Pope backs U.N. chief's call for global ceasefire to focus on coronavirus

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday backed a call by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire so the world can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at his weekly blessing, delivered from the official papal library instead of St. Peter’s Square because of the lockdown in Italy, Francis specifically mentioned the appeal Guterres made in a virtual news conference on Monday.

Saying the disease knows no borders, Francis appealed to everyone to “stop every form of bellicose hostility and to favor the creation of corridors for humanitarian help, diplomatic efforts and attention to those who find themselves in situations of great vulnerability”.

More than 662,700 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 30,751 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

About a third of the deaths have been in Italy, where the toll passed 10,000 on Saturday, a figure that made an extension of a national lockdown almost certain.

Confirmed cases in Italy stood at 92,472, the second-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States.

The Vatican, a 108-acre city-state surrounded by Rome, has had six confirmed cases and on Saturday spokesman Matteo Bruni said tests were carried out after a priest who lives in the papal residence tested positive.

Bruni said the pope and his closest aides did not have the disease.

The social effects of the pandemic have drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

The United Nations has been trying to mediate an end to conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya, while also providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.

Guterres warned that in war-torn countries health systems have collapsed and the small number of health professionals left were often targeted in the fighting.

In his Sunday address, Francis also appealed to authorities to be sensitive to the particular problem coronavirus poses in prisons around the world, many of them overcrowded.

He said the prison situation “could become a tragedy”.

Prisoners have rioted in a number of countries, including Italy, where at least six inmates died earlier this month. Prisoners rioted at a jail in northeastern Thailand on Sunday.

Several countries, including Germany, Sudan and Iran, have released inmates in order to reduce the strain on their prison systems.

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More than 750,000 heroic Brits volunteer to fight coronavirus for NHS

On Tuesday, the NHS appealed for volunteers to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. They wanted people to help with delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to and from hospital appointments or making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home.

They hoped for around 250,000 volunteers to help up to 1.5 million people who have been asked to shield themselves from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions.

Now it has emerged that some 750,000 Brits have signed to be NHS volunteers – three times the government’s initial call.

So many have applied, in fact, that the NHS have been forced to close registration. Twitter user Michael Seymour said: “Just tried but they've got so many people applying that they've paused recruitment.”

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and NHS Director of Primary Care said: “This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments where a single action from one person can be the difference between life and death for another, and simple acts of kindness are going to make all the difference in keeping some of the most vulnerable people well and out of hospital.”

She added: ““I am immensely proud of how the whole country is coming together to help one another – we must continue to listen to and live by the latest medical and scientific advice and through this national effort we can truly make a difference.”

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive, RVS, said: “Human compassion comes to the fore at times of great crisis. We saw that when Royal Voluntary Service was first founded during the outbreak of WW2 when a million women stepped forward to help those in need.”

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Not everyone feels the same way. Some people are describing the scheme as a “data harvesting tool for the government” and others have pointed out that masses of NHS volunteers moving around the country will only helped to spread the virus.

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Ventilators just 1/10 price of NHS ones made by British university team

The shortage of ventilators during the coronavirus crisis may have been solved by a team of super-smart engineers with a machine 10 times cheaper than the ones used by the NHS at the moment.

Researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of London have designed what they think is a working ventilator that could go into production right away, BBC News reports.

The machine, called “OxVent”, was demonstrated to British cabinet ministers this week.

In the clip, an engineer working on the project explains that inside the box is a "standard ambulance bag" which is normally compressed by hand, but in this case, uses pressure from the air supply.

By using common "off the shelf" components – 40 in total – the team has managed to create a ventilator quickly as well as inexpensively.

OxVent will be tested in Birmingham and may cost as little as £1,000 per unit, whereas the mainstream ventilators currently used by the NHS can cost upwards of £10,000.

Andrew Farmery, Professor of Anaesthetics at the University of Oxford, said: “We want something that is simple and can be built.

“I mean, sure, we can make a ventilator as fancy as you like but ‘I’ll get it to you in October if that’s alright’, that’s not an option.”

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK has also ordered 10,000 ventilators from Dyson, better known for making vacuum cleaners and hair dryers.

In a statement, Dyson said: "This is a highly complex project being undertaken in an extremely challenging timeframe.

"We are conducting a fully regulated medical device development, including testing in the laboratory and in humans, and we are scaling up for volume."

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China guards against second wave of coronavirus coming from abroad

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – The growing number of imported coronavirus cases in China risked fanning a second wave of infections at a time when “domestic transmission has basically been stopped”, a spokesman for the National Health Commission said on Sunday.

“China already has an accumulated total of 693 cases entering from overseas, which means the possibility of a new round of infections remains relatively big,” Mi Feng, the spokesman, said.

In the last seven days, China has reported 313 imported cases of coronavirus but only 6 confirmed cases of domestic transmission, the commission’s data showed.

There were 45 new coronavirus cases reported in the mainland for Saturday, down from 54 on the previous day, with all but one involving travelers from overseas.

Most of those imported cases have involved Chinese returning home from abroad.

Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday. And restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday.

Five more people died on Saturday, all of them in Wuhan, the industrial central city where the epidemic began in December. But Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, has reported only one new case on the last 10 days.

A total of 3,300 people have now died in mainland China, with a reported 81,439 infections.

Saturday marked the fourth consecutive day that Hubei province recorded no new confirmed cases. The sole case of domestically transmitted coronavirus was recorded in Henan province, bordering Hubei.

With traffic restrictions in the province lifted, Wuhan is also gradually reopening borders and restarting some local transportation services.

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“It’s much better now, there was so much panic back then. There weren’t any people on the street. Nothing. How scary the epidemic situation was,” a man, who gave his surname as Hu,

told Reuters as he ventured out to buy groceries in Wuhan.

“Now, it is under control. Now, it’s great, right?”

All airports in Hubei resumed some domestic flights on Sunday, with the exception of Wuhan’s Tianhe airport, which will open to domestic flights on April 8. Flights from Hubei to Beijing remain suspended.

A train arrived in Wuhan on Saturday for the first time since the city was placed in lockdown two months ago. Greeting the train, Hubei Communist Party Secretary Ying Yong described Wuhan as “a city full of hope” and said the heroism and hard work of its people had “basically cut off transmission” of the virus.

More than 60,000 people entered Wuhan on Saturday after rail services were officially restarted, with more than 260 trains arriving or traveling through, the People’s Daily reported on Sunday.

On Sunday, streets and metro trains were still largely empty amid a cold rainy day. Flashing signs on the Wuhan Metro, which resumed operations on Saturday, said its cars would keep passenger capacity at less than 30%.

The Hubei government on Sunday said on its official WeChat account that a number of malls in Wuhan, as well as the Chu River and Han Street shopping belt, will be allowed to resume operations on March 30.

Concerns have been raised that a large number of undiagnosed asymptomatic patients could return to circulation once transport restrictions are eased.

China’s top medical adviser, Zhong Nanshan, played down that risk in comments to state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday. Zhong said asymptomatic patients were usually found by tracing the contacts of confirmed cases, which had so far shown no sign of rebounding.

With the world’s second-biggest economy expected to shrink for the first time in four decades this quarter, China is set to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.

The ruling Communist Party’s Politburo called on Friday for a bigger budget deficit, the issuance of more local and national bonds, and steps to guide interest rates lower, delay loan repayments, reduce supply-chain bottlenecks and boost consumption.

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Kirsten Hillman to be officially named Canada’s ambassador to U.S.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promoting a veteran of the international-trade trenches to be Canada’s first permanent female envoy to the United States — just as a raging international pandemic tests the continent’s cross-border resolve.

Kirsten Hillman, who is currently the acting ambassador in Washington, is taking over the corner office of Canada’s embassy on Pennsylvania Ave. on a full-time basis, Trudeau is set to announce today.

Hillman is no stranger to difficult negotiations with the country’s largest trading partner, having played a central role in the 13-month effort in 2018 to negotiate a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Most recently, she worked closely with partners around the world in the talks to ensure the Canada-U.S. border remained open to two-way trade and commerce despite the global outbreak of COVID-19, Trudeau says in a statement obtained by The Canadian Press.

“When we worked together to negotiate the new NAFTA, I saw Ms. Hillman’s ability to stand up for Canadians and fight for their interests,” Trudeau says in the statement.

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Coronavirus-hit workers now legally allowed to carry over annual leave

British workers will legally be able to carry their annual leave over after coronavirus decimated holiday plans.

Workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual holidays because of the coronavirus crisis will be able to carry it over into the next two years, the Government has announced.

Most workers are entitled to 28 days' holiday including bank holidays every year.

However many can;t be carried between each year, meaning workers lose their holiday if they do not take it.

But after government intervention, employers also face financial penalties if they do not ensure their workers take their statutory entitlement in any one year.

Interventions announced on Friday will allow up to four weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next two leave years.

The Government said the changes will ensure all employers affected by Covid-19 have the flexibility to allow workers to carry over leave at a time when granting it could leave them short-staffed in some of Britain's key industries, such as food and healthcare.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: "Whether it is in our hospitals, or our supermarkets, people are working around the clock to help our country deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

"Today's changes will mean these valued employees do not lose out on the annual leave they are entitled to as a result of their efforts, and employers are not penalised."

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Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "From our fields to our supermarkets, we are hugely grateful to the many people working around the clock to keep the nation fed.

"At this crucial time, relaxing laws on statutory leave will help ensure key workers can continue the important work to keep supplies flowing, but without losing the crucial time off they are entitled to.

"We welcome the measures the food industry is already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus."

The changes will amend the Working Time Regulations, which apply to almost all workers, including agency workers, those who work irregular hours, and workers on zero-hours contracts.

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Coronavirus: Netflix lowers video quality in Canada as demand on bandwidth surges

Netflix is lowering video quality for its subscribers in Canada as it attempts to reduce soaring demands on internet bandwidth.

The streaming giant says it will introduce changes today that are designed to slash its data traffic by 25 per cent as internet service providers deal with a surge in user activity in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lower bandwidth streams of Netflix programs should still deliver the usual quality of each plan, the company said, whether it’s ultra-high definition 4K, high-definition or standard definition.

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In a blog post last week, the company’s vice president of content delivery explained that Netflix has many different levels of streaming quality for each title within each resolution tier.

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Spanish bullfighters ‘demand £634m’ coronavirus cash bailout sparking fury

Much of coronavirus-ravaged Spain has erupted in outrage after bullfighting bosses demanded a massive government cash bailout.

Industry chiefs are asked for a €700 million (£635 million) in taxpayer cash injection to save keep bloodsport afloat, reports say.

Several organisations that defend and promote bullfights have asked the Spanish government to refund tickets for cancelled shows and pay the bullfighters’ wages.

It comes as the same time as the national sport has fallen out of favour with most Spaniards deeming it cruel.

In a joint letter, bull bosses told culture minister José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes that VAT should be dropped further and that the state should cover their sanitary and veterinary expenses.

And now the minister has reportedly committed himself to resolving the situation, provoking fresh fury.

The storm of controversy comes as Spain’s coronavirus death toll soars to 3,434 – higher than China and second only to Italy.

Madrid-based Marta Esteban, of Animal Guardians, said the bullfighting sector – which already gets government funding – seemed to want hundreds of millions of euros more.

“They say they lost €700m. I guess that’s what they are looking for,” she said.

“But there’s no confirmation from the government on what they will do.

“In a moment in which the rest of Spain is giving its all to help each other, the bullfighting world is thinking on how to get money from us to help themselves.

“The business of torturing animals for entertainment should never get public funding, much less now when the health system and helping the most needy should be the priority.”

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Unable to protest publicly, Spaniards flooded social media with criticism, making the country’s number-one trending Twitter hashtag #AyudasTauromaquiaNO, meaning “no help to bullfighting”.

Many shared selfies with placards demanding “more health workers, less bullfighters”, directly addressing the culture minister and his boss, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Aïda Gascón, director of the Spanish NGO, AnimaNaturalis, said the government should reallocate all bullfighting subsidies.

She said: “We believe not only that the government should ignore these demands, but that it should rethink aid to bullfighting and allocate it where it is most necessary.

“Public resources should not be used to promote shows based on animal abuse and mistreatment.

“Even less so in the coming months, when all public effort and support will be needed to allocate them to health resources and to alleviate economic effects for families, freelancers and companies."

Mr Sánchez’ deputy, Carmen Calvo, is among those who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus. She has been admitted to hospital with respiratory symptoms.

Bullfighting has been on the wane in Spain in recent years.

In 2016, Ipsos MORI polled Spaniards between the ages of 16 and 65, and found 58% opposed it, while 19% supported it.

The same polling found that only one in 10 Spaniards wanted public funds used on the bullfighting industry, while six of 10 strongly disagreed with that use.

Further figures showed that there were 58% fewer bullfights in Spain last year than a decade previously.

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British PM Boris Johnson self-isolates after testing positive for coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating at Downing Street but would still lead the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.

Johnson, 55, experienced mild symptoms on Thursday – a day after he answered at the prime minister’s weekly question-and-answer session in parliament’s House of Commons chamber.

“I’ve taken a test. That has come out positive,” Johnson said in a video statement broadcast on Twitter. “I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus. That’s to say – a temperature and a persistent cough.

“So I am working from home. I’m self-isolating,” Johnson said. “Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”

It was not immediately clear how many Downing Street staff and senior ministers would now need to isolate given that many have had contact with Johnson over recent days and weeks.

His finance minister, Rishi Sunak, was not self-isolating, a Treasury source said.

When Britain clapped health workers on Thursday evening, Johnson and Sunak came out of separate entrances on Downing Street and did not come into close contact, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Nor was it immediately clear whether Johnson’s 32-year-old partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, had been tested.

ISOLATING IN DOWNING STREET

Previously the government has said that Johnson had the option to delegate to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab if needed.

“The prime minister was tested for coronavirus on the personal advice of England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

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“The test was carried out in No 10 by NHS staff and the result of the test was positive,” the spokesman said.

So far, 578 people in the United Kingdom have died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 11,658. The UK toll is the seventh worst in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Britain’s Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week but is in good health and is now self-isolating at his residence in Scotland with mild symptoms along with his wife Camilla, who tested negative, his office said.

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National Enquirer Publisher Is Cutting Employees’ Pay

American Media is the latest media outlet to announce cuts as the coronavirus has shaken the economy and the advertising market.

By Marc Tracy

American Media Inc., the publisher of The National Enquirer, Men’s Journal, Us Weekly and other titles, is cutting the pay of its employees by more than 20 percent, a spokesman said on Saturday, as the coronavirus has shaken the economy and the advertising market.

“American Media is committed to doing everything we can during the Covid-19 crisis to ensure our staff maintain their employment and health benefits,” the company said in a statement.

There have been no layoffs, the spokesman said.

The cuts, first reported on Saturday by The Daily Beast, are the latest instance of a media outlet looking to slim down as normally robust advertisers, like restaurants and travel businesses, shutter. Some alternative weeklies have laid off as much as three-quarters of their staffs. Last week, the digital giant BuzzFeed announced temporary payroll cuts.

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