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Tourist towns balance fear, survival in make-or-break summer - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Tourist towns balance fear, survival in make-or-break summer - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader


Tourist towns balance fear, survival in make-or-break summer - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Posted: 05 Jun 2020 08:00 AM PDT

<p>An employee at Bruce's Candy Kitchen ring up a customer's purchases from behind a protective plastic shield as both wear face masks due to the coronavirus in Cannon Beach, Ore. With summer looming, Cannon Beach and thousands of other small, tourist-dependent towns nationwide are struggling to balance fears of contagion with their economic survival in what could be a make-or-break summer.</p> <p>AP photo</p>

An employee at Bruce's Candy Kitchen ring up a customer's purchases from behind a protective plastic shield as both wear face masks due to the coronavirus in Cannon Beach, Ore. With summer looming, Cannon Beach and thousands of other small, tourist-dependent towns nationwide are struggling to balance fears of contagion with their economic survival in what could be a make-or-break summer.

AP photo

<p>This Thursday, May 28, 2020, photo shows people visiting a beach in front of Haystock Rock during the coronavirus outbreak in Cannon Beach, Ore.</p> <p>AP photo</p>

This Thursday, May 28, 2020, photo shows people visiting a beach in front of Haystock Rock during the coronavirus outbreak in Cannon Beach, Ore.

AP photo

CANNON BEACH, Ore. — As the coronavirus raced across America, this quaint seaside town did what would normally be unthinkable for a tourist destination.

Spooked by a deluge of visitors, the tiny Oregon community shooed people from its expansive beaches and shut down hundreds of hotels and vacation rentals overnight. Signs went up announcing that the vacation getaway 80 miles (129 kilometers) from Portland known for towering coastal rock formations was closed to tourists — no exceptions.

"It was unprecedented," said Patrick Nofield, whose hospitality company Escape Lodging owns four hotels in Cannon Beach and abruptly laid off more than 400 employees in March. "We really went into survival mode."

Now, with summer looming and coronavirus restrictions lifting, the choices facing Cannon Beach are emblematic of those confronting thousands of other small, tourist-dependent towns nationwide that are struggling to balance their residents' fears of contagion with economic survival. It's a make-or-break summer in these vacation spots — and the future is still terrifyingly unclear.

"How do you regulate people inundating your town on a day-to-day basis?" Nofield said. "One of the great things about Oregon is our beaches are free to all. We don't want to take away people's rights, but how do we manage it and still stay safe? That's the thing."

Answering that question is especially critical for small, rural towns like Cannon Beach, which are too far from major cities to benefit from their economies and remote enough that they worry about medical care should infections spike again. Far-flung communities that are gateways to national parks or fly fishing or hiking destinations have similar concerns, said Carl Winston, director of the Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism at San Diego State University.

"How do you diversify if you are Cannon Beach and all the others? There's not a lot of possibility there," said Winston, who has watched his students' summer internships in resort towns dry up. "The question is, how much is survivable for them?"

Clatsop County, which is home to Cannon Beach and other small coastal towns, has just 45 confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far. But Portland — Oregon's largest city — is less than two hours away and saw its hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients during the pandemic's peak. Hundreds of tourists also come to Cannon Beach from Seattle, where the virus first took hold in the U.S.

The nation has reported more than 106,000 coronavirus deaths, nearly a third of the worldwide total of over 380,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The annual influx of visitors is a concern for this tight-knit community, best known for the iconic coastal formation Haystack Rock and where a large percentage of its 1,700 year-round residents are older and more susceptible to COVID-19. That was one of the factors influencing the decision to shut down the town so abruptly after huge crowds swarmed its beaches on a warm March weekend, said Jim Paino, executive director of the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce.

The City Council held an emergency meeting and took immediate action, making headlines across the region a day before Gov. Kate Brown issued her own statewide stay-at-home order on March 23.

"The big fear is the people who don't respect the safety measures. That was probably the biggest fear in our community at the moment — and it is still," Paino said. But "the businesses are what drive our economy, and if we lose too many, we're going to lose the character of Cannon Beach and the reason everybody loves coming here."

For two months, the town was a ghost of itself, a tableau of desolate streets and shuttered businesses. The closure forced at least four businesses to shut their doors for good, and hundreds of workers — almost all locals — were laid off. Cannon Beach relies on a hotel lodging tax for nearly three-quarters of its general fund and stands to lose hundreds of thousands to the pandemic.

The town reopened on May 15 and its hotels took bookings 10 days later, and on a recent warm, sunny day, Cannon Beach appeared to be coming back to life.

American flags hung on almost every street corner, families flew kites on the beach, people lingered over lunch at local brewpub and a line formed at a hamburger shop. Popular businesses like Bruce's Candy Kitchen were bustling again, with customers watching through a glass window as the owner's son-in-law pulled saltwater taffy on a giant wheel. Tourists filled the sidewalks, sometimes making social distancing difficult.

Yuri Vidal is celebrating his restaurant Crepe Neptune's ninth summer season, and he needed to reopen to survive. But he said he's also afraid of bringing the coronavirus home to his family.

"Right now, we're just gonna work as hard as we can," Vidal said. "I have a feeling that's what everybody's going to be doing to catch up from missing spring break — and the unknown is that it all could shut down again."

But tourists do not always equal customers, another hard lesson Cannon Beach is learning.

Gwen Partlow drove from Portland for a few hours of respite and kite-flying with her sister, parents and two sons, ages 5 and 2. The family packed their own picnic and headed straight for the sand, making sure to stay 6 feet (2 meters) from others.

The only money they would spend would be on ice cream, she said.

"I heard they started opening, but we didn't come with the intention of going to any businesses," Partlow said. "We're hoping to just stay outside."

Coronavirus strands merchant ship crews at sea for months - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Posted: 05 Jun 2020 08:56 PM PDT

<p>Anchored ships are seen miles away from the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece. During the pandemic about 150,000 merchant seafarers are stranded at sea in need of a crew change, according to the International Chamber of Shipping, whose secretary general describes them as the 'forgotten army of people.'</p> <p>AP photo</p>

Anchored ships are seen miles away from the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece. During the pandemic about 150,000 merchant seafarers are stranded at sea in need of a crew change, according to the International Chamber of Shipping, whose secretary general describes them as the 'forgotten army of people.'

AP photo

ATHENS, Greece — For nearly four months, Capt. Andrei Kogankov and his oil tanker crew haven't set foot on dry land. With global travel at a virtual standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian captain was forced to extend his normal contract. He still doesn't know when he'll be able to go home.

Countries across the world have imposed lockdowns, shut borders and suspended international flights to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. The move was deemed essential to prevent rampaging contagion, but merchant ship crews have become unintended collateral damage.

With more than 80% of global trade by volume transported by sea, the world's more than 2 million merchant seafarers play a vital role.

"In some ways, they've been the forgotten army of people," said Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS. "They're out of sight and out of mind, and yet they're absolutely essential for moving the fuel, the food, the medical supplies and all the other vital goods to feed world trade."

About 150,000 seafarers are stranded at sea in need of crew changes, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. Roughly another 150,000 are stuck on shore, waiting to get back to work.

"It's not a tenable position to keep on indefinitely. You can't just keep extending people," said Platten.

International shipping organizations, trade unions and shipping companies are urging countries to recognize merchant crews as essential workers and allow them to travel and carry out crew changes.

"Our challenge now is to get a very strong message to governments. You can't expect people to move (personal protective equipment), drugs and all the issues that we need to respond to COVID, and keep cities and countries that are in lockdown fed, if you don't move cargo on ships," said Steve Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation, or ITF. "They've got to recognize the sacrifice seafarers are making for our global society."

Kogankov is seven months into a four-month contract and was supposed to be replaced in mid-March in Qatar. But a few days before he arrived, Qatar imposed a lockdown and banned international flights.

From there to South Korea, Japan, South Korea again and on to Singapore and Thailand, each time the same story: Lockdown. No flights. No going home.

The uncertainty and open-ended extension of his contract — and with it the responsibility for his 21-man crew and a ship carrying flammable cargo — is taking its toll.

"When you are seven months on board, you are becoming physically and mentally exhausted," Kogankov said by satellite phone from Thailand. "We are working 24/7. We don't have, let's say, Friday night or Saturday night or weekends. No, the vessel is running all the time."

Officers sign on for three to four months, the rest of the crew for around seven months. But they always have an end date. Take that away, and suddenly the prospect of endless workdays becomes a strain.

"We're gravely worried that there could be a higher increase of incidents and accidents. But we also are seeing a high level of what I would describe as anxiety and frustration," Cotton said. "If you don't know when you're going to get off a ship, that adds to a high level of anxiety that really is quite demoralizing."

Unless governments facilitate crew changes, Cotton warned, "it's difficult for us to convince the seafarers not to take more dramatic action, and … stop working."

It's not just crew changes that are problematic during the pandemic. Getting medical help for seafarers has also become difficult, as Capt. Stephan Berger discovered when one of his crew fell ill — not with coronavirus.

Lockdowns in successive ports made visiting a doctor impossible. It took multiple phone calls and the combined efforts of a Dubai paramedic, Berger and the German ship-owning company to eventually get the necessary care for the crewmember, who was hospitalized for three weeks.

Of the 23 people aboard Berger's Berlin Express, 18 were due for a crew change when it moored in Valencia, Spain, in late May. The officers had extended what were normally three-month contracts to four and five months, while the mostly Filipino crew had been on board for eight or nine months, instead of three or four.

Despite this, morale has been good, Berger said.

Nobody is particularly happy with the contract extensions, "but we have to take it as it is," he said. "It feels sometimes like a prison."

Ship-owning company Hapag-Lloyd was doing everything it could to arrange crew changes and managed to arrange for the seven European crew members to sign off in Barcelona on May 30, Berger said. But there are still no flights home for the Filipino crew.

"We are very much hidden. We are on board our vessels, and the people might see the big ships coming in and out of the ports, but very seldom they see the people who are operating the ships," Berger said. "We hope that people would recognize it a little bit more now."

On another Hapag-Lloyd container ship, apprentice Hannah Gerlach was to sign off in mid-March in Singapore. But even as her vessel headed to Asia, it was clear that wouldn't happen. Gerlach packed her bags for an earlier departure from Sri Lanka, but by the time she arrived, so had the lockdown.

"I definitely miss my family very much. … And I miss just these moments of a normal life, to have the possibility to go out for a walk, to the forest, to ride the bicycle," Gerlach said. "You don't know any more when your contract will end, when you have the chance to see your family again."

David Hammond, founder of the Human Rights at Sea organization, said many seafarers "have really been at the end of their tether" due to contract extensions. "The reality is that until there is global cooperation among states and shipping entities …. then crew change is going to be very problematic."

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