U.S. troops to start extended exercises in Lithuania amid tensions over Belarus

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) – U.S. troops and tanks will arrive in Lithuania on Friday for a two-month deployment near the Belarus border, but the government said the move was not a message to its Russian-backed neighbor, where protests continue over a disputed election.

In an announcement on Wednesday evening, NATO member Lithuania said U.S. troops will be moved from Poland for pre-planned military exercises. These are “defensive in nature and not directed against any neighbor, including Belarus,” it added.

However, the troops are arriving earlier and staying longer than the government had indicated before the outbreak of protests in Belarus over the Aug. 9 election that returned President Alexander Lukashenko, a key ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, to power.

Lukashenko has denied accusations by the Belarus opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted protesters’ demands to step down. He has accused NATO of a military buildup near Belarus’ borders, something the alliance denied, and has said he will ask for Russian military help if needed.

The deployment in Lithuania, which will begin on Friday and will last until November, includes 500 American troops and 40 vehicles, such as Abrams tanks and Bradley armored troop carriers, a Lithuanian army spokesman said.

On July 29, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis told BNS wire the United States would send a battalion-sized troop contingent – between 300 to 1,000 soldiers – in September, for two weeks’ training, beginning in the middle of the month.

He repeated that information on Aug. 4 in an interview with public radio LRT.

“Deployment was aligned with training schedule and training area availability,” defense minister spokeswoman Vita Ramanauskaite told Reuters.

In addition to the U.S. deployment, up to 1,000 troops and military planes from France, Italy, Germany, Poland and others will take part in an annual exercise on Sept. 14-25, the Lithuanian army spokesman said.

The ministry did not state any plans for those troops to stay beyond Sept. 25.

Karoblis said earlier this month that there was a real danger Russia would send forces to Belarus.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Simon Johnson, Steve Orlofsky and Frances Kerry)

Italy says China a key strategic partner, despite U.S. concerns

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy and China need to forge closer ties, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Tuesday, potentially putting Rome at odds with Washington, which has raised alarm over Beijing’s economic ambitions.

Di Maio was speaking after talks with the Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi, who was beginning a visit to Europe that will also include the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany.

Italy became the first major Western economy to join China’s international infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, when it signed a raft of accords in 2019. However, the move has yielded little for Italy so far.

“It was a very fruitful meeting,” Di Maio said, adding that he had discussed with Wang how to “relaunch (our) strategic partnership from the economic and industrial view point”.

Wang told reporters it was important for China and the European Union to strengthen relations and deepen cooperation to tackle the coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump blames Beijing for the spread of the disease, which emerged in China last year. He also wants to restrict the global development of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., accusing it of acting as a Trojan Horse for Chinese cyber spies.

Italy has not joined the United States in imposing restrictions on Huawei and Di Maio made no reference to the company in his remarks. In an apparent reference to tensions with Washington, Wang said China did not want to see a Cold War.

“A Cold War would be a step backwards,” he said. “We will not let other countries do this for their own private interests, while damaging the interests of other countries.”

Di Maio said he had raised the issue of Hong Kong with Wang, saying its citizens’ rights and freedoms had to be respected.

China unveiled a national security law last month which Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and the West say breaches the 1984 Sino-British treaty that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Long-term complications of COVID-19 signals billions in healthcare costs ahead

By Caroline Humer, Nick Brown and Emilio Parodi

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Late in March, Laura Gross, 72, was recovering from gall bladder surgery in her Fort Lee, New Jersey, home when she became sick again.

Her throat, head and eyes hurt, her muscles and joints ached and she felt like she was in a fog. Her diagnosis was COVID-19. Four months later, these symptoms remain.

Gross sees a primary care doctor and specialists including a cardiologist, pulmonologist, endocrinologist, neurologist, and gastroenterologist.

“I’ve had a headache since April. I’ve never stopped running a low-grade temperature,” she said.

Studies of COVID-19 patients keep uncovering new complications associated with the disease.

With mounting evidence that some COVID-19 survivors face months, or possibly years, of debilitating complications, healthcare experts are beginning to study possible long-term costs.

Bruce Lee of the City University of New York (CUNY) Public School of Health estimated that if 20% of the U.S. population contracts the virus, the one-year post-hospitalization costs would be at least $50 billion, before factoring in longer-term care for lingering health problems. Without a vaccine, if 80% of the population became infected, that cost would balloon to $204 billion.

Some countries hit hard by the new coronavirus – including the United States, Britain and Italy – are considering whether these long-term effects can be considered a “post-COVID syndrome,” according to Reuters interviews with about a dozen doctors and health economists.

Some U.S. and Italian hospitals have created centers devoted to the care of these patients and are standardizing follow-up measures.

Britain’s Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are each leading national studies of COVID-19’s long-term impacts. An international panel of doctors will suggest standards for mid- and long-term care of recovered patients to the World Health Organization (WHO) in August.

YEARS BEFORE THE COST IS KNOWN

More than 17 million people have been infected by the new coronavirus worldwide, about a quarter of them in the United States.

Healthcare experts say it will be years before the costs for those who have recovered can be fully calculated, not unlike the slow recognition of HIV, or the health impacts to first responders of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

They stem from COVID-19’s toll on multiple organs, including heart, lung and kidney damage that will likely require costly care, such as regular scans and ultrasounds, as well as neurological deficits that are not yet fully understood.

A JAMA Cardiology study found that in one group of COVID-19 patients in Germany aged 45 to 53, more than 75% suffered from heart inflammation, raising the possibility of future heart failure.

A Kidney International study found that over a third of COVID-19 patients in a New York medical system developed acute kidney injury, and nearly 15% required dialysis.

Dr. Marco Rizzi in Bergamo, Italy, an early epicenter of the pandemic, said the Giovanni XXIII Hospital has seen close to 600 COVID-19 patients for follow-up. About 30% have lung issues, 10% have neurological problems, 10% have heart issues and about 9% have lingering motor skill problems. He co-chairs the WHO panel that will recommend long-term follow-up for patients.

“On a global level, nobody knows how many will still need checks and treatment in three months, six months, a year,” Rizzi said, adding that even those with mild COVID-19 “may have consequences in the future.”

Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital has seen more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients for follow-up. While major cardiology problems there were few, about 30% to 40% of patients have neurological problems and at least half suffer from respiratory conditions, according to Dr. Moreno Tresoldi.

Some of these long-term effects have only recently emerged, too soon for health economists to study medical claims and make accurate estimates of costs.

In Britain and Italy, those costs would be borne by their respective governments, which have committed to funding COVID-19 treatments but have offered few details on how much may be needed.

In the United States, more than half of the population is covered by private health insurers, an industry that is just beginning to estimate the cost of COVID-19.

CUNY’s Lee estimated the average one-year cost of a U.S. COVID-19 patient after they have been discharged from the hospital at $4,000, largely due to the lingering issues from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which affects some 40% of patients, and sepsis.

The estimate spans patients who had been hospitalized with moderate illness to the most severe cases, but does not include other potential complications, such as heart and kidney damage.

Even those who do not require hospitalization have average one-year costs after their initial illness of $1,000, Lee estimated.

‘HARD JUST TO GET UP’

Extra costs from lingering effects of COVID-19 could mean higher health insurance premiums in the United States. Some health plans have already raised 2021 premiums on comprehensive coverage by up to 8% due to COVID-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Anne McKee, 61, a retired psychologist who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee and Atlanta, had multiple sclerosis and asthma when she became infected nearly five months ago. She is still struggling to catch her breath.

“On good days, I can do a couple loads of laundry, but the last several days, it’s been hard just to get up and get a drink from the kitchen,” she said.

She has spent more than $5,000 on appointments, tests and prescription drugs during that time. Her insurance has paid more than $15,000 including $240 for a telehealth appointment and $455 for a lung scan.

“Many of the issues that arise from having a severe contraction of a disease could be 3, 5, 20 years down the road,” said Dale Hall, Managing Director of Research with the Society of Actuaries.

To understand the costs, U.S. actuaries compare insurance records of coronavirus patients against people with a similar health profile but no COVID-19, and follow them for years.

The United Kingdom aims to track the health of 10,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients over the first 12 months after being discharged and potentially as long as 25 years. Scientists running the study see the potential for defining a long-term COVID-19 syndrome, as they found with Ebola survivors in Africa.

“Many people, we believe will have scarring in the lungs and fatigue … and perhaps vascular damage to the brain, perhaps, psychological distress as well,” said Professor Calum Semple from the University of Liverpool.

Margaret O’Hara, 50, who works at a Birmingham hospital is one of many COVID-19 patients who will not be included in the study because she had mild symptoms and was not hospitalized. But recurring health issues, including extreme shortness of breath, has kept her out of work.

O’Hara worries patients like her are not going to be included in the country’s long-term cost planning.

“We’re going to need … expensive follow-up for quite a long time,” she said.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer and Nick Brown in New York; Emilio Parodi in Milan and Alistair Smout in London; editing by Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot)

Masked and gloved, Italy joins nations creeping out of lockdown

By Crispian Balmer and Jonathan Allen

ROME/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Italy was among a slew of countries easing lockdown restrictions on Monday to resurrect their economies, but officials cautioned against moving too swiftly as new coronavirus cases passed 3.5 million globally and deaths neared a quarter of a million.

Italy, among the world’s hardest-hit countries, started to relax the longest lockdown in Europe, allowing about 4.5 million people to return to work after nearly two months at home. Construction work can resume and relatives can reunite.

“I woke up at 5.30 a.m. I was so excited,” said Maria Antonietta Galluzzo, a grandmother taking her three-year-old grandson for a walk in Rome’s Villa Borghese park, the first time they had seen each other in eight weeks.

“He has grown by this much,” she said, holding up three horizontal fingers.

Spain, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Israel, Tunisia and Lebanon were also among countries easing some restrictions, variously reopening factories, construction sites, parks, hairdressers and libraries. In the United States, around half of states partially reopened their economies over the weekend.

The easing comes as the daily rate of new COVID-19 cases worldwide has been sitting in a 2%-3% range over the past week, down from a peak of around 13% in mid-March.

Global cases have risen to around 3.52 million, according to a Reuters tally based on government data. However, cases may cause only mild symptoms and not everyone with symptoms is tested, while most countries only record hospital deaths.

“We still have to be sceptical about the numbers we get,” said Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital. “We could easily have a second or a third wave because a lot of places aren’t immune.”

Children play in the courtyard of a private school open to children of health workers and workers on the coronavirus frontline in Saint-Sebastien-sur-Loire near Nantes during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

PHASED REOPENING

Countries are only gradually reopening due to such fears and warnings from officials not to lower their guard.

In the United States, even as warm weather led sunseekers to flock to green spaces in Manhattan, an epidemic epicentre, President Donald Trump warned the national death toll – now at almost 68,000 – could rise to 100,000.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said his country, where the novel coronavirus has killed almost 29,000 people and over a thousand new cases are reported daily, was still in the “full throes of the pandemic”.

Friends in the country are still barred from meeting up, most shops must stay shut until May 18, and schools, cinemas and theatres remain closed indefinitely.

“It is good to be back, but the world has totally changed,” said Gianluca Martucci, pulling up the shutters on the small warehouse of a catering business in the backstreets of Rome.

“The government has been very wise so far, but I worry that we might be starting up a little too soon … I don’t know if the country could survive a second wave.”

Israel, after weeks of strict closures, has also started to relax curbs in a phased manner. Schools for children in grades 1-3, aged six to nine, have reopened, following the opening of some stores in late April.

MASK, GLOVES, DISTANCE

People around the world are adjusting to a new normal.

A continuous hum of cars, buses and motorbikes pointed to an increase in early morning commuting in Rome, but traffic was noticeably lighter than before the virus struck and those out appeared to be following the guidelines on social distancing.

In Beirut, restaurants began to reopen but were removing chairs and tables in compliance with government rules that they do not fill beyond 30% of their capacity.

“This is a great step,” said Ralph Malak, a bar owner. “It’s very good for the staff to start to get motivated again, to come back to work, and for the economy to start moving.”

Hairdressers were allowed to partially reopen, with barbers operating on certain days and women’s salons on others.

Iran, which has reported more than 6,000 deaths, is due to reopen mosques in 132 cities on Monday. Worshippers must maintain social distancing, wear masks and gloves and not stay for more than half an hour, the ISNA news agency reported.

More movement is seen on the Constitution bridge, as the country begins relaxing restrictions as it prepares a staged end to Europe’s longest coronavirus lockdown due to spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Venice, Italy, May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

WAR OF WORDS ON VIRUS

While stringent measures to curb the outbreak have often been broadly backed by the public, governments are counting the economic price.

Factory activity was ravaged across the world in April, business surveys showed, and the outlook looked bleak as shutdowns froze global production and slashed demand. As a result, the global economy is expected to suffer its steepest contraction on record this year.

“This past week saw the amazing coincidence of the publication of the deepest quarterly economic decline in the Western world in almost 100 years and the conclusion to the strongest monthly equity rally in more than 30 years,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit.

Escalating tensions between the United States and China over the origin of the pandemic drove down stock markets and oil prices on Monday as investors feared a new trade war.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the virus emerged from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan. He did not provide evidence or dispute an earlier U.S. intelligence conclusion that the virus was not man-made.

An editorial in China’s Global Times, run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said he was “bluffing” and called on Washington to present its evidence.

(Additional reporting by Gavin Jones in Rome, Steven Scheer in Tel Aviv, Tarek Amara in Tunis, Tom Perry in Beirut, Jonathan Cable in London, Sam Holmes and Jane Wardell in Sydney, Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Pravin Char; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – The number of confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus were reported to have exceeded 1.5 million globally and the death toll rose above 89,400, according to a Reuters tally as of 1400 GMT.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

EUROPE

* Spain’s prime minister warned that nationwide confinement would likely last until May even though he said the worst should soon be over and the death toll slowed.

* Italy may start lifting some restrictions by the end of April provided the slowing trend continues, its prime minister told the BBC, but the easing can only be gradual.

* Germany’s health minister said restrictions are flattening the curve showing new cases.

* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is getting better but remains in intensive care as his government reviews the most stringent shutdown in the peacetime history.

* Russia reported a record one-day rise in cases, pushing its tally to more than 10,000, a day after President Vladimir Putin said the coming weeks would prove decisive in the fight against the virus.

* The Czech Republic plans to roll out a system of quickly tracking and isolating contacts of people with the virus to eventually allow the lifting of blanket restrictions.

* Slovakia closed off several Roma settlements in the eastern part of the country after reports of virus clusters in five of them.

* Bulgaria’s prime minister said the country’s Orthodox churches and temples will be open for traditional Palm Sunday and Easter services despite the outbreak.

AMERICAS

* The top U.S. infectious disease expert warned against reopening the economy too soon after a downward revisions in the projected death toll.

* The White House is expected to announce soon formation of a second coronavirus task force, this one devoted to getting the economy going again when the time is right.

* The U.S. Senate failed to pass an additional $250 billion of aid intended to help small businesses as Democrats and Republicans blocked each other’s proposals.

* Canada’s death toll is set to soar from the current 435 to as high as 22,000 by the end of the pandemic, while the economy lost a record 1 million jobs last month.

* Brazil’s health minister said the country’s attempts to purchase thousands of ventilators from China fell through and the government is now looking to Brazilian companies to build the devices.

* Mexico has reported more than 3,000 cases, but many who are infected likely did not have symptoms or were not diagnosed, with the actual number estimated at 26,500.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

* China will allocate more resources to prevent the spread of the virus from its land borders, as the country still faces risks of a comeback after new clusters are identified in some regions.

* The total number of infections in Japan hit more than 5,300 on Thursday, showing no signs of slowing despite a state of emergency being imposed on Tokyo and six other areas.

* India claimed initial success in its fight against the epidemic, saying it would have been hit with 820,000 cases by next week had it not imposed a nationwide lockdown.

* Vietnam said more than 1,000 healthcare workers and 14,400 others linked to an outbreak at a Hanoi hospital have tested negative.

* Singapore confirmed 287 new infections on Thursday, its biggest daily increase yet, with more than 200 of them linked to outbreaks in dormitories for foreign workers.

* Indonesia reported its biggest daily jump in deaths on Thursday, while neighbouring Malaysia had its second-lowest daily increase since a partial lockdown was imposed on March 18.

* Australian police said they have taken the “black box” of a cruise ship which disembarked hundreds of infected passengers in Sydney, as part of a homicide investigation into the country’s deadliest infection source.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* All Botswana’s parliamentarians including the president will be quarantined for two weeks and tested, after a health worker screening lawmakers for the virus tested positive.

* Lebanon extended its almost month-long shutdown by another two weeks until April 26.

* Political and physical divisions in the West Bank and Gaza have induced two very different responses, with a strict lockdown in the first and crowds milling about freely in the second.

* A South African public sector union withdrew a court case against the government over shortages of protective gear for frontline health workers.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* Global equity benchmarks gained on Thursday following signs that governments and central banks are taking additional steps to bolster their economies as measures to slow the spread of the pandemic appear to be working.

* The pandemic will turn global economic growth “sharply negative” in 2020, triggering the worst fallout since the 1930s Great Depression, with only a partial recovery seen in 2021, the head of the International Monetary Fund said.

* The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits in the last three weeks has blown past 15 million, with weekly new claims topping 6 million for the second straight time.

* The U.S. Federal Reserve rolled out a broad, $2.3 trillion effort to bolster local governments and small and mid-sized businesses.

* U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that aid for airlines will be the “next big thing” to be rolled out.

* The European Union faces an existential threat if it cannot come together to combat the crisis, Italy said on Thursday as the divided bloc sought to salvage talks on a rescue package.

* The Bank of England has agreed temporarily to finance government borrowing if funds cannot immediately be raised from debt markets, reviving a measure last widely used during the 2008 financial crisis.

(Compiled by Sarah Morland, Milla Nissi, Aditya Soni and Uttaresh.V; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Arun Koyyur and Anil D’Silva)

Italy’s daily coronavirus death toll falls, but new cases accelerate

ROME (Reuters) – Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy rose by 542 on Wednesday, a lower tally than the 604 the day before, but the number of new cases pushed higher to 3,836 compared with a previous 3,039.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 rose to 17,669, the Civil Protection Agency said, the highest in the world.

The number of confirmed cases climbed to 139,422, the third highest global tally behind that of the United States and Spain.

There were 3,693 people in intensive care on Wednesday against 3,792 on Tuesday — a fifth consecutive daily decline, underscoring growing hopes that the illness is on the retreat thanks to a nationwide lockdown introduced on March 9.

Of those originally infected, 26,491 were declared recovered against 24,392 a day earlier.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gavin Jones)

Residents take coronavirus surveillance into their own hands

By Thin Lei Win and Beh Lih Yi

ROME/KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A week after Malaysia ordered a partial lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, construction supervisor Hafi Nazhan saw residents in his affluent Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood jogging outside.

He took photos of people flouting the stay-at-home order and published them on Twitter, receiving hundreds of shares. Hafi’s followers informed the police, who subsequently arrested 11 joggers in his neighbourhood.

They were charged with violating the movement restriction order and each fined 1,000 ringgit ($230) in court.

“I was upset some people did not take this stay-at-home order seriously. These are well-educated people,” Hafi, 26, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that police were spurred into taking action after his tweets went viral.

As governments around the world urge citizens to stay indoors to contain the deadly virus, concerned communities are taking surveillance matters into their own hands, reporting alleged breaches of quarantine and questioning anyone they deem suspicious.

The respiratory disease – which emerged in China late last year – has infected roughly 1.2 million people and killed about 65,000, according to a global tally by Johns Hopkins University.

In Singapore, a Facebook post by a man sharing a photo of himself enjoying a bowl of bak kut teh – pork rib soup – in a restaurant when he should be self-quarantining at home was so widely circulated that officials stepped in.

Singapore’s law minister ordered an investigation and the immigration authorities told local media the man was likely to be charged, although they did not respond to requests seeking comment.

In New Zealand, which is under a one-month shutdown, a police website set up to allow residents to report their neighbours who break isolation rules crashed hours after going live.

The website has received about 14,000 reports in less than a week since its March 29 launch, New Zealand police said in an email. They reportedly include people playing frisbee and holding parties.

In Italy, which has been under lockdown for weeks, fraying tempers have led to people being insulted from balconies or photographed and put on social media.

In Spain, locals have also begun posting videos of people going for a run, walking in the park, riding a bike – all prohibited activities – on social media.

HEALTH VS. PRIVACY

Such tip-offs and videos have sparked a debate over digital ethics with some arguing that normal privacy rules do not apply in a health emergency because the information is in the public interest.

“When we are all threatened with the risk of catching a lethal, incurable disease I see no reason why individuals should not report their legitimate concerns to the authorities,” said David Watts, former privacy commissioner for Australia’s Victoria state.

“There is not much point having privacy rights when you are dead,” added Watts, who now teaches information law and policy at Melbourne-based La Trobe University.

For David Lindsay, law professor at the University of Technology Sydney, privacy is “not an absolute right and must always be balanced against other rights and interests”.

“The balance struck obviously depends upon circumstances, and a global pandemic is an extreme event,” he said.

Still, both Watts and Lindsay said the balance between privacy and surveillance should be reset when the pandemic is over.

Others, like Joseph Cannataci, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to privacy, fear surveillance measures ranging from facial recognition to phone tracking could outlast the current crisis.

“Dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.

STIGMA AND FEAR

Community surveillance could also end up being used “in a malicious way, particularly to replicate prejudice or bias”, warned Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at digital rights group Access Now.

“Often the people who might be reported on will be the least privileged, or might be belong to, in the case of India, lower caste communities or people who have to work outside,” he said.

Human rights experts worry that the tens of thousands of migrant workers who returned to Myanmar after a shutdown in neighbouring Thailand’s left them jobless will come under intense scrutiny.

In a village in central Myanmar, locals would not allow a young man who returned from Thailand to stay in his home, said Khin Zaw Win, a Yangon-based political analyst.

Foreigners have also been targeted on social media, with a Facebook video showing agitated residents in a neighbourhood in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, who described barging into a building after seeing Chinese visitors coughing.

Filmed Tuesday night, it has received more than 1 million views and 10,000 shares.

“The public is being very sensitive at the moment … when the key in this kind of situation is that you should help each other,” said Khin Zaw Win.

“Some of it have to do with the narrative that (coronavirus) was brought here from abroad. I think the panic is even scarier than the virus,” he added.

Myanmar so far has about 20 confirmed cases of the virus, with the health ministry warning of a “major outbreak” after the return of migrant workers from Thailand.

Officials have also reminded the public that failure to report people suspected of being infected could lead to jail sentences of up to a month.

“From the point of view of public health, surveillance and tracking is essential. The faster and the more effectively you can enforce it, the better,” said Sid Naing, Myanmar country director for health charity Marie Stopes International.

“But it should not be done in a way that breeds hatred and fear. It should be done based on understanding and support,” he said.

“At the moment, the state cannot provide full surveillance so people started doing it themselves because they are terrified … but there are stigma and discrimination behind the fear and those are the problems.”

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink and Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, additional reporting from Sophie Davies in Barcelona, editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Italy’s social security website hit by hacker attack

ROME (Reuters) – Computer hackers have attacked Italy’s social security website, forcing it to shut down on Wednesday just as people were starting to apply for coronavirus benefits, the head of the welfare agency said.

Pasquale Tridico said his INPS agency had received some 339,000 applications for the 600 euro ($655) so far, but that hackers had compromised access to the site.

“In the last few days we have suffered several hacker attacks that produced a major breakdown,” Tridico told state broadcaster RAI. “They continued today and we had to close the website.”

The government has imposed a nationwide lockdown to try to contain an outbreak of coronavirus that has killed almost 12,500 people in under six weeks.

The restrictions have brought much of the Italian business world to a halt, wreaking havoc with many peoples’ livelihoods.

In an initial response to the economic crisis, self-employed or seasonal workers can apply to INPS for the special, 600 euro payout.

However, users trying to log onto the INPS site earlier on Wednesday reported severe disruption. Some said personal data of other people were displayed on their screens as they tried to complete their requests.

Tridico said he had told the police of the cyberattack, which has raised doubts about the security of Italy’s digital infrastructure as it struggles with the coronavirus emergency. He did not mention a data breach.

The ruling Democratic Party (PD) party said the national security services should be tasked with finding those behind the hacks. “These jackals must be stopped immediately,” said PD deputy leader Andrea Orlando.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Philippa Fletcher)

No let-up in coronavirus deaths in Italy, new cases steady death toll 12,428

ROME (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has climbed by 837 to 12,428, the Civil Protection Agency said on Tuesday, with the daily tally rising, albeit slightly, for a second day running.

The number of new cases was broadly steady, growing by 4,053 against 4,050 on Monday, and bringing total infections since the outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 to 105,792.

Some 5,217 new cases were registered on Sunday and 5,974 on Saturday, suggesting the growth curve of new infections is flattening.

The daily tally of deaths in Lombardy, the worst-affected region, declined sharply, and new infections were also down for at least the third day running, suggesting the situation is improving there faster than elsewhere in the country.

In neighboring Piedmont, on the other hand, the daily death toll of 105 was up sharply from the day before.

Of those originally infected nationwide, 15,729 had fully recovered on Tuesday, compared to 14,620 the day before. There were 4,023 people in intensive care, up from a previous 3,981.

Italy has registered more deaths than anywhere else in the world and accounts for around 30% of all global fatalities from the virus.

Italy’s largest daily toll from the five-week-old epidemic was registered on Friday, when 919 people died. There were 889 deaths on Saturday, 756 on Sunday and 812 on Monday.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer, editing by Gavin Jones)

Italy may be on wrong path in fighting coronavirus contagion: scientist

Italy may be on wrong path in fighting coronavirus contagion: scientist
By Stefano Bernabei

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s measures to halt coronavirus contagion do not seem to be working and it should change its strategy by setting up centers to separate people with suspected symptoms from their families, a prominent Italian scientist said on Monday.

Italy, which has suffered the world’s highest death toll from coronavirus, has been in nationwide lockdown for about three weeks, but in the last three days new infections have continued at between 5,000 and 6,000 per day.

The highest daily death toll since the outbreak began on Feb. 21 was registered on Friday, with 919 fatalities, and the tally was only slightly lower in the following two days.

Andrea Crisanti, professor of microbiology at Padua University, said in an interview with Radio Capital that many of these new cases are probably people who are being infected by fellow family members at home.

Crisanti said that instead of telling people with mild symptoms to self-isolate at home, the authorities should have set up centers to separate them from their families, as was done in China where the epidemic originated in December.

“Is someone posing the problem of why, despite all these restrictive measures, we are still seeing infections? Are they asking if all these people who are sick at home are infecting other members of their family?” he said.

“In our opinion, the infections are happening at home.”

Crisanti helped coordinate the coronavirus response in Italy’s affluent northeastern region of Veneto, where blanket testing was introduced at the start of Italy’s outbreak in the second half of February.

That helped identify cases and limit contagion much more successfully than in the neighboring Lombardy region where only people with severe symptoms are tested, and only in hospitals.

Lombardy has since been hit with 6,360 registered coronavirus deaths, far more than any other Italian region, whereas Veneto has recorded just 392 fatalities. However, the Lombardy outbreak was much bigger from the outset.

Crisanti argued that a similar approach to the one carried out in Veneto should now be conducted nationwide.

“We need to be much more aggressive in identifying people who are sick at home,” he said.

“We need to go to their homes, test them, test their family members, their friends and neighbors, and all the people who test positive should be taken, if they are well enough, to accommodation centers outside their homes.”

Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection Agency, said the ongoing rate of contagion and deaths did not mean the national government’s measures were ineffective.

“Without these measures we would be seeing far worse numbers and our health service would be in a far more dramatic state,” Borrelli told reporters at the weekend.

(Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)