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US ramps up pressure on Venezuela with sanctions

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The United States cranked up the pressure on Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday, imposing sanctions on his wife and more of his inner circle and issuing harsh warnings about his vulnerability to an overthrow.

President Donald Trump said the “repressive regime” in Caracas that is responsible for a “human tragedy” in the once oil-rich nation “could be toppled very quickly by the military if the military decides to do that.”

But he declined to talk about possible US military options.

“I don’t like to talk about military…. I’m not going to tell,” Mr Trump said during a meeting with the president of Venezuela’s neighbour Colombia, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The issue is even more sensitive given a New York Times report this month saying Trump administration officials had met three times with Venezuelan military officers to discuss plans to oust Mr Maduro but the plans stalled.

“Currently we are witnessing the human tragedy” in Venezuela, Mr Trump told world leaders gathered at the United Nations. “More than two million people have fled the anguish inflicted by the socialist Maduro regime and its Cuban sponsors.”

The US Treasury earlier Tuesday announced new sanctions against Venezuelan first lady Cilia Adela Flores de Maduro, a former attorney general and the president’s wife, as one of the figures who has helped Mr Maduro retain his grip on power, along with Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

He said Mr Maduro’s socialism “has bankrupted the oil-rich nation and driven its people into abject poverty.”

President Maduro slammed the US move against his wife as cowardly.

“Don’t mess with Cilia. Don’t mess with family. Don’t be cowards!” Mr Maduro fumed during a televised event, warning that his wife would not be cowed “because Cilia is a fierce woman.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the situation in Venezuela “is one of our foreign policy priorities,” and Ottawa is urging action to help with the growing refugee crisis and its impact on neighbouring Colombia.

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The “migration crisis coming out of Venezuela is not just a local problem, it has to be a problem for our hemisphere and really a global problem,” Ms Freeland said at an event on the sidelines of the UN assembly.

“There are a lot of people who are fleeing Venezuela, and these people, in addition to being poor and hungry, many of them are really sick and have illnesses which we thought had been eradicated.”

She also said sanctions against the regime are needed.

“The Venezuelan leadership needs to know that actions have consequences,” Ms Freeland said. “And all of us need to continue to let the people of Venezuela know that they have our support.”

The other Venezuelan officials US Treasury targeted with sanctions were described as members of Mr Maduro’s inner circle — Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez and Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez.

“Treasury will continue to impose a financial toll on those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline and the networks and front-men they use to mask their illicit wealth,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Those hit with sanctions will have any assets or property in the United States seized — including a Gulfstream 200 private jet located in Florida and owned by Rafael Sarria Diaz, named as a front man — and US institutions are prohibited from doing business with them.

Mr Maduro already was hit with the same penalties on July 31, 2017, as was Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

Treasury said the sanctions could be lifted if the officials “take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the government, and combat corruption in Venezuela.”

Some 2.3 million Venezuelans, or 7.5 percent of the population, live abroad with the number sharply growing in the past several years as hyperinflation slashes the worth of salaries and makes necessities prohibitively expensive, according to the UN.

The collapse of Venezuela’s oil-based economy under the increasingly authoritarian Mr Maduro has led to dire shortages of food and medicine.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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