World News

Swiss street artist pays tribute to unsung coronavirus heroes

GLAND, Switzerland (Reuters) – Street artist David Perez has found his own way to pay tribute in Switzerland to the people he regards as the unsung heroes of the coronavirus crisis.

Perez, 35, has adorned a pedestrian underpass in the town of Gland with a portrait of a masked cashier scanning a bottle of soap and plans to add other figures, such as construction workers or dustmen, to the mural.

“Today, I will especially pay tribute to cashiers. They are on the frontline with nurses and others,” he told Reuters.

He said his mural, adding color to a “sad-looking wall”, was “for our everyday superheroes.”

Switzerland has recommended that its citizens stay indoors during the coronavirus which has killed more than 500 people and infected over 21,100 in the country, although it has stopped short of ordering a lockdown.

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With small businesses suffering, Putin faces criticism over shutdown

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Left with no income because of the coronavirus lockdown, Dmitry Volodin, the co-owner of several bars in Moscow, says he’s getting inadequate government support, and he has no idea how he can keep paying his staff and his rent.

President Vladimir Putin last week gave many Russians the rest of the month off, to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, but said employers must keep paying staff. Many regions have gone into lockdown, ordering residents to stay home.

“They say ‘pay the salaries’, but no one explains where you’re supposed to get the money from,” Volodin said. “It will kill the (restaurant and bar) sector. Many of them won’t survive.”

Small and medium-sized businesses have voiced anger and warned of mass bankruptcies in petitions to the government, including one with more than 250,000 signatures, illustrating the headwinds Putin faces as he tries to counter the virus.

Critics point to how other countries have offered to pay workers; Britain, for example, pays up to 80% of wages. They also note Russia’s huge gold and forex reserves, around $550 billion.

Putin’s approval rating remains high, but it fell last month from 69% to 63%, near where it stood before Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, an event which sent his ratings surging, according to the Levada Centre.

Compounded by the collapse of oil prices, anger from businesses comes at a delicate moment for Putin. He is pushing through constitutional reforms that would allow him to run for president again and, potentially, extend his rule until 2036.

“This is a very serious political challenge for Putin,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Centre.

“He has just lost that class, some of which supported him, some of which didn’t – the people in the private and competitive sectors. These people are probably not going to support him anymore.”


Putin on March 25 announced a nationwide week off for many and said small businesses would be allowed to pay less national insurance for staff and to defer tax payments and, in some cases, loan repayments for six months. here

“Of course, this won’t help us survive. It will only be of help to those who survive. A moratorium on rent is what we need and there isn’t one,” Volodin said.

Putin then extended the holiday for the rest of April and said salaries must be paid.

An online petition with more than a quarter of a million signatures reads: “The finance ministry is sitting on a pile of money, while business is going into bankruptcy and the population is becoming impoverished.”

A joke doing the rounds online goes: “Putin walks into a bar and orders everyone a beer – on the house.”

Asked about worried entrepreneurs on Friday, the Kremlin said the situation was unprecedented and changing rapidly, but that businesses should tap support measures such as tax holidays that had already been made available.

“The government is of course monitoring the situation not so much every day as every hour, and depending on how it develops, a scenario of support measures will be built up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

On Monday, the government announced a 150 billion-rouble programme under which banks will offer interest-free loans to small businesses to pay salaries.

But that has done little to calm people like Dariya Kaminskaya, the owner of a car repair shop where work has dried up. She says she had already had to pay her seven employees out of her own pocket.

“This is how revolutions were started in the past, beginning with the proletariat,” she said. “The outlook is tearful.”

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Brazil-China diplomatic spat escalates over coronavirus supplies

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Renewed attacks on China by a member of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s inner circle soured diplomatic relations again on Monday as the education minister accused Chinese medical equipment makers of profiteering from the coronavirus pandemic.

Brazil’s Education Minister Abraham Weintraub suggested in a Twitter post, which he later deleted on Sunday, that the disease would help China “dominate the world.” He referenced a cartoon character with a speech impediment to mock Chinese accents.

The Chinese embassy in Brazil, which had traded barbs last month with Bolsonaro’s son for comparing China’s handling of the disease to the former Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster, denounced the minister in a statement on Monday.

“These completely absurd and despicable declarations, with their racist character and unspeakable objectives, have caused negative influences in the healthy development of bilateral relations,” the Chinese embassy tweeted early on Monday.

Brazil’s Education Ministry declined comment on the matter, and Weintraub did not respond to a request for comment.

In a radio interview, the minister said he was not racist. He also redoubled his attacks on China for its handling of the pandemic, accusing Chinese manufacturers of profiteering.

Weintraub said he would only apologize in exchange for a bargain on mechanical ventilators for university hospitals.

“Have them deliver 1,000 ventilators to my hospitals and I’ll go down to the embassy and say, ‘I’m an idiot,’” he told Radio Bandeirantes on Monday morning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put renewed pressure on Brazil’s relationship with China, its largest trading partner and the world’s main producer of medical supplies, underscoring deep fault lines in Bolsonaro’s government.

Weintraub is among advisers to Bolsonaro, including his sons and Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, who call for closer alignment with the United States and caution towards China, the main buyer of Brazil’s farm goods and iron ore.

Last week, Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said that China had ditched some Brazilian equipment orders when the U.S. government sent more than 20 cargo planes to the country to buy the same products.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the COVID-19 respiratory disease as a “little flu”, stirring up political conflicts for denouncing governors’ social-distancing orders, which he sees as economically disastrous.

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UPDATE 1-IMF encouraged by recovery in China, but pandemic could resurge

(New throughout, adds details on China, other economies)

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund on Monday cited limited but encouraging signs of recovery in China, the first country to suffer the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said it could not rule out a resurgence of the pandemic in China and elsewhere.

In a blog, top IMF economists said the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus had pushed the world into a recession that would be worse than the global financial crisis, and called for a global, coordinated health and economic policy response.

“The economic damage is mounting across all countries, tracking the sharp rise in new infections and containment measures put in place by governments,” the IMF experts wrote.

The total confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world jumped to more than 1,250,000, with 68,400 deaths reported, according to a Reuters tally.

China was seeing a modest improvement in its purchasing manager surveys (PMIs) after sharp declines early in the year, and daily satellite data on nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere — a proxy for industrial and transport activity – showed a gradual decline in containment measures, the IMF experts wrote.

“The recovery in China, albeit limited, is encouraging, suggesting that containment measures can succeed in controlling the epidemic and pave the way for a resumption of economic activity,” the authors wrote.

“But there is huge uncertainty about the future path of the pandemic and a resurgence of its spread in China and other countries cannot be ruled out,” they added.

European countries such as Italy, Spain, and France were now in acute phases of the outbreak, followed by the United States, while the epidemic appeared to be just beginning in many emerging market and developing economies.

Disruptions caused by the virus were starting to ripple through emerging markets, while the latest indices from purchasing manager surveys (PMIs) pointed to sharp slowdowns in manufacturing output in many countries.

The U.S. economy was experiencing the consequences with “unprecedented speed and severity,” the blog said, noting that nearly 10 million Americans had applied for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks in March, a sharper increase than even during the peak of the global financial crisis. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Editing by Franklin Paul and David Gregorio)

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Coronavirus learned ‘remarkable trick’ making it far nastier than SARS

Virologist Peter Kolchinsky has described the SARS virus as making “patients got very sick from all the virus replicating in their lungs, they were quarantined before others got close enough to get sneezed or coughed on.” But, the Covid-19 virus has adapted to make it more transmittable and therefore, more deadly. Mr Kolchinsky describes how the new coronavirus “takes up residence in the throat cells first, which doesn’t cause significant symptoms”.

He adds that this makes the person asymptomatic for longer, thus infecting many more people.

Many that first get coronavirus think it is nothing more than a cold and persist their usual daily activities.

But, over the course of a week, in some patients, it will move into the lung neighbourhood and replicate just as SARS did.

Mr Kolchinsky describes this aspect of the disease as being the reason why it is so deadly.

Mr Kolchinsky added: “This makes SARS a comparatively dumb virus.

“It went straight for the lungs, announced itself before it could spread to others, and so got social distanced into extinction.

“But Covid 19, the one plaguing us now, is stealthier, spreading first before revealing itself and causing harm.”

When coronavirus enters the human body, it finds a host cell to infect.

This is the same cold and flu viruses will attack cells that line the respiratory or digestive tracts.

All viruses have some type of protein on the outside coat or envelope that “feels” or “recognises” the proper host cells.

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Coronavirus has gone through two mutations since its discovery.

Most mutations negatively affect the virus.

If mutations are not beneficial to the virus, they are typically eliminated through natural selection, the mechanism of evolution whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive.

Other mutations survive and get embedded into the “average” genome of a virus.

Every virus has a particular type of doorknob that it attaches to and turns so it can enter and infect a cell.

Viruses lie around our environment all of the time just waiting for a host cell to come along.

They can enter us through the nose, mouth or breaks in the skin (see How the Immune System Works for details.

According to the University of Minnesota professor Mark R. Schleiss, coronavirus seems to be able to spread and thrive in the human body.

He added that the SARS virus didn’t have the “fitness to persist in the human population,” which eventually led to its demise.

He added: “Overall, though SARS’ death rate was higher, COVID-19 has led to “more fatalities, more economic repercussions, more social repercussions than we had with SARS.”

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Futures jump on hopes of slowdown in coronavirus cases

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures jumped about 4% on Monday after President Donald Trump expressed hope that the coronavirus health crisis in the United States was “leveling-off” in some of the country’s hardest-hit areas.

Wall Street’s main indexes fell more than 1.5% on Friday as a record 113-month expansion in U.S. employment came to an abrupt end, underlining the extent of the pandemic’s economic devastation.

New York, the country’s biggest hot spot, reported for the first time in a week that virus-related deaths in the state had fallen from the day before, while the number of deaths in France and Italy also slowed.

Shares of most major U.S. airlines, among the most battered this year due to the sudden drop in travel, jumped early on Monday, but Delta Airlines fell over 5% in premarket trading, as Citigroup cut its price target on the stock.

At 05:29 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 811 points, or 3.87%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 97.25 points, or 3.92% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 310.75 points, or 4.13.

SPDR S&P 500 ETFs were up 4.05%.

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British PM Johnson in hospital for coronavirus tests but said to be still in charge

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was undergoing tests in hospital on Monday as he is still suffering coronavirus symptoms 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19, but the government insisted he remained in charge.

Johnson, who had been isolating in Downing Street after testing positive for the virus last month, was taken to hospital on Sunday night because he still had a high temperature and his doctors felt he needed additional tests.

His office and ministers said Johnson, 55, continued to run the government, that the prime minister was doing well and that he would undergo “routine tests” as a precaution, though Downing Street declined to say which tests he would have.

“He’ll stay in hospital as long as he needs to do that, but I’ve heard that he’s doing well and I very much look forward to him being back in Number 10 as soon as possible,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said.

“This isn’t an emergency admission and so I certainly expect that he’ll be back at Number 10 shortly,” he said, though he gave no time frame.

On March 27, Johnson became the first leader of a major power to announce that he had tested positive. The 55-year-old went into isolation at an apartment in Downing Street.

It was not clear how an ill prime minister could lead the government’s emergency response to the outbreak from a hospital. Some medics told Reuters it was unclear what was meant by precautionary tests for COVID-19 complications.

With only an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents to go by, there is no formal succession plan should the prime minister become incapacitated.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chaired the government’s emergency COVID-19 meeting on Monday.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Johnson was a “strong man” as he passed on his nation’s best wishes.

“All Americans are praying for him,” Trump told a news conference. “He’s a friend of mine, he’s a great gentleman and a great leader, and as you know he went to the hospital today but I’m hopeful and sure that he’s going to be fine.”

The pound fell against the dollar on news of Johnson’s admission to hospital, announced just after Queen Elizabeth delivered a rallying call on Sunday night to Britons. It rose

when Jenrick said he expected him to be back at Downing Street shortly.

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Doctors said a person of Johnson’s age with COVID-19 symptoms after 10 days was likely to be assessed for their oxygen levels, lung, liver and kidney functions, and undergo an electrocardiogram heart check.

“Clearly the prime minister is finding it difficult to shake this thing off,” said Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University.

“What it does show is how difficult it is to predict how this infection will develop, and whilst most people will experience nothing more than an annoying cold, for others this can develop into a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease.”

Medics said that patients with COVID-19 can deteriorate after about 10 days, with some developing pneumonia.

Johnson, who is not a smoker, said earlier this year that he wanted to lose weight.

Health officials said on Sunday the British death toll from the coronavirus had risen by 621 to 4,934.


Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit campaign, won a resounding election victory in December before leading the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan. 31.

He has faced criticism for initially approving a much more modest response to the novel coronavirus outbreak than other European leaders, saying on March 3 that he had been shaking hands with coronavirus patients.

He changed tack when scientific projections showed a quarter of a million people could die in the United Kingdom.

Johnson effectively shuttered the world’s fifth-largest economy, advising people to stay at home and the elderly or infirm to isolate themselves for weeks.

The virus, though, had already penetrated the British government.

Johnson and his health minister tested positive last month and his chief medical adviser also self-isolated. Johnson’s pregnant 32-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also had symptoms but said on Saturday she was feeling better.

From an apartment above Number 11 Downing Street, and with food brought to his door, Johnson continued to lead the government’s response and chaired meetings via video conference.

He has posted a series of video messages since then, initially appearing in a suit and tie but in the latest post on Friday, he appeared weary, sitting in a chair with his shirt open at the neck.

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Swedish government seeks wider executive powers to fight virus

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s government is seeking wider executive powers, including the right to shut airports and railway stations without parliament’s approval, in its fight to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Sweden has so far taken a low-key approach to containing the virus. Unlike most of Europe, which is in virtual lockdown, Swedes can still go to the gym and eat at restaurants, while primary and secondary schools remain open.

The Social Democrat-led coalition says it lacks a sufficient legal mandate to be able to react rapidly to the pandemic, which has killed more than 400 people in Sweden and nearly 65,000 globally.

“We have seen how quickly the situation in Sweden and Europe can change and we see a need for more possibilities to be able to react quickly if the situation demands it,” Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said in a statement.

Many governments around the world have adopted extraordinary powers to fight the virus, raising fears that the democratic process could be undermined.

Sweden’s government said parliament would be given the chance to approve individual measures, “as soon as possible” after they were imposed. It also said the new legislation would not give it the power to declare martial law.

The government is asking parliament to grant it wider executive powers for three months.

The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment and it was not clear when parliament would vote on the bill.

The government has banned meetings of more than 50 people and closed homes for the elderly to visitors, while students in higher education are studying on line.

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‘Superstorm’ Harold hits Vanuatu after killing 27

A cyclone bringing winds of 135mph (215km/h) has arrived in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

Cyclone Harold is a category five storm – the most severe – and has already killed 27 people in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.

The victims were swept off a ferry that defied cyclone warnings.

Vanuatu, home to around 300,000 people, is already in a state of emergency because of the coronavirus – and is awaiting general election results.

The storm is particularly affecting Sanma province, home to the country’s second biggest city, Luganville.

Although there have been no injuries reported, photos showed roofs blown off buildings and power lines brought down. Some people took shelter in caves.

“There is lots of damage in Sanma, they lost lots of buildings,” Jacqueline de Gaillande, chief executive of Vanuatu Red Cross, told Reuters.

The Vanuatu meteorology department recorded winds of 135mph in Sanma but said gusts – which are less sustained – were reaching 145mph (235km/h).

A major international effort was needed after the last category five storm – Cyclone Pam – hit Vanuatu in 2015.

Although Vanuatu has no confirmed Covid-19 cases, it declared a state of emergency last month, soon after the country voted in a general election.

The counting of the votes was live-streamed, as social distancing rules made it difficult to have enough observers in one room.

Unofficial results have been published, with official results due soon.

On Sunday, police in the Solomon Islands said five of the 27 bodies lost in the ferry disaster had been recovered.

The MV Taimareho set sail in strong winds with more than 700 people on board, reportedly as part of a virus evacuation programme.

The ship was initially thought to have just 60 people on board.

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All adult Singaporeans to receive one-off $600 Solidarity Payment in April to cope with Covid-19

SINGAPORE – To help households cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, all Singaporeans aged 21 and above will now receive a one-off payout of $600, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (April 6), as the Government enhanced the payout for a second time in as many months.

In February, the Government had announced payouts of between $100 and $300 for every adult Singaporean. In March, this was tripled to between $300 and $900, with payouts due to be distributed from August to September.

On Monday, Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, announced that $300 of that payment has been brought forward to April and supplemented with a further $300 to form what will be called the Solidarity Payment.

Mr Heng said the additional payments announced on Monday will cost the Government an additional $1.1 billion.

The rest of the payments will also be brought forward to June. All adult Singaporeans will thus receive $600 in April, with those who qualify for the higher tiers receiving a further $300 or $600 in June.

The $300 payout for each parent with at least one child aged 20 and below, and the $100 PAssion Card top-up for Singaporeans aged 50 and above this year have also been brought forward to June. In March, Mr Heng had said that the top-up will be done in cash instead to avoid the need to queue at top-up stations.

For the majority of Singaporeans who have provided their bank account details to the Government, the Solidarity Payment will be credited directly into the bank accounts by April 14, said Mr Heng. The rest will receive the payment by cheque, to be issued in stages later, starting from April 30. Eligible citizens will be notified of their payment via SMS from April 15.

Not everyone will need these cash payouts, Mr Heng noted.

“I am very encouraged that many have written to me, my ministerial colleagues and MPs that they do not need the cash payouts, and suggest that we give these to those who need the cash more. I thank fellow Singaporeans for your thoughtfulness,” he said.

He urged those who can to donate to charities on the website or the Community Chest’s Courage Fund, or to directly share it with others.

Others who still need support can approach the social service offices and community centres to apply for new schemes such as the Temporary Relief Fund and the upcoming Covid-19 Support Grant, as well as existing ComCare schemes.

The Temporary Relief Fund, which is now open for applications, will give a one-time cash grant of $500 to those who have lost their jobs or income because of the coronavirus outbreak. The Covid-19 Support Grant, which will open for application in May, will provide longer-term financial aid and job support.

Mr Heng also urged Singaporeans to provide emotional and mental health support to their fellow citizens. Amid the new circuit breaker measures, which will see a shutdown of most workplaces and schools in Singapore from this week, Singapore’s community mental health support services will continue to provide care and support through phone consultations, or home visits for those who may need more support.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has also announced that it will set up a National Care hotline to help anyone facing stress or anxiety caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In this time of need, I am glad that mental health professionals and trained volunteers have stepped forward to offer their help in setting up the new hotline,” said Mr Heng.

The “circuit breaker” measures introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus here will see pre-schools and student care centres suspending general services for a month. In response to parents who have asked if they can get any fee refunds or waivers, the MSF had earlier explained that many service providers would face closure or have to lay off staff if providing refunds were made compulsory.

“Rather than to mandate refunds which help families but hurt businesses, the Government is implementing assistance measures, to help both families and businesses,” a ministry spokesman had said in response to queries.

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