Tag Archives: COVID-19

COVID-19: Nigeria reports 655 cases; 11 deaths.

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The centre also said that 1,489,103 people had been tested since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced on Feb. 27 2020.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has recorded 655 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 153,842.

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The NCDC disclosed this on its official Twitter handle on Wednesday.

The centre also reported 11 COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the total fatality in the country to 1,885.

Till date, the NCDC said 130,818 patients were discharged after being treated.

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The NCDC stated that the new infections were registered across 20 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

According to the centre, Lagos topped the list with 240 infections, followed by Ogun with 88, Rivers with 56 and FCT with 51 cases.

Others are Kaduna 43, Kano 25, Plateau 21, Taraba 19, Edo 17, Abia 15, Delta 13 and Nasarawa 11, Akwa Ibom 10, Kwara 10, Oyo 10, Kebbi nine, Borno five, Bayelsa and Gombe confirmed four cases each, Ekiti and Osun reported two cases each.

The centre also said that 1,489,103 people had been tested since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced on Feb. 27 2020.

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The centre said that the pandemic has shown a sign of receding in the country as active cases continue to decline, from 21,363 on Tuesday to 21,279.

The NCDC said that a multi-sectoral national Emergency Operations Centre has been activated at Level III, to coordinate response activities nationwide.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Israel reopens further.

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Netanyahu is hoping that the successful vaccine procurement and rollout will boost his support ahead of March 23 elections, Israel’s fourth vote in less than two years.

Nearly three million people, almost a third of Israel’s population, have received the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the world’s quickest inoculation pace per capita.

With a steady flow of data proving the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy in stopping serious illness from Covid-19, Israel’s government has begin gradually easing restrictions.

Shopping malls and stores with street access re-opened Sunday, with certain limitations on crowd size.

But gyms, swimming pools, hotels and some cultural facilities are re-opening only to those who have been fully vaccinated and obtained the so-called green pass.

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Israel’s green pass scheme is being closely-watched as a possible model for how other economies might re-open once a substantial part of the population is vaccinated, while stirring controversy over unequal access for those who opt out of the jab.

People carry shopping bags as Israel reopens swathes of its economy, while it continues to lift restrictions of a national lockdown. Photo: MINT

Lifting weights at gym in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv late Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Israel was moving ahead “with caution,” while imploring “everyone to get vaccinated.”

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Standing at the entrance of a posh Tel Aviv gym, 90-year-old Ora Davidovicz said she “couldn’t wait” to go swimming.

“It’s been almost a year since I went to the pool,” she told AFP. “I’ve been counting the days.”

“All I have to do is put on my swim suit,” she said, before heading in.

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As of Sunday, nearly 3.2 million Israelis are eligible for the green pass, according to the health ministry.

That includes 2.5 million people who had their second shot more than a week ago as well as nearly 700,000 people who have recovered from Covid-19.

At the family-owned Katalina shoe store in central Tel Aviv, Mordechai Nazarian said his business had been closed for eight of the last 12 months, with “little openings here and there” as Israel lifted restrictions between lockdowns.

“We hope this one is the right one,” he told AFP.

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Israel, which has one of the world’s most sophisticated medical data systems, secured a substantial stock of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by paying above market price and by striking a data-sharing deal with the drug giant.

Netanyahu is hoping that the successful vaccine procurement and rollout will boost his support ahead of March 23 elections, Israel’s fourth vote in less than two years.

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#Newsworthy

WHO calls Tanzania to fight Covid virus.

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At the same time Magufuli revealed he had secretly had a variety of items tested for the virus — of which a papaya, a quail and a goat apparently tested positive.

The head of the World Health Organization on Sunday appealed to Tanzania to take “robust action” against Covid-19 in the country, where the president has long played down the virus.

President John Magufuli has claimed coronavirus has been has fended off by prayer in Tanzania, and refused to take tough measures to curb its spread.

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But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials.

And Magufuli on Friday appeared to admit the coronavirus was circulating in his country after months of denial.

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WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond,” he said in a statement.

Tedros said he had urged Tanzania in late January to take measures against the pandemic and to prepare for vaccinations.

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“Since then I have spoken with several authorities in Tanzania but WHO is yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic.

– Papaya, quail and goat -“This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data.

“I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission, and to prepare for vaccination.”

The country last gave case figures in April 2020, reporting 509 infections.

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At the same time Magufuli revealed he had secretly had a variety of items tested for the virus — of which a papaya, a quail and a goat apparently tested positive.

On Wednesday, the vice president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, died after his opposition party admitted he had contracted coronavirus.

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The head of the civil service, John Kijazi, also died Wednesday.

The cause of death has not been revealed. But Magufuli brought up Covid-19 at his funeral.

“When this respiratory disease erupted last year, we won because we put God first and took other measures. I’m sure we will win again if we do so this time around,” he said.

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However dissent is mounting within the country to the government’s position on the pandemic.

On Saturday, the Tanzania Law Society became the first professional body to call on the government to openly recognise the virus and take adequate measures.

On Sunday, Magufuli revealed that some of his aides and family members had contracted Covid but recovered, and offered some lukewarm support for the use of masks.

“The government has not banned use of masks but some of these are not safe at all… let’s be careful,” he said after a service in a Dar es Salaam church.

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“Let us all depend on God as we also take other preventive measures. I put God first and that is why I do not wear a mask.”

The health ministry in a statement Sunday called on citizens to “continue to believe in God” and also respect preventive measures, including mask-wearing.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Nigeria report 877 cases; 1,803 total deaths.

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As COVID-19 cases increases everyday and death toll rises gently, total cases in Nigeria hits 150,246.

Nigeria reports 877 fresh COVID-19 cases as total death hit 1,803 and total recovery hit 126,417.

Lagos, Kaduna and Rivers records highest cases of 273, 87 and 58 respectively while Katsina & Sokoto reports lowest case(s) of 1.

New cases of 877 were reported from 26 Nigerian states and the whole 36 states in Nigeria has part in above total cases.

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877 new cases of #COVID19Nigeria;

Lagos-273
Kaduna-87
Rivers-58
Akwa Ibom-47
Ebonyi-47
Edo-46
Ogun-46
Abia-34
Imo-34
Kano-34
Oyo-26
Osun-22
Gombe-20
Ekiti-19
Cross River-15
FCT-15
Plateau-11
Enugu-9
Kebbi-8
Borno-7
Niger-6
Bayelsa-5
Nasarawa-4
Kwara-2
Katsina-1
Sokoto-1

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: BioNTech reveals commitment to ‘supplying’ Taiwan with Pfizer vaccine.

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BioNTech has struck a deal with the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceutical Group to bring the vaccine to China, including Taiwan.

Germany’s BioNTech said Thursday it still intends to provide Taiwan with coronavirus vaccine doses after the island’s health chief warned “political pressure” had scuppered a deal with the company.

Taiwanese health minister Chen Shih-Chung said Wednesday that negotiations with the German firm to acquire five million Pfizer/BioNTech shots fell through in December “because someone doesn’t want Taiwan to be too happy”.

His comments raised concerns China might be trying to hinder Taiwan’s inoculation drive.

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Authoritarian Beijing regards democratic and self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and tries to keep the island diplomatically isolated — including keeping it locked out of the World Health Organization.

In a statement on Thursday, BioNTech said discussions to supply Taiwan with doses were still ongoing.

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“BioNTech is committed to help to bring an end to the pandemic for people across the world and we intend to supply Taiwan with our vaccine as part of this global commitment,” it said.

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines are seen on a countertop at the Chiba Rosai Hospital in Ichihara, Chiba perfecture on February 17, 2021, as the country launches its inoculation campaign against the virus. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

The brief statement did not address Chen’s comments or explain why the December deal did not materialise.

BioNTech has struck a deal with the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceutical Group to bring the vaccine to China, including Taiwan.

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Beijing has a long history of pressuring both Chinese and international companies when it wants to punish Taiwan.

It the first comments on the issue, China’s foreign ministry on Thursday accused Taiwan of “carrying out political manipulation and hyping up political issues”.

“We wish to provide necessary assistance Taiwanese compatriots in their fight against the epidemic,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, without addressing whether China had played any role in the delayed December deal.

Foson has not responded to requests for comment.

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Taiwan has survived the pandemic largely unscathed — with fewer than 940 confirmed cases and nine deaths so far — by closing its borders early, imposing strict quarantine measures and rolling out the effective tracing.

But it has struggled to locate adequate vaccine supplies and only recently announced a supply of five million doses by American pharmaceutical giant Moderna and 200,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine via COVAX.

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#Newsworthy

Zanzibar VP, dies of COVID-19 complications.

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The island teemed with soldiers, police and a militia linked to the ruling party known as “zombies” — clad in black with their faces covered by bandanas — who were feared for rounding up and beating civilians at random.

Zanzibar’s first vice president, Seif Sharif Hamad, who led the island’s opposition for three decades, died Wednesday, the president said, after he had been hospitalised for over three weeks with coronavirus.

Tanzania and its semi-autonomous island Zanzibar have played down the threat of the virus, which President John Magufuli claims has been fended off by prayer.

However, Hamad’s ACT-Wazalendo party announced in January that the 77-year-old had been hospitalised with the virus, as part of rising evidence of a surge in cases in the country.

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“Hamad died this morning at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was hospitalised,” Zanzibar president Ali Hassan Mwinyi said in a short speech broadcast by state-run ZBC television.

“The nation has really lost a patriotic leader. I also declare seven days of mourning and the national flag will fly at half-mast.”

Magufuli also expressed his condolences in a message on Twitter.

Neither leader mentioned the cause of death.

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Hamad was born on the island of Pemba, part of the Zanzibar archipelago.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 25, 2020 Zanzibar leader of the Tanzanian opposition political party The Alliance for Change and Transparency (Wazalendo) Seif Sharif Hamad acknowledges supporters on stage during the last campaign rally in Stone Town, on October 25, 2020. – Zanzibar’s first vice president Seif Sharif Hamad, who led the island’s opposition for three decades, died on February 17, 2021, the president said, after he had been hospitalised for over three weeks with coronavirus. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

He was a member of Tanzania’s sole ruling party, the CCM, and served as Chief Minister of Zanzibar until being expelled and imprisoned for two years from 1989 to 1991.

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In 1992, when Tanzania adopted a multiparty system, Hamad formed the Civic United Front (CUF) party, the main opposition on Zanzibar.

He would go on to face off against CCM candidates in six elections on the volatile island — once a centre of the Arab slave trade — where sectarian and political tensions have always been more marked than on the mainland.

Hamad’s CUF was long seen as more aligned with the old Arab oligarchy, calling for independence from the mainland, however increasingly was supported by African Zanzibaris fed up with economic woes on the island, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a 2019 report.

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Hamad alleged that every election was stolen from him, and many foreign observers have agreed. Zanzibar’s elections have often ended in bloodshed.

In 2020, Hamad quit the CUF and ran under the banner of the ACT-Wazalendo opposition party, in an election which saw a brutal crackdown on the islands.

Hamad was arrested twice during the election and his party spokesman Ismail Jussa mercilessly beaten by security forces.

The island teemed with soldiers, police and a militia linked to the ruling party known as “zombies” — clad in black with their faces covered by bandanas — who were feared for rounding up and beating civilians at random.

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“We are ready to die for Zanzibar,” Hamad said at his final election rally.

In December, his party decided to join a unity government in a bid to “heal the nation”, and Hamad was named first vice president.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Political pressure blocking vaccine deal – Taiwan Gov’t.

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Taiwan has survived the pandemic largely unscathed — with fewer than 940 confirmed cases and nine deaths so far — by closing its borders early, imposing strict quarantine measures and rolling out effective tracing.

An attempt by Taiwan to secure five million doses of coronavirus vaccine failed at the last minute because of “political pressure”, Taipei’s health minister said Wednesday, raising fears China could be creating roadblocks for the inoculation drive.

Health minister Chen Shih-chung revealed during a radio interview that a crucial deal to acquire the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had failed “at the final step” of negotiations with BioNTech.

“I was worried about interference from external forces all along and there were many possibilities. I was worried about political pressure. We believed there was political pressure,” he said.

“The deal fell through… because someone doesn’t want Taiwan to be too happy.”

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German firm BioNTech has struck a deal with the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceutical Group to bring the vaccine to China.

When asked if Beijing might be blocking the deal, Chen replied “this could be a possibility but we can’t confirm it. We are still communicating with” the company.

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“It’s very rare to stop the process before swapping the contracts,” Chen said, adding BioNTech called off the December deal citing “different internal opinions” and “international vaccine distributions”.

Fosun and BioNTech did not return requests for comment.

The pandemic has highlighted the diplomatic and economic isolation China forces on Taiwan’s 23 million citizens.

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Beijing sees self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

It has dramatically stepped up its pressure campaign since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016, poaching seven of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and blocking Taipei from global bodies including the World Health Organization (WHO).

Taiwan has survived the pandemic largely unscathed — with fewer than 940 confirmed cases and nine deaths so far — by closing its borders early, imposing strict quarantine measures and rolling out effective tracing.

But it has struggled to locate adequate vaccine supplies and only recently announced a supply of five million doses by American pharmaceutical giant Moderna and 200,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine via COVAX.

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An analyst said Beijing has previously used the pandemic to pressure Taiwan.

“China’s continued weaponisation and politicisation of people’s health — which should be apolitical — should not come as a surprise, especially given everything that has been going on with the WHO,” tweeted Jessica Drun, a Taiwan-China expert at the Project 2049 think-tank.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: South Korea says North Korea ‘tried to hack’ Pfizer vaccine.

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The North is also accused of a huge, $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank, as well as the theft of $60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank.

North Korean hackers tried to break into the computer systems of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in a search for information on a coronavirus vaccine and treatment technology, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, according to reports.

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The impoverished, nuclear-armed North has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year to try to protect itself from the virus that first emerged in neighbouring China and has gone on to sweep the world, killing more than two million people.

Leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases, although outside experts doubt those assertions.

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And the closure has added to the pressure on its tottering economy from international sanctions imposed over its banned weapons systems, increasing the urgency for Pyongyang to find a way to deal with the disease.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service “briefed us that North Korea tried to obtain technology involving the Covid vaccine and treatment by using cyberwarfare to hack into Pfizer”, MP Ha Tae-keung told reporters after a parliamentary hearing behind closed doors.

This picture taken on February 11, 2021 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 12, 2021 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a performance celebrating the Lunar New Year in North Korea.

North Korea is known to operate an army of thousands of well-trained hackers who have attacked firms, institutions and researchers in the South and elsewhere.

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Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, developed jointly with Germany’s BioNTech, began winning approval from authorities late last year.

It is based on technology that uses the synthetic version of a molecule called “messenger RNA” to hack into human cells and effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.

Pfizer says it expects to potentially deliver up to 2 billion doses in 2021.

The company’s South Korean office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by AFP.

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Both it and BioNTech said in December that documents relating to their vaccine were “unlawfully accessed” during a cyberattack on a server at the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s medicine regulator.

The comments came after the Amsterdam-based EMA said it had been the victim of a hacking attack, without specifying when it took place or whether its work on Covid-19 was targeted.

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Cyber-heists
The allegations come only a week after a confidential UN report seen by AFP said North Korea had stolen more than $300 million worth of cryptocurrencies through cyberattacks in recent months to support its weapons programmes.

Financial institutions and exchanges were hacked to generate revenue for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development, the document said, with the vast majority of the proceeds coming from two thefts late last year.

Pyongyang’s cyberwarfare abilities first came to global prominence in 2014 when it was accused of hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment as revenge for “The Interview”, a satirical film that mocked leader Kim.

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The attack resulted in the posting of several unreleased movies as well as a vast trove of confidential documents online.

The North is also accused of a huge, $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank, as well as the theft of $60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank.

Pyongyang’s hackers were blamed for the 2017 WannaCry global ransomware cyberattack, which infected some 300,000 computers in 150 nations, encrypting user files and demanding hundreds of dollars from their owners for the keys to get them back.

Pyongyang has denied the accusations, saying it has “nothing to do with cyber-attacks”.

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Nuclear talks between it and Washington have been stalled since a summit between Kim and then-president Donald Trump in February 2019 broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

North Korea showed off several new missiles at military parades in October and last month when Kim pledged to strengthen his nuclear arsenal.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Activities in New Zealand’s Auckland pends until 72-hours.

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Neighbouring Australia also suspended a quarantine-free travel “bubble” with New Zealand for the duration of the lockdown.

New Zealand’s biggest city began a snap three-day lockdown Monday, forcing two million people to stay at home, as authorities scrambled to contain the nation’s first outbreak of the highly contagious UK variant.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the 72-hour lockdown for Auckland after three family members were found to be infected in the North Island city.

Schools and non-essential businesses have been forced to close and residents barred from leaving the city except for a few essential reasons.

The health ministry said genomic sequencing has since shown two of the cases were caused by the strain that was first detected in Britain. Tests from the third person were still pending.

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“This result reinforces the decision to take swift and robust action around the latest cases to detect and stamp out the possibility of any further transmission,” the ministry said.

Authorities said testing of the family’s close contacts had so far found no further cases, raising hopes the lockdown will end quickly.

But health officials are still unsure how the strain entered the largely coronavirus-free country.

New Zealand’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said the initial focus was on the mother’s workplace — at a company providing laundry services to international flights — “because of its obvious connections to the border”.

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He cautioned it was “too soon to rule in or out” any source of transmission and the woman had not been at work for eight days before testing positive.

‘Not again’
As tracing and testing ramped up, the streets of central Auckland were largely empty Monday, with torrential rain helping to discourage people from venturing outdoors.

Coronavirus testing centres were busy, though, and there were long lines of vehicles stopped at police roadblocks as people tried to leave the city despite the lockdown.

Auckland has been ring-fenced from the rest of New Zealand, with travel in and out of the metropolis highly restricted for the next three days.

Neighbouring Australia also suspended a quarantine-free travel “bubble” with New Zealand for the duration of the lockdown.

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It was the first clampdown in nearly six months in the Pacific island nation, which has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic with just 25 deaths in a population of five million.

The remainder of the country was placed on a lower alert level, with people required to wear masks on public transport and gatherings limited to a maximum of 100 people.

“I know we all feel the same way when this happens -– not again,” Ardern said as she announced the measures on Sunday.

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“But remember, we have been here before, that means we know how to get out of this -– together.”

Ardern’s office meanwhile announced that the first batch of coronavirus vaccines arrived in New Zealand on Monday.

Some 60,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine have reached Auckland and would be given to border and quarantine workers beginning Saturday after quality control checks, she said.

Auckland spent more than two weeks in lockdown last August after an outbreak was linked to a worker handling imported frozen freight, but New Zealand has largely been enjoying relaxed restrictions for months.

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Several cases caused by the variant first detected in South Africa were also detected in the city three weeks ago, before being traced back to a hotel where the people arriving from overseas had completed quarantine.

That outbreak was successfully contained without a lockdown, even though the South African variant is also considered highly infectious.

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#Newsworthy

Australia open left empty amid Melbourne’s fresh lockdown.

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With a population of 25 million, there have been approximately 22,200 community cases and 909 deaths.

Australia’s second-most populous state of Victoria, including capital Melbourne, entered a five-day lockdown on Saturday as authorities raced to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 cases set off by the highly infections UK variant.

One new locally acquired case was confirmed in the past 24 hours, Victoria health authorities said on Saturday, taking the number of active cases in the state to 20.

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“A lot of people will be hurting today. This is not the position Victorians wanted to be in but I can’t have a situation where, in two weeks’ time, we look back and wish we had taken these decisions now,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Saturday.

Andrews said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had agreed to stop all international flights to Melbourne through Wednesday, after five planes en route, with about 100 passengers, land on Saturday.

The cluster that triggered the renewed restrictions were staying in a quarantine hotel at Melbourne Airport.

It is the third lockdown imposed on Melbourne. The first two lockdowns were implemented when infections spread in March 2020, and then in July, which lasted for about four months.

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Streets in downtown Melbourne, the state’s capital, and its suburbs were almost empty early on Saturday, with people ordered to stay home except for essential shopping, two hours of outdoor exercise, caregiving, or work that cannot be done from home.

Among the “essential” work, play at the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam tennis event which runs to February 21, continued, but fans were banned through Wednesday.

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Thousands were forced to leave before midnight, sometimes in the middle of matches, on Friday.

One new locally acquired case in Victoria was confirmed in the past 24 hour, taking the number of active infections to 20 [Brandon Malone/AFP]

‘Soul destroying’
The lockdown, which has shut restaurants and cafes except for takeaway, hit just as Melbourne had geared up for the biggest weekend in nearly a year, with Lunar New Year celebrations, Valentine’s Day and Australian Open crowds.

Melbourne last year endured a 111-day lockdown, one of the strictest and longest in the world at the time, to stem a coronavirus outbreak which led to more than 800 deaths.

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“It’s the busiest weekend of the year for us. I’m sitting here making 178 heartbreaking phone calls to see if I can get them to rebook,” said Will Baa, owner of Lover, a restaurant in the hip district of Windsor.

“It is quite soul destroying. But we’re resilient. Just fingers crossed that it only does extend for the short period of five days,” he said.

More broadly, Australia is rated among the world’s most successful countries in tackling the pandemic, largely because of decisive lockdowns and borders sealed to all but a trickle of travellers.

With a population of 25 million, there have been approximately 22,200 community cases and 909 deaths.

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New Zealand on Saturday also reported one death of a patient with COVID-19.

The person had been taken to hospital from quarantine for an unrelated condition and later tested positive. That case has yet to be included in the country’s total of 25 COVID-19 deaths.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Nigeria reports 1005 fresh cases.

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As COVID-19 cases increases everyday and death toll rises gently, total cases in Nigeria hits 144,521.

Nigeria reports 1,005 fresh COVID-19 cases as total death hit 1,734 and total recovery hit 118,866.

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Lagos, Kwara and Oyo records highest cases of 205, 155 and 124 respectively while Jigawa reports lowest case(s) of 2.

New cases of 1,005 were reported from 19 Nigerian states and the whole 36 states in Nigeria has part in above total cases.

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1005 new cases of #COVID19Nigeria;

Lagos-204
Kwara-155
Oyo-124
Plateau-80
FCT-75
Edo-56
Osun-48
Ondo-41
Kaduna-40
Rivers-40
Taraba-35
Borno-32
Ekiti-21
Ogun-20
Kano-14
Bayelsa-8
Delta-7
Bauchi-3
Jigawa-2

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144,521 confirmed
118,866 discharged
1,734 deaths

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#NobleSong

Abdelmadjid returns after post-covid surgery in Germany.

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Algeria has recorded over 110,000 cases including over 2,900 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune returned home Friday after a one-month stay in Germany for surgery following post-Covid-19 complications in his foot, state television said.

“The President of the Republic, Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, returned today,” the state broadcaster said, but did not broadcast images of his arrival.

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Tebboune, 75, had been hospitalised in Germany last year after contracting Covid-19, and stayed there for two months before returning to Algeria.

He returned to Germany on January 10, and underwent a “successful” operation on his foot 10 days later, according to the presidency.

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Algeria has recorded over 110,000 cases including over 2,900 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

On the eve of his return, Tebboune had called German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to thank him for the medical care he had received.

Among the key issues that await him include the development of the new electoral law ahead of anticipated local and legislative elections slated to be held by the end of the year.

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A government reshuffle is also expected.

Tebboune won office in December 2019, eight months after the popular Hirak protest movement swept out his ailing predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Tebboune’s initial convalescence in Germany had reminded many Algerians of octogenarian Bouteflika’s frequent hospitalisations abroad.

Tebboune’s return comes amid tension in the North African nation ahead of the second anniversary of the launch of the Hirak protests on February 22.

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Hirak protesters continued after Bouteflika’s fall, demanding a full overhaul of the ruling system in place since the Algeria’s 1962 independence from France.

However, social distancing rules to stem the coronavirus pandemic meant that protesters had to halt their street rallies early last year.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Europe still vulnerable.

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The number of vaccine doses administered in Europe now stands 41 million, greater that the nearly 36 million cases recorded since the start of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization on Thursday warned of a “false sense of security” in Europe, saying most of the continent’s nations were still vulnerable despite a fall in Covid cases.

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told a press conference that “the decline in cases conceals increasing numbers of outbreaks and community spread involving variants of concern.”

More than a million cases are registered every week across the 53 member states in the UN agency’s European region, which includes several in central Asia.

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But the number of reported cases has been falling over the past four weeks and deaths have also been declining over the past two weeks.

A healthcare worker takes a swab sample to run an antigen rapid test for coronavirus during a mass screening to test 100 percent of the town’s population in Leon, northern Spain, on February 3, 2021. – The Spanish government is “open” and “enthusiastic” to using Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Spain, one of the countries in Europe most affected by the pandemic, as long as it is approved by the European Medicines Agency, Health Minister Carolina Darias said today. The shot — named after the Soviet-era satellite — faced criticism last year when it was approved in Russia before large-scale clinical trials. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

“At this point, the overwhelming majority of European countries remain vulnerable,” Kluge said, adding that as of now there is “a thin line between the hope of a vaccine and a false sense of security.”

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The number of vaccine doses administered in Europe now stands 41 million, greater that the nearly 36 million cases recorded since the start of the pandemic.

According to data from 29 out of the 37 countries that have begun vaccinations, 7.8 million have received both doses of the vaccines, Kluge said, warning that the number only accounts for 1.5 percent of the population in those countries.

“Vaccines are essential, but as of now, they are not sufficient to control the pandemic,” Kluge said.

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The regional WHO director cautioned against “rash decisions” for countries contemplating easing restrictions.

“Time and again have we seen countries reopen too fast and lose hard-earned gains,” Kluge said.

With the emergence of new variants, vaccinations could also be undermined if the virus is allowed to circulate, potentially causing mutations that “may influence vaccine efficacy.”

“Unless we halt transmission now, the expected benefits from vaccinations in controlling this pandemic may not be evident,” Kluge said.

The WHO director also reiterated a call for an equitable distribution of vaccines to include poorer countries, both citing it as a “moral imperative,” but also as a means to mitigate risks.

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“Unfair access to vaccines, can backfire. The longer the virus lingers, the greater the risk of dangerous mutations,” Kluge said.

Across the WHO’s European region, 38 countries have recorded cases linked to the variant first discovered in Britain and 19 nations have recorded cases from variant discovered in South Africa.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Groups plead with wealthy nations to share vaccines with poor countries.

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WHO explained that, of the 128 million jabs of COVID-19 delivered so far, three-quarters of these have taken place in only 10 countries..

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) have asked wealthy countries to share COVID-19 vaccines with poorer nations once they inoculate their health workers and other vulnerable groups.

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Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, gave the charge in a statement yesterday, saying about 130 countries with a combined population of 2.5 billion people were yet to deliver any COVID-19 vaccines.

WHO explained that, of the 128 million jabs of COVID-19 delivered so far, three-quarters of these have taken place in only 10 countries, and enjoined vaccine manufacturers to allocate the limited supplies equitably.

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They said: “Over three-quarters of those vaccinations are in only 10 countries that account for 60 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As of today, almost 130 countries, with a population of 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose.

“The self-defeating strategy of wealthy nation will cost lives and livelihoods, give the virus further opportunity to mutate and evade vaccines and will undermine a global economic recovery. Whether we win or lose, we will do so together.”

They also admonished world leaders to look beyond their borders and employ a vaccine strategy that could actually end the pandemic and limit variants, adding that globally, over 107 million cases of COVID-19 and over 2.3 million deaths have been recorded.

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Meanwhile, Nigeria has been named one of the countries to get vaccines through the COVAX Global vaccines facility, the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), as it is expected to receive 16 million free doses in the first half of the year.

COVAX, an international alliance co-led by GAVI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO and over 180 countries, is a global initiative to support the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for about one billion people by the end of 2021.

In a statement, yesterday, GAVI shared the first forecasts of countries that would receive COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX’s Advance Market Commitment (AMC), adding that COVAX had allocated over 330 million doses for low and middle-income countries, including Nigeria and will aim to deliver most of these before June ending.

NoRM learnt that Nigeria, as one of the 92 ODA-eligible countries participating in the COVAX AMC initiative, would benefit from the arrangement and access free vaccines for at least 20 per cent of its population.

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NoRM also learnt that the United Kingdom (UK) would be playing an active role in ensuring effective and equitable introduction of COVID-19 vaccines.

“This is a global pandemic that needs global solution. The UK is at the forefront of tackling COVID-19 worldwide and has so far pledged up to £1.3 billion of UK aid to end the coronavirus pandemic as quickly as possible, championing access to vaccines, especially for the poorest nations.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Immunization processes under scrutiny.

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The physician, however, said Nigeria should not abandon the efforts to vaccinate her populace, but should look at other options of achieving the same objectives.

Nigeria’s plan to vaccinate 30 per cent of citizens against COVID-19 this year could be delayed for scrutiny, after South Africa paused its rollout of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.

The South African move had followed a study, which showed that the vaccine offered reduced protection from the COVID-19 variant first identified in the country. South Africa’s Minister of Health, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, said the hold would be temporary as scientists tried to figure out how to most effectively deploy the vaccine.

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Consequently, Nigerian medical experts called for caution and greater scrutiny of vaccines ordered by the Federal Government before they could be administered on citizens. They expressed apprehension over claims that the $8 AstraZeneca vaccine, one of the cheapest and most suited for Nigeria, could be appropriately stored and deployed with the country’s existing cold chain infrastructure.

According to the experts, it could cost the country a lot more than anticipated to procure, distribute and vaccinate targeted population with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Interestingly, the Federal Government on Monday said Nigeria was no longer expecting the 100,000 doses of the Pfizer/BIONtech vaccine through the COVAX facility, but had been allocated about 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to start arriving the country in two weeks.

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COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and others.

The FG, however, said the country is yet to isolate and confirm the circulation of the South African COVID-19 strain.

A public health physician and Executive Secretary, Enugu State Agency for the Control of AIDS (ENSACA), Dr. Chinedu Arthur Idoko, told NoRM‘s known Media yesterday that it was important for Nigeria to get more reliable, verifiable details of the exact strains/ variants of COVID-19 it should be dealing with before exhaustively engaging in vaccine procurement.

“There has to be a more organised, precise and focused information gathering from the different hospitals/ COVID-19 service outlets in the country on particular symptoms/ presentations/ pathways of confirmed cases they have experienced in the recent past,” he said.

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Idoko said that Nigeria should not abandon the plans but would have to tread cautiously, taking a more appropriate and evidence-based decision on procurement.

He said Nigeria could make its vaccine procurement from any country, depending on whether or not it meets its preferences and set targets. “If China offers that window, then it does serve an option,” the public health physician said.

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A virologist/vaccinologist and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Innovative Biotech, Keffi, Nasarawa State, and Innovative Biotech, United States of America (USA), Dr. Simon Agwale, said the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing severe illness was not established in the South African study, but expressed the hope that subsequent study would be looking to address the issue.

Agwale said efforts are already ongoing by manufacturers to develop a new generation of vaccines that would allow protection to be redirected to emerging variants as booster doses.

Agwale, who leads COVID-19 vaccine task team of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, said the implication would be that Nigeria should immediately set-up a systematic genomic surveillance to first determine the proportion of the various variants in the country and then monitor emerging variants going forward.

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Going forward, he said that Nigeria’s rollout should be evidence-based, which would require it to conduct small clinical trials, similar to what South Africa is doing, to determine the effectiveness of the vaccines before implementation.

“Updating the vaccines is not a challenge because it will take about six to 12 weeks to update the current vaccines, but how will the vaccines be manufactured at a scale to meet global demand? We are still battling to manufacture the first-generation vaccines for the world, and when then are we going to get the updated versions of the vaccines manufactured?,” Agwale wondered.

A consultant Obstetrician and gynaecologist and Medical Director, Optimal Specialist Hospital, Surulere, Lagos, Dr. Celestine Ugochukwu Chukwunenye, told The Guardian that Nigeria did not have the health facilities and manpower to achieve the feat of vaccinating 140 million people in two years.

“Develop countries are battling with slow distribution of the available vaccines in their countries. They are able to handle the vaccines from various sources. We are certainly not. It is bordering on mere wishful thinking, to hope that by 2022 Nigeria would have vaccinated 70 per cent of her population.

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“However, it is still better to start making the arrangements to vaccinate Nigerians now. With the added costs of Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Moderna vaccines, it will seem practically impossible for Nigeria to vaccinate 70 per cent of her population in two years.”

The physician, however, said Nigeria should not abandon the efforts to vaccinate her populace, but should look at other options of achieving the same objectives.

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“China has become one of our trading partners and traditional allies. There is nothing wrong with approaching China. We should be careful in our approach,” he said.

A consultant pharmacist, Dr. Lolu Ojo, however, argued that there was no global rejection of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine yet. According to him, the fact that South Africa (SA) was slowing down on it should not invalidate the claims of the organisation regarding the efficacy of the vaccine.

“There’s really no serious threat to Nigeria’s plan on vaccination as a result of SA’s experience,” the pharmacist said.

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Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, told journalists on Monday that the country’s decision to switch to AstraZeneca vaccine was based on epidemiological and equity assessment done by the WHO.

He said Nigeria was actually considered as one of the ready countries to receive the Pfizer vaccine, “but because the distribution intended to achieve public health value, it was not practical to provide every capable country with the Pfizer vaccine, due to its limited quantity. This necessitated further review by a multi-agency committee to narrow down the selection process. WHO disclosed this information to us.

“As stated by the WHO Regional Director, a number of factors were considered in allocating the small quantity of 320,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccines to the 13 countries in Africa. These include mortality rate from COVID-19, the number of new cases, the population of the countries involved and the availability of appropriate cold chain equipment. Evidently, Nigeria is by no means ahead of a country like South Africa in terms of mortality or incident rate of COVID-19, and it is not the least populated in comparison to the other countries.

“Consequently, the replacement of the initial 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccines with the 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is in fact a welcome development, as it will enable a wider reach of our population and is a better option using our routine cold chain system; even though we still had an ultra cold chain capacity that would have been able to store more than 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.”

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On the suspension by South African Government of their vaccination with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in response to findings from a study, which showed that the vaccine was less efficacious against the B.1.351 strain of the COVID-19 virus, which is the predominant strain in South Africa, Shuaib said that Nigeria was yet to isolate the strain. “The NCDC working with Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and other researchers will intensify the search for this strain from samples collected. In the meantime, we will continue to work with National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to ensure that only a vaccine which is effective against the predominant COVID-19 strain in Nigeria will be administered.”

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said Nigeria subscribed to two multilateral vaccine access platforms; the first being the COVAX facility that will supply members, including Nigeria, vaccines free of charge, to cover 20 per cent of country’s population.

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#Newsworthy

WHO-China’s COVID origin probe ‘unsuccessful’ – New step taken!

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In France, a row is brewing over restrictions on cultural institutions, with one local mayor allowing museums to reopen despite a nationwide ban.

A much-anticipated inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic wrapped up its mission in China on Tuesday with no breakthrough discovery, as investigators ruled out a theory that Covid-19 came from a lab but failed to identify which animal may have passed it to humans.

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While the coronavirus likely jumped to humans from animals, it is still unclear which species first transmitted it, said Liang Wannian, who headed up the Chinese contingent of an inquiry carried out jointly with World Health Organization (WHO) experts.

The WHO mission — which China repeatedly delayed — was dogged by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a “robust” probe into the origins of the pandemic in late 2019, and China firing back with a warning not to “politicise” the investigation.

During the closely monitored mission — which included a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s recovery — reporters were largely kept at arms’ length from the experts.

Liang, supported by WHO expert Ben Embarek, said there was “no indication” the sickness was circulating in Wuhan before December 2019 when the first official cases were recorded.

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Embarek, who said identifying the virus’ pathway from animals to humans remains a “work in progress”, also scotched a controversial theory that the virus had leaked from a lab, calling it “extremely unlikely”.

‘Martyrdom’ of health workers
As investigators have struggled to pinpoint the origins of a virus that has now killed more than 2.3 million people, governments are continuing to grapple with its daily consequences.

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Vaccination campaigns are gaining pace worldwide, with Iran the latest country to begin its rollout of Russia’s Sputnik V jab.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the vaccination was being carried out in “memory of the martyrdom of health workers”, as medics at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini hospital received the first shots.

Peter Ben Embarek (3rd-R) and Marion Koopmans (2nd-R) attend a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province on February 9, 2021. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

Iran is also expected to receive 4.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines under the Covax scheme, which intends to ensure jabs are distributed across the world and not hoarded by richer nations.

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The AstraZeneca vaccine makes up the bulk of initial Covax deliveries to some 145 countries but it suffered a setback in recent days with a trial showing it only offers minimal protection against the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

The results forced South Africa to delay the start of its vaccinations, but the WHO insisted Monday that the AstraZeneca shot remained vital to the global fight against Covid-19.

Richard Hatchett, head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said it was “vastly too early to be dismissing this vaccine”.

“It is absolutely crucial to use the tools that we have as effectively as we possibly can,” he told a WHO press briefing.

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AstraZeneca has stood by its vaccine, and said researchers are working on an updated version that can be effective against the new variants. WHO authorisation for the shot is expected next week.

‘Let’s get used to it’
Despite the vaccine rollouts, life is far from back to normal for most people.

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The pandemic and associated restrictions have crushed entire sectors of the global economy, laid waste to sports and cultural calendars and confined hundreds of millions to their homes.

In France, a row is brewing over restrictions on cultural institutions, with one local mayor allowing museums to reopen despite a nationwide ban.

“There is a virus and it will be with us for a long time,” said Louis Aliot, the far-right mayor of the southern city of Perpignan. “Let’s get used to it and start by trying things out.”

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As the pain of shutdowns has bitten hard, governments have turned to other measures to try to facilitate reopening — mass testing campaigns and quarantines for travellers are still prominent tools.

Britain is the latest country to order international travellers to undergo several tests while under quarantine.

But the surest sign that the world is far from back to normal comes from Tokyo, where organisers of this summer’s Olympic Games have issued a 33-page booklet of rules on social distancing.

Athletes’ time in Japan will be minimised to reduce the risk of infection and those staying at the Olympic Village will be expected to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact”.

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Despite this, organisers told AFP on Tuesday that they still plan to hand out roughly 150,000 free condoms to athletes.

“If you have been to the Games before, we know this experience will be different in a number of ways,” the guidebook warns, adding that breaching the rules could result in expulsion.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Panama defends hiring Cuban doctors.

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The decision to bring Cuban doctors produced controversy in some sectors because in Panama, medical practice is restricted to local professionals.

Panama’s health minister on Monday defended the deployment of more than 200 Cuban doctors to help the Central American country battle the coronavirus, despite criticism of the island government’s human rights record at home.

“We are eternally grateful” to the Cuban doctors because “they came here to save the lives of Panamanians,” Luis Francisco Sucre said during an appearance before the National Assembly to answer questions about the management of the pandemic.

Several deputies criticized the Panamanian government’s decision to hire the 220 Cuban doctors, calling it “a violation of human rights.”

But Sucre defended the agreement between his ministry and its Cuban counterpart, which he said “complies with all due legal processes.”

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He said his government would not hesitate to “sign it again.”

“The same people who today criticize the agreement signed with the Cuban Health Ministry would have been criticizing if there were dead in the streets, or if people were dying in the corridors of hospitals because we had no doctors to treat them,” Sucre said.

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The Cubans arrived in Panama on December 24, at a time when Panama was facing a crisis that had completely overwhelmed its health system and exhausted local doctors.

The decision to bring Cuban doctors produced controversy in some sectors because in Panama, medical practice is restricted to local professionals.

The announcement also met with resistance from Washington.

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“Governments that hire Cuban medical workers must ensure their fair and humane treatment — in tark contrast to the Castro regime, which traffics in, and exploits, the workers’ bravery for its own gains,” tweeted Michael Kozak, Washington’s acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

“Make contracts transparent and pay workers directly,” he said.

Washington and some human rights organizations consider the sale of Cuban medical services a form of “forced labour” that “violates human rights” and only serves as propaganda for the Communist government of the island.

During his speech, Sucre said that in addition to Cuba, the Panamanian government also requested medical support from other countries, such as the United States, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Italy, Israel, China and Russia, but had been unsuccessful.

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“The criticisms are easy, the difficult thing is to be here directing a pandemic that nobody asked for,” Sucre said.

Panama, with 4.2 million inhabitants, has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Central America, with more than 327,000 cases and 5,506 deaths.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: President Andres Manuel of Mexico speaks on his health.

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The left-wing populist, who has a history of heart problems and hypertension, announced on January 24 that he was undergoing treatment for the coronavirus.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday that he had overcome the coronavirus as he resumed his daily news conference after more than two weeks in isolation.

“I thank all Mexicans, men and women, who worried about my illness because of my Covid infection. Fortunately, I got through it,” said the 67-year-old, who as usual wore no mask.

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“We are back on our feet and fighting,” he told reporters gathered at the National Palace.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his daily press conference at the Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City, on February 8, 2021. – Lopez Obrador resumed his official activities at his morning conference on Monday after recovering from COVID-19, which was diagnosed on January 24. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP)

The left-wing populist, who has a history of heart problems and hypertension, announced on January 24 that he was undergoing treatment for the coronavirus.

Last Thursday Lopez Obrador said that he had tested negative for Covid-19 and was awaiting the results of further testing to confirm he no longer had the virus.

According to the government’s brief updates on his condition, he had experienced brief episodes of low-grade fever and a slight headache.

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The Mexican leader has been criticized for refusing to wear a mask except on rare occasions and accused by critics of downplaying the risks of the virus early in the pandemic.

Mexico has officially registered around 1.9 million coronavirus cases and more than 166,000 deaths, one of the world’s highest fatality tolls.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: EU asks for donation of vaccines to Ukraine.

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Ukraine’s 43-year-old leader, who experienced mild symptoms of the coronavirus last year, said he was ready to get inoculated to encourage others to do the same.

The European Commission chief said on Monday she had called on EU member states to donate some of their coronavirus jabs to Ukraine, which is trying to launch a vaccination campaign.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has faced criticism at home for failing to source Western-made jabs and has called on the EU to help Ukraine source vaccines.

Zelensky said on Monday that Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, would begin the first phase of the vaccination campaign later this month.

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The country of some 40 million is awaiting delivery of eight million doses promised under the United Nations Covax programme and up to five million doses of the Chinese CoronaVac jab.

“On top of Covax, I have also asked our member states to donate part of their doses to Ukraine,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a video address at a conference held in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.

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“Thanks to Covax, Ukraine’s doctors and nurses will receive the first vaccines already this month,” she said, adding that “millions of other doses will reach Ukraine by the summer”.

Ukraine has not registered any vaccine so far and Zelensky has rejected calls from pro-Moscow politicians to approve Russia’s Sputnik V jab.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 12, 2019 President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a European Union Summit at the Europa building in Brussels. – The EU commission chief has defended the slower Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the bloc as a “good decision”, saying the European Union would not put the safety of citizens at risk, in an interview published on February 2, 2021. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Last week, the post-Soviet country said it had also secured 12 million doses of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Novavax.

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The total amount of the already secured doses is not enough to meet the needs of the country, however.

Speaking at the same conference on Monday, Zelensky also pointed to Ukrainians’ “mistrust” of vaccines, saying a “large part of the population” did not want to get vaccinated.

According to a recent poll conducted by the non-government Rating Group, more than half of Ukrainians said they were not ready to get inoculated, even for free.

Ukraine’s 43-year-old leader, who experienced mild symptoms of the coronavirus last year, said he was ready to get inoculated to encourage others to do the same.

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“As a majority of world leaders, I am ready to show people by personal example that vaccination is important, it is safe, it is needed,” said Zelensky.

With its run-down health system, Ukraine has recorded over 1.2 million cases and more than 23,000 deaths.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: WHO discuss AstraZeneca vaccine.

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The four-and-a-half-hour meeting was due to wrap up with a presentation of the remaining draft recommendations.

The World Health Organization’s vaccine experts were deciding Monday on their usage recommendations for the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine — including for older adults.

The 15-member Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) was spending the day in a virtual extraordinary meeting discussing the two-shot vaccine.

The WHO said the recommendations on who it should and should not be used for would be made public later this week.

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The regulatory authorities in several European nations have not authorised the vaccine for use among the over-65s — by far the most vulnerable age group for serious Covid-19 disease.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. – President Donald Trump said May 29, 2020, he was breaking off US ties with the World Health Organization, which he says failed to do enough to combat the initial spread of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

According to the SAGE meeting’s agenda, “assessment of the critical evidence, including data and draft recommendations related to vaccine use in older adults” will form a key part of Monday’s talks.

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The meeting will also discuss recent evidence on new coronavirus variants of concern.

South Africa said Sunday it would suspend the start of its Covid-19 vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab after a study showed the drug failed to prevent mild and moderate cases of the virus variant that has appeared in the country.

AstraZeneca to present findings
During Monday’s SAGE meeting, AstraZeneca was due to make a 25-minute presentation about the safety and efficacy data on the jab, also known as AZD1222, plus results from the three phases of human testing, from the first jabs to mass trials.

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The UK-Swedish pharmaceuticals giant was also to discuss risk management plans and other implementation considerations, before facing questions.

The meeting was also to get an outline of ongoing and planned studies.

The SAGE working group was then to present evidence including data and draft recommendations relating to the vaccine’s use in older adults.

The four-and-a-half-hour meeting was due to wrap up with a presentation of the remaining draft recommendations.

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In a separate process, the UN health agency is also set to decide on February 15 whether to give the vaccine emergency use listing for the versions produced in India and South Korea.

If granted, doses from those sites could start to be distributed to some of the world’s poorest countries via Covax, the global vaccine procurement and distribution pool.

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Many low-income countries are relying entirely on the AstraZeneca jab to start immunising their most vulnerable populations, but cannot receive their first doses until the WHO grants emergency authorisation.

SAGE advice
SAGE advises the WHO on overall global policies and strategies, ranging from vaccines and technology, research and development, to delivery of immunisation and its links with other health interventions.

Chaired by Mexican doctor Alejandro Cravioto, the group is comprised of 15 experts from around the world representing a broad range of expertise.

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SAGE has already issued advice on the usage of the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines.

So far, the WHO has only given emergency use listing to the Pfizer jab, though several other manufacturers have started the evaluation process, including AstraZeneca and Moderna.

Covax is almost entirely dependent on the AstraZeneca jab in its first wave of distribution.

Some 145 countries are set to receive 337.2 million doses — enough to immunise 3.3 percent of their collective population by mid-2021. Of those, 336 million are AstraZeneca vials.

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The first Covax deliveries are expected to take place in late February.

However, the AstraZeneca vaccines cannot start being shipped until the WHO signs them off.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Lebanon medicines shortage inflict fears.

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Some Lebanese media had quoted a study suggesting it might be a miracle cure for Covid-19 — a claim for which there is insufficient evidence, according to health agencies.

With Lebanon’s economy in a tailspin and the coronavirus pandemic wreaking chaos, panic-buying has gripped pharmacies, creating shortages and a flourishing black market.

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All manner of pharmaceutical products have started disappearing from the shelves in recent weeks, including some of the most widely needed.

Mostly imported, they include any medicine thought to fight symptoms of Covid-19, pills for patients with chronic diseases, baby formula and even vitamin supplements.

One customer, Abbas, 37, said he was giving up as he stepped out of a large Beirut pharmacy.

“I asked for two things,” he said — aspirin and an antibiotic. “I found neither.”

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Abbas said he would have to buy them at much higher prices on the black market, adding dejectedly that the store had also run out of the special shampoo he had been buying for years.

“This country is really going to the dumps,” he said.

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Lebanon was already facing its worst economic crisis in decades and dollar shortages before the pandemic.

Now, with Covid-19 overwhelming hospitals and little public trust authorities can secure vaccines any time soon, people have been rushing to pharmacies to buy medicine.

But even drugs that are rumoured to help treat Covid-19 and oxygen tanks are becoming scarce, as people stock up, anticipating they may have no alternative but to sit out an infection at home.

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As boxes disappear from shelves, a black market has emerged, offering medicine or medical equipment — sometimes counterfeits — at many times the normal price.

Black market
Inside the Mazen Pharmacy, one of Beirut’s largest, a pharmacist turned a customer away, saying the medication was “out of stock”.

Pharmacy owner Mazen Bissat said: “People are scared medicine will run out, so they’re stockpiling at home enough for a month, even six months, according to what they can afford.

“There’s a medicine shortage, and suppliers have not delivered on quantities requested by the pharmacies.”

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He said the makers of a popular, over-the-counter painkiller “just delivered 300 boxes. So we only display 10 a day to be able to make them last until the end of the month,” he said.

To slow the depletion, the health ministry has ordered pharmacists to sell some medication only on prescription, and suppliers to limit deliveries to pharmacies.

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Karim Gebara, the head of the medicine importers syndicate, said Aspirin demand had skyrocketed.

Two companies “delivered 500,000 boxes in January, whereas normal demand in 2020 was just 200,000”, he said. “But even with that, there isn’t any left.”

When people cannot find medicine in shops, they sometimes turn elsewhere.

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Gebara said there had been a run on Ivermectin, which is used to treat parasite infections.

Some Lebanese media had quoted a study suggesting it might be a miracle cure for Covid-19 — a claim for which there is insufficient evidence, according to health agencies.

Customers browse the aisles for medicine at a pharmacy in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on February 2, 2021. – With the economy in a tailspin and the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking chaos, panic-buying has gripped Lebanon’s pharmacies, creating shortages and a flourishing black market. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

This had led to “the emergence of a black market”, said Gebara, as people started smuggling it in from abroad, with a box selling for the equivalent of $35.

But even after an importer obtained permission to bring it to Lebanon at a subsidised cost of $1, Ivermectin is still hard to find and the informal market for it is thriving.

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‘Alarming’
Gebara said hoarding by manufacturers was one problem, among others.

We are facing “delayed money transfers abroad from the central bank”, he said.

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“If the manufacturer abroad does not receive his dues on time, he delays the shipment.”

With dwindling foreign currency reserves, the central bank is struggling to continue funding key imports at a preferential exchange rate, and fears have risen that medicine subsidies will be lifted soon.

Moreover, subsidised medicine is being smuggled out of Lebanon, Gebara said.

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In recent months, travellers have been stopped at Beirut airport trying to fly out to Egypt or Iraq with bags filled with subsidised medicine — some of which turned up as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All in all, “it’s an alarming situation that keeps on feeding off itself”, Gebara added.

Expecting subsidies to be lifted, some suppliers have been accused of holding on to their stock so they can sell it later at a higher set price.

In January, the economy ministry seized such a stockpile of baby milk formula.

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After visiting several pharmacies in and around Beirut, 36-year-old Nadine said she still had not found powdered milk for her baby girl.

“They’re even profiteering off baby milk… You can find an alternative to painkillers. But milk is essential.”

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#Newsworthy

Anxiety, Depression befall US youngsters amid pandemic toll.

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Nineteen students have taken their own lives there since March, more than double the number for the same period the previous year.

Anxiety, depression, self-harm and even suicide: a growing number of children in the United States are struggling with their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, doctors, teachers, parents and the government are all warning.

Millions of students have been attending school virtually since March last year, spending hours in front of computers, without playing games or chatting with friends in person and missing out on sports and face-to-face art or music classes.

“There’s a lot of loneliness for me and other teens,” said Sarah Frank, an 18-year-old from Florida, who has not left home since March because she lives with relatives considered high-risk if they contract Covid-19.

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“I have days I feel really sad, and a bit hopeless. It feels like a never-ending nightmare,” she told AFP.

Frank co-founded the State of Mind Project in July, a website with mental and physical health tips for teenagers.

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“I missed a lot of a high school experiences that I’ll never get back. I never went to a football game, I never got to go to prom,” she said.

Deanna Caputo is a psychologist and mother of two children who says she sees signs of depression in her 10-year-old son since his class in Arlington, Virginia became virtual in March.

“He’d wake up in the morning and go back to sleep until noon. He was moody. He started saying things like ‘I am not smart, I’m not good at anything,’” said Caputo.

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She says knows of other children even worse off.

“All I hear is about medication starting. They (parents) can’t find therapists,” because of high demand, said Caputo.

Caputo, who is a member of the Arlington Parents for Education association that is actively lobbying for schools to reopen in Arlington County, says schools are being held hostage by teachers’ unions.

A recent CDC report said that schools are safe if proper precautions are taken, such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

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But many teachers’ unions resist going back to classrooms. In Chicago, the mayor ordered elementary schools to reopen but unions refused, demanding vaccinations for all teachers and threatening a strike.

Teenage suicides have been on the rise in the United States for a decade.

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There is no data for 2020 yet but numbers from Clark County in Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, are causing alarm.

Nineteen students have taken their own lives there since March, more than double the number for the same period the previous year.

‘Very worrisome’
Although they cannot be directly linked to the pandemic, authorities were quick to announce that schools would reopen.

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“There’s almost no motivation into wanting to do online school,” said Brandon, a 13-year-old student in Arlington who has had remote-only classes for more than 300 days.

File Photo: Incite | Noble Reporters Media | Adigun Michael Olamide | NoRM News

Susan Duffy, a professor of paediatrics and emergency medicine at Brown University in Rhode Island, said that while coronavirus has been a “medical crisis” for adults it has been a “mental health crisis” for children.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not have universal health care. In times of national health crisis, the economic fate of those who lack health care is grim at best.

Between March and October last year, hospital visits for mental health emergencies by children aged 12 to 17 increased by 31 percent compared to the same period in 2019, according to the government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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For children aged five to 11, visits increased by 24 percent, the CDC found.

Duffy said she and colleagues at other hospitals around the country are noticing a higher number of suicide attempts among youngsters.

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“We’re seeing more kids with intent to hurt themselves. It’s more associated with actually carrying out suicide attempts, which is very, very worrisome,” she told AFP.

School reopenings vary from district to district. Some 38 percent of schools are remote-learning only compared to 62 percent in September, according to the website Burbio which tracks school calendars.

“Kids have been removed from teachers and caring adults who are outside of their family who often pick up on subtle signs of crisis, and depression and anxiety,” said Duffy.

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The pandemic has killed almost 450,000 people in the United States, the country hit hardest by the outbreak.

Duffy notes that there’s fear of the virus, pain if a family member dies, and economic, food and housing insecurity generated by the pandemic all contributing to children’s trauma.

Stress generated by the pandemic, school closings, unemployment and isolation are increasing the risk of child abuse, the CDC warned.

“When parents lose hope they go into abuse behavior, drinking and physical abuse and emotional abuse,” said Caputo.

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Pediatrician Duffy said some children being bullied would have enjoyed learning via Zoom but that online learning doesn’t fix the underlying cause of their social anxiety.

“Anxiety and depression are still there — and then they’re manifesting themselves in different ways,” she said.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Nigeria registers 506 new cases.

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The NCDC said that a multi-sectoral national Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), activated at Level 3, is coordinating response activities nationwide.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has recorded 506 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 139,748.

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The NCDC disclosed this on its official Twitter handle on Sunday.

Noble Reporters Media reports that Nigeria recorded a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases against 1,588 on Feb. 6

The health agency said that 20 deaths were, however, recorded, pushing the casualty figure from 1,647 to 1,667, in the last 24 hours in the country.

It said that the 506 new infections were reported from 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

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NCDC stated that Ondo state led the chart with 90 new infections on Sunday, followed by Kwara 89 and River 53.

It said that 968 COVID-19 patients successfully treated were discharged from isolation centres across the country.

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Other people discharged included 360 community recoveries in Lagos State, 138 in Osun State, 121 in Plateau State, 89 in Imo State and 38 in Kano State managed in line with its guidelines.

The NCDC said that a multi-sectoral national Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), activated at Level 3, is coordinating response activities nationwide.

Meanwhile, the agency has recommended the following precautions to avoid infection with the COVID-19 virus:

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“Avoid close contact. This means avoiding close contact within about six feet, or two meters with anyone who is sick or has symptoms. Also, keep a distance between yourself and others. This is especially important if you have a higher risk of serious illness.

“Wear cloth face coverings in public places. Cloth face coverings offer extra protection in places such as the grocery store, where it is difficult to avoid close contact with others. Surgical masks may be used if available. N95 respirators should be reserved for health care providers.

“Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol.

”Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw away the used tissue. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Avoid sharing dishes, glasses, bedding and other household items if you’re sick. Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily.

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“Stay home from work, school and public areas if you’re sick unless you’re going to get medical care. Avoid public transportation, taxis and ride-sharing if you’re sick.

If you have a chronic medical condition and may have a higher risk of serious illness, check with your doctor about other ways to protect yourself,” it advised.

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#Newsworthy