SMEs to get more rent relief; new Bill in the works to make landlords give rental waiver

SINGAPORE – Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) tenants will get more rent relief through a cash grant to offset their rental costs as part of the Government’s efforts to help them get back on their feet after the circuit breaker period.

A new Bill will also be introduced next week that mandates that landlords contribute by granting a rental waiver to their SME tenants who have suffered a significant revenue drop in the past few months, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament on Tuesday (May 26).

The cash grant, which will be disbursed through property owners, will cost about $2 billion in total, said Mr Heng as he unveiled the fourth round of support measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The grant will be disbursed by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to property owners from end-July.

Taken together with the property tax rebate, the Government will, in effect, offset about two months of rental for qualifying SME tenants of commercial properties, and about one month for qualifying SME tenants of industrial and office properties.

SME tenants are defined as those with not more than $100 million in annual turnover, based on corporate tax and individual tax returns for the 2019 assessment year. The grant will be available to SMEs with qualifying leases or licences commencing before March 2020.

For qualifying tenants of commercial properties, such as shops, the grant will amount to about 0.8 month’s worth of rent. Together with the property tax rebate announced earlier for 2020, this brings total government support to about two months for these SME tenants.

Those in industrial and office properties will get a grant amounting to 0.64 month’s of rent, bringing the total government support to about one month of rent for these tenants.

SME property owners who run a trade or business on their own property will also be eligible for this grant. More details will be provided via Iras’ website by the end of June.

“We will significantly add to the support for rental costs earlier provided through the property tax rebate for 2020 in the Unity and Resilience Budgets. We will also expect landlords to do something, and that will be legislated,” said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

The new Bill, to be introduced by the Law Minister next week, will also cover provisions on temporary relief from onerous contractual terms such as excessive late payment interest or charges. It will also allow tenants to repay their arrears through instalments, he added.

“We deliberated on this matter very carefully. The Government does not ordinarily intervene in contracts after they have been entered into. However, as the Minister for Law had explained in his second reading speech on the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill, in exceptional situations such as this, the Government needs to intervene, through legislation, with temporary targeted steps to safeguard the economic structure for the common good,” Mr Heng said.

If the Bill is passed in Parliament, SME tenants in commercial properties who have suffered a significant revenue drop will benefit from a total of four months of rental relief – shared equally between the Government and landlords.

“Other SME tenants in industrial and office properties will also be given some relief. SMEs also already benefit from temporary relief from rental payment obligations till October. Together, these will provide substantial support on rental costs, for our SMEs,” Mr Heng said.

Government tenants will also receive more rental relief, he said.

Commercial tenants and hawkers will have two more months of rent waived, bringing the total rental waiver to four months for commercial tenants. Stallholders in hawker centres and markets managed by Government agencies will get a total of five months of rental waiver.

Industrial, office, and agricultural tenants of Government agencies will receive one more month of rental waiver, bringing the total to two months of rental waiver.

Mr Heng added that the Government will ensure that these measures flow through to help sub-tenants, many of whom are SMEs.

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WHO says spraying disinfectants on streets to guard against coronavirus can be 'harmful'

GENEVA (AFP) – Spraying disinfectant on the streets, as practised in some countries, does not eliminate the new coronavirus and even poses a health risk, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Saturday (May 16).

In a document on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces as part of the response to the virus, the WHO says spraying can be ineffective.

“Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets or marketplaces, is… not recommended to kill the Covid-19 virus or other pathogens because disinfectant is inactivated by dirt and debris,” explains the WHO.

“Even in the absence of organic matter, chemical spraying is unlikely to adequately cover all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time needed to inactivate pathogens.”

The WHO said that streets and pavements are not considered as “reservoirs of infection” of Covid-19, adding that spraying disinfectants, even outside, can be “dangerous for human health”.

The document also stresses that spraying individuals with disinfectants is “not recommended under any circumstances”.

“This could be physically and psychologically harmful and would not reduce an infected person’s ability to spread the virus through droplets or contact,” said the document.

Spraying chlorine or other toxic chemicals on people can cause eye and skin irritation, bronchospasm and gastrointestinal effects, it adds.

The organisation is also warning against the systematic spraying and fumigating of disinfectants on to surfaces in indoor spaces, citing a study that has shown it to be ineffective outside direct spraying areas.

“If disinfectants are to be applied, this should be done with a cloth or wipe that has been soaked in disinfectant,” it says.

The Sars-CoV-2 virus, the cause of the pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people worldwide since its appearance in late December in China, can attach itself to surfaces and objects.

However, no precise information is currently available for the period during which the viruses remain infectious on the various surfaces.

Studies have shown that the virus can stay on several types of surfaces for several days. However, these maximum durations are only theoretical because they are recorded under laboratory conditions and should be “interpreted with caution” in the real-world environment.

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Temporary relief measures for property developers, home-buyers of projects disrupted by Covid-19

SINGAPORE – The project completion period (PCP) for eligible residential, commercial and industrial developments will be extended by six months with immediate effect.

That means if the projects were originally required to be completed on Feb 1, they must now complete them by Aug 1.

Married Singaporean couples will have one year instead of six months to sell their first residential property to qualify for remission of additional buyer’s stamp duty (ABSD) for their second property.

These are among a slew of temporary relief measures for eligible property developers and individuals affected by disruption to construction timelines and sales of housing units owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the implementation of the circuit breaker measures from April 7 to June 1.

But there are no changes to existing property cooling measures.

To qualify for a six-month extension for remission of ABSD paid on the second property, the married couple’s second residential property must be jointly purchased on or before June 1 this year; and the original timeline for sale of the first residential property must have expired on or after Feb 1 this year.

Eligible couples can refer to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) website for more details.

The application for the remission of ABSD must be made in six months after the date of sale of the first residential property.

The Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (Redas) said the adjustment is timely and “will help to relieve the concerns of eligible Singaporean married couples who need more time to sell their first property and purchase their second property”.

Under the temporary relief measures, eligible developers now have two and a half years to start construction of residential projects.

They will also have five years and six months for the completion and sale of housing units in residential projects in relation to the remission of ABSD.

To qualify for the extension of the start of construction as well as the completion of the project and sale of its units, the land must have been purchased on or before June 1 and the original timeline for starting the construction expired on or after Feb 1.

Eligible developers will get the extension automatically. No application is necessary.

These measures are being introduced as the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing public health measures by governments globally have disrupted supply chains and created manpower shortages. The circuit breaker measures also saw the suspension of work at construction sites and the shutdown of developers’ sales galleries and home viewings. This has affected construction timelines and the sale of homes.

The Government said it expects developers to provide relief and support to their main contractors, especially during the circuit breaker period.

Ms Christine Li, head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia at Cushman & Wakefield, said the temporary relief measures are “timely and… will give developers reprieve as some already have challenges meeting the five-year ABSD remission deadline”.

But the impact on developments that will hit the ABSD and PCP deadlines for 2020 is quite minimal, she added.

“This is because according to our calculation, only about 30-plus units remain unsold across five projects. Even without the extension, these developers have ways to clear the unsold stock in time. Even in 2021, there are only about 15 projects with about 400 units unsold.

“Even when things start to reopen, we expect social distancing measures to continue to affect showflat activities and buyers’ sentiment. The extension should not be a one-off measure as the Covid-19 situation continues to evolve,” Ms Li said.

For foreign housing developers, the PCP and/or sale period – now five years and two years from completion respectively – will be extended by up to six months on application for eligible residential projects under the Qualifying Certificate (QC) regime.

In addition, developers applying to extend their existing completion and/or disposal deadline will get a waiver of extension charges up to a maximum of six months. This will also apply to other SLA approvals requiring the completion and sale of all units in the residential development.

To qualify for the waiver of extension charges, the QC or SLA approval requiring the completion and sale of all units in the residential development must be issued on or before June 1 this year.

Another condition is the original timeline for completion and sale of units in the residential development must have expired on or after Feb 1 this year.

Eligible developers can apply to SLA’s Land Dealings Approval Unit (LDAU) at [email protected] by Dec 1.

Further, the project completion date for qualifying commercial and industrial development projects on government sale sites or on land which was directly alienated or had its lease renewed by the SLA will be extended by six months.

To qualify for the extension, the land must be awarded on or before June 1 this year, or the land was directly alienated or had its lease renewed by SLA on or before June 1 this year. The original timeline for completion of the project must also have expired on or after Feb 1 this year.

Eligible developers will be notified by the respective agencies. No application is necessary.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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Coronavirus: 22 patients in ICU, hospitals have nearly 150 vacant ICU beds and can add another 450 by mid-May

SINGAPORE – The number of isolation beds has increased from around 550 in January to close to 1,500 as of May to ensure hospitals have enough capacity to care for coronavirus patients, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday (May 4).

The National Centre for Infectious Diseases has also increased its capacity from around 100 negative pressure isolation beds to more than 500 such beds in the same period.

Mr Gan added that Singapore has almost 150 vacant intensive care beds, and can quickly bring another 300 on board.

At present, only 22 of the more than 18,000 Covid-19 patients are in intensive care.

“But we are not taking any chances as we must preserve our buffer capacity,” Mr Gan said.

Public hospitals have put in place plans to ensure that their infrastructure, equipment, medications and manpower are in place to add another 450 intensive care unit beds by the middle of this month, if it is necessary.

Singapore has also ensured that it has enough ventilators and other medical equipment to support the care of such patients, he said.

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Global coronavirus cases surpass 3.5 million, although rate slowing

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Global coronavirus cases surpassed 3.5 million on Monday (May 4), with deaths nearing a quarter of a million, although the rate of fatalities and new cases has slowed from peaks reached last month, a Reuters tally shows.

North America and European countries accounted for most of the new cases reported in recent days, but numbers were rising from smaller bases in Latin America, Africa and Russia.

Globally, there were 84,004 new cases over the past 24 hours, according to the Reuters tally that is based on official government data, taking total cases to just over 3.5 million.

That compares with around 3 million to 5 million cases of severe illness caused annually by seasonal influenza, according to the World Health Organidation (WHO).

Still, while experts say actual coronavirus cases are likely higher than current reports, the trajectory falls far short of the Spanish flu, which began in 1918 and infected an estimated 500 million people.

Deaths related to Covid-19, the disease caused by the new virus, stood at 245,992. The first death was reported on Jan 10 in Wuhan, China, after the virus emerged there in December.

The daily rate of new cases worldwide has been sitting in a 2 per – 3 per cent range over the past week, versus a peak of around 13 per cent in mid-March, prompting many countries to begin easing lockdown measures that have upended businesses and crippled the global economy.

The loosening of restrictions has proved controversial, as experts debate the best strategy to ensure there is no large “second wave” outbreak.

Health officials have also expressed concern about the rising case numbers in countries where there is a shortage of testing and a lack of medical facilities.

While the number of new cases has come off a peak of 104,495 reported in a single day last week, it is still at around 80,000 to 90,000 cases per day globally.

LIFTING LOCKDOWN?

In the United States, around half the country’s state governors partially reopened their economies over the weekend, while others, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, declared the move was premature.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who battled COVID-19 last month, said on Sunday the country was over the peak but it was still too early to relax lockdown measures.

Even in countries where the suppression of the disease has been considered successful, such as Australia and New Zealand which have recorded daily rates of new infections in the low single digits for weeks, officials have been cautious.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has predicated a full lifting of curbs on widespread public adoption of a mobile phone tracing app and increased testing levels.

Experts caution that both cases and deaths from Covid-19 are almost certainly underreported. Cases may cause only mild symptoms and not everyone with symptoms is tested, while most countries only record hospital deaths, meaning deaths in private homes and nursing homes have not yet been included.

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Calls for Hamilton paramedics down during COVID-19 pandemic, says chief

Hamilton’s chief of paramedics says the number of ambulance calls, year over year, are down in the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael Sanderson says he’s not surprised by the decline in calls during Ontario’s Emergency Measures and Civil Protection Act, but that the number is nine per cent year over year between the beginning of March and the end of April.

“So I kind of expected that we would have a decrease in transports to hospital, but it’s actually really proved out. I’m surprised at the quantum of it right now.” Sanderson told Global News.

Paramedics are not only seeing a decrease in overall calls but also a decline in potential patients taking rides to the hospital. Sanderson says on average EMS has 49 per cent of its subjects in a call refuse admittance to a hospital.

Sanderson says that’s an increase of about ten percent year over year when they averaged only 39 per cent refusing transport in 2019.

“So almost half the calls, almost half our response results in no patient going to the hospital,” said Sanderson.

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The chief did not have any hard research on why, but believes there’s several factors related to the pandemic, including fear of the virus in hospitals and restrictions on having friends and family accompany patients to emergency rooms.

“It’s a range of activities and certainly social distancing. There are probably less activities going on that are creating issues. Certainly, our trauma numbers are down as well.”

Sanderson says visits connected to motor vehicle accidents, trauma in youth, and alcohol-related incidents are examples of ER categories that are down year over year for March and April.

“The calls for our paramedics where alcohol intoxication was the primary problem is actually down this year as well. So it probably speaks to some of these social activities that aren’t going on.”

Peter Bieling, vice-president of Mental Health and Addictions programs at St. Joseph’s Hospital, also believes less people on the streets is keeping many “from having a certain amount of misadventure.”

But Bieling believes a degree of fear in potential emergency room visits would also be part of the explanation.

“We don’t want people to put off coming to hospital because we have screening and testing and protective equipment. And, you know, it’s definitely safe to come, but there might be some fear,” said Bieling.

“It’ll take the aftermath of this and some careful research to figure this out.”

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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Coronavirus: Cities face 100 million 'new poor' in post-pandemic world, experts say

BOGOTA (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) – About 100 million people living in cities worldwide will likely fall into poverty due to the coronavirus pandemic, urban experts said on Wednesday (April 29), calling for mapping tools to identify vulnerable communities and investment focusing on slum areas.

Densely populated cities are poised at the frontline of the contagious outbreak, hard hit where people live in poverty with little or no running water, sewage systems or health care access, said experts at the World Bank, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and other urban-study groups.

“Within cities we need to focus on those who need help the most, the poor and the vulnerable have been very seriously affected,” said Mr Sameh Wahba, global director for the World Bank’s urban, disaster risk management, resilience and land global practice.

“Our estimate is that there will be possibly upward of a 100 million so-called ‘new poor’ on account of loses of jobs and livelihoods and income,” Mr Wahba told a webinar with members of the media.

He warned that cities will see a drop of between 15 per cent to 25 per cent in tax revenues next year, making it difficult for authorities to invest in improving slum areas.

Many cities lack accurate data about slum areas, making it difficult to know where investments should be targeted, the experts said.

A World Bank mapping tool using artificial intelligence, high-resolution satellite imagery and three-dimensional images is helping cities find areas with communal water taps and toilets or where social distancing is impractical because of overcrowding, Mr Wahba said.

So far the tool has been used to produce such maps for Cairo, Mumbai and Kinshasa.

Without data, government food and financial aid is not reaching slum areas where about one billion people live worldwide, said activist Sheela Patel.

“Whether you are a slum dweller, or a pavement dweller, a squatter or a homeless person, and if you are migrant, you are presently completely excluded from any form of entitlement in the city,” said Ms Patel, head of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres, an Indian non-profit that campaigns for land and slum dweller rights.

Reaching vulnerable communities during and after the pandemic means recognising how systems such as water, health, housing, transport and the economy are connected, said Mr Ani Dasgupta, global director of the WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities.

Investments must ensure that systems are integrated and not be “simple top-down central projects”, he said.

“We have to learn from this,” said Mr Dasgupta. “We actually have to do things differently.”

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Colorado COVID-19 diaries: A day in the coronavirus pandemic

A teacher greets her students. An imam counsels his congregants. A firefighter reports for duty. New parents take their baby home from the hospital.

These are routine moments in the lives of Coloradans. But the coronavirus has transformed the routine into the remarkable, upending how we live and interact with each other.

As a heavy spring snow blanketed the state on Thursday, April 16, journalists from news organizations across Colorado set out to chronicle a day in the life of the state’s residents during this extraordinary time.

It happened that this day was the deadliest to date in the U.S. for the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 4,500 people died. Colorado’s state health department reported 17 more deaths, and that the death toll had hit 374 — a figure that would later balloon to more than 500 as more reports of COVID-19 victims surfaced.

The statewide order to shut down non-essential businesses — issued a month before to the day  — had taken a toll. In that month-long period, more than 231,000 people filed for unemployment, just short of the 285,000 unemployment claims filed in all of 2009 during the height of the great recession.

The Colorado stories of April 16 show how much has changed in such a short amount of time. Teachers now instruct students over screens. Doctors speak to patients through masks and face shields. Newborn babies are quarantined from sick parents.

But the journalists also chronicled how, even as Colorado stares down uncertainty, death and illness, life goes on. Birthdays are celebrated. Prayers are said.

And in what feels like a dark hour, there are moments of hope.

7 a.m.: Venture For Success Preparatory Learning Center, Denver

Dressed in purple scrub pants and a print top, Catherine Scott started her work day with a spray bottle of bleach solution, wiping down door handles, tables and a laptop keyboard.

Scott is not a health care worker, but a preschool teacher — often tasked with opening the child care center where she works in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood.

When children began arriving with their parents, Scott met them at the front door, thermometer in hand. After temperature checks, parents logged their child’s arrival on the laptop, and everybody washed their hands in the sink up front.

Scott had just three children in her classroom — a 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old. It was a far cry from the usual 15 she would have on a day without coronavirus.

After many child care providers closed last month, state officials recommended they stay open, with precautions, to care for the children of working parents.

One of the biggest challenges of preschool in the coronavirus era is social distancing. Instead of the usual snuggles and hugs, Scott has switched to distance hugs, air high fives, and pats on the back. One student spontaneously jumped into her lap, then quickly realized her mistake.

“I sorry,” the girl said. “Air high five.”

Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat

7 a.m.:  Work & Class restaurant in Denver

By the time Tabatha Knop walked into her Larimer Street restaurant, her chefs had been there an hour, making carnitas to fill breakfast burritos for whoever would venture out that day in the snow.

Knop’s schedule hadn’t changed much from five weeks ago, but her team had. In early March, business was thrumming six nights a week for the destination-dinner spot.

Work & Class’ motto has always been “square meal, stiff drink, fair price.” It sits across the street from sister restaurant Super Mega Bien, which Knop and her business partners shuttered for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown after laying off 57 employees in a single day.

“We’ve stopped counting the days, really; we’re mostly just counting the weeks,” Knop said. “Every day feels the same, sort of, at this point.”

The team on Friday would deliver 91 burritos to families in Curtis Park through that neighborhood association’s Meal Train. Saturday’s orders included 200 meals for Swedish Medical Center. Knop said a few more of her cooks volunteered to help with evening prep.

Even with Super Mega Bien closed, Knop was dealing with unexpected costs there. Two nights prior, a window at the entrance was broken around 1 a.m., “but thank God (whoever did it) was not able to get in,” Knop said.

Josie Sexton, The Denver Post

8 a.m.: COVID-19 unit, St. Joseph Hospital, Denver

Dr. Peter Stubenrauch reviewed patients’ charts with his medical team during morning rounds.

Nearly every patient in the unit was on a ventilator, that precious piece of equipment that can be the difference between life and death during the coronavirus crisis.

The medical guidance on COVID-19 is evolving fast. Stubenrauch, a critical care pulmonologist with National Jewish Health, which staffs and manages the ICU, said doctors use the “tried and true” approaches to respiratory illness and are eyeing experimental treatments being developed. He recommended that one of his patients be added to a promising drug study. If she’s accepted, she could get the drug or a placebo the research requires. He can’t know.

Consultations with families are done by phone. Discussing life and death matters but not doing it face to face, with family members who can’t even be together with their loved one, is heartbreaking. And the uncertainty about COVID-19 means preparing families for the worst.

“You by no means have any interest in giving up on a patient, particularly someone who came into the intensive care unit relatively recently,” Stubenrauch said. But he must “also set the expectation that we’re observing a lot of patients who remain on mechanical ventilation for prolonged periods of time and can quite suddenly take turns for the worse and pass away.”

By his shift’s end, the news in the unit was brighter. There were no new admissions for the day.

Kelley Griffin, CPR News

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver Mayor Michael Hancock listens during the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Public Information Officer Loa Esquilin, right, asks a question to Logistics section chief Todd Richardson, left, at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock cleans his hands with sanitizer before the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Community Planner David Gaspers discusses recovery planning scenarios during a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock, front right, listens to questions during a meeting in the Emergency Operations Center at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Seth Foldy of the Denver Health and Hospital Authority adjusts his mask at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday. April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, left, talks with Bob McDonald, Department of Public Health & Environment executive director, after the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Safety Administrator Sharon Davis updates a report during the morning briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock heads to his office from the Emergency Operations Center during a lunch break at the Denver City and County building on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock checks messages at his office in the Denver City and County building on Thursday. April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock heads to Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center for a blood donation on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

  • Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Denver mayor Michael Hancock, right, donates blood with help from Trevor Hall at Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

9:10 a.m.: Denver City and County Building

Speaking in a basement room of a mostly quiet City and County building, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told a dozen Emergency Operations Center staff gathered before him and others watching online that citizens need the safety and security only they can provide.

Hancock’s days are filled with meetings. Questions and concerns pile up with each one.

More residents are ignoring the stay-at-home order he put in place through the end of April to control the spread of the virus. How can Denver ease restrictions equitably? Will businesses hurt more if they open at half capacity? Should there be a curfew?

The city government, like public agencies across Colorado, faces a dire loss of tax revenue from virus-prompted shutdowns and potential furloughs of employees and other steps.

“In every challenge, the people are looking for that group of people who are going to stand up and fight on their behalf,” Hancock said. “We’re the people. We’re the ones.”

Conrad Swanson, The Denver Post

11:15 a.m.: Avery Parsons Elementary School, Buena Vista

The vehicles pulled into the parking lot on the west side of the school.

Michelle Cunningham was there in a surgical mask and gloves, greeting parents and students by name and giving them thumbs-up signs and smiles in lieu of high-fives and hugs.

The school counselor has been struck by the volume of families showing up for free meals. Though nearly one-third of the school district’s roughly 1,100 students are eligible for government-subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty, only about 40 children a day typically take advantage, she said. Now the district is handing out 400 meals a day, she said.

“As counselors, we know brains work best when physiological needs are met,” Cunningham said. “Its benefits go beyond food. I’m out where I connect with families.”

In communities across the country, school buildings closed for learning remain open for meal distribution, extending a social safety net during the crisis. That holds true in Buena Vista, a tourism-dependent community set amid the majestic Collegiate Peaks.

With retailers, restaurants, and other small businesses closed, hundreds of families are out of work.

Even so, Cunningham said she is proud of how the community has rallied.

“The school board, the business owners, the community leaders, the churches, the school’s lunch ladies … Everyone is stepping up in so many ways to support each other.”

Jan Wondra, Ark Valley Voice

Noon: Parking lot of the El Jebel Laundromat, Eagle County

Fabiola Grajales waited for the nose swab that would tell her whether she was finally free of the coronavirus and able to be near her family again.

In one of Colorado’s COVID-19 hotspots, a coalition of Eagle County Public Health, MidValley Family Practice and the Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance has set up this free mobile testing site.

Grajales, 27, a medical assistant at a Glenwood Springs clinic, said she started feeling sick March 2 and tested positive for the virus March 6. Over the next week, her cough worsened and she experienced shortness of breath.

“You know when you step on dry leaves? I could hear that sound coming from my lungs.”

“You get really bad headaches,” Grajales continued. “You feel like your eyes, they’re going to pop out. I couldn’t smell or taste anything.”

Doctors at Grand View Hospital in Rifle confirmed she had pneumonia and treated her there but didn’t admit her, she said.

She self-isolated for 10 days before symptoms disappeared. But a follow-up test showed she still had coronavirus. After more rest, Grajales feels “90% better, maybe 95,” she said.

Waiting her turn for yet another test, Grajales said the knowledge and contacts she’s gained working in health care helped her acquire tests and treatment, with some effort.

“It was hard for me,” she said. “I can’t imagine how hard it would be for other people.”

Scott Condon, The Aspen Times

1:30 p.m.: Self-storage locker, Grand Junction

The self-storage yard was empty when Dawna Numbers arrived.

The rain had paused, so the 48-year-old moved quickly to load her clothes in plastic bags into the back of her red Kia for the long journey on a mostly empty interstate.

With no money for rent, Numbers was headed for her mother’s house on the Front Range.

Numbers has been out of work since March 25, when the coronavirus outbreak eliminated her night shift job at a fishing-line factory in Grand Junction. Like many Americans, she had tried fruitlessly to file for unemployment benefits. The state unemployment office had been slammed with more than 230,000 new claims in the last month, slowing services to a crawl.

“I’ve never just felt so alone,” she said. Maybe this crisis would bring out something better in people, she hoped. Maybe she’d have better luck in Denver.

“We just need to do the best we can and hopefully this ends soon and somehow we can go back to some kind of normal life,” she said. “Or hopefully better than it was before.”

Andrew Kenney, CPR News

2 p.m.: On the road from Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek

Nolan Christopher Dreher’s parents tucked him into his car seat in the back of their Toyota Highlander and drove snowy roads from Steamboat Springs to their home in Oak Creek. Nolan, cozy in a white onesie with bears on it, was two days old and on his way to meet his brothers.

Lauren Dreher was hoping she had been careful enough, that the nurses and doctors and the woman who came in her hospital room to take out the trash were not infected with the virus.

“At the end of the day you have to know that you did everything you could do,” she said. “I’m just hoping that that’s enough. I was trying so hard not to touch my face. You’re in labor and you brush your hair out of your face and wipe your brow.”

Dreher, who had a complicated second pregnancy, planned to give birth to Nolan in Denver with an at-risk pregnancy specialist. She changed her mind as she watched COVID-19 cases climb in the city. Plus, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center isn’t nearly as busy.

“It was just kind of eerie how quiet it was,” Dreher said. Adding to that surreal feeling was the fact that “everyone you came into contact with was wearing a mask, from the security guard to the nurses and doctors.” Dreher’s delivery team wore N95 masks and face shields.

The Drehers are both furloughed. Lauren works for an orthodontist, and Christopher works at a French restaurant in Steamboat. They are trying to look at the bright side — more time with their new baby and sons Calvin, 6, and Landon, 4.

By late afternoon all were back in their warm home with a fresh blanket of snow outside, the first time together as a family of five.

Jennifer Brown, Colorado Sun

4:44 p.m.: Masjid Al-Shuhada, downtown Denver

In a building that can hold up to 200 praying together, Imam Muhammad Kolila was alone as he prayed the Salat al-‘asr, one of Islam’s five daily prayers.

“One of the things I really miss about community, before coronavirus, is that sense of belonging and that sense of human, physical interactions,” he said afterward.

Kolila has highlighted such teachings online. Like religious leaders of all faith traditions, Kolila has been streaming services — in his case, since March 16 — to provide spiritual direction at a trying time and keep his congregation connected as best he can.

“One of the main objectives and one of the main missions of this mosque is to provide a safe space for people to come and pray, and connect with God, but right now we cannot create that safe space–physically,” he said. “This is why our biggest challenge is to create the space virtually.”

Victoria Carodine, 5280

5 p.m.: Fire Station 52, Brighton

Capt. Colin Brunt climbed into Brighton Fire Rescue Tower 51, a 46-foot long fire truck with a ladder. Trailed by his colleagues in Engine 52, Brunt traveled to Bason Kramer’s house to wish the 5-year-old a happy birthday. When they arrived, the crews switched on their lights and honked their horns while a firefighter stepped out to hand the boy a certificate.

This was not a typical day for the Brighton Fire Department, but it was a welcome one.

Since COVID-19 began to spread, Brunt has worked six 48-hour rotations.

Before the birthday party, Brunt’s unit extinguished a car fire, helped out on a call of a tractor-trailer hanging off the side of a highway and responded to a fire alarm. Brunt takes a mask and worries about exposure to the coronavirus.

“That’s our worst-case scenario that goes through all of our heads, bringing something back to our family,” said Brunt, who is married and has two daughters in kindergarten.

Birthday drive-bys — which more fire departments are doing to lift the spirits of children stuck at home — and other non-coronavirus calls are a nice change. “It’s a morale booster,” Brunt said.

Liam Adams, MetroWest newspapers

6:30 p.m.: home of Cat and Zach Garcia, Aurora

Cat Garcia had been waiting for the call from the nurses at the neonatal intensive care unit, hoping to hear good news about her baby twin boys she had yet to meet.

Three weeks earlier, she lay in St. Joseph Hospital about to undergo an emergency cesarean section. Garcia wasn’t due for another six weeks but her doctors felt like they had little choice: She had tested positive for COVID-19, had pneumonia, and was having difficulty breathing.

Bright lights filled the room. Doctors and nurses were covered from head to toe in PPE. The drugs began to take hold, and everything went dark.

When Garcia woke up, she had a breathing tube in her mouth. A nurse held up her phone to show pictures of her newborn sons, Kal and Bruce. It was the closest she was going to get to them.

Garcia’s husband, Zach, who works for the Transportation Security Administration at Denver International Airport, had begun to show symptoms of COVID-19 on March 19. Cat Garcia developed a violent cough not long after.

Released from the hospital while Kal and Bruce gained strength in the NICU, Garcia returned home. She pumped milk and unpacked baby clothes while hoping for good news.

When the call came, the news wasn’t good. The twins — both of whom have tested negative for the coronavirus — still weren’t feeding well enough. Watching them on the NICU webcam would have to do for a while longer.

“We haven’t been able to hold them or see them,” Garcia said.

Three days later, the twins were sleeping in car seats on their way home, dressed in matching powder-blue pajamas and hooked up to oxygen to help them breathe.

Adilene Guajardo, Denver 7

11:30 p.m.: Dr. Mercedes Rincon’s home office, Aurora

For nearly three decades, Dr. Mercedes Rincon has studied a molecule so obscure and unremarkable that even her colleagues tease her about it.

The Spanish-born professor in the University of Colorado’s Department of Immunology and Microbiology was doing postdoctoral work at Yale when she stumbled upon an article about interleukin-6, or IL-6.

She became fascinated with the molecule commonly produced in inflammation, which is familiar to arthritis and cancer researchers searching for treatments.

When the coronavirus began wreaking havoc on human lungs, Rincon saw a familiar microscopic face in the mix: IL-6 is consistently present in the lungs of the most severely affected patients.

Whether IL-6 is a cause or a consequence of the coronavirus, Rincon isn’t sure. But she hypothesizes that drugs like tocilizumab, traditionally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, could possibly target IL-6 and prevent it from producing more damaging inflammatory molecules.

Early results from studies in China, as well as research in Europe and at the University of Vermont, show some promise.

“We can’t conclude anything yet,” she cautioned. “We have to be careful. We need more data.”

 

As the clock approached midnight, a long day coming to a close, Rincon got to work crafting a grant proposal. She wants the University of Colorado to be at the forefront of this research.

With a little funding and a little luck, Rincon and her obscure molecule might just provide Coloradans — and the rest of the world — with a reason to hope.

Jay Bouchard, 5280

This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. The Denver Post joined this collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public.

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Defer principal, interest payments on home loans

People who have difficulty paying their mortgage can get help in deferring payment of principal and interest up to Dec 31 this year.

The scheme covers purchase loans and mortgage equity withdrawal loans, including debt reduction plans, for owner-occupied property as well as investment residential properties.

Borrowers with mortgage repayments that are no more than 90 days past due as of April 6 can opt in for the scheme without needing to show any financial impact from the coronavirus crisis.

If they choose to defer both principal and interest payments, interest will accrue only on the deferred principal amount. No interest-on-interest will be charged during this deferment period.

They can also choose to extend the loan tenure by up to the corresponding deferment period.

But the Monetary Authority of Singapore warned: “You should keep in mind that deferring payments and extending your tenure mean that you will be paying more interest in total. Therefore, it is better not to defer repayments if you do not need to.”

The deferment will not cause the loan to be reflected as a restructured loan in the borrower’s credit bureau report.

If borrowers are still unable to resume regular repayments after the deferment period, they should speak with lenders early to discuss suitable repayment plans or debt restructuring before the end of the deferment period.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Q Why is the interest on my principal amount not waived during the deferment period?

A Interest will accrue as the banks and finance companies continue to bear the risks of lending. However, if you choose to defer the full monthly instalment, interest-on-interest will be waived during the deferment period.

Q Will my mortgage automatically get a repayment deferment?

A Repayment deferments are not automatic as they will incur higher total interest costs and not everyone needs them. Apply to your bank if you need a mortgage repayment deferment.

Q What are the costs of taking up a repayment deferment?

A The total interest cost of the mortgage will be higher if you take up the repayment deferment. Your bank will provide you with an illustration of the instalments during and after the deferment period, and the estimated increase in total interest cost.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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Moncton family donates $50,000 to help the most vulnerable during COVID-19 crisis

A Moncton couple has donated $50,000 to five organizations that are helping to alleviate the need on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Martell family typically donate anonymously and say they are only publicizing their philanthropy to inspire others to follow their lead.

“Now, more than ever, the social sector is counting on private philanthropy to step up and give so that all Canadians stay safe and healthy,” said Dan Martell in stated released by Global Philanthropic Canada on Saturday.

In total, 48 organizations applied for the Martells’ offer of funding and on Saturday, the couple announced that they will be supporting the following five organizations and projects:

  • The Atlantic Wellness Centre
  • The Harvest House Atlantic
  • The Humanity Project
  • Portage Atlantic
  • The Student Lunch Bag Program

According to the family, the funds will ensure meals and household products are available for economically vulnerable people; support the wellbeing of the province’s health-care workforce, and to provide shelter, support, and mental health services for those in need.

Each organization will get $10,000 each.

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“Atlantic Wellness Centre provides mental health for free for kids that are between the ages of 12 and 21,” said Martell.

The Martells’ say their decision to support organizations that focus on youth and helping people in their darkest times comes from Dan’s own life experiences.

Having been a deeply-troubled youth himself, Dan said that he understands all too well what it’s like to struggle with anxiety, depression and defiance.

“Coronavirus-related business closures are having a devastating effect on so many,” Martell said.

“People are losing jobs, businesses are shutting doors, we are stuck at home, and we are relying on our charitable sector more than ever,” he explains.

In response to this increased need for the charitable sector, the Martells have created the “Giving Crew” to challenge other heart-led entrepreneurs to make an impact in their local communities.

The Giving Crew’s objective is to inspire twenty additional $10,000 donations in 20 days for a total of $250,000 to local charities.

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