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Feature: Rome exhibition marking 500 years since Raphael’s death to reopen in June



Italy’s blockbuster exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance icon Raphael — shuttered only days after opening due to the national coronavirus lockdown — is now set to reopen on the date when it was originally scheduled to close.

Planned for years, Rome’s celebration of the short, brilliant career of Raphael had originally been scheduled to run from March 5 to June 2. Instead, it closed as part of Italy’s national lockdown, which entered into force on March 10.

The fate of the exhibition had been cast in doubt ever since. By far the largest and most comprehensive collection of Raphael’s work ever gathered, the exhibition featured works on loan from 55 different institutions around the world, according to Matteo Lafranconi, co-curator of the event. Having the loans extended at first seemed impossible.

“In the end, it was a great show of solidarity,” Lafranconi told Xinhua. “Many of the museums that loaned pieces were in other countries hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, including France, Spain, the United States, and Britain. There was a great deal of empathy for what we have been going through and in the end, all the loans were extended.”

Now the exhibition — which will examine the artist’s life in reverse, from his death in 1520 to his birth in 1483 — will reopen on June 2 and run through Aug. 30.

“We have a second chance to conduct this important exhibition,” Lafranconi said.

Still, the new exhibition won’t exactly reproduce the original plan. Continued precautions related to the coronavirus outbreak mean visitors will have to use social distancing precautions. That means six people will be let in every five minutes, and visitors will be limited to the amount of time they will be able to gaze upon Raphael’s masterpieces.

Even though he died at age 37, Raphael is considered one of the top three artists from the Italian Renaissance, along with Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Organizers said they would extend the hours of the exhibition to allow more people to enter, but there is no doubt that fewer people will see the exhibition under the new rules.

Lafranconi said the second run for the exhibition represents “a great victory” that will be appreciated by those who attend.

“In addition to its cultural value, there’s a new symbolic value to this exhibition,” Lafranconi said. “It shows that even amid a tragedy like this pandemic, we can be resilient.”


Olawale Olukoga: 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]


Feature: Photo of child swapping face masks for food moves Brazilians to solidarity



The photo of a little Brazilian girl holding face masks and a cardboard sign that says “I will exchange a face mask for food,” moved Brazilians to show their solidarity for the family of the young child.

The photo of nine-year-old Ana Julia Costa Sabino went viral after it was taken and posted online by a man driving through the Recreio dos Bandeirantes district in west Rio de Janeiro, where she was standing on a corner amid dozens of street vendors.

Amid Brazil’s raging outbreak of COVID-19, which has kept people apart in a bid to lower transmission rates, Ana Julia gave Brazilians something to rally around.

Famed personalities, such as actors and singers, championed her cause, including TV host Luciano Huck, who requested aid for the family on air.

Hundreds of people have been showing up at that corner to bring food or buy some of the knickknacks the little girl and her mother Silvana Cristina Costa sell to eke out a living.

Costa told Brazil’s GloboNews network that she was a domestic worker, but the mother of four lost her job when lockdown measures were put in place due to the pandemic.

“I sold candy at the beach and then I decided to try my luck on the street. I asked a neighbor to make some face masks for us, and those are the ones Ana Julia is holding in the photo,” said Costa.

“It was my only option to keep going. I received the government aid of 600 reais (110 U.S. dollars), but it isn’t enough for all of us,” Costa said.

“I always worked to put food on the table and never took them (the children) to work, but they’re small and I don’t have anyone to leave them with,” she said.

Ana Julia chimed in to say, “My mother is very hard working. She cleans homes, works at the beach, and seeing the situation, I asked if I could accompany her.”

Ana Julia goes to a public school in the Santa Cruz district of west Rio de Janeiro, but classes have been suspended as part of the lockdown.

Since her plight went public, one of the high points was a call from Huck to her mother, in which he pledged to help the family if they give up vending on the streets and stay home.

According to Costa, Huck, said to her: “I imagined my children, who are the same age as Ana Julia, in that situation. As I always say, solidarity has to be more contagious than the virus.”

Costa added, “It was an angel that passed and took the photo. I can only thank him.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

“People keep calling to say they want to help me, and I tell them I don’t want to take advantage of their goodwill. I just need food for my children … I want to work with dignity,” said Costa.

Politicians have also taken notice. A local lawmaker from the Socialism and Liberty Party saw the photo and put the family in contact with the human rights commission of Rio’s legislative assembly to follow up with additional support.


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Feature: Egypt cautiously reopens hotels for local citizens to save tourism



Egypt’s hotel industry is trying a new beginning as the government eases the anti-coronavirus restriction measures gradually.

So far more than 70 hotels have received the health safety certificate required for reoperation after they have followed the health guidelines laid out by the Egyptian government and the World Health Organisation (WHO), Egypt’s tourism and antiquities ministry said.

The hotels that received the permission are located in five provinces: the Red Sea, South Sinai, Alexandria, Suez and Cairo, the ministry said in a statement.

“The hotels are working with a maximum capacity of 25 percent as an experimental opening until the end of May, then they are allowed to accommodate guests at a 50-percent capacity starting early June,” Alla Aaqel, chairman of the Red Sea Hotels Chamber, told Xinhua.

He added 83 out of 252 hotels in the Red Sea province have applied to get the health certificate, but only 41 hotels have met the required conditions.

Noting that privately-owned boats and yachts are allowed for operation, Aaqel said that public beaches will be completely closed, but the hotels will operate their shores amid strict precautionary measures.

However, boat owners will be subject to stripping their license for several months and fined in case of violating the precautionary measures.

He reiterated that Safari trips and diving will be suspended during the Eid al-Fitr holiday that will end on May 29.

“The move won’t compensate the losses caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 for the tourism sector that has generated record-high revenues of 13 billion U.S. dollars in 2019,” said Aaqel.

Reopening hotels will test the preparedness of the tourism industry for operating normally, he explained, adding that the domestic tourism is the “life jacket” for the hotel industry that employs a large number of workers.

By the end of April, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, in cooperation with the Chamber of Hotel, announced measures needed for safe operation, including preventive measures in hotels upon receiving guests, internal supervision on laundry, food, and beverages, swimming pools, beaches, and gyms.

The measures also include housing, occupancy rate, providing awareness signs, and services to ensure a safe working environment to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Qena province, south of the capital, Basma, a four-star hotel restarted operation on May 20.

“The hotel has installed sterilization gates, and designated a complete floor for quarantine with residential doctors,” said Mokhlis Malak, owner of the hotel.

He added the hotel’s restaurant has abided by the social distance measures and put only two persons on a table, with two meters between every two tables.

Meanwhile, Wael Talaat, a 49-year-old engineer, who is accommodated with his family in Hilton Hurghada Plaza Hotel, hailed the reopening of hotels as a kind of relief for the people kept at home for nearly two months.

“I enjoy the beach activities with my family during the feast holiday,” said Talaat, adding that the hotel has continuously sterilized the personal tools of everyone.

Egypt has decided to impose stricter measures during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, including extending its curfew hours and suspending public transportation to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

According to Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, as of mid-June the state will announce a gradual resumption of several activities, including sporting clubs and youth centers, and gradual reopening of places of worship.

The government will also consider the possibility of a gradual return of in-house dining at restaurants with strict measures later in June, Madbouly said.

COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 764 in Egypt based on the health ministry’s last update on Sunday.


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Feature: Radio provides learning access to millions of students amid COVID-19 crisis in Malawi



As Malawi continues to register more COVID-19 cases, the government through the Ministry of Education in conjunction with UNICEF has introduced an initiative that will see primary school students getting access to their daily education through the radio.

In the latest development, the Malawi government has initiated a programme to reach millions of primary school children in the country. In this programme, learners will continue to proceed following their recommended lessons through the radio.

According to the Minister of Education, William Susuwele Banda, the radio programmes have been introduced to encourage learners to keep up on their studies while they are home.

“We have looked at the possibility of online learning, however, this seems to be difficult because not every student can access the internet here in Malawi. The ministry of education also plans to distribute print materials to the students whilst considering plans to extend the program to a televised learning programme,” he said.

Rudolf Schwenk, representative of UNICEF in Malawi told local media that by working together, Malawians can ensure that the pandemic does not threaten the gains that have been made in the education sector and also not threaten the dreams and hopes of millions of children and young people in the country.

Schwenk has therefore commended the government of Malawi for prioritizing the urgent need to ensure school-age children continue to learn despite the closure of schools.

This development has been welcomed by a number of students in Malawi. Many are saying that this will revive their performances since they have been at home for a long time and many could not access the ongoing online learning.

Tasha Kuchala, aged 14, said she is overwhelmed with the idea. For the past six months, she has been preparing for her final national exams but the closure of her school has let her down.

According to the ministry of education, the lessons will be aired through two state-owned radio stations and it is expected that the lessons are going to reach over six million students across the country.


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Feature: Kenya’s home delivery services boom amid COVID-19 pandemic



James Kamotho nestles a phone between his ear and his shoulder while on his bicycle, he is on a call confirming a list of items sent to him by his customer before making a delivery.

Kamotho’s vegetable stall located in Nairobi’s Buruburu suburb has been delivering freshly chopped sukuma wiki (kale) among other fresh produce to customers as it strives to stay afloat amid disruptions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I started making deliveries after I observed a drop in the number of customers coming to the stall. The reception has been overwhelming as I have begun to receive orders from outside Buruburu,” Kamotho told Xinhua during an interview on Saturday.

The middle-aged vegetable vendor has been pushed to review his business approach to survive in the wake of the global pandemic.

Home delivery services have seen a rising trajectory in the country as the effects of the pandemic continue to bite. Small businesses have adopted this model which was initially a preserve of well-established enterprises.

On average, Kamotho makes slightly above a dozen deliveries to his customers in a single day.

His customers are able to reach him either through a phone call or by sending him a short message.

“I do not charge for deliveries within the neighborhood. However, it costs about 50 shillings (about 0.47 U.S. dollars) for deliveries outside. I have seen a great improvement in my business consequently my four employees continue to receive their full salary,” said Kamotho.

“We have been experiencing brisk activities since we started making deliveries and we are happy we still have our jobs at a time when people are being laid off, ” said Elizabeth Shiro, Kamotho’s female employee.

Just like Kamotho’s vegetable stall, a wines and spirits shop located a few meters from his stall is using a motorbike to deliver alcoholic drinks conveniently to its customers.

“I am mulling over the idea of partnering with a leading delivery service company to reach as many customers as possible because orders have gone up since bars and clubs were closed,” said Kariuki Gatimu, the proprietor of the wines and spirits outlet.

He said the service has been received with excitement among alcohol consumers.

“We have allowed our well-established customers to order for their drinks on credit with the promise to pay at a later date. I attribute our revenue increase to this scenario,” said Gatimu.

In Nairobi’s central business district, Anastasia Wambui gives instructions to his biker before sending him off with skin products.

The 35-year-old female entrepreneur has taken to transporting items to his clients while leveraging on social media.

“I began delivering when I witnessed a significant drop in the number of customers coming to my shop. I imagined delivery would see me incur losses but after doing it for close to two months, I am convinced I made a good decision,” said Wambui.

She said her stall is now merely a storage store as walk-ins have dipped.

Business owners have continued to reap dividends from home deliveries in these unusual times as people opt to stay at home and observe the social distancing.

Many enterprises have foregone their traditional way of operating and changed for the better.

A leading retail supermarket in Kenya in March launched a pilot phase solution of delivering local dishes to clients.

The food will cater to the low and middle-income earners and the price range is between 0.84 and 1.68 dollars with zero cost for delivery.

“Our customers have been providing great insight on touchpoints we can use to ease the existing COVID-19 challenges concerning retail services, and we are actively responding,” said Dan Githua, CEO of Tuskys Supermarket.


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Feature: Malaysians mark a different Eid al-Fitr as COVID-19 changes routines



Malaysian Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr holiday in a very different way this year, dispensing with large scale gatherings and the customary Open House for smaller celebrations with immediate family members.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak and movement restrictions imposed by the government covering businesses and interstate travel, the typical routine of “balik kampung” or returning to hometowns is not allowed this year.

This year’s Eid al-Fitr comes with a three-day official holiday started on Sunday. But Families must confine their guests to no more than 20 people per day for only one day rather than the typical week of celebrations and are encouraged to keep those present to only family members.

Social distancing measures make it necessary to avoid shaking hands, kissing and hugging family members, especially the elderly to prevent them from becoming infected.

Many have embraced the “new normal”, using video conference instead of celebrating with their families.

Kamarudin Ismail, a businessman based in the capital city Kuala Lumpur, said he would miss the large family gathering at his hometown in the northern Kedah state, which has been called off.

“It is similar to the Chinese Lunar new year. It is a time to get together with family and friends but we are facing this disease and some changes have to be made. I understand many are unhappy but this is a matter of health and safety,” he said.

“At least I have my immediate family with me and I have invited some friends. It is not so bad really. Of course we are going to be busy with video calls all day,” he told Xinhua.

Civil servant Azaidah Ibrahim from Negeri Sembilan state said she was lucky for living with her parents but would miss the company of her siblings, who were working outside the state.

“We will celebrate with some friends and relatives but my brothers and one sister will not be able to join us. Our parents are both in their late 60s and it will not be safe for them. But we will make do with what we can. I hope things will be better by next year,” she said.

Malaysia reported 60 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, pushing the total confirmed cases in the country to 7,245. Another 33 were discharged, bringing the total cured cases to 5,945. The death toll stood at 115.

In an evening televised address on Saturday, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reminded Malaysians to observe standard operating procedures (SOP) of the movement control order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As I have mentioned before, in some countries COVID-19 cases escalated after festive celebrations. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen here. As such, we must exercise caution as prevention is better than cure,” he said.

Muhyiddin himself is observing a 14-day home quarantine after one of the participants in a recent meeting he chaired was tested positive for COVID-19.

Malaysian government imposed a movement control order from March 18 to curb the spread of the outbreak. Some restrictions were relaxed from May 4, with interstate travel still being restricted as well as certain businesses not being allowed to operate. The measures are scheduled to last till June 9.

In his speech, Muhyiddin urged Malaysians to keep up their cheer in the face of the outbreak and adapt to the new normal.

“This year’s festivities will definitely be different. Opportunities to visit family members and loved ones will be limited. There will be no open houses to attend and mingle with relatives.”

“However, it does not mean it is any less festive. Create that atmosphere of festivity and joy with our own family members,” he said.


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Interview: Expert says equality key feature of Chinese diplomacy



China believes in equality among countries and strives to pursue equality in international relations, a Kazakh expert has said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

Anton Bugayenko, chief expert of the Chinese and Asian studies program at Kazakhstan’s Institute of World Economics and Politics, said that by adhering to the principle of equality, China has been able to win more support from the international arena.

Over the past years, China has been engaged closely in global issues, increasing its gravity in international relations, he added.

The expert noted that under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, China has traveled a journey of tests and global challenges and walked on its path towards national rejuvenation. The COVID-19 epidemic would not waver the country’s determination to achieve the goal, he said.

Bugayenko said China has not only tamed the virus, but actively promoted global cooperation. “China has become a key player in promoting coordination in the anti-virus efforts at the international level,” said the expert.

As COVID-19 rocks the world, China‘s pursuit of cooperation is in stark contrast to the U.S. approach which has defected to isolationism and tried to shrug off its international obligations, said Bugayenko, adding that China‘s call for global cooperation has won more and more recognition internationally.


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Feature: Turkey’s dairy exports to China boon for producers, economy



Turkish producers hail China‘s decision to give the green-light for imports of Turkey’s milk and dairy products as it will be a vital income for producers who have seriously felt the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was announced on Thursday by Turkish Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan.

“The obstacles in exports of milk and dairy products have been lifted,” she said in a series of tweets.

The minister said that 54 Turkish companies have been cleared to start exports to China, which is one of the world‘s largest dairy importers.

According to a separate statement by the trade ministry, Turkish dairy companies exported products worth of 364 million U.S. dollars around the world in 2019.

The ministry said that Turkey will continue its efforts to ensure market diversity and increase the market share of its agricultural products, especially dairy products, such as butter, milk and milk powder, in China.

Setbir, Turkey’s milk, meat and food industrialists and manufacturers association, welcomed the start of exports to China as “very important for our producers who are suffering from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“This is a very important development for our industry and we have to make the most of it by exporting quality products to China which is a major market,” Setbir president Tarik Tezel said in an interview to A Para broadcaster.

Tezel indicated that the Turkish dairy sector had been impacted by the plummeting exports over the coronavirus pandemic.

“Exports of milk and dairy products dropped considerably during the last months, putting pressure on producers,” he remarked.

“Our target should be to remain a sustainable supplier of the Chinese market so that our industry would benefit as a whole,” the industrialist said.

Tezel added that exports would begin in late June.

“This is a great opportunity as there’s a big potential in China which is the main player of the world‘s milk market,” said Muhittin Ozder, president of the Turkish Milk Council (USK), an organization established to promote Turkish dairy products.

Chinese embassy in Ankara also praised the decision in a statement, noting that it would “open a new page in bilateral agricultural products’ cooperation.”

With the daily confirmed cases and death toll now falling, Turkey is easing lockdown restrictions in order to kickstart the vulnerable economy. In these volatile times, the news of the start of exporting milk and dairy products to a huge market such as China comes as a lifeline for producers.

“I am happy and we were depressed because of the current (virus) situation … but now, we have something to be hopeful about although things will not be fully normal for a time,” Suleyman Kocak, milk producer from capital Ankara’s Kazan suburb told Xinhua by phone.

Kocak, head of a family firm, is one of the 54 dairy suppliers to China.

“This decision will have a favorable effect on our region’s farming and livestock industry which is undergoing difficulties for some time. We are thankful to the authorities of both countries for this move,” he said.


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Feature: Kenyans come up with digital innovation to streamline food aid delivery



The much-publicized scramble for relief food by residents of Nairobi’s Kibera slums in April shed light on the magnitude of hunger facing the low-income populations due to COVID-19 disruptions.

But for Lorna Sempele, a Kenyan communication specialist, it was a call to find a solution to streamline the distribution of food aid.

She has found the solution in a digital innovation, M-Riziki, a mobile and web-enabled system that brings together shopkeepers, beneficiaries, and financiers.

The system, already adopted by the county government of Kajiado to distribute relief food to more than 30,000 people, was developed in less than two months.

A few days after the Kibera slums incident, Sempele who runs a communication consultancy agency, Empiris Creative, partnered with a software developer Joshua Nderi from Fashionnaire Corporation, to come up with the innovation.

The digital innovation which the duo have already patented facilitates beneficiaries’ access to relief food. They collect the package at their own convenience and from the nearest pre-selected shop.

The duo enters into the system data on beneficiaries identified by the financier. It is the information they use to prompt the beneficiary through a short message sent to their mobile phones, on where to collect the food and its cost.

Sempele says the dignity of the beneficiaries is safeguarded since the system excludes gathering or queuing for the commodity.

“Nobody can notice that they are beneficiaries as there is nothing like crowding. They just walk to a pre-selected shop in private and collect their food,” Sempele told Xinhua during an interview on Saturday.

Nderi, the system’s developer assured of the security of the system, stating that its features are tamper-proof.

With the system, financiers deposit the money to buy the food to a bank account linked with the mobile money transfer platform, M-Pesa.

The shopkeepers are later paid through the M-PESA upon proofing the dispatch with receipts. Nderi said this is to ensure transparency and accountability of the entire process.

“We collect receipts to prove that the beneficiaries did indeed collect the food because every beneficiary gets a unique number through an SMS (short message),” said Nderi.

“Once that number expires, the system automatically bills us on behalf of the shopkeeper. So, we have to get the receipts as evidence and that is what we will present to the financier,” he added.

Nderi is optimistic that digital innovation would be adopted by humanitarian agencies that provide food aid to communities affected by climatic shocks like droughts.


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Feature: Zimbabwe’s informal transport operators feel COVID-19 pinch



Trapped inside his house, Whatmore Pasi said hunger will soon knock at his doors without government intervention, as his only means of money-making curtailed and his savings depleted.

“When hunger knocks at your door you have to answer. If you try to ignore the knock, hunger will just knock louder until you give in. You don’t want a situation in which hunger has to break the door for you to address it,” he said.

Pasi used to work as a commuter omnibus, or “kombi”, driver in Harare before informal transport was outlawed in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

The father of two, from Epworth, a high density dormitory town south-east of the capital Harare, said the indefinite extension of a lockdown announced by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week has proved to be a final nail in the coffin.

“Most of us here are living hand to mouth,” he said through text message. “In this economy you don’t eat if you don’t kill, and we haven’t been in the wilderness since lockdown started almost two months ago.”

Pasi said the situation has become dire and in the minds of many locals, hunger is a more lethal threat than the coronavirus.

Pasi is not alone.

With no other means of supporting their livelihoods, some commuter omnibus owners are now using their vehicles as mobile shops.

A former commuter omnibus conductor, Amos Meda recently told the H-Metro newspaper that he is now selling groceries in one of the vehicles he used to operate in.

“This is what has become of us after the ban and we are doing anything to make some money. We have to make use of the kombis because they cannot be idle until they lose value,” he said.

Zimbabwe imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 30, and is currently on level 2 of the lockdown which permits some formal businesses to resume operations under strict supervision.

The Southern African country had 56 coronavirus cases including four deaths and 23 recoveries as of Saturday, according to the Ministry of Health and Childcare.

Despite some relaxations of the lockdown, private taxis and commuter omnibuses locally known as kombis remain banned from operating.

State-owned Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) and operators franchised by ZUPCO are the only ones allowed to provide public transport, although private transport operators who meet ZUPCO prerequisites can register to offer franchised services.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing July Moyo recently said the ban on privately-owned commuter omnibuses might extend beyond the COVID-19 lockdown.

Moyo said the move is part of government’s elaborate plans to de-congest urban centers and modernize Zimbabwe’s public transport system.

The development also comes at a time when the government is intensifying efforts to import high volume buses for inner and inter-city travel.

Over the past decade, many Zimbabweans had ventured into the taxi and commuter omnibus business following the collapse of ZUPCO which the government is now trying to revive.

The informal transport sector has also become a lifeline for many young men like Pasi who cannot secure formal jobs given the economic situation in the country.

Roy Bakasa, a commuter who uses public transport almost daily said although he believes that adopting a centrally managed urban transport system is the way to go, kombis should not be banned, but their operations should be regulated to ensure the safety of commuters.

“Banning kombis is not the solution, and that decision will have far reaching consequences.

“By removing kombis on the streets a whole ecosystem will be disturbed — from kombi owners, drivers, conductors, touts — all these people will lose their jobs, and at this moment the last thing the government wants is a situation in which destitute testosterone-filled youths will have no option but to join the ranks of the unemployed forces,” he said.

Bakasa said while banning kombis might bring sanity in urban centers, ZUPCO can’t meet the number of commuters.

Government recently made calls to private operators to join ZUPCO for them to resume work during the lockdown.

However, not all private transporters will join ZUPCO since their vehicles have to meet certain standards for them to be accepted.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum recently said in a statement that forcing private transport operators to register under ZUPCO was an unfair practice and would greatly inconvenience both employers and their commuting employees.

“This has resulted in a critical shortage of transport for workers commuting to and from their respective places of employment. As a result, most employers have enlisted transport companies to ferry their employees to work and back, which is an additional cost on companies that are trying to resume operations,” read the statement.


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Feature: Lawmakers at China’s annual legislative session



Before sharing his stories in a live broadcast interview at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Luo Jie had been fighting COVID-19 on the front line for months in one of the hardest-hit areas in China.

The 53-year-old president of the Taihe Hospital in Shiyan, central China‘s Hubei Province, is in Beijing attending the annual session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), China‘s national legislature, which opened on Friday.

Luo, an NPC deputy, is among about 3,000 national lawmakers and 2,000 political advisors gathering in the capital for the “two sessions,” a major political event that also includes the annual session of the country’s top political advisory body.

Though this year’s two sessions are shortened, lawmakers and political advisors still take questions from reporters on the sideline of the meetings, mostly via video links in light of the current COVID-19 epidemic situation.

Luo was joined by deputies from all walks of life — from primary-level community workers, janitors to lawyers and ministers. Their experiences offer a glimpse into how the country’s lawmakers fulfill their duties as NPC deputies.

Drawing on his professional experience, Luo offered suggestions concerning public health emergency responses.

Through arduous efforts, China has achieved decisive results in the fight against COVID-19. The novel coronavirus is dangerous, but frontline doctors and nurses went all out to save every single life, Luo said.

More than 3,600 COVID-19 patients aged over 80 have recovered in Hubei, seven of whom were centenarians, Luo told reporters. “We value every life with our whole heart.”

He also took advantage of the live broadcast to express his gratitude to those who have helped people in Hubei.

“Tens of millions of Hubei people will never forget those medical workers coming from across the country to save lives day and night, and we are grateful for every mask, every protective suit sent from around the world,” he said.

As epidemic prevention and control becomes a regular practice, China is making its final push toward poverty elimination and completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects in this year.

The third session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) opens at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, May 22, 2020. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)

The third session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) opens at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, May 22, 2020. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)

The national endeavor to fight poverty is also a priority concern for Shi Liping, an NPC deputy of the Miao ethnic group in southwest China‘s Guizhou Province.

A folk craftsman of the traditional Miao embroidery herself, Shi said the craft has created jobs for half a million Miao women.

Statistics show that Guizhou relocated 1.88 million people from inhospitable areas in 2019. “We have built 100 anti-poverty Miao embroidery workshops in the resettlement sites,” Shi said.

NPC deputy Zhu Guoping, a community worker in Shanghai, shared her experience of getting local residents involved to contribute to law revision.

“I made my cell phone number public to the residents and led my colleagues to make door-to-door visits to listen to their voices and help them solve problems,” Zhu said in front of the camera.

According to Zhu, her community has participated in the revision of 35 laws, including laws on domestic violence and minor protection, with 610 opinions brought forward.

On Friday, the national lawmakers started deliberating a draft civil code, which, after approval, is expected to further refine China‘s basic legal system and rules of conduct in the civil and commercial fields.

In addition to a general provision and a supplementary provision, the 1,260-article draft has six parts on property, contracts, personality rights, marriage and family, inheritance, and tort liabilities.

The draft was prepared after extensive suggestions were solicited from the public. Xiao Shengfang, an NPC deputy and head of the Guangdong Lawyers Association, made 170 suggestions on revision since 2014 when the decision to compile the civil code was announced.

Considered “an encyclopedia on social life,” the civil code concerns every aspect of people’s lives, Xiao said. “I am glad that some of my contributions have been accepted.”


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Feature: COVID-19 spurs innovation in Sri Lanka



The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred domestic innovation in Sri Lanka, with state-affiliated institutions leading the way in designing and manufacturing local solutions to combat the pandemic.

Despite enforcing an early lockdown on March 20, ten days after the first domestic COVID-19 case, Sri Lanka faced bottlenecks in expanding testing to desired levels due to a shortage of equipment such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and test kits.

Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC), a public-private partnership based in the capital city Colombo, halted ongoing research and formed a 20-member task force of scientists and engineers to research anti-epidemic solutions such as face masks, hand sanitizers, and rapid test kits.

“The government needed enough PCR swabs to meet its target of 1500 tests a day but supply chains were disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” SLINTEC Chief Operating Officer Heminda Jayaweera told Xinhua.

“Within about a week, our team reverse engineered these swabs and, in partnership with the private sector, formed a fully-fledged manufacturing process at one third the cost of imports,” Jayaweera said.

“Sri Lanka has the knowhow for producing local alternatives to medical imports, and could even export. But scientists need patient investors and better access to production facilities,” said Jayaweera.


Lack of access to production facilities was an issue when the University of Peradeniya’s Faculty of Engineering designed a simple helmet-like visor to protect frontline healthcare workers from contagious droplets amid a shortage of PPE.

The state-affiliated Ceylon German Technical Training Institute (CGTTI), an automobile technical training institute equipped with laser cutters and 3D printers, stepped in to produce 700 units in two days with a staff of about four people.

“We have a lot of experience with laser cutting and our institute has the technicians and capacity to produce local solutions. We have even produced a walkthrough disinfection unit which was installed at the Ministry of Labour premises,” CGTTI Chairman Vinod Moonesinghe said.

COVID-19 has shown us the necessity to build domestic manufacturing capability. That means not only expanding production facilities but also developing a chain of local parts and materials suppliers,” said Moonesinghe.


Difficulty in accessing materials and supplies during the height of global lockdowns was also cited as a challenge for local production by Commissioner of the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission (SLIC) Prof. Rangika Halwatura.

Since March 23, the SLIC has collected 350 new inventions, including low-cost alternatives to imported medical equipment such as video laryngoscopes, ventilated PPE suitable for tropical climes, and natural herbal face masks.

“We first approached local hospitals to find out their requirements, and then invited engineers and scientists to provide solutions, with the best prototypes being trialed at local hospitals,” Halwatura said.

“We provide grants for building prototypes and assist in patent applications, but our inventors faced a few challenges in finding suppliers for parts and materials,” he added.

“Sri Lanka has innovative thinkers, we just need better facilities and local suppliers to complete the package. Luckily, I think COVID-19 has made investors see the need to back domestic innovation.”


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Feature: Nepali surveyor recalls hardships while measuring height of Mount Qomolangma



It was 3:00 a.m. local time on May 22 last year when Khim Lal Gautam, 36, a Nepali survey officer reached the top of Mount Qomolangma, where he and his colleague spent 105 minutes on a mission to measure the height of the world‘s tallest mountain, the first try in Nepal’s history.

As the team leader, Gautam and another team member had to take necessary data with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to check the depth of ice and snow covering the rock, and a top-of-the-line satellite navigation device (Global Navigation Satellite System receiver) for receiving necessary signals from the satellites.

It’s the second time for Gautam to climb the peak. In 2011, he became the first survey professional in Nepal to scale Mount Sagarmatha, the Nepali name of Mount Qomolangma. As a pure mountaineer, he and other eight team members spent 15 minutes on the world‘s highest peak looking over the mountain, taking photos, listening to music, and so on.

Compared to the first relatively relaxed expedition, the second time was more tough and risky. Spending so long on the top, he felt dizzy for being exposed to the thin air and the cold environment.

“We had shouldered responsibility, we didn’t get time to enjoy the moment,” Gautam said to Xinhua over telephone from western Pokhara city where he is in charge of a survey office.

“In fact, I only had a group photograph but not a single photograph taken,” said Gautam, who has joined the survey industry for 16 years.

The worst part was that carrying a heavy load took toll on Gautam as his socks were wet due to sweating. The sweat became ice and damaged his big toe on the left foot so seriously that after returning from the peak, he could not wear shoes for eight months.

“I travelled to China, Australia, Thailand and India by wearing a pair of sandals to the surprise of many friends there,” said Gautam. After the toe mostly recovered with the nail still absent, he started to wear shoes four months ago.

“I have no regret for losing my small body part because it’s a matter of pride for me to be able to lead the expedition team.”

While porters helping the expedition team by carrying extra oxygen went down ahead of the survey team, they thought the survey team had already climbed down. But a member of the expedition team had run out of oxygen. “I had managed the oxygen for him from other climbers,” said Chhiring Jangbo Sherpa, a team guide in the measurement expedition team, adding that due to the crowds of climbers, the porters had failed “to identify us properly and it happened very often.”

Based on the data collected by his team from the top of the mountain along with other field data, the Department of Survey, which is tasked to measure the height of Mount Qomolangma, is now in the final process of determining the height of the world‘s tallest mountain.

“After completing all the field works, we are in the process of data analysis,” said Sushil Dangol, coordinator at Nepal’s measurement secretariat under the department. “The data analysis process is taking more time due to the ongoing lockdown in Nepal to curb the spread of the COVID-19.”

The Nepali government’s efforts to measure the height of Mount Qomolangma come amid speculations from some scientists that the world‘s tallest mountain has shrunk after the devastating earthquake in 2015.

Although expedition teams from various countries have measured the altitude of the mountain for five times and produced diverse results in the past, Nepal has never become part of those teams.

As Nepal is in the final phase of the measurement process, China has also sent a survey team as part of the country’s mission to remeasure the height of the world‘s highest mountain. Gautam wished success for his Chinese colleagues on their mission.


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Feature: FAO promotes first Int’l Tea Day to help improve global health, fight poverty



To promote tea consumption among the world‘s population, the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has spearheaded the effort to mark May 21 as the International Tea Day that falls on Thursday for the first time.

FAO said that the day was organized in part because of the health benefits of tea, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and also as a way to strengthen the economies of the main tea-producing countries, which are clustered in Asia and Africa.

“Welcome excellencies, dear guests, friends and tea lovers,” FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, said to open a virtual meeting of world leaders, economists, and tea industry figures called to mark International Tea Day.

Qu said, “this day is a proof that the United Nations recognizes the importance of tea”, adding that the economic benefits of tea as a crop were important. “Most tea is grown in poor areas, often mountainous areas that need the economic development that comes from tea.”

Calling the day’s activities a “celebration of life,” Qu called on the world to “celebrate tea and tea farmers and producers around the world.”

In a series of statements FAO furthered Qu’s remarks. “International Tea Day is an opportunity to celebrate the cultural heritage, health benefits, and economic importance of tea, while working to make its production sustainable from the fields where it is grown to individual teacups, ensuring its benefits for people, cultures, and the environment,” FAO said in a statement.

FAO further explained: “The tea industry is the main source of income and export revenues for some of the poorest countries and, as a labor-intensive sector, provides jobs, especially in remote and economically disadvantaged areas,” it said. “Tea can play a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction, and food security in developing countries, being one of the most important cash crops.”

Marco Bertona, president of the Italian Tea & Infusions Association — one of the main organizations that lobbied the United Nations and FAO to celebrate International Tea Day — said the double goal of improving health outcomes and aiding farmers in developing countries is an important combination.

“Tea is a healthy drink and it improves the quality of life for the people who drink it. And encouraging its use helps the economic prospects for tea farmers in poor and developing countries,” Bertona told Xinhua. “Promoting the use of tea spreads benefits.”

According to the statement from FAO, the origins of tea date back more than 5,000 years ago, in what is now southwest China, northern Myanmar, and northeastern India. Today, it is grown in more than 35 countries and more than 13 million people depend on tea in some way for their livelihoods.

International Tea Day, which will be celebrated annually going forward, is part of the United Nations’ far broader Millennium Development Goals, which seek to eradicate poverty and hunger, improve educational outcomes, combat disease, foster sustainability, and promote gender equality, among other areas.

According to FAO, International Tea Day addresses several of those points, including fighting poverty and hunger, empowering women, and sustainable development.


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Feature: Turkish cooks prepare meals for at-risk elderly in Istanbul amid COVID-19 outbreak



More than 90 Turkish cooks, including well-known chefs, have been preparing healthy meals for Isranbul’s at-risk senior citizens who have been locked down at their homes for nearly two months as part of the measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have been cooking two meals for at least 2,400 seniors per day in the Kadikoy district on the Asian side of the largest city in Turkey since the pandemic was first seen in the country in around mid-March.

The project has been developed by two chefs, Umut Karakus and Sinan Budeyri, with the aim of delivering healthy food to the elderly who could not cook their meals during the health crisis.

“When we presented the project to the Kadikoy Municipality, it immediately opened its doors to us and took the responsibility of distributing the meals to seniors,” Karakus told Xinhua on Thursday.

Karakus and Budeyri have been determining the menu, with low salt and spices, giving instructions to those in charge of the kitchen each day.

“We have numerous volunteers, including stewardesses, cabin crew members, physicians, architects and engineers,” Karakus said, noting their contributions are priceless as the preparation of meals requires a lot of hard work.

“In some meals, we are using 100 kg of carrots or many more potatoes,” he continued. “We need as much as people to peel them and make them ready in time.”

According to Karakus, around 15 cooks have been working each day in the kitchen.

“We were once cooking for a maximum of 200 people in a day, spending hours on a single plate. Now, we are in a quite different position,” Sinan Budeyri told Xinhua.

There are some elderly people in the district, who are completely dependent on these meals and even cannot walk, according to Budeyri.

“Sometimes we knock on their doors, and it takes over 10 minutes for some of them to open it,” Budeyri said. “When I see the conditions of these people, I realize what a right decision we have given by launching this project.

The two chefs said they have worked hard to find sponsorships for the project at the beginning.

“But we know the suppliers very well, and we used our contacts,” Budeyri noted, saying several big brands of dairy products and pulses are now among their contributors.

“We have grabbed a very natural synergy here, and we should carry it to an upper level with new and bigger projects,” Budeyri said.

Karakus owns Muutto Istanbul, a street food and meze bar-restaurant, while Budeyri runs a restaurant named Markus Prime Ribs Society and Nino Bakery in Istanbul.

Lale Gulcan, another chef taking part in the project, said the team has also been cooking for the health care workers in the Tuzla district for at least three weeks now.

“Tomorrow we will make a dessert for 3,000 people,” Gulcan said. “I am very happy and proud to be involved in this project,” she told Xinhua.

Seen as the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly aged 65 and older across Turkey have been under lockdown since March 21 as part of the government’s measures against the pandemic.


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Feature: Pakistani students recall time in second home China during COVID-19 lockdown



Daud Younas reached his home in Pakistan’s east Gujranwala district on Thursday after spending over four good years of his life in China to pursue a degree in medicine from the Hubei University of Chinese Medicine in Wuhan.

A day before his flight to Pakistan in January, after completion of his degree, Chinese authorities imposed a lockdown in Wuhan, central China‘s Hubei Province, cancelling all international flights, and like many other Pakistani students, he had to stay in China till the situation came under control.

“Psychologically it was very panicking as I was packing my bags to come back to Pakistan to stay with my family and start professional life here,” the 22-year-old told Xinhua.

“But through the over four-year experience I had in China, I was mentally satisfied that I will be well cared of by my university and the Chinese authorities because China is just like second home for me and other Pakistani students because of the warmth and affection we receive from the Chinese government and people.”

He said that during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Chinese government and his university staff took good care of him and his fellow Pakistanis to make them feel at home. They were provided with free food and free necessities of life right at their doorstep. Moreover, the university administration was in direct contact with them and checked their body temperature regularly to give medical aid to any suspected COVID-19 patient.

“A Pakistani student in my university was a coronavirus suspect because he was suffering from high fever. When his health condition was noticed by the university administration, medical assistance came within no time and he was shifted to hospital where he was taken best care of for 14 days, and he told us upon his return that the people at hospital took care of him as if he was their family member.”

In January, COVID-19 was a new disease for the whole world including for Pakistanis, and parents of the students in Wuhan were very concerned about their wellbeing because of the outbreak.

“I was so panicked, sometimes I used to think that my boy may contract the disease, and I would never be able to see him again. I visited Pakistan’s ministry of health, and wrote letters to the government to bring my son back, but Daud kept telling me during all that initial phase that he is being well taken care of and was very satisfied with the way his university and the Chinese authorities treated him,” Younas’s father said.

Over 28,000 Pakistani students are studying in China and most of them act as “ambassadors of China” after coming back to Pakistan because of the hospitality they receive from the government and people of China, Muhammad Raza Chohan, academic director general at the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan told Xinhua.

Abu Bakar, 25, is one of the students who experienced the lockdown in Jingzhou of Hubei province. His flight was scheduled a few days after the lockdown, but the suspension of flight service in January bound him to stay longer in China.

“Initially it was all panic, other Pakistanis and I wanted to rush back to our homes to escape the disease. Students of other nationalities were evacuated by their governments, making us more insecure of the prevailing situation, but all concerns died their natural death when the Chinese government took great care of us,” he said.

“We received everything from tooth paste to meals, free of cost during the lockdown period. Though we were not allowed to leave our rooms which sometimes caused emotionally turmoil, we knew that it was the only solution of curbing the spread, and we should stand with the Chinese government to defeat the disease.”

Upon his arrival in his hometown in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Bakar, who has completed his medical degree in China, is keen to apply as a volunteer to help his province fight against the pandemic as he believes that he has the firsthand experience and observation of the outbreak, management and control of the disease, and he can counsel the patients to adopt the right approach to defeat the infectious disease.

“I learnt many things in China. Apart from being my second home, it made me what I am today by providing me good quality education and teaching me the true essence of friendship and hospitality during the last days of my stay in China during the lockdown.”

A special Pakistan International Airlines flight, carrying 274 Pakistani students, arrived in Islamabad from Wuhan on Monday night. The returning students told Xinhua that they were shifted to quarantine facilities in Islamabad for a day where they were tested of COVID-19 and were allowed to leave for their homes after all of them were reported negative.

The Foreign Ministry of Pakistan said on the occasion of Pakistani students’ return that the government of Pakistan highly appreciates the efforts of the government and people of China for extending full support and cooperation to the students, as Wuhan defeated COVID-19.


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Feature: Kenyan flower growers express cautious optimism towards reopening of EU market



Kenyan flower growers have expressed cautious optimism as the European floriculture market started reopening after weeks of shutdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kenyan flower growers said they were worried over the second wave of market disruption despite the gradual reopening of the market.

“The question is if we are going to get another shock?” said Mary Kinyua, human resources director at Oserian, a flower farm in Naivasha, a resort town located about 100 kilometers northwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

“What if they open up and then they realize there is a challenge, then they lock it again?” she told Xinhua by phone.

Kinyua said that due to a lean market, the firm’s daily sales volumes have dropped by 80 percent, significantly affecting cash flows.

According to Kinyua, Oserian sold 800,000 to one million stems daily before the pandemic against the current demand of between 120,000 and 200,000.

Isabelle Spindler, managing director of Red Lands Roses said she was concerned about high freight charges further affecting the financial stability of the flower company.

“Our major problem is lack of affordable air freight and clients cannot bear such high freight costs,” said Spindler.

Cargo airlines have tripled the price of a kilogram of products exported to 300 shillings (about three U.S. dollars), and extra charges further eat into flower farmers’ profits, according to Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya.

Jane Ngige, national coordinator for Kenya Horticultural Council said tax refunds would cushion the farmers from economic shocks.

Ngige said the sector players are lobbying for the speedy monetary compensation to save the firms from financial hiccups.

Kenya exports up to 90 percent of its flowers to European countries, a market that has been disrupted by anti-COVID-19 containment measures like suspension of passenger and cargo flights alongside the closure of flower sale outlets.


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Feature: Namibia youth denting misinformation, industry gaps amid COVID-19



As Namibia battles COVID-19, the country’s youth are denting losses and filling socio-economic challenges through community engagement, consultative approaches and innovation.

At a far-flung village in Oshana region in the northern part of Namibia, Tuuliki Erastus, a youth volunteer, visited various households. She is disseminating information on COVID-19, and other prevention devices to dwellers. Erastus is one of the 44 trained youth volunteers under the country’s National Youth Council disseminating information in 484 communities in selected 121 constituencies countrywide.

The intervention forms part of the Youth Response to COVID-19 programme, rolled out this week by the council.

The aim is to provide factual information on COVID-19 to dwellers and impart best safety and hygiene practices, said Emma Kantema-Gaomas, Deputy Minister of Sport, Youth and National Service.

The youth are equipped with the COVID-19 community engagement toolkit, whose content covers the introduction of COVID-19 as well as chapters on the symptoms, transmission and prevention. The toolkit, designed collaboratively by the Namibian government and development partners, also includes messages and infographics to promote dialogue on the virus.

Absalom Itamalo, the acting chairperson of Oshana regional Youth Forum, said that the campaign is done at the grassroots level to shun myths about COVID-19.

“Every community needs to be actively involved in response to COVID-19,” he said.

Meanwhile, Afriyan, a local not-for-profit organization also partnered with the National Youth Council on the campaign to sensitize young Namibians on sexual and reproductive health as well as provide psychosocial support to address health and hygiene gaps resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Luciano Kambala, the Namibia Secretary-General at Afriyan, following the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Namibia, local youth are not keen on visiting health facilities to access sexual and reproductive health services. The organization infused its menstrual and hygiene “free low” campaign into the ” Youth response to COVID-19” programme.

“It is for this reason that in addition to giving factual information in communities, youth volunteers are handing out hand sanitizers, face masks and sanitary pads. This is because some people cannot afford basic goods due to loss of income during this period, yet their needs remain the same,” he said.

The youth efforts are not limited to information dissemination and psychosocial support. On the agricultural front, the youth sector also embarked on a mobilization drive to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on local subsistence farmers and micro-level producers.

Haikali Ndatulumukwa, executive chairman of Youth in Agriculture Initiative, said that since the announcement of stringent measures by government in March this year, the forum engaged various stakeholders and negotiated access to markets for local producers during the lockdown period March 27 to May 4 this year.

“We established youth clubs to operate as cooperatives at the regional level, who then coordinate the stock of fresh produce from all farmers. The produce was then sold in bulk to the national Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency, which has access to the broader market chains,” he said.

According to Ndatulumukwa, the efforts have been instrumental in generating an income for farmers during the hard-hit economy, and further advocating for local production sale.

“We also mobilized funds and invited young people with grains to supply for the wider market,” he said.

So far, according to Ndatulumukwa, they managed to sell 90 percent of the yields and produce it coordinated through the cooperative.

In the interim, the door-to-door campaign is set to transform society through behavioural change and conduct towards hygiene and health.

Kantema-Gaomas said that the project is a fascinating, crisis-driven acceleration of behavioural change, and a valuable lesson learned from times of crisis is that they also produce important catalysts for change.

“During this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is our duty as young leaders to work towards social change. We have to be the leaders that our world needs who act as catalysts of change in our communities and families,” Kantema-Gaomas said.

“The current situation forces us to think and innovate. Looking into the future, we are seizing the opportunity to reform the agriculture sector. These include advocating for consideration of equity-based funding schemes instead of collateral on loans, which left many farmers indebted and robust mechanization,” said Ndatulumukwa.

For Afriyan, Kambala said that the organization would be maximizing on new forms of collaboration, as well as further infusion of campaigns for a wider reach and healthy society.

Namibia has recorded 16 cases of COVID-19, of which 14 cases have recovered.


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Feature: China’s “two sessions” at a special time



In previous years, doctor Cai Weiping usually met with reporters before going to Beijing in early March for the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC).

But this year, the sudden COVID-19 outbreak changed Cai’s schedule and how he received media interviews.

The deputy to the national legislature sat in a studio in the southern city of Guangzhou to take questions from a reporter in Beijing, whose image was projected holographically with the support of 5G technology.

“I’ve been reflecting on the battle against COVID-19 and have come up with two proposals on further strengthening the public health emergency response system,” said Cai, who fought the epidemic on the front lines.

The epidemic changed the schedule of the NPC as well.

After a postponement of more than two months, the annual sessions of the country’s national legislature and political advisory body, also known as the “two sessions,” will start this week.

National legislators and political advisors from across the country are gathering in Beijing for this key event on the country’s political calendar.

With the “two sessions” to be held against the backdrop of regular measures to contain the COVID-19 epidemic this year, participants to the annual sessions are experiencing things in a different way.

Journalists attend a press conference of the third session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) through video link in Beijing, capital of China, May 20, 2020. (Xinhua/Lyu Shuai)

Journalists attend a press conference of the third session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) through video link in Beijing, capital of China, May 20, 2020. (Xinhua/Lyu Shuai)

According to a State Council executive meeting, China will adopt new ways of receiving proposals and suggestions from national legislators and political advisors, including via video-link, phone calls and the internet. Officials of relevant State Council departments are also asked to tune in live to the deliberation of the government work report by lawmakers through video links.

Kong Weike, a national political advisor from east China‘s Shandong Province, said the convening of the “two sessions” itself demonstrates China‘s initial victory in containing the epidemic.

“Meanwhile, the shortened duration of the sessions will enable national lawmakers and political advisors to focus on the main topics with increased efficiency,” Kong said.

Villagers in Donsala Village in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region are also eagerly waiting for the “two sessions” to open, said Wu Yunbo, a national lawmaker and the village’s Party secretary.

For them, this year’s annual sessions are out of the ordinary as the country is gearing up for completing building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

“We have lifted all the villagers out of poverty,” Wu said, adding that the herders in his village want to know what to do next and how to deal with the new situation brought by COVID-19. Their questions are likely to be addressed at the upcoming “two sessions.”

Zhao Wanping, a national legislator and deputy head of the Anhui Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said he would still make active contributions to the session despite the changes and obstacles brought by the epidemic, believing that other national legislators would also do the same.

“Even at the beginning of this year when China was in the most difficult period due to the epidemic, we did not waver in the pursuit of poverty alleviation,” Zhao said, adding he is confident that China will achieve its goals in eliminating absolute poverty by 2020.


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Feature: Printing and design provides opportunity for Naminian young people amid COVID-19



While the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown has closed many doors to the labor force in Namibia, the printing and design world opens a window for some Naminian young people with entrepreneurship.

T-shirt, jacket and other clothing printing for resale to larger companies has been the bulk of business for Fillemon Shuuya under his own brand Feelingz Nation, which has helped him navigate the difficult time of the coronavirus outbreak.

According to him, his business has run well and gained a certain reputation among young customers. “Our brand is recognized locally and internationally,” the 25-year-old told Xinhua.

The statistics graduate from the University of Namibia, who came to the national capital Windhoek from the small northern town of Ondangwa, said he turned to the clothing industry partly because he could not find a full-time job.

“My desire to grow in the business is inspired by Namibia’s popular musician King Teedee who also runs a clothing line which has blossomed outside his music business,” Shuuya added.

One of the biggest business challenges for him so far, he said, is to deal with clients who order products but do not pay.

Entrepreneurship is also Jansen Nghilunanye’s answer to unemployment, particularly at a time when COVID-19 shutdowns have increased job losses everywhere. Data show the current youth unemployment rate runs as high as 40 percent in Namibia.

Nghilunanye is a 22-year-old student nurse who created the Mojah Vibes clothing line not long ago. He said his main problem now is to strike a balance between school time and making money to support himself and family members.

Currently, he earns a weekly average of 850 Namibian dollars (about 57 U.S. dollars).

With optimism and confidence about the prospect of his business, Nghilunanye said, “Local brand owners should keep pushing because without pain there is no gain.”

He said young people should stay focused and never give up if they want to find a lasting solution to unemployment.

Kuushomwa Gerson, a student at the International University of Management, launched his own printing business while taking a gap year from the university in order to make money to pay for his tuition fees.

Gerson said he started his company with money from selling his smartphone.

“I got a smartphone as a gift from my grandmother when I completed grade 12, and because I needed money to start my brand I sold the phone and used the money,” said the Namibian young man, who plans to open his own printing shop to save operating costs.

Encouraging newcomers to be innovative and go further in the printing and design world, Shuuya said, “In this type of business, one cannot be stuck at one stage, you need to be on the lookout for new opportunities and be aware of your market as well as set goals for yourself.”


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Feature: Soufli in Greece strives to revive centuries-old silk tradition



For several centuries, the history of Soufli, a small town in northeastern Greece close to the Evros river that marks the country’s national border with Turkey, has been interlinked with a delicate product: silk.

The local silk industry, which has survived numerous challenges over the past decades, reached a critical junction recently, some of the last remaining producers told Xinhua in recent interviews.


“Silk was brought here from China. The Byzantines brought it. According to historians, it was Emperor Justinian I who brought it around 550 A.D. The Byzantines loved this product. It was also a symbol of wealth and aristocracy. Only a few people would use silk, mainly the nobility at the palace,” George Tsiakiris, owner of the Tsiakiris Silkhouse and president of the Association of Professionals, Craftsmen and Traders of Soufli, explained.

In 1453 A.D. Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, and the Byzantine Empire, the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces, came to an end — but silk production had strong roots there.

It survived the collapse of an empire, industrialization, the arrival of cheap synthetic materials, such as nylon and rayon in the 1960s, followed by the decline of the Greek textile industry, as well as the acute debt crisis, which erupted in Greece ten years ago testing all households and businesses, Tsiakiris noted.

Successive generations of residents of Soufli grew up cultivating the trees silkworms are being fed with, nurturing the cocoons and creating high-quality silk, said Tsiakiris, a fourth-generation silk professional. His great grandmother was a weaver. His father and uncle established the Tsiakiris Silkhouse in 1954.

The local industry flourished in the 19th century and Soufli’s silk was exported to Milan and Lyon, he told Xinhua.

Silk production was the backbone of the local economy for the largest part of the 20th century, it was on its deathbed by the mid-1990s and the last major financial crisis, which lasted until 2018, was the last blow, he said.

Today, only two factories, including the one owned by the Tsiakiris family, and three smaller silk houses remain active, employing a few dozen people.

During the financial crisis, an effort was launched to revive Soufli’s silk industry. Greek fashion brands and designers started using Soufli’s silk products in their creations and Tsiakiris and his colleagues explored new opportunities for cooperation beyond Greece’s borders.


“The years of the crisis were a very good test for us. On the one hand, our stamina was tested, on the other hand, we were given the motive, we were forced to look abroad and search for new partnerships and make Soufli’s silk fashionable again, because it was out of fashion,” he explained.

“Today, we can proudly say that we have kept silk alive all these years. There is great interest today in silk. I think we are at a juncture and I believe that the current momentum prompts us to progress,” Tsiakiris told Xinhua.

“Soufli would always rely on domestic clients. Gradually we see in the past 2-3 years that Soufli has started to receive foreign visitors as well. We see Scandinavians, we see Chinese, just a few for now, we see people from France, Spain, Portugal, entire Europe,” said Giorgos Bouroulitis, another silk maker representing Bourouliti Silk House and the association’s tourism committee.

“The crisis years were difficult for Soufli. Silk is a luxury product and like it happened with all luxury products once the crisis started people cut back on all things that were unnecessary,” he said.

Greece formally exited the bailout era in the summer of 2018, but the average Greek is still struggling to make ends meet and the COVID-19 impact on the Greek economy only adds to the gloomy image.

“The financial situation in the country is not helpful for a product which has a high cost, which is expensive. However, there are people who are still choosing it and like it,” Bouroulitis told Xinhua.


“I am the youngest in the sector currently. I hope more (young people) will join in. I wish they will join, it is a necessity. Older generations taught us what they should. I hope people will continue to work on this,” he said.

In order to promote and preserve the rich local tradition in silk production and inspire a few younger people to continue it, the Tsiakiris family has established one of the local museums dedicated to Soufli’s silk industry.

George Tsiakiris is also director of the “Art of Silk Museum,” which is housed in a renovated neoclassical building erected in 1886.

“We created this very beautiful space with one purpose — to introduce visitors to the art of silk, show them how silk is made. We have already welcomed over 100,000 visitors during the 11 years of operation. This has given a lot to this region,” he told Xinhua.


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