‘We’ve ventured into a battle’: Inside New York’s ERs as they fight COVID-19

NEW YORK — A “cacophony of coughing” in packed emergency rooms. Beds squeezed in wherever there is space. Overworked, sleep-deprived doctors and nurses rationed to one face mask a day and wracked by worry about a dwindling number of available ventilators.

Such is the reality inside New York City’s hospitals, which have become the war-zone-like epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus crisis.

Faced with an infection rate that is five times that of the rest of the country, health workers are putting themselves at risk to fight a tide of sickness that’s getting worse by the day amid a shortage of needed supplies and promises of help from the federal government that have yet to fully materialize.

“You’re on 100% of the time — no matter what,” said Dr. Jolion McGreevy, medical director of The Mount Sinai Hospital emergency department. “It’s been a month of full force, and that’s certainly very stressful.”

Patients initially showed up with fairly mild symptoms, ranging from a runny nose to a mild fever, concerned they contracted coronavirus. That shifted over the past week, McGreevy said, and now hospitals are receiving far sicker patients in need of life-saving intervention.

“These are people in severe respiratory distress, needing to be intubated and needing the intensive care unit,” he said. “We knew it was coming. We saw it in Italy and other places so we were prepared for it, and now we’re seeing it.”

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Coronavirus: Waterloo Region, municipalities declare state of emergency

The Region of Waterloo and its seven municipalities have each declared a state of emergency in response to the growing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Mayors for area cities (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) and townships (North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich) joined Regional Chair Karen Redman in signing declarations on Wednesday morning.

In a release, the region and municipalities say this will allow Redman and the mayors “to take actions or make orders to protect the inhabitants of the municipality and increases the ability of municipalities to share resources, personnel and equipment to respond and support the broader public sector and key services.”

Redman says the states of emergency will remain in place until they are lifted by the heads of government.

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Britain's Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, has tested positive for coronavirus but is in good health and is now self isolating in Scotland.

Charles, eldest son of Queen Elizabeth, is displaying what Clarence House said were mild symptoms but remains in good health and has been working from his home on the Balmoral Estate in Scotland. His wife, Camilla, tested negative.

“The Prince of Wales has tested positive for coronavirus,” Clarence House said. “He has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.”

“The Duchess of Cornwall has also been tested but does not have the virus,” Clarence House said.

A royal source said the Prince of Wales was tested on Monday and got the results on Tuesday. Charles has spoken to both Queen Elizabeth and his children.

He last saw the 93-year-old monarch on the morning of March 12 following an investiture, before the earliest time he would have been infectious.

“Her Majesty The Queen remains in good health,” Buckingham Palace said. “The Queen last saw The Prince of Wales briefly after the investiture on the morning of 12th March and is following all the appropriate advice with regard to her welfare.”

A royal source said that the earliest Charles would have been infectious was March 13.

Queen Elizabeth left London for Windsor Castle on March 19. She is with her 98-year-old husband, Philip.

“It is not possible to ascertain from whom the Prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks,” Clarence House said.

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Coronavirus: Parliament to shut down tonight over COVID-19 spread fears

Parliament is shutting down a week early because of fears over the spread of coronavirus.

MPs will be sent back to their constituencies for Easter recess tonight, as soon as new laws handing emergency lockdown powers to the government are passed.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg thanked them for “coming together” to unanimously back the Coronavirus Bill, which now only needs sign off by the House of Lords.

But some MPs have told Sky News they should be staying in parliament to scrutinise crucial details of Downing Street’s plan to battle COVID-19, which has so far killed 424 people in the UK.

The Commons was due to go into recess anyway on Tuesday 31 March 2020 for three weeks – until 21 April 2020.

Now the government has brought forward the departure because it says it wants to protect staff.

MPs have been told off recently for sitting too close together in the main chamber, which can only seat around 400 of the 650 of them anyway.

The government’s social distancing advice states that everyone should stay two metre away from each other to limit contact.

Staff members from across the political parties welcomed the news, with one telling Sky News “it’s about bloody time” and another complaining “it should have happened weeks ago”.

But several Labour MPs expressed fears they will even less time to press the government on vital questions raised by constituents about the coronavirus pandemic.

Wes Streeting said he was “really worried” as the promise of measures to help self-employed people during the lockdown has yet to materialise.

He also raised concerns about needing urgent answers on protective kit and testing for NHS staff, as well as the amount of non-essential work still taking place.

“Our ability to hold the government to account and push them in the right direction is seriously diminished when parliament is in recess. This doesn’t feel right,” he told Sky News.

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Death toll in Peru hits seven as coronavirus spreads

LIMA (Reuters) – The death toll from coronavirus in Peru hit 7 on Tuesday after a 38-year-old man died after he contracted the disease while on a trip to Canada, the country’s Ministry of Health said.

The ministry said the man, who recently returned to Peru, died after being admitted to a Lima hospital on Monday for respiratory failure. He was found to be suffering from atypical pneumonia, it added.

The ministry also reported the death of a 66-year-old woman from coronavirus, who had returned from Spain on March 14 and died of acute respiratory failure and pneumonia.

Peru had confirmed 416 cases of the virus as of Tuesday.

(This story has been refiled to correct headline and first paragraph to clarify that man who died had recently returned from Canada but was not a Canadian citizen)

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US retailers plan to stop paying rent to offset coronavirus hit

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – Major US retail and restaurant chains, including Mattress Firm and Subway, are telling landlords they will withhold or slash rent in the coming months after closing stores to slow the coronavirus, according to people familiar with the situation.

In a brewing fight, chains are calling for rent reductions through lease amendments and other measures starting in April, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

These moves mark the next phase in virus fallout: What happens to billions in rent owed for businesses that have been closed? The stakes are high. Retail has a slew of big chains in turnaround mode. And if they do withhold payments, there would be a ripple effect. Landlords can’t afford to stop collecting rent for long, with many property owners sitting on loads of debt.

The situation is likely to get messier. The US relief packages being considered don’t directly address rents. But the Federal Reserve’s actions may give banks the leeway to defer mortgage payments, allowing property owners to delay rent. It’s also unclear if retailers can declare a so-called “force majeure,” a contract clause that covers highly unusual events, and if landlords could then make the same case to insurers.

“The court system is just going to get flooded with a million of these disputes between tenants and landlords,” said Vince Tibone, an analyst at Green Street Advisors. “If the government doesn’t step in in any form or fashion, it could get ugly. They need to respond quickly.”

‘MORE DRASTIC’

Mattress Firm, with about 2,400 stores, sent landlords a letter last week saying it would cut rent in exchange for longer leases and offering two options to do so. This week, it sent a more urgent note revoking its earlier offer.

“The decline in revenue and forced store closures across the nation are more drastic, compressed and immediate than we originally anticipated,” the company wrote in a letter reviewed by Bloomberg. “Our need is now more severe,” the firm said, invoking the virus as a force majeure event that “will prevent or prohibit us” from paying rent.

After being contacted by Bloomberg, Mattress Firm confirmed that it has requested a temporary suspension of rent.

“We appreciate our landlord partners, and the responses have been encouraging so far,” Randy Carlin, chief real estate officer for Mattress Firm, said in a statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to maintain business continuity and to ensure there are jobs available for our people to return to when this crisis ends.”

Hennes & Mauritz AB said it’s also reaching out to landlords in areas hit by the virus.

“Negotiations of rents is an ongoing part of our business, but due to the current effect on the economy, we have and will approach our landlords in the affected markets,” a spokesperson said. The Swedish retailer has shuttered about two-thirds of its more than 5,000 stores around the world and on Tuesday warned it may need to lay off a significant portion of its staff because of the virus.

Subway Restaurants, which has more than 20,000 US locations, sent out a letter to landlords last week saying that it might cut or postpone rental payments due to the virus, according a person with knowledge of the situation. The Real Deal, a real estate trade publication, reported on the communication earlier.

SOME HELP

In a statement, Subway said it was looking at ways to help franchises mitigate the virus fallout.

Some landlords have recognized they need to help smaller tenants. Irvine Company Retail Properties, based in Irvine, California, is allowing rent to be deferred for 90 days and then paid back with no interest over a year starting in January, according to a document reviewed by Bloomberg. The firm confirmed the practice without further comment.

Bedrock, a Detroit developer, said it will waive rent and other fees for three months for its smaller retail and restaurant tenants.

Retail real estate investment trusts may need to provide leeway on rent, Bank of America said this week after downgrading several Reits. The bank sees store closings lasting through May and the possibility of some locations going away as more fragile retailers are forced into bankruptcy.

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Gangs call curfews as coronavirus hits Rio favelas

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The “baile funk” dance parties have been called off. Some open-air drug markets are closed for business. Gangs and militias have imposed strict curfews. Coronavirus is coming, and Rio de Janeiro’s lawless favelas are gearing up for the onslaught.

City of God, a sprawling complex of slums made famous in a hit 2002 movie of the same name, registered the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Rio’s favelas over the weekend.

Now, with the state government woefully underfunded and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro widely criticized for a slow response to the outbreak, criminal gangs that have long held sway across Rio’s favelas are taking their own precautions against the virus, according to residents and press reports.

According to well-sourced Rio newspaper Extra, City of God gangsters have been driving round the slum, blaring out a recorded message to residents.

“We’re imposing a curfew because nobody is taking this seriously,” the message said, according to Extra’s Tuesday story. “Whoever is in the street screwing around or going for a walk will receive a corrective and serve as an example. Better to stay home doing nothing. The message has been given.”

Reuters was unable to confirm the veracity of the recorded message, but City of God residents, who declined to give their names for fear of retribution, confirmed an evening curfew and other restrictions.

The gangs’ concern over the outbreak echoes fears nationwide about the fate of Brazil’s nearly 15 million favela residents confronting what some have dubbed “the disease of the rich.”

The coronavirus landed in the country with wealthier Brazilians returning from Europe, but is quickly migrating into poorer communities, where crowded quarters, informal labor and weak public services threaten to accelerate its spread.

Drug gangs or rival paramilitaries often act as de facto authorities in the favelas. With little or no government presence in the neighborhoods, gangs enforce social contracts. They also engage in regular shootouts with each other and police forces.

Across Brazil, some 40 million people lack access to the public water supply, while 100 million – nearly half the population – live without a connection to sewage treatment, according to the country’s National Water Agency.

“Basic sanitation is terrible,” said Jefferson Maia, a 27-year-old resident of the City of God. “Sometimes, we don’t even have water to wash our hands properly. We are very concerned with the coronavirus issue.”

Thamiris Deveza, a family doctor working in Rio’s Alemao complex of slums, said residents had been complaining for the last two weeks about a lack of water in their homes, making it difficult for them to clean their hands and protect themselves from the fast-spreading virus.

She said many pharmacies in the neighborhoods had run out of hand sanitizer. When available, it was prohibitively expensive.

FAST SPREAD

Coronavirus cases are expanding quickly in Brazil. The country had 2,201 confirmed cases on Tuesday, with 46 related deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

Rio state, where around a fifth of the population lives in favelas, now has 305 cases. Governor Wilson Witzel warned on Friday that the state’s public health system was in danger of “collapse” within 15 days.

Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella has said that officials will deposit free soap at entrances of the city’s favelas and relocate older people with health problems to hotels. The city has already signed a deal to secure 400 rooms, he said.

“Those most at risk need to be protected as soon as possible,” Crivella told journalists on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Rio’s urban sanitation unit Comlurb kicked off a more comprehensive cleaning of some of the city’s most transited areas, including around hospitals, the mayor added.

But the favelas are still likely to be a major public health challenge, said Edmilson Migowski, an infectologist at Rio’s Federal University.

“The entry of the coronavirus into denser, less planned and less culturally assisted areas could be devastating,” he said. “Where water, soap and detergent are lacking, it will be difficult to stop the spread.”

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UPDATE 1-Britain seeking 250,000 volunteers to help health service

(Adds detail, tasks and Hancock quote)

LONDON, March 24 (Reuters) – Britain is looking for 250,000 volunteers to help the National Health Service (NHS) and vulnerable people hit by the coronavirus crisis, health minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.

“We are seeking a quarter of a million volunteers, people in good health, to help the NHS, for shopping, for delivery of medicines and to support those who are shielded to protect their own health,” Hancock told reporters.

The volunteers will be asked to help with tasks like delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to and from hospital appointments and phoning people isolating at home to check up on them.

The system aims to reach up to 1.5 million people who are “shielding” – keeping themselves at home for 12 weeks under government advice to protect those with serious health conditions.

“If you are well and able to do so safely, I would urge you to sign up today to help the most vulnerable people in our communities as an NHS Volunteer Responder,” Hancock said later in a statement. (Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison)

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Coronavirus: Greater Moncton airport learns about COVID-19 cases on board 2 flights

The Greater Moncton International Airport Authority (GMIAA) announced Tuesday that it has been made aware of a few people who passed through the Moncton airport and have now tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

According to GMIAA, the infected travellers arrived at the Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport early on March 8 on WestJet Flight 3440 from Toronto, and on March 16 around noon on WestJet flight 3456 from Toronto.

“If you or anyone you have been in close contact with were on this flight, please self-isolate for 14 days. If you develop symptoms, call 811,” the GMIAA said in a statement.

Following the New Brunswick government’s state of emergency in response to COVID-19, the GMIAA said only people travelling or coming back from a trip will be permitted inside the airport, except for employees.

Social distancing is also mandatory within the airport, with people having to remain at least two metres (six feet) away from others at all times whenever possible, even in lineups.

In an effort to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, the airport said it is encouraging people who are either dropping off passengers or picking up passengers to remain in their vehicles while travellers either load or unload.

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The airport is also encouraging people to make use of their free cellphone waiting area or short-term parking lot.

“The first 15 minutes of parking are free in order to minimize the amount of people entering the air terminal building,” said the airport.

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Coronavirus: Parks Canada to close national parks, historic sites to vehicle traffic

Parks Canada is restricting vehicles in national parks and national historic sites after people flocked to the popular areas on the weekend.

The federal agency said it’s still noticing lots of visitors despite suspension of services and facility closures last week.

Officials are now suspending motor vehicle access, starting Wednesday, until further notice.

“I know this weekend was quite beautiful across our great county, which leads many families to spend time outdoors in our parks and our heritage sites,” Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who is responsible for Parks Canada, said Tuesday in a video posted on YouTube.

“We saw visitation rates soar.”

Similar concerns have been raised in communities within or near national parks.

The Alberta towns of Banff and Canmore, a scenic town just east of Banff National Park’s gates, saw visitors crowding main streets. It led to concerns from residents about increasing the risk of COVID-19 in places with limited health-care facilities.

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Wilkinson said crowding on the trails and at day-use areas in the national parks and historic sites is also unsafe.

“It increases the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” he said in the video.

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