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Tuesday, September 22, 2020, 22:57
UNICEF: Schools should reopen in Eastern, Southern Africa
By Agencies
Tuesday, September 22, 2020, 22:57 By Agencies

Children who are part of a group of about 630 refugees originally from Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Bangladesh, and other countries attend a makeshift school in a tent in Bellville, Cape Town, on September 22, 2020. (RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

GENEVA / MEXICO CITY / LONDON / PARIS / BOGOTA / PRAGUE / MADRID / BERLIN / OTTAWA / ALGIERS / ROME / BRUSSELS / ADDIS ABABA / CAPE TOWN - The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday called on governments, parents, and teachers across Eastern and Southern Africa to urgently and safely re-open schools, as the costs of continued school closures escalate across the region.

Across this region, of the nearly 65 million children remaining out of school, around one in two are not reached by any form of learning, while millions of children continue to miss what was their one nutritious meal of the day, according to UNICEF.

Across this region, of the nearly 65 million children remaining out of school, around one in two are not reached by any form of learning, while millions of children continue to miss what was their one nutritious meal of the day, according to UNICEF

"Seven months into the pandemic, we must be very clear about the gravity of this crisis: we are at risk of losing a generation," said Mohamed Malick Fall, Regional Director for UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa. "We see lost learning, rising violence, rising child labor, forced child marriages, teen pregnancies, and diminished nutrition."

A generation of children is at risk, and at the most critical time in the continent's history, Fall lamented.

As the region is experiencing unprecedented population growth, it's important that this expanded workforce can receive quality learning at school so as to ensure that the potential for increased production could sustain an economic boom to drastically reduce poverty in Africa - where currently 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's people live on less than US$2 a day, Fall said.

Safely re-opening schools by the beginning of October this year will give students a full term and vastly reduce learning losses, said Fall.

A third term for learners presents the last chance to recoup learning losses for 2020 and avert the dangers of permanent school drop-outs, he said. Re-opening will also reduce losses incurred by both parents and governments, Fall added.

UNICEF's call to safely reopen schools follows scientific evidence which shows children are not super-spreaders of COVID-19, and are the least affected by the virus in the region, with a mere 2.5 percent of COVID-19 cases attributed to children between the school-going ages of five to 18 years old.

Critically, there is growing regional and global practice showing that safe school reopening can be done with political will and community commitment, said Fall.

Most countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have seen the need for a phased return to schools, starting with exam classes in countries such as Botswana, Eritrea, Eswatini, Madagascar, Somalia, Zambia, and recently, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Bigger countries with larger COVID-19 caseloads and higher student populations - such as South Africa - have re-opened schools for all grades since the end of August.

Fall pledged that UNICEF will support countries in the region, and share working practices on safely reopening schools.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded across Africa has reached 1,407,680 as of Monday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said, adding that the death toll has risen to 33,951.

This Jan 30, 2020 photo shows the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. (CHEN JUNXIA / XINHUA)

WHO vaccine program

A total of 156 economies representing nearly two-thirds of the world's population have joined the COVAX Facility, an international initiative co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines, the WHO said on Monday.

This includes 64 higher-income economies, which are self-financing in procuring COVID-19 vaccines once available, and 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) coordinated by the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a financing instrument aimed at supporting the procurement of vaccines for these countries.

COVAX aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines. Nine candidate vaccines are being supported by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), of which eight are in clinical trials

"This means that 156 economies, representing roughly 64 percent of the global population in total, are now either committed to or eligible for the COVAX Facility, with more to follow," the WHO said in a statement.

ALSO READ: UN's Guterres calls for US$35b more for WHO vaccine program

The COVAX Facility is part of COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the WHO, in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, civil society organizations and others.

The WHO said fully self-financing economies will now unlock vital funding and the security of demand needed to scale up manufacturing and secure the doses needed for the COVAX Facility.

Currently, CEPI is leading COVAX vaccine research and development work, which aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines. Nine candidate vaccines are being supported by CEPI, eight of which are in clinical trials. COVAX's core aim is to have two billion vaccine doses available by the end of 2021.

The WHO said that the COVAX Facility will now start signing formal agreements with vaccine manufacturers and developers to secure the doses needed to end the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 31.3 million on Tuesday while the global death toll topped 964,000, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

Valneva vaccine

Valneva, which has just struck a deal to supply Britain with its potential COVID-19 vaccine, is in very advanced talks with another possible customer, the French firm's CFO said.

"We believe that at least one of our discussions is very advanced," its chief financial officer David Lawrence told Reuters, without revealing the other party involved.

Valneva told Reuters in July it was in discussions with the European Union (EU), without giving any further detail.

Valneva expects its potential vaccine, based on a platform it already uses to prevent Japanese encephalitis, to enter clinical studies by the end of this year and potentially gain regulatory approval in the second half of 2021.

"In 2022, we are going to have capacity of 200 million doses or more," Lawrence said, adding this meant Valneva had room to swiftly supply other countries.

Algeria

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Algeria exceeded 50,000 on Monday after 197 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours.

In total, Algeria has recorded 50,023 confirmed cases.

Seven additional fatalities were also reported, bringing the death toll to 1,679.

The number of recoveries rose by 133 to 35,180.

Argentina

Argentina reported on Monday a daily record of 429 deaths from COVID-19, lifting the country’s death toll to 13,482.

There were 8,782 new infections for a total of 640,147 cases, according to the government’s evening report.

Brazil

Brazil recorded 13,439 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, as well as 377 deaths from the disease, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

The new figures brought Brazil's total caseload to 4,558,068 and the death toll to to 137,272.

People wearing face masks wait to cross a street in Montreal, Canada, on Sept 21, 2020. (GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)

Canada

COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Canada as the country has recorded a total of 144,693 infections, including 9,223 deaths as of Monday noon, according to CTV.

Provincial authorities continued to report COVID-19 outbreaks across the country, including in schools, workplaces and universities, CTV reported.

The country's two most populous provinces - Quebec and Ontario - reported surging numbers of COVID-19 cases on Monday. Quebec reported 586 cases while Ontario posted 425 fresh infections.

Quebec declared on Monday morning that the second wave of COVID-19 had begun in the province.

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government would announce its plan to deal with a second wave on Tuesday.

Chile

Chile's Ministry of Health said Monday that 1,194 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the country's caseload to 447,468.

It was the lowest daily number of new cases since early May. However, health authorities are concerned about a potential increase in cases due to the national holiday celebrations over the weekend.

Meanwhile, 12 more deaths were also recorded in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 12,298. 

Colombia

Bogota, the Colombian capital, will lift most of the restrictions implemented to curb the spread of coronavirus, the mayor's office said on Monday, though it warned that a new outbreak in the city of 8 million is inevitable.

While a selective quarantine remains in place nationally for September, authorities in Bogota will lift many restrictions from Tuesday, including rules dictating when people can shop or visit banks.

"If we maintain these bio-security rules, we can enjoy this new normality with more socializing, more activities and more work," Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez said in a video posted on Twitter, referring to the use of face masks and social distancing.

Colombia has reported over 765,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and confirmed 24,208 deaths from COVID-19.

Croatia

The Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ) decided on Monday to shorten the isolation period of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients from 14 days to 10 days.

The isolation period for patients with mild or moderate clinical manifestations will be shortened if the patient does not have fever for at least 24 hours and if other symptoms are significantly improved.

Those with severe symptoms will have to isolate for a minimum of 20 days, which can be reduced to a minimum of 15 days with two negative COVID-19 tests.

Meanwhile, an amendment was also adopted in which those whose infections were confirmed from laboratory tests three months ago would not need further testing if they do not show any clear symptoms of the disease.

Croatia has so far reported 14,992 infections and 253 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic recorded 1,476 new coronavirus cases on Monday, data from the health ministry showed, bringing the overall number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to 50,764, including 522 deaths.

New Health Minister Roman Prymula told reporters that in the coming days, closing hours for bars would likely be moved to 10 pm from midnight, and the number of participants at most public events limited. "Mass events will undoubtedly have to be limited," he said.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis, speaking alongside Prymula, admitted public health services were overwhelmed and unable to trace contacts of all infected people within 48 hours in Prague and central Czech Republic.

On Monday, Babis admitted that relaxing measures over the summer led to the spike in cases.

READ MORE: WHO warns Europeans of more COVID-19 deaths

Ecuador

Ecuador's southwest port city of Guayaquil, the country's main economic and industrial center, relaxed lockdown restrictions on mobility on Monday despite having one of the country's largest outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

Mayor Cynthia Viteri, who chairs Guayaquil's Emergency Operations Committee (COE) which manages the local health crisis, announced at a press conference that there would be no more restrictions on vehicles in the city.

The announcement came on the same day the Ministry of Public Health, announced that a total of 126,711 confirmed cases and 7,301 deaths had been recorded across the country. Guayaquil has recorded 13,830 cases in total.

Ethiopia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday said more than 200,000 refugee children are out of school in Ethiopia due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Ethiopian Ministry of Education has initiated consultations with education and health partners on possible reopening of schools during the new academic year. Schools have been closed since March due to COVID-19, leaving over 200,000 refugee children out of school," the UN refugee agency said in its situation update issued on Tuesday.

The East African country is one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa, sheltering about 779,261 registered refugees and asylum seekers as of the beginning of this month, according to the latest figures from the UN refugee agency.

According to the agency, essential primary healthcare activities are maintained in all refugee camps, which are currently part of the ongoing national campaign to enhance awareness and testing for COVID-19.

It also noted that an additional 200,000 face masks have been delivered to the refugee camps to improve the protection of frontline responders, while infrared thermometers, disposable gloves and surgical masks have been procured for distribution.

The UNHCR, however, stressed that refugees continue to receive only about 84 percent of the minimum standard food ration of 2,100 kcal per person per day. "This has kept the global acute malnutrition rate in most camps higher than the acceptable standards."

It also said that it has received US$1.8 million from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) to strengthen its COVID-19 response in education.

The Ethiopia Ministry of Education is also working with partners to develop guidelines on how to mitigate COVID-19 and ensure a safe learning environment. 

EU

The European Medicines Agency has been in contact since the beginning of September with 38 makers of potential COVID-19 vaccines, an official at the European Union's (EU) drugs regulator said on Tuesday.

"As of early September the EMA has been in contact with developers of 38 potential COVID-19 vaccines,"  Fergus Sweeney, Head of Clinical Studies and Manufacturing Task Force at EMA, said at a hearing in the European Parliament.

Vaccines must be authorized by EMA before they can be used in the EU.

France

France’s health authorities reported 5,298 new coronavirus cases on Monday, half of the number of new infections reported a day earlier, bringing the tally to 458,061.

The death toll rose by 53 to 31,338, the health ministry said. 

The rolling seven-day count of COVID-19 hospital admissions rose to 4,103 from 3,894 on Sunday, according to the latest French data, with intensive care admissions at 638 against 593 on Sunday.

Tighter restrictions will be imposed in the French city of Lyon from Tuesday to counter a sharp increase in new coronavirus cases and a surge in intensive care admissions, local authorities said.

Travelers walk through an underpass next to a coronavirus testing station at the main train station in Berlin, Germany, Sept 21, 2020. (MARKUS SCHREIBER / AP)

Germany

Closing Germany’s borders because of rising infection rates in neighboring countries such as France, Netherlands and Austria is not the government’s first choice of response, according to German Chancellery Minister Helge Braun.

“We have not had good experiences with border closures,” Braun said Tuesday in an interview with ZDF television. Germany relies on commuters such as nursing staff coming from France and truckers bringing goods into the country, he said.

“It’s a big challenge to prevent infections crossing over from a neighboring country,” Braun said. “But in both the labor market and in tourism we have concepts that give us a chance of success if we’re consistent.”

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,821 to 274,158, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The reported death toll rose by 10 to 9,396.

Greece

Greece reported 453 fresh COVID-19 infections on Monday, a new daily high since the beginning of the pandemic in March, of which 184 of the cases are refugees that tested positive on the island of Lesvos. 

So far, more than 7,000 refugees have been tested and 243 were found positive.

The country’s total positive cases now stand at 15,595. The greater Athens area has the most cases at the moment and the government has taken further restrictive measures to contain the spread of the virus. It hasn’t excluded the possibility of a regional lockdown if things get worst.

Italy

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza ordered Monday mandatory COVID-19 testing for travelers arriving from seven regions of France, including Paris.

The order came on the same day the Ministry of Health reported 981 fresh infections over the past 24 hours. 

The overall tally including confirmed infections, fatalities and recoveries has risen to 299,506, the ministry reported. A total of 218,703 patients had recovered while 35,724 people had died.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Workplace Accident Insurance (INAIL) said in a statement that a total of 52,209 infections had been detected in workplaces from Feb 21 to Aug 31. A total of 80.2 percent of reported infections and 34 percent of the fatalities were found among workers in the health care and social services sectors.

Kenya

Kenyan authorities directed all teachers on Monday to report back to schools on Sept 28, as the east African nation prepares to reopen learning institutions following COVID-19 disruptions.

The move comes amid a decline in COVID-19 infections recorded in the country.

Kenya has so far reported 37,079 cases, 23,949 recoveries and 650 deaths as of Monday.

READ MORE: Africa steps up efforts toward economic recovery

Mexico

Mexico surpassed 700,000 confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday even as health authorities cited what they described as nearly two months of slowing infection rates.

On Monday, the Health Ministry reported 2,917 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the Latin American country, bringing the total to 700,580 with 73,697 fatalities.

Senior health authorities in Mexico like Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the public face of the government's coronavirus strategy, have conceded that the real number of cases in the country is significantly higher that the official figures indicate.

Still, he argues that the outbreak in Mexico has shown signs of slowing over the past couple of months. "We now have eight consecutive weeks of a falling (caseload)," Lopez-Gatell told reporters at a regular briefing on Monday evening.

Morocco

Morocco announced on Monday 1,376 new COVID-19 infections, taking the tally to 103,119.

The number of recoveries increased by 3,426 to 84,158 while the death toll rose by 25 to 1,855, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Russia

Russia is so confident in its COVID-19 vaccine that it will shoulder some of the legal liability should anything go wrong, rather than requiring buyers to take on the full risk, the head of the state fund bankrolling the project told Reuters.

The decision leaves the vaccine’s state-backed developers open to potentially costly compensation claims should there be any unexpected side-effects. It is something many vaccine-makers have sought to avoid, by asking for full indemnity - complete protection from liability claims - from nations they sell to.

“Russia is so confident in its vaccine that it has not asked for full indemnity and this is a major differentiating factor versus any Western vaccine,” said Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the state sovereign wealth fund that is backing the vaccine. “We are confident in the long-term consequences.” 

ALSO READ: Russia to begin vaccine trials on 40,000 people next week

Dmitriev did not say whether buyers of Russia’s "Sputnik-V" vaccine would be asked to take on partial liability, and did not give details about indemnity clauses. His representatives said he had nothing more to add.

Thus far, RDIF has announced deals to supply just over 200 million doses, half to Latin America and half to India. The fund says it has orders for as much as 1 billion doses.

Russia expects to register a second potential vaccine against COVID-19 by Oct 15, the TASS news agency cited Russian consumer safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor as saying on Tuesday. The vaccine has been developed by Siberia's Vector Institute, which completed early-stage human trials of the vaccine last week.

READ MORE: Ifax: Russia completes early trials of 2nd potential virus vaccine

Russia has so far reported reported 1,115,810 confirmed cases and 19,649 deaths, On Tuesday 6,215 new cases, the most recorded over 24 hours since July 18, and 160 more deaths were reported.

A woman looks at face masks for sale at a stall in downtown Madrid, Spain, Sept 21, 2020. (BERNAT ARMANGUE / AP)

Spain

The Spanish government and regional authorities are set to cut the quarantine imposed on those who have had contacts with people tested positive to coronavirus to 10 days from a previous 14 days, Cadena SER radio station reported on Tuesday.

Spain has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in western Europe and regional authorities have ordered a partial lockdown from Monday in some Madrid neighborhoods and other regions are taking measures to curb contagion.

Authorities have diagnosed more than 670,000 cases in the country since the beginning of the contagion and 30,663 have died of the disease.

La Ser said the regions and central government would agree on the shorter quarantine later in the day. The northeastern Catalonia region has already announced it would switch to ten days.

Sweden

Swedish authorities are weighing whether to tighten restrictions in the capital Stockholm after a localized uptick of coronavirus cases over the past few weeks.

“Stockholm has seen a clear increase recently, across all age groups,” chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said on a press conference. “We are discussing with Stockholm whether we need some additional possibility to take measures to reduce transmission.”

The virus has so far claimed the lives of 5,870 people in Sweden, where shops, restaurants, gyms and schools have remained open throughout the pandemic. The Stockholm region has been the country’s worst hit area with 2,400 deaths.

Tegnell declined to elaborate on what measures could be taken to stem the spread of the disease in the capital.

While the situation has greatly improved across the country since spring, Stockholm’s health care director, Bjorn Eriksson, said the downward trend in the region has been broken. He urged citizens to follow the social-distancing advice that remains in place, and warned that the situation may soon turn serious again if the number of cases continues to increase.

“The pandemic is still ongoing, and I am pretty exasperated by people who act as if this is over,” Eriksson said at a separate press conference. “Everyone needs to help in reducing transmission.”

Stockholm currently has 27 coronavirus patients being treated in the region’s hospitals and two of them are in intensive care units. At the peak of the pandemic, in April, Stockholm hospitals were treating more than 1,100 people with COVID-19.

Tunisia

Tunisia's health ministry reported on Monday night 528 new COVID-19 cases and five more deaths, raising the total number of infections to 11,260 and the death toll to 164.

There were 221 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, including 65 in intensive care units, according to the ministry.

UK


Boris Johnson urged Britons to go back to working from home to fight the spread of coronavirus as he warned that new limits on socializing are likely to be in force for the next six months.

The prime minister ordered restaurants and bars to close earlier each night from Sept 24. to stop people passing on the disease after drinking alcohol and scrapped plans for allowing live audiences back into sporting and cultural events next month.

Tougher enforcement of the rules will also follow, with higher fines for people failing to wear face coverings, under the rules, which Johnson said could be tightened further if the virus runs out of control.

“This is the moment when we must act,” Johnson told Parliament on Tuesday. “We reserve the right to deploy greater firepower with significantly greater restrictions. I fervently want to avoid taking this step.”

The measures, which are being replicated across the UK, mark a reversal of government efforts to re-open the economy after the first national lockdown shuttered social and commercial activity in March, sparking the country’s deepest recession in more than 100 years.

They also illustrate the difficulty facing the government as it tries to balance the need to protect the economy and stamping down on a pandemic that’s killed more people in Britain than any other European nation. Johnson’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance warned on Monday that without action, the UK is on track to register 50,000 new Covid-19 cases a day by mid-October.

The number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in England and Wales rose for the first time since April. Coronavirus-linked deaths rose 27 percent percent to 99 in the seven days through Sept. 11 from a week earlier, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday. 

The UK's COVID-19 alert level was raised from Level 3 to Level 4, the second highest level, after data showed the number of cases was rising rapidly. Level 4 indicates that the virus is in general circulation and transmission is high or rising exponentially. 

The UK reported 4,368 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, taking the tally to 398,625, according to government data.

Northern Ireland said Monday it would extend existing restrictions in some localities on households mixing indoors across the whole of the province from Tuesday, while Wales slapped curbs on four more areas. Scotland said additional restrictions were almost certain to be imposed.

US

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday took down its guidance warning on possible airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus, saying that the draft recommendation was posted in error.

In the now-withdrawn guidance, which was posted on the agency’s website on Friday, the CDC had recommended that people use air purifiers to reduce airborne germs indoors to avoid the disease from spreading. 

Following the CDC's move, the WHO said on Monday it has not changed its policy on aerosol transmission of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus cases in the US on Monday surpassed 6.83 million while deaths topped 199,800, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.


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