A billion students worldwide affected by Covid-19 lockdowns, UN says

Australian state to deploy military, impose hefty fines to enforce Covid-19 isolation

 People wear face masks along the Tan walking track in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/ Australia and New Zealand OUT/EPA

People wear face masks along the Tan walking track in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/ Australia and New Zealand OUT/EPA

 

The United Nations chief has said the coronavirus pandemic has led to the largest disruption of education in history.

School closures in more than 160 countries in mid-July have affected more than one billion students, it is claimed.

In addition, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said that at least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on education “in their critical pre-school year”.

As a result, he warned that the world faces “a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities”.

“We are at a defining moment for the world’s children and young people,” Mr Guterres said in a video message and a 26-page policy briefing.

“The decisions that governments and partners take now will have lasting impact on hundreds of millions of young people, and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come.”

Mr Guterres called for the reopening of schools once the local transmission of the virus is under control.

Meanwhile, Australia’s second-most populous state Victoria said on Tuesday military personnel will be deployed to enforce Covid-19 isolation orders, with anyone caught in breach of those rules facing hefty fines over €12,000.

Australia, once heralded as a global leader in containing the virus, is desperately trying to slow the spread of the virus in Victoria to prevent a national second wave of infections.

Victoria earlier this week imposed a night curfew, tightened restrictions on people’s daily movements and ordered large parts of the local economy to close to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But nearly a third of those who contracted Covid-19 were not home isolating when checked on by officials, requiring tough new penalties, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.

Andrews said 500 military personnel will this week deploy to Victoria to bolster enforcement of self-isolation orders, with fines of over €3,000 for breaching stay at home orders. The only exemption will be for urgent medical care.

Cases

Australia has recorded nearly 19,000 Covid-19 cases and 232 fatalities, far few than many other developed nations after closing its international borders early, imposing social distancing restrictions and mass virus testing.

But as the country began to reopen, community transmissions rose significantly in Victoria which has recorded triple digit new cases for weeks. It now has the bulk of infections in the country, with nearly 12,000 reported cases. On Tuesday, Victoria reported 439 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours.

Mr Andrews said 11 people had died from the virus since Monday, bringing the state’s death toll to 136. The virus has spread significantly throughout Victoria’s aged care facilities, with many of the deaths among the elderly.

Latest wave

Victoria state officials said the latest wave of Covid-19 infections has been driven by residents refusing to adhere to restrictions on their movements.

With concerns that many people feel they have no choice but to continue working after a Covid-19 diagnosis, Australia said on Monday it would pay people in the state €908 to stay home if they were ordered to and they do not have leave entitlements.

In the Philippines’ capital of Manila, more than 27 million people have been put back into lockdown, as stricter measures are imposed in an attempt to halt the country’s spiralling coronavirus case numbers.

The measures were reintroduced on Tuesday after the country’s infection tally topped 100,000 and a coalition of health groups issued a “distress signal” urging president Rodrigo Duterte to act. “Our healthcare workers should not bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies,” they said in an open letter at the weekend, warning the health system was at risk of being overwhelmed.

Hospitals

Two major government hospitals in Manila city have been forced to close temporarily because infections among health workers have escalated so sharply, while some private hospitals are turning away patients due to bed shortages.

Mr Duterte, apparently rattled by medics’ public warning over case numbers, responded by lashing out at health staff. “If you mount a revolution, you will give me a free ticket to stage a counter-revolution. How I wish you would do it,” he said in a late-night address on Sunday.

His speech followed comments last week pushing unscientific and dangerous health advice, suggesting poorer people should use petrol to wash their face masks. “If alcohol isn’t available, especially for the poor, just go to a gasoline station, and use [gas] to disinfect,” he said. “I am not joking. I am not joking.”

The Philippines has so far recorded 106,330 cases, a number that is rapidly rising. On Monday, the country reported a record number of infections for a fourth successive day. It is likely the Philippines will soon overtake Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, to become the worst-hit nation in south-east Asia. Testing rates in both countries remain low. There have so far been 2,104 deaths in the Philippines.

The World Health Organization has warned that a vaccine will not be available until 2021, if at all. – Agencies