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Latin America named virus epicentre as Trump seeks US reopening

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AFP

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The World Health Organization declared Latin America “a new epicentre” of the coronavirus pandemic as President Donald Trump ramped up pressure on state and local governments to speed up the reopening of the reeling American economy.

Surges in infections across much of Central and South America have driven the global case count to nearly 5.2 million, with more than 337,000 deaths, even as hard-hit Europe and the United States cautiously move into a recovery phase.

The death toll in Brazil has soared past 20,000, and with 310,000 reported cases, it has the third-biggest caseload in the world behind the United States and Russia.

“In a sense, South America has become a new epicentre for the disease,” WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan said on Friday.

“We’ve seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases… but certainly the most affected is Brazil at this point.”

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Unlike in Europe and the United States, where the elderly were hardest-hit, a significant number of deaths in Brazil have been younger people, who are often driven by poverty to work despite the threat of infection.

“Since Brazil has a younger population, it’s normal for the number of cases to be higher among under-60s,” said Mauro Sanchez, an epidemiologist at the University of Brasilia.

“What’s perverse is that a lot of the people who are exposing themselves to the virus are doing it because they don’t have a choice.”

As the toll mounted, grave-diggers at a cemetery outside Sao Paulo scrambled to keep up.

“We’ve been working 12-hour days, burying them one after the other,” said one worker at Vila Formosa, wearing a white protective suit, mask and face shield.

In Washington, President Trump, keen to find a way out of the crisis and facing an uphill re-election battle, ramped up pressure on state and local governments to ease lockdown measures.

The pandemic has hammered the American economy and led to calls for an end to virus restrictions, despite the Covid-19 numbers still rising in the United States — the worst-hit country in the world with 1.6 million infections and 96,000 deaths.

Trump demanded state governors classify churches, synagogues and mosques as “essential services” on the same level as food and drug stores, and immediately allow them to hold services despite curbs on public gatherings.

“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend,” said the president, who counts religious conservatives as a core of his electoral base.

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less,” added Trump, who has previously expressed support for street protests against lockdowns.

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It was not clear whether he had any authority to override the governors.

There was pushback from the mayor of Los Angeles after the Trump administration warned that the continued lockdown in the city could be illegal.

“We are not guided by politics in this — we are guided by science, we are guided by collaboration,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti.

In the latest step to restart the economy, the Trump administration said Friday it would exempt from entry bans foreign professional athletes competing in the top leagues for several sports, including basketball, tennis and golf.

“In today’s environment, Americans need their sports,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Homeland Security department, said in a statement announcing the order.

“It’s time to reopen the economy and it’s time we get our professional athletes back to work.”

Experts have warned that until a vaccine or treatment is developed for the virus, lockdown measures will persist in some form to prevent new waves of infections, a factor that has put immense pressure on economies.

The airline, travel and hospitality sectors have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and car rental giant Hertz became the latest high-profile victim, announcing Friday that it was filing for bankruptcy in the United States and Canada.

It added that the bankruptcy filing excludes its main international operations, including Europe, where many nations are opening up their economies cautiously after slowing the spread of the virus.

France decided that it was safe to hold a delayed second round of municipal elections on June 28, and the Czech Republic said the epidemic remains contained there, two weeks after shopping malls, cinemas and restaurant terraces reopened.

Serbia said, meanwhile, that the Exit Festival in Novi Sad — one of Europe’s biggest music events — could go ahead in August as planned, and in Italy Florence’s famous Duomo cathedral reopened to the public.

But authorities are still keen to avoid opening up too fast, with a surge in Russia illustrating how quickly the deadly disease can spread.

Russia has so far recorded 3,249 deaths — with a caseload of more 325,000 infections, second only to the United States.

“The seriously ill are building up. Doctors try to save each one who lies there for two, three or more weeks,” said Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

“Unfortunately, it’s not possible to save them all.”

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Father, son jailed for 20 and 15 years respectively for raping neighbour: The Standard

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Rift ValleyCourt rules prosecution had submitted enough evidence against the two

A man and his son have been handed 20 and 15 years-jail terms respectively for raping a woman in Kuresoi North in 2018.
John Chirchir, 58 and his son Vincent Lang’at, 28 were found guilty of raping the 28-year-old woman from Telowa village.
According to the court, the two jointly violated the woman who was their neighbour against her will on June 27, 2018.
SEE ALSO: COVID-19: Nakuru MCAs risk lives to meet over Sh14,500 allowance
The two were arrested on the same day and produced before court on the following day for plea taking.
While delivering his judgement, Molo Resident Magistrate Emmanuel Soita said the prosecution led by John Limo had submitted enough evidence against the two.
The Magistrate noted that five witnesses were called on testifies against the suspects.
The same court also handed a ten-year jail term to Samuel Kiprono who is accused of defiling a nine-year-old girl at Keringet area in Kuresoi South.

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Sudan says three jailed Bashir aides have virus

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AFP

By AFP
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Sudanese authorities said Wednesday that three former senior aides to ousted president Omar al-Bashir have caught the novel coronavirus in prison.

Former officials Ali Othman Taha, Ahmed Mohamed Haroun and Abdulreheem Mohamed Hussein have been held in Khartoum’s Kober prison since Bashir’s military ouster in April 2019 following mass protests against his rule.

All three are awaiting trial in Sudan for corruption and other offences.

Haroun and Hussein, who held top government positions under Bashir, are wanted by the International Criminal Court over their role in the Darfur conflict.

On Wednesday, Sudan’s public prosecution said the three men had tested positive for Covid-19, which has so far infected 4,146 people and killed 184 in the country.

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Haroun has been in an isolation centre in northern Khartoum since late April, the statement said.

Prison authorities tested the others on May 20 and transferred Hussein to a hospital in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city, and Taha to an isolation centre in central Khartoum, according to the statement.

Taha served as vice president under Bashir between 1998-2013, and was previously Sudan’s foreign minister.

Hussein served in several positions including defence and interior minister. He was also assigned governor of Khartoum before Bashir’s ouster.

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Haroun served as minister of state for the interior, minister of state for humanitarian affairs, and governor of the conflict-ridden South Kordofan.

All three were members of Bashir’s now-defunct National Congress Party.

The Hague-based ICC charged Bashir and others — including Haroun and Hussein — with war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict which erupted in 2003.

The fighting started when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, accusing it of political and economic marginalisation of their region.

The United Nations estimates around 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million others displaced in the conflict.

Human rights groups say Khartoum targeted suspected pro-rebel ethnic groups with a scorched earth policy, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.

In February, Sudan’s transitional authorities, who took power in August, agreed that Bashir and his aides should stand trial before the ICC.

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Covid-19 team wants schools to reopen in September

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By FAITH NYAMAI

By DAVID MUCHUNGUH

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Schools, colleges and universities may remain shut beyond June 4 if a preliminary report by a committee formed to advise Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha is adopted.

Additionally, national exams scheduled for November will be administered in February 2021, according to the report by the Covid-19 Education Response Committee chaired by Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Council chairperson Sara Ruto.

Although the Nation could not independently verify the highlights of the report, sources on the committee said Prof Magoha has been advised to start putting in place mechanisms to prepare for the reopening of schools in September.

The CS had set June 4 as the tentative opening date, pending the advice of the committee and the Ministry of Health.

That seems unlikely, considering the rising number of coronavirus infections. Kenya has 1,618 cases, with 147 reported Thursday.

“The final decision on when to reopen schools rests with the minister and the President, but we have presented our views,” the source said.

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Members of the committee are understood to have spent the better part of Thursday in a meeting “tying the loose ends of our report”.

Prof Magoha is expected to present his recommendations to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who announced the closure of learning institutions on March 15.

BOOST FUNDING

Mr Kenyatta last week hinted at adopting measures to open up the country’s economy.

The night-time curfew and restriction on movement from and into Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Mandera counties expire on June 6.

Dr Ruto’s committee recommends that the Education ministry change the academic calendar to start in September and provide the requisite resources to run schools smoothly.

The team has also asked the CS to enhance funding for schools. Schools had not received all the State funding by the time they closed.

Many are struggling to pay auxiliary staff and teachers hired by boards of management.

Private schools have also been hit by the prolonged closure, as they depend on fees to pay staff, rent and loans.

The task force says money due should be released in full in September.

The committee has also come up with rules for reopening schools in compliance with World Health Organisation guidelines on managing Covid-19.

It advises the ministry to ensure social distancing and high levels of hygiene are observed in schools.

SAFEY GUIDELINES

The source said education stakeholders should be involved in executing the back-to-school programmes.

Teachers’ unions protested their exclusion from the committee. More than 3,000 people and institutions submitted their views to the team.

The recommendations came a day after the Kenya National Union of Teachers, University Academic Staff Union, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Doctors Union, Forum for African Women Educationalists-Kenya and Elimu Tuitakayo Network said schools should remain closed until September.

They also proposed that national exams be postponed to the first quarter of 2021.

The organisations recommended an elaborate and solid plan on safety in schools by the Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health be put in place before schools reopen.

Tracking coronavirus

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