MOGADISHU, Somalia — As richer countries race to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, Somalia remains the rare place where much of the population hasn’t taken the coronavirus seriously. Some fear that’s proven to be deadlier than anyone knows.
“Certainly our people don’t use any form of protective measures, neither masks nor social distancing,” Abdirizak Yusuf Hirabeh, the government’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in an interview. “If you move around the city (of Mogadishu) or countrywide, nobody even talks about it.” And yet infections are rising, he said.
It is places like Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation torn apart by three decades of conflict, that will be last to see COVID-19 vaccines in any significant quantity. With part of the country still held by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, the risk of the virus becoming endemic in some hard-to-reach areas is strong — a fear for parts of Africa amid the slow arrival of vaccines.
“There is no real or practical investigation into the matter,” said Hirabeh, who is also the director of the Martini hospital in Mogadishu, the largest treating COVID-19 patients, which saw seven new patients the day he spoke. He acknowledged that neither facilities nor equipment are adequate in Somalia to tackle the virus.
Fewer than 27,000 tests for the virus have been conducted in Somalia, a country of more than 15 million people, one of the lowest rates in the world. Fewer than 4,800 cases have been confirmed, including at least 130 deaths.
Some worry the virus will sink into the population as yet another poorly diagnosed but deadly fever.
For 45-year-old street beggar Hassan Mohamed Yusuf, that fear has turned into near-certainty. “In the beginning we saw this virus as just another form of the flu,” he said.
Then three of his young children died after having a cough and high fever. As residents of a makeshift camp for people displaced by conflict or drought, they had no access to coronavirus testing or proper care.
At the same time, Yusuf said, the virus hurt his efforts to find money to treat his family as “we can’t get close enough” to people to beg.
Early in the pandemic, Somalia’s government did attempt some measures to limit the spread of the virus, closing all schools and shutting down all domestic and international flights. Mobile phones rang with messages about the virus.
But social distancing has long disappeared in the country’s streets, markets or restaurants. On Thursday, some 30,000 people crammed into a stadium in Mogadishu for a regional football match with no face masks or other anti-virus measures in sight.
Mosques in the Muslim nation never faced restrictions, for fear of the reactions.
“Our religion taught us hundreds of years ago that we should wash our hands, faces and even legs five times every day and our women should take face veils as they’re often weaker. So that’s the whole prevention of the disease, if it really exists,” said Abdulkadir Sheikh Mohamud, an imam in Mogadishu.
“I left the matter to Allah to protect us,” said Ahmed Abdulle Ali, a shop owner in the capital. He attributed the rise in coughing during prayers to the changing of seasons.
A more important protective factor is the relative youth of Somalia’s people, said Dr. Abdurahman Abdullahi Abdi Bilaal, who works in a clinic in the capital. More than 80% of the country’s population is under age 30.
“The virus is here, absolutely, but the resilience of people is owing to age,” he said.
It’s the lack of post-mortem investigations in the country that are allowing the true extent of the virus to go undetected, he said.
The next challenge in Somalia is not simply obtaining COVID-19 vaccines but also persuading the population to accept them.
That will take time, “just the same as what it took for our people to believe in the polio or measles vaccines,” a concerned Bilaal said.
Hirabeh, in charge of Somalia’s virus response, agreed that “our people have little confidence in the vaccines,” saying that many Somalis hate the needles. He called for serious awareness campaigns to change minds.
The logistics of any COVID-19 vaccine rollout are another major concern. Hirabeh said Somalia is expecting the first vaccines in the first quarter of 2021, but he worries that the country has no way to handle a vaccine like the Pfizer one that requires being kept at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius.
“One that could be kept between minus 10 and minus 20 might suit the Third World like our country,” he said.
Hassan Barise, The Associated Press
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: BC lawyer – Salmon Arm Observer – Salmon Arm Observer
With COVID-19 vaccines expected to reach the masses in July, questions are being raised as to whether employers in B.C. will take a step further and require worker immunization.
Kelowna-based lawyer David Mardiros, with Kent Employment Law, said the issue isn’t a new one – it’s come up in B.C. arbitrations at least twice.
In 2006, arbitrators upheld a hospital’s policy, forcing a union nurse to either immunize from influenza during an outbreak or take an unpaid leave of absence at work.
So far, in B.C. “most cases have been within the healthcare sector,” Mardiros said.
Another was settled with the employee consenting to wearing a mask to work during an influenza outbreak in 2013.
“It was an option the employee found reasonable.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is new and uncharted territory for employers and employees across the province, with every workplace impacted by its spread.
Though enforcing work policies is legal, whether a wide-reaching vaccination mandate would hold up in court is another matter, Mardiros said.
Ultimately, an employer must make the case – using expert science – that requiring their staff to be vaccinated from COVID-19 is necessary.
Especially when “an accommodation can be made where worker can work from home or use personal protective equipment to prevent transmission of the disease.”
In bustling restaurants, where employees are frequently interacting with the public, such a case might prove more reasonable, said the lawyer.
“However, if their case can’t be proven, an employee fired for not vaccinating could sue for wrongful dismissal.”
Some halthcare workers and those in longterm care homes in B.C. were the first to be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in December.
Currently, the province has not made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for nurses, doctors, and other frontline staff in hospitals. Employees are instead “encouraged” to get it, according to a Jan. 9 statement from the province.
On Friday, B.C. health authorities rolled out a four-phased plan that begins with seniors older than 80 receiving immunizations this February.
By September, members of the general public, as young as 18, are expected to be able to receive their dose.
“We’re all going to have to make the decision: to vaccinate or not,” Mardiros said.
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Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine – The Tri-City News
WHITEHORSE — A cabinet minister says a couple from outside Yukon travelled to a remote community in the territory this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Community Services Minister John Streiker says he’s outraged the man and woman allegedly chartered a flight to Beaver Creek, the most westerly community in Canada near the border with Alaska, to get the shots.
Streiker says he heard Thursday night that the Canadian couple arrived in Yukon on Tuesday and declared they would follow the territory’s mandatory two-week self-isolation protocol, but instead travelled to Beaver Creek.
He says the two people have been charged under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for failure to self-isolate and failure to behave in a manner consistent with their declaration upon arrival.
Streiker says the couple allegedly presented themselves as visiting workers, misleading staff at the mobile vaccination clinic in Beaver Creek.
He says territorial enforcement officers received a call about the couple, who were later intercepted at the Whitehorse airport trying to leave Yukon.
The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail.
The RCMP have been notified, he said in an interview on Friday.
Streiker hadn’t confirmed where the couple are from, but he said they didn’t show Yukon health cards at the vaccination clinic.
Yukon has two vaccination teams that are visiting communities throughout the territory with priority going to residents and staff of group-living settings, health-care workers, people over 80 who aren’t living in long-term care, and Yukoners living in rural, remote and First Nation communities.
Beaver Creek was chosen as a priority community to receive doses of COVID-19 vaccine because it’s a remote border community, he said.
Yukon’s chief medical officer of health has indicated he believes the risk to the community as a result of the couple’s visit is low, Streiker added.
Streiker said there may be more scrutiny at vaccine clinics when people show up from outside Yukon, but officials are still working through options to prevent such a situation from happening again.
“I find it frustrating because what that does is it makes more barriers,” he said. “We’ve been trying to remove all barriers to get the vaccine for our citizens and so if there’s another sort of layer of check, I just don’t want it to make it harder for Yukoners to get their vaccines.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.
The Canadian Press
Military task force warns that Israeli COVID variant could emerge – The Times of Israel
A military-led task force has warned of the potential emergence of a mutated Israeli variant of the coronavirus resistant to vaccines.
In a report for the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center on Saturday, Military Intelligence recommended that due to fears over the possible development of an Israeli strain, those who have received vaccines or recovered from COVID-19 be tested for the coronavirus and be subject to quarantine requirements upon entering the country.
“The mass vaccine campaign taking place parallel to the active outbreak in Israel may lead to ‘evolutionary pressure’ on the virus,” the report said.
Nearly 2.5 million Israelis have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and over 946,000 have received both shots. Israel has set a target to vaccinate its entire eligible adult population by March.
According to two preliminary studies released last Wednesday, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears to be effective against the new, more infectious coronavirus variant that was first detected in Britain and has since been found in dozens of countries. The strain, known as B.1.1.7, has caused alarm among experts because of its increased ability to spread and supercharge virus outbreaks.
But it is yet another mutation, known as E484K and present in the variants detected in South Africa and Brazil, but not the one from Britain, that has experts particularly worried about immunity “escape.”
The task force report came as the British variant has spread in Israel, with experts predicting it could become the dominant strain within weeks. Israel has also seen over 20 cases of the South African variant, and is carefully monitoring for the Brazilian strain, amid fears one of the mutations will evade the vaccine protections.
The Health Ministry said on Saturday that several cases of British coronavirus variant had been discovered among pregnant women hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19 complications.
The ministry said it took samples from 10 pregnant women and that of the seven samples they have so far completed sequencing, six were found to have the British strain.
“In light of the recent morbidity findings, pregnant women will be moved in up preference for receiving vaccines. Any pregnant woman who is interested can be vaccinated,” the ministry said in a statement.
In an effort to prevent the strains from being imported into Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will seek government approval on Sunday for his proposal to suspend all passenger flights to and from Israel for two weeks.
Netanyahu held a meeting Saturday night with officials from the Health Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, the National Security Council, and the Civil Aviation Authority where an initial agreement was reached to essentially halt almost all flights “to prevent the entry into Israel of additional coronavirus mutations,” according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The agreement, subject to cabinet approval, includes banning all incoming and outgoing flights, restricting arrival to Ben Gurion International Airport, and formulating a separate plan to allow special flights for humanitarian purposes.
People needing to travel may be allowed to do so “in exceptional circumstances” that would require the approval of a committee headed by the directors-general of the health and transportation ministries, according to the PMO announcement.
The proposal will be submitted for cabinet approval on Sunday.
The statement said the restrictions will come into force once approved by the government, though it was not immediately clear if a majority of ministers will back them.
The travel ban is set to apply to everyone, even those fully vaccinated, according to an earlier report by Channel 12 news on Saturday. Some Health Ministry officials are suggesting the airport only reopen fully when at least 5 million Israelis have been vaccinated, according to the report, a scenario that may be reached by early March.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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