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Congo faces growing challenges as thousands infected in Ebola outbreak

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Thousands infected as Congo faces growing challenges in battle against Ebola outbreak, veterans share stories from D-Day with the next generation.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A Red Cross safe and dignified burial team responds to an alert from family members who have lost a loved one suspected of having died of Ebola in Beni. (Maria Santto/Finnish Red Cross/ EPA-EFE)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • As an Ebola outbreak grows in Congo, challenges facing health workers and fighting between the government and local militias makes the response more difficult. 
  • Canadian veterans share stories from Juno Beach with young people ahead of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

The losing battle against Ebola

The Ebola outbreak in Congo is gaining some frightening momentum.

Authorities in the Central African nation have now recorded more than 2,000 confirmed and suspected cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever.

It took eight months from the first infection in August to surpass the 1,000 case mark and then just seven weeks to top 2,000. And between eight and 20 new infections are being reported every day.

To date, 1,346 people have died in what is the world's second-largest Ebola outbreak — a fatality rate of 67 per cent.

And experts fear that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Distrustful local populations in Eastern DRC continue to resist treatment and inoculation efforts and obstruct the work of safe burial teams. And health workers continue to come under threat from rebel groups and armed gangs in the lawless region along the Ugandan border.

There have been close to 50 attacks against clinics, hospitals and treatment teams since the beginning of the year, with six tallied over the last week of May, culminating in the beating death of a worker and the looting and torching of a health centre by a mob in North Kivu province on Saturday.

And the overall security situation remains equally dangerous, as fighting between the government and local militias often prevents aid organizations from venturing into affected areas.

Last night, at least 13 civilians and two Congolese soldiers were killed in a rebel attack on the outskirts of Beni, one of the epicentres of the outbreak, possibly in revenge for a May 30 army raid that killed 26 insurgents.

A Red Cross safe and dignified burial team responds to an alert from family members who have lost a loved one suspected of having died of Ebola, in Beni, Congo, on Sunday. (Maria Santto/Finnish Red Cross/EPA-EFE)

Aid groups are calling for a rethink and "reset" in the global response to the crisis.

"It is clear the current response to tackle Ebola isn't working. No matter how effective treatment is, if people don't trust or understand it, they will not use it," Corinne N'Daw, Oxfam's country director in the DRC said in a statement released this morning. "Our teams are still meeting people on a daily basis who don't believe Ebola is real."

"The numbers being reported have risen dramatically," said Nicole Fassina of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "We need to invest more in locally led response approaches. This outbreak will only end when communities are engaged and leading the response efforts themselves."

There had been some optimism that the outbreak was slowing when the World Health Organization released figures last week suggesting that the number of new confirmed cases had dropped dramatically over the final week of May.

But now it seems that the data was flawed, and the crisis remains as grave as ever.

As of the end of May, children under the age of five had accounted for 15 per cent of all reported Ebola cases in the DRC, with 77 per cent of them dying from the virus.  

The death rate for infected children over five is 57 per cent, a figure that is in keeping with what authorities encountered during the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa, which ended up killing 11,325 people.

But the best chance for survival remains with those who are lucky enough to be evacuated from the hot zone and treated in First World hospitals.

During the last outbreak, the death rate among Ebola patients who were treated in "high-income" countries was just 18 per cent.


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Lest we forget

For the 75th anniversary of D-Day, producer Ghazala Malik worked with young journalists to interview veterans about their memories from that fateful day.

Seventy-five years is a long time, but when you're a kid it's practically ancient history.

Thursday marks three-quarters of a century since D-Day, a particularly significant anniversary for Canadian veterans, as it may very well be the last time many of them are able to participate in commemorations.

All of the surviving Canadian Second World War veterans are in their mid-to-late 90s, meaning the need for preserving their legacy is more urgent than ever.

That's why we decided to do something special this year, teaming up with CBC Kids News to hear the stories and lessons from veterans through the eyes and ears of children.

Arjun Ram, 13, and D-Day veteran Colin Brown, 95, speak about what it was like to land at Juno Beach on June 6, 1944. (Ghazala Malik/CBC)

Bringing together two vastly different generations of Canadians for a chat has its challenges. My main concern was how the three young journalists we worked with would react to hearing the difficult memories of D-Day from three veterans who lived through it.

But what came out of those meetings were personal and powerful conversations between what initially seemed like an unlikely match up.

Before meeting the veterans, only one of the kids had studied D-Day at school. And none of them had met a Second World War veteran in person.

Yet all three of them were very keen to meet with the D-Day survivors, did loads of research ahead of time and had a long list of questions they wanted answered.

The sincerity and curiosity all three of the kids brought to the interviews I feel came across to the veterans, which is perhaps why they were so forthcoming.

Some of the questions they asked included: Did you miss your mom and dad? Were you scared? Did you join because of your friends?

Alex Friesen, 15, interviewed 95-year-old Royal Canadian Navy veteran Alex Polowin and the pair hit it off almost immediately.

The conversation between them was open and honest, even touching upon questions around forgiveness and what it was like to be a soldier of Jewish heritage fighting the Nazis.

"I just really wanted to try to understand what it was like to be there in a time and a place where people were going through terrible things," Friesen told me after the interview.

"It's a completely different idea and a completely different reality than what we have. It's like talking with a time traveller."

The oldest veteran to speak with us was 98-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Thomas Lloyd Bentley, who was interviewed by 14-year-old Saara Chaudry.

The conversation got off to a slow start but ended up being an unexpectedly honest one about the horrors of war.

"The opportunity to talk to real veterans who have gone through these experiences and can shed light on everything that they went through is something so special," Chaudry said. "I think we should all be really grateful."

Arjun Ram, 13, spoke to 95-year-old veteran Colin Brown in our third and final interview and the ease between both of them was surprising – just two people having a chat on a couch.

Arjun was keen to hear "a crazy personal story or something crazy that happened to him," and the two ended up bonding over their interest in historical war movies.

In every case, the veterans also flipped the interview on the kids — asking them about their lives, hopes and aspirations.

One thing that stuck with each of the kids after their interviews was how the veterans were not much older than them when they went off to war, which really drove home the importance of why we were doing this story.

  • WATCH: The full interviews with Canadian D-Day veterans on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

Tiananmen remembered


A few words on ... 

Nimble fingers.


Quote of the moment

"The gruesome crimes perpetuated by Ms. Van Houten and other Manson Family members in an attempt to incite social chaos continue to inspire fear to this day."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom overrules the state parole board's decision to free Manson Family cult killer Leslie Van Houten after 50 years in prison, noting how she drank chocolate milk from the victims' refrigerator.


What The National is reading

  • Justice committee votes to expunge Conservative MP's 'hurtful' comments from record (CBC)
  • Biggest Czech protest since 1989 call for PM's resignation (Guardian)
  • Streets empty in Sudan's capital after deadly army crackdown (CBC)
  • French weapons sales to Saudi Arabia jumped 50 per cent last year (Reuters)
  • Spain's Supreme Court suspends exhumation of Franco (El Pais)
  • Seized Imelda Marcos jewelry to be auctioned off in Philippines (South China Morning Post)
  • Flying-V plane will carry passengers in its wings (CNN)
  • The secret life of a children's party princess (Narratively)

Today in history

June 4, 1989: Massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square

The footage is grainy and dark, but still fresh with horror even 30 years on. In the early hours of June 4, 1989, thousands of soldiers from the People's Liberation Army moved into the heart of Beijing to bring an end to seven weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations. The public fought their advance with rocks, sticks and Molotov cocktails, but they were no match for the tanks and machine guns. And when the soldiers reached Tiananmen Square, the massacre began in earnest. City hospitals filled with thousands of dead and wounded. (To this day, no one is sure of just how many.) "One million Chinese can be considered a small number," Chairman Deng Xiaoping, reportedly said as he ordered the crackdown.

The Chinese military puts down pro-democracy protests with a bloody show of force. 6:08

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.