Sunday, May 24, 2020

Africa Reclaims Sovereign Right
24 MAY, 2020
Sunday Mail Reporters

AFRICA is reclaiming its sovereign right to deal with challenges facing the continent – through solving conflicts, rallying member states to lobby for the removal of sanctions and fighting disease outbreaks.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail to mark Africa Day, South African Ambassador to Zimbabwe, His Excellency Mphakama Mbete, said Africa should take the lead in formulating solutions for current and future global challenges.

South Africa is the current chair of the African Union (AU).

He said the continent could achieve this through multilateral collaboration, and strengthening its research and public health resilience systems.

This comes as Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister, Dr Sibusiso Moyo, has pointed out the positive action taken by AU chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, who recently appointed special envoys, among other interventions, in the continent’s efforts to combat Covid-19.

Ambassador Mbete said Africa should exploit the use of indigenous knowledge systems as part of the broader efforts of finding a cure for the contagion.

He said the AU was structuring debt relief and economic stimulus packages with international finance institutions (IFIs) for African nations affected by the pandemic, including Zimbabwe.

As part of the interstate collaboration, South African medical experts had begun working with Madagascan authorities to authenticate the efficacy of a herbal remedy being used in the island nation to prevent and cure Covid-19.

Madagascar is promoting Covid-Organics, a herbal tea previously used to cure malaria in the country but is now being used as a treatment regimen for Covid-19.

“I would say the underlying and fundamental solution is to do what we are already trying to do,” said Ambassador Mbete.

“We have to accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2063, our strategic blueprint for the future. If we attend to that as best as we can, we begin to anticipate and solve problems that can come in the future.

“But it’s very important to intensify co-operation between our institutions in the area of science, technology, research and innovation. We have got to strengthen the body of science, technology, research and innovation in Africa so that we are in a position to apply solutions that are African-born and African-led.”

He said the continent was actively lobbying for assistance, including the removal of sanctions for African countries that are struggling with containing the pandemic.

He said IFIs should offer economic stimulus packages for countries in need.

“It is not only countries that are under sanctions that have been affected and need assistance. We are calling on the world and international finance institutions in particular, to stay debts that these countries owe.

“We are calling on IFIs and the international community in general to help these countries  . . . (with) economic stimulus packages to assist them through this difficult situation.”

The AU, said Ambassador Mbete, has created a multi-million dollar fund to assist countries’ response to the coronavirus.

In a separate interview, Dr Moyo said Africa Day is a time to reflect on the common challenges that the continent faces.

“May 25 will forever be a special day across the African continent, a day to remind ourselves of our rich and diverse history and aspirations, evaluate the progress made in advancing the principles of democracy and governance, peace and stability, development as well as celebrating the continent’s togetherness and unity in purpose,” said Dr Moyo.

“This year’s theme is in line with Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063, which speaks about a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. This is in line with the country’s Vision 2030 of an upper middle-income economy.”

Dr Moyo said although this year’s Africa Day celebrations will be subdued due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the AU under the leadership of President Ramaphosa had made significant interventions to fight coronavirus.

“While the virus is present in all African countries, most have recorded fewer than 1 000 cases. After the first case was reported in February 2020, the African Union acted swiftly, endorsing a joint continental strategy, and complementing efforts by member states and regional economic communities by providing a public health platform,” said Dr Moyo.

“The African Union Chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa, appointed four special envoys to mobilise international support for Africa’s efforts to address the economic fallout of Covid-19.

“The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) began to curate real time information, in close collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Africa CDC’s new Partnership on Accelerated Covid-19 Testing (PACT), which aims to test 10 million people within six months, complements Government efforts while building important inroads into promoting knowledge-based pandemic management.”

Dr Moyo said the Africa CDC has established the Africa Covid-19 Response Fund in collaboration with the public-private AfroChampions initiative, to raise an initial US$150 million for immediate needs and up to US$400 million to support a sustained health response and socio-economic assistance to the most vulnerable populations in Africa.

Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (now AU) on May 25,1963, which is celebrated globally.
LEVEL 3: ALL THE LOCKDOWN REGULATION CHANGES COME 1 JUNE
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday confirmed that the entire country would move from level 4 to level 3 lockdown with effect from 1 June 2020.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: @PresidencyZA/Twitter

Thapelo Lekabe
Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG – President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening addressed the nation on the government’s risk-adjusted plan to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the country.

His address followed recent meetings of Cabinet, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), and the President’s Coordinating Council.

These are all the changes you can expect come 1 June:

ALERT LEVEL 3

Ramaphosa announced that the entire country would move from level 4 to level 3 lockdown with effect from 1 June 2020. He also warned that some areas could go back to levels 4 or 5, depending on their progress.

“Moving to alert level 3 marks a significant shift in our approach to the pandemic. This will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people, while significantly expanding and intensifying our public health interventions,” he said.

ALCOHOL SALES

The president announced that the sale of alcohol would be allowed on certain days and for limited hours, with the details expected to be announced soon.

“Announcements in this regard will be made once we have concluded discussions with the sector on the various conditions,” he said.

TOBACCO PRODUCTS

But the sale of tobacco is still prohibited under the alert level 3 for COVID-19.

“The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert level 3 due to the health risks associated with smoking,” Ramaphosa said.

GATHERINGS

Ramaphosa said all gatherings would remain prohibited, except for funerals with no more than 50 people or meetings in the workplace for work purposes.

“Any place open to the public where cultural, sporting, entertainment, recreational, exhibitional, organisational or similar activities may take place will remain closed,” he said.

FAITH-BASED COMMUNITIES

The president said the government had “fruitful discussions” with leaders of the interfaith religious community on their proposals for the partial opening of spiritual worship and counselling services subject to certain norms and standards.

He said they had all agreed to have further discussions on this issue, saying they were confident a workable solution would be found.

INFECTIONS AND DEATHS

Ramaphosa announced that as of Sunday, South Africa had 22,583 confirmed coronavirus cases and 429 people had died.

“There are now just over 11,000 active coronavirus cases in the country,” he said. “Of these, 842 patients are in hospital and 128 of these are in intensive care.”

Tests conducted stood at over 580,000 and more than 12 million screenings were done nationwide.

“There are nearly 60,000 community health workers who have been going door-to-door across the country to identify possible cases of coronavirus,” Ramaphosa said.

EXPECTED INCREASE IN INFECTIONS

The president said as scientists had predicted, the infections in South Africa had now started to rise sharply.

“One-third of the cumulative confirmed cases were recorded in the last week alone. And we should expect that these numbers will rise even further and even faster,” he said.

Ramaphosa said in preparation for the expected increase in infections, around 20,000 hospital beds had been repurposed for COVID-19 cases, and 27 field hospitals were being built around the country.

“A number of these hospitals are ready to receive coronavirus patients,” he said.

EXERCISE

Ramaphosa said under alert level 3, people would also be able to exercise at any time during the day, provided this is not done in groups.

Under level 4 lockdown, exercise was allowed from 6:00 to 8:00.

CURFEW

Ramaphosa said the curfew on the movement of people that was implemented under level 4 lockdown from 20:00 to 05:00 would be lifted when the country moves to level 3 on 1 June.

COVID-19 HOTSPOT AREAS

Ramaphosa said Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City, and Cape Town were identified as coronavirus hotspots in terms of metros in the country.

He said the government was particularly concerned about the situation in Cape Town and the Western Cape generally, which now had more than half the total infections in the country.

“A hotspot is defined as an area that has more than 5 infected people per every 100,000 people or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace,” he said.

The other areas that were hotspots included West Coast, Overberg and Cape Winelands district municipalities in the Western Cape, Chris Hani district in the Eastern Cape, and iLembe District in KwaZulu-Natal.

The president said the list of hotspot areas would be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus.

“We are attending to this as a matter of urgency,” he said.

ECONOMIC SECTORS TO REOPEN

All manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, information technology, communications, government services and media services, would commence full reopening from 1 June, Ramaphosa said.

However, he said this would be subject to protocols put in place at workplaces to ensure the health and safety of employees.

“In opening up the economy, we will rely on social compacts with all key role players to address the key risk factors at the workplace and in the interface between employees and the public,” Ramaphosa said.

“We will therefore be finalising a number of sector protocols and will require every company to develop a workplace plan before they re-open,” he added.

He said companies would need to screen workers on arrival each day, quarantine those who may be infected, and make arrangements for them to be tested. This also included contact tracing if employees tested positive.

Employees who could work from home and those with underlying health conditions were encouraged to work from home.

MORE ON SECTORS TO REOPEN

Wholesale and retail trade under level 3 lockdown would be fully opened, including stores, spaza shops and informal traders. E-commerce would continue to remain open.

“Other sectors that opened previously, such as agriculture and forestry, utilities, medical services, food production and manufacture of hygiene products, will remain fully opened,” Ramaphosa said.

HIGH-RISK ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES

The president announced that certain high-risk economic activities would remain prohibited. These included restaurants, bars and taverns. But, except for delivery or collection of food.

Accommodation and domestic air travel is still prohibited, except for business travel, which would be phased in on dates to be announced.

Conferences, events, entertainment and sporting activities, personal care services, including hairdressing, and beauty services are still banned.

EDUCATION

Regarding the reopening of schools from 1 June for grades 7 and 12 pupils, Ramaphosa said government’s priority was on the health and well-being of learners, students, educators and workers in these institutions.

The president said it was understandable that there was some concern about the reopening of schools, saying no parent would be forced to send their child to school if they were worried about safety.

“We are also concerned about the growth and development of our children and that an entire generation of learners should not be permanently disadvantaged by this pandemic,” he said.

“We are therefore taking a cautious and phased approach to the re-opening of schools, guided by medical advice and in consultation with all stakeholders,” he added.

COVID-19 VACCINE

Ramaphosa said South Africa was part of global efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine. He said the government was supporting and funding several research projects, including a plan to locally manufacture coronavirus vaccines as soon as candidates were available.

“We have known all along that the lockdown would only delay the spread of the virus, but that it would not be able to stop it. Until there is a vaccine available to all, the coronavirus will continue to spread in our population. This means that we must get used to living with the coronavirus for some time to come,” Ramaphosa said.
Ethiopian PM, Sudanese PM Agree to Continue Technical Discussion on GERD
PM ABiy Ahmed and his team having virtual meeting with Sudanese counter part . Photo credit : OPM

Borkena
May 21, 2020

Days after a high-level Sudanese delegation concluded two days of political consultation in Addis Ababa regarding border issues and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed and Sudanese PM Abdalla Hamdok held a virtual meeting on outstanding issues of the dam.

According to information from the office of Ethiopian Prime Minister, the two countries have agreed to continue ministerial-level technical discussions. 

Water Ministers from the two countries (they have attended the virtual meeting with the Prime Ministers of the two countries), will carry on the discussion.

“Together with my Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Water Affairs, I had the pleasure of having a virtual discussion with my brother Prime Minister Abdala Hamdok on an amicable solution to outstanding GERD issues,” Abiy Ahmed wrote on his social media page soon after the meeting with his Sudanese counterpart.

Furthermore, he said “we have agreed to continue with technical level engagements through our Water Ministers tasked to discuss outstanding issues and arrive at win-win solutions. I also reiterated the economic advantages of the GERD for all that we can seize through the spirit of collaboration.”

This week, the Sudan Tribune reported that Sudan and Egypt are on the same page about tripartite talks before Ethiopia started filling GERD. “Sudan and Egypt agreed on Tuesday that a tripartite agreement is crucial for the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)’s reservoir,” said Sudan Tribune report which was published on Tuesday.

The agreement was reached following a phone conversation between Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly of Egypt soon after the return of Sudanese delegation from Ethiopia.

The spokesperson of the United Nations issued a statement on Tuesday in which it encouraged the three countries (Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia) to emphasize “cooperation based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win, and the principles of international law.”

As mistrust towards the United States as a neutral mediator on GERD, which is manifested in the letter that the US treasury department published in late February, public opinion in Ethiopia is swinging towards the position that Ethiopia should not return to US-brokered agreement.

Irrigation, Water and Energy Minister of Ethiopia, Seleshi Bekele, has disclosed this week that the construction of GERD is completed 73 percent and that Ethiopia intends to fill the reservoir with 4.9 billion cubic meters of water during the coming rainy seasons.
Chairperson of African Union Commission Statement on the Recent Developments Related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) 
May 23, 2020

Addis Ababa -The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat,welcomes the recent developments related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and commends the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Republic of Sudan for agreeing to resume technical level engagements through their Water Ministers to resolve outstanding differences and reach an amicable solution.

The Chairperson further encourages the tripartite to pursue their engagements in good faith, guided by principles of cooperation, common understanding and transparency, as stipulated in the 2015 Declaration of Principles on the GERD.

The AU Commission stands ready to assist all parties in finding a peaceful resolution and achieving a mutually beneficial agreement.

Source : MFAE
Egypt Agrees with Proposal to Return to Tripartite Talk on Ethiopian Dam
The tripartite talk to return negotiation process back to the African soil. Unlike Egypt’s interest, Ethiopia’s position is that the talk is about the dam, not the entire Nile River

Borkena
May 22, 2020

Weeks after lodging protest letter to the United Nations Security Council against Ethiopia’s move to conduct the first phase of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,

Egypt expressed this week a willingness to resume tripartite negotiations.

According to Aljazeera, Egypt shifted its position following the meeting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Sudanese Counterpart, Abdalla Hamdok, which happened on Thursday. 

The Foreign Ministry of Egypt said on Thursday that “Egypt is always ready to enter into negotiations and participate in upcoming meetings … to reach a fair, balanced and comprehensive agreement,” as quoted by Aljazeera.

Egypt has been pushing Ethiopia to go back to the US-brokered Washington negotiation before starting to fill the dam. Ethiopia insisted that filling the dam in the first phase does not violate international law.

This week, a spokesperson of the United Nations Secretary-General issued a statement in which it encouraged Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to resume negotiation in accordance with the Declaration of Principles which the three countries signed in Khartoum in 2015.

Ethiopian Water experts say that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Egypt thinks that it has offered what it called a “fair” technical proposal – one that “…takes into account the interests of Ethiopia and its electricity needs from the dam, without seriously damaging the Egyptian water interests and its share of water estimated at 55.5 billion cubic meters according to the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement.” For Ethiopia, colonial agreement, which it did not sign, does not work now.

Ethiopia’s dam project is informed by the need to give 65 percent of its population access to electricity and a reliable power supply for investors interested in investing in the manufacturing sector in Ethiopia.

Sudan’ position

Sudan held, for years, a position that the Ethiopian Dam, over 73 percent of which is completed, is in line with its national interest. Last week, Sudan changed position when it declined to agree with the Ethiopian proposal before Ethiopia started its first phase of filling the dam during this coming rainy season. That same week, Sudan sent High-level delegation to Ethiopia to discuss the border issue and GERD.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia said that an agreement has been reached with Sudanese delegation without giving details of it. However, it disclosed that the two high-level delegations will meet again in Khartoum at the end of June this year.

Sudanese Prime Minister meeting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came within 24 hours after the Sudanese delegation returned home from Ethiopia.

Soon after a virtual meeting with Abdalla Hamdok, Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed disclosed that Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed “…to continue with technical level engagements through our Water Ministers tasked to discuss outstanding issues and arrive at win-win solutions…”

It turns out that Egypt agreed to be part of the negotiation. However, it is unclear when the tripartite talk is resuming and where it will happen.
Egyptian Police Kill 21 Suspected Terrorists in North Sinai, Foiling Attack Plots: Ministry
Saturday, 23 May 2020 2:17 PM
presstv.ir

The file photo shows a number of Egyptian security forces.

Egyptian security forces have killed 21 suspected Takfiri terrorists in the restive North Sinai region, part of a terror group that the interior ministry says was planning to carry out attacks during Eid al-Fitr holiday. 

According to a statement by the Ministry of Interior on Saturday, 14 Takfiri terrorists were killed during a raid on their hideout, located in a farm in the volatile region, earlier in the day. The police forces found 13 automatic rifles, three explosive devices, an explosive belt and a wireless radio in the hideout. 

It added that based on received intelligence the slain terrorists were plotting and training for terror attacks during Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the new lunar month of Shawwal and the end of holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The statement further explained that the some other terrorists were also using a house in Bir al-Abd area as a foothold from which they were planning to launch terrorist attacks during the holiday, saying that seven terrorist were also killed in a raid on the house, where found four automatic rifles, two explosive devices, and an explosive belt were found.

The ministry also said both raids were conducted concurrently and that two police officers were wounded during the operation.

The Sinai Peninsula has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, after a deadly terrorist attack left 33 Egyptian soldiers dead.

Over the past few years, terrorists have been engaged in anti-government activities and fatal attacks in Egypt, taking advantage of the turmoil that erupted after the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup in July 2013.

The Velayat Sinai group, which is affiliated with the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group, has claimed responsibility for most of the assaults.

Back in February 2018, the Egyptian army launched a full-scale counter-terrorism campaign after a terror attack in North Sinai that claimed the lives of more than 300 people at a mosque.

Since then, over 840 suspected militants have been killed in the region, according to army figures, along with more than 60 security personnel.
Bomb Blast Kills Five, Injures 20 in Somalia
Sunday, 24 May 2020 5:42 PM
presstv.ir

This file photo shows people gathering at the site where a car bomb exploded near the Somali parliament in Mogadishu, Somalia, on January 8, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

A bomb explosion has left at least five people dead and injured more than 20 others during Eid al-Fitr celebrations in Somalia.

"The initial information we have received indicates the dead bodies of five people were collected from the scene of the blast," Mohamed Muktar, a police officer said from Baidoa, about 250 kilometres (150 miles) west of the capital Mogadishu.

He said the death toll could rise as some of the injured were in critical condition.

"The number of wounded people is over 20 including women and children, so that death toll could increase because some of these people are seriously wounded."

Local residents and witnesses said the blast was carried out at a site where people had gathered to enjoy the Eid festivities, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

No group has yet claimed responsibility; however, the deadly attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab terrorists.

A car bomb explodes at a busy security checkpoint in the Somali capital, killing at least 76 people.
Somalia has faced instability and violence since 1991, when the military government was overthrown.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab terrorist group has been wreaking havoc in Somalia for more than a decade.

In 2011, the terrorist group was pushed out of Somalia’s capital city with the help of African Union forces. However, al-Shabab still carries out deadly terrorist attacks against government, military, and civilian targets in the capital, as well as regional towns.

Al-Shabab has fought successive Somali governments as well as governments in neighboring Kenya and Uganda.

Earlier this year, the terrorist group launched an attack against a military base used by US and Kenyan forces in neighboring Kenya.
Eight Militants Killed in Ivorian-Burkinabe Operation: Ivory Coast Army
Sunday, 24 May 2020 5:11 PM
presstv.ir

This file photo shows soldiers in Bouake, the Ivory Coast. (Photo by AFP)

Eight militants have been killed and another 38 captured in a joint operation by Burkinabe and Ivorian forces near the two countries' shared border, the Ivory Coast army said Sunday.

The captured men – 24 in Burkina Faso and 14 in Ivory Coast – were handed over to intelligence services, a source at Ivorian army headquarters told AFP, adding that a "terrorist base" was destroyed at Alidougou in Burkina Faso.

The joint operation also seized arms, ammunition, USB keys and cell phones, the source said.

Operation "Comoe", named after a river that flows through the two countries, was launched in early May, the source said, praising the "perfect coordination between the two armies".

The fighting took place near the northeastern Ivorian city of Ferkessedougou and Banfora in southwestern Burkina Faso -- although a Burkinabe security source had said Saturday that the entire operation was carried out in Ivory Coast.

The Ivorian army source said Sunday that "no terrorist base exists on Ivorian territory which may have served as a zone of refuge during previous offensives" by the Burkinabe army.

A Burkina Faso military source told AFP that a Burkinabe soldier was wounded and hospitalized in Korhogo, in northern Ivory Coast.

The presence of militants to the north of Ivory Coast's Comoe national park was detected more than a year ago.

Security sources say they are militants operating in Burkina Faso who shelter in Ivory Coast.

Militant violence in Burkina Faso has claimed nearly 900 lives since 2015.

(Source: AFP)
Afghan President to Free Up to 2,000 Taliban Inmates as ‘Goodwill Gesture’
Sunday, 24 May 2020 5:45 PM
presstv.ir

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has initiated a process to release up to 2,000 imprisoned Taliban militants as a “goodwill gesture” in response to a three-day ceasefire offered by the the militant group.

A peace deal inked between the United States and the Taliban on February 28 stipulated that the Taliban stop their attacks on international forces in return for the US military’s phased withdrawal from war-wracked Afghanistan and also a prisoner exchange between the group and the government in Kabul, which was excluded from the talks.

The Afghan government, which is not a signatory to the deal, is required to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners. The militants, for their part, are obliged to free 1,000 government captives in return.

Kabul has so far released some 1,000 Taliban prisoners while the group has freed around 300 Afghan security force personnel.

“President Ghani today initiated a process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture in response to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire during Eid [al-Fitr]. The AFG Gov is extending the offer of peace and is taking further steps to ensure success of the peace process,” Ghani's spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter on Sunday.

In his televised statement on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, Ghani announced earlier in the day that the release of the Taliban prisoners would be expedited and that Kabul called on the militant group to expedite the release of the government security and defense captives.

He also wished a happy Eid al-Fitr to all Afghans and said the peace process required cooperation between the two sides and work to remove its hurdles.

“I once again welcome the ceasefire announced by the Taliban, I also instructed the Afghan Security Forces to observe ceasefire, too,” the Afghan president further said, stressing that Kabul’s negotiating team was ready to commence intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible.

The prisoner swap is regarded as a confidence-building move ahead of long-awaited peace talks between Kabul and the militant group, which rejected a government offer of truce for the duration of Ramadan and continued its attacks.

The Afghan government negotiators are henceforth headed by Ghani’s former bitter rival, Abdullah Abduallh, after the two inked a power sharing agreement last week that put an end to a months-long political crisis in the war-ravaged country.

Nearly 14,000 US troops and 17,000 troops from NATO allies and partner countries remain stationed in Afghanistan years after the invasion of the country that toppled a Taliban regime in 2001.
3 Civilians Killed as Saudi-led Warplanes Hit Northern Yemen on Eid al-Fitr
Sunday, 24 May 2020 5:39 PM
presstv.ir

Smoke billows following an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on February 23, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

At least three civilian have been killed in air raids by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s mountainous northwestern province of Sa’ada as people were celebrating Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The Arabic-language al-Masirah television network reported on Sunday afternoon that Saudi-led military aircraft hit a highway in Maran area of the Haydan district, leaving three people dead and as many injured.

Later in the day, an 8-year-old boy sustained injuries when Saudi-backed militiamen loyal to Yemen's former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, shelled a residential area in the al-Durayhimi district of the western Yemeni coastal province of Hudaydah.

Separately, the spokesman for Yemen’s Armed Forces stated that Saudi-led warplanes had launched 48 air raids against various targets across the impoverished and crisis-plagued Arab country over the past few hours.

Brigadier General Yahya Saree said nine airstrikes were launched in the Majzar district of Yemen’s central province of Ma’rib, whilst Saudi-led jets pounded different neighborhoods in the northern Yemeni province of al-Jawf on six occasions.

He went on say that Saudi-led jets carried out 15 airstrikes against Abs and Harad districts in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah. A total of 18 raids were mounted by Saudi-led aircraft against Maran, Malahit and Baqim districts of Sa’ada province.

Saree, however, did not provide any information about possible casualties and the extent of damage caused.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in order to bring Hadi back to power and crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past five years.

More than half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or closed during the war by the Saudi-led coalition, which is supported militarily by the UK, US and other Western nations.

At least 80 percent of the 28 million-strong population is also reliant on aid to survive in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Covid-19 Gaps Worry Zimbabwe First Lady
 23 MAY, 2020

First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa reads notes taken by one of the senior citizens during her interactive session on Covid-19 awareness in Mberengwa yesterday. — Picture: John Manzongo

Tendai Rupapa in the MIDLANDS PROVINCE
Zimbabwe Herald

FIRST Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa yesterday came face-to-face with knowledge gaps in rural communities in relation to Covid-19, as she wound up her week-long tour of the Midlands Province, during which she held interactive meetings with the elderly to tackle issues of domestic violence, child abuse and the deadly pandemic.

Mbuya Ennia Ncube told Amai Mnangagwa that sleeping under a mosquito net helped prevent Covid-19, a clear sign that she did not have adequate information on the pandemic and fears are that there could be many other people sharing the same view.

With confidence, Mbuya Ncube said from the information she had on Covid-19, mosquito nets were one of the effective measures to prevent the pandemic.

She was unhappy with people using mosquito nets for fishing, yet they could be used to prevent mosquitoes from transmitting coronavirus from one person to the other.

The First Lady, who is the country’s health ambassador with a passion for the welfare of the elderly and other vulnerable groups in society, quickly corrected her and concluded that more still needed to be done to get information on the disease to everyone.

So far, the First Lady has visited Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Midlands provinces with her teams from Angel of Hope Foundation to allow everyone countrywide access to information on the pandemic.

The programme is being taken to all the country’s provinces.

According to Ministry of Health and Child Care statistics, Zimbabwe has lost four people to Covid-19 as the number of those affected keeps rising. During the meetings, the First Lady is also distributing foodstuffs, blankets, home-made face masks and sanitisers to the elderly.

Through her Angel of Hope foundation, she is also donating personal protective equipment, sanitisers, knapsack sprayers and disinfect to rural clinics among other things.

The First Lady’s programmes are non-partisan and benefit every citizen.

Her intervention in rural areas comes at a time when the country is under lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has killed thousands of people across the globe.

In her meetings here yesterday, the First Lady sought to know what the communities understood about Covid-19 before sharing with them valuable information on how to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

She was charmed to notice that her audience had notebooks for reference and to share with others who did not attend.

The First Lady, who showed her other side as an excellent communicator, explained in detail the reasons behind the quarantining of returning residents and urged communities not to view the measure as punishment.

“The President invited citizens to come back home and they are being quarantined to preserve life. The current lockdown is necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It’s not a punishment and we should follow the lockdown rules.

“No treatment has been found as yet and we do not know when the cure will be found. We want to have an interactive discussion and I want everyone to participate. We should all leave this session with correct information on the pandemic,” she said.

The First Lady implored those who would have spent time with her to be good ambassadors who share information on the disease with others to save life.

One villager expressed dismay that some churches viewed the lockdown as a way of stopping them from worshipping, adding that anyone could pray even alone in their homes, until after the end of the pandemic.

Sekuru Davison Musvobi said at funerals, health authorities had to play a leading role in ensuring that the disease did not spread, adding that people in rural areas were still gathering in large numbers at funerals.

The First Lady sought to know if couples were not troubling each other during the lockdown, resulting a spike in domestic violence cases.

She also spoke strongly against women who spend long times “gossiping” at boreholes without observing social distance, saying this could increase the rate of infection and cost many precious lives.

However, the First Lady said people should not discriminate against those who test positive for Covid-19 as stigmatisation did not carry the nation forward.

In no-holds-barred discussions, villagers openly admitted that domestic violence remained a big challenge in the communities, though most of the cases went unreported.

“When beaten by my husband at times I do not report for fear of getting him arrested. We grew up knowing that it’s improper to get your husband arrested as this will result in loneliness,” said one of the attendees.

The First Lady said newspapers were awash with reports of old men who rape their grandchildren and urged people to always report such cases to the police to nip the practices in the bud.

Dr Gabriel Ndagurwa, the District Medical Officer for Mberengwa, said they had intensified their surveillance systems to prevent villagers from getting into contact with people of unknown health status and those from affected areas.

“Most rural communities were already burdened with underlying conditions. According to the general population distribution, we have most of the elderly living in rural areas, so much of our population here in the district is at risk of getting Covid-19.

“If you look at international statistics, they show that old age is associated with the high risk of getting the disease and the outcome is generally poor, especially if associated with other conditions which are usually there in the elderly like diabetes and other chronic illnesses like asthma and heart diseases as well.

“Our elderly population is at risk, but we are on the lookout for any risk factors like those who come from outside the country. We have some border jumpers coming into the district and we are using our surveillance systems to get information on those who come through undesignated areas.

“We are watching closely to avoid contacts with people who have unknown status and those we are getting from outside the country, we are directing them to the provincial quarantine facility in Gweru,” said Dr Ndagurwa.

From Mberengwa, the First Lady proceeded to Zvishavane-Runde Constituency for more interactive sessions with the elderly, while her teams from Angel of Hope were dotted around Mberengwa North, Mberengwa East and Zvishavane-Ngezi where they spent time with the elderly.

The First Lady’s meetings have earned her praises since she is visiting areas that most people shun owing to their proximity to cities and bad roads.

Her down to earth and accessibility have helped people speak out on issues that concern them, while ensuring their health needs are covered.
Majoro Sworn-in as Lesotho Premier
 21 MAY, 2020
 
MASERU. — Lesotho officially has a new prime minister. It’s now former Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro was sworn-in yesterday morning to seal his appointment by King Letsie III.

Dignitaries and diplomats attended the ceremony in Maseru. Outgoing Prime Minister Tom Thabane symbolically handed over to the incoming Majoro.

Thabane resigned officially on Tuesday after battles with rival factions in his own party, as well as growing discontent around his leadership from other political parties and the public.

Majoro said he owed his political career to Thabane who recruited him in 2013 as development minister.

The 59-year-old economist said he would hit the ground running, tackling Covid-19, food security, youth unemployment and independence of state institutions.

He is now expected to appoint his Cabinet from at least the two parties in the new coalition government.

The 59-year-old Majoro is an economist who was once a director of the IMF.

He was nominated as prime minister after Thabane’s four-party coalition collapsed, relegating Thabane to the position of caretaker prime minister.

In an interview with Eyewitness News last week, Majoro said he had no choice but to make the Covid-19 response his first priority when he took over, saying COVID-19 and food security would be his main priorities.

Majoro is well aware of the health service challenges facing Lesotho. He has always maintained he doesn’t believe that the country does not have any Covid-19 cases but the first one is now confirmed.

“We have to double our efforts to know how much infection is in our community. We moved in with lockdown too early and the impact on the economy was immense, but we have a little bit more capacity.”

— Witness News.
What is Happening in Burundi, After the May 20 Elections?
FABRICE IRANZI
MAY 23, 2020

After a relatively calm election day on Wednesday, the following day was even more peaceful according to the police reports. The whole country is now waiting for the announcement of the provisional results. The Internet is restored in Burundi, but the Iwacu newspaper website is not accessible.

The head of the Burundi Electoral Commission (CENI) urges those who are counting votes to do it carefully and ensure that the outcome is not disputed.

Dr. Pierre-Claver Kazihise, the head of CENI, told media that the first stage after the elections was to collect data from the polling stations.

In an interview, Mr. Kazihise explained to the public that the process of counting the election results is a difficult task that had to take time. Commentators say that five or six days between elections and the announcement of the outcome of the interim are many.

Thursday evening on the television news, Media Synergy supervised by the Ministry of Communication, announced the results of just over 12% of Burundian municipalities.

The score attributed to the candidate of the ruling party, Evariste Ndayishimiye, in these municipalities scattered throughout the country, ranges from almost 80%, against less than 20% for Agathon Rwasa his main opponent.

“I reject them, they are fanciful results, they do not stick to reality,” Agathon Rwasa told RFI, ensuring to have at his disposal “proofs” of what he claims.

The candidate of the CNL Party affirms to have followed closely the results of the poll in the various provinces of Burundi.

“Since yesterday, we have been trying to follow the count. Across the country, the observation is that the CNL comes first. Whether for the presidential, for the legislative or for the municipal elections. All that we wish for all Burundians, especially the CENI and the constitutional court, is to be responsible. “said Agathon Rwasa.

A spokesman for the CNL party said more than 200 members of the party were detained in all provinces of Burundi on Wednesday. Some were released on the same day when they found no valid charges against them.

Terence Manirambona, a spokesman for the CCNL party, said that even on Thursday some people had been arrested in connection with the election.

International Community

In a  Briefing With Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor Nagy on U.S. Support for Combating COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, Tribor Nagy, the Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs notes that the people of Burundi went to the polls and urges all sides to refrain from provocations or violence, to respect the democratic rights of all citizens, and to use established legal processes to address potential grievances.

“I am optimistic about the potential for progress in the U.S.-Burundi relationship following these elections”, he said

The Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Philippe Goffin, called on Thursday, in a statement released after the presidential, legislative and municipal elections in Burundi, Burundian political actors to work for a “peaceful management” of the post-election in this small country of ‘Central Africa.

“We salute the efforts made by the Burundian citizens who resolutely engaged, for some at the cost of their lives or their physical integrity, in the electoral process which led to the triple ballot of this May 20. A crucial step in the consolidation of the political and institutional stability of the country, “said the head of Belgian diplomacy in a statement.

Mr. Philippe Goffin urges all political actors to systematically defuse any speech and any action likely to jeopardize the good democratic end of this electoral process.

He called political actors to work together in order to create the conditions for the peaceful management of the post-electoral phase which respects the will expressed by the voter.

Fabrice Iranzi, RegionWeek.com
African Country Burundi Continues Playing Football Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Representative Image. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Burundi's league, which featured no social distancing rules in the stands, is heading towards a potentially thrilling climax.

AFP JOHANNESBURG
MAY 23, 2020, 11:54 AM IST

Burundi are the only African country to continue playing football during the coronavirus pandemic, with the league heading toward a potentially thrilling climax.

Musongati FC drew 3-3 with Athletico Academy in midweek to close the gap behind leaders Le Messager Ngozi to three points with three rounds of the Primus Ligue remaining.

Ngozi are seeking a second title and Musongati a first, and both have two home and one away fixtures ahead with the 30-round season scheduled to finish on June 28.

While top-level football in all other African countries was suspended or cancelled by the Covid-19 outbreak, Burundi decided to carry on playing.

Spectators who saw Musongati surrender two points after conceding a late goal to Athletico in the capital city, Gitega, adhered to some anti-virus precautions, but not others.

The temperature of everyone entering the 10,000-capacity Stade Ingoma was checked and sanitiser sprayed on their hands.

But there was no social distancing in the stands and terraces with many spectators seated next to each other.

Many players also flouted behavioural guidance given to footballers, hugging each other and touching the hands of team-mates when celebrating goals.

"After consulting with the public health minister, a decision was reached to continue with the first and second division championships," said a national football federation spokesman.

FLOCKED TO POLLING STATIONS

Other countries who opted to continue domestic leagues as the coronavirus claimed thousands of lives across the globe included Belarus, Nicaragua and Tajikistan.

The match in Gitega, which replaced Bujumbura as capital of the tiny, densely populated east African nation this year, marked the return of football after a break for elections.

Millions of Burundians flocked to polling stations Wednesday to choose a successor to Pierre Nkurunziza as president, and also elect parliamentarians and local councillors.

Apart from league fixtures on May 30/31 and June 20/21 and 27-28, Burundi also plan to complete the country's FA Cup competition, which is at the semi-finals stage.

The league and cup winners will qualify for the 2020/21 CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup competitions, which are scheduled to kick off on August 7.

The best performance by a Burundian club in a CAF competition was Vital'O reaching the 1992 final of the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup.

Vital'O were held 1-1 at home by Africa Sports of the Ivory Coast in the first leg and lost the return match 4-0 in Abidjan.
Record Virus Infections, Deaths Are Ravaging Latin America
By DAVID BILLER and CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN

Cemetery musician Victor Dzib Cima, 70, plays his accordion as he waits for clients while cemetery workers remove coffins from gravesites that belonged to families who stopped paying rent at the San Nicolas Tolentino Pantheon, where he has worked for tips for 22 years, in the Iztapalapa area of Mexico City, Friday, May 22, 2020. The cemetery is making space for more burials amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is custom for cemeteries in Mexico to rent, instead of sell, grave sites. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A surging coronavirus is ravaging parts of Latin America, setting records for cases and deaths Friday in some countries in the world’s most unequal region even as the pandemic’s march slows in much of Europe, Asia and the United States.

Latin America’s two largest nations — Mexico and Brazil — reported record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily this week, fueling criticism of their presidents, who have slow-walked shutdowns in an attempt to limit economic damage.

Brazil reported more than 330,000 confirmed cases as of Friday, surpassing Russia to become the nation with the second-highest number of infections, behind only the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil also has recorded more than 21,000 deaths, though experts believe the true numbers are higher.

The virus “does not forgive,” Uber driver Bruno Almeida de Mello said at the burial of his grandmother Vandelma Rosa, 66, in Rio de Janeiro. “It does not choose race or if you are rich or poor, black or white. It’s a cruel disease.”

De Mello said his grandmother’s death certificate reads “suspected of COVID-19,” but the hospital didn’t have the tests necessary to confirm it. That means her death was not counted in the official toll.

Experts said the surging deaths across Latin America showed the limits of government action in a region where millions have informal jobs and many police forces are weak or corrupt and unable to enforce restrictions. Infections also rose and intensive-care units were swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

Even in countries where cases are rising, many governments say they need to focus on jobs that are vanishing as quickly as the virus spreads.

In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, unemployment is soaring. The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve has estimated that as many as 1 in 4 Americans could be jobless. In China, analysts estimate around a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.

In the U.S., public health officials are warning people to follow social distancing and other anti-virus measures as they head into a three-day holiday weekend that honors the country’s military dead. Millions are expected to emerge from lockdowns and head to beaches and parks, raising concerns about new outbreaks.

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Meanwhile, the virus is roaring through other countries far more ill-equipped to handle the pandemic, with scientists worried that new cases will fan the embers of a second global wave of infections.

India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls. Most new Indian cases are in Bihar, where thousands returned home from jobs in cities.

Russian state news agencies reported the authoritarian leader of the southern region of Chechnya was taken to a Moscow hospital with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Ramzan Kadyrov has run predominantly Muslim Chechnya with an iron fist since 2007 and the Kremlin has relied on him to keep the North Caucasus region stable after two devastating separatist wars. The Chechen parliament speaker denied the reports, which cited an unidentified medical source.

Some Latin American leaders have downplayed the severity of the virus.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed back against state governors who tried to impose limits on people’s movements and commerce. Opposition lawmakers and other detractors have called for Bolsonaro’s impeachment and have alleged criminal mishandling of the response to the virus.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador continued to travel the country after its first confirmed case. He let his health advisers take the lead on the crisis but kept insisting Mexico’s strong family bonds and work ethic would pull it through.

Mexico reported its highest one-day death toll so far, with 479 new fatalities Friday, up from the previous high Wednesday of 424. It also reported 2,960 new cases, capping a week in which daily confirmed infections have hit close to that number. However, the Health Department acknowledges that the real number is probably several times higher because of Mexico’s abysmally low testing rate.

At the San Cristobal Mauseleum in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, manager Armando Sepulveda said his business has doubled in recent weeks.

“The crematoriums are saturated,” Sepulveda said. “All of the ovens don’t have that capacity.”

He said families scour the city “in desperation” looking for help with funeral services because hospitals cannot hold the dead for long.

The Mexican government has moved to restart the economy, allow mining, construction and parts of the North American automotive supply chain to resume operations this week. Analysts predict a massive contraction in an economy that had already entered a recession before the pandemic.

The virus reaches from megacities deep into the Amazon jungle.

The Colombian town of Leticia, which lies along the Amazon River at the border of Brazil and Peru, has nearly 1,300 cases. Residents reeling from the illness and a loss of income are placing red cloth flags outside homes with tin roofs to show they are going hungry.

Colombian authorities suggest Brazil is to blame for a sudden rise in infections, and President Iván Duque has militarized the shared border.

Colombia’s Ministry of Health reported its biggest daily increases Friday, with 801 new confirmed infections and 30 deaths. Nearly 20,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus in a country that has been locked down for nearly two months.

In Chile, more than 90% of intensive care beds were full last week in the capital, Santiago.

Ecuador’s government instituted a 2 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and other measures in March, but cases have swamped medical and mortuary services in the city of Guayaquil and now in the capital, Quito. Hundreds of people can be seen violating the curfew in Ecuador, many selling goods on the streets to earn enough to buy food.

News outlets showed images of patients slumped in wheelchairs receiving oxygen in Peru, where there are only 2.5 intensive-care beds per 100,000 people, one quarter of the global standard. The country had almost 109,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,100 dead as of Thursday night. Doctors say most of the patients are shopkeepers, taxi drivers or street vendors.
___

Sherman reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker in Washington; Franklin Briceño in Lima, Peru; Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador; Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile; and Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed.
Noem: Tribes’ Checkpoints Dispute Not Just About Coronavirus
 ASSOCIATED PRESS
MAY 21, 2020 AT 3:33 PM

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2017, file photo, Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe leaves federal court in Washington. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem appeared headed Monday, May 11, 2020, for a legal confrontation with two Native American Indian tribes over highway checkpoints intended to keep the coronavirus away from their reservations. Both tribes said over the weekend the checkpoints would stand on their reservations. "We will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death," Frazier said in a statement. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said on Thursday that her stance against Native American tribes operating coronavirus checkpoints on federal and state highways isn’t just about the response to the coronavirus pandemic, but about setting “precedent” on tribes’ ability to shut down traffic in other situations.

Noem threatened to sue the tribes two weeks ago, but then backed away from that plan and instead appealed the President Donald Trump to settle the issue this week. She said she is investigating all tribes that have set up checkpoints on federal and state highways. Three tribes — the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — have set up the checkpoints to keep unnecessary visitors from the reservation who might be carrying coronavirus infections.

“If we allow checkpoints to shut down traffic in this situation, then we are setting precedent for that to happen far into the future,” Noem said.

As construction related to the Keystone XL pipeline begins in South Dakota, the checkpoints add tension to an already-rocky relationship between the Republican governor and tribes that have been outspoken opponents of the pipeline. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, which has set up coronavirus checkpoints, does not allow vehicles from oil companies to pass through their land. The proposed pipeline route skirts tribal land, but construction companies could use the highways for transporting supplies.

Since Noem threatened to sue, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe also set up coronavirus checkpoints after an increase in coronavirus infections on its reservation.

Noem maintained that she did not regret threatening to take the tribes to court and said it was important to settle who had jurisdiction over highways stretching across reservations. She pointed to easements that allowed federal and state governments to build and maintain highways on tribal land.

The governor argued she has been a proponent for the tribes in a host of other areas, saying “we work together very well on 99% of issues.”

But Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesman for the Oglala Sioux Tribe president, called Noem’s decision to investigate the checkpoints an escalation of the feud.

“We’re permitting people to pass through our reservations,” he said in a statement. “We’re screening people, according to the best advice from medical experts, not preventing travel.”

The tribes say their focus is on keeping people safe during the pandemic and that their rights as a sovereign nation allow them to set up the checkpoints to protect people’s health.

“It’s disappointing that they’re not respecting what we do,” said Cheyenne River Sioux chairman Harold Frazier. “We value life over anything else.”

Many Native American tribes in the state have taken a more vigilant approach to the coronavirus pandemic. There have been 324 confirmed cases among Native Americans in the state, according to the Department of Health.

Health officials also reported two more COVID-19 deaths and 73 new confirmed coronavirus cases statewide on Thursday. The new figures bring the state’s death toll to 48 and its confirmed case count to 4,250. State officials have said the total count does not reflect the total number of infections because many people may not display symptoms or have not sought testing if their symptoms are mild.

The economic fallout from the global pandemic has continued to cause layoffs in the state, according to the Department of Labor and Regulation. State officials reported that 3,806 people made new claims for unemployment last week.
Rural Areas, Tribal Lands Hit Hardest by Census Interruption
By MIKE SCHNEIDER

In this April 30, 2020, photo, a sign marks Navajo Drive as Sentinel Mesa, homes and other structures in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation, stand in the distance. Even before the pandemic, people living in rural communities and on reservations were among the toughest groups to count in the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Even though they’re neighbors, two New Mexico counties couldn’t be further apart in the rate of people answering the 2020 census.

Los Alamos County, where the atomic bomb was born and many people are highly educated, has one of the nation’s highest response rates at 79%. Rio Arriba County, where a language other than English is spoken in over half of homes, is at the bottom at 9%.

The reason for the difference? Households in Rio Arriba and other rural counties across the U.S. rely on census workers to drop off their questionnaires, which was on hold for a month and a half because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While the U.S. Census Bureau is restarting that work, leaders in rural America worry it will be difficult to catch up in communities that are already among the toughest to count. Ultimately, it could cost them congressional seats and federal funding for highways, schools and health care that the once-a-decade count divvies up.

“We have historically been underrepresented in the past, and there’s an unfortunate precedent to show we will be underrepresented again. This pandemic makes it all the more challenging,” said Javier Sanchez, mayor of Espanola, a city of 10,000 in Rio Arriba County. “I think we are struggling like every other rural community and doing the best we can amid these problems when so much is at stake in the next 10 years.”

A rolling census count shows that states with large rural populations are lagging behind the rest of the nation in answering the 2020 questionnaire. They have the largest concentration of households dependent on receiving forms from census workers in the spring.

Around 5% of U.S. households fall into that category, but it accounts for anywhere from about 17% to almost 30% of homes in Alaska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Wyoming, Maine, Vermont and Montana.

These are places where homes are spread apart and often hidden from main roads. Internet access is poor, and this is the first census that most people are encouraged to respond online.

Many people lack traditional city-style addresses, get their mail by P.O. box or live in areas with high concentrations of vacant, seasonal housing. While they wait for hard copies from census workers, the rest of the U.S. mostly is contacted by mail — either with invitations to respond online or with a paper form.

Two months after most U.S. residents could start answering the 2020 census, response rates in states that have many households without city-style addresses ranged from 40% to 50%. The national rate is 59% as of mid-May.

Households without traditional addresses are especially common on tribal lands, which have a history of being undercounted.

In Rio Arriba County, more than 16% of residents are Native American, compared with just over 1% in neighboring Los Alamos County. The latter is home to Los Alamos National Laboratory and almost half its residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 15% in more rural Rio Arriba County.

“It’s like criticizing someone for not voting when you never handed them a ballot,” said Jose Viramontes, a spokesman for I Count NM, which is leading census outreach efforts in New Mexico.

For Mayor James Schell of East Helena, Montana, an inaccurate count could jeopardize the potential for another U.S. representative pushing for federal funding to upgrade roads and wastewater infrastructure.

“By having that extra representation, more monies could be introduced for roads, water, sewers,” Schell said.

The Census Bureau will “absolutely” be able to catch up with the rural count, said Tim Olson, associate director of field operations. When work was suspended in March, only about 10% of households without city-style addresses had received questionnaires. Now, it’s at 30% two weeks into restarting door-to-door work in some places, he said.

“It’s going very well,” Olson said.

But in some tribal areas, response rates were below 15% as of mid-May.

“It’s looking like there’s a real possibility of an undercount, given the obstacles we are facing,” Ta’jin Perez, program manager at Western Native Voice, an advocacy group in Montana.

During the last census in 2010, American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations were undercounted by 4.9%, according to the Census Bureau, by far the highest undercount of any group.

Olson acknowledged that some tribal lands have closed themselves off to stop the spread of the virus, and census workers won’t be able to drop off questionnaires until they reopen.

“There may be some pockets that are further delayed,” he said.

The pandemic has forced the Census Bureau to push back its deadline for finishing the count from the end of July to the end of October.

The agency says it’s restarting operations this week in Puerto Rico, where census forms are required to be dropped off at homes because of the devastation from Hurricane Maria in 2017. The island has a very low response rate as of mid-May — over 8%.

In West Virginia, almost 30% of households don’t have traditional addresses, and the state’s response rate is 47%.

While the state is getting back to pushing rural residents to fill out the census, halting work on the ground in March was like playing a ballgame “with three players off the field,” said Andy Malinoski, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
Governor: Louisiana Getting Only Drug Approved for COVID-19
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at a news conference to discuss testing statistics and contact tracing pertaining to COVID-10, Friday, May 8, 2020, at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana is getting the only drug approved to treat COVID-19, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday.

A new shipment of remdesivir means the state will have received enough of the drug to treat about 1,200 patients, according to data Edwards presented during a news conference livestreamed from Baton Rouge. He said the first shipment was May 14. The drug is being sent to all hospitals that have at least five patients infected with the novel coronavirus — currently 47 facilities.

Edwards said other hospitals can request the drug if they feel a patient would benefit. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of remdesivir for severely ill people.

Edwards said Louisiana is on the way to meeting its goal of testing 200,000 people this month. “We’re about 56,000 short with nine days to go,” he said.

With help from the Louisiana National Guard, mobile testing units are operating in five of the state’s public health regions and will be running in all nine within two weeks, Edwards said.

He said they’re being sent to areas which have had inadequate testing so far, relative hotspots, and places where many people live or work closely together.

A good sign, he said, is that fewer than 6.5% of all tests are positive, while the national goal is fewer than 10%. “We are obviously trending in the right direction,” he said.

Earlier Friday, the federal government released statistics showing Louisiana’s unemployment rate more than doubled during the first full month of coronavirus pandemic restrictions on business, but was about the national rate for April.

The state’s unemployment rate for April was 14.5%, up from 6.7% in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The national rate was 14.7%.

“The unprecedented public health emergency brought on by COVID-19 is not only deeply impacting the health of our people but also the health of our economy,” Edwards said in a news release.

The governor closed bars, gyms, movie theaters and casinos on March 16, restricting restaurants to take-out and delivery. Starting May 15, gyms and malls were allowed to reopen at 25% of capacity. Casinos were allowed to reopen Monday, and most have done so.

Edwards said Louisiana has come back from challenges before and will do so again. Before the pandemic, he said, the state’s unemployment had generally been decreasing for several years.

“Now more than ever we must be united in our efforts to keep the coronavirus at bay in order to get our economy moving forward for our employers, workers, communities and state,” he said.

The economic news came as the state Department of Health reported that numbers of hospitalized patients and those on ventilators continued to edge down.

There were 867 people hospitalized Friday with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. That was down from 884 Thursday and 1,031 on Monday, according to the department’s COVID-19 information site. The department said 104 were on ventilators. That compares to 107 Thursday and 118 Monday.

The department said about 36,900 people have been diagnosed with the disease and at least 2,545 of them have died.

Looking toward the Memorial Day holiday, Edwards emphasized that wearing masks, staying 6 feet from other people, hand-washing and other coronavirus precautions remain essential.

“Our gains are important but they are fragile,” he said.

Late Friday, meanwhile, the federal court for the Western District of Louisiana ordered the immediate release of 14 of 15 medically vulnerable people being detained in Louisiana by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The 15th person is in a facility where the virus has not yet been found so he was not included in the release order, a spokeswoman for the National Immigration Project said.
Alabama Coronavirus Outlook Worsening Amid State Reopening
By JAY REEVES

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks at the State Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday, May 8, 2020. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — With Alabama’s coronavirus caseload worsening while casinos, churches and more reopen, the state’s most recognizable person had some stern words about bringing COVID-19 under control.

“You need to be staying 6 feet away from me, and haven’t I told you you have to wear a mask when you’re in this building?” University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, himself wearing a mask emblazoned with “Roll Tide,” scolded the school’s elephant mascot in a video released as the state reopened more.

Perhaps Saban’s rant — which tied the prospects of fall football to disease control in a football-crazy state — will be the thing that makes people see a need for renewed vigilance in a place where life is largely back to normal despite a deepening health crisis.

From the Gulf Coast to the lush Tennessee Valley, Alabama’s political leaders and health experts are struggling to make many residents see the continued need for social distancing, crowd limitations and wearing masks after Gov. Kay Ivey reopened much of the economy.

Cases are on the increase, but health officials say it’s impossible to determine whether the rise is linked to additional testing or an actual increase in disease. Yet state statistics also show hospitalizations are up since early April, which has some health officials worried.

The situation in Alabama has become worse over the past 14 days, according to an AP analysis of testing data from The COVID Tracking Project. New daily cases have risen to 307 from 268, and the rate of daily tests coming back positive has increased from 6.7% to 7.5%. The AP used seven-day rolling averages to account for daily variability in the testing data. Data includes counts through Thursday.

In Jefferson County, the state’s most populous area with nearly 660,000 residents, officials cited increasing cases and hospitalizations Friday in announcing more stringent rules than those enacted by Ivey.

The Republican governor, like President Donald Trump, hasn’t modeled recommended behavior by regularly appearing publicly in a mask. But she has urged residents to do what’s necessary to stem the spread of the disease while saying a vaccine could someday be created “right here in sweet home Alabama.”

“It takes all of us, y’all, being vigilant, and adhering to these social distancing guidelines in order to stop the spread of this disease,” she said.

So far, it’s unclear whether Ivey’s calls for “personal responsibility” have had much of an effect as businesses and other gatherings places reopen with restrictions on capacity and sanitation.

The parking lots outside some Birmingham-area restaurants and breweries are filling up again, and the state’s beaches have been packed since reopening April 30. About two dozen adults and children filled a reopened suburban playground Friday; no one wore a mask, and no one was cleaning the slides and swings between uses.

Some people are trying to stay 6 feet (2 meters) apart, as required under state orders, but others aren’t. In many public places, it’s rare to see a covered face.

“As I’ve gone out to some of these retail stores, I’ve noticed that people are not wearing masks,” Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious diseases expert with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told an online news conference.

Omar Mohammad, a 17-year-old who skipped his own graduation from Spain Park High School in Hoover because of the pandemic, said people seem to have dropped their guard after state orders that loosened restrictions.

“I’ve seen people being like, `I can go get my nails done, so it can’t be too bad,’” he said.

Leaders in Republican-controlled, deeply conservative Alabama, like many states, are stuck between trying to revive a lagging economy and prevent the spread of disease.

As of Friday, more than 13,400 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in Alabama, and 533 had died. Most people recover from COVID-19, but patients with other health problems and the elderly are particularly susceptible.

Meanwhile, state unemployment has reached levels not seen in decades. Alabama’s jobless rate jumped to 12.9% in April during the economic shutdown linked to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst in nearly 38 years, the state said.

The state’s overall health trend worries disease experts including Lee. Jefferson County had its highest case count yet this week, she said, and the capital of Montgomery, where about 200,000 people live, is looking like a disease hot spot.

“I’m actually concerned about the numbers,” she said. “As we have been watching over the past couple of weeks, those numbers have either been at the same level or they’re slowly going up.”
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AP writer Nicky Forster contributed from Berkley, Massachusetts.__
Coronavirus: What is Kawasaki Disease and its Possible Link with COVID-19 in Children?
By Lauren Chadwick  & Alice Tidey
Euronews
18/05/2020

A mysterious condition affecting children that could be linked to COVID-19 has been reported in several European countries and North America.

The World Health Organization (WHO) put out a scientific brief on Friday describing "clusters of children and adolescents requiring admission to intensive care units with a multisystem inflammatory condition with some features similar to those of Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome."

England's health service had alerted at the end of April that cases of children in intensive care with "a multi-system inflammatory state" were rising.

Children were displaying overlapping symptoms of severe COVID-19, toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease.


The UK, France, Italy, Spain, and the US have all reported cases with some children testing positive for COVID-19 or coronavirus antibodies, meaning they were previously exposed to the virus.

A nine-year-old in France recently died due to complications from cardiac arrest. The child had tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.

At least three children have died in New York from this "new emerging syndrome".

What are the symptoms to look out for?

The WHO says to look out for fever, inflammation, hypotension, and shock and New York City's department of health warned to look for signs of fever, prolonged abdominal pain, skin rash, bloodshot eyes, racing heart among other symptoms.

The symptoms reported are similar to Kawasaki Disease, which primarily affects children under the age of five and can cause blood vessels to become inflamed and swollen and lead to complications such as the swelling of the arteries.

“The characteristics of it are fever, red eyes, red lips, red tongue, a rash, there can be swelling and redness of the hands and feet and there can also be swelling of the lymph nodes and neck,” said Adriana Treboulet, associate director of the Kawasaki Disease Research Centre at the University of California, San Diego.

“It can cause swelling of the arteries of the heart and that can be lifelong and it can lead to things such as a heart attack,” Treboulet added.

The disease can be mild but about a quarter of children will have coronary artery aneurysms or swelling of the heart arteries, experts say.

"So Kawasaki disease has been recognised for a long time and it really is as horrible as it sounds," Kate Sullivan, a professor of paediatrics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "There's inflammation of every organ of the body.

"Usually what people see first is the skin but the thing that we are most afraid about is it affects the heart and an inflammation of the heart is always dangerous."

What is the reported link between these symptoms and COVID-19?

In countries with large outbreaks of coronavirus, there have been more reported cases of paediatric shock and Kawasaki disease-like symptoms. Some of these children have tested positive for COVID-19 or coronavirus antibodies.

France’s public health agency said they have had reports of at least 144 children with atypical paediatric diseases since March 1.

Some children between the ages of 5 and 20 have presented Kawasaki Disease like symptoms that the agency has been calling "pseudo Kawasaki Disease".

NHS England first warned in April that some children have shown symptoms of toxic shock syndrome — which is caused by a bacteria getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins — and atypical Kawasaki disease "with blood parameters consistent with severe COVID-19 in children".

Spain’s paediatric association put out a similar warning in April, stating that there were cases of paediatric shock but telling parents not to be alarmed.

“Cases of shock in children that are temporarily coinciding with the COVID-19 epidemic are very rare,” the association explained.

Prof Simon Kenny, NHS national clinical director for children and young people, said in a statement that it was "important that clinicians [were] made aware of any potential emerging links so that they are able to give children and young people the right care fast".

Experts say it is too early to determine whether or not there is a direct link between the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and Kawasaki disease.

How could it be linked to COVID-19 and when will we know?

"Initial hypotheses are that this syndrome may be related to COVID-19 based on initial laboratory testing," the WHO said on Friday.

"It is essential to characterise this syndrome and its risk factors, to understand causality, and describe treatment interventions."

The early NHS warning suggested that "there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases."

Professor Robert Tulloh, a cardiologist at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, told Euronews last month: “There might be worse cases of [Kawasaki disease] because they are presenting late - since they were mistakenly thought to be COVID-19 until too late. Or there might actually be more cases of Kawasaki disease triggered by COVID-19, masquerading as COVID-19 or actually COVID-19-related."

“​It will take many months before the epidemiologists can let us know whether there is a link. It will be complicated and not a simple answer,” Tulloh added.

Tulloh says there was thought to be a link between Kawasaki disease and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) during the 2003 outbreak, but that theory has since been disproven.

"As with COVID-19, Kawasaki disease can be mild in most cases and we would not want to cause alarm or panic among parents of young children," added Tulloh.

"However, about a quarter of children with Kawasaki disease will get coronary artery aneurysms (swelling of the heart arteries) if they are not treated at the correct time, which is about 5 days into the illness.

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, stressed that instances of children falling severely ill with COVID-19 have been "very rare".

"Evidence from throughout the world shows us that children appear to be part of the population least affected by this infection.”

What does the WHO say?

WHO confirmed in late April that it was investigating the rare inflammatory condition.

"So they [children] tend to have overwhelming mild disease," said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at WHO's health emergencies programme.

"But there are some children who have developed severe disease and some children who have died.

"There are some recent rare descriptions of children in some European countries that have had this inflammatory syndrome, which is similar to Kawasaki's syndrome."

The WHO asked for clinicians to be alert to this possibility and since then, more cases of the disease have been reported in several countries.

"There is therefore an urgent need for collection of standardised data describing clinical presentations, severity, outcomes, and epidemiology," the WHO said on Friday (May 15).