Colors: Blue Color

Nigeria expects to get its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of this month as part of its plan to inoculate 40% of the population this year and a further 30% next year, the head of the country's primary healthcare agency, Faisal Shuaib, has said. The first batch would contain 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, obtained through the global vaccine-sharing scheme known as Covax.

Nigeria will first inoculate frontline health workers, first responders, national leaders, people vulnerable to coronavirus and the elderly, Mr Shuaib said. The country hopes to get 42 million vaccines to cover one-fifth of its population through the scheme, he added. WHO (the World Health Organisation) set up the Covax scheme to help poorer countries obtain Covid-19 vaccines amid widespread concerns that the wealthier nations would snap them up before the lesser ones.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week that the country expected to get vaccines through Covax scheme by the second quarter of 2021, following the initial payment of 283 million rand ($19.3; £14.1m). Health Minister Zweli Mkhize subsequently said that the government was also in talks with private pharmaceutical companies to obtain vaccines by next month.

South Africa's government has been under intense pressure to roll out an inoculation programme following the discovery of a faster spreading variant of the virus. The country has recorded more than 1.1 million Covid-19 cases, the highest in Africa.

Nigeria – with approximatley 200 million, the biggest in Africa - has so far recorded close to 100,000 cases. More than 1,200 new cases were recorded on Monday, its highest ever.

The pandemic has drastically decreased demand for oil and gas globally and some producers have been forced to act. New data shows that as the demand dropped, most oil and gas rigs were shut down. Data presented by Bankr indicates that the United States oil and gas rigs in operation have dropped by 59.49% between February 2020 and November 2020.

In February, the rigs were 790 while in November the number was at 320. The research also overviewed the weekly Brent, OPEC Basket, and WTI crude oil prices between 30 December 2019, to 7 December 2020. During the period, the OPEC basket dropped by 30.65% with the lowest price at $14.19 on April 20. WTI crude oil prices plunged by 25.81% while April 20 registered the lowest price at -$37.63. Elsewhere, the Brent price plummeted by 28.71% and the lowest value was on April 28 at $20.46.

The drop in the number of US oil and gas rigs have historically followed changes in oil prices over an elongated period. However, the 2020 decline in rigs followed the dramatic decrease in the oil prices at a rapid pace. The rig count began to plunge in February, something that was reflected by the sudden loss of oil and gas demand globally due to the pandemic.

The global oil consumption is mainly driven by the transport sector and in the course of the health crisis, authorities imposed lockdowns that grounded travel. A combination of falling demand, rising supply, and decreasing storage space led to a massive crude petroleum price drop. The negative price movement’s impact was significant on April 20 when crude petroleum traded at a negative price.

The steady closure of rigs translates to less oil being produced. The closure continued across the year as producers ran out of space to store their extra oil with the crisis continuing to bite. At some point, the government intervened with President Donald Trump pledging support for the oil industry. Government storage facilities were opened, so that producers do not have to sell at a loss due to lack of storage. However, these measures appear to have had little impact on the sector. Furthermore, some rigs were forced to shut down as a safety measure for workers. This is after several facilities recorded cases of Covid-19.

The closure was necessitated by the fact that most rigs have limited medical facilities, great distances from the mainland hence it could be devastating if they recorded cases of coronavirus. However, the emergence of a vaccine could reverse the fortunes of the sector.

On the other hand, gas rig activity is known to decrease alongside the natural gas price.

However, the decrease in natural gas prices began earlier even before the pandemic. Gas rigs have been impacted by the warm weather and relatively small withdrawals from storage during the winter which led to a sustained decrease in the gas price. After collapsing to worse levels in April, oil prices have partially rebounded following several response measures like the lifting of the lockdowns.

Additionally, the steep response by OPEC and its partners are key in controlling oil production. The recovery in prices was driven by a reduction in production through the OPEC+ initiative. The group agreed to cut production by 9.7mb/d, which is about 10% of the global oil supply. In general, while oil consumption has risen from its lows in 2020 Q2, it remains well below its pre-pandemic level.

Going into 2021, the pandemic’s full effect on the oil rigs and prices cannot be fully quantified. The crush might have a lasting impact on consumption due to changing consumer behaviour. In the long-term, the pandemic is likely to affect oil consumption as people cut on air travel for business with a preference for remote working. Working from home trends might also lower the gasoline demand. The future forecast in oil demand will also impact corporate investment decisions.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that regional restrictions in England are "probably about to get tougher" to curb rising Covid infections. He said stronger measures may be required in parts of the country in the coming weeks. He also warned that this included the possibility of keeping schools closed, although this is not "something we want to do". But he added ministers had to be "realistic" about the spread of the new variant of the virus.

Mr Johnson said the government was "entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down," and warned of a "tough period ahead". He also said increasing vaccination would provide a way out of restrictions and that he hoped "tens of millions" would be vaccinated in the next three months.

Defending his handling of the pandemic, the prime minister said the government had taken "every reasonable step that we reasonably could" to prepare for winter. But he said ministers "could not have reasonably predicted" the new, more transmissible variant of the virus that has emerged over the autumn. He also urged parents to send their children to primary school on Monday if they are open in their area, adding he had "no doubt" schools were safe.

Secondary schools in England are due to stagger their return - with pupils taking exams in 2021 starting on 11 January, and other year groups returning in person on 18 January. In London and some surrounding areas, primary schools will not open for most pupils until 18 January.

In other areas of England, primaries are due to return on Monday, with teaching unions and some councils calling for them to also stay closed. However Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, England's schools watchdog, said closures should be kept to an "absolute minimum".

As Covid-19 dominated headlines, there were some social media moments in India that cheered people amid the gloom,

Karan Puri, an elderly resident of Panchkula, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, was in for a pleasant surprise when the police came to his door. In a video that later went viral, Mr Puri can be seen striding towards the gate, saying, "I am Karan Puri, I live alone and I am a senior citizen." But what happens next leaves him stunned and touched. As the officers sing "happy birthday to you", Mr Puri doubles over in surprise, and asks them how they found out. He tears up and tells the police officers that his children live abroad and he was indeed feeling lonely.

The officers there then say "we’re like your family" and that "there is no need to feel alone". They bring out a birthday cake and everybody starts clapping and singing again. This heart-warming video melted hearts on social media and won the officers praise for their thoughtful gesture.

It all started with a teary-eyed video uploaded to Instagram by a food blogger. The video showed Kanta Prasad, 80, breaking down on camera over the lack of business at his street food stall during the pandemic. Street food, although hugely popular, had taken a massive hit during the pandemic, forcing many vendors to shut shop. Mr Prasad and his wife, Badami Devi, had been running their shop, Baba ka dhaba, since 1990 in south Delhi's Malviya Nagar

In the viral video, Mr Prasad shows the dishes they have prepared for the day. When asked how much he has earned so far, he says "very little" and breaks down. The blogger, Gaurav Wasan, shared the clip on Instagram in early October. It travelled quickly, soon making its way on to Twitter. A woman shared it saying it "completely broke her heart" and urged people in Delhi to visit Baba ka Dhaba and help Mr Prasad and his wife. And the appeal was heard as crowds of people and camera crews gathered at the small eatery within hours after the video went viral.

The tweet was noticed by celebrities - from Bollywood stars to cricketers - and ordinary people alike. The video has now been watched nearly five million times.

People donated from all over the world to help the elderly couple. But the story took an ugly turn when Mr Prasad accused Mr Wasan of misappropriating funds collected under his name. The blogger denied the allegation. Mr Prasad also filed a police complaint against him. But it appears that the two have patched up now. Mr Prasad reportedly thanked Mr Wasan after opening a new restaurant recently and the blogger wished him luck. Arup Senapati started working as a Covid doctor in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam in April.

As the pandemic continued to overwhelm hospitals, health workers and doctors like him were forced to work around the clock, often to a point of physical and mental exhaustion. But Dr Senapati found a unique way to de-stress while also cheering up Covid-19 patients. It also happened to be something he loved doing - dancing to Bollywood numbers.

A colleague filmed one of his impromptu dance routines in October and tweeted the video, which instantly went viral. It has so far been watched 5.7 million times.

Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan, famous for his dance moves, praised Dr Senapati, who says it was his humble attempt to make his patients laugh. But he never imagined that his video would reach so many people! When Snehal Satpute returned home after recovering from Covid-19, she didn't expect the welcome she received.

In a video which went viral on social media in July, her 23-year-old sister Saloni is seen dancing with joy on the street in front of their house to welcome her sister home. Snehal then joins her and other family members also come out to participate.

Saloni told the Pune Mirror newspaper that she wanted to "relay a message to her neighbours who had shunned them after five members of her family tested positive".

In India, stigma against those who had contracted Covid was a widespread issue when the pandemic first took hold there.

As revellers were not able to ring in the New Year in the usual way because of the coronavirus pandemic, in seeing off 2020, 2021 was celebrated with a fireworks and light display over London that included tributes to NHS staff as people, instead, were told to stay at home. But the 10-minute show over the Thames was broadcasted at midnight. Edinburgh's traditional Hogmanay street party was cancelled, with videos of a drone display released instead.

The series of videos showed a swarm of 150 lit-up drones over the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh were released, which organisers said it was the largest drone show ever produced in the UK. Despite the cancellation the Hogmanay celebration - which normally attracts 100,000 people on the city's streets - there were some people who ignored the pleas to stay at home. Crowds of several hundred people gathered at Edinburgh Castle to see in the new year. They sang Auld Lang Syne and danced before eventually dispersing when several police vans and cars pulled on to the castle esplanade.

Much of the UK saw in the new year while under lockdown rules, with about 44 million people in England - or 78% of the population - in tier four, the top level of restrictions. Mainland Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are also under lockdown.

On New Year's Eve, Health Secretary Matt Hancock called on people to take "personal responsibility" and stay at home to avoid spreading Covid-19. Light projections lit up the sky over the O2 Arena, in London, including the NHS logo in a heart accompanied by a child's voice saying: "Thank you NHS heroes".

Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised £33m for the NHS by walking laps of his garden, was also featured in the display, with an image of him shone over the arena.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he was proud of the show, which he said "paid tribute to our NHS heroes and the way that Londoners continue to stand together".

"We showed how our capital and the UK have made huge sacrifices to support one another through these difficult times, and how they will continue to do so as the vaccine is rolled out."

Usually, around 100,000 people pack into the streets around Victoria Embankment to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks. But this year, people were warned not to attend any parties outside their own homes, there were many people around the country who ignored the rules.

Elsewhere, other forces also broke up parties and handed out hundreds of fines. They included Greater Manchester Police, which issued 105 fixed penalty notices at house parties and larger gatherings. And Leicestershire Police had to issue six on-the-spot £10,000 fines to party organisers.

In his New Year's message, the Archbishop of Canterbury will say he saw "reasons to be hopeful for the year ahead" despite the "tremendous pain and sadness" brought by 2020.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby speaks of his experience volunteering as an assistant chaplain at St Thomas' hospital during the pandemic, saying: "Sometimes the most important thing we do is just sit with people, letting them know they are not alone."

In his message, he says: "This crisis has shown us how fragile we are. It has also shown us how to face this fragility. Here at the hospital, hope is there in every hand that's held, and every comforting word that's spoken.

"Up and down the country, it's there in every phone call. Every food parcel or thoughtful card. Every time we wear our masks."

Pablo Torres, the president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), predicted the Caribbean will see a return of tourism to the region, “faster than many parts of the world,” thanks to the protocols and partnerships implemented throughout the region to help lessen the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Averring 2021 would be a year of recovery, Torres declared, “Tourism is our key to recovery, to restoring the livelihood of thousands of employees in our industry, to reopening our doors, and welcoming our guests.” In addition to replenishing tax revenues to cash-strapped governments, Torres noted that a tourism revival would refresh and renew “the minds, bodies and spirits of millions of travelers who will discover that the Caribbean is the best place on earth to recover from the ravage of this pandemic.”

Describing COVID-19 as an unprecedented challenge, he applauded the Caribbean’s rapid response to the pandemic, which helped to contain the spread of the virus more effectively than many other parts of the world. He saluted the “countless health heroes” whose dedication and sacrifices had averted a great deal of human suffering and have helped to set the stage for the economic recovery the region will be experiencing in the coming months.

Torres commended not only health care professionals but also front- and back-of- house workers across many industries, including tourism, airports and airline personnel, immigration and customs officers, and ground transportation workers: ”You have led by example, providing exemplary services while adhering to essential health safety protocols. We are all in debt to your service.”

The hospitality industry veteran lauded CHTA’s “key partners in health”, including National Hotel and Tourism Associations, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the UN World Tourism Organization, and the World Travel and Tourism Council: “Through collaboration and sharing insights and expertise we all help one another.”

From territory- and country-specific COVID-19 testing requirements and stringent cleaning and sanitization protocols in place at accommodations providers to social distancing and face mask policies and rules limiting capacity at restaurants and other gathering places, Torres noted that the Caribbean hospitality sector has gone to great lengths to protect and ensure the health and safety of both residents and visitors. 

Recalling that the Caribbean and its tourism sector has weathered many crises over the years and has always rebounded, Torres described 2020 as a year when CHTA members were challenged to do more with less, including significant revenue shortfalls.

The EU has begun a co-ordinated vaccine rollout to fight Covid-19, in what the bloc's top official says is a "touching moment of unity". European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been delivered to all 27 member states.

Some countries started administering the jabs on Saturday, saying they were not prepared to wait another day. The EU has so far reported more than 335,000 Covid-related deaths.

More than 14 million people have been infected, and strict lockdown measures are currently in place in nearly all the member states.

The vaccine rollout comes as cases of the more contagious variant of Covid-19 are confirmed in several European nations as well as Canada and Japan. Mass vaccination across the EU - a bloc of 446 million people - began early on Sunday.

This comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Commission authorised the German-US Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The EU has secured contracts for more than two billion vaccine doses from a range of drug companies.

"Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The #COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will begin across the EU," Ms von der Leyen tweeted. "The #EUvaccinationdays are a touching moment of unity. Vaccination is the lasting way out of the pandemic," she added.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said: "This really is a happy Christmas message. At this moment, lorries with the first vaccines are on the road all over Europe, all over Germany, in all federal states.

"This vaccine is the crucial key for defeating the pandemic. It's the key for us getting back our lives." Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio urged his compatriots to get the jabs. "We'll get our freedom back, we'll be able to embrace again," he said.

Health workers in north-east Germany decided not to wait and started immunising elderly residents of a nursing home in Halberstadt. In Hungary, the first recipient of the vaccine was a doctor at Del-Pest Central Hospital, the state news agency says.

The authorities in Slovakia also said they had begun vaccinating.

As one of the millions of slaves who were dragged away from their African homeland, the story of Anton Wilhelm Amo, who hailed from Axim in the Western region of Ghana, is one to behold.

From leaving the golden shores in 1730, records show that he was taken to Amsterdam, in The Netherlands, by a preacher who was working in Ghana to serve the Dutch West Indies Company. He was later given out as a 'gift’ to Dukes August Wilhelm and Ludwig Rudolf von Wolfenbüttel in Germany as a child-slave, where he served as an ‘errand boy’ in the Prussian court in Germany. He was, however, also baptised before being affirmed in the Duke’s palace chapel and began to be treated as a member of the Duke’s family.

Following his experience there, Wilhelm Amo was allowed to study in the Halle and Jena Universities and became Germany's first Black philosopher and writer, having entered the Law School where he completed his preliminary studies within two years. Following that, two years later, he received what was a doctorate in philosophy from Germany’s University of Wittenberg and during his study; it is believed that he became the first African-born student to attend a European university. He also found time to master seven languages during his lifetime.


Amo published work across a variety of disciplines; from philosophy to psychology, and he also established himself as a highly-regarded enlightenment thinker as he became notable to be one of the most respected Black philosophers in the 18th century who also fought for the abolishing of slavery. His unrelenting opposition led to his decision to return to his homeland where he remained until his death.

During this year’s International Migrants Day, David Tette, a senior programme coordinator at the PME Ghana, said: “Anton Wilhelm Amo set the pace for most us to go outside overseas, acquired knowledge, then come back home with what we have learnt and used it to better us and ours here in Ghana.

“There are many other people who also did the same by coming back to contribute to national development.”

During the past October Google honoured Anton Wilhelm Amo with a doodle on its website illustrated by Berlin-based guest artist Diana Ejaita to celebrate the Ghanaian-German philosopher, academic and writer.

Born in 1703, Anton Wilhelm Amo left Ghana in 1730.



At age four, the story of his life began, not on a good note, but little did he know it will lead to something great.

 

A report says China will overtake the US to become the world's largest economy by 2028, five years earlier than previously forecast. The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said China's "skilful" management of Covid-19 would boost its relative growth compared to the US and Europe in coming years. Meanwhile India is tipped to become the third largest economy by 2030.

The CEBR releases its economic league table every year and although China was the first country hit by Covid-19, it controlled the disease through swift and extremely strict action, meaning it did not need to repeat economically paralysing lockdowns as European countries have done. As a result, unlike other major economies, it has avoided an economic recession in 2020 and is in fact estimated to see growth of 2% this year.

The US economy, by contrast, has been hit hard by the world's worst coronavirus epidemic in terms of sheer numbers. More than 330,000 people have died in the US and there have been some 18.5 million confirmed cases. The economic damage has been cushioned by monetary policy and a huge fiscal stimulus, but political disagreements over a new stimulus package could leave around 14 million Americans without unemployment benefit payments in the new year.

"For some time, an overarching theme of global economics has been the economic and soft power struggle between the United States and China," says the CEBR report. "The Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic fallout have certainly tipped this rivalry in China's favour." The report says that after "a strong post-pandemic rebound in 2021", the US economy will grow by about 1.9% annually from 2022-24 and then slow to 1.6% in the years after that.

By contrast the Chinese economy is tipped to grow by 5.7% annually until 2025, and 4.5% annually from 2026-2030. China's share of the world economy has risen from just 3.6% in 2000 to 17.8% now and the country will become a "high-income economy" by 2023, the report says.

The Chinese economy is not only benefitting from having controlled Covid-19 early, but also aggressive policymaking targeting industries like advanced manufacturing, said CEBR deputy chairman Douglas McWilliams. He said: "They seem to be trying to have centralised control at one level, but quite a free market economy in other areas. And it's the free market bit that's helping them move forward particularly in areas like tech."

But the average Chinese person will remain far poorer in financial terms than the average American even after China becomes the world's biggest economy, given that China's population is four times bigger.

More than 40 countries have banned UK arrivals because of concerns about the spread of a new variant of coronavirus. Flights from the UK are being suspended to countries across the world including Spain, India and Hong Kong.

Boris Johnson said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and both sides wanted to resolve "these problems as fast as possible". The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference: "We had a very good call and we both understand each other's positions."

Mr Johnson, who earlier chaired a meeting of the government's emergency committee, added: "We are working with our friends across the Channel to unblock the flow of trade."

European Union member states met earlier in Brussels to discuss a coordinated response, with officials suggesting a requirement for tests could be imposed on all people arriving from the UK. Eurotunnel services to France are also suspended and Eurostar trains to Belgium are not operating.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that the new variant of the virus - which may be up to 70% more transmissible - is "getting out of control". The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England, but health officials say there is no evidence that it is more deadly or would react differently to vaccines.

The only journey they're being told to make is to the back of the ever-growing queue that makes up Operation Stack. That will mean spending tonight, and all day tomorrow in their cabs - when all they want to do is get back home. It's a depressing situation in the run-up to Christmas. And if France does insist that all drivers need to be tested before being allowed to cross the Channel, it's likely some won't make it back before the big day.

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has described a never-before-attempted musical feat as “uplifting and a powerful testament to the Commonwealth’s resilience”. The recently released ‘Simple Gifts’ soundtrack under the United Commonwealth COVID Music Project, features a collaboration of musicians, each representing a Commonwealth country.

The Secretary-General said: “Strings, woodwind, brass, percussion and the enchanting sound of the human voice of all ages, arranged in one powerful performance to the backdrop of the Commonwealth’s villages, cities and coastlines.

“It is a true reflection of the iridescent spectrum of our multidimensional, multicultural Commonwealth.” She added: “As parts of the world descend into lockdown, as we face the heart-wrenching moments of saying goodbye to loved ones, as economic turmoil and uncertainty become our new norm, this video will hopefully lift our spirits and inspire hope for a bright 2021.

“This project reminds us that we are not alone and that whatever we face, we face as a family, rich in talent and innovation. It reminds us that we have all the tools to build back better.” The Secretary-General pointed out the importance of considering the arts in COVID-19 recovery strategies. She said: “It is not just about employment prospects and developing human capital, it is also about mental health and other health benefits.

“Research suggests that involvement in art or music not only raises morale, promotes a sense of community and improves personal resilience, but also has a measurable impact on stress levels and benefits the immune system.” 

Delivered in partnership with a professional music group, Dionysus Ensemble, the project harnesses the power of music to lift spirits, improve mental health and encourage international camaraderie, as countries tackle the challenges of the pandemic. Project Leader and ​Artistic Director of​ The Dionysus Ensemble, Léonie Adams, ​connected with high commissioners, musicians and participants to put together the inspiring soundtrack.

She said: “When I first listened to the finished project, the hair on the back of my ​neck stood up. It has been an amazing, exciting journey from Africa, to the Caribbean, to Asia to the Pacific, the Americas and right back here to the UK where I reside.

"It has been great to connect with people from all walks of life all over the world putting this together. It has been an incredible chance to share some joy and to create the most extraordinary network across the Commonwealth in a year when musicians' livelihoods everywhere have been hard hit.”

The Dionysus Ensemble is the Ensemble-in-Residence for the Commonwealth Resounds - the accredited music organisation within the Commonwealth.

With some of the most populous countries across Africa seeing increases in Covid-19 cases, there've been concerns that the continent is facing another spike in infections. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has talked of a "second wave" arriving.

And there's evidence that a new variant of coronavirus in South Africa may be driving increases there. Cases have been rising gradually since late September, according to data from both the Africa CDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Looking at new weekly cases in the month up to December 133, they have gone up by an average of 6.1% each week. But there are significant variations across the continent, with some countries seeing small or localised spikes, others witnessing more sustained increases and some not yet past an initial rise in cases. South Africa now accounts for more than 60% of daily new cases detected in sub-Saharan Africa. After a decline in reported cases for four months, the government is now talking of a second wave.

The country's health ministry says most of the new infections have been amongst those aged between 15 and 19 years. This is believed to be due to a large number of big celebrations in recent weeks, some of them held to mark the end of exams and of the academic year. Four provinces - Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng Province - are the ones most affected by the resurgence in cases.

Covid-related deaths in South Africa have increased by 19% in the four weeks up to December 6, leading the government to introduce new restrictions. Evidence has also emerged that the rise in infections is being driven by a new variant of coronavirus detected in South Africa earlier in December.

It shares some of the same mutations as a variant in the UK, but appears unrelated.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said that it had been particularly noticeable in those provinces which have seen large rises in case numbers.

South African scientists are still investigating exactly how infectious this variant might be.

In the weeks up to early December, the biggest rates of increase were mainly in north Africa, where temperatures have been falling as winter approaches. Morocco saw the largest increase in numbers of new cases on the continent - although cases there are now on a downward trend. Over the past four weeks, there have also been sustained increases in daily cases in Nigeria, Egypt, DR Congo and Uganda.

Cases had also been rising in Kenya and Ethiopia, although the increases have tailed off in those countries more recently. Africa CDC's John Nkengasong says that "clearly, the second wave is here." According to him, there have been three main trajectories in African countries:

·         Those that never flattened the curve, or had low case numbers until August when they rose significantly

·         Those that flattened the curve after cases peaked in July, but are now seeing another rise in numbers

·         Those that have had a sustained decline in cases over time (after an initial rise)

"As we speak now, we have seen the numbers increase steadily to a point that my speculation is that by January or February, we will be where we were at the peak of this pandemic in July," he warns.

The reported death rate per capita on the continent has been low compared with other parts of the world, despite the weak health infrastructure in many African countries.

There could be a number of reasons for this:

·         The relatively young population - more than 60% are under the age of 25

·         Experience in epidemic control from tackling other diseases

·         Cross-immunity from other coronaviruses

·         Low rates of travel and more outdoor living might also help

But there are also issues - as elsewhere in the world - over how countries record deaths, making comparisons between them difficult.

Research earlier this year from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) looking at excess deaths indicated that the number of people who had died from the virus could have been underestimated.

The WHO says the testing level in Africa is still low compared to other regions. Ten countries account for about 70% of the total tests conducted - South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda and Ghana.

There are wide variations in testing rates and while some countries have reduced testing, others have maintained or even increased it. Of the bigger countries, South Africa has been doing the most and Nigeria doing relatively few tests per capita, according to Our World in Data, a UK-based project which collates Covid-19 information.

However in some countries there are insufficient or no data available on testing to know how much is being done.

An increasing number of European Union nations barred travel from the U.K. on Sunday and others were considering similar action, such as Spain, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading to the continent. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on U.K. travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be cancelled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

France banned all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday, including trucks carrying freight through the tunnel under the English Channel or from the port of Dover on England’s south coast. French officials said the pause would buy time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat, but it threw the busy cross-channel route used by thousands of trucks a day into chaos.

The Port of Dover tweeted Sunday night that its ferry terminal was “closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France.”

Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were also halted.

Germany said all flights coming from Britain, except cargo flights, were no longer allowed to land starting midnight Sunday. It didn’t immediately say how long the flight ban would last.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution.” “There are a great many questions about this new mutation,” he said, adding he hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday.

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called a special crisis meeting on Monday to coordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

The Netherlands banned flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year. Ireland issued a 48-hour flight ban. Italy said it would block flights from the U.K. until Jan.6, and an order signed Sunday prohibits entry into Italy by anyone who has been in the U.K. in the last 14 days. The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain.

Beyond Europe, Israel also said it was banning flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa because those were the countries where the mutation is found. The World Health Organization tweeted late Saturday that it was “in close contact with U.K. officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant” and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned.

The new strain was identified in southeastern England in September and has been spreading in the area ever since, a WHO official said. “What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.

Studies are underway to better understand how fast it spreads and and whether “it’s related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behavior,” she added.

She said the strain had also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that didn’t spread further.

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands of different mutations among samples of the virus causing COVID-19. Many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.

British health authorities said that while the variant has been circulating since September, it wasn’t until the last week that officials felt they had enough evidence to declare that it has higher transmissibility than other circulating coronaviruses.

 

Ghana is set to have a hung parliament next year after the opposition won the outstanding Sene West constituency in the central part of the country. The vote count was delayed because of a dispute. Both the ruling party and the opposition now have 137 seats each -plus there is one independent MP - making up a total of 275 MPs in Ghana's parliament. This could pose a serious challenge to President Akufo-Addo's second term.

He was declared winner of the elections, in December, but lost the 60% parliamentary majority he had in his first term. Even though the sole independent MP has pledged his support to the ruling party, the laws of the country require that a greater proportion of ministers be appointed from parliament.

This means a number of the ruling party MPs doubling as ministers may not be in parliament at all time to push through, bills, proposals and contracts submitted for approval. Experts have said that a hung parliament will ensure an effective oversight role of the legislature but could also stall government programmes and policies especially if the opposition decides to frustrate the government.

A hung parliament will complicate Akufo-Addo’s efforts to act decisively to restore an economy hurt by the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. The global health crisis has driven Ghana’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product to 71% in September, the highest in four years. Before the crisis, Africa’s biggest gold producer was already under fiscal pressure due to the costs of cleaning up the banking sector and energy-sector liabilities.

Kobi Annan, an analyst at the U.K./Ghana-based Songhai Advisory, said: “The NDC will have power that no opposition party has had under the fourth republic: an opposition that can veto what they want.”

The NDC is building up a case to challenge the outcome of both the presidential and parliamentary elections, where it said it got a working majority of 140 seats, instead of the 137 it’s been awarded.

In an effort to come up with solid strategies for the quick recovery of Caribbean economies, so devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of experts and boldface names from the Caribbean travel industry gathered virtually on Friday in a forum hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC).

The one-day event entitled ‘Tourism: The Key to the Caribbean’s Economic Recovery’ brought together public and private sector leaders, the international tourism development community, members of civil society and the media in a bid to pinpoint lessons learned from the pandemic and address how the Caribbean can harness the economic power of tourism to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and rekindle the region’s economies.

Participants agreed that the main principles for tourism recovery in the Caribbean should contemplate the need to provide liquidity and protect jobs, the recovery of confidence through safety and security, as well as collaboration between the public and private sectors in order to guarantee the efficient reopening of the travel destinations.

The experts also believe that borders must be opened in a responsible way by harmonizing and coordinating protocols and procedures, couple with the application of new technologies and the added values of innovation and sustainability as part of the new normal. Michel Julian, senior program officer with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said that international tourist arrivals worldwide plummeted a staggering 70% between January and August 2020, meaning 700 million less travelers and $730 billion in losses in that same span of time. 

According to the UNWTO, the travel and tourism industry has lost eight times more money to the Covid 19 pandemic than in the 2009 global economic crisis. One of the most gripping presentations during the virtual forum was delievered by Virginia Messina, managing director of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), who shed light on how hard the ongoing pandemic has hit the Caribbean region’s economy in the course of 2020.

The numbers she presented can’t be any bleaker. The Caribbean has lost 1.7 million tourism-related jobs so far and that figure could peak 1.9 million jobs if the current situation fails to improve. The region’s combined GDP has dropped 62% in 2020, with total losses in the neighbourhood of $36 billion. International tourist arrivals plunged by 60% this year and could skirt around 70% would the pandemic get worse. 

For his part, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, also referred to seamlessness as one key factor to this process. He underscored the need for the Caribbean region to rationalize and simplify visas, air connections and travel. 

Lisa Cummins, Minister of Tourism of Barbados and CTO chairwoman, voiced her concern on the fact that ongoing plans for the unification of rules in the Caribbean is simply not working since CARICOM member states have not reached an agreement on entry and quarantine rules and requirements. She also said the CTO must work diligently, in the short run, in subsidizing wages of tourism workers, in boosting digitization, updating skills of the existing workforce and relying on green energy and resilience.

As an extra goal for the future, the need to integrate destinations and turning them into one big destination Caribbean travel experience remains in the offing.

London will move into England’s highest tier of Covid restrictions from tomorrow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said. Parts of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire will also enter tier three at the same time.

new variant of coronavirus has been identified that "may be associated" with the faster spread in southern England, Mr Hancock added. Pubs and restaurants in tier three must close except for takeaway and delivery.

Also under the rules, sports fans cannot attend events in stadiums, and indoor entertainment venues - such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas - must remain shut.

The health secretary told a Downing Street briefing that action had to be taken immediately - before the next scheduled review of England's three-tier system tomorrow - to slow "sharp, exponential rises" in infection, adding that in some areas the virus was doubling around every seven days.

Speaking alongside Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, and Prof Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, Mr Hancock warned that hospitals across the capital, Essex and Kent were already "under pressure". He described the rise in transmission and the new variant as "a salutary warning for the whole country".

"This isn't over yet," he said.

With Kent, Medway and Slough already under tier three rules, it means large parts of south-east England will soon join much of the Midlands, north-west England and north-east England under the strictest curbs on social contacts.

More than 34 million people in England will be in tier three when the changes come into effect; 21.5 million in tier two; and about 700,000 in tier one.

The latest tier three areas include:

·         Greater London

·         The south and west of Essex (Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford, along with Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea borough councils)

·         And the south of Hertfordshire (Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority)

Prof Whitty warned cases in some areas could rise "very rapidly" by Christmas - without action to combat the current doubling rate. But he stressed it was "possible to turn this around with the tools we have", highlighting how areas such as Liverpool have successfully brought infection rates down.

Prof Fenton said it was a "pivotal moment" for London and parts of south-east England, which was why the government had had to take "quick and decisive action". Asked whether the government should rethink plans to ease some restrictions for Christmas, Mr Hancock said "it's important everyone is cautious" ahead of the festive period, especially when meeting vulnerable people.

"But we do understand why people do want to get together with their families," he said. Prof Whitty echoed his remarks, adding that people need to be conscious of the fact that the vaccine is "not going to give us a way out between now and Christmas or indeed for the two months following that".

On the new variant, which is being tested at Porton Down, Prof Whitty said it would be "pretty surprising" if it were to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. Earlier, Hancock told MPs there was "currently nothing to suggest" that the new variant was more likely to cause serious disease and advice was that it's "highly unlikely" the mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said "none of us are surprised" at the action the health secretary is taking, but warned the country was "heading into the Christmas easing with diminishing headroom". Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan described the announcement as "incredibly disappointing" for businesses, but said it was clear the virus was "accelerating in the wrong direction" and urged all Londoners to follow the rules.

Essex County Council leader David Finch said local leaders would lobby the government for support "during this very challenging time", and Hertfordshire County Council's leader, David Williams, called for residents to "stay disciplined and stick to the guidance". Sectors hit hard by the fresh restrictions expressed anger over the decision.

The director of the Theatres Trust said London's theatres would face "disaster" under the stricter rules, while business owners in the capital said it would "be a ghost town".

Kate Nicholls, of trade body UKHospitality, said the move places an "unfair, illogical and disproportionate burden on hospitality businesses without effectively tackling Covid". And Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the move into tier three was "another nail in the coffin for London's pubs, as well as those affected in parts of Hertfordshire and Essex".

There was also disappointment that sporting events in London would no longer be able to welcome fans.

An MP in an earlier briefing from Mr Hancock said they were told that the next review of the tier system would be on December 23.