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Coronavirus clears beach for endangered sea turtle hatchlings in Brazil

There might be a few extra endangered sea turtles in the ocean one day thanks to the novel coronavirus after lockdowns in Brazil left nearly 100 new hatchlings with a clear path across the beach and into the waves.

Wildlife officials were the only humans on the beach in the town of Paulista last week when 97 endangered hawksbill sea turtles hatched in front of their eyes, according to a news release from the city.

The tiny turtles are extremely vulnerable in their first mad dash to the ocean, and many fall prey to hungry birds or over-curious humans who interfere in the process.

However, this latest batch got to make their journey to the water without facing human interruptions, as much of the country has hunkered down to avoid spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

A total of 87 green turtles and 204 hawksbill turtles have been born on the beach this year, but the latest batch of hawksbills enjoyed an easier path than the others, according to Herbert Andrade, environmental manager for the city of Paulista.

Hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings are only about five centimetres (two inches) long, but they can grow to be up to 0.8 metres (2.5 feet) long if they survive the treacherous first few years of their lives.

Hawksbill sea turtles lay their eggs on sandy beaches. Those eggs incubate for about 60 days before hatching dozens of tiny turtles that flop toward the beach, using the night sky to navigate their way to the water.

The turtles are critically endangered because of the wildlife trade, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

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Fish and wildlife officials in many countries are trying to save the turtles through a variety of measures, including protecting their eggs on busy human beaches.

That job just got a little easier — at least for now.

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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Sports

Tokyo Olympics Organizers Considering July 2021 for Opening Ceremony

The 2020 Summer Games, postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, would start July 23, 2021 under a plan organizers are considering.

By Tariq Panja

LONDON — The Summer Olympics in Tokyo, postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, will likely open on July 23, 2021, according to people familiar with the matter.

The International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers last week bowed to widespread pressure among athletes, sports federations and national Olympic committees and agreed to postpone the Games to 2021, but left the new date in question. The opening ceremony of the Games had been scheduled for July 24.

The I.O.C. said a final decision could come in weeks, but it is now much more likely to be announced earlier, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of guidance issued by the I.O.C. The Japanese state broadcaster NHK on Saturday also reported the July 23, 2021 date as the new target.

The I.O.C. will convene an emergency meeting of its decision-making executive board on Sunday to discuss the decision.

Mark Adams, a spokesman for the organization, gave a one-word answer, “speculation,’’ when asked about the new date on Saturday.

The decision to pick an almost identical date to this year’s event is not particularly surprising, given the challenges to squeeze the Olympics in an already packed sporting calendar. It also is the best time for the U.S. broadcaster, NBCUniversal, which pays more than $1 billion for the U.S. media rights to each Olympic Games.

But it means the Games will still take place during Tokyo’s hottest time of the year, an issue that was already causing worry and complications. The Olympic marathon was moved to a northern, cooler city after an outcry and organizers had planned several steps to try to keep fans and competitors cool.

Some federations, including those representing swimming, table tennis, triathlon and equestrian, on a call earlier this week with Thomas Bach, the I.O.C. president, had voiced a preference to hold the Olympics in the spring. That, though, would have led to a clash with the season for major soccer leagues and many of the richest U.S. sports leagues.

The I.O.C. also wanted to be sure to steer clear of the European soccer championships, which are being moved to 2021 and usually take place in June.

The road to perhaps the biggest obstacle was cleared when the head of global track and field’s governing body, Sebastian Coe, announced that he was open to moving the athletics world championships set for next summer in Eugene, Oregon. Coe went further than that Friday, telling a group of reporters that moving World Athletics’s main event to 2022 may in fact be beneficial.

“You may have world championships in consecutive years where we wouldn’t normally have had that,’’ he said. “But for athletics, it’s not such a bad thing. To go from 2021 Olympic Games into two editions of the world championships, ’22 — possibly ’22 — ’23 we’re in Budapest, and then into the Olympic Games in Paris in ’24.

“It would offer athletics center stage at a very public point of the year,’’ he added. “So let’s look at it from a slightly optimistic way of being able to punch our sport into the homes of many more people over a four-year consecutive cycle.”

Bach, who has endured much criticism over his handling of the crisis, described reorganizing the Games as a “ huge jigsaw puzzle.”

Among the issues organizers face are contracts worth billions of dollars with broadcast partners and sponsors as well as how to secure venues and maintain key infrastructure that would need to be mothballed for an extra year.

“A Games has never been postponed before,” Bach said. “We have no blueprint, but we are nevertheless confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and will then in the end have a wonderful Olympic Games.”

The traditional July-August date means the I.O.C. will likely be able to call on the presence of top players from the worlds of soccer, tennis and golf, some of the biggest names in global sport and a big attraction for television audiences.

Once a date has been set, the next challenge will be to reorganize qualification competitions that had been disrupted by the coronavirus. Bach said athletes who have already qualified will be guaranteed a place for 2021.

The I.O.C.’s preference for next summer was made clear when a day after the postponement was declared, John Coates, the Australian who heads its commission responsible for the Tokyo Games, that there was a preference for the July-August dates, according to an interview he gave to Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper.

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World News

Edmonton police say romance scams growing in lonely new coronavirus reality

A police detective in Edmonton says enforcement agencies around the world are seeing a spike in romance scams as fraudsters prey on people’s loneliness.

“They’re using the coronavirus as a means for empathy, caring,” Det. Linda Herczeg said.

The economic crimes detective says scammers will incorporate COVID-19 into their lies and say things like: “‘My family has it and I need money for healthcare, can you please send it?’ ‘No honey, I can’t come see you because I’m in isolation.’”

In 2019, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre noted $19 millions dollars were stolen from Canadians through romance scams alone. Herczeg said the virus is only making that worse.

“Especially with the whole self-isolation — people are alone and they’re by themselves and a lot of them are going onto the internet to find company or someone to chat with,” she explained.

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Edmonton is a prime example. In 2017, 11 locals were scammed out of $396,698. In 2019, those numbers jumped significantly, to 62 victims and $3,201,280.

2020 is trending even higher.

Since January, 21 Edmontonians have been lured in and conned by romance scams, costing them $1.7 million dollars.

Herczeg said the predators see the isolation aspect of coronavirus as an opportunity.

“When you have someone taking the time to be part of your life and sharing conversations with you via Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Facebook’s another big one.

“They’re taking to you, you feel like you’re a part of something and somebody cares.”

She said victims often respond the same way once they realize they’ve been lied to.

“The first thing that they do is erase any trace of evidence that they have to show that they were victimized or scammed,” she said.

“We need you to keep that information and we need you to keep that data. Super, super important. If we don’t have the information, it really makes it difficult for us to do the investigation.”

She said it’s important for people to report the fraud, even though it may be uncomfortable.

“We understand and we sympathize with the victimization. We know that you’re embarrassed and we know that there’s that fear of reporting. We know there’s that fear of your family finding out for victim shaming or victim blaming.”

By speaking out victims can help authorities build cases against perpetrators and prevent them from scamming other people.

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World News

Coronavirus: Montreal business owners struggle as revenues dry up amid pandemic

From the streets of downtown Montreal to the bedroom communities of the West Island, many businesses are closed as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, their employees furloughed.

One lingerie merchant owner has closed her two shops and is now trying to survive with online sales and phone orders — something that’s novel for the independent company.

“There is definitely an economic impact on myself, on my employees. And not just right now. This scares me as to how long this is going take,” Debbie Donelle, owner of Lingerie DEBra, told Global News via Skype.

Donelle is the only worker in her shops as the seven other employees have been sent home. Donelle is still issuing them paycheques adding up to 75 per cent of the salaries but that could end by the end of the week.

“It could be that I keep that I’m going to have to lay them off. It could be that I keep them on my payroll but again reduce that amount because I can’t cover 75 per cent,” she said.

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Global News has learned that the employment insurance claims during the week of March 16 to 22 hit 929,000 — almost double the previous week.

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World News

UBC study to look at how people cope with coronavirus outbreak

If you’re feeling out of sorts these days, you’re not alone.

Nancy Sin is a health psychologist at the University of British Columbia, so she understands a lot about what many of us are feeling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Stressed, anxious, panicked — there is so much to adjust to,” Sin told Global News. “We are experiencing a lot of disruptions to our daily life, having to change up our work or arrange for child care and being at home with kids.”

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World News

Closed doors, tiny funerals: what coronavirus means for the churches

All over Canada Sunday morning as the novel coronavirus loomed, people who had missed last-minute phone calls, e-mails and Facebook posts arrived at church to find a message delivered in person or just as a notice taped to the door, in one form of language or another: Go home.

“Sunday was very strange,” says downtown Toronto Anglican priest Maggie Helwig, whose church feeds about 100 people early Sunday morning.

“I was up at 5, as I normally am, and went in for the breakfast, but we had to abruptly, and without any warning for our guests, introduce a takeaway format. People came in, we gave them bags of food, they were able to use the washroom and then they had to leave immediately,” she said.

“It’s hard to do.”

“I’m glad we’re still able to give people food, but people also want their social space and somewhere to sit down, Some of them have been walking around all night, and we had to tell people that they couldn’t stay, but we gave them bags of food and did a big wipe down of all the high touch surfaces with Lysol wipes before and after, which took a fair while.”

After that, Helwig led a service, livestreamed on Facebook, that involved only two other people, one of whom was filming it.

“A couple of people turned up. We’d send out emails, we’d done a phone tree, we’d done all that, but still a couple of people turned up and we had to say, ‘I’m sorry, no church today.’”

Helwig was acting on instructions from her bishops, who had told clergy late Friday (capitals in the original) that:

“The key principle to follow is: NO CONGREGATION IS TO BE ASSEMBLED, OF ANY SIZE, AT ANY TIME.”

“Think ‘bare minimum’ in all things,” the bishops wrote. “Although it is antithetical to what Church is all about, our goal at this time must be to gather as few people as possible.”

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World News

Coronavirus: Ontario to suspend all eviction notices, enforcement amid COVID-19 spread

The Ontario government says it is suspending all new eviction notices in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected hundreds across the country.

A statement sent out Monday evening from the Ministry of the Attorney General said, “Tribunals Ontario is reviewing pending eviction matters in light of the rapidly evolving circumstances related to COVID-19 and no new eviction orders will be issued until further notice.”

The statement also said that Sheriff’s offices were asked to postpone any scheduled eviction enforcements set for this week.

Ontario has reported a total of 172 cases of the virus, following an announcement of 32 new cases earlier on Monday.

Health officials said that the province may be seeing the virus spread through community transmission.

“The numbers are going up very rapidly. It’s a very quickly-evolving situation now,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health.

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World News

Why are there so many conspiracy theories around the coronavirus?

COVID-19 has been accompanied by a conspiracy theory outbreak, not just on social media, on mainstream outlets, too.

Two months after China first reported a deadly outbreak of a new type of coronavirus, the topic continues to dominate headlines the world over. The virus has now infected more than 95,000 people in 79 countries and killed more than 3,200.

The disease’s rapid spread has been accompanied by an outbreak of false claims and conspiracy theories on social and mainstream media, allowing misinformation on the origins of the virus and hoaxes on cures to travel as fast as the infection.

One study by the US State Department, reported on by the Washington Post, said roughly two million tweets touting conspiracy theories about the virus – such as claims it was caused by a bioweapon – had been posted outside the US over the three-week period when the disease began to spread outside China.

According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), such claims hamper the effort to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

“At WHO, we’re not just battling the virus, we’re also battling the trolls and conspiracy theorists that push misinformation and undermine the outbreak response,” he told reporters on February 8.

Fear, rumours, and prejudice

A group of 27 scientists from eight countries, including the US, Malaysia and Australia, also condemned misinformation around the virus, saying in an open letter on February 19 that conspiracy theories suggesting COVID-19 does not have a natural origin do “nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus”.

Some analysts say it is unsurprising false claims over the virus have flourished, mainly because it is a new strain about which little is known. 

“An outbreak like this has many uncertainties, and when people don’t have answers, and scientists are not able to give them all the answers and assurances they need, they are likely to start speculating,” explained Marina Joubert, a senior science communication researcher based in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

“Also, understandably, people are scared and the images of people wearing masks and large cities that are deserted, cause further anxiety,” she added, referring to lockdowns imposed in several Chinese and Italian cities in an effort to contain the outbreak.

Andrea Kitta, associate professor at East Carolina University in the US, said the “narrative patterns” of conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak was identical to those in past epidemics.

“In previous pandemics like HIV or H1N1, there have been similar conspiracy theories on bioengineering, plots to cull certain populations, or that it’s linked to eating and sanitation habits,” she said.

A widely circulated theory linked the virus to a video of Chinese woman eating bat soup, which was shared widely on social media and eventually picked up by mainstream media sites including Russian state-owned network, RT, and British tabloid Daily Mail.

It later emerged that the clip was of a well-known Chinese vlogger eating the soup in Indonesia in 2016. While scientists believe bats are a carrier for the new virus, they suspect it may have jumped to humans via another animal host.

The bat soup claim is just one of the many reports linking what Chinese people eat to the new outbreak, and one among many peddling racially charged claims.

“Some of the stereotypes that have emerged are that Chinese people are ‘dirty’ and that they eat weird things. When we don’t have the information we need, we tend to speculate, but unfortunately, that’s also where our inherent racism and bias starts to come into play. We do this to make ourselves feel safe, but it’s really problematic,” said Kitta.

Such claims can be dangerous and have been linked to attacks and discrimination against Chinese nationals and people of Asian origin in countries such as Italy and against people evacuated from China in Ukraine.

What worries some observers is not just misinformation on social media but that some of these claims have made their way into more mainstream outlets, including in Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US.

In the early days of the outbreak, a columnist for popular Saudi newspaper al-Watan suggested on February 2 that the new coronavirus was part of an effort by Western pharmaceutical companies to profit by selling vaccines for it, while another columnist for the Syrian official al-Thawra daily wrote on February 3 that the virus was part of an economic and psychological war on China waged by the US.

Similar claims were also aired on Russia’s state-run Channel One. And on February 5, a news anchor suggested US President Donald Trump was to blame, linking the word corona, which means crown in Russian, to beauty pageants Trump used to preside over.

In the US, right-wing media have also peddled conspiracy theories of their own, with the Washington Times saying on January 24 that the new coronavirus may have originated in a lab linked to China’s “covert biological weapons programme”, a theory later backed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton.

Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio host, said the “coronavirus was being weaponised as yet another element to bring down” Trump.

Geopolitics also played a role in the type of misinformation being spread, according to some analysts.

“Had the virus originated in a country not so significant, it would have been treated and seen in a different light,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Thai political scientist and director of the Institute for Science and International Security, in Bangkok.

“China has issues with a lot of countries, including economic rivalry and geopolitical tensions with the US. It is dominant globally, and Chinese tourists are the number-one source for a lot of Asian countries. All of this has impacted the way the pandemic has been reported.”

An article in Foreign Policy magazine on January 24 said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “political agenda may turn out to be a root cause of the epidemic” and that his multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative has “made it possible for a local disease to become a global menace”.

‘Bat soup and bioengineering’

Amid what WHO has described as an “infodemic”, social media companies have taken some steps to combat misinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have announced measures to steer users looking for information on the coronavirus to credible sources, such as the WHO.

But tech companies should do more, said Jonathan Corpus Ong, associate professor of global digital media at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US.

“We’re engaging with this health epidemic at a different time from previous outbreaks like SARS or swine flu. In recent years, a lot of health disinformation and insidious fake news have been able to thrive online.

“This pandemic hits us at the moment when there’s much more rumour-mongering. Plus, there are many social media influencers who have been trying to promote various kinds of products. This is quite tough to challenge and combat,” he said.

“It’s important for conspiracy theories to be removed from online platforms sooner than has been. Claims around bat soup and bioengineering, for example, are still accessible,” he said. “Also, there’s been too much focus on nudging to legitimate information and not enough focus on taking down hate speech and slur.”

Meanwhile, pressure is also growing on mainstream journalists to ensure fair and reliable coverage.

Joubert, the science communication researcher, said: “I think many of the major media organisations have done a great job of providing updates responsibly and to put experts forward to speak to the public. Unfortunately, some smaller newspapers and radio stations may be guilty of helping to spread misinformation.”

She added: “The mass media should play an even bigger role in making people aware of misinformation and why it is so important to be critical, and think rationally when we consume information, especially in the online world.”

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Sports

Olympics: World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe says 'We'll be in Tokyo'

MONACO (AFP) – As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, Tokyo Olympics organisers received a boost on Thursday (March 12) with World Athletics president Sebastian Coe’s assumption that track and field would take place at the Games.

There is growing concern that the Tokyo Games, scheduled for July 24-Aug 9, will be either postponed or even cancelled as the outbreak of Covid-19 spreads.

A multitude of sporting events have been either cancelled or postponed as public health authorities worldwide move to contain the virus, of which there have been more than 127,000 cases recorded in 115 countries and territories, killing 4,687 people, according to an AFP tally.

World Athletics had already been forced to postpone the world indoor championships in the Chinese city of Nanjing until March 2021. The world half-marathon champs in Poland have been pushed back to October and a number of marathons across the world have been cancelled.

“On the broader picture of what does the remaining element of the season look like, it will be a challenge for everybody,” Coe told AFP in an interview in Monaco.

“We are working on the assumption that we will be in Tokyo where our sport will be able to flourish.

“We are planning to be in Tokyo. There are no contingencies.”

Coe, who was chairman of the organising committee of the 2012 London Olympics, added that World Athletics were “clearly monitoring the situation by the hour”.

“We have to monitor and have to deal with the situations in real time and that has taken up a lot of our thinking space and that of our member federations.

“This has posed challenges almost wherever you look in our sport.”

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But Coe, a two-time Olympic 1500m gold medallist for Britain, played down the wider effect that the cancellation of track and field meets might have on potential qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m not sanguine or particularly cavalier about the situation, but our sport is in better shape than most because we have many more opportunities for our athletes to qualify,” he told AFP.

“We also have a qualification process that has now been up and running for 10 months so many athletes are already qualified.

“Where we identify athletes that are facing particular difficulties, maybe in a particular part of the world, then there are things we can do to help.”

Asked whether he could envisage the Olympics going ahead, but with no spectators, Coe refused to be drawn.

“I don’t want to speculate,” said the Briton, who is a member of the Tokyo Olympics Games Coordination Commission.

“At the moment, it’s important our sport supports the International Olympic Committee, the public authorities in Japan and the local organising committee there.

“Our proposition is a very simple one and it is ‘We’ll be in Tokyo’.”

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