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World News

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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World News

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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World News

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.

More:

  • US believes Iran ‘directly involved’ in killing of dissident

  • Does Turkey stand to gain after Soleimani’s assassination?

  • Is there really a Turkey-Iran rapprochment?

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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Health

Coronavirus: 29 new cases confirmed in Nova Scotia

As of Sunday, Nova Scotia has 29 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total of cases to 236.

According to the province, those cases range in age from under 10 to over 80.

Four individuals are currently in hospital and 50 individuals have now recovered, and their cases of COVID-19 are considered resolved.

“Public health is working to identify and test people who may have come in close contact with the confirmed cases. Those individuals who have been confirmed are being directed to self-isolate at home, away from the public, for 14 days,” the province said in a statement released on Saturday.

The province also noted that most of the confirmed cases have been connected to travel or a known case, but some are connected to community spread.

“This is expected and why the testing strategy continues to be adjusted,” said the province.

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Part of that adjustment is increasing lab capacity, which according to the government, will have processing at the lab move to 24/7 operations as of Monday.

The 29 new cases were identified on Friday after the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s microbiology lab completed 800 Nova Scotia tests in one day.

“It is now more important than ever for Nova Scotians to strictly adhere to the public health orders and directives – practise good hygiene, maintain a physical distance of two metres or six feet from others, limit essential gatherings to no more than five people and stay at home as much as possible,” the province said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent

spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Health

Manitoba health officials to provide COVID-19 update

Manitoba health officials will hold a press conference Saturday from the Manitoba Legislature to provide an update on the COVID-19 crisis. It’s scheduled to get underway at 1 p.m. CT.

On Friday, another Manitoban died due to the novel coronavirus bringing the province’s death toll to two.

A total of 15 news cases were declared on Friday, bringing Manitoba’s total to 182 probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Lanette Siragusa of Shared Health said eight companies have “responded to the province’s call for donations of medical supplies.”

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One day after putting out a call for supplies, the health system received donations of 2,570 N95 masks, 3,110 surgical and procedure masks, 9,300 gloves and 202 bottles of hand sanitizer, said the province.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Economy

UPDATE 4-Five Canadian banks cut credit card interest rates to ease coronavirus impact

(Adds details of Scotiabank rate reduction)

TORONTO, April 4 (Reuters) – Bank of Nova Scotia, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, National Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce said on Friday they are cutting interest rates on credit cards to provide relief to customers affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

Late on Friday, Scotiabank said it would reduce credit card interest rates to 10.99% for personal and small business clients who have been approved for, or seek, payment deferrals.

Earlier, in separate statements, TD Bank said it will cut credit card interest rates by 50% for customers experiencing hardship, and Royal Bank said it will reduce the charges by the same extent for clients receiving minimum payment deferrals.

National Bank will allow credit card customers to defer minimum payments for up to 90 days and reduce annual interest rates to 10.9% for these clients, it said.

CIBC too will reduce interest rates to 10.99% on personal credit cards for users who request to skip a payment, Canada’s fifth-largest lender said. (reut.rs/3aHZM9Q)

Most Royal Bank, TAD, Scotiabank and CIBC credit cards charge 19.99% interest on purchases. Most National Bank cards charge 20.99%.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had urged banks to help alleviate the burden credit card interest rates placed on Canadians. Friday’s moves are the latest in a raft of measures announced by the banks to ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on customers.

Canada’s six biggest banks unveiled a mortgage-relief plan two weeks ago to allow homeowners to defer or skip mortgage payments for up to six months as businesses come to a grinding halt due to the pandemic.

National Bank said it will refund additional interest accrued on the deferred mortgage payments. The lender will also waive fees for transfers and stop payments on checks and pre-authorized debts, and will not charge overdraft fees on checking and high-interest savings accounts, it said.

Since the mortgage-relief plan was announced, the banks have received nearly half a million requests that have been completed or were being processed. (Reporting by Bharath Manjesh in Bengaluru and Nichola Saminather in Toronto Editing by Matthew Lewis, Cynthia Osterman, Sandra Maler and Diane Craft)

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World News

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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Health

‘It’s heart-wrenching’: Morgues struggle with demand as COVID-19 cases surge

There are the new dead. And then there are the bodies waiting in overcrowded mortuaries to be buried as cities struggle to meet demand and families wrestle with rules on social distancing that make the usual funeral rituals impossible.

Med Alliance Group, a medical distributor in Illinois, is besieged by calls and emails from cities around the country. Each asks the same thing: Send more refrigerated trailers so that we can handle a situation we never could have imagined.

“They’re coming from all over: From hospitals, health systems, coroner’s offices, VA facilities, county and state health departments, state emergency departments and funeral homes,” said Christie Penzol, a spokeswoman for Med Alliance. “It’s heart-wrenching.”

The company has rented all its trailers and there’s an 18-week wait for new materials to build more, she said.

With U.S. medical experts and even U.S. President Donald Trump now estimating the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could reach 240,000 nationwide, the sheer practicalities of death — where to put the bodies — are worrying just about everyone as cities, hospitals and private medical groups clamour to secure additional storage.

The need is compounded by private mortuary space that is occupied longer than usual as people wait to bury their loved ones — regardless of how they died — because rules on social distancing make planning funerals difficult.

It’s a crisis being repeated worldwide.

In Spain, where the death toll has climbed to nearly 12,000, an ice rink in Madrid was turned into a makeshift morgue after the city’s municipal funeral service said it could no longer take coronavirus bodies until it was restocked with protective equipment. In Italy, embalmed bodies in caskets are being sent to church halls and warehouses while they await cremation or burial.

And in the coastal Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil, macabre images and pleas from families on social media show dead loved ones wrapped in plastic or cloth, waiting for days to be taken away by overwhelmed morgue workers.

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In the U.S. epicenter of New York City, where the death toll was nearly 1,900 on Saturday, authorities brought in refrigerated trucks to store bodies. At Brooklyn Hospital Center, a worker wheeled out a body covered in white plastic on a gurney and a forklift operator carefully raised it into a refrigerated trailer.

Cities and states that haven’t been hard-hit yet are trying to prepare for the worst.

In Washington, D.C., which has a morgue that can hold about 270 bodies, officials said they would seek help from federal partners if needed. Dallas has a plan for refrigerated space as part of its emergency preparedness efforts. And Chicago is already using a trailer outside the medical examiner’s office for the bodies of coronavirus victims, and may use a refrigerated warehouse if needed.

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked the Defence Department for 100,000 body bags, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Andrews said Thursday.

On a daily basis, the system works at essentially full capacity in most jurisdictions, said Robert A. Jensen, co-owner of Kenyon International Emergency Services, a private disaster response company based in Texas.

“They’re not made for surge. They’re made to handle the daily numbers,” said Jensen, whose company has helped with mass fatality incidents from 9-11 to Hurricane Katrina to the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, all of which involved using refrigerated trucks to store bodies.

In Pennsylvania, the state coroner’s association is working to figure out resources and help with what will likely be regional planning.

Brian Abernathy, Philadelphia’s Managing Director, said the city had secured refrigerated trucks to help with any overflow storage needed for bodies. The city had reported 26 deaths as of Friday.

“This isn’t because we expect a large influx of people succumbing to the illness, but rather it’s likely that there will be fewer funerals, which will cause backups in both our city morgues as well as the hospital morgues,” Abernathy said.

Brian Murphy, the CEO of Arctic Industries, which manufactures walk-in coolers and quick-assemble modular structures in Miami and Los Angeles, said he is getting calls seeking help. In the past, most clients were from the food industry, but with restaurants shuttered, calls about mortuary needs have risen.

He says his company is prioritizing work related to COVID-19 and is considering working more hours to meet needs.

“Everything is very much in flux,” Murphy said.

The families of the dead, meanwhile, are making do.

Rosina Argondizzo of Glenview, Illinois, was buried in March with just a priest and four people present: her husband of 58 years, her son Peter, his wife and their son. Another son who lives in Italy didn’t travel. Peter Argondizzo said his 79-year-old mother, who died after contracting pneumonia and the flu, would have had a very different funeral in normal times.

“We’re Italian so it would have been a lot of people. … It would have been big,” he said, adding they would have hosted a meal in her honour, something they now hope to do at a later date. “She would have wanted everyone to have been well-fed.”

David Dittman said he inquired about waiting to hold a funeral for his 94-year-old mother, Ruth, who died after battling cancer, so more family could attend.

But the funeral home handling arrangements in Connecticut didn’t want to hold the body for more than two weeks.

He said he understood: “Especially with this rush of people that may be coming at them. They may be overwhelmed, you know.”

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World News

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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Economy

UPDATE 1-Hungary prepares $30 billion package to jump-start economy

* PM Orban to announce big package on Monday

* Central bank to unveil more substantial steps

* Separate fund to handle virus crisis

By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST, April 4 (Reuters) – Hungary is preparing to announce a roughly $30 billion package of measures to help jump-start the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak, a top government official said on Saturday.

Parliament, where the ruling Fidesz party has a strong majority, has granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule by decree to fight the coronavirus, ignoring calls by opponents and rights groups to put a timeframe on the extra powers.

Orban, who has been in power for a decade, has flagged the biggest economic package of the country’s history to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic, which has already led to tens of thousands of job losses.

The premier is expected to unveil the measures on Monday, after the government approves them, his chief of staff Gergely Gulyas told a news conference. The National Bank of Hungary will announce steps after its policy-making Monetary Council meets on Tuesday.

Gulyas said the total package would amount to 18-22% of Hungary’s GDP, which amounts to about $30 billion. It was not immediately clear where the cash would be targeted, though some steps have already been taken.

The government has imposed a blanket moratorium on all repayments on corporate and household loans this year, and the central bank has launched a series of steps to provide liquidity for banks.

It has also created a $2 billion special fund to aid the fight against the novel coronavirus, which will include contributions from banks and foreign retailers.

Domestic banks will be expected to pay 55 billion forints ($163 million) into the fund this year, with multinational retailers adding 36 billion forints.

Another $4 billion fund was created to aid economic and employment efforts.

Hungary’s economy grew by 4.9% last year but several analysts now expect a recession this year, as big carmakers have already announced temporary shutdowns lasting for weeks, and sectors like tourism have collapsed. (Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Pravin Char)

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