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Countries start thinking about easing up on restrictions

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Andrew Cuomo
New York Governor


Even as coronavirus deaths mount across Europe and New York, the U.S. and other countries are starting to contemplate an exit strategy and thinking about a staggered and carefully calibrated easing of the restrictions designed to curb the scourge.

“To end the confinement, we’re not going to go from black to white; we’re going to go from black to gray,” top French epidemiologist Jean-François Delfraissy said in a radio interview.

At the same time, politicians and health officials emphatically warn that while deaths, hospitalizations and new infections may be leveling off in places like Italy and Spain, and even New York has seen encouraging signs amid the gloom, the crisis is far from over, and a catastrophic second wave could hit if countries let their guard down too soon.

“We are flattening the curve because we are rigorous about social distancing,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “But it’s not a time to be complacent. It’s not a time to do anything different than we’ve been doing.”

In a sharp reminder of the danger, New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300.

“The bad news is actually terrible,” Cuomo lamented. Still, the governor said that hospitalizations are decreasing and that many of those now dying fell ill in the outbreak’s earlier stages.

In Britain, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a second night in intensive care but was improving and sitting up in bed, authorities said.

In China, the lockdown against Wuhan, the industrial city of 11 million where the global pandemic began, was lifted after 76 days, allowing people to come and go. The reopening was seen as a positive sign but also reflected the communist state’s extensive surveillance apparatus and powers of coercion.

Wuhan residents will have to use a smartphone app showing that they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus. Even then, schools remain closed, people are still checked for fever when they enter buildings, and masks are strongly encouraged.

In the U.S., with about 13,000 deaths and 400,000 infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was considering changing self-isolation guidelines to make it easier for those exposed to someone with the virus to return to work if they have no symptoms.

New York City: Ravaged by Covid- 19

Under the proposed guidance, aimed at workers in critical fields, such people would be allowed back on the job if they take their temperature twice a day and wear a mask, said a person who was familiar with the draft but was not authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, said that the Trump administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country and restart the economy amid “glimmers of hope” that social distancing is working to stop the virus’s spread.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now,” he said on Fox News. “But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”

The U.S. is seeing hot spots in such places as Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Chicago, Detroit, Colorado and Pennsylvania. The New York metropolitan area, which includes northern New Jersey, Long Island and lower Connecticut, accounts for about half of all virus deaths in the U.S.

In Europe, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce in the coming days how long the country’s lockdown will remain in place amid expectations that some restrictions could be eased. Discussions are focused first on opening more of the country’s industries.

Proposals being floated in Italy include the issuing of immunity certificates, which would require antibody blood tests, and allowing younger workers to return first, as they show less vulnerability to the virus.

Italy, the hardest-hit country, recorded its biggest one-day jump yet in people counted as recovered and had its smallest one-day increase in deaths in more than a month. Nearly 18,000 have died there.

In Spain, which has tallied more than 14,000 dead, Budget Minister María Jesús Montero said that Spaniards will progressively recover their “normal life” from April 26 onwards but warned that the “de-escalation” of the lockdown will be “very orderly to avoid a return to the contagion.”

The government has been tight-lipped so far about what measures could be in place once the confinement is relaxed, stressing that they will be dictated by experts

Without giving specifics, French authorities have likewise begun to speak openly of planning the end of the country’s confinement period, which is set to expire April 15 but will be extended, according to the president’s office. The virus has claimed more than 10,000 lives in France.

France’s Delfraissy, who leads the scientific council advising the president, said three things are necessary for people to start leaving home regularly: intensive care beds need to be freed up, the spread of the virus must slow, and there have to be multiple tests to see if people are or have been infected and to trace them. He said the French will also need to wear masks in public.

Earlier this week, Austria and the Czech Republic jumped out ahead of other European countries and announced plans to relax some restrictions.

Starting Thursday, the Czech government will allow the reopening of stores selling construction materials, hobby supplies and bicycles. Currently only grocery stores, pharmacies and garden stores are open. The reopened businesses will have to offer customers disinfectant and disposable gloves and enforce social distancing.

Austria will begin reopening small shops, hardware stores and garden centers on Tuesday, and shopping malls and hair salons could follow two weeks later. People will be required to wear face masks.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said authorities will watch carefully and will “pull the emergency brake” if the virus makes a comeback.

British government officials, beset with a rising death toll of more than 7,000, said there is little chance the nationwide lockdown there will be eased when its current period ends next week.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Admitted in hospital for Coronavirus


The European Union expressed privacy concerns about virus-tracking mobile apps that governments are developing or deploying. Such apps use smartphone data to track virus carriers’ movements in order to alert people they may have infected. The EU said the technology raises questions of “fundamental rights and freedoms.”

The desire to get back to normal is driven in part by the damage to world economies.

The Bank of France said the French economy has entered recession, with an estimated 6% drop in the first quarter compared with the previous three months, while Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, is also facing a deep recession. Expert said its economy will shrink 4.2% this year.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, could contract by a record 25% this quarter, the highest since gross domestic product began to be tracked in 1955.

Worldwide, more than 1.4 million people have been confirmed infected and over 80,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and concealment by some governments.

For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and death. Over 300,000 people have recovered

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Marwa Warns Against Cannabis Legalisation

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Says “It is money versus life”

 

President Muhammadu Buhari (right) with the Chairman of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Mohammed Buba Marwa at the State House, Abuja, during a visit by Marwa to brief him on the activities of the agency (photo by The Guardian)

Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd), has enjoined members of the National Assembly not to support to move to legalise cannabis, cautioning that members who vote for it might not be able to return to their constituencies.Marwa made the submission yesterday while fielding questions from newsmen after he met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja.

The former military administrator of Lagos said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the dangers of cannabis to the brain, disclosing that Nigeria was the highest consumer of the substance globally.

Vowing that Nigeria would not submit to the push for its legalisation, Marwa said: “Now, the WHO itself has declared that cannabis affects the brain, alters brain function. It destabilises and affects behaviour. It also affects body organs, and at some point, it can lead to death.

“So, while we appreciate those who want to legalise it for financial gains, we have to be careful to reconcile it with life. So, it’s money versus life. And up to this point, science has not developed up to the point where it can remove the THC in cannabis to zero.

“Therefore, cannabis is harmful to our health; it is a danger to society. We must never allow its legalisation. What’s more, Nigeria has 10.6 million cannabis users; this is the highest in the world. Isn’t it sad?

“We should be the highest in science, technology, mathematics, physics and not highest in cannabis. That is something we need.

“We can never support legalisation and I don’t see how the National Assembly would pass the bill because I know 90 per cent or more of the honourable and distinguished members of the National Assembly know the implications of this legalisation. They dare not go back to their constituencies if anyone signs legalisation because we are seeing the implication on the ground. The youth, the families are being destroyed because of cannabis and drugs. It wouldn’t be legalised by the grace of God.”

Marwa, who revealed that he has received constant death threats from criminals in the course of his assignment, said he was not concerned even though he takes precautions.

Specifically, on the threats, he quipped: “Severally! It’s almost a daily occurrence because my phone number is open. Equally, messages come through family, through colleagues, and sometimes people at random whom we don’t know but I live in the territory. That said, we also take precautions.”

The NDLEA boss said he was at that presidential villa to brief President Buhari on the recent activities of the agency, especially the move to construct barracks for personnel of the agency, saying he received a positive response from the president on the initiative.

“Well, the President told us well done. And that well done does not go to Gen. Marwa but the NDLEA officers and men. And if there’s a secret behind it, we thank the Almighty God for the successes recorded so far, and also to the gallant and professional officers and men of the NDLEA who have remained upstanding.”

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Court freezes Kogi State Govt’s Bank Account over N20billion Salary Loan Fraud

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Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State

 

A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday froze a Kogi salary bailout account domiciled in a new generation bank over a N20 billion loan obtained from the bank.

Justice Tijjani Garba Ringim made the order pending the conclusion of an investigation or possible prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The agency approached the court via an ex-parte application brought pursuant to Section 44(2) of the Constitution and Section 34(1) of the EFCC Act.

Its counsel, Mr A. O. Muhammed, informed the court that the order was necessary to preserve the res and abate further dissipation of the funds in the account.

Moving the application, Muhammed alleged that the N20b loan was meant to augment the salary payment and running cost of the state government but was kept in an interest yielding account with the bank.

He added that instead of using the money for the purpose it was meant for, the Kogi State Government instructed the bank to transfer the money from the loan account and place same in a fixed deposit account.

According to the agency, the bank is yet to present any credible evidence to show that the facility is well secured.

Granting the application, Justice Ringim ordered the EFCC to publish the order in a national newspaper and make a quarterly report to the court on the progress of its investigation.

The judge adjourned the matter till December 1, for the report of Investigation.

The EFCC’s allegations were made in its 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the ex-parte motion deposed to by a member of a team of investigators attached to the Chairman Monitoring Unit Lagos of the EFCC.

The document averred that the Commission received credible and direct intelligence which led to the tracing of funds reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities warehoused in the account with the name Kogi State Salary Bailout Account

He said the Commission acted on the said intelligence and assigned same to the Chairman Monitoring Unit, where it was discovered that on April 1, 2019, the management approved an offer of an N20billion bailout loan facility for the Kogi State Government.

According to the deponent, on June 19, 2019, fiscal year, the Kogi State Government, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Office of the Commissioner, applied for a credit facility of N20billion with an interest rate of nine per cent for a tenure of 240 months from the bank”.

The agency added that the said facility was meant to augment the salary payment and running cost of the state government.

It stated further that on June 26, 2019, the credit facility offer was accepted vide a memorandum of acceptance signed by Governor Alhaji Yahaya Bello, Asiwaju Idris Asiru, the Commissioner of Finance Kogi State; and one Alhaji Momoh Jibrin, Accountant General, Kogi State.

It averred that before the said application for a loan, the Kogi State Government on the 19th June 2019 vide a letter to the Manager of the bank in Lokoja applied for an account opening in the Bank with the name Kogi State Salary Bailout Account with Alhaji Momoh Jubril, Accountant General of the State and Elijah Evinemi Ag. Director Treasury as the signatories to the said account.

“That upon the opening of the said account disbursed salary intervention loan to the tune of N20billion to the account.

“That rather than use the intervention funds for the purpose for which it was granted, the State Government proceeded to open a fixed deposit account No. 0073572696.

“That on the 25 day of July 2019, the bank acting on the instruction of the Kogi State Government transferred the money from the loan account and placed same on the aforementioned fixed deposit account.

“That the said account sought to be frozen received the sum of twenty billion naira, (N20, 000,000,000) on the 25th July 2019.

“That as of 1st day of April 2021 the balance standing to the credit of the said fixed deposit account was N19,333,333,333.36 billion

“That we are still tracing what the sum of N666,666,666.64 billion, has been deducted from the said funds and were not used for the payment of the salary.

“That the Commission has the statutory mandate to prevent the Commission of economic and financial Crimes with the shores of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“That investigation in this matter is still ongoing and this application is pertinent to secure the funds in the said account to prevent them from being totally dissipated.

“That without freezing the nominated accounts, there is no better way of preserving

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