Sunday, February 28, 2021

Vaccination Programme Shifts a Gear Up

28 FEB, 2021 - 00:02 

Sunday Mail Reporters

MORE than 12 000 frontline workers were inoculated against Covid-19 during the first five days of the national vaccination programme, with authorities now preparing to intensify the immunisation blitz.

Zimbabwe last week joined an elite group of African countries that have launched comprehensive Covid-19 vaccination programmes, using the 200 000 vaccination doses donated from China.

An additional 600 000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines procured by the Government from Chinese pharmaceutical giant, Sinopharm, are set to land in the country this week, giving impetus to the country’s largest immunisation programme in history.

Data obtained from the Ministry of Health and Child Care shows that 12 579 frontline workers, including healthcare workers, security sector personnel and journalists, had been vaccinated by Friday, under phase one of the programme.

At least 49 000 frontline workers will receive two inoculation jabs during the current phase.

Co-ordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, told The Sunday Mail that the immunisation drive will intensify with the arrival of additional doses from China this week.

“The rollout is going on smoothly in spite of the prevalence of misinformation on social media platforms,” said Dr Mahomva.

“From the national level we have decentralised to the provincial level but it is difficult for me to discuss the rollout in numbers, time and places because logistics can change at any time and we don’t want to appear to be misleading the public.

“As for the additional vaccines, yes we are expecting 600 000 more doses next week (this week). I understand preparations for one of our Air Zimbabwe planes to fly to China and bring the vaccines home are in place, but again I cannot say the specific date they will land here.”

Global praise

Zimbabwe has garnered praise from international public health institutions for being among the first African countries to roll out a vaccination programme.

Nine countries on the continent: Morocco (AstraZeneca and Sinopharm), Algeria (Sputnik V), Egypt (Sinopharm), South Africa (Johnson & Johnson), Seychelles (Sinopharm and AstraZeneca), Rwanda (Pfizer and Moderna), Mauritius (AstraZeneca), Zimbabwe (Sinopharm) and Senegal (Sinopharm) have started vaccination programmes.

Guinea has administered only 60 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, while Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire received their initial share of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through the World Health Organisation-led Covax initiative last week.

Responding to questions from this publication during a press briefing, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, said countries that have begun vaccinating should accelerate their immunisation programmes.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” said Dr Nkengasong.

“We hope that in the course of this journey we can be ahead of the pandemic.

“Africa CDC will be developing a comprehensive mapping of countries who are vaccinating their citizens.”

Phase two inches closer

Dr Mahomva said the successful rollout of the vaccination programme means the country is slowly moving towards the next phase.

College and university lecturers, school teachers and people with underlying medical conditions will be vaccinated during the second phase.

“The Zimbabwe Expanded Programme for Immunisation teams from both the national and provincial levels were seen working very hard, vaccinating healthcare workers under phase one of the National Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Programme,” Dr Mahomva said in her weekly Covid-19 update.

“Despite initial public concerns, fears and misinformation on Covid-19 vaccines, the national vaccine rollout kicked off very well, progress has been made with the vaccination teams expected to complete phase one soon and move on to phase two and phase three.

“The aim is to cover at least 60 percent of the population in order to achieve herd immunity and protect the nation from a potentially deadlier third wave.

Hope for schools opening

It is anticipated that commencement of the second phase of the vaccination programme will accelerate the Government’s plan to reopen schools.

Authorities are banking on the vaccination of educators and implementation of strict standard operating procedures in order to allow for schools to open.

Preparations for the opening of schools for this year’s first term have begun with the Government having deployed teams of public health experts to assess schools’ preparedness.

The Director of Communication and Advocacy in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Mr Taungana Ndoro, said Cabinet will announce the date for schools’ opening soon.

“At the moment we are assessing our schools so that we advise Government on the preparedness. Cabinet will then make a determination,” said Mr Ndoro.

“We were deliberate in our monitoring looking at boarding schools in particular because last year they had the highest number of Covid-19 cases.

“We are looking at their adherence to the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well as World Health Organisation Covid-19 guidelines such as spacing in dormitories, dining halls and classrooms.

“Schools are now ready to open, and we are happy with the progress that has been made so far.”

He said boarding schools can enrol pupils to their normal capacity.

“We are encouraging them to operate as normal as long as they are adhering to prescribed guidelines,” Mr Ndoro said.

“Some schools that we visited are being innovative in their spacing and social distancing by creating more space which is commendable.”

Strict measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19 in boarding schools including a review of maximum carrying capacity of hostels, detailed inspection of boarding facilities, and targeted training of hostel matrons, boarding masters and kitchen staff, have been put in place.

Ethiopian Government Invites International Technical Assistance in Investigating Violations

February 26, 2021

Humanitarian agencies are  given unfettered access to the region, according to the Ethiopian Government. 


The Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on Friday released a statement expressing commitment to undertake alleged rights violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. This is the second statement in less than a week. 

The statement noted that complex challenges in the region came as the direct consequence of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s attack on the Ethiopian Defense Force on November 4,2020. 

Furthermore, it is stated that the Ethiopian government has been making efforts to address complex security, humanitarian and social challenges in the region with the aim to stabilize the region and “bring to normalcy” the lives of citizens in the region. 

Another point stated in the statement is that the Ethiopian government has been collaborating with humanitarian agencies and development partners to address the humanitarian crisis. This week, the government announced 3.1 million people in 34 districts (out of 36 districts) received humanitarian assistance. 

World Food Program chief,David Beasley,  was this week in Tigray once more. He remarked that there is important progress in humanitarian aid delivery in the region. 

Operation to bring what Ethiopian government calls criminals who are believed to be responsible for the situation in Tigray region is still underway and will continue, as confirmed by the government. 

It is pledged that the government will investigate rights violations in the region. In that regard, invitation is made for international technical assistance. 

“The government welcomes international technical assistance to undertake the investigations as well as invites the potential to collaborate on joint investigations,” the statement said. 

State media outlets reported right after completion of the law enforcement operation that TPLF set over 10,000 convicted criminals free after it realized that it lost the war. 

Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has announced this month that there were 108 cases of rape and sexual assault in the region. An Investigation team from the commission confirmed them from hospital sources and law enforcement bodies. 

Earlier this week, Ethiopian government said that it is gravely concerned about misinformation campaign to distort facts on the ground in Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Eritrea Outraged by Amnesty International’s “Fallacious Report”

February 26, 2021

Amnesty International did not contact the government of Eritrea to verify claims about the alleged massacre in Axum

Photo: Yemane Gebremeskel, Eritrea’s Minister for Informatino


Eritrea on Friday expressed outrage over Amnesty International’s latest report regarding alleged human rights violations and the “massacre of hundreds of civilians” in the historic city of Aksum, Tigray regional state. 

Yemane Gebremeskel, Ministry of Information of Eritrea, said in a twitter message that “Eritrea is outraged and categorically rejects the preposterous accusations levelled against it by Amnesty International in a fallacious report issued today.  The report is largely based on testimonies of some 31 individuals from the Hamdayet Refugee camp in Sudan.” 

Amnesty claimed that Eritrean troops “systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the northern city of Axum on 28-29 November 2020.” 

The interview-based report from Amnesty made further claims when it said that Eritrean troops opened fire in the streets and house-to-house raids. 

Earlier this week, Ethiopian government reaffirmed that Eritrean troops were not deployed in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and that law enforcement operation following TPLF attack on Ethiopian Defense Force was carried out by FDRE Defense Force. 

Amnesty report admitted that it interviewed what it called “survivors”, in Hamdayet Refugee  camp in Sudan, from “ Eritrean troops attack in Aksum.” 

Eritrea’s Minister for Information said that many in the camp mentioned above are TPLF militias who crossed the Sudanese border after carrying out an ethnic-cleansing massacre in Maikadra in November 2020.   

In January 2021, secretariat of Ethiopia’s State of Emergency Fact Check Task Force, Redwan Hussien, announced that most TPLF militia and special forces who conducted ethnic-based massacres in Maikadra fled to Sudan Refugee camp. 

The Eritrean government announced that it was not contacted by Amnesty International for a fact check.  Yeman Gebremeskel remarked ‘It must be underscored that Amnesty made absolutely no attempt to seek any information from Eritrea. Moreover, the fabricated Axum accusation has mutated over the last month from a “massacre of Orthodox Christians at St. Mary’s Church” to “house-to-house” killing of civilians” 

The Ethiopian government was not contacted either regarding the alleged Axum massacre.  

There have been accusations from activists (both Eritreans and Ethiopians) that Amnesty International has become biased. Crimes committed by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) including the Maikadra ethnic cleansing massacre was not given the attention it deserves, and is not thoroughly investigated. 

Ethiopian government this week reaffirmed that it is ready to investigate any rights abuse in the northern part of the country.   

Africa's Confirmed COVID-19 Cases Near 3.89 Million: Africa CDC

By Xinhua

Mar 01, 2021 08:56 AM

Medical worker go about their business at a COVID-19 test point in Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb. 1, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the African continent reached 3,888,006 as of Sunday afternoon, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

According to the continental disease control and prevention agency's Africa COVID-19 dashboard, the death toll related to the pandemic stood at 103,485 as of Sunday noon.

A total of 3,461,553 people infected with COVID-19 have recovered across the continent so far, the agency disclosed.

The Southern Africa region is the most COVID-19 affected area in the continent in terms of the number of confirmed positive cases, followed by the Northern Africa region, according to the Africa CDC.

The most affected African countries in terms of the number of positive cases include South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Ethiopia, it was noted.

South Africa has also reported the highest COVID-19-inflicted deaths in Africa, at 49,941, according to the Africa CDC.

The north African countries of Egypt and Morocco have the second and third highest number of COVID-19 related deaths with 10,639 COVID-19 related deaths and 8,615 COVID-19 related deaths each respectively.

Nigerian Schoolboys Freed as Forces Search for 300 Abducted Girls

By Reuters

Feb 28, 2021 06:23 PM

Gunmen in Nigeria on Saturday released 27 teenage boys who were kidnapped from their school on February 17 in the north-central state of Niger, while security forces continued to search for more than 300 schoolgirls abducted in a nearby state.

Schools have become targets for mass kidnappings for ransom in northern Nigeria by armed groups.

On February 17, 27 students, three staff and 12 members of their families were abducted by an armed gang that stormed the Government Science secondary school in the Kagara district of Niger state, overwhelming the school's security detail. One boy was killed during the raid.

After their release, boys were seen by a Reuters witness walking with armed security through a dusty village, some struggling to stand and asking for water. A government official said the boys were aged between 15 and 18.

The release comes just a day after the raid on a school in Zamfara state where gunmen seized 317 girls. Police on Saturday mounted a hunt for the girls, while parents waited in the school compound for news on their daughters.

One of them, Lawal Muhammed, was hopeful his daughter would be released, saying the abductors wanted a ransom which could be paid.

"These ones... are already after ransom, so I know and believe that when the government settles with them, they will be able to release our daughters," he told Reuters.

School kidnappings in Nigeria were first carried out by jihadist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, but the tactic has now been adopted by other militants whose agenda is unclear.

In a statement late Friday, the presidency said President Muhammadu Buhari had urged state governments "to review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles, warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously." 

The unrest has become a political problem for Buhari, a retired general and former military ruler who has faced mounting criticism over high-profile attacks by the gangs known locally as "bandits."

Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs in February amid worsening violence.

In December 2020, gunmen raided a school in northwestern Katsina state and kidnapped nearly 350 boys, who were subsequently rescued by security forces.

Similar Results Prove Feasibility of Adenovirus Vector COVID-19 Vaccines

By Hu Yuwei and Leng Shumei

Feb 28, 2021 10:30 PM 

CanSinoBIO's vaccine Photo: VCG

 The virus vector used in the vaccine produced by Chinese company CanSinoBIO is safer for the human body and easier to produce, the company CEO said Sunday after China and the US both approved their single-shot recombinant adenovirus vector COVID-19 vaccines last week, which, experts say, proves the feasibility of the method used to develop COVID-19 vaccines and should see faster vaccinations.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Johnson & Johnson's recombinant adenovirus vector COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, making it the first single dose COVID-19 vaccine available in the US, CNN reported, noting that data showed the vaccine is safe and effective.

Chinese company CanSinoBIO's recombinant adenovirus vector has also been granted emergency use approval in China, according to a statement posted on the website of China's National Medical Products Administration on Thursday.

The cold virus vector used in CanSinoBIO's Recombinant Novel Coronavirus Vaccine (Adenovirus Type 5 Vector) is mild and safe for humans. The adenovirus does not replicate on its own in the body and does not pose a risk for infection, Yu Xuefeng,  chairman and CEO of CanSinoBIO, said on Sunday highlighting the advantages of their vaccine. 

And it can be produced in a safer and easier way that does not require biosafety level three laboratories, as required for inactivated vaccines, Yu added.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses Adenovirus Type 26 Vector, according to media reports. 

CanSinoBIO and Johnson & Johnson used different adenovirus vectors to develop their vaccines but saw similar results in clinical trials. This proved the feasibility of the recombinant adenovirus vector method, Zhuang Shilihe, a Guangzhou-based vaccine expert, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

Feasible method 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested in more than 44,000 people in the US, South Africa and Latin America. Globally, it was 66.1 percent effective against moderate to severe/critical COVID-19 infections for at least four weeks after vaccination. In the US, it is considered 72 percent effective, and offered 86 percent protection against severe forms of the disease, CNN said, citing an FDA analysis. 

The effectiveness of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine has gone beyond the expectations of some Chinese experts, which, on the other side, has proven the feasibility of this method, Chinese experts said.

According to data CanSinoBIO revealed earlier this month, the vaccine showed a 90.98 percent efficacy rate in preventing severe disease in interim analyses, and is effective in preventing 65.7 percent of symptomatic diseases in clinical trials. 

There were no serious adverse effects associated with the vaccine in its phase III clinical trials, as compared with other vaccines worldwide, Yu suggested.

The instructions for the vaccine say it is suitable for people aged 18 and older, including those aged 55 and older.

So far China has approved four vaccines for emergency use while, except for the one produced by CanSinoBIO, the other three are all inactivated vaccines and are only suitable for use on people under 60 years old according to instructions from national authorities.

Yu told the media on Sunday that the eldest participant in the domestic phase II trials was 84 years old, and the proportion of elderly people in the global multi-center phase III trials was nearly 10 percent, giving more reference for safety and efficacy data in seniors.

CanSinoBIO's global multi-center clinical trials in countries like Pakistan, Mexico, Russia, Chile and Argentina used uniform standards and organizational plans. The trials covered dozens of trial sites in Asia, Europe, Central America, South America and other regions, with a relatively abundant sample size.

Current studies suggest that the vaccine can be suitably stored and transported at temperatures between 2 and 8 C for at least one year. International counterparts produced by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are only effective for six months at such a temperature.

Phase II clinical trials targeting children between the ages of 6 to 18 and pregnant women are still under way in China with no data available so far.

Yu told the Global Times that it takes as quickly as one months to upgrade the vaccine if the coronavirus makes a critical mutation and needs to be upgraded urgently.

The similar results will also possibly help boost international confidence in CanSinoBIO, some observers noted. 

Many international buyers may have not heard the name CanSinoBIO before. But the similar effectiveness in its COVID-19 vaccine with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has proven its capacity, which will probably win them more international orders, observers said. 

Faster vaccinations 

Before Chinese authorities approved the CanSinoBIO vaccine for emergency use in the country, both Mexico and Pakistan, which CanSinoBIO has been cooperating with in their Phase III clinical trials, have already granted emergency use approval for the vaccine earlier this month.

One or two shots have very different meanings in terms of infectious disease prevention, according to Zhuang. 

The procedure to administer one shot is simple and facilitates the inoculation of a large population in a short period of time. Thus, the emergency use approval and application of vaccines needing one single shot can largely help to accelerate vaccine rollout speeds in regions where emergency use has been granted, he explained. 

Unlike inactivated vaccines, CanSinoBIO's vaccine is effective with a single dose and can bring dual protection - humoral and cellular immune responses - at the same time.

The cellular immune response can reach its peak 14 days after inoculation, and the humoral immune response can reach its peak 28 days after inoculation, which is consistent with the reaction of vaccines worldwide using a similar mechanism.

"One dose for dual protection is very valuable for controlling the pandemic as soon as possible, especially for the groups with emergency needs," said Yu.

"We might be able to immunize a population faster than two shots. Only after achieving basic protection, we will next assess the need for a booster shot to improve the antibody level," Yu noted.

The production capacity of CanSinoBIO's vaccine is expected to reach 500 million doses in 2021. The manufacturer is building a factory in Shanghai to further boost capacity.

China Won't Compromise its People's Core Interests over Western Slanders

By Hu Xijin

Feb 27, 2021 04:12 PM

Photo: Xinhua

Recently, some malicious Western forces have repeatedly attacked China over its way of governance in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. They have even deceived United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. I have to ask them some common sense questions.

First, Xinjiang suffered from frequent terrorist attacks and the situation in the region was almost out of control a few years ago. The severest attack resulted in hundreds of victims, or even more. As a result, both social order and economic development in Xinjiang were heavily affected and stagnated. Shouldn't a responsible and caring government make efforts to address such a situation with fundamental measures?

Second, with the government having taken effective measures, terrorist attacks disappeared, and the region avoided ending up in a tragedy like that in Chechnya. At least thousands of lives have been saved in recent years as there have been no new civilian deaths due to terrorist attacks during the same period. Life has returned to normalcy for the local residents. This has allowed the fighting against COVID-19 to be carried out with ease in the region. Isn't this good for Xinjiang and its residents? Or do some forces believe it is better for local people to be victims of terrorism and suffer severely from the epidemic? 

Third, China is a socialist country based on people-centered principles. This has been fully proven during the battle against the COVID-19 epidemic. Is it China or Western countries such as the US and the UK that care more about China's ethnic minority people? The West is acting selfishly at a time when the COVID-19 vaccine allocation is crucial to the whole world. Have those developed countries ever cared about foreign countries' humanitarian urgent needs? Selfish as they are, how could they attach importance to an ethnic minority group in China, which they claim to be the target of a so-called genocide, and even try to save it? According to their narrative, China has been brutal to its own people but the Western countries are benevolent. How was such illogic rhetoric created? 

Fourth, every country has its own ways which form an independent system of how it governs its citizens. The Western forces have picked one of these ways and measure it with their own logic and values. Is this reasonable? Many people in China think the US' ineptitude toward repeated shocking shootings is a serious problem. Government officials and Congress leaders should be held accountable for conniving with such murderers, and the whole world should jointly sanction the US due to its misconducts. However, can China lash out at the US concerning its shooting problem? If China cannot, how can the US and the UK aggressively interfere in China's specific governance method in Xinjiang?

It is understandable that different civilizations will have conflicts when they interact. But the attempts to coerce others into obedience shouldn't be encouraged in contemporary international relations. If China becomes strong enough in the future, can China demand Western countries to live by China's values?

Fifth, how come the vast majority of Islamic countries understand China's actions in Xinjiang? Why the US-led Western countries react fiercely? Is it logical to accuse China of prosecuting Muslims? 

Last but not the least, Xinjiang is improving in all measures. It has changed from a place where terrorism was rampant to a land where people of all ethnic groups can enjoy their life with peace and stability. Those Western political and media elites are jealous that China has managed to bring order in Xinjiang at such a small cost, so they have been misleading the general public in the West. But China won't surrender or budge, as peace, stability and prosperity are core interests of Chinese people. We will firmly fight back against whoever provokes us on this issue. 

The author is editor-in-chief of the Global Times.

Five Eyes’ Narrow Hegemony Caters to Biased Interests of Small Circle

By Li Qingqing

Feb 28, 2021 09:13 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) on Saturday published an article titled "Criticism of Five Eyes points to flaws in China's strategic thinking." ASPI refuted a recent Global Times editorial headlined "Five Eyes today's axis of white supremacy," declaring that the editorial reflects "four critical flaws" in the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s "strategic thinking about China's future." 

The "four critical flaws" include "fundamental confusion over dominance hegemony," lending to "binary choices" of friends or enemies, "thinly veiled threats and coercive actions" and "divisive wedge strategies and identity politics." 

Interestingly, all these accusations can be applied to the US' practices and are slaps in the Five Eyes' own face. Considering that the ASPI is partially funded by the US government, its logic is not so surprising. First, ASPI declared that the CPC has a fundamental confusion over "dominance and hegemony." It is the US that has confused dominance and hegemony. The US publicly uses hegemony to serve its own interests, and it believes it represents the international community. However, not only does Washington fail to represent the international community, fewer and fewer Western countries are following the US' stick, except for Australia, the UK and Canada in the Five Eyes. Suppressing China is to maintain the US' hegemony as well.

And as emerging countries are developing, it has become the Five Eyes' top priority to contain rising countries and maintain hegemony. To put it simply, the Five Eyes is undermining the development rights of the 1.4 billion Chinese people.

Second, ASPI said that international relations are not an activity that lends itself to "binary choices" of friends or enemies, adding that such an attitude is "largely abandoned in Western culture." This seems even more hilarious and self-contradictory. It is the US, Australia, Canada and the UK in the Five Eyes that have always held such an attitude. The five countries share a great sense of superiority toward Anglo-Saxon civilization, and they have tried to comprehensively suppress China and other countries with different ideologies. Instead of being "abandoned," the attitude has been widely adopted in the Five Eyes. 

Third, ASPI's blaming of China for "threats and coercive actions" is completely groundless. China has never required other countries to pick sides between China and the US, let alone imposing threats. The US coerces other countries to follow Washington's policies, including suppressing Huawei and confronting China on the Hong Kong and Xinjiang affairs. But only three countries of the Five Eyes have closely followed the US.

The Five Eyes, however, has been intimidating other countries with its "carrot-and-stick policy" to confront China over matters including Huawei, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The US-led alliance's "threats and coercive actions" are obvious to all.

And finally, talking about what ASPI describes as "identity politics," the Five Eyes can be regarded as the best example itself. Due to the shared culture and ideology, the five countries believe they have common interests and thus have carried out a series of political activities. They regard attacking China, Russia and other countries as a common mission. The evil concept of racism is rising among the five countries.

However, more problems are emerging among the five countries and their identity politics, but these, as ASPI said, "do not create power." For example, as the smallest country in the Five Eyes, New Zealand is unwilling to participate to any great extent in international conflicts. 

It seems that ASPI narcissistically regards the Five Eyes as the whole world. But does the Five Eyes still have much "dominance" worldwide? Led by the US, the five countries' dominance in economy, technology, culture and human rights has been gradually weakened. And to suppress China's rising international role and to maintain its own hegemony, the intelligence alliance since WWII has strengthened cooperation and turned itself into a political and security alliance.

The Five Eyes cannot represent the whole world. More and more countries will realize that what the Five Eyes declares as multilateralism is limited to the narrow interests of their own small circle. The five countries are trying to obliterate the diversity of the world.

Taiwan Hype Over Mainland ‘Pineapple Ban’ an Attempt to Cover a Guilty Conscience: Global Times Editorial

By Global Times

Feb 28, 2021 09:46 PM

Farmers pack pineapples in Dashu District of Kaohsiung, southeast China's Taiwan, on March 13, 2019. Pineapples in Dashu District of Kaohsiung have entered harvest season. (Xinhua/Zhang Guojun)

The Chinese mainland's temporary ban on pineapple imports from Taiwan island is a trivial adjustment due to the detection of pests with the aim to cut off the risk of plant-caused epidemics. But in the island, this has become an earth-shattering event. Taiwan regional leader Tsai Ing-wen called on people to eat more pineapples to help farmers. Media reports in Taiwan are filled with hype over the case. Tsai's authorities are trying their best to politicize the matter, propagandizing that the mainland is suppressing them with pineapples. They also connect the case with Beijing imposing tariffs on Australian wine while launching a "Freedom Pineapple" campaign, modeled on the "Freedom Wine" movement of Australia. 

The Taiwan authorities and the pan-Green media outlets in the island insist on making a political interpretation. This is because they know they have done too many bad things to jeopardize cross-Straits ties and are feeling uneasy now. They know the mainland will punish their behavior, and believe the pineapple ban proves their presentiment and anxiety. As if they have been shivering in the dark, any sound could explode their fear, making them scream.

Either way, the DPP authority has no room to rebuke on this issue. The DPP authority has banned the import of hairy crabs from the Chinese mainland and mangosteens from Thailand. Is this all playing political cards?

The island's market is relatively small. In fact, the DPP authority is more willing to politicalize trade activities. It is known to all that in a political operation, they imported pork and beef containing ractopamine from the US despite huge public opinion pressure against the move. In terms of cross-Straits trade, the DPP authority has repeatedly played the so-called "national security" card, echoing the US crackdown on the mainland. In the past two years they have banned Huawei, drones produced in the Chinese mainland, the online shopping app Taobao, video platform iQIYI, masks and testing reagents from the Chinese mainland, and even banned vaccines when no vaccines were available in the island. They also clamored to correspond to the US-led supply chain that excludes the Chinese mainland.

Tsai and her colleagues have lost their minds. Over 40 percent of products produced in the island go to the Chinese mainland and its annual trade surplus with the mainland is over $100 billion. Even in some Chinese mainland rim areas, their trade dependence on the mainland is one of the highest. Under such circumstances, the DPP authority does not think about how to stabilize cross-Straits trade, but clamors to implement the "new southbound strategy," and expects the US and Japan to further open their markets to them, while all the US thinks about is how to collect more "protection fees" from the island. Tsai and her ilk are leading Taiwan astray.

More importantly, if the island can feel the considerable impact just from a pineapple trade suspension, how could the DPP authority undermine cross-Straits relations and destroy the political foundation of normal cross-Straits exchanges? For the past few years, Tsai and the DPP have tried to create hostility between the two sides as if Taiwan's economic ties with the Chinese mainland do not matter at all, and everything can be replaced or balanced with the political and military backing of the US.

In the world today, any country or region will prioritize economic security in defending strategic security. As the pursuit of a better daily life comes first for ordinary people, fulfilling this demand is the basis for any political party to gain support. Authorities on the island of Taiwan have apparently lost themselves in seeking secession. They give little heed to the economic bonds with the mainland as if the mainland were really insignificant to the island. 

From our point of view, the DPP authorities have severely failed the political goodwill of the mainland. When people on the island universally benefit from such goodwill, Tsai and her co-workers have challenged the mainland's patience and red line by making malicious use of this goodwill and turning it into material for them to commit misconduct. 

The DPP authorities should be put on notice. They could trigger a domino effect-like overturn of the situation in the Straits. Such a small economy like the island can have a surplus of over one hundred billion dollar against the Chinese mainland because of the mainland's preferential policies for Taiwan, which are based on the mainland's long-term adherence to peaceful reunification. 

The DPP authorities should not push the mainland in the direction of complete disappointment and force it to adjust its preferential policies toward Taiwan's economy. At that time, the ban on pineapples from Taiwan will not even qualify as a card to play. Whatever card it will be, it will bring a long nightmare to the DPP authorities. 

It is hoped that the island authorities can be realistic and stop biting off more than they can chew. The ban on pineapples is not worthy of political hype, and the DPP authorities should mind their words and actions before they invite unbearable disasters to the island.

China’s PLA Delivers COVID19 Vaccines to Philippines Army

By Global Times

Feb 28, 2021 02:52 PM

File photo:VCG

A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) to the Philippines' army arrived in Manila on Sunday afternoon. President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte went to the airport to accept the vaccines, the first batch the Philippines received since the outbreak. 

Duterte attended the handover ceremony of the vaccines, which were produced by Sinovac, at a Philippine Air Force base in the capital city of Manila.

The delivery of the vaccines will allow the Philippines to start mass vaccinations soon, marking a new phase in the country's fight against COVID-19.

The Philippines officially approved the emergency use of China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine, the country's Food and Drug Administration said on February 22. 

The PLA previously delivered vaccines requested by the Pakistani, Cambodian and Mongolian armed forces earlier in February. 

Global Times

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Frontliners Celebrate Vaccination in Zimbabwe

27 FEB, 2021 - 00:02 

Doctors show off vaccination certificates after getting Covid-19 jab

Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter

THE ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme being rolled out countrywide targeting frontline workers has ignited excitement among those who have taken the jab with some of them taking to social media to celebrate getting inoculated.

Zimbabwe is among the first African countries to vaccinate its citizens against Covid-19.

The country received 200 000 Covid-19 vaccine doses from China last week on Monday and three days later Vice-President Dr Constantino Chiwenga launched the national vaccination programme and was the first citizen to be vaccinated.

The frontline workers being vaccinated include health workers, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) officials, Customs and Immigration employees, journalists and members of the security sector.

Government has procured 600 000 more Sinopharm vaccine doses from China as it steps up efforts to inoculate 10 million citizens and an additional 1,2 million doses are on the way.

The inoculation of citizens will enable the country to achieve 60 percent herd immunity.

The country’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is going on smoothly and by Thursday a total of 11 007 frontline workers had been inoculated against Covid-19.

Below are excerpts from what some of the frontline workers have said after receiving the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine.

Medical doctor Dr Grant Murewanhema posted on Twitter on Monday saying:

“Excited that together with a number of my colleagues we received our doses of Sinopharm SARS-CoV-2 vaccines today, and we are hopeful that this will spread across the country as we continue to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. We have collective responsibility to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, and we continue practising infection prevention and control protocols until we beat this pandemic. We are all for the return of normalcy one day.”

Using the same platform, Community Health Working Group Health director Mr Itai Rusike said: “I’ve had my first #Covid19vaccine jab. It gives me hope of liberation.”

Journalist and Chronicle reporter Leonard Ncube posted on Facebook.

“Health matters are a personal choice, taking Covid-19 jab is voluntary, but the effect, either side of the bar has an impact on family and society at large. I made a choice and got jabbed, for me, for my family, for my community and my country,” said Ncube.

ZBC newscaster Zandile “Zaza” Ndlovu posted on Instagram a video of her being vaccinated with the caption:

“Guess who has just gotten her Sinopharm vaccination from Parirenyatwa Hospital. It was quick and painless. I didn’t feel a thing.”

Star FM reporter Mkhululi Ncube said the public should be guided by science as opposed to disinformation hence his decision to take the vaccine.

“I had to do my research and thereafter made a decision regarding vaccination. It will assist me when I communicate with members of the public because I have verified information about the vaccination. Even when we do interviews with authorities, I am in a better position to understand how the vaccine works.

We, need also to fight fake information being circulated by some people with regards to Covid-19 vaccinations. People must make informed decisions on their lives based on correct information and not rumours.”

In an interview on the ongoing vaccination programme, National Covid-19 taskforce co-ordinator in the Office of the President and Cabinet Dr Agnes Mahomva said while the vaccination started slowly on Monday as it was a holiday, the figures have been rising ever since.

“The good news is that so far we haven’t had any hitches with our vaccination rollout. People are being vaccinated, we are seeing them on their social media groups and where-ever being excited about it. And we are saying the public should be excited about their health. You as an individual, as a community, let’s jump on it and run on it together,” said Dr Mahomva.

She said the benefits of taking the Covid-19 vaccines outweigh the risk of not taking it.

“We are aware that there is no vaccination that is 100 percent but we are also aware that when you get vaccinated, if for some reason you get the virus, you would protect yourself from death. And we are saying to the public look at the risk that we had in January, people were falling ill, people were dying. Do you want that for your family and community? No. While you are fearing and thinking that this vaccine came up too fast, they had to come up with it fast because this pandemic is killing people. You can’t wait for 10 years while studying vaccines because communities would be wiped out,” she said.

Dr Mahomva said Government continues to monitor data that is being received during the rollout plan as this will determine the return to normal life.

“The data helps us analyse our progress so that we are able to continue on the correct path, strengthen and move forward. This is why I say figures are significant because it helps us revisit our strategy if there are any shortcomings so that we continue to improve on our rollout programme,” said Dr Mahomva.

Doctors Give Thumbs Up to Vaccination

Dr Ruwende

Roselyne Sachiti, Features, Health and Society Editor

Zimbabwean doctors, who are part of the frontline workers inoculated with their first doses of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine say it is safe and encouraged others to get the jab.

Speaking to The Herald yesterday, epidemiologist and director of health for Kadoma City, Dr Daniel Chirundu, who received his first jab four days ago said he did so for a variety of reasons.

“I took the Sinopharm vaccine to protect myself, those I work with and our clients. My vaccination also served as a cue to action among my subordinates and others who are now demanding it.

“It has been three days and I have not experienced any side effects,” he said.

Dr Chirundu urged all Zimbabweans to accept vaccination if eligible.

He also encouraged Zimbabweans to continue wearing clean face masks the proper way, practising social distance and hand hygiene (washing hands with soap and clean water).

“This is the only other non-pharmaceutical tool that is now available to complement our tool box,” he said.

A doctor at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, Dr Misheck Ruwende said some people are anxious because Covid-19 is a novel disease and that vaccines were developed in a short period of time.

“That is not enough reason for people to say ‘I should not take it.’ It is just some of the steps that were supposed to be done as ABCD, that is B to come after A and C to come after B. It was now done as A along with B along with C.

“Remember people were dying and vaccine producers had to give way to all this so that vaccines come out early,” he explained.

Dr Ruwende added that the other challenge is people are getting themselves involved in the geo-politics happening between the Western and Eastern countries.

“That’s where the problem is when people say nothing really good comes out of China. But, China is developing more and more better things,” he said.

Dr Ruwende added that many Zimbabwean doctors are getting vaccinated.

“Even where I work, many doctors are getting vaccinated. So if doctors are leading, they know best about the side effects, about vaccines, and if they are giving us a good example, there is no need for people to be hesitant to take the vaccine,” he emphasised.

Dr Ruwende further said the Sinopharm vaccine has been used in various countries across the globe.

“It is being used in various countries. The United Arab Emirates was the first to approve it for their population in December. They had already approved it for their health workers months before. Hungary was the first European country to approve it and they are already using it in their country.”

He added that the Sinopharm vaccine is also being used in many other countries including Morocco, Egypt among others.

“The Sinopharm vaccine has gone through all the clinical trials. My advice is whatever vaccine you get right now, just get it. The vaccines go through rigorous exercises, they go through a lot and people will not just release them to kill people. We do not have such things.”

He added: “And also the thing about the mark of the beast, I do not see where the connection is. This is voluntary, no one is being forced. In any case, we are already all being vaccinated of BCG like in the case of Zimbabwe. Nothing much is different.”

He added that there is need for more information through all forms of media where people’s concerns are addressed to avoid myths and misconceptions.

Dr Ruwende said he has not been vaccinated as yet.

“Not that I do want to get it for fear of anything. I have been very busy, other than work, I have been working on informative health awareness videos so I have been very much tied up. As soon as I am free I will have one. What is giving me a bit of comfort is that I got Covid-19 symptoms in January.

“They say if you got the symptoms and if you tested positive for Covid-19 for at least five months 95-percent of the people will be immune. But obviously that is not reason enough not to get vaccinated, I will eventually do so as soon as I get time,” added Dr Ruwende.

US based Clinical Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr Tafadzwa Muguwe, said vaccines are needed “to protect ourselves, our communities, and get us back to normal life”.

He said scepticism is good in the absence of evidence, but thankfully available evidence is heavily in favour of vaccination.

“Covid-19 has killed over 2.5 million people worldwide including thousands of fellow Zimbabweans, some of them among our families and friends,” he said.

He added: “The reason people die is because of severe disease that overwhelms their bodies. The really great news is that several vaccines have been shown to prevent severe disease in virtually all recipients, which basically means that almost no one exposed to the virus after vaccination will die from it.

Dr Muguwe also said the scale of the pandemic made it necessary to develop vaccines as quickly as possible.

“Fortunately a combination of past experiences, scientific innovation, and impressive collaboration among governments and the scientific community has led to the rapid development and validation of several vaccines,” he explained.

According to Dr Muguwe, the rapid development of vaccines is a cause for celebration and not scepticism.

“The key point is that we have seen validation of these vaccines in clinical trials and we are also starting to see significant positive impact in populations that have started administering the vaccine at scale, such as Israel. It’s our turn to embrace the innovation and enjoy the benefit of protection,” he said.

South Africa Security Forces Monitoring Mozambique: Ramaphosa

27 February 2021, 9:30 AM  |  Reuters  |  @SABCNews

Image: Twitter@PresidencyZA

Ramaphosa says SADeC region is regularly briefed on developments by the Mozambican government.

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the country’s security forces are monitoring the developments in northern Mozambique to ensure there is no threat to surrounding countries, including South Africa.

Insurgent attacks in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province have raised fears that that the movement is seeking to establish itself in southern Africa.

The conflict has escalated, with attacks growing in scale and frequency.

Ramaphosa says the Mozambican government regularly briefs the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region on the matter.

The President was speaking during a Q and A session with members of National Editors’ Forum, (Sanef) on Friday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa answers questions from members of Sanef: 

Mozambique humanitarian crisis

More than half a million people have fled their homes due to an Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique, and the violence and humanitarian crisis will worsen without international help, United Nations officials said on Wednesday.

“If nothing is done soon, we won’t have only 535 000 displaced people. We won’t have only 2 000 people killed by the conflict, but tens of thousands,” said Valentin Tapsoba, regional director for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

The displaced people were in a dire situation, with overcrowding, malnutrition and a lack of essentials including food and water, the officials said in an online news briefing.

Insurgents staged their first attack in Cabo Delgado province – where oil giants such as Total are involved in big gas projects – in 2017 and pledged allegiance to Islamic State two years later.

The conflict has escalated since, with attacks growing in scale and frequency and the militants regularly taking and holding entire towns.

The insecurity has left aid agencies unable to visit a huge swathe of the coastal province, while the number of people forced to flee their homes has swelled from 18 000 at the start of 2020 to over half a million by the end, Lola Castro, World Food Programme (WFP) regional director said.

Some households in the provincial capital Pemba are hosting several other families. One had opened its home to 66 other people who all slept in one room and shared one latrine, Tapsoba said.

“The situation in Cabo Delgado is appalling,” he said.

South Africa has offered to help Mozambique resolve its northern conflict, as the main player in the Southern African Development Community, a regional trade bloc, but Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told a virtual Chatham House event that the government had yet to take up the offer.

“We have made every effort to reach out to the government of Mozambique and to sit with them to define a support agenda,” she said.

“Our inability … to arrive at an agreement as to what … support we might provide remains a very worrying puzzle to us,” she said.

There was no immediate reply from Mozambique’s government to a request for comment.

WHO, UNICEF Dismiss Anti-Government Report

27 FEB, 2021 - 00:02  

Herald Reporter

Two major United Nations (UN) agencies have dismissed as false and malicious, reports in some sections of the private media claiming they have been barred by the Government from participating in Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 programmes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said they were continuing to enjoy an excellent working relationship with the Government.

WHO yesterday said Zimbabwe was one of the leading countries in following science and the prescribed guidelines in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In separate interviews yesterday, WHO country representative Dr Alex Gasasira and UNICEF Zimbabwe representative Mrs Laylee Moshiri denied that they had been told to stop participating in local Covid-19 programmes and pledged to continue their support.

“We have not received any communication from any part of Government asking us to stop the services we are providing, so we continue to provide these services,” said Dr Gasasira.

“Our relationship with the Government of Zimbabwe is a very professional relationship. As you may recall at different stages of this response, even before Covid-19 in all areas of health, Government has really closely followed the guidance that WHO has been providing to member States.

“We have not received any communication to terminate any relationship whatsoever. We have not received any communication from the ministry asking us not to be involved in the Covid-19 vaccination efforts. We continue to work closely with the ministry and various pillars as well as other ministries in the Covid-19 response,” said Mrs Moshiri.

“We have a close working relationship with a number of ministries which deal directly and indirectly with the children and the Ministry of Health and Child Care is one of our key ministries which we work very directly with on a daily basis on a number of areas, including the Covid-19 response.

“I think there is a good (Covid-19) response and we continue to support it so that it caters for the existing circumstances,” she said.

WHO also hailed Zimbabwe’s efforts in curbing the pandemic, praising the way Government had adhered to science, rating it as one of the best in terms of response.

The UN agency also outlined the assistance they had given Zimbabwe in preparing for the ongoing vaccination programme which was following best international practices.

“Zimbabwe has been a leader in implementing WHO guidelines and since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has followed science and has followed guidance.

“We have been working very closely to contextualise global WHO guidelines and recommendations to the situation in the country and this has been working very well,” said Dr Gasasira.

Dr Gasasira said WHO had been assisting the Government for several months even before they knew which vaccine was coming to Zimbabwe.

“We supported the Government, worked closely with them in developing the national vaccine development plan. This plan is in line with the framework that has been shared with all member states. It has been contextualised to Zimbabwe’s situation.

“So we have been providing technical support in this regard. We have also provided technical support in terms of preparing training programmes for the teams that will be administering vaccines,” said Dr Gasasira.

In a statement last night, the Ministry of Health Child and Care said they valued the support they were receiving from international organisations and urged the media to be responsible and to report fairly and truthfully.

“The Ministry of Health and Child Care notes with concern, an article published by the Zimbabwe Independent on February 26, 2021, alleging that Government, through the Permanent Secretary, Air Commodore, Dr Jasper Chimedza, has suspended WHO and UNICEF from participating in Covid-19 programmes,” reads part of the statement.

“The ministry would like to dismiss the claim as malicious and intended to cause unnecessary alarm and despondency.

“No communication suspending either or both WHO or UNICEF or any other partners from participating in the national effort to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic was ever made.

“The ministry values all partners’ support and will continue to work with them in all public health related matters.” 

Officials: 400 Escape, 25 Dead After Haiti Prison Breakout


FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2021 file photo, Arnel Joseph is returned to the National Penitentiary after being brought before a judge in handcuffs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Authorities say Joseph, who they describe as one of Haiti's most powerful gang leaders, was shot Friday, Feb, 26, a day after he and dozens of other inmates escaped from prison during a breakout that left at least eight people dead, including the prison director. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery, File)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian authorities announced Friday that more than 400 inmates escaped and 25 people died in a prison breakout, making it the country’s largest and deadliest one in a decade, with the prison director and a powerful gang leader among those killed.

Some believe Thursday’s jailbreak at the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison in northeast Port-au-Prince was to free gang leader Arnel Joseph, who had been Haiti’s most wanted fugitive until his 2019 arrest on charges including rape, kidnapping and murder.

Joseph was riding on a motorcycle through the Artibonite area in the town of L’Estère on Friday a day after his escape when he was spotted at a checkpoint, police spokesman Gary Desrosiers told The Associated Press. He said Joseph pulled out a gun and died in an exchange of gunfire with police.

Joseph ruled Village de Dieu, or Village of God, a shantytown in downtown Port-au-Prince, and other communities, including some in Artibonite, which is Haiti’s largest department.

Authorities have not yet provided much details on the breakout except to say that 60 inmates have been recaptured and the investigation is ongoing. State Secretary Frantz Exantus said authorities have created several commissions to investigate who organized the breakout and why. Among those killed was the prison director, identified as Paul Joseph Hector.

Residents who declined to be identified because they feared for their life told the AP that they saw gunmen shoot at prison guards on Thursday before inmates escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets penitentiary.

The prison is known for a 2014 breakout in which more than 300 of the 899 inmates being held there at the time escaped. Some believed that attack was designed to free Clifford Brandt, the son of a prominent businessman, who had been imprisoned since 2012 for allegedly kidnapping the adult children of a rival businessman. Brandt was captured two days later near the Dominican Republic border.

After the 2014 breakout, officials said they were taking steps to up security at the prison that Canada built in 2012, including installing security cameras and placing ankle monitors on the most dangerous prisoners. It wasn’t immediately clear if any of those measures were taken. At the time of Thursday’s breakout, the prison held 1,542 inmates, nearly twice its capacity.

Haiti’s largest prison breakout in recent history occurred after the devastating 2010 earthquake in which more than 4,200 inmates fled the notorious National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince.

President Jovenel Moïse tweeted on Friday that he condemned the most recent jailbreak and asked people to remain calm. He added that Haiti’s National Police “is instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control.”

Meanwhile, Helen La Lime, Haiti’s special representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said in a statement that she was deeply concerned with the mutiny and prison escape.

“I encourage the police to speed up investigations on the circumstances surrounding this incident, redouble its efforts to re-apprehend the escapees, and strengthen security around prisons throughout the country,” she said. “This prison break further highlights the problem of prolonged preventive detention and prison overcrowding which remains matter of concern that must be urgently addressed by Haitian authorities.”


AP reporter Dánica Coto contributed from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Plunging Demand for COVID-19 Tests May Leave US Exposed


Pharmacist Mike Ruane, of Scranton, talks to patients who signed up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during a drive-thru clinic at Scranton High School in Scranton, Pa., Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Sean McKeag/The Citizens' Voice via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just five weeks ago, Los Angeles County was conducting more than 350,000 weekly coronavirus tests, including at a massive drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium, as health workers raced to contain the worst COVID-19 hotspot in the U.S.

Now, county officials say testing has nearly collapsed. More than 180 government-supported sites are operating at only a third of their capacity.

“It’s shocking how quickly we’ve gone from moving at 100 miles an hour to about 25,” said Dr. Clemens Hong, who leads the county’s testing operation.

After a year of struggling to boost testing, communities across the country are seeing plummeting demand, shuttering testing sites or even trying to return supplies.

The drop in screening comes at a significant moment in the outbreak: Experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 is receding after killing more than 500,000 people in the U.S. but concerned that emerging variants could prolong the epidemic.

“Everyone is hopeful for rapid, widespread vaccinations, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we can drop our guard just yet,” said Hong. “We just don’t have enough people who are immune to rule out another surge.”

U.S. testing hit a peak on Jan. 15, when the country was averaging more than 2 million tests per day. Since then, the average number of daily tests has fallen more than 28%. The drop mirrors declines across all major virus measures since January, including new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Officials say those encouraging trends, together with harsh winter weather, the end of the holiday travel season, pandemic fatigue and a growing focus on vaccinations are sapping interest in testing.

“When you combine all those together you see this decrease,” said Dr. Richard Pescatore of the health department in Delaware, where daily testing has fallen more than 40% since the January peak. “People just aren’t going to go out to testing sites.”

But testing remains important for tracking and containing the outbreak.

L.A. County is opening more testing options near public transportation, schools and offices to make it more convenient. And officials in Santa Clara County are urging residents to “continue getting tested regularly,” highlighting new mobile testing buses and pop-up sites.

President Joe Biden has promised to revamp the nation’s testing system by investing billions more in supplies and government coordination. But with demand falling fast, the country may soon have a glut of unused supplies. The U.S. will be able to conduct nearly 1 billion monthly tests by June, according to projections from researchers at Arizona State University. That’s more than 25 times the country’s current rate of about 40 million tests reported per month.

With more than 150 million new vaccine doses due for delivery by late March, testing is likely to fall further as local governments shift staff and resources to giving shots.

“You have to pick your battles here,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “Everyone would agree that if you have one public health nurse, you’re going to use that person for vaccination, not testing.”

Some experts say the country must double down on testing to avoid flare-ups from coronavirus variants that have taken hold in the U.K., South Africa and other places.

“We need to use testing to continue the downward trend,” said Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has been advising Biden officials. “We need to have it there to catch surges from the variants.”

Last week, Minnesota began urging families to get tested every two weeks through the end of the school year as more students return to the classroom.

“To protect this progress, we need to use all the tools at our disposal,” said Dan Huff, an assistant state health commissioner.

But some of the most vocal testing proponents are less worried about the declines in screening. From a public health viewpoint, testing is effective if it helps to quickly find the infected, trace their contacts and isolate them to stop the spread. In most parts of the U.S., that never happened.

Over the holiday season, many Americans still had to wait days to receive test results, rendering them largely useless. That’s led to testing fatigue and dwindling interest, said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University.

“It doesn’t exactly give you a lot of gratifying, immediate feedback,” Mina said. “So people’s willingness or interest in getting tested starts to go down.”

Still, U.S. test manufacturers continue ramping up production, with another 110 million rapid and home-based tests expected to hit the market next month.

Government officials long assumed this growing arsenal of cheap, 15-minute tests would be used to regularly screen millions of students and teachers as in-person classes resume. But recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don’t emphasize testing, describing it as an “additional layer” of protection, behind basic measures like masking and social distancing.

Even without strong federal backing, educational leaders say testing programs will be important for marshaling public confidence needed to fully reopen schools, including in the fall when cases are expected to rise again.

“Schools have asked themselves, justifiably, ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze to set up a big testing effort?’” said Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit that advises districts in more than 25 states. “Our message to the school systems we work with is: ‘Yes, you need to stand up comprehensive testing because you’re going to need it.’”


Associated Press writer Brian Melley in Los Angeles and AP data journalist Nicky Forster in New York contributed to this report.


Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Islamist Party Supporters March for Unity in Tunisia

Supporters of the Islamist Ennada party march with Tunisian flags during a rally in Tunis, Tunisia, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. The party, Ennahdha, led by House Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, has backed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in his standoff with President Kais Saied over a cabinet reshuffle. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

Thousands of flag-waving marchers demonstrated Saturday in Tunisia’s capital in a show of support for the majority party in parliament.

The demonstration follows political tensions between Tunisia’s president and its prime minister, Hichem Mechichi. Mechichi has sought to reshuffle his Cabinet but has seen some of his proposed ministerial appointments blocked by President Kais Saied.

Marchers in Tunis chanted “The people want national unity.” The demonstration was called by the Islamist Ennahdha party that holds the largest block of seats in Tunisia’s parliament.

Official: 42 Abducted from Nigerian School 2 Weeks Ago Freed


LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — An official says 42 people including 27 students who were abducted two weeks ago from a school in northern Nigeria have been freed.

The chief press secretary for the Niger state governor, Mary Noel-Berje, told The Associated Press on Saturday that those released have arrived in the state capital, Minna. “We have received them,” she said.

The students, teachers and family members were abducted by gunmen from the Government Science College Kagara.

Their release was announced a day after police said gunmen had abducted 317 girls from a boarding school elsewhere in northern Nigeria, in Zamfara state. One resident said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from interfering with the mass abduction.

Several large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and to push for the release of their members from jail.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Friday the government’s primary objective is to get all the school hostages returned safe, alive and unharmed.

“We will not succumb to blackmail by bandits and criminals who target innocent school students in the expectation of huge ransom payments,” he said. “Let bandits, kidnappers and terrorists not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government.”

Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings over the years, notably the mass abduction in April 2014 by jihadist group Boko Haram of 276 girls from the secondary school in Chibok in Borno state. More than a hundred of the girls are still missing.

In December, 344 students were abducted from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State. They were eventually released.

Boko Haram Claims Deadly Rocket Attack on Nigerian City

Friday, February 26, 2021

The wreckage of a car hit by an attack led by Boko Haram members is seen surrounded by residents of the Adam Kolo district of Maiduguri on February 24, 2021.


The Boko Haram jihadist group on Thursday claimed responsibility for a rocket attack earlier in the week on Nigeria's northeastern city of Maiduguri that left 16 dead and dozens injured.

In a six-minute propaganda video released on Thursday, a voice claiming to be the group's leader Abubakar Shekau spoke over footage of militants firing rockets outside the city. 

"We heard that our brothers carried out an attack on Tuesday in Maiduguri," the voice said.

"We are happy. News has reached me our boys carried out the attack."

Officials said previously that 10 people were killed and 47 were injured when insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades on the densely-populated capital of Borno state on Tuesday.

Two self-defence militia leaders told AFP on Wednesday that the death toll had risen to 16, including nine boys who were playing football in a field. 

Eyewitnesses said the jihadists crossed the ditch fortification around Maiduguri, accessing the city's outskirts from where they fired rockets into busy neighbourhoods.

Boko Haram has previously made incursions into Maiduguri, one of the last secure strongholds in Borno State, using heavy guns and suicide bombers. 

Such attacks are usually foiled in fierce gun battles with Nigerian troops.

Since the Islamist insurgency erupted in 2009, the conflict has killed 36,000 people in the region and displaced around two million from their homes.

The violence has spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the insurgents.

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) split from Boko Haram in 2016 and has since become a prominent threat, attacking soldiers and bases while killing and kidnapping passengers at fake checkpoints.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari appointed new military commanders last month after mounting pressure -- even from some allies -- in a bid to breathe new life into the armed forces.  

Nigeria: Mass Kidnappings That Shock the World

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Mothers of the missing Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists gather to receive information from officials on May 5, 2014.


Several hundred girls are unaccounted for after armed bandits raided a school in northwestern Nigeria, a teacher says.

Their disappearance raises fears that Nigeria has been hit by another mass kidnapping -- the hallmark of criminal gangs and extremist Islamist groups.

A timeline:

2014: 'Chibok' girls taken

Boko Haram gunmen seize 276 girls aged between 12 and 17 from the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town of Chibok in northeastern Borno state on April 14, 2014.

The girls are forced from their dormitories onto trucks and driven into the bush.

Fifty-seven manage to flee in a daring escape.

'Slave brides'

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claims responsibility in a video and vows to sell the girls as slave brides.

Boko Haram says they have converted to Islam and will not be released unless militant fighters held in custody are freed.

An international outcry follows with a campaign demanding the girls' release backed by A-list celebrities and politicians, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls going viral.

2016: First girl found

In April 2016, on the eve of the abduction's second anniversary, a "proof of life" video emerges showing 15 of the girls in black hijabs.

The following month the Nigerian army confirms the first of the schoolgirls has been found. Aged 19, she has a four-month-old baby and is found with a man she describes as her husband near Boko Haram's Sambisa forest enclave.

In October, 21 of the girls are freed following talks brokered by Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 

Local sources say four jihadist prisoners were freed in return.

2017: 82 freed

In May 2017 another 82 girls are released in exchange for five Boko Haram commanders.

Later that month, Boko Haram release a video in which a woman in a black veil claiming to be one of the Chibok girls brandishes a gun and proclaims loyalty to the group. 

In all, 107 of the 219 held since 2014 have either escaped or been released. 

Some of the young women are now studying at the American University of Nigeria in Yola, although others had to drop out of education because their poverty-striken families could not afford to pay for transport, food or even their sanitary towels.

2018: Dapchi kidnapping

In February 2018 the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an offshoot of Boko Haram, snatches 111 girls from their boarding school in the northeastern town of Dapchi, around 300 kilometres (186 miles) from Chibok.

The jihadists return more than 100 girls to the town on March 21 after talks with the government. 

Five of their schoolmates reportedly died in captivity.

The group refused to free Leah Sharibu, then 15, as she would not convert to Islam.

The only Christian among the hostages, she still remains in captivity three years on.

2020: Kankara abduction

On December 11 2020, more than 100 gunmen on motorcycles storm the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in the town of Kankara, in Katsina state, seizing 300 students.

The attack is initially blamed on armed criminals before Boko Haram -- which operates hundreds of kilometres (miles) away -- claimed responsibility.

The boys are later released after talks with government officials.

2021: Jangebe raid

Armed bandits raid a school dormitory in Jangebe in northwestern Zamfara state overnight Thursday, a teacher and a parent tell AFP. More than 300 girls are missing, the teacher says.

The attack comes just a week after gunmen stormed a school in neighbouring Niger state, killing one student and kidnapping 42 pupils, teachers and relatives.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Why Ebola is Back in Guinea and Why the Response Must be Different This Time

24 FEB, 2021 - 15:02  

Why Ebola is back in Guinea and why the response must be different this time

Health workers carry a newly admitted confirmed Ebola patient into a treatment centre in Butembo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, March 28, 2019. – Reuters

New reports of Ebola in Guinea are causing anxiety given the history of the West Africa outbreak of 2014-2016.

This was the largest Ebola outbreak reported to date – 28,000 cases were recorded, including 11,000 deaths. It originated in Guinea and then spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The confirmed cases this time have been reported from the southeast of Guinea about 800km by road from the capital, Conakry, but only about 100km from various border points with Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. The concern is that the virus could spread to other locations in Guinea as well as neighbouring countries if it is not rapidly contained. Jacqueline Weyer answers questions about the latest outbreak.

What’s been done to keep new outbreaks from developing since 2016?

The development, evaluation and registration of Ebola vaccines and antivirals have been major activities in the years following the 2014-2016 outbreak. Since then, two vaccines have been pre-approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and registered with different regulatory bodies.

During the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a number of countries in the region established national registration of these products as well. Nearly 50,000 people were vaccinated as part of the containment efforts in the DRC. Ring vaccination – vaccination of individuals in a ring around cases – with the Ebola vaccine is a vital tool in the prevention of the spread of the infection as it produces a barrier of immunity that disrupts the chain of transmission of the virus.

Why has the disease returned?

The natural transmission cycle of the virus involves certain species of forest-dwelling fruit bats. These act as a reservoir of the virus in nature and this cycle is continuous, ensuring that the virus is maintained in nature over time. The virus may, however, spill over from its natural reservoir either to other forest-dwelling animals or directly to humans to set off an epidemic in the human population.

Ebola-infected animals such as non-human primates, monkeys and antelope have been reported before and could present a source of exposure to humans. For example, hunters or people slaughtering these animals come into contact with infected blood and tissues. But, it is also believed that spillover may occur through direct contact from infected bats into humans. The exact mechanism remains to be defined, but contact with infected blood and tissues are likely sources of infection.

The virus is always present in nature and, when circumstances allow for it, may jump from one species to another.

What lessons from previous outbreaks are being applied now?

There are many important lessons but, arguably, swift and sure action will make the difference. In the aftermath of the 2014-2016 outbreak, the apparent lag in the initial responses was a major critique of the response efforts.

It is critical to contain the outbreak early before it spreads beyond ground zero to other locations in Guinea and to neighbouring countries. If this happens, more protracted and complicated efforts for containment will be required.

One feature that sets this outbreak apart is that it is happening against the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic – which has health-care and other resources around the globe under severe pressure.

International support has been a mainstay in the containment efforts in West Africa, but also in most Ebola outbreaks reported to date. Time will tell how efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic impact on Ebola containment efforts.

Does Guinea have the health infrastructure to manage the disease?

Access to healthcare in Guinea has improved marginally over the years. But the country struggles with one of the worst health-care infrastructures in the world. Most deaths in Guinea remain associated with communicable, maternal and neonatal diseases and nutritional disorders. The Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016 did galvanise intensified efforts towards improving healthcare systems in the country, but progress is slow.

Given that the West Africa Ebola outbreak ended only five years ago, one would assume that some of the infrastructure that was developed during the outbreak remains, and could be rapidly brought back in use. The “muscle memory” for public health response to Ebola gained from the previous outbreak in Guinea will be put to the test in the coming weeks.

What’s the relationship between the outbreak in West Africa and central Africa?

Studies conducted during and following the 2014-2016 outbreak show that the Zaire ebolavirus species was circulating in local bat populations in West Africa before the outbreak. The genomic similarity of the Ebola viruses associated with the West Africa outbreak and Ebola viruses that have caused outbreaks in central Africa since 1976 supports the hypothesis that the virus did at some point spread from central Africa to West Africa.

On the other hand, when analysing the differences between these viruses, there is evidence for separate evolution over space and time. The exact mechanism of spread from central to West Africa remains unclear. But the transfer is plausible given, for example, that many fruit bat species – some of which are implicated as natural reservoirs of Ebola virus – are migratory, and may migrate over large distances.

Efforts are under way to determine the genomic sequence of the virus associated with the recently reported cases. This could point to the potential source of the outbreak and indicate the link between these viruses associated with the recent cases, and the viruses that circulated during the previous outbreak. Another consideration is that currently available Ebola vaccines have not been tested against strains other than Zaire ebolavirus. The efficacy of these vaccines against other species of the virus is, therefore, unsure.- The Conversation Africa

• Jacqueline Weyer, Senior Medical Scientist, National Institute for Communicable Diseases