Global coronavirus deaths top half a million

By Jane Wardell and Cate Cadell

SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – The death toll from COVID-19 surpassed half a million people on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally, a grim milestone for the global pandemic that seems to be resurgent in some countries even as other regions are still grappling with the first wave.

The respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus has been particularly dangerous for the elderly, although other adults and children are also among the 501,000 fatalities and 10.1 million reported cases.

While the overall rate of death has flattened in recent weeks, health experts have expressed concerns about record numbers of new cases in countries like the United States, India and Brazil, as well as new outbreaks in parts of Asia.

More than 4,700 people are dying every 24 hours from COVID-19-linked illness, according to Reuters calculations based on an average from June 1 to 27.

That equates to 196 people per hour, or one person every 18 seconds.

About one-quarter of all the deaths so far have been in the United States, the Reuters data shows. The recent surge in cases has been most pronounced in a handful of Southern and Western states that reopened earlier and more aggressively. U.S. officials on Sunday reported around 44,700 new cases and 508 additional deaths.

Case numbers are also growing swiftly in Latin America, on Sunday surpassing those diagnosed in Europe, making the region the second most affected by the pandemic, after North America.

On the other side of the world, Australian officials were considering reimposing social distancing measures in some regions on Monday after reporting the biggest one-day rise in infections in more than two months.

The first recorded death from the new virus was on Jan. 9, a 61-year-old man from the Chinese city of Wuhan who was a regular shopper at a wet market that has been identified as the source of the outbreak.

In just five months, the COVID-19 death toll has overtaken the number of people who die annually from malaria, one of the most deadly infectious diseases.

The death rate averages out to 78,000 per month, compared with 64,000 AIDS-related deaths and 36,000 malaria deaths, according to 2018 figures from the World Health Organization.

CHANGING BURIAL RITES

The high number of deaths has led to changes to traditional and religious burial rites around the world, with morgues and funeral businesses overwhelmed and loved ones often barred from bidding farewell in person.

In Israel, the custom of washing the bodies of Muslim deceased is not permitted, and instead of being shrouded in cloth, they must be wrapped in a plastic body bag. The Jewish tradition of Shiva where people go to the home of mourning relatives for seven days has also been disrupted.

In Italy, Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest. In New York, city crematories were at one point working overtime, burning bodies into the night as officials scouted for temporary interment sites.

In Iraq, former militiamen have dropped their guns to instead dig graves for coronavirus victims at a specially created cemetery. They have learned how to conduct Christian, as well as Muslim, burials.

ELDERLY AT RISK

Public health experts are looking at how demographics affect the death rates in different regions. Some European countries with older populations have reported higher fatality rates, for instance.

An April report by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control looked at more than 300,000 cases in 20 countries and found that about 46% of all fatalities were over the age of 80.

In Indonesia, hundreds of children are believed to have died, a development health officials have attributed to malnutrition, anemia and inadequate child health facilities.

Health experts caution that the official data likely does not tell the full story, with many believing that both cases and deaths have likely been under reported in some countries.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Daniel Wallis)

North America extends coronavirus travel restrictions: U.S. official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States, Mexico and Canada are extending restrictions on non-essential travel across their shared borders for an additional 30 days, U.S. Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a tweet.

“As President Trump stated last week, border control, travel restrictions, and other limitations remain critical to slowing the spread of coronavirus and allowing the phased opening of the country,” Wolf wrote.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

‘Elbow to elbow:’ North America meat plant workers fall ill, walk off jobs

By Tom Polansek and Rod Nickel

CHICAGO/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – At a Wayne Farms chicken processing plant in Alabama, workers recently had to pay the company 10 cents a day to buy masks to protect themselves from the new coronavirus, according to a meat inspector.

In Colorado, nearly a third of the workers at a JBS USA beef plant stayed home amid safety concerns for the last two weeks as a 30-year employee of the facility died following complications from the virus.

And since an Olymel pork plant in Quebec shut on March 29, the number of workers who tested positive for the coronavirus quintupled to more than 50, according to their union. The facility and at least 10 others in North America have temporarily closed or reduced production in about the last two weeks because of the pandemic, disrupting food supply chains that have struggled to keep pace with surging demand at grocery stores.

According to more than a dozen interviews with U.S and Canadian plant workers, union leaders and industry analysts, a lack of protective equipment and the nature of “elbow to elbow” work required to debone chickens, chop beef and slice hams are highlighting risks for employees and limiting output as some forego the low-paying work. Companies that added protections, such as enhanced cleaning or spacing out workers, say the moves are further slowing meat production.

Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor, on Sunday said it is shutting a pork plant indefinitely and warned that plant shutdowns are pushing the United States “perilously close to the edge” in meat supplies for grocers.

Lockdowns that aim to stop the spread of the coronavirus have prevented farmers across the globe from delivering produce to consumers. Millions of laborers also cannot get to the fields for harvesting and planting, and there are too few truckers to keep goods moving.

The United States and Canada are among the world’s biggest shippers of beef and pork. Food production has continued as governments try to ensure adequate supplies, even as they close broad swathes of the economy.

The closures and increased absenteeism among workers have contributed to drops in the price of livestock, as farmers find fewer places for slaughter. Since March 25, nearby lean hog futures have plunged 35%, and live cattle prices shed 15%, straining the U.S. farm economy.

North American meat demand has dropped some 30% in the past month as declining sales of restaurant meats like steaks and chicken wings outweighed a spike in retail demand for ground beef, said Christine McCracken, Rabobank’s animal protein analyst.

Frozen meats in U.S. cold storage facilities remain plentiful, but supply could be whittled down as exports to protein-hungry China increase after a trade agreement removed obstacles for American meat purchases.

“There’s a huge risk of additional plant closures,” McCracken said.

JBS had to reduce beef production at a massive plant in Greeley, Colorado, as about 800 to 1,000 workers a day stayed home since the end of March, said Kim Cordova, president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union that represents employees.

“There’s just not enough people,” Cordova said. She added that the union knew of at least 50 cases and two deaths among employees as of Friday.

Plant worker Saul Sanchez, known affectionately as “grandpa” among some co-workers, tested positive for the virus and died on April 7 at 78 years old, according to his daughter, Beatriz Rangel. She said he only went from home to work before developing symptoms, including a low fever.

“I’m heartbroken because my dad was so loyal,” Rangel said.

Brazilian owned JBS confirmed an employee with three decades of experience died from complications associated with COVID-19, without naming Sanchez. The company said he had not been at work since March 20, the same day JBS removed people older than 70 from its facilities as a precaution. He was never symptomatic while at work and never worked in the facility while sick, according to the company.

JBS said it was working with federal and state governments to obtain tests for all plant employees.

Weld County, where the plant is located, had the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases of any county in Colorado on Friday, according to the state. Health officials confirmed cases among JBS workers.

JBS said high absenteeism at the plant led slaughter rates to outpace the process of cutting carcasses into pieces of beef. The company disputed the union’s numbers on worker absences but did not provide its own. It took steps including buying masks and putting up plexiglass shields in lunch rooms to protect employees, said Cameron Bruett, spokesman for JBS USA.

“MY LIFE IS IN JEOPARDY”

At Wayne Farms’ chicken plant in Decatur, Alabama, some workers are upset the company recently made employees pay for masks, said Mona Darby, who inspects chicken breasts there and is a local leader of hundreds of poultry workers for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“My life is in jeopardy because we’re working elbow to elbow,” she said.

Wayne Farms, with annual sales exceeding $2 billion, is trying to obtain masks to distribute to employees, though supplies are limited, spokesman Frank Singleton said. He said he did not know of any instances where employees were charged for masks.

Workers at a Tyson Foods Inc chicken plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee, bought their own masks when the facility ran out, said Kim Hickerson, who loads chicken on trucks there and is a union leader. Some are talking about quitting because they are scared of getting sick, he said.

“I just put it in God’s hands,” he said.

Tyson, the top U.S. meat producer, is working to find more personal protective equipment for employees, spokesman Worth Sparkman said. The company increased cleaning at facilities and sought to space out employees, which can both slow production, according to a statement.

Workers have lost their trust in Olymel after an outbreak of the coronavirus closed a plant in Yamachiche, Quebec, according to union spokeswoman Anouk Collet. “They do not feel that the company took all the measures they could have taken to keep them safe,” she said.

Company spokesman Richard Vigneault said the plant will reopen on Tuesday with new measures in place, such as separating panels, masks and visors.

Marc Perrone, international president of the UFCW union, said meat plant workers are increasingly weighing concerns about their own safety and their responsibility to produce food.

“If we don’t take care of the food supply, the American people are going to panic,” he said.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Edward Tobin)

Honda to recall 1.2 million vehicles in North America to replace Takata airbags

The Honda logo is displayed at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Honda Motor Co said on Tuesday it would recall 1.2 million Honda and Acura vehicles in North America to replace defective Takata airbags on the driver’s side.

The company said https://hondanews.com/channels/corporate-recalls/releases/statement-by-american-honda-regarding-recall-of-takata-desiccated-replacement-driver-front-airbag-inflators it was aware of one injury linked to the defect, which may have caused the airbag to rupture when it was deployed in a crash.

Of the 23 total deaths worldwide linked to faulty Takata airbags, 21 have occurred in Honda vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the recall covers 1.1 million U.S. vehicles and is to replace inflators received “either as a permanent Takata airbag inflator recall replacement or as a service part installed following a crash or problem with the airbag itself.”

Another 100,000 vehicles are being recalled in Canada, Mexico and Central America, Honda said.

The Honda models being recalled include 2001-2007 and 2009 Honda Accord, 2001-2005 Honda Civic, 2002-2007 and 2010-2011 Honda CR-V, 2003-2011 Honda Element, 2007 Honda Fit, 2002-2004 Honda Odyssey, 2003-2008 Honda Pilot, and 2006-2014 Honda Ridgeline.

The Acura models include 2003 Acura 3.2CL, 2013-2016 Acura ILX, 2003-2006 Acura MDX, 2002-2003 Acura 3.2TL, 2004-2006 and 2009-2014 Acura TL, 2007-2016 Acura RDX, and 2010-2013 Acura ZDX.

More than 290 injuries worldwide have been linked to Takata inflators that could explode, spraying metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks. In total, 19 automakers are recalling more than 100 million potentially faulty inflators worldwide.

Repairs of the recalled Hondas and Acuras will begin immediately in the United States with replacement parts made by alternate suppliers, Honda said.

Honda became aware of the issue after a Honda Odyssey crash, where the front airbag deployed and injured the driver’s arm.

An investigation later showed that manufacturing issues at Takata’s Mexico facility introduced excessive moisture into the inflator during assembly, leading to the problem.

The total number of recalled inflators is now about 21 million in about 12.9 million Honda and Acura vehicles that have been subject to recall for replacing Takata front airbag inflators in the United States, the company said.

Automakers in the United States repaired more than 7.2 million defective Takata air bag inflators in 2018, as companies have ramped up efforts to track down parts in need of replacement.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Steve Orlofsky)

Ford to recall about 1.3 million vehicles in North America

FILE PHOTO: An airplane flies above a Ford logo in Colma, California, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

(Reuters) – Ford Motor Co said on Wednesday it would recall about 1.3 million vehicles in North America, including certain 2015-17 Ford F-150 and 2017 Ford Super Duty trucks, to add water shields to side door latches. (http://ford.to/2ySvCBJ)

The No.2 U.S. automaker said the safety recall is due to frozen door latch or a bent or kinked actuation cable in the affected vehicles, that may result in a door not opening or closing.

The company said it was not aware of any accidents or injuries associated with the issue but said because of the fault the door may appear closed, increasing the risk of the door opening while driving.

The cost of the recall was estimated to be $267 million and would be reflected in its fourth quarter results, the company said. (http://bit.ly/2yT3EWu)

Ford said it continues to expect full-year adjusted earnings in the range of $1.65 to $1.85‍​ per share.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Arun Koyyur)

North American leagues urge vigilance after Manchester attack

A man looks at flowers for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack in central Manchester, Britain May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

By Rory Carroll

(Reuters) – North America’s major sports leagues have strict safety procedures at their arenas but have urged fans attending games to be vigilant following Monday’s suicide bombing at a pop concert in Manchester, England, officials said on Tuesday.

The attack, which killed 22 people, has raised concerns in the U.S. ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, when fans flock to baseball stadiums to kick off the summer.

It also comes during the playoffs for the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), high-profile games that typically take place before sold-out crowds.

“We already have a very thorough and detailed security plan in place at all of our arenas to ensure the safety of our fans,” said Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL.

“Obviously, with yesterday’s events, arenas have been reminded to re-double their efforts and to maximize their vigilance”

The league requests that anyone attending a game report anything that they observe as suspicious or out of the ordinary to law enforcement, security or arena personnel, he said.

An NBA official echoed that sentiment.

“We are in communication with the appropriate authorities and taking all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our fans, teams and staff,” said Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman.

League officials typically do not share the specifics of their security measures for safety reasons.

The attacker in Manchester targeted Europe’s largest indoor arena, which was full to its 21,000 capacity, about the size of most NHL and NBA arenas.

Major League Baseball, which recently began its season and mostly plays its games in outdoor stadiums that are larger than NHL and NBA arenas, has a similar approach to fellow leagues.

“Fan safety and ballpark security are always our top priorities, and we will continue to do everything possible to provide a safe environment for our fans,” the league said in a statement to Reuters.

The National Football League, which has some stadiums that hold more than 80,000 people, is currently in its off-season.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

Mexico private sector eyes more NAFTA content in future products

FILE PHOTO - Trucks wait in a long queue for border customs control to cross into the U.S. at the Otay border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File photo

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A modernization of the NAFTA trade deal should protect existing industrial supply chains in North America, but could seek to source more work for future products from the member states to help create jobs, a top Mexican negotiator in the process said.

The government of U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday triggered the process to start renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico, which could usher in formal talks by mid-August.

Trump has threatened to jettison the 23-year-old accord if he cannot rework it in favor of the United States, arguing it has gutted U.S. manufacturing by outsourcing jobs to Mexico.

NAFTA’s supporters say the integration of lower-cost Mexico into production chains has safeguarded employment by enabling North America to compete better with Asian and European rivals.

Mexican business leaders say toughening rules that stipulate a certain amount of content must be sourced from North America to qualify for NAFTA certification could be one way of allaying U.S. fears, and pave the way for an agreement on the revamp.

Offering insight into how Mexico may seek to broker a deal, Moises Kalach, a linchpin of the country’s private sector defense of NAFTA, said U.S. business leaders and government officials were increasingly persuaded that existing supply chains should not be disrupted – but that future production lines could be tailored to provide more work for North America.

“Obviously, innovation and technology have been changing the way and even form of how products are made, and there’s an opportunity to have certain products and innovations made with a lot more regional integration, without doing damage to current lines of production,” Kalach, who heads the international negotiating team of Mexico’s Consejo Coordinador Empresarial business lobby, said by phone from Washington.

“This is part of the proposal that we want to put on the table, that we want to push,” Kalach added, speaking after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had kicked off a 90-day consultation process with Congress and others over NAFTA.

Elaborating, Kalach said new products and materials in industries like carmaking and electrodomestic goods – sectors where Mexico runs a sizeable trade surplus with the United States – could be made with higher NAFTA content in the future.

Trump argues Mexico’s surplus with the United States proves that the deal has hurt U.S. industry. Supporters of NAFTA say U.S. consumer demand has fueled the U.S. deficit and point out that the Mexican surplus has fallen since peaking a decade ago.

The deal underpins more than $1 trillion of trilateral trade.

U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer said in Washington that NAFTA had been successful for U.S. agriculture, investment services and the energy sector, but not manufacturing.

Kalach said after Thursday’s announcements it was still unclear exactly what the United States would seek in the renegotiation.

Thomas Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement on Thursday that the NAFTA renegotiation should do “no harm”, and urged leaders to move quickly to avoid crimping investment and overly politicizing the talks.

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Lisa Shumaker)

Hundreds of North American bee species face extinction: study

The western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis, is seen in this undated U.S. Department of Agriculture photo. REUTERS/Stephen Ausmus/USDA/Handout via Reuters

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – More than 700 of the 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii are believed to be inching toward extinction due to increased pesticide use leading to habitat loss, a scientific study showed on Wednesday.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s report concluded that of the 1,437 native bee species for which there was sufficient data to evaluate, about 749 of them were declining. Some 347 of the species, which play a vital role in plant pollination, are imperiled and at risk of extinction, the study found.

“It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming,” its author, Kelsey Kopec, said in a statement.

Habitat loss, along with heavy pesticide use, climate change and increasing urbanization are the main causes for declining bee populations, the study found.

Experts from the center reviewed the status of 316 bee species and then conducted reviews of all available information to determine the status of a further 1,121 species. The center said the species which lacked sufficient data were also presumed to be at risk of extinction.

Among the native species that are severely threatened are the Gulf Coast solitary bee, the macropis cuckoo bee and the sunflower leafcutting bee, which is now rarely seen.

Last month, the rusty patched bumble bee was listed by federal authorities as endangered, becoming the first wild bee in the continental United States to gain such protection.

Bees provide valuable services: the pollination furnished by various insects in the United States, mostly by bees, has been valued at an estimated $3 billion each year.

The center’s Kopec noted that almost 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination.

“If we don’t act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place,” she said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Hay)

U.S. lists first bumble bee species as endangered

bumble bee on flower

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – The rusty patched bumble bee, a prized but vanishing pollinator once familiar to much of North America, was listed on Tuesday as an endangered species, becoming the first wild bee in the continental United States to gain such federal protection.

One of several species facing sharp declines, the bumble bee known to scientists as Bombus affinis has plunged nearly 90 percent in abundance and distribution since the late 1990s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency listed the insect after determining it to be in danger of extinction across all or portions of its range, attributing its decline to a mix of factors, including disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss.

Named for the conspicuous reddish blotch on its abdomen, the rusty patched bumble bee once flourished across 28 states, primarily in the upper Midwest and Northeast — from South Dakota to Connecticut — and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Today, only a few small, scattered populations remain in 13 states and Ontario, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

The agency in September listed seven varieties of yellow-faced, or masked, bees in Hawaii as endangered. But Bombus affinis is the first bumble bee species to given that status, and the first wild bee of any kind to be listed in the Lower 48 states.

Bumble bees, as distinguished from domesticated honey bees, are essential pollinators of wildflowers and about a third of all U.S. crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect.

Pollination services furnished by various insects in the United States, mostly by bees, have been valued at an estimated $3 billion each year.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature ranks the rusty patched as one of 47 species of native U.S. and Canadian bumble bees, more than a quarter of which face a risk of extinction.

Government scientists point to a certain class of pesticides called neonicotinoids — widely used on crops, lawns, gardens and forests — as posing a particular threat to bees because they are absorbed into a plant’s entire system, including leaf tissue, nectar and pollen.

Bumble bee populations may be especially vulnerable to pesticides applied early in the year because for one month an entire colony depends on the success of a solitary queen that emerges from winter dormancy, the wildlife service said.

Listing under the Endangered Species Act generally restricts activities known to harm the creature in question and requires the government to prepare a recovery plan. It also raises awareness and helps focus conservation planning for the imperiled species.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)