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Wise Countries eases lockdown to move forward


Tunisia eases lockdown as zero cases registered

     Retail shops and supermarkets reopened Friday in Tunisia after the government announced zero coronavirus cases for the fifth consecutive day.
    In a statement published overnight, the health ministry also said that 217 patients still carry the COVID-17 virus, three of whom are being treated in hospital.
Tunisian people wearing protective face masks walk in the Habib Bourguiba avenue in the Tunisian capital Tunis on May 12, 2020, following the easing of the lockdown measures put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus Covid-19. – Tunisia urged continued vigilance against the novel coronavirus, a day after recording no new cases for the first time since March 2 as it eases strict lockdown measures. A broader relaxation is planned for June 14 but will depend on how the health situation develops, officials have said, warning of the risk of a second wave of infection. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP).

     But for the fifth consecutive day no new cases were registered in the North African country which has declared 1,032 cases of coronavirus, including 45 deaths, since March 2.
     With infections slowing, retail stores, open-air markets and supermarkets have reopened, but authorities are urging citizens to stay vigilant and respect hygiene measures.
    On Wednesday, President Kais Saied shortened an overnight curfew that has been in place since March 22.
    Tunisia started easing strict confinement measures last week.
 Football returns, beaches reopen as Europe eases lockdown
     Beaches in France and Italy opened on Saturday for the first weekend since the countries eased coronavirus lockdowns, while football fans awaited the return of major league action with Germany's Bundesliga set to kick off.
   The reopenings are a major sign of returning normality for countries hit hard by the pandemic, which has killed more than 307,000 people, infected over 4.5 million, wrought vast economic havoc and brought life to a halt.
   But as countries lift restrictions to boost their stagnant economies, there have been widespread fears of a second wave of infections that could plunge the world back into lockdown.
Such fears have delayed the return of team sport -- where it is almost impossible for players to practise social distancing measures -- and all eyes will be on Saturday's Bundesliga matches.
    The games will be held without spectators and players will have to follow strict hygiene guidelines -- former Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou was suspended by Hertha Berlin just for shaking hands with team-mates.

    "The whole world will be looking at Germany, to see how we get it done," said Hansi Flick, the boss of league-leaders Bayern Munich.
"If we manage to ensure that the season continues, it will send a signal to all leagues."
   Russia has announced its own football league will return next month and pushed ahead with plans to lift restrictions despite recording its highest daily death toll on Saturday, with 119 fatalities.
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday the country would extend its state of emergency for "about a month" until the transition out of lockdown is completed.
   In France, the first weekend after the most strict measures were lifted saw many venture out into the spring sunshine.
  "I really missed nature," 55-year-old doctor Lise Balmes said of walking through a forest outside Paris.
- Here comes the sun -
     With the European summer fast approaching, governments are moving to help their key tourism industries to salvage something from the wreckage.
Italy, one of the nations worst hit by COVID-19, announced it would reopen to European holidaymakers from June 3 and scrap quarantine requirements for arrivals.
    Parasols and sunloungers have started to appear on Italy's coastlines and Greece will open some of its air and sea links from Monday.
    Malls opened in the Philippines' capital Manila on Saturday but saw only a trickle of customers.
"It looks like people are not too excited to come back. Maybe all their money is gone," said shoe shop employee Kristine Grape.
   However, for some the cautious easing of restrictions has not been enough.
Major German cities on Saturday will see the latest of a growing wave of protests against the country's lockdown measures.
     The demonstrations have been mired in controversies over conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and extremism.
  In a sign of rising tension, a mock tombstone was found in front of Chancellor Angela Merkel's electoral offices, apparently to protests against the lockdown, police said Saturday.
- Vaccine hopes -
    One hope of avoiding a dreaded second wave has been a vaccine, and US President Donald Trump voiced hope late on Friday that one would be available by late 2020 -- a timeline deemed unrealistic by many experts.
   "We are looking to get it by the end of the year if we can, maybe before," Trump told reporters at the White House as he discussed America's "Operation Warp Speed" effort in the global race for a vaccine.
   This timeline is more aggressive than the one-year scenario put forward by European scientists.
The hunt for a vaccine for a disease that the World Health Organization (WHO) says may never disappear has also threatened to become a source of tension between the globe's haves and have-nots.
   The virus itself is having an uneven effect on communities around the world.
New research on Saturday showed that people living in the most deprived areas of Britain are more than four times likelier to test positive than those living in the richest neighbourhoods.
- 'No celebration' -
    The pressure to ease lockdowns has mounted as the catastrophic economic effects of the virus have become clearer.
   In the United States, the world's worst-affected country with more than 87,000 deaths and 1.4 million cases, industrial production plunged 11.2 percent in April, the largest drop in a century.
Department store JCPenney, a retail institution which has not turned a profit since 2011, on Friday became the latest US business to file for bankruptcy.
   "May will not be a month of celebration. Nor will June. Nor July. Nor probably the rest of this year," warned Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.
   With 36.5 million Americans -- more than 10 percent of the population -- now out of work, Trump has been keen to ease lockdown measures as he seeks re-election in November.
   Some areas are resisting. Lockdown measures in New York City have been extended until May 28.
In the US House of Representatives, Democrats narrowly pushed through a $3 trillion rescue package late on Friday -- but Republicans have vowed to block the package in the Senate, which they control.
    Since emerging in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, the novel coronavirus has affected almost every country in the world.
   The WHO has warned Africa, which has so far been spared the worst, could have 231 million people infected and up to 190,000 dies.
   Besides its health and economic toll, the pandemic has also caused political ructions.
The latest fallout was in Brazil, which lost its second health minister in a month as Nelson Teich resigned.
   An official said the resignation was due to the minister's "incompatibility" with right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro's approach to fighting the country's spiralling COVID-19 crisis.

Burundi expels top WHO team steering coronavirus crisis

    Burundi has ordered the expulsion of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) expert team backing the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, just days before a presidential election.
   The foreign ministry, in a letter to WHO Africa headquarters and seen by AFP on Wednesday, said the UN agency’s representative in Burundi and his three colleagues “are declared persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi” by Friday.
    The directive, dated May 12, expels WHO’s top official in Burundi, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo; the country’s coronavirus coordinator, Dr Jean Pierre Mulunda Nkata; communicable diseases head Dr Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa; and a laboratory expert in the testing for COVID-19, Professor Daniel Tarzy.
World Health Organization PHOTO:Getty Images.

   “Late yesterday afternoon I was made aware through a note verbale about this decision of the government of Burundi which has asked our WHO representative and three other persons, one of whom is a consultant … to leave the country immediately,” WHO Africa Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti told journalists on Thursday.
“We are in communication with the government of Burundi to clarify and understand the reasoning behind this decision they have taken. We are in the meantime then working to organise the departure of our staff.”
   The letter does not provide a reason for the decision. Diplomatic and administrative sources told AFP the foreign ministry aborted a similar attempt to expel the same four officials a month ago.
   “They are expelled and the health minister has totally excluded WHO, accusing it of unacceptable interference in its management of the coronavirus,” a Burundian official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
   The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention described the move as “unfortunate” at a time when greater cooperation was needed to tackle the virus on the continent.
   “We are in dire need of technical expertise as a continent, which has a very weak health system and fragile infrastructure, where we don’t have the luxury of kicking out WHO,” director John Nkengasong told reporters Thursday.
   Meanwhile, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, tasked by the Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations and abuses in the country since 2015, said in a statement that it “deeply regretted” the decision.
Looming election
    The announcement comes just days before Burundians go to the polls on May 20 to choose a new president, parliamentarians and local officials.
   The country has officially recorded 27 cases and one death from the coronavirus.
But it has taken few precautions against the disease and testing is low, fuelling concern that the true extent of the outbreak is not known.
   A health ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said seven patients have been hospitalised at one institution with symptoms such as respiratory distress and had not been tested and that “a whole wing has been dedicated to them at the military hospital”.
   Meanwhile, a doctor, also seeking anonymity, reported six deaths of patients “presenting all the symptoms of coronavirus” last week.
   One resident of the capital recounted that her neighbour, who had a fever and respiratory problems, was refused a test.
“This man was 65 years old and died at home last week,” she said.
   Meanwhile, the National Institute of Public Health, the only place carrying out tests, has had six of its staff responsible for taking samples, fall sick with the virus.
  “Since then all activity is paralysed, no test can be carried out, it is a catastrophe,” an employee of the institue confirmed to AFP, on condition of anonymity.
Election at any cost
    Rights groups say the government is pressing ahead with the vote no matter the cost and accuses the ruling party and its youth wing of crushing dissent and threatening those taking their own measures against coronavirus.
   Huge political rallies have been held across the country, drawing tens of thousands of supporters together in mass gatherings that have been banned in other parts of Africa and around the word.
Nkengasong warned such congregations were ripe for spreading coronavirus far and wide.
    “We’ve seen that in countries where they’ve gone ahead and conducted elections, or where they’ve enabled people to come together in a political rally, the cases have increased,” he said.
Officials in Burundi have cited divine protection for the country’s ostensibly low infection rate and urged citizens to go about their daily lives without fear.
    “Do not be afraid. God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi,” said General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party.




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