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COVID-19: Academic activities ongoing at NOUN — ACETEL



The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) says academic activities are ongoing at the institution, in spite of the stay-at-home directives by the Federal Government following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

The instititution said in a statement by Mr Ambrose Gowong, Communications Officer, Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL) on Friday in Abuja.

It said that NOUN was the only institution in the country without dislocation of academic calendar following the outbreak of the global health crisis, COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACETEL is a centre at the NOUN, sponsored by the World Bank, with special interest on the development of human capacity and research in digital solutions that will lead to the utilisation of technology for education.

It quoted the Director of ACETEL, Prof. Grace Jokthan, as saying that NOUN, as Nigeria’s flagship Open and Distance Learning Institution (ODL) allowed learning at a distance, as it focuses on open access to education.

According to the statement, NOUN through ACETEL focuses on freeing learners from the constraints of time and place, especially online courses that concerns Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Security and Management Information Systems.

”The Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced learning is a world class centre assisted by the World Bank at the Headquarters of NOUN).

”The online learning environment provides opportunities for students to connect with lecturers, using video conferencing technology wherever they are.

“Also, discussion forums and chat activities are integrated in each course to facilitate effective interactions within the learning community.

”Tutor Marked Assessments (TMAs), registration and some administrative tasks are all being carried out online,” Jokthan said.

She said that aside maintaining its steady academic programme, ACETEL organised and executed a five day online virtual training workshop for its course writers on how to use ‘Adobe Captivate’ to convert course materials into e-learning format.

”The workshop attracted over 15 learned heads from across the globe, including a World Bank expert, Dr Dimitrios Noukakis, who need not to bother about travel ban or the scare of COVID-19.

”Noukakis also need not bother about any logistics coming to Nigeria for the training as the training took place in the comfort of the various participants’ homes.

”The World Bank expert commended the Vice-Chancellor of NOUN, Prof. Abdalla Adamu, while urging other universities in Nigeria to tow the path of NOUN,”

Edited By: Chinyere Nwachukwu/Peter Ejiofor) (NAN)


Interview: Insufficient COVID-19 testing for United States public contributes to high death toll, says expert




A lack of sufficient testing for the presence of COVID-19 in the general public might be one of the major reasons for the large number of deaths in the United States, a leading medical expert has said.

The United States has suffered the most from the pandemic around the world, with over 1.84 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and a death toll of more than 107,000 as of Wednesday.

“Without greater monitoring and testing, it is difficult to properly control the spread of the novel coronavirus infection. Simply testing individuals with suspected infection and first responder health care personnel is inadequate to provide the protection and means to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Kent Pinkerton, professor of pediatrics from the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“This is particularly troublesome with some active carriers and shedders of COVID-19 who are completely asymptomatic,” he added.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least a third of COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic. About 40 percent of transmission occurred prior to symptom onset.

Pinkerton said although measures taken for stay-in-shelter mandates around the country have helped to flatten the curve of infection, many areas continue to see no reduction in the incidence of infection.

To lighten these mandates without the proper use of personal protective equipment could be associated with a future resurgence of COVID-19 in the United States, he noted.

According to Pinkerton, the major challenges ahead in controlling the spread of the pandemic are patience on the part of the U.S. public and the development of an efficacious vaccine for protection against COVID-19.

Experts are worried that the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died last week while in police custody, may result in new outbreaks.

“Based on the way the disease spreads, there is every reason to expect that we will see new clusters and potentially new outbreaks moving forward,” said United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

Coronavirus testing sites in many locations have been closed due to unrest.

Since most people who are infected with the coronavirus develop symptoms within 14 days of being infected and can spread the disease days before they feel sick, the window to get tested and avoid infecting others is small.

“The impact of the ongoing protests on COVID-19 case counts may be revealed in about two weeks,” Zhang Zuofeng, professor of epidemiology and associate dean for research with the school of public health at University of California, Los Angeles, told Xinhua.


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French gov’t launches contact-tracing smartphone app “StopCOVID”




Photo taken on June 3, 2020 shows the contact-tracing smartphone app “StopCOVID” on a mobile phone in Paris, France. French government launched on June 2 “StopCOVID,” a contact-tracing smartphone app that could warn people voluntarily using it if they come into contact with a COVID-19 carrier. (Xinhua/Gao Jing)

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Spotlight: United States Fed likely to offer more guidance on rates next week amid COVID-19 fallout




The United States Federal Reserve is likely to provide more guidance at its policy meeting next week to signal intentions to keep interest rates near zero for a few years so as to help the economy get through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to several economists.

“One deliverable that we should be able to count on at the June meeting is the return of the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP),” Jay H. Bryson, acting chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities, wrote Monday in a report.

“We suspect that may open the door to implicit forward guidance, a tool heralded by policymakers before the current crisis as a primary mechanism for influencing policy,” he said.

The Fed usually releases the quarterly SEP four times each year, which lays out Fed officials’ expectations about growth, inflation, unemployment and short-term interest rates. But the central bank didn’t release the SEP in March as the evolving COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for Fed officials to offer reliable economic forecasts.

The upcoming Fed meeting next Tuesday and Wednesday likely will include the first update to the SEP since December last year, according to Bryson.

“Rather than provide explicit forward guidance, committee members could implicitly signal that the fed funds rate is unlikely to increase through at least 2022 through changes in the dot plot,” Bryson said, referring to Fed officials’ individual forecasts of the federal funds rate.

“While the market reaction from such a move would likely be relatively small given that this appears to be the market’s base case scenario, it would at least reinforce the idea,” he said.

Roberto Perli, a former Fed staffer and now head of global policy research at Cornerstone Macro, also expected the SEP to show that Fed officials would not want to raise rates before 2022.

In Bryson‘s view, any changes to the Fed’s projections for federal funds rate over the longer run will be more important. “If the median projection for the longer-run fed funds rate falls precipitously, this could be a more material form of forward guidance,” he said.

Ryan Sweet, an economist with Moody’s Analytics, believed that the central bank is leaning toward an outcome-based forward guidance, similar but not identical to that used in the last recession.

“This time around, we anticipate that the Fed will use forward guidance that commits to delay the liftoff from the effective lower bound until full employment and 2% (inflation target) have been achieved,” Sweet wrote Monday in a note.

If the Fed adopted this approach to forward guidance, it would be dovish, requiring meeting both an employment threshold and an inflation threshold, rather than just one or the other,” he said.

The Fed cut interest rates to near zero at two unscheduled meetings in March and began purchasing massive quantities of U.S. treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities to repair financial markets. It also unveiled new lending programs to provide up to 2.3 trillion U.S. dollars to support the economy in response to the pandemic.

The United States Commerce Department reported last week that economic activity in the first quarter contracted at an annual rate of 5 percent in a second estimate, 0.2 percentage point lower than the advance estimate.

That downwardly revised figure, however, still does not fully capture COVID-19‘s economic damage, and many analysts believe that the decline in the second quarter is expected to be much deeper.

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will shrink the size of the United States economy by 7.9 trillion dollars over the next decade, according to new projections released by the Congressional Budget Office on Monday.


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Turkey’s aquarium boosts hygiene measures against COVID-19




Turkey’s largest thematic aquarium in Istanbul has boosted its measures on hygiene and public safety after it was reopened on Monday.

“We strictly apply the rules, which were advised by the country’s Scientific Board, to offer our visitors a safe tour,” Dilek Capanoglu, director of the aquarium, told Xinhua on Wednesday.

“Visitors are first welcomed at the entrance of the venue by a couple of fully equipped security officials who take their temperatures,” she said, noting that wearing masks is also mandatory in the venue.

“Signs, which remind the social distancing rule, can be seen in every 1.5 meters,” Capanoglu added. “So, everyone knows where to stand safely.”

The Istanbul Aquarium, home to nearly 17,000 land and sea creatures, reopened its doors to visitors on Monday in line with the country’s relaxing of the pandemic restrictions after being closed for over two months.

“During the quarantine period, our personnel continued to work to feed and care the residents of our aquarium, including sharks and penguins,” Capanoglu also said.

The aquarium, one of the biggest ones in the world, lures millions of visitors each year, offering them a wide range of activities, including diving with sharks and fish feeding.


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COVID-19: Oyo activates 3 community testing sites



The Oyo State Task Force  on COVID-19 on Wednesday activated three sites for COVID-19 samples collection in different communities in Ibadan.

The News Agency of Nigera reports that the community testing initiative was intended to accommodate  about 10,000 samples.

The community testing drive which was supervised by Dr Wasiu Olatunbosun, the state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, began at the Alegongo Primary School, Lagelu West Local Council Development Area, Ibadan.

Olatubosun said that the community testing was free, and encouraged Oyo people to get tested when the team would reach their communities.

Gov. Seyi Makinde’s administration believes that the health of the citizenry is paramount and that government would pursue with vigour, its commitment to the sound health of the citizenry.

“We are treating this as an emergency; no amount spent by government on this is a waste.

”We believe the citizenry will contribute meaningfully to the productivity  of the state and, invariably, increase the gross domestic product of the state when they are healthy; by so doing, it will improve the economy of the state further.

“That is the reason we are doing everything possible to make sure that the people have access to medical care, most especially against anything that has to do with COVID-19,” he said.

He said that the task force started with selective testing and later engaged in Drive-Through/Walk-Through Testing at Adamasingba, where it advised the  people to drive in and  get tested.

“But we are reaching a stage where we have to go to the community, and that is why we are decentralising testing, which we call community testing.

“We are now moving to communities, local government areas. where we have encouraged people from all the communities to come out and get  tested.

“The essence of this is that we cannot sit down somewhere and be assessing people.

In figures, Oyo State is rated fourth  or fifth but we have tested far more than many states.

“We are doing this to have adequate and exact data to work with and arrest the spread of the virus from the community level,” the commissioner said.

The Incident Manager of the state’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), Dr Taiwo Ladipo, said that the community testing drive was the response of the State COVID-19 Task Force to the rising number of cases in the state.

We have 10 facilities across 10 local government areas and are targeting 10,000 people, but we are starting with three LGAs today.

These  are Ibadan South East, Ibadan Oluyole and Lagelu,” Ladipo said.

Edited By: Tayo Ikujuni (NAN)Ijeoma Popoola

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Tunisia’s COVID-19 cases rise to 1,087 with 49 deaths




Tunisian Ministry of Health on Wednesday announced one more COVID-19 death, bringing the total deaths in the country to 49.

A 70-year-old woman had passed away on Tuesday in Metlaoui in Gafsa governorate following her infection with COVID-19.

The country recorded one new case, bringing the number of the total COVID-19 cases to 1,087.

A total of 965 recoveries have been recorded.

The Tunisian government has imposed strict confinement measures shortly after the announcement of the first coronavirus case on March 2.

The North African country has received several batches of medical aid from the Chinese government, Chinese foundations and companies since late March to help its fight against the pandemic.


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Yemen’s government reports 20 new COVID-19 cases, 419 in total




The total number of COVID-19 cases in Yemen’s government-controlled provinces increased to 419 on Wednesday, as 20 new cases were confirmed.

The Yemeni Health Ministry said in a brief statement that during the past 24 hours, 20 cases of COVID-19 were detected in a number of provinces under the control of internationally-recognized government.

The ministry said that the number of recoveries in the government-controlled areas increased to 17 since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus on April 10.

Also, the government announced that the death toll from the deadly respiratory disease climbed to 95 in different areas under its control, including the southern port city of Aden.

The Yemeni government has taken several measures to contain the outbreak of COVID-19, including imposing a partial overnight curfew in Aden and other major cities under its control.

The government called on donors and relevant international humanitarian organizations to provide support to help contain the pandemic.

Yemen has been mired in a civil war since late 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi group seized control of much of the country’s north and forced the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of Sanaa.


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General news

Rivers may demolish markets for flouting COVID-19 directives, says Commissioner



The Rivers Government warned on Wednesday that some markets in the state might be demolished for flouting the order of the government that trading should stop at the markets because of COVID-19.

The state’s Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr Paulinus Nsirim, gave the warning in a statement issued in Port Harcourt.

He lamented that traders had continued to flout government’s directives that markets should be shut, due to rising cases of the coronavirus in the state.

Nsirim said that five markets in the state might be shut down permanently for flouting the directives. He did not elaborate.

The Rivers Government wishes to draw the attention of the general public that Mbiama Market has been closed down.

“Any attempt to continue trading activities at Mbiama Market will lead to complete demolition of the market.

The commissioner named Oginigba Market and two others as markets notorious for disobeying Gov. Nyesom Wike that the markets should be closed.

“The government warns that anybody who goes to Oginigba Market for any form of business will face the full wrath of the law.

Similarly, Oil Mill Market has been closed and as such all those using Igbo-Etche Road as an alternative market are warned to desist forthwith or risk destruction of their goods.

“Government has not approved any goat market at the Eleme/Ahoada stretch of the East-West road in the state.”

Nsirim directed authorities of Emohua and Ahoada-East Councils to shut down the goat market in the area immediately.

Edited By: Remi Koleoso/Silas Nwoha (NAN)

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Palestine records 6 new COVID-19 cases, extends state of emergency




A total of six new cases were registered in the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday, a senior Palestinian official said.

Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kaila said, “Five new cases were recorded in the Gaza Strip and one case was recorded in the West Bank today.”

She added that the number of Palestinians infected with the deadly virus has risen to 636.

Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in the besieged Gaza Strip recently eased most of the precautionary measures against coronavirus.

Mosques, churches, restaurants, hotels, cafes, wedding halls, and public parks and gardens were opened after a complete lockdown for around three months.

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued earlier on Wednesday a presidential decree that extends the status of emergency in the West Bank for another month. The state of emergency was declared on March 5.

According to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, the decree against the pandemic will be valid from June 4 to July 4.

So far, five patients have died and 531 recovered. Over 58,000 Palestinians are placed in quarantine.


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