Knife Crime Looms Larger Than COVID-19 In Greek Refugee Camp

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on May 13, 2020, children play outside the tents at a migrant and refugee camp where cases affected by the COVID-19 were detected, on the Greek mediterranean island of Lesbos, as the country faces the novel coronavirus pandemic. – Inside Greece’s largest asylum-seeker camp on the island of Lesbos, the coronavirus is an oft-heard threat that has kept migrant facilities around the country under lockdown since March. But knife crime is the real killer. Whereas COVID-19 has yet to surface officially at the vastly overcrowded camp of Moria, five people have been murdered in knifings since the start of the year, including a woman and a young boy. Ten others have been injured. Manolis LAGOUTARIS / AFP.

 

Inside Greece’s largest asylum-seeker camp on the island of Lesbos, the coronavirus is an oft-heard threat that has kept migrant facilities around the country under lockdown since March.

But knife crime is the real killer.

Whereas COVID-19 has yet to surface officially at the vastly overcrowded camp of Moria, five people have been murdered in knifings since the start of the year, including a woman and a young boy. Ten others have been injured.

Two of the attacks were carried out in the central square of the port capital of Mytilene.

“The situation gets worse every day,” says Muhammad, a Syrian stuck at Moria with his pregnant wife and their little girl for the past seven months.

“We fear for our children. Every day there is unrest, and every night they fight with knives,” he told AFP.

Tension between Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras and Tajik are a frequent source of violence, says Nazifa, a teacher from that country.

“Yesterday, people came to our tent asking if we are Hazara or Tajik. We are neither, so both sides now consider us foes,” she said.

Originally imposed on March 18, the lockdown in island camps has been extended three times, most recently to June 21.

– ‘They are at risk’ –

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) this week criticised the lockdown extension as “discriminatory” and “counter-productive.”

“The extension of movement restrictions imposed on asylum seekers who are living in the Greek reception centres will further reduce their already limited access to basic services and medical care,” the group’s field coordinator on Lesbos, Marco Sandrone, said in a statement.

“In the current phase of the COVID-19 epidemic, it is absolutely not justified from a public health point of view,” he said.

“This population doesn’t represent a risk. They are at risk,” Sandrone said, noting that people were trapped in overcrowded camps with limited access to water and sanitation, and where social distancing measures were “just impossible” to apply.

The Greek government had planned to relocate to the mainland over 2,300 asylum seekers from island camps — including many elderly and ailing persons — but the operation has been delayed by the pandemic.

The UN refugee agency had also urged last month that the exceptional measures be lifted “as soon as possible”.

Ibrahim, a former mechanic from Kabul, says the restrictions are preventing him from obtaining food for his family.

“We can no longer go to town and we have to buy supplies at the camp store,” he said.

“We tried to go once, but the police turned us back.”

He agrees that the biggest concern in Moria is public safety.

“There are 100 police for 20,000 residents,” he said.

– Migrants’ lockdown protest –

The migration ministry has said that small groups of camp residents are allowed out at regular intervals to obtain supplies, under police supervision.

Fardeen, a 17-year-old Afghan, has been stranded at the camp for nine months.

He says that other residents, who were allowed into Mytilene for medical appointments, saw no Greeks wearing masks on the street.

“(The locals) don’t seem to care much about the virus. Are these measures only for migrants? Am I different?” he asks.

“Today the police turned us away from the beach. Swimming is one of the few things that helps us forget about living in Moria,” he said.

Dozens of Africans last month marched out of a hotel near the Peloponnese town of Kranidi to protest against a total lockdown imposed in April after over 150 people at the facility tested COVID-19 positive.

Authorities extended the Kranidi hotel lockdown to June 14 after three more cases were discovered in May.

More than 31,000 asylum seekers live in the five camps on the Aegean islands, with a total capacity of 6,095 people.

Nearly 17,000 live in Moria.

The migration ministry has recently stepped up asylum procedures, sorting through more than 6,000 requests in May.

Hundreds of refugees who have secured asylum have been queueing daily at the port of Mytilene, and over 500 have boarded ferries to Piraeus since last week, local news website StoNisi said.

AFP

Europe Demands Better Pandemic Plan, As Moscow Exits Lockdown

A nurse puts on his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before starting to work in the Intensive care unit for patients infected by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 at the Policlinico di Tor Vergata hospital, in Rome on April 8, 2020. Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

 

Europe’s most powerful countries urged the European Union to better prepare for the next pandemic after chaotic responses to the coronavirus, as Moscow emerged from lockdown despite Russia still being in the grip of a surging epidemic.

There should be a “common European approach” to challenges like COVID-19 in future, leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a letter and policy paper to the European Union’s top official.

Europe has been the hardest-hit continent with nearly 185,000 people killed, and the leaders said a lack of coordination had left nations short of crucial medical equipment when the coronavirus arrived.

Worldwide, COVID-19 deaths have passed 407,000, with more than seven million infections.

The United States recorded 819 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing its own grisly toll to more than 111,000 out of 1.9 million cases — leaving it the country hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of both the number of fatalities and the number of cases.

And the crisis continued to escalate in Latin America, which by late Tuesday had almost 1.4 million cases and nearly 70,000 deaths.

READ ALSO: Elevated Extreme Poverty To Persist Through 2021 – World Bank

Brazil’s health ministry cited figures late Tuesday indicating the death toll had risen by 1,272 to over 38,400 killed by the virus — the third highest toll in the world after the US and Britain.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s government had stopped publishing the total number of virus deaths on Friday, saying it was adopting new methodology.

However, the government was forced into a U-turn by a Supreme Court ruling on Monday that it must return to the old format, which government critics said is more transparent.

On Tuesday Peru, second only to Brazil as the region’s worst-hit country, announced it had passed 200,000 cases of the virus, adding more than 4,000 cases in a single day.

In Nicaragua, at least eight public health doctors were sacked for criticizing the lack of a serious response to the crisis from the government of President Daniel Ortega, an independent medical body said.

Nicaragua has been criticized for an almost complete absence of measures to contain the virus.

– Europe’s Exit –

Despite Europe’s dire record, most countries on the continent continued to exit their punishing lockdowns on Tuesday, with Cyprus welcoming its first tourist flights in almost three months and French officials announcing the Eiffel Tower will reopen on June 25.

Residents of the Moscow flocked to parks after officials lifted restrictions in place since March 30, even though 8,595 new cases were registered in Russia on Tuesday and the death toll passed 6,000.

“It’s nice out and there are a lot of people on the streets,” said marketing manager Olga Ivanova, walking in the Russian capital. “It’s a beautiful day, in every sense of the word.”

Russia has the third-highest number of confirmed infections in the world after the United States and Brazil, but officials say this is due to a huge testing campaign and point to a relatively low mortality rate.

However, critics say the death rate is being under-reported and accuse officials of rushing to lift restrictions for political reasons.

In further signs that a new normal is taking hold in Europe, officials in Spain said mask-wearing in public would be compulsory until an effective treatment or vaccine can be found.

Britain, which on Tuesday announced its death toll had passed 50,000, has imposed a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into the country, British nationals included.

– Life-saving lockdowns –

The World Health Organization has warned that complacency is the biggest threat in countries where the pandemic seems to have abated.

Globally, it does not appear to be abating at all: the WHO said a record number of new coronavirus cases were recorded worldwide on Monday, the majority of them in South Asia and the Americas.

Underlining the warning, deaths and infections continue to climb sharply in India even as the government lifted some curbs after a 10-week lockdown.

Authorities in the capital Delhi warned on Tuesday that cases in the city could shoot up almost 20 times to more than 500,000 in the coming weeks.

The disease emerged in China late last year before sweeping the globe, subjecting billions to some form of lockdown that paralysed economies.

Those restrictions prevented 3.1 million deaths in 11 European countries alone, according to an Imperial College London study published on Monday.

AFP

Niger Governor Eases Lockdown, Directs Markets, Banks To Open

A file photo of Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State.

 

 

Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, has ordered the easing of the lockdown and other measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

While briefing reporters on Tuesday at the Government House in Minna, he directed markets, banks and other places of business activities to reopen, but with strict adherence to all safety measures.

The governor, however, stated that there would be strict enforcement of the compulsory use of face masks in public places and adherence to physical distancing.

He also asked the police and other security agencies to arrest and prosecute persons not wearing face masks in public places.

Governor Bello explained that the government took the decision to relax the lockdown after reviewing its strategies and assessment of the current realities.

He revealed that the state Ministry of Education has been directed to liaise with all stakeholders in the educational sector to develop a workable strategy for the reopening of schools in the state.

The governor asked all civil servants to remain at home except those on essential services and thanked the people of the state, especially frontline workers for their effort in the fight against COVID-19.

Read the full text of the governor’s briefing below:

MEDIA BRIEFING BY ALHAJI   (DR.)   ABUBAKAR SANI BELLO,   GOVERNOR, NIGER   STATE AND CHAIRMAN NORTH-CENTRAL GOVERNORS FORUM ON EASING OF COVID-19 LOCKDOWN   IN   NIGER   STATE AT THE   GOVERNMENT HOUSE,   MINNA; TUESDAY 9TH JUNE 2020.

PROTOCOLS:

Once again I thank all Nigerlites, particularly the frontline workers who have been making sacrifices for the containment of COVID-19. We, in our different roles, we have all demonstrated our commitment to the collective wellbeing of all, even in the face of outright discomfort.

As at today, the state has recorded 46 cases of COVID-19 and one death, out of which 26 of them have been discharged and reunited with their families. This represents more than half of the cases we have had to manage.

All confirmed cases so far are limited to nine LGAs of Chanchaga, Suleja, Rafi, Bida, Shiroro, Borgu, Bosso, Mariga, and Kontagora.

However, we have established additional quarantine centres in Minna and Suleja to cater for humane repatriation of Almajirai to reunite with their families and curtail the chances of contracting the virus and its spread.

After reviewing our strategies and assessment of the current realities, the following guidelines shall be used going forward:

All measures earlier put in place shall be eased – nonetheless,   there shall be enhanced enforcement of the compulsory use of facemask in public places and adherence to Physical distancing;

Henceforth, markets, banks and other places of business activities should be opened with strict adherence to all safety measures;

There shall be no more lockdown days, hence restriction of movement shall be from 10pm to 4am;

The ban on inter-state travels except for the movement of agricultural produce, petroleum products, manufactured goods and essential services will remain in force;

All intra-state travels are to be eased and the internal security checkpoints should be dismantled;

The ban on commercial motorcycle operators shall remain;

Public motor parks and other public transportation centres must continue to abide by the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Transport for their operations;

State government to support IBB University to establish a testing centre to include antibody and antigen tests.

Police and other security agencies to arrest and prosecute anyone not wearing face masks in public places within the state;

The State Ministry of Education is directed to liaise with all stakeholders in the educational sector towards developing a workable strategy for the reopening of our schools;

All civil servants are to remain at home except those on essential services.

 

We are redoubling our efforts to operationalize a molecular testing laboratory at General   Hospital Minna, to increase our testing capacity and reduce the turnaround time for the release of results.

Our surveillance systems are being enhanced to quickly detect any case of coronavirus including investigation, monitoring and management of positive cases.

As we strengthen our sensitization efforts to improve case search within our communities to mitigate against community transmission among others, I wish to call on our traditional leaders, religious clerics, market associations, transport unions, youth groups, NGOs, CBOs, to deepen community outreach so that collectively we will curtail this pandemic.

While we continue to do our part, I appeal to everyone to continue to adhere to personal hygiene procedures as well as other precautionary measures.

Thank you all and stay safe.

Moscow To End COVID-19 Lockdown On Tuesday – Mayor

Health workers wearing protective equipment arrive with a man wearing a face mask past an ambulance at a hospital where patients infected with the COVID-19 are being treated in Khimki, outside Moscow on May 3, 2020, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP.

 

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced Monday the end of a strict anti-coronavirus lockdown that has been in place for weeks in the Russian capital.

From Tuesday, the city’s “self-isolation and pass system will be cancelled,” he said in a video message on Facebook, adding that “Moscow is returning to the usual rhythm of life”.

Moscow, the largest city in Russia with population of some 12 million, went into lockdown at the end of March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The capital remains the epicentre of the pandemic in Russia with around half of the country’s 476,658 virus infections.

City officials had introduced a strict permit system to allow Muscovites access to public transport and taxis for work and essential activities.

READ ALSO: Lockdowns Averted Three Million Deaths In 11 European Nations – Study

“All major restrictions — subject to maintaining epidemiological safety and taking into account sanitary measures — will be lifted in June,” the mayor said Monday.

Moscow residents including the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases will be allowed to leave their homes beginning Tuesday, Sobyanin added.

Hairdressers, beauty salons and vets will also be allowed to reopen on Tuesday.

Libraries, real estate offices and companies that provide services to residents will be allowed to resume their work beginning next week, he said.

Museums and zoos will reopen to visitors who purchase electronic tickets and sports events will restart with no more than 10 percent of stadiums filled.

Sobyanin said restaurants and cafes would open in two stages beginning June 16 with Moscow residents allowed to visit terraces, with further restrictions easing the following week.

Despite plans to lift the city’s quarantine, the mayor urged caution, saying that the “likelihood of coronavirus infection has decreased, but still exists.”

“We must constantly monitor the situation and prevent a new outbreak,” he said.

Russia has the third-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world after the United States and Brazil.

Health officials on Monday said the country’s death toll had risen to 5,971 while the number of new cases was 8,985, a number that has been fairly consistent over the last weeks.

AFP

India Reopens Despite Records Of COVID-19 Infections

People walk at the seafront after the government eased a lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai on June 8, 2020. – Malls and temples re-opened in several cities across India on June 8 despite the country recording a record daily number of new coronavirus infections, with the pandemic expected to ravage the country for weeks to come. Punit PARANJPE / AFP.

 

Malls and temples opened across India on Monday after a 10-week lockdown, despite a record daily rise in new cases and predictions that the epidemic will worsen for weeks to come.

The government has risked easing restrictions in a bid to ease the devastating blow to the economy dealt by the coronavirus.

But the number of new cases rose by 9,983 to 256,611, according to government figures announced Monday, putting the country of 1.3 billion on course to quickly overtake Britain and Spain among nations with the highest number of infections.

The reported death toll of 7,135 is lower than other badly-hit countries, but India’s epidemic is only expected to peak in July. Many experts say the toll is higher.

In the capital, Delhi, shopping malls, restaurants, temples and mosques re-opened for the first time since March 25.

But highlighting the city’s reputation as one of India’s worst coronavirus hotspots, one day after announcing the reopening, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal went into isolation with virus symptoms including a fever.

– ‘Rough it out’ –

The worst traffic jams in many weeks were seen in the city of 20 million people. But the public response to being able to shop and pray was tentative. There was only a trickle of people at most places of worship.

Businessman Mohit Budhiraja, wearing a mask and carrying sanitiser, went to his local temple in eastern Delhi for the first time since the lockdown.

“It felt like something was missing when I couldn’t come to the temple for all these weeks,” he said. “I hope things improve, but now I will come every day.”

Many temples set up sanitisation tunnels at entrances and barred worshippers from bringing offerings.

READ ALSO: Lockdowns Averted Three Million Deaths In 11 European Nations – Study

“People are having their temperature tested twice before they get in,” said Ravindra Goel, a trustee of the Jhandewalan temple, one of the oldest in Delhi.

The 400-year-old Jama Masjid mosque, one of the biggest in India, planned only three prayers a day instead of the usual five for Muslims. Worshippers also had to bring their own prayer mats.

Shopping malls also imposed tight checks at entrances and social distancing in stores. Owners acknowledged they would have to wait to see normal business levels return.

“This will last for at least two months, we will just have to rough it out,” said Mahendra Singh, owner of a clothes franchise in one mall.

– Major hit –

Delhi accounts for more than 27,600 cases and 761 deaths — although media reports say the real figures are much higher. Shamika Ravi, an economics professor whose daily data analysis on the crisis is widely followed, said Delhi’s deaths have risen “alarmingly”.

The city government has ordered that hotels and banquet halls remain closed as they could be turned into hospitals.

Authorities have faced several complaints by relatives of people who have died before a hospital would accept them. Authorities say up to 15,000 extra beds could be needed by the end of the month.

“Citizens must be provided with real-time information on nearby testing labs, quarantine facilities, hospital bed availability,” said Ravi.

“Fear and panic can only be dispelled by honest communication.”

Mumbai accounts for around a fifth of India’s cases and hospitals have been overrun. Authorities have been more cautious about lifting restrictions. Roadside shops reopened, but malls, restaurants and hair salons remained shuttered.

The Indian government says the tough lockdown has limited the spread of the coronavirus. But it is now braced for a major hit to the economy, with millions of labourers now jobless.

Rating agencies have said the economy could contract by more than five percent this year, after average growth of about seven percent over the past decade.

AFP

South African Schools Reopen After Easing Of COVID-19 Lockdown

A pupil at the Winnie Mandela Secondary School raises her hand during roll call as classes resume in the Tembisa township, Ekurhuleni, on June 8, 2020. – Grade 7 and grade 12 pupils in South Africa began returning to classrooms on June 8, 2020 after two and a half months of home-schooling to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Michele Spatari / AFP.

 

An hour before the gates opened, dozens of uniformed students wearing face masks stood silently in single file outside their schools in the dusty South African township of Tembisa.

“Have you seen how many are waiting to come in?” said Eddie Kekana, the headmaster of Winnie Mandela Secondary School, just north of Johannesburg.

“They have been longing to come to school,” he said.

Students across South Africa returned to classes on Monday after two and a half months of home-schooling to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The education department last week postponed the reopening, originally slated for June 1, to better prepare facilities and train staff.

Schools had been shut since March 19, two weeks after Africa’s most industrialised economy recorded its first coronavirus case and days before President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.

As restrictions have been gradually eased, with more movement allowed and economic activity resuming, exam-year students were welcomed back to classes.

“I am very happy but at the same time I am very scared to come back to school,” said 21-year-old Lefa Ramoroka, dressed in the school uniform of grey trousers and an azure blue blazer.

READ ALSO: Lockdowns Averted Three Million Deaths In 11 European Nations – Study

“I thought I would not see my friends again,” he said.

But he expressed concern about maintaining basic hygiene protocols expected in the fight against COVID-19.

“Often there is no water at school,” he said.

– Maths via WhatsApp –

The pipes are working, however, according to the headmaster Kekana, and two large tanks were available in case of water cuts.

At the entrance to the school, teachers took the temperature of each student, who answered a quick health questionnaire.

For nearly three months, the teachers have been giving lessons remotely, though doing so by videoconference was out of the question.

“Videos take too much space and too much data,” said Steve Shaku, who taught maths via WhatsApp, audio messages and downloadable documents.

But some students did not have the technology to access the lessons.

“I could not see everything,” Eliza Manasse, who lives with her single mother and siblings.

“I have only a small phone. It was challenging to follow the classes,” she said.

Other students borrowed phones from neighbours whenever possible.

“We are finally teaching at satisfactory standards,” said Shaku, installing a protective visor over his mask.

“We have to catch up,” warned one of his colleagues, Noko Matloa. “Our clock is ticking.”

For the students’ return, Winnie Mandela Secondary School was divided into 14 classes, compared to the usual six.

– ‘No hugging’ –

By 9:30 am, all of the students were finally in class. A total 234 students out of 263 enrolled attended on Monday.

Only two students were sent home: the first had a cold and the second was 38 weeks pregnant.

Classes began with hygiene instructions.

“Today you’re going to learn a new way of life,” the headmaster told the students.

“No hugging, no shaking hands, no kissing,” said one teacher.

“As schoolchildren, we are not good at social distancing. We like touching each other,” said Delin Walend.

In one classroom, students lowered their masks to chat.

One student, Mandla Masinga, asked about the logic behind reopening schools when the pandemic is expected to peak in South Africa in a few weeks’ time.

The country has the continent’s highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with 48,285 infections and at least 998 deaths recorded to date.

“It’s confusing,” he said. “When the infections were low, nobody was expecting to be out of school. But now that the number of infections are higher, we are back at school.”

AFP

Greece Extends Migrant Camp Lockdown

A woman wearing a protective face mask stands out of the Attikon University Hospital in Athens on February 27, 2020. - The Greek health ministry said a boy whose 38-year-old mother is already hospitalised with the virus after returning from a trip to northern Italy where there are several cases of the virus had also tested positive in Thessaloniki. The boy's school in Thessaloniki will be shut for two weeks and his entire class will stay at home, the school's principal told state TV ERT. (Photo by Angelos CHRISTOFILOPOULOS / AFP)
A woman wearing a protective face mask stands out of the Attikon University Hospital in Athens on February 27, 2020. – The Greek health ministry said a boy whose 38-year-old mother is already hospitalised with the virus after returning from a trip to northern Italy where there are several cases of the virus had also tested positive in Thessaloniki. Angelos CHRISTOFILOPOULOS / AFP.

 

Greece has extended for another two weeks a coronavirus lockdown on its overcrowded migrant camps as the country gears up to revive its tourism-dependent economy.

“For residents of the reception and identification centres across the country, measures against the propagation of the COVID-19 virus are extended” until June 21, the official Government Gazette said.

Greece appears to have fared better than most of its European partners in the coronavirus pandemic, with 180 deaths and 2,980 cases.

It was quick to introduce strict confinement measures on migrant camps on March 21 and imposed a more general lockdown on March 23.

More than 33,000 asylum seekers live in the five camps on the Aegean islands, with a total capacity of 5,400 people, and some 70,000 in other facilities on the mainland.

While no known deaths have been recorded in the camps so far due to COVID-19 and only a few dozen infections, the measures have since been extended a number of times.

Rights groups have expressed concern that migrants’ rights could be eroded by the anti-virus restrictions.

Massive virus screening in the camps only started in early May.

READ ALSO: Britain To Reopen Places Of Worship On June 15

The new extension to the lockdown on the camps comes after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled a new tourism campaign, saying: “We are opening Greece’s windows and doors to the world gradually but with optimism.”

Greece has announced a “transition phase” between June 15 and 30, during which airports in Athens and Thessaloniki will again receive regular passenger flights.

Other regional and island airports are to open on July 1.

Greece plans to impose a quarantine of between seven and 14 days on travellers from only the hardest-hit areas as identified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

However, sample tests will also be carried out at entry points for epidemiological purposes.

AFP

COVID-19: Kaduna Govt Says Markets, Places Of Worship To Remain Closed Till Further Notice

 

The Kaduna State Government says it will not re-open markets or places of worship until further notice as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19.

This was disclosed in a statement issued on Tuesday by the Special Adviser to the state Governor, Muyiwa Adekeye.

The decision to close places of worship in Kaduna State had been taken and enforced in March 2020 by the state government as part of the proclamation of the Quarantine Orders against COVID-19 in the state.

But on Tuesday, while the government noted that activities will still remain on lockdown, Adekeye said they have started engagements with business leaders, community, and religious leaders to discuss and agree on the protocols for the safe re-opening of businesses, markets and resumption of congregational worship.

He, however, stressed that until such consultations result in a formal announcement authorising businesses, markets and places of worship to reopen, it will be a violation of subsisting Quarantine Orders for anybody to reopen any unauthorised facility, market or places of worship or to conduct congregational worship of any sort, adding that places of worship in Kaduna State were not closed by the Federal Government.

The government also noted that the state maintains its prohibition of interstate and intercity travel, adding that government officials and mobile courts will continue to enforce the ban to prevent people from spreading the virus through non-essential movement.

It further stated that the 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew still remains.

“Kaduna State is not one of the three states and the FCT where the Federal Government imposed a lockdown. The steps taken to ease such federally-imposed lockdowns in the concerned places should not be construed as the Federal Government relaxing in all states conditions that it did not impose in the first place.

“Kaduna State has its own well-articulated roadmap for reopening, and this was published last week as a public document for the views and inputs of the citizens of the State. That is why when it extended the Quarantine Orders by two weeks on 26th May 2020, it also announced steps to ease some of the restrictions. These included increasing lockdown-free days to three and allowing approved businesses and facilities to open on those three days.

“The quarantine extension announced by the Deputy Governor Dr. Hadiza Balarabe on 26th May 2020 made clear that schools, places of worship and markets will remain closed under the adjusted orders.

“The relevant government officials and agencies will be engaging with religious leaders, transport unions, traditional institutions, market unions, school proprietors and other stakeholders as may be identified from time to time, to discuss the conditions and circumstances for a safe reopening of these sectors,” the statement added.

COVID-19: South Africans Rush to Liquor Stores As Booze Ban Lifts

A man purchases beer at a liquor store in Pretoria on June 1, 2020. – South Africa moved into level three of a five-tier lockdown on June 1, 2020, to continue efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Under level three, all but high-risk sectors of the economy will be allowed to reopen. Liquor sales will resume, but for home consumption only. Emmanuel Croset / AFP.

 

Scores of people lined up outside liquor stores in South Africa’s township of Soweto on Monday, waiting to stock up on drinks after a nine-week ban on alcohol sales as part of a strict coronavirus lockdown.

Buying booze was prohibited when Africa’s most industrialised economy went into lockdown on March 27.

The ban — meant to ease pressure on emergency wards and prevent a feared spike in domestic violence — was lifted for home consumption on Monday as South Africa moved down to level 3 of its five-tier shutdown.

The mood was festive in Soweto, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, where customers carrying crates of empty beer bottles waited out the meandering lines, some stationed in their cars, blasting loud music from their stereos.

“We are overwhelmed, over the moon, so excited,” said queuing customer Bongani Khumalo.

“This place is jamming,” he exclaimed, adding that celebrations were expected throughout the township.

READ ALSO: Tanzania Reopens Universities Despite COVID-19 Concerns

“I’m here to buy my beloved beer,” said Anele Mapoma, 31.

“It has been a while since I had a taste of that foam and burping (so) I am here so early to satisfy my habit.”

Another Soweto resident admitted she had been looking forward to “this day for an entire month”.

“I had to wake up super early to be here so I’m all good now,” said the unnamed 24-year-old as he stood outside a liquor store in the suburb of Pimville.

-‘Traumatising’ black market-

As shop doors opened at 9:00 am, customers queueing in face masks were ordered to keep a safe distance from one another and allowed entry one small group at a time.

Security guards took their temperature at the door and anyone with a fever was turned away.

South Africans still harboured mixed feelings about the controversial booze ban, which caused black market sales to flourish.

“That one was very traumatising whereby people had to get liquor illegally, they raised prices so high,” said Khumalo.

“It’s month’s end, people got paid and others are excited to go back to work, I think people have every reason to celebrate.”

But for 22-year-old Asenathi Faleni, a self-confessed “serious drinker”, the government’s decision to shutter the alcohol market was a brilliant idea.

“The virus would have spread much more because as drinkers we don’t really listen once we’re drunk,” Faleni said.

“We just want to be out and about and around people and at taverns, and the taverns get full.”

Under level 3 all but high-risk sectors of the economy will be allowed to reopen, as will schools and places of worship.

An ongoing ban on cigarette sales remains a thorny issue, however, with British American Tobacco South Africa launching legal proceedings against the government last week.

– Balancing Act –

Government’s ban on alcohol has faced resistance from the onset with businesses bemoaning the mushrooming of illegal markets.

The country ranks 30th in the world in terms of per capita alcohol consumption, according to 2010 figures by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

At the beginning of the lockdown, the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence had also warned that a sudden cut in supply of alcohol causes physical and mental problems.

But Police Minister Bheki Cele insisted the move was astute, even attributing the decline in crimes such as murder and hijacking to the ban.

“I wish (the) alcohol ban could be extended beyond lockdown,” Cele said.

The country has recorded more than 32,600 infections so far, including 683 deaths.

Health experts have predicted that South Africa’s coronavirus outbreak will peak between July and November, causing at least 40,000 deaths.

AFP

England Reopens Some Schools As Debate Rages About Lockdown Ease

Members of the public keep a 2-metre social distance as they queue in the car park to enter an Ikea store in Warrington, northwest England as it re-opens its doors following the easing of the lockdown restrictions during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on June 1, 2020. – Paul ELLIS / AFP.

 

Schools partially reopened in England on Monday and the most vulnerable were allowed to venture outdoors, despite warnings that the world’s second worst-hit country was moving too quickly out of its coronavirus lockdown.

A death toll that now officially stands at 38,489 has piled political pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson — still basking in the glory of a thumping December election win when the pandemic reached UK shores.

Johnson spent much of the past week stamping out a scandal sparked by his chief adviser’s decision to drive to a picturesque castle with his family while everyone was under orders to limit outdoor exercise to an hour a day.

The furore over Brexit architect Dominic Cummings appears to have abated but concern about Johnson’s handling of the crisis remains.

His public support last week suffered the sharpest fall for a Conservative party leader in 10 years before recovering slightly in a poll published Monday.

– ‘Spreading too fast’ –

Johnson has set out a timeline that allows two million younger children to return to school on Monday and older ones on June 15.

But a survey conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that primary school leaders expect about half the families to keep their children home.

The government is also allowing those most at risk of suffering serious consequences from the virus to spend time outdoors for the first time in two months.

READ ALSO: Philippines Capital Reopens Despite Rise In COVID-19 Cases

“I do not underestimate just how difficult it has been for you,” Johnson told the 2.2 million Britons who fall into the extreme risk category.

The UK government has also been encouraged by the positive experience of other European countries that have started to return to something resembling the old way of life.

But critics argue that the so-called R rate of transmission — estimated nationally at between 0.7 and 0.9 — was still dangerously close to the 1.0 figure above which the virus’s spread grows.

Parks and beaches were filled across England for the second successive weekend in what has been one of the driest springs in over 100 years.

Several members of the government’s scientific advisory group have warned that restrictions were being lifted prematurely.

“COVID-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England,” scientific advisor Jeremy Farrar said on Twitter.

Minister Alok Sharma told the BBC on Monday that the “scientific advice does differ” but the overall view from the official body advising the government was that “we must do this cautiously”.

The group has more than 50 members and disagreements are to be expected — although public criticism of the government’s policies from its own advisers is relatively rare.

– Hurting the poor –

The scientists are not the only ones to express concern.

London’s Metropolitan Police Federation chair Ken Marsh said current rules such as those allowing people to gather in groups of six in England — but not sit on each other’s deckchairs — were unenforceable.

“I don’t think the public are taking much notice of what is laid down in front of them,” Marsh told The Daily Telegraph,

“They are doing it how they want to do it.”

National Education Union co-leader Mary Bousted said the government has had to revise its school reopening guidance 41 times since mid-May.

There were “things they had forgotten, things they didn’t know, and things they got wrong (and that) had to be added in”, Bousted told Sky News.

The schools will only start reopening in England because each of Britain’s four nations follows its own health guidelines.

Scotland is waiting until August and Northern Ireland is eyeing September, while Wales is still making up its mind.

Communities minister Robert Jenrick argued a return to school was essential because a lack of classes and lunch provision was hitting disadvantaged families especially hard.

AFP

Philippines Capital Reopens Despite Rise In COVID-19 Cases

Passengers board a train, usually packed during rush hour, with plastic sheets spacing out seats to ensure social distancing, in Manila on June 1, 2020. – Hordes of cars and workers poured into the Philippine capital on June 1 after its strict virus lockdown was eased despite a spike in new cases, but as the nation must revive its bruised economy. Ted ALJIBE / AFP.

 

Manila emerged on Monday from one of the world’s longest coronavirus lockdowns as the Philippines seeks to repair its badly damaged economy even as the number of new infections surges.

Streets in the capital were choked with traffic and limited public transport resumed as commuters flooded back to work in the city of 12 million after nearly three months of strict home quarantine.

Most businesses have been allowed to reopen in the city, but schools, bars, dine-in restaurants all remain shuttered.

“The virus is frightening but it’s either you die from the virus or you die from hunger,” salesman Himmler Gaston, 59, told AFP as he entered the train station where commuters had their temperatures checked.

The Philippines has so far reported 18,638 cases and 960 deaths, but experts fear limited testing means the true figures are likely much higher.

There has been a roughly 30 percent jump in new cases in the past week, which health officials said was mainly due to efforts to clear backlogs from laboratories as they boost testing.

READ ALSO: Tanzania Reopens Universities Despite COVID-19 Concerns

While public trains and buses resumed operations Monday, the country’s popular jeepney mini-buses have been ordered to stay off the road because of their cramped seating.

Normally packed train carriages had plastic sheets covering some seats and markers on the floor to ensure passengers kept their distance from each other.

Despite the risk of being exposed to the virus on his way to work, 27-year-old barista Paul Escala said the train was still safer than riding his bicycle.

“It’s safer here. If I’m taking the bike, I have two opponents: the virus and unruly motorists,” he said.

Quarantine measures to contain the virus vary across the Philippines, but the strictest and longest lockdown has been in Manila, the centre of the country’s outbreak.

It shut down in mid-March at about the same time hard-hit France and Spain issued their stay at home orders.

While those countries have steadily loosened their restrictions in recent weeks, Manila only started allowing outdoor exercise two weeks ago.

Even now children and the elderly have to stay home unless they are out getting essentials or headed to work.

The tough measures have hurt millions of workers in Manila, which accounts for more than a third of the country’s economic output.

Its reopening comes after figures showed the Philippines’ economy shrank 0.2 percent in the first three months of the year — the first contraction in more than 20 years.

The country’s economic pain will likely intensify as officials estimate hundreds of thousands of Filipino migrant workers will lose their jobs due to virus shutdowns around the world.

Their remittances account for a tenth of the Philippines’ gross domestic product, and have long served as an economic lifeline for a country where millions live in deep poverty.

AFP

Spanish PM Seeks Final Two-week Lockdown Extension

(Files) Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addresses media representatives at a press conference following a European Union Summit at European Union Headquarters in Brussels on October 18, 2019. AFP

 

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Sunday he will seek parliament’s approval to extend Spain’s state of emergency one final time, which would keep the coronavirus lockdown in place until June 21.

The current emergency is set to expire on June 7, and the Socialist premier told a press conference that one last two-week extension was required, while welcoming that his hard-hit nation is “on the verge of arriving safely” out of confinement.

The sixth extension since March will need to be ratified on Wednesday by the 350-seat parliament, where Sanchez’s coalition is in a minority.

But he can count on a Catalan independence party to abstain, as well as the support of Basque nationalists, under deals which he sealed on Saturday.

In mid-May, Sanchez tried to extend the state of emergency for a full month, but was forced to reduce the request to two weeks to secure the support of the centre-right Ciudadanos party.

Announced on March 14, the state of emergency has allowed the federal government to control the response in a country where regional governments hold great sway.

READ ALSO: EU Tells UK Post-Brexit Deal Vital During COVID-19 Crisis

Spain has been one of the most affected countries by the pandemic, but as its numbers of new cases and deaths have slowed, it has gradually lifted the lockdown.

The measures are expected to be fully lifted in late June or early July, depending on the region.

AFP