News, June 23rd

A warning bell

In a recent report published on the occasion of World Refugee Day this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that nearly 80 million people in the world have been forcibly displaced due to violence, conflict, natural disasters, etc. This figure once again rang a warning bell, urging the international community to join hands in maintaining peace and finding sustainable solutions to the issue of migrants and refugees.

At the UN Security Council’s online meeting held last week, while highlighting the disturbing situation of refugees around the globe, the head of the UNHCR, F. Grandi, said war, conflict, and natural disasters, acts of violence, mistreatment and human rights violations were preventing about 1% of the world’s population from returning to their home. According to the UNHCR report, global displacement reached a staggering 79.5 million people last year – almost double the number registered a decade ago – owing to war, violence, persecution, and other emergencies. This is the highest figure that UNHCR has recorded since these statistics have been systematically collected, being of course a cause for great concern.

Notably, since 2012, the number of refugees has increased, especially in conflict countries and regions. In particular, Syria topped the list of countries with the most refugees in the world, where constant conflict has caused 13.4 million people to flee their homeland. Political instability and economic crisis have forced 4.9 million people to look for opportunities abroad. The UNHCR also pointed out that there are many causes leading to the increasing plight of refugees, but the main ones are violence, inequality, and the impact of climate change. An increase in the number of people who have to leave their homes means that conflict and violence have not decreased, along with the rise of both natural disasters and economic difficulties.

In Europe, the crisis of migrants who have rattled the region has temporarily eased, with the number of illegal migrants to the “Old Continent” tending to have decreased from 2018. However, “underground waves “still remain as the number of deaths on the journey across the sea continued to increase. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) forces still make daily efforts to save boats full of migrants floating on the Mediterranean. The issue of refugees is a major challenge, in the context that the EU has not resolved disagreements among member countries related to policies regarding the receipt of migrants, while a trend of populism and anti-immigration policies has emerged.

In their journey to search for a safer life, migrants and refugees are facing numerous challenges such as discrimination, difficult living conditions, and limited access to services related to education, health, clean water, sanitation, etc. In the context of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, which has plunged the world into a double crisis in terms of both health and economics, these challenges have become even more pressing.

However, difficulties are not just for migrants and refugees. The increasing number of refugees means pressure and many burdens being placed on the shoulders of the host countries. At the recent online session, members of the UN Security Council pointed out the serious impacts of climate change and the current epidemic on refugees and agreed to promote accountability mechanisms to support refugees and host countries. The UNHCR urged countries to unite and join hands to devise sustainable solutions to the issue of refugees, the most important of which are efforts to maintain peace, uphold political determination and effectively implement the Global Compact on Refugees.

The issue of migrants and refugees is not a challenge at the national scale, but a global crisis. Therefore, comprehensive, and sustainable solutions to overcome this challenge include preventing and resolving conflicts through the path of political dialogue, joining hands to consolidate global peace and security, and responding to the negative impacts of climate change.

COVID-19 upends ‘entire generation’ of 600 million South Asian children

Without urgent action, COVID-19 will continue to unravel decades of progress across South Asia, destroying the “hopes and futures of an entire generation”, warns a new report released on Tuesday by the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

Lives Upended, notes that the rapidly advancing coronavirus pandemic, expanding across a region that is home to a quarter of the world’s population, is particularly affecting health and educational advances for children.

“The side-effects of the pandemic across South Asia, including the lockdown and other measures, have been damaging for children in numerous ways”, said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for the vast region. “But the longer-term impact of the economic crisis on children will be on a different scale entirely”.

The report illustrates the disastrous toll of the virus on some 600 million South Asian children, such as growing food insecurity and the disruption of immunization, nutrition and other vital health services, that could be potentially life-threatening for around 459,000 over the next six months.

Meanwhile, school closures have pushed more than 430 million children into remote learning, which has only partially filled the gap as many households in rural areas lack both internet access and electricity.

At the same time, concerns are heightening that some disadvantaged students may join the nearly 32 million children who were already out of school, before COVID-19 struck.

This all comes against a backdrop of children struggling with depression and a surge in calls to help hotlines, as they suffer violence and abuse during home confinement.

The report notes that life-saving vaccination campaigns against measles, polio and other diseases must resume, along with work to help an estimated 7.7 million children – more than half the global total – who are suffering from severe wasting, which impairs physical and mental development.

Moreover, as soon as possible, schools should reopen with adequate handwashing and other physical distancing precautions in place.

The economic shock triggered by COVID-19 is hitting families hard across the region, with large-scale job losses, wage cuts and remittance losses from overseas workers and through tourism.

According to UNICEF projections, as many as 120 million more children could be pushed into poverty and food insecurity over the next six months, joining some 240 million children already classified as poor.

To mitigate the impact, the report maintains that Governments should immediately direct more resources towards social protection schemes, including emergency universal child benefits and school feeding programs.

“Putting such measures in place now will help the countries of South Asia transition faster from the humanitarian crisis caused by COVID-19 to a resilient and sustainable development model, with long term benefits for child wellbeing, the economy, and social cohesion”, said Ms. Gough.

Iran reports highest coronavirus deaths since April

Iran on Tuesday reported 121 new coronavirus deaths, its highest daily toll in over two months, as it battles to contain the Middle East’s deadliest Covid-19 outbreak.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told a news conference that the new fatalities brought the overall virus death toll to 9,863.

That is Iran’s highest single-day fatality rate since April 11, when 125 deaths were recorded.

Lari also announced another 2,445 people had tested positive for Covid in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s caseload to 209,970.

The Islamic republic recorded a drop in its daily fatalities in early May, but there has been a rise in recent weeks.

There has been skepticism at home and abroad about the country’s official Covid figures, with concerns the actual toll could be much higher.

Iran has not imposed a mandatory lockdown on people to stop the virus’s spread, but it closed schools, cancelled public events, and banned movement between the country’s 31 provinces in March.

The government progressively lifted restrictions from April in order to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.

Judiciary Employees Find Ways to Help During Pandemic

Bryan King is a federal court software developer by trade and a think-outside-of-the-box kind of guy. When he noticed on one of his social media groups that a single medical-grade mask could be cut into pieces to make additional much-needed masks, he was intrigued.

King has friends who are first responders where he lives in Lincoln Park, Michigan, and he knew their supplies were running low. So, in his free time, King, who works for the U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan, downloaded design files available from the nonprofit Billings Clinic in Montana and began making masks. The process involves cutting a mask into two-and-a-half inch squares – all that’s needed for the actual breathing portion of the mask – and then using 3D printing to build the rest of a face-conforming mask out of a pliable plastic.

Each mask takes over four hours to complete, and King has supplied them to emergency medical technicians, nurses, and police officers in his community.

King is among the countless Judiciary employees across the court system who have volunteered to help people in need in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Court employees have scoured storerooms for unused N95 respirator masks and disposable gloves, purchased meals for hospital staffs, collected diapers and formula, volunteered at community organizations, and sewn (or 3D printed) masks for first responders and medical personnel.

“My mission is to help one person at a time,” said Andrea Wabeke, a 23-year veteran court reporter who has been doing crisis intervention work at a domestic and sexual violence shelter in Washtenaw County, Michigan.

Wabeke works weekends and 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. shifts on weekdays at a 24-hour call center for Safehouse Center, the only facility of its kind in the county. She handles calls from victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, guiding them through the steps of reporting the abuse, getting counseling, or joining a support group.

“Sometimes, they are in an immediate crisis, and the first thing we do is check on their safety,” Wabeke said. “Sometimes, they just need to talk.”

She also teaches a 10-week course in abuse survival at a women’s prison in Michigan, but the classes have been suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Earlier this spring, James C. Duff, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, put out a call to all courts to check their stockpiles after federal courts in Florida discovered unused masks and gloves in storage and donated them to local hospitals. Duff’s memo prompted courts around the country to search storerooms for supplies reserved for emergency use.

Employees of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas checked an emergency supply cabinet and found thousands of masks and gloves. They alerted the University of Arkansas Medical Center, which sent staff the next day to pick up 1,500 N-95 respirator masks and 900 pairs of gloves for distribution to hospitals around the state, said Charlotte Gomlicker, the court’s space and resources manager.

Similarly, Judge David J. Hale encouraged employees of the District Court for Western Kentucky to search their supplies and they ultimately donated 340 pairs of protective gloves, nearly 500 N95 masks, and a large batch of sanitizing wipes to the Louisville-Jefferson County Incident Management Team. N95 masks are especially needed in hospitals because they filter our 95 percent of airborne particles. In the Western District of Washington, probation and pretrial officers gave four area hospitals more than 12,000 gloves, 50 medical-grade masks including N95s, and 1,300 antibacterial wipes, along with hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and soap refills.

Kristine Mauldin, a procurement specialist for the District Court for Eastern Missouri, had to look no further than her own courthouse to find people in need during the pandemic. Three of the four employees of the privately-run Eagle’s Nest cafeteria were laid off when the courthouse had to be closed for safety reasons. She and colleague Alicia Thompson, a case management clerk, held online fundraisers for the workers and raised $12,000 to help cover their expenses until the cafeteria can reopen.

“A couple of them have little kids so (the pandemic) was really hard on these families,” Mauldin said. “The owner emailed us to say the help was amazing and that he plans on hiring them back. A little help can go a long way.”

When the staff of the Defender Services Office (DSO) in Washington, D.C., discovered that a colleague’s spouse was working the night shift as a nurse doing COVID-19 testing for the University of Maryland Medical Center, they decided to support her and the others on the hospital’s front line. They compiled a list of late-night restaurants that provided take-out and began sending the emergency room crew a rotating assortment of pizza, barbecue, and taco dinners.

Rolan McClarry, who works in training support in the DSO, said his nurse-wife, Tiarra, came home and told him that some of her fellow nurses cried “because of the generosity of people they don’t even know.”

Court employees with sewing skills have been especially busy during their off hours these past few weeks, stitching together hundreds of cloth masks for first responders and local hospital personnel.

Sarah Tomlinson, law clerk for Chief Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States, of the Eastern District of Missouri, has been sewing masks nightly from the bags of scrap material she keeps on hand for quilting, one of her hobbies.

“I grew up on a farm in the rural part of Illinois, and I was one of nine kids. We learned how to make things and how to fix things. Quilting was one of them,” she said. 

She donates the masks to organizations that assist homeless veterans. Her husband, Geoff, who is retired from the Army, is also handy with a needle, having sewn on his own uniform patches. Before long, he was recruited to Sarah’s evening mask-making operation.

“He does a lot of the folding and pinning,” she said. “Frankly, he’s just as talented at sewing as I am, and veterans’ causes are important to both of us.”

Patricia Hommel, an assistant to District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, of Detroit, has worked with her husband on making masks as well. The two of them have donated over 400 hand-made masks. Judge Friedman said they are among the “unsung heroes of this coronavirus fight.”

Over 1,000 Tongan Households Get Boost to Help Keep Students in School

The Government of Tonga and the World Bank have provided conditional cash transfers to 1,162 Tongan households at a project launch in the Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa as part of an effort to address the financial constraints many households face in keeping their children in secondary school.

As part of the Skills and Employment for Tongans (SET) Project, the World Bank is supporting the Tongan government to implement the cash transfer program, with the main recurring payments of TOP250 (US$110) designed to assist with school fees and other educational costs for over 2,000 Tongan high school students.

An additional one-off payment of TOP200 is also provided to assist vulnerable Tongan families deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The families who received both payments were identified through a nationally run poverty means test.

The SET project works through Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Training to directly address Tonga’s high secondary school drop-out rates – which have reached around 20 percent of students annually – as well as ensuring those that have dropped out of secondary school have alternative vocational and learning pathways.

“The conditional cash transfer for vulnerable households in Tonga is a blessing for these families. It will provide financial support to vulnerable families to keep their children in school and assist with the purchase of needed school supplies,” said Prime Minister, the Hon. Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa.

The Skills and Employment for Tongans project will also ensure technical and vocational education and training courses are improved to help students build skills to make them more employable in Tonga, as well as through Australian or New Zealand employment programs.

“The transfer of these funds shows that the SET project is about much more than creating formal employment opportunities – it is about ensuring families can support their children in reaching their full potential. We are also thrilled that the project has been able to be adjusted to provide needed rapid assistance to vulnerable families in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic,” Natalia Latu, the World Bank’s Liaison Officer to Tonga said at the event.

Additionally, it was also announced that 125 students in post-secondary technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions will have their course fees paid by the project. These student support funds will be paid directly to training institutions to assist the students build skills that make them more competitive in global and domestic labor markets.

Skills and Employment for Tongans (SET) is funded through a US$18.5 million grant from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the most in-need countries. A US$2.4 million grant from the Australia-Pacific Islands Partnership Trust Fund will also support the project.

US alleges discrimination, moves to regulate AI’s chartered flights under Vande Bharat Mission

The United States has described as “discriminatory and restrictive” the Indian government not allowing American carriers operate chartered flights on Indo-US routes even though Air India was doing so under the Vande Bharat Mission.

Therefore, Air India will not be allowed to operate any chartered flight on Indo-US routes from July 22 onward unless specifically permitted by the US’ Department of Transportation (DOT), said an official order of the DOT on Monday.

“We are taking this action because the Government of India (GoI) has impaired the operating rights of US carriers and has engaged in discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to US carrier services to and from India,” said the DOT order.

Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Air India started international chartered flights under Vande Bharat Mission from May 6 to help people stranded abroad return home amid the pandemic. It has been operating chartered flights on Indo-US routes since May 18 where tickets on both the legs are sold.

While tickets on the India-US leg are sold through Air India’s website to the public, the seats on the US-India leg have to be purchased after contacting the Indian Embassy in the US.

The US Department of Transport said it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the Government of India-imposed prohibition of all scheduled international services.

“On May 26, 2020, Delta Air Lines, Inc. (“Delta”), via letter, requested permission from the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to perform repatriation charter services similar to those provided by Air India. To date, Delta has not received approval to perform the requested repatriation charters,” the DOT said.

Explaining further, the DOT said Air India released a schedule for additional flights on June 3 that includes 49 US-India round-trip charter flights that are scheduled to operate between June 10-July 1.

“On June 13, Air India released a schedule for 10 additional repatriation flights between June 20-July 3,” it said.

Prior to the March 25th suspension of scheduled passenger services, Air India operated 34 round-trip flights per week to the United States.

“With 59 flights advertised for the period from June 10 to July 3, 2020, Air India would be performing charter operation at a rate of 53 per cent of the operations it previously performed as scheduled services,” the DOT stated.

This situation, in which Indian airlines are permitted to perform services pursuant to their rights under the “US India Air Transport Agreement” while US carriers are not, creates a competitive disadvantage for US carriers vis- -vis Indian carriers, it noted.

While Air India is permitted by the Indian government to sell tickets directly to individual passengers or through other distribution systems, the US-based carriers are not allowed to do so even if they are permitted to operate a chartered flight connecting India, the DOT mentioned in its order date June 22.

“Effective 30 days from the service date of this order, it shall not perform any Third-and/or Fourth-Freedom charter flights unless the Department has granted it specific authority in the form of a statement of authorization to conduct such charters,” the DOT said.

Moreover, it said: “Air India shall file applications for statements of authorization required… at least 30 calendar days before the proposed charter flights.”

The Third Freedom rights under Chicago Convention rules allow an airline to operate flights from one’s own country to another country. The Fourth Freedom rights allow an airline to fly from another country to one’s own country.

US hospital accused of manipulating COVID-19 test results

At least four nurses at a critical care hospital in Athens, Georgia, have filed a lawsuit accusing their hospital of falsifying COVID-19 test results in an attempt to conceal a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, US media reported.

According to the lawsuit, the Landmark Hospital in Athens has “undertaken a scheme to purposefully obtain false negative test results of patients who had previously tested positive for COVID-19”.

The nurses said the hospital instructed staff to use an incorrect method of testing. They were asked to take samples from inside a patient’s throat, but send the samples to a lab run by Piedmont Hospital, which only tests nasal swabs, knowing the results would turn out negative for COVID-19, according to local news outlet 11Alive.

“Landmark fabricated negative results so as to continue to be able to discharge patients to make space for new admissions and avoid the negative publicity and oversight that would result if the positive COVID-19 results were disclosed,” the petition said.

One nurse told 11Alive that when she properly administered a test which turned out to be positive, she was then terminated for not having a doctor’s order for a test.

As of June 18, there were 363 total positive COVID-19 cases with 15 total deaths and 54 total hospitalizations in the county where the hospital is located. The facility said it has no current positive COVID-19 patients, but at least one current nurse told 11Alive that is not true.

On the day, the lawsuit was filed on June 17, Landmark had 35 patients in residence, including four of the five who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous week. The nurses did not know which of their patients had tested positive and which had not, the lawsuit alleges.

As the virus continues to rampage across the US, such omissions have no doubt created a public health risk for the American people, sparking a harsh backlash from the public. Meanwhile, Landmark Hospital is not the only one trying to make its numbers look better than they really are. US President Donald Trump has also caused outrage for asking his administration to slow down coronavirus testing.

“When you do test to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find cases,” Trump said during his first campaign rally in months in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20. “So, I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”

This was not the first time that Donald Trump has made such remarks. On May 14, during remarks in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Trump tried to downplay the severity of the US’s coronavirus outbreak by arguing that the country wouldn’t have had so many cases if it weren’t for the fact that so much testing is being done.

“When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we did not do any testing, we would have very few cases,” he said.

In addition to downplaying domestic problems, the Trump administration is also exporting cases to other countries. According to a New York Times editorial on June 18, the country is now consciously spreading the pandemic beyond its borders by continuing to deport thousands of immigrants, many infected with the coronavirus, to poor countries ill equipped to cope with the disease.

As of June 23, the US COVID-19 death toll topped 120,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on June 18 that the US death toll from the novel coronavirus is expected to rise to as high as 145,000 by July 11, meaning that as many as 25,000 Americans could die in the next few weeks.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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