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

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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.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Egyptians abide by gov’t order to wear masks in public places to curb coronavirus spread

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Mohammed Abdel-Latif carefully put on his surgical mask before he left his workplace in the capital Cairo.

The 65-year-old man said he had to wear a mask outdoors after the government made it obligatory in public places since Saturday to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“I used to wear a mask even before the government made this decision,” Abdel-Latif, who works for a clothes company in downtown Cairo, told Xinhua.

The Egyptian government announced earlier in May that wearing masks is compulsory at governmental and private institutions, malls, markets, shops and public transportations.

The cabinet later announced that citizens are obliged to wear masks in public places for two weeks starting from May 30, adding that those who are found without a mask in public will face a fine of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds (252 United States dollars).

Egypt announced its first confirmed COVID-19 infection on Feb. 14 and the first death from the pandemic on March 8, both of whom were foreigners.

Until Sunday night, Egypt’s total confirmed cases have reached 24,985, including 959 deaths and 6,037 recoveries.

The north African country has been implementing a partial nighttime curfew for more than two months, with obligatory closure of malls and stores, restaurants and public transportation during curfew hours.

“It is necessary to the wear face masks now to stop the quick spread of the virus…the government’s decision is vital and I can tell that that people are cooperating and responding to the new procedure,” Abdel-Latif added as he sprayed his hands with alcohol after wearing the mask.

For Mostafa Atwa, an electrical engineer, the new decision is an important step towards fighting the coronavirus. However, he believes this move should have been done earlier.

“The company I work for has been providing me with face masks on a daily basis since the crisis started in February,” the young man told Xinhua as he waited for a train in Cairo’s main train station.

Atwa noted that it is important that everyone wears a mask because he did not feel safe before the government’s decision was implemented.

He added that obtaining face masks from pharmacies was not easy weeks ago as masks were scarce in the market.

“But masks of different types and prices are available almost at all pharmacies now,” he said. “The prices start from 2 pounds and may go up to 150 Egyptian pounds.”

Atwa stressed that the government has been doing a great work to control the prices of medical preventives supplies that have been largely used since the outbreak of the virus such as masks, alcohol, gloves and sanitizers.

In March, Egypt halted exporting face masks and all types of alcohol and alcoholic disinfectants to meet the needs of Egyptian citizens amid the spread of the virus.

As Egypt’s factories of disposable medical products have more than doubled their production of medical masks recently.

A Chinese-Egyptian joint venture has been established in April in Egypt, which can produce up to 750,000 medical face masks per day.

The venture, formed by Egypt’s Euromed for Medical Industries and China’s Ningbo A Plus Import and Export Co., Ltd, targets a daily production capacity of 1.5 million high quality surgical face masks soon.

The Egypt-China venture is expected to more than double Egypt’s production capacity of disposable face masks.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Online shopping flourishes in Egypt amid COVID-19 partial lockdown

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“I do most of my grocery shopping online or by phone since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus,” said an Egyptian housewife in the capital Cairo, expressing concern to go out shopping at markets and shops.

Randa Ibrahim, a mother of five, searched on the internet and asked neighbors and friends until she found online shopping platforms where she can buy foodstuff and other necessary items, amid a partial lockdown imposed in the most populous Arab country since mid-March to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“I did not expect we have that many online shopping platforms in Egypt. I will keep using online shopping even after the coronavirus crisis is over because it saves both time and effort,” the 45-year-old lady told Xinhua.

Ibrahim is one of many Egyptians who have become frequent visitors of online shopping websites via their smartphones or computers during the COVID-19 crisis that hit Egypt and the whole world.

Egypt announced its first confirmed COVID-19 infection on Feb. 14 and the first death from the pandemic on March 8, both of whom were foreigners.

Until Saturday night, Egypt’s total coronavirus confirmed cases have reached 23,449, including 913 deaths and 5,693 recoveries.

Since Egypt has been implementing a partial nighttime curfew for more than two months now, with obligatory closure of malls and stores during curfew hours, online shopping websites have flourished and attracted new visitors in the country.

Jumia, one of the most well-known online shopping platforms in Egypt, which claims to be the country’s “largest online mall store,” says that its sales have increased by 50 percent during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have made a lot of preparations to qualify Jumia to absorb the intense pressure on the website, relying on technology for online safety and protection to encourage customers to use electronic payment,” Hesham Safwat, CEO of Jumia Egypt, told Xinhua.

He pointed out that his platform established JumiaPay for online payment services, through which the customers can pay for the purchased items and pay the bills of electricity, gas, water, internet, landline and all other services.

“We offer special discounts for electronic payments through JumiaPay to promote non-cash transactions in order to support the government’s efforts for financial inclusion and reduce the risk of virus transmission through direct cash payment,” Safwat added.

Jumia observes the highest preventive measures recommended by the World Health Organization and the Egyptian Ministry of Health to ensure safe delivery of our items, according to Jumia CEO, who expects the new customers to continue using online shopping after the crisis.

Online shopping in Egypt is currently not restricted to existing websites, for many stores and shops, including small bakeries, groceries, butcher shops, vegetable and fruits shops and others, started to establish their own pages on social media websites to sell online.

“That is really amazing for us as customers! They deliver the orders for free if they are in the same neighborhood and they even make big discounts for online shoppers,” said Areej Ahmed, a 34-year-old housewife.

“The good thing is that the delivery men pay attention to safety measures, as they wear face masks and gloves and avoid talking much or getting closer to customers,” she told Xinhua.

Egypt’s current nighttime curfew, which has been reduced from 10 hours to nine hours on Sunday, will continue for two weeks, and then the government will consider easing restrictions and gradually resuming several suspended activities.

The government has already started gradually reopening services and offices that have been suspended since mid-March amid a “coexistence plan” to maintain anti-coronavirus precautionary measures while resuming services, businesses and economic activities.

Economic experts in Egypt hope that investment in the field of online shopping could grow bigger to largely constitute to the economy, as in big economies like China and the United States.

“Online shopping has notably helped so many companies, stores and factories that have suffered greatly from the imposed curfew and anti-COVID-19 restrictions,” said Egyptian economic expert Abu Bakr al-Deeb.

“I think that the culture of online shopping in Egypt will continue even after the end of the coronavirus crisis. This area of business will witness unprecedented development and investment in the coming few years,” the expert told Xinhua.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Newly-weds tie knot without wedding parties in Syria

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“I had been dreaming about my wedding day for two years, but this dream remains a dream,” said Rama whose wedding party was limited to a small family gathering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like all other brides, Rama couldn’t have her dream wedding as all wedding halls in Syria were closed as part of the government instructions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This case applies to all Syrian areas, but in Sweida province in southern Syria, the impact on wedding parties was bigger as the tradition of the people there is to have a three-day wedding with several activities done by the bride and the groom as well as their families. But now, everything has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had been planning our wedding for several months and we wanted it to be a big wedding attended by all our friends and family members, but now we can’t have the day we envisioned,” said the bride.

Rama and her groom held a small gathering at the house of her father-in-law. Xinhua reporter in Sweida attended the small party but didn’t witness any form of traditional celebration as people maintained social distancing.

Roa Sobeh, another 26-year-old bride, had two choices; either to postpone her wedding for another year or to get married in these circumstances.

She finally settled to have her wedding now than to push it back another year.

“I decided to have my wedding sooner and I think I can make another party when the situation gets better,” the new bride told Xinhua, adding that safety is more important.

Her husband, Khaled, 31, told Xinhua that most weddings in Sweida have been either canceled, postponed, or done on a low scale.

He also pointed out that some of the newly-weds found in the current situation a chance to get married without additional fees as doing the wedding on a lower scale doesn’t cost much.

“Everything is expensive these days, and maybe this is an opportunity for people to get married without worrying about the high cost of weddings nowadays,” he said.

In Sweida, which is largely inhabited by the Druze minority in Syria, the clergymen of the Druze minority also empathized the government’s instructions to maintain social distancing and shut down wedding halls.

Sheikh Hamoud Hinnawi, a revered Druze sheikh, told Xinhua that the people in Sweida have largely abided by the social distancing and minimizing the wedding parties as a result of the COVID-19 infections.

A total of 122 COVID-19 infections have been reported in Syria, including 41 recoveries and four deaths.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Chinese drones help reseed Australian wilderness in wake of bushfire

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Drones from Chinese company, XAG have been used to reseed an area of Australian wilderness devastated by bushfires similar to those which swept the country last summer.

In a combination of classic environmentalism and cutting-edge technology, the drones dropped thousands of seeds across 40 hectares of Lake Cobrico peat swamp in the south eastern State of Victoria.

The initial brains behind the idea, Paul Hartrick, from the Heytesbury District Landcare Network (HDLN) told Xinhua on Friday that the area is vital to the region’s broader ecology, but has been slow to recover since being badly charred by bushfires on St Patrick‘s Day in 2018.

In some areas, the fire had burnt up to a meter below ground into the flammable peat, creating slumps and bare patches over two years later.

“Because of the way peat swamps and mass areas form, it takes a long time to rebuild the hydrology and the plants to hold the water in and for that environment to re-establish itself,” Hartrick explained.

With this in mind, and inspired by the growing use of drones in agriculture, Hartrick began the search for a company which could pick up the project, landing on XAG.

In April this year, XAG sent three sets of its P Series drones, equipped with a custom designed seed spreading attachment, and in conjunction with the HDLN and Victoria‘s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), set about distributing native seeds directly onto Lake Cobrico peat swamp in an Australian-first.

Co-founder of XAG, Justin Gong told Xinhua that drone seeding has several benefits over traditional methods.

“(We) use a remote sensing drone to find out which places are seriously damaged and need reseed and where not, in this way we generate a prescription map.”

“Then the drone carrying the seed will take off and reach the predetermined area to sow the seed. The whole process is very efficient and cost-effective.”

During the operation, drones followed the pre-set flight routes projecting seeds from two-three meters above the ground, while the rate of distribution could be easily controlled and adjusted in real time to ensure that the proper amount of seed was distributed evenly into the targeted bare land.

“Drones aren’t new, as we all know, but in Australia and particularly Victoria they’re a relatively new tool in terms of land use, primary production, agriculture, as well as environmental work,” Hartrick said.

As well as being both cost and time effective, the drones also avoid the necessity of putting people on the ground in affected areas, potentially causing more damage to the ecosystem, or being hurt themselves.

With bushfires expected to be an increasing influence not just in Australia but globally, the technique pioneered in partnership by Australian and Chinese innovators may play a role in future regeneration efforts worldwide.

“The trial project in Lake Cobrico demonstrates the best practice of drones to regenerate fire-impacted peat swamps in a safe, cost-effective manner, without human or mechanical trampling on vegetation cover,” XAG said in a statement.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Deported Salvadoran recalls dangerous conditions, inadequate care at U.S. detention center during pandemic

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Salvadoran migrant “Carlos” had been locked in a U.S. detention center for more than two months, and he described it as having poor healthcare that only worsened due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Carlos was deported back to El Salvador last month, and the 31-year-old, who spoke to Xinhua under conditions of anonymity due to security issues, said he lost 20 kilos during his stay in the detention center. Carlos suffers from hypertension and experienced digestive issues while in detention, which he says U.S. authorities essentially ignored.

He said that he was placed in a cell with other migrants from the end of January to the beginning of April, and authorities failed to observe measures meant to limit the spread of the virus. He also claims he was not tested before being deported.

“There was no type of protection or handling … They did not administer any type of test,” Carlos told Xinhua.

Analysts and advocates have warned of the risk of continued deportations to Latin America during the pandemic without examining deportees. In Guatemala, Mexico, and other countries, infections have been reported among deportees, a situation that, according to experts, could affect countries with fragile health systems.

Carlos said that during his detention, he witnessed a diabetic Cuban detainee faint while guards looked on indifferently. On another occasion, a Salvadoran detainee collapsed with abdominal pain and was only taken to the infirmary several hours later.

He explained that he fled El Salvador fearing for his life after gang members threatened to kill him when he could no longer pay them extortion fees. Like many Central Americans, Carlos crossed the Rio Grande into the United States to request asylum, but officials arrested him as soon as he stepped onto American soil.

He was transferred to the Rio Grande Detention Center in the city of Laredo, Texas, where he says his stay was traumatic due to his health conditions and the lack of medical attention.

“I left El Salvador looking to save my life in the United States, but I almost lost it due to authorities in the United States,” he said.

He said that immigration authorities deported him on April 7 along with around 70 other Salvadorans, who were put on a plane after their temperatures were taken and they were given masks.

Carlos shared his experience over the phone from a quarantine center, where he has remained since his repatriation. In the face of the pandemic, the Salvadoran government decided in March to isolate people entering the country in quarantine centers to prevent the spread of the virus.

There have already been 1,145 cases of the novel coronavirus among detainees at U.S. immigration centers, according to figures released on Tuesday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The director of the Salvadoran Migrant Institute (Insami), Cesar Rios, told Xinhua that deportations from the United States represent a great risk due to the possibility of migrants being infected while in detention centers.

“It should not be surprising that deported migrants return infected … We must ask the United States to stop deportations now, because it is as if they are sending us another level of vulnerability that will be incorporated into communities,” said Rios.

“In addition to being in these detention centers, there really is no adequate or trained care for them. As we say, it’s just up to good luck, and the strongest will survive,” said Insami doctor Jizi Moza.

Thus far, the Salvadoran government has not reported any spread of the virus among deportees to the country, which has registered more than 1,500 confirmed cases and 31 deaths.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Kenyan young learner stitching face masks to boost fight against COVID-19

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Joseph Mwalo, a 13-year-old middle school pupil from Western Kenya has earned rock star status thanks to his prowess in sewing face masks that are on high demand as the fight against COVID-19 gains steam.

Since the government ordered the closure of schools to help contain the spread of the disease, Mwalo has kept himself busy with the stitching work to help fellow citizens access the vital protective gear.

Though Mwalo has never attended a fashion and design class, he has been copying the skills from his father Daniel Ondito and has since churned out hundreds of face coverings.

According to Mwalo, when the government announced that the virus had been detected in the country and that Kenyans should embrace health regulations, he approached his father and sold the idea of making face masks.

“I had brought my father an item he had sent me when a customer who wanted his clothes repaired arrived wearing the mask. I keenly looked at the mask and later I asked my father to allow me try to make similar one for myself,” Mwalo said.

It took him three days to come with the final product to the admiration of his father.

After I made the first mask, my father was excited and he asked to make more for the family,” said Mwalo.

At one time, two neighbors who were impressed by the boy’s tailoring skill placed orders for masks for their respective families.

He informed his father about the orders before his farther supported him to secure raw materials to make the masks. Unlike repairing or making new clothes, Mwalo says, stitching a mask is a laborious task.

“Materials are expensive and one has to employ enough skills to cut them into the sizes required because you do not take measurement of customers before you make the masks,” said Mwalo

He said that before sewing the masks, he washes his hands and disinfect the work station to ensure the product is not contaminated by the virus.

A few displays he had made attracted many customers to buy his products and this has improved his father’s income.

Mwalo’s lifelong dream is to become a civil engineer but his latest decision to venture into the art of sewing face masks was motivated by a desire to save his compatriots from a global pandemic.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Tokyo metropolitan area enters first weekend after state of emergency fully lifted

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People in the Japanese capital of Tokyo and neighboring prefectures on Saturday enjoyed their first weekend since a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic was completely lifted, with department stores and restaurants reopening to welcome customers after closing for nearly two months.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday lifted a state of emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan area and Hokkaido as the spread of infections of COVID-19 in these areas was under control, entirely ending the emergency in all of the country’s 47 prefectures.

In the popular shopping and entertainment area of Shibuya in central Tokyo, crowds were noticeably bigger on Saturday, with many people cautiously visiting restaurants and shops that have reopened for the first time in weeks.

Shoppers and staff were required to wear masks when entering department stores and other shops. Meanwhile, floor markings reminded people to maintain social distance.

A 50-year-old female customer who went shopping with her daughter said: “I don’t go out much because I’m worried about catching the coronavirus. However, I come to buy things today because it’s a rare weekend. I will take proper measures to prevent infection.”

A 27-year-old female passer-by told local media that she was going to have lunch at a friend’s house located in the Shibuya area. “I stayed at home for two months. As the number of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo continues to rise, I feel a bit uneasy. I will wash my hands frequently when I go out,” she said.

On Takeshita street, the epicenter of teen fashion and entertainment in Tokyo usually bustling with young people and tourists, fashion and other stores reopened. With many young people and their families coming to shop and walk, the street is lively again.

At a popular dessert shop which reopened after two months, staff provided free disinfectant and plastic gloves to costumers. A female costumer who came to the shop with her daughter said: “We haven’t gone shopping for a long time as required by the government. Today I feel happy after shopping.”

Tokyo will enter the “Second Phase” next Monday despite a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in the capital, which will allow cinemas, sports gyms, cram schools and retail stores other than those selling daily necessities to restart.

In the second phase, as with the first, restaurants and bars will still be requested to not serve alcohol after 10 p.m.

According to the latest figures from the health ministry and local authorities on Saturday, the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Japan increased by 45 to reach 16,878.

The number excludes the 712 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Japan from the pneumonia-causing virus currently stands at a total of 907 people, according to the health ministry, with the figure including those from the cruise ship.

In Tokyo, the epicenter of Japan’s outbreak, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased by 14 to reach 5,231, followed by Osaka Prefecture with 1,782 infections.

Kanagawa Prefecture, meanwhile, has recorded 1,361 infections, Hokkaido 1,085 cases, Saitama 1,001, Chiba 901, while Hyogo Prefecture has recorded 699 cases of COVID-19, according to the latest figures on Saturday.

The health ministry said there are currently a total of 124 patients considered severely ill and are on ventilators or in intensive care units.

The ministry also said that in total, 14,406 people, including 654 from the cruise ship, have been discharged from hospitals after their symptoms improved.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Home delivery businesses booming in Tanzania amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Since the COVID-19 outbreak started in Tanzania in mid-March, 30-year-old Hassan Teja has been a busy man from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

Teja is a co-founder and chief operating officer of duka.direct, a start-up online shopping platform that was launched in February. The online platform allows customers to order products across various categories such as groceries and household essentials, and delivers them to doorsteps.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, customers’ demand for home delivery services has increased by two times, said Teja in an interview with Xinhua at his office located in the city center of Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

During the period of self-isolation, online shopping through app with free courier service has become the first choice for people living in the commercial hub of the east African nation, as a way to avoid shopping in crowded open markets, said Teja.

“This has been a great opportunity for us to witness a change in customer behavior in the nation, including their growing acceptance of digital payment,” said Teja.

He said currently, the company’s delivery coverage is within a 25 km distance from the city center, but as they are seeing more and more suburban customers inquiring about the service, they are aiming to expand the business to reach more corners in the city.

Teja says plans are afoot to expand duka.direct online services to neighboring countries of Kenya and Uganda.

Demand for delivery also increases in other businesses. Jibril Mohamed, a restaurant owner in Dar es Salaam, said despite the fact that the number of dine-in customers have largely decreased due to the pandemic, requests for home delivery service have doubled last month.

Kauthar D’Souza, a Tanzanian housewife residing in Kariakoo, a major market area in the commercial capital, said COVID-19 had doubled her online shopping needs.

“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic I have been buying all my basic needs, including food and clothing, online”, she said.

“Online shopping is the best way of avoiding mass gathering. It gets me less exposed, especially during this time when authorities request us to avoid mass gathering as a way to protect ourselves against the COVID-19“, said D’Souza.

Bora Chitanda, a Tanzanian salesman working in marketing industry, said the culture of online buying and home delivery in Tanzania that had been accelerated following the outbreak of COVID-19 should be maintained even after the disease was contained.

Meanwhile, he also hoped that the trend of online shopping may not render the employees in supermarkets and restaurants jobless.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Cubans strive to overcome effects of U.S. blockade amid fight against COVID-19

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Iraida Hernandez, 87, has not expected to return to her old sewing machine in her senior age, but the need to protect her family put her again in front of the yarn rollers and fabric cuts.

The housewife, who lives on the outskirts of Havana, is making face masks to protect her relatives and neighbors from COVID-19.

“The first ones I made were mainly for taking care of my grandchildren and family, but then people in the neighborhood asked me for help. In the present situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can not refuse these kinds of requests,” she told Xinhua.

Hernandez learned how to sew in the early 1970s during a Sewing Community Workshop convened by the Federation of Cuban Women, a social organization meant to defend the rights and emancipation of women on the island.

“The quality of homemade face masks lies in properly placing three layers of fabric. It works as an alternative to protect us from the virus because the original face masks are mainly used in hospitals,” Hernandez said, while pedaling on her dusted machine.

Hernandez is not alone. Her son, Ruben Ruiz, a civil construction technician, is also making medical face shields by using recycled materials.

Ruiz, 60, told Xinhua that he always liked to innovate, and the days of isolation at home due to the pandemic motivated his creativity to do something useful for people.

Ruben delivers the face shields he made to Miguel Enriquez Teaching Hospital in Havana for doctors and nurses working in the emergency unit.

The efforts of Hernandez and Ruiz might not be remarkable, but are helping their motherland to mitigate the impacts of U.S. blockade, which hinders the import of medical supplies essential to combating the pandemic.

Raul Ruiz, another son of Hernandez, does not make medical supplies as his mother and brother do, but gives online lectures to his students who are preparing for final exams at the Enrique Jose Varona Pedagogical Institute.

Raul, who has studied the U.S. biological war against Cuba, said that Washington’s attack on the health of Cubans is not something new.

The history professor is also using social media to raise awareness on the necessity to keep in mind the long list of U.S. aggressions against the Cuban revolution.

“It is impossible to forget that in 1981 counterrevolutionary organizations, trained and funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, introduced the Hemorrhagic Dengue into Cuba, killing more than 100 children. It has been part of a long and cruel story,” he said.

The Cuban government recently denounced Washington’s policies to limit Cuba’s response to COVID-19 by impeding international aid offered by friendly countries and solidarity organizations.

A few weeks ago, the Alibaba Foundation of China failed to deliver a batch of face masks and rapid test kits to the island, since a U.S. cargo enterprise hired to carry the shipment refused to transport the donation.

In response to the new embargo measures taken by the United States against the island, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel reiterated that the U.S. blockade against his country violates human rights of Cubans by preventing the arrival of the humanitarian aid from China.

“When it comes to medical supplies, limits imposed by the United States are very strong because pharmaceutical companies are subjected to blackmails, therefore they prefer not to get involved in agreements with the island,” Cuban political commentator Anisley Torres told Xinhua.

“International opposition to U.S. economic sanctions against countries like Venezuela, Iran and Nicaragua has increased, for these governments do not subordinate to Washington’s hegemonic interests,” he added.

Despite the U.S. sanctions against Cuba, the number of patients hospitalized in COVID-19 medical centers and under epidemiological surveillance in the Latin American nation continues to decline.

So far, Cuba has 1,983 confirmed COVID-19 cases and the death toll stands at 82, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Since he took office in the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump increased hostility toward the island by restricting family remittances and people-to-people contact, as well as punishing foreign companies doing business with Cuba.

(XINHUA)

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