An outbreak of the coronavirus in Libya could be “truly catastrophic” for the internally displaced people (IDP) and close to 700,000 refugees and migrants in the war-torn country, the United Nations’ agencies and experts have warned.
Libya has so far reported 17 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including one death. It has enforced a nationwide curfew from 2pm to 7am and prohibited intercity travel to curb the spread of the virus that has infected more than a million people worldwide and killed more than 60,000.
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Libya’s increase in conflict puts migrants at ‘significant risk’
The large oil producer has been engulfed in chaos since 2011 when longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in a NATO-backed uprising.
Since 2014, the country has been split between two rival administrations: the internationally backed Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj based in the capital, Tripoli, and the House of Representatives, allied to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), based in the country’s east.
The plight of the Libyans and the migrants has been compounded by the continued fighting in the country. Since April 2019, forces loyal to Haftar have been fighting to seize Tripoli in an offensive that has killed hundreds and displaced 150,000 people.
The conflict has left Libya with “limited financial resources and shortages of basic equipment”, while the “pandemic represents an additional challenge”, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told Al Jazeera.
In an interview with Reuters news agency in March, the head of the Libyan National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Badereldine al-Najar, said: “In light of the lack of preparations, I now consider Libya not in a position to confront this virus.”
Intense bombardment shook Tripoli on Wednesday. Residents said the shelling was the worst in weeks, Reuters reported, shaking windows in the city centre. On Saturday, two people were also injured after a shell struck a hospital in the capital.
In recent years, Libya has also become a major gateway for African migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe. Many of the migrants have fled poverty, conflict, war, forced labour, female genital mutilation, corrupt governments and personal threats, only to find themselves stranded in the middle of the Libyan conflict and also facing the threat of a potential coronavirus outbreak in the country.
‘Conditions are dire’
A 2018 UN report highlighted that migrants and refugees are subjected to “unimaginable horrors” from the time they enter Libya, during their stay and in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean – if they reach that far – to make it to Europe.
“Detained asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable and exposed. They are staying in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions [in detention centres] and have access to very limited health assistance. Many centres are located in areas close to fighting,” Tarik Argaz, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Libya, told Al Jazeera.
Almost 1,500 refugees and migrants are reported to be held in 11 “official” detention centres across the country. Thousands more are held in “private prisons” run by armed groups and traffickers where extortion, rape and abuse are rampant, according to the UN, medical agencies as well as the migrants and refugees.
Both types of centres are reported to be overcrowded with unhygienic and inhumane conditions and suffer from a shortage of food and drinking water.
“The conditions are dire. Hundreds of people are locked in crowded hangars with no access to proper sanitation facilities. Many of them have been detained for months or even years. Worry is all they know,” Amira Rajab Elhemali, national field operations assistant for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told Al Jazeera.
With very limited access to information – and almost no resources or healthcare – many are afraid of a potential outbreak of the virus.
“Migrants and refugees [in Sabha, southwestern Libya] are in the dark and they don’t have access to information about the virus and how to protect themselves,” a Nigerian man in Libya told Al Jazeera. “I discovered large numbers of migrants haven’t gotten the true picture.”
Another Nigerian man in Sabha told Al Jazeera that “the most vulnerable people will be in detention centres and in crowded places where they accept newly arrived migrants”.
“Those places are run by Libyans and the smugglers, not any officials,” he added. “These places are very crowded and unhygienic. If the epidemic happens, it will be disastrous. The Libyans know about the virus and have gloves and masks but they don’t give it to the migrants.”
Healthcare workers ‘overloaded’
Libya was among the 27 countries “most vulnerable to emerging outbreaks” in the Global Health Security Index report published last month. It is also considered a high-risk country for COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. An increase in the infection rate would have a serious impact on civilians and the healthcare system, according to IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli.
“Doctors and first responders, who need to be trained on infection prevention and equipped with PPE, are routinely called back to the front lines to treat war wounded. Local community healthcare workers are also already overloaded,” Maria Carolina, deputy head of sub-delegation for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Tripoli, told Al Jazeera.
“Even the most advanced healthcare systems in highly stable and resource-rich countries have struggled to cope. A further COVID-19 outbreak will have a tremendously adverse impact on medical staff in Libya.”
Last month, the Human Rights Watch said Libya’s healthcare system was “battered by intermittent armed conflicts and political divisions since 2011”, warning that it will be unable to cope with large numbers of patients if infections spread.
Earlier this week, Libyan authorities announced the release of 466 prisoners as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But the detention centres are still crowded and for those stuck inside, as well as people in overcrowded accommodation, preventive measures like physical distancing are not an option.
After the imposition of the curfew, migrants have reported an increase in the prices for goods and accommodation, adding to their concerns which include seeking work on a daily basis while also facing reported abuse, robberies and non-payment at times.
“[During the day] there are some who still go to the bus stop and sit there if someone brings them any sort of assistance or they are asked for a job,” a male migrant from Burkina Faso in Tripoli told Al Jazeera.
Given the increased police and military presence on the streets, most migrants and refugees stay indoors for fear of being detained. In addition to concern and fear, UNHCR’s Argaz reported that rise in rent, food prices and basic commodities has made it more difficult for “those working in the informal sector to provide for themselves are unable to find work to secure their daily needs”.
A male migrant from Chad told Al Jazeera that the “situation was very hard and everyone was struggling”.
“People don’t have income and houses are rented. Now is a very difficult time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Libya has also closed its borders in response to the threat of a coronavirus outbreak, meaning that those who want to return home are not able to leave. Departing by sea is the only option but with Italy – the nearest European port along with Malta – undergoing a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, undertaking the dangerous sea voyage is even less appealing.
Since 2016, almost 12,000 refugees and migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants project.
With additional input from the Mixed Migration Centre
Philadelphia down due to COVID-19, but far from out
ANALYSIS/OPINION: Washington Times columnist Cheryl K. Chumley is biking the battleground states as part of an ongoing series, visiting 14 states in 14 days to hear what real Americans think of the 2020 election. All of her interviews may be found HERE. PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia may be masked, depressed and a bit down due to…
Washington Times columnist Cheryl K. Chumley is biking the battleground states as part of an ongoing series, visiting 14 states in 14 days to hear what real Americans think of the 2020 election. All of her interviews may be found HERE.
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia may be masked, depressed and a bit down due to the coronavirus — but it’s definitely not out.
There’s still a spirit hovering about the Liberty Bell; there’s still a sort of hushed awe while staring at the very buildings where the Founding Fathers hashed out America’s great government.
“I’m an American,” said Sabrina Pasquariello, born in New Jersey but a longtime Philadelphia resident, in an interview in the heart of Philly’s rich historic district, Independence Mall. “So I believe in our flag and I believe in protection of our country and I believe in police and our firefighters and everybody to protect us.”
Her voice shook a bit.
“That,” she said, pointing at the building that houses the Liberty Bell, “is special to me.”
Normally, she said, the area would be jam-packed with tourists, school children on field trips and city employees on their way to and from work. But now? late-September, months after the coronavirus shuttered the entire nation’s economy?
Philadelphia streets are near empty. Pedestrians are face-masked and few and far between. The bustling, thriving downtown area of just a few months ago is largely quiet.
And sadly, safe spots have turned unsafe.
Homeless people, Pasquariello said, have taken over areas where restaurants once flourished; where diners once spilled into streets.
The local government just lets it happen, she said.
It is a bit depressing to see.
Another COVID-19 casualty.
Taxi driver Scott, meanwhile — he declined to give his last name — said much of the response to the coronavirus has been overhyped, leading to a city that’s unnecessarily economically depressed.
“I think this is overplayed,” he said. “The face mask mandates — beyond ridiculous. … I think [COVID-19] is getting confused with the everyday obituary column. You know, 10,000 people die in this country every day from old age. For the people who have [COVID-19], it’s awful. I’m not discounting that … but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”
Politically incorrect — but true.
And that’s sort of like Philadelphia these days: Politically incorrect for the anti-America, anti-police, socialist-loving Constitution hating crowds who gather in the streets to smash windows and toss bricks and set fires. But a true-blue taste of what makes America so great, even today: The clear bell ringing of freedom.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley. Listen to her podcast “Bold and Blunt” by clicking HERE. And never miss her column; subscribe to her newsletter by clicking HERE.
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US COVID-19 deaths near 200,000, one in five of global toll |NationalTribune.com
The death toll from COVID-19 in the United States was nearing 200,000 on Tuesday – accounting for more than one in five deaths globally, putting US President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic in the spotlight as he campaigns for a second term in office. According to Johns Hopkins University, the US has reported at least…
The death toll from COVID-19 in the United States was nearing 200,000 on Tuesday – accounting for more than one in five deaths globally, putting US President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic in the spotlight as he campaigns for a second term in office.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the US has reported at least 199,818 deaths, while the number of cases has reached more than 6.8 million, also the highest in the world. More than 70 percent of the fatalities in the US have been among people over the age of 65, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On a weekly average, the US is now losing about 800 lives every day to the virus, according to a Reuters analysis. The death rate has risen by five percent in the last week, after four weeks of decline.
The University of Washington’s health institute forecasts fatalities could reach 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.
The US coronavirus response: An F for failure? | Upfront (Arena)
‘He failed to act’
Critics say the data shows the Trump administration’s failure to meet its sternest test ahead of the November 3 election.
“Due to Donald Trump’s lies and incompetence in the past six months, [we] have seen one of the gravest losses of American life in history,” his Democratic rival Joe Biden charged on Monday.
“With this crisis, a real crisis, a crisis that required serious presidential leadership, he just wasn’t up to it. He froze. He failed to act. He panicked. And America has paid the worst price of any nation in the world.”
The US accounts for four percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of its coronavirus deaths, while its daily fatality rate relative to the overall population is four times greater than that of the European Union.
The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the US in the past two weeks, closely followed by California.
Trump adviser warned of potential pandemic in January
On Monday, Trump insisted that the worst was over even as the number of cases climbed in some parts of the country including Wisconsin, a key swing state for the election.
Trump has previously admitted to playing down the danger of the coronavirus early on because he did not want to “create a panic”.
Trump is behind Democratic rival Joe Biden nationally in every major opinion poll and is neck and neck in key swing states. Trump’s handling of the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn has battered his standing among many voters.
Trump has frequently questioned the advice of scientific experts on everything from the timing of a vaccine to reopening schools and businesses to wearing a mask. He has also refused to support a national mask mandate and held large political rallies where few attendees wore masks.
On Monday, Trump held campaign stops in the state of Ohio and many of those who were there did not wear masks.
People in Los Angeles hold a demonstration against US President Donald Trump as the country’s death toll from coronavirus nears 200,000 [Eugene Garcia/EPA]
CDC Director Robert Redfield recently told Congress that a face mask would provide more guaranteed protection than a vaccine, which would only be broadly available by “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”
Trump has also refuted the timeline for the vaccine and said that it may be available in a matter of weeks and ahead of the November 3 election.
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