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WHO urges aggressive virus measures as flare-ups spark new closures

The World Health Organization has urged countries grappling with coronavirus to step up control measures, saying it is still possible to rein it in, as some nations clamp fresh restrictions on citizens. With case numbers worldwide more than doubling in the p
Seychelles News Agency

WHO urges aggressive virus measures as flare-ups spark new closures

The World Health Organization has urged countries grappling with coronavirus to step up control measures, saying it is still possible to rein it in, as some nations clamp fresh restrictions on citizens. With case numbers worldwide more than doubling in the past six weeks, Uzbekistan on Friday returned to lockdown and Hong Kong said schools would close from Monday after the city recorded «exponential growth» in locally transmitted infections. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries to adopt an aggressive approach, highlighting Italy, Spain, South Korea and India's biggest slum to show it was possible to stop the spread, no matter how bad the outbreak. The health agency's comments came as US President Donald Trump was forced to cancel an election rally in New Hampshire, citing an approaching storm. Trump has pushed to hold large gatherings against health advice as epidemiologists warn of the dangers posed by the virus moving through the air in crowded and confined spaces. - Lashing out at China - On a visit to Florida on Friday, Trump hit out at Beijing over the pandemic. «(The) relationship with China has been severely damaged. They could have stopped the plague.... They didn't stop it,» he told reporters. The virus has killed at least 556,140 people worldwide since it emerged in China last December. More than 12.3 million cases have been registered in 196 countries and territories, triggering massive economic damage. The United States, the country worst hit by the illness, reported almost 64,000 new cases Friday and the death toll now stands at just under 134,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. Brazil, the second-hardest hit, surpassed 70,000 deaths and reported 45,000 new infections, the health ministry said. In Uzbekistan, citizens were from Friday facing lockdown restrictions again that were originally imposed in March but lifted gradually over the past two months. The Central Asian country's return to confinement followed a decision by Australia to lock down its second-biggest city Melbourne from Thursday. A police officer manning a checkpoint on the outskirts of the former Soviet republic's capital said only drivers with «a good reason» to enter Tashkent -- such as delivering food or other vital supplies -- could pass. Restaurants, gyms, swimming pools and non-food markets have all shut their doors until at least August 1. Private transport within cities will be limited to morning and early evening journeys and essential purposes such as travelling to work and purchasing food or medicine. In Hong Kong, the spike marks a setback for the city after daily life had largely returned to normal with restaurants and bars resuming regular business and cultural attractions reopening. Despite being right next to mainland China where the virus first emerged, the city had managed to quash local transmission in recent months. But new clusters have started to emerge since Tuesday, including at an elderly care home that reported at least 32 cases and a housing estate with 11. - 'Turn this pandemic around' - «Across all walks of life, we are all being tested to the limit,» the WHO's Tedros told a virtual news conference in Geneva. «From countries where there is exponential growth, to places that are loosening restrictions and now starting to see cases rise. »Only aggressive action combined with national unity and global solidarity can turn this pandemic around,« he said. Elsewhere, French officials warned of rising cases in metropolitan France as the death toll topped 30,000. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted a decision to allow businesses, including bars and event spaces, to reopen may have been made »too soon". The Middle Eastern country recorded its highest number of infections over a 24-hour period, at nearly 1,500. In Australia, meanwhile, authorities said they would slash by half the number of people allowed to return from overseas. From Monday, only 4,000 Australian citizens or permanent residents will be permitted to enter each day. © Agence France-Presse

Seychelles National Parks staff clear nature trails during tourism low point

Staff from two reserves of the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) are joining forces to clean nature trails on La Digue, as the authority faces financial constraints and is unable to pay private contractors. The 1-kilometre-long Nid D'aigle trail wa
Seychelles News Agency

Seychelles National Parks staff clear nature trails during tourism low point

Staff from two reserves of the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) are joining forces to clean nature trails on La Digue, as the authority faces financial constraints and is unable to pay private contractors. The 1-kilometre-long Nid D'aigle trail was the first to be maintained by the team of 10 SNPA staff from the Veuve Reserve, including those on the Unemployment Relief Scheme (URS) and from Ile Cocos Marine Park. «We are all so excited about this collaborative effort, a job that is normally carried out by private contractors. In July we will plant endemic trees on the trail to improve the biodiversity,» said Josianna Rose, the officer in charge of Veuve Reserve. The officer in charge of Ile Cocos Marine Park, Cliff Emile, added that «our marine park team have worked on Curieuse before and we are used to trail work, so for us, it was not a difficult task.» «As a team, we are well aware of the impact that COVID-19 pandemic is having on our operations, therefore we are more than willing to help other sections in their activities,» he added. One of the cleared trails on La Digue done by SNPA staff. (Seychelles National Parks Authority) Photo License: CC-BY SNPA is entrusted with the protection and management of all marine and terrestrial national parks in the Seychelles. In 2018 it obtained financial autonomy. In 2019, with the financial support of the Environment Trust fund (ETF), SNPA cleared four trails - Nid D'aigle, Anse Caiman, Anse Songe and Anse Reunion Trails on La Digue, the third-most populated island. The trails were in a poor state of maintenance and signage was also erected. Six months later, vegetation has slowly grown back and trees have fallen across the paths. With budgetary constraints brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the high dependency on tourism -with the main revenue coming from park entry fee - SNPA could not afford to pay contractors to do the job again. Since activities in the parks and reserve are at its slowest, personnel from the authority have shifted their operations, preparing and maintaining its facilities, waiting for the return of international visitors. Cleaning of trails will be done on the other two main islands – Mahe and Praslin – by another group of SNPA staff. The senior research scientist at the authority, Isabelle Ravinia, told SNA that this activity might be discontinued once tourists start coming into the country as «staff will need to go back to their usual every day work and duties.»

Trial of 5 suspected Somali pirates to begin in Seychelles Aug. 30

The trial of five suspected Somali pirates who were transferred to the Seychelles by EU NAVFOR in April last year will start in the Seychelles Supreme Court on Aug. 30. The suspects appeared before Justice Gustave Dodin at the Supreme Court via videolink an
Seychelles News Agency

Trial of 5 suspected Somali pirates to begin in Seychelles Aug. 30

The trial of five suspected Somali pirates who were transferred to the Seychelles by EU NAVFOR in April last year will start in the Seychelles Supreme Court on Aug. 30. The suspects appeared before Justice Gustave Dodin at the Supreme Court via videolink and were informed of the starting date of their trial and the hearing which will take place for four weeks. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the EU NAVFOR Somalia Operation Atalanta transferred the five suspects to Seychellois authorities after responding to piracy attacks on April 21 last year. The suspects were transported by Spanish flagship ESPS Navarra and transferred to Seychellois authorities in accordance with a transfer agreement between the Seychelles and the European Union with support from UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). According to the EU NAVFOR, the incident began on April 19 when five suspected pirates captured a Yemeni dhow off the coast of Somalia. Two days later the pirates attacked the Korean fishing vessel Adria with the dhow acting as a mothership in the Indian Ocean some 280 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. On April 23, the EU NAVFOR's flagship ESPS NAVARRA successfully intercepted and boarded the captured dhow vessel and apprehended the five suspected pirates. The forces said that this is the first notable piracy incident event since October 2018. «This incident clearly demonstrates that piracy and armed robbery at sea, off the coast of Somalia, has not been eradicated,» said operation commander Rear Admiral Antonio Martorell. He added that «the need for a strong maritime security presence in the High-Risk Area remains critical for the deterrence and prevention of future incidents and attacks.» Aside from the five Somalis awaiting trial, there is one Somali national serving a prison sentence in the Seychelles' prison facility. Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, is east of the Somali coast and has placed itself at the forefront of the fight against piracy since 2005. The island nation since then has been working with international partners to apprehend and prosecute suspected Somali pirates. 

Seychellois seamen receive backdated pay from time on EU vessels

Forty-two Seychellois seamen who worked on European Union fishing vessels have received backdated payment from an adjustment in their salaries, a top official of the Seychelles Fisheries Authority said.  The payments will be paid to around 45 seamen who wor
Seychelles News Agency

Seychellois seamen receive backdated pay from time on EU vessels

Forty-two Seychellois seamen who worked on European Union fishing vessels have received backdated payment from an adjustment in their salaries, a top official of the Seychelles Fisheries Authority said.  The payments will be paid to around 45 seamen who worked on EU vessels January 18, 2014 to January 17, 2020 and around 100 seamen who worked prior to 2005.  In 2005, a provision was made for those seamen to be paid a minimum salary on the standards set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) or international standard, but this did not happen and seamen were still paid the minimum wage.  A team from the Seychelles Fisheries Authority (SFA) started scrutinising the dossiers relating to activities of the EU’s fleets in Seychelles, in answer to efforts from a group of those affected, the chief executive Cyril Bonnelame told SNA.  A thorough investigation found that the local seamen had not been paid in line with the existing ILO Protocol governing their activity.  The payment of varying amounts some even totalling SCR200,000 ($11,388) will be made in three different phases and the first begun on Monday.  Bonnelame told SNA that by Tuesday late afternoon 42 former and current seamen had received their payment.  "There were around six of them whom we were unable to get in touch with. It is possible they have changed their addresses or contact number, or they may have moved out of the country, but we will continue to work on getting in touch with them or their relatives,” he said.  A jubilant Phillip Jacques spoke of his joy that finally he will receive the backdated adjustment of the salary he should have been earning while working as a seaman on board the EU tuna fishing fleets operating in the Seychelles.  “I think it is very good because in the past we were subjected to a lot of unfair treatment. In the past, the government did nothing about it to help us get our rightful pay and now it has recognised it and is paying us our dues,” he told SNA.  Jacques, who worked from 1988 to 2016, said he always felt aggrieved by the disparity in the amount the Seychellois earned compared to what others were earning. He said they complained many times to the authorities but nothing came out of it.  The second phase of payment will cover seamen who worked before 2005 when the first ILO protocol came into force and they will be paid by the SFA.  “We are waiting for the European Union to give us the pertinent details and documents pertaining to those who worked on the fishing fleets between 2005 and 2014, which was the time span of the first ILO Protocol,” said Bonnelame.  He explained that the payment to be made by the government for pre-2005, will be based on the rate of the dollar at the time, whereas those from 2005 onward will be done by the EU and calculated at the current dollar rate. Some seamen will be paid in two instalments as their employment dates spread over two phases of the ILO protocol.  A representative of the group fighting for the sailors to get their dues, Joalesce Louise, is encouraging all sailors in that category to come forward. “I have asked them all to come and claim their backdated salary adjustment. Some sailors have been paid 27,000 rupees for just two years adjustment, so please come forward.”

Bolivia leader catches virus as US cases soar higher

Bolivia's interim president became the latest world leader to test positive for the coronavirus Thursday, as the United States notched yet another record-breaking surge of cases while global infections and fatalities continued their relentless rise. COVID-1
Seychelles News Agency

Bolivia leader catches virus as US cases soar higher

Bolivia's interim president became the latest world leader to test positive for the coronavirus Thursday, as the United States notched yet another record-breaking surge of cases while global infections and fatalities continued their relentless rise. COVID-19 has now claimed more than 550,000 lives across the planet, and infected more than 12 million people since it first emerged in China in late 2019 -- among them Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and now Bolivia's Jeanine Anez. In a video on Twitter Anez said she was «fine» and would continue working from isolation. Bolsonaro said he was feeling «very well» on Thursday after announcing he had the virus earlier this week, and Johnson, who contracted the respiratory disease in March, has recovered. Bolivia is gearing up for a general election, despite the country of 11 million recording almost 43,000 virus infections and more than 1,500 deaths. By the time the polls are held in less than two months, the government expects there to be 130,000 cases. The United States notched up half that figure in just one day Thursday, with 65,551 new cases recorded by Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University -- a new high. The country, the hardest-hit in the world by the pandemic, has a total caseload of more than 3.1 million, with 133,195 deaths. It has seen a spike in infections in recent weeks, and health experts worry the death rate may soon follow the same trajectory. «We're in a very difficult, challenging period right now,» top US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said. «I would think we need to get the states pausing in their opening process,» he said, although he added: «I don't think we need to go back to an extreme of shutting down.» US President Donald Trump, who has publicly disagreed with Fauci, has downplayed the spike. «For the 1/100th time, the reason we show so many Cases, compared to other countries that haven't done nearly as well as we have, is that our TESTING is much bigger and better,» he tweeted. «We have tested 40,000,000 people. If we did 20,000,000 instead, Cases would be half, etc.» - 'We're totally exhausted' - The virus is still infecting new populations: the first case was recorded in northwest Syria on Thursday, reviving fears of disaster if the pandemic reaches the rebel bastion's displacement camps. And the response remains chaotic in places already in the grip of outbreaks. Exhausted medics in Algeria pleaded for authorities to enforce hygiene rules. «We're working non-stop. We're totally exhausted,» said Dr Mohamed Yousfi, head of infectiology at the Boufarik hospital near Algiers. Some staff are so tired they have fainted or had car accidents, he said. Meanwhile thousands of angry Serbians protested for a third day against the government's handling of the crisis -- though the demonstrations remained largely peaceful after two nights of violence. Fear and anxiety remains high for many. In South Africa, where the outbreak is yet to peak, authorities rushed to calm citizens after health officials said they were ready to bury more than a million people, with long rows of graves already dug. And, in a potentially worrying discovery, scientists in Italy said there was «strong evidence» that COVID-19 positive mothers can pass the virus on to their unborn children. Virus lockdowns have dealt a staggering blow to the global economy, and the outlook remained bleak Thursday. The pandemic could push 45 million people from the middle classes into poverty in already economically troubled Latin America and the Caribbean, the United Nations warned. European and US stocks finished mostly lower amid lingering virus worries. Another 1.3 million US workers filed for unemployment last week, government figures showed -- though the pace of layoffs has slowed. - 'Virus thrives on division' - As talk of a second wave of the virus multiplies, some of the world's most populous nations including India, Pakistan and Brazil are still reeling from their first outbreaks. In the Middle East, hard-hit Iran reported a record single-day death toll of 221, taking its total over 12,300. In Europe, France continued to re-emerge from the darkest days, announcing the Eiffel Tower would reopen its top level for the first time in three months. Gyms and pools are set to reopen in England later this month. However countries farther east have found themselves plunged back into restrictions with a resurgent virus, such as Bulgaria, which banned sports fans from stadiums and shut bars and clubs. Meanwhile the World Health Organization, under fire from Trump over its handling of the pandemic, opened an inquiry into its response Thursday, with initial findings due next year. «The virus thrives on division but is thwarted when we unite,» said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pleading for togetherness. © Agence France-Presse

Nearly all Madagascar's lemur species 'face extinction'

Almost all species of lemur, the small saucer-eyed primates native to Madagascar, face extinction, an international conservation body warned on Thursday, adding to its growing list of animals and plants under threat. Of the 107 surviving lemur species on th
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Nearly all Madagascar's lemur species 'face extinction'

Almost all species of lemur, the small saucer-eyed primates native to Madagascar, face extinction, an international conservation body warned on Thursday, adding to its growing list of animals and plants under threat. Of the 107 surviving lemur species on the island, some 103 are threatened, including 33 that are critically endangered -- the last stop before «extinct in the wild», the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said. The organisation called for a fundamental reimagining of the way humanity interacts with the natural world, in an update to its «Red List of Threatened Species». The list assesses 120,372 species and classifies more than 30,000 species as at risk of disappearing. The report comes amid growing alarm that the planet may have already entered a period of so-called mass extinction, only the sixth in 500 million years. The United Nations' biodiversity panel IPBES last year warned that up to one million species faced the risk of extinction as a result of humanity's insatiable desire for land and materials. Grethel Aguilar, the IUCN's acting director general, said the updated list showed «Homo sapiens needs to drastically change its relationship to other primates, and to nature as a whole». Lemurs, Madagascar's «treasure», are among the many precious species unique to the Indian Ocean island. But the impoverished country is struggling to combat deforestation, poaching for food and the illegal pet trade. More than 40 percent of Madagascar's original forest cover was lost between the 1950s and 2000. - 'Substantial declines' - Among the lemurs newly listed as critically endangered are the Madame Berthe's Mouse Lemur, the smallest primate in the world, and the Verreaux's Sifaka, part of the «leaping lemur» family. Both have seen «substantial declines» because their habitats have been destroyed by slash-and-burn agriculture and logging. Verreaux's Sifaka, which is known in one region as «sifaka of the cooking pot», is also threatened by hunting. «If you destroy or drastically modify their forest habitats, they cannot survive,» said Russ Mittermeier, of IUCN's Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group. Across other parts of Africa, 53 percent of primate species -- 54 of 103 -- are now threatened with extinction, driven by bushmeat hunting and habitat loss, the IUCN report said. Remco Van Merm, from its Global Species and Key Biodiversity Areas Programme, said the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic was leaving some poor communities with «no choice but to resort to using natural resources to meet their daily needs». «We are already seeing increasing levels of resource use, and not only in Madagascar,» he said, calling for communities to be involved in conservation efforts. Mittermeier said more lemurs may have already gone extinct if it was not for an initiative that helped fund local projects like ecotourism, reforestation and education. While he expressed concern over the suspension of tourism due to the pandemic, he stressed that it «remains perhaps the best tool available» to ensure the survival of wild lemur populations. - Human threats - Among the other animals added to the IUCN's critically endangered list was the North Atlantic Right Whale, estimating that there were fewer than 250 adults at the end of 2018 -- some 15 percent lower than 2011. Climate change appeared to be pushing the whales further north during summer into the Gulf of St Lawrence off Canada, where they are more likely to be struck by boats or become entangled in crab pot ropes. Their reproductive rates were found to have dropped, which was also a factor in driving the European Hamster on to the critically endangered list. While a female hamster had an average of over 20 offspring a year during the last century, today they give birth to only five or six. It has now disappeared from three quarters of its original habitat in the eastern French region of Alsace, and more than 75 percent of its territory in Eastern Europe. Researchers are not sure what is driving the trend, but studies are focused on monoculture plantations, industrial development and global warming. In 2017, the Research Centre for Environmental Protection in Alsace warned that with vast swathes of land turned over to maize and corn crops, the hamsters' diets had become so depleted of nutrients that they were eating their offspring. © Agence France-Presse

Census to be held in 2021 to establish Seychelles' sooty tern population

A national census will be held in 2021 to establish the true population of the sooty tern on the outer islands of Seychelles. This will allow the species – whose eggs are a seasonal delicacy for the locals - to be managed in a more sustainable manner, prese
Seychelles News Agency

Census to be held in 2021 to establish Seychelles' sooty tern population

A national census will be held in 2021 to establish the true population of the sooty tern on the outer islands of Seychelles. This will allow the species – whose eggs are a seasonal delicacy for the locals - to be managed in a more sustainable manner, preserving the egg gathering tradition.   The chief executive of the Islands Development Company (IDC) made this announcement in a press conference on Wednesday to explain the collection and distribution of the birds’ egg. Glenny Savy said the census will be organized in partnership with the island nation’s environment ministry and will involve foreign scientists collecting vital data on these species including their breeding and feeding patterns.“There are so many questions to be answered if we start to collect these statistics, doing this census, going down the road we will be able to know a little bit more. What I think is more important is that in the absence of answers we must take up a strategy to prevent loss and ensure the conservation of our natural resources,” said Savy. Glenny Savy said the census will be organized in partnership with the island nation’s environment ministry and will involve foreign scientists collecting vital data on these species including their breeding and feeding patterns. (Island Development Company) Photo License: Photo License: All Rights Reserved  Savy said that the sustainability of these resources is of vital importance to the Islands Development Company, adding that the scientists who will be recruited will be those with experience working with the sooty terns.This year 450,000 eggs were collected for the first time on Cosmoledo. This according to Savy is a marked reduction compared to an average of 700,000 eggs which the company normally collects every two years when this activity is carried out. In the past, the collection of the birds’ eggs was done on the island of Desnoeuf. Earlier this year the cabinet of ministers gave its approval for Cosmoledo and another island – Bird Island, which is privately owned - to be added on the bird's egg collection schedule. In the past, the collection of the birds’ eggs was done on the island of Desnoeuf.  (Island Development Company) Photo License: Photo License: All Rights Reserved  The operation to collect the eggs was led by the deputy chief executive of IDC Christian Lionnet who explained that the activity took eight weeks. He added that 16 staff were mobilized for the operation on Wizard, the biggest island of the Cosmoledo Atoll. Lionnet explained that the consignment is expected on Mahe on Thursday evening and will be distributed to the public during the weekend. Earlier this year the company had given the public one month to place their orders for the eggs. Michael Govinden, Public Relations, and Communications Manager of the company explained that over 4,500 requests were received for the delicacy. “Our staff are calling those who ordered the eggs and inform them of the day and time for the collection which will be on Saturday and Sunday. Each applicant will receive one carton of 90 eggs which will cost SR 450 ($25),” said Govinden. Lionnet explained that the consignment is expected on Mahe on Thursday evening and will be distributed to the public during the weekend. (Island Development Company) Photo License: Photo License: All Rights Reserved  The distribution of the eggs will be done in line with strict adherence to health authority guidelines, where limited people will be allowed in the warehouse and where people will be asked to sanitize their hands and maintain physical distances. Bird Island, the other supplier of bird eggs in Seychelles – 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean – has been selling the eggs since the beginning of June.     This year 450,000 eggs were collected for the first time on Cosmoledo. This according to Savy is a marked reduction compared to an average of 700,000 eggs which the company normally collects every two years when this activity is carried out. (Island Development Company) Photo License: Photo License: All Rights Reserved

Seychelles ranked top in Africa on Yale's Environmental Performance Index

Seychelles is ranked first in Africa on the Environmental Performance Index 2020, scoring high marks in the protection of biodiversity. The archipelago in the western Indian Ocean is ranked 38th out of 180 countries globally, performing above the regional a
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Seychelles ranked top in Africa on Yale's Environmental Performance Index

Seychelles is ranked first in Africa on the Environmental Performance Index 2020, scoring high marks in the protection of biodiversity. The archipelago in the western Indian Ocean is ranked 38th out of 180 countries globally, performing above the regional and world average in almost all indicators. The principal secretary for environment, Alain Decommarmond, told a press conference on Thursday that «this result shows that the world is recognising the important role we are playing in protecting our biodiversity.» In the biodiversity category, Seychelles performed extremely well, scoring 100 out of 100 for the work done in protecting its marine and terrestrial areas. The island nation has legally designated 30 percent of its territorial waters as marine protected areas 10 years ahead of international targets. The protected area is now 410,000 square kilometres of the Seychelles' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 1.4 million square kilometres. The Environmental Performance Index 2020, which came out in June, ranks countries in 11 different categories on a scale of 100. These categories include air pollution, sanitation, biodiversity, climate and energy, fisheries, agriculture, and wastewater treatment to name a few. The index is put out by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy in the United States. Decommarmond said that the Department of Environment is satisfied with its global ranking but that improvements need to be made in the area of waste management. This is an area where Seychelles has performed poorly, ranking 133th out of 180 countries. «I am not surprised with this ranking. Waste management is a huge challenge for the country. The result is reflecting the reality and it shows that there is more work to be done in that field. We have plans that will be put in place to improve the score,» he said. The principal secretary added that the «responsibility of managing waste is not only for the government, but everybody should play their role in keeping our environment clean using proper disposal mechanism put in place for waste.» Top on the global scale is Denmark followed by Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Other European countries round out the top 10. Japan is 12th and the United States is 24th.  At the bottom of the list is a West African country – Liberia. When explaining the performance, the EPI team said that a number of striking conclusions emerge from the 2020 EPI rankings and that primarily good policy results are associated with wealth (GDP per capita), meaning that economic prosperity makes it possible for nations to invest in policies and programmes that lead to desirable outcomes.  

Kenya, US launch talks on free trade agreement

Kenya on Wednesday launched talks to seal a free trade agreement with the United States which it hopes will transform its economy, despite criticism it will undermine regional integration. Trade Minister Betty Maina said striking the bilateral trade agreemen
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Kenya, US launch talks on free trade agreement

Kenya on Wednesday launched talks to seal a free trade agreement with the United States which it hopes will transform its economy, despite criticism it will undermine regional integration. Trade Minister Betty Maina said striking the bilateral trade agreement was crucial to «secure trade and investment relations» ahead of the lapse of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2025, which eliminates import tariffs on goods from eligible African nations. Kenya hopes to promote the export of textiles, clothing, tea, coffee and fish to the US - currently Kenya's third-largest export market and seventh overall trading partner. More than 70 percent of Kenya's exports are duty-free under AGOA. «We estimate that if we can only capture five percent of the US market for these products we could increase our export revenue by more than two trillion shillings ($18.8 billion, 16.5 billion euros),» Maina said. «We therefore expect such an agreement will help us increase investment, both domestic and foreign... and in our view open up vast opportunities for Kenyan businesses,» she added. An initial round of two weeks of talks would begin on Thursday, and Kenya hopes to conclude the deal within 12 months, Maina said. Plans to begin talks on the bilateral trade agreement were announced after President Uhuru Kenyatta visited US President Donald Trump in February. «Kenya would be the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to enter a free trade agreement with the United States,» Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said at the launch. The agreement would «go beyond AGOA», US Ambassador Kyle McCarter said, and would make Kenya «more competitive and stronger economically». McCarter added that a trade agreement with Kenya would serve as a model for further such deals across Africa. Critics argue, however, that it would jeopardise agreements Kenya has with its east African neighbours, as well as a planned continent-wide free trade area. A letter sent out Tuesday signed by 27 NGOs and trade and rights groups across the continent warned the deal would cripple Kenya's agriculture and manufacturing sectors and undermine efforts to increase intra-regional trade. «The discussion on a post-AGOA future needs to be collectively done by African countries and not a single country rushing to conclude an agreement with such far-reaching consequences,» read the letter addressed to the Kenyan government, the African Union and others. Interior Minister Matiangi dismissed the concerns, saying the deal would «strengthen, not weaken, our regional commitments». © Agence France-Presse

Seychelles tightens regulations for fishing crews after new cases of COVID-19

West African crew members joining a French fishing fleet operating in the Seychelles’ waters will make crew changes via another Indian Ocean-based island under a newly signed agreement. The Public Health Commissioner, Jude Gedeon, told a news conference We
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Seychelles tightens regulations for fishing crews after new cases of COVID-19

West African crew members joining a French fishing fleet operating in the Seychelles’ waters will make crew changes via another Indian Ocean-based island under a newly signed agreement. The Public Health Commissioner, Jude Gedeon, told a news conference Wednesday that under the agreement West African crew members will not be allowed to join their ships through Seychelles, but rather do so in Reunion, a French overseas department in the region. “The mariners will have to first travel to Paris to be tested and get their validated certificates which prove they are COVID-19 negative for them to be able to work on the ships while these are in Seychelles' waters. They will then proceed to Reunion from where they will join their respective ships,” said Gedeon. Negotiations are under way for a similar agreement with the owners of the Spanish fishing fleet operating in the waters of Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean. Gedeon also stressed that the local agents for the fishing fleets will have to be more proactive in ensuring that everything is done according to guidelines and measures in place, instead of only relying on the word of their corresponding international agents. The stricter measures came after West African crew members of a Spanish fishing fleet tested positive for COVID-19 despite having produced negative certificates prior to their arrival in the island nation. There are 79 seafarers and six Seychellois with active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon.  Further testing is still being done. Seychelles is facing economic difficulties after the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted the tourism sector, the country’s top contributor. Fisheries is the second main contributor to the island nation’s economy.

Millions under new Australia lockdown as global virus cases soar

Millions in Australia's second-biggest city went into lockdown Thursday to battle another coronavirus outbreak, as spikes across the world added to the devastation already wrought by the pandemic. The number of infections and deaths has risen relentlessly i
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Millions under new Australia lockdown as global virus cases soar

Millions in Australia's second-biggest city went into lockdown Thursday to battle another coronavirus outbreak, as spikes across the world added to the devastation already wrought by the pandemic. The number of infections and deaths has risen relentlessly in many of the world's biggest nations, with the United States crossing three million confirmed cases. In Melbourne, five million people began a new lockdown just weeks after earlier restrictions ended as Australia battles a COVID-19 resurgence, with residents bracing for the emotional and economic costs. «The idea of not being able to see people that you love and care for is really distressing, really distressing,» said a tearful Melbourne resident, Monica Marshall, whose 91-year-old mother recently entered a care home. «I hope that people have got the message that they really need to take notice -- it's very disconcerting watching some people on the news where they really don't care.» With no vaccine or effective treatment available, experts have warned that social distancing is necessary to contain the virus -- despite opposition in many parts of the world due to economic costs and misinformation. Shoppers in Victoria state -- of which Melbourne is the capital -- stripped shelves bare on Wednesday before the lockdown began, and the country's largest supermarket chain said it had reimposed buying limits on items including pasta, vegetables and sugar. Across the world in Europe, where many nations have successfully suppressed their outbreaks, the French government said it remained on alert for a possible surge in cases too. - 'I'm kind of scared' - The coronavirus is known to have infected nearly 12 million people, with deaths approaching 550,000 and the global economy suffering a catastrophic downturn. The United States remains the worst-hit nation, with confirmed cases topping three million, but President Donald Trump remains keen for the economy to restart despite warnings about the dangers of reopening too soon. He has even faced off with his own government's experts, lashing out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for issuing school reopening guidelines that he complained were too restrictive. Local officials in many parts of the country are scrambling to contain the virus with the US reporting tens of thousands of cases a day. Several American cities and states have been forced to roll back their reopening measures. The Trump administration has set off alarm bells among foreign students at American universities, saying they cannot stay in the United States if their entire courses are forced online because of the pandemic. «I'm kind of scared... I don't have anyone to take care of me if I get ill,» said an Indian graduate student in Texas, who asked not to be named. - Chaos in Belgrade - Some of the world's most populous nations including India, Pakistan and Brazil are still reeling from their first outbreaks. In other parts, where there had been some success against the virus, citizens have chafed under renewed restrictions to counter fresh waves of disease. Many have accused their governments of mismanaging COVID-19 responses, and Serbia saw anger spill over into street unrest. Its capital Belgrade was hit by clashes for a second night as police skirmished with outraged demonstrators. Clouds of tear gas and smoke filled the city centre in chaotic scenes that mirrored violence the night before, when thousands came out to protest the return of a round-the-clock weekend lockdown. Critics have accused the powerful president of inviting a second wave of coronavirus infections by rapidly lifting the initial lockdown. «The government only seeks to protect its own interests,» said 53-year-old Jelina Jankovic at the rally. «The people are collateral damage.» © Agence France-Presse

6 Seychellois with loose connection to Spanish fleet test positive for COVID-19

Six Seychellois citizens who work with one of the ground agents of the Spanish fishing fleet operating in the Seychelles’ waters have tested positive for COVID-19, said the Public Health Commissioner on Wednesday.  Jude Gedeon told a press conference tha
Seychelles News Agency

6 Seychellois with loose connection to Spanish fleet test positive for COVID-19

Six Seychellois citizens who work with one of the ground agents of the Spanish fishing fleet operating in the Seychelles’ waters have tested positive for COVID-19, said the Public Health Commissioner on Wednesday.  Jude Gedeon told a press conference that as part of the procedures in place, the Department of Health performed PCR tests on people who had been in contact with the seafarers who previously had tested positive.  “During these tests so far we have picked up six people who had tested positive and retesting have been done last night and they were confirmed to be true positive cases. Since the first test was done they were admitted in the isolation facility. They remain without any symptoms but are being kept under observation and monitoring,” said Gedeon.  The six men are truck drivers and handymen who handle ground transportation, and Gedeon said that according to the information received the six men had no contact with the seafarers or the vessels.  While it is not yet clear exactly how the six Seychellois caught the virus, Gedeon said that theirs are local cases, as it is possible to identify the source of their infection. However, these could spread into the community and it is for this reason that contact tracing is being done.  He said that the close contacts of the six Seychellois are being contacted and they will be placed in quarantine.  “Those who are in the second and third line of contacts are also being followed and if there is the necessity they will also be taken into quarantine if there is space if not they will be placed under strict home quarantine,” he added.  Meanwhile as one of the Seychellois had contact with an employee of the Absa Bank Seychelles, the bank has confirmed that a member of its staff has been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case. In a press communique on Wednesday, Absa Bank said that together with the Department of Health it “has taken steps to ensure the safety of all colleagues, customers and their families by immediately facilitating the testing of the potentially affected colleague, and ensuring that fellow team members self-quarantine pending the outcome of the test results as a precautionary measure.”  The health department has said that unlike the first wave of COVID-19 infection in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, this time around, it will not be rushing to implement restrictions on movement and other activities. Gedeon said that this is because the department has made a lot of preparations and staff are better trained and equipped.  “All the sectors and partners have guidelines which they have been implementing to contain the spread of a second wave. So now it is the time to see how effectively they have been implementing these guidelines and measures. We will not rush ahead to close this, shut down the other. We will handle the matter in a less rushed manner, taking it softly, while monitoring the situation on the ground.”  He added that however if necessary measures implemented and practised are not sufficient to break the virus’ transmission chain “then we will have to move to the next phase which is to more actively restrict the population’s movement, by closing down certain services which are not essential to our daily lives.”

Brazil's president contracts virus as US starts WHO withdrawal

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus after months of downplaying the dangers of the disease, as the United States begins its withdrawal from the World Health Organization despite logging a record number of new infections.
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Brazil's president contracts virus as US starts WHO withdrawal

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus after months of downplaying the dangers of the disease, as the United States begins its withdrawal from the World Health Organization despite logging a record number of new infections. The American pull-out from the WHO comes as the UN agency conceded there was «emerging evidence» coronavirus is transmitted through particles in the air, heightening fears over an illness that has already infected nearly 11.8 million people worldwide and caused more than 540,000 deaths. Countries are struggling to keep a lid on new cases as they attempt to restart economies, with Australia's second-biggest city becoming the latest victim of a second surge after recently lifting virus restrictions. Millions in Melbourne prepared for a return to lockdown Wednesday that was forecast to run six weeks, as soaring community transmission brings more than 100 new cases daily in the city. Bolsonaro, who said he had experienced only mild symptoms so far, said he was feeling «perfectly well» as he removed his mask in a TV interview Tuesday to announce his diagnosis. The far-right leader has consistently ignored virus containment measures such as social distancing despite Brazil being the world's second-worst hit country with more than 66,000 dead. Brazil accounts for the lion's share of infections in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the caseload has now surpassed three million, according to an AFP tally. - Record rise - In Washington, a senior US official said the United States had informed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of its intention to leave the WHO, effective July 6, 2021. President Donald Trump has been critical of the WHO's pandemic response, accusing it of bias toward China and ignoring early signs of human-to-human transmission. The US is the largest financial contributor to the agency, providing $400 million annually. Joe Biden, Trump's main challenger in November's presidential election, said he would immediately reverse the decision if he wins. The pandemic has killed more than 131,000 people in the US, by far the highest death toll of any nation, and on Tuesday the country logged a record number of new daily cases at more than 60,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Officials have said hospitals in some parts of the country are in danger of being overwhelmed. Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has warned the US is still «knee-deep» in only its first coronavirus wave. But Trump pounced on that comment Tuesday, saying America was «in a good place» and adding: «I disagree with him.» Experts are still struggling to understand COVID-19, and the WHO said it was open to new research suggesting the virus can spread through the air farther and for longer than initially believed. Scientists had lobbied for the agency to recognize the possibility. - Confront reality - Panic-buying gripped Melbourne on Wednesday as shoppers snapped up items in preparation for the new lockdown, which also includes sealing the state of Victoria off from the rest of the country. Australia's largest supermarket chain said it had reimposed buying limits on goods including pasta, vegetables and sugar after shoppers rushed to stores across the region. «This is not the situation that anybody wanted to be in, but it is the reality that we must confront,» said Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews. In many nations, adjusting to the new normal of social distancing, masks and fluctuating restrictions is meeting resistance, with health authorities often struggling to win hearts and minds. The head of the prestigious Royal Society science journal said Tuesday that people who refuse to wear masks should even be stigmatized in the same way as drink-drivers. «If all of us wear one, we protect each other and thereby ourselves, reducing transmission,» wrote president Venki Ramakrishnan. © Agence France-Presse

Air Seychelles plans special flights to five cities in India

Air Seychelles plans to extend its special flights to five cities in India, the airline said on Wednesday.  The airline said in a communique that it is working closely with the High Commission of India and the Department of Foreign Affairs to plan a series
Seychelles News Agency

Air Seychelles plans special flights to five cities in India

Air Seychelles plans to extend its special flights to five cities in India, the airline said on Wednesday.  The airline said in a communique that it is working closely with the High Commission of India and the Department of Foreign Affairs to plan a series of special flights to Ahmedabad, Cochin, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai.  With an aim to monitor demand and receive up-to-date information regarding the flights, travellers are invited to register their interest via the Air Seychelles web page at www.airseychelles.com.  The information gathered throughout the registration process will be shared with the High Commission of India and the Department of Foreign Affairs.  “Passengers holding an unused Air Seychelles ticket due to travel from Seychelles to Mumbai and were unable to complete their journey due to COVID-19 restrictions must submit a sample of the ticket to the airline prior to being accepted on the flight,” said the airline.  Additional charges will apply based on the fare of the ticket at the time of purchase. Tickets issued by another airline or an Air Seychelles codeshare partner will not be accepted.  Air Seychelles said passengers are requested to remain informed on the appropriate entry regulations and health requirements at their final destination.  All flights will be subject to the approval of the government at each destination including regulatory approval as well as that of the Seychelles’ Department of Health.  Last week, the airline announced that it will be operating a twice per week service from Seychelles to Dubai International Airport throughout the month of July only.  The flights which are scheduled for Tuesdays and Saturdays allow guests travelling beyond Dubai the chance to connect onto the Emirates Airlines network to over 52 destinations.  Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, will reopen its borders to scheduled passenger flights on August 1.

Pandemic may push 50 million Africans into extreme poverty: AfDB

Nearly 50 million Africans could be driven into extreme poverty in the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the African Development Bank (AfDB) said Tuesday. Roughly a third of the continent -- 425 million people -- was already expected to live belo
Seychelles News Agency

Pandemic may push 50 million Africans into extreme poverty: AfDB

Nearly 50 million Africans could be driven into extreme poverty in the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the African Development Bank (AfDB) said Tuesday. Roughly a third of the continent -- 425 million people -- was already expected to live below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day in 2020, the AfDB said in its African Economic Outlook, forecasting that the situation would further deteriorate. After Oceania, Africa is the least affected continent in the pandemic, recording nearly 500,000 infections and almost 11,700 deaths, according to an AFP tally on Tuesday. But the health crisis and ensuing lockdowns have destroyed jobs, crippled incomes and devastated economies continent-wide. «Between 28.2 and 49.2 million more Africans could be pushed into extreme poverty» this year and next, the AfDB report said, with the first figure the baseline prediction and the latter the worst-case scenario. The Abidjan-based institution, one of the world's five largest multilateral development lenders, expects Africa to suffer a major recession, with GDP forecast to contract between 1.7 percent to 3.4 percent this year. That would be 5.6 to 7.3 percentage points lower than pre-pandemic forecasts. Late last month the International Monetary Fund forecasted that sub-Saharan Africa's GDP would shrink by 3.2 percent, and that incomes would drop to levels last seen in 2010. The AfDB said that between 24.6 and 30 million jobs would be lost this year due to the virus crisis. Nigeria, the continent's most populous country, would see the greatest rise in poverty, it said. Between 8.5 and 11.5 million of its 200 million population were forecast to fall into extreme poverty this year, as a drop in oil prices compounds the economic impact of the pandemic. The Democratic Republic of Congo, where 72 percent of the 90 million inhabitants already live below the poverty line, would see between 2.7 and 3.4 million more extreme poor. © Agence France-Presse

United Seychelles to announce vice president candidate at Aug. 1 congress

The Seychelles’ ruling party, United Seychelles, will announce its vice-presidential candidate during its annual congress on August 1, said a party official.  United Seychelles endorsed the incumbent President Danny Faure as the party’s candidate at it
Seychelles News Agency

United Seychelles to announce vice president candidate at Aug. 1 congress

The Seychelles’ ruling party, United Seychelles, will announce its vice-presidential candidate during its annual congress on August 1, said a party official.  United Seychelles endorsed the incumbent President Danny Faure as the party’s candidate at its 33rd annual congress in August last year and said it will set a date for the designated candidate to choose his running mate.  Since the current vice president and party leader, Vincent Meriton, had already stated that he will not stand as Faure’s running mate, there has been much speculation on who will replace him.  The party’s Secretary General, Andy Jean-Louis, told SNA: “We left it up to Mr Faure to choose his running mate and we said the person will be presented at the right time. We have now set the date and everyone will know our candidate and put all speculations to rest.”  The congress is the supreme organ of the United Seychelles party and key policies are adopted during the annual gathering. Jean-Louis said the running mate of the presidential candidate will be vetted and endorsed by the national executive committee and the congress. Provisional dates for the presidential elections have been set for October 22-24 by the Electoral Commission. Jean-Louis said it does not matter when the running mate is announced as this does not affect the work of the party and that of its presidential candidate and this was made clear to all their supporters. “Since 2017 the constitution was amended to ban the transfer of power, thus diminishing the power of a vice-presidential candidate. The focus is therefore on our presidential candidate and we already endorsed him almost a year ago so that he could start his work,” he told SNA. United Seychelles, previously Parti Lepep, has won all presidential elections since the return of multiparty democracy in 1993. The party lost the legislative elections for the first time in its history in 2016 and for the first time the President of Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, is not the leader of the ruling party.

13 more sailors in Seychelles have COVID; warning given on social gatherings

Another 13 seafarers on the Spanish fishing fleet in the Seychelles’ waters have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total positive cases to 83 among the fishermen, a top health official said on Tuesday. In a warning to the Seychellois public, the P
Seychelles News Agency

13 more sailors in Seychelles have COVID; warning given on social gatherings

Another 13 seafarers on the Spanish fishing fleet in the Seychelles’ waters have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total positive cases to 83 among the fishermen, a top health official said on Tuesday. In a warning to the Seychellois public, the Public Health Commissioner, Jude Gedeon, told a press conference that authorities are considering shutting down some businesses and even beaches in the island nation because too many people are not following health guidelines In view of the possibility that there may be Seychellois who have been in contact with the seafarers, Gedeon reiterated the importance for people to practice their own personal safety, namely keeping social distances and good sanitisation practices. Gedeon gave a warning about not respecting health guidelines in bars, restaurants, casinos and on beaches. “If this behaviour continues, we will have community transmission that will spread easily. So we are considering seriously shutting down the places that are welcoming many people at the same time,” he said. Gedeon said that he hopes that the Department of Health will not have to reintroduce serious restrictions as before especially as Seychelles will be reopening its borders to scheduled passenger flight as of August 1. As for the new positive COVID-19 cases among the seafarers, Gedeon said that since the initial 70 cases were detected, 13 more seafarers have tested positive. “The day before yesterday we started restesting crew from two vessels and we picked up nine Spanish who tested positive, one Kenyan and three West African crew making the total 13,” said Gedeon. He said that the all active cases are quarantined on 12 vessels stationed in a quarantine zone outside of the Seychelles’ Port Victoria. “The good thing is that they all remain asymptomatic, they are well. Usually, if you pass two weeks without any symptoms it is unlikely that you will become ill.” Gedeon added that as Tuesday is 14 days since the first seafarers tested positive, the Department has “started the testing of contacts and we may pick up cases because the contacts have been with a large number of people who are positive.” Seychellois who may have been in contact with the seafarers will also be tested. “We have also done contact tracing with many Seychellois who have been in contact with the seafarers including cabin crew, ground handling staff, drivers and handymen. They are being sampled for testing as of today. It is highly likely that some of them will test positive and we will do the necessary to isolate them,” said the Public Health Commissioner. By Wednesday there will be only one person in the isolation facility at Perseverance. “We have two persons at the isolation centre in Perseverance, one is being discharged today, the other one is recuperating, hopefully by the end of the week he will also be discharged,” said Gedeon. As for persons in quarantine on the main island of Mahe, the chief executive of the Health Care Agency, Danny Louange, said there are 76 people at the Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay and 20 at the south east island facilities making the total 96.

Kenya to emerge from virus lockdown, resume international flights

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday announced a «phased reopening» of the country, with the resumption of international flights from August 1 as well as the lifting of internal travel restrictions. The move comes as pressure mounts to kicks
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Kenya to emerge from virus lockdown, resume international flights

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday announced a «phased reopening» of the country, with the resumption of international flights from August 1 as well as the lifting of internal travel restrictions. The move comes as pressure mounts to kickstart the country's ailing economy after nearly four months of coronavirus restrictions that have devastated key industries such as tourism. Kenyatta said in a televised address that «international air travel into and out of the territory of Kenya shall resume effective 1 August 2020.» He also announced that a ban on movement in and out of the capital Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and northeastern Mandera, would be lifted from July 15. However, a curfew from 9pm to 4am will remain in place for another 30 days. Kenya has recorded just over 8,000 cases of the virus and 164 deaths -- the highest official figures in East Africa -- and has seen a steep increase in numbers in recent weeks, with a fatality rate of 2.09 percent. Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe on Sunday warned «our healthcare facilities risk being overwhelmed». Fewer than 200,000 people have been tested in the population of 47 million people. - Reopening 'conditional' -In June, Kenyatta had said that before lifting restrictions, the country would need to have contained infections with numbers headed downwards; the health care system must be prepared to deal with a surge in infections; and the capacity for surveillance and contact tracing must be in place. He said Monday that experts looking at those conditions determined «we have not met the irreducible minimum 100%». However, they agreed «we have reached a reasonable level of preparedness across the country to allow us to reopen,» he said. Kenyatta also warned the reopening was «conditional». «Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to the lockdown,» he said. Kenyatta also announced that places of worship will be allowed to reopen, but with a maximum of 100 people attending. He urged citizens to continue to implement social distancing, and to avoid travel as much as possible, asking them to, «exercise cautious optimism and avoid reckless abandon.» Like many nations in East Africa, Kenya took swift action to combat the coronavirus, closing its borders on March 25 when it had only 25 cases, shutting schools and imposing a curfew while advising people to work from home. The restrictions were a blow to millions of poor in the city who live hand to mouth. «Jobs have been lost, businesses have closed and livelihoods endangered. And this is the sorry state of things the world over,» said Kenyatta. In recent weeks Nairobi has become busier, with traffic jams returning to the streets of the capital and restaurants re-opening. Masks are obligatory in the country, but Kagwe has warned of increasing laxity which he said could «spell disaster in coming days». «We have observed that many of our people are going about their everyday activities as if we are in normal times,» he said Sunday, citing overloaded public transport and house parties. © Agence France-Presse

US 'looking at' banning TikTok and other Chinese apps: Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US is «looking at» banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, over allegations Beijing is using them to spy on users. India has already barred the wildly popular TikTok app over national secur
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US 'looking at' banning TikTok and other Chinese apps: Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US is «looking at» banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, over allegations Beijing is using them to spy on users. India has already barred the wildly popular TikTok app over national security and privacy concerns while other countries are reportedly mulling similar measures. Asked on Monday by Fox News's Laura Ingraham if the US should consider blocking the apps -- «especially Tik Tok» -- the country's top diplomat said the Trump administration was «taking this very seriously; we are certainly looking at it.» Pompeo said the US had been working for a «long time» on the «problems» of Chinese technology in infrastructure and was «making real progress.» «With respect to Chinese apps on people's cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,» he said. «I don't want to get out in front of the president, but it's something we are looking at.» Pompeo earlier lashed out at what he called China's «Orwellian» moves to censor activists, schools and libraries in Hong Kong under a sweeping new security law. Authorities in the financial hub have ordered schools to remove books for review under the law, which has criminalized certain opinions such as calls for independence or more autonomy. Libraries in Hong Kong said they were pulling titles written by a handful of pro-democracy activists. «The Chinese Communist Party's destruction of free Hong Kong continues,» Pompeo said in a sharply worded statement. «With the ink barely dry on the repressive National Security Law, local authorities -- in an Orwellian move -- have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP from library shelves, banned political slogans, and are now requiring schools to enforce censorship,» he said. Pompeo condemned what he called the «latest assaults on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.» «Until now, Hong Kong flourished because it allowed free thinking and free speech, under an independent rule of law. No more,» he said. Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism from primarily Western nations over its decision to impose the security law, which outlaws acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces. US Vice President Mike Pence told CNBC last week that the law was a «betrayal» and «unacceptable to freedom-loving people around the world.» Last week the US Congress passed tough new sanctions targeting banks involved in violating Hong Kong's autonomy. The act would punish banks -- including by blocking loans from US institutions -- if they conduct «significant transactions» with officials who violate the city's autonomy. President Donald Trump must sign the legislation for it to take effect. © Agence France-Presse

Official: Visitors to Seychelles must follow anti-COVID rules when nation re-opens Aug. 1

Visitors to Seychelles must follow a set of regulations before their arrival and during their stay to ensure safe health during the COVID-19 pandemic, a top government official said on Tuesday. These regulations will come into force on August 1, when Seychel
Seychelles News Agency

Official: Visitors to Seychelles must follow anti-COVID rules when nation re-opens Aug. 1

Visitors to Seychelles must follow a set of regulations before their arrival and during their stay to ensure safe health during the COVID-19 pandemic, a top government official said on Tuesday. These regulations will come into force on August 1, when Seychelles reopens its borders to scheduled passenger flights. Only visitors from low- and medium-risk countries will be allowed in the island nation in the western Indian Ocean. A regularly updated list of these countries can be found on the website of the island nation's Ministry of Tourism. The principal secretary for tourism, Anne Lafortune, told a press conference that low risk countries are those with a low rate of infection while medium risk have a slightly higher rate. Countries not on the list are considered high risk and visitors from these places will not be allowed to travel to Seychelles. “Visitors coming from a low-risk country will have to do a PCR test, the result of which must be negative. As a lot of people are telling us that these tests are expensive or hard to obtain, a rapid antigen test can be done as well,” said Lafortune. For people coming from medium-risk countries, only a negative PCR test will be accepted. Lafortune explained that these tests, along with a form containing details about the accommodation and flight, will have to be sent to the Department of Health before the visitors' departure. All tests must be done at least 72 hours before a traveller leaves their country. The negative test result will need to be produced at check-in upon departure to Seychelles. Visitors must also have a valid travel insurance with full medical coverage for the duration of their entire stay in the island nation. Upon arrival in the country, a mask will have to be worn before disembarking the aircraft and at the airport. “They will have to have their temperature checked and fill out some forms, not forgetting to practice social distancing and good hygiene. Sanitizers are available. If any of the passengers have any COVID-19 symptoms, further health checks will be carried out in a designated area. Their voucher displaying their duration of stay will need to be submitted to immigration,” said Lafortune. She added that visitors will be able to make their bookings only with establishments and liveaboards – yachts - that have been certified as safe to receive guests as per the health guidelines. Should a booking be made in an uncertified accommodation, tourists will be redirected to one that has been given the green light to receive tourists. From the airport, visitors will be allowed to use services and businesses that have also been certified, a list of which can be found on the ministry’s website. Public buses will be off limit to any visitors. Lafortune explained that as public transport is already an issue for locals with the enforcement of social distancing, tourists will have to make use of other alternatives such as rentals and taxis. 

Madagascar re-imposes lockdown amid surge in virus cases

Madagascar has placed its capital Antananarivo under a fresh lockdown following a new surge in coronavirus infections, two months after the restrictions were eased, the presidency announced Sunday. «The Analamanga region (under which the capital is sit
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Madagascar re-imposes lockdown amid surge in virus cases

Madagascar has placed its capital Antananarivo under a fresh lockdown following a new surge in coronavirus infections, two months after the restrictions were eased, the presidency announced Sunday. «The Analamanga region (under which the capital is situated) is returning to full lockdown,» the presidency said in a statement. No traffic will be allowed in or out of the region starting Monday until July 20. A strict curfew will be imposed on street movement by people. «Only one person per household is allowed to go out into the street between 6:00 am (0400 GMT) and 12:00 pm (1000 GMT),» said the statement. The measures have been taken «because of the spread of the epidemic and the increase of COVID-19 cases,» it added. Used to registering dozens of coronavirus cases a day, Madagascar has in recent days seen an exponential rise in daily numbers, jumping to a record 216 cases on Saturday. The latest tally came after 675 people were tested. Nearly 24,000 tests have so far been conducted on the impoverished island. By Sunday the country had a cumulative 2,728 cases, including 29 deaths since the virus was first detected on the Indian ocean island on March 20. All government meetings will now be held via video conferencing, while court hearings have been suspended. In April, President Andry Rajoelina launched a local herbal concoction he claimed prevents and cures the novel coronavirus. Rajoelina has been promoting the brew for export, saying it is the country's «green gold» which will «change history». The potential benefits of Covid-Organics, a tonic derived from artemisia -- a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment -- and other indigenous herbs, have not been validated by any scientific study. © Agence France-Presse

400 people -- Seychellois and foreigners -- have lost jobs in tourism downturn

Nearly 230 Seychellois and more than 170 foreigners in the tourism sector in Seychelles have lost their jobs due to the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said a top government official. Things could still get considerably worse. In the
Seychelles News Agency

400 people -- Seychellois and foreigners -- have lost jobs in tourism downturn

Nearly 230 Seychellois and more than 170 foreigners in the tourism sector in Seychelles have lost their jobs due to the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said a top government official. Things could still get considerably worse. In the Department of Employment's forecast, around 4,000 workers might eventually lose their jobs due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Data from the employment department show that from March 1 to July 3, 100 businesses have applied for permission under the Employment Act to make redundancies. The employment minister, Miriam Telemaque, told SNA that out of the 100 applications, 33 have been processed and approved leading to 171 expatriates and around 228 Seychellois losing their employment. Most of the expatriates have already left the Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, or are waiting for the lifting of travel restrictions in their country of origin to do so. With the current economic crisis, the focus is on giving Seychellois a better opportunity to remain in employment although Telemaque said further redundancies will affect both Seychellois and expatriates. The tourism sector, the top contributor to the island nation's economy, has been the hardest hit as visitor arrivals to the country dropped to almost zero over the past three months. Hospitality businesses, as well as tourism-related support services, have been severely affected and some have already folded. While the redundancy applications have come from across all sectors, tourism related businesses make up the bulk. To cushion some of the financial impacts on employment, the government set up a Financial Assistance for Job Retention scheme to guarantee salary payments for employees and self-employed individuals, for both local and expatriates, from April to end of June 2020. However, in a review in May, the finance minister Maurice Loustau-Lalanne had announced that «as from July 1, the payment of salaries will be only to Seychellois workers and not expatriates.» The government has set up a company tasked with re-skilling, training and placing Seychellois who lose their jobs in other sectors where there is a need for workers. These workers will receive a monthly allowance from the government which will be the same amount as their basic salary prior to being made redundant.  

India becomes third hardest-hit country for virus cases

India announced Monday that it has nearly 700,000 coronavirus cases, taking it past Russia to become the third-hardest-hit nation in the global pandemic. The health ministry said 697,358 cases had now been recorded, a rise of 24,000 in 24 hours, while Russi
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India becomes third hardest-hit country for virus cases

India announced Monday that it has nearly 700,000 coronavirus cases, taking it past Russia to become the third-hardest-hit nation in the global pandemic. The health ministry said 697,358 cases had now been recorded, a rise of 24,000 in 24 hours, while Russia has just over 681,000. The United States and Brazil have the highest numbers of cases but India's tally is not expected to peak for several more weeks and experts predict the one million figure will be passed this month. India has registered 19,963 deaths from the virus, a much lower number than many other badly hit countries. India's major cities have been worst hit by the pandemic. New Delhi and Mumbai each have about 100,000 cases, with 3,000 dead in the capital and nearly 5,000 in Mumbai. New Delhi has opened a new 10,000-bed temporary virus hospital while other cities are tightening restrictions on movement to head off a new surge in cases. The Kerala state capital, Thiruvananthapuram imposed a new lockdown from Monday with public transport shut and only pharmacies allowed to open. The clampdown came after hundreds of new cases were reported across the state, which had been praised for its action to curtail the pandemic. © Agence France-Presse

Trust fund to help women in Seychelles start business initiatives during COVID slowdown

Faced with dwindling economic activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more women in Seychelles are being encouraged to try a new business venture thanks to specially allocated funding through the Seychelles Women’s Trust Fund. “Given the COVID-19 pandemi
Seychelles News Agency

Trust fund to help women in Seychelles start business initiatives during COVID slowdown

Faced with dwindling economic activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more women in Seychelles are being encouraged to try a new business venture thanks to specially allocated funding through the Seychelles Women’s Trust Fund. “Given the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on people’s lives, especially at the economic level, the trust has modified the focus of its 2020 campaign to support women individually or in groups who are involved in, or who wish to set up, small- or medium-scale economic activities that use local resources to offer a product or service to the public,” Janick Bru, the secretary of the trust, told SNA. Bru said by email that women are being asked to be innovative and that emphasis is being put on maximizing the use of locally available products to remove pressure on foreign exchange. The colourful jewelries are made from seashells, driftwood and textiles. (Zil Lokal/facebook) Photo License: CC-BY «I must emphasize that we want to re-energise our local industry and encourage people to buy local and stop the importation of items that can be made here for the local market,» stressed Bru. The aim of the Seychelles Women’s Trust Fund is to provide access to resources to invest in capacity building aimed at developing self-reliance and leadership and entrepreneurial skills. It also supports innovative and practical initiatives aimed at solving social-related problems affecting women in the community. Marie Celine Zialor head of the Entrepreneurship Department at the Guy Morel Institute said that this generally a good initiative. «It is much-needed resources that women involved in economic activities need especially now with so many uncertainties not only in Seychelles but around the world. But it would be good for the grantees to receive additional support to ensure the sustainability of their businesses,» explained Zialor. Monia Florentine of Mo's Dream Creation has developed a new line of Creole dolls with a twist - using recyclable materials - which she said is aimed at reviving the dying tradition of locally made dolls. (Monia Florentine) Photo License: All Rights Reserved Zialor added that support is crucial for women entrepreneurs not only to ensure viability of their businesses but to ensure that they grow and become big businesses as for nowwomen entrepreneurs are involved in small and medium scale businesses. Lyn Asba, from a community-based organization on the man-made island of Perseverance promoting home gardens amongst female-headed household, told SNA that such support should not come only during times of crisis but all the time. According to Bru a simple monitoring mechanism will be used to follow the implementation of projects by grantees so that they fulfil the terms of the grant. “It should also be noted that part of the evaluation of the initial proposals would be the sustainability of the project itself,” concluded Bru. The call for proposals will open until July 8.

New reggae bar will soon infuse Seychelles' La Digue island with spirit of Bob Marley

Reggae lovers in Seychelles' La Digue island will soon be able to enjoy food, music and a drink at the country's first reggae bar. Owned by couple Ethel and Lenny Durup, La Digue Reggae Bar is built with an open view using natural materials, painted in the i
Seychelles News Agency

New reggae bar will soon infuse Seychelles' La Digue island with spirit of Bob Marley

Reggae lovers in Seychelles' La Digue island will soon be able to enjoy food, music and a drink at the country's first reggae bar. Owned by couple Ethel and Lenny Durup, La Digue Reggae Bar is built with an open view using natural materials, painted in the iconic reggae colours red, gold and green. «La Digue does not offer many entertainment options at night. We foresee the bar as one which has a relaxed vibe and we hope for it to become a hotspot for nightlife on La Digue, with a mixture of tourists, expatriates and locals. It has a decent sized space, making it perfect for mingling and socialising,» said Ethel. Located at Anse Reunion, the bar features a mural of Bob Marley, the reggae legend. The bar has a mural of reggae legend Bob Marley. (Ethel Durup) Photo License: All Rights Reserved  «I'm certain all Seychellois know at least one or two of his songs. We have tried to incorporate both international and local reggae artists in our playlist. Reggae is loved by all ages and is our favourite music too,» said Ethel. Reggae is a style of popular music that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s and quickly emerged as the country's dominant music. She added that their venture is not just about the reggae music, but «also the lifestyle and culture of reggae - surrounded with love, peace and harmony. It will probably be one of the best reggae experiences on the island.» Ethel told SNA that the project came to mind while the couple was on holiday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. «We visited a reggae bar and thought it would be an ideal project for Seychelles. Enjoying our food and drinks while listening to soft reggae music, surrounded by friends and family in a friendly game of billiards was probably one of our best vacation memories. Lenny was determined to start his own project on La Digue,» said Ethel.   La Digue Reggae Bar is located at Anse Reunion. (Ethel Durup) Photo License: All Rights Reserved  La Digue Reggae Bar will have a cafeteria, which will serve fast food such as pizza, fried food, burgers and sandwiches and drinks. The bar will have its own signature drink, which until now remains under lock and key. It will also have an outside projector, dart, dominoes, chess and will feature regular competitions to keep customers entertained. «La Digue Reggae Bar will also have a VIP open lounge which will be located upstairs. You get to use it by buying a certain number of bottles and you are served by our waitresses,» said Ethel. When operations start, the bar will be open on weekends only while the owners analyse how the business will go. Ethel told SNA that setting up the venture has been a long and bumpy road. «We did it not by taking a loan but by investing all we had to make it a true success and we are proud owners. Now we need to work on promoting our business and build up a great reputation for it,» she said.

Virus sours July 4 celebrations in US as Mexico cases soar

A surge in coronavirus cases sapped the fun out of July 4 celebrations in the United States as the pandemic also accelerated through neighboring Mexico, the rest of Latin America and South Africa.Even Europe, which has largely been celebrating reopening, saw
Seychelles News Agency

Virus sours July 4 celebrations in US as Mexico cases soar

A surge in coronavirus cases sapped the fun out of July 4 celebrations in the United States as the pandemic also accelerated through neighboring Mexico, the rest of Latin America and South Africa.Even Europe, which has largely been celebrating reopening, saw some setbacks, with authorities placing 200,000 people back under lockdown in Spain after a spike in infections that underlined how easily hard-won progress can be reversed.The United States remains by far the world's hardest-hit country, logging a further 43,000 cases Saturday that brought its total number of infections to more than 2.8 million, with nearly 130,000 deaths.The spiraling caseload cast a pall over traditional Independence Day celebrations, with beaches closed and the National Mall in Washington, usually crowded with spectators ready for fireworks, near deserted.Main Street parades were canceled, boisterous backyard barbecues scaled down and family reunions put off.Despite the somber mood, President Donald Trump insisted the end was in sight in the fight against COVID-19.Speaking from the White House lawn, Trump addressed a crowd that included frontline health workers battling the virus.He accused China -- where the outbreak originated late last year -- of a cover-up that allowed the illness to race across the globe, but hailed American «scientific brilliance.»«We'll likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year,» he said.If so, it will be in high demand. As the virus continues its relentless march around the world, Latin America is also grappling with rising cases. Mexico's toll crossed 30,000 on Saturday, propelling it past France to become the fifth-hardest-hit country in the world.And Brazil, which has defiantly opened bars and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, notched up nearly 40,000 new cases and more than a thousand deaths, keeping it in second place behind the US in the bleak global rankings.Across the Atlantic, South Africa reported more than 10,000 new infections Saturday, its highest ever daily jump. Africa's most economically developed country now has the greatest number of cases on the continent.- 'Can't be in a bubble' -American beaches that would normally be packed on July 4 are shut on both coasts as California and Florida suffer alarming surges in cases, while bars in states such as Texas and Michigan have had to close on what should be one of their busiest weekends of the year.New York's public beaches reopened earlier in the week but locals in the city that was once the global epicenter of the crisis remain wary of a resurgence.Mark Ruiz, who came to New York's Coney Island beach with his wife and two children for a picnic, said he was «definitely worried» about the virus and his family would scrupulously respect social distancing rules.«I'll have my mask on as soon as we leave the beach, so we came prepared,» said Ruiz, who works as an ice cream distributor to restaurants around the city.«I just can't stay home on the Fourth of July, I gotta take my kids out. We can't be in a bubble all summer.»For his part, Trump headlined an event called «Salute to America» along with a military flyover and a fireworks display.Guests including doctors, nurses and members of the military and their families were invited to the White House to watch proceedings.But numbers were well down on previous years and there will be no concert to keep the crowds on the National Mall until late at night as is usually the case.Ahead of the night-time celebrations, a series of anti-racism marches took place on the National Mall with Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis adding to the anger of protestors.- Raising a glass -America's former colonial master, Britain, was decidedly more cheerful on Saturday as local pubs reopened for the first time since late March.«It feels amazing,» said Leo Richard Bill, a soldier, after getting through the door of one of London's buzziest restaurants on the River Thames's popular south bank.«It's been what, like three months since... me and everyone else haven't been able to get outside and have a good time. So yeah, it feels good to get amongst it,» he said.Britain's Prince William got into the spirit by having his picture taken sipping a glass of cider and dutifully using hand sanitizer from a wall-mounted dispenser. And finance minister Rishi Sunak urged Britons to «eat out to help out» -- a message that did not appear to sit well with Health Secretary Matt Hancock.«I'm no killjoy,» said Hancock. «But the virus can still kill.»- 'Vulnerable' -Nations are rethinking how their cities can function and economies survive in the face of an illness that has infected at least 11 million and killed 529,000 globally.Governments are trying to carefully calibrate their reopenings -- rousing their economies without triggering outbreaks and more lockdowns.The lockdown announcement in Spain's northeastern Catalonia region came after regional officials noted a «sharp rise» in infections around the town of Lerida about 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of Barcelona.In Australia thousands of residents in high-rise apartments in Melbourne went into lockdown for at least five days as the country recorded its biggest daily increase of infections in months.«There are many, many vulnerable people who live in these towers,» Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said.© Agence France-Presse

Ethiopian PM says singer's death part of plot to sow unrest

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Friday that the killing of a popular singer, and subsequent violence that has left nearly 100 dead this week, represented «coordinated attempts» to destabilise the country. Speaking during a meeting with h
Seychelles News Agency

Ethiopian PM says singer's death part of plot to sow unrest

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Friday that the killing of a popular singer, and subsequent violence that has left nearly 100 dead this week, represented «coordinated attempts» to destabilise the country. Speaking during a meeting with high-ranking officials, Abiy did not identify who he blamed for the unrest, though he vowed to hold to account those directly involved as well as «those that are pulling the strings», according to a summary of his comments distributed by his office. Abiy added, «Those external and internal forces who were not successful with the Great Ethiopia Renaissance Dam issue have tried their utmost efforts to create chaos at this time,» alluding to tensions with Egypt over the construction of a large Ethiopian hydropower dam. Abiy, last year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wore a military uniform during the meeting, a portion of which was broadcast on state television. Singer Hachalu Hundessa, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia's largest, was shot dead in the capital Addis Ababa on Monday night. Protests immediately broke out in the city and the surrounding Oromia region. Officials said that 98 people had been killed by security forces and in inter-ethnic clashes while 1,200 had been arrested amid the unrest. Five people have been arrested in connection with Hachalu's killing. Officials have repeatedly suggested that the Oromo Liberation Army, a rebel group, and the Tigray People's Liberation Front, an opposition party, were implicated. Abiy, who won the Nobel in part for opening up Ethiopia's political space, on Friday said opposition groups that benefited from amnesties he granted when he came to power in 2018 were taking up arms «instead of making a winning case through ideas and policy options», the summary provided by his office said. «A losing mindset cannot give birth to new ideas,» it quoted Abiy as saying. Three high-profile opposition leaders -- including former media mogul Jawar Mohammed -- have been arrested in connection with the unrest this week, though officials have provided few details about the cases against them. Many businesses and government offices reopened in Addis Ababa on Friday after being closed for several days, but the internet remained shut off throughout the country for a fourth day. © Agence France-Presse

Seychelles’ environment ministry concerned about feral pigeons, invasive crows

The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change in Seychelles has expressed concerns over the rising population of feral pigeons and recent sightings of the Indian House Crow, which is considered a threat to the local biodiversity and needs to be elimi
Seychelles News Agency

Seychelles’ environment ministry concerned about feral pigeons, invasive crows

The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change in Seychelles has expressed concerns over the rising population of feral pigeons and recent sightings of the Indian House Crow, which is considered a threat to the local biodiversity and needs to be eliminated. A conservation officer from the biodiversity conservation section of the ministry told the press last week that these species are not only a threat for the islands’ unique and fragile ecosystem but are a concern for human health. Ashley Pothin said that tackling the population of feral pigeon and locating and eliminating the introduced Indian House Crow is now an urgency. “Feral pigeons are considered as an invasive species, a nuisance species and hazard to human health and safety and contribute towards high maintenance costs of infrastructures as a result of accumulated faecal matters,” said Pothin. The growing population of the feral pigeons can be noticed in the capital city of Victoria, at Ile du Port and Providence – both areas on the outskirts of the city. Between the three sites, a population of around 1,000 birds could be observed. At Ile Du Port, the situation is very apparent at the Palais Justice where the pigeon’s droppings could be found all over its once pristine white façade. State schools have also been badly affected by the pigeons. In the past, there were several attempts to trap and control these species, but there was little success. “A major concern is the continuous feeding of pigeons at schools and by other members of the public. The biodiversity conservation section would like to discourage the public from feeding the feral pigeons especially in public areas," explained Pothin. The conservation officer added that people must dispose of food scraps in an appropriate manner as the availability of food is a key component in the increase of the pigeon population. The crows, which are invasive creatures, are aggressive in nature and are known to feed on smaller species, and according to the conservation officer, this is a big concern to the protection of these species with some being endemics. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY  “From 2019 until to date we have received 10 complaints of a feral pigeon infestation. The role of the ministry is to provide advice and the way forward to different departments on how to deter pigeons from buildings,” explained Pothin, adding that each organization should put in place funds for ongoing control programmes. The domestic pigeon is the world's oldest domesticated bird. In Seychelles – 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean – it is believed that the pigeons were introduced on the islands by early settlers as a source of food. Biodiversity consultant Elvina Henriette told SNA that a proper education campaign should be done around the pigeons as she believes that the feral pigeons were once someone’s pet. “People here traditionally kept pigeons as pets, and I believe these were then released and now we have an uncontrolled population. Whilst a campaign around responsibility for pigeon owners should be done I think the authorities should also look at capturing these birds and try and get people interested to keep them as pets,” said Henriette. Henriette believes that people keeping the pigeons should look also at selling the birds for consumption instead of setting them free. The sightings of two Indian house crows and which are still believed to be out and at large since January this year is another concern for environment officials. “In recent months, we have had an increase in reports of the birds being sighted and it is unsure if it is the same birds as they travel long distances. In only two months we have received almost six reports of confirmed sightings. As a result of increased port activities, their occurrence in Seychelles has been observed on several occasions recently,” explained Pothin. The crows, which are invasive creatures, are aggressive in nature and are known to feed on smaller species, and according to the conservation officer, this is a big concern to the protection of these species with some being endemics. The ministry is encouraging the public to urgently report any sighting of the crows and there is a bounty of $28 for the crows dead or alive. 

Guiana: French territory still caught in virus storm

As mainland France heaves a sigh of relief after seemingly seeing off the worst of the coronavirus outbreak, its South American territory of Guiana is bracing for a fast-worsening onslaught. The sparsely-populated French territory, officially one of France'
Seychelles News Agency

Guiana: French territory still caught in virus storm

As mainland France heaves a sigh of relief after seemingly seeing off the worst of the coronavirus outbreak, its South American territory of Guiana is bracing for a fast-worsening onslaught. The sparsely-populated French territory, officially one of France's 101 administrative departments, is only now seeing its caseload accelerate as the virus expands its foothold in the Americas. Last week, France's minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, appealed in the French parliament for «solidarity» with Guiana, which she said was in urgent need of some 300 extra medical personnel as hospital beds fill up fast. «We do not have enough human resources,» she pleaded with lawmakers shortly after paying a visit to the territory bordering Brazil. «We must rise to the occasion.» The epidemic in Guiana is expected to peak around mid- to end-July. It is several weeks behind metropolitan France where close to 30,000 people have died in the unprecedented global outbreak, but where new infections and hospitalisations are on the decline. The territory -- population 300,000 -- has three public hospitals in the capital Cayenne and the nearby town of Kourou, which hosts Europe's spaceport and rocket launch pad. The forested territory, about the size of Portugal, is one of the poorest parts of France, with an acute lack of schools and paved roads, high unemployment and residents who say they feel abandoned by Paris. «What is certain is that our hospital system is not in the best shape,» said Remi Mutricy, a 30-year-old emergency doctor at the biggest hospital, the Centre Hospitalier Cayenne (CHC), which had 16 intensive care beds and about 250 doctors at the start of the epidemic. Since mid-June, the CHC has seen patient numbers rise from 59 to 127, and the number of people admitted for intensive care nearly double from 11 to 20. - 'We do what we can' - Reported deaths in Guiana's hospitals increased five-fold, from three to 16, in two weeks, and the number of confirmed infections now exceeds 4,000. Medical personnel in a country also battered by dengue and other diseases common to tropical areas, have been battling the epidemic since March, and are wearily preparing themselves for the long haul. «The main challenge is fatigue management, and our capacity to make (hospital) beds available... in time,» said Mutricy, complaining of a heavy «mental load». «We do what we can.» French Guiana is perched on the northeast corner of South America some 7,000 kilometres across the Atlantic from Paris. It remains under strict home confinement rules and a curfew is in place. In France as a whole, only Guiana and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean remain «orange» on an outbreak tracking map updated daily, although in Mayotte the situation has vastly improved. Mainland France and its other territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Reunion island, are classed a safer «green». - 'Worrisome' - In 2017, Guiana was marked by strike action by locals, including nurses and doctors, demanding «emergency» funding of some two billion euros ($2.25 billion) to improve medical care and other services. Protesters shut down the Kourou spaceport, the territory's main private employer, for several weeks to demand a «takeoff plan» for the area whose other main economic activities are fishing and foresty. The public sector is the biggest provider of jobs in Guiana. At the time, the government of President Francois Hollande agreed to a funding package worth one billion euros and agreed in principle to invest another 2.1 billion euros over an unspecified timeframe. Hospitals received several tens of millions of euros. In recent days, Paris has sent a military plane to Guiana to help evacuate patients, and deployed about 100 reinforcement medical staff from mainland France. At the CHC in Cayenne, a field hospital has been erected with a dozen extra beds. But regional leaders say much more is needed, including many more doctors. On Monday, France's public health authority described the situation in Guiana as «worrying», and said health officials were mobilised to slow the spread of the epidemic, identify outbreak clusters, and break transmission chains. More evacuation flights are planned. © Agence France-Presse

5G rollout in Seychelles met with mixed views on speed, price and health

Residents in Seychelles have mixed views on the recent rollout of a new next-generation 5G network. Cable and Wireless Seychelles launched its 5G network last week at the Eden Bleu hotel in partnership with Huawei, a Chinese multinational telecommunications
Seychelles News Agency

5G rollout in Seychelles met with mixed views on speed, price and health

Residents in Seychelles have mixed views on the recent rollout of a new next-generation 5G network. Cable and Wireless Seychelles launched its 5G network last week at the Eden Bleu hotel in partnership with Huawei, a Chinese multinational telecommunications company. The company's chief executive, Charles Hammond, said, «In spite of all the rumours of health hazards, 5G is a totally safe technology with no scientific link to any disease.» A concerned citizen, Christopher Lespoir, told SNA on Tuesday that a proper assessment should have been done before introducing the network in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean. «I am not against the advancement of technology, but I believe that we should maintain a balance when coming up with new innovations. Everything has its positive and negative side. Therefore we should have weighed the pros and cons through discussion before we proceeded with it,» said Lespoir.                    He added that «first of all we should look at the health issues as laid out in different documentations. I was reading a report published by the World Health Organisation, which stated that it's only in 2022 that they will be able to give an opinion on the use of 5G.» The principal secretary of the Department of Information, Communications and Technology, Benjamin Choppy, said that there is no real documentation that shows that 5G has health hazard implications to it. «As regulators, we are looking at it as new development and innovation. We have observed that there is a lot of concern raised by the public on the health problems it may cause. For now, we are following guidance from the World Health Organisation,» said Choppy. Cable and Wireless Seychelles launched its 5G network last week at the Eden Bleu hotel. (Louis Toussaint, Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY 5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology and it promises to enhance the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. It is around 10 to 100 times faster than a typical cellular connection and a physical fibre-optic cable going into a house. The 5G network in Seychelles will cover the capital Victoria, and the central Mahe district of Roche Caiman and the airport. It will gradually cover the whole of Mahe in the coming months. Enrique Sofola said that the biggest question is the affordability and there is a big difference between the speed and the price. «Already I was subscribing to a 4G package with Cable & Wireless. Days before rolling out 5G I noticed that my internet was very slow and I still had to pay the same price. I was subscribing to the most expensive package of highest speed internet. Now I have seen that my subscription has been put last on the package list with slowest speed internet and it seems that people are being forced to move to 5G and to pay more,» said Sofola.  With regards to price, Choppy believes that it is the market that dictates the price and the more competition in that area, the price of internet should go down. The chief executive of Cable and Wireless said that the 5G package will not be cheap because customers will need a minimum of 100 gigabytes in order to use the network as it is 1 gigabyte per second. Savio Morel, 25, said that the 5G is a good innovation for Seychelles and that «this will offer users more choice in the market. With the 5G network, it will save up time and reduce frustration when we are using the internet. Definitely I will be among the people to subscribing to it.» Customers of Cable and Wireless will be able to experience CWS’ 5G network as from July when packages will be released.

World Bank approves $ 15 million loan to help Seychelles counter COVID's economic effects

The World Bank has approved a $15 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support Seychelles' response to the economic and social fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank said this week that the loan will help e
Seychelles News Agency

World Bank approves $ 15 million loan to help Seychelles counter COVID's economic effects

The World Bank has approved a $15 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support Seychelles' response to the economic and social fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank said this week that the loan will help enhance the country's response mechanisms in health, social protection and the private sector, and it will support the country's post-crisis recovery through strengthened financial systems and climate resilience.  «This financing will ultimately contribute to protect the most vulnerable as well as build economic resilience for future shocks,» noted Mark Lundell, the country director for Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean. When answering questions in a live press conference last Thursday, the President of Seychelles, Danny Faure, warned that the pandemic has put the country in crisis and that if the situation continues the island nation will face more difficult times ahead. Elizabeth Agathine, the principal secretary for economic planning in the finance ministry told SNA via email that the support «will assist the country in stabilising its macroeconomic situation. The funds will go towards the financing of the amended budget which was approved earlier in April.» A World Bank economist and the operation's co-task team leader, Sashana Whyte, said that «protecting jobs in these uncertain times is indeed paramount given the devastating effects of this global pandemic on Seychelles economy, particularly on the tourism and fishery sectors.»  Already 91 businesses have filed for permission to make employees redundant as they cannot sustain their activities from which nearly 190 Seychellois workers could lose their jobs.   The loan will also help to offset losses of revenues among hard-hit private sector operators by helping secure payment of salaries, as well as temporarily lessening the tax burden for businesses, thus enhancing liquidity and maintaining their viability during the pandemic.  Through the loan, the World Bank will also provide support for the Seychelles’ Climate Change Policy which aims to strengthen the long-term resilience of key sectors such as tourism and protect economic development in the vulnerable coastal zone. Earlier this year, the World Bank gave Seychelles a $6.9 million line of credit that has been transferred into the country's international reserves.  The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response.

Botswana reports mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants

Hundreds of elephants have died mysteriously in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta, the wildlife department said Thursday, ruling out poaching as the tusks were found intact. The landlocked southern African country has the world's largest elephant population, e
Seychelles News Agency

Botswana reports mysterious deaths of hundreds of elephants

Hundreds of elephants have died mysteriously in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta, the wildlife department said Thursday, ruling out poaching as the tusks were found intact. The landlocked southern African country has the world's largest elephant population, estimated to be around 130,000. «We have had a report of 356 dead elephants in the area north of the Okavango Delta and we have confirmed 275 so far,» Cyril Taolo, the acting director of the department of Wildlife and National Parks, told AFP in a text message. He said the cause of the deaths was yet to be established with anthrax having been ruled out. «We do not suspect poaching since (the) animals were found with tusks,» he said. Samples have been collected and sent to specialised laboratories in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Canada for testing. Similar deaths were first reported in May when authorities found 12 carcasses in just a week in two villages in the northwest of the country. «It seems they were dying very suddenly in some cases,» conservation biologist, Keith Lindsay told AFP, adding that the deaths were sudden. «The carcases were animals that had fallen down while walking... right on their sternum which is very unusual,» said Lindsay. «Up to now there doesn't seem to be any clear sign of the reason for it. When something like this happens it is alarming.» - «All ages and sex» - The latest discoveries were flagged by a wildlife conservation charity, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), whose confidential report referring to the 356 dead elephants, was leaked to the media on Wednesday. EWB suspects the elephants have been dying in the area for about three months. According to the report dated June 19, 2020, «70 percent of elephant carcasses were considered recent, having died about a month ago, and 30 percent of the carcasses appeared fresh, ranging from one day to two weeks old». «There was good evidence to show elephants of all ages and sex appear to be dying,» said the report penned by EWB director Mike Chase. Several live elephants appeared to have been weak, lethargic and emaciated, with some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty in walking or limping, EWB said. «One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members,» said the report. For conservationist Neil Fritt the strange phenomenon is «tragic» but appears to be «more like a natural occurrence as opposed to direct human cause,» he told AFP. Botswana has an overpopulation of elephants which President Mokgweetsi Masisi has flagged as the source for much of the human-animal conflict in the country. In February the southern African country held its first major auction for trophy elephant hunting quotas since controversially scrapping a hunting ban last year. But the hunting season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic © Agence France-Presse

Outside Europe, nations floundering in virus' first wave

As Europe begins its cautious reopening after weathering the pandemic's first wave in lockdown, many developing and middle-income countries continue to be battered by skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 cases. With infections still growing daily in India, Bangl
Seychelles News Agency

Outside Europe, nations floundering in virus' first wave

As Europe begins its cautious reopening after weathering the pandemic's first wave in lockdown, many developing and middle-income countries continue to be battered by skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 cases. With infections still growing daily in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nigeria among others, health experts warn that before the world can start buttressing for COVID-19's much-feared «second wave», it must help nations battling the virus now. The World Health Organization warned this week that the pandemic was «not even close to being over» even as European nations reopen their borders and millions head back to work. While the United States has had by far the highest caseload, there are growing fears over the fate of hugely populous nations whose COVID-19 curve is pointing inexorably upwards. India for example now has more than 566,000 confirmed cases and is registering nearly 20,000 new infections every day. Mexico has more than 220,000 confirmed cases, Pakistan nearly 210,000, and Bangladesh more than 150,000, with little sign of new infections slowing. - 'Quite worrying' - Trudie Lang, director of The Global Health Network at the University of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Medicine, described the trend as «really quite worrying». «Even though the numbers might not be completely accurate because we've not tested so many, the curve is still the same shape,» Lang told AFP. When COVID-19 emerged in China late last year, the government in Beijing rapidly imposed stringent lockdown measures in a bid to contain the outbreak. When in February European nations such as Italy and Spain uncovered clusters of the virus, they too adopted unprecedented limits on individual movement that eventually flattened the curve of new infections. Anant Bhan, a researcher in bioethics and public health policy, said heavily populated and decentralised countries such as India are struggling to keep lockdown measures effectively. «That makes it a bit more challenging for the healthcare system,» he told AFP. «We might not have one peak, we might have multiple peaks because the spread of infection is variable across the country.» - 'Far from peak' - For Azra Ghani, professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London, the delayed rise in COVID-19 cases shows in part how successful countries have been until now in limiting the virus' spread. «If you go back a few months there was a large seeding into Europe and that caused widespread epidemics there,» she told AFP. «All these countries saw what was happening in Europe and reacted. The lockdowns appeared at a relatively early stage of epidemics. »As they've been coming out of lockdowns we're seeing infections building up in the same way it had initially in Europe, starting to spread in South America, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh,« Ghani explained. For example Indonesia, the fourth most populous country on Earth, is registering around 1,000 new cases daily even as it eases lockdown measures. Hermawan Saputra, a public health expert at the Indonesian Public Health Association, told AFP the country was »still far from the peak of the pandemic«. Experts previously predicted the outbreak to peak in July. »But since Jakarta has relaxed (lockdown) we think the peak will be reached in August or September,« said Saputra. »This is honestly terrifying. Easing was premature and people misunderstood it as meaning they had complete freedom -- that's wrong.« In Afghanistan, which has more than 30,000 confirmed cases, restrictions on movement are still in place. But the public doesn't appear to be getting the message, according to senior health official Ataullah Saeedzai. »The lockdown is still in place, but people are not taking it seriously,« he told AFP. »People are not observing the lockdown, people are not observing social distancing.« - Health systems stretched - More worrying perhaps is that COVID-19 is now inundating countries whose health systems were lacking even before needing to respond to a pandemic. Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation as home to more than 200 million, is registering 600-700 new cases a day. The government said in April its intensive care capacity stood at just 350 beds. Kema Onu, who works in Abuja for the AIDS Health Foundation, said Nigeria's health system was »not properly equipped« to deal with COVID-19. »How many ventilators do we have in the country to take care of people who are critically in need of it?« he told AFP. »It would amaze you that even if you walk into major health care facilities here in Abuja, the prevention and control plan is not completely in place. The health system is a total shambles.« In Pakistan, which has registered more than 200,000 cases, the central government has resisted nationwide lockdown measures, relying instead on local authorities to implement a patchwork of interventions. While the country has nearly 9,000 oxygenated ICU beds, Qaisar Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told AFP the health system was on the brink of »collapse«. »Even after months into this crisis our hospitals still lack some of the very basic facilities. We lack in both technical equipment as well as human resources,« he said. And in Bangladesh, which an estimated additional 4,000 ICU beds to deal with COVID-19, hospitals are already facing oxygen shortages. »We are still at the climbing stage of the transmission,« said Muzaherul Huq, a former head of the government institute of epidemiology and a former WHO senior official, adding many hospitals lack a centralised oxygen system. The virus has also begun to spread in the country's vast cramped refugee camps that house almost one million Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled neighbouring Myanmar following a 2017 military crackdown. - 'Early days' - And as it circulates in developing nations, the virus is targeting communities already hard hit by other diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Ghani said a number of vaccination programmes effecting millions of children had been interrupted by the pandemic. There is also growing evidence that women in heavily affected countries are seeking to give birth at home rather than risk catching the virus in hospital. »Many countries are already seeing overwhelmed hospital capacities and if they are over capacity for one disease that inevitably means other diseases are not being treated,« she said. As researchers scramble to find a COVID-19 vaccine, Lang said that poorer communities that traditionally lacked access to inoculations for other illnesses were at risk of missing out again. »Say we end up with a vaccine that's quite expensive and requires two or three doses,« she said. »What chance really is there of that getting everywhere? «The ideal vaccine works perfectly with one dose and is cheap. Remove any of those elements and you increase the risk that it won't be distributed equitably around the globe.» As much of Europe girds itself for a second COVID-19 spike, Ghani said the disease was likely to progress at different rates across the world, making its burden more like a continuum than a series of waves. «It's still early days -- most countries we won't have got more than 10-20 percent of the population infected and that's a long way off the level of spread that this virus could generate,» she said. «We're going to see this virus circulate until at least the end of the year and that poses a constant risk of reinfection whenever interventions are relaxed.» © Agence France-Presse

Need an island-inspired facemask? These 4 shops in Seychelles can help

The Department of Health has advised the public to wear face masks as a preventative measure against COVID-19 in areas where social distancing cannot be practised. Following this announcement, the Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (SPTC) announced tha
Seychelles News Agency

Need an island-inspired facemask? These 4 shops in Seychelles can help

The Department of Health has advised the public to wear face masks as a preventative measure against COVID-19 in areas where social distancing cannot be practised. Following this announcement, the Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (SPTC) announced that by July 8 wearing a mask on public buses will be mandatory. Aside from being able to buy facemasks in pharmacies and some retail shops, the public can also make their own mask or buy reusable ones. This week SNA took a look at four individuals and businesses sewing and selling reusable masks.   Island Shells Creations With very few readymade facemasks in stock in the shop, the owner of Island Shells Creations, Julianna Antat, advises that it better to make an order for the two-ply cotton reusable mask. With the buyer being able to choose the colour or pattern of their masks, orders can be made by visiting her shop or calling the owner of directly. Masks are available for both adults and children. Location: Island Shells Creations, Camion Hall Room 29, Victoria Contact: 2564421 Price: SCR25 (Salifa Karapetyan, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY   GOTCHA Covered For those on La Digue, Seychelles third-most populated island, Bikini Bottom is selling a wide range of island-inspired «high filtration, three-ply, washable, tropical masks.» Located on Praslin? No worries. For a fee of SCR30, the mask can be sent via Cat Rose. Through the Seychelles Post the service is free. The mask can be bought at the Panacea Healthcare Pharmacy on Mahe. Orders can be made through Bikini Bottom's Facebook page. Location: Bikini Bottom, Anse Severe, La Digue and the Panacea Healthcare Pharmacy at Anse Royale, Mahe Price: One for SCR199 or three for SCR 500 https://www.facebook.com/BikiniBottomSeychelles/photos/pcb.593101841321828/593100474655298/ Bikini Bottom/Facebook Photo License: All Rights Reserved   Myriam's Exclusive, Union Vale Stay safe and help the animals. The owner of Myriam's Exclusive says that for each mask sold, SCR10 will go towards the purchase of dog food for Pet Haven. Orders can be placed by sending a message or call 2791119, or by paying a visit to the workshop until 3 pm on working days. Location: Myriam's Exclusive, Union Vale. Contact: 2791119 Price: SCR35 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3197722643623080&set=a.826671957394839&type=3&theater Myriam's Exclusive/Facebook Photo License: All Rights Reserved   DA Extra designer face mask As a designer, Darren Esther is offering clients the option to customise their face masks. A basic mask comes at a cost of Scr40, however, the price goes up depending on the amount of work and material placed into the making of a designer mask. Through a collaboration, Joakim Barra from T Print, printing on masks will be a possibility soon. As per the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommendation, the masks are being sewn using three-ply of fabric – either cotton or linen. Location: Department of Culture or upon order Contact: 2712186 Price: starting at SCR40 (DA Extra) Photo License: All Rights Reserved

Brazilian Amazon sees worst June in 13 years for forest fires

Amazon forest fires in Brazil increased by 19.5 percent in June compared to the same month last year, making it the worst June in 13 years, authorities revealed on Wednesday. June marks the start of the dry period and there were 2,248 recorded fires, leavin
Seychelles News Agency

Brazilian Amazon sees worst June in 13 years for forest fires

Amazon forest fires in Brazil increased by 19.5 percent in June compared to the same month last year, making it the worst June in 13 years, authorities revealed on Wednesday. June marks the start of the dry period and there were 2,248 recorded fires, leaving analysts expecting a worse year for the rainforest than the devastating 2019, which provoked anger throughout the world. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which follows fire alerts in real time on its website, has not recorded as many fires in June since reporting more than 3,500 in 2007. The worst is expected in August. Last year there were more than 30,000 fires that month, a threefold increase on the same month in 2018. Most forest fires in the Amazon are caused by arson and are directly linked to deforestation, often caused by crop farmers for cultivation. Deforestation in Brazil was very high this year before the dry season even began, with more than 2,000 square kilometers lost between January and May, a 34 percent increase on the same period in 2019, according to INPE. The Amazon environmental research institute estimates that 9,000 square kilometers of jungle already cut down since last year could go up in flames before August begins. Ecologists have accused far right President Jair Bolsonaro -- a notorious climate change sceptic -- of promoting deforestation by calling for the legalization of farming and mining activities in protected zones. Specialists also believe an increase in forest fires could increase breathing difficulties in a population already badly hit by the novel coronavirus. © Agence France-Presse

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