Coronavirus update: Virus death toll tops 100,000 as locked down Easter kicks off


Coronavirus update: Virus death toll tops 100,000 as locked down Easter kicks off

Rome: The global coronavirus death toll topped 100,000 Friday as Easter celebrations around the world kicked off in near-empty churches with billions of people stuck indoors to halt the pandemic's deadly worldwide march.

The grim milestone came as the World Health Organization issued a dire warning that prematurely lifting lockdown restrictions -- which have kept more than half the world's population in lockdown -- could spark a "deadly resurgence" of the disease.

The extraordinary measures from New York to New Delhi to Naples have seen businesses and schools closed in a desperate bid to halt the virus's relentless spread and the International Monetary Fund said the world now faces the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

More than 1.6 million people have been infected around the world and the death toll hit 100,661 on Friday -- nearly 70 percent in hard-hit Europe.

The United States, which has quickly emerged as a virus hotspot, clocked more than 1,700 new deaths on Thursday -- bringing its toll to second highest after Italy -- with more than 500,000 infections, by far the most of any country.

But even as deaths and infections continued their upward climb, officials in the United States and Europe expressed some hope the curve could be starting to flatten.

Weekend Easter celebrations that would normally see churches around the world packed with parishioners were replaced by an eerie emptiness Friday as lockdown orders kept millions from leaving their homes.

Even such hallowed traditions as the pope's Easter message are being revamped -- Pope Francis will live-stream from the seclusion of his private library.

"We have to respond to our confinement with all our creativity," the pontiff said. "We can either get depressed and alienated... or we can get creative." Worshippers in Germany embraced social distancing orders to celebrate Good Friday -- at a drive-in service held in the western city of Duesseldorf.

"It was a sad feeling at first because I would have liked to be in my church," Catholic priest Frank Heidkamp told AFP, as hundreds of congregation members gathered in a parking lot for the service.

"With this car service we're trying to create a little bit of community," he added. More than four billion people are confined to their homes across swathes of the globe as governments imposed never-before-seen measures to halt the virus's deadly global march.

This week, China started to ease months-old lockdown orders in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December.

Governments in Europe are facing pressure to strike a balancing act between keeping their populations safe without battering economies already bruised by widespread shutdowns.

The World Health Organization on Friday issued a stern warning about lifting lockdown measures.

"I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions. WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly." In some countries, glimmers of hope may be emerging.

Spain, the third hardest-hit country, saw its lowest day toll in 17 days, after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the "fire started by the pandemic is starting to come under control".

France reported close to 1,000 new deaths Friday -- but said the number of patients in intensive care fell for the second day in a row.

Italy's toll stood at more than 18,000 Friday, the highest in the world, but daily rises in new infections have slowed dramatically.

Still, the government said Friday it would extend lockdown orders until May 3.

Britain's toll climbed too, with 980 new deaths, and the government resisted calls to lift lockdown measures.

But spirits were lifted there Friday when virus-stricken Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed signs of recovery after a three-day stay in intensive care following his COVID-19 diagnosis at the end of March.

The fallout is shaking every corner of the financial world, and the IMF, which has $1 trillion in lending capacity, said it was responding to calls from 90 countries for emergency financing.

"We anticipate the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression," said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, urging governments to provide lifelines to businesses and households.

EU finance ministers agreed the 500-billion-euro rescue package after late-night talks Thursday, aiming to reduce the pain across the 27-nation bloc, especially in Italy and Spain.

The US Federal Reserve also threw a lifeline to Americans -- some 17 million people there have already lost their jobs -- and chairman Jerome Powell announced a $2.3-trillion financing measure "to provide as much relief and stability as we can".

And major oil producers except Mexico agreed to cut output after a dramatic slump in demand caused by the virus, exacerbated by a Saudi-Russia price war, sent prices crashing to a near two-decade low.

Despite hopeful signs in Western nations and China, there are fears the worst is still to come in much of the developing world.

War-torn Yemen, which has been experiencing one of the world's most acute humanitarian crises, on Friday reported its first case.

Brazilian authorities confirmed the first deaths in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, where overcrowding and poor sanitation have raised fears of a catastrophe.

There are similar fears in India.




Donald Trump administration moves to block China-owned telecom service from operating in US


Donald Trump administration moves to block China-owned telecom service from operating in US

The top departments of the US government have endorsed cutting off Beijing-controlled China Telecom from serving the US market because of legal and security risks, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

The departments, including Defense, State, and Homeland Security, said after a broad review that the Federal Communications Commission should "revoke and terminate" all authorizations for the Chinese giant's US subsidiary, China Telecom (Americas), to provide international telecommunications services to and from the United States.

"The Executive Branch agencies identified substantial and unacceptable national security and law enforcement risks associated with China Telecom's operations, which render the FCC authorizations inconsistent with the public interest," the Justice Department said in a statement.

The agencies -- which also included the Justice Department, the Commerce Department, the US Trade Representative and US counter-intelligence -- said China Telecom is vulnerable to "exploitation, influence and control" by the Chinese government.

They said it has inaccurately reported to US authorities where it stores its US records and how it manages cybersecurity.

The agencies also made the recommendation based on "the nature of China Telecom's US operations," which they said allow Chinese government actors "to engage in malicious cyber activity enabling economic espionage and disruption and misrouting of US communications." The recommendation has to be decided upon by the FCC, but will almost certainly involve the White House, where it could be weighed amid ongoing trade negotiations with Beijing.

It came just five days after President Donald Trump's administration formed an interdepartmental body to formally review national security concerns related to foreign telecommunications companies involved in the United States.

In September 2019 two senators, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Tom Cotton, asked the FCC to consider banning China Telecom and another company, China Unicom, from the US market over national security concerns.

 
 
 



UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved out of ICU


UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved out of ICU

London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved out of intensive care as his condition improves, Downing Street said on Thursday evening.

"The Prime Minister has been moved this evening from intensive care back to the ward, where he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery. He is in extremely good spirits," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Johnson while he is in hospital, had told reporters during the daily briefing that the Prime Minister "continues to make positive steps forwards and is in good spirits".

Earlier on Thursday, Downing Street had confirmed that Johnson continues to improve after he spent a third night in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a London hospital with coronavirus.

The 55-year-old was shifted to the ICU of St Thomas' Hospital in London on Monday night as his condition worsened over 10 days after he had tested positive for coronavirus and went into self-isolation. He has since received "standard oxygen treatment" but has not been diagnosed with pneumonia or required a ventilator to aid his breathing.

"The Prime Minister had a good night and continues to improve in intensive care at St. Thomas' Hospital. He's in good spirits," a Downing Street spokesperson said, providing a health update on the UK PM.

"He's stable, improving, sat up and engaged with medical staff. I've known the Prime Minister for a long time and I wish him well in this difficult time and I think things are getting better for him," UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said earlier on Thursday.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the UK PM while he continues treatment for Covid-19, will chair a virtual Cobra emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss a review of the UK's coronavirus lockdown to consider whether the strict social distancing measures should be extended beyond the 21-day period initially announced by Johnson on March 23.

The measures are set to end next Monday but indications are that they would have to be extended.

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething - who will take part in the Cobra meeting - said there was "virtually zero prospect" of government experts advising that it was safe to lift the lockdown, adding the measures would continue for "a number of weeks".

"I think rather than speculate about the future, I think we should focus very seriously on the here and now and the present," said Rishi Sunak, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer who led the daily Downing Street briefing on Wednesday evening.

The senior Indian-origin Cabinet minister, who announced a new 750-million pound fund to support frontline charities across the UK through the pandemic, stressed the importance of the British public continuing to follow the government's stay-at-home guidance especially during what is a usual holiday travel period over a long Easter weekend.

Sunak, who is the next in line in the government's chain of command after UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, also gave his own update on the UK PM's health to confirm that he was sitting up in bed and engaging with his clinical team.

"The latest from the hospital is the Prime Minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving," he had said.

"The Prime Minister is not only my colleague and my boss but also my friend, and my thoughts are with him and his family," he said, adding that the UK PM's illness is a reminder how "indiscriminate this disease is".

The coronavirus death toll in the UK registered another record daily jump of 881 fatalities on Thursday to hit 7,978.

Deputy chief scientific adviser, Dame Angela McLean, had said COVID-19 cases were not "accelerating out of control" in the country and warned against complacency and breaking the lockdown norms.




COVID-19 fatality rate to be 10 times higher than influenza: WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus


COVID-19 fatality rate to be 10 times higher than influenza: WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Geneva: The fatality rate of COVID-19 is estimated to be 10 times higher than influenza, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"This pandemic is much more than a health crisis. It requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response," he said.

He added that the world is yet to see the devastation it could wreak in poorer and more vulnerable countries. Without help and action now, poor countries and vulnerable communities could suffer massive devastation.

 
 

"The window for containing the virus at the sub-national and national level is closing in many countries. The infection numbers in Africa are relatively small now, but they are growing fast," he warned.

"As I said in the press conference yesterday, we must quarantine politicizing this virus at national and global levels. We have to work together, and we have no time to waste," he added.

 
 
 



Coronavirus update: Europeans, the super spreaders in New York?


Coronavirus update: Europeans, the super spreaders in New York?

New York: Majority of the travellers from Europe and not Asia are believed to have brought the novel coronavirus to New York, the epicentre of the disease in the US, and it was circulating in the state weeks before the first confirmed case emerged in March, a report in the New York Times (NYT) said.

A research, cited by the NYT, revealed that the previously hidden spread of the virus might have been detected if aggressive testing programs had been put in place. The first positive COVID-19 case in New York came on March1 but the virus had begun to circulate in the state by mid-February, it said.

Travellers brought in the virus mainly from Europe, not Asia, it said. "The majority is clearly European," said Harm van Bakel, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who co-wrote a study awaiting peer review.

 
 

A separate team at N.Y.U Grossman School of Medicine came to similar conclusions, despite studying a different group of cases. Both teams analysed genomes from coronavirus taken from New Yorkers starting in mid-March.

While President Donald Trump barred foreign nationals from entering the country if they had been in China during the prior two weeks on January 31, it was only on March 11 when he said he would block travellers from most European countries.

"But New Yorkers had already been travelling home with the virus," the report said. "People were just oblivious," said Adriana He guy, a member of the N.Y.U. team. The guy, who like van Bakel, belongs to an international guild of viral historians, found some New York viruses that shared unique mutations not found elsewhere.

"That's when you know you've had a silent transmission for a while," she said. The guy estimated that the virus began circulating in the New York area a couple of months ago. Researchers at Mount Sinai started sequencing the genomes of patients coming through their hospital and found that the earliest cases identified in New York were linked to the later ones.

"Two weeks later, we start seeing viruses related to each other," said Ana Silvia Gonzalez-Reiche, a member of the Mount Sinai team. Gonzalez-Reiche and her colleagues found that these viruses were practically identical to viruses found around Europe.

The NYT report noted that the researchers cannot say on what particular flight a particular virus arrived in New York. But they write that the viruses reveal "a period of untracked global transmission between late January to mid-February."

The Mount Sinai researchers have identified seven separate lineages of viruses that entered New York and began circulating. "We will probably find more," van Bakel said. Studies now also hint that the coronavirus has been moving from coast to coast in the US for several weeks.

 
 
 



US supermarket deploys 6 robots to deliver purchases amid coronavirus pandemic


US supermarket deploys 6 robots to deliver purchases amid coronavirus pandemic

Washington: Since the end of March, a US supermarket has deployed six robots to help deliver purchases, in an effort to comply with the social distancing measures to mitigate the novel coronavirus' impact.

Tracy Stannard, the owner of the Broad Branch Market, told Efe news that these devices, which resemble a portable refrigerator with six wheels,deliver the orders their customers make through a mobile application in one hour, although they also accept email orders.

Stannard says the area's residents in northwest Washington, Maryland, are delighted with the system.

"They love it, I mean they really want them (robots), everybody just calls for the robot, it doesn't matter what goes in it," she said.

A condition to place orders is that customers do not reside more than a mile from the establishment.

Stannard closely watches the orders before loading them onto the white robots, which line up at the exit, waiting to fulfill their daily tasks.

Once a customer requests the purchase through the application, the store employees load the items into one of the robots, which immediately goes diligently down the sidewalks to carry out a home delivery.

Stannard said the initiative has been such a success, that people constantly send her photographs and videos of the devices. They attract attention thanks to their shape, autonomy and the sensor lights, which resembles that of androids from science fiction films such as "Star Wars".

However, not everything is simple and the owner admitted the system has limitations, since not all orders can be delivered with robots: For example, she said there are sometimes "products that are larger than what fits insides".

The robots of Broad Branch Market are part of Californian company Starship that was going to be deployed by numerous university campuses nationwide until the suspension of classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, theirs were going to be destined at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia.

With a total of 431,838 confirmed coronavirus cases, the US on Thursday accounted for the highest number of infections in the world. Its death toll stood at 14,817, according to figures by the Washington-based Johns Hopkins University.

 
 
 



U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Sanders drops out, paves way for Biden's nomination


U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Sanders drops out, paves way for Biden's nomination

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dropped out from the race Wednesday, paving the way for the party's only remaining candidate Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee.

In a speech delivered via live stream to supporters in the morning, Sanders said his "path toward victory is virtually impossible," with some 300 less delegate votes than Biden's.

"So while we are winning the ideological battle and while we are winning the support of so many young people and working people throughout the country, I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful," he said. "And so today I am announcing the suspension of my campaign."

A senator from Vermont and a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Sanders has been lagging behind former Vice President Biden in several past primaries, starting in South Carolina in late February and culminating in the crucial states of Michigan and Florida last month, before the coronavirus outbreak disrupted the election process.

While admitting he cannot continue a "campaign that cannot win and which would interfere in the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour," Sanders insisted that he and his supporters have won on the ideological front.

"Few would deny that over the course of the past five years our movement has won the ideological struggle," said 78-year-old Sanders.

Over the course of the nominating contest, Biden - a moderate as opposed to Sanders' progressive stance - has built up a virtually insurmountable lead in the decisive delegate votes, garnering over half of the 1,991 votes needed for nomination, thus continuously narrowing Sanders' path toward a one-on-one with incumbent President Donald Trump in the general election.

The veteran politician said he will remain on the ballot in states that still expect to have primaries despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and that he will continue to gather delegates in order to carry his message forward. "While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not."

Sanders has campaigned on a progressive policy agenda that includes Medicare for All through a government-led healthcare system, the Green New Deal to cope with the climate change, and College for All that guarantees tuition- and debt-free public college, among other proposals.

In a tweet following Sanders' dropping out, Biden said: "I know Bernie well. He's a good man, a great leader, and one of the most powerful voices for change in our country. And it's hard to sum up his contributions to our politics in one, single tweet. So I won't try to."

While trying to appeal to Sanders' supporters by saying "I need to earn your votes," Biden vowed: "Together we will defeat Donald Trump," with a particular emphasis on issues of climate change, affordable college education, as well as universally available healthcare.

"I want to commend Bernie for being a powerful voice for a fairer and more just America," Biden said in a lengthy statement eulogizing his rival. "While the Sanders campaign has been suspended - its impact on this election and on elections to come is far from over."

Trump reacted on Twitter as well, saying Sanders' exit was what the Democrats and the Democratic National Committee "wanted."

Having repeatedly claimed in the past that the Democratic race is "rigged against" Sanders, the president in his latest tweet took a name-calling blame on progressive-leaning former Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren, saying had it not been for the Massachusetts senator, "Bernie would have won almost every state on Super Tuesday" in early March.

The president called on Sanders' supporters to "come to the Republican Party."

Now trailing presumptive nominee Biden in delegate votes 914 to 1,217, Sanders ran for president in the 2016 race but was defeated by Hilary Clinton in the Democratic nominating process.

 
 
 



Major cities in Japan appear quiet on 1st day in state of emergency


Major cities in Japan appear quiet on 1st day in state of emergency

TOKYO-- Major Japanese cities including the capital of Tokyo became unusually quiet on Wednesday, with many shops closed and fewer people on streets on the first day after a state of emergency was declared to contain the fast spread of COVID-19 infections across the country.

The state of emergency will be in place until May 6 and covers Tokyo and other major prefectures including Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka. Aside from supermarkets, drugstores and others which provide essential services, many businesses in those areas were closed following the government's request for people to stay at home and limit social contact.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. closed all of its six Mitsukoshi and Isetan department stores in the metropolitan area, while Matsuya Co.'s store in Tokyo's Ginza shopping area was also closed. However, sections selling food continued to open at some other department stores.

Meanwhile, movie theaters, bowling alleys and shops inside station buildings were also among closed businesses.

Train and bus companies in the Tokyo area said they are operating as usual on Wednesday, adding that they may reduce or suspend services if the government makes a request or if they face a significant decline in users.

Airlines in Japan have already reduced their flights drastically before the state of emergency was declared, but they may further slash flights if the number of travelers continues to drop.

In some stations in central Tokyo, the number of people was apparently less than usual.

A 59-year-old company executive told local media in front of a station, "On a usual morning, traffic is very busy here, but I feel there are significantly fewer commuters (today)."

"We have employees working from home, but there are tasks that force me to come to the office, such as dealing with documents that need to be signed with a seal," he added.

Some restaurant chains are staying open, but with shorter service hours. McDonald's Co. has continued to operate most of its outlets except those inside closed commercial facilities, while some locations stopped providing around-the-clock service.

Starbucks Coffee Japan, Ltd. will close some 850 shops located in the seven prefectures targeted by the declaration from Thursday, while shops in other areas will close earlier than usual at 7 p.m.

The Japan Sport Council said on Wednesday that it will close two major Olympic training facilities until May 6. During the period, athletes will be unable to use the National Training Center and Japan Institute of Sports Sciences, both in Tokyo.

Government officials said Tokyo reported 144 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, marking the highest daily increase. The previous high figure was 143 cases logged Sunday.

The total number of infections confirmed in the capital now climbed to over 1,338, with 1,112 people hospitalized and 31 deaths from the pneumonia-causing virus as of Tuesday evening. Across Japan, the number of infections increased to 4,768 as of 6:30 p.m. local time Wednesday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency on Tuesday, covering about 56 million people, or about 45 percent of the country's total population.

While it enables prefectural governors to take measures such as instructing citizens to stay at home and restricting the operation of schools and other facilities, penalties or punitive measures cannot be issued to citizens or businesses who opt not to follow requests from prefectural governors.

 
 
 



Coronavirus Update from China: Disney studies China's experience to prepare for operation in future


Coronavirus Update from China: Disney studies China's experience to prepare for operation in future

LOS ANGELES-- Bob Iger, Disney chairman and former CEO, said the company is "very carefully" studying China's actions in terms of the country's return to normalcy and hinted that Disney World and other parks could screen for illnesses when they are reopened.

In an interview with Barron's published Tuesday, Iger explained that in order to keep customers safe from the fatal novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, some necessary prevention measures such as taking people's temperatures would be applied before an ultimate vaccine was developed.

He argued that safety could basically come from more scrutiny or more restrictions, saying "just as we now do bag checks for everybody that goes into our parks."

He disclosed the team at Disney is studying China's experience. The megacity of Wuhan was finally reconnected to the rest of the world on Tuesday after a 76-day coronavirus lockdown.

"One of the things that's obvious is they've conscripted a large segment of their population to monitor others in terms of their health," Iger said. "You can't get on a bus or a subway or a train or enter a high-rise building there - and I'm sure this will be the case when their schools reopen - without having your temperature taken."

Disney parks are preparing for a world where customers demand scrutinizing everybody, he said, predicting that even if the prevention measures create a little bit of hardship, like taking a little bit longer for people to get in, but people will accept them.

Meanwhile, Iger admitted that the pandemic is the "biggest business interruption" Disney has faced, but he remains optimistic about the long-term prospects of business.

"We know when it ends that we will have things for the public to enjoy and to escape to, maybe in ways they will appreciate more than they ever have," he said.

 
 
 



Don’t let virus stop your marathon


Don’t let virus stop your marathon

When the coronavirus outbreak forced organisers to cancel marathons in the Japanese city of Nagoya, they turned to tech to ease the disappointment, offering runners the chance to race alone.

The Nagoya Women's Marathon and Nagoya City marathon were scheduled for March 8 and expected to attract some 20,000 runners -- a potential health hazard during a global pandemic.

So instead of having racers run together, organisers have offered up two apps to allow participants to complete the marathons alone, tracked online.

"It's the first time the annual marathon events were cancelled, and it's the first time we launched apps to replace the real ones," one of the organisers of the Nagoya city marathon told AFP.

Instead of running the original route, registered participants can run wherever they like -- keeping an appropriate social distance -- and the apps measure and verify their performance.

There are two apps -- one for those who want to finish the marathon in one go and another for those who want to complete it by running over several days.

Runners can complete the marathons between March 8 and May 31, the official race website says.

The organisers said on their website that they wanted to respond to the spirit shown by those who trained for the now-cancelled races.

 
 
 



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