BEIJING, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) — As the heavily mutated COVID-19 Omicron variant sounds a global alarm, China said it will stick to its strict anti-virus policy, taking all necessary measures to eliminate infections before the new virus variant could wreak havoc.

Cases of Omicron, a “variant of concern” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), have been reported in South Africa, Israel, Italy, Australia, and the United States, with multiple countries beginning to reinstate border restriction and travel bans. China has not detected such cases so far except in Hong Kong. Its health authority said the country will stick to its current anti-COVID strategy of preventing imported cases and a domestic resurgence, noting that such an approach is also effective against Omicron. “No matter how the virus mutates, it is still the novel coronavirus,” said Zhang Wenhong, head of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the Shanghai-based Huashan Hospital of Fudan University. “China’s current quick response and strict anti-virus strategy can cope with various types of COVID-19 variants,” he added. Chinese experts, however, did not relax their vigilance. They are closely tracking and assessing Omicron’s transmission risks and its impact on existing vaccines and drugs.

“To compete with highly contagious variants, the sooner we detect an infection, the sooner we can take the initiative to rid it out,” Ma Xiaowei, director of the National Health Commission, told Xinhua. All the local clustered cases in the COVID-19 resurgence since mid-October in China originated from overseas. The resurgence has spread to more than 20 provincial-level regions at its peak. When dealing with these imported Delta variant cases, most regions managed to contain the outbreak within an incubation period of about 14 days.  Aiming to contain an outbreak within an incubation period, relevant Chinese agencies have been making full use of the “golden period,” the first 24 hours of a discovered case, to find those who were in close contact, isolate potentially infected individuals before the virus spreads, or before the infected person can transmit the virus.

Ma hailed the strategy as an essential procedure for China’s fight against COVID-19. “Quick” has been a catchphrase during the whole process, as only through quick action can the spread of the virus be minimized. Shanghai has lately managed to bring a virus resurgence under control in three days. Immediately after the three cases were reported, authorities there activated an emergency response. The local government ordered epidemiological investigators to arrive at the scene within two hours, complete the core investigations within four hours, and finish the epidemiological reports within 24 hours.

China has continuously adjusted its COVID-19 prevention and control measures: from the emergency response at the beginning of the outbreak, the exploratory routine containment until August, to the current strategy of eliminating COVID-19 infections in a timely manner.  Alarmed by the loopholes exposed in the last resurgence of local infections, the central government has asked local authorities to strictly remain on guard against imported cases, enhance epidemic response capacity in key areas, limit tourist activities and promote mass vaccination. More than 1.1 billion people in China had completed their COVID-19 vaccination, and health authorities are promoting their booster program nationwide. The current strategy features targeted containment measures covering the whole chain of epidemic response. “We have been thinking, especially during the process of coping with the spread of the Delta variant, how to control the epidemic with more effective measures, lower costs and at faster speeds to minimize its impact on economic and social development and people’s lives,” Ma said.

The government has also noticed that the epidemic response in some countries, which have not implemented strict epidemic control measures, has not been satisfactory. There have been relapses that severely impacted people’s lives, health and the economy and society overall. “As a result, China has been focusing on improving epidemic prevention and early detection,” Ma noted. “China’s practices in fighting COVID-19 show that effectively containing the virus, in a country with a population of more than 1.4 billion, is its biggest contribution to the global fight against the pandemic,” he said.

Xu Wenbo, an expert from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Omicron spreads very fast based on the latest reported epidemiological data in South Africa. However, it could take weeks to figure out the variant’s virulence. The mutation of the Omicron variant will not affect the sensitivity and specificity of China’s major nucleic acid testing reagents, according to Xu. Some Chinese companies have already launched early-stage planning on vaccines targetting Omicron. Zhang Wenhong said China is accelerating scientific support to cope with new variants while taking advantage of the opportunities won by its current strategy. “With science and solidarity, we have dealt with Delta well,” Zhang said. “We can do the same with Omicron.”

Tanzania’s anti-narcotics watchdog seizes large amount of drugs in 5 years

DAR ES SALAAM, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Tanzania’s anti-narcotics watchdog said on Friday it has seized 356,563.1 kilograms of drugs and arrested 45,784 suspects in connection with the drugs between Feb. 2017 and Sept. 2021.

Gerald Kusaya, the commissioner-general for the Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA), said the drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis, were seized in collaboration with other security agencies. “DCEA in collaboration with the police also destroyed 628.75 hectares of cannabis in various parts of the country during the period under review,” Kusaya told a news conference in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam. He said the DCEA in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the National Crime Agency (NCA) succeeded in dismantling drug trafficking syndicates within and outside the country during the period under review. Kusaya said Tanzania has established 11 centers for counseling and treating about 10,565 drug addicts across the east African nation. 

UN extends mandate for int’l forces fighting piracy off coast of Somalia

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — The United Nations (UN) Security Council on Friday renewed for an additional three months its authorization for states and regional organizations cooperating with Somalia to use all necessary means to fight piracy off the coast of the East African country.

Unanimously adopting Resolution 2608, the council decided, for a further period of three months from the date of the resolution, to renew the authorizations, as set out in Resolution 2554, granted to states and regional organizations cooperating with Somali authorities in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, for which advance notification has been provided by Somali authorities to the secretary-general.The Security Council said that there were no successful piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia in the prior 12 months and noted that joint counter-piracy efforts have resulted in a steady decline in pirate attacks and hijackings since 2011, as well as no successful ship hijackings for ransom since March 2017.

It also recognized the ongoing threat of resurgent piracy and armed robbery at sea, making reference to the letter of Dec. 2, 2021 from the permanent representative of the permanent mission of Somalia to the United Nations requesting international assistance to counter piracy off its coast. The council also called upon the Somali authorities to interdict, and upon interdiction to have mechanisms in place to safely return effects seized by pirates, investigate and prosecute pirates and to patrol the waters off the coast of Somalia to prevent and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.

In addition, it encouraged the Federal Government of Somalia to accede to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and develop a corresponding legal architecture as part of its efforts to target money laundering and financial support structures on which piracy networks survive.The council decided that the arms embargo on Somalia imposed in Resolution 733, further elaborated upon in Resolution 1425 and modified by Resolution 2093 does not apply to supplies of weapons and military equipment or the provision of assistance destined for the sole use of member states, international, regional and subregional organizations undertaking measures most recently reaffirmed by Resolution 2607. It also urged all states to share information with the International Criminal Police Organization for use in the global piracy database, through appropriate channels. 

Around 100 terrorists killed by FAMa in central Mali in November

BAMAKO, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Around 100 terrorists were killed in operations of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) in the central parts of the country in November, said the head of the Directorate of Information and Public Relations of the Armed Forces (DIRPA) at a press briefing on Thursday.

“The army neutralized a hundred terrorists and destroyed a dozen of these groups’ sanctuaries during operations in November in the localities of Mondoro, Baye, Marebougou, Ganguel and Farabougou,” DIRPA director Colonel Souleymane Dembele told the press. According to him, November was marked by “a lull in the general situation and this was thanks to the change in the strategy of FAMa against attacks and their readaptation to the reality of the field.” Addressing the disengagement of the French Barkhane Force in the Tessalit and Kidal rights-of-way in the north of the country, Dembele said that “the defence of the national territory was a duty for the FAMa” while ensuring their operational independence, adding that the Malian Defence and Security Forces (SDF) would be able to “meet this major challenge with the help of the population.” Since 2012, Mali has been facing a deep and multifaceted security, political and economic crisis. The independence insurrections, the jihadist incursions and the inter-communal violence have caused thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced, despite the presence of UN (MINUSMA), French (Barkhane) and European (Takuba) forces.

People with disabilities among hardest hit by pandemic: UN chief

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which falls on Dec. 3 annually, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that people with disabilities were among those most affected by the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the persistent barriers and inequalities faced by the world’s 1 billion persons with disabilities,” he said.  In his view, a disability-inclusive pandemic response and recovery should be led by people with disabilities themselves. It should also “forge partnerships, tackle injustice and discrimination, expand access to technology and strengthen institutions to create a more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”  About 80 percent of people with disabilities live in developing countries, according to the UN. Nearly 46 percent of people aged 60 and older have a disability.

One in every five women is likely to experience disability in her life, while for children, that figure is one in 10. The top UN official urged all countries to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to meet the needs of these people. He said governments should also improve accessibility and dismantle legal, social, economic and other barriers with the active participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations. “Realizing the rights, agency and leadership of persons with disabilities will advance our common future,” he argued. “We need everyone, including persons with disabilities on board, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is an international observance promoted by the United Nations since 1992. It has been observed with varying degrees of success around the planet. The observance of the day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. Each year the day focuses on a different issue. The theme of this year is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.” 

Tanzania’s new optic fiber plant to speed up national ICT broadband backbone project

DAR ES SALAAM, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Friday launched a 9.4-million-U.S. dollar state-of-the-art optic fiber plant saying products to be manufactured by the plant will speed up execution of the National ICT Broadband Backbone project.

“Optic fiber to be locally produced by this plant will be used to speed up the implementation of the National ICT Broadband Backbone,” President Hassan said when she launched Raddy Fiber Manufacturing Tanzania Limited in Mkuranga district in the Coast region. The government of Tanzania is constructing the National Fiber Optic Cable network named National ICT Broadband Backbone with a view to achieving its ICT vision. The infrastructure will enhance the usage of ICT applications for sustainable socio-economic development including implementation of e-government, e-learning, e-health, e-commerce, and much more locally and globally.

President Hassan said a feasibility study is underway to extend the National ICT Broadband Backbone to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ramadhan Millanzi, the founder and chief executive officer of Raddy Fiber Manufacturing Tanzania Limited, said the plant has a production capacity of 24,000 km of optic fiber annually. Kundo Andrea, the Deputy Minister for Communications and Information Technology, said the National ICT Broadband Backbone will cover 15,000 km of the broadband backbone network by 2025. Andrea said until now, more than 8,000 km of the project has already been completed. 

 Zambia, IMF reach staff-level agreement on financing program

LUSAKA, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — The Zambian government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have reached a staff-level agreement for a financing program under the Extended Credit Facility following protracted talks, a senior government official said on Friday.

Finance and National Planning Minister Situmbeko said the agreement will involve the provision of financial support of about 1.4 billion U.S. dollars over the next three years. He said that the financing will be in addition to the 1.3 billion dollars allocated to the country by the international lender in August this year under the Special Drawings Rights (SDR). “We have engaged in many months of discussions and consultations to agree on an economic-financial policy package that will help us restore debt sustainability, build a productive and resilient economy and sustain livelihoods of our people,” he told reporters during a press briefing.He however said the program was subject to approval by the IMF Executive Board.

According to him, reaching a staff-level agreement was one of the immediate objectives of the new government, adding that the program will provide the much-needed resource base to the country and anchor its domestic economic program. He further said the agreement paves the way for debt restructuring talks with the country’s creditors, adding that the agreement will restore confidence in the country’s economy. However, a statement from the IMF stated that the agreement was based on the Zambian government’s plans to undertake bold and ambitious economic reforms. The two parties conducted virtual talks from Nov. 4 2021 to Dec. 2, 2021. 
Parents of U.S. Michigan high school shooter charged with involuntary manslaughter

CHICAGO, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Parents of the 15-year-old boy accused of killing four students and injuring seven at Oxford High School in U.S. state of Michigan have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter each, the prosecutor of Oakland County said at a press conference on Friday.

If convicted, Jennifer and James Crumbley, parents of Ethan Crumbley, could face up to 15 years in prison. Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said the charge sends a message that “gun owners have a responsibility.” “When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences,” said McDonald at the press conference. “We need to say enough is enough for our kids, our teachers, parents, for all of us in this community and the communities across this nation.” Investigation found that the gun the shooter used to kill was purchased by his father and was stored in an unlocked drawer in the parents’ bedroom.While there have been cases in Michigan and other U.S. states where parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter or negligent endangerment, parents in the United States are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, local media reported on Friday. Michigan does not have laws requiring gun owners to keep weapons locked away from children. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is calling for that to change, local media reported.  

Tanzania suspends 114 health laboratories over poor performance

DAR ES SALAAM, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Tanzania’s Private Health Laboratories Board on Friday announced the suspension of 114 health laboratories over poor performance.

“The 114 laboratories across the country have been suspended pending their improvement that will enable them to deliver high standard services,” said Dominic Fwiling’afu, the registrar of the Private Health Laboratories Board.  Fwiling’afu told a press conference in the capital Dodoma that 849 health laboratories across the country were inspected between April 2020 and October 2021. “About 114 of the inspected laboratories did not meet conditions for running the laboratories, including employing qualified personnel and delivery of accurate tests results,” he said. Fwiling’afu said the inspection was conducted in Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Tanga and Morogoro regions. He said the correct treatment of diseases relied heavily on accurate results released by the laboratories after tests.