France passes 4,000 coronavirus deaths, no end of lockdown in sight

PARIS (Reuters) – France became the fourth country to pass the 4,000 coronavirus deaths threshold on Wednesday, after Italy, Spain and the United States, as the government scrambles to stay ahead of the curve regarding ventilator-equipped beds that are quickly filling up.

French health authorities reported 509 new deaths from the disease, taking the total to 4,032. But, after speeding up the previous two days, the rate of increase of deaths has decelerated in France, which is now in its third week of lockdown to try to slow the spread of the virus.

Speaking by videoconference in front of a parliament committee created to hold the government accountable for the way it handles the crisis, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the lockdown would likely be unwound gradually rather than in one go.

The government has ordered people to stay in their homes except for essential travel from March 17 until at least April 15.

“It is likely that we are not heading towards a general de-confinement in one go and for everyone,” Philippe said without indicating when the government might start to ease or completely lift the lockdown.

The daily government tally still only accounts for those dying in hospitals but authorities say they will very soon be able to compile data on deaths in retirement homes, which is likely to result in a big increase in registered fatalities.

State health agency director Jerome Salomon told a news conference that the number of cases had risen to 56,989, a rise of 9%, versus an increase of 17% Tuesday.

Salomon said 6,017 people were in a serious condition needing life support, up 8% compared with Tuesday.

France has increased the number of beds in intensive care units from 5,000 to about 10,000 since the start of the crisis and it is aiming to reach 14,500 as soon as possible.

“We are coping with a highly exceptional pandemic, that has an unprecedented impact on our health system. A deadly pandemic, with a very contagious virus”, Salomon said.

With 13,155 deaths to date, Italy accounts for almost 30% of the global death tally. Spain has 9,053 deaths and, just like France, the United States has just passed the 4,000-mark.

The four countries now account for about two-thirds of the total deaths – now at more than 45,000 – from the coronavirus around the world.

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Fed's Rosengren says unemployment rate could 'rise dramatically'

(Reuters) – Boston Federal Reserve Bank President Eric Rosengren said social distancing efforts meant to contain the coronavirus outbreak have “stilled” the economy and could lead the unemployment rate to “rise dramatically.”

“Today, we’re witnessing the pandemic’s stark effects on public health. Meanwhile, the necessary response – social

distancing – has stilled our strong economy, disrupting countless lives and livelihoods,” Rosengren said in remarks prepared for a virtual talk Wednesday afternoon. “It’s also been distorting the credit and liquidity flows that underpin our economy, threatening the greater pain of a full‐blown financial crisis.”

The Federal Reserve is moving quickly to limit the virus’s effects on the economy and on financial markets by slashing rate to zero and rolling out several liquidity facilities meant to keep credit flowing through markets, Rosengren said.

For example, the Boston Fed opened a facility that lends money to banks so they can purchase assets from money market funds. Other programs being created by the New York Fed will make it easier for firms to issue debt.

In the meantime, business closures have led to layoffs, posing significant challenges for low-income workers who have fewer resources, Rosengren said.

“”We must continue to adapt as the crisis

proceeds,” he said. “Unfortunately, we expect the unemployment rate to rise dramatically.”

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Chinese county in lockdown after coronavirus cases

BEIJING (Reuters) – A county in central China’s Henan province said on Wednesday it had virtually banned all outbound movement of people, following several cases of coronavirus infection in the area.

No one can travel out of Jia county without proper authorisation, the county, which has a population of about 600,000, said in a post on its social media account. Additionally, residents are not allowed to leave their homes for work unless they have clearance to do so.

Henan province reported one confirmed case in Luohe city on Saturday. Local authorities said the infected person had been in contact with two doctors based in Jia county who later tested positive for the virus even though they had showed no symptoms.

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When Life Gives You Parkinson’s podcast: Ending Parkinson’s

On this episode of When Life Gives You Parkinson’s, I talk with professor of neurology Ray Dorsey from the University of Rochester and Todd Sherer, the CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. These are two of the four authors behind a new book called Ending Parkinson’s Disease: A prescription for action.

Dorsey, Sherer and co-authors Michael S. Okun, MD at the University of Florida, and Bastiaan Bloem, MD and PhD from the Netherlands, each approach Parkinson’s disease from a specific point of view.

Dorsey is a telehealth and home health-care advocate who has been using technology to see patients remotely for more than a decade. He directs the Center for Health and Technology, which offers free care to anyone in New York who has Parkinson’s disease. His mission is to offer his services to anyone, anywhere.

Sherer is a neuroscientist who was part of a team that found the link between pesticides and Parkinson’s. Okun is a pioneer of surgical treatments for Parkinson’s. Bloem is the co-creator of ParkinsonNet, the world’s largest integrated care program for Parkinson’s disease. It provides customized and individualized networked treatment, which can include nutritional advice, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, exercise, clever IT, community and hope.

Their book clearly portrays Parkinson’s disease as a formidable antagonist. They describe Parkinson’s as a “man-made pandemic” that thrives today, with a diagnosis rate that doubles every 25 years, with no known cure and not enough urgency to slow the spread.

The authors point to research that suggests Parkinson’s disease was fuelled initially by the industrial revolution and continues to be diagnosed at a rate greater than the rates of aging or population growth due to pesticides that attack the nervous systems of bugs (and people), solvents, contaminated well water and head trauma.

The authors conclude Parkinson’s disease may be man-made. However, just as humans contributed to the rise of Parkinson’s in the 19th and 20th centuries, we can now work together to eradicate the disease. Readers are called to action by focusing on prevention, advocacy, care and treatment.

The book concludes with a list of 25 concrete steps we can and should take to reduce the worldwide toll of this disease. The list includes banning specific pesticides and solvents, and cleaning up contaminated sites, which will all take vigorous lobbying of the governments of many countries.

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Winnipeg police change online crime-reporting processes during coronavirus pandemic

Winnipeg police are changing some of their crime-reporting processes during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The force announced Wednesday that it’s upping the accepted value of all online reporting categories from $5,000 to $25,000 during the pandemic.

That means that anyone reporting non-domestic theft, mischief or damage under $25,000 — as long as the crimes are not in progress — should do so by phone at 204-986-8666.

Phone reports can be made Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., excluding holidays.

Police are also encouraging Winnipeggers to use their online reporting tool.

Online reporting categories include thefts, damages, frauds, hit-and-runs and retail thefts.

Police say their Virtual Police Response (VPR) system will now also accept reports of non-domestic assault and robberies that are not in progress where the suspect is unknown.

The VPR system was started as a pilot in the summer and was originally set up to allow Winnipeggers to report break-and-enters through a video chat system with a police officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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Fiat Chrysler, GM try discounts, online buying to juice dormant auto sales

(Reuters) – With auto showrooms shut during the coronavirus pandemic, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors Co (GM.N) moved to reboot demand moved to reboot demand with seven-year, no interest loans and programs allowing customers to buy vehicles online.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s (FCHA.MI) (FCAU.N) new “Drive Forward” marketing program includes online shopping tools that will for the first time allow U.S. customers to complete the purchase of a vehicle through an FCA dealer without setting foot in a dealership, a company spokesman said.

The move toward online sales and home delivery breaks with a long U.S. auto sector tradition of manufacturers giving franchised dealers control of sales to consumers. Dealers have fought Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O) efforts to sell vehicles directly to consumers through its website.

GM and Fiat Chrysler’s promotions of extended, no interest loans – made less costly by the Federal Reserve’s recent rate cuts – echo the “Keep America Rolling” sales push GM launched to jump start a paralyzed consumer market after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

But the pandemic has been pulling auto retailing into the digital age, with dealerships shuttered across the country and sales likely to take a further beating in April as social distancing guidelines remain in place.

FCA shares fell 4.2% to $6.80 in early trade after the company posted a 10% drop in first-quarter U.S. auto sales, as the pandemic hurt demand and halted production from mid-March, although the company did not break out sales by month.

General Motors said its first-quarter sales fell 7% because of significant declines in March and said customers can use its existing “Shop.Click.Drive.” program to find, purchase and arrange for home delivery of a vehicle.

A spokeswoman said across the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands the automaker has seen two to four times greater online site visits and sales leads than before the pandemic.

Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) said earlier that its U.S. sales fell 43% in March due to the pandemic. Other automakers also were expected to report lower sales.

“It goes without saying that the entire world is facing a tremendous challenge that is having a significant impact on business and our normal way of life,” Randy Parker, vice president for sales at Hyundai Motor America said in a statement.

FCA said its “Drive Forward program” allows customers to complete the entire vehicle purchase process online and from the comfort of their own homes.

The system allows consumers to buy vehicles off dealer lots, trade in their old vehicle and apply for a car loan, FCA said.

The company also said that as of April 1 customers can take advantage of 0% interest loans for 84 months and make no payments for 90 days on select 2019 and 2020 model vehicles.

Fiat said momentum in the first two months of the year was offset as the virus hit the economy in March. Its Ram pickup trucks were a bright spot as their sales rose 7% versus the first quarter of 2019.

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US warship leader seeks crew isolation as coronavirus spreads

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, like other navy ships, is vulnerable to infectious disease spread given its close quarters.

The captain of a US navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the novel coronavirus is asking for permission to isolate the bulk of his roughly 5,000 crew members onshore, which would take the warship out of duty in an effort to save lives.

In a memo to navy leaders, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt said the spread of the COVID-19 disease is continuing and accelerating and that removing all but 10 percent of the crew is a “necessary risk” to stop the spread of the virus. The ship is docked in Guam.

More:

  • Coronavirus: Which countries have confirmed cases?

  • Your coronavirus emergency kit: Preparation, symptoms, myths

  • What happens if you catch the new coronavirus?

Navy leaders were on Tuesday scrambling to determine how to best respond to the extraordinary request as dozens of crew members tested positive.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors,” said Captain Brett Crozier in a memo obtained by The Associated Press news agency.

A navy official said Crozier alerted commanders on Sunday evening of the continuing challenges in isolating the virus. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Crozier wants more isolated housing for the crew and that navy leadership is reviewing options to ensure the health and safety of the crew.

US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral John Aquilino told reporters on Tuesday that the navy is working to get as many sailors as possible onshore, while still maintaining a core crew to monitor the nuclear reactors and keep the ship running.

He said the pace may not be as fast as the commander would like, but it will be done on a rotation, with sailors staying onshore in isolation for 14 days, then returning to the ship virus-free so that others can go ashore.

Asked about efforts to isolate sailors onshore, he said the navy is doing what it can with facilities that are available. Officials are working with the government of Guam to try to get hotel rooms that will allow for greater isolation, Aquilino said.

Aquilino would not discuss exact numbers or timelines, but agreed with navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s assertion that about 1,000 sailors have been taken off the ship so far. He added that no sailors are currently hospitalised.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Fundamental shift 

In Asia, a carrier presence is central to what the Pentagon has identified as a fundamental shift from fighting certain conflicts in the Middle East to a return to “great power competition”. That means, principally, a bigger focus on China, including its militarisation of disputed areas of the South China Sea.

The outbreak on the carrier may be the navy’s most dramatic, but it tracks an accelerating upward trend across the military. The Pentagon said the number of cases in the military had reached 673 on Tuesday morning, a jump of 104 from the day before and up from 174 a week ago.

Since March 20, the total has surged tenfold, even as the Pentagon has taken many steps to try to limit the spread, including halting nearly all movement of troops overseas.

The carrier, like other navy ships, is vulnerable to infectious disease spread given its close quarters. The massive ship is more than 1,000 feet (305 metres) long; sailors are spread out across a labyrinth of decks linked by steep ladder-like stairs and narrow corridors. Enlisted sailors and officers have separate living quarters, but they routinely grab their food from crowded buffet lines and eat at tables joined end-to-end.

Listing many of those problems, Crozier’s memo, which was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, warns that the close quarters means that thousands of sailors now require quarantine. He said sailors have been moving off the ship into shore-based quarters, but much of that is also not adequate. He said much of the off-ship locations available so far are group quarantine sites, and already two sailors housed in an auditorium have tested positive for the virus.

To stop the spread of the virus and prevent death, Crozier said they must take a methodical approach, move the majority of the sailors off the ship, isolate them and completely clean it. He said about 10 percent of the crew would have to stay on board to secure the vessel, run critical systems and sanitise everything. Aquilino declined to confirm that estimate but said he is working with commanders to get people quarantined and tested as quickly as possible.

Necessary risk 

While removing that many may seem like an extraordinary measure, Crozier said it is a necessary risk.

“It will enable the carrier and air wing to get back under way as quickly as possible while ensuring the health and safety of our sailors,” Crozier said, adding that finding appropriate isolation for the crew “will require a political solution, but it is the right thing to do”.

Modly told CNN that efforts were under way to help the ship while ensuring that the navy and the US military continue to protect the country.

“This is a unique circumstance,” he said. “And we’re working through it and trying to maintain that proper balance to ensure that our friends and allies, and most importantly our foes and adversaries out there, understand that we are not standing down the watch.


UpFront

South China Sea: The world’s next big war?

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Kroger will give bonuses to frontline grocery workers

The Kroger Company has announced a “Hero Bonus” for frontline workers to reward them for working during the coronavirus outbreak, including employees at its King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado.

Albertsons Companies, owners of Safeway, announced a similar bonus for their workers on March 20.

The Cincinnati-based Kroger supermarket chain will provide all frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates a $2 premium above their standard base pay for hours worked March 29 through April 18, according to a company news release.

Employees will receive the premium weekly to ensure they have access to additional cash.

“Our associates have displayed the true actions of a hero, working tirelessly on the frontlines to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency,” Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, said in the release. “The Hero Bonus is just one more way we continue to convey our thanks and gratitude not only to our existing associates but also to the more than 30,000 new hires who have joined in the past two weeks and those who will soon join the Kroger Family of Companies.”

The announcement follows a commitment by the company to provide a one-time bonus to frontline associates which will be paid on April 3.

Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Companies, owners of Safeway, announced a similar $2 per-hour premium for all non-union and union frontline employees on March 20.

The temporary increase was effective March 15, 2020 until at least the end of the following pay period on March 28, 2020 for approximately 230,000 Albertsons’ associates. Albertsons has extended the pay boost until April 4, Kris Staff, a spokesperson for Albertsons/Safeway, said.

 

 

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T-Mobile completes merger with Sprint

(Reuters) – T-Mobile US Inc (TMUS.O) said on Wednesday it officially completed the merger with Sprint Corp (S.N), solidifying its postion as the No.3 wireless providers in the U.S.

T-Mobile’s long-time Chief Executive John Legere is stepping down from his position effective immediately as part of the deal.

Legere was originally set to leave at the end of April, with Mike Sievert, T-Mobile’s president, as his successor. Legere will serve on T-Mobile’s board of directors.

The combined company will now operate under the T-Mobile name and will trade on the NASDAQ as “TMUS.”

Sprint acknowledged risks in an SEC filing, saying that its internal controls over financial reporting could negatively impact the combined company.

A U.S. federal judge approved the deal in February, rejecting a claim by a group of states that the proposed transaction would violate antitrust laws and raise prices.

As part of an agreement with the Department of Justice, the combined wireless company will sell off assets to Dish Network, making the latter the fourth-largest provider in the U.S. wireless space.

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Coronavirus: MPs’ anger as Tottenham ask for taxpayers’ cash before cutting stars’ wages

Premier League football clubs have been told to cut their players’ salaries before seeking taxpayers’ cash to pay non-playing staff during the coronavirus crisis.

Tottenham Hotspur prompted anger on Tuesday when they announced they would be applying for a government scheme in order to use public funds to pay 80% of the wages of off-pitch employees.

The government’s job retention scheme pays employees unable to work due to the COVID-19 outbreak 80% of their monthly salary up to a maximum of £2,500.

The Premier League season is currently suspended as the government urges people to stay at home to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said he would “reduce the remuneration of all 550 non-playing directors and employees for April and May by 20% utilising, where appropriate, the government’s furlough scheme”.

The action was announced on the same day it was revealed Mr Levy earned a £3m bonus last year, as part of his £7m earnings, for delivering the club’s new stadium.

The Tottenham squad includes players such as England captain Harry Kane, who is estimated to earn up to £200,000 per week, and France captain Hugo Lloris, who is estimated to earn more than £100,000 per week.

Bahamas-based businessman Joe Lewis, thought to be worth more than £4bn, holds a controlling stake in Tottenham.

Fellow Premier League clubs Newcastle and Norwich have also chosen to use the government’s job retention scheme for their non-playing staff.

On Tuesday, Mr Levy expressed his hope that talks between the Premier League and players’ and managers’ unions would result in “players and coaches doing their bit for the football eco system”.

But senior politicians have told clubs they should have first sought a deal with their on-pitch stars before cutting the salaries of their non-playing staff and seeking government help.

Conservative MP Julian Knight, chair of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: “Furloughing staff is essential for smaller clubs but the big boys of the Premier League should be looking to come to a fair arrangement with their stars before they go cap in hand to the taxpayer.”

He also accused English football of operating in a “moral vacuum”.

Fellow Conservative MP Steve Brine, another member of the committee and a Tottenham fan, called on clubs and players to “show moral responsibility” through the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Wealthy football clubs MUST NOT be allowed to take public funds to furlough staff while still paying players big bucks,” he said.

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