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COVID-19: NACA tasks persons living with HIV/AIDS on healthy lifestyle

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People living with (PLWAs), have been advised to adhere to safety measures issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to fend off likely Corona virus (COVID-19) infection.

Dr Gambo Aliyu, Director-General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), gave the advice in a statement he signed on Saturday, in Abuja.

Aliyu stressed the need for PLWAs to maintain healthy lifestyle, which he said included reducing stress as much as possible.

“Wash hands regularly with soap and water for 20-40 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid crowds and large gathering of people.

“Cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after use.

“Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough and stay home when you are ill,” Aliyu advised.

The NACA boss who described COVID-19 as a serious global respiratory disease, said people with weak body defence systems like the PLWAs, were likely to suffer serious consequences.

He explained though that there was currently no conclusive evidence that people living with HIV were more likely to contract COVID-19, or that the effects of the virus would be worse if they did.

Aliyu, however, said the situation did not call for complacency, urging PLWAs to continue to take all necessary precautions outlined by the WHO and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), to protect themselves and others.

“If you are experiencing fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, please seek medical care immediately.”

Edited By: Gregg Mmaduakolam/Nyisom Fiyigon Dore
(NAN)

Ikenna Osuoha: is a graduate and a professionally trained journalist, with experience in national news reporting/editing and verification at the News Agency of Nigeria. NNN is a Nigerian online news portal that publishes breaking news in Nigeria, and across the world. Our journalists are honest, fair, accurate, thorough and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news in the best interest of the public, because truth is the cornerstone of journalism and they strive diligently to ascertain the truth in every news report. Contact: editor[at]nnn.com.ng

Foreign

S. Africa registers record-high daily toll from COVID-19

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South Africa on Monday recorded 52 more deaths from COVID-19, the highest daily increase since the outbreak in early March, raising the national death toll to 481.

The country also reported 1,032 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, brining the total cases to 23,615, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in his daily update.

The total number of recoveries nationwide stood at 11,917 as of Monday, Mkhize said, adding that a total of 596,777 tests have been conducted, with 12,992 tests done in the last past 24-hour testing cycle.

The Western Cape province remains the epicenter of the pandemic with 15,396 cases, followed by Gauteng with 2,993 cases, the Eastern Cape with 2,748 cases and KwaZulu-Natal with 1,882 cases.

Despite the rapid spread of the pandemic, the country is preparing to ease the lockdown from level four to level three, starting from June 1.

Level three will allow 8 million people to return to work with the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the decision to further ease the lockdown was based on wide consultations with various stakeholders across the country and guided by advice from the World Health Organization and the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

(XINHUA)

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Foreign

Chile confirms 73,997 COVID-19 cases in total

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A total of 73,997 COVID-19 cases has so far been reported in Chile with 761 deaths, the health ministry said on Monday.

In the past 24 hours, the country reported 4,895 cases, the biggest single-day jump in new infections with 43 deaths, the ministry said.

The vast majority of new infections, or 4,428 cases, presented symptoms, while 467 remained asymptomatic.

Since the outbreak began here in March, 29,302 people have recovered and 43,934 cases remain active or capable of transmitting the disease.

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera unveiled on Monday a so-called national agreement to strengthen five key factors identified as central to successfully emerging from the epidemic, such as health, welfare, household earnings, economic recovery and a fiscal framework.

“We are convinced that fighting to protect the health and lives of our compatriots, protect workers’ jobs, household incomes, the survival of companies, and to reactivate our economy and our capacity to get back on our feet … deserves a great national agreement,” Pinera told reporters.

The plan stresses economic recovery — with an emphasis on creating jobs, raising wages and increasing investment and productivity — within a fiscal framework to tackle “the urgent needs of the present and the demands of the future with social sensibility and fiscal responsibility,” according to the president’s office.

(XINHUA)

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Nepal plans to conduct COVID-19 test among 2 percent of population

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As the number of COVID-19 cases is rising in Nepal, the country plans to increase testing for the COVID-19 substantially to identify the cases early, Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli said on Monday.

In an televised address to the nation on Monday evening, Oli said that the Nepali government planned to conduct a test among 2 percent of the country’s total population.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, a central statistics body of the Nepali government, an estimated population of Nepal as of Monday stands at 29.96 million.

Based on this population figure, Nepal plans to conduct a test on nearly 600,000 people, which is equivalent to 2 percent of the population. As of Monday, Nepal has conducted tests on 51,642 people with Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology, while 95,192 people have been tested with rapid test kits, according to Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population.

The Nepali government confirmed on Monday that as many as 682 people had so far been tested positive for the COVID-19 while four persons died of the virus.

During the address to the nation, the Nepali prime minister said that the rising number of cases in Nepal is due to the failure to conduct required tests among the migrant Nepali workers who returned home particularly from India with which Nepal shares open border. “For the failure to conduct testing, the virus transmitted in communities rapidly.”

Prime Minister Oli, however, defended the Nepali government’s effort to control the COVID-19, saying that until April 11, Nepal had only less than 10 COVID-19 cases.

“The timely taken measures such as the lockdown, closure of international borders for human movement and flight suspensions have helped to keep the COVID-19 cases relatively low.”

Nepal has been under the lockdown since March 24 which will last till June 2.

(XINHUA)

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Foreign

Man heads towards mosque before offering Eid al-Fitr prayers during COVID-19 lockdown in Kathmandu, Nepal

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A man heads towards a mosque before offering Eid al-Fitr prayers during the lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak, in Kathmandu, Nepal, on May 25, 2020. (Photo by Sulav Shrestha/Xinhua)

(XINHUA)

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Chinese, BiH medical professionals share experiences on COVID-19

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Medical professionals and experts from China and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) have held a video conference, sharing their experiences in combating COVID-19, the Chinese Embassy in BiH said Monday in a statement.

The Chinese participants were medical staff from Qilu Hospital of Shandong University in east China, who had been to Hubei Province, once the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

During the conference, Chinese experts shared their experiences on diagnostic and treatment methods, plasma therapy for critically-ill patients, ECMO therapy, monitoring asymptomatic patients, protecting medical staff and preventing imported cases, according to the statement.

Experts from the two sides also interacted with the audience online, offering advice on protection, boosting immunity and maintaining physical and mental health.

“The COVID-19 has been well controlled in BiH, and social order is gradually restored. However, some severe patients are still hospitalized,” said Prof. Ranko Skrlbic, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Banja Luka, adding that China‘s achievements in the prevention and control of COVID-19 have also strengthened BiH’s confidence in overcoming the epidemic.

So far, BiH has reported 2,406 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 146 deaths.

(XINHUA)

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Entertainment

COVID-19 opens creative opportunities in entertainment industry – Don

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Entertainment

Ilorin, 25, 2020 Prof. AbdulRasheed Adeoye, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin, says the he COVID-19 pandemic had created “window for creativity” for entertainment industry workers.

Adeoye spoke on Monday while briefing newsmen on the fate of entertainment industry after COVID-19 in the university.

He urged humanity to prepare for new ways of doing things whenever the rampaging coronavirus crisis subsides.

The don said that the pandemic had affected everything without exception, adding that all the various sectors of the economy will witness new ways of operations to keep them going.

The professor of Performing Arts, however, noted that as perilous as the situation is, it also has its positive values on the arts and entertainment.

According to him, the lockdown must have given many artists and entertainers opportunity to explore their sense of imagination.

Adeoye said that many influential artistic producers across ages have their genesis in times like this.

He said that the period of confinement would always afford creative minds the opportunity to engage in intensive soul-searching, which often eventuated in fantastic productions with pervasive influence.

He noted that apart from agriculture, the entertainment industry was the highest employer of labour in the country with enormous revenue generation potentials.

Adeoye said that the nation was bound to reap a lot from the arts and culture sub-sector as time progresses.

He, however, debunked the notion that entertainment was one narrow industry that contributed little or nothing to the Nigerian economy.

”Apart from agriculture, the entertainment industry is the highest employer of labour where about 2.5 million people are annually employed. It is an industry we cannot joke with,” he said.

The don further said that the amount of money made out of the success of ”The Wedding Party”, a Nollywood movie, would take scientists years in the laboratory to actualise.

”When the society wants to deconstruct the artists, they look at them as unserious people who have nothing to offer the society.

“The Nollywood industry alone contributes 2.3 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria,” Adeoye said.

He added that if the industry contributed 2.3 per cent (about N239 billion), it was improper for any organisation to look at it as unserious people.

Edited By: Chinyere Bassey/Muhammad Suleiman Tola (NAN)

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Foreign

Romania to provide 1 bln euros to companies affected by COVID-19

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The Romanian government announced Monday its plan to grant funds to the tune of one billion euros (1.09 billion U.S. dollars) to companies affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Ministry of Economy, Energy and the Business Environment, the funds would enter its budget from the Ministry of European Funds and will be distributed among companies in the hardest-hit areas.

Some 350 million euros could go to HoReCa (hotels, restaurants and cafes) and transport companies, about 100 million euros could be given as an aid in the form of vouchers for companies without employees (where the employer is the only employee), while the remaining 550 million euros could go to companies that want to speed up production, the ministry announced on its Facebook page.

“We think that in this program we will offer up to 800,000 euros non-reimbursable per beneficiary, money that can go to medium and small companies in industry and trade,” Liviu Rogojinaru, state secretary of the ministry, was quoted as saying, referring to the remaining 550 million euros.

This is another measure taken by the authorities to support enterprises during the pandemic. Late March, the government announced to suspend the payment of rates as a first major measure to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic on households and companies. (1 euro = 1.09 U.S. dollars)

(XINHUA)

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Foreign

New York state to provide death benefits for fallen COVID-19 frontline workers

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New York state and local governments will provide death benefits for those frontline workers who died from COVID-19, said Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday, also the country’s annual Memorial Day.

He began with a moment of silence to honor the fallen veterans of the United States, including those who lost their lives to COVID-19.

“I personally feel a grave responsibility to our frontline and essential workers who understood the dangers of this virus, but went to work anyway because we needed them to,” said Cuomo.

He noted that those covered by the benefits include public health care workers, police workers, EMS workers, fire department workers, among other frontline workers who got infected with the virus while working during the pandemic and finally succumbed to it.

“And we’re going to make sure that every government in the State of New York provides death benefits to those public heroes who died from COVID-19 during this emergency,” he added.

Cuomo also called on the federal government to provide dedicated federal funding for hazard pay to frontline workers “as a way of saying ‘thank you.'”

The briefing was held at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, an aircraft carrier docking by the west side of Manhattan, to mark the special day.

Long Island and Mid-Hudson in New York state are ready to restart the economy later this week, and the governor has said he expects New York City to follow suit in early June.

The state now allows gatherings with up to 10 people following the governor’s order last Friday. On Monday, New Yorkers held small ceremonies and car convoys to honor Memorial Day instead of parades as they traditionally did.

The state lost 96 people to COVID-19 the previous day, and other major indicators such as total hospitalizations and net change in hospitalizations kept trending down.

Another 1,249 cases were confirmed, bringing the state’s total to 362,764 as of Monday afternoon, state data showed.

(XINHUA)

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General news

COVID-19: Anambra, Delta hold talks to check movement on Niger Bridge

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The Anambra and Delta Governments are currently holding talks to check the influx of people, seeking to cross the Niger Bridge in defiance of the presidential order restricting inter-state movements.

Mr C-Don Adinuba, Anambra Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, made the disclosure in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Onitsha on Monday.

Adinuba was commenting on the barricade built on the bridge on the orders of Gov. Willie Obiano at the Asaba-end of the bridge.

The iron barricade was reportedly pulled down at the weekend by youths in Delta.

NAN learnt that the development necessitated a meeting where the two governments resolved to jointly police the Niger Bridge to curtail movement of ‘strange persons.’

“Top officials of both Delta and Anambra State Governments have met thrice today and will meet again tomorrow or so.

“The meeting is to conclude arrangements on how to check the influx of people, who defy the presidential order restricting inter-state movements as part of the far-reaching measures to check the spread of COVID-19,” Adinuba said.

According to him, the meetings have been held in convivial and brotherly manner.

“Subsequent meetings will follow the same trajectory of peace and solidarity as each party is quite committed to the battle against the coronavirus pandemic,” Adinuba said.

Edited By: Edith Bolokor/Silas Nwoha (NAN)

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UK COVID-19 deaths rise to 36,914 as another 121 patients die

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Another 121 COVID-19 patients had died in Britain as of Sunday afternoon, bringing the total coronavirus-related death toll in the country to 36,914, the Department of Health and Social Care said Monday.

The figures included deaths in all settings, including hospitals, care homes and the wider community.

As of Monday morning, 261,184 people had tested positive in Britain, an daily increase of 1,625, according to the department.

At Monday’s press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government intends to allow outdoor markets as well as car showrooms to reopen from June 1, subject to all premises being made COVID-19 secure.

The government plans to allow all other non-essential retailers to reopen from June 15, according to Johnson. But he also said that this move will be “contingent upon” progress in the fight against COVID-19.

“The food retail sector has already responded fantastically well, enabling supermarkets to be kept open in a safe way — and we will learn lessons from that experience as we allow other retail to open,” said Johnson.

Also on Monday, Johnson’s most senior adviser Dominic Cummings defended his actions during his first public appearance since a major row erupted over reports that he “broke” Britain’s COVID-19 lockdown rules.

During an earlier press conference in the rose garden of Downing Street, Cummings told reporters that he had behaved “reasonably.”

The row has dominated newspaper headlines in Britain since it was revealed on Friday that Cummings, together with his wife and their four-year-old son, drove 260 miles (about 418 km) from London to his parents’ home in the northeastern city of Durham.

Cummings explained that he made the car journey when his wife developed COVID-19 symptoms. He was worried that if he also became ill, which he subsequently did, there would be problems looking after their young son, so he headed to Durham to isolate there for 14 days close to his family members.

The lockdown rules have always allowed exceptions in certain circumstances, said Cummings.

“It says that in some circumstances you won’t be able to follow the rules and it seems to me that I was in such an exceptional circumstance and I was trying to balance all these very complicated things,” he added.

(XINHUA)

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Politics

INEC to redesign polling units to comply with COVID-19 regulations 

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Amidst COVID-19, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said that Polling Units shall be redesigned by the Commission to ensure substantial compliance with the COVID-19 protocols established by health authorities.

INEC noted that, among other things, the redesign would emphasise social distancing, general hygienic conduct and enforcement of COVID-19 prevention protocols.

The commission disclosed this in a ‘Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic’ signed by INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, released on Monday.

The INEC chairman noted that on election day, the use of face masks shall be mandatory at Polling Units (PUs) and all election locations, stating that any voter without a face mask shall be turned away from the Polling Unit.

“However, the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) II in checking the Register of Voters may request removal of mask to prevent voter impersonation.

“There shall be a two-tier queuing system at the Polling Unit – one outside and the other in the voting area. Voters will be brought into the voting area periodically to prevent overcrowding.

“Tags and twines may be used to ensure crowd control and maintenance of

social distance.

“In order to accommodate additional activities in setting up the PU due to COVID-19, polls shall now commence

at 8.30 am and close at 2.30 pm.

“Anybody on the outer queue by 2.30 pm shall be allowed to vote, in line with

the Commission’s regulations.

“Prior to the commencement of polls, the Presiding Officer or Assistant Presiding Officer (VP) shall ensure that the contents of the Voter Code of Conduct (VCC) are read out loudly to voters and that the VCC Poster is pasted at the polling unit,” Yakubu said.

He stated that there should be periodic disinfection of chairs, tables and work areas, as well as adequate ventilation at the Polling Units.

“The Smart Card Readers (SCR) shall be cleaned with the prescribed disinfectant after each voter’s fingerprint is read.

“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other safety materials shall be provided for polling staff,” he said.

Yakubu added that at the close of polls, polling unit staff should ensure that materials were properly disinfected, carefully packaged and that used PPE were hygienically packaged or disposed of.

He explained that for purposes of collation of results after election the Commission would cluster Registration Area (RA) collation centres where feasible, in order to reduce exposure of people to the risk of COVID-19, speed up collation and reduce costs.

“In order to prevent overcrowding during collation, only one polling agent of a party on the ballot (or the candidate in person) for the election(s) shall be allowed into the collation hall,” he said.

On post-election activities, Yakubu stated that for reverse logistics, election staff must ensure that used, but reusable PPEs, were carefully packaged and sent to designated collection points.

“All post-election debriefings shall preferably be done electronically. Where face-to-face debriefings take place, the protocols for COVID-19 prevention shall be followed,” he said.

For pre-election activities, Yakubu stated that INEC should immediately embark on review of regulations, guidelines and manuals for elections in the light of changes to the electoral process that are imminent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Develop a Voter Code of Conduct (VCC) document detailing how voters are expected to act and conduct themselves at the polling units in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Review all Elections Information Kits to include COVID-19 information.

“Expand the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) at all levels to include NCDC (or other requisite health bodies) and National Orientation Agency (NOA) on a temporary basis,” he said.

The INEC chairman mandated INEC state offices to work with local health authorities to do a health assessment of upcoming elections immediately.

“Conduct immediate discussion with  state governments where elections are to hold concerning lockdowns, curfews, etc, and how they might affect elections.

“Ensure that Pre-Election Preparation (PEP) activities shall be conducted online preferably.

“Where face-to-face activities become necessary, the protocols for COVID-19 prevention should be followed.

“Pilot changes to the electoral process in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic in a by-election prior to the Edo and Ondo governorship elections in order to learn lessons where necessary,” he said.

Yakubu explained that INEC has also made provision for handling and delivery of election materials.

One of the provisions, according to him, was to reduce the number of contacts during distribution.

He said when Non-sensitive Materials were procured, they would be delivered directly by vendors to States or purchased by States requiring the materials and packaged according to the quantity required by Registration Area.

“This will reduce the level and number of contacts during distribution,” he said.

He said that production of Sensitive Materials shall commence early to give adequate time for proper packaging and delivery.

Yakubu added that to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, the commission should reduce to a minimum interstate movement of staff, including ad hoc staff, for off-season and by-elections.

“The rule shall be that only shortfalls requested by the states are filled from outside the state. As much as possible, all election staff will be sourced in-state,” the INEC chairman said.

He added that in the establishment of voting points, in order to reduce the number of points in a Polling Unit to be monitored and controlled for COVID-19 compliance, the threshold for Voting Points shall be increased from 500/750 to 1,000/1,250.

Edited By: Kamal Tayo Oropo/Wale Ojetimi (NAN)

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Zimbabwe embraces Chinese advice on fighting COVID-19 pandemic

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Zimbabwe is very grateful for the practical advice and suggestions it received from a visiting team of Chinese medical experts and will use such knowledge in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Monday.

Speaking at a farewell ceremony for the team, Mutsvangwa said the solidarity from China at a time when the country continues to suffer from Western sanctions was commendable.

“We want to thank you so much for what you have been doing to make sure that Zimbabwe feels that it is not alone. We are a small economy. With the impact of illegal sanctions on our country, it will not be possible for Zimbabwe to go through this alone,” Mutsvangwa said.

She said the country’s inter-ministerial taskforce on COVID-19, as well as local medical professionals, benefited immensely from the two-week exchange program.

The country looks forward to continuous engagement and knowledge sharing with China on how to fight the pandemic, she said.

“The visit is a pure demonstration of the deep relations between Zimbabwe and China. We were lucky as Zimbabwe to have had this opportunity to get this team of 12 Chinese specialists who were actually in the forefront in China dealing with COVID-19 being in our country. We will certainly make use of their advice and suggestions to make sure that we continuously take interventions which protect the lives of people in our country,” she said.

Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care John Mangwiro said the visit was an important milestone in the further strengthening of health cooperation between Zimbabwe and China.

Zimbabwean health professionals and government officials benefited from knowledge about the virus and how to contain it using meager resources, he said.

“We learnt a lot. They taught us the anatomy of the virus, the physiology, the treatment and the usage of Western and traditional Chinese medicine. All those were very relevant,” the deputy minister said.

He said Zimbabwe is keen to make sure the exchange program becomes a permanent arrangement in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Zimbabwe also sending its medical staff to learn from China‘s experiences.

“The exchange program must be on a continuous basis which should not end with the virus. It must continue forever because medicine is an exchange of knowledge and ideas,” he said.

Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun said the exchange program symbolized win-win health cooperation between the two countries.

He said China shall stand by Zimbabwe until the pandemic is over.

“When faced with the COVID-19 pandemic as a major global health challenge, I would like to say that Zimbabwe will never walk alone. The Chinese government and its people will always stand firmly with Zimbabwe,” he said.

“We would also like to keep up the momentum on trade and cooperation between China and Zimbabwe because we are fully aware that a functioning economy is vital to fighting against COVID-19,” he said.

During its two-week mission, the team visited four provinces in the country and toured hospitals and health facilities to share knowledge and experience in fighting the pandemic.

They also donated medical equipment and supplies to some of the hospitals that they visited.

Zhu Yimin, leader of the Chinese medical team, said their visit was a fruitful and memorable experience.

“During our two-week stay, we had a chance to exchange ideas and based on what we saw, what we learnt and combined with our experiences in COVID-19, we proposed recommendations for COVID-19 control and prevention. We really hope that the recommendations will be of help to Zimbabwe in dealing with COVID-19,” Zhu said.

He commended Zimbabwe’s efforts in dealing with the pandemic, noting that the achievements were being made with limited resources.

Zimbabwe has to date recorded 56 cases of COVID-19, including 23 recoveries and four deaths.

(XINHUA)

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Foreign

France sees COVID-19 patients in hospital down to 16,798

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As it entered its third week of de-confinement, France on Monday recorded fewer hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a further sign that a gradual and slow exit from the lockdown is bearing fruit.

In a statement, the country’s Health Ministry said 16,798 people infected with the novel coronavirus were receiving treatment in hospital, down from 17,185 on Sunday.

The number of patients in intensive care units dropped by 46 to 1,609, it added. The update of the epidemic’s death tally would be unveiled on Tuesday.

Since the start of the epidemic, 145,279 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in France, 65,199 people have recovered from the disease among hospitalized patients.

(XINHUA)

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Foreign

Spotlight: U.S. national parks reopening despite record COVID-19 cases

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As the fiery orange sun streaked Memorial Day’s first rays across the dry, desert landscape, cars were already lined up to get into remote Zion National Park, located in the western U.S. state of Utah.

Zion National Park’s Scenic Drive was so full Sunday that the park had to close its access by 6:30 a.m. and the whole park was full by 11 a.m., park officials said on Twitter, as visitors flocked to the popular park located 260 kilometers northeast of Las Vegas, where tumbleweed and tiny towns frequent the landscape.

It was the same scene at Zion on Monday – one of America’s biggest national holidays, held since 1971 to honor the country’s military dead – where citizens swarmed to stretch their limbs after weeks of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

With 4 million visitors a year, Zion and nearby Grand Canyon National Park, with 6.3 million guests, are two of the country’s four most popular parks, along with Colorado’s Rocky Mountain and Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, in the eastern United States, according to 2018 National Geographic statistics.

Both Grand Canyon and Zion opened this past week, despite reservations and opposition – both located in parsley-populated, high-elevation desert areas of southern Utah and northern Arizona in states run by Republican governors.

In neighboring Colorado, run by Democrat Jared Polis, citizens will wait until Wednesday, when a phased reopening of Rocky Mountain will begin.

Meanwhile, the number of infections and deaths continued to grow each week. The United States has so far had more than 1.6 million cases and more than 97,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

ALARMED

A USA Today article last week said COVID-19 cases are still peaking in more than a dozen American states, and noted that “several states that relaxed social distancing measures – or never implemented them at all – now have among the fastest growing rates of coronavirus cases per capita.”

U.S. deaths from the 90-day pandemic are projected to crest 100,000 in the next few days.

With America’s national parks hosting some 320 million visitors a year, and that traffic occurring in the summer months, health experts and politicians questioned the rush to reopen, and especially, the absence of direction or a cohesive plan from the federal government.

“Ensuring the safety of NPS (National Park Service) employees, visitors, and gateway communities is your responsibility, and human safety must take precedence over any politically motivated decisions to reopen national park sites,” House Natural Resources Chairman Raul M. Grijalva said in a statement last week.

Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, has been critical of Trump administration’s call for reopening parks, including Grand Canyon, that reopened for day traffic on Friday, where photographs on Twitter Sunday showed visitors observing social-distancing guidelines at the park’s scenic overlook sites.

“I recognize the benefits of reopening national parks and other public land sites when appropriate,” Grijalva wrote. “But rushing to reopen national parks prematurely and in the absence of stringent safeguards threatens public health and puts lives in jeopardy,” he added.

To access Grand Canyon, visitors from the populous nearby city of Phoenix must travel through the Native American Navajo reservation, where COVID-19 cases have spiked.

Alicyn Gitlin, Grand Canyon program manager for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, told Roll Call last week it was a “terrible time” to encourage wide scale travel through the Navajo Nation and northern Arizona, where cases have continued to rise in Coconino County.

“The large population that lives at Grand Canyon and all nearby communities are put at risk by this move,” Gitlin said in response to the partial reopening of the Grand Canyon.

Last week there had been 4,153 confirmed positive cases and 144 deaths in the Navajo Nation, according to the Navajo Department of Health.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told MSNBC on Friday “the tribe was forced to temporarily suspend tourism in order to protect tribal members,” and asked for funding to mount a formal “opposition to reopening of Grand Canyon.”

On the Navajo Nation’s Facebook page Friday, tribal leaders asked visitors to stay away from the Grand Canyon for the time being.

“Unconscionable,” said Sandy Bahr, director of Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter of the park’s reopening. “National Parks reopen without release of plan or infection data,” she posted on Twitter Friday.

CONSERVATIVE COLORADO

In neighboring Colorado, Rocky Mountain will reopen later than most parks in the west, except for those in the state of California. Memorial Day saw “Closed” signs at Colorado’s most visited park, and barred gates kept the park vacant, except for wild animals that park rangers say have proliferated in the absence of humans.

Rocky Mountain will begin a phased reopening on May 27, when the park will start issuing wilderness camping permits and the primary shuttle bus will start running again.

But restrictions on travel and permits inside the park will continue, officials said.

To the south in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park “will open campgrounds, picnic areas and hiking trails on June 3, although backcountry permits will not start until mid-June,” the park’s website said.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s fourth national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison opened limited access to trails and day hikes this past week.

Near the state’s “Four Corners,” Mesa Verde National Park began a phased re-opening Sunday, and reported a steady stream of visitors, who also enjoyed access to the park’s concession facilities.

In California, famous Yosemite National Park announced this week it will reopen “sometime in June.” The Golden State is home to 10 of the country’s 62 national parks, more than any other state.

(XINHUA)

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Foreign

Roundup: Iran reopens Muslim shrines on Eid al-Fitr after 2-month closure over COVID-19 pandemic

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The Iranian authorities on Monday allowed partial reopening of the Muslim Shiite shrines across the country after more than two months of closure over the coronavirus pandemic.

During the opening hours between an hour after dawn and an hour before dusk, the worshippers, however, were still not allowed to enter the interior covered spaces where the saints’ tombs lie, according to a statement by the health authorities.

Social distancing regulations must be obeyed, the statement noted.

In most of the shrines, the worshippers were checked for their body temperatures upon entrance and were asked to wear masks, the local media reported.

The reopening coincided with the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the Muslim festival of breaking the fast at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Along with other holy shrines across the country, Imamzadeh Saleh, an imamzadeh mosque located at Tajrish Square in Tehran’s northern Tajrish district, opened early morning on Monday.

The courtyard of the shrine had already been disinfected and incoming people were asked by the attendants to use their own prayer mats and books.

“Life without spirituality has no meaning. Worship is central to our life,” said a middle-aged attendant of the shrine, standing inside the courtyard and instructing the worshippers with health directives.

Iran’s health authorities announced the closure of all shrines across the country on March 17 as the country was struggling to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Sitting on a stretched prayer mat at a quiet corner of the yard of Imamzadeh Saleh, a young man facing toward the saint’s tomb was citing verses from the holy Quran.

“Praise God for this moment, on this happy Eid. People should appreciate the change of situation,” said the young man, who only identified himself as Matin, a Persian Literature student at Iran’s Islamic Azad University.

The Iranian health ministry on Monday confirmed a total of 137,724 cases of the COVID-19 in the Islamic republic, including 7,451 deaths.

(XINHUA)

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COVID-19: Gov. Obiano’s aide commends monarch for distributing palliatives to PWDs

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Mr Chuks Ezewuzie, Special Adviser (Disability Matters) to Anambra Governor, Chief  Willie Obiano, has commended the Traditional Ruler of Ifitedunu, Igwe Emeka Ilouno, for gifts given to Persons With Disabilities (PWDs).

Ezewuzie gave the commendation during the presentation of COVID-19 palliatives by Ilouno in Ifitedunu, Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra on Monday.

The governor’s aide recalled that the governor recently constituted Disability Community COVID-19 Response Team to ensure that every class of persons in the state was not left out in the COVID-19 palliatives.

He said the gesture shown by the monarch would go a long way to reduce hardship associated with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the lives of persons resident in Ifitedunu.

“These food items, bags of rice and tubers of yam from Ilouno would sustain the special persons well enough to be thankful to God. It is well appreciated,” he said.

The News Agency of Nigeria reports that other items distributed at the event, courtesy of World Ebony Network,  were face masks, farm inputs,  fertiliser, lime, maize, cucumber, watermelon seeds.

Ezewuzie appealed to other traditional rulers in the state to seek People Living With Disabilities in their communities and support them in order to give a meaning to their lives at this bad times.

He said that the monarch had remained in the forefront to support policies and programmes of the government, especially as it affected disabled persons.

Earlier, Ilouno said the step was taken in response to the need to help the disabled persons in the community to cushion the effect of coronavirus challenges.

He said that some individuals, as well as community efforts, helped to make the event a success.

The monarch reassured the group that his community would not relent in showing kindness to them at all times.

He encouraged the people to religiously observe preventive measures issued against the virus and advised the group to embark on subsistence farming to enable them equally cushion postCOVID-19 effects.

Ilouno said that he was confident that the Anambra government would successfully manage all COVID-19 cases in the state.

Some of the beneficiaries, Stanley Obi, Arinze Nwafor and Innocent Okafor, commended the traditional ruler for his kind gesture toward the group and assured him that they would observe the preventive measures.

Obi, who is the Co-ordinator of Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities in the state, said that life had never been easy for people living with disabilities.

He said that they would ever remain grateful to the monarch for his kind gesture to their members.

Edited By: Kamal Tayo Oropo/Adeleye Ajayi (NAN)

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WHO says it suspends clinical trial with hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients

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The World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that a clinical trial of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients came to “a temporary pause” while the safety data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board.

According to the WHO chief, the medical journal The Lancet has on Friday published an observational study on hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and its effects on COVID-19 patients that have been hospitalized.

The authors of the study reported that among patients receiving the drug, when used alone or with a macrolide, they estimated a higher mortality rate.

“The Executive Group of the Solidarity Trial, representing 10 of the participating countries, met on Saturday and has agreed to review a comprehensive analysis and critical appraisal of all evidence available globally,” Tedros told a virtual press conference.

The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial and in particular robust randomized available data, to adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug, he said.

“The Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the safety data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board. The other arms of the trial are continuing,” Tedros added.

WHO initiated the Solidarity Trial, a plan to evaluate the safety and efficacy of four drugs and drug combinations against COVID-19 more than two months ago, which include hydroxychloroquine.

According to the WHO, over 400 hospitals in 35 countries are actively recruiting patients and nearly 3,500 patients have been enrolled from 17 countries under the Solidarity Trial.

Tedros added that the safety concern over the drug related only to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19, and “these drugs are accepted as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria.”

“WHO will provide further updates as we know more,” he said.

(XINHUA)

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Kenya’s COVID-19 tally rises to 1,286

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Kenya’s Ministry of Health on Monday confirmed 72 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections to 1,286.

Mercy Mwangangi, Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Health, said that the latest cases were detected from 2,711 samples, which were tested in the last 24 hours.

Mwangangi said that 70 of the latest patients are Kenyans, while the other two are foreigners from Uganda and Somalia respectively.

She said nine patients were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries to 392.

Mwangangi said one person died from the deadly respiratory disease, bringing the total number of fatalities to 52.

The East African nation has so far tested 61,971 from 20 national laboratories that are strategically located in critical areas across the country.

The Kenyan Government has developed several nutrition guidelines to keep populations healthy, banned movements in and out of the disease hotspots, suspended learning and banned international as well as domestic flights to help curtail the spread of the virus.

The government has also trained 11,000 health care workers and 60,000 community health workers across the country.

AIB

Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)

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Sweden’s COVID-19 deaths exceed 4,000

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Sweden has seen its COVID-19 death toll rise to 4,029 as of Monday as a total of 33,843 cases have been reported, while 1,957 patients have been treated in intensive care.

Over the past few days, there has been a decline in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, with 31 new cases registered between Sunday and Monday. However, Monday also marked the end of a long weekend, which means there is a lag in reporting, Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell noted at a Monday press conference.

“It is very hard to judge where (we) are actually heading right now. There have been very few cases over the past few days but we will likely see an accumulation of cases this coming week… We have unfortunately exceeded 4,000 deaths during this period,” Tegnell told the press.

Tegnell added that when the epidemic was at its peak there were 400 COVID-19 infections recorded per week in Sweden. Now there are between 60 and 70 new cases per week. In addition, the number of fatalities at nursing homes has decreased. At one point there were well over 100 deaths reported per week and now the figure is down to 30, Tegnell said at the briefing.

The government introduced a national ban on visits to elderly homes in late March. While Tegnell did not believe visiting restrictions should be completely lifted, he said they can be gradually eased if done “under controlled forms.”

“It is very important for the elderly and for their relatives to be in contact with one another,” Tegnell said.

After the long weekend, data from Swedish telecoms company Telia showed that long-distance journeys from Stockholm to the southern region of Skane and to the Baltic island of Gotland increased by 156 percent and 122 percent respectively compared to the previous week, Swedish Radio reported. But compared to the same weekend last year, visits to Gotland were down by up to 60 percent.

(XINHUA)

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Egypt registers 702 new COVID-19 cases, tally close to 18,000

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The Egyptian government on Monday announced 702 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections in the North African country to 17,967.

Meanwhile, 19 new deaths were recorded, taking the total number of fatalities to 783, while 93 more fully recovered and were discharged from hospitals in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 4,900, Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed said in a statement.

Egypt announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Feb. 14 and the first death on March 8, both foreigners.

During the six-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, which started on Sunday, the evening curfew in Egypt lasts 13 hours instead of nine to maintain social distancing and avoid gatherings amid the increasing COVID-19 infections.

After the Islamic holiday, the curfew will be reduced to 10 hours for two weeks, before the government will consider from mid-June easing restrictions and gradually resuming suspended activities.

Egypt has already started easing restrictions and gradually reopening services and offices that have been halted since mid-March amid the government’s coexistence plan to maintain anti-coronavirus precautionary measures while resuming services, businesses and economic activities.

Egypt has received three batches of medical aid from the Chinese government to help its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

(XINHUA)

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