Seated on the ground in a camp in Sudan’s Gedaref region, Ethiopian schoolteacher Tadros Bay reads a story to four children huddled around him.
He somehow managed to rescue the book on his escape from Mai-Kadra in Ethiopia’s Tigray region where he said atrocities were carried out by government forces.
Children listen attentively to the 32-year-old teacher with whom they share the fate of thousands of refugees thrown onto the roads by war in their homeland.
“I try to help these children but we don’t have books or a place to study,” he says.
The transit camp in eastern Sudan near the border with Ethiopia has become home for 17,000 refugees, including 5,000 children, according to Sudanese officials.
Built five years ago to relocate residents whose homes were flooded by a reservoir, so-called “village number 8” has only one school for Sudanese.
In the streets, children run, play and cry, their parents fearful they will turn into a lost generation because of a war that will drag on.
Conflict has raged since November 4 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the launch of military operations in Tigray in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4,000 people have been crossing the border with Sudan each day since November 10.
Iessa Burhano, 29, and her husband owned a hotel in Mai-Kadra, in southwest Tigray, the scene of alleged atrocities.
Amnesty International, citing witnesses, has accused forces loyal to the TPLF of responsibility for a “massacre” which “probably” left hundreds of civilians dead in Mai-Kadra.
However, several refugees interviewed by AFP in another Gedaref camp, Um Raquba, say the abuses were committed by federal army troops.
“Soldiers of the federal army attacked our hotel, looted it as well as our other properties,” Iessa Burhano charges.
Now, her three children, aged eight, 10 and 13, who were supposed to return to school this month, are “refugees and will certainly not be able to resume their studies”, she says.
Originally from Humera, in western Tigray, Tasfai Gabro, the father of four school-age children, also had to flee his village.
“Now that we are in Sudan and although I am not worried about the immediate future, I fear for the future of my children,” says the 60-year-old truck driver.
“I think the war will last a long time. What a future for my sons!”
Rescuers pulled two children from the rubble in a town in Turkey on Monday, delivering hope nearly three days after a major earthquake hit the Aegean, killing 93 people and ruining dozens of buildings.
Three-year-old Elif Perincek was rescued 65 hours after the 7.0-magnitude quake left a trail of destruction in western Turkey and eastern Greece on Friday, Turkey’s AFAD emergency authority said.
Local media showed a video of a little girl wrapped up in a foil blanket quickly taken to safety in the coastal town of Bayrakli — the hardest hit by the disaster — as rescue workers broke into applause.
Hours later, Turkish state television showed images of the girl, her right eye closed by a purple bruise, waving to the camera from her hospital bed, a doll resting on her chest.
Muammer Celik, a fireman who found and saved Elif, told AFP he thought the toddler was dead when he saw her lying on her back, covered by white dust.
“I asked for a body bag. I wanted to wipe the dust from her face and put out my hand towards her — and then suddenly she grabbed my thumb,” he recalled.
“We froze. We were crying with joy,” Celik said. “We forgot everything in that moment!”
A photo of Elif holding Celik’s hand went viral in Turkey. The fireman said she did not let go until she was taken to a tent for safety nearby.
Elif was the 106th person pulled out alive from collapsed buildings in Bayrakli and surrounding towns and cities in western Turkey.
Her mother and three siblings were pulled out on Saturday night, although her rescued brother later died, the TRT state broadcaster said.
AFAD also reported the rescue of 14-year-old Idil Sirin in Bayrakli, 58 hours after the quake hit.
But the Sirin family’s joy was brief as the lifeless body of Idil’s sister, Ipek, was found, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
“I can’t hear any sounds from my sister, she’s dead,” Idil told rescuers as she was being pulled out, Hurriyet said.
Turkey’s toll from the quake is continuing to rise, with AFAD reporting 91 dead.
Nearly 1,000 people were injured and more than 150 were still in hospital.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that 10 of the wounded were in intensive care, including three in a critical condition.
Two teenagers were also killed on their way home from school on the Greek island of Samos, near the epicentre of the quake.
‘Can anyone hear me?’
Racing against time, rescue workers were pressing ahead with their desperate search for survivers in western Turkey more than 72 hours after disaster struck.
“Can anyone hear me,” one rescue worker cried through a megaphone down into the rubble.
“If you can, hit something or scream,” he called as a drone hovered overhead scanning the rubble.
Thousands of residents, including those with destroyed homes, spent a third night outside in tents in Bayrakli and in nearby Bornova, many fearing the risk of aftershocks.
Turkish authorities registered 1,286 repeat tremors by Monday afternoon — including 43 above magnitude four — complicating the rescuers’ works and raising the threat of further damage.
Launching an investigation into why 58 buildings were either heavily damaged or completely destroyed, Turkish police detained nine people — including contractors — in connection with the quake, state news agency Anadolu said.
Children above the age of six in Spain will be required to wear face masks at school at all times, the government said Thursday, as it seeks to restart lessons despite a surge in coronavirus infections.
“The use of masks will be mandatory in general from the age of six, even if social distance is maintained,” Education Minister Isabel Celaa told a news conference ahead of schools’ reopening next month.
Spain’s 17 regional governments, which are responsible for health care and education, have in recent days outlined a patchwork of different measures, leading critics to charge there was a lack of coordination.
The northern region of Cantabria’s requirement for children as young as three to wear masks sparked particular controversy.
As well as mask-wearing, pupils will also have to maintain a social distance of 1.5 metres (five feet) from each other, Celaa said, except for young children who will be allowed to mix only with their classmates but not with outsiders.
Other measures include requiring children to wash their hands at least five times a day, regularly ventilating classrooms and taking pupils’ temperature.
The goal is for children return to schools instead of having online lessons as they did at the end of the last school term due to the pandemic.
“We aim for all students to be present,” Celaa said.
Spain’s schools shut in mid-March when the country imposed a strict three-month lockdown to curb the spread of the virus and have not re-opened since.
New cases are growing at one of the fastest rates in Europe and debate has raged in Spain over how to protect children from infection in schools.
Some parents say they will refuse to send their children back to class because they fear it won’t be safe.
The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Spain, a nation of around 47 million people, surpassed 400,000 this week. Nearly 29,000 people have died, one of the world’s highest tolls.
Against this backdrop, local authorities have toughened measures to curb the spread of the virus. Madrid city hall announced Thursday that public swimming pools would close on September 1 and parks will be closed at night.
The Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, which include holiday hotspots Ibiza and Mallorca, announced Wednesday that beaches would be shut at night.
With nightclubs and bars closed across Spain, many young people have taken to gathering and drinking in parks and on beaches at night.
The World Health Organization has recommended that children aged 12 and over now use masks in the same situations as adults, as the use of face coverings helps stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The health agency made the recommendation in a COVID-19 guidance document it published via its website on Friday.
It said children aged five years and under should not be required to wear masks, while children aged 6-11 should only wear masks under certain conditions, including the presence of widespread transmission in the area where the child resides and the child’s ability to safely and appropriately use a mask.
However, children aged 12 and over are required to wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, “in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”
The WHO has said the world should be able to rein in the coronavirus pandemic in less than two years, even as the world’s death toll hit 800,000 and the number of confirmed cases continues to rise.
“We have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness, but an advantage of better technology, so we hope to finish this pandemic before less than two years,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Friday.
The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic could push as many as 86 million more children into poverty by the end of 2020, a joint study by Save the Children and UNICEF showed Wednesday.
That would bring the total number of children affected by poverty worldwide to 672 million, an increase of 15 per cent over last year, the two aid agencies said in a statement.
Nearly two-thirds of those children overall live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
But the pandemic-driven increase is expected to occur mainly in Europe and Central Asia, according to the study, which is based on World Bank and International Monetary Fund projections and population data from some 100 countries.
“The scale and depth of financial hardship among families threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing child poverty and to leave children deprived of essential services,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore is quoted as saying in the statement.
With immediate and decisive action, “we can prevent and contain the pandemic threat facing the poorest countries and some of the most vulnerable children,” added Save the Children head Inger Ashing.
They are “highly vulnerable to even short periods of hunger and malnutrition — potentially affecting them for their whole life,” she warns in the statement.
The two organizations call on governments to rapidly expand their social security systems and school feeding to limit the effects of the pandemic.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has said that the Federal Government is considering sectionalising classes for primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions in the country ahead of the reopening of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, stated this on Wednesday during a briefing by the Task Force in Abuja.
He also debunked reports that schools are set to reopen on June 8.
According to him, they are all false.
“Until we are sure that these children can go to school, return safely and not bring home with them, this COVID material, and infect people who are more susceptible to the disease than they are, then we are running a huge risk and god forbid that in our hurry, something happens to our children, I’m not sure how anybody will be able to retrieve what would have been lost.
“So we are not taking that risk yet. We are going to prepare as much as possible, within the guidance that they (health authorities) offer us, working in conjunction with the World Health Organisation before we reopen schools,” the minister said.
Nwajiuba, however, explained that while it is still currently not safe to reopen schools, plans are being made to see how the system can keep running despite the pandemic.
He said a publication would be released shortly as to what the re-opening of schools should look like, post-COVID.
“We are not talking about coping with COVID – there’s a difference. We’ve come to understand that COVID may not necessarily go away so we expect that we will adapt such that in the presence of COVID, we can still do what we need to do,” the minister said.
“For a country that has over 115,000 primary schools, you will understand that 35,000 of these who are private must agree to set up the same standard in order to allow children to go in.
“If you go to our Nigerian Universities, many of the things we need for social distancing may not be available so you may need to rethink it.
“For instance, which courses should be in school at which periods, we can have semesters within semesters for different department and faculties.
“It is the same we are planning for secondary school reopening. We want to bring in our JSS and SSS children first, they conclude their exams and vacate the place, then others can return.
“We will do the same thing with primary schools, where we will now limit the number of children per class.
“What this may mean is that we may have classes in the mornings and classes in the afternoons so whichever is convenient for you. I am not sure if there will be classes at night, but we can do with mornings and afternoons at the moment,”.
Speaking further, Nwajiuba explained that the government also intends for schools to utilize all their infrastructure.
“Some people will be in the field learning, some would be in classes. Some will be at different facilities all within the school,” he said.
France has more than a dozen cases of children with inflammation around the heart, the health minister said Wednesday, after Britain sounded an alarm about a new disease with possible links to novel coronavirus.
Olivier Veran said there was not enough evidence to confirm a link with the coronavirus sweeping the globe but France was taking the cases “very seriously”.
Britain’s state-run National Health Service issued the alert at the weekend about a small number of children presenting an unusual set of symptoms, including abdominal pain and inflammation that required admission to intensive care.
In London, health minister Matt Hancock on Tuesday spoke of “early signs that in rare cases, there is an impact of an auto-immune response in children that causes a significant disease.
“It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the COVID-19 virus.”
But he said that while some of the children who have it tested positive for the virus, others did not.
Cases have also been reported in Italy, Spain and Switzerland, Veran told Franceinfo news radio, adding he had received an alert from Paris concerning “about 15 children of all ages”.
The French minister listed the symptoms as fever, digestive problems and vascular inflammation which can lead to cardiac deficiency.
“To my knowledge, fortunately no child has died from these complications which are fairly rare illnesses that can come with inflammation of the heart,” Veran said.
Some of the cases “in France as in England, but not all, have turned out to carry the coronavirus”, causing “some concern and watchfulness”.
“I am taking this very seriously. We have absolutely no medical explanation at this stage.
“Is it an inflammatory reaction which sets off a pre-existing condition in children who have this virus or is it another infectious disease? There are a lot of questions.
The minister urged international and French experts to gather as much data as possible to establish if a link can be made between the coronavirus and the new symptoms, “which until now had not been seen anywhere”.
France intends to re-open primary schools from May 11 and the minister noted that children had largely escaped COVID-19 infection and that serious cases involved those with underlying conditions.
Britain’s health minister said Tuesday he was “very worried” at signs of a coronavirus-related syndrome emerging in children but stressed it needed more research and remained very rare.
The state-run National Health Service (NHS) issued an alert at the weekend about a small number of children presenting an unusual set of symptoms, including abdominal pain and inflammation around the heart.
They have required admission to intensive care, according to a report in the Health Service Journal.
“I’m very worried about the early signs that in rare cases, there is an impact of an auto-immune response in children that causes a significant disease,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC radio.
He added: “It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the COVID-19 virus.”
But Hancock said that while some of the children who have this new disease tested positive for the virus, others had not.
“We’re doing a lot of research now. What I would also stress is that it is rare. Although it is very significant for those children who do get it, the number of cases is small,” he said.
The Guardian newspaper reported that there had been at least 12 cases.
According to the Paediatric Intensive Care Society, the NHS alert warned of common overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and atypical Kawasaki disease and blood parameters consistent with severe COVID-19.
TSS is a serious illness associated with infections while Kawasaki causes blood vessels to become inflamed and is mostly found in children under the age of five.
The national medical director for NHS England, Stephen Powis, said on Monday it was “too early to say” whether the new disease was linked to coronavirus but the issue was being looked into urgently.
England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said it was “entirely plausible” that it was linked to COVID-19.
Children have died from coronavirus but serious complications are rare.
“Evidence from throughout the world shows us that children appear to be the part of the population least affected by this infection,” said Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
But he added: “New diseases may present in ways that surprise us, and clinicians need to be made aware of any emerging evidence of particular symptoms or of underlying conditions which could make a patient more vulnerable to the virus.”
South Asia could face a further public health crisis as children miss routine vaccinations, the UN warned Tuesday, spurring fears that the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic might reverse hard-earned gains in the region.
The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said hundreds of thousands were at risk as lockdowns across South Asia halted immunisation drives and parents refrained from taking their children to doctors to be inoculated.
“While the COVID-19 virus does not appear to make many children seriously ill, the health of hundreds of thousands of children could be impacted by this disruption of regular immunisation services,” said Jean Gough, director of UNICEF’s South Asia office.
“This is a very serious threat. Early action is key.”
Bangladesh and Nepal have halted their measles and rubella campaigns while Pakistan and Afghanistan have suspended their polio drives since the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNICEF noted that “sporadic” outbreaks of preventable diseases that can be cured with vaccines, including measles and diphtheria, have emerged in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
Vaccine stocks were also running low in some countries in the region thanks to lockdowns and travel bans which have disrupted supply chains.
“UNICEF strongly recommends that, where immunisation campaigns are suspended, governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunisation activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control,” the agency said in a statement.
It added that as long as health workers take hygiene precautions, there was no reason for vaccinations not to continue.
The agency estimated that 4.5 million of South Asia’s children had already missed out on routine immunisations, even before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan were struggling to vaccinate kids as local populations viewed inoculation teams with suspicion.
Opposition grew after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
The novel coronavirus pandemic that has forced billions of people across the globe to stay home is making parents skip routine immunisations for their kids, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF warned Thursday.
The phenomenon is being aggravated by overburdened health services where medical workers are being diverted from giving vaccines to focus on the COVID-19 response.
Some governments might even have to postpone mass immunisation campaigns as a way of slowing the disease’s spread, UNICEF said.
The agency’s executive director Henrietta Fore said the requirement for people to stay home and observe social distancing was leading parents to “make the difficult decision to defer routine immunisation”.
Of particular concern are impoverished and war-torn countries battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and South Sudan.
“At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Fore said in a statement.
“Medical goods are in short supply and supply chains are under historic strain due to transport disruptions. Flight cancellations and trade restrictions by countries have severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines.”
Governments may in future need to postpone preventive mass vaccination campaigns — where people group together to receive inoculations — to ensure these do not contribute to the spread of COVID-19, Fore said.
UNICEF recommended governments begin rigorous planning now to boost immunisation campaigns once the coronavirus is under control.
Ann Lindstrand, who heads the World Health Organization’s expanded programme on immunisation, agreed with UNICEF’s warnings and said measles was a particular concern.
“This will be a particular challenge where vaccination coverage is already low,” she told AFP.
“There is a risk that more people will die due to the indirect impact of COVID-19, because vaccination will go down. There will surely be more measles deaths.” – ‘Two global outbreaks –
Vaccine alliance GAVI, which is making funding available for lower-income countries to respond to the coronavirus crisis, also called for routine immunisations to continue.
“We cannot have two global outbreaks on our hands,” GAVI chair Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement.
Afghanistan is one of only three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio remains endemic.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan were struggling to vaccinate kids as local populations viewed inoculation teams with suspicion.
Opposition grew after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
The Taliban last week pledged to cooperate with healthcare workers in combatting the coronavirus.