Cameroon marks Int’l Day of Persons with Disabilities with calls for greater inclusion

By XINHUA

Cameroon on Friday joined the country’s disabled community in celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with calls for greater inclusion of disabled persons in society.

There are an estimated 3.5 million disabled people in Cameroon and the government was resolute to ensure their wellbeing in society, the country’s minister of social affairs, Pauline Irene Nguene said during activities to mark the day in the capital, Yaounde.

“Disabled people are like any other person. We will continue to promote their rights and well-being in all aspects of society. We will leave no one behind in the development of our country,” Nguene told reporters during the event.

“Cameroon will continue to make sure that disabled people enjoy equal opportunities, participate in decision-making, and truly benefit from economic, social, political and cultural life,” the minister added.

She said the Central African nation will provide 10,000 identification cards for disabled people which will allow them to enjoy “special treatment” wherever they go in the country.

South Africa enters 4th COVID-19 wave driven by omicron variant

By CGTN Africa

South African scientists have detected a new COVID-19 variant in small numbers. /VCG

South Africa is being hit by the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the new omicron variant, health officials said on Friday.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a news briefing that “It has emerged that hospitalization cases have increased for children under five years in the fourth wave.”

According to Phaahla, the new spike in infections over the last seven days has registered its presence in all the country’s nine provinces – with high positivity rates, except for the Free State and Northern Cape provinces which are still showing low positivity rates.

“Hospital admissions are mainly dominated by those who are not vaccinated and young people below the age of 40,” the minister said.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases announced Friday it has detected 16,055 new cases bringing the total number of confirmed cases to more than 3 million.

This increase represents a 24.3 percent positivity rate.

It also reported a further 25 COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 89,944 to date.

The majority of new cases are from Gauteng province which accounts for 72 percent of all infections followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces each accounting for six percent and North West five percent.

Last week, South African scientists announced they had discovered a new COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations compared to previous variants and reported it to the World Health Organization (WHO), which named it omicron.

Days later, a number of countries imposed travel bans on South Africa and other southern African countries, including Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

South Africa has expressed outrage over the travel restrictions with President Cyril Ramaphosa calling on countries to lift the ban saying: “COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and overcoming it requires that we (world) collaborate and work together as a collective.”

Namibia expects economy to grow by 1.5 pct in 2021

By XINHUA

Namibia’s central bank expects the economy to grow by 1.5 percent in 2021, a revision from a 1.4-percent forecast in August, the bank said in a statement Friday.

“The projected improvements are mainly due to base effects and better growth prospects for the mining industry and most industries in the tertiary sector,” said the bank.

For 2022 and 2023, the bank forecasts a growth of 3.3 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

“Risks to domestic growth remain dominated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also include persistently low international prices for some of Namibia’s export commodities, and climatic swings,” the bank added.

According to the bank, risks to domestic growth are also dominated by travel restrictions that are still in place for many countries exacerbated by new waves of coronavirus infections, and the pace of vaccination in Namibia.

India delay South Africa cricket tour over Omicron

By AFP

India’s cricket board on Saturday delayed the national side’s South Africa tour over the heavily mutated Omicron strain of Covid-19, it said in a statement.

Omicron was first detected by scientists in South Africa and has led to global panic, uncertainty and fresh travel curbs in the last few days, raising questions over the prospects for the tour.

The first Test of a three-match series against the Proteas has been put back from 17 December to 26 December.

The tour “will proceed with the revised dates and itinerary”, Jay Shah, secretary for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), said in a statement.

As originally scheduled, a three-match ODI series will follow the five-day games, Shah said, but he did not give timings for the team’s arrival in South Africa or a detailed match itinerary.

India’s Test skipper Virat Kohli this week sought clarity on the series after conflicting media reports about Omicron.

Some players would need to quarantine ahead of the tour, he said. “Those kinds of things you want to seek clarity as soon as possible,” Kohli added.

The BCCI is the world’s richest cricket body and any Indian tour can easily generate millions of dollars for the hosts.

South Africa has praised India for its “solidarity” in not cancelling the tour and promised the most stringent measures to ensure the safety of the visiting contingent.

Zambia reports 1st cases of omicron variant

By CGTN Africa

Zambia reports first case of the Omicron coronavirus strain [File: Emmanuel Mwiche/AP]

Zambia has detected its first cases of the omicron coronavirus variant, the country’s health minister said on Saturday.

The strain was found in three people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week – two fully vaccinated people who traveled abroad recently and a third unvaccinated person with no history of foreign travel, Sylvia Masebo told reporters in the capital Lusaka.

“The patients are two men and a woman. One of the men is asymptomatic, while the other two patients have mild flu-like symptoms,” she said, adding that authorities have started tracing all their contacts.

Masebo said the government was ramping up surveillance and urged people to exercise precaution.

“The severity of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant is yet to be understood … however, it is clear that vaccines continue to play a critical role in controlling the pandemic,” she said.

The omicron strain has been detected in more than 40 countries, sparking global alarm and pushing states rushing to close down borders and tighten curbs.

Zambia is among several African nations that are facing travel bans by countries around the world.

The COVID-19 case count in the country currently stands at 210,265, including 3,667 related deaths.

It has fully vaccinated just over 1.1 million of its population of some 18 million.

The government aims to cover at least 2 million of the target group of 3.6 million by Christmas.

South African data suggests Omicron gets around some, not all immunity

By Reuters

The Omicron variant appears able to get around some immunity but vaccines should still offer protection against severe disease, according to the latest data from South Africa where it is fast overtaking Delta to become the dominant variant.

Omicron, which has raised global fears of a surge in infections, was first detected in southern Africa last week and has prompted governments across continents to impose travel restrictions and take other measures to try and contain it.

The new variant has been detected in five out of nine South African provinces and was likely to be present all over the country, the latest official report showed on Wednesday.

The daily number of reported cases doubled to 8,561. It was not known how many of those were Omicron as not all test samples are subject to genomic sequencing, but an official presentation said Omicron was “rapidly becoming the dominant variant”.Omicron accounted for 74 percent of the 249 virus genomes sequenced in South Africa in November, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), which is collecting data as part of a wider national network for genomic surveillance.

South Africa conducts genome sequencing on only a small proportion of total samples collected each week. The NICD did not give a total number of confirmed cases of Omicron infection.

“(The) mutation profile and epidemiological picture suggest Omicron is able to get around some of our immune protection (to cause infection) but the protection against severe disease and death from vaccines should be less affected,” the latest report from the surveillance network said.

The earliest sample in which the variant was detected was collected on November 8 in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province, where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located.

Since then, it has been detected in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Western Cape.

Thompson-Herah and Warholm named World Athletes of the Year

By Halligan Agade

Olympic champions Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica and Karsten Warholm of Norway have been named the World Athletes of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2021, a ceremony held virtually on Wednesday.

FILE PIC: Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica celebrates after winning the women’s 200m final at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, Japan, Aug. 3, 2021. /Xinhua

Thompson-Herah produced one of the finest sprint seasons in history this year, retaining her Olympic 100m and 200m titles in Tokyo and adding a third gold medal in the 4x100m relay. On top of her Olympic triple, she also clocked world-leading times of 10.54 and 21.53 over 100m and 200m respectively, moving to second on the world all-time lists and coming within touching distance of the long-standing world records.

“I just take it year by year,” said Thompson-Herah. “I went very close to the world record so you know, anything is possible. No spikes hanging up any time soon!

“The World Championships in Oregon is most definitely my next big target,” she added. “It is close to home, I hope friends and family can come out and watch. I hope I get some crowd as well. That couldn’t happen in Tokyo but hopefully, in Eugene, I can get my friends and family to come and cheer me on.”

Warholm uncorked one of the most remarkable performances in athletics history when he stormed to gold in the 400m hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics. Having already broken the world record with 46.70 in Oslo in the lead-up to the Games, Warholm exceeded all expectations in the Japanese capital to claim gold in a stunning world record of 45.94. In a race of incredible depth, the top three athletes finished inside the pre-2021 world record.

“I’m so happy about this,” said Warholm. “First when I saw the time (in Tokyo), I was like, ‘This must be a mistake!’ Because I didn’t see that one coming. And I didn’t see the victory coming before crossing the finish line.

“It was a very intense race, I knew the American and the Brazilian, and all the other guys were really chasing me. I always go out hard and I never know what is going on behind me. I was just fighting all the way to the finish line. When I realized 45.94 was the reality, I was thinking: “This is not too bad. I’ll take it!”

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe congratulated all of tonight’s winners and finalists on their extraordinary achievements this year.

“We have this year celebrated some jaw-dropping performances in Tokyo, at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi and through our one-day meeting circuits – the Wanda Diamond League and the Continental Tour. So we’re delighted to recognize some of our stars at tonight’s awards.”

“As a sport, we are in an incredibly strong position. 2021 has been an excellent year. We cemented our position as the number 1 Olympic sport coming out of Tokyo, we have the most God-given talented athletes on the planet and our sport is the most accessible of all sports. Thank you to all our athletes around the world. I am looking forward to watching what you can all do in 2022.”

(With input from World Athletics)

South Africa’s new COVID-19 cases double in 1 day amid Omicron variant

By AP

A woman is tested for COVID-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg, South Africa on Wednesday, December 1, 2021.  /AP Photo

South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a day, authorities reported Wednesday, signaling a dramatic surge in the country where scientists detected the omicron variant last week.

New confirmed cases rose to 8,561 Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics.

Scientists in South Africa said they are bracing for a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases following the discovery of the new Omicron variant.

“There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, regional virologist for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. “There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in the number of cases being identified in South Africa.”

South Africa had seen a period of low transmission in early November with a 7-day average of about 200 new cases per day, but in the middle of November new cases began to rapidly increase. The new cases reported Wednesday represent a 16.5 percent positivity rate of cases tested, up from a 1 percent rate early in November.

South Africa’s previous surge, driven by the Delta variant in June and July, saw daily new cases reach a peak of more than 20,000. With a population of 60 million people, South Africa has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID-19 cases, including nearly 90,000 deaths.

It’s too early to be certain that the omicron variant is responsible for the rise in cases, but it is very possible, say experts. Standard PCR tests can suggest that a positive case is caused by Omicron, but only a full genetic sequencing can confirm it.

Labs in South Africa and Botswana are urgently doing genomic sequencing to study Omicron cases in order to see if it is significantly more transmissible, causes more serious cases of COVID-19 or if it evades protection from vaccinations, said Gumede-Moeletsi.

“The current data that we’re having is still very limited. So there are so many additional characteristics of this virus that the researchers are busy studying, of which transmissibility is one of them. Severity is also another,” she said, adding that researchers also need to find out if current vaccines will still be effective against it.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are rising in South Africa, but not at the dramatic rate of the new cases.

The Omicron variant has been detected in five of South Africa’s nine provinces and accounted for 74 percent of the virus genomes sequenced in November, the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced Wednesday.

The earliest detection of the variant in South Africa may have been on November 8 in Gauteng province, according to data released by the institute. It said until the end of October, the delta variant accounted for most genomes sequenced in the country, but in November the Omicron variant overtook it.

Mohamed Salah, Hakim Ziyech on target as Liverpool, Chelsea win

By David Ochieng Mbewa

The latest round of English Premier League matches saw some African players in action and put on an excellent display for their respective clubs.  With two more games of the latest round to go, we picked some of the standout performers so far.

Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah continued his fine form for Liverpool as he scored twice in a 4-1 win against city rivals Everton.

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool scores his side’s second goal past Jordan Pickford of Everton during the Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England. /Getty Images

Having missed a couple of good chances, Salah found the net in either half to add to strikes from Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota.

Those goals took Salah’s league tally this season to 13, four clear of second-placed Jamie Vardy of Leicester City. Salah also leads the way in assists in the league with eight.

Elsewhere, Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech scored a late winner as league leaders Chelsea edged out Watford 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

It was Ziyech’s first goal for Chelsea in eight games in all competitions. Another African was on target in the same match with Nigerian striker Emmanuel Dennis scoring the equalizer for Watford after Mason Mount had given Chelsea the lead.

Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy may not have kept a clean sheet for Chelsea but he pulled off a good save early on to prevent Watford taking the lead.

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)

Tanzania sees drop in new HIV/AIDS infections, deaths

By XINHUA

Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said on Wednesday new HIV/AIDS infections dropped by 38.2 percent from 110,000 in 2010 to 68,000 in 2020.

In his address to mark the World AIDS Day in Mbeya region, Majaliwa said HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the east African nation fell by half from 64,000 deaths in 2010 to 32,000 deaths in 2020.

Majaliwa attributed achievements made in fighting the disease to various initiatives taken by the government in collaboration with other key stakeholders in the fight against the epidemic.

He said HIV/AIDS testing recorded an increase from 61 percent in 2016 to 83 percent in 2019.

Majaliwa added that the use of antiretroviral drugs prevented the virus from multiplying by 92 percent in 2019 from the previous 87 percent in 2016.

He said the government has also taken various measures aimed at improving mother and child care that have helped to slow down the rate of infection from mothers to their newborns from 18 percent to 7 percent.