World News

Syria reports first coronavirus death

Syria’s health ministry has said a woman has died from the coronavirus disease – the war-torn country’s first officially reported fatality.

The woman died on Sunday after being taken to hospital, state media reported, without giving a location.

Nine other people tested positive for the Covid-19 respiratory illness but medics suspect there are many more.

There are fears the virus will spread rapidly through vulnerable populations, overwhelming the healthcare system.

Only 64% of public hospitals are fully functioning and there is a considerable shortage of trained staff, according to the World Health Organization.

There are also six million internally displaced people in Syria, many of whom are living in overcrowded conditions in camps with insufficient water and sanitation infrastructure.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which controls the country’s biggest cities, has imposed a range of preventative measures.

It has imposed a night-time curfew, restricted travel between provinces, shut schools and universities, and banned gatherings at mosques and other public events.

No cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the north-western province of Idlib, which is the opposition’s last stronghold, but humanitarian organisations are particularly concerned about the situation there.

A million people have fled their homes since December to escape a government offensive, and the limited number of functioning hospitals are already struggling to treat casualties from the fighting and respond to other medical needs.

Local health authorities are preparing for an outbreak, but Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned on Monday that the spread of Covid-19 could quickly become critical if additional support and measures were not in place.

The medical charity said it was providing assistance for the screening of patients at two health centres, including one at Deri Hassan camp, which hosts 164,000 people.

“We witnessed people living in the open; we also saw two or three families sharing a tent which did not protect them from the cold or the rain. There were too few tents to accommodate the new arrivals,” said Ahmed, MSF’s project team leader.

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Spanish PM reveals which key workers will avoid ‘extraordinarily tough’ new lockdown rules

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez announced the “extraordinarily tough” restrictions on March 28, which forces all non-essential workers to remain at home for two weeks.  

These workers will still receive their usual salaries but will be expected to make up lost hours over time, he said.

“This measure will reduce the mobility of people even further – it will reduce the risk of contagion and will allow us to decongest the ICUs,” Mr Sanchez said in a televised statement.

On Sunday, Spain’s government issued further details on which essential workers should still continue to work from Monday, according to Euro Weekly News.

These workers reportedly include those involved in: security and law enforcement bodies including the armed forces; all medical and healthcare professionals; social security service workers including immigration and refugee centres; transport workers and cleaning/refuse collection services; news media and many others.


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For now, the tougher lockdown is expected to last until April 9.

The restrictions come as reported infections in Spain hit 72,248 as of Sunday – a rise of 8,189 from the previous day.

Sunday also saw a further 832 deaths in the country, taking the total to 5,690.

Spain is now one of the worst-hit countries in the world in terms of covid-19 cases, behind the US, China and Italy.

Speaking to Sky News, Professor Julio Mayol, Medical Director at Clinico San Carlos Hospital in Madrid, said: “It is a bad situation. It is really bad.

“The problem is, we can increase the room available, we can provide them with more beds, but we need PPEs… and there is a global shortage.”

Prime Minister Sanchez currently leads Spain’s Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and has been Prime Minister of Spain since June 2018.

The government there is currently a coalition, comprising of the PSOE and the left-wing Unidas Podemos electoral alliance.


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The country has a population of around 46.7 million people.

Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed cases in the UK as of Sunday rose by 2,546 to 17,093, according to WHO figures.

Total UK deaths as of Sunday were 1,019 – up 260 from Saturday.

There are no known plans for the UK to follow Spain’s tougher measures just yet. Although last week’s UK lockdown measures did require all non-essential shops and certain businesses to close, there is currently no ban on non-critical workers from travelling to work if they cannot work from home.

However, in a letter which is due to arrive on the doorsteps of British households later this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected will note that tougher measures are a possibility.

He wrote: “From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time. We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do.

“It’s important for me to level with you – we know things will get worse before they get better. 

“But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal.”

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World News

Coronavirus: Ontario’s ‘watered-down’ list of essential workplaces mostly symbolic, expert says

On Monday, Ontario’s government released its list of “essential workplaces” that contained 74 general types of businesses that can stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

The list includes businesses in the health-care, banking and telecommunications sectors, food service industry, construction, dry cleaning, office supplies and more.

“It seems to go on forever,” said Dan Henstra, an expert in emergency preparedness at the University of Waterloo, referring to the list.

Henstra said that, in an emergency, it’s absolutely critical for the government to keep businesses essential to the basics of life open and running with as few disruptions as possible. This means maintaining supply chains and ensuring the manufacturing of goods — including the production of food — can continue uninterrupted.

But, he adds, there’s no “formalized playbook” for deciding what is and isn’t essential. He also says governments are “terrible at picking winners and losers,” especially when deciding what businesses can remain open.

“Certainly, governments don’t like to alienate their support base,” he said. “But this (list) covers almost everything.”

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Moody's forecasts recession for G-20 countries in 2020

PARIS (AFP) – The world’s 20 most industrialised countries will likely suffer a recession this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the financial ratings agency Moody’s forecast on Wednesday (March 25).

It estimated that the G-20’s overall gross domestic product would contract by 0.5 per cent, with the US economy shrinking by 2 per cent and the eurozone by 2.2 per cent.

China however, despite suffering an outbreak of the novel coronavirus before everyone else, could see economic activity expand by 3.3 per cent, a level that is nonetheless well below average for the world’s second biggest economy.

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EU urges border screenings to slow spread of coronavirus

The European Union urged member countries Friday to put health screening procedures in place at their borders to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus but said they must co-ordinate so people can still quickly get the medical care they need.

With Italy reporting the most virus cases and deaths anywhere in the world except China, the pandemic is increasingly wearing on the EU’s cherished core principle, which envisions a border-free Europe where citizens can freely live, work and travel.

Countries that border Italy, including Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland have moved to reintroduce border controls and restrict traffic from outside. But several other EU nations, including Poland, Slovakia and Cyprus, announced restrictions that go far beyond travellers from Italy.

Poland’s prime minister said that starting at midnight Saturday, the country’s borders with all its neighbours would be closed and all foreigners denied entry unless they lived in Poland or had personal ties there. Non-citizens who are let in will be quarantined for 14 days.

Slovakia took similar action. An entry ban on foreign nationals in Cyprus only excepts European citizens if they live or work in the ethnically divided island nation. President Nicos Anastasiades said foreigners would also be prohibited from entering Cyprus’ internationally recognized south from the breakaway north.

More than 22,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across Europe, and nearly 1,300 people with the virus have died on the continent.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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ECB ramps up stimulus but stops short of rate cut

FRANKFURT • The European Central Bank (ECB) approved fresh stimulus measures yesterday to help the ailing euro zone economy cope with the shock of the coronavirus pandemic but unexpectedly kept interest rates on hold, a decision that may dismay markets.

With financial markets in free fall and companies struggling with disrupted supply chains, the ECB said it would give businesses more ultra-cheap loans, raise asset purchases and provide banks with capital relief to cope with the downturn.

“These operations will support bank lending to those affected most by the spread of the coronavirus, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises,” it said in a statement. “A temporary envelope of additional net asset purchases of €120 billion (S$189 billion) will be added until the end of the year, ensuring a strong contribution from the private-sector purchase programmes.”

Its move follows emergency rate cuts by the United States Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, highlighting fears among policymakers that the epidemic could push the global economy into recession.

The ECB said it would offer a previous longer-term refinancing operation at a rate as cheap as minus 0.75 per cent and conduct additional longer-term refinancing operations to provide immediate liquidity support to the euro area financial system.

But the deposit rate will stay unchanged at a record low minus 0.5 per cent, suggesting policymakers believe it may already be near the so-called reversal rate, where further cuts are counterproductive because they hurt bank margins to the point of thwarting lending.

The euro zone’s central bank kept the door open to further rate cuts, keeping its interest rate guidance unchanged.

In addition to the ECB’s moves, its separate bank supervision arm said it would offer lenders temporary capital and operational relief in reaction to the coronavirus.

Banks can fully use capital and liquidity buffers, including Pillar 2 Guidance, and will benefit from relief in the composition of capital for Pillar 2 Requirements, the supervisor said.

While policymakers say the financial sector is sound and there will not be a repeat of the global financial crisis, European stocks have dropped 28 per cent in recent weeks with banks taking an even bigger hit of 35 per cent.


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Coronavirus end: When will coronavirus end? Expert reveals end date

Coronavirus has surged on a deadly path through most of the world now, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declares the disease a pandemic. COVID-19 has now established a foothold, with many countries yet to see a peak in infections, and experts believe it could remain for months to come. 

A leading Chinese epidemiologist said COVID-19 could continue to circulate for months to come. 

Speaking in a press conference from the city of Guangzhou, China last month, Zhong Nanshan, former president of the Chinese Medical Association who discovered the SARS outbreak in 2003, said the virus could circulate until summer this year.

He said: “The development of the global epidemic is projected to continue until at least June.”

Currently, it appears most countries are yet to experience a peak in infections, as some European nations continue to see an increase in daily infections. 


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Italy, which has served as the European foothold of COVID-19, recently saw its most dramatic daily increase in deaths, at 196.

The UK saw 86 new cases on Wednesday night, the biggest overnight increase which brings total infections to 460. 

Officials with the World Health Organisation (WHO) have formally declared a pandemic, criticising several countries’ failure to implement appropriate measures against COVID-19. 

However, optimism is growing in China, where experts believe virus cases have peaked. 

China’s National Health Commission said it believes the country has passed a peak in infections, more than three months after the first infections cropped up. 

A spokesperson for the commission said the outbreak was “generally over”, noting a dramatic reduction in both new cases and deaths.

Mi Feng said new cases amounted to just 15 on Wednesday, with 11 additional deaths.

China still retains the most infections in the world, however, with the bulk of cases and deaths at 80,932 and 3,172 respectively. 

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Presumptive case of coronavirus recorded in New Brunswick: health official

There is a presumptive case of the new coronavirus in New Brunswick, according to the province’s chief medical officer of health.

Dr. Jennifer Russell held an emergency press conference in Fredericton Wednesday afternoon, where she confirmed the presumptive case.

The case relates to a woman between the age of 50 and 60, Russell said, adding that she travelled from France.

“We only received the results late (Wednesday) afternoon,” Russell said. “She phoned ahead to 811 or to the health department, so she wasn’t in an emergency room, and she was taken in for assessment and put in an isolation room.”

Russell said the woman has been treated, tested, and is in self-isolation at her home in southeastern New Brunswick.

Health officials are not specifying the exact city for privacy reasons. Russell says her conditions are mild.

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Coronavirus will cost business travel sector $1.14 trillion in revenue: Industry group

BENGALURU (REUTERS) – The global business travel sector is expected to take a revenue hit of about US$820 billion (S$1.14 trillion), with China accounting for nearly half of the losses, as corporates curb travel plans in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, an industry body said on Tuesday (March 10).

Business travel to Asia has been the worst hit, with at least three out of every four companies reporting that they have cancelled or suspended all or most business trips to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Asia-Pacific countries, according to a survey by Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

The industry group’s latest estimate is sharply above its February forecast of a US$560 billion hit.

The fast-spreading virus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has killed more than 4,000 people, mostly in China, while disrupting businesses globally.

“Coronavirus is significantly impacting the business travel industry’s bottom line,” GBTA chief operating officer Scott Solombrino said in a statement.

“The impact to the business travel industry – and to the broader economy – cannot be underestimated.”

China, which has seen a 95 per cent drop in business travel since the outbreak, is expected to lose US$404.1 billion in revenue from corporate travel, followed by US$190.5 billion in loss for Europe.

Airline and hotel industries, which typically are the biggest beneficiaries of corporate spending, have taken a major hit to their revenue as the virus continues to spread, the industry group said.

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