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Voting will take place in DR Congo’s Ebola-hit region: official | DR Congo News

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Kinshasa, DRC – An election official confirmed on Saturday that voting will take place in Ebola-hit Democratic Republic of Congo‘s northeastern region on December 30, despite concerns that opening polls there might lead to new cases of the virus. 

“Voting will take place as planned,” said Jean-Pierre Kalamba, the spokesman for the country’s electoral commission (CENI)

“Nothing has changed in terms of voting centres. We are maintaining the voting centres in the Ebola-affected areas as health ministry authorities did not see any specific need to change locations.” Kalamba told Al Jazeera.

Since November 28, there have been more than 500 confirmed cases of the deadly virus in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The haemorrhagic virus has killed more than 320 people since the latest outbreak started in May 2018, the UN health agency said.

The DRC’s health ministry said that measures have been put in place to make sure voting takes place in the region without any problems. 

This includes requiring all voters to wash their hands before and after voting.

“Health ministry workers have been engaged in the fight against Ebola in the affected areas. They have increased measures to limit transmissions like sanitation,” Jessica Ilunga, health ministry spokeswoman, told Al Jazeera.

‘A risk we have to take’

Many voters in the region told Al Jazeera the threat of the disease will not stop them from casting their ballot.

“We know Ebola is here but this is not an obstacle for us to go and vote on December 30,” Kambale Kaputo, a civil servant in the city of Beni in North Kivu province, told Al Jazeera by phone.

“We have been sensitised to Ebola. We have been given measures to protect ourselves and this is helping. We always mingle in churches, at work and in markets. We will go and vote. It is a risk but we have to take it.” the 50-year-old added. 

Christian Batenahe, a teacher from Beni, said nothing was going to stop him from heading to the polls.

“We are not worried at all. We are going to vote on December 30th because it is the right of every Congolese to go and vote. Ebola is not going to stop us,” Batenahe said.

“Nobody is afraid of Ebola here in Beni. We know people are dying from that disease but those who remain have to vote for change to come to this country,” the 33-year-old added.

Election delays

More than 46 million people have registered to take part in the long-delayed poll in the mineral-rich central African country. 

Elections were first scheduled to take place in 2016 but were delayed because the electoral body said it did not have the resources to hold the vote.

On Thursday, CENI postponed the vote until December 30 following a fire that destroyed voting machines at one of its main warehouses in the capital, Kinshasa.

The blaze destroyed nearly 80 percent of the 10,000 voting machines meant for the city, which is home to about 15 percent of the country’s electorate. Officials also cited the Ebola outbreak in its delay of the election. 

The tightly-contested election is meant to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who is due to step down after 18 years in power.

Twenty-one candidates are competing for the country’s top job.

The DRC, a country of more than 80 million people, has not seen a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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