Covid-19: Need to know

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus .Most people who fall sick with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate symptoms and recover without special treatment.

HOW IT SPREADS

The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air, and quickly fall on floors or surfaces. You can be infected by breathing in the virus if you are within close proximity of someone who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then your eyes, nose or mouth.

Stay home and stay safe!

Coronavirus: What are your thoughts on the Lockdown or restriction of movement?

There is no doubt that the global pandemic has taken the world by storm and so many were unprepared for it. To stay home for someone whose life has always been ‘outdoor’ is really tasking.

Your thoughts on the lockdown will be appreciated and how you have fared during this period. What do you think could have been done differently? Your experience(s) will be worth someone’s time.

You can share your story in written words, pictures or even video. It will truly be worthwhile. Thanks

Relationship matters: Falling in love versus staying in love

For most people, falling in love usually seems to just happen. It’s staying in love—or preserving that “falling in love” experience—that requires commitment and work. Given its rewards, though, it’s well worth the effort. A healthy, secure romantic relationship can serve as an ongoing source of support and happiness in your life, through good times and bad, strengthening all aspects of your well-being. By taking steps now to preserve or rekindle your falling in love experience, you can build a meaningful relationship that lasts—even for a lifetime.

Many couples focus on their relationship only when there are specific, unavoidable problems to overcome. Once the problems have been resolved they often switch their attention back to their careers, kids, or other interests. However, romantic relationships require ongoing attention and commitment for love to flourish. As long as the health of a romantic relationship remains important to you, it is going to require your attention and effort. And identifying and fixing a small problem in your relationship now can often help prevent it from growing into a much larger one down road.

German company begins human trials of coronavirus vaccine

The headquarters of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech in Mainz, Germany [File: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters]
The headquarters of biopharmaceutical company BioNTech in Mainz, Germany [File: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

German pharmaceutical company BioNTech has begun testing a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus on volunteers.

BioNTech, which is working with the US-based Pfizer, said on Wednesday that 12 participants of a clinical trial in Germany received doses of the vaccine candidate BNT162 since April 23.

Numerous pharmaceutical companies are racing to deliver a vaccine for the virus that has caused a pandemic and led to more than 215,000 deaths worldwide and sickened at least three million people.

BioNTech said in a statement that in the next step, it will begin increasing the dose of BNT162 in a trial involving about 200 participants aged 18 to 55.

The company said it expects to receive regulatory approval to begin trials in the United States soon.

While a safe, effective vaccine is still more than a year away, researchers are rushing to repurpose existing drugs and non-drug therapies as well as testing promising experimental drugs that were already in clinical trials.

Even moderately effective therapies or combinations could dramatically reduce the crushing demand on hospitals and intensive care units, changing the nature of the risk the new pathogen represents to populations and healthcare systems.

New drugs, together with new diagnostics, antibody tests, patient- and contact-tracing technologies, disease surveillance and other early-warning tools, mean the anticipated next “wave” of the global pandemic does not have to be nearly as bad as the first.

As many as 100 potential COVID-19 candidate vaccines are now under development by biotech and research teams around the world, and at least five of these are in preliminary testing in people in what are known as Phase 1 clinical trials.

Scientists in the United Kingdom began clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine on April 23 as other vaccine developers across Europe stepped up work on experimental shots.

The team at the UK’s Oxford University dosed the first volunteers in a trial of their vaccine – called “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19” – while Italy’s ReiThera, Germany’s Leukocare and Belgium’s Univercells said they were working together on another potential shot and aimed to start trials in a few months.

The UK’s GSK and France’s Sanofi have announced a similar agreement to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, with trials starting in the second half of the year.

Coronavirus: Major effort under way to determine extent of infection among Singapore’s population

Singapore has taken the fight against the coronavirus to the next level, with a major effort to determine the extent of Covid-19 infection among the population and where weak links exist.

A key focus is to find out how many have been infected but did not show any symptoms, and were therefore not tested for the virus.

The National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), which is spearheading the initiative, said this is being done using what is referred to as serology tests to analyse a person’s antibodies to determine whether or not someone had been infected.

Singapore is believed to be among the first in the world to use such tests on a large scale, to hopefully show whether precautionary measures, such as safe distancing and mandatory mask wearing, are effective and adequate.

The results would also help policymakers understand how different groups, such as front-line healthcare workers, have been affected.

And since these tests can identify those who had been infected but showed mild or no symptoms, they give an insight into the extent of under-diagnosed cases of Covid-19.

As such cases tend to involve young healthy individuals, they indicate how these people contribute to the spread of the disease.

Such serology tests are a well-established tool for managing infectious diseases, the NCID said yesterday, when sharing the preliminary results of the studies done so far.

The research, commissioned by the NCID’s Covid-19 research workgroup, were conducted between February and this month, and reflect case figures before the numbers began to spike early this month.

Three separate studies are being done: On healthcare workers, close contacts of Covid-19 patients and the rest of the population, including children.

Preliminary results show that the risk of infection is highest among close contacts.

The scope of the studies will be expanded in the coming months to help further shape Singapore’s response measures to the pandemic in the long term.

The NCID said the tests, when applied to Covid-19, are valuable for accurately comparing data across different groups of people according to such factors as age or geographical location.

This enables comparisons both within a country and across countries to help researchers understand factors that determine the effectiveness of Covid-19 control measures over time.

The studies were planned as early as January, soon after the virus began spreading outside of China.

The workgroup, formed in January, is chaired by the NCID’s executive director, Professor Leo Yee Sin, and advised by the Health Ministry’s chief health scientist, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan.

(ST)

Professor Leo Yee Sin. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Coronavirus could affect international football for ‘two or three years’

Artist's impression of Qatar World Cup in 2022
It is not yet known if the coronavirus will impact the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

Coronavirus could impact on the international football calendar for “two or three years”, says a member of Uefa’s executive committee.

Lars-Christer Olsson, president of European Leagues, said that it would be a case of “wait and see” to assess the disruption of the pandemic, including on the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Uefa hopes to complete the Champions League and Europa League in August.

A decision is set to be made at the end of May around whether this is feasible.

There are also plans to fit three – rather than two – fixtures into international windows this autumn to play Euro 2020 qualifiers and Nations League fixtures.

Olsson said that he would “rather see a scenario where the current season is not finished than not kicking off the new season”.

Following the widespread suspension of football and the postponement of Euro 2020 and Euro 2021, he was asked on a Soccerex webinar how long he thought that the international calendar could be affected.

“Probably two or three years I think,” he said.

Earlier, he had told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast that there was “no consensus” between countries regarding finishing the domestic season, as each country faces different situations regarding the virus and government decisions.

Asked how Uefa would claim to have a satisfactory conclusion to their competitions if competing clubs, such as PSG and Ajax, have not played football for many months, he said: “It’s difficult to say but in any case, it’s a extraordinary situation we are in and there have to be extraordinary solutions.”

Speaking on the webinar, he said: “For the time being we are planning, trying to squeeze in the rest of the season 2019-20 in the month of August.

“If that would be possible, then I think it would be fine because that would also mean that we can safeguard the integrity of the final phase of the current season of international football.

“But of course we have to take decisions about that at the end of May at least because otherwise it will probably not be possible to squeeze it in and also to qualify the clubs for the new season.”

With the World Cup less than three years away, Olsson was asked if that could be affected.

“If the virus is developing in an even more serious way as it has been for the time being there will definitely be a problem with the international calendar,” he said.

“When some of the competitions are moved from one year to another. And then the Qatar World Cup is coming in the middle of the European season and you have to squeeze in domestic and international competitions. But I think we have to wait and see how that is going to affect the business.”

‘Hand of God’ can end pandemic – Maradona

Argentine football legend Diego Maradona has asked the “Hand of God” to deliver the world from the coronavirus pandemic and allow normal life to resume.

The World Cup winner referred to his hand-assisted goal in the 1986 World Cup after Argentine football chiefs voted to end the current season as well as suspend relegation, saving Maradona-managed bottom club Gimnasia from the drop.

“Today this happened to us and many people say it is a new Hand of God,” said Maradona, alluding to his infamous goal against England.

“But today I’m asking for that hand to end this pandemic so people can go back to living their lives, healthy and happy.”

Then-Argentine captain Maradona responded to the controversy over his goal at the World Cup in Mexico by saying “it was the Hand of God!”

Argentina went on to beat England 2-1 in the quarter-final.

On being thrown a lifeline by the suspension of the season, he told Argentine daily Clarin: “It’s not the ending we had wanted, we were convinced we could save ourselves on the pitch.”

Argentina has been in lockdown since March 20 against the coronavirus, which by early Wednesday had infected 4,114 people with 207 deaths.

The 59-year-old Maradona, appointed to manage struggling Gimnasia in September, said clubs in Argentina are facing years of financial difficulty.

“Hopefully it is understood that we have to face what’s coming together, for the good of football. No-one is like Rambo in this war, because even Rambo loses against this.”

(AFP)

Government offices, Manufacturing companies and Banks to re-open on Monday – FG

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19   has directed government offices, banks and manufacturing companies to reopen on Monday.

The Chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, and the Coordinator, Dr Sani  Aliyu, stated this at the media briefing of the group on Wednesday in  Abuja, where they gave guidelines for the gradual reopening of the economy.

According to them, banks will start operating as from Monday, but will only open from 8am to 2pm and must adhere to social distancing measures.

They also stated that people in public places must use face masks, adding that schools would remain closed and social parties should not be held.

The PTF members disclosed that public buses would only be allowed to operate from  6am to 6pm and that drivers must maintain social distancing in terms of number of their passengers.

They said employers must provide face masks and thermometers besides maintaining social distancing in their premises.

Government offices and many business premises had been shut since last month when President Muhammadu Buhari announced measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But the task force Chairman, Mustapha, on Wednesday said that the reopening of the economy did not mean an end to COVID-19 pandemic.

He urged state governments and security agencies to ensure that the measures introduced by the Federal Government were strictly enforced.

Mustapha said, “In line with Mr. President’s directive in paragraphs 38-41 of his broadcast (on Monday), the PTF has developed sector specific guidelines. The gradual reopening of the economy will span a total of six weeks broken into three tranches of two weeks each.

“This phased strategy is designed to reduce the pains of socio-economic disruptions while strengthening our public health response, which would ultimately reduce the recovery of our economy and provide succour for the poor and vulnerable.”

According to him, as the economy reopens gradually, public and private organisations are mandated to ensure fumigation and decontamination of their premises.

He added that in all private and public establishments,  there must be use of face masks; provision of thermometers for temperature checks and consideration must be given to persons living with disabilities while making all the arrangements

Mustapha said, “A mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace is strictly prohibited and controlled access to neighbourhood markets and locations of economic activities will be enforced.

“Mandatory temperature checks will be conducted in public places; social distancing of two metres will be maintained between people in workplaces and other public places; all passenger flights remain under ban; and there will be  mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving from outside the country for at least 14 days.”

The National Coordinator of the PTF,  Dr Sani Aliyu,  gave more insight into the guidelines.

He stated, “For government offices, government staff will be allowed to resume from the 4th  of May, but it will be based on specific grade levels and specific days so that we can reduce the amount of congestion that we might have in our government offices and we will be discussing further with state governments to make sure that we have a common approach to this.

“Banks will be allowed to open but there will be a restriction in the opening hours to between 8am to 2pm and together with all the other preventive measures,” such as temperature check and maintaining of social distance.

Although the task force had said it did not stop banks from opening, many of them had shut their doors since the lockdown began.

Speaking on other aspects of the guidelines, Aliyu said, “From the point of agriculture and rural development, companies involved in food processing can commence operation.

“In construction sites, the critical roads  (work) will be allowed but waivers will be provided by state governments to enable movement.

“For the manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries, we will encourage shift work and limiting staff to only 30 to 50 per cent to maintain social distancing and pharmacy shops may remain open overnight.”

Aliyu also spoke on schools, theatres and social parties.

He said, “Restaurants will not open to the public, but will be allowed to engage in home delivery. Schools will remain closed till further evaluation. Schools are encouraged to continue with e-learning and virtual teaching.

“Social activities such as the use of recreational parks, communal sports, concerts, social parties and movie theatres will be suspended until further review.”

Aliyu added that outside the curfew hours, buses and motor parks would be allowed to open “for some hours in a day, I believe 6am to 6pm, and taxis will also be allowed to operate.”

The PTF Chairman, Mustapha, in his speech, admitted that it was true that some categories of contributory pensioners had not been paid since January. He give reasons for the gap.

He said, “Accrued right of the pensioners is to be paid by the FG and it is being processed to be paid to PENCOM. We are in the process of transition as far as pension is concerned. There are people that retired in January 2019 that came with their accrued rights from the old pension scheme that will be merged with the new scheme. That is being processed at the moment.”

He also explained the purposes of the two stimulus packages released by the Central Bank of Nigeria, which came in two batches of N100bn and N50bn.

He added, “There is a package of N100bn which is majorly for hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. They are the ones government is trying to ensure that after COVID-19, they would be adequately prepared to deal with future needs.

“The second stimulus of N50bn is for activities such as agricultural value chain, hospitality, accommodation and food services. There is also help for medical and pharmaceutical supplies, manufacturing, trading and any other income generating activities.

Also at the briefing, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said some staff members of the centre had been infected with coronavirus. When asked to state the number of the affected workers, the DG of the NCDC refused to give the number.

He said, “After work on Tuesday, I spoke with a number of people in my own team that had sadly become infected in the line of duty. I called them to encourage them but they ended up encouraging me and the PTF to continue pushing, that our work is  important for the future of our country.”

“Although they are isolated and some of them in hospitals, they keep working, contributing to the response. They said it is better to do that than to sit idly watching television or thinking about their fate.”

Ihekweazu said that he would not take issue with any governor on the number of person infected in each state. He stated that the only way to ascertain those who had the virus was to test them. During one of the briefings this week, the DG of the NCDC had charged states with zero case to collect more samples from people in their states for test to be conducted.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire,  said restriction on the lockdown would only be relaxed if Nigerians observed government advisory put in place to arrive at reduced number of cases.

The minister urged lawmakers to be involved in disease surveillance and provision of bed spaces in isolation centres at their constituencies.

The minister said that the delegation that was sent to Kano over rise in COVID19 cases and deaths in the state had begun working after meeting the governor of the state.

“They were well received by His Excellency the Governor and have been able to conduct an appraisal of the situation and start working on outlines of providing technical support for the state COVID-19 task force in several aspects, as well as planning capacity building for the frontline health workers.

On isolation centres, Ehanire said various activities were available for patients while efforts had been made to provide mental health support to fight boredom.

“There are those in single room because they have travelled and waiting for 14 days. For those who do not like to be alone, it may not be easy but for those who like to be alone, they can work on their computers, read books or watch television. It depends on your kind of mentality,” he said.

Football: Osimhen in Liverpool contract talks

Premier League giants, Liverpool, have reportedly opened talks with representatives of Victor Osimhen over the possibility of joining the Reds in the summer.

The 2015 U-17 World Cup Golden Boot winner has been a target for many European clubs after his impressive performance for Lille in Ligue 1.

Osimhen joined the French outfit from Sporting Charleroi for €12m in August 2019 and still has another four-and-a-half-year left on his contract.

With his current form for Les Dogues, where he scored 13 goals from 27 league matches, the club may lose their most prized asset and French media outlet Le 10 Sport claims the current European champions have started talks with the player’s representatives.

“Courted by several large British clubs, Victor Osimhen is particularly interesting for Liverpool. His representatives have entered into discussions with the Reds,” the website wrote.

“According to our information, discussions have recently opened between Liverpool and representatives of Victor Osimhen with the objective of laying the foundations for a first contractual proposal if the Reds ever send a transfer offer to LOSC (Lille).

“Liverpool are thus taking a position on a file which has already changed considerably in recent months.”

Osimhen is also being linked with Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Coronavirus: We cannot say there is when there is none – Kogi state government

Kogi State Government on Tuesday faulted claims by the Director-General of the National Centre for Disease Control, Dr  Chikwe Ihekweazu, that states which are yet to record cases of COVID-19 are either negligent in testing and tracing or actively hiding the disease within their territories.

The state government noted that since Kogi was one of the only three states in the country yet to record any case of COVID-19, coupled with fillers that the Centre may have mentioned the state by name, it found the comments by the NCDC DG allegedly aimed to defame and shame the state incredibly distressing.

“What we expect from the National Centre for Disease Control is a commendation of our efforts to contain the outbreak of the pandemic,” a statement by the state Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, noted.

He said the state had religiously followed all the NCDC and World Health Organisation COVID-19 advisories, both for identifying cases and preventing spread.

He said, “The governor of Kogi State does not believe that increasing the burden on the overwhelmed NCDC and the other agencies cum resources labouring in the frontlines of our response to this deadly pandemic, when neither case nor cause for such has genuinely risen in the state, is helping the country in any way.

“We have also adhered strictly to the various guidelines from, and directives of, the federal government, customised to improve both efficiency and efficacy within the peculiarities of our own circumstances.

“While we are not surprised that they have worked for us so far in keeping our state COVID-19-free, we do find it disconcerting that the lead agency in the fight is possibly expressing doubt in their efficacy while simultaneously denouncing us for following her own guidelines.

“As of today, we insist that Kogi state has no confirmed case of COVID-19 or any case to the knowledge of our vigilant medical structures across the state which matches the suspected or high-risk factors for it. If the situation changes at this very moment we shall not hesitate for a second before alerting the NCDC.”

Senegal’s $1 COVID-19 test kit and the race for a vaccine

What should take 10-15 years, the global scientific community hopes to cram into months. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there are 70 vaccines in the works for COVID-19, four of the most promising are already being tested. 

The billions being spent now could help return the economy back to normality. There is no guarantee that any of the vaccines will work. 

For now, on and off lockdowns and flare-ups of coronavirus could be the norm. 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will fund the manufacturing of seven potential vaccines. Despite the fact that billions of dollars could be wasted, maybe just one or two of the vaccines will be successful. But Bill Gates argues that losing a billion is better than the global economy losing trillions of dollars. 

The United States has set aside $27bn from its multitrillion-dollar stimulus package for the development of vaccines. It bet almost $500m on drugmaker Moderna to deliver its COVID-19 vaccine, which is already in trials. 

Tech start-up BenevolentAI has unleashed its machine-learning power to find existing drugs that may be used in the fight against the pandemic. It has identified a rheumatoid arthritis drug from Eli Lilly that may do the job. 

It is just one of many drugs that are in trials right now.

And it is not just the Western world that has the scientific know-how to beat the virus, in Senegal a laboratory has used its AIDS and Ebola experience to develop a $1 COVID-19 testing kit. 

While there are no drugs to treat COVID-19, enterprising pharmaceutical companies are using existing drugs to help those seriously affected by the pathogen. CytoDyn is seeking approval for compassionate use of its drug

Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan dies at 53

Acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan, whose international movie career included hits such as Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi and The Amazing Spider-Man, has died aged 53, his publicist said.

Khan, who was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour in 2018, died on Wednesday after he was admitted in a Mumbai hospital for colon infection. He was 53.

“Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him,” his publicist said in a statement.

He spent his final hours “surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about,” a statement released by his family said.

The actor had spent several months last year in the United Kingdom undergoing cancer treatment.

His mother, Saeeda Begum, died four days ago on April 25.

He is survived by his wife, TV producer Sutapa Sikdar, and sons Babil and Ayan. 

North Korea: Who might lead without Kim?

Speculation and rumour about Kim Jong-un’s health may amount to nothing, but questions about who might succeed him in the short or long term will always be there. The BBC spoke to analysts about the contenders and whether history is on their side.

A male member of the Kim family has been in charge of North Korea ever since its founding by Kim Il-sung in 1948 – and the mythology of this family runs deep throughout society.

Propaganda about its greatness begins for citizens before they can even read: pre-schoolers sing a song called: “I want to see our leader Kim Jong-un.”

So how can you imagine a North Korea without this symbolic and political figure at the top? How would elites organise themselves, as well as society as a whole?

The easy answer is: we don’t know. More interestingly, they don’t know either. They have never had to do it.

Presentational grey line

There has always been a Kim…

Archives: Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in South Korea in November, 1994-Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong ll, Mt.Paekdu.
Image captionKim Il-sung is the founder of North Korea and his son Kim Jong-il took over

As Kim Jong-un was being prepared for power, they even began using the term “Paektu Bloodline” to help legitimise his rule.

Paektu is the sacred and mythologised mountain where Kim Il-sung is said to have waged guerrilla war and where Kim Jong-il was reportedly born. Kim Jong-un still goes there when he wants to emphasise important policy decisions.

There has always been a Kim at the ideological heart of the country.

What would North Korea be like without such an heir? Kim Jong-un, 36, is believed to have children – but they are far too young. It is thought he has three children, the oldest being 10 and the youngest three. Kim Jong-un himself was considered young when he took power – he was 27.

It is likely that some sort of group leadership would emerge, perhaps as in Vietnam, that leans heavily on the founder’s teachings and legitimacy to boost their own standing.

Observers can track who holds certain key positions and can follow news and open-source intelligence about important institutions, but can’t really tell how factions are developing, nor who is holding power through personal rather than institutional bonds. Moreover, sometimes vice or deputy directors wield more real power than the titular heads of institutions. This makes all predictions extremely difficult.

The three remaining Kims

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrives at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
Image captionKim Yo-jong, as the only woman in the top leadership, has sparked fascination

There are three Kims who could potentially be involved in the political make-up of North Korea if Kim Jong-un were to disappear. They all face limitations in carrying on family rule.

The first is Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister. She is said to have been a favourite of her father who commented on her precocity, her interest in politics from a young age. Her manner is efficient, mild and one suspects rather observant. Much has been made of her closeness to her brother. At the Singapore Trump-Kim summit she was famously on hand to pass him a pen to sign the agreement with, and at the next summit in Hanoi, was pictured peeking out from behind corners as her brother posed for statesman-like photos.

Yet she was not above a temporary demotion after the Hanoi summit – purportedly because of its failure although this will never be confirmed. She doesn’t sit on the top policy-making body, the State Affairs Commission, but is an alternate member of the Politburo and vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD) of the Workers’ Party of Korea. These may seem like incomprehensible acronyms but the PAD is a powerful organisation that ensures ideological loyalty in the system.

She is a woman, however, and this makes it hard to imagine her occupying the top position in such a deeply patriarchal country. North Korea is an extremely male state, in which gender carries rigid expectations. Being supreme leader, and certainly running the military, does not fit in the range of womanly duties.

The second is Kim Jong-chul. He is Kim Jong-un’s older brother, but has never appeared interested in politics or power. (He is known to be interested in Eric Clapton.) At most, he could be a symbolic link to the Kim family: perhaps made the head of a foundation and put forward to read the odd speech.

The final one is Kim Pyong-il, Kim Jong-il’s half-brother. His mother – Kim Jong-il’s stepmother – was angling to have him become Kim Il-sung’s successor. She failed and was sidelined by Kim Jong-il as he rose in influence. Kim Pyong-il was sent to Europe in 1979, where he has held various ambassadorships, returning to North Korea only last year. This means it is very unlikely he has the network to be a central player in elite politics in Pyongyang.

The second-most powerful man in North Korea right now

The special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, Choe Ryong Hae (R), a secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers Party, meets on November 20, 2014 with the Russian foreign minister in Moscow .
Image captionAs special envoy for Kim Jong-un Choe Ryong-hae (right) has met foreign dignitaries

There are other individuals who have been central in the Kim Jong-un era, but it is difficult to know who among them would form co-operative relationships and who would compete with one another.

One is Choe Ryong-hae. He has had his ups and downs under Kim Jong-un, but having weathered a few storms currently sits on the presidium of the politburo and is also first vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission. Last year he became the first new president in 20 years, replacing the aging Kim Yong-nam – so he is the person who represents the North at international engagements.

Choe has also held high positions in the military and the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) of the Worker’s Party of Korea, responsible for enforcing loyalty throughout the regime. This is an extremely powerful organisation: it enforces the adherence of all citizens to North Korea’s ideology. He is probably the second most powerful man in North Korea.

The old spymasters and rising political grandees

US President Donald Trump stands with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, on the South Lawn of the White House on June 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Image captionKim Yong-chol travelled to Washington DC to meet Donald Trump

Another is Kim Yong-chol. This general paved the way for the Trump-Kim summits, meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo several times. He has been head of the United Front Department (responsible for relations with South Korea) and the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the country’s main intelligence service. He seems to have suffered a demotion following the collapse talks with the United States, but it is unlikely this spymaster will remain obscure for long.

Yet another is Kim Jae-ryong. As well as being on the State Affairs Commission, he is Premier of the Cabinet, a moderately influential position. Relatively little is known about him, but his star has risen in the past years as others have fallen. He is known for managing industries and ran the most isolated province, home to key military-industrial sites, for several years. This may mean he has been closely involved in the nuclear program.

Jong Kyong-taek is responsible for the State Security Department, which investigates and punishes political crimes. It also helps physically protect the leadership. These are crucial responsibilities that help enforce stability in the system.

Hwang Pyong-so is another official who has held top military posts and has run the OGD in the Kim Jong-un era. Like Choe (and many others) he has been disciplined; he doesn’t seem to have been rehabilitated in the same way, however. Other 2010s foreign policy stalwarts Ri Yong-ho and Ri Su-yong have also seen roles diminish recently. They have been replaced by Ri Son-gwon and Kim Hyung-jun. The former is said to be an ally of Kim Yong-chol.

The military enforcers

A handful of top generals of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) would also certainly exert influence in any transition period. Currently, two men sit atop the General Political Bureau of the KPA, Kim Su-gil and Kim Won-hong. This bureau enforces political loyalty in the military, something that would be absolutely crucial during periods of uncertainty.

Kim Won-hong, helps illustrate how difficult it is to predict how power would be shared if Kim Jong-un were no longer there. Kim Won-hong and Hwang Pyong-so had been thought to be rivals, competing to influence Kim Jong-un at the other’s expense.

Amongst top elites, who would clash and who would ally? Would there be pro and anti-Kim Yo-jong factions? Would the fear of instability stop rivalries from getting out of hand? After all, it is in no elite politician’s interest to see the state collapse, opening the door for some kind of takeover by South Korea, or even China.

There is currently no perfect contender: his sister would have to overcome the sexism and the break from tradition of a male heir. Anybody else is not directly descended from that all-important Paektu bloodline. but in the end, they will all have to think of the unity of the state they have defied every international norm to preserve.

Coronavirus: Why are black Americans the most affected in the US?

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States has now passed 985,000, with the disease killing more than 55,000 people. But as novel coronavirus continues its march across all 50 states, disproportionately high numbers of black Americans are among those dying from the disease.

Preliminary nationwide data released by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests black Americans make up about 30 percent of COVID-19 patients, despite the fact only 13 percent of the US population is black. But much of that federal data is missing information on the racial identity of those who have contracted COVID-19 – and some state and local figures paint an even bleaker picture. In Louisiana, black people account for 56 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 but only 32 percent of the general population. In Michigan, black people comprise 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths but just 13.8 percent of the state population.

Health researchers, journalists and social scientists say there are several reasons why black communities are being disproportionately affected by coronavirus. Many black Americans work in essential public-facing industries such as retail, mass transit and food preparation, holding jobs that do not offer sick leave or health insurance and which only raise enough wages for rental housing in areas neglected by local authorities. African Americans are also at higher risk of chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, pre-existing conditions that place extra stress on those who fall ill with COVID-19. Racial justice advocates say the challenges that coronavirus poses to black communities in the US stem from decades of racist public policy and stereotyping.

Football: France’s top two divisions will not resume this season

The Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons will not resume after France banned all sporting events, including behind closed doors, until September.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the 2019-20 sporting season was over as he announced plans to ease France’s coronavirus lockdown on 11 May.

French football’s governing body had hoped to resume the season on 17 June and finish the campaign on 25 July.

Football was suspended indefinitely in France on 13 March.

It is not yet known whether Ligue de Football Professional (LFP) will choose to abandon the season with no promotion or relegation and no champions or base the outcome of the campaign on current standings.

Defending champions Paris St-Germain are 12 points clear of Marseille at the top of Ligue 1, with 10 rounds of matches and one outstanding fixture left to play.

Toulouse are bottom of the table, 17 points from safety, and 10 points behind Amiens. Nimes are 18th and in the relegation play-off spot, three points behind St Etienne in 17th.

PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi said after the announcement: “We respect of course the French government decision – we plan on competing in the Champions League with Uefa agreement – wherever and whenever it is held.

“If it is not possible to play in France we will play our matches abroad subject to the best conditions for our players and the safety of all our staff.”

The top five sides in Ligue 2 are separated by just four points, with Lorient and Lens currently occupying the automatic promotion spots.

The LFP had previously met on 10 April and voted to resume the Ligue 1 season.

However, Philippe said: “The 2019-20 season of professional sports, including football, will not be able to resume.

“It will be possible, on sunny days, to practice an individual sporting activity outdoors, obviously respecting the rules of social distancing.

“It will not be possible, neither to practice sport in covered places, nor team or contact sports.”

European leagues have until 25 May to tell European football’s governing body Uefa whether they want to complete or cancel their seasons.

Javier Tebas, president of Spain’s La Liga, said after the announcement in France: “I do not understand why there would more danger in playing football behind closed doors, with all precautionary measures, than working on an assembly line, being on a fishing boat on the high seas, etc.

“If important economic sectors cannot restart, in a safe and controlled manner, they could end up disappearing. That could happen to professional football. In other countries teams are already training, that’s the example to follow.

“In Spain, football is an important economic driver that we need to reactivate like many others. We continue to focus on this reactivation, in a responsible manner and adhering to health recommendations, as soon as possible.”

The Dutch top flight was abandoned on Friday with no promotion or relegation and no champions, while on Monday Belgian clubs postponed a vote on confirming the cancellation of their top flight until next week.

The head of the Dutch FA told BBC Sport he thinks it is “very doubtful” the Premier League will be able to complete the 2019-20 campaign.

Uefa has said it will use on-field performance to determine which clubs make up next season’s European club competitions.

If league seasons cannot be finished, it said national associations would need to select clubs to qualify for Europe.