Major U.S. airlines endorse temperature checks for passengers

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A major U.S. airline trade group on Saturday said it backed the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checking the temperatures of passengers and customer-facing employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines for America, which represents the largest U.S. airlines including American Airlines <AAL.O>, United Airlines <UAL.O>, Delta Air Lines <DAL.N> and Southwest Airlines <LUV.N>, said the checks “will add an extra layer of protection for passengers as well as airline and airport employees. Temperature checks also will provide additional public confidence that is critical to relaunching air travel and our nation’s economy.”

A U.S. official said Saturday no decision has been made on whether to mandate the checks, but said the issue is the subject of extensive talks among government agencies and with U.S. airlines and added a decision could potentially be made as early as next week.

One possible route would be for a pilot project or to initially begin temperature checks at the largest U.S. airports. Questions remain about what the government would do if someone had a high temperature and was turned away from a flight.

U.S. officials said the temperature checks would not eliminate the risk of coronavirus cases but could act as a deterrent to prevent people who were not feeling well from traveling.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske told employees during a town hall meeting Wednesday that no decision had been made regarding possible temperature checks of passengers at airports and that questions remained about where such checks might take place and which agency might perform them.

“It’s been a discussion that’s been ongoing for several weeks now,” he said.

A TSA spokesman did not immediately comment Saturday.

Frontier Airlines said on Thursday it would begin temperature screenings for all passengers and crew members on June 1 and bar anyone with a temperature at or exceeding 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 C).

The move, the first among major U.S. airlines, followed the industry mandating facial coverings for all passengers and heightened cleaning procedures to address coronavirus concerns.

The airline group said having temperature checks performed by the TSA “will ensure that procedures are standardized.”

The endorsement comes amid signs of a modest travel rebound from historic lows. On Friday, TSA screened 215,444 people at airport checkpoints, the first time the number topped 200,000 since March 26. But that is still a fraction of the 2.6 million screened on the equivalent day last year.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese)

Lyft to require passengers and drivers to wear masks

By Moira Warburton and Tina Bellon

TORONTO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lyft will require both passengers and drivers to wear masks and complete a health certification program, including confirming before each ride that they are not displaying symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus, the company said on Thursday.

The move comes as ridesharing companies struggle to maintain revenues with millions of people worldwide under social distancing orders from public health authorities.

Lyft has previously committed to distributing masks to its more than one million drivers, focusing on cities where masks are required by law, said Angie Westbrock, head of global operations, although she declined to say how many masks had been or would be distributed.

“A really important component of this policy is that it’s not just for drivers,” Westbrock said. “This policy requires passengers to also certify that they’re going to comply with this health safety policy and that they’ll also wear a mask.”

Passengers are also asked to leave the windows open when possible, and not sit in the front seat of cars.

Masks and cleaning supplies for drivers will be distributed through Lyft’s hubs, some of which will reopen for this purpose, Westbrock said.

Uber Technology Inc, Lyft’s main competitor, has said they will implement technology that will require drivers to submit a photo of their face to confirm that they are wearing the mandatory mask.

Unlike Uber, Lyft only operates in the United States and parts of Canada.

Didi, a Chinese ridesharing company, is paying to install plastic barriers in cars to protect riders and drivers.

Westbrock said that Lyft is “always looking at new technology and thinking about ways to improve health and safety,” and that Thursday’s announcement represents “the first step and a really important foundation to build on… as the situation evolves.”

Nicole Moore, a part-time Lyft driver and volunteer with Drivers United, an advocacy group representing ride-hail drivers in the United States, said many drivers have not been able to access the promised masks, and have had to buy their own.

The requirements also put the onus on drivers to enforce the new rules, she said.

Lyft is “not doing what they need to do to protect their brand and the people who work for them that generate the cash that they use,” Moore said.

A corporate policy such as installing plastic barriers “would be a huge help,” she added.

Lyft said in its earnings call on Wednesday that U.S. ridership had improved more than 20% from coronavirus-hit rock bottom last month and that it believes Americans will turn to ride-hailing as the first opportunity to make up for lost income as the U.S. economy reopens, helping the company cut down on driver incentives and other costs.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto and Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Two passengers from coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan die, authorities defend quarantine

By Linda Sieg and Chang-Ran Kim

TOKYO (Reuters) – Two elderly passengers became the first people from aboard a cruise ship moored near Tokyo to die of the coronavirus, the Japanese government said on Thursday, as hundreds more passengers disembarked after two weeks’ quarantine.

The 621 coronavirus cases aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner are by far the largest cluster of infection outside China. The ship has been held since Feb. 3 with initially 3,700 people on board.

The two patients who died, an 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman, had both tested positive for the virus although the woman’s cause of death was listed as pneumonia, the health ministry said. Two government officials who had worked on the ship were infected, it added, bringing the number of infected officials to five.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that 27 people from the ship were in serious condition.

The quarantine operation has sparked criticism of Japan’s authorities just months before Tokyo is due to host the Summer Olympics.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Japan’s efforts. He told a news conference that after measures were put in place to isolate passengers on Feb. 5, the number of new infections fell.

Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) said in a report issued Wednesday that no new cases of the onset of the COVID-19 disease from the cruise ship were reported on Feb. 16-17 and only one crew member case on Feb. 15.

In a move to reassure the public, the health ministry also issued a statement in both English and Japanese that said all passengers had been required to stay in their cabins since Feb. 5. Critics have noted that the day before that order, as passengers were being screened, shipboard events continued, including dances and quiz games.

SAFE TO GO HOME?

About 1,000 Japanese released from the ship after testing negative for the virus were permitted to go straight home this week. Other countries are flying their citizens home but subjecting them to two more weeks of quarantine on arrival.

“We believe the isolation was effective,” Suga, the chief cabinet minister, said.

Those who have shared a room with infected people are being kept on board under further quarantine.

Around 600 people are expected to disembark on Thursday, 500 of whom will return to their homes in Japan, according to the health ministry. On Wednesday, 800 people left the ship including foreigners who left on evacuation flights.

“We are asking people to keep an eye on their temperature at home,” a health ministry official told Reuters. The government handed out pamphlets with advice on the disease, which has killed more than 2,100 people, mostly in China.

Some experts, however, worry returnees could infect others. Findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday suggest the virus may be spread more easily than previously thought, including by carriers who have no symptoms.

The health ministry official said the United States had taken the decision to risk bringing home infected passengers, and it was up to each country to quarantine people entering their ports as appropriate.

“Our stance is that Japan as the local authority has already quarantined these people for two weeks,” the official said, adding that if people sent home from the Diamond Princess later test positive, they would have caught the virus off the ship.

(Additional reporting by Akiko Okamoto, Ju-min Park, Hideto Sakai, Daewong Kim, Elaine Lies, Makiko Yamazaki and Tim Kelly; writing by Linda Sieg and David Dolan; Editing by Sam Holmes, Michael Perry and Peter Graff)

Uber says it received over 3,000 reports of sexual assault in U.S. in 2018

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc said it received over 3,000 reports of sexual assault related to its 1.3 billion rides in the United States last year, in a report aimed at ensuring drivers and the public it was serious about safety.

The figure represents a 16% fall in the rate of incidents from the previous year in the five most serious categories of sexual assault reported, Uber said on Thursday in its first biennial U.S. Safety Report.

The firm also said reports of assaults on passengers overlooked risks for drivers as riders accounted for roughly half of the accused.

The 84-page report comes almost two weeks after Uber said it would appeal the loss of its license to carry passengers in London over a “pattern of failures” on safety and security.

Uber, which in the past has faced criticism over safety on its platform and has been repeatedly hit with lawsuits over driver misconduct, last year committed to releasing a safety report in a sign of a cultural turnaround under its new CEO.

The firm, which operates in 70 countries, said the report showed its commitment to transparency to improve accountability and safety industry-wide. It said it would use what it learned producing the report for its “next steps” in other places.

“I suspect many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they’re still too common. Some people will appreciate how much we’ve done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right,” tweeted Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi.

In the report, Uber said 99.9% of its 2.3 billion U.S. trips in 2017 and 2018 ended without safety incidents.

It said it received 235 reports of “non-consensual sexual penetration” last year and 280 of “attempted non-consensual sexual penetration” – nearly all filed by women. The remaining assault reports included incidents of unwanted kissing or touching of body parts.

It also detailed 10 fatal physical assaults in 2017 and nine in 2018 – eight victims were riders, seven were drivers using Uber’s app, and four were third parties such as bystanders.

At an event on Wednesday, Khosrowshahi said he prioritized improving Uber’s culture and safety when assuming his role in 2017. At the time, Uber was dealing with regulatory fallout and public backlash over its business practices, forcing former CEO and founder Travis Kalanick to step down.

“We had to change the culture internally and we simply got to do the right thing,” Khosrowshahi said, adding that Uber was not hiding anything by publishing internal information.

Rival Lyft Inc in a statement said it was committed to releasing its own safety report and sharing information on unsafe drivers. It did not state a release date for its report.

BACKGROUND CHECKS

Uber said it puts drivers through a vigorous background check before accepting them onto its platform. In its report, it said one million drivers failed to pass the screening test in 2017 and 2018 and more than 40,000 were removed from the app after extra screening layers.

Regulators have long said Uber’s screening process was insufficient and inferior to those in place for taxi drivers, with several U.S. cities attempting to compel Uber to mandate fingerprinting of its drivers.

New York City is currently the only U.S. city where drivers have to provide fingerprints and undergo the same licensing requirements as regular taxi drivers.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in response to Uber’s safety report on Thursday said there was no substitute for background checks based on fingerprinting.

“They are the best way to prevent against drivers with criminal records,” its Acting Commissioner Bill Heinzen said in a statement.

An Uber spokeswoman on Thursday said the firm’s screening process was robust and rigorous, and was more reliable than the database for fingerprints where she said not all crimes are updated promptly.

Uber’s share price was down 1.57% in after-hours trade at $28.20.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Additional reporting by Neha Malara; Writing by Peter Henderson and Ismail Shakil; Editing by Chris Reese and Christopher Cushing)

Indonesia calls off operation to retrieve the bodies of almost 200 ferry victims

Relatives of missing passengers react during a visit to the location of the ferry that sank at Lake Toba in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 2, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

By Tabita Diela

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia said on Monday it was calling off a two-week operation to retrieve the bodies of nearly 200 passengers thought to have drowned in one of the world’s deepest volcanic lakes.

The overcrowded wooden ferry capsized during a storm on June 18 in Lake Toba, which is around 450 meters (1,500 feet) deep, as travelers were heading home after the Eid holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting season.

Relatives of missing passengers of a ferry that sank at Lake Toba pray in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 1, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

Relatives of missing passengers of a ferry that sank at Lake Toba pray in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 1, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

Eighteen passengers survived, three were confirmed dead and nearly 200 are missing.

The operation to find the ferry and retrieve the victims has faced numerous technical and logistical hurdles – dangerous currents and cold, murky water far deeper than any scuba diver can go – in a lake that has never been completely surveyed.

Video footage taken last week using a remotely operated underwater vehicle showed human remains, motorcycles and ropes from the ferry at a depth of 450 meters.

Rescue spokesman Muhammad Yusuf Latif confirmed that the search operation would end, adding that an official statement would likely be made on Tuesday.

“We’ve already had face-to-face discussions with the families of the victims (on) the difficulties faced in the field (and) reasons why we won’t continue; why we want to end it,” Latif said by telephone.

“They understand why we’re stopping.”

According to Muhammad Ilyas, head of the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, the wreckage was found on Saturday, but the remotely operated underwater vehicle used to find it had also become stuck in ropes connected to the ferry.

“We have proven 100 percent” that the ferry is there, Ilyas said, adding that the submersible was later retrieved but needed to be repaired as its cable had broken.

A relative of missing passengers of a ferry that sank holds a flower before throwing it into Lake Toba in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 2, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

A relative of missing passengers of a ferry that sank holds a flower before throwing it into Lake Toba in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia July 2, 2018. Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan/via REUTERS

Rescuers earlier said they were considering borrowing a heavier vehicle from Singapore to retrieve the victims and the vessel, but that plan was canceled as it would take more than three weeks and was “high cost”, Latif said.

Craig Chesner, a geologist from Eastern Illinois University who conducted a survey of Toba in 2012, said the ferry had sunk “in the deepest part of the entire lake”.

According to media reports, a monument will be erected by the government in memory of victims.

(For a graphic on ferry accidents, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2tJOHlq)

(Reporting by Tabita Diela; Additional reporting by Simon Scarr in SINGAPORE; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Philippines’ coast guard rescues 252 passengers from capsized ferry

Filipinos look for their missing relatives on a list of survivors after a Philippine vessel capsized because of bad weather in Real, Quezon in the Philippines, December 22, 2017.

By Erik De Castro and Ronn Bautista

REAL, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines’ coast guard said on Friday it had rescued 252 passengers and crew, including an Australian and his Filipino wife, and recovered five dead people from a ferry that capsized east of the capital Manila.

A Philippine vessel capsized on Thursday because of bad weather, highlighting frequent boat accidents in the Southeast Asian nation that is composed of more than 7,000 islands.

The Philippine Coast Guard has confirmed five deaths while 252 passengers including an Australian and his Filipino wife, were rescued, said spokesman Captain Arm and Balilo.

“All the passengers and crew are accounted for but as I have said we will re-evaluate based on the claims of the families of the missing passengers,” Balilo told Reuters. The vessel was carrying 257 passengers and crew.

The boat left the port around 9 a.m. and capsized an hour later due to strong winds and giant waves.

A survivor said the passengers panicked when the boat started to take in water and went to one side, causing the ferry to tilt and capsize.

“The others waited on top of the ship while it was sinking, but I didn’t do that because I know the ship will break down and I want to avoid getting hurt by that,” Rene Ebuenga, a rescued passenger told Reuters. “That’s dangerous and the big waves can slam debris to your body.”

The ferry capsized and sank about 5 miles off Quezon province, east of the capital on the main northern island of Luzon.

The Philippine Coast Guard said it will conduct an inquiry to determine the cause of the incident and to verify possible oil spills.

In 1987, nearly 5,000 people died in the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster when an overloaded passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island in the central Philippines.

Tropical storm Tembin, packing center winds of 80 kmh (49 mph), made landfall on the southern island of Mindanao early Friday. It weakened after hitting the land mass, the weather bureau said on Friday.

But, the weather agency warned of extensive flooding and landslides until the storm exits the Philippines on Sunday.

(Reporting by Erik de Castro and Ronn Bautista; Writing by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Michael Perry)