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Creepy technologies invade European post-pandemic workplaces

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Washington, D.C., June 9, 2020 (PAHO)—The Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa F. Etienne, said preparing for winter and hurricanes is critical to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the Americas.

With more than 3.3 million cases of COVID-19 in the region and many areas reporting exponential rises in cases and deaths, “We are concerned by data showing the virus surging in new places that had previously seen a limited number of cases,” Etienne said in a press briefing today.

The PAHO Director noted, “In South America, our response to the pandemic will be impacted by the arrival of winter, while hurricane season will complicate our efforts in North and Central America, and especially in the Caribbean.”

Preparing for respiratory infections during winter

Winter, now starting in South America, “fuels respiratory infections—like seasonal influenza and pneumonia—that can rapidly spread in colder climates and as more people gather indoors to stay warm,” she said.

“This is a problem for patients because respiratory illnesses leave them at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection. Its also a challenge for strained health systems that will have to cope with the dual burden of a coronavirus pandemic and a spike in other respiratory illnesses. It does not help that the similar symptoms will make diagnosing COVID-19 even harder,” Dr. Etienne told journalists at the briefing.

Influenza vaccination “to prevent severe cases of flu is more critical than ever—particularly for high-risk groups like health workers, the elderly and people with chronic conditions. These same groups are also at high-risk of coronavirus infection,” she noted.

Seasonal influenza vaccination is ongoing in 14 countries, and more than 90 million people are being targeted. PAHO is helping countries buy vaccines through its Revolving Fund. “The Fund helped secure 24 million flu vaccine doses, despite the added logistical hurdles that were all facing in transporting essential supplies during the pandemic,” the PAHO Director explained.

Preparing for hurricane season

With hurricane season starting, PAHOs director suggested that officials in the Caribbean, Central America, and the East coast of the USA “review national hurricane response plans and conduct simulation exercises to ensure your disaster and COVID-19 responses are aligned. We should also plan for potential disruptions to the care of critically ill patients and refine evacuation plans.”

GCO responds to Amnesty report on non-payment of salaries by stadium contractor

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Office on Wednesday issued a statement in response to an Amnesty report accusing a company operating at the Al Bayt Stadium of not paying salaries to workers.
Here is the full statement:
In September 2019, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (ADLSA) was made aware, by the Supreme Committee of Delivery & Legacy, of delayed salary payments by Qatar Meta Coats W.L.L.
The company was financially sanctioned, and operations were suspended until all outstanding salaries were paid. Financial insecurity between November 2019 and April 2020 meant that Qatar Meta Coats workforce received irregular salary payments during this period.
In May 2020, the issue was partially resolved and all salary payments from February to May were paid in full by the company. There are a small number of outstanding salary payments preceding February, which will be resolved in the coming days. Qatar Meta Coats was recently sold and ADLSA is overseeing the activities of the new ownership to rectify the neglect of the previous owner, including renewing expired residence permits and health cards.
Working with our international partners, the government has bolstered legislative and operational frameworks to improve and further protect the rights of migrant workers, while clearly setting out the legal obligations of all companies operating in Qatar. We have made it clear to all employers that, in line with legislation, incidents of non-compliance will result in strict sanctions, including heavy fines, shutting down worksites, blacklisting, and prosecuting individuals responsible for neglecting the welfare of their workforce.
Furthermore, as part of our efforts to tackle exploitative labour practices by companies, draft legislation was passed last week to increase financial and non-financial penalties for labour law violations, including those related to delayed salary payments.
The government has made significant progress in recent years to reform the countrys labour system. There are still issues to overcome, including those related to the attitudes and behaviours of a small minority. This will take time, but we remain firmly committed to the task.

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Dozens dead in Pakistan as PIA plane plunges into Karachi houses

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Islamabad, Pakistan – At least 85 people have been killed after an Airbus A320 passenger airliner crashed into a residential neighbourhood while on approach to the airport in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, officials say.

At least two male passengers of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8303 from the eastern city of Lahore to Karachi survived the crash on Friday, a health ministry spokeswoman told Al Jazeera.

There were at least 91 passengers on board the plane, according to an official passenger manifest shared with Al Jazeera by the officials.

Health ministry spokeswoman Meeran Yousuf told Al Jazeera by telephone that 85 people have died, with 53 bodies kept at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi’s largest government hospital, and 32 at Civil Hospital Karachi, another major state-run hospital.

Yousuf said the two survivors were being treated at the hospitals in Karachi, while 19 bodies have been identified so far.

At least six people who were on the ground when the airliner crashed into houses in the densely populated Model Colony area of Karachi, adjacent to the city’s international airport, were being treated for their injuries, she added.

“Our plane [an Airbus] A320 which was coming from Lahore to Karachi was on final approach,” said PIA chief Arshad Malik in a video message released after the crash.

“The last words we heard from our pilot were that there is a technical problem and he was told on final approach that he has both runways available to him to land on. But the pilot decided that he wanted to go around.”

The plane then rapidly lost altitude and crashed short of the runway into the Model Colony neighbourhood, witnesses told the local media.

Dense plumes of black smoke rose above houses in the narrow streets of the neighbourhood, with television footage showing several houses crushed from the impact of the aircraft.

UK to introduce quarantine for international arrivals from June 8

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Britain will introduce a 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving from abroad from June 8, interior minister Priti Patel said, with the government warning that anyone breaking the rules would face a fine or prosecution.

All international arrivals, including returning Britons, will have to self-isolate and provide details of where they will be staying under the plans, which were criticised by airlines, business groups and politicians alike.

“Now we are past the peak of this virus, we must take steps to guard against imported cases triggering a resurgence of this deadly disease,” Patel said at a news conference.

“We are not shutting down completely. We are not closing our borders.”

Those who breached the quarantine in the United Kingdom could be fined 1,000 UK pounds ($1,218), and spot checks would be carried out by health and border officials.

The quarantine will not apply to those arriving from the Republic of Ireland, nor to freight drivers, medical professionals or seasonal agricultural workers. The measures will be reviewed every three weeks.

The UK has recorded the highest number of deaths in Europe from coronavirus, with more than 36,000 people who have tested positive having died so far.

But the quarantine move is controversial, especially with the aviation sector, where flights have been grounded and passenger numbers slumped during lockdown measures.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary this week branded a proposed quarantine plan “idiotic” and accused ministers of “making it up as they go along”.

Virgin Atlantic said quarantine would prevent services from resuming and claimed there “simply won’t be sufficient demand to resume passenger services before August at the earliest”.

Trump predicts coronavirus vaccine by years end, vows plague will pass

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As some states loosen lockdown restrictions in a bid to set the nation’s battered economy on the road to recovery, President Trump endorsed a state-by-state approach while predicting at a Fox News virtual town hall on Sunday that a coronavirus vaccine could be available by December.

“I think we’ll have a vaccine by the end of the year,” Trump told the moderators, Fox News’ Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, saying he was “very confident” in the assessment. “We’ll have a vaccine much sooner rather than later.”

Asked by MacCallum if he was concerned about the potential risks of accelerating a vaccine and human trials, Trump responded: “No, because they’re volunteers. They know what they’re getting into … They want to help the process.”

That timeline was dramatically ahead of previous estimates from both public and private sector experts at the outset of the pandemic, which had said a vaccine could take up to 18 months, if not longer. But, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this weekend it was “doable if things fall in the right place” to have a vaccine by January.

CORONAVIRUS TIMELINE SHOWS SHIFTING RHETORIC ON THE PANDEMIC

Trump also predicted that the U.S. would be self-reliant on antibiotics, without needing to rely on China, within two years. Republicans have said it’s “crazy” that America is reliant on China, a communist adversary, for critical supplies including antibiotics.

[contfnewc] [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

However, Trump predicted that as many as 100,000 Americans could die from the coronavirus, in a significant increase from his estimate of 60,000 last month. “Were going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people,” Trump said, calling it a “horrible” situation. Without his administration’s actions, Trump asserted, “the minimum we would have lost was a million two, a million four, a million five, thats the minimum.”

Trump generally backed the efforts of America’s governors to manage the crisis, saying that each state will have a different approach to reopening their economies.

“It’s going to pass,” he assured, repeatedly referring to the outbreak as the “plague.”

Trump went on to assert that Democrats and media organizations, who have mocked him for touting the possible benefits of hydroxychloroquine in fighting coronavirus, were motivated by politics and “don’t want to see a good result.” Some media organizations even reported that an Arizona couple had consumed fish tank cleaner because they believed it contained hydroxychloroquine. The woman in that case had claimed she was following Trump’s advice despite openly attacking Trump on social media. Her husbands death after ingesting the liquid is now under investigation.

Italy eases out of lockdown as 4 million people head back to work

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By Matt Bradley, Bill O’Reilly, Yuliya Talmazan and Lidia Sirna[contfnewc]

ROME — Italy is turning “a new page,” the countrys prime minister said ahead of some 4 million Italians returning to work Monday as Europes longest coronavirus lockdown eased.

“A new page is beginning, and we will have to write it together with faith and responsibility,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italians in a Facebook post Sunday. “The risks of having more infections are numerous, but we will be able to avoid them with responsibility.”

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With factories and construction sites reopening, the government is enforcing new rules for traveling on public transportation by marking available seats on buses and subways.

Image: People flow out of San Giovanni subway station in Rome
People flow out of San Giovanni subway station in Rome on Monday as lockdown restrictions are relaxed. Cecilia Fabiano / AP

Italians will also have the chance to feel the fresh air with parks and public gardens for the first time in eight weeks. They will be able to travel locally to see their families and order take-out, the government said.

These are small changes that will mean big lifestyle improvements for 60 million people who have rarely left their homes in nearly two months thanks to a virus that has killed more than 28,880 in the country.

The easing of the lockdown offers a much-needed boost for Italy’s economy, with big-name, export-oriented brands like Ferrari reopening for business.

The government first relaxed its lockdown measures last month, reopening some stores. But this prompted fears among business owners and employees that the country was moving out of the lockdown too early.

On Sunday, health officials said coronavirus deaths climbed by 174 — the smallest daily increase since March 10, when the country went into nationwide lockdown. The daily number of new cases also fell to 1,389 from 1,900 the day before.

But despite the promising numbers, many restrictions will still remain in place, with restaurants, bars, schools and museums still closed, as the prime minister cautioned Italians against lowering their guard.

Private parties and family gatherings are also still be banned, and social distancing is necessary even when visiting family members, the government said.

Coronavirus: UK hospital trials new treatment drug

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BBC:A new drug developed by UK scientists to treat Covid-19 patients is being trialled at University Hospital Southampton.

Developed by UK bio-tech company Synairgen, it uses a protein called interferon beta, which our bodies produce when we get a viral infection.

Initial results from the trial are expected by the end of June.

There are currently few effective treatments for coronavirus with doctors relying on patients’ immune systems.

What is the new drug?

Interferon beta is part of the body’s first line of defence against viruses, warning it to expect a viral attack, explains Richard Marsden, chief executive of Southampton-based Synairgen.

He says the coronavirus seems to suppress its production as part of its strategy to evade our immune systems.

The drug is a special formulation of interferon beta delivered directly to the airways when the virus is there, with the hope that a direct dose of the protein will trigger a stronger anti-viral response even in patients whose immune systems are already weak.

Interferon beta is commonly used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Synairgen has already shown its preparation can stimulate the immune response in the lungs of patients with asthma and other chronic lung conditions.

But we can only know whether it works for Covid-19 patients after it has been through a rigorous clinical trial.

Coronavirus stokes Middle East boiling points

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BBC:The Middle East has many reasons to fear the coronavirus pandemic, but it has one big advantage when it comes to resisting it. Most people in the region are young.

A rough average is that at least 60% are under the age of 30. That makes them less susceptible to developing Covid-19, the illness that has killed so many people in countries with older populations.

Most governments in the region saw what was happening elsewhere and had time to impose curfews and social distancing measures.

But that is where the Middle East’s advantages end. Years of strife in the world’s least stable region have left weaknesses that the pandemic is sure to deepen.

Medical capabilities vary widely. The best hospitals in Israel are as good as any in the world. The healthcare systems in Yemen, Syria and Libya – never strong – have been severely damaged, and in places destroyed, by years of war.

Yemen was already in the grip, the UN said, of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Now it has cases of Covid-19, which could spread fast in impoverished, overcrowded communities.

Aden, in the south, is in political turmoil. Even after two Covid-19 deaths were announced last week local residents were reported to be ignoring a curfew, still flocking to markets and mosques.

Troubled outlook

Those same young people who have the best chance of resisting the virus were, before it hit, leading demonstrations against their governments.

Every country has its own grievances, but in the Arab Middle East the protests have centred on corruption, cronyism and reform. Corrupt elites are accused of siphoning off public money that should have gone into public services, not least hospitals.

In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq they forced out a president and two prime ministers. Protesters who refused to budge occupied the main squares of capital cities. In Iraq, they stayed put even after around 600 protesters were shot dead and thousands more were wounded.

More than 200,000 Libyans displaced amid fighting as COVID-19 threat increases

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Tripoli – More than 200,000 people have been displaced in the year since the conflict reignited in Libya according to new data compiled by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Tripoli accounts for approximately 150,000 of recorded new displacements, but people were also forced to leave their homes in other conflict-affected areas in the country, including Murzuq, Sirt and Abu Gurayn.

Hostilities continue unabated in the capital Tripoli this week, damaging civilian infrastructure, including one of the few functioning health facilities in the city, Al Khadra hospital, where COVID-19 patients are being treated. A health worker was also injured in Mondays attack.

“A year into the conflict, the humanitarian situation in Libya has never been worse,” said IOM Libya Chief of Mission Federico Soda. “The needs have never been greater and the conditions have never been more challenging. Despite calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, the fighting continues amid serious fears of a COVID-19 outbreak.”

Since April 2019, the conflict has caused widespread damage to health facilities and other infrastructure in the capital, leaving tens of thousands of internally displaced Libyan families and migrants, some of whom are detained, in very difficult living conditions. Most of these vulnerable people are living in overcrowded accommodation with limited access to health services, at constant risk of shelling.

The security situation is increasing humanitarian needs and making it more difficult for aid workers to reach vulnerable populations. Security challenges are now coupled with grave health concerns posed by the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus, especially in detention centres. Libya recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 24. Twenty people have so far tested positive.

While at least 1,500 people are in detention in Libya, thousands of others remain in the hands of smugglers and traffickers in even worse conditions where humanitarian aid cannot be provided.

IOM reiterates that civilian lives must be protected and safe passage provided to those fleeing conflict, and to allow humanitarian workers access, especially amid the fast-spreading global pandemic.

All vulnerable populations must be included in the health response and measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19, including prevention, testing and treatment.

IOM has been conducting regular disinfection and fumigation campaigns in detention centres and disembarkation points and providing hygiene items to detained migrants. These efforts are coupled with awareness raising and health education sessions conducted for migrants and displaced people. Through its mobile clinic, IOM medical teams continue to provide emergency and primary health assistance, including screenings for COVID-19 symptoms.

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Guinea: Violence During Referendum

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(Nairobi) – Guineas security forces violently cracked down on opposition supporters in the lead up to and during the March 22, 2020 constitutional referendum and legislative elections, Human Rights Watch said today.

Security forces have killed at least eight people, including two children, and wounded over 20 others. Since mid-February, security forces have also arrested scores of suspected opposition supporters, and forcibly disappeared at least 40. Government officials said protesters injured at least nine members of the security forces, vandalized polling stations, burned election materials, and threatened voters on election day. On March 22, armed soldiers, gendarmes, and police officers in pickup vehicles and on foot deployed across Guineas capital, Conakry, fired teargas and live rounds on protesters, killing at least six people, including one woman, and injuring at least eight men.

“Guinean security forces have confronted popular protests with brutal violence,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “With protests likely to continue in the lead-up to elections, the Guinean government should immediately rein in the security forces, and opposition leaders should do what they can to help stop abuses.”

At the heart of the protests is President Alpha Condés perceived plan to run for a third presidential term in elections scheduled for later in 2020. In December 2019, Condé, 81, released the text for the proposed new constitution, which his supporters and opponents said would pave the way for his third term agenda. A coalition of civil society groups, labor unions, and political parties has organized regular protests since mid-2019 and boycotted the referendum. On March 27, 2020, Guineas electoral commission announced that the proposed new constitution passed with over 90 percent of the vote.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 60 victims, family members, and witnesses, as well as 15 medical workers, journalists, lawyers, opposition party members, and civil society representatives. Human Rights Watch analyzed photographs and video footage to corroborate victim and witness accounts. Human Rights Watch contacted Albert Damatang Camara, the security and civilian protection minister, by phone and WhatsApp and shared its findings via email on March 23, requesting responses to specific questions. Camara has not replied.

Several witnesses said that on March 22, security forces were at times accompanied by persons in plain clothes wielding knives and machetes who attacked protesters, killing at least one young man, Diallo Nassouralaye. Some opposition supporters threw stones and other projectiles at security forces. Violence also erupted outside the capital, including in Kindia, northeast of Conakry; Kolaboui; and Sangaredi, in the west; and Nzérékoré, in southeastern Guinea.

A witness said that a gendarme shot Issa Yero Diallo, a 28-year-old woman in Conakrys Ansoumanyah Plateau neighborhood at close range: “The gendarme threatened the woman before shooting her. People around tried to dissuade him, but he shot her in the neck.” Residents said the woman was targeted because she had helped negotiate the release of a man whom gendarmes arrested earlier that day. Minister Camara told the media the following day that a gendarme suspected of killing the woman had been arrested.

Security forces killed two teenage boys, one on February 20 and one on March 5, and on March 6 arrested two prominent opposition members in Conakry. On February 11 and 12, security forces arbitrarily arrested 40 people, including at least two children and three men with intellectual disabilities, during raids in Conakry and took them to a military base about 700 kilometers away in Soronkoni, in eastern Guinea. They were held without any contact with the outside world and without the authorities acknowledging their detention until March 28, when the authorities released 36 and transferred 4 others to Conakry central prison where they remain.

Minister Camara said in a news release on March 22 that the referendum “took place in peaceful conditions throughout the territory,” but that “certain activists have tried to sow terror” in Conakry and other cities and towns.” In a media interview on March 31, he confirmed that six people died in Conakry on March 22, including one due to stroke, and said that the authorities had opened investigations.

With more protests expected in the lead-up to elections later this year, Guinean authorities should instruct security forces to exercise restraint and abide by the Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. Under these principles, law enforcement officers may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective.

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