I didn’t remember him at first.”

This support, Aya says, has helped her through her grief.

“This ordeal makes my mum a martyr. I believe in this and this gives me strength, which I didn’t know I had in me. Had she died under normal circumstances, I would have completely collapsed.”

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Mexico reports 296 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 2,439

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has registered 296 new coronavirus infections, bringing the country’s total to 2,439 cases and 125 deaths, the health ministry said in a press conference on Monday.

(This story corrects number of cases to 2,439 instead of 2,493)

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Israel declares coronavirus lockdown for Passover holiday feast

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday a national lockdown would begin on Tuesday and end on Friday to try to stem the spread of the new coronavirus during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

In a televised address, he said travel restrictions would be tightened on Tuesday and that Israelis will be banned from leaving their homes on Wednesday evening, when families traditionally travel to festive Passover “seder” meals.

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