Uganda Ends COVID Curfew, and Nightlife Reopens

Uganda on Monday lifted its two-year COVID-19 curfew, allowing bars and nightspots to re-open. Excited revelers celebrated the end of one of the world’s longest lockdowns.

A reveler who only identified herself as Peace said she has been drinking every night of the lockdown. 

Uganda imposed the nighttime curfew in March 2020 in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has led to about 3,500 deaths in the country. 

Every night, businesses had to shut down at 7, and no cars were allowed on the streets. 

Peace tells VOA that during the lockdown, she ventured into bars owned by government employees that continued to operate in secret but charged high prices for beer. 

Excited, she said she is happy she can now drink at her favorite local bar. 

“But I’m glad that they opened,” Peace said. “I can manage to go out. I can freely move with a boda. Or I can drive. Like here, three beers at ten thousand. So, if I move out with fifty thousand, I can spend the whole night.” 

The government lifted the curfew on Monday, but some restrictions remain.Anyone wandering into a bar or restaurant must wear a mask and show their COVID vaccination card.

Fred Enanga, the Uganda Police spokesperson, cautioned the public to adhere to the health and safety protocols if they do not want to return to curfew. 

“Therefore, it is important that all proprietors and managers in night life and the night economy carefully manage the reopening of their business in the safest possible way,” Enanga said. “Where possible they can have ventilation systems in all venues, Sanitation stations throughout the venues.” 

Chris, a manager at the High Five bar in Kampala, is hoping to recover the losses he has incurred in the last two years. Monday’s business was disappointing, he said – he didn’t get as many customers as he wished.

The real challenge, he said, could be implementing the safety measures. 

“It has been two long years without operating. It is difficult to really tell everybody, show me your vaccination card or certificate,” Chris said. “Nonetheless, we have sanitizer, all the waitresses are vaccinated and we believe we are ready.” 

As Uganda attempts to return to normalcy, including the night life, statistics from the Ministry of Health show that as of Sunday, the country had recorded about 160,000 cases of COVID-19.

About 12,5 million people have been vaccinated, well short of the government’s target of 20 million.

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Delay in Creating New US Cybersecurity Board Prompts Concern

It’s a key part of President Joe Biden’s plans to fight major ransomware attacks and digital espionage campaigns: creating a board of experts that would investigate major incidents to see what went wrong and try to prevent the problems from happening again — much like a transportation safety board does with plane crashes.

But eight months after Biden signed an executive order creating the Cyber Safety Review Board it still hasn’t been set up. That means critical tasks haven’t been completed, including an investigation of the massive SolarWinds espionage campaign first discovered more than a year ago. Russian hackers stole data from several federal agencies and private companies.

Some supporters of the new board say the delay could hurt national security and comes amid growing concerns of a potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine that could involve nation-state cyberattacks. The FBI and other federal agencies recently released an advisory — aimed particularly at critical infrastructure like utilities — on Russian state hackers’ methods and techniques.

“We will never get ahead of these threats if it takes us nearly a year to simply organize a group to investigate major breaches like SolarWinds,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Such a delay is detrimental to our national security and I urge the administration to expedite its process.”

Biden’s order, signed in May, gives the board 90 days to investigate the SolarWinds hack once it’s established. But there’s no timeline for creating the board itself, a job designated to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, DHS said in a statement it was far along in setting it up and anticipated a “near-term announcement,” but did not address why the process has taken so long.

Scott Shackelford, the cybersecurity program chair at Indiana University and an advocate for creating a cyber review board, said having a rigorous study about what happened in a past hack like SolarWinds is a way of helping prevent similar attacks.

“It sure is taking, my goodness, quite a while to get it going,” Shackelford said. “It’s certainly past time where we could see some positive benefits from having it stood up.”

The Biden administration has made improving cybersecurity a top priority and taken steps to bolster defenses, but this is not the first time lawmakers have been unhappy with the pace of progress. Last year several lawmakers complained it took the administration too long to name a national cyber director, a new position created by Congress.

The SolarWinds hack exploited vulnerabilities in the software supply-chain system and went undetected for most of 2020 despite compromises at a broad swath of federal agencies and dozens of companies, primarily telecommunications and information technology providers. The hacking campaign is named SolarWinds after the U.S. software company whose product was exploited in the first-stage infection of that effort.

The hack highlighted the Russians’ skill at getting to high-level targets. The AP previously reported that SolarWinds hackers had gained access to emails belonging to the then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

The Biden administration has kept many of the details about the cyberespionage campaign hidden.

 

The Justice Department, for instance, said in July that 27 U.S. attorney offices around the country had at least one employee’s email account compromised during the hacking campaign. It did not provide details about what kind of information was taken and what impact such a hack may have had on ongoing cases.

The New York-based staff of the DOJ Antitrust Division also had files stolen by the SolarWinds hackers, according to one former senior official briefed on the hack who was not authorized to speak about it publicly and requested anonymity. That breach has not previously been reported. The Antitrust Division investigates private companies and has access to highly sensitive corporate data.

The federal government has undertaken reviews of the SolarWinds hack. The Government Accountability Office issued a report this month on the SolarWinds hack and another major hacking incident that found there was sometimes a slow and difficult process for sharing information between government agencies and the private sector, The National Security Council also conducted a review of the SolarWinds hack last year, according to the GAO report.

But having the new board conduct an independent, thorough examination of the SolarWinds hack could identify inconspicuous security gaps and issues that others may have missed, said Christopher Hart, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman who has advocated for the creation of a cyber review board.

“Most of the crashes that the NTSB really goes after … are ones that are a surprise even to the security experts,” Hart said. “They weren’t really obvious things, they were things that really took some deep digging to figure out what went wrong.”

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FDA Limits Use of Regeneron, Lilly COVID-19 Antibody Treatments 

The U.S. health regulator on Monday revised the emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly to limit their use, as the drugs are unlikely to work against the omicron variant. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the treatments are currently not cleared for use in any U.S. states or territories but may be authorized in certain regions if they work against potential new variants. 

The agency highlighted other therapies that are expected to be effective against omicron, including a rival antibody drug from GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology as well as recently authorized antiviral pills from Pfizer and Merck & Co. 

The U.S. government in December had paused distribution of Regeneron and Lilly’s treatments and said the halt would continue until new data emerges on their efficacy against omicron. 

The highly contagious new variant was estimated to account for more than 99% of cases in the United States as of Jan. 15. 

GSK and Vir Biotech are boosting production of their drug sotrovimab to help meet soaring demand in the United States. The FDA has also expanded its approval for the use of Gilead Sciences’ antiviral COVID-19 drug remdesivir to treat non-hospitalized patients aged 12 years and above. 

The Washington Post earlier in the day reported that the FDA was expected to revise authorizations for Regeneron and Lilly’s treatments. 

A Regeneron spokesperson had said the regulator would provide any potential communication on the topic. 

Lilly had no immediate comment but pointed to its statement from December saying its antibody candidate, bebtelovimab, maintains neutralization activity against all known variants of concern, including omicron. 

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WHO Chief: World Will Live with COVID for Foreseeable Future

The head of the World Health Organization warned Monday that COVID-19 will be around for the foreseeable future, and everyone will have to learn to live with it. The WHO chief issued the warning at the opening of the agency’s weeklong executive board meeting.

Two years ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern. Then there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths reported outside China. Those numbers now stand at nearly 350 million cases and more than 5.5 million deaths.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is hard to know when the pandemic will end. However, while the coronavirus is circulating, he said it will continue to mutate in unpredictable and dangerous ways. 

“It is dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant, or that we are in the endgame. On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge,” he said.

Tedros said countries must learn to manage this deadly disease and use the knowledge gained to prepare for future pandemics. To change the course of the pandemic, he said the conditions driving it must change.

He said the acute phase of the pandemic can be ended this year if countries use all the strategies and tools available to combat COVID-19. He adds this will work only if all countries, rich and poor alike, have equitable access to vaccines, treatments, and other tools.

“Vaccines alone are not the golden ticket out of this pandemic. But there is no path out unless we achieve our shared target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population of every country by the middle of this year. We have a long way to go,” he said.

The WHO chief notes 86 countries have not been able to reach last year’s target of vaccinating 40 percent of their populations.

He warned the emergency phase of the pandemic will not end until the gap between the have and have-not countries is bridged. 

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Ghanaian Football Team Scores Against Sea Turtle Poachers

The coast of Ghana is home to five of the world’s endangered sea turtles, which are threatened by fishing nets and poachers who sell their meat and eggs. To help revive the turtle populations, a group of young footballers have taken it upon themselves to guard turtle nests and rescue turtles captured by fishermen.  

Empty sea turtle shells are commonly found on the beach along Ghana’s coastal Gomoa Fetteh community.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says six out of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered.

Peter Kusaana of the Environmental Justice Foundation says five of those species used to nest in Ghana, but the numbers have reduced.

“Over the years, we are only now recording about four or three of these species nesting in Ghana, meaning that we have already lost two of these turtle species in Ghana,” he said. 

Fishermen here say about 50 turtles are killed every year along the eight-kilometer shoreline, drowned in fishing nets or poached for their meat and eggs. 

Ama Akorfa, a turtle processor, explains why the locals poach turtles. 

She says the meat is a delicacy. She makes stew with the turtle’s entrails and sells the remaining meat.   

Saving the remaining turtles is a team effort.

The Fetteh Youngsters Football Club since 2019 has taken it upon themselves to protect the turtles.

The team’s coach, Daniel Kwesi Botchwey, says they leverage the community’s support for the team to help save the endangered sea turtles.

“There has been the need for us to educate the community about it. And since the football team is for the community, because I always say, ‘Fetteh Youngsters is a community-based team, it is for the community.’ And the chief of the town, he is the live patron of the club, so everyone in the community supports Fetteh Youngsters. So, we have taken it as a means, as a tool, to educate the community,” said coach Botchwey.

During nesting season, the football team patrols the beaches from dusk until dawn to ward off poachers and other predators that would harm nesting turtles or their eggs.   

The players also engage the turtle meat sellers and fishing community to educate them on the importance of protecting marine life.  

Peter Kusaana of Ghana’s Environmental Justice Foundation says their efforts are paying off.

He explains that turtle poaching reduced from 47 killed in the 2019-2020 nesting season to 26 in the last one, while more nests have been found along the coast.

“The number of nesting events recorded, meaning that the data points that have been captured by our patrollers, has increased,” he said. “In 2019-2020, we had around 50 cases that were recorded in our data sheets. In 2020-2021, we have over 145.” 

They’re team numbers that the Fetteh Youngsters Football Club is proud of.

But eliminating the demand for endangered sea turtles — that’s their top goal, and one they’re playing overtime to score.

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Ghanaian Football Team Scores Against Sea Turtle Poachers

The coast of Ghana is home to five of the world’s endangered sea turtles, which are threatened by fishing nets and poachers who sell their meat and eggs. To help revive the turtle populations, a young footballers have taken it upon themselves to guard turtle nests and rescue turtles captured by fishermen. Senanu Tord reports from Gomoa Fetteh, Ghana.

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California Nursing Homes Use Robotic Pets to Help the Elderly

In a California senior care community, very special pets are helping residents keep their spirits up, fight anxiety and feel loved. Officials say these animals are therapeutic, low-maintenance and never get moody. Angelina Bagdasaryan has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

Camera: Vazgen Varzhabetian             

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US Anti-Vaccine Activists to Rally at Lincoln Memorial

 Anti-vaccine activists are set to rally Sunday in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial.The anti-vaccine argument has taken hold among various American groups, including politicians, school officials, professional athletes and health care workers. Public health officials say about 20% of U.S. adults are unvaccinated.

COVID vaccine passport protests were held in several European capitals Saturday.

Thousands of people turned out in Stockholm to demonstrate against the vaccine passes needed to go to indoor sites where there are 50 or more people.

Protesters took to the streets of Paris to demonstrate against the new COVID pass set to go into effect Monday that will curtail the activities of the unvaccinated, restricting their ability to travel and go to entertainment sites, including bars, movie theaters and sports events.

Demonstrators in Helsinki protested the vaccination passes that can be required to enter restaurants and other events. The protesters in Finland’s capital also demonstrated against the Finnish government’s move giving local and regional authorities the ability to enact wide-ranging measures to combat the omicron variant, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. state of Virginia, a woman has been charged with a misdemeanor after threatening to bring guns to her children’s school because of a school board’s continued school mask mandate.

Amelia King said Thursday at a school board meeting, “My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, all right? . . . That’s not happening, and I will bring every single gun loaded and ready . . .I’ll see you all on Monday.” School officials alerted authorities about King’s comments.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Sunday that it was recorded 349.3 million COVID infections, 5.6 million deaths. The center said nearly 10 billion COVID vaccines have been administered.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press. 

 

 

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