LE POINT
Le Point is a French weekly political and news weekly magazine published in Paris, France. It was founded in 1972.
Respecting social distancing n Kigali, Rwanda
LE POINT
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Contain & Innovate — African Success In COVID-19 Response

Three months ago, as the pandemic began to spread beyond Asia, many worried that Africa was particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Yet, so far, the toll has been relatively contained across the continent. In Africa, there have been a total of circa 200,000 recorded cases, compared to over two million in Europe and more than three million in the Americas. In several African nations, often without the same resources as more developed countries, the response has stood out for its success in implementing innovative medical equipment, effective quarantine measures and large-scale aid programs. Three examples, Namibia, Rwanda and Tunisia, have not only done well in curbing the impact of coronavirus, but also thinking to the future for how to handle future health crises.


NAMIBIA: The Southwest African country of nearly 2.5 million people has recorded zero deaths from coronavirus and only 31 confirmed cases, which may be partly attributable to low population density. Still, The Africa Report said key policies taken by both the government and non-governmental players also helped limit the spread.

  • Quick closure: President Hage G. Geingob declared a state of emergency after just the first two cases were recorded and quickly shut down international borders, quarantining the capital Windhoek. A national health care program was also implemented to make sure medical facilities were prepared to treat patients.

  • Direct aid: Though one of the most inequitable countries in the world in terms of economic prosperity, Namibia issued a one-time grant and food packages to the most vulnerable in society, including indigenous communities and those working in informal sectors. Businesses were also given stimulus packages.

  • Looking ahead: The government is using coronavirus as an opportunity to address deeper inequalities. As Prime Minister Saara Kuungongelwa-Amandhila said, it is necessary to "strengthen healthcare systems, ensure women are included (and) build resilience including economic resilience."

A woman is tested for COVID-19 in Windhoek, Namibia — Photo: Jacobina Mouton/Xinhua/ZUMA


RWANDA: The East African country took early steps to curb an outbreak, including a nationwide confinement, and hospitalizing those who tested positive to avoid overwhelming the health care system. Special treatment centers were also constructed at existing hospitals to avoid contamination and to allow hospitals to focus on serious cases requiring pulmonary care.

  • Hygiene: As Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana told RFI, "Before the containment measures, there were also other hygiene measures, which were applied throughout most of the territory, to ensure that people were preparing, even before the detection of the first cases of coronavirus on Rwandan soil."

  • Tech: The country turned to new tech during the pandemic, including producing ventilators in the country and partnering with the California start-up Zipline to deliver medicine to hard to reach places using drones.The United Nations Development Program in Rwanda also deployed five robots to conduct temperature screening, store medical records and patient monitoring.

  • Redistribution: To aid poor workers impacted by confinement measures, the umudugudu, the smallest Rwandan administrative entity, is distributing donations from wealthier citizens in the capital Kigali and beyond.

A motorcycle rider sanitizes a passenger's hands before carrying him in Kigali, Rwanda​ — Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/Xinhua/ ZUMA


TUNISIA: Since beginning the reopening on May 5, Tunisia has only had six recorded deaths (out of less than 50 since the start of the pandemic) from coronavirus and less than 100 new recorded cases.

  • Trust: Early implementation measures like thermal cameras in airports built public confidence in a unified government response early on, notes Benoit Delmas in Le Point, "By playing the transparency card, the emblematic democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring was able to control the pandemic."

  • AI: The Corona Bot, created by developers in Tunis, uses artificial intelligence to not only help those with coronavirus, but also those experiencing mental health issues brought on by the pandemic. It has already helped nearly 4,500 families in French and multiple Arabic dialects.

  • Teaming up: Tunisia has also partnered with neighboring Algeria to curb the spread of coronavirus and encourage economic revival. This is especially important for regional summer travel, given Tunisia's reliance on tourism: 8 to 14% of GDP comes from this industry.

The 1968 flu spread by air travel. Here U.S. servicemen in Saigon
LE POINT

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Why We Never Talked About The Hong Kong Flu

The 1968 pandemic was the first spread by mass air travel on its way to a toll of 1 million dead. Yet somehow it has been largely ignored by history, even if its lessons raise many questions for the COVID-19 world.

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: WHY DON'T WE EVER TALK ABOUT THE HONG KONG FLU

The most cited historical comparison for COVID-19 dates back just over a century ago: the Spanish flu. The 1918 pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people worldwide, is mostly viewed today to as a testament to our improved ability to fight the spread of disease and limit loss of life. Yet there is a more recent, and strangely overlooked, example that may be much more worthy of our reflection, with points of comparison that say much about where we are today.

The Hong Kong flu emerged on the Asian island nation in July 1968, and within two weeks had already infected some 500,000 people. Fueled by what was then a recent boom in air traffic, the virus spread swiftly throughout Southeast Asia, and on to the United States through soldiers returning from Vietnam. By the spring of 1970 it had extended worldwide, and killed one million people.


Unlike both the current coronavirus spread and the Spanish flu, the Hong Kong flu didn't seem to attract the attention it deserved. Just a few examples we dug up: In Sweden, this front page of daily newspaper Epressen read "Stockholmers Have To Learn To Walk," referring to infrequent tram traffic due to hospitalized conductors; in France, reporters from weekly Paris Match weren't sent to visit the city's overcrowded hospitals, but a movie set where actress Marina Vlady was found laying in bed — "she doesn't have the Hong Kong flu," quipped the magazine, " she's just shooting a movie;" The Minnesota Star-Tribune recently noted that the only reference to the Hong Kong flu in the local press was an Associated Press report on Dec. 27, 1968: "Deaths attributed to the Hong Kong flu more than doubled across the nation in the third week of December. ... Official figures for the week showed roughly 500 more ‘pneumonia-influenced" deaths recorded in 122 cities." The story ran on page 24.


The global response to today's crisis couldn't stand in starker contrast, and the questions abound: How can we understand the nature of an elusive new virus? What must be done to mitigate its spread and lethality? What will it mean for the future? Indeed, the other great point of contrast with the Hong Kong flu, where no major quarantines were implemented, are the decisions being taken today in countries around the world to do everything possible to limit loss of life, including bringing the entire economy to a halt. That naturally leads to the very complicated question: How do we measure saving every human life against the longer term effects of a possible once-in-a-generation economic meltdown?

For now, it seems most of the world has agreed to prioritize the former at all cost. But as lockdowns are extended around the world and resources dwindle, we should expect that question to grow louder.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Global death toll nears 100,000. The state of New York registers some 162,000 cases, outpacing any single country, while New York City is now using mass burial sites on Hart Island. In Spain, the number of deaths is down to 607 in the past 24 hours, the lowest in 17 days.

  • Online Easter: Christians are invited to stay at home for Good Friday celebrations, as several churches around the world are broadcasting services online on Easter Sunday.

  • Better Boris: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved out of intensive care.

  • European Union agrees on €500 billion rescue package to help its worst-hit member states.

  • North Koreans meet: As other countries around the world suspend all political gatherings, Pyongyang will hold its annual Supreme People's Assembly in person this Friday, with its 687 deputies. COVID-19 is believed to be spreading in the country, though reliable statistics are unavailable.

  • New risk: First case confirmed in war-torn Yemen where virus spread could have "catastrophic" consequences.

  • Shelter in Space: Two Russian cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut arrived safely at the International Space Station, probably the "safest place on Earth".

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Prof. Raoult, France's COVID-19 superstar
LE POINT
Bertrand Hauger

Who Is Didier Raoult, France's Hydroxychloroquine Guru?

A surprising visit Thursday from French President Emmanuel Macron multiplies the questions around controversial microbiologist advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.

PARIS — The name on everybody's masked lips for the past month in France is getting renewed international attention: Professor Didier Raoult received a special guest yesterday at his medical offices in Marseille, as French President Emmanuel Macron visited the controversial microbiologist advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine, a well-known anti-malaria drug, to treat COVID-19.

No press was allowed to attend the surprise presidential visit, and no comment was made afterwards, but Macron's move was quickly criticized as "fueling the hype" surrounding Raoult. It has also prompted comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has touted hydroxychloroquine as a "game-changer" cure, despite very mixed opinions in the medical community. So who exactly is the colorful infectious disease specialist, and why should we care about him making the rounds? Here are five things to know about Raoult:

• Doctor strange: With his long white hair, goatee, biker-like skull rings, Didier Raoult looks more like General Custer than your typical epidemiologist, daily Ouest France writes. Born in Senegal, the 68-year-old has specialized in the study of obscure diseases throughout a career mired in controversy. The vast number of scientific publications (3,000+) he has co-authored, the investigative website Mediapart points out, has raised eyebrows from his peers, along with his forceful and very public defense of his treatments. Raoult's anti-establishment attitude is no doubt partly responsible for his strong following on Twitter, Facebook, and the 70,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel that boasts 7 million views total — leading public radio station France Inter to call him a bonafide "star du web."

• "Molécule miracle": Despite scant hard evidence that the drug is effective, more than 469,000 people have already signed a petition to make it more widely available. Still, for many in France, the prospect of prescribing a "miracle drug" without due validation protocol from health authorities brings back memories of the Mediator pharmaceutical scandal, after a pill prescribed to overweight diabetics is believed to have killed more than 2,000 people between 1970s-2000s.

• Trial questions: A key criticism leveled at Raoult is that the hydroxychloroquine treatment for coronavirus has not been properly tested. Science magazine writes that "the popular faith" in hydroxychloroquine is only matched by the weakness of the data. Raoult's own "conclusive" studies have either been conducted with very few patients or without control groups, while several other studies have highlighted significant side effects to the use of the antimalarial drug — including heart dysfunctions. Raoult, Science points out, has responded to those criticisms by complaining about the "dictatorship of the methodologists."

• Weirder science: The doctor is also a self-declared climate change skeptic who once told Le Point magazine that "the Earth has generally stopped warming since 1998."

• Conspiracy theories: The hopes raised by Raoult's constant advertising of his treatment have in turn fueled suspicions concerning the pharmaceutical industry, reports Le Monde. "If such a cure exists, why then is it not extended to the whole country — nay, the whole world?"

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Anti-Bouteflika protests in Algiers on Feb. 26
LE POINT
Natalie Malek

Battle Of The Ages In Algeria

-Analysis-

It's a striking contrast in both age and public exposure. Defying a sometimes repressive police force, a bold youth-led Algerian street protest movement has risen up against the North African country's aging and largely invisible leader.

Tens of thousands demonstrated over the past couple of weeks against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to seek a fifth term, despite years of poor health and lack of public accountability.

In addition to concern that 81-year-old's multiple health problems render him unable to properly lead, many believe that he has significantly abused his power throughout his 20-year reign. Perhaps most disturbing is that Bouteflika has not made an official public appearance since a 2013 stroke.

The president must go.

A college student named Wassim, who attended recent protests in the country's capital Algiers, told El-Watan that it is time for Bouteflika to retire: "I was born in 1999. I opened my eyes to the portrait of Bouteflika and he is still here," he said. "And it's been six years since we've seen him. It is unacceptable."

In a country where over a quarter of people under the age of 30 are unemployed, young citizens are bound to blame their lack of prospects on those in charge. That is multiplied when the leader is by almost all accounts incapacitated by age and illness.

Bouteflika poster in Algeria — Photo: Maya-Anaïs Yataghène

Wassim considers himself a part of the Mouwatana (Democracy and Citizenship) movement, the opposition group behind the protests. Their members are as young as 16, and unlike most political organizations, they do not back a specific candidate. One of the leaders of the movement, Soufiane Dijali, told the Guardian that the Mouwatana strives to do more than just dethrone Bouteflika: It wants to create a whole new democratic system.

"The president must go, the government must resign, and the fake national assembly — all of these need to be dismantled," Dijali said.

Le Point Afrique reports that in a speech on Monday addressing the protests, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia directly addressed the protesters' doubts about whether the April 18 elections will be fair: "Everyone has the right to support or oppose … But things will be decided in the ballot box."

Having largely avoided the unrest of the Arab Spring earlier this decade, Algeria is now facing a delicate moment where civic protests can prompt government crackdowns, and even all-out civil war — with young leaders of the movement were trying to avoid confrontation by concentrating protesting on college campuses, Le Monde says. Security guards, however, retaliated by trying to block the gate.

Another protester, a third-year biology student named Khaled, told El Watan that the group made sure to avoid clashes with forces by keeping each other in line. "Our people have shown a high level of maturity. When someone was about to throw a stone, we would stop them before the police saw."

First aid on the scene of the Bataclan attack in Nov. 2015
LE POINT
Lucie Jung

All French Medical Students Must Now Be Trained In Terror Response

PARIS — A series of major terrorist attacks since 2015 has changed life in France in big and small ways. Now it is about to change training requirements for French medical students. Beginning in September, every Faculty of Medicine in France must provide a training class for all of its students on how to treat victims of terrorist attacks, the French daily Le Figaro reports.

Originally only required for medical students at military institutions, these courses will now be taught at specialized training centers to all second-year students of any medical-related field, which includes not only physicians, but also dentists and pharmacists. The initiative aims to help master basic life-saving procedures such as body extraction, injury assessment and skills for carrying out health-care procedures in a hostile environment. French weekly Le Point reports that some students will also receive training on "damage control," a temporary surgery technique to avoid blood loss before hospital care is possible.

More attacks are bound to happen.

This decision is part of the growing awareness among French institutions that long-term policies are needed to live in a future where more terrorist attacks are bound to happen. Since January 2015, eight separate jihadist attacks have killed a total of 239 people. The ultimate goal in this new medical education initiative is to train 750,000 people across France, including as many current medical personnel as possible.

Dr. Denis Safran, a specialist in French emergency intervention, who was on site on Nov. 15, 2015 at the Paris attack, says its important that more people are trained in such techniques. "Many people, even doctors, are sometimes afraid to make things worse by intervening," Safran told Le Figaro. "But it's precisely not doing anything to help the victim that can aggravate the situation."

Judo's Priest?
LE POINT

Judo Priest Floors Church Robber

"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe ..." Father Bertrand, a Catholic priest and expert in martial arts, must have long meditated on this quote from Luke (11:21). And on Friday morning, the 48-year-old cleric finally had a chance to live the gospel.

Father Bertrand was woken by noises from his chapel residence in Drancy, a suburb east of Paris, and found himself face-to-face with a burglar, who attacked him and broke a glass bottle over his head, Le Point reports. The robber couldn't have expected that before he'd entered the priesthood, Father Bertrand had been a trained judo master.

Police arrived quickly, fearing the worst after two ISIS terrorists killed a priest in a church in Normandy in late July. But when they reached the church, the priest had the 45-year-old assailant firmly in control. Father Bertrand "used some well-chosen holds that immobilized him on the ground," a town official told journalists. Amen and ippon to that.

LE POINT

Extra! French Media Go Gaga Over Angela Merkel

The most popular politician in France these days is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been lauded for her leadership on Europe's migrant crisis. "The Incredible Mrs. Merkel" reads Thursday's cover of weekly Le Point. "If only she was French..." adds the French magazine.

Germany's response to the latest surge of refugees from Syria and other war-torn regions, including a commitment of 6 billion euros to welcome 800 000 asylum seekers, contrasts with the largely wait-and-see policy adopted by France.

On Wednesday, Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, pressed other countries on the continent to receive a greater share of refugees.

Le Point is one of several French publications to celebrate Merkel, who in the past has been the object of scorn in France. Le Monde even suggested on Wednesday that the German chancellor merits the Nobel Peace Prize.