Japan To Tighten Travel Restrictions For African Arrivals Due To New COVID-19 Variant

Japan will tighten restrictions on traveLlers from six African countries, after the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, the government’s top spokesman said yesterday.

Starting today, travellers who have recently been to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe, will be requested for a 10-day quarantine period, in a government-designated facility, upon their arrivals, Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, announced at a press conference.

After leaving the government-designated facility, travellers will also need to spend four more days in quarantine at home, to ensure they are not infected. The previous rule allowed them to spend all 14 days at home.

The decision was made amid increasing concern over the spread of a COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.1.529, which, infectious disease experts warn, could be more contagious than previous strains, or reduce the efficacy of existing vaccines.

Matsuno said that, the Japanese government decided to designate the variant as one that requires special responses and would proactively respond, if the variant spreads.

 

Source: Nam News Network

Learning lessons from current and future pandemics

An event hosted by the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), in conjunction with UNAIDS and Aidsfonds, recently brought together thought leaders and decision-makers with the goal of discussing the EU’s engagement in the AIDS response, the effects of COVID-19 and the role of communities.

The virtual session, organized as a lead-up to World AIDS Day on 1 December, moderated by youth activist Iwatutu Adewole, convened representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) and HIV civil society leaders from South Africa and Kenya.

During the panel discussion, the speakers examined the progress made in the AIDS response and the numerous challenges that hinder the achievement of the 2030 targets. The Treatment Action Campaign’s Chairperson, Sibongile Tshabalala, underlined that the fight against HIV had not yet been won. “Although faced with serious challenges, such as lack in access to services, sexual and gender-based violence and persistent stigma and discrimination, we are talking today about the successes and progress we have made,” she said. She stated that community voices were important for the AIDS response and to fight COVID-19.

The severity of the challenges faced by the response was echoed by Helena Dalli, the EU’s Commissioner for Equality. During her keynote speech, she emphasized the importance of tackling inequalities to ending AIDS, advancing the human rights of people living with HIV and making societies better prepared to beat COVID-19 and other pandemics.

The panellists reaffirmed their commitment to ending inequalities, calling for the protection of the human rights of people living with and at risk of HIV, the repealing of outdated laws that criminalize HIV transmission and same-sex sexual relations, addressing sexual and gender-based violence, safeguarding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women and empowering community-led responses. Joyce Ouma, Influence and Engagement Advisor at Y+, stressed the need to meaningfully engage in all processes and let young women lead at all stages, from conception to evaluation. “We need to place people at the centre, we need to support community-led initiatives,” said Martin Seychell, the Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships.

The EU is a committed ally of the multisectoral global AIDS response, as reflected in its political commitments and contributions. It places gender equality and human rights protection at the centre of its external action, through mechanisms such as the Gender Action Plan 2021–2025, the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020–2024 and the upcoming Youth Action Plan. To date, it has invested €2.6 billion in the response to HIV, of which €2.1 billion went to the Global Fund. The Global Fund’s new strategy for 2023–2028 will be crucially important to the achievement of UNAIDS’ new targets. “We know what we need to do, we just have not scaled the actions nor had sufficient funding,” said Dianne Stewart, Head of Donor Relations at the Global Fund.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament approved a resolution on accelerating progress and tackling inequalities towards ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. The Chair of the European Parliament’s Gender Equality and Women’s Rights Committee, Evelyn Regner, expressed the European Parliament’s “full support” to scaling up investments in UNAIDS and the Global Fund and to prioritizing the fight against stigma and discrimination, sexual and gender-based violence and the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations and other punitive and discriminatory laws and policies.

The UNAIDS Chief of Staff, Efraim Gomez, concluded by reminding the panel that the world is off track to end AIDS by 2030, as the 2020 targets had not been met, and called for sustained funding and investment into the HIV response. Referring to the EU’s leading role in pandemic preparedness, he said, “The HIV infrastructure is the backbone of pandemic preparedness, and so investing in HIV yields far beyond it in pandemic preparedness. Help us end inequalities. All AIDS-related deaths are avoidable, and all new HIV infections as well. It is just a question of mustering the will to beat AIDS.”

 

Source: United Nations Aids

US Stocks Sink on New COVID Variant; Dow Loses 905 Points

NEW YORK — Stocks sank Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly falling more than 1,000 points, as a new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa appeared to be spreading across the globe. Investors were uncertain whether the variant could reverse months of progress at getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

The S&P 500 index dropped 106.84 points, or 2.3%, to close at 4,594.62. It was the worst day for Wall Street’s benchmark index since February.

The index was dragged lower by banks, travel companies and energy companies as investors tried to reposition to protect themselves financially from the new variant. The World Health Organization called the variant “highly transmissible.”

The price of oil fell about 13%, the biggest decline since early in the pandemic, amid worries of another slowdown in the global economy. That in turn dragged down energy stocks. Exxon shares fell 3.5% while Chevron fell 2.3%.

The blue chips closed down 905.04 points to end the day at 34,899.34. The Nasdaq Composite lost 353.57 points, or 2.2%, to 15,491.66.

Bond yields fall; banks hit

“Investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a report. That was evident from the action in the bond market, where the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.48% from 1.64% on Wednesday. As a result, banks took some of the heaviest losses. JPMorgan Chase dropped 3%.

There have been other variants of the coronavirus — the delta variant devastated much of the U.S. throughout the summer — and investors, public officials and the general public are jittery about any new variant that’s spreading. It’s been nearly two years since COVID-19 emerged, killing more than 5 million people around the globe so far.

The economic impacts of this variant were already being felt. The European Union and the U.K. both announced travel restrictions from southern Africa on Friday. After the market closed, the U.S. also put travel restrictions on those coming from South Africa as well as seven other African nations.

Airline stocks quickly sold off, with United Airlines dropping 9.6% and American Airlines falling 8.8%.

“COVID had seemingly been put in the rear-view mirror by financial markets until recently,” Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “At the least, [the virus] is likely to continue throwing sand in the gears of the global economy in 2022, restraining the recovery [and] keeping kinks in the supply chain.”

Even Bitcoin got caught up in the selling. The digital currency dropped 8.4% to $54,179, according to CoinDesk.

In Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he is spending a holiday weekend, President Joe Biden said he wasn’t concerned about the market’s decline.

“They always do when there’s something on COVID [that] arises,” Biden said.

‘Fear gauge’

One sign of Wall Street’s anxiety was the VIX, the market’s measurement of volatility that is sometimes referred to as its “fear gauge.” The VIX jumped 53.6% to a reading of 28.54, its highest reading since January, before the vaccines began to be widely distributed.

Fearful of more lockdowns and travel bans, investors moved money into companies that largely benefited from previous waves, like Zoom Communications for meetings or Peloton for at-home exercise equipment. Shares in both companies rose nearly 6%.

The coronavirus vaccine manufacturers were among the biggest beneficiaries of the emergence of this new variant and the subsequent investor reaction. Pfizer shares rose more than 6% while Moderna shares jumped more than 20%.

Merck shares fell 3.8%, however. While U.S. health officials said Merck’s experimental treatment of COVID-19 was effective, data showed the pill was not as effective at keeping patients out of the hospital as originally thought.

Investors are worried that the supply chain issues that have impacted global markets for months will worsen. Ports and freight yards are vulnerable and could be shut by new, localized outbreaks.

 

Source: Voice of America

More Travel Restrictions as Omicron Variant Detected in Europe, Mideast

LONDON/BERLIN/AMSTERDAM — Britain, Germany and Italy detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new steps to contain the virus, while more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa.

The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic.

Israel said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

The two linked cases of Omicron detected in Britain were connected to travel to southern Africa, British health minister Sajid Javid said.

Johnson laid out measures that included stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country but that stopped short of curbs on social activity other than requiring mask wearing in some settings.

“We will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” Johnson told a news conference.

Anyone who had come into contact with people testing positive for a suspected case of Omicron would have to self-isolate for 10 days and the government would tighten the rules on wearing face coverings, Johnson said, adding the steps would be reviewed in three weeks.


The health ministry in the German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant. The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on November 24, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said the ministry, indicating without stating explicitly that the people had travelled from South Africa.

In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.

Czech health authorities also said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, said at the same news conference as Johnson that there was still much uncertainty around Omicron, but “there is a reasonable chance that at least there will be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant.”

“Vaccine escape” describes a phenomenon where a new strain evades immunity already conferred by vaccines or generated by prior infections.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa and had also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Dutch authorities said 61 of around 600 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday had tested positive for the coronavirus. Health authorities were carrying out further tests to see if those cases involved the new variant.

One passenger who arrived from South Africa on Friday, Dutch photographer Paula Zimmerman, said she tested negative but was anxious for the days to come.

“I’ve been told that they expect that a lot more people will test positive after five days,” she said. “It’s a little scary, the idea that you’ve been in a plane with a lot of people who tested positive.”

Financial markets plunged on Friday, especially stocks of airlines and others in the travel sector. Oil prices tumbled by about $10 a barrel.

It could take weeks for scientists to understand fully the variant’s mutations and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it.


Travel Curbs

Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally, many countries around the world—including the United States, Brazil, Canada and European Union nations—announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa on Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department added on Saturday to Washington’s previously announced travel restrictions, advising against travel to eight southern African countries.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Saturday that the administration will take it “one step at a time,” when asked about additional travel restrictions. “For now we’ve done what we think is necessary,” Harris said.

Also on Saturday, Australia said it would ban non-citizens who have been in nine southern African countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens returning from there.

Japan and Britain said they were extending travel curbs to more African countries, while South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman, Kuwait and Hungary announced new travel restrictions.

South Africa is worried that the curbs will hurt tourism and other sectors of its economy, the foreign ministry said on Saturday, adding the government is engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider.


Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, and some have re-introduced restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.

Vaccinations

The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on disparities in how far the world’s population is vaccinated. Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.

Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance that with the WHO co-leads the COVAX initiative to push for equitable distribution of vaccines, said this was essential to ward off the emergence of more coronavirus variants.

“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world’s population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged,” he said in a statement to Reuters.

“We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world’s population, not just the wealthy parts.”

Source: Voice of America

As Gas Prices Spike, Americans Give Electric Cars a Closer Look

Persistently high prices for gasoline are frustrating many Americans and causing a political headache for the administration of President Joe Biden, but they also might be accelerating the process of transitioning the country to more widespread use of vehicles that run on renewable energy — particularly electricity.

Experts say that sales of electric vehicles, or EVs, tend to rise when fuel prices do, though they cautioned it’s difficult to draw a straight line from prices at the pump to car purchases.

“People buy electric cars for lots of reasons, so they’re not completely dependent on gas prices, but that’s certainly reinforcing it,” said Genevieve Cullen, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a trade group representing manufacturers of electric vehicles.

An estimated 468,000 new EVs were sold in the U.S. from the beginning of the year through September, according to data collected by Atlas Public Policy, a group that tracks the market for EVs. That represents a 45% increase over the 323,000 EVs sold during the entirety of 2020.

Looking solely at the month of September 2021, U.S. consumers bought 57,000 new EVs. That was 63% more than the 35,000 sold in September of 2020, and a 90% increase over the 30,000 sold in September 2019.

Gas prices make EVs attractive

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of one kilowatt hour of electricity in the United States rose from 13.5 cents in October 2020 to 14.2 cents in October 2021, an increase of 5.2%. By contrast, the BLS found the average cost of a gallon of gas rose from $2.23 in October 2020 to $3.48 in October 2021, a 56.1% increase.

“High gas prices are tough on Americans driving gasoline vehicles,” said Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The volatility in the global price of the oil used to make gasoline is a constant worry.

In the U.S., though, the structure of the electricity market keeps prices from increasing sharply.

“Electricity prices are regulated, and therefore quite stable,” said Tonachel. “An EV driver can expect to pay a quarter or less as much per mile as [someone] driving a gasoline vehicle.”

US EV sales expected to rise further

While electric vehicle sales are rising rapidly, the numbers begin from a low baseline. As recently as five years ago, EV sales accounted for less than 1% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. That figure has surged to what is expected to be about 4% this year, and the real increase is on the horizon.

LMC Automotive, which tracks vehicle sales and estimates the future of the market, projects that by 2030, EVs, including purely electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars that can run on both electricity and gasoline, will make up 34.2% of new vehicle sales in the United States.

That transition will continue, as the federal government increasingly crafts policies meant to bring the country in line with President Biden’s promise, made at the recent United Nations Climate Conference, to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to about half of their 2005 levels by 2030.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced this summer it would structure emissions guidelines for cars powered by internal combustion engines in order to “speed the transition of the light-duty vehicle fleet toward a zero emissions future.”

“We’re going to see the car market accelerate the shift to EVs when the U.S. EPA sets emission standards that zero out pollution from vehicles,” said Tonachel. “That’s ultimately what we need to address the climate crisis, and it will result in cheaper mobility, too.”

Another factor is the continued rollout of a network of charging stations across the country. The Energy Department currently lists more than 52,000 stations in the country, with upwards of 100,000 outlets. The infrastructure bill that President Biden recently signed into law contains $7.5 billion aimed at increasing that number by a factor of 10 within the next decade.

Broader future for renewables

There also is reason to believe that increased electrification of the transportation system will drive the adoption of renewables in other aspects of day-to-day life, as well. That’s because, as car battery technology continues to improve, it will make it easier and cheaper to store energy generated by wind and solar power sources.

“Electrification of transportation is the key to growing renewables in the power sector,” said Cullen, of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. “Because batteries are one of the few effective and portable ways to store electricity. They’ll enable utilities and other power generators to manage demand so that you can save up excess wind or solar.”

She added, “Battery storage is the path there. Electric transportation, this mobile electrical load, has the ability to be a grid asset.”

Source: Voice of America

Morocco bans passengers from several African countries over COVID-19 concerns

Rabat, The Moroccan authorities have decided, following information on the emergence of a new dangerous variant in South Africa, to ban access to the national territory to nationals from South Africa and several other southern African countries as well as to passengers coming from or transiting through these countries.

According to the Agence Maroccaine de Press (MAP), the list issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccans Abroad, includes South Africa, in addition to Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

This decision comes within the framework of measures taken to preserve Morocco’s achievements in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic and to cope with the deteriorating health situation in some countries, MAP added.

Source: Bahrain News Agency

Cameroon School Attack Scares Students, Teachers

YAOUNDÉ, CAMEROON — Cameroonian officials say a suspected separatist attack on a school this week, which left four students and a teacher dead, has scared hundreds of teachers and students from going to school. Cameroon’s military said it launched a search Thursday for the suspected rebels, who it says were disguised as government troops when they opened fire on the school.

Cameroon’s ministry of secondary education said in a statement Friday several hundred students and teachers have not been to school in Ekondo Titi, an English-speaking western town, since the attack.

Thirty-nine-year-old driver Humphrey Ngum is among the parents who have withdrawn their children from schools in Ekondo Titi. Ngum says he is relocating his son to a school in Douala, a French-speaking commercial town due to insecurity in schools in the English-speaking western regions.

“In the university of Buea, there was a bomb that exploded where there were students and also in Bamenda a stray bullet killed at least a student that was coming back from school, so people should be very careful,” said Ngum. “As a matter of fact, schooling in the North West and South West {regions} is dangerous, that is why you see people from these insecure regions in the schools that are in neighboring towns like Bafoussam and Douala.”

Speaking by telephone from Douala, Ngum said in 2018, he escaped fighting between separatists and government troops in his home town Ekondo Titi and fled to Douala. He said he returned to Ekondo Titi in September when the government assured civilians of their safety and reopened some schools that were closed by separatist fighters in the English-speaking western regions.

The government reported this week that armed attacks on schools scare teachers and students. In Ekondo Titi three students and a 58-year-old French language teacher were shot dead. Another student died a day after he was rushed to a hospital in Buea, a nearby English-speaking town, to be treated for gunshot wounds. All the dead students were between 12 and 17 years of age. Seven students who were wounded are receiving treatment in hospitals in Buea.

The military said explosives were planted by fighters in the school.

Aboloa Timothe is the top government official in Ekondo Titi. He says enough security measures have been taken to protect schools, teachers and students from any further attack. Speaking via WhatsApp, Aboloa pleaded with parents to send their children to school and to the fleeing teachers to return.

“We have deployed our security forces to see if they can get {arrest} the authors of this barbaric act,” said Aboloa. “I have had a crisis meeting with my defence and security staff. I have reassured the education stakeholders on the measures provided so that teaching activities should not be interrupted.”

In a release on Thursday, the military accused separatists for the attack on the school at EkondoTiti . The military said more than 10 fighters led by Ten Kobo, a self-proclaimed separatist general, masterminded the attack.

Ten Kobo has on social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook, denied involvement in the attack. He said the military committed the atrocity and is blaming fighters to give separatists a bad name to the international community.

The military maintains that the attack was carried out by fighters.

The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA, says it is imperative for both separatist fighters and government troops to spare teachers and school children. Eyong Tarh is a CHRDA official. He says CHRDA is asking the government to investigate the incident impartially and effectively.

“Schools are a sacred area and schools should not be attacked for whatever reasons,” said Tarh. “If they {military or separatists} are even pursuing somebody for having committed an offense or a crime and the person enters a school, for the fact that shooting that person will affect pupils or students, that action {hiding in a school}, should keep that person safe. Schools are sacred areas and they should be protected.”

Cameroon says at least 11 attacks have been reported on schools in the English-speaking western regions within the past month. At least 10 children have died in the attacks.

The United Nations and International Rights groups have strongly condemned what they call merciless attacks on schools in Cameroon.

Source: Voice of America

Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern

The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus. The TAG-VE was convened on 26 November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529.

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.

This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.

There are a number of studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings with Member States and to the public as needed.

Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron.

As such, countries are asked to do the following:

• enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.

• submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.

• report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.

• where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.

Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.

For reference,WHO has working definitions for SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Interest (VOI) and Variant of Concern (VOC).

A SARS-CoV-2 VOI is a SARS-CoV-2 variant:

• with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape; AND

• that has been identified as causing significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.

A SARS-CoV-2 VOC is a SARS-CoV-2 variant that meets the definition of a VOI (see above) and, through a comparative assessment, has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance:

• increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR

• increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR

• decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics

Source: World Health Organization

Cameroonian Fishermen Harvest Invasive Aquatic Fern to Create Energy Source

DIZANGUÉ, CAMEROON — Cameroon’s largest lake, Lake Ossa, has been invaded by Salvinia molesta, an aquatic fern native to Brazil that hinders navigation, makes fishing impossible and blocks water access. To combat the spreading plant, a local aid group is training fishermen to harvest the fern and transform it into organic coal.

Florent Tsanga and other fishermen meet twice a week to remove what they can.

Since Salvinia molesta invaded Cameroon’s largest lake in 2016, Tsanga’s life has changed for the worse.

He said his children do not go to school because of the salvinia. When the lake was good, in the ’80s and ’90s, he said, the children went to school. But these days, he can’t afford it.

Lake Ossa is a wildlife reserve that’s home to freshwater turtles, crocodiles, manatees and more than 18 species of fish.

A local aid group has trained community fishermen to transform the salvinia into organic coal.

After the fern is collected, it is dried and burned. The resulting powder is mixed with other substances and then passed through a mold to create charcoal pieces for domestic use.

Because the aquatic plant grows back every seven days, the aid group is also experimenting with a biological solution — raising a weevil that will feed specifically on salvinia. The group has released the weevil in a pilot site in the lake.

They hope the insect will multiply, feed on the salvinia leaves, and produce larva that will attach to new plant growth.

“And birth is where the new leaves are coming out, and at that level, you have proteins that the plant uses to grow,” explained Aristide Kamla, founder of African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization. “The larva will hijack those proteins and therefore will stop the growth of the plant. So, not only the weevil will stop the growth of the plants, but it will also destroy the biomass already present.”

The Cameroon government has agreed to a pilot test of this biological solution but has not discounted other methods, said Sylvain Hector Ebog, the conservator of the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve.

“We would like to see the mechanical method applied as well as the biological control,” Ebog said, adding that biological control might take much longer. “We can apply both methods. We are looking for funding.”

While the fishermen in Lake Ossa are willing to sell the salvinia charcoal to make some money, they said they would rather see a solution to clean up the lake so that they can resume fishing.

 

Source: Voice of America