I am handing over to my colleague Alexandra Topping now. Please do keep sharing tips and insight with us, it’s very helpful. Thank you.
Hello, just taking the blog from Alexandra Topping for a bit while she takes a break. Please do share any stories with me via the usual channels below.
UN launch Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has been giving a briefing on the virtual G7 foreign ministers meeting that began by videoconference at 7am (ET). He said the main focus was the coronavirus, which Pompeo made a point of calling the “Wuhan virus”, writes my colleague Julian Borger.
According to a report in Der Spiegel, the G7 ministers have not so far been able to agree on a joint statement because of Pompeo’s insistence that it should refer to the disease as the “Wuhan virus”, a suggestion that was rejected by other members of the group of prosperous democracies.
Asked about the disagreement this morning, Pompeo did not answer directly, but did not deny it.
“I always think about these meetings, the right answer is to make sure we have the same message coming out of it,” he said. “I’m confident that when you hear the other six foreign ministers speak, they will have a common understanding of what we talked about today, and we will talk about the things that we have agreement on.”
Donald Trump has called the disease the “China virus”. Although the president has not used the phrase in his last couple of appearances, the administration is clearly still seeking to emphasise Chinese culpability.
“The Chinese Communist party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated,” Pompeo said this morning
The hardcore efforts of Italy’s mayors to stop residents leaving their houses continues, writes my colleague Lorenzo Tondo in Italy.
Airborne drones in Messina, Sicily, are making sure citizens respect the lockdown. The drone broadcast Mayor Cateno De Luca’s voice saying “What the hell are you doing outside? You don’t go out! That is the mayor’s order and that’s that, I’ll get you one by one”. On Sunday Cateno, in order to contain the outbreak in the island, tried to stop a ferry from Calabria carrying Sicilians arriving from the north of the country.
Although the majority of Italy’s population of 62 million are complying with the regulations, the interior ministry said on Monday that 92,367 citizens had been charged for breaking them since the lockdown was enforced. Police now have permission to use drones as controls are upped across the country, and the army is patrolling the streets in some places.
A compilation video of mayors lambasting people for flouting coronavirus quarantine rules has struck a chord with Italians, who have shared it in their thousands on social media. One of the mayors said: “I saw a fellow citizen amiably jog up and down the street, accompanied by a dog that was visibly worn out. I stopped and told him: ‘Look, this isn’t a film. You are not Will Smith in I Am Legend. So, you have to go home.’”
And, because this video compilation is a rare bright spot in this distinctly suboptimal year, here it is again:
UN calls on nations to protect prisoners and those in closed facilities
Four more Italian doctors die
Another four Italian doctors have died with the coronavirus, bringing the toll in the epidemic up to 29, the national federation of doctors told ANSA, reports Lorenzo Tondo in Italy.
Over 5,000 Italian health workers have been infected with Covid-19 so far.
The Assomed union has called for immediate action ‘’to provide all workers with individual protection equipment’’.
Meanwhile, Civil protection department head and coronavirus commissioner Angelo Borrelli has cancelled his daily six o’clock press conference after suffering symptoms of fever. The result of a test is being awaited.
Authorities will still release new figures at 6 pm.
Canada’s parliament successfully passed $82bn CAD in funding for residents affected by the economic impacts coronavirus early on Wednesday morning, writes Leyland Cecco in Canada.
The marathon emergency session ran into the early morning as lawmakers sparred over how much power Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberals should be given.
Parliamentarians had initially balked at a Liberal proposal that would grant the party the power to tax and spend –without parliamentary approval – until the end of 2021.
Trudeau had defended the draft legislation leading up to the vote, telling reporters the pandemic required “extreme flexibility” from government to nimbly address a virus that continues to spread quickly throughout the country.
But sensing strong opposition, Trudeau promised the contentious provision wouldn’t be included in the bill.
Opposition lawmakers immediately halted the special session of parliament early Tuesday afternoon to debate the bill, which needed unanimous support to pass.
The successfully passed bill nonetheless gives finance minister Bill Morneau broad powers to spend money in the pursuit of a “public health event of national concern”, including the procurement of medical supplies and funding public health programs. But special powers for the government end after six months.
“The Liberals shamefully tried to use a public health crisis to give themselves the powers to raise taxes, debt and spending without parliamentary approval until January 1, 2022,” conservative leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement following passage of the bill. “But after hours of negotiation, the government has baked down.”
The bill – which gives a mix of financial support and tax breaks – is likely to receive senate approval Wednesday, followed by royal assent
UK coronavirus mass home testing to be made available ‘within days’
Thousands of 15-minute home tests for coronavirus will be delivered by Amazon to people self-isolating with symptoms or will go on sale on high street within days, according to Public Health England (PHE), in a move that could restore many people’s lives to a semblance of pre-lockdown normality, writes the Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley.
Prof Sharon Peacock, the director of the national infection service at PHE, told MPs on the science and technology committee that mass testing in the UK would be possible by next week.
The UK government has bought 3.5m of the tests, which the health secretary, Matt Hancock, mentioned on Tuesday with no suggestion they would be available to the public so quickly, and is ordering millions more.
Late on Tuesday, the leader of the South American nation – which is now under a militarized lockdown – gave a rambling televised address on measures his government is taking to combat the spread of Covid-19, with 91 cases confirmed.
Sipping from a small cup, Maduro told Venezuelans to drink aromática – a herbal tea made of lemongrass, ginger, elderberry, black pepper, lemons and honey – “every two or three hours, five or six times a day”. He added that he and his wife prepared 10 jugs of the elixir for their family. “It’s tasty,” he said.
Maduro’s playful tone jars with the bleak outlook for Venezuela, which despite boasting the largest proven oil reserves on the planet is already mired in social and economic turmoil. Shortages in basic goods and medical supplies are widespread and hyperinflation has rendered the local Bolivar currency practically useless.
Public health experts warn the country is far from ready to handle any outbreak amid an already collapsing health system.
Twitter took issue with Maduro’s comments on the disease on Tuesday morning, deleting one of his tweets that shared articles from a discredited scientist on grounds that it amounted to misinformation. One of those articles alleged the tea would remedy the virus. Another claimed Covid-19 was a “bioterrorist weapon”.
Argentina reports 86 new cases, two deaths in 24 hours
Saudi Arabia reports 133 new positive cases, one death in last 24 hours
Saudi Arabia has reported 133 new positive cases and one death in the last 24 hours, reports Akhtar Mohammad Makoii in Herat.
Saudi Arabia has announced its second coronavirus-related death in the last 24 hours with 133 new infections, pushing the total number of Coronavirus cases in the kingdom to 900.
A health ministry spokesman said a 46-year-old man had died as a result of Covid-19.
He added that the majority of infected patients were receiving medical care but in good condition. Three people are in critical condition but are receiving extra care in the intensive care unit, Al Arabia reported.
Russia delays vote on changes to allow Putin to stay in power until 2036
Russian president Vladimir Putin has delayed a public vote on constitutional amendments that will allow him to stay in power until 2036 due to the coronavirus outbreak in Russia, writes Andrew Roth in Moscow.
The plebiscite, which was seen as an important public endorsement of Putin’s ability to remain in power after 2024, were scheduled for 22 April. A new date will be set later, Putin said during a nationwide address. The vote does not have any legal impact and the constitutional amendments have already been accepted into law.
The announcement came as the Russian president rolled out a series of emergency measures to limit the health and economic impact of the spread of the virus in Russia . While asking Russians to stay home, the Russian president stopped short of issuing a mandatory quarantine or state of emergency.
Speaking on television, the Russian president announced a nationwide weeklong holiday in order to slow the spread of coronavirus through Russia. The holiday would extend from 28 March until 5 April, he said. Workers across the country would be guaranteed to receive their salaries, he added.
He also announced a series of economic initiatives, debt relief for those diagnosed with coronavirus, support for the unemployed, additional benefits for families with small children, a tax holiday for small businesses, and a moratorium on some bankruptcies.
In a direct appeal to Russians, Putin said: “Don’t think this can’t happen to me. It can happen to anyone.” He told the country to stay home.
The address came one day after a senior Russian official told Putin that government tallies underestimated the number of coronavirus victims in the country and that the Kremlin needed to take urgent measures to address the virus’ spread before it turned into a crisis.
Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin on Tuesday that the rate of coronavirus “growth is high; a serious situation is developing”, and warned that the healthcare system may be overwhelmed at the virus’s peak.
Official statistics have revealed a significant acceleration in the spread of coronavirus in Russia. A record 163 new cases were confirmed by officials on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 658 cases. Most of the new infections were identified in Moscow, which posted a jump of 120, or 43%, overnight. One death has been attributed to the disease.
Russia’s parliament on Wednesday said it would review legislation that could put quarantine breakers in jail for a period of three to seven years. Currently, those who return from abroad or exhibit symptoms of sickness are required to self-isolate for 14 days. And those found guilty of intentionally infecting others could even face terrorism charges, a Russian lawmaker said.
“In the event of intentional causing of one or more deaths as a result of the deliberate violation of sanitary and epidemiological regulations, irrespective of the intentions, such an action will be defined as terrorism, hooliganism or sabotage,” Russian lawmaker Pavel Krasheninnikov told reporters.
The French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, has outlined the help the government is giving businesses to assuage the economic crisis resulting from the lockdown in a debriefing of this morning’s council of ministers, reports my colleague Kim Willsher in Paris.
Philippe said the government was anxious to “mitigate the economic” consequences of the lockdown. The measures he introduced include:
- €1bn economic fund for small “micro” enterprises to stop them going out of business or firing and laying off staff. Small companies will be able to obtain help to pay, electricity, water, rent and bills.
- Extension of eligibility for unemployment and social security benefits.
- ”War economy” number of conditions companies can “temporarily” put in measures for Sunday and overtime work.
He said there would be a total of 25 new decrees coming in next few days. State would take over the salaries of all companies affected by the crisis and had set aside €4.5bn for this.
Philippe concluded: “These decrees help us to bear the brunt of the lockdown. This is a health crisis, a health emergency, but this crisis will also bring about an economic crisis … the president has asked us to take all measures for the long haul. We are preparing for the long haul.”