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US tops world in coronavirus cases

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The United States on Thursday took the grim title of the country with the most coronavirus infections and reported a record surge in unemployment as world leaders vowed $5 trillion to stave off global economic collapse.

More than 500,000 people around the world have now contracted the new coronavirus, overwhelming healthcare systems even in wealthy nations and triggering an avalanche of government-ordered lockdowns that have disrupted life for billions.

In the United States, more than 83,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19, edging out Italy, which has reported the most deaths, and China, where the virus was first detected in December in the metropolis of Wuhan.

The US has recorded 1,178 deaths, while the global death toll stood at 23,293.

“We are waging war on this virus using every financial, scientific, medical, pharmaceutical and military resource, to halt its spread and protect our citizens,” US President Donald Trump said.

With about 40 percent of Americans under lockdown orders, Trump urged citizens to do their part by practicing social distancing: “Stay home. Just relax, stay home.”

With fears mounting of a global recession if not depression, leaders from the Group of 20 major economies held crisis talks by video link Thursday, pledging a “united front” to fight the outbreak — along with an enormous financial injection.

“The virus respects no borders,” the leaders said in a statement.

“We are injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.”

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They also pledged “robust” support for developing nations, where coronavirus could next take hold after ravaging China and then Europe.

But the unity pledged by the G20 has been in short supply, with China and the United States trading barbs over their handling of the coronavirus crisis.

And Italy as well as Spain, which has the second-highest death toll, objected to a draft economic plan by the European Union which they saw as too weak.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wants a “strong and sufficient” financial response that deploys “innovative financial instruments truly adapted to a war,” his office said.

Alarmed by the rapid spread of the sickness in Italy, France has taken aggressive action to stem the virus and went under lockdown on March 17.

But the 365 deaths reported Thursday was its highest in a one-day period and, alarmingly, included a 16-year-old girl — a rare case of a young person succumbing to a virus that has devastated the elderly.

“It is very difficult to estimate when the peak will come,” French health official Jerome Salomon said. “People who are ill now were infected before the confinement began.”

“Now there is less contact, people are going out less and get infected less. So we hope there will be fewer people getting sick next week and fewer people going to hospital,” he told reporters.

With hospitals under severe strain, medical workers in Italy and Spain are making painstaking choices.

“If I’ve got five patients and only one bed, I have to choose who gets it,” Sara Chinchilla, a pediatrician at a hospital near Madrid, told AFP.

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“People are dying who could be saved but there’s no space in intensive care.”

In Britain, the National Health Service said London’s hospitals are facing a “continuous tsunami” of seriously ill COVID-19 patients, despite a lockdown imposed this week.

And in New York, the virus hotbed in the United States, authorities hope to stem infections as the city struggles to more than double the number of available hospital beds.

“Almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the current healthcare system,” Governor Andrew Cuomo warned.

First responders in New York were receiving more than 6,000 calls to the 911 emergency line a day, many from people seeking virus testing.

It is “breaking records. We didn’t have this many calls on 9/11,” said Anthony Almojeria, a leader in the emergency medical services union, referring to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The pandemic has already, and rapidly, been catastrophic to the global economy.

In the United States, the world’s largest economy, the Labor Department reported that 3.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week — by far the highest number ever recorded.

Job losses have swept across sectors from food services to retail to transportation, as nearly half of the country has closed to “non-essential” businesses.

“It is staggering. We are only seeing the initial numbers; they will get worse, unfortunately,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters, estimating that half a million people in the city would lose work.

But Wall Street soared for a third straight day, recouping more of this month’s hefty losses, on expectations for the largest stimulus in US history.

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The Senate early Thursday unanimously passed a $2 trillion package that will provide cash payouts averaging $3,400 for a family of four.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced confidence that the House of Representatives would follow suit on Friday.

The global lockdown — which also hemmed in India’s huge population this week — tightened further on Thursday as Russia announced it was grounding all international flights, while Moscow’s mayor ordered the closure of cafes, shops and parks.

Tokyo’s millions of citizens have been told to stay home, too, just days after the city was forced to postpone the 2020 Olympic Games for a year.

China said it was barring entry to most foreigners, fearing that imported cases were undermining its success in bringing domestic transmissions way down.

And South Africa came under a nationwide military-patrolled lockdown as its cases climbed to more than 900 — about a third of Africa’s 3,200 cases.

The impact of the virus has stretched well beyond frontline health workers, with billions trapped in their homes and facing what experts say could be lasting psychological harm.

But offering a glimmer of hope, both Italy and Spain have seen lower daily rates of new infections this week.

The World Health Organization called Italy’s numbers “encouraging signs,” but warned it was “still too early to say whether the pandemic is peaking.”

A study from Britain’s Imperial College provided a grim prediction, saying 1.8 million people could die worldwide this year even with swift action to halt the virus.

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Health

Man in 46-day isolation freed, then slapped with new charge

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When Kelvin Aura heard that he would be held in a police cell after being discharged from a Homa Bay Covid-19 treatment centre, he was disillusioned.

Aura , who was discharged on Saturday, had spent 46 days in an isolation ward, and could not understand the turn of events.

The 27-year-old is the driver who ferried eight mourners with an empty coffin to attend a burial at Kadede village, Kamser Seka Sub-location, Rambira Location in Rachuonyo North Sub-county in April.

Since then, he has been isolated at Malela Covid-19 treatment centre in Ndhiwa Sub-county. When Aura was released at about 11.30am, he knew he would go for a 14-day self-quarantine in his Nairobi home as instructed by medical personnel. His second tribulation began when he arrived at Kendu Bay Police Station to pick his vehicle.

The vehicle had been moved to the police station when he was in quarantine at Homa Bay Kenya Medical Training College in April. Aura said while at the police station he was told he would be charged for giving false information.

“I fainted after realising I was being held instead of going for self-quarantine in my house for 14 days as medics had instructed me. It is then that I was released to go to the home where I had ferried the mourners,” Aura said.

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Directorate of criminal investigations

He was released and instructed to report to the office of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in Nairobi on Tuesday (today). Armed with the appropriate documentation from health officials, the youth was allowed to travel to Nairobi. “I do not know why I am being charged. I only expected to be in self-quarantine,” he said.

Aura, a resident of Mumias in Kakamega County lives in Nairobi where he works as a driver for a transport firm. He decried financial challenges orchestrated by his isolation. “I have not paid two months house rent of Sh30,000. I have only Sh2,500. That is why I am appealing to lawyers and human rights organisations to rescue me,” Aura said.

At the treatment centre, life became unbearable for him due to solitude. His being asymptomatic made him deny that he was coronavirus positive. Aura objected his condition by recording a video which went viral, saying he was not sick.Instead, he appealed to the government to release him from the centre.

“I had no signs of illness yet health professionals were telling me that I was coronavirus positive. I was lonely and desperate,” Aura said.

The denial forced county health officials to counsel him. “They counselled me until I accepted that I was Covid-19 positive. Today, I thank God that I am negative and I am out of the treatment centre,” Aura said. He said the medics treated him well. “They fed me well and gave me drugs. Anything I required they provided for,” he said.

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County Health Executive Richard Muga said Aura’s sixth and seventh tests proved he is coronavirus negative. “His first five tests showed he was emitting the virus. The latest tests show he has recovered,” Prof Muga said. Rachuonyo North Sub-county Police Commander Sarah Chumo said she was making inquiry on Aura’s detention at Kendu Bay Police Station.

By Standard.co.ke

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Alarm as town becomes new pandemic hotspot

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Shaban Juma jumps out of his truck and walks into a shop in Jua kali town in Uasin Gishu County, to buy a cigarette.

The visibly frustrated truck driver has stayed in Jua Kali, a village trading centre located about 30 kilometres from Eldoret, for the last eight days.

He mingles with a number of residents as he returns to his truck where about ten other truck drivers from Mombasa, heading to Uganda and Congo gather for a discussion.

This has been his new routine for days. Juma left Mombasa more than a week ago and is stuck in the highway town located in Turbo constituency, Uasin Gishu County.

Business as usual

Like him, more than 700 trucks and a group of 1,400 drivers and their turn boys have been camping at Jua Kali for more than a week owing to a Covid-19 testing deadlock at the Kenya Uganda border. Despite the rising coronavirus cases, restaurants and shops are operating as usual.

Worryingly, Turbo in Uasin Gishu County is the new epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, after tests confirmed that 26 out of 28 Uasin Gishu’s coronavirus positive cases are truck drivers from Mombasa who make stopovers along towns on the highway.

Last Friday and Saturday, eight and 11 truck drivers respectively tested positive for the disease, according to daily reports by Ministry of Health.

To contain the spread, the government set up a testing centre at Huruma, one of the areas where the truck drivers have been spending the nights en route to Uganda. Jua Kali is less than ten kilometres from the mobile testing centre in Huruma.

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The truck drivers and their turn boys say they decided to crowd in the small town until a traffic snarl-up occasioned by delays in Covid-19 testing in Malaba on the Kenya-Uganda, eases. Juma explains why most of them have been camping in the area instead of the border area. “We have more than 700 trucks here and more are still coming because it is better to spend the days here than be stranded on the Kenya-Uganda border,” Juma says.

He says they were tested for Covid-19 before leaving Mombasa and have never undergone the tests in Uasin Gishu, but residents along the towns are expressing fears of contracting the disease.

Truck driver Michael Kariuki says his body temperature was taken once for the entire eight days he has been camping in Turbo. Mr Kariuki says he had learnt about the rising numbers of truck drivers testing positive in Turbo yet there was no testing taking place.

He says more trucks are leaving Mombasa and they will stop in Eldoret until a traffic that has reached Webuye in the neighbouring Bungoma County. And there is a downside to these negative reports.

Fueling stigma

“The Covid-19 reports have led to our stigmatisation here in Kenya and Uganda. Ugandans are good people but the Kenyan government is recklessly publicising information that has created a perception that all truck drivers from Mombasa are Covid-19 positive. Our government should be sensitive on the reports it is relaying about us,” he says.

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Lazaro Wanjohi, a trucker who has also been in Turbo for over a week, says they have been asked by authorities in Uasin Gishu not to interact with locals but no government official was enforcing the directive.

“We rarely see police providing security here. You can’t stop people interacting and buying from locals,” Wanjohi says.At a guest house along the busy highway, several Kenyan and Congolese drivers and some mechanics from Uasin Gishu, had gathered to enjoy a meal as they share their frustrations.

A worker at the joint says they were instructed not to allow truck drivers to spend the nights in the hotel but she admitted that several male clients were spending time, during the day with their girlfriends – a worrying habit. “We receive clients who spend day times with local women in the hotel rooms but sleep in their trucks at night,” the worker says.

In a spot check, The Standard discovered that several eateries along the new 35 kilometres hot spot highway stretching from Eldoret to Turbo town were receiving customers, both locals and truck drivers. Jua Kali resident Silas Kipkemboi, a mechanic, said he has not stopped fixing puncture and other technical issues for truckers despite the fears.

“They cook here at night and we share meals. During the day, most of them take their meals in eateries,” he says. Samuel Karanja, another resident said: “Most truck drivers are our friends. We do business with them. We have heard on TV that most of them are testing positive for coronavirus but here things are just normal.”

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Uasin Gishu County Executive Committee member (CECM) for health Evelyne Rotich said county authorities were not in a position to monitor the conduct of truck drivers while making stopovers along the highway.

“We can’t track movements and interaction of the truck drivers. This a multi-agency issue and all of us have a responsibility to enforce the measures,” Ms Rotich said.

She said of 17 cases confirmed positive by Friday, eight of the truckers were residents of Uasin Gishu. Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago on Thursday warned truck drivers from visiting their relatives whenever they were on their way to Uganda.

“We are asking truck drivers from Uasin Gishu to spare their families during this period,” Mandago warned. Uasin Gishu County Commissioner Abdirisack Jaldesa said the issues that have been causing delays at Malaba border have been resolved.

“Moi Teaching and Referral has been testing truck drivers who have not been tested in Mombasa and those whose test certificates have expired,” the commissioner said. He added: “Yes, there have been contacts between the long distance drivers and locals. We have held meetings and this will not happen again because we are clearing all trucks in Uasin Gishu.”

By Standard.co.ke

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151 cases, but Kibra isn’t on lockdown

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The government appears hesitant to put Nairobi’s Kibra estate on lockdown despite increased number of Covid-19 cases that now stand at 151.

This figure is more than the cases recorded in Eastleigh and Mombasa’s Old Town which are on lockdown until June 6, 2020. The two areas were put under lockdown by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe on May 6 after recording 58 and 67 cases, respectively. So far, Eastleigh has 121 and while Old Town has 91 cases.

Issuing yesterday’s Covid-19 update where he announced 143 new cases, Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman said informal settlements in the country were on the government’s radar. “We have seen increasing concern around Kibra partly because of extended testing,” said Dr Aman.

Aman announced that surveillance teams were focusing on Kenya’s largest informal.“If these numbers continue to increase, necessary interventions have to be taken,” he said. The number of Covid-19 cases in Kibra have been increasing steadily.

Between May 21 and May 28, the area had 99 cases. The adjacent Lang’ata area had 31 cases, most of which the ministry said were from Kibra.

From yesterday’s figures, where 143 people tested positive across the country, Kibra came second after Makadara estate in Nairobi. Out of the 86 cases in Nairobi, 45 were from Makadara while 21 were from Kibra.

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Embakasi South come third with six cases. Langata had one case. There was no reported case from Eastleigh. Health Director General Patrick Amoth said densely populated informal settlements have become hotspots for the disease.

“It is practically difficult to ensure social distancing. The only measure left (in informal settlements) now is hygiene and use of masks,” said Dr Amoth.

According to the Director General, lack of access to clean water has played a role in the disease’s rapid spread in informal settlements.

Apart from Kibra, Eastleigh and now Makadara, Mathare is the other informal settlement which has registered more cases, the highest being 33.

So far, the disease has spread to 33 counties, the latest being Kericho which reported one case in Ainamoi area. Uasin Gishu reported 11 cases, all truck drivers.

August peak

The peak of the disease in Kenya is expected to be around August and September when the Health ministry predicts a daily tally of 200. “By then, we will be at 4,000 or 5,000 cases and by our fatality ratio, we will be at 160 or 180 deaths then,” said Amoth.

Up to 63 people have died so far from the disease, majority being those with underlying health conditions like asthma, hypertension, diabetes and heart conditions. Majority of the dead were more than 55 years old, prompting the Health ministry to issue caution on unique symptoms of the disease among the elderly. The common symptoms synonymous with Covid-19 are cough, fever, difficulty in breathing and cold.

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“The elderly may have different symptoms that include lethargy, diarrhea, confusion, anxiety, unexplained strokes, loss of taste or brain inflammation,” said Amoth.

By Standard.co.ke

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