The World Health Organization chief angrily slammed recent comments made by scientists suggesting a vaccine for the new coronavirus should be tested in Africa as “racist” and a hangover from the “colonial mentality”.
“Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference, insisting “we will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutics all over the world… whether it is in Europe, Africa or wherever.”
In his 37 years in power, Cameroonians have become accustomed to Biya’s long absences, mainly because of poor health, but his silence over the pandemic is raising sharp questions.
He posed for the cameras after talks with the US ambassador on March 11, but did not speak to the press.
Six days later Biya urged Cameroonians on Facebook to “respect” measures taken to combat the virus, but since then there has not been so much as a whisper from a leader who has overseen many crises since he took power in 1982.
– Biya ‘cannot be pinned down’ –
Biya’s track record suggests he is not a major communicator in the best of times, making just three or four appearances a year. But for researcher Stephane Akoa, “In a context like this, the presidential message is important.”
Last week, speculation mounted on social media that Biya could be dead, prompting a formal public denial by Communications Minister Rene-Emmanuel Sadi, who insisted that Biya was “going about his official business as normal”.
But there was no word from the president himself, provoking a sharp attack from main opposition leader Maurice Kamto, the runner-up to Biya in 2018 elections.
On Friday, Kamto demanded that the president address the nation within seven days, otherwise “the people… will inevitably see his failure”.
Biya’s silence “is becoming criminal,” he added.
Labour Minister Gregoire Owona snapped back, saying Kamto wished to politicise the crisis, calling it “shameful”.
Oswald Baboke, the president’s deputy chief of staff, commended Biya’s “wisdom… (and) restraint,” writing in the press that “the President’s Time cannot be improvised and cannot be pinned down.”
Thus far the youthful health minister, Malachie Manaouda, has been the point man for the coronavirus crisis, tweeting out frequent updates and detailing the government’s response.
But criticism has grown louder with the rise in known cases from 142 to 658 in a week.
– ‘Lack of coordination’ –
“Government communication is weak, its response was late and in some respects poorly prepared,” said Stephane M’Bafou, a consultant in public management and governance.
“There is an obvious lack of coordination,” said economist Albert Ze.
Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute on March 13 announced measures such as closing borders and a ban on rallies, which have been extended.
The one new step since then, attributed to Biya but announced by Ngute, has been the creation of a solidarity fund worth one billion CFA francs (1.5 million euros / $1.65 million).
Others say the response does not go nearly far enough.
“We must quickly declare a curfew, isolate the cities where cases are confirmed and move towards a general containment regardless of the socio-economic cost,” said M’Bafou.
The global recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic will be worse than in 2009, but early signs of a recovery are appearing in China, including renewed pollution, IMF economists said Monday.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world into a recession. For 2020 it will be worse than the global financial crisis,” the authors, including International Monetary Fund chief economist Gita Gopinath, said in a blog post.
“The economic damage is mounting across all countries, tracking the sharp rise in new infections and containment measures put in place by governments.”
China, where the virus appeared in mid-December, was the first hit by the full force of the economic impact as authorities locked down whole regions to try to contain the spread.
The world’s second largest economy, China saw a modest recovery in a key manufacturing index in March, and satellite images show increasing concentrations of nitrogen dioxide last month, indicating a pickup in industrial activity and transportation, the blog said.
“The recovery in China, albeit limited, is encouraging, suggesting that containment measures can succeed in controlling the epidemic and pave the way for a resumption of economic activity,” the authors wrote.
However, they warned of “huge uncertainty about the future path of the pandemic and a resurgence of its spread in China and other countries cannot be ruled out.”
There were more than 82,660 cases in China and 3,335 dead, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, there are now 1.3 million confirmed cases.
The British government on Sunday warned that outside exercise could be banned if people flout stringent guidelines to cut the spread of coronavirus infections.
The UK government on March 23 ordered a three-week shutdown of non-essential shops and services to cut close-contact transmission of the virus.
But warmer weekend weather has stoked fears that people could congregate in parks and open spaces, potentially threatening any gains made in cutting transmission rates.ark was closed on Sunday after concern about high numbers of sunbathers on Saturday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who himself tested positive for COVID-19, told Sky News television that sunbathing was “against the rules” and anyone doing so put lives at risk.
He told the BBC most people were following guidance only to leave their homes to shop for essential supplies and medicine, and to exercise once a day.
But he said it was “quite unbelievable” that a minority were not.
“The truth is the more people go out from home, the more the virus spreads,” he added.
“I don’t want to have to take away exercise as a reason to leave home because people are not following the rules…
“If the result of that is that too many people go out and flout the rules I’m afraid we’ll have to take action.”
Hancock later told a daily government briefing changes to social distancing rules were “not imminent”.
– Medical officer rapped –
Meanwhile in Scotland, the country’s chief medical officer apologised for ignoring her own advice about non-essential travel.
Police said they warned Catherine Calderwood for twice visiting her family’s second home more than an hour from Edinburgh after photographs were published in a newspaper.
Chief constable Iain Livingstone of Police Scotland said officers “spoke to her about her action, reiterated crucial advice and issued a warning about her future conduct”.
Calderwood, who fronts a public advertising campaign urging Scots to stay at home, told a news conference: “What I did was wrong. I’m very sorry. It will not happen again.”
She added: “This was a mistake. Human error. And there’s no excuses. I should not have done what I did.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said people’s criticism and anger was justified, and she was right to apologise. But she backed her to remain rather than resign.
“She should not have got this wrong… But I need to have the best possible expertise… if we are to steer the best course through this,” she added.
– Queen makes rare address –
The developments came as Britain reported 621 more deaths as of 1600 GMT on Saturday, taking the total toll to 4,934.
Sunday saw Queen Elizabeth II made a rare televised national address to thank healthcare workers on the frontline of the fight against the virus, promising that a united effort would help defeat the disease.
The queen warned the situation could persist but said the outbreak would be defeated through a collective effort in a “common endeavour”, including through scientific cooperation.
The British toll — down from a record day-on-day high of 708 as of Friday, after a week of steady increases — includes a five-year-old child and seven healthcare workers.
There were 47,806 confirmed hospital cases as of 0800 GMT on Sunday, up 5,903 on the previous 24 hours.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and heir to the throne Prince Charles have both tested positive for mild symptoms of the disease.
The state-run National Health Service (NHS) later announced the death of a 54-year-old midwife who contracted the virus.
Lynsay Coventry died on Thursday in Essex, southeast England, and is the first serving NHS midwife whose death has been publicly confirmed, it said in a statement.
Health officials on Friday said two other nurses had died.
A group of Lebanese in Kano State have donated food items and other essentials worth over One Hundred Million Naira (N100m) as their contribution to the state palliative programme to the poor in the population as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presenting the items to the state governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the Consul General of the Lebanese Community in Kano, Mr Khalil Muselmani said the commodities include 30 Tonnes of rice and 2,000 packets of spaghetti.
Others are 1,000 bags of Dawavita of 1kg, 500 packets of Juice drinks, 1,548 Hand Sanitizers, 1,500 Protective Garments, 20 boots, 500 cartons of detergent, among other items.
“We are giving this in order to give a helping hand in alleviating some of the sufferings of those needy individuals in the state, during this situation,” he said, adding that they were glad to support the government and people of the state in taking proactive measures against the pandemic.
After receiving the items, governor Ganduje handed them over to the Chairman of Fund Raising Committee, Prof Muhammad Yahuza Bello.
Prof. Bello thanked the Lebanese Community, noting that they are always ready and willing to act in anything that has to do with the development of the state “Another good thing about our people here is that, even before the coming of this deadly COVID-19 crisis, our community is very much involved in helping the needy amongst us.
“Our Committee has also recently got another contribution from Poultry Farmers Association, that donated 2,000 cartoons of eggs. Which we have already given out to Children’s Home,” he stated.
Indonesia has released 18,000 inmates in a desperate bid to stop coronavirus from rampaging through its notoriously overcrowded prison system, authorities said Thursday.
The mass release comes days after the Southeast Asian nation said it would free more than 30,000 inmates to take pressure off prisons and jails beset by unsanitary conditions and long at risk of infectious diseases.
The UN has called on countries to release vulnerable inmates, with Afghanistan last week announcing it would set free some 10,000 prisoners.
“Our target is to release 30,000 inmates in total, but it could end up being more,” said Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the Corrections Directorate General.
“This is part of the plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.”
She offered few details, but a government release order included juvenile offenders and adult prisoners who had served at least two-thirds of their sentences.
Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a leading member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, has tested positive for COVID-19, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to re-enter precautionary quarantine, officials said Thursday.
Netanyahu’s previous quarantine, imposed earlier this week after one of his staffers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, had ended Wednesday night, his office said.
The premier’s new seven-day self-isolation was imposed following his contacts with the 71-year-old Litzman, the prime minister’s office said.
Litzman of the Gur Hassidic sect — whose wife also tested positive — is the most prominent member of the hard-hit ultra-Orthodox community to test positive for the virus that has infected more than 6,200 Israelis.
“Litzman and his wife feel well, are receiving treatment and will be quarantined and supervised,” a health ministry statement said.
The ministry added that its director-general, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, along with other senior officials, will also enter quarantine following contacts with Litzman.
Israeli media also reported that the head of the Mossad spy agency, Yossi Cohen, may also be compelled to self-isolate after having had contact with Litzman, but that information could not be immediately confirmed.
– Ultra-Orthodox restrictions –
The rising caseload has spurred Israel to increasingly tighten restrictions, with the latest measures aimed directly at ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities that have resisted social distancing rules.
According to health ministry data, ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods and cities have become COVID-19 hotspots after leading rabbis had initially ignored and even refuted state orders to close educational institutions and limit synagogue attendance.
Netanyahu on Wednesday said there had been “a very positive change among the ultra-Orthodox public”.
He said the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim in Hebrew, had now “well internalised the danger of the spread of the coronavirus”.
They are “listening to the instructions and behaving responsibly, with full backing from the rabbis,” he added.
In a televised address, Netanyahu said movement to and from the central Israeli ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak would be reduced “to the necessary minimum”.
The quarantined and sick from Bnei Brak would be taken away to hotels elsewhere in the country, the right-wing premier added.
Netanyahu also told Israelis to wear face masks in public, in a reversal of policy.
“If you do not have a mask, use a scarf or any other face covering that will reduce the spread of the virus to others,” he said.
More than 500,000 coronavirus infections have been diagnosed in Europe, over half the global total, according to a tally by AFP from official sources at 1000 GMT Thursday.
The continent has recorded 508,271 cases and 34,571 COVID-19 deaths, compared to global figures of 940,815 and 47,836 respectively. The worst-hit countries are Italy with 13,155 fatalities and Spain with 10,003 — both have more than 100,000 confirmed infections.
President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo has declared a three-month “state of emergency” and curfew aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.
The tiny West African nation of eight million has so far recorded 36 confirmed infections and two deaths from the disease.
Gnassingbe said in a televised address late Wednesday that the unprecedented move was “proof of the gravity of the situation that we face”.
He said a curfew would be in place for an indefinite period from Thursday between 7pm and 6am.
A 5,000-strong unit of security agents was being set up to tackle the pandemic and a fund worth $650 million (600 million euros) was aimed at cushioning the economy from the impact of the crisis, the president said.
As Nigerians continue to clamour for better power supply especially following the stay-at-home order by the Federal government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has met with the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman and the management of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
The meeting which held on Wednesday sought to address some of the issues regarding electricity, as well as a viral video by Nollywood actress, Ada Ameh. In the video, Ameh lamented over the poor electricity supply to Nigerians during the ongoing lockdown in major parts of the country.
While giving his opening remark, Gbajabiamila expressed dismay over the barrage of calls and messages from many Nigerians through his social media account, reacting to the protest video and therefore, called for prompt action.
“It has become imperative that I urgently call for this meeting to find a solution to the poor supply of electricity during this lockdown period. If we ask people to stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, at least we have to make their homes comfortable for them to stay.
“The complaints have just been too much in the last 24 hours. There are people also in the hospital now without electricity; we need to brainstorm over an urgent solution,” he said.
On his part, the Minister of Power, Mamman, highlighted the challenges encountered by power generating companies (GENCOs) and the possible intervention of the leadership of the House of Representatives.
“We are aware of the challenges faced by Nigerians, so we have started talking to GENCOs because they have been complaining that Discos are not paying and only about 20% of their dues are remitted.
“So, the GENCOs are facing technical and revenue shortfall. Consequently, they can’t as well meet their financial obligations to gas companies. The Discos also pay less of their generated revenue to GENCOs, because they complain about power theft by consumers, high technical costs, etc.
“The sum of N130 billion is what the government gives GENCOs to augment the shortfall of payments not fulfilled by Discos. We still have about N1.2 trillion payment shortfall in all. I have been begging the gas suppliers to please, in the interest of Nigerians, release gas to the GENCOs. The shortfalls are accruals from the problem of estimated billing, non-payment of bills by estimated customers, etc.
“What the NASS can do is to plead with CBN to help with funds to enable the Federal Government to augment the revenue shortfall to enable government pay gas companies and thereafter bring all the critical stakeholders to a table,”, the power minister said.
In his contribution, the NERC Commissioner on Compliance, Mr. Akpaneye, assured the Speaker and the leadership of the House that the commission is committing the Discos to a new guideline that shows empathy with Nigerians during this COVID-19 lockdown.
“All NERC Commissioners are in the Situation Room in our office monitoring GENCOs and Discos activities. We know the demand for this power during this lockdown is for residential, since most industries are on lockdown, so we are going to release a new guideline and sanction electricity companies that can’t show empathy during this period.”
Also speaking, the GMD of NNPC, Kyari hinted that the problem with the Trans Vocados gas line was resolved Wednesday morning and therefore, gave an assurance of supply of gas to enable GENCOs to generate power.
The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed and the CBN, Godwin Emefiele, on their part, gave accounts of complications arising from the non-fulfilment of financial obligations by the electricity stakeholders but assured of interventions in the interest of Nigerians who are observing the lockdown order.
At the end of the meeting, all the critical stakeholders assured the Speaker and the leadership of the House of their commitment to ensuring power supply.
They, however, agreed to reconvene in the next few days to find lasting solutions to the challenges in the sector beyond the lockdown period.
UEFA have made a move towards clearing the decks for the return of club football by announcing on Wednesday that all international matches that had been pushed back to June have now been postponed until further notice.
“This includes the play-off matches for UEFA Euro 2020 and qualifying matches for UEFA Women’s Euro 2021,” said European football’s governing body in a statement.
“All other UEFA competition matches, including the centralised international friendly matches, remain postponed until further notice.”
The decision followed a videoconference with Europe’s 55 member federations as part of discussions on how to adapt the fixture calendar in the face of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
The play-off semi-finals and finals that are supposed to decide the last four qualifying berths for the next European Championship were initially postponed at the end of March and pencilled in provisionally for June.
That was “subject to a review of the situation” amid uncertainty over how the pandemic will develop and whether many European countries currently in lockdown will be able to return to some kind of normality.
Friendly matches that will not now go ahead as a result of the decision include England’s matches in Austria and at home to Romania in early June.
However, UEFA have also stated a determination to finish all domestic and club competitions by June 30.
While that currently looks ambitious at the very least, clearing the international fixtures from the same month does buy some more time as they aim to complete the Champions League and Europa League competitions as well as domestic leagues.
Carrying the season on beyond that date runs the risk of clubs losing their out-of-contract players before matches have been completed, unless a solution can be found.
“There is a very strong case to be made that it should be in everybody’s interests to as much as possible extend those,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, the general secretary of global players’ union FIFPro, when asked about the issue of expiring player contracts in a conference call on Tuesday.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told Italian daily La Repubblica at the weekend that football “could start again in mid-May, in June or even late June” but that any time after that and “the season will probably be lost.”
The impact of the pandemic on Europe has already forced UEFA to put Euro 2020 back 12 months, while the women’s Euro 2021 has also been postponed.
On Wednesday UEFA said that the men’s and women’s Under-17 and Under-19 European Championships, scheduled for May and July respectively, were postponed until further notice.
With all eyes on the rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus, health experts fear a drop in routine vaccinations could fuel other, potentially deadlier outbreaks of diseases like measles.
With nearly half of the world’s population told to stay at home, many parents are having to postpone taking their children in for routine immunisations, while big vaccine drives have been halted, leaving many vulnerable to a range of infectious diseases.
“Measles is probably number one in my worry list at the current time,” Seth Berkley, who heads the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, told AFP in an interview.
He warned of the impact that an outbreak of measles or other diseases could have on health services already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed some 40,000 people and infected 800,000 worldwide in a matter of months.
“Routine immunisation is absolutely critical always, but is particularly critical at a time like this because if other outbreaks occur, they will overwhelm the health system,” Berkley said.
He pointed out that during the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu region, which has killed nearly 2,300 people since mid-2018, measles has proved more deadly.
“Everybody was focused on Ebola, but 2.5 times the number of people died in the country from measles than died from Ebola,” he said.
Gavi provides vaccines against a wide range of diseases for the 60 percent of the world’s children who live in developing countries.
While it may not be too big a deal to delay vaccines for some of those diseases for a few months, timely immunisation against the more contagious ones like measles is essential.
– ‘Massive outbreaks’ –
Already, the world is facing a resurgence of the once all-but-eradicated disease, which is a highly contagious, sometimes fatal viral infection.
Poorer countries are hit hardest. The vast majority of the more than 140,000 global measles deaths recorded by the World Health Organization in 2018 were in sub-Saharan Africa.
But a growing anti-vaccine movement has also helped spark measles outbreaks in many richer countries in recent years.
The anti-vax phenomenon has adherents across Western countries but especially in the United States, where it has been fuelled by the spread on social media of medically baseless claims, debunked 20 years ago, that the jab could cause autism.
Berkley pointed out that Europe has seen recent outbreaks in 47 out of 53 countries, warning that while the outbreaks had been small, if vaccination coverage falls, “these could be massive outbreaks”.
He acknowledged that the physical distancing measures in place in many countries to halt a spread of the new coronavirus could also prevent broad spread of other infectious diseases too.
“If there is less contact there is less likely to be an explosive spread,” he said, while stressing that “measles is even more infectious than COVID”.
Meanwhile, Berkley said the pandemic might undermine the anti-vaccine movement.
He pointed out that one reason behind the hesitancy to immunise in wealthy countries was that “vaccines have been so successful that we don’t see the diseases (they protect against) anymore.”
“So it is easy to say: oh, these diseases aren’t so severe, and we don’t want to put non-organic things in our bodies, or we are worried about side-effects or whatever,” he noted.
“I have a feeling that if there was a COVID vaccine right now, there might be more appetite to use it than has been the case for other vaccines.”