Coronavirus could push millions of Africans into poverty: UN chief

The UN said the low coronavirus numbers in Africa could be linked to minimal testing and reporting. (AP)
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Updated 20 May 2020

Coronavirus could push millions of Africans into poverty: UN chief

  • Coronavirus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases
  • The UN said the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress and could push millions into extreme poverty.
The UN chief said in a video message launching a policy report on “The Impact of COVID-19 in Africa” that countries on the continent have responded swiftly to the crisis, and as of now reported cases are lower than feared with more than 2,500 deaths.
The virus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases, the 28-page UN report said.
The relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases confirmed thus far “have raised hopes that African countries may be spared the worst of the pandemic,” the report said. “Caution is warranted, however, as these are early days in the life cycle of a disease that is still not fully understood and where we have seen repeated patterns of first slow, then exponential growth in the number of cases.”
The UN said the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organization warning that the pandemic “could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, mostly depending on governments’ responses.”
And WHO also warned that “the socioeconomic impacts could `smolder’ for several years,” the report said.
Guterres said “much hangs in the balance.”
He called for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.
To help address the devastating economic and social consequences of the pandemic, Guterres said Africa needs more than $200 billion and “an across-the-board debt standstill for African countries” unable to service their debt, “followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.”
In recent years, Guterres said economic growth in Africa has been strong, the digital revolution has taken hold and agreement has been reached on a free trade area.
But he said “already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining” and the opening of the trade zone has been pushed back.
The secretary-general said the pandemic “will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.”
The UN urged that agriculture be declared a critical sector that should not be interrupted by COVID-19 related measures.
Guterres commended what countries and the African Union have done to tackle the pandemic, saying most have deepened regional coordination, deployed health workers, and enforced quarantines, lockdowns and border closures.
“They are also drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumors and overcome mistrust of government, security forces and health workers,” Guterres said.
He said the United Nations has delivered millions of test kits, respirators and other supplies, reaching almost the entire continent.
While dealing with the pandemic, the UN report said “maintaining peace and security in Africa remains paramount.”
Guterres has appealed for global cease-fires to tackle COVID-19 and he said it is “essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism.”


France checks video claim for Paris knife attack

Updated 42 min 35 sec ago

France checks video claim for Paris knife attack

  • Friday’s attack left two badly wounded outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris
  • Six people are still in custody, including the suspected perpetrator

PARIS: French investigators were Sunday studying a video claiming responsibility for the meat cleaver attack in Paris that targeted satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo as the government condemned an act of “Islamist terrorism.”
Six people were still in custody, including the suspected perpetrator of Friday’s attack that left two badly wounded outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris.
The man is an 18-year-old born in Pakistan named as Hassan A, according to a source close to the investigation.
Held since Friday, he told investigators he had carried out the attack to avenge the republication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo, which was the target of a January 2015 massacre by Islamist gunmen.
The investigators were now seeking to authenticate a video which they believe could show Hassan A. announcing he was about to carry out the attack.
“We see him crying, chanting. He claims in advance his act by evoking the republication of the caricatures,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
“It is a kind of manifesto, he announces he is going to act,” the source said, adding: “It is not a claim of allegiance to an organization.”
The suspect was born in the Pakistan town of Mandi Bahauddin and while he speaks a little French he has needed a translator during questioning, the source close to the investigation said.
He is believed to have entered France three years ago while still a minor and had showed no risk of radicalization despite once being stopped for carrying a weapon.
The two people wounded were employees of prize-winning TV production agency Premieres Lignes, whose offices are in the same block that used to house Charlie Hebdo in the center of the capital .
However it is not believed that the two, whose lives are not in danger, were specifically targeted.
The man mistakenly believed Charlie Hebdo’s offices were still in that building and wanted to attack journalists from the magazine, according to his statement to investigators.
One person arrested was released overnight. But as well as the main suspect eight others were still being held.
They include his younger brother and people who lived with him at his last place of residence in northern Paris.
Police on Sunday also detained a woman who had been living at the same residence, a judicial source said, without giving further details.
The arrests were aimed at understanding the “environment” of the main suspect, a source close to the case said, adding: “Everything leads us to think he acted alone.”
An Algerian man, detained close to the scene of the attack, had also been released. His lawyer said her client had actually been “heroically” chasing the attacker.
The attack came three weeks into a trial in Paris of suspected accomplices in the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket that left 17 people dead.
The bloodshed heralded a wave of Islamist violence in France that has so far left 258 people dead.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin acknowledged that the authorities could have become complacent over the terror risk after a relative lull in high-profile attacks in recent years.
“We are in an extremely critical situation, we are at war with Islamist terrorism. Maybe, collectively, we put this behind us,” he said.
Darmanin said the threat was still real, noting 32 attacks had been foiled over the last three years. “It is around once a month,” he said.
President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government has in recent weeks begun using increasingly tough rhetoric on domestic security issues in what analysts see as a shift to the right.
Macron’s anti-terror adviser Laurent Nunez told AFP that France had “improved in the detection” of extremists but “still had to tighten the net more.”