Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Differnt World of Coronavirus

We spent two nights in the Sama Sama airport hotel in Kuala Lumpur so we could pickup the early morning All Nippon Airways flight to Narita airport in Japan. Total travel time from leaving the boat in Rebak island to landing in Seattle was four and half days. Fortunately we got one day back when we crossed the International Dateline. 4 flights, 5 airports and 2 hotels. The Kuala Lumpur airport was basically empty when we arrived at about 5:30am. This airport handled 62 million passengers last year. It was a ghost town now as we started the international portion of our travels.

Normally I wouldn't bother to comment much on the public health safety precautions being taken at the airport because they are just plain common place in Malaysia now. Before you enter the airport you have your temperature checked with an infra-red imager. You have to show tickets for a flight that day and you must be wearing a face mask. Before you enter the hotel, a non-contact forehead temperature check. Everyone is wearing a mask. At this point I might as well mention shopping in Malaysia. Outside a store will be an area marked off with 2m (6 feet) taped off zones for waiting your turn to enter. Busy stores will have spaced seats. At the door there is a log to write your name and phone number. The phone number is to assist in contact tracing should someone latter show exposure. There's a spot on the log to note your temperature taken by the attendant. A bottle of hand sanitizer to use once your done with the pen going in, and another bottle at the checkout.  Stores limit the number of people inside based on square footage, actually square meterage.

The photo above might look like I stole it from the HBO Chernobyl special, but its not. These guys are just the hotel staff cleaning the halls on our floor. If you are one of the few traveling now, social distancing hint: one couple per hotel is pretty safe.

The ANA 787  Dreamliner flight out of Malaysia to Japan was basically empty. We each had a row to ourselves with no one seated within a row of us. Friendly crew and decent food. We only had 45 minutes scheduled between our flights in Narita. It was an easy connection, being routed directly from our landing gate to takeoff gate with minimal interaction with anything or anybody. This next flight was also a 787 but operated by United. Not sure the flight attendants were happy to be on this flight based on their attitude. And United has decided for our safety onboard during these stressful times there is no coffee or hot tea, nor any beer or wine. I had about 10 hours on the flight to think about this situation.

Landing in San Francisco at SFO airport was pretty surprising, it being our gateway to the country with the most covid-sars-2 infections in the world. SFO requires face masks, but it's not strictly enforced. Turns out that is the limit of any pretense of protecting the country. No temperature checks on incoming passengers. No one asked us where our travels originated. No suggestions of self-isolation or quarantine. Show your passport and come on in. To be a little more thorough in my story I should also note that we were asked if we had any fresh fruit such as an apple, orange or banana. Hopefully this will protect our indigenous banana plantations from catching the coronavirus. 

We are doing some self isolation in a Holiday Inn in Bellingham right now. It is similar to self isolation on the boat in Rebak except you don't have to march 15 minutes in the scalding heat to the toilet. But, you don't have the beach either. To test the precautions in practice in the US we decided to go to Walmart. We also needed a water filter for our trailer, as the last one broke in the hard freeze we had just before left last time we were here, along with some new cell phone SIM cards. If a good percentage of the customers and staff are being careful at Walmart, you can safely say the country is on a good path to getting over this pandemic. The country isn't on a good path.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Plan I (eye)

It was finally time to make a decision - a decision among the fog of fluid data, The Movement Control Order in Malaysia has lightened up enough to allow most businesses to operate provided they apply for a permit and follow the Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures for their industry. For a typical shop the SOP includes waiting chairs spaced appropriately outside the door for the mask-wearing clients, a log at the door to record your name and phone number, an employee to take your forehead temperature and write it on the log and, finally, some alcohol to wash your hands. I suppose we could follow a similar SOP in the US along with adding a bottle of Lysol or Clorox to take a swig from before entering the store.

The haul out yard at the Rebak Marina started operating late last week, so we decided to haul Georgia. After hauling her put we spent a day and half wrapping her in landscape fabric to give some protection from the scorching heat in the yard.

Now I'm not saying this is a calibrated thermometer, but it sure is representative of how hot it gets here. The remote sensor for this display is in a line-bag in our cockpit. For those more metrically inclined 126*F is about 52*C.

Along with hauling Georgia we purchased flights back to the US of A. We decided that we weren't going to see an opening to move the boat to another country for the next couple of months, at least-- but that's anyone's guess. Top on our list would be the opening of countries across the Indian Ocean on the way to South Africa. We still have a valid permit to stop for awhile in the Chagos Islands in mid-ocean. But we would also need Madagascar or Mayotte to open for foreign yachts to stop, at least to wait for weather and/or to get supplies, and South Africa to open as our final destination. It's not clear these will occur anytime soon.

In addition to checking country closure rules and rumors daily, we looked into shipping Georgia to the Mediterranean. The most cost-effective port and passage would be Thailand to Genoa, Italy. Both of which are currently closed to us. Shipping is very expensive, but it has some appeal as leaving the boat for a year or more in SE Asia isn't cheap or desirable.

Adding to our decision making process was weighing the visa situation in Malaysia. Our visas are up on June 4th and the MCO is up on June 9th. The current understanding of the rules is that we have 14 days after the MCO to leave the country (or possibly 30 days after our visa expiration). You can apply for an in-person meeting with Immigration and ask for an extension with extenuating circumstances -- but no one knows how these are going to go. So we figured we might as well get out early instead of blow another month in lockdown in Malaysia. As much as Rebak Island was a good choice for being locked-down, it's a part of our life we are never going to get back. The big risk for us is that we will not be able to re-enter Malaysia until they ease the entry requirements, which may not be for a long time. Especially if you are coming from a country whose new daily coronavirus cases are 8 to 10 times higher per capita than Malaysia's (that would be the USA).

One reason we decided to haul in Rebak was because they recently have increased the hardstand security by hiring more Security Monitors (Lizards).

Langkawi is located in Kedah state while Kuala Lumpur and the international airport is in Selangor state. Interstate transport is not allowed during the MCO without police permission. Since we are flying through five airports on four flights (Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, Narita Japan, San Francisco and Seattle US) we decided to get some we are healthy paperwork. Above is the results of our 15 minute antibody test: NEGATIVE. The doctor who gave us the test was well gowned in his PPE gear. As I watched the results of the blood sample work its way up the test strip the doctor explained to me how it works. If at the end of the strip there is a single dark line, I'm negative. If the there are two dark lines then we sit there till the ambulance arrives to take me and the doctor to the hospital for a PCR test. (The antibody test was 250 ringgits, usd$57 including office visit and letters at Global Doctors, Cenang.)  

Along with the test paperwork the doctor threw in a Fit to Fly letter with his stamp. We took this letter, along with the letter we received from the US Embassy Kuala Lumpur to the main police station in Kuah, Langkawi (3rd floor on the left). There we got the police travel stamp on the paperwork too.

Masked, Documented and Ready to Fly.

It's the rainy season, or at least one of the rainy seasons, in this part of Asia now. Brings out lots of flowers.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

I Got the All Day Quarantine Blues

I got the all day quarantine blues
Been reading all the daily news
If you gonna avoid the Covid flu
You gotta pay your dues

Malaysian Search and Rescue helicopter flying over a mothballed cruise-ship and while keeping the sea border shut.

Last night the Malaysian Prime Minister announced the extension of the Movement Control Order (MCO) for another two weeks till May 12th. I really expected the extension would come with some relaxation of rules, but so far I haven't heard of any lightening up. Malaysia has been very aggressive in tamping down their new Covid-19 cases.
This graph is the daily new cases of Covid-19 in Malaysia, a not small country of 31 million, showing a clear decline. The MCO restricts movement beyond 10km  of your residence, and only for essentials. It is enforced using police roadblocks and gentle evening text messages to everyone's phone. While most everyone has a cell phone here, they are typically on prepaid plans or limited data plans. The government has setup so all cell companies automatically give each cell phone 1 GB of extra free data each day from 8am to 6pm as an inspiration to stay at home. Compliance to the MCO is generally very good. They do arrest a few scofflaws and place them in a separate detention home to drive the point home in the media. The stories make a big splash when the evil doers are ex-pats.

The testing coverage rate in Malaysia is fairly high. The positive test rate is 4.7%, a strong indication that they are doing significant testing coverage.  WHO recommends a 10% or less rate. The US is at about 20% and South Korea at 3%. Washington state is at 8.3%. Malaysia recently ordered one million rapid test kits from South Korea in the competitive international testing supplies market. Like most other countries, Malaysian health workers have suffered from the pandemic, with a 32 year old nurse dying yesterday from Covid-19.

I am pretty proud to publicly announce that other than in our dreams neither Chris nor I have inflicted anything close to permanent damage on each other. I'm hoping other couples aspire to such lofty goals. 

The next big issue for cruisers here will be expiring visas. During the MCO all of our visas are being automatically extended. The current understanding of the rules is that when the MCO is lifted we will have 14 days to leave the country. Unfortunately there is nowhere open to take our boat to, other than the US, and it isn't clear we will be allowed back in if we fly out, leaving the boat behind.

Cruisers here in Langkawi certainly have it far better than our friends who are a third of the way across the Indian Ocean in The Maldives. The densely populated main city, Male, has had a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases. The islands have been shut to the country's primary industry, tourism, for months and they recently had a terrorist attack that burned down official boats near Male. The agent that is dealing with the 15 cruising boats recently sent a long message to them that included this note from the Coast Guard:
The coastguard commander asked me to inform you that he is suggesting to all the yachts to be prepared to leave the country in case the situation gets out of control. Which means in case of emergency you must all make back up plan about your next destination from Maldives. Of course they will not ask you or command you to leave the country without sufficient food supplies and water and fuel. They are not heartless. They completely understand the gravity of the situation. They assured us in a case like that they will facilitate the necessary means to provide sufficient food supplies and fuel, water and make arrangements. 
Most all of these boats would like to sail off, the problem is there are few, if any, places that will allow them in. Hopefully they will work out a decent plan in the next week or so.

Stay healthy and hang in there