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Italy: Punishment in the time of coronavirus

Those found guilty of breaking the new regulations face a three-month prison sentence or a fine of 206 euros.

Rome, Italy – Italians entering their third day of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown on Thursday struggled to adjust to their new reality, with national news outlets reporting 161 individuals had been sanctioned by police in a single day for violating a decree. 

Those found guilty face a three-month prison sentence or a fine of 206 euros ($230) as authorities sought to enforce the new rules.

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  • Juventus footballer Daniele Rugani tests positive for coronavirus

  • Italy tightens lockdown after coronavirus death toll soars

Many of these were unambiguous violations, such as holding a funeral procession, keeping establishments open past the 6pm curfew, or moving between towns without carrying an “auto-certifying” form allowing the holder to travel for a pre-approved reason.

Other breaches, however, were less clear-cut.

On Wednesday, news outlets reported that police sanctioned a 51-year-old Peruvian man in Rome, a group of five men in Mantova, and 17-year-old who was travelling in Milan to see his girlfriend on charges of “being on the streets unnecessarily” and “moving around without a valid reason”.

On the same day, a video of police in Naples shouting at an elderly man sitting alone on a bench to go home was widely circulated online. Bemused viewers noted the decree did not impose a blanket ban on going outside, and expressly allowed people to leave their houses for exercise provided they maintained a one-metre distance from others.

Lucas Mennella, a history teacher in Rome, said he and his girlfriend were walking near the Colosseum on Wednesday when they were stopped by a policewoman who told them they had to return home because “the situation was not good”.

“We said it wasn’t true that we couldn’t be outside [as it wasn’t at the time], that we were limited to the comune but were going for a walk, but then we just gave up and walked back the other way,” he told Al Jazeera.

As similar stories proliferated throughout the internet, online comment boards and social media accounts across the country erupted in confusion, with users questioning why parks, bars, and restaurants were being kept open if people were not allowed to use them.

In a speech delivered on Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addressed some of their questions by announcing all establishments except for grocery stores and pharmacies were to close until March 25, but said parks would remain open for sports and activities.

At the same time, however, updated guidance from the Interior Ministry stipulated all Italian residents must now carry the “auto-certification” form to leave their homes, with the only valid reasons for going outside being to fulfil essential work requirements, for health needs, or for other strict necessities.

The seemingly conflicting instructions left news outlets scrambling to come up with their own interpretation of the rules.

On Thursday morning, the national daily Corriere della Sera ran an article headlined “Walks Not Allowed” at the same time as the newspaper La Reppublica declared “Going For A Walk Is Not Banned”, citing unnamed sources from the Interior Ministry.

“I would like to know, unequivocally, whether or not I can go for a walk to stretch my legs. Does that count as sport? And if I do not have sportswear on, could an overzealous policeman sanction me?” Federico Anghele, a Genoa-based campaigner for the non-profit organisation The Good Lobby, asked Al Jazeera.

When contacted, a spokesperson from the Interior Ministry press office confirmed people are permitted to go for a walk outside by themselves in the vicinity of their home, or take their dog for a walk, provided they bring their “auto-certification” form with them, checking the “reasons of necessity” box.

Police could not confirm the media reports that 161 people had been sanctioned by the time of publication.


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Putin may extend term over 'threats to Russia', coronavirus

Move would allow long-serving leader to run for president again after his fourth and last Kremlin term expires in 2024.

Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation allowing him to stay in power beyond 2024 citing global instability and threats against Russia, including the new coronavirus, the Kremlin said on Thursday.

During a rare and unscheduled appearance in the Parliament on Tuesday, Putin stunned both the general public and the establishment by agreeing to a last-minute proposal to reset his constitutional term-limit clock to zero.

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This would allow him to run for president again after his fourth and last Kremlin term expires in 2024.

The bombshell announcement came even though Putin previously ruled out bending the law to stay in power.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Putin changed his mind because of a “totality” of factors, including the spread of the novel coronavirus, a possible global recession and regional conflicts.

“The situation around the world has become less stable,” Peskov told reporters.

He said coronavirus “has quite serious consequences for the global economy already now and potentially may have more serious consequences for the global economy” in the future.

He also appeared to hit out at Western sanctions against Russia, saying they “run counter to international law”.

Political storm

Putin unleashed a political storm in January when he suddenly proposed changes to the constitution and dismissed his loyal ally Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.

But until Tuesday, he dismissed suggestions he launched the overhaul of the country’s basic law to extend his grip on power. Putin served the maximum two consecutive terms between 2000 and 2008 before a four-year stint as prime minister.

He returned to the Kremlin in 2012 for a newly expanded six-year mandate and was re-elected to a fourth Kremlin term in 2018.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, said separately that Russia should protect Putin.

“It is not oil and gas that are our strength. As you can see, both oil and gas can fall in price. Our strength is Putin and we must protect him,” Volodin said in comments released by the State Duma.


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‘We have plenty of food’: Ontario government urges calm amid pandemic panic buying

The Ontario government is calling for calm amid reports of pandemic-related panic buying in grocery stores.

Health Minister Christine Elliott and Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman released a joint statement Saturday morning saying Ontario’s food supply is “robust” and distribution “will continue to operate and remain responsive to the needs of Ontarians.”

“Rest assured, we have plenty of food that will continue to reach grocery stores on a regular basis,” the statement read.

“Our food supply chain is one of the strongest in the world and our government remains committed to ensuring Ontarians can access healthy and nutritious Ontario-produced foods.

“Please practice normal grocery buying habits and rest assured that our grocery production and supply chain will continue to provide Ontarians with the food we enjoy each and every day.”

The statement comes amid reports of packed stores and empty shelves, with some supplies running low at many grocery stores throughout the province.

The trend comes despite experts in Canada saying there is no need to worry about supply chains being maintained.

Panic buying has been reported throughout the world as well.

Meanwhile, Ontario announced 22 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday — the biggest daily increase in the province since the outbreak began — bringing the provincial total to 101.

Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians.

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.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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France reports 12 new deaths from coronavirus taking tally to 91

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s Public Health Authority on Saturday reported 12 new deaths from coronavirus taking the total to 91.

It said on its website that the number of cases had risen to 4,499, up from 3,661 on Friday.

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Teargas, clashes in Paris as Yellow Vest protesters defy coronavirus ban

PARIS (REUTERS) – French security forces fired teargas and clashed with anti-government “Yellow Vest” protesters who were demonstrating in Paris on Saturday (March 14) in defiance of a ban on mass gatherings that aims to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron announced school closures and urged people to avoid close contact for fear of propagating the virus that has killed 79 people in France and infected more than 3,600.

The government on Friday banned all gatherings of more than 100 people.

Paris police had already turned down requests for protesters to convene at sensitive sites, including the Champs Elysees where there were violent clashes between security forces and protesters almost a year ago to the day.

“It’s Saturday, demonstration day. Some people think that the coronavirus won’t touch them and refuse to respect the advice,” said a riot police officer in front of a heavily armed vehicle blocking the road that leads to the presidential palace.

Central Paris had earlier been in lockdown, with police searching bags over concerns the protesters would seek to return to the Champs Elysees. The police cordon had been eased by lunchtime.

Hundreds of protesters, some wearing protective medical masks, had marched early on Saturday from Montparnasse train station, chanting anti-Macron slogans. By mid-afternoon, tension had grown.

A police source put the numbers at about 400.

Riot police used teargas and stun grenades in attempts to disperse the crowds and clashed with individuals as about 2,000 security forces were deployed across the city to manage the situation.

“The security forces are currently pushing back a portion of the cortege composed of determined individuals, who are trying to continue in a direction that has not been declared,” the Paris police said on Twitter, adding that 25 people had been arrested.

The protesters, named after the high-visibility jackets they wear, were holding a 70th consecutive Saturday of action. The movement emerged late in 2018, triggered by fuel tax rises, and swelled into a revolt against Macron’s government.

While protests are now much smaller, anger at Macron’s government remains and Saturday’s demonstration served as a remainder to the president a day before local elections.

Sunday’s vote is an important test for Macron, with opponents now particularly angered by his plans to reform the French pensions system. His party is not expected to do well.

“We had to come and mark the day to tell Macron that we’re still here and that we won’t accept his pension reform,” said one pensioner.

Voters will begin choosing mayors for 35,000 town halls and almost half a million councillors on Sunday in elections overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak, which is expected to hit turnout.

Macron decided to go ahead with the elections despite concerns over the spread of the illness, which have led the government to shut schools and universities, suspend major sporting events, curtail public transport and close tourism attractions.

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Romanian lawmakers endorse PM Orban in vote of confidence

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s centrist Prime Minister Ludovic Orban won a parliamentary vote of confidence by a large margin as expected on Saturday, with all parties seeking to end a political stalemate and focus on reining in the spread of coronavirus.

On Saturday, President Klaus Iohannis declared a state of emergency from Monday, opening the door to more government aid to combat the disease.

“This state of emergency will enable allotting new important resources to fight the crisis,” Iohannis said. “The government will allot more funds for …. healthcare, medicine, equipment,” he said, adding that the move also cut through red tape for government purchases.

Lawmakers toppled Orban’s minority Liberal government early last month but he has continued running the country on an interim basis with limited powers. Iohannis asked the interim premier to form a government on Friday.

Orban and his cabinet ministers quarantined themselves for two weeks on Friday, after coming into contact with a coronavirus-infected lawmaker. The country has recorded 102 cases of the illness so far, but no deaths.

“It’s been 286 votes for the government out of 309 cast ballots and 23 MPs voted against it,” a senior ruling party deputy told Reuters of Saturday’s vote.

Since the vote against Orban’s government in February, rival parties have been jockeying for position before municipal and parliament elections in June and November, respectively.

But the onset of the coronavirus meant Orban’s nomination passed easily through parliament – restoring full powers to his government to fight the outbreak.

“Our party has taken full responsibility at these difficult times, and now, with a full power government, I’m confident we will manage to rein in coronavirus more resolutely,” Orban said in an online speech.

On Saturday, Romania increased restrictions on the public, banning cultural, scientific, religious activities involving more than 50 people in a closed space, down from 100 at present.

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Figure skating: Nathalie Pechalat becomes French ice sports boss after rivals pull out citing coronavirus

PARIS (REUTERS) – Former ice dancer Nathalie Pechalat was elected president of the French ice sports federation after her three rivals pulled out of the vote citing coronavirus fears on Saturday (March 14).

The election took place after Didier Gailhaguet resigned the post in the wake of sexual harassment and rape scandals that shook French ice skating.

Gailhaguet resigned five weeks ago after several figure skaters alleged they were raped or sexually assaulted when they were minors by former coaches.

Pechalat, twice a world championships bronze medallist with dance partner Fabian Bourzat in 2012 and 2014, was elected with 504 votes while 154 votes were blank.

On Friday, Damien Boyer-Gibaud, Michel-Ange Marie-Calixte and Gilles Jouanny said they were pulling out of the race because of coronavirus fears.

In a joint statement, they said that 160 club presidents had been called on to attend a general assembly ahead of the vote while France had banned gatherings of more than 100 in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which as of Friday had infected 3,661 people and killed 79 in the country.

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Jordan tightens lockdown to combat coronavirus

AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan said it would stop all incoming and outgoing passenger flights into the country from Tuesday as it tightens border controls and bans public gatherings and events to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Announcing the move on Saturday, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said universities and schools would be closed for two weeks and all tourist sites and all sports facilities and cinemas would also be shut.

Jordan’s only confirmed COVID-19 case left hospital on Friday after treatment, but the country is concerned about the speed at which the virus has spread in neighbouring countries.

It has already closed its borders with Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.

Cargo and commercial traffic is exempted from the sea port, land crossing and airport closures to ensure the continued supply of goods and commodities.

In a televised speech, Razzaz called on citizens to stay at home as much as possible, adding that the measures were needed because of the “unprecedented” nature of the global epidemic.

“The situation around us is from bad to worse and we are not isolated,” Razzaz said, adding that the restrictions would be reviewed periodically.

The draconian moves also involved a ban on all prayers in mosques and churches across the country and the halting of all hospital and prison visits.

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Olympics: Japan's Abe pledges Tokyo Games to go ahead despite virus havoc

TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday (March 14) resisted pressure for changes to the Tokyo Olympics schedule even as sporting events worldwide fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.

Abe pledged Japan would host the Games as planned in July and said he had no immediate intention to declare a state of emergency over the virus outbreak, which has now seen more than 140,000 people infected across the globe and over 5,400 killed.

His comments come two days after US President Donald Trump suggested the Japanese capital postpone the Games for a year as the spread of the virus wreaks havoc on the sporting calendar.

“We will respond by closely coordinating with officials concerned, including the IOC (International Olympic Committee). There is no change in this,” Abe told a news conference.

“We want to hold the Olympics as planned without any trouble by overcoming the spread of infections,” he said.

Organisers, Japanese government officials and the IOC have insisted preparations are on track and there will be no postponement or cancellation.

England’s football Premier League, America’s NBA basketball season and the US Masters golf Major are just some of the competitions swept aside by the pandemic.

On Friday, Abe and Trump spoke on the phone about the outbreak and Olympics after Trump proposed a delay.

“We agreed that Japan and the US will cooperate and closely coordinate for success in the Olympics,” Abe said, adding they had not discussed any postponement.

The Japanese parliament on Friday approved legislation that gives Abe the power to declare a state of emergency to combat Covid-19 but Abe insisted such a declaration was not yet necessary.

The coronavirus has infected more than 700 people across Japan and been linked to 21 deaths. Separately, 700 people on board a cruise ship that docked near Tokyo last month were also infected.

A state of emergency would allow local governments to require that people stay indoors, schools close and public facilities limit use.

Land and buildings could be requisitioned for makeshift hospitals.

IOC chief Thomas Bach told German television broadcaster ARD on Thursday that the body would follow recommendations by the World Health Organisation but that work continued for a successful Games.

He acknowledged however that cancellations of Olympic qualifiers are starting to pose “serious problems”.

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Palestinians suspend prayers at mosques, churches to fight coronavirus

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority suspended prayers in mosques and churches in the occupied West Bank on Saturday to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Authority’s Religious Affairs Ministry asked Palestinians to worship at home.

“In light of the Health Ministry’s recommendation to minimize contact between people and to reduce gatherings as much as possible we call upon our Muslim people in Palestine to hold their prayers at home,” a ministry statement said.

In Ramallah, a prayer leader reciting the Muslim call to prayer at one mosque in the early evening added the words: “Pray at home, pray at home.”

According to Palestinian health officials, 38 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self rule under the Palestinian Authority. None have been reported in the densely-populated Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas group.

Religious authorities have so far kept Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site, open for prayers.

The Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on Jerusalem’s sacred compound has kept it open for Friday prayers, encouraging faithful to congregate on the 35-acre complex’s outdoor grounds rather than inside its covered shrines.

The Waqf council reassured worshippers in a statement this week that the entire compound, including its golden Dome of the Rock shrine, was being “sterilized continuously.”

Muslim faithful believe the site to be where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven. Jews revere it as the site of the Jewish temples of antiquity. It is one of the most sensitive venues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In Israel, where 164 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, gatherings have been limited to 100 people. Some religious authorities in the Holy Land, including the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, have moved to implement crowd controls at places of worship.

Muslim majority countries have introduced a range of measures to try to halt the infection.

Egypt will suspend schools and universities for two weeks starting on March 15. Among Gulf Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait taking the most drastic decisions by cancelling all international flights.

Attendance at Friday prayers is generally mandatory for able-bodied men in Islam, but Riyadh said those under quarantine and those afraid of being infected or infecting others need not attend.

Pakistan has shut its schools and land borders and decided to limit international flights and discourage large gatherings.

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