Three women have been trampled to death during a stampede for an $8 cash handout in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo amid growing desperation among Sri Lankans struggling to make ends meet during a coronavirus lockdown that has smashed the economy.
Some 1,000 people queued outside a businessman’s warehouse for his annual handout during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, local member of parliament Mujibur Rahman said on Thursday.
There was a rush for the 1,500 rupee gift – about the same amount as a labourer’s daily wage – when the gates opened, he said.
“Some people tried to break the queue and enter,” Rahman told the AFP news agency. “That is when the women at the top of the queue fell and were trampled to death.”
Nine others were seriously hurt in the stampede and taken to hospital, he said, adding that there was a larger-than-usual crowd during this year’s event, which has been taking place for decades.
“People have not earned any money for two months because of the virus lockdown [since March 20],” Rahman said.
“People are desperate. When they heard about today’s donation, over a thousand turned up.”
The businessman, who has not been named by the authorities, and five of his assistants were arrested for violating the lockdown, Colombo police chief Deshabandu Tennakoon told reporters.
Government cash handouts this month – 5,000 rupees ($27) each to 5.14 million families living below the poverty line – also sparked chaotic scenes in villages.
Colombo and a neighbouring district are under lockdown, although some of the coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in other parts of Sri Lanka.
The country has recorded 1,045 infections including nine deaths so far.
The head of Burundi’s election commission has appealed for patience as ballots are collected and tallied following a tense poll to decide who will replace long-serving leader President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Burundians voted on Wednesday to elect their president, legislators and local officials in an election marked by allegations of fraud and conducted with scant attention paid to the coronavirus pandemic.
The last election in 2015 descended into violence that left 1,200 dead.
Nkurunziza won a disputed third term, but did not contest this race after 15 often turbulent years in power.
More than five million voters were asked to choose between Nkurunziza’s hand-picked heir, 52-year-old Secretary-General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the main opposition competitor Agathon Rwasa, and five other candidates.
The chairman of Burundi’s National Independent Electoral Commission urged those “getting impatient” to be calm, saying the process of counting all the votes would take several days, and results would be announced on Monday or Tuesday.
The results from more than 3,800 polling stations across Burundi had been counted and the ballot boxes were being transported to local election commission centres for collection and tallying.
“This will take time,” said commission chairman Pierre-Claver Kazihise, adding they would announce the results of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections at the same time.
He warned against reading into results being posted online.
“The intermediate figures from polling stations do not show anything. It is the official results declared after the count at the commune level that must be communicated to the people,” he said.
Healthcare workers in Britain and Thailand have started taking part in a trial to determine whether two anti-malarial drugs can prevent COVID-19, including one that US President Donald Trump says he has been taking.
The study, involving more than 40,000 healthcare workers across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, seeks to determine whether chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could play a role in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
Demand for hydroxychloroquine surged after Trump touted it in early April. He said this week he was now taking it as a preventive medicine against the virus despite medical warnings about its use.
Progressive activists in the United States roundly rejected assertions by the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden, that criticism of Israel and its policies in the occupied territories too often drifts towards anti-Semitism and must be condemned.
“Criticism of Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitism,” Biden said during a phone call with major donors earlier this week. “But too often that criticism from the left morphs into anti-Semitism.”
The call was part of a virtual fundraiser hosted by Dan Shapiro, a former ambassador to Israel, and Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. The Biden campaign said 550 people attended.
Biden was asked during the call how to respond to anti-Semitism among progressive Democratic activists in both the US and the United Kingdom. “We have to condemn it, and I’ve gotten in trouble for doing that,” the former vice president replied. “Whatever the source, right, left or centre.”
The Biden campaign later released a policy paper saying it “firmly rejects” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was launched by Palestinians in 2005 to generate pressure on Israel to comply with international law and uphold Palestinian human rights.
Biden said the movement “singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into anti-Semitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices”.
In a statement released following reports about Biden’s comments, leaders of the BDS movement – under the auspices of the Palestinian BDS National Committee – said Democratic voters should be endorsing the movement instead of rejecting it.
“By rejecting BDS, Joe Biden endorses US complicity in Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, and supports depriving Palestinians of our fundamental human rights,” the group said.
Dr Yousef was the first in his family to get tested for Covid-19 – and the first to die.
“He came home and said, ‘I’m not feeling well and I think I have the virus’,” Behtarin Paktiawal tells me, recalling what was a fateful day for his family. They would end up losing three loved ones to the virus, which is stalking Afghanistan at a speed and scale still perilously uncertain.
For an embattled nation already fighting on multiple fronts, the world’s health crisis is yet another disaster threatening to overwhelm a fragile health system, and exhaust people weary of endless war.
And with each week that passes, both violence and the virus spread.
Paktiawal’s brother, Dr Yousef Khan Ariubi, had tested positive for Covid-19 – but he wasn’t sent his test results. He was expecting them from the Afghan-Japan government hospital in Kabul, which is playing a central role in Afghanistan’s fight against the coronavirus.
“I said to them, ‘why didn’t you call us?'” Paktiawal recounts as he cradles a small photo album with a photograph of his brother tucked in its plastic cover. “They told me they made a mistake.” Then the hospital tested the entire family.
A month and half on, he says their results are still missing – but as they wait, his brother Fazel and sister Gul Khumar have also died.
“They are absolutely right when they say people have died because there’s no testing equipment,” admits Afghan Vice-President Amrullah Saleh.
“My response to them is this test equipment is so rare that even if we’d had a billion dollars in spare money to buy them, they were not available anywhere.” A global rush for resources has pushed poorer nations like his own to the back of the queue.
“This caught us by surprise – a nation in the midst of violence and fighting, and coping with so much internal displacement,” Mr Saleh insists. “Our health infrastructure was not designed to cope with a hyper-event like a coronavirus pandemic.”
Afghans are dying every week from the war against the Taliban and extremist groups like Islamic State, and many more could be killed by hunger if there is a strict shutdown, like those prescribed the world over to stem the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Afghan leaders have also been distracted, and resources drained, by a bitter months-long battle for power between President Ashraf Ghani and his challenger Dr Abdullah Abdullah, which has only just been resolved.
“First, this issue wasn’t taken seriously enough and then they were overly ambitious with announcements of plans and targets,” an aid official in Kabul involved in mobilising resources tells me. “But now they are going in the right direction.”
When Paktiawal stood outside the Afghan-Japan hospital, wearing a face mask to record a furious Facebook cry for help, he finally got the attention of senior health officials.
“I think the service is better now,” he comments, while still declaring that rich and poor must be treated equally – an echo of complaints that the powerful are again vaulting ahead when it comes to keeping well.
But the situation is still breathtakingly fragile.
A few weeks ago, all testing at all labs abruptly stopped when the country ran out of reagents, a crucial substance used in the testing for Covid-19, because global supplies ran short.
“I had some sleepless nights,” recalls Dr Rik Peeperkorn, who heads the World Health Organization (WHO) in Afghanistan. “We managed to get a small quantity and resume testing within two days.”
Two months ago, Afghanistan had no functional labs for Covid-19 testing. Now nine testing centres, established with the support of WHO, are up and running across the country, with plans to expand more.
“We certainly need more tests to give us a better grip on how this virus is spreading,” emphasises Dr Peeperkorn, who has spent seven years working on healthcare in Afghanistan. “Resources are in short supply and so is global solidarity.”
Afghanistan’s relatively low number of cases is both positive and a puzzle. As of 19 March, there were a little more than 7,600 confirmed cases and fewer than 200 dead. That’s in stark contrast to neighbouring Iran, with more than 122,000 cases and 7,000 confirmed dead – and with strong suspicions the real toll is far higher.
A nervous question mark still hovers over the massive influx of more than 200,000 Afghans who surged across the border once the virus struck.
UN officials say they believe the disease may only reach its peak in Afghanistan in a month or so – but there are also worries it may be spreading undetected, as the anxious and ill fear hospital stays and the social stigma of this strange new disease.
And a recent random sample of 500 Kabul residents sent more alarm bells ringing, when nearly 30% tested positive.
‘Social distancing is difficult in our culture’
Like countries the world over, Afghan media are now flooded with messaging about “social distancing” and “washing your hands”.
In the eastern province of Nangarhar, Governor Shah Mahmood Miakhel, who gave up own his own salary to establish a special Corona Fund account, tries to lead by example.
“I stopped shaking hands three months ago,” he says when I reach him by telephone in the provincial capital Jalalabad. When old friends and notables showed up for the funeral of a prominent police chief who came from his district, he didn’t buckle under enormous social pressure.
“It was very difficult for people to accept,” he reflects. “I am happy with my decision, but social distancing in our culture is extremely difficult.”
A survivor of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lagos State has asked the government to pay more attention to the welfare of coronavirus patients being isolated at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba.
The female survivor, who asked to be identified simply as Bimbo, said after the admission of patients, many of them were left to cater for themselves, adding that in the process, some patients fell into depression.
She noted that the doctors and nurses complained that they ran out of personal protective equipment and hence could not endanger their lives.
Health workers were said to have conducted tests on members of his family, as 26-year-old Bimbo and her sister tested positive.
The graduate told our correspondent that she was then admitted to the IDH, where she spent over two weeks.
“When I first got there, the nurses were coming to take our vitals, temperatures and all. But suddenly, they stopped and said they did not have PPE. Since I got there, it was just once they shared nose masks. No nose mask for anyone.
“Also, our drugs sometimes, they would just drop them and we would have to share ourselves. There was a point the doctors also stopped coming to see us.
“Whenever we had emergencies, we would scream out for help and there would be no one to attend to the patient. If such an emergency happened at night, you might not get help until the following morning,” she added.
Bimbo lamented that whenever the doctors came around to talk to the patients, they did not respond to questions on their health conditions.
“The doctors just came, took samples and left. We didn’t even have anyone to ask questions or explain anything. Nobody was saying anything. There was no emergency phone number that we could call even if we had issues.
“The nurses would drop your food and leave. They did not want to know if the patient ate or not. At least if you dropped food in the morning and you still met it, are you not supposed to ask? They did not care whether you ate the food or not,” she said.
Bimbo was put in the ward where the patients had not started exhibiting symptoms of the infection.
However, those with critical cases were said to have been admitted to an adjoining ward.
Bimbo said because of the poor welfare in the ward, most patients talked and encouraged one another.
“Before I left, for five to six days, the nurses did not do any vitals. The battery of the blood pressure machine in our ward was low. So, anytime the nurses came, they told us that the battery was low and they could not do any vitals; that was how they stopped checking vitals and temperatures; they could not even request new batteries,” she said.
Bimbo, while saying COVID-19 was real, said she witnessed the death of two patients: a male and a female.
The female was said to have visited the IDH for the COVID-19 test and died on the chair while awaiting the arrival of the officials.
Bimbo said she saw the deceased gasping for breath as she held to her chest.
Upon her death, she was put in a body bag for burial.
For the male, the 28-year-old said he was already admitted.
“The man was in bad shape; he was brought in a wheelchair. Around past 9pm, everybody in Ward B ran out and started shouting for help because the guy had started vomiting blood. I don’t know if help came on time or not.
“Around 10pm, he was stable. By 1am, however, we heard them shouting again for help. But there was nobody to help.
“In the morning, doctors came and started running around and looking for oxygen. Later in the day, we saw them carrying his corpse out of the ward,” she added.
She urged the government to enlighten residents on COVID-19, saying some of those admitted with her did not believe that the virus was real because they were not showing symptoms.
Bimbo also appealed to the government to improve patient-doctor communication in the various isolation centres.
“Throughout the time I spent there, I was tested twice. But the funniest thing is, they didn’t tell us our results. Nobody said anything. What they will just tell you one day is that you have been discharged.
“Now, the new method is that as long as you have spent 14 days and taken medication, you will be discharged. That is the new rule.
“For the period, we just knew that we were in isolation, eating. The ones that wanted to talk would talk, others consoled each other and some played,” she said.
The Commissioner for Information, Lagos State, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, denied the allegations, saying doctors, nurses and patients at all isolation centres in the state were well catered for.
Omotosho noted that while there was no perfect system, the situation at the IDH had received wide applause for the excellent treatment of patients.
The Leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, has faulted the establishment of Niger-Delta and South-South in Nigeria. In a statement he sent to Vanguard, through Emma Powerful, the group’s publicity secretary, Kanu argued that Abia, Cross River, Akwa Ibom are the same people.
He said there is nothing like Niger-Delta or South-South, noting that only a fool would call him or herself a Niger-Deltan or South-South person. Read the full statement below:
“I want to educate the enemies of Biafra, traitors within and agents of the Janjaweed Caliphate that there is NOTHING like Niger-Delta or South South. I maintain that only a fool and a roundly unintelligent one at that can ever call him or herself a Niger-Deltan or South South person. The British and their illiterate Fulani house niggers thought they could divide us, not knowing that what binds all the nations of Biafra is stronger than the hate they planted amongst us.
“The building blocks of a NATION is commonality of culture as universally defined and accepted and they don’t come lesser than the reverred EKPE & OKONKO fraternities which bind Bende province in Abia, Efik and Ibiobio together as one family. “Abiriba is the umbilical cord that ties Igbos to their bretheren in Ejeagham, Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Bakassi and all the way to parts of Ambazonia. Abiriba people of Bende in Abia State is by far the richest clan in Africa per capita and are the only Igbo group that use ‘ung or ong’ similar to that in Effi’ong or Ob’ong in their lexicon.
“Without prejudice to my fellow Biafrans in Bini that I love dearly, I want to ask those that carved out South South/Niger-Delta, what are the tangible cultural ties or affinity between the people of Cross River and Bini that led to put them together in a geopolitical unit? Because Abia State has EKPE and OKONKO cults which are bonded to cultures in Cross River & Akwa Ibom states.
“My question therefore is, on what basis did Fulani Janjaweed determine who to include in their South South region when clearly the closest relatives to Cross River and Akwa Ibom is Abia?
However Wikipedia.org has it that; “The Niger Delta is the delta of the Niger River sitting directly on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria. It is typically considered to be located within nine coastal southern Nigerian states, which include: all six states from the South South geopolitical zone, one state (Ondo) from South West geopolitical zone and two states (Abia and Imo) from South East geopolitical zone. Of all the states that the region covers, only Cross River is not an oil-producing state.
“The Niger Delta is a very densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil. The area was the British Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1885 until 1893, when it was expanded and became the Niger Coast Protectorate. The delta is a petroleum-rich region and has been the center of international controversy over pollution.”
Brazil’s health ministry on Wednesday recommended the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat even mild cases of COVID-19, a treatment President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed for despite a lack of conclusive evidence of their effectiveness.
New federal guidelines released by the ministry recommend doctors prescribe the anti-malarial drugs from the onset of symptoms of coronavirus infection, together with the antibiotic azithromycin.
Patients will be required to sign a waiver acknowledging they have been informed of potential side effects, including heart and liver problems and retina damage.
The two medications have been swept up in a politically charged debate amid the pandemic.
Bolsonaro and his US counterpart Donald Trump, to whom he is often compared, tout them as potential wonder drugs against COVID-19.
Trump even revealed Monday he has been taking hydroxychloroquine daily as a preventive measure.
But some studies have cast doubt on the drugs’ effectiveness and safety against coronavirus.
The health ministry acknowledged that “there are still no meta-analyses of randomized, controlled, blind, large-scale clinical trials of these medications in the treatment of COVID-19.”
However, it said the government had a responsibility to issue guidelines using the information currently available.
Preliminary studies of the drugs in China and France showed promising results against COVID-19.
However, other studies have cast doubt on their effectiveness and raised concerns about the potential for heart, liver and kidney problems, as well as nerve damage.
Brazil’s former health minister Nelson Teich resigned last week after less than a month on the job, reportedly after clashing with Bolsonaro over the far-right president’s insistence on recommending chloroquine against COVID-19.
Bolsonaro, who has compared the new coronavirus to a “little flu” and railed against social distancing measures to fight it, fired Teich’s predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, also after clashing over how to respond to the pandemic.
Brazil has emerged as the latest flashpoint in the coronavirus pandemic.
It registered more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, its highest yet, bringing its total death toll to 17,971.
The country now has the third-highest number of infections in the world, with more than 270,000, behind only the United States and Russia.