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April 1, 2021

Macron announces closure of French schools


April 1, 2021

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday that French schools would close next week and a limited lockdown in place in Paris and other regions would be extended to the whole country to battle soaring Covid-19 cases.

Macron said in an address to the nation that the current efforts to limit the virus "were too limited at a time when the epidemic is accelerating."

He said that schools would close for the next three weeks, but this would include two weeks of spring holiday. From Saturday night for the next four weeks, restrictions imposed on Paris and other areas two weeks ago would extend nationwide, he added.

Meantime, Qatar is stepping up its coronavirus vaccination drive, officials said Wednesday, with new daily cases almost quadrupling since January and prompting calls for a renewed lockdown.

While the country’s death toll per capita is low, almost 5 percent of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic were during the past week, with authorities blaming the more potent British strain.

Medical experts have called for a return to the strict summer lockdown that saw new daily cases plummet from 2,355 at the end of May to 235 by July 31. But Rashid Andaila, a manager at a vaccination point south of Doha, said the vaccine drive was gathering steam, with a second drive-through clinic opened on Sunday for second doses.

"Our capability is 5,000 at each site," he said. "This stage of the vaccine (programme) is getting bigger and bigger." Over 25,000 vaccine jabs were administered on Tuesday, bringing the total to 816,484 doses, according to official data.

Qatar has a mostly expatriate population of 2.75 million. "We are expecting more people will come," Andaila said, as dozens of cars and trucks queued with the Al-Janoub World Cup stadium in the background.

Qatar reported 780 new infections on Wednesday as well as two deaths, bringing the total Covid-19 death toll in the country to 291, while active cases reached 571 per 100,000.

Nearly one in five of Wednesday’s new cases were among residents and citizens returning from abroad, official statistics showed. And despite the accelerating vaccine drive, some officials have called for a renewed lockdown.

"A full lockdown, like we had during last summer when roads were empty and people worked at home, is the best way to stem the virus’ spread," Ahmed al-Mohammed, chair of Qatar’s intensive care service, told state television this week.

The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care has more than doubled since March, he added, with 338 people in ICU beds as well as a further 1,668 patients receiving acute care. "It is clear that people are becoming sicker and experiencing more severe symptoms in this second wave," Mohammed said.

Household visits and weddings are currently banned, communal pools and gyms closed, and cinemas restricted to over-18s. But offices, shops, bars and restaurants all remain open, with capacity limits.

Mosques face fewer restrictions but are limited to opening at set prayer times only. Meanwhile, the pandemic has rolled back years of progress towards equality between men and women, according to a report released Wednesday showing the crisis had added decades to the trajectory towards closing the gender gap.

A range of studies have shown that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, who have lost jobs at a higher rate than men, and had to take on much more of the extra childcare burden when schools closed.

The effects will be felt in the long-term, according to the World Economic Forum, which in its annual Global Gender Gap Report found that the goalposts for gender parity appeared to be moving further away.

The organisation, which usually gathers the global elite in the plush Swiss ski resort of Davos each year, had found in its previous report, published in December 2019 right before the pandemic hit, that gender parity across a range of areas would be reached within 99.5 years.

But this year’s report shows the world is not on track to close the gender gap for another 135.6 years. "Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity," the WEF said in a statement.

The Geneva-based organisation’s annual report tracks disparities between the sexes in 156 countries across four areas: education, health, economic opportunity and political empowerment.

On the plus side, women appear to be gradually closing the gender gap in areas such as health and education. But inequality in the workplace -- which has long appeared to be the stickiest area to fix -- is still not expected to be erased for another 267.6 years. And the pandemic has not helped.

The WEF pointed to a study by the UN’s International Labour Organisation showing that women were more likely to lose their jobs in the crisis, in part because they are disproportionately represented in sectors directly disrupted by lockdowns.

Women still hold just over a quarter of parliamentary seats worldwide, and only 22.6 percent of ministerial positions. On its current trajectory, the political gender gap is not expected to close completely for another 145.5 years, the report found.

That marks a 50-percent hike from the estimated 95 years in the 2020 report, WEF pointed out. Progress across the categories varies greatly in different countries and regions. The report pointed out that while Western European countries could close their overall gender gap in 52.1 years, countries in the Middle East and North Africa will take nearly 142.4 years to do so.

Overall, the Nordic countries once again dominated the top of the table: the gap between men and women was narrowest in Iceland, for the 12th year running, followed by Finland and Norway.

New Zealand took fourth place, ahead of Sweden. In a related development, Greece on Wednesday said it would reopen most shops and relax leisure restrictions despite persistently high Covid-19 deaths and infections that have put its health system under major strain.

Civil protection deputy minister Nikos Hardalias said all retail outlets except department stores and malls would reopen from Monday.

Travel by car will also be permitted for short distances during weekends, for families or groups of up to three people for exercise or outdoor activities, he told a news conference.

By allowing people to "decompress" outside their homes as the weather improves, the government hoped to reap the benefits at a "health, social and economic" level, Hardalias said. The announcement came as Greece recorded 76 coronavirus-related deaths and over 3,600 new infections over the last 24 hours.