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Woman in life-threatening condition after being hit by SUV in Cochrane

A pedestrian is in life-threatening condition after being hit by an SUV in Cochrane, Alta., on Saturday.

RCMP said they responded to a collision in the No Frills parking lot on 5 Avenue after 1:45 p.m.

A 35-year-old woman was struck by a Ford Edge SUV, and an ambulance took her to hospital in serious, life-threatening condition, police said.

The driver, an 83-year-old woman, remained on scene and spoke with investigators, officers said.

RCMP asked witnesses to contact them at 403-851-8000.

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Christianity crackdown: Worshipper prays for help as cross brutally torn down from church

The country’s Communist party intensified religious persecution last year and has closed churches, imprisoned pastors and rewritten scriptures to deter popularity in the faith. The Chinese government restricts religious practice to five official recognised religions to be practiced in approved premises, classifying many groups outside of its control as “evil cults”. And while the coronavirus outbreak has claimed over 3,000 lives in the country, authorities have persisted to derail religious practices.

In footage posted on Twitter, Father Francis Liu from the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness, showed the moment authorities arrived at the state-sanctioned church in

Fuyang city, Anhui – located around six hours from Wuhan, where COVID-19 begun.

The video shows a crane truck parked outside the church gates on April 1 before the local government removed the cross.

The person recording the video can be heard saying: “They want to remove the church’s cross. We need to pray for this. May God have mercy on us!”

A worshipper – assumed to be a church member – can be seen kneeling and praying outside the church gates.

Shocked internet users condemned the destruction of the holy building. Writing on Twitter, one person speculated the Communist Party wants to use the land where the church is situated for other purposes.

One person said no faith should be condemned, while another added that “any religion in the world is a cult in the eyes of a group of atheists”.

And another Twitter user said the act was rooted in a second cultural revolution, after the first in 1966 launched by Mao Zedong to reassert his control over the Communist Party.

China has introduced new administrative regulations, enshrining measures on the structure and function of religious organisations, into law.

It came into effect on February 1.

The new laws ensure the subordination of religious groups to the Communist Party.

Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Communist Party, has lodged the State Bureau of Religious Affairs under the thumb of the party, with a surveillance policy.

“Religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as national laws, regulations, rules to religious personnel and religious citizens, educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, supporting the socialist system, adhering to and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics (Article 17).”

The new laws call for the sinizication of religion. Article 5 states that “Religious organizations must support the leadership of the Communist Party of China” and “adhere to the direction of Sinicization of religions.”

In line with the measures, religious organisations are to report their wide-ranging affairs to authorities, including financial expenditure, personnel changes, important meetings and activities scheduled.

Organisations must also ensure staff learn “the major decisions of the Communist Party of China, national policies and regulations, the glorious traditional Chinese culture, and knowledge about religion” (Article 32).

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Religious groups are tracked using informers, DNA records and facial recognition technologies, according to First Things.

Over the last eight months, churches have been shut and in some cases bulldozed.

Another driving force in the closure of such premises is the threat of intimidation, arrest, imprisonment and torture. Video surveillance cameras are being installed in those that remain open.

In the city of Fuzhou, a Catholic archdiocese, over 100 churches have been closed since August.

Meanwhile, human rights defenders like activist and lawyers who are calling for the protection of religious venues have been targeted with violations such as arbitrary detention, harassment and restrictions on practice.

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Coronavirus: Popular Kelowna trail changed to one-way path to support physical distancing

Call it a sign of the physical-distancing times: a popular outdoor trail in the Okanagan has been changed into a one-way route.

This week, the City of Kelowna announced that the Apex Trail at Knox Mountain Park is now one-way only until further notice.

Located just minutes from downtown and with its sweeping views of Kelowna and Okanagan Lake, Knox Mountain is a popular place for locals and visitors alike.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the park isn’t as busy as it normally would be, but it’s still an active place.

The city says park users can use the Apex Trail to travel up the mountain and Knox Mountain Drive to go back down. Directional signage will be in place to guide park users.

Knox Mountain Drive will remain closed to vehicle traffic until further notice.

For more information on Knox Mountain, click here.

For more information about the City of Kelowna and COVID-19, click here.


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Number of coronavirus intensive care patients in Italy drops for first time

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy reported its lowest daily rise in COVID-19 deaths for nearly two weeks on Saturday and said the number of patients in intensive care had fallen for the first time.

Officials urged the country not to flout strict lockdown measures they said were starting to show results, although new cases rose by 4,805 on Saturday which was slightly higher than recent daily increases.

The Civil Protection department reported 681 deaths, bringing the total to 15,632 since the outbreak of the new coronavirus epidemic in northern Italy on Feb. 21. It was the lowest daily rise in deaths since March 23.

The total number of confirmed cases rose to 124,632 from 119,827 reported on Friday but for the first time, the number of patients in badly stretched intensive care units fell, with 3,994 patients being treated, down 74 from 4,068 on Friday.

“This is an important piece of news because it allows our hospitals to breathe,” Civil Protection head Angelo Borelli told a regular daily briefing where he has announced the grim daily tally of the world’s most deadly outbreak of the disease.

For days, Italian officials have said that broadly stable rises in the number of cases suggested that the outbreak had reached a plateau and that the numbers would begin to go down – if strict lockdown measures were respected.

But with Easter approaching and video footage circulating on social media of groups walking outside in cities including Naples, Rome and Milan, there were fears that the signs of progress were leading more people to flout the rules.

“Some images spread on social media, which show a relaxation in the behaviour of some people – fortunately only a few – , should not be taken as an example, they should be deplored,” said Domenico Arcuri, the government’s special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency.

“We can’t have the idea that we’ve already reached the moment to return to normal,” he said.

The government of Lombardy, the northern region at the epicentre of the crisis where more than 49,000 cases have been recorded, made a similar plea and issued a directive ordering people to cover their mouth and nose whenever they go outside.

Italy is still one of the countries worst affected by the new coronavirus, accounting for almost a quarter of worldwide deaths from COVID-19, the highly infectious disease associated with the virus.

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But as more countries in Europe have reported severe outbreaks of their own, it has become less of an outlier.

As the case numbers have flattened in Italy, there has been increasing discussion about eventually rolling back a lockdown that has closed most businesses and slammed the brakes on an already fragile economy.

With the government looking at ways to protect the economy, a senior official said it planned to extend its powers to protect key companies from foreign takeover.

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Mexican tequila makers, unlike brewers, plan to keep up production, exports

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican tequila makers have sought to dispel concerns that their exports to the United States will dry up, after two large brewers in the country suspended production to comply with government rules put in place due to the new coronavirus.

“Neither in the United States nor in Canada are there restrictions on manufacturing and selling alcoholic beverages,” the president of the Mexican tequila chamber, Rodolfo Gonzalez, said in an interview.

This week, Heineken and Grupo Modelo both said they would halt production in Mexico after the government declared a health emergency and ordered suspension of non-essential economic activity.

It caused a storm on social media and large lines in some local supermarkets as Mexicans sought to stock up on beer.

Mexican tequila makers, however, interpret the newly imposed rules differently.

Gonzalez said the sector was still expecting growth rates of between 4% and 5% for this year – even as the new coronavirus is denting sales to bars, restaurants and hotels worldwide.

The United States and Canada are the largest export markets for the emblematic Mexican alcoholic beverage, with the chamber reporting about $2 billion in sales revenues across 118 countries every year.

Gonzalez said the labor-intensive harvest of the prized agave plant would continue because agricultural production is considered an essential economic activity, even if the production of alcoholic beverages is not.

Gonzalez said stopping crop production would have severe consequences for tequila makers.

“We have to finish planting all the agave for the 2020 cycle by next month,” Gonzalez added. “If we were to suspend our activities it would cause irreversible damage.”

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Britain secures 300 new ventilators from China

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain took delivery of 300 ventilators from China on Saturday and more will start being produced soon by a consortium of aerospace, engineering and Formula One teams, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said.

“We’ve been buying invasive ventilators from partners abroad, including Germany and Switzerland, and today 300 new ventilators arrived from China, I’d like to thank the Chinese government,” he told a news conference.

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Ukrainian doctors fly to Italy to help combat coronavirus

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine, which expects a sharp rise of coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, sent doctors to disease-hit Italy on Saturday to assist their Italian colleagues and to gain field experience.

A team of 20 doctors, including surgeons, neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, will be deployed to the region of Marche in central Italy for two weeks, Italian ambassador to Ukraine, Davide La Cecilia told Reuters.

“The national health service in our country is very stressed. So we badly need medical personnel and are very happy that Ukraine is sending this humanitarian aid,” said La Cecilia at Kiev’s airport, before the medical mission’s departure.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who accompanied the ambassador, said Kiev would send more medical aid and disinfectant to Italy in the coming days.

“It is an honour for us to help Italy during such tough times. We know that many Ukrainians live and work in Italy. By helping Italy, we are helping our citizens,” said Avakov.

Ukraine’s health ministry has reported 1,096 cases, including 28 deaths since March 3, when the first case was recorded. But as thousands of Ukrainians have recently returned home from abroad, the ministry expects a much bigger outbreak ahead. The daily tally of new cases increased to 154 on Saturday from 138 on Friday, up from 62 last Monday.

The head of the Ukrainian medical mission, neurosurgeon Andriy Miroshnichenko, said that all the team members volunteered to work in Italy.

“After they come back home, they will be able to treat patients and work having practical experience and knowledge about the disease,” said Miroshnichenko.

Asked whether the Ukrainian doctors were not afraid to catch the virus themselves Glib Bidyukov, a nurse, said it was “a consciously made choice”.

“When you choose healthcare, you understand that you put yourself in some danger… Each of us made a choice a long time ago,” Bidyukov said.

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Iran hits back at US accusation over dissident's killing

Iran rejects US accusation of plotting the murder of Vardanjani, an Iranian dissident killed last November in Istanbul.

Tehran has hit back at the United States over accusations that Iranian diplomats were behind the killing of an Iranian dissident in the Turkish city of Istanbul in November 2019.

Masoud Molavi Vardanjani was shot dead on November 14. Two senior Turkish officials told Reuters news agency on March 27 that the killing was instigated by two intelligence officers in Iran’s consulate in Turkey.

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On Wednesday, a senior US official told Reuters that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was behind the murder “given Iran’s history of targeted assassinations of Iranian dissidents and the methods used in Turkey”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added that reports of Iran’s hand in the killing were disturbing but “fully consistent” with their assignment. 

On Saturday, Iran hit back at those claims.

“Undisputed fact: US ‘diplomats’ have long been in the business of coups, arming terrorists, fueling sectarian violence,” tweeted Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.

The US accusation comes as tensions between the two countries remain high following the US’s withdrawal in 2018 from a landmark nuclear deal signed to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.  

As part of its “maximum pressure campaign”, the US has further tightened sanctions on Iran despite calls by the Iranian government, the United Nations and China to ease them to allow the country to stem the spread of the coronavirus which has killed more than 3,200 people in the country.

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Iran escaped prisoners back in jail amid coronavirus epidemic

DUBAI (Reuters) – Most of the 70 inmates who escaped from a prison in western Iran last month are now back in jail, Iranian authorities said on Saturday, even though about 100,000 prisoners have been granted temporary release due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Iranian media have reported unrest in several prisons in the country, including the March 27 mass escape from the facility in Kurdistan province.

The judiciary’s Mizanoline website said some of the inmates had been captured by security forces, while others returned on their own to the prison in the city of Saqqez.

United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville on Friday voiced concern over a possible coronavirus outbreak in prisons in Iran and other countries.

Iran – the Middle East country worst-hit by the epidemic – has already granted temporary release to about 100,000 inmates to curb prison overcrowding and ease fears of the virus’ spread.

The Health Ministry said on Saturday 158 more coronavirus patients had died in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 3,452. The total number of cases reached 55,743.

In a rare comment in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Tehran Mayor Pirouz Hanachi said U.S. sanctions were crippling Iran’s fight against the coronavirus.

“As a result (of sanctions), the ability of my colleagues and I to provide the health, logistical and other essential infrastructure necessary to combat the disease has been drastically reduced. We experience this loss every day, and it can be counted in people that would not have died,” Hanachi said.

Separately, the foreign ministry accused U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “medical-terrorism” through the sanctions, which have hit vital sectors such as oil and banking.

“Undisputed fact: US ‘diplomats’ have long been in the business of coups, arming terrorists,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Twitter on Saturday. “But @SecPompeo … and his masters have taken the ‘job’ to a whole new level: #Medical_terrorism.”

Pompeo and other U.S. officials have stressed that humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 multilateral deal to limit its nuclear program.

However, broader U.S. sanctions deter many U.S. and global firms from humanitarian trade with Iran.

Meanwhile state media quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying that state support for businesses hit by the coronavirus outbreak would be restricted to enterprises that give assurances not to lay off workers.

Rouhani has said 75% of a total budget allocation of about 1,000 trillion rials to address the pandemic would include grants and low-interest loans to enterprises affected by COVID-19.

The total allocated amount is worth some $6 billion at the rial’s free market exchange rate of about 166,000 rials per dollar. But the government may decide to allocate some of the funds at the official rate of 42,000 which is used to subsidize food and medicine.

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Confirmed coronavirus deaths in Netherlands rise by 164 to 1,651

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The confirmed death toll from the coronavirus in the Netherlands has risen by 164 to 1,651, health authorities said on Saturday.

The National Institute for Health (RIVM) said the total number of infections had increased by 6% to 16,627 over the past 24 hours.

The actual number of deaths and infections is higher than the official figure due to a lack of widespread testing for the coronavirus, the RIVM has said.

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