What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Restrictions reimposed across Asia-Pacific region

From Melbourne to Manila, Hong Kong and India’s tech capital Bengaluru, lockdowns and strict social distancing restrictions are being reimposed across the Asia-Pacific after a surge in new coronavirus cases fanned fears of a second wave of infections.

Many parts of Asia, the region first hit by the coronavirus that emerged in central China late last year, are finding cause to pause the reopening of their economies, some after winning praise for their initial responses to the outbreak.

The number of coronavirus infections around the world hit 13 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, climbing by a million in just five days. Reuters’ global tally, which is based on government reports, shows COVID-19 accelerating fastest in Latin America, the number of deaths there exceeding the figure for North America for the first time on Monday.

Shutdown in California

California’s governor on Monday clamped new restrictions on businesses as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations soared, and the state’s two largest school districts, in Los Angeles and San Diego, said children would be made to stay home in August.

Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, ordered bars closed and restaurants, movie theaters, zoos and museums across the nation’s most populous state to cease indoor operations. Gyms, churches and hair salons must close in the 30 hardest-hit counties.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to recognize soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, until there is a vaccine and/or an effective therapy,” Newsom said at a news briefing.

The decision to cancel in-person classes puts the districts at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said he might withhold federal funding or remove tax-exempt status from school systems that refuse to reopen.

‘Worst-case’ winter toll

Britain faces a potentially more deadly second wave of COVID-19 in the coming winter that could kill up to 120,000 people over nine months in a worst-case scenario, health experts said on Tuesday.

With COVID-19 more likely to spread in winter as people spend more time together in enclosed spaces, a second wave of the pandemic “could be more serious than the one we’ve just been through,” said Stephen Holgate, a professor and co-lead author of a report by Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences.

“This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility,” Holgate told an online briefing. “Deaths could be higher with a new wave of COVID-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.”

The United Kingdom’s current death toll from confirmed cases of COVID-19 is around 45,000, the highest in Europe.

Good news from hard-hit Belgium

Belgium, which has reined in the coronavirus after becoming the worst-hit mid-sized country in the world, reported zero new coronavirus-related deaths in 24 hours on Tuesday for the first time since March 10.

As in many European countries that were hard-hit by the pandemic in March and April, Belgium sharply reduced infections by imposing a lockdown, which is now being lifted.

The total number of deaths reported by the national public health institute Sciensano remained at 9,787. In the country of 11.5 million people, that works out to around 850 deaths per million, the worst in the world apart from the tiny city state of San Marino. The peak daily death toll was 343 on April 12.

Bastille Day with a difference

France held a scaled-down annual Bastille Day celebration on Tuesday, with none of the usual tanks and troops parading down Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue, in a concession to the COVID-19 epidemic still stalking Europe.

Instead, President Emmanuel Macron, standing in the back of a military jeep, reviewed ranks of socially-distanced troops on the Place de la Concorde square after a flypast by military aircraft.

“I wish, with all the French, with the armies themselves, to pay a vibrant tribute to health workers and those who, in all sectors, have enabled public, social and economic life to continue,” Macron said in message released ahead of the parade.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes and Karishma Singh; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan warn Israel on annexation

BERLIN (Reuters) – Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan warned Israel on Tuesday against annexing parts of the Palestinian territories, saying that doing so could have consequences for bilateral relations.

In a statement distributed by the German Foreign Ministry, the countries, which include two of Israel’s leading partners in the Middle East, said their foreign ministers had discussed how to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

They, along with most other European countries, oppose Israeli plans that envisage annexing parts of the occupied West Bank as part of a deal being promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Palestinian Authority, which wants the West Bank for a future Palestinian state, opposes the move. The United States has yet to give its approval to the annexation plans.

“We concur that any annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be a violation of international law and imperil the foundations of the peace process,” the European and Middle Eastern foreign ministers said after their video conference.

“We would not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders that are not agreed by both parties in the conflict,” they added. “It could also have consequences for the relationship with Israel.”

Israel declined to comment. But in a separate statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday that he was committed to Trump’s “realistic” plan for the region.

“Israel is prepared to conduct negotiations on the basis of President Trump’s peace plan, which is both creative and realistic, and will not return to the failed formulas of the past,” Netanyahu’s statement said.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; additional reporting by Dan Williams; editing by Thomas Escritt and Gareth Jones)

Family of black Frenchman who died in police custody call for protests

PARIS (Reuters) – The family of a black Frenchman who died in police custody in circumstances similar to the killing of George Floyd in the United States spurned talks with the justice minister and called on Tuesday for more street protests instead.

Adama Traore was celebrating his 24th birthday on July 19, 2016, when three police officers used their weight to restrain him. By the time he arrived at the police station, he was unconscious and could not be revived.

Medical experts differ on whether Traore died because of the restraint or because of an underlying medical condition.

His family demands that the officers involved be held to account and thousands marched in their support in Paris last Saturday. No one has ever been charged with Traore’s death.

“We’re demanding acts of justice, not discussions” Assa Traore, Adama’s sister, told a press conference.”We’ll protest in the streets, every week, if necessary.”

The family and ‘Truth for Adama’ campaign group called for a mass protest in central Paris on Saturday.

Worldwide anger over the killing of Floyd, including in France, has given new momentum to the Traore family’s campaign. Accusations of brutality and racism against French police remain largely unaddressed, rights groups say.

France has at times fallen short in treating all people equally, a founding principle of the Republic, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said after meeting police officers in a Paris suburb. The police must also be shown respect, he added.

Describing the conditions in which Floyd died as “monstrous”, Philippe acknowledged that the worldwide outpouring of emotion “resonated with the fears and feelings of a part of the French population”.

“Collectively, we have not always necessarily been up to the challenge of the Republic’s principles.”

The government said on Monday it was banning a chokehold used to detain suspects and it promised zero tolerance for racism among police.

(Reporting by Lucien Libert and Matthieu Protard; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now 5-27-20

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

France bans hydroxychloroquine

The French government on Wednesday canceled a decree allowing hospital doctors to administer hydroxychloroquine as a treatment to patients suffering severe forms of COVID-19.

The move, which takes immediate effect, is the first by a country since the World Health Organization said on Monday it was pausing a large trial of the malaria drug on COVID-19 patients due to safety concerns.

U.S. President Donald Trump and others have pushed the drug as a possible coronavirus treatment in recent months.

Fears for pregnant U.S. inmates

Guadalupe Velazquez has a college degree, owns a flooring company and is pregnant with a baby girl due next month.

The 30-year-old is also terrified of contracting COVID-19 in the Phoenix halfway house where she is serving her sentence on a decade-old marijuana conviction in a federal court in Arizona, according to her sister and her fiance.

While some well-known federal inmates have been released into home confinement due to COVID-19 fears, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said it still has 28 women who are pregnant or recently gave birth in custody, including Velazquez.

President fact-checked

Twitter on Tuesday for the first time prompted readers to check the facts in U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets, putting into application an extension of its new “misleading information” policy, introduced this month to combat misinformation about the novel coronavirus.

Hours after Trump said on Twitter that mail-in ballots would be “substantially fraudulent” and result in a “rigged election”, Twitter posted a blue exclamation mark alert underneath those tweets, prompting readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots” and directing them to a page with information aggregated by Twitter staff about the assertions.

Trump, who has more than 80 million followers on Twitter, lashed out at the company in response, accusing it – in a tweet – of interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Phased back to normal

Here are some signposts of companies and country leaders planning the resumption of normal activity:

A draft blueprint on safely starting travel between New Zealand and Australia will be presented to both governments in early June, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday, in what would be the creation of a travel “bubble” between the neighbors.

Walt Disney Co presents its proposal for a phased reopening of its Orlando, Florida, theme parks to a task force on Wednesday.

Trump believes there would be “no greater example of reopening” than a summit of Group of Seven leaders in the United States near the end of June, the White House said. The goal was for the summit to be held at the White House and world leaders who attended would be protected, said White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany.

Google said on Tuesday it would start to reopen buildings in more cities beginning July 6 and scale up to 30% in September.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Nick Tattersall; Editing by Pravin Char)

Notre-Dame service a message of hope for France in coronavirus lockdown

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) – Nearly a year after fire devastated Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, the city’s Archbishop held a small ceremony there to mark Good Friday, praying that Easter’s message of rebirth might bring comfort to a country stricken by the coronavirus pandemic.

Only seven people, including Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit, attended the solemn service in the apse behind Notre-Dame’s Pietà due to the nationwide lockdown across France, but many more watched on their televisions.

“A year ago, this cathedral was burning, causing bewilderment,” said Aupetit, after bowing before a relic of Christ’s crown of thorns that was famously saved from the blaze by a fireman.

“Today we are in this half-collapsed cathedral to say that life continues.”

The world had been “brought down and paralysed by a pandemic that spreads death”, Aupetit said. “As we are going to celebrate Easter, we will celebrate life which is stronger than death, love stronger than hate.”

The prized golden wreath rested on a red velvet pillow placed on an altar in front of a huge golden cross, as Aupetit led the service dressed in crimson vestments.

He and his fellow clerics wore white hard hats as they entered the cathedral, much of which remains a building site, before removing them for the service.

French actors Philippe Torreton and Judith Chemla read texts by Christian writers Charles Peguy and Paul Claudel, while classical violinist Renaud Capuçon provided musical accompaniment.

All three were clad in white jumpsuits and boots to protect them against lead poisoning after the fire left traces of the metal throughout the building.

The one-hour ceremony ended with Chemla singing “Ave Maria”.

It was the second service to have been held in the Gothic church since the April 15 fire.

On June 15, 2019, a mass to commemorate the cathedral’s consecration as a place of worship was held in a side-chapel of Notre-Dame that had been undamaged by the blaze.

The fire destroyed the mediaeval cathedral’s roof, toppled the spire and almost brought down the main bell towers and outer walls before firefighters brought it under control.

President Emmanuel Macron has set a target of five years for restoring Notre-Dame, one of Europe’s most recognisable landmarks. Restoration work has, however, been put on hold by the lockdown that began in France on March 17.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

France moves patients from swamped hospitals as death toll climbs

France moves patients from swamped hospitals as death toll climbs
PARIS (Reuters) – France used two high-speed trains and a German military plane to move more than three dozen critically ill coronavirus patients on Sunday to ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals in eastern France.

The Grand Est region was the first in France to be hit by a wave of coronavirus infections that has rapidly moved westwards to engulf the greater Paris region, where hospitals are desperately adding intensive care beds to cope with the influx.

The number of coronavirus deaths in France since March 1 climbed 13% to 2,606 on Sunday, while the total number of confirmed infections rose above 40,000.

The specially adapted trains carried 36 patients to the Nouvelle-Acquitaine region in the southwest, where a line of ambulances waited outside Bordeaux station.

“We urgently need to relieve congestion in the region’s intensive care units, because you have to stay one step ahead,” Francois Braun, head of the SAMU paramedics, told RTL radio.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Saturday warned France’s 67 million people that the toughest weeks in the fight against epidemic were still to come, as the number of patients on life support rose to more than 4,600.

Hospitals are racing to add intensive care facilities, sometimes taking ventilators out of operating theaters as they build makeshift units. Student medics are being drafted in and retired doctors are returning to the wards.

President Emmanuel Macron has deployed the army to help to move the sick while a field hospital has been set up in the eastern city of Mulhouse.

Paramedics in hazmat suits loaded several patients on life-support into a German Airbus <AIR.PA> A400M aircraft in Strasbourg for transfer across the border to the German city of Ulm.

European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin hailed the German aid as a symbol of European solidarity, though she expressed frustration at the failure of European Union members to agree on how to mitigate the sharp economic downturn.

(Reporting by Richard Lough and Jean-Stephane Brosse; Editing by David Goodman and Giles Elgood)

‘We are at war’: France imposes lockdown to combat virus

By Michel Rose and Richard Lough

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday ordered stringent restrictions on people’s movement to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and said the army would be drafted in to help move the sick to hospitals.

France had already shut down restaurants and bars, closed schools and put ski resorts off limits, but Macron said measures unprecedented in peacetime were needed as the number of infected people doubled every three days and deaths spiraled higher.

In a somber address to the nation, the president said that from Tuesday midday (1100 GMT) people should stay at home unless it was to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise or for medical care.

Anyone flouting the restrictions, in place for at least the next two weeks, would be punished.

“I know what I am asking of you is unprecedented but circumstances demand it,” Macron said.

“We’re not up against another army or another nation. But the enemy is right there: invisible, elusive, but it is making progress.”

He said tougher action was needed after too many people ignored earlier warnings and mingled in parks and on street corners over the weekend, risking their own health and the wellbeing of others.

In France the coronavirus has killed 148 people and infected more than 6,600.

ARMY MOBILIZED

Under the new measures, soldiers would help transport the sick to hospitals with spare capacity and a military hospital with 30 intensive care beds would be set up in the eastern region of Alsace, where one of the largest infection clusters has broken out.

Macron said he was postponing the second round of local elections on Sunday. Because the government’s sole focus needed to be fighting the pandemic, he said he was suspending his reform agenda, starting with his overhaul of the pension system.

The government would, when necessary, legislate by decree to fight the coronavirus, he said.

Coronavirus infections and fatalities in France and Spain have been surging at a pace just days behind that of Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe where hospitals in the worst-hit northern regions are stretched to breaking point.

Seeking to offer further reassurance to businesses, Macron said the government would guarantee 300 billion euros worth of loans. The loan guarantee plan would be submitted to parliament in coming weeks and would be retroactive, a finance ministry source said.

Rent and utility bills owed by small companies would also be suspended to help them weather the economic storm, he added.

“No French company, whatever its size, will be exposed to the risk of collapse,” Macron said.

(Reporting by Michel Rose and Benoit Van Overstraten; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Christian Lowe)

Lockdowns and entry bans imposed around the world to fight coronavirus

(Reuters) – France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people, Australia ordered self-isolation of arriving foreigners and other countries extended entry bans as the world sought to contain the spreading coronavirus.

Panic buying in Australia, the United States and Britain saw leaders appeal for calm over the virus that has infected over 156,000 people globally and killed more than 5,800.

Several countries imposed bans on mass gathering, shuttered sporting, cultural and religious events, while medical experts urged people to practice “social distancing” to curb the spread.

Austria’s chancellor urged people to self-isolate and announced bans on gatherings of more than five people and further limits on who can enter the country.

All of Pope Francis’ Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending, the Vatican said on Sunday, in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.

The services, four days of major events from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, usually draw tens of thousands of people to sites in Rome and in the Vatican.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said from midnight Sunday international travelers arriving in the country would need to isolate themselves for 14 days, and foreign cruise ships would be banned for 30 days, given a rise in imported cases.

Australia’s latest restrictions mirror those announced by neighboring New Zealand on Saturday.

TRAVEL BANS, AIRLINE CUTBACKS

Donald Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, his doctor said on Saturday, as the U.S. president extended his country’s travel ban to Britain and Ireland.

Last week, Trump had met a Brazilian delegation in which at least one member has since been tested positive.

Travel restrictions and bans, and a plunge in global air travel, saw further airline cutbacks, with American Airlines Inc planning to cut 75% of international flights through May 6 and ground nearly all its widebody fleet.

China tightened checks on international travelers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row.

Anyone arriving to Beijing from abroad will be transferred directly to a central quarantine facility for 14 days for observation starting March 16, a city government official said.

China, where the epidemic began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.

South Korean soldiers clean desks with disinfectant in a classroom of a cram school for civil service exams, following the rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

China has reported 80,984 cases and 3,203 deaths. The country imposed draconian containment policies from January, locking down several major cities.

LOCKDOWNS, STAY HOME

Spain put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown on Saturday as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the epidemic in Europe’s second worst-affected country after Italy.

Streets in Madrid and Barcelona were deserted on Sunday. All major newspapers carried a front-page wrapper emblazoned with a government-promoted slogan: “Together we’ll stop this virus.”

Spain has had 193 deaths from the virus and 6,250 cases so far, public broadcaster TVE said on Sunday.

France will shut shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from Sunday with its 67 million people were told to stay home after confirmed infections doubled in 72 hours.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government had no other option after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected.

“We must absolutely limit our movements,” he said.

However, French local elections went ahead.

“I am going to vote and keep living my life no matter what. I am not scared of the virus,” said a 60-year-old voter, who asked to be identified only as Martine, at a Paris polling station.

Britain is preparing to ban mass gatherings and could isolate people aged over 70 for up to four months as part of plans to tackle coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Argentina banned entry to non-residents who have been to any country highly affected by coronavirus in the last 14 days, while Colombia said it would expel four Europeans for violating compulsory quarantine protocols, hours after closing its border with Venezuela.

Starting Sunday, South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to stricter border checks, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran which have had major outbreaks.

Visitors from those countries now need to download an app to report whether they have symptoms. South Korea has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers using cell phone and satellite technology.

(Reporting by John Irish in Paris;Belén Carreño, Sonya Dowsett and Ingrid Melander in Madrid; Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Judy Hua in Beijing; Kate Lamb in Sydney; David Shepardson in Washington; Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Paul Sandle in London; Philip Pullella in Rome; Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich; Writing by Michael Perry and Frances Kerry; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Edmund Blair)

UK conducts random coronavirus testing as part of early warning plan

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has started random tests for coronavirus on flu patients to have an early warning system in place in case the outbreak becomes more widespread, a senior health official said.

Britain has so far had 13 cases of coronavirus. An outbreak in northern Italy worsened on Wednesday, and the illness has spread to Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and France via visitors who were recently in northern Italy.

“We’re heightening our vigilance because of the apparent spread of the virus in countries outside mainland China,” Public Health England’s medical director, Paul Cosford, told BBC radio on Wednesday.

The disease is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.

British health minister Matt Hancock said the government had plans in place in case the virus becomes a pandemic.

In Britain, random tests for the virus will be carried out at 11 hospitals and 100 general medical offices on people who have flu symptoms including a cough, plus shortness of breath and a fever.

“This testing will tell us whether there’s evidence of infection more widespread than we think there is. We don’t think there is at the moment,” PHE’s Cosford said.

“The other thing it will do is, if we do get to the position of more widespread infection across the country, then it will give us early warning that that’s happening,” he added.

Hancock told parliament the government expected more cases in Britain and was planning to introduce home testing.

“We are taking all necessary measures to minimise the risk to the public,” he said. “The public can be assured that we have a clear plan to contain, delay, research and mitigate this virus.”

Media have reported several schools have closed or sent pupils home after returning from trips to northern Italy during last week’s school holiday. Hancock said there was no need for schools to close or other students or staff to be sent home.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by William Schomberg and Stephen Addison)

French police clash with firefighters at Paris demonstration

PARIS (Reuters) – French police clashed on Tuesday with firefighters protesting in Paris against their working conditions and demanding more pay.

Thousands of firefighters attended the protest in the French capital, asking for an increase of their hazard bonus, which has not changed since 1990.

Police fired tear gas and hit some protesters with batons.

In October, firefighters also protested in Paris, calling for better pay, guarantees of their pension benefits and greater respect for their profession.

France has seen widespread labor unrest since December, with unions mobilizing against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the pension system.

(Reporting by Matthieu Protard and Sophie Louet; Editing by Peter Graff)