Each week, we highlight the latest news related to the humanitarian and health crises in our countries of operation: Bangladesh/ Myanmar, Colombia/ Venezuela, Ecuador, Gaza/ Palestinan Territories, Greece, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. We also highlight the latest official COVID-19 figures in each of these countries. For more frequent updates, make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Cover Photo: VOA News
Latest News for November 20 – December 4, 2020
* COVID-19 statistics, unless otherwise indicated, are from the World Health Organization and current as of December 4.
Official COVID-19 Stats:
Bangladesh: 471,739 confirmed cases, 6,748 deaths.
Myanmar: 93,600 confirmed cases, 1,998 deaths.
The government of Bangladesh is planning to relocate 2,500 Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char island on December 4. Several human rights organizations have condemned the move due to safety concerns and have called on Bangladesh to allow UN teams to visit the island and evaluate conditions. There are already 306 refugees on Bhasan Char and the government plans to ultimately relocate 100,000 from Cox’s Bazar. (Dhaka Tribune)
Official COVID-19 Stats:
Colombia: 1,334,089 confirmed cases, 37,117 deaths.
Venezuela: 103,067 confirmed cases, 905 deaths.
Heavy rains following Hurricane Iota killed at least 33 people and forced over 61,000 to abandon their homes during the month of November. A large number of deaths are due to mudslides that have destroyed buildings and blocked roads. On Colombia’s island of Providencia, 80% of homes were destroyed by the hurricane. (Associated Press)
Colombia’s health state of emergency will continue for three additional months to combat the spread of COVID-19. Face masks are required in public and large gatherings are banned, but international flights and most economic activities are allowed. Currently, there are over 57,000 active cases of COVID-19 in the country. (US News)
Gaza/ Palestinian Territories
Official COVID-19 Stats: 106,312 confirmed cases, 873 deaths.
On Tuesday, Gaza recorded 815 new cases of COVID-19, the highest single-day total since the beginning of the pandemic. According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, the positive testing rate has reached 30% in recent days. There have been 22,000 cases of COVID-19 in Gaza and its main COVID-19 ICU is now at 90% capacity. (NPR)
Unemployment in Gaza has risen to 82% due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Over 160,000 workers have been affected by the closure of companies and the collapse of the public transportation and construction sectors. Those that are able to find employment often work longer hours for reduced pay. (Middle East Monitor)
Official COVID-19 Stats: 109,655 confirmed cases, 2,606 deaths.
Frontex, the EU’s border agency, is accused of covering up illegal pushbacks of migrants by the Greek authorities. On several different occasions, Frontex agents are said to have witnessed the Greek Coast Guard repel migrants from Greek waters and leave them stranded in flimsy rafts. Frontex officials then allegedly suppressed reporting of the incidents. Over 1,000 asylum seekers are believed to have been illegally expelled from Greece in violation of international law. (The New York Times)
Official COVID-19 Stats: 132,776 confirmed cases, 1,067 deaths.
The majority of Lebanon’s population is expected to live in poverty in 2021 due to the severe economic crisis facing the country. According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s economy is forecasted to shrink 19.2% in 2020 and an additional 13.2% in 2021. The local currency has lost 80% of its value and government revenues have shrunk drastically. Lebanon is seeking billions of dollars in aid from donor countries and the IMF, but the financial, social, and governance reforms that are required have not been met. (Al Jazeera)
Official COVID-19 Stats: 406,810 confirmed cases, 8,205 deaths.
Pakistan has closed all of its schools in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases, 19% of which were linked to educational institutions. The overall rate of people testing positive has reached 7.41% and there are currently 2,485 patients receiving treatment for the virus in hospitals. The government has also restricted non-essential public gatherings, but has ruled out another lockdown to avoid hurting the economy. (Reuters)
Official COVID-19 Stats: 18,535 confirmed cases, 1,271 deaths.
Sudan’s government does not intend to implement a second lockdown despite a severe second wave of COVID-19 infections. Sudan’s prime minister, Abdallah Hamdok, justified the decision by citing the negative impact the first lockdown had on the economy and living conditions. Sudan’s fragile health system is ill-equipped to manage the pandemic and some doctors in Sudan believe that the real number of COVID-19 cases is much higher than government figures reflect. (Radio Dabanga)
More than 40,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan and are now living in three camps in eastern Sudan. Refugees in the camps have limited access to water and are forced to live in crowded conditions, increasing the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. Health workers are setting up isolation centers in the camps and are educating residents on methods to avoid the spread of the virus. Sudan’s government is also in the process of establishing a fourth camp to ease overcrowding. (Voice of America)
Sudan has recorded 46 cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus in 2020, including two new cases in late November. Sudan’s Health Ministry cited the outbreak of COVID-19 as a contributing factor to the spread of polio this year. Following delays due to funding shortages, the Health Ministry has launched a polio vaccination campaign with the goal of reaching 8.6 million children. (Radio Dabanga)
Official COVID-19 Stats: 8,147 confirmed cases, 432 deaths.
Three million Syrian refugees in northern Syria are in urgent need of emergency relief according to the UN. Displaced Syrians are in dire need of shelter, heating fuel, blankets, and clothes to survive winter. The number of food insecure Syrians has also risen to 9.3 million, including 4.6 million children. (Al Jazeera)
Health officials in northern Syria have recorded 13,500 cases of COVID-19 and 117 deaths, though officials believe the real numbers are much higher. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians live in overcrowded camps that are currently dealing with outbreaks of the virus. The rising number of cases has led to 80% of ICU beds in the north filling up, putting immense strain on the region’s fragile health system. (Al-Monitor)
Official COVID-19 Stats: 2,081 confirmed cases, 607 deaths.
The World Health Organization is in the process of carrying out a polio vaccination campaign with the goal of reaching 5.5 million children under the age of five. The ongoing conflict in Yemen has created significant challenges for health workers to access supplies and reach all segments of the population. In August, a polio outbreak occurred in Yemen’s north-west after years of missed vaccinations. (Reuters)
The UN warns that Yemen is on the brink of famine as parts of the country are already experiencing famine-like conditions. Over 16 million Yemenis, more than half the population, are expected to face crisis levels of food insecurity by June 2021. The number of people facing emergency levels of food insecurity, meaning that urgent action is needed to save their lives, is also predicted to increase from 3.6 million to five million. (UNICEF)
Even if Famine is not formally declared in Yemen, people are already starving to death and severe acute malnutrition is causing chronic health problems among the population. Children are especially vulnerable as fetal and neonatal malnutrition can impact brain development and may cause mental health problems. (The New Humanitarian)