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COVID-19 outbreaks in children complicate school reopening plans | US & Canada News



Multiple outbreaks of the coronavirus in US schools that have reopened with in-person learning have set off concerns about how quickly the virus can spread among young people – calling into question whether it is possible to reopen schools safely anytime soon during the pandemic.

A school in Georgia had more than 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases by the end of its second week of classes, forcing more than 1,600 students and staff to quarantine after being exposed. Schools in Mississippi, Tennessee, Nebraska and other states also reported outbreaks, causing schools to revert to online teaching.

“What we’re seeing is in many of the states where the public schools are back in session with in-person school or a hybrid – that’s been a big driver of infections,” said Dr Shawn Nasseri, an ear, nose and throat surgeon in Los Angeles.

Initially, evidence suggested that COVID-19 had minimal effects on those under the age of 18, and that they did not spread it easily, but new studies are challenging that view.

“It was thought that kids would not be exposed or transmit the virus as efficiently as adults – which is true,” Nasseri told Al Jazeera, “but now it is understood that the viral load in the nose of children even those under 5 years old is significantly higher in the first days of infection, and that teenagers can basically transmit the virus like adults.”

An instructional assistant helping a student at Wilson Primary School in Phoenix, Arizona, US [Cheney Orr/Reuters] 

The US Centers for Disease Control says the number and rate of cases in children “have been steadily increasing” since March, and that previous low rates of infections were due to mitigation measures such as stay at home orders and school closures.

More than 75,000 children in the US tested positive for the coronavirus between July 30 – August 13, a 24 percent increase from the two weeks prior, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

By Wednesday, a total of 406,109 cases were reported among children since the pandemic began – more than 7 percent of total cases in the US, raising concerns that the number of infected children will continue to climb as more schools open their doors for the school year. 

Benefits of schooling

“Schools are key to the cognitive development of children,” according to a report from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, echoing other education experts. Children often learn better in school, where they have direct contact with their teachers and can have the social-emotional learning they need by being around their peers, many concur.

But sending children back to school also risks spreading the disease to relatives, teachers and other families.

“Children can be like conveyor belts, taking the disease back and forth,” said Dr Pranatharthi Chandrasekar, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

“Children get the virus then they shed it, and therefore they can be a risk to other people who they pass the virus on to,” Chandrasekar adds, “it is a problem, opening schools, particularly in areas where the infectivity rate continues to be high.”

But the issue of school reopenings has turned into a controversial political debate in the US, one President Donald Trump sees as key to his re-election bid in November.

Last week, Trump reiterated the false claim that children are essentially immune to the virus, and that schools should reopen for in-person instruction.

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Students return to Greenbrae Elementary School in Sparks, Nevada for the first time since March with mandatory masks and social distancing. Schools in the district are using a combination of classroom instruction and distance learning [AP Photo/Scott Sonner]

“I think, for the most part, they don’t get very sick,” Trump said during a media briefing in the White House, “It’s also a case where there’s a tiny fraction of death, tiny fraction, and they get better very quickly.”

He and his administration have been pushing for schools to reopen so that parents can return to work and the economy can get back on track.

The issue has also ignited intense debates in school districts between some parents who want their children to go back to school so that they can go to work, and teachers who are concerned for their own health. Many teachers have threatened to strike, quit or call in sick if they are forced to return to the classroom.

In some smaller towns and in rural areas, schools are offering in-person instruction this term, albeit with mandates for masks, hygiene, screening and social distancing. But most districts, especially in large and urban cities, will conduct virtual teaching.

New York City is the only major urban area still intending to start some classes at schools, offering a hybrid of online and in-person instruction, a decision that has drawn fierce criticism from teachers’ unions. 

The US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said while the nation’s goal should be getting children back to school even as a vaccine is still months away – the decision to reopen schools must be based on the infection rate in that community.

His team has designated zones as either red, yellow, or green to aid determinations in allowing students back into classrooms.

Green zones have a test positivity rate lower than 5 percent, and “should be able to open up safe and clear,” Fauci said during a Facebook Live last week. Yellow zones with a 5-10 percent test positivity rate, could opt for virtual learning or a combination of in-person and virtual, while red zones with a 10 percent or more test positivity rate in the community would be unsafe to reopen. 

‘Bringing it home’

Although most children who contract COVID-19 recover, some have died, and others have developed severe complications after they appeared to have healed.

Similar to adults, children face higher risks of developing severe symptoms if they have underlying medical conditions such as cancer, asthma or lung disease. But some children with none of those conditions can still end up in intensive care units because of COVID-19.

In the US, at least 86 children have died from the coronavirus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, including a nine-year-old girl in Florida who had no underlying medical conditions.

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Liberty Elementary School sign welcoming students back on the first day of class in Murray, Utah [AP Photo/Rick Bowmer] 

“There is a quite small, but very concerning group of kids who are previously healthy who get very serious complications from COVID-19,” Dr Michael Wilkes, professor of medicine and global health at UC Davis told Al Jazeera.

“We’ve to date not been able to predict who those are,” Wilkes adds, “most of those kids are surviving, but they require hospitalisation and it looks like they have long-term sequelae.”

Even more worrying, Wilkes says, is the fact that the true numbers of infections among children is likely much higher, amid limited testing and the fact that most who contract the virus have only mild symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough and sore throat – and some, displaying no symptoms at all.

“From a public health perspective what is most concerning is kids passing the infection back and forth in school, on the playground or playing sports, and bringing it home,” Wilkes said.

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‘Uninformed’ CSOs Frustrating EACOP Project Financing – Oil and Gas Expert




Denis Kakembo, the Managing Partner and leader of Corporate and Tax Practice at Cristal Advocates, has revealed that the continuous uninformed statements uttered by a section of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are frustrating the financing of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project.

Cristal Advocates is a corporate and commercial law firm offering full scale legal services with an emphasis on tax, energy, infrastructure and business support.

On Sunday April 11, the Ugandan government led by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, his Tanzanian counterpart Samia Suluhu and two oil companies; Total E&P Uganda Limited (TEPU) and China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) signed four different agreements to pave way for the construction of the USD 3.5bn 1,440 kilometer EACOP from Hoima (Uganda) to Tanga Tanzania.

The agreements include; Host Government Agreement, Intergovernmental Agreement, Shareholders’ Agreement, Tariffs and Transport Agreement, Project Framework Agreement and Several Financing Agreements.

TEPU is the majority shareholder in the deal with 72% followed by Uganda with 15%, CNOOC with 8% while Tanzania have 5%. The project is however expected to be funded with borrowing from different banks, which have opted out of the deal.

In a March 18th press release issueed by Inclusive Development International, banks provided statements that they will not support the construction of EACOP, after an open letter endorsed by 263 organizations from around the world was sent to 25 banks considered most likely to be approached for financing.

Speaking to journalists at the sidelines of the ACME media training on oil and gas in Kampala on Monday, Kakembo wondered why CSOs have chosen to “just make noise without reading and understanding what’s on ground.”

“The perception people have towards oil and gas sector is old fashioned. Its true in the past oil companies didn’t behave well and this was in so many countries where they operated and people did not benefit so there is that historical bias which is still being held by people to date,” he said.

Adding: “The oil and gas industry has tremendously transformed over the period of time there is a lot of honor for an international law level perspective to ensure that people benefit and protect the environment and there are a lot of instruments that can be used to achieve this but these instruments can only be used when the CSOs understand and appreciate what they are.”

CSOs, he said, sometimes approach these issues on a perspective of an activist mind, “but not from a mindset of an informed person on what is taking place and yet if they understand fully what is taking place, they can serve their people in terms of articulating their concerns.”

“I would urge CSOs to take time, dig in and take more information which is readily available to boost and build their capacities.”

“Whenever there is an economic activity or project taking place, you would expect that people will be affected but there are other ways of mitigating that like; is the process transparent, are people being compensated, these are not very difficult issues, which can be addressed,” he said.

The said EACOP project is expected to kick off in six months’ time which Kakembo noted will be the final kickoff of each and everything including the declaration of Final Investment Decision (FID) by oil companies.

The post ‘Uninformed’ CSOs Frustrating EACOP Project Financing – Oil and Gas Expert first appeared on ChimpReports.

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IAE issues ‘dire warning’ as CO2 emissions set to soar in 2021 | Climate News




The IAE predicts that carbon dioxide emissions could rise to 33 billion tonnes in 2021 – the second largest rise in emissions ever.

Global carbon emissions are set to jump by five percent marking the largest single increase in more than a decade as the economic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic is “anything but sustainable” for the climate.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) published on Tuesday its annual Global Energy Review predicting that carbon dioxide emissions would rise to 33 billion tonnes this year, up 1.5 billion tonnes from 2020 levels.

“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the COVID crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

Birol called the Leaders Summit on Climate to be hosted by US President Joe Biden on Thursday and Friday a critical moment for nations to pledge immediate actions before the UN Climate Change Conference set for November in Glasgow.

“Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022,” said Birol.

In early March, the IEA’s chief stressed that the level of carbon emissions in December was higher than the same month the previous year as economies started reopening following coronavirus lockdowns, a figure that the IEA’s chief said was a “stark warning” to leaders around the world.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries on Monday to back up their commitments to fight climate change with “concrete immediate action”, including making as their “absolute priority” that no more coal power plants will be built.

Last year, when power use dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8 percent to 31.5 billion tonnes, after peaking in 2019 at 33.4 billion tonnes.

The IEA’s annual review analysed the latest national data from around the world, economic growth trends and new energy projects that are set to come into action.

Global energy demand is set to increase by 4.6 percent in 2021, led by developing economies, pushing it above 2019 levels, the report said.

Demand for all fossil fuels is on course to grow in 2021, with both coal and gas set to rise above 2019 levels.

The expected rise in coal use dwarves that of renewables by almost 60 percent, despite accelerating demand for solar, wind and hydro power. More than 80 percent of the projected growth in coal demand in 2021 is set to come from Asia, led by China.

Coal use in the US and the European Union is also on course to increase but will remain well below pre-crisis levels, the IEA said.

The IEA expects both solar and wind to post their largest annual rises ever, at around 17 percent.

It expects renewables will provide 30 percent of electricity generation worldwide in 2021, their biggest share ever and up from less than 27 percent in 2019.

China is expected to account for almost half of that increase.

While demand for oil is rebounding strongly, the IEA expects it to stay below the pre-pandemic level as the aviation sector struggles to recover owing to a slow and patchy vaccine rollout.

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Victims of Syrian gov’t chemical attacks file case in Sweden | Bashar al-Assad News




Four NGOs have filed a criminal complaint against members of the Syrian government for deadly attacks in 2013 and 2017.

Four NGOs have announced they have filed a criminal complaint in Sweden against members of the Syrian government, including President Bashar al-Assad, over chemical weapons attacks in 2013 and 2017.

In the complaint filed with Swedish police, the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Civil Rights Defenders, Syrian Archive (SA), and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) accuse Syrian officials of chemical attacks using sarin gas, in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib probvince in 2017 and Ghouta near the capital Damascus in 2013.

“By filing the complaint, we want to support the victims’ struggle for truth and justice,” Hadi al-Khatib, founder and director of Syrian Archive, said in a statement.

“We hope that a Swedish investigation into these crimes will eventually result in trials and convictions of those who ordered and carried out these attacks. Sweden can and should contribute to putting an end to the current state of impunity in Syria,” he added.

Allegations of war crimes can be investigated by Swedish police regardless of where they were committed.

The Syrian government denies ever using chemical weapons against its own civilians in the course of conflict with rebel forces.

The conflict, which began in 2011, has largely subsided with Assad having regained control of most key territory with Russian and Iranian military support.

According to the complaint, the Syrian government used chemical weapons in attacks on the opposition-held towns of Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. Hundreds of civilians, including children, were killed.

“In the ten years since the first assaults on pro-democracy protesters in Syria, the government has used chemical weapons more than 300 times to terrorise the civilian population,” said Steve Kostas, a lawyer at the Justice Initiative.

“Swedish authorities can join their counterparts in France and Germany to jointly investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria and demonstrate that there will be no impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes,” he said in a statement.

Syria has rejected the allegations

A United Nations-commissioned investigation to identify those behind chemical attacks in Syria concluded in 2017 that Syrian government forces had used chlorine and sarin gas.

The first trial of suspected members of Assad’s security services for crimes against humanity, including torture and sexual assault, began in a German court in April 2020.

Meanwhile, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will decide this week whether to impose unprecedented sanctions on Syria for its alleged use of toxic arms and failure to declare its arsenal.

Member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will weigh a French proposal to suspend Syria’s “rights and privileges” at the body, including its ability to vote.

Damascus is accused of failing to answer key questions after an OPCW probe last year found Syria attacked a rebel-held village with the nerve agent sarin and the toxic chemical chlorine in 2017.

Syria has rejected all the allegations and said the attacks were staged.

Damascus and its ally Moscow have accused Western powers of using the OPCW for a “politicised” campaign against them.

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