(Reuters) - Five South Africa rugby sevens players who were close contacts of coach Neil Powell will not stay in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Village, officials said on Thursday, meaning more disruption to the preparations of one of the gold medal contenders.

Powell is self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Japan last week and will miss the men’s sevens competition that runs from Monday to Wednesday next week, offering support via video link only.

The five unnamed players, who travelled with Powell from Tokyo to the training base in Kagoshima last week, have been barred from the Olympic Village over fears they may be incubating the virus.

They will stay at a separate hotel on the team’s return to Tokyo on Friday, though they can train with the squad at the weekend.

“There is not much we can do about that, so we will have to make it work,” assistant coach Renfred Dazel said in a statement from South African Rugby on Thursday.

“We have been adapting since we arrived and it is not easy, but credit to everyone who keeps smiles on their faces and working hard.”

South Africa are among the favourites to win a gold medal after collecting bronze in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. Dazel was also part of the technical team then so is confident there is the know-how to be successful.

“I am fortunate to have worked with Neil for many seasons now, including at the previous Olympics in Rio. Add the fact that Neil is still in contact with us virtually, so I am quite confident that we can get the best results.

“We have a seven-hour gap between matches, and we will get together on a call to sort out any problems or tactics if needed. We are lucky with a strong leadership group in the squad as well, and all of us are still on the same ticket and drive.

“We have a clear focus, and the guys are really working hard and at good intensity and that is what we needed.”

South Africa open their campaign against Ireland on Monday, and will also face Kenya and United States in Pool C.

Source - Reuters

Massive desolation continues to engulf populations of at least 10 African countries for a fifth week running, in the wake of poor medical responses and a biting oxygen shortage.

WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said that hospital admissions for severely ill Covid-19 patients had reached unprecedented levels in about 10 countries; at least six countries were facing shortages in intensive care unit beds and medical oxygen even though their supply had increased to 50 percent higher than at the same time in 2020, leading to preventable deaths.

In just one week, Covid-19 related deaths had surged by 43 percent driven by a lack of proper therapeutics and oxygen. Deaths increased to 6,273 in the week ending July 11 from 4,384 deaths the previous week.

Uganda, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa and Tunisia accounted for 83 percent of the new deaths recorded in the past week in the backdrop of what Dr Moeti described as a consistent upward trend in countries with sharp increases particularly in Algeria, Malawi, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

Concern is also growing that the violence in South Africa will hamper social distancing measures as well as vaccination exercises. The continent’s case fatality rate, which is the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases, currently stands at 2.6 percent against the global average of 2.2 percent.

Covid-19 cases have risen for eight straight weeks, topping six million on July 13. Over the past month, Africa recorded an additional one million cases.

According to Dr Moeti, this is the shortest time it’s taken so far to add one million cases. Comparatively, before May, it took around three months to move from four million to five million cases. This is the fastest surge the continent has seen.

WHO said that in six countries facing a resurgence, just 27 percent of the medical oxygen needed was available.

“Deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks. This is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most impacted countries are reaching a breaking point,” said Dr Moeti adding, “The number one priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance.”

WHO said it had found insufficient quantity, disrepair or poor maintenance of oxygen production plants as well as challenges in distribution, scarcity of cylinders, personnel or technical skills as the main barriers to adequate medical oxygen supply in Africa.

The rise in cases comes amid inadequate vaccine supplies. The continent has vaccinated 52 million people since the start of the vaccine rollout in March this year, accounting for just 1.6 percent of the 3.5 billion people vaccinated worldwide. Only 18 million people in Africa are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 percent of the continent’s population compared with over 50 percent in several high-income countries.

Around 190 million extra Covid-19 vaccine doses will be needed to fully vaccinate 10 percent of Africa's population by September, with around 750 million more doses needed to fully vaccinate 30 percent by the end of the year.

Source - The EastAfrican

Uganda’s Ministry of Health has said those who fail to get the second dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be allowed to take the Pfizer vaccine and vice versa so as to be fully vaccinated.   

These are the only brands that can be mixed, the ministry said. 

“You can get your second dose as AstraZeneca or Pfizer. If you got AstraZeneca first as dose one and there is no AstraZeneca for your second dose you can get Pfizer,” Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director for General Duties at the ministry, said on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on vaccines said in June that the Pfizer vaccine could be used as a second dose after an initial dose of AstraZeneca, if the latter is not available.

However, the WHO warned against individuals mixing various vaccines, saying the decision should be left to public health authorities.

Dr Mwebesa also said that the Chinese vaccine, Sinovac, cannot be mixed with others, while the Johnson & Johnson will be administered as a single shot. 

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Health ministry’s spokesperson, told the media early this week that Uganda would receive a donation of 647,010 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this month. The vaccines are expected to arrive between July 21 and July 27.

This is the first time that the country will have different brands of Covid-19 vaccines as the world moves to understand the concept of mixing and matching vaccines.

In its pilot rollout of the vaccination drive in March, Uganda’s Health ministry decided to give only one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to cover as many people in the target categories as possible, until more vaccines were acquired. 

The initial stock of 964,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from the Covax initiative and the Indian government were exhausted.

In June, an additional 175,200 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines shipped in from France.

Dr Mwebesa said the ministry will prioritise giving two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but the guidelines could be revised as more vaccines come in. 

Source - The East African

report by a non-profit group says Africa needs to increase internet access to boost its economies, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The advocacy group found that while Africa's locally routed online traffic has increased, only one in five Africans has internet access.  High taxes and frequent internet shutdowns by some African governments have also discouraged online trade.

The Internet Society group says in a report this month Africa’s internet exchange points, or IXP’s, have increased from 19 to 46 in under eight years. Six countries have more than one IXP. 

An IXP is where multiple networks and service providers exchange internet traffic.  The increase is significant because a decade ago, most African countries routed their online traffic outside the continent.

Dawit Bekele is the Africa regional vice president for the Internet Society, a global nonprofit organization that promotes the development and use of the internet. He said Africa having its own IXP’s improves internet performance for users on the continent.

“By developing internet exchange points within Africa, we have limited this kind of unnecessary travels of internet traffic outside of Africa to come back to Africa, which has a considerable advantage to improving the user experience, be it the speed, connectivity or even the cost of connectivity,” he said.

The Washington-based group says its goal is to eventually have 80% of internet traffic in Africa be exchanged locally.

Michael Niyitegeka, an information technology expert, said public demand has forced African governments to improve internet access.

“We can’t run away from the youth population. There are quite a number of young people and therefore their affinity or drive for technology and use of the Internet is way higher than our parents and they are more comfortable using technology than anything else. Finally, the other aspect I think is quite critical is the access to mobile technology devices is a big driver. We see quite a number of relatively cheap smart or internet-enabled phones in our markets and that has a massive effect on how many people can access the internet,” said Niyitegeka.

In a 2020 study, the International Foundation Corporation said internet use could add $180 billion to Africa’s economies.

However, some governments have taken steps to control digital communication by shutting down social media platforms and imposing a high tax on internet use.

Omoniyi Kolade is the CEO of SeerBit, a Nigerian company that offers payment processing services to businesses. He said that government control of the internet will drive businesses backward. 

“It’s a way we are driven backward instead of moving forward. We are supposed to encourage access, we are supposed to encourage free access point for interaction for solutions, because if businesses had to put their product on platforms, as long as those platforms are put down or disconnected there is loss of revenue at that point and for payment gateway. We are already losing revenue as those businesses do not exist to achieve the purpose of what they should achieve,” he said.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa notes that only 20% of the continent’s population has access to the Internet.

The Internet Society Group is urging African governments to expand internet infrastructure to rural areas, where most of the population lives, so that they can benefit from it.

Editor's note: an earlier version of this story misspelled Omoniyi Kolade's last name. VOA regrets the error.

Source - VoA