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March 22, 2020

China reports no new local virus cases for third day running


March 22, 2020

BEIJING: China reported no new local cases of the deadly coronavirus for a third consecutive day Saturday, but confirmed the highest yet increase in infections from abroad.

The rate of infection has been slowing for weeks in China, while the rest of the world steps up measures to try and battle the raging pandemic. The World Health Organization on Friday praised China’s success in controlling the outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged late last year. “Wuhan provides hope for the rest of the world that even the most severe situation can be turned around,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference in Geneva.

Some 56 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province were locked down in late January, but authorities are progressively easing the travel curbs as cases have dwindled.

However, China has stepped up controls to tackle infections brought in from other countries, with another 41 cases reported Saturday — the highest one-day tally yet.

In total, 269 cases have now been brought into China from abroad. Beijing and other regions are forcing international arrivals to go into a 14-day quarantine, while the civil aviation ministry said this week it would limit passenger numbers on inbound international flights.

There have been over 81,000 cases in China, but the health commission said only 6,013 were still ill with the disease.

The number of deaths has also slowed dramatically, with seven new fatalities reported Saturday, all in Hubei province.

As the crisis shifts from Asia to Europe, China’s death toll — now at 3,255 — was overtaken this week by Italy, where more than 4,000 people have now died.

The outbreak has infected more than 250,000 people around the world with more than 11,000 worldwide fatalities.

Teachers brave digital classrooms as coronavirus closes schools: NEW YORK: Limiting screen time and telling students to hush are things of the past now that coronavirus has many teachers swapping whiteboards for laptops.

Ten days after transitioning online, French and Spanish teacher Constance Du Bois says the current situation has “nothing to do with classroom teaching.”

The 37-year-old Franco-American teaches at New York’s United Nations International School, a private institution of 1,600 students that is far better equipped than the city’s public schools.

But even in a school that already uses many tools of online communication — and serves privileged families with easy internet access — Du Bois says transitioning to online teaching did not come without challenges.

Instructors there had already begun planning to teach online in early April after spring break — but those plans sped up once a professor was diagnosed with COVID-19, which has now infected nearly 5,000 people in the United States’ largest city.

The school closed immediately after learning of the positive test — before the online curriculum was ready.

The first difficulties were technical, Du Bois told AFP via video conference.

“We tested the program with a few students, but in reality, we weren’t yet acquainted with the platform,” she said, having just finished a lesson with teenagers aged 14-15 in front of her computer at home in Brooklyn.

“The students had plenty of technical problems, lots of crashes.”

Even once those basics were resolved, other, more structural problems appeared.

At first the platform — called “BigBlueButton” — did not allow the students to see each other, only the teacher.

“There was no ambiance in the class,” Du Bois said. “They’re really missing the social side.”

“They want to go back to school, they’re sick of not seeing each other... they feel very isolated.”

It also takes longer to prepare the lessons, and the struggling students are harder to spot.

In a bid to overcome these difficulties, she is splitting them into small groups — the platform allows her to break up the class into “small virtual rooms.”

The method allows two to three kids to see each other and talk among themselves, she said.

The school also had initially modeled its online timeline on the normal schedule — but teachers quickly realized “the students were spending their entire day in front of the screen, and us too,” Du Bois said.

The school therefore shortened each class from one hour to 40 minutes.

“It’s a relief for us, and the students are suddenly more focused,” said Du Bois.

Like thousands of teachers worldwide, she has no idea how long her school will remain closed. She does know already she will teach online at least until April 20, when New York schools expect for now to re-open. Some US cities, however, have already announced they will stay shut through the end of the school year.