COVID-19: School Closures Still ‘Last Resort’ Despite Variants – WHO

This picture 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. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture 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.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Schools should only close as a last resort while research is under way into whether the new coronavirus variants affect children differently, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

The debate on shutting schools during the Covid-19 pandemic has been revived by the emergence of more contagious virus mutations.

The WHO said research had begun looking at the factors that may put children at risk, the long-term health effects on those infected, and the impact of new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease.

“The arrival in late 2020 of new more transmissible variants of SARS-CoV-2 requires additional analysis by sex and age to measure how and if the new variants impact children differently,” it said.

“If it is found that children are more affected, public health social measures may need to be adapted.”

Here is a summary of the WHO’s special focus on Covid-19’s impact on children and schools, issued Wednesday:

– WHO’s conclusions –

– “School closure should be implemented as a last resort, be temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission.”

– Authorities should check for new guidance, “particularly with respect to the appearance of new and possibly more transmissible variants”.

– In low-transmission areas, schools are unlikely to drive infection; in areas with widespread transmission, protective measures in schools are essential.

– Schools need outbreak prevention and management plans, including on ventilation, hand and surface cleaning, communication with parents, mask use and physical distancing.

– Children aged 12 and older “should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults”. Physical distancing can be achieved by limiting class sizes, alternating shifts and limiting mixing of classes.

– Stronger prevention measures might be necessary in secondary schools, and adolescents should limit their exposure risk outside school.

– Teachers “are more likely to be infected” outside schools than inside.

– During school closures, remote learning should be set up, regular schools services such as meals and immunisation should be maintained, while mental health support should be enhanced.

– Data and 2020 findings –

– Under-18s represent 29 percent of the global population but only eight percent of reported cases last year.

– They are more likely to have mild or asymptomatic infection and under-20s accounted for only 0.2 percent of Covid-19 deaths.

– Studies suggest that among children, under-10s are less susceptible and less infectious. Adolescents aged 16-18 transmit the virus as often as adults.

– “The longer vulnerable children are out of school, the less likely they are to return,” said the WHO.

– School closures have a negative impact on children besides their education, including their physical and mental health.

No Deaths As Nigeria Records 126 New COVID-19 Cases

An NCDC graphic showing the nation's COVID-19 statistics as of October 2, 2020.
An NCDC graphic showing the nation’s COVID-19 statistics as of October 2, 2020.

 

Nigeria is yet to record a COVID-19 death in October, data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control showed on Friday.

However, the NCDC reported 126 new cases in its latest update on the viral disease.

Till date, a total of 59,127 cases have been confirmed, with 50,593 cases discharged and 1,112 deaths recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

The 126 new cases reported on Friday were from 12 states, including Lagos (62), Rivers (22), Ogun (9), Plateau (7), FCT (7), Osun (5), Kwara (5), Taraba (3), Bayelsa (2), Abia (2), Zamfara (1), and Imo (1).

 

According to Worldometer, almost 35 million people have now contracted the virus worldwide with over a million deaths recorded.

Earlier on Friday, prominent figures such as US President, Donald Trump and Liverpool star, Sadio Mane, were confirmed to have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

How Easing Of Lockdown Will Be Implemented – PTF

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has given a breakdown of how the easing of the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will be implemented.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday April 27, approved that as from May 4, the lockdown could be eased in phases to allow the recommencement of socio-economic activities, as with a 6:00 am t 8:00 pm curfew in place.

But according to the National Coordinator of the Task Force, Aliyu Sani, during Wednesday’s briefing, the easing of the lockdown is actually just a shift from one set of interventions to another.

“The most important thing I want to emphasize is, even though we talk about easing the lockdown, in actual fact, we are not really easing, we are just shifting from one set of interventions to another because we are really still far from controlling this epidemic,” he said.

For general movements outside the curfew periods, the PTF coordinator said: “people may go out for work, to buy necessary food and for exercise but we strongly advise persons to restrict themselves to their local government areas except for those that live in metropolitan areas”.

Interstate travel, according to him, will be restricted to only those involved in the supply chain and services such as goods, agricultural products, petroleum products, courier services and relief items etc.

On the other hand, for intrastate movement, services and businesses were advised to provide hand sanitizers for customers.

The general public was also advised to imbibe the use of face masks, and other hygiene methods.

On the issue of mass gatherings, Aliyu said there shall be no gatherings of more than 20 persons anywhere per time so as to ensure adherence to physical distancing.

For the manufacturing sector, “we encourage shift work for manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies and limiting staff to only 30-50% to maintain physical distancing and pharmacy shops may remain open overnight,” he said.

Financial institutions such as banks will be allowed to open but there will be restriction of opening hours between 8:00 am and 2:00 pm.

Restaurants have been asked not open to the public but will be allowed to engage in in-home delivery of food.

Academic institutions are, however, advised to remain closed until further evaluation is done.

“Schools are encouraged to continue with e-learning and virtual teaching”, the PTF coordinator added.

As for government staff, he stated that they will be allowed to resume based on specific grade levels and specific days, so as to reduce the level of congestion at the workplace.

Berlin, Other German States To Make Wearing Of Mask Compulsory

A tailor producing face covers shows a “3D” face cover in his shop in Berlin on April 21, 2020. – Protective masks will be required on public transport in most parts of Germany, with capital Berlin joining a wave of federal states in ordering the measure to stem contagion of the novel coronavirus from April 27 onwards. John MACDOUGALL / AFP.

 

Protective masks will be required on public transport in most parts of Germany, with capital Berlin joining a wave of federal states in ordering the measure to stem contagion of the novel coronavirus.

Berlin mayor Michael Mueller told reporters that “to be able to protect people” in trains, busses and trams, his city government intended to make “protection of the nose and mouth compulsory from April 27”.

Unlike in shops, it was “not possible to ensure a distance of several metres between each person” in public transport, he said.

Following similar announcements from states including Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hamburg and Hesse on Monday and Tuesday, ten of Germany’s 16 regions have now announced similar rules.

Mueller and other state premiers were keen to emphasise that improvised masks would also be acceptable.

“I said protection of the nose and mouth…it can also be a scarf,” said the Berlin mayor.

Though the new rule will be limited to public transport in Berlin, other states such as Bavaria, Hesse Baden-Wuerttemberg have also made covering up compulsory in shops.

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And while the capital will only introduce the measures from next week, others such as Saxony are already enforcing them.

The move to make masks compulsory comes after Germany began to cautiously lift coronavirus restrictions from Monday, with shops under 800 square metres allowed to reopen in most states.

Following a meeting with state premiers to agree on the new relaxations last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she “strongly recommended” wearing a mask on public transport and in shops.

On Friday, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania became the first states to announce they would make masks compulsory.

By Tuesday, ten states had followed suit, affecting nearly 49 million Germans, over half the country’s population.

Among those yet to introduce the measures are the city of Bremen and the region of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s largest state by population.

Germany last week announced plans to ramp up domestic production of masks to 50 million a week by August, including 10 million of the more protective FFP2 standard and 40 million surgical masks.

AFP

WHO Names Coronavirus Disease As ‘COVID-19’

patient (R) covered with a bedsheet at an exhibition centre converted into a hospital as it starts to accept patients displaying mild symptoms of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on February 5. STR / AFP

 

The World Health Organisation on Tuesday announced that “COVID-19” will be the official name of the deadly virus from China, saying the disease represented a “very grave threat” for the world but there was a “realistic chance” of stopping it.

“We now have a name for the disease and it’s COVID-19,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

Tedros said that “co” stands for “corona”, “vi” for “virus” and “d” for “disease”, while “19” was for the year, as the outbreak was first identified on December 31.

Tedros said the name had been chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people in line with international recommendations for naming aimed at preventing stigmatisation.

WHO had earlier given the virus the temporary name of “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease” and China’s National Health Commission this week said it was temporarily calling it “novel coronavirus pneumonia” or NCP.

Under a set of guidelines issued in 2015, WHO advises against using place names such as Ebola and Zika — where those diseases were first identified and which are now inevitably linked to them in the public mind.

More general names such as “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” or “Spanish flu” are also now avoided as they can stigmatise entire regions or ethnic groups.

WHO (World Health Organization) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the disease was named COVID-19 to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people. AFP

 

WHO also notes that using animal species in the name can create confusion, such as in 2009 when H1N1 was popularly referred to as “swine flu”.

This had a major impact on the pork industry even though the disease was being spread by people rather than pigs.

People’s names — usually the scientists who identified the disease — are also banned, as are “terms that incite undue fear” such as “unknown” or “fatal”, the WHO said.

‘More powerful’ than a terrorist attack

The virus has killed more than 1,000 people, infected over 42,000 and reached some 25 countries, with the WHO declaring a global health emergency.

Addressing scientists at the first international conference on combating the virus earlier on Tuesday, Tedros warned that the virus was a “very grave threat”.

“Viruses can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action,” he told reporters later.

About 400 scientists were taking part in the two-day international meeting in Geneva called to review how the virus is transmitted and possible vaccines against it.

“We are not defenceless,” Tedros said, adding: “If we invest now… we have a realistic chance of stopping this outbreak.”

Participants will also discuss the source of the virus, which is thought to have originated in bats and reached humans via other “intermediary” species such as snakes or pangolins.

WHO sent an advance team to China this week for an international mission to examine the epidemic.

It was unclear, however, whether the team would be able to visit Wuhan, a city in central China which has been under lockdown after the outbreak was registered in a food and live animal market in the city.

Roadmap for research

No specific treatment or vaccine against the virus exists, and WHO has repeatedly urged countries to share data in order to further research into the disease.

“That is especially true in relation to the sharing of samples and sequences. To defeat this outbreak, we need open and equitable sharing, according to the principles of fairness and equity,” Tedros told the scientific conference.

He said he hoped the scientists could agree a roadmap “around which researchers and donors will align”.

Several teams of experts in Australia, Britain, China, France, Germany and the United States are racing to develop a vaccine — a process that normally takes years.

Efforts to come up with a vaccine are being led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a body established in 2017 to finance costly biotechnology research in the wake of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people.

Ultimately, however, scientists may end up in the same situation they were during the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) — which died out before a vaccine could be fully developed.

A close cousin of COVID-19, SARS spread around the world and killed nearly 800.

AFP