Category Archives: World News

Airlines fare raises to 100%

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Former commandant of the Lagos Airport and aviation security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said airlines might, for once, be charging the right fares that are commensurate with economic realities.

One of the most expensive pricing regimes in local airfares may be upon the aviation industry, as ticket rates have more than doubled in a week.

The spike, which operators blamed on an exchange rate that hit N500 to $1 at the black market last week, has seen an average one-hour economy class seat of N33, 000 rise to N75, 000 over the counter of some airlines. Its average return trip variant also climbed to N121, 000 from about N60, 000 a week ago.

Stakeholders are unanimous it was one of the highest price leaps in years, warning that the last has not been seen since airlines only deployed the spike to cover basic costs, and not to make profit.

Similarly, foreign airlines have also been caught in the forex tangle, as over $200 million of accumulated ticket fares sold in the last couple of weeks have lately been stuck in Nigeria due to constraints at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

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Aviation stakeholders, however, said unless the Federal Government bailed out the local industry and avail a special forex window for local and foreign operators, airfares might continue to spike and become unbearable for the travelling public in the festive season. In the interim, they have advised travellers to make their travel bookings ahead of time to get fairer deal.

NoRM monitoring of fares at the weekend showed a slightly varying price range across the airlines and routes. On the average, all routes, subject to availability, were sold for between N55, 000 and N75, 000 Economy Class one-way tickets. Return tickets for the same class averaged N120, 000. The one-way Business Class of N58, 000 was sold for an average of N100, 000, where available.

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For instance, an Azman Air Lagos-Kano Economy flight ticket that used to sell for N30, 000 went for N55, 000. The same airline sold Lagos-Abuja 10 a.m. flight yesterday for N85, 000. Dana Air’s Lagos-Abuja Economy Class was sold for N56, 000, compared to N29, 000 average rates in the past. For today’s flights, all the Lagos-Abuja morning flights had been fully booked as at Saturday, except for Arik Air that was just resuming operations after shutdown by the unions. Arik sold for N53, 000 yesterday.

A travel agent, Akin Ogunnubi, said indications of fare hike had been palpable in the last two weeks, but only went haywire last Thursday, when aviation unions picketed Arik Air.

“Arik has the second highest traffic after Air Peace. Picketing such an airline means serious disruption across the network. On Thursday and Friday, people searched for tickets at all costs. So, today’s flights that used to go for about N40, 000 on the counter went to N50, 000, N60, 000 and N70, 000; yet travellers were still seeking desperately. I think this is bound to happen, where airlines have reduced their itineraries because of the COVID-19 effects. We have limited flights for a lot of business travellers,” Ogunnubi said.

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DEVASTATING effects of the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, the recent spike in naira-to-dollar rate has also exposed local airlines to more financial needs. Except workers’ salaries and ticket sales, everything else in aviation is denominated in dollars.

Chief operation officer of one of the local carriers said the major worry was the high cost of maintenance. A C-check, which is required every 18 months, now costs an average of $2 million per commercial aircraft.

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“You do the maths. At N500 to $1, a C-check is now N1 billion; just for one aircraft! And that is one component of other obligations. So, if you have N33, 000 tickets now selling for N70, 000, you cannot really blame the airlines, but the economy and its handlers. All the airlines that are lucky to have a couple of planes in operation have reduced their frequencies and routes just to be able to cut losses. Since the government has refused to help us, we have to spread the cost across the traffic available. We feel for our customers, but survival is paramount,” he said.

Ojikutu recalled that from the 1990s to date, exchange rates had spiked several times without airlines changing ticket fares. He said it was no surprise that the airlines continued to struggle, owing service providers and regulatory agencies deductions of five per cent Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) and Passenger Services Charge (PSC), just to stay afloat.

“Rather than these airlines applying or charging appropriate fares for their flights, they target public money to make up for losses. They cannot be charging $100 (N3, 800/N4, 000) when exchange rate was N40/$ in 1990, and still be charging less than N40, 000 today when dollar is N500/$.

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“It does not make economic sense today when all aircraft parts and even fuel is imported as against the local availability in the 80s/90s. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) can regulate but there is no problem with the increase if dollar sells for N500. Airfare to places of one hour flight distance can and should not be less than $100 or N50, 000.”

BY the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations, airfare pricing has been deregulated, and subject to the estimates of the operating carrier. The caveat, however, is that a carrier that may so wish to change rates should intimate the Directorate of Air Transport Regulation (DATR) of the NCAA with a cost analysis of the new pricing. As at yesterday, there is no confirmation of airlines intimidating NCAA of the new pricing regime.

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Travel specialist and Chairman of the Airlines Joint Passenger Committee of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, said it was most disappointing that the industry was fast becoming lawless, with no form of engagement between the operators and regulators.

He observed that the entire sector still had low patronage of about 30 per cent, causing airlines to run at a loss. This has been made worse by the fact that the exchange rate has lately gone up from N380 to N490/$, with airlines pushed to the black market to source for dollars to meet aviation obligations.

“We all know that aviation is essential service and central to commerce. How come no one has deemed it fit to engage the airline operators and push their case before the CBN to give them a special FX window? That is what I find strange in this matter. This is a very difficult time for all and I shudder to imagine where we all will be by the next quarter,” Bernard said.

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He added that forex scarcity was already affecting foreign airlines with as much as $200 million already stuck in Nigeria. He said the implication might be foreign airlines selling tickets in dollars, both for the inability to repatriate funds and likelihood of naira devaluation.

IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East (AME), Muhammed Albakri, recently disclosed that Nigeria and other African countries had blocked funds totalled at $516 million.

The main cause of the blocked fund is the inaccessibility to foreign exchange by operators as the countries’ economies suffer due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most countries are struggling economically with its attendant effect on the global airline industry.

Industry analyst and member of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Olumide Ohunayo, said no one could really blame the airlines for the spike, but the government that refused bailout to the airlines when it mattered the most.

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Ohunayo said there was a need to create a special FX window for the scheduled operators alone, coupled with the swift roll out of pandemic stimulus for the operators to reduce pressure on liquidity.

“It is unfortunate that both airlines and consumers have all found selves in this difficult situation. Passengers should begin to plan ahead to get seats and good fares. If they have to travel, they should do the bookings ahead of time given that this is the festive season and fares will naturally jack up. Air travel is still better than road. Passengers should bear with the industry,” Ohunayo said.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Russia links with India for mass production of Sputnik V while Germany hit million cases

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France took the unusual step Thursday of allowing its winter sports resorts to stay open but ordering ski lifts to stay shut.

Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged its one-millionth case on Friday, as Russia announced a partnership with India to mass-produce its controversial Sputnik vaccine.

Like much of Europe, Germany is battling a resurgence of a pandemic that is filling hospitals and forcing countries to shut down for business while they wait for help from a clutch of vaccines that could start rolling out for use next month.

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Some of the excitement about the new jabs dampened when Britain’s pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca admitted that further research was needed after a mixup in its third-stage trial.

But Russia unexpectedly stepped in with an announcement that an Indian generic drugmaker would start producing 100 million doses of its government-backed vaccine in early 2021.

Germany had largely contained the spread when the virus descended on Europe from China at the start of the year after first emerging in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

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Yet its careful approach failed to avert a second wave, imperilling the health of Europe’s biggest economy and dampening the mood heading into the winter holidays.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the country’s total beyond the one million mark.

More worryingly, number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.

It has shuttered restaurants, bars, sporting facilities and cultural venues, though schools and shops remain open.

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‘I won’t take it’
Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and nearly 61 million infections have been recorded, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

Most countries hope to ease their virus rules for Christmas and New Year, allowing families a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until the new vaccines kick in.

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Russia’s proposed solution for the global health crisis has been shrouded in mystery and speculation.

It became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine in August, long before the candidate had undergone large-scale clinical trials.

Russia said this week that interim results showed Sputnik V — named after the pioneering Soviet satellite — was 95 percent effective, although crucial phase three trials are still underway.

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The importance of these large trials was underscored when AstraZeneca admitted that its candidate — developed jointly with the University of Oxford — proved to be most effective when younger people were given half a dose by mistake.

“We need to do an additional study,” AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg.

One person not taking any of the vaccines approaching approval is Brazil’s populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who caught the virus after playing down its impact and refusing to wear a mask.

“I’m telling you, I won’t take it,” he said in a video posted to social media. “It is my right.”

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Black Friday
In the meantime much of the world faces a gloomy winter dampened by lockdowns, economic anxiety and mental strain.

Bulgaria allowed its stores to enjoy one last spurt of business on Black Friday — usually, the day shops are packed with people looking for holiday deals — before closing almost everything for three weeks shortly before midnight.

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“People have only just started returning in the past three days and now we’ll be shutting down for three weeks,” one Sofia restaurant owner lamented.

The mood was just as sour in the West Bank, where police in face masks set up roadblocks on the first day of new restrictions that included weekend curfews.

“I doubt the curfew will be fully respected,” said Amer Salamin, an accountant in Ramallah.

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Lockdown fatigue is spreading even as governments unfurl new measures to save healthcare systems from collapse.

Restaurant owners in Istanbul organised a protest after Turkey — hitting one-day records of 174 deaths and more than 29,000 infections on Thursday — switched to takeout and delivery service nationally.

Ski break debate
Nations are now trying to gauge how people, exhausted by one of the most traumatic years in generations, can enjoy a small holiday break without spreading the disease.

“Four hundred people on a Paris metro won’t get infected but four people on a ski lift will,” Jean-Luc Boch, the head of France’s Alpine mayors’ association, fumed.

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Playing it safe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for all EU resorts to be closed until January 10, making Switzerland — which is outside the bloc and is staying open — the go-to destination for ski fans.

“I am very bitter because I’m convinced the ski stations could reopen safely,” said Giovanni Brasso, a ski lift operator in the Italian Olympic village of Sestriere.

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#Newsworthy

Former World Bank President, Jim Wolfensohn is dead

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Malpass said that internally, Jim transformed the World Bank by increasing decentralisation, advancing the bank technologically, and making the organisation more open and transparent.

The World Bank Group President, Mr. David Malpass, on Thursday, announced the passing of the former World Bank Group President, Jim Wolfensohn, describing it as a great loss. NoRM reports

Wolfensohn died on Wednesday at the age of 86.

Malpass in a statement in Washington D.C. said that the bank recorded some landmark achievements under Jim’s Presidency, which ran from June 1, 1995, to May 31, 2005.

According to him, the bank under the leadership of the late group president sharpened its focus on poverty reduction and redoubled its efforts to combat investments.

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He said that during this period, the bank gave voice to the poor, and magnified the impact of development investments.

“Bank staff had great admiration and respect for Jim and his wife Elaine, who passed in August of this year.

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“ In his 10 years as President, Jim travelled to more than 120 countries, often accompanied by Elaine, to better understand the challenges facing the bank’s member countries.

“In addition to visiting development projects, Jim met clients and representatives from business, labor, media, non-governmental organisations, religious and women’s groups, students, and teachers,” he said.

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He added that in 1996, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) inaugurated the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, the first comprehensive debt reduction programme.

“As of August 2004, 27 of the world’s poorest countries were receiving substantial debt relief under the programme that amounted, over time, to more than 53 billion dollars.

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“Jim introduced the Comprehensive Development Framework in 1999, which emphasised country ownership of poverty reduction strategies and strong partnerships among government, civil society, and the private sector.”

He said that in 2012, to recognise the profound impact the former president had on the lives of the poorest, the center of the bank’s headquarters building was dedicated as the James D. Wolfensohn Atrium.

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According to Malpass, prior to joining the bank, Jim established his career as an international investment banker with a parallel involvement in development issues and the global economy.

“We extend our deepest sympathy to Jim and Elaine’s children, Sara, Naomi, and Adam,” he said.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Global economic recovery remains difficult – IMF

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In a separate research note, the IMF called for countries to work together to finish the pandemic off.

The global economy faces a hard road back from the Covid-19 downturn, and nations should remove trade barriers on medical technologies to aid the recovery, the IMF chief said on Thursday.

The call from Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva ahead of this week’s G20 leaders summit comes as countries grapple with the fallout from a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and caused a sharp contraction in growth.

“While a medical solution to the crisis is now in sight, the economic path ahead remains difficult and prone to setbacks,” Georgieva said in a blog post.

Major pharmaceutical companies are now closing in on vaccines against the virus, amid a global spike in cases that has caused some countries to reimpose restrictions to curb transmission.

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“The resurgence in infections is a powerful reminder that a sustainable economic recovery cannot be achieved anywhere unless we defeat the pandemic everywhere,” Georgieva said.

She called for countries to cooperate to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, tests and medicines, as well as “multilateral efforts on the manufacturing, purchase and distribution of these health solutions — especially in poorer nations.

It also means removing recent trade restrictions on all medical goods and services, including those related to vaccines,” Georgieva said.

– Last summit –
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused more than 1.3 million deaths worldwide, according to an AFP tally, and wreaked a grievous toll on the global economy.

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The IMF expects global growth to contract by 4.4 percent this year before rebounding 5.2 percent in 2021. However, Georgieva noted third-quarter growth was better than expected in the United States, Japan and European countries.

The virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia is set to be the last during the term of US President Donald Trump, who lost his bid for another four years in office earlier this month, though he has rejected the results.

Under his leadership, Washington has engaged in trade conflicts with strategic rival China as well as its European allies, which slowed down global growth even before the virus’s arrival.

“Combining well-coordinated national policies with joint measures at the global level will help ensure a strong, sustainable recovery,” the Washington-based crisis lender said.

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“In the immediate term, the G20 should refrain from imposing or intensifying trade restrictions and promptly remove those put in place since the start of the year on all medical goods and services as well as on any goods and services related to vaccine manufacturing and distribution.”

The IMF called for Britain and the European Union to conclude a trade deal that would forestall new trade barriers as London disentangles itself from the regional bloc.

The lender also reiterated its call for more public spending to help countries escape the growth slowdown and reshape their economies for both growth and to fight climate change.


#Newsworthy

Air travels traffic increases by 35% amid resumption.

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The airlines said it was essential that governments worldwide adopt a harmonised and coordinated approach to safely re-open borders without quarantine by using COVID-19 testing.

International air traffic has been projected to increase to about 35 per cent with additional revenue earnings as Federal Government yesterday readmitted European and Middle East carriers.

The second wave of COVID-19 in Europe notwithstanding, the likes of Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, and Qatar Airways were given approval to resume international flights in and out of Lagos and Abuja.

Similarly, all the nation’s international airports may resume international flight operations before the end of the year, as global aviation body urged nations to open borders, explore testing over quarantine control measures. Yesterday, Dana Air reopened the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said his ministry was working with the Federal Ministry of Health, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and other relevant bodies to ensure that the airports meet all safety and health requirements and protocols.

FG had, prior to the September 5 resumption, restricted some airlines from coming into the country. According to Sirika, some of the international airlines denied flight approval, include Air France-KLM, Etihad, Rwandair, Lufthansa, TAAG Angola Airlines and others. They were denied approval because international flights were yet to resume in their countries.

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Aviation expert and Chairman of the Airlines Joint Passenger Committee of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, said the ban reversal was a positive development for the local air travel sector, saying that inventory and revenue would increase.

Bernard said since the international flights resumed in September, air traffic had stuck to 25 per cent of what they saw before COVID-19 disruption, with collateral effect on the entire industry. He said, with the new airlines coming into the country, traffic would still not improve maximally, given the second wave of COVID-19 and subsisting restrictions across countries.

“But we foresee an increase in traffic from 25 to 30-35 per cent. More activity is expected to pick up by next year, especially with the reported discovery of COVID vaccines. Low traffic is not in the interest of any economy. It means no foreign exchange and the entire economy is dying. It is all the same in Europe; that is why they are protesting against another lockdown.

“With Lufthansa, Air France-KLM among others coming, we expect the recovery to be faster. In fairness, we, in Nigeria, are not doing too badly, compared to other parts of Africa. In terms of recovery, we are 29 per cent ahead of others. With more airlines coming now, I expect that we should be hitting 75 per cent traffic by February or March next year,” Bernard said.

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Sirika, yesterday, said all hands were on deck to ensure that logistic and policy necessities were in place to address the difficulties encountered by international travellers, especially with the impending yuletide season.

He expresses appreciation for the understanding and cooperation of aviation stakeholders in ensuring smooth reopening of the nation’s airspace.

In granting approvals to the airlines, Sirika emphasised the need for airlines operating in the country to deploy international best practices in handling Nigerian passengers, as government will not tolerate any form of maltreatment of its citizens by any airline.

Aviation Security expert, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) said with British Airways operating in and out of Nigeria since September 5 till date, there is no valid reason why other European carriers should have been barred for this long.

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Ojikutu recalled that the operation of the international carrier is most important to revenue earnings of the local industry, with foreign carriers accounting for 80 per cent Nigeria’s earnings.

Ojikutu said: “We have been losing substantial revenues from these airlines that collectively have been making 21 flight frequencies weekly. For landing alone, that is over $100,000 not to talk of another $200,000 from about 2000 passengers each paying $100.

“Calculate that loss in revenues for the number of weeks the three have been suspended after the reopening of the airports. Was their suspension reasonably justified?” Ojikutu queried.

World airlines, however, re-iterated the urgent need to re-open borders with COVID-19 testing and further financial support for aviation as the COVID-19 shutdown of air transport continues.

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The airlines, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), yesterday noted that border restrictions, especially quarantine measures, in Europe and many parts of the world had undermined free movement of people as a cornerstone of economic development.

As a result, passenger demand has plummeted and 2020 is expected to see passenger numbers down at least 70 per cent compared to 2019 for travel to/from/within Europe. Only 340 million travellers in the region are expected to fly in 2020 compared to close to 1.2 billion that flew in 2019.

This collapse in air traffic has had a devastating impact globally on aviation and the millions of workers in the industry. Research from the Air Transport Action Group estimates some 4.8 million jobs directly connected with air transport are at risk. Millions more in the travel and tourism industry are also threatened.

It is imperative that governments work together to coordinate plan to restart the industry. In the meantime, additional financial support is needed to help the industry get through the winter.

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IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, said airlines were burning through cash at the rate of $300,000 a minute in the second half of 2020.

“And much of the government support that has enabled them to remain viable is running out. The prospect of catastrophic job losses is very real. Continued financial support is desperately needed until the industry can get back on its feet,” Schvartzman said.

The aviation industry has set out a clear vision of systematic pre-departure testing to give governments the confidence to re-open borders.

But the European Union’s Council Recommendation fails to set clear conditions for the use of testing to replace quarantine.

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“Quarantine of any length will continue the economic destruction of COVID-19. Testing must replace, not shorten, quarantine. And testing costs should be borne by governments, in line with the WHO’s International Health Regulations. Swift and consistent action from European governments is essential if the year-end travel season is to be saved in any form,” Schvartzman said.

IATA’s survey of travellers indicates widespread support for testing in place of quarantine: 83 per cent will not fly if they have to quarantine on arrival; but 88 per cent say that they are willing to be tested to facilitate travel.

About 65 per cent agree that quarantine is not necessary if a person tests negative for COVID-19. Some 39 per cent stated that the government should pay for testing while only 25 per cent believed it should be the responsibility of travellers.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Vaccines is 94.5% effective – Moderna

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Moderna on Monday announced its experimental vaccine against COVID-19 was shown to be 94.5 percent effective according to early results from a clinical trial with more than 30,000 participants.

“This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease,” said Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO.


#Newsworthy..

COVID-19: Vaccines must be ‘universal benefit’ – WHO Head.

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Several voices were raised questioning the effectiveness of this process in attempting to prevent or rein in the Covid-19 pandemic.

The head of the World Health Organization hailed the rapid progress towards a Covid-19 vaccine but insisted Friday that every country must reap the benefits.

“A vaccine will be a vital tool for controlling the pandemic, and we’re encouraged by the preliminary results of clinical trials released this week,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, in closing the WHO’s annual assembly.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced Monday that their candidate vaccine had proven 90 percent effective in ongoing final phase trials involving more than 40,000 people, less than a year after the novel coronavirus emerged in China.

“Never in history has vaccine research progressed so quickly. We must apply the same urgency and innovation to ensuring that all countries benefit from this scientific achievement,” said Tedros.

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The coronavirus has killed nearly 1.3 million people worldwide while more than 52.7 million cases have been registered, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

However, the tallies probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

Shared pathogens lab plan
Tedros said the pandemic had shown there was an urgent need for “a globally-agreed system for sharing pathogen materials and clinical samples”, to facilitate the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics as “global public goods”.

He said the system could not wait for bilateral agreements that could take years to negotiate.

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“We are proposing a new approach that would include a repository for materials housed by WHO in a secure Swiss facility; an agreement that sharing materials into this repository is voluntary; that WHO can facilitate the transfer and use of the materials; and a set of criteria under which WHO would distribute them,” said Tedros.

The UN health agency’s director-general thanked Thailand and Italy for offering to provide materials and pioneer the new approach, and Switzerland for offering a laboratory.

WHO member states on Friday approved a resolution on strengthening preparedness for health emergencies.

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The resolution calls on countries “to prioritise at the highest political level the improvement of, and coordination for, health emergency preparedness.”

It also urges countries to continue developing their capacities for detecting infectious diseases, in compliance with the International Health Regulations.

Sounding the alarm
The regulations on global health security, approved in 2005 and entering into force two years later, notably regulate how a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) is declared.

They also include specific measures to be implemented at ports, airports and border posts in order to limit the spread of risk.

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Washington accused Tedros of being too slow to declare a PHEIC over the new coronavirus. The WHO chief himself has been critical of its binary on-or-off nature, with no levels of alert in between.

The resolution adopted on Friday asks Tedros to seek possible “complementary mechanisms” that could be used to alert member states “about the severity and/or magnitude of a public health emergency in order to mobilise necessary support and to facilitate international coordination”.

He is expected to deliver his ideas at the next WHO annual meeting.

Besides discussing the pandemic, the WHO assembly agreed on a new plan to defeat meningitis by 2030; increased action on epilepsy and other neurological disorders; and a strategy to speed up the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.


#Newsworthy…

Agbani Darego, Ugliest Miss World Ever.

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Nigerian model and beauty queen who was crowned Miss World in 2001, Agbani Darego has been described to be the ugliest Miss World ever.

Calling Nigerians attention to this, a lady identified as @MsTariah, shared a snapshot of a Google search which result presented Agbani Darego as the ugliest ever Miss World.

NRM confirmed the search result, and many Nigerians on social media expressed surprise as to why.

@OluwafemiMaduka: I’d ordinarily not have read much into this, but pple have so many ways of manifesting racism and colorism. Even big institutions, that should be more openminded, are accomplices in these ills.

@aaijay51: Very terrible and heart breaking….Racism at its peak..


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Global death toll passes one million.

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More than one million people have died from coronavirus, according to an AFP toll, marking a grim milestone in the spread of the disease that has ravaged the world economy, inflamed diplomatic tensions and upended lives from Indian slums to New York City.

In the nine months since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, schools, businesses, live entertainment, and international travel have been upended by strict stay-at-home measures designed to curb the contagion.

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Drastic controls that put half of humanity — more than four billion people — under some form of lockdown by April at first slowed the spread, but since restrictions were eased, infections have soared again.

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By 1100 GMT Monday, the disease had claimed 1,002,036 victims from 33,162,930 recorded infections, according to an AFP tally collected from official sources by journalists stationed around the world, and compiled by a dedicated team of data specialists.

The United States has the highest death toll with more than 200,000 fatalities, followed by Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.

Behind the figures lie millions of lives shattered by an illness that still holds many mysteries and which cannot yet be effectively treated or prevented, despite a global race to develop drugs and a vaccine.

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For Italian truck driver Carlo Chiodi, the global mortality statistics include both his parents, whom he lost within days of each other.

“I saw my father walking out of the house, getting into the ambulance, and all I could say was ‘goodbye’,” Chiodi, 50, told AFP.

“I regret not saying ‘I love you’ and I regret not hugging him.”

‘A crisis like no other’
With new cases again surging worldwide, governments have been forced into an uneasy balancing act: virus controls slow the spread of the disease, but they hurt already reeling economies and businesses.

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The IMF has warned that the economic upheaval could cause a “crisis like no other”, though the Fund’s outlook appears brighter now than it did in June.

Europe, hit hard by the first wave, is now facing another surge, with Paris, London and Madrid all forced to introduce controls to slow infections threatening to overload hospitals.

A million Madrid residents are under partial lockdown, with the city and the surrounding region at the epicentre of Spain’s second wave.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman urged citizens to keep to strict hygiene measures.

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“The development of infection numbers is of great concern to us,” Steffen Seibert said. “We can see from some of our European friends where that could lead.”

Masks and social distancing in shops, cafes and public transport are now part of everyday life in many cities around the world.

Mid-September saw a record rise in cases in most regions and the World Health Organization has warned virus deaths could even double to two million without more global collective action.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 30, 2020 Relatives carry the coffin of a suspected COVID-19 victim at the Nueva Esperanza cemetery, one of the largest in Latin America, in the southern outskirts of Lima. – More than one million people have died from the coronavirus, according to an AFP toll, with no let-up in a pandemic that has ravaged the world economy, inflamed diplomatic tensions and upended lives from Indian slums and Brazilian jungles to America’s biggest city. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

Infections in India, home to 1.3 billion people, surged past six million on Monday, but authorities pressed ahead with a reopening of the battered South Asian economy.

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The virus initially hit major metropolises including financial hub Mumbai and capital New Delhi but has since spread to regional and rural areas where healthcare systems are even more fragile and patchy.

Santosh, a student in Delhi, said the virus was now “part of our lives”.

“You cannot shut down every business, because the economy cannot collapse… Covid-19 is not going to pay the rent.”

Currently, nine vaccine candidates are in last-stage clinical trials, with hopes some will be rolled out next year.

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Waking up to Covid-19
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the illness known as Covid-19 made its first known appearance in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.

How it got there is still unclear but scientists think it originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal.

Wuhan was shut down in January as other countries looked on in disbelief at China’s draconian controls, even as they went about their business as usual.

By March 11, the virus had emerged in over 100 countries and the WHO declared a pandemic, expressing concern about the “alarming levels of inaction”.

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The least privileged around the globe have been the hardest hit by the breakneck spread of the virus, which has also infected some among the powerful, rich and famous.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a week in the hospital. Madonna and Tom Hanks also tested positive.

The Tokyo Olympics, Rio’s Carnival and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca are among the major events postponed or disrupted by the pandemic.

Some major sports tournaments have resumed but with empty stadiums — such as Premier League football in England — or highly restricted spectator counts. The French Open is limiting access to 1,000 tennis fans a day.

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As the restrictions tighten, protests and anger are rising as businesses worry about their survival and individuals grow frustrated about their jobs and families in the face of another round of curbs.

Authorities have clashed with anti-lockdown protesters around the world, while the blame for the disease and its consequences has led to increased tensions between the United States and China in particular.

Along with the turmoil, though, lies some hope, with Wuhan now appearing to have controlled the disease.

“Life has returned to the kind of flavour we had before,” resident An An said. “Everyone living in Wuhan feels at ease.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Vaccines could be ready in ‘a month’ – Trump

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United States President Donald Trump said Tuesday that a coronavirus vaccine may be available within a month — an acceleration of even his own optimistic predictions — but added that the pandemic could go away by itself.

“We’re very close to having a vaccine,” he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania aired on ABC News.

“We’re within weeks of getting it you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” he said.

Only hours earlier, speaking to Fox News, Trump had said a vaccine could come in “four weeks, it could be eight weeks.”

Democrats have expressed concern that Trump is putting political pressure on government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to help turn around his uphill bid for reelection against challenger Joe Biden on November 3.

Experts including top US government infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci say vaccine approval is more likely toward the end of the year.

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At the ABC town hall Trump was asked why he’d downplayed the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed close to 200,000 people in the US.

Trump replied by saying: “I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”

US President Donald Trump poses with ABC New anchor George Stephanopoulos ahead of a town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 15, 2020. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

But Trump himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews for the new book “Rage” — published Tuesday — that he had deliberately decided to “play it down” to avoid alarming Americans.

‘Herd mentality’
Returning to one of his most controversial views on the virus, that has ravaged the economy and which government scientists say will remain a danger for some time, Trump insisted “it is going to disappear.”

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“It would go away without the vaccine but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it,” he said.

Challenged about how the virus would go away by itself, he said “you’ll develop like a herd mentality,” apparently meaning the concept of herd immunity, when enough people have developed resistance to the disease to effectively stop transmission.

“It’s going to be herd developed and that’s going to happen. That will all happen but with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly. But I really believe we’re rounding the corner,” he said.

The president, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, said “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t think masks are good.”

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Asked what people he meant, Trump answered: “Waiters.”

“They come over and they serve you and they have a mask,” he said. “I saw it the other day when they were serving me and they’re playing with the mask. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying what happens: They’re playing with the mask. So the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate, and that can’t be good.”

Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the health crisis.

The latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking poll Tuesday found that 52 percent of adults do not trust Trump’s statements about an upcoming coronavirus vaccine, compared to 26 percent who do.


#Newsworthy…

Oil slumps after China drops demand.

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Saudi Arabia cuts its oil prices to Asia amid falling energy demand as economies struggle to recover from coronavirus.

Oil prices were trading down more than 1 percent on Monday after hitting their lowest since July, as Saudi Arabia made the deepest monthly price cuts for supply to Asia in five months and optimism about demand recovery cooled amid the pandemic.

Brent crude was at $42.11 a barrel, down 55 cents or 1.3 percent by 06:42 GMT, after earlier sliding to $41.51, the lowest since July 30.

US West Texas Intermediate crude skidded 64 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $39.13 a barrel after earlier dropping to $38.55, the lowest since July 10.

The world remains awash with crude and fuel despite supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, known as OPEC+, and government efforts to stimulate the global economy and oil demand. Refiners have reduced their fuel output as a result, causing oil producers such as Saudi Arabia to cut prices to offset the falling crude demand.

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“Sentiment has turned sour and there might be some selling pressure ahead,” Howie Lee, an economist at Singapore’s OCBC bank said.

The Labor Day holiday on Monday marks the traditional end of the peak summer demand season in the US, and that renewed investors’ focus on the current lacklustre fuel demand in the world’s biggest oil user.

China, the world’s biggest oil importer which has been supporting prices with record purchases, slowed its intake in August and increased its products exports, according to customs data on Monday.

Demand for oil in China fell in August, customs data released on Monday showed, adding to the downward pressure on crude oil prices and the economies of the world’s top oil exporters including Saudi Arabia [File: LM Otero/AP]

‘So many uncertainties’
“There are so many uncertainties with regard to the Chinese economy and their relationship with key industrialized countries, with the US and, these days, even Europe,” Keisuke Sadamori, director for energy markets and security at the International Energy Agency told the Reuters news agency.

“It’s not such an optimistic situation – that casts some shadow over the growth outlook.”

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Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, cut the October official selling price for Arab Light crude it sells to Asia by the most since May, indicating demand remains weak. Asia is Saudi Arabia’s largest market by region.

In August, the OPEC+ group eased production cuts to 7.7 million barrels per day after global oil prices improved from historic lows caused by the coronavirus pandemic cutting fuel demand.

Oil is also under pressure as US companies increased their drilling for new supply after the recent recovery in oil prices.

US energy firms last week added oil and natural gas rigs for the second time in the past three weeks, according to a weekly report by Baker Hughes Co on Friday.


#Newsworthy…

As school resumes: Public schools suffer reduction as kids move to Private.

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By the time the school year ended this spring, Clara Obermeier knew remote learning was not a good option for her two children.

Her 13-year-old daughter had grown withdrawn after going months without seeing her friends. Her 11-year-old son had struggled academically, and due to a Zoom glitch, was frequently blocked from the virtual breakout rooms where the rest of his classmates were assigned to work in small groups. And neither Obermeier, an engineer, nor her husband, an active-duty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, have jobs that will allow them to work from home full-time this fall.

“I waited and waited to figure out what the plan was from the school system,” Obermeier says. On July 21, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland announced that the district would offer virtual-only instruction at least through January. “At that point, we were like, OK, this is definitely not going to work out for us,” she says.

So Obermeier pulled her children from the public school district and enrolled them in St. Bartholomew School, a private Catholic school in Bethesda, Md., that charges $13,600 in tuition and is planning to bring all students back to campus by Sept. 21 after a phased reopening beginning Sept. 8.

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Such decisions are playing out across the country ahead of the first day of school, as districts announce reopening plans and individual families craft ad-hoc solutions in preparation for what will be, at best, an unusual school schedule. But the solutions available to wealthier families — from private schools to pricey learning pods — have highlighted the ways the pandemic is exacerbating educational inequities. While many students struggled through the spring to access the most basic remote learning opportunities, often without home Internet service and computers, others had the benefit of private tutors or all-day virtual instruction provided by their schools.

“Schools are highly unequal. But the ability of families to provide education is even more unequal,” says Richard Kahlenberg, director of K-12 equity at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

That’s a fact acknowledged even by parents who can afford private tutoring or private school for their children, and who struggle with the question of how to help their own kids without exacerbating educational inequity. Mayssoun Bydon, the managing partner at the Institute for Higher Learning, which offers test prep and admissions consulting, expects the coming school year to reveal an educational divide “like we’ve never seen before.” And yet, Bydon hired a private tutor for her own son, who attends a private school. “I felt like I couldn’t afford to just fail him personally,” she says.

Fall reopening plans vary widely among schools. About half of the country’s public school districts are planning on full in-person instruction, but 41% of the highest-poverty districts are beginning the year with entirely remote learning, according to an analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. That means many of the students who are most likely to need the academic, social and emotional support of in-person instruction won’t receive it.

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As of late July, 40% of private schools were planning on full in-person reopening, 19% were preparing for entirely virtual instruction, and 41% were offering a mix of both, according to a survey by the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents 1,600 private schools across the U.S.

Many of the private schools that are planning to bring students back for in-person learning have the advantage of small class sizes and large outdoor spaces that make social distancing easier, in addition to endowments and donations that have made it possible to upgrade air filtration systems, revamp nurses’ offices, set up tented classrooms outside, secure COVID-19 testing and hire more staff.

“Schools are highly unequal. But the ability of families to provide education is even more unequal.”

In Brooklyn, Poly Prep Country Day School— a 166-year-old private school where families pay as much as $53,000 in tuition and fees — will reopen for in-person learning on Sept. 8, setting up 70 “socially distanced tents” across its 25-acre campus. Younger students will be divided into pods that will be kept separate from one another, and the average lower-school class size has shrunk to 12 students. The school will require a negative COVID-19 test for everyone returning to school, and one family’s anonymous donation will cover testing costs for faculty.

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At Boston Trinity Academy, a pop-up on the school’s website asks visitors for patience “as we are experiencing an unusually high number of applications.” Compared to a typical summer, the small Christian school saw a 40% increase in applications this summer, mostly from public school families. But social distancing requirements led the school to cap some classes at nine or 12 students, limiting how many new students they can accept. Admissions Director Bisi Oloko said the school’s seventh grade was full, but two students transferring there from other schools were willing to repeat sixth grade to get a spot at Boston Trinity. Boston Public Schools, a district that serves more than 53,000 students across 125 schools, will begin the year remotely until Oct. 1, when the district plans to begin a hybrid model. Boston Trinity Academy, which enrolls about 230 students at a tuition rate of $20,700, will begin classes in person on Sept. 8, with about 10% of students choosing a virtual option instead.

“There are disgruntled parents out there,” says Headmaster Frank Guerra. “There are people who felt like their school systems let them down, and their kids were almost like on a three-month vacation, and that’s devastating.”

That’s why, for parents who can afford it, private schools with unique reopening plans have become an attractive solution.

Roxana Reid, founder of the New York City educational consulting firm Smart City Kids Inc, saw a “ridiculous uptick” in business beginning in June, as she heard from families looking to transfer from public to private schools. Bydon, of the Institute for Higher Learning, has seen a 38% increase in her business since March as parents seek private tutors or ask the company to develop personal curricula for their children.

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The experience has left Bydon worried about the growing divide between students at elite private schools and those at underfunded public schools.

“We’re going to end up with a real educational divide between the haves and the have-nots and without a way to reverse it,” Bydon says. “Who’s going to fail are the kids who don’t have the money.”

But Bydon, who lives in New York City, can also relate to her clients who have sought out expensive help for their kids. When schools shut down in March, her son was in kindergarten and had just been learning to read, so she hired a private tutor to make sure he didn’t fall behind. “Nobody imagined that there was going to be another full academic year of this,” she says.

In Vienna, Va., Colleen Ganjian withdrew her daughter from Fairfax County Public Schools after the district announced it would begin the school year remotely, enrolling her in a private Catholic school instead.

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“I just want her to have consistency,” says Ganjian, an educational consultant and founder of DC College Counseling. “The bottom line is I am so busy. I own a business, and I can’t be that person. I can’t provide her with the consistency that she needs. That’s kind of why I feel I needed to look for an alternative.”

On Aug. 26, she dropped her daughter off at her new school “bright and early” for the first day of third grade, in person and wearing a mask. “I think she was excited to just get out of the house,” Ganjian says.

Exacerbating inequity
The role of private schools has become a hot button issue within the contentious debate over whether it’s safe to send kids back to class. President Donald Trump has called on public schools to fully reopen in person, and if they don’t, he said school funding “should follow students so parents can send their child to the private, charter, religious or home school of their choice.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a rule for more coronavirus relief funding to be directed to private schools, prompting lawsuits from states and school districts in response.

On July 31, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued an order directing all non-public schools to remain closed for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1, saying “at this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers.” That prompted backlash from private school parents. Many of them signed petitions, arguing that private and parochial schools should be allowed to develop plans in line with CDC and state guidance “without arbitrary and capricious interference from county officials.”

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Obermeier was one of several parents who sued the county to reverse Gayles’s decision. The lawsuit argued that private schools had spent time and “millions of dollars” to ensure safe environments for children and staff, and it accused Gayles of being driven more by concerns over equity than public health.

“It appears to be a political response, an answer to complaints by some public school parents about ‘why their schools are closed and private schools are not,’” the lawsuit stated.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, issued an executive order overruling the county’s directive, giving school districts and private schools across the state the authority to decide when and how to reopen. (An attorney representing the parents said their lawsuit has not been dismissed but that they’re focusing on “promoting collaboration between Montgomery County and nonpublic schools.”) While all public school districts in Maryland are beginning the year virtually, Hogan encouraged schools to reopen in person, announcing on Aug. 27 that all districts had met state benchmarks to offer some in-person instruction.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced that any school—public or private— in a county on the state’s coronavirus watchlist cannot reopen in-person. But schools can apply for waivers to reopen early for kindergarten through sixth grade. Informal surveys by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) found that “most CAIS schools that include grades K-6 are keen to re-open on campus” and many have applied for waivers. The association said it believes that “on-campus schooling is better for kids than distance learning, provided it can be done safely.”

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It’s not yet clear whether families are withdrawing from public schools in significant numbers. A survey by the National Association of Independent Schools conducted in August found that 51% of private schools either maintained or grew enrollment for the coming school year, and 58% reported a “larger than average” number of admission inquiries from families in other types of schools — a category that could include traditional public schools, charter schools and parochial schools. Some private schools have also faced financial challenges during the pandemic, reporting a drop in international student enrollment and fewer fundraising opportunities. More than 100 private schools — mostly private Catholic schools — have permanently closed this year because of pandemic-related challenges, according to the libertarian Cato Institute.

Education experts warn that moving children from public to private schools would have a negative effect on public schools in the long run.

“I can’t say that I fault individual parents for doing what they think is best for their own kids. But the secession of upper middle class families from public school to private school is very bad for the country and for educational equality,” Kahlenberg says.

And the very thing that is drawing some parents to private schools is also cause for concern among private school teachers. While teachers’ unions have opposed plans for in-person learning, threatening to strike if teachers and other school staff aren’t protected, most private school teachers are not unionized and have less leverage to object to their schools’ plans.

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As of Aug. 30, nearly 3,000 teachers and other employees at more than 350 private schools had signed two anonymous petitions, calling for their schools to pursue virtual-only instruction to protect students’ and educators’ health. In interviews with Media (known to Noble Reporters Media), several private school teachers said they are worried about the virus spreading when in-person classes begin but fear retaliation for raising concerns about school plans.

“There may be fears around enrollment numbers dropping that are driving people to be back on campus, fears around losing families who are paying pretty enormous tuitions,” said a teacher who organized one of the petitions and who requested anonymity for fear of being fired. “At schools that can offer a robust, successful remote program, it feels irresponsible not to take that route. Our hearts go out to underfunded public schools that do not have the luxury of making this choice that many private schools can make.”

That’s something that Erica Turner has been thinking about a lot, as both a parent and an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studies racism and inequity in educational policy. She recently published a guide for Equity in Pandemic Schooling, intended to be a resource for communities and families as they make plans for the coming school year.

When families abandon public schools and turn to private options, Turner wrote, “they undermine the schools upon which less privileged families depend,” making it harder for other students, especially low-income children of color, to get good educations. The guide encourages parents to advocate for more school funding from Congress, demand the resources to make remote learning accessible for all students—including those who are homeless or have disabilities—and keep their own children enrolled in public schools.

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Obermeier, the mother in Maryland, says the issue of equity weighed heavily on her when she decided to pull her kids from public school. “It was hard to think that, ‘OK I can solve it for myself,” while many others in the district would be left without a solution, she says.

As an immigrant from Ecuador, she also worries that the challenges of this school year will disproportionately affect low-income families or immigrants who don’t speak English and who can’t easily help their children learn at home. “To me, the most equitable thing to have done was to open the schools and give priority to precisely the kids who need it,” she says.

But as more school districts fail to reopen, families will continue to find individual, if inequitable, solutions.

“In the end, we just have to make sure we have our priorities straight,” Obermeier says, “and for us right now, it’s stability and the least amount of disruption for our kids.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: World cases crosses 25 million milestone.

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Global coronavirus infections soared past 25 million on Sunday, as countries around the world further tightened restrictions to try to stop the rampaging pandemic.

A million additional cases have been detected globally roughly every four days since mid-July, according to an AFP tally, with India on Sunday setting the record for the highest single-day rise in cases with 78,761.

The surge in India, home to 1.3 billion people, came as the government further eased lockdown restrictions on the weekend to help ease pressure on the reeling economy.

Even nations such as New Zealand and South Korea, which had previously brought their outbreaks largely under control, are now battling new clusters of infections.

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On the other side of the world, Latin America — the worst-hit region — was still struggling with its first wave, with Covid-19 deaths in Brazil crossing 120,000, second only to the United States.

Brazil’s curve “has stabilised now, but at a very dangerous level: nearly 1,000 deaths and 40,000 cases per day,” said Christovam Barcellos, a researcher at public health institute Fiocruz.

“And Brazil still isn’t past the peak.”

Nearly 843,000 people have died of Covid-19 globally, and with no vaccine or effective treatment available yet, governments have been forced to resort to some form of social distancing and lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.

Masks will become mandatory from Monday on public transport and flights in New Zealand, which went more than 100 days without local transmission before the current cluster emerged.

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And tightened virus curbs kicked in on Sunday in South Korea, which is also battling fresh clusters — including in the greater Seoul region, home to half the country’s population.

‘Anti-corona’ rallies in Europe
Despite the grim numbers, there has been steady opposition to lockdowns and social distancing measures in many parts of the world, often because of their crushing economic cost.

But resistance has also come from the extreme right and left of the political spectrum, as well as conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine campaigners.

In Berlin on Saturday, around 18,000 people gathered to march against coronavirus restrictions — but police later stopped the rally because many were not respecting social distancing measures.

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Protesters waved German flags and shouted slogans against Chancellor Angela Merkel often used by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Many carried placards promoting widely debunked conspiracy theories about vaccines, face masks and 5G communications.

Similar protests were held in London and Zurich, where some carried signs supporting the far-right QAnon movement, which promotes bizarre theories about Satan-worshipping cabals and “deep state” plots — without any credible evidence.

‘A big first step’
The pandemic has upended economies and societies around the world, and halted most large gatherings — from sport and music to religion and politics.

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The Tour de France set off from the French Riviera on Saturday, two months later than planned and with the French sport minister not ruling out the cancellation of the event because of the coronavirus.

Under the Tour rules, a team with two positive tests in its entourage would be expelled. A virus testing cell will travel with the teams throughout the race.

The world’s top sport, culture and music events are struggling with the challenge of hosting spectators while reducing the risk of virus transmission.

But there was some cheer on Saturday in New York, once among the world’s biggest coronavirus hotspots.

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Visitors raised their arms, clapped and lined up to get tickets as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened its doors to the public in a festive atmosphere after a six-month closure.

Tracy-Ann Samuel, who came with her daughters aged four and nine, said she couldn’t wait to again be “surrounded by beautiful art”.

“It means that there is some semblance of normalcy,” Samuel said.

“The Met has been a part of New York history for over 150 years… So this is a big first step.”


#Newsworthy…