Thursday, April 30, 2020

Workers Must Risk Infection or Losing Unemployment Payments

Hairstylist Lacey Ward poses for a photo at the Grey House Salon she co-owns, in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, April 30, 2020. Ward is worried that reopening the salon could force her into a position that puts her, her husband and their two young sons at risk. She said she filed for unemployment in mid-March but is still waiting for the first payment, forcing her to drain her family's savings and increasing the pressure she feels to return to work. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

ATLANTA (AP) — Some of the millions of American workers laid off because of the coronavirus are beginning to face a tough choice — return to work and risk infection, or stay home and risk losing unemployment payments.

The decision is most pressing in states where governors have started allowing businesses such as restaurants to reopen with social-distancing restrictions.

Tyler Price, 26, was called back to his job at Del Frisco’s Grille in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood. Tennessee allowed restaurants to open dining rooms at 50% capacity, with servers wearing masks and being tested for fever.

But Price, who has yet to receive any unemployment benefits, is wrestling with what do. He said he is “highly susceptible” to respiratory illness and was hospitalized with pneumonia as a child.

“I know what it feels like to be in a hospital, to be drowning in your own lungs,” said Price, who moved in with his mother near St. Louis after getting laid off. “It’s horrifying. It’s terrible. I don’t want to find myself there.”

He said waiting tables “is impossible to do under social distancing guidelines,” and he would prefer to draw unemployment payments.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that the business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders caused by the pandemic have led 30 million Americans to file for unemployment insurance, or roughly 1 of every 6 workers.

The design of the unemployment system adds to the pressure. If an employer calls back laid-off workers, they must report to work or are likely to lose their benefits.

That’s because unemployment insurance is designed to tide people over until they can get back to a job, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project in New York.

“An unemployed worker cannot refuse suitable work and still continue to collect unemployment insurance,” Evermore said. “Presumably, the job you used to have is suitable.”

Fear of getting sick or worries that an employer isn’t providing adequate infection protection are generally not reasons someone can file for benefits. The latter concern is getting more complicated because some businesses are lobbying to keep employees and customers from suing them over coronavirus transmission.

Lacey Ward, a hairstylist in Omaha, Nebraska, filed for unemployment benefits in mid-March and is still waiting for the first payment. She’s been forced to drain her family’s savings and feels increasing pressure to return to work. Still, she is worried that Gov. Pete Ricketts’ decision to let salons reopen Monday could put her, her husband and two young sons at risk.

Ward, 38, said she would prefer to collect unemployment until the risk from the virus subsides and it’s clearer whether she can offer services like shampooing. She co-owns the salon but makes money only off her own clients.

“I would rather be safe than sorry,” Ward said. “We are not an essential field. I haven’t had my hair done in three or four months at this point. But what does it matter? Who are people seeing?”

Ward said she’s so concerned about spreading the virus that she plans to change clothes and wash her hair before she returns home.

“We’re playing with fire, physically touching another person,” she said.

Some workers are ready to go back. Kathryn Marsilli, 33, is a manager and server at The Collins Quarter restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.

She knows she may make less at work because of reduced business and would like a way for those with fears of the virus to stay home. But she said she wants to go back out of loyalty to the owner and because she’s not interested in trying to maximize her unemployment benefits.

“My future where I work is more important to me than trying to get what I can now,” Marsilli said.

Other workers may be tempted to hold on to unemployment. Especially in some low-wage regions, laid-off workers may receive more money with the state benefit and the additional $600 a week provided by Congress than they were on the job. The federal boost ends July 31.

Georgia labor officials are trying to balance the needs of business owners with the genuine concerns of workers. State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said he’s telling businesses that are easing into reopening and don’t need all their employees to call in those who are willing to work and leave the others to the unemployment system.

Georgia also is allowing people to earn up to $300 a week before it begins to eat into their state unemployment benefit, meaning workers could earn more than $1,200 a week in total.

“It was a way we could get more people back to work at reduced hours,” Butler said. “Otherwise, why would you go back to work at all?”

Jennifer Holliday is a manager at a restaurant in Oklahoma City called Zio’s Italian Kitchen, which plans to reopen its dining room Friday. She said getting furloughed employees to return has been difficult. Many are not returning her phone calls or messages.

“There are some who want to just ride it out (until July) and take the unemployment,” Holliday said. “They don’t even have to apply” for other jobs.

Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee. Associated Press writers Ken Miller and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Nebraska; and Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
NJ Deaths Spike as Murphy Says Trump Summit Yields Results

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about the coronavirus response with Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey reported 460 deaths from coronavirus, the biggest jump yet, on Thursday, the same day Gov. Phil Murphy had a friendly meeting with President Donald Trump, who promised to send the state testing materials, according to the governor.

The jump brings the death toll to 7,228 and surpasses the previous record of 402 deaths set earlier this week. It outpaces far-larger New York’s daily death toll of 306 and also coincides with discussions about reopening the state, which has been largely shuttered for more than a month.

“They are not and they should never be seen as just numbers on a chart,” Murphy said. “It is for them that we will continue this fight.”

The jump in deaths reflects the fact that some people had died who had not yet been confirmed positive for COVID-19, according to Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the medical director of the state’s Communicable Disease Service.

Murphy also announced at a news conference in Trenton after flying back to New Jersey from Washington that the Trump administration would be sending 550,000 new tests as well as 750,000 swabs to New Jersey. The materials would go a long way in reaching Murphy’s goal of doubling testing from about 9,000 tests a day, he said.

Increasing testing is a precondition for reopening, the governor has said.

Murphy, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican, had kind words for one another. At his afternoon news conference, Murphy flashed a thank-you message to the president on the TV screens that accompany his daily updates.

“You can’t have a better representative than this man. That I can tell you,” Trump said,, while sitting alongside Murphy earlier in the Oval Office.

Murphy also told the president the state would need $20 billion to $30 billion in assistance to deal with COVID-19 fallout.

The cash would “keep firefighters, teachers, police, EMS, on the payroll serving the communities in their hour of need,” Murphy said,

Trump touted the number of ventilators the federal government acquired for New Jersey, which has seen their use declining in recent days, so much so that Murphy said they’ve begun turning them over to other states.

Trump also spoke warmly of Murphy’s having jumped into the coronavirus crisis just days after surgery to remove cancer from his kidney in March.

Unlike some Democratic officials, Murphy has largely praised the president’s response. The cross-party friendship called to mind the 2012 meeting between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose near-embrace after Superstorm Sandy generated numerous headlines.

The cash Murphy is seeking represents a huge chunk of the budget he unveiled this year, from 50% to more than 75% of the proposed spending plan.

Murphy has called for direct cash assistance from Congress and the president for weeks, citing the state’s drop-off in revenue because of the virus.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had earlier suggested he would consider legislation to let states declare bankruptcy, but has shifted his tone and says he’s open to talking about aid to states.

New Jersey is among the hardest-hit states, with about 118,000 positive cases.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness or death.

A look at other developments:


Unemployment claims surpassed 900,000 in New Jersey since the outbreak was first detected in the state, though new claims last week fell by roughly half compared with the week before.

The state Labor and Workforce Development Department said Thursday that 930,000 claims have been filed since mid-March. About 71,000 new claims were filed for the week that ended April 25. That’s down from about 141,000 the previous week.

So far, $1.4 billion in unemployment benefits have been paid out.


Physicians from several northern New Jersey hospitals that have treated patients with COVID-19 over the past several weeks will consult with medical staff at a veterans’ home in Paramus that has seen an outbreak of the virus.

The offices of Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell Jr. announced the development Thursday with New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Brigadier General Jemal Beale. In an email, Gottheimer and Pascrell said the doctors and infectious disease experts from Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, Hackensack Meridian Health, Holy Name Medical Center and Valley Hospital will review protocols and best practices and help triage residents with urgent medical needs.

More than 100 residents of New Jersey’s three veterans’ homes had died from COVID-19 through Wednesday afternoon, including 59 at Paramus, according to statistics provided by the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

“This assistance and guidance from some of the top coronavirus experts and doctors in the country will be critical to fight this outbreak, help limit further loss of life, and protect these veterans and the facility’s staff,” Gottheimer said.
Economic Figures Show Grim Toll in Europe and US from Virus

Taxi driver Mor Gob, wearing a mask to protect against coronavirus, delivers boxes with prepared meals to people in need in the Bronx borough of New York, Thursday, April 30, 2020. More than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK (AP) — Bleak new figures Thursday underscored the worldwide economic pain inflicted by the coronavirus: The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has climbed past a staggering 30 million, while Europe’s economies have gone into an epic slide.

And as bad as the numbers are, some are already outdated because of the lag in gathering data. The true economic picture is almost certainly much worse.

The statistics are likely to stoke the debate over whether to ease the lockdowns that have closed factories and other businesses. While many states and countries have pressed ahead, health officials have warned of the danger of a second wave of infection, and some employers and employees have expressed fear of going back to work when large numbers of people are still dying.

In the U.S., the government reported that 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for jobless benefits last week, raising the total to 30.3 million in the six weeks since the outbreak took hold. The layoffs amount to 1 in 6 American workers and encompass more people than the entire population of Texas.

Some economists say that when the U.S. unemployment rate for April comes out next week, it could be as high as 20% — a figure not seen since the Depression of the 1930s, when joblessness peaked at 25%.

The number of Americans thrown out of work could be much higher than the unemployment claims show, because some people have not applied and others couldn’t get through to their states’ overwhelmed systems. A poll by two economists found that the U.S. may have lost 34 million jobs.

There was grim new data across Europe, too, where more than 130,000 people with the virus have died. The economy in the 19 countries using the euro shrank 3.8% in the first quarter of the year, the biggest contraction since the eurozone countries began keeping joint statistics 25 years ago.

“This is the saddest day for the global economy we have ever seen” in the 50 years that economists at High Frequency Economics have been following the data, they wrote in a report.

Even then, the statistics do not capture the enormity of the crisis. The quarterly figures cover January through March, and many of the lockdowns in Europe and the U.S. were not imposed until March — the second half of March in a multitude of places in the United States.

Stocks fell on Wall Street as the discouraging news piled up, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing nearly 290 points, or more than 1 percent. Even Amazon, which Americans are relying on heavily to stock up on goods, offered a mixed report, with sales skyrocketing in the first quarter but profits dropping 29% because of the rising costs to get all those packages shipped.

The company still ended the quarter on a relatively high note, however, reporting net earnings of $2.5 billion — an astonishing contrast to the losses sustained by some companies. One of them, American Airlines, slammed by a lack of passengers during the outbreak, on Thursday reported a loss of $2.2 billion for the period.

The virus has killed over 230,000 people worldwide, including more than 61,000 in the U.S., according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed infections globally topped 3.2 million, with 1 million of them in the U.S., but the true numbers are believed to be much higher because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.

In other developments:

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-diseases expert, said he expects federal approval for the first drug to prove effective against the coronavirus to happen “really quickly.” Remdesivir, made by California’s Gilead Sciences, hastened the recovery of COVID-19 patients in a major government study, and it might also have reduced deaths, according to Fauci.

— A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship that arrived in New York City to great fanfare a month ago left town after treating just 182 patients. The surge of cases there has fallen well short of the doomsday predictions. The 24-hour number of deaths statewide was down to 306, the lowest in a month.

— With signs that the outbreak has stabilized in places, President Donald Trump said he would not extend the White House’s social-distancing guidelines past their expiration Thursday. Those guidelines encouraged people to work from home and avoid restaurants, groups and nonessential travel.

— Trump continued to speculate on the origins of the coronavirus, saying that China could have unleashed it on the world due to some kind of horrible “mistake” or that it might have been released intentionally. Intelligence agencies said they are still examining a notion put forward by the president and aides that the pandemic may have resulted from an accident at a Chinese lab.

— A suburban Minneapolis nursing home, St. Therese of New Hope, said 47 residents have died as a result of COVID-19 in yet another severe outbreak at an institution for the frail or elderly. At least 70 people have died at a veterans home in Massachusetts in the deadliest known cluster of its kind.

— California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered beaches in Orange County closed until further notice after tens of thousands of people flocked to the sand last weekend.

— NASCAR announced it will resume the season on March 17 but without fans in the stands. But the Little League announced it would cancel its World Series for the first time ever.

This week, the U.S. estimated its economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first three months of the year, the sharpest quarterly drop since the 2008 financial crisis. The current quarter is expected to be much worse, with a staggering 40% drop projected.

Still, analysts saw a glimmer of hope in the way new unemployment claims have fallen for four straight weeks. Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said the wave of layoffs at vulnerable businesses such as restaurants, hotels and stores may have largely run its course.

“Thankfully, for now, the economic contagion seems to have plateaued,” Stettner said. “But we’re still at a level that is a mortal threat to the nation’s financial well-being.”

Across the U.S., many governors have taken steps to gradually reopen their economies, amid impatience among Americans who complain their livelihoods are being destroyed and their rights trampled.

In Michigan, hundreds of protesters returned to the Capitol to denounce Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order and business restrictions. The Republican-led Michigan House refused to extend the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration and voted to authorize a lawsuit challenging Whitmer’s authority and actions to combat the pandemic.

But even in states where businesses are being allowed to reopen, some workers are uneasy about returning.

Lacey Ward, an Omaha hairstylist, said she is worried that the Nebraska governor’s decision to let salons reopen on May 4 could put her and her family at risk. She would prefer to collect unemployment until the danger subsides.

“I feel like we are literally the guinea pigs in this situation,” she said.

Finding enough workers willing to return is proving to be a challenge for Jennifer Holliday, manager at a restaurant in Oklahoma City that will reopen its dining room Friday. Many of her employees are not returning calls or messages.

“There are some who want to just ride it out and take the unemployment,” she said.

Rugaber reported from Washington, Leicester from Paris. AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

China Has Been a Great Friend to Global Community Amid Pandemic: Namibian Ambassador
By Dong Feng
2020/4/29 2:52:21

Namibian ambassador to China Elia Kaiyamo Photo: Courtesy of the Embassy of Namibia in China

As the world is now concerned about whether a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 on the African continent could cause more damage given poor healthcare systems there, Namibia's ambassador to China told the Global Times that this is indeed a time when international cooperation is needed more than ever.

Ambassador Elia Kaiyamo stressed that China has been a great friend to the global community by sharing its experience, resources and expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Namibia sincerely welcomes international efforts spearheaded by the WHO for the international community to pool resources to set up a global trust fund to fight COVID-19.

It is just "unfortunate" that some major players, for reasons only known to themselves, have decided to boycott this noble initiative, Kaiyamo told the Global Times.

The diplomat said they have received 1,000 test kits donated by the Jack Ma Foundation to improve the country's testing capabilities.

This is "a clear demonstration of China's benevolence and understanding of harmonious co-existence which will assist in Namibia's fight against the novel coronavirus," he said.

As for the impact of the pandemic on Belt and Road projects in Nambia, the ambassador said the challenges are temporary.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a mammoth task through which China is working hard to share its prosperity with the global community, he said.

Investments from China in areas like transport and logistics have the potential to alleviate poverty and create job opportunities for the youthful population in many sectors including agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, he added.

Kaiyamo noted that the developmental problems could be solved through building a cultural bridge to strengthen people to people exchanges.
China-Ethiopia Relations to Strengthen After Pandemic: Ambassador
By Sun Haoran
2020/4/28 8:34:46

Ethiopian Ambassador to China forecasts stronger China-Africa relations and cooperation after COVID-19 pandemic

Ethiopia's new Ambassador to China Teshome Toga Chanaka Photo: Courtesy of the Ethiopian Embassy in China

Ethiopia's Ambassador to China said he believed the China-Ethiopia partnership would strengthen after the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing that China-Africa relations have always been based on mutual respect and benefit.

As for the influence of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in the country, Ambassador Teshome Toga Chanaka told the Global Times in an exclusive interview that "social distancing and other measures aimed at protection and control of the virus might affect the timely completion but for sure the projects are working in progress."

Ethiopia's BRI projects include the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, the economic corridor, and the development of the industrial park. 

"Many economic movements and other projects execution will be slowed but we hope that as soon as the situation improves implementation will be enhanced," said the diplomat. China and Africa have been working together closely in tackling the coronavirus and "the pandemic will strengthen China-Africa friendship, solidarity and cooperation in the coming times," Chanaka said.

China-Ethiopia cooperation amid pandemic

There are roughly 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases across the African continent, with Ethiopia reporting over 123, according to public statistics. Experts warned the continent might face an outbreak disaster and humanitarian crises due to the fragile health care systems of several nations.

The UN and World Health Organization (WHO) warned that COVID-19 is on a rise in Africa and if measures could not be taken to enhance prevention and control, the damage would be severe.

"As Africa has fragile healthcare facilities, efforts should be made to enhance the continent's capacity to investigate alerts, treat patients in isolation facilities and improve infection, ensure prevention and control of COVID-19," the ambassador said.

Some observers questioned that compared to other developed countries and regions, the relatively low confirmed COVID-19 cases might not tell the whole story, as Ethiopia doesn't have enough test kits to conduct mass testing.

In response, the Ethiopian diplomat told the Global Times that their government is working relentlessly to strengthen national efforts to enhance its emergency preparedness and response through the establishment of a task force at the national and regional levels, and has prepared isolation centers for detection and contact tracing with confirmed cases in and out of Addis Ababa, and deployed human resources to manage the isolation centers.

Chanaka admitted the number of infected people might increase if mass testing is  employed.

The capacity is being built but has not reached to the required level, he said. "We are in need of foreign assistance and philanthropic support to procure medical supplies and equipment which will be used to fight the spread of the pandemic in our country."

According to Chanaka, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from China and Ethiopia are now actively cooperating to build a strong African public health infrastructure by sharing information, providing expertise, and expanding resources.

A team of 12 Chinese medical experts, including specialists in infectious diseases, respiratory and critical care, and public health, arrived at Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on April 16 to assist the country in its fight against COVID-19.

Chanaka praised China's help by sharing its resources and experts.

Ethiopian public health authorities identified items they are in critical shortage of such as ventilators, patient monitors, suction machine, oxygen face masks, test kits, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Chanaka said the logistics are another challenge as flight services have stopped due to the outbreak. Ethiopian officials are working with pertinent Chinese government agencies to assist Ethiopia in this regard.

No discrimination against Africans

The diplomat noted that the year 2020 marks the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between China and Ethiopia, and they "have over the years forged strong partnership at all levels and in all sectors," which "was further enhanced during the fight against COVID-19."

"Both believe the victory over COVID-19 and post pandemic equally require global strategy and unity," he added.

The envoy refuted reports by Western media outlets, claiming that Africans in China have faced discrimination because of the virus.

He said that during the outbreak, there were over 4,000 African students in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province and it was the community in Wuhan, the university, and the city administrations and volunteers who cared for and supported African students.

"They were not discriminated because of their origins. There were many Africans who also lived in other parts of China as well during the spread of the various and not any sign of discrimination was reported," said the ambassador.

According to an AFP tally, a video started circulating on social media that purports to show a Kenyan couple involved in a fist fight with a Chinese couple in Wuhan, was later confirmed to be false. The incident occurred in the Bronx, New York City, in front of an Asian restaurant.

Chanaka said the recent incident in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province was an unfortunate development, but it is a "localized one, which does not reflect the overall situation of Africans in China."

Assurances were given by both sides "to take appropriate measures that no such thing targeting Africans will happen and also agreed to jointly fight COVID-19," he added.

"From what we know about the virus it affects all humanity across the race. We need to fight the pandemic together as fellow human beings. We need to act soberly and reasonably… There is no need to react emotionally and in panic mood," said the ambassador.

The Ethiopian diplomat stated that China-Africa relation has shown progresses in political, economic, military, social and cultural aspects since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and BRI.

Responding to questions related to his impression on China's measures in the fight against the virus, the envoy told the Global Times that he has personally witnessed the national effort waged by China and the national coordination from the central government to the grass-roots level.

The government, health workers, civilians, media, and other sectors of society have demonstrated to the world how to protect and control a national challenge, he noted.

"China has done its part in an unprecedented way. Its mobilization capability and the people's loyalty to comply with the directives of the government were extraordinary."

Chanaka stressed that it is the best lesson for Ethiopia and the rest of the world for them to learn from China's experience and apply the knowledge to their situation. 
Equatorial Guinean Envoy Commends China's COVID-19 Response
2020/4/27 15:06:26

Chinese doctor Chen Shuo (right) at work while aiding the Republic of Equatorial Guinea Photo: Courtesy of Chen Shuo

Equatorial Guinea's ambassador to China German Ekua Sima Abaga has spoken highly of China's efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

In an interview with Xinhua, the ambassador said China had adopted a series of comprehensive, strict and thorough measures, which have been effective in reducing transmission risks.

"We salute the Chinese government's efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak," he said.

The ambassador said China and Equatorial Guinea have supported each other since the start of the outbreak.

"China and Equatorial Guinea have always been good friends, good partners and good brothers and our friendship is based on sincerity and mutual support," he said.

In response to the unreasonable criticisms made by some Western politicians and media against other countries' containment efforts recently, the ambassador said these criticisms are "inappropriate and unnecessary," and the international community should be more united than ever to fight this common enemy of COVID-19.

China and Africa have stayed in close communication and the authorities of south China's Guangdong Province have implemented a series of new measures regarding some African countries' concerns on the situation of Africans living in Guangdong.

"The pandemic prevention is irrespective of border or skin color and all people should be treated equally," said the ambassador, adding that a few individual cases should not affect the harmonious relations between China and Africa.

Equatorial Guineans in China have been complying with the Chinese government's epidemic control measures since the outset of the epidemic, he said.
Xinjiang Debunks Lies in PBS Documentary and Biased Western Media
By Liu Xin
Global Times
2020/4/29 14:25:19

Photo:Liu Xin/GT

The Uygurs, who appeared in a PBS documentary on Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and also frequently in some Western media, are "liars" and members of a notorious separatist group, the Xinjiang regional spokesperson said at a press conference in the regional capital Urumqi on Wednesday.

"There are many people from Xinjiang living abroad, why do some media love to interview these few?" said Eljiang Anayt, the spokesperson of Xinjiang.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary titled China Undercover attacked Xinjiang's vocational education and training centers as well as its ethnic religious policies. It alleged that Xinjiang "suppressed ethnic Muslims such as Uygurs through biological information DNA and "facial recognition" programs.

The spokesperson said that the "documentary" is full of lies and fallacies. In order to catch attention and smear Xinjiang, they invited "actors" and told heaps of lies. They used groundless and distorted footage of interviews pieced together to churn out "stories" which had already been debunked.

The documentary alleged that "the mosques of Xinjiang are dismantled. Religious believers dare not to go to the mosques for fear of trouble. Some are warned to give up their religious belief."

"These are all rumors with ulterior motives. I would like to respond to their fallacies with data. The number of mosques in Xinjiang is 24,000 in total compared with 2,000 in the early stages of opening-up and reform. Are they reflections of religious freedom or a result of 'dismantling mosques?'" Eljiang said.

Xinjiang has invested a lot in renovating dilapidated mosques where conditions have improved. This has been welcomed by many religious figures and believers due to the greater convenience for worship. In Xinjiang, citizens are free to believe in, or not to believe in any religion, the spokesperson stressed.

The documentary also claims that Xinjiang is making use of surveillance technology including facial recognition to "suppress" Uygurs and other Muslims.

"These [claims] are nothing but preconceptions without any proof. Xinjiang lawfully installs surveillance cameras at its urban and rural main roads, transportation junctions and other public areas with the aim to improve its social governance and effectively prevent and strike against crimes," the spokesperson noted.

The system is designed to protect local people and does not target any specific ethnicity. Improving social governance through modern technologies and big data is common practice in the international community, the spokesperson said.

Eljiang also noted that by 2010, the UK had installed 4.2 million surveillance cameras, covering all its streets, alleys and motorways, accounting for 25 percent of the world's total.

"Why are the systems practiced by Western countries considered to be human rights protection while in China it is a violation? They are the same in nature. It is obviously a double standard," Elijiang said.

Eljiang explained that the producers of the documentary entered into Leon Tech under the pretense of holding a business negotiation but secretly filmed and coaxed words from the company's staff. It smeared the company for helping the "Chinese government accomplish the world's most complete surveillance system."

The documentary defines satellite images that resemble construction sites as so-called detention camps, claiming that "around 2 million Uygurs and other Muslims have been locked up in vocational education and training centers, some of whom suffered torture and persecution, some even attempted to commit suicide." This is nothing but alarmist nonsense, Eljiang said.

"I would like to ask this producer: Have you ever been to those construction sites in the satellite images? On what grounds can you define these sites as vocational education and training centers?" the spokesperson asked.

There were no essential differences between vocational education and training centers and the "community correction centers" in the US, the DDP in Britain, and "anti-extremism centers" in France, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also exposed the Uygurs interviewed in the PBS documentary.

Gulziyan Taxmamat, who appeared in the documentary and claimed that her sister was captured after returning to China, is a member of the "World Uyghur Congress", and has been in Germany since October, 2010. Her sister, Gulgina Taxmamat, who has come back from Malaysia, now teaches English at a training institution in Yining, and lives with her family, said the spokesperson.

Another interviewee, Gulzila Awarkhan, is a "dishonest and unscrupulous woman." She was put on blacklist by her bank because she intentionally delayed paying off her loans and still hasn't paid back the interest after it came due, Eljiang said.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Gulzila said that her aim and dream was to bring up her children, but she has never had any children. According to her two ex-husbands, Gulzila was unfaithful, and continually cheated on them during their marriages.

"Since we know what Gulzila is like, should we believe what she said?" the spokesperson asked.

Rahima Xanba, who also appeared in the documentary, "is a total liar" as she claimed she "was put into a detention house for 70 days with shackles around her hands and feet." But the real picture is that she was reported to the police because she stored and watched terrorist and extremist footage on her phone. She was questioned by local police in accordance with the law.

Considering her offence was minor and she had a repentant attitude, the local police exercised leniency on her according to law after educating her.

"We have noticed those 'actresses' showing up very often in some ill-intentioned Western media reports. I wonder: There are many people from Xinjiang living abroad, why do those media love to interview these few? I have come to the conclusion that they have run out of smears and slanders, so they have to use the same ones again and again," Eljiang said.

"As long as Xinjiang is stable and developing, and people in the region are living a happy life, those rumors will collapse on themselves. Those sinister tricks cannot change how the world sees us and will be spurned by wise minds," the regional spokesperson said.
Scientific Spirit Needed Amid Major Crisis
By GT staff reporters
Global Times
2020/4/30 0:53:40

Chinese medical team members meet with Iranian medical experts in Tehran, Iran, March 7. Photo: Xinhua

The US has become the first country to reach the mark of 1-million infections amid the COVID-19 pandemic due to a disdain for science as its leaders ignore advice from professionals and let conspiracies control their political agenda, some prominent scientists who have been striving to seek facts and truth over the past three months told the Global Times, claiming that they are shocked and regretful for this outcome.

When looking at why the US, a powerful country which is highly advanced in the fields of science and technology, has seen growing deaths from the  pandemic that surpassed casualties from World War I and the Vietnam War, some said it might be the continual suppression of scientists, spiraling online rumors and conspiracies that have accelerated the downfall of public trust in science when the world needs it most to fight this war that threatens innocent lives.

Regrettably, during the past few months, the public witnessed how politicians have played with different conspiracies to achieve their own political goals, ignored warnings and suggestions from professionals, marginalized those who are in the right position to speak out on the matter and who are always adhering to factual evidence. Consequences: Some drank disinfectant after following US President Donald Trump's unprofessional advice to prevent the virus, some burned 5G towers in the UK due to conspiracies linking the technology to COVID-19, which has all become part of the anti-intellectualism that creates disdain for science and endangers the public.

However, more people are urged to show respect to prominent medical professionals and scientists, who have been working hard to find out the truth about this new virus with no extra time to respond or even take a look into how ridiculous the coronavirus disinformation campaign is. Politicians, who understand little about the virus, are urged to stop wasting time on "blame games" and throwing around conspiracy theories to scapegoat China for the global pandemic when some American hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and GOP lawmakers have made noises that overshadow authoritative voices.

Let professionals do their job to save the world from this unprecedented crisis - a shared call from scientific communities in both countries.

Conspiracy vs science

When looking into how the US hit the 1-million infection threshold, severely weighing on the global pandemic fight, scientists from both China and overseas shared growing concerns about whether authorities can possibly let scientists take the lead on life-threatening pandemics being a matter directly linked to a way out of this crisis.

When Trump was asked by reporters about the 1-million case milestone on Tuesday, he replied that some good experts said this would never affect the US but they got it wrong. This is seen as typical of Trump's habit of blaming others for his own poor judgment, CNN said.

Faced with growing finger-pointing game staged by politicians with ill intentions like Trump and Pompeo and the loudest China critics, such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Washington Times, some scientists, and authoritative scientific journals including Nature, The Lancet, and New England Journal of Medicine, who are still persevering in carrying out research into the newly emerged virus, decided to reject these baseless accusation and let true science shed light on the virus and override ridiculous conspiracy theories.

Lu Jiahai, vice dean at the Public Health School of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, told the Global Times on Tuesday that conspiracy theories blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic in the West showed that even in a modernized world with highly developed science and technology, politicizing scientific issues still work, and as a scientist, "I cannot understand such silly acts."

During the past few months, a series of conspiracies and false narratives flourished, including some people believing scientists created the coronavirus, GOP lawmakers insisting the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, some blaming US billionaire Bill Gates for knowing the virus ahead of time and pocketing profits from developing vaccines, some being misled by Trump who suggesting UV light or disinfectant could kill the infection.

Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that some rumors such as the virus escaping from a lab and misleading treatment advices are among some of the most worrisome false narratives.

Various US media have also been fueling this disinformation campaign. The Washington Times was among the first media outlets in January to say that the virus may have originated from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and was used by China as part of a "biowarfare program." In quick succession, US politicians used it as ammunition to attack China and divert public attention from their own failures.

Pompeo previously stated in a Fox News Channel interview that "we know this virus originated in Wuhan, China," and that the Institute of Virology is only a handful of miles away from the wet market.

"But Pompeo and many other foreign media outlets had it all wrong, because the real lab is on the outskirts of Wuhan, which is 50 kilometers away from the wet market," Yang told  the Global Times on Tuesday, noting that Western politicians are making baseless accusations without getting their facts straight. Their actions reflected their eagerness to make China the scapegoat of the pandemic.

Peter Forster, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, who is engaged in researching into the early spread of the novel coronavirus among humans, said he is at the beginning of several large research projects, encompassing not only medicine and biology but also social sciences and economics.

"For my part, I believe we need to understand how the virus has genetically developed during the past few months to find out its strengths and weaknesses, to assist in finding treatments and vaccines," he told the Global Times via email on Monday.

Forster also said he has been keeping in touch with Chinese scientists whose results independently support their conclusions, and who are taking what he considers the logical next steps in their research.

The team of scientists has mapped some of the original spread of the new coronavirus through its mutations, which creates different viral lineages. "In my view, anyone searching for the detailed origins of the virus needs to search more broadly in China and East Asia," he said.

On politicians debating the origins and floating conspiracies on whether the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, including US politicians constantly blaming China for causing the pandemic, Forster said he has not followed the political discussions in China or in the US in any detail. "We do not have time for this now."

Both Chinese and foreign experts, who have been racing against time to gain a deeper understanding of this new virus, shared Forster's view: Don't waste time on pointless debates; don't politicize a scientific topic and just focus on the right thing to do: Save more lives and defend solidarity in this global combat.

Call for global solidarity

Despite hostility from US politicians who have been constantly waging a disinformation campaign against China, US scientists, such as the world's leading "virus hunter" W. Ian Lipkin, have been sticking to the facts and insisting on scientific integrity when it comes to research and cooperation with China, especially when Chinese scientists, ever since the outbreak began on the front line, have been cooperating diligently and effectively to identify the pathogen behind the deadly disease, and tried to develop a vaccine for the virus.

When asked by CNN on Tuesday about whether China has been open with information on the virus, Lipkin, internationally recognized as an authority on the use of molecular methods for pathogen discovery, and who has been working with Lu Jiahai, answered that based on his 17 years of cooperation with Chinese scientists, he trusted them "and they trust me, that's why we continue working together."

In February 27, scientists from eight countries, including Charles Calisher from Colorado State University in the US and Peter Daszak, president of the New York-based nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, signed a public letter via The Lancet to show solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China who are fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak.

The letter also strongly condemned the conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin, saying that scientists from several countries have overwhelmingly concluded that this novel coronavirus originated from the wild, as have so many other emerging pathogens.

The joint statement from scientists published in Lancet in March condemned conspiracy theories on the origin of novel coronavirus, calling on support for scientists, public health professionals, medics in Wuhan and across China, saying that the scientific community speaks as one voice.

We work very closely with Chinese scientists. We have had incredible transparency with labs in China for the last 15 years, since SARS, said Daszak.

"We collaborate on what are dangerous viruses and gather credible information that helps public health around the world. That is all under threat right now," Daszak noted,

Chinese scientists and their families have been abused on social media and threatened with violence. They are saying, said Daszak, "we are not going to talk, because every time we speak we get criticized or threatened".

Scientists and professionals around the globe hold to the principle of always treating the virus with a scientific attitude, as it is not targeting any specific ethnic group or country, which is in stark contrast to those politicians who are believed to have little understanding of the virus or its magnitude and implications.

"Scientists from different countries need to stay away from political debates and cooperate to make joint efforts on exploring the unknowns for our civilization. I have always advocated international cooperation between scientists on research into COVID-19," Lu told the Global Times.

More Chinese people consider those medics and scientists who led the fight as real-life superheroes.
Beijing Opens Drive-thru Testing Sites to Find More Asymptomatic COVID-19 Infections
By Ji Yuqiao and Liu Xin
Global Times
2020/4/29 23:58:40

A drive-through testing point in Haidian district, Beijing Photo: Courtesy of Pony Testing International Group

Beijing's Haidian district opened a drive-thru testing point for nucleic acid tests of the coronavirus with the whole process taking just two minutes and experts said the move would widen the testing scale in Beijing to find more asymptomatic COVID-19 infections ahead of a massive work resumption.

By making appointments online, Beijing residents who want to have nucleic acid tests can drive to the testing points in Haidian district to take their nasopharyngeal swabs. The test costs 260 yuan ($36.70).

Since the testing point was launched, there have been 448 samples collected and almost 100 people have had drive-thru tests every day, an employee of the Pony Testing International Group told the Global Times on Wednesday. The drive-thru testing point in Haidian District is run by the company.

The employee said the company's testing staff wear protective masks, goggles and one-piece protective clothing as well as double latex gloves when taking swabs, and each point has at least five members offering services.

Some drive-thru testing points overseas have had issues with too many cars blocking lanes, so the employee said "making appointments online can relieve such problems and the site is very wide with an area of more than 1,000 square meters and more than 60 parking spaces," so the site has not had traffic jams.

The accuracy of drive-thru testing would not be affected by using this system. "Actually, this method offers convenience to those who need to get nucleic acid tests and minimizes their contact with medical workers, which means it is safer," Zhou Zijun, a public health expert at Peking University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The drive-thru nucleic acid test was first launched in a city in South Korea at the end of February and has been copied by European countries and the US, according to ABC News.

The US has further expanded drive-thru testing locations to meet the growing need in communities nationwide, US media reported on Monday. The number of infected people in the US surpassed 1 million on Tuesday, making it the world's worst affected country.

According to a release Monday from Walgreens, the second-largest pharmacy chain in the US, the current drive-thru testing combines a nasal swab diagnostic test and antibody blood test.

Compared to antibody tests, which need to collect blood samples, nucleic acid tests are more convenient and also lower the risk of infection, Zhou said.

China started drive-thru tests later than some countries because of their different car ownership rates. "More people in these countries have private vehicles so they needed this method more urgently," Zhou said. "And they have bigger parking lots that can be converted into test spots."

Amid the massive resumption of work and production in China, quicker drive-thru testing on a larger-scale population can help identify more asymptomatic infections and reduce the risk of a possible second epidemic outbreak, he noted.
India's Vaccine Manufacturing Could Play Larger Role amid Global Cooperation
Global Times
2020/4/29 22:16:41

Photo: VCG

Even the fierce global competition to develop coronavirus vaccine cannot take the spotlight off India, given its strength in the field.

The Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker by number of doses produced and sold, announced on Sunday that it will start mass production of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and hopes to bring it to the market by October if human clinical trials are successful, according to The Economic Times. Additionally, the US recently disclosed that it is now working with India to develop vaccines to combat the global pandemic.

India's progress and partnerships are understandable when the country's vaccine manufacturing sector is examined. Though many have little knowledge of India's vaccine production capacity, it is highly competitive and carries great potential by many measures.

For starters, India is known for its strength in scientific research for medicine development. The country is one of the world's major manufacturers of generic drugs and vaccines.

High production and low prices in its vaccine manufacturing sector are two unique advantages that make the South Asian nation a good partner in vaccine research and development. Take the Serum Institute of India, one of the six Indian firms currently developing vaccines for the new coronavirus, as an example, the institute's CEO recently told Business Today that it would sell its coronavirus vaccine at around 1,000 rupees ($13.20), an affordable price for most around the world. Even better, the vaccine maker currently produces 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines each year, supplying 20 vaccines to 165 countries and exporting some 80 percent of its total production.

Given the current severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, if trials are successful, subsequent production capacity will become a critical issue. India's advantages in vaccine development and production mean it can at least rely on itself to meet the huge domestic demand, which cannot be met by any other country in the world in the short term.

We are glad to see India is accelerating coronavirus vaccine cooperation with different partners. Previously, some US politicians accused China of vaccine hoarding based on groundless conspiracy theories, but China has never had the intent to monopolize vaccine production or profit from it. As the whole world grapples with this public health crisis, the development of a vaccine is no longer a business matter but a humanitarian issue.

At this junction, we sincerely hope India can play a larger role in the global vaccine industrial chain by offering a boost to international cooperation.
Provoking Human Civilization Must Be Rejected
By Zhong Sheng
Global Times
2020/4/29 16:33:40

Photo: IC

The Daily Telegraph tabloid in Sydney, Australia recently published an article that was accompanied by an illustration that denigrated China's national emblem and maliciously suggested China is the source of the novel coronavirus.

A national emblem is the symbol of a sovereign country and is inviolable. By politicizing the pandemic, the newspaper has discarded justice, broken through the bottom line of morality, and gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. Such evil-minded conduct should never be tolerated.

The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the world's morality and civilization. As the recorder of history, media should consciously cultivate moral integrity, uphold and defend the basic values of human civilization and keep the bottom line of human civilization.

Both national flags and national emblems are important symbols of modern civilization. They express the deep feelings of the people and represent the noble dignity of all countries. By blatantly stigmatizing China for the pandemic and inciting racism, the Australian newspaper goes against modern civilization. Virus tracing is a rigorous and serious scientific procedure that requires professional expertise. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly stressed that the novel coronavirus could have come from just about anywhere in the world.

In a research paper published by The Lancet recently, 16 global health law scholars warned that responses that are anchored in fear, misinformation, racism and xenophobia will not save the world from outbreaks like COVID-19.

Disregarding the warnings of the WHO and the international health law scholars, and openly violating the International Health Regulations, the Australian newspaper has shamed itself.

Media reports should be based on facts and conscience. China has made active contributions in defending human rights to life and health. By always putting people's welfare first, the country has consolidated the sound momentum of epidemic prevention and control at home.

China has actively participated in and propelled international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic by adhering to the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind and advocating the international humanitarian spirit.

Both China's epidemic prevention and control achievements at home and its role in the global anti-pandemic cooperation are undeniable. Instead of reporting facts, the Australian newspaper called white black out of ideological prejudice, revealing its lack of professional integrity.

The global war against COVID-19 is a race against death. Any conscientious and responsible media outlet should play a constructive role in promoting global cooperation in fighting the pandemic.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper disregarded the negotiations and condemnation of the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney, and repeatedly carried out slanders against China under the excuse of the pandemic.

On April 1, the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney sent a letter to the newspaper, refuting its arrogant and prejudiced pandemic-related reports on China. The newspaper later played a similar trick in its reporting and published an article on April 23 saying the illustration of the Chinese national emblem was "excellent," continuing to discredit China and the Chinese people. It seems that the media outlet has chosen to stand on the opposite side of objectivity and fairness.

The facts are self-evident and justice naturally inhabits people's heart. British academic journal Nature recently issued an editorial titled "Stop the coronavirus stigma now" on three platforms including in Chinese and English, for three consecutive days.

In February, the WHO announced that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus would be called COVID-19, implicitly sending a reminder to those who had erroneously been associating the virus with Wuhan and China in their news coverage - including Nature, the editorial said. "That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologize," it said.

Nature's admission of the error in a timely manner shows its responsibility. In contrast, the Daily Telegraph exposed its narrow-minded thinking and dark intentions.

The racist remarks about the novel coronavirus and the subsequent racial discrimination, racial contradictions and racial conflicts are all blatant provocations against modern civilization that should be resisted by the international community. All responsible media in the world should firmly adhere to justice and jointly protect the basic values of human civilization.

Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by the People's Daily to express its views on foreign policy.
China Turns a Page with Two Sessions to Convene in May: Global Times Editorial
Global Times
2020/4/29 21:18:40

This year's two sessions, China's most important annual political events, will convene on May 21 and May 22, according to an official announcement made on Wednesday.

On the same day, Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei announced they would lower their emergency response to the COVID-19 epidemic from the top level to the second one. Beijing will also remove quarantine requirements for visitors from low-risk parts of the country. The successive announcements are milestones, showing that China has firmly controlled the epidemic and ushers in a new era to fully resume economic and social activities while making prevention and control work normal.

The two sessions will finally convene in Beijing after being postponed by more than two months. It means thousands of deputies and representatives from all over the country will gather in the capital city to attend the country's largest legislative and political consultative conferences since the outbreak of the epidemic. This is the best signal that China has brought the epidemic under control and demonstrates the capabilities and confidence of the country with a population of 1.4 billion.

Witnessing the earlier outbreak of the coronavirus in the world, China is one of the first few countries to explore ways to tamp down the epidemic as well as to end economic shutdown and resume production. China has made great efforts to reduce the number of infections to zero in strict accordance with the epidemiological requirements, and scored a success. It has also strictly guarded against imported cases and domestic rebounds, which has sustained its anti-epidemic results from the first stage.

The outside world lacks knowledge about China's situation. As the pandemic rages on in the US and Europe, people there can't imagine what China has been doing. The number of infections in the US exceeded 1 million hours before China's decision to fix the dates for the two sessions. Globally, there are more than 3 million confirmed cases. Against this backdrop, China's achievements are particularly prominent.

Washington, which is shirking its responsibility for its failures in handling the pandemic for political reasons, accused China of covering up infection and death figures. It also claimed China "falsified" its anti-epidemic results. The best answer to the smear is to steadily normalize daily life in China. 

No country can fabricate the recovery of businesses, the relaunch of tourism and resumption of traffic during rush hours, nor can it falsify people's consumption enthusiasm after the epidemic and the leisure group chats on social media. It's easy to tell whether a city has resumed normal life or if it is still struggling.

China has made a solid step from fighting the coronavirus to recovering its economy. Each decision was not impulsively made, but carefully planned. Although there are many ways to curb the epidemic, China's approach will definitely be evaluated by history as one of the most successful. Lies about China's endeavors against the pandemic will eventually be crushed by facts.

The pandemic is far from over. The people's fight against the coronavirus is still in the early stage and a graver situation may come next winter in the northern hemisphere. China needs to stay on high alert and cannot and should not lessen its prevention and control work as life returns to normal. It's firmly believed that Chinese people agree on this. China's prevention and control has become a new normal. It is constantly scanning every corner of the society and is ready to cut any new infection chains.

Normalizing economic and social life will provide China with abundant capital to handle international affairs. No matter how the pandemic fight changes, China will take the initiative. It will have plenty of opportunities to smash US attacks. No challenge can crush us as long as we continue to properly manage ourselves, maintain one of the highest production resumption rates and prevent the rebound of the epidemic.  
South Carolina: Latest Updates on Coronavirus
By Brandon Specktor
Senior Writer
Live Science

Here's a look at the number of coronavirus cases in South Carolina and the latest news about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Historic downtown Charleston.
(Image: © Shutterstock)
April 29 at 6:15 p.m. E.T.

South Carolina is reporting 5,881 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 203 deaths associated with the virus, according to the state's  Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

As US coronavirus cases continue to climb,  South Carolina is expected to see more than 8,000 confirmed cases by early may, according to projections posted on the health department's website on March 26.

Latest updates:

— South Carolina was one of 9 states to earn an "F" grade for social distancing in a new ranking released by Unacast, a company that analyzes cell phone data. The company saw a low reduction in the distance cell phone users travel each day, and a low reduction in the density of encounters between cell phone users compared to the national average. Read about their methods here.

— Several local elections scheduled for May 5 and May 12 have been rescheduled to an unspecified later date, The State reported on Tuesday (April 28).

— On Monday (April 27) Governor Henry McMaster extended the statewide state of emergency declaration by 15 days, thereby extending all existing executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

— On Monday (April 20) Governor Henry McMaster rolled back the social distancing order he signed two weeks ago, now allowing many non-essential businesses to reopen. Department stores, sporting good stores, book stores, music stores, and many other retailers may reopen, The State reported, so long as they limit occupancy to five customers per 1,000 square feet, or 20% of posted occupancy limits (whichever number is lower).

Businesses requiring close contact, such as salons, barbershops and gyms, must remain closed.

On Thursday (April 23), Dr. Linda Bell, South Carolina’s state epidemiologist, stressed the importance of social distancing as businesses begin to reopen.

— On Friday (April 17) governor McMaster said that all docks and boat landings will reopen, though social distancing rules remain in effect.

— On Wednesday (April 15), officials with the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston said that social distancing appears to be working in flattening the curve, but that a surge of COVID-19 patients is still expected in the next few weeks. Now is not the time to relax social distancing restrictions, MUSC spokesperson Heather Woolwine said in a news release.

"If social distancing is reduced now, new cases could grow quickly," Woolwine said.

— Democratic legislators are calling on governor McMaster to create a task force to investigate why a disproportionate number of African Americans are dying from COVID-19 in South Carolina, local news site The State reported. According to DHEC statistics released Tuesday (April 14) African Americans make up 27% of the state's population and account for 41% of positive COVID-19 cases and 56% of cases that have resulted in death.

— On Monday (April 6) Governor Henry McMaster issued a statewide stay-at-home order, effective 5 p.m. on Tuesday (April 7). The order does not prohibit citizens from going to work, the grocery store, or other essential locations. Three of South Carolina’s four largest cities — Charleston, Columbia and Mount Pleasant — have previously issued stay-at-home orders. Violators face a $100 fine or 30 days in jail.

The governor also passed an order limiting the number of customers allowed in stores to either 20 percent of capacity or five people per 1,000 square feet, according to the Post and Courier.

— On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that all American military bases will stop publicly reporting confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Post and Courier. The order came just as two bases in South Carolina, including Fort Jackson — the Army's largest training base in the nation — reported double-digit increases in the number of positive cases. The fort, located in Columbia, SC, sees more than 45,000 recruits every year.

— On Sunday (March 29), governor McMaster announced that all public schools, colleges and technical colleges in the state would remain closed through April, extending previously planned closures by a month.

— On Tuesday (March 17) governor McMaster announced that all bars and restaurants state-wide must cease offering dine-in service, effective Wednesday (March 18). Gatherings of more than 50 people are also banned across the state, the South Carolina Post and Courier reported.
Remdesivir Shows Success in Large COVID-19 Trial. Will Become 'New Standard of Care,' Fauci Says.
By Nicoletta Lanese
Staff Writer
Live Science

Remdesivir shows promise in treating patients with severe COVID-19.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

The drug remdesivir significantly reduces the time it takes for COVID-19 patients to recover, as compared with a placebo treatment, according to a large, international study.

"The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said in an interview with NBC News today (April 29). Patients treated with remdesivir took an average of 11 days to recover as compared with 15 days for those who received a placebo, he said.

"Although a 31% improvement doesn't seem like a knockout 100%, it is a very important proof of concept," Fauci said. "What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus." 

The NIAID-sponsored trial began on Feb. 21 and included "about 1,090 plus" participants from various sites around the world, including the U.S., Germany, Denmark, Spain, Greece and the U.K., Fauci said. The so-called primary endpoint of the study was patients' time to recovery, and more specifically, their "ability to be discharged" from the hospital, he said. The researchers used different metrics to measure improvement, depending on how sick a given patient was at the start of treatment, Stat News reported.

In addition to recovering more quickly, on average, fewer people in the remdesivir group than the placebo group died, though the result wasn't statistically significant. The mortality rate "trended toward" 8% in the treatment group as compared with 11% in the placebo, although the data still requires further analysis, Fauci said. Normally, the NIAID would wait several days to announce the results of the study, so that the final analyses could be completed.

But "whenever you have clear-cut evidence that a drug works, you have an ethical obligation to immediately let the people who are in the placebo group know so that they can have access," Fauci said. "And all of the other trials that are taking place now have a new standard of care."

As the research groups continue to finalize the data, "some of the numbers may change a little, but the conclusion will not change," he added.

Prior to Fauci's interview, Gilead Sciences, the company that produces remdesivir, announced it was "aware of positive data emerging" from the trial, according to a statement published April 29. "We understand that the trial has met its primary endpoint," the statement read.

Gilead originally designed remdesivir to treat patients with Ebola, but the drug proved ineffective when tested for that purpose, Live Science previously reported. When tested in animal models of coronavirus infection, however, remdesivir showed efficacy in treating both severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

When SARS-CoV-2 emerged, scientists found the virus stopped replicating in a lab dish when exposed to the drug. Remdesivir also prevented the virus from infecting human cells in a petri dish, according to a letter published in the journal Nature in February. These preliminary data compelled the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve remdesivir for "compassionate use" in COVID-19 patients. Another trial showed the drug stopped SARS-CoV-2 infections in monkeys.

Since then, several research groups have launched clinical trials to test the drug's safety and efficacy. Several small studies suggested that remdesivir alleviated COVID-19 symptoms, including fever and breathing difficulties, but these studies did not include a control group that did not receive the drug, Live Science reported. Without a control group, doctors cannot determine that remdesivir actually caused patients to improve, as opposed to a strong placebo effect or some other, unknown factor.

In including a placebo group, the NIAID trial avoided that problem.

Remdesivir works by mimicking a nucleotide, one of the molecular building blocks of RNA, Live Science previously reported. Thus disguised, the drug can infiltrate viral RNA, disrupt its genetic sequence and render whole sections useless. "This drug happens to be blocking an enzyme that the virus uses" known as an RNA polymerase, which enables the virus to make copies of its genetic material, Fauci said.

Looking forward, the NIAID and its collaborators plan to test remdesivir in combination with other drugs, including anti-inflammatory treatments, to see if its positive effects can be amplified. In the meantime, the original remdesivir study will be finalized and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, Fauci said.

"This will be the standard of care."

Originally published on Live Science. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ethiopia Coronavirus Update April 28: Two More Positive Cases Confirmed, Total 126
Ethiopia’s Coronavirus case still not showing significant increase. Only two more cases confirmed on Tuesday

April 28, 2020

Ethiopia tested 1080 suspected Coronavirus cases over the past twenty-four hours and only two individuals have tested positive for the virus.

The two patients ( 42 and 50 years of age) had a travel history to the United Kingdom, and are British nationals. They were in mandatory quarantine after arrival in the country.

As reported yesterday, there are no patients in the Intensive Care Unit, and the status remains unchanged in that regard. 71 patients are in the treatment centers.

So far 50 patients have fully recovered from the virus, as announced by the Ministry of Health. Registered deaths still 3. Two of the confirmed cases were Japanese nationals , and have returned back to their country.

The total number of COVID 19 cases in the country including recovery, deaths, and individuals who are getting medical help in the designated treatment centers has now reached 126.

15,668 samples have been examined since Ethiopia started tests for COVID 19 cases over a month ago. There are about 12 testing centers across the country. The aim, as disclosed last week, is to test about 4000 samples per day.

Ethiopia’s policy responses to COVID 19 are still in place. Land borders to six neighboring countries remained close. All incoming travelers to the country are required to go through two weeks of mandatory quarantine. As it turns out, most of the COVID 19 cases in the country had a recent travel history.

Moreover, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency about three weeks ago to enforce social distancing and other prevention measures across the country.

As a result of CODID 19, Ethiopia is anticipating 11 percent economic decline. 
Ethiopia Appointed New State Minister for Foreign Affairs
Tsion Teklu, State Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Photo : MFAE

April 24, 2020

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia announced on Friday that Tsion Teklu is appointed as State Minister for Business and Diaspora Affairs.

Her appointment is dated back to April 6, 2020. Before taking over her new role at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia,  she served as state minister within the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry instituted Ethiopian Diaspora Agency in January 2019 as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform measures. 

The agency is instituted to facilitate the participation of Ethiopian Diaspora in the affairs of their country and in investment activities in the country, among other things.  
African Union Diplomats Question UNAMID Withdrawal from Darfur
Jerry Matjila South Africa’s Ambassador to the UN (UN photo)

April 26, 2020 (KHARTOUM) - The three African non-permanent members of the UNSC, known as the A3, have questioned the viability of UNAMID’s exit from Darfur, without calling openly to maintain the hybrid mission.

On Friday 24 April, the Security Council held a video conference to discuss the planned exit of the hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur by the end of next October.

In his briefing, Jean-Pierre Lacroix U.N. peacekeeping chief told the meeting that the closure of airports, seaports in response to the COVID-19 has rendered “impractical” an effective exit by 31 October.

Lacroix further pointed out to the enduring threats to civilians and a high anxiety level among the IDPs over UNAMID’s exit, stressing the drawdown process must be "managed carefully", and should not signal the lack of "concerns related to the protection of civilians in Darfur".

Ambassador Jerry Matjila of South Africa to the UN, for his part, said that it is imperative to align a follow-up UN mission to the priorities and objectives set by the Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok in his call for a UN Chapter 6 Mission post-UNAMID’s withdrawal. Also, he said the role of the African Union should continue in the transitional period.

Matjila further pointed to halt of UNAMID withdrawal operations before to ask " what is the feasibility of extending the deadline of UNAMID given the changed circumstances? Is the exit of UNAMID viable at this stage?

The African diplomat who was speaking on behalf of the A3+1 namely Niger, Tunisia, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines alluded to a proposal made by the penholders on Darfur (the United Kingdom and Germany) about a police force within the new UN Chapter 6 Mission.

"Should the UN consider maintaining a police presence in Darfur; if the security situation deteriorates in Darfur, to what extent would the UN have the requisite capacity to respond? Would these limited police presence be creating false expectations and potentially undermine the UN’s credibility if there is a weakened presence?"

"Does the security situation, particularly in terms of the protection of civilian mandate, in the entire Darfur merit the total withdrawal of UNAMID by October 2020?," he added questioning the viability of the new mission in term of security issue.

The South African diplomat who praised the "invaluable efforts" of his compatriot and head of the UNAMID, Mamabolo, went further to suggest that the immense political role expected from the new mission should not be disturbed by the security issues.

"Given the broader political developments in Sudan, that require international support to ensure stability of the country, especially its recovery and economic development, should the new UN mission not specifically focus on political and peacebuilding only, with the support of AU and IGAD?" he stressed.

For his part, Ambassador Jonathan Allen, UK ChargĂ© d’Affaires to the UN referred to a request made by the Sudanese prime minister to support Sudan capacity-building efforts, he said that this should also include training and mentoring of police forces.

"(...) we firmly believe that the new mission can and should be a partner to the Government of Sudan in responding to the ongoing protection of civilians’ challenges in Darfur, particularly in the IDP camps," he alluded to the role of the would-be proposed police force.

Lacroix emphasized in his speech that the departure of UNAMID be accompanied by alternative local and national efforts to build trust with the local populations and the internally displaced persons.

Also, he said it is crucial to make progress on the Darfur peace process that taking place in Juba and for the population of Darfur to see "peace dividends" as he said.

"Our objective is to achieve a smooth transition to a future UN mission that can help the UN better support the Sudanese people," he said.

The United Nations and the African Union are expected to come with a detailed proposal for the new UN mission in the upcoming months.

Al-Burhan, Pompeo Discuss Sudan’s Removal from U.S. Terror List
April 27, 2020 (KHARTOUM) - Sudan’s head of the Sovereign Council of Sudan, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, on Monday, received a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to discuss Sudan’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"In his phone call, Pompeo discussed arrangements to remove Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) and U.S. aid to Sudan in confronting the Coronavirus pandemic," said a statement released by the Sudanese presidency.

Trump administration said working to remove Sudan from the SST list, but at the same time said that Khartoum has to pay compensations for the victims of terrorist attacks on USS Cole and US embassies in Dar es Salam and Nairobi.

The Sudanese government managed to pay some $70 million for the victims of USS Cole but the second case is still under discussions as the deal include US citizens and foreign nationals. Also, Sudan needs to ensure the support of a third party that can advance hundreds of millions to be paid in compensation for the American victims.

Concerning COVID-19, the United States has granted Sudan nearly $13.7 million to support its efforts to stop the spread of the respiratory disease in the country.

But in a letter on 8 April, Sudanese Prime Minister complained from his country’s exclusion by the World Bank from emergency funds for coronavirus response operations in 25 developing countries.

Abdallah Hamdok regretted that "access to lifesaving external finance remains restricted due to American sanctions on Sudan" and called on Antonio Guterres to press the World Bank to support the health and economic measures to confront the coronavirus.

According to the Sovereign Council, "Pompeo further discussed Sudan’s position on the draft resolution expected by the UN Security Council (on the UN political mission), along with security cooperation between the two countries as well as the transitional period and the needed support.

Last Friday, the Security Council discussed the withdrawal of the UNAMID from Darfur and the new political mission under Chapter IV to support the three-year democratic transition in Sudan.

The Sudanese ambassador to the UN warned that his country would not accept to establish the mandate of the new mission under Chapter VII.