Nigerians take the law into their own hands to fight COVID-19

Some Nigerians who rejected a government order to stay in place and left COVID-19 affected states for home are being turned in by their own communities.

The majority of Nigerians living and working in the three most densely populated states of Abuja, Lagos and Kano are suddenly confronting the downside of regions offering more work options.  These states face the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country, and some Nigerians are willing to ignore the government mandate to stay in place and find ways to sneak back home to rural areas where COVID-19 is far less prominent.

State police have arrested and quarantined dozens of passengers leaving Lagos state to head home to Zamfara state, said State Police Commissioner Usman Nagogo. For weeks, Nigeria’s state and federal governments have locked down states with a large number of COVID-19 cases, but the illegal transit between states has continued.

The difference now is some communities are not protecting those who have sneaked back home.

In Zamfara state, located in the northwestern part of the country, citizens hearing about a newly returned community or family member are tracking down the family and turning in the escapee to the authorities.

Recently, Uwani Shehu successfully dodged authorities to leave Lagos state, a highly COVID-19 affected area, and returned to Gusau, the state capital, and headed to her family’s home. Considering the infection risk she brought to the local community, however, members of her community decided to arrest her and turn her into the nearest police station for quarantine.

At that point, Shehu escaped from the police station, and fled to a remote village called Dankurmi.

Once again, the community stepped in and quarantined members of Shehu’s family to avoid possible spread to other members of the community.

“The effort was to ensure that the members of the family do not intermingle with other members of the communities who did not have contact with the returning lady,” said Mallam Umar, a member of the community.

Zamfara state is dominated by two tribes, the Fulani and Hausa. Protecting the community and tribal identity are traditional practices, but enforcing government mandates at the risk of quarantine and prison for escapees is not typical.

“We’re satisfied with the level of compliance,” said Nagogo during a recent visit to the border of Zamfara and Katsina states. Zamfara now has seventy two cases of coronavirus, he said, which meant more proactive security measures are needed to stop the spread.

In a related development, a recycled materials seller, Bashar Bala who purchased debris in Abuja from Abba Kyari, the late chief of staff to the Nigerian president, is now being quarantined in his home town, Kaura Namoda, also located in Zamfara. The chief of staff died from COVID-19 in April.

For about $8, Bala purchased several burnt metals from a shop containing items scavenged from the Abuja metropolis. Once purchased, Bala learned the metals were originally scavenged from the casket of the chief of staff.  Panicked, Bala fled his shop and returned to his home state—Zamfara—where the authorities placed him under quarantine.

(Editing by Stephanie Mikulasek and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)

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Black and multi-ethnic Brazilians hit hard by COVID-19

Brazilians are dying from COVID-19, but the Health Ministry doesn’t know who they are.

Official numbers show black and multi-ethnic Brazilians, who make up about 32% of the population, account for one-third of COVID-19 deaths. That data, however, might not illustrate the full picture.

Public hospital registration forms do not ask about ethnicity. “New patient registration forms lack the information about the ethnicity of the patients that die of novel coronavirus,” said Dr. André Luiz Machado, an infectious disease specialist at Hospital Nossa Senhora da Conceição in Porto Alegre, located in the southern region of Brazil. A national notification system is used to register data on patients experiencing acute respiratory distress and COVID-19.

Doctor André Luiz Machado is an infectologist at Hospital Nossa Senhora da Conceição (HNSC) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Photo courtesy: Doctor André Luiz)

“It is alarming that there is missing concrete data regarding these facts. It is possible that the black and multi-ethnic population die slightly higher than a third of all patients admitted for COVID-19, just because there is a lack of information and registration in the forms of these ethnicities,” said Machado.

Dr. Denize Orneles, coordinator of the medical residency program for family medicine in Sao Paulo, confirmed the lack of data. “We have situations where more than 40,000 people have proven test positive to COVID-19.  Although gender is discriminated, color or ethnicity are poorly accounted for,” she said. “This information is used to evaluate people’s health in relation to the virus and the recommendation to hospitalization.”

The Brazilian Ministry of Health said it was unable to confirm the number of COVID-19 cases among black and multi-ethnic groups admitted to government-run hospitals. With the exception of the wealthier population, the majority of Brazilians use the public health system, which was revamped in 1994 with varying levels of success to include basic health coverage for all citizens.

The ministry has recommended all patients take the COVID-19 test, but not everyone has. “There are many reports describing victims in a serious condition arriving at the hospital, who died without the test virus being done,” said Ornelas.

Over two-thirds of the Brazilian population that die of COVID-19 have underlying conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. These health issues are more dominant in the black and multi-ethnic populations, which make up the majority of lower income households and still struggle to access basic health care. This is one reason why the published numbers on COVID-19 deaths by ethnicity seemed off, said Machado. “The population of black and multi-ethnic from Brazil have a higher risk of developing severe medical complications.”

With better information, “we can build a more accurate treatment plan,” said Machado.

Dr. Denize Ornelas says the absence of basic structures in Brazil makes the black and mixed-race population more vulnerable to COVID-19 on April, 28, 2020 (Photo courtesy: Denize Ornelas)

Evidence of the discrepancy in reported numbers is evident in two districts of Sao Paulo, said Ornelas. “There is clear evidence of sub-notification of cases of poorer black and multi-ethnic communities due to their lack of access to testing.”

In the Tiradentes district, the majority of the population is black or mixed-race, generally poor and without access to basic hygiene and sanitation. In contrast, the Morumbi area of Sao Paulo in the Butante district hosts a university and a largely white and affluent population.

“While in Tiradentes, in the last week, we had 96 cases and 37 deaths confirmed or suspected,” said Ornelas, which is a 38% death rate. “On the other hand, in the Morumbi area, a noble part of São Paulo, we had triple the cases, that is 297, but only seven deaths.”

The health ministry continues to advise the population to stay indoors and follow social distancing restrictions to reduce of contamination of coronavirus. “More than 70% at the population Afro-Brazilians depends only on the Unified Health System. The absence of these basic structures makes the black and mixed-race population more vulnerable to COVID-19. How can we expect this population to do social isolation if the family lives in the house with only one room, without basic sanitation?” said Vera Beatriz Soares da Cruz, a social scientist from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.

Concerned of contracting the virus and becoming a statistic, Dayssi Gonçalves da Silva remains in social isolation and confined in her small apartment in Porto Alegre city in southern Brazil. Suffering from diabetes, hypertension and most recently cancer, the 89-year old is in the high-risk group.

Deivison Faustino, a Ph.D. in sociology at Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil does not agree with social policies adopted by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in the face of pandemic on April 27, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Deivision Faustino)

“I love to walk, but I rarely leave home due to my health. I clean my hands regularly, making use of alcohol gel to clean the supermarket packings. My neighbors are helping me to avoid getting out,” said da Silva, who hopes this epidemic will pass soon.

“In Brazil, the tested cases (happen) more frequently in whites than in blacks. But the blacks’ mortality is much higher,” said Deivison Faustino, a sociologist at Federal University of São Paulo.

“The president doesn’t believe in research and prefers to focus on the commercial and economic sides of it,” said Faustino. “Not long ago, the Brazilian government launched an advertising campaign called ‘Brazil cannot stop.’ Workers were called back to work to save the economy.”

While working as a nurse in the emergency room of the Conceição Hospital in Porto Alegre, Camila da Silva Zsabo never imagined she would be infected with the coronavirus and end up in bed in the intensive care unit where she normally cares for patients. The 32-year-old suffers from asthma and is mixed race, and believes the virus is more lethal for both those reasons.

“I am asthmatic, and at beginning of April, I felt a great lack of air, more than normal, followed by exhaustion,” she said. “That night I also had a fever and so the following day I went straight to ER and then intensive care. I thought I was going to die.”

She was treated with a ventilator, the antibiotic erythromycin and Tamiflu, widely used in the United States to treat influenza A and B. “I never smoked, although the doctor was shocked with my lung X-ray. It was horrible—seemed like a smoker’s lung,” she said. She was released after 10 days and is home on sick leave.

So far 163,510 Brazilians have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and 11,207 have died.

(Editing by Stephanie Mikulasek and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)

 

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Chile recurre a controvertidos “pasaportes de inmunidad” en plan de reapertura

Chile emitirá “pasaportes de inmunidad” para pacientes recuperados de COVID-19, una medida que los críticos dicen que antepone la economía a la salud de las personas.
Bajo el “Plan de retorno seguro”, el gobierno de Chile apunta a reiniciar la economía en las próximas semanas. El presidente Sebastián Piñera había ordenado que 60,000 empleados públicos regresaran a sus oficinas. Los centros comerciales pueden reabrirse gradualmente a medida que otras empresas privadas también recibirán apoyo. Se espera que la escuela se reinicie en mayo.

Una medida controvertida en virtud del plan implica ofrecer a los pacientes que se han recuperado de COVID-19 un “pasaporte de inmunidad”. Esto les permitirá abandonar sus hogares, incluso si su localidad está en cuarentena.

Según el Ministerio de Salud, los pacientes cuentan como “recuperados” si no han mostrado síntomas durante 14 días, 28 días para aquellos con un sistema inmunitario comprometido. Pero la medida provocó controversia.

Aunque no mencionó a Chile directamente, la Organización Mundial de la Salud apuntó a la idea: “Algunos gobiernos han sugerido que la detección de anticuerpos contra el SARS-CoV-2, el virus que causa COVID-19, podría servir como base para un ‘pasaporte de inmunidad’ o ‘certificado libre de riesgos’ que permitiría a las personas viajar o regresar al trabajo asumiendo que están protegidas contra la reinfección. Actualmente no hay evidencia de que las personas que se han recuperado de COVID-19 y tienen anticuerpos estén protegidas de una segunda infección “.

Los expertos en salud también criticaron los pasaportes porque las pruebas pueden no ser precisas. Alguien podría portar anticuerpos coronavirus sin haber tenido COVID-19, por lo tanto dar positivo y obtener un “pasaporte de inmunidad”.

A 1992 Chilean Passport. (Public Domain)

La propuesta del gobierno se basa en una investigación que demuestra que es poco probable que un transportista infecte a otros después de 10 días. Sin embargo, como todavía falta evidencia científica para la inmunidad, los expertos creen que la justificación del gobierno se debe a la presión económica.

“Creo que el gobierno está actualmente en el limbo entre salud y economía. Las primeras semanas del brote en Chile lo hicimos muy bien, porque todos cumplimos con las reglas impuestas por el presidente”, dijo la Dra. Catterina Ferreccio , viróloga de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile y asesora del gobierno. “Ahora, varias semanas después, vemos que la situación de salud se convierte en una normalidad y el miedo ahora se desplaza hacia la economía”.

A principios de abril, el Banco Central de Chile pronosticó una contracción del 2,5% para 2020. La economía dependiente de las exportaciones ya se vio afectada por las protestas sociales que estallaron en octubre pasado y la pandemia amenaza con hundir al país en problemas aún más profundos. El desempleo es del 8%, y el presidente admitió que la tasa es probablemente más alta y continuará creciendo.

Sebastián Piñera , un multimillonario elegido por sus promesas económicas, ha disfrutado de crecientes índices de aprobación desde el brote. Desde un mínimo histórico del 6% en el apogeo de las protestas sociales hasta alrededor del 22%, según la última encuesta nacional, su manejo de la pandemia, en lugar de las protestas, lo ayudará. La gestión de la pandemia le permitió recuperar el volante.

Sin embargo, cancelar el teletrabajo para los empleados públicos y ordenarles que regresen a sus oficinas llegó inesperadamente. “A menudo doy consejos al presidente. Para mí, el anuncio fue una completa sorpresa. Yo y otros expertos en salud no fueron consultados al respecto. Parece haber mucha presión del lobby económico para reabrir el país”, dijo Ferreccio .

El sindicato de empleados públicos rechazó la orden.

Al principio, el país ahorró tiempo y recursos al enfocarse en combatir el virus. Líder en América del Sur en capacidad de prueba, Chile podría mantener la tasa de mortalidad relativamente baja. El gobierno declaró un estado de catástrofe, lo que le permitió poner en cuarentena distritos y ciudades con brotes de coronavirus e imponer un toque de queda nocturno en todo el país. Estas medidas han evitado hasta ahora una catástrofe mayor. Pero el virus ahora se está extendiendo a las áreas de bajos ingresos densamente pobladas, por lo que la predilección por el crecimiento económico, que conduce a medidas como el pasaporte de inmunidad, podría significar un desastre.

(Editado por Christian Scheinpflug y Allison Elyse Gualtieri)

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Malik Yusef raised more than $10,000 to help slow COVID-19 behind bars

The sweeping coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on people from all walks of life. While many are at home practicing social distancing and wearing masks—which has been shown scientifically to slow the spread of the disease—there are some unable to comply: people behind bars.

One artist is trying to help. Multi-Grammy award winner Malik Yusef, who has written and produced music with Beyonce, Jay-Z and Rihanna, has created a concert series to draw attention to the issue.

“We must remember that these men and women are still human beings regardless of what they may have been charged with. We should help people no matter what their situation may be. This is not the time to argue about guilt or innocence; this is the time to make sure that these people have the necessities that they need to stay alive. This virus does not discriminate, and it can reach out and touch you no matter who you are.” Malik told Zenger News.

While some states have called for the immediate release of nonviolent offenders, many have not. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, jails in places as disparate as Los Angeles; Maricopa County, Arizona; Anderson County, Tennessee; and Hennepin County, Minnesota as well as Delaware and Hawaii have reduced their populations by at least 30% during the pandemic, though, the nonprofit advocacy organization reports, prisons are releasing far fewer people.

Multi-Grammy award winner Malik Yusef has written and produced music with Beyonce, Jay-Z and Rihanna, has created a concert series. (Photo Courtesy: Armani Sharpe of A Smoking Mirror)

Yusef teamed up with 147Calboy from Meek Mills Dream Chasers, who recently released a single, and Vic Mensa of Roc Nation, who has in the past taken a stance on climate change and passed out shoes in his community, for the inaugural show last month, which Yusef said raised more than $10,000.

The concert is available via an app called MATT, which allows users to download and purchase a virtual ticket for the show. The technology helps bring the experience to fans while assisting artists get paid. A portion of the proceeds will go to inmates as will personal care items and personal protective equipment.

The show is also available as a recorded segment.

And this won’t be the end: Yusef told Zenger there will be future shows.

Performances such as these may be the new normal going forward as it appears that the virus will be with us for some time. Virtual platforms allow fans to see artists from the comfort of home, keeping people safe while allowing artists to continue their trade.

There are some large differences performing on a virtual platform rather than in front of large crowds. “You can definitely feel your music and get pumped up but it’s kind of like being in a recording studio, it’s not the same as being around the fans and feeling their energy,” said Yusef.

The Chicago area continues to be one of the hardest-hit urban centers in the United States. According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Cook County, where Chicago is located, has seen more than 50,000 cases and more than 2,300 deaths from the virus.

While politicians struggle to keep people safe and businesses closed and some people start to feel as though they are being incarcerated in their own homes, the goal of efforts such as this concert series is to grounded fans in their humanity and remind viewer there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

More shows in the series have not yet been announced, but Yusef says there have been discussions about furthering the project to benefit the community as a whole.

(Editing by Allison Elyse Gualtieri)

 

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Police target attacks against Zimbabwean women

As she sits on her lawn battered, bruised and bitten from an alleged assault from members of Zimbabwe’s army, Lucia Mashoko recounts a harrowing tale.

Around 8 p.m. on the previous night, the 26-year-old said she was outside of the main house cooking when she saw people fleeing back inside the house.

When searching for what made them run, Mashoko caught glimpse of soldiers patrolling her street who were in the area to enforce Zimbabwe’s 21-day COVID-19 national lockdown that started on March 30.

“I was the last one to run inside the house, and just as I was getting in I noticed three of the soldiers followed and slapped me, and then forcefully dragged me from the house,” she said. “They took me behind the house and there I met dogs. One of the soldiers with the dog came to me and set it on my leg.”

The soldiers then took Mashoko to the street in front of her house where their vehicle had pulled up, she said, and then dismissed her because she was “injured.”

“I had troubling sleeping as I could only sit in pain the whole night,” said Mashoko.

She said the reason she was cooking outside the house was because her family uses wood as fuel. There is no power to cook inside her Chikangwe township home, located in the Karoi District of Mashonaland West Province in north-central Zimbabwe.

“I always cook around 8 p.m. If we don’t cook, we will sleep with hunger because of this corona thing,” Mashoko said. “I was not able to go to the hospital the next day because I was in pain and I don’t have money to go to the hospital.”

Mashoko first narrated her story to the Zimbabwe Independent, a weekly newspaper, on April  6 in a 1.25-minute video clip, which has been posted online. Visibly shaken in the video, Mashoko and her story are part of a larger trend of violent acts being perpetrated by members of the police and army deployed during the national lockdown.

While there are no statistics as to how many of these incidents have occurred, two of Zimbabwe’s leading women’s rights groups, Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence and Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, have received numerous reports of such practices.

Reports to these two organizations include police officers beating up women while they were laying on the ground.

“There are many cases so far recorded of state security heavy handedness on women,” said Sitabile Dewa, Director of the women’s academy. “That’s why as WALPE continue to call for the setting up of the independent complaints mechanism against members of the security forces as stipulated by section 210 of the constitution.”

Ronika Mumbire, vice chair of the women’s coalition, also confirmed an increase in violence against women by state security.

“We have received some reports,” said Mumbire. “It’s sad that the easy target for gender-based violence is women. It puts them in a situation where they bear the brunt in cases of pandemics, conflicts etc. It is even very unfortunate when it’s coming from the security forces. There are ways of enforcing laws without being violent.”

Women are being subjugated to violence by the security sector in part because women are the primary caregivers in the household, said the women’s academy after conducting research. Current national electrical and water shortages combined with decreased access and poor food supplies at supermarkets mean women must search for firewood, water and food outside.

Searching outside the home for basic provisions means they are exposed to harassment from the security sector.

The Zimbabwe Defense Forces disagree.

“We can investigate such matters. You guys are sending me videos of incidents happening outside Zimbabwe then claim it is being perpetrated by the ZDF,” said spokesperson Overson Mugwisi of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces. “Some of this is being exaggerated.”

Zimbabwe security forces roll through downtown Harare, Zimbabwe in a tank in 2017. (Public Domain)

Mugwisi then viewed Mashoko’s video. “I am not saying that it didn’t happen but do you think three soldiers who are in a crowd with police can come and just attack someone at their house?” he said.

The police were not involved in any acts of violence against women, said Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Commissioner Paul Nyathi, and some of the reports were exaggerated or fake.

Both Mugwisi and Nyathi said no reports of assault against women from their organizations had been made. However, the women’s academy said incidents are not being reported because the perpetrators are the same people to whom victims are supposed to file a report.

The Zimbabwe security sector has been questioned by its citizens on other issues in the past.

Following a delay in Zimbabwe’s presidential results in the July 2018 election, a protest broke out in the central business district in Harare, the nation’s capital. In response, the government deployed the army to quell the demonstrations, which left six dead.

Again in January 2019, following a three day anti-government national stay-away, the army and police killed 17 people.

Violence against women by the security sector is part of a growing global trend. Where COVID-19 cases are most prevalent, United Nations Women reports a 30 percent increase in reported domestic violence cases and a 33 percent increase in emergency calls for gender-based violence.

(Editing by Zack Baddorf and Stephanie Mikulasek)

 

 

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Sudan allegedly sent millions to America’s Mideast rivals

Sudan’s former dictator siphoned off “millions of dollars” from one of Africa’s poorest nations and sent it to bank accounts in Qatar and Iran—nations generally at odds with United States foreign policy—according to French investigative news site Mediapart.fr.

Melanie Chavron, a Mediapart investigative reporter, cited unnamed “Sudanese intelligence officers” aligned with the new transitional government that is probing the financial activities of the former regime.

Gen. Omar al-Bashir came to power in a bloodless coup in 1989 and ruled alongside Islamic extremists who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum, where the terror mastermind lived openly from 1992 to 1996. Al-Bashir’s mishandling of the economy led to his downfall. First, came the secession of the largely Christian and animist South Sudan in 2011, depriving the north of substantial oil wealth. Next, after more than a decade, al-Bashir decoupled Sudan’s currency from its fixed-exchange rate with the U.S. dollar, triggering inflation and galloping prices. When government workers complained of months of nearly worthless pay while students decried higher food and fuel prices, the mass demonstrations became too large for police and soldiers to disperse. Al-Bashir stepped down on April 11, 2019.

Al-Bashir now awaits his fate at Kober prison, a whitewashed walled structure mainly built during the British colonial period that ended in 1956.

During the protests, al-Bashir sought funds from Qatar to rescue his struggling regime.

Al-Bashir refused to renounce his ties to Qatar despite entreaties from neighboring Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states—and demands from some Sudanese opposition figures. Until recently, none had publicly suggested that al-Bashir’s loyalty has had a personal financial motive.

During al-Bashir’s rule, Sudan’s oil sales, backed by Chinese investment, and port infrastructure, backed largely by Qatar, billions of dollars in aid, loans, and cash passed through government ministries controlled by al-Bashir and his close associates—with virtually no public accounting.

Now Sudan’s total debt is estimated at $150 billion and the transitional government is desperately trying to locate funds to treat its nation’s Covid-19 patients. Sudan has long been ranked as one of the world’s poorest nations by United Nations measurements; roughly half of Sudanese subsist on less than $2 per day.

According to French reports of the Sundanese internal audit, some of those funds have been tracked to banks in Qatar and Iran.

Qatar, the home of Al Jazeera satellite television network, has publicly acknowledged sending more than $1 billion to Hamas, which is officially listed as a terrorist entity by the U.S., the E.U., Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar also shares the offshore South Pars natural gas field with Iran, providing a financial lifeline for one of the world’s most-sanctioned nations. Qatar, a U.S. ally, is also home to some 11,000 U.S. airmen and soldiers at base on that prosperous peninsula and its emir has visited President Trump in the White House.

Iran is listed by the U.S. State Department as a “state sponsor” of terrorism, because of its financing of Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any other terror group other than al Qaeda. The Islamic regime also held 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days from 1979 to 1981, where they were subjected to mock executions, beatings and bouts of starvation.

Al-Bashir maintained close financial ties to both nations. Qatar has been essential to financing the peace deal among some 88 tribes in Darfur, which was one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the 2000s. That peace deal required regular payments to tribal leaders; those payments passed through agencies controlled by al-Bashir.

Qatar also funded the Suakin port development project, on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. It was announced in March 2018, just months before al-Bashir was forced to flee the tree-shaded gardens and fountains of his white-marble-clad presidential complex. The massive Suakin project, which was to include both onshore facilities and offshore docks and cranes for ocean-going vessels, was said to be in the billions. Al-Bashir received bribes from that vast project, according to Sudanese officials who talked to Mediapart.fr.

Some of Qatar’s port funds may have been used to finance terrorists in Sudan, according to an Eritrean government report. Mediapart.fr quotes, but does not link or cite, the Eritrean report: “Supporters of the radical Islamist, Mohammed Jumma (a notorious terrorist), have secretly opened an office in an isolated area to organize political and military activities and to train their members. Funding for their activities is provided by the Qatar Embassy in Khartoum [Sudan]. Training and other logistical functions are managed by the Sudanese Security and Intelligence Service.”

Zenger News cannot independently confirm the Eritrean report and U.S. intelligence officials have declined to comment on it.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s transitional government is gradually succeeding in removing U.S. sanctions, which were applied after bin Laden’s 1992 arrival there. The new government has pledged to turn over al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and make restitution payments to U.S. families who lost loved ones in al Qaeda terrorist attacks.

Another sign of warming relations: The U.S. has offered an official visit to Abdel Fattah Al-Burhane, the leader of Sudan’s transitional Supreme Council. Though delayed by the COVID-19 crisis, it would mark the first official visit of a Sudanese leader to Washington in more than three decades.

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Afghanistan-Pakistan border is slowly easing open to people and trade

Pakistan allowed thousands of stranded Afghans to return home after reopening the two primary border crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Islamabad said the two border crossings on the Durand Line, Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing in Afghanistan’s southeastern Kandahar province and the Torkham gate near the Pakistani northern city of Peshawar, were reopened at a special request from Kabul. The crossings had been closed for a month because of COVID-19.

The Durand Line, established by the British in 1893, divided Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun tribe with Pakistan and still is not officially recognized by Afghanistan as the national border. Federally Administered Tribal Areas serve as the buffer along the Durand Line, of which the Pakistan government retains little control.

The four-day opening ended when Pakistan’s interior ministry shut down the border crossings to slow the spread of COVID-19 through at least April.

Nangarhar’s governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said he expected 10,000 containers transited into Afghanistan from Pakistan over the weekend. Another avenue of trade between the two countries is Pakistan’s Karachi Port, where currently 1,900 containers with Afghan Transit Trade items are stuck.

Despite lockdowns on both sides, Pakistan’s cement exports to Afghanistan have grown 49%, said the All Pakistan Cement Manufacturers Association. Exports rose in March despite the COVID-19 border restrictions.

Afghanistan’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanif Atmar met Pakistan’s Ambassador Zahid Nasrullah Khan recently to discuss the border crossings and the Afghan refugees, especially those affected by the outbreak of #COVID-19. The first Afghan national, 45 years, died last month from the COVID-19 pandemic in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The outpatient departments of major hospitals in Peshawar and elsewhere in the country have been shut due to the rapid spread of the virus. Pakistan reports 15,759 people have tested positive for the virus and 346 have died. Just a week ago, 5,715 people tested positive and 98 had died.

Compiled from news reports of Pajhwok Afghan News.

(Editing by Stephanie Mikulasek and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)

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