Covid clouds world New Year party

The world began ushering in 2022 on Friday after another tumultuous and pandemic-ridden year capped by new restrictions, soaring case numbers, and a slight glimmer of hope for better times ahead.

The past 12 months saw a new US president, the first spectator-free Olympics, and dreams of democracy from Afghanistan to Myanmar and Hong Kong crushed by authoritarian regimes.

But it was the pandemic — now entering its third year — that again dominated life for most of humankind.

More than 5.4 million people have died since the coronavirus was first reported in central China in December 2019.

Countless more have been sickened — subjected to outbreaks, lockdowns, lock-ins and an alphabet spaghetti of PCR, LFT and RAT tests.

The year 2021 started with hope, as life-saving vaccines were rolled out to around 60 percent of the world’s population, although many of its poor still have limited access and some of its rich falsely believe the jabs are part of some ill-defined plot.

As the year drew to a close, the emergence of the Omicron variant pushed the number of daily new Covid-19 cases past one million for the first time.

France on Friday became the latest country to announce Omicron was now its dominant coronavirus strain.

In Britain, the United States, and even Australia — long a refuge from the pandemic — the variant’s prominence is driving record new cases.

Parts of the Pacific nation of Kiribati became the first to welcome in the new year from 1000 GMT.

But from Seoul to San Francisco, celebrations have again been cancelled or curtailed as infections rise.

In Sydney, which in normal times bills itself as the “New Year’s Eve capital of the world”, the vast harbour where people gathered to watch the city’s fireworks was notably uncrowded.

With tourists still unable to enter the country and many residents fearful of the rapid spread of Omicron, tens of thousands were estimated to have attended, rather than the one million-plus who normally flock to the foreshore.

Still, the city saw New Year’s Eve in with a bang — igniting six tonnes of technicoloured fireworks that lit up the Opera House and floating barges, turning the Harbour Bridge rainbow-like.

Dubai is planning a pyrotechnics spectacle at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, despite a surge of infections in the United Arab Emirates.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, municipal authorities in the Tunisian capital Tunis cited the “rise in cases” of coronavirus for the last-minute cancellation of a concert and other festivities planned for Bourguiba Avenue, the main city-centre thoroughfare.

In contrast, South Africa — the first country to report Omicron back in November — lifted a curfew late Thursday to allow festivities to go ahead.

Health officials said that a dip in infections in the past week indicated the peak of the current wave had passed — crucially without a significant increase in deaths.

In Rio, celebrations on Copacabana Beach go ahead in a scaled back format — though crowds of revellers are still expected at the traditional party spot.

Authorities in Seoul are showing caution, barring spectators from a traditional midnight bell-ringing that will instead be live-streamed.

In India, fearing a repeat of a devastating virus surge that overwhelmed the country in April and May, cities and states have imposed restrictions on gatherings. Delhi implemented a 10:00 pm curfew.

Mumbai police on Friday issued evening bans on people visiting public places such as the city’s beaches and seafront promenades, normally popular sites for seeing in the new year — with the restrictions set to last two weeks.

The UK also marks the new year in muted fashion, but at least does so under the warmest temperatures on record, near 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).

The World Health Organization has warned of trying times ahead, saying Omicron could lead to “a tsunami of cases”.

Many Western leaders have been hesitant to reimpose strict controls seen in 2020, for fear of sparking a new economic downturn.

But on-again-off-again restrictions have still prompted frequent, vocal and occasionally violent anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and anti-government protests.

Experts and non-experts alike hope that 2022 may be remembered as a new, less deadly phase of the pandemic.


Covid-19: More cases hit Africa Cup of Nations teams

Four Cameroon players have tested positive for COVID-19, with the Africa Cup of Nations hosts set to kick off the tournament against Burkina Faso in just over a week’s time, the country’s football federation said.

Other teams preparing for the finals, which start on Jan 9, also reported positive cases, with seven more in the Cape Verde Island squad and one for Morocco.

This adds to positive infections reported on Thursday by Algeria and the Ivory Coast, who have also been hard hit by a possible drug suspension for their first-choice goalkeeper.

Sylvain Gbohouo, who plays in Ethiopia at Wolkite City, has been provisionally suspended by FIFA after testing positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that the World Anti-Doping Agency categorizes as a stimulant.

The announcement was made by the Ethiopian Football Federation but not confirmed by the Ivorians.

Meanwhile, Cameroon’s Eric Maxim Choupo Moting has been injured in training and is waiting to see if he can play.

The Bayern Munich player, expected to lead the attack for the hosts, suffered “a severe pain in his right knee” and underwent a scan, according to the Cameroon football federation.

It is awaiting the results, fearful that the 32-year-old striker might miss out.

Cameroon also said leading defender Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui, midfielder Pierre Kunde Malong, winger Christian Bassogog, and backup goalkeeper Jean Efala had all tested positive for the novel Coronavirus.

Cape Verde, who have been preparing for the Cup of Nations at home, had already called off a friendly match against Morocco before reporting new cases in their camp on Friday.

A statement said the infected players had been isolated but were showing no symptoms, and that just 15 players were able to train on Friday.

Morocco defender Badr Benoun, a late addition to their squad, has had to postpone plans to join teammates’ training in the United Arab Emirates after returning a positive test.

On Thursday, the Ivory Coast said players arriving from Europe at their training camp in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, had tested positive and have been put in quarantine by local authorities.

Algeria earlier this week said forwards Youcef Belaili and defenders Mohamed Amine Tougai and Houcine Benyada had tested positive at their training camp in Qatar.


Nigeria: Gunmen kidnap Delta pastor, kill wife

Unknown gunmen suspected to be kidnappers have attacked a pastor Prophet Jay Jay Enejeta, in Abraka, Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State, Nigeria.

Enejeta who is the General Overseer of Faith Fasting and Prayer Ministry in the university town was whisked away by the hoodlums during the operation which left his wife, Faith dead.

Community sources said the incident happened on Thursday night while the cleric and his wife were on their way home in his Lexus SUV.

The gunmen opened fire on his vehicle as he was approaching home.

Bullets were said to have shattered the front passenger right side front door window glass of his car and hit the wife on her neck and head.

According to sources, the cleric was abducted by the gunmen, while his wife died on the spot.
Her body was deposited in a morgue in the university community.

It could not be ascertained if the cleric was hit by a bullet, but the path the criminals carried him through was littered with blood.

The Public Relations Officer of the state police command, DSP Edafe Bright, confirmed the incident on Friday in Asaba.

Edafe said security operatives alongside local vigilante members have intensified the search for the cleric.


With Samia Suluhu Hassan at the helm, Tanzania regains foothold on economic growth ladder

Tanzanians started the year 2021 with a somber note following the death of President John Magufuli on March 17. Magufuli, 61, who died from a heart condition, was reelected in October 2020 to lead the east African nation for the second and final five-year term.

On March 19, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who was Magufuli’s deputy, was sworn in as the country’s president. In accordance with Tanzania’s Constitution, the Vice President shall be sworn in and become the president for the unexpired period of the term of five years in case the incumbent president dies.

The 61-year-old Hassan became the country’s first woman president and she hit the ground running when she pledged to oversee the implementation and completion of flagship projects initiated by Magufuli.

The flagship projects included construction of the Dar es Salaam-Mwanza standard gauge railway (SGR), construction of the Julius Nyerere hydropower project with a designed installed capacity of 2,115 megawatts and strengthening of Air Tanzania Company Ltd (ATCL), Tanzania’s flag carrier airline.

The construction of the SGR covering 1,637 kilometers from the major coastal port of Dar es Salaam to Mwanza in northern Tanzania, which will connect to landlocked countries of Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on completion, will facilitate transportation of cargo to these countries and at reasonable costs.

Currently, Tanzania only has a total grid installed capacity of 1,605.86MW. The Julius Nyerere hydropower project now under construction, which is scheduled for completion next year, will boost the country’s industrialization drive.

Until now, the government of Tanzania has bought 11 brand new aircraft in a move aimed at reviving its national carrier ATCL which was on the brink of collapse.

The east African nation believes that the revival of the national airline will boost the tourism sector, the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner.

One of her monumental tasks when she took over the presidency was a pledge she made on April 22 to restore investors’ confidence in Tanzania by overhauling outdated investment laws and offering incentive packages.

“We should offer incentives to strategic investors and dismantle hurdles that discourage investors from doing business in the country,” Samia Suluhu said in her maiden address to the National Assembly in the national capital of Dodoma.

She observed that Tanzania had reached a stage where investors feel that the country’s investment policies are unpredictable, saying the country’s efforts to develop the economy could not be achieved if it sidelines investors.

The president ordered authorities to simplify the issuance of work permits for foreign investors, which previously took a minimum of 90 days but now needs 24 hours at most following completion of an improved online application system.

She also ordered red tape to be cut when it came to land allocation to prospective investors, both domestic and foreign.

Following the President’s pledge to restore investors’ confidence, the country registered a total of 182 investment projects worth 3.5 billion U.S. dollars between April 2021 and October 2021.

Geoffrey Mwambe, the minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for Investment, said on Nov 3 that 164 of the 182 investment projects were registered by the Tanzania Investment Center (TIC) and 18 projects were registered by the Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA).

He said most of the registered investment projects covered agriculture, construction, manufacturing, industry and mining.

Mwambe attributed the impressive flow of investment projects to measures aimed at improving the investment environment being undertaken by President Hassan’s administration.

Tanzania has not been spared from adverse economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic despite the policy decision against a full lockdown of economic activities. The outbreak of COVID-19 has led to the collapse of not only the tourism sector but also other sectors, including health, education, agriculture.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September approved 567.25 million U.S. dollars in emergency support to Tanzania to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abel Makubi, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, said by Dec 18, Tanzania had received 4,797,860 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and 1.27 million people in the country had been vaccinated.

Makubi said by Dec 18, a total of 28,214 people tested positive for COVID-19 and 737 people died from the virus that was first reported in the country on March 16, 2020.

Tanzania intends to vaccinate at least 60 percent of its 60 million people.

Florens Luoga, governor of the Bank of Tanzania, the central bank, announced that the country’s economy was projected to grow at 5 percent in 2021.

“Looking forward, Tanzania economy is poised to grow steadily, reaching more than 8 percent in the next five years,” Luoga told the 20th Conference of Financial Institutions held in Dodoma in November.

The conference, a biennial event created in 1980 under the auspices of the Bank of Tanzania for exchanging views and experiences on issues pertaining to the financial sector and economy in general, lasted for two days, with attendance of more than 300 local and foreign experts to rethink about how to facilitate fast recovery of the economy and ensure sustained growth in the post-COVID-19 era.

The central bank governor said this projection hinged on increased utilization of resources and growth in productivity.

Growth of the economy slowed to 4.8 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic, from a five-year average of 6.8 percent, according to Luoga.

During the year in review, Samia Suluhu administration recognized that gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment are among the important pillars in bringing about meaningful, inclusive and sustainable development in any society.

She appointed several women to take up senior leadership positions, including Stergomena Lawrence Tax, the country’s first woman defense minister, and Liberata Mulamula, the first woman foreign affairs minister, several women ministers, high court judges and regional commissioners.

Tanzania celebrated its 60 years of independence on Dec 9 when President Samia Suluhu reminded her countrymen and women to continue nurturing the prevailing peace, unity and tranquility.


Sudan crisis: Death toll in latest day of protests rises to five, say medics

The death toll from a police crackdown on the latest nationwide protests against military rule in Sudan rose to five on Friday, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said.

The group of medics, which is aligned with the protest movement, said the fifth person who had been killed was hit in the chest by a tear gas canister fired by security forces during the protests on Thursday.

The protests were the 11th round of major demonstrations in Sudan since an Oct 25 coup that saw Abdallah Hamdok removed but then reinstated as prime minister.

The overall death toll since the security forces’ crackdown began in October has now risen to 53, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said.

The demonstrators have demanded that the military play no role in government during a transition to free elections.

Security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades as protesters marched through Khartoum and the neighbouring cities of Omdurman and Bahri towards the presidential palace on Thursday.

Police had said in an earlier statement that four people had been killed in Omdurman, and 297 demonstrators and 49 police forces members were wounded nationwide during the protests, in which tens of thousands of people took part.

Al Hadath TV quoted an adviser to military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan as saying the military would not allow anyone to pull the country into chaos and that continued protests were a “physical, psychological, and mental drain on the country” and “would not achieve a political solution”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter that he was troubled by reports of lethal force and the United States “stands with the people of Sudan, as they demand freedom, peace, and justice”.

The UN Special Representative to Sudan, Volker Perthes, said that he was “deeply disturbed” by the deaths.