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Coronavirus and conspiratorial dog-whistles return to New Zealand | Coronavirus pandemic



After more than 100 days without recording a case of community transmission, New Zealand is once again methodically stamping out COVID-19.  

The nation’s largest city, Auckland, is back in alert level three. Roads out of the city are closed. The remainder of the country watches on from the more permissive alert level two, nervously waiting as a more complete picture of viral spread emerges. 

So far, contact tracing seems to be working, with about 96 percent of close contacts followed up. A total of 154,000 tests have been processed over the past week, an enormous surge after public complacency around testing set in. 

The outbreak was detected on August 11, when four members of a family from South Auckland tested positive for COVID-19. By Thursday, the cluster had grown to 78 confirmed cases, highlighting the speed at which the virus spreads. 

The source of that outbreak – which has seen 133 people linked to the cluster moved into quarantine – has so far eluded authorities. Another case, a maintenance worker at a hotel used for managed isolation, is believed to have contracted the virus from a contaminated surface in the hotel’s lift.

Reports that testing of border and isolation staff in Auckland had not ramped up to levels expected by Cabinet has once again cast a spotlight on what critics call egregious mismanagement of the border and isolation facilities

Regardless, the government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, moved quickly to contain the outbreak, announcing that Auckland would move into alert level 3 within hours of being informed of the new cases; left to spread unrestrained, COVID-19 infections grow exponentially.  

“Together we have got rid of COVID before. We have been world-leading in our COVID response,” said Ardern last week, while announcing the cabinet’s decision to extend lockdown measures by 12 days. “We can do all of that again.”  

Yet, months-long efforts to discredit lockdown measures have almost certainly contributed to a partial fraying of public patience with the approach. 

Prominent commentators and special interests are at it again, claiming it is time to abandon the country’s elimination strategy, instead “managing” the spread of COVID-19 into communities – just lock away the elderly and the infirm, the commentariat suggests.

Of course, those demanding such an approach belong to a particular class of people, one that can insulate itself from the viral rampage as it overwhelms a fragile health sector and devastates vulnerable communities. 

In the same vein, conspiracy theories and misinformation have proliferated. Fringe groups claim that COVID-19 is a 5G-linked bioweapon and promise to oppose lockdown measures with demonstrations. 

To date, protests have drawn only a scattering of people, in contrast to the online noise such groups generate. That may change.

More alarming are the manoeuvrings of the centre-right, main opposition National Party, which recently attempted to leverage conspiracy and misinformation for political gain.  

‘An interesting series of facts’

The government and health officials have long warned that COVID-19 would return to the country; New Zealanders did not have to look far to see why. In the Australian state of Victoria, rule-breaking by workers from private security firms overseeing quarantines at two Melbourne hotels led to multiple outbreaks.

With a massive drop-off in testing – on July 19, merely eight tests in the community were processed – New Zealand’s health authorities were looking to boost surveillance testing to around 4,000 per day.

On August 11, the director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, received a much-publicised COVID-19 test, an attempt to offset any complacency or stigma surrounding the procedure. In the meantime, Ardern visited a mask-making factory, abandoning the government’s reticence towards encouraging the use of masks.

Later that day, testing discovered that COVID-19 had returned to the country. 

The National Party called a press conference the following day, headed by party leader Judith Collins and her deputy, Gerry Brownlee.  

Citing the Bloomfield test and Ardern’s visit to the mask factory, Brownlee stood smirking. “It’s interesting,” he said. “An interesting series of facts.”   

The implication seemed to be that the government knew for some time that there was a COVID-19 outbreak and withheld this from the public. 

In an environment of heightened fear and misinformation, Brownlee was dog-whistling to the emergent conspirational fringe – those who vow civil disobedience – while more generally attempting to undermine faith in the public health response.

The party quickly walked back the claims. 

Brownlee told the broadcaster Newstalk ZB on August 14 that he had ended up in a “bad spot” and “didn’t intend to create any fear”.   

“The way it has been presented has been unfortunate.”   

That explanation is, of course, nonsense: on Tuesday, Brownlee reiterated his claims, again engaging in scaremongering and conspiracy-baiting in the hope of drawing a tiny number of fringe voters to his party. 

There is something deeply unappealing about a grasping politician who puts the personal pursuit of power above public wellbeing. 

The election

On Monday, Ardern announced her decision to postpone the general election – and accompanying End of Life Choice and cannabis referendums – by a month, until October 17.

This, hopefully, gives health authorities time to get on top of the latest outbreak, provides all parties ample breathing room to campaign and reassures the public that the election can be held safely.  

The government’s health-first priorities and Ardern’s compassionate leadership style have generated massive public support since the country’s first confirmed COVID-19 case on February 28.  

Ardern’s Labour Party has consistently polled above 50 percent throughout the pandemic.

Whether voters will punish the government for a number of mistakes and mishaps during the pandemic remains to be seen. Its failures to deliver flagship policies – the ill-fated KiwiBuild real estate project, for example – over the past three years will have little impact.

By contrast, the National Party’s relentless negativity has turned voters away, with the latest Roy Morgan poll putting them on 26.5 percent support. Collins, the party’s third leader in three months, has – like her predecessors – totally misread the public mood. 

Had the party provided constructive criticism of the government’s COVID-19 response, it would likely be in a much healthier electoral position. 

Instead, it mostly went down the path of scattershot criticism and dirty politics: leaking private details of COVID-19 patients to the media and inventing a “homeless man” at a managed isolation facility.

Nothing about Collins’s character suggests that she will be able to, or is interested in, correcting the party’s course. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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