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Red Cross says 208 COVID-related attacks on health workers

UNITED NATIONS — The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said it has recorded 208 COVID-19-related attacks against health workers and installations in 13 countries since March, a striking contrast to the cheers and clapping in gratitude for their work in many nations.

Peter Maurer said health workers are being attacked and abused and health systems are being targeted at a time when they are most needed.

“The COVID-19 crisis is fast threatening to become a protection crisis,’’ he told the UN Security Council.

Maurer told reporters the Red Cross compiled data from 13 countries in the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, the Americas, and Africa where it operates, and it’s “likely the actual numbers are much higher than what we calculated.”

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He said the incidents range from verbal threats to burning down facilities reportedly housing COVID-19 patients.

Maurer said 23 percent of incidents included physical assaults, 20 percent were discriminatory-related attacks on health workers, and the rest included the deliberate failure to provide, or deny, assistance, verbal assaults and threats, and a disregard for health personnel protective measures.

Maurer said he was struck by the discrepancy with the outpouring of support for health personnel, “while in reality what we see is that it remains an extremely delicate and sensitive issue within which attacks, . . . violence, the whole panoply of adverse attitudes are visible or detectable, which demand our response.”

The ICRC and a dozen other global organizations representing millions of doctors, nurses, and health care professionals issued a declaration Wednesday calling the recent displays of public support for COVID-19 responders “heart-warming.” But they said “unfortunately, the sad reality is that health workers have for a long time been subject to many shocking forms of violence.”

Associated Press

Mexico’s broken hospitals become killers, too

In Mexico, it’s not just the coronavirus that is claiming lives. The country’s health system is killing people as well.

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Years of neglect had already hobbled Mexico’s health care system, leaving it dangerously short of doctors, nurses, and equipment to fight a virus that has ravaged far richer nations.

Now, the pandemic is making matters much worse, sickening more than 11,000 Mexican health workers — one of the highest rates in the world — and depleting the already thin ranks in hospitals. Some hospitals have lost half their staff to illness and absenteeism. Others are running low on basic equipment, like heart monitors.

The shortages have had devastating consequences for patients, according to interviews with health workers across the country. Several doctors and nurses recounted dozens of preventable deaths in hospitals — the result of neglect or mistakes that never should have happened.

Patients die because they’re given the wrong medications, or the wrong dose, health workers say. The protective gloves at some hospitals are so old that they crack the moment they’re slipped on, nurses say. People are often not sedated properly, then wake up and yank out their own breathing tubes, hospital employees say.

New York Times

Hundreds flee quarantine in Zimbabwe and Malawi

BLANTYRE, Malawi — Manhunts have begun after hundreds of people, some with the coronavirus, fled quarantine centers in Zimbabwe and Malawi while authorities worry they will spread COVID-19 in countries whose health systems can be rapidly overwhelmed.

In Malawi, more than 400 people recently repatriated from South Africa and elsewhere fled a center at a stadium in Blantyre, jumping over a fence or strolling out the gate while police and health workers watched. Police and health workers told reporters they were unable to stop them as they lacked adequate protective gear.

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At least 46 escapees had tested positive for the virus. Some of those who fled told reporters they had bribed police.

And in Zimbabwe, police spokesman Paul Nyathi said officers were “hunting down” more than 100 people who escaped from centers where a 21-day quarantine is mandatory for those returning from abroad.

Both Zimbabwe and Malawi have fewer than 200 confirmed cases but regional power South Africa, where many in both countries go to seek work, has more than 25,000. South Africa has the most cases in Africa, where the continent-wide total is nearly 125,000.

Associated Press

In Switzerland, politicians decide sex is OK but not judo

Swiss politicians have decided that sex workers can soon get back to business while activities and sports involving close physical contact such as judo, boxing, and wrestling will remain prohibited.

Prostitution is legal in Switzerland and can resume June 6, along with cinemas, nightclubs, and public pools, the government announced this week. Yet sports and activities that involve ‘‘close and constant’’ physical contact will continue to be forbidden.

In announcing the new measures affecting an estimated 20,000 sex workers, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset acknowledged the apparent contradiction.

‘‘There are certainly personal contacts but a concept of protection seems possible. I am well aware of the bizarre aspect of my answer,’’ he told a news conference.

Switzerland has dramatically slowed its COVID-19 infection rate. New reported cases of infections in the country of 8.5 million were below 20 per day this week.

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Bloomberg News

Proud of your baking? This man built a huge kookaburra.

SYDNEY — Some have taken to baking to while away the hours during lockdown; others embraced gardening. For Farvardin Daliri, it was the perfect opportunity to complete his magnum opus: a 15-foot-tall replica of a bird known as a laughing kookaburra.

He said he just wanted to cheer people up in these gloomy times.

“If a bird can laugh, why not me?” said Daliri, 65, who unveiled his work this week by towing the kookaburra, a beloved Australian icon, around his block in suburban Brisbane, where it cackled its distinctive laugh through a sound system installed inside.

He posted video of his project online without much thought. To his shock, it went viral, hailed by some as a perfect antidote for this moment.

The kookaburra was intended for an arts festival, the Townsville Cultural Fest, which Daliri helps organize as executive director of the city’s Intercultural Center.

Daliri began the kookaburra project during Christmas break, but its complexity stymied him. “I couldn’t finish it,” he said.

When the lockdown began in March and he started working from home, he picked it back up.

New York Times