What began as a day promised to bring direct financial aid for Canadians and businesses to assist with the current COVID-19 pressures devolved in short order into procedural complaints and opposition resistance to the government’s legislation to pass the relief package.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked things off, calling on MPs to quickly pass the bill as they convened on Tuesday as part of the historic emergency recall of the House of Commons.
Within minutes of the sitting starting, it was put on pause as backroom negotiations continued about contentious aspects of the government’s proposed legislation.
As of 5 p.m. EDT, proceedings have yet to resume, no bill has been tabled, and as such, zero debate or study of the measures within it has occurred.
There has been some indication that the opposition parties are pushing the Liberals to pull the draft bill apart, splitting it into two bills: one that solely passes the promised COVID-19 fiscal measures, and another that includes all of the new powers the government is seeking to give cabinet, and in particular the federal finance minister.
In a statement, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that, while one aspect of the offending legislation has been removed, his party still has issues with other measures he views as “undemocratic.”
“There is a simple solution: if the government tables a bill focused on the relief the Prime Minister has announced to date Conservatives are ready to pass it quickly,” Scheer said.
“Any conversation about new government powers should not get in the way of passing much-needed assistance,” Scheer said, offering his party’s willingness to reconvene in short order again in the future if further measures are needed.
Compounding this, it appears a backbench Tory MP, who has previously raised issues with Scheer’s leadership, arrived for the special sitting despite party orders to stay away. Scott Reid, an Ottawa-area and long-serving Conservative MP said his plan, according to a statement released Tuesday morning, is to prevent the unanimous consent needed to fast-track the broad COVID-19 aid bill.
Reid said his objection is procedural and not with the relief legislation, “as long as the government provides it to MPs with enough time to read and understand it.”
These developments come on the heels of Trudeau stating that: “When you’re trying to help get money out to people, speed is of the essence,” Trudeau said. “Especially in an unprecedented situation like this one.”
Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez, who initially expressed hope that the special “brief” sitting would start and finish within a few hours, said that all MPs need to “come together and get this done. Canadians are counting on us.”
The only item on the agenda at today’s rare special sitting — which began at noon EDT — is the bill from Finance Minister Bill Morneau titled the “COVID-19 Emergency Response Act.”
The legislation contains the amendments needed to enact the promised $82-billion response package, which includes $27 billion in financial aid for Canadians and $55 billion in economic stimulus and tax deferral measures for businesses.
Also included in the billions of new spending the Liberals promised that would start rolling out the door once this bill passes are implementing an emergency care benefit, deferring the tax deadline, waiving the one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits, boosting the Canada Child Benefit, wage subsidies for small businesses and targeted assistance for vulnerable demographics to help “bridge to better times.”
Retreat on spending powers
The Liberals have already backed away from wording that the opposition decried as an attempt to get parliamentarians to sign a blank cheque amid a global pandemic.
A draft copy of the bill — leaked to various news outlets after being provided to opposition MPs under embargo — proposed to grant the federal government sweeping powers to spend money, borrow, and change taxes without parliamentary approval through to Dec. 31, 2021, several months beyond current estimates of when Canadian society may return to some sense of normalcy, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Trudeau tweeted Tuesday morning that this offending section of the bill will not be included in the version being tabled, though the Conservatives want more sections axed.
The prime minister also sought to reassure parliamentarians Tuesday morning that his government respects democratic institutions, after speaking with the leaders of the main three opposition parties about the sitting that he will not be attending due to his continuing self-isolation.
The broad spending and taxing power portion of the bill notwithstanding, MPs from all parties travelled to Ottawa—most from nearby though others were flown in on a government plane— ready to present a unified effort to pass urgently needed economic assistance measures for Canadians during an unprecedented and uncertain time.
Parties had agreed to a plan to have around 32 members in the House on Tuesday, when the bill will be fast-tracked through all stages and expected to be sent to the Senate by day’s end. There will be 14 Liberals, 11 Conservatives, three members apiece of the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, and one Green MP. Each MP will be seated the recommended distance from each other within the chamber.
Details of economic aid bill
The bill, according to the draft version obtained by CTV News, also includes key legislative changes aimed at directly responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
- Spelling out how much more money each province is getting to beef up their preparedness efforts
- Creating a 16-week window where eligible Canadian workers can be absent from work on account of the novel coronavirus
- Enacting a new “Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act” which would grant the finance minister the ability to spend “all money required to do anything, including making payments to provinces and territories,” in relation to public health events of national concern
- Providing the finance minister a range of new powers related to procuring, loaning to, merging, selling, winding-up or dissolving corporations; and
- Allowing for, on the authorization of the health minister, the ability to “make, construct, use and sell a patented invention to the extent necessary to respond to the public health emergency.”
At the beginning of the sitting, deputy Speaker Bruce Stanton recognized the highly unusual circumstances of their gathering, “given the extraordinary circumstances in which we all fund ourselves in presently.”
The House and Senate were both suspended to limit the spread of the virus and were not set to resume until the week of April 20, though now it’s likely to stand adjourned for longer once these measures pass, unless the government makes a declaration under the Emergencies Act, which requires parliamentary approval.
According to the House of Commons, there will be no parliamentary pages in the Chamber, which has been cleaned in advance of the sitting. Hand-sanitizing stations and disinfectant wipes have been placed in key areas, and while the viewing gallery for members of the press will be open, the public gallery remains closed as it has been since March 13.
The Senate is set to reconvene on Wednesday with a similarly limited roster of senators and staff to scrutinize and pass whatever measures the House can agree on, should they be able to by night’s end.
The final step — a royal assent ceremony — is expected on Wednesday.
Emergencies Act deliberations
Trudeau hosted a call with the premiers on Monday night, and in a readout issued Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office said Trudeau solicited the premiers’ views on the act and other related emergency measures, still referring to it as “a measure of last resort.”
All provinces and territories have declared some form of public health crisis or state of emergency and questions continue to circulate as to whether the local efforts are enough to crack down on those not following the requested physical distancing measures or whether it’s time the federal government intervene with extremely broad and restrictive powers.
Stronger measures have been on the table, and could come either through the Emergencies Act or through the Quarantine Act, limiting Canadians’ ability to move freely.
“As I keep saying all options are on the table,” Trudeau said. “If people do not comply with expert advice and government guidelines, we will have to take additional steps.”
As of Tuesday afternoon there are 2,584 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada.
‘Do your part’
During his daily update, Trudeau spoke to the latest federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including bringing more Canadians home from countries including Morocco, Panama, Tunisia, Ukraine, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Spain.
The prime minister also emphasized that the length of time before life returns to normal depends on the decisions Canadians make now.
“Every day, someone asks me how long these restrictions will be in place, and the truth is we don’t know yet. But here’s what we do know: The duration of this crisis will be determined by the choices we make right now, by decisions we take every single day. So if you want things to get back to normal, do your part,” Trudeau said.
Coronavirus: After shipment seized from Canada, FBI redistributing nearly 1M masks and gloves – Global News
Medical supplies shipped from Canada to a New York man accused of price-gouging are now being redistributed to doctors and nurses amid the new coronavirus pandemic, according to U.S. authorities.
Baruch Feldheim, 43, was arrested on Monday in Brooklyn and charged with lying to federal agents after he allegedly sold a doctor approximately 1,000 N95 masks and other medical materials for $12,000, a roughly 700 per cent markup, according to the FBI.
Feldheim was also charged with assaulting FBI detectives after allegedly coughing on them during his arrest, claiming to have COVID-19, the agency said in a statement.
U.S. court documents allege that Feldheim acquired and resold the personal protective equipment out of an auto repair shop in New Jersey and his residence in Brooklyn.
The FBI allege about “eight skids of surgical masks” arrived from Canada. The agency did not respond to questions about who in Canada shipped the supplies.
“According to records from Customs and Border Protection, on or about March 25, 2020, [Feldheim’s company] received a shipment by truck from Canada of approximately eight skids of surgical face masks,” an FBI affidavit says.
Coronavirus outbreak: Scheer tells Trudeau to release COVID-19 projections
The stockpile of supplies included 192,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks and nearly 600,000 medical-grade gloves, the FBI said. Agents also recovered surgical gowns, disinfectant towels, particulate filters, hand sanitizer and spray disinfectant.
According to the FBI, a doctor told agents he went to pick up his order at an auto repair shop in New Jersey, which was being used as a warehouse, he saw enough materials, including hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes, cleaning agents, and surgical supplies “to outfit an entire hospital.”
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department said Thursday those supplies are now being distributed to health care workers in New York and New Jersey. The HHS said it used the Defense Production Act to take possession of the items and will pay Feldheim “fair market value.”
James Moriarty, Feldheim’s defense lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Global News, but Reuters reported that Moriarty had denied the charges. Feldheim has been released on a US$50,000 bond and a promise not to deal in medical equipment before his trial.
New York has been one of the states hardest hit by the deadly virus, where hospitals have been overwhelmed by patients and there is an urgent need for personal protective gear.
As of Friday morning, there have been more than 92,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the state, including 51,800 in New York City. More than 2,400 people with COVID-19 have died in the state, which has the largest number — around 38 per cent — of confirmed cases in the U.S.
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau asked if Canada expects death projections similar to the U.S.
Across the U.S. there are more than 245,000 cases of the deadly virus that have been confirmed and more than 6,000 deaths.
U.S. officials called the case a blatant example of hoarding of medical supplies and that it was the first of many price-gouging investigations related to COVID-19 equipment currently underway.
“If you are amassing critical medical equipment for the purpose of selling it at exorbitant prices, you can expect a knock at your door,” Attorney General William Barr said in the announcement.
“The Department of Justice’s COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force is working tirelessly around the clock with all our law enforcement partners to ensure that bad actors cannot illicitly profit from the COVID-19 pandemic facing our nation.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Trudeau says coronavirus projections for Canada will be shared in ‘coming days’ – Global News
That comes as Ontario released its projections for a two-year time span for the pandemic and the potential for 1,600 Ontarians to be dead by the end of the month despite the measures in place.
That’s compared to the potential death toll of 6,000 by the end of the month if there were none.
Countries around the world and several Canadian provinces have moved in recent days to share their best- and worst-case projections for potential death tolls from the virus.
As a result, Trudeau has faced growing calls for the federal government to share its own modelling given the extraordinary demands being placed on Canadians to help mitigate the spread of the pandemic.
But he has not committed to a specific date for that release, saying officials are still working with the provinces to get better-quality data to inform those models.
“There are things we will be sharing with Canadians but we need to make sure we have a better grasp on the data before we put projections out there,” he said.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu also reiterated on Friday that those models will be coming shortly but cautioned they are not exact and rather a “best estimate” of what could happen.
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau asked if Canada expects death projections similar to the U.S.
Trudeau has insisted that releasing projection models is not as useful as sharing hard information, but his refusal so far to share best- and worst-case scenarios has prompted criticism and calls to change.
Among those voices was former health minister Jane Philpott, who Trudeau kicked out of the Liberal caucus last year for raising concerns about his handling of the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
She tweeted on Thursday that “this is not the time to hide bad news” and urged the government to offer “radical transparency” for Canadians.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also called for the release of the data on Friday morning.
“Mr. Trudeau says his government is being guided by the evidence,” he said. “It’s time to release that evidence.”
Coronavirus outbreak: Scheer tells Trudeau to release COVID-19 projections
The B.C. government shared its best- and worst-case forecasts roughly two weeks ago, along with the projected potential shortfalls in resources like intensive care beds.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney offered partial insight into that province’s projections Thursday night in the legislature as well, saying health officials there expect to see 250 Albertans need intensive care beds by April 22 — three weeks before they predict the number of cases in the province will peak.
Ford had initially resisted sharing Ontario’s projections with the public, saying as recently as Wednesday that he feared they might cause panic. He reversed course on Thursday, pledging to release the data.
“You deserve to see the same data that I see, you deserve to know what I know,” he said during a briefing with media on the state of the virus in the province.
A leaked report of the potential forecast in Saskatchewan was also obtained by Global News last week, and that shows the government there views 15,000 deaths as the worst-case scenario.
Countries around the world have started to offer their grim vision for how the disease could play out. In the United States, officials said Tuesday there could be between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in that country as a result of COVID-19, with 200,000 expected even “if we do things almost perfectly.”
New Zealand published a government-commissioned model to design its “plan for” scenario, in which 65 per cent of the public becomes infected, 336,000 people require hospitalization and between 12,600 and 33,600 to die.
And a report by Reuters on Thursday cited a U.K. official as saying that country’s worst-case scenario was 50,000 deaths but also cautioning that isn’t being viewed as likely right now.
— With files from Global News’ Andrew Russell
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca
As global reported coronavirus case numbers pass one million — including more than 11,000 known cases in Canada — governments are scrambling to deal with both a mounting public health crisis and growing joblessness.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with premiers on Thursday about a range of issues, including the shortage of protective gear for health-care workers.
Faced with rising case numbers and tighter restrictions, there have been some calls for more information from governments about what is expected and what information is driving decisions.
Trudeau has said that such national modelling is coming “soon,” but requires more data from provincial and territorial governments — a subject he discussed with premiers during his more than two-hour first ministers’ conference call.
WATCH | Federal government under pressure to release coronavirus projections:
Ontario Premier Doug Ford intends to release provincial projection and modelling information Friday, saying that he wants people in the province to know “what I know.”
“No beating around the bush, no holding back figures,” he said Thursday, adding that the data provided would be hard for some people to hear.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says the situation is evolving daily but that the risk to Canadians from COVID-19 is “considered high.”
Here’s a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and around the world Friday.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories
As of 6 a.m. ET Friday, Canada had 11,283 confirmed and presumptive cases, with 166 deaths. The provinces and territories that list information about recovered cases have reported 1,979 cases as resolved or recovered. There have also been two reported COVID-19 related deaths of Canadians abroad — one in Japan and one in Brazil.
Public health officials caution that reported case numbers don’t provide a complete picture of the scale of the outbreak as that data doesn’t capture people who haven’t been tested and cases that are still under investigation. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has urged people nationwide to practise physical distancing and behave as though there is COVID-19 in their community, even if there is no known case.
In British Columbia, six more people have died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 31 in the province. On Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said one of the new cases reported was an inmate at Okanagan Correctional Centre. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Alberta has declared coronavirus outbreaks at nine seniors facilities. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said there are now 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases in continuing-care facilities “and I expect that more will be confirmed in the coming days.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
Saskatchewan’s top doctor says six more health workers have contracted COVID-19. “We are aware of at least six instances where individuals may have been working in a health-care setting but it’s not clear where the exposure was,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
In Manitoba, unions representing Health Sciences Centre workers say about 70 staff members — including doctors, nurses, clerks and security guards — are self-isolating after COVID-19 exposures. Read more about what’s happening at the Winnipeg health facility and across Manitoba.
WATCH | COVID-19: Are we doing a 180 on whether masks are beneficial?
Ontario plans to release what the premier called “stark” modelling projections about coronavirus in the province. The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, noted that the projections are forecasts that will give people a sense of what to prepare for. “If people see what might be possible, could be possible and what we might achieve through our ongoing energy and efforts of public health measures, physical distancing, it means we need to stay at the task and do our part to flatten the curve and impact that and change the projection as best we can.” Read more about what Ontario officials are expected to say.
Quebec’s premier said health-care workers who are in contact with COVID-19 cases will get an increase in pay. “I don’t think there is a group that has ever been more deserving of a pay raise,” said Premier François Legault, who also announced a smaller raise for health workers not in direct contact with the virus, as well as a raise for workers in long-term care facilities. Read more about what’s happening across Quebec, and get the details of the planned pay hikes.
Health officials in New Brunswick are worried about a potential shortage of COVID-19 test supplies. Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC’s Power & Politics if the province “ramped up a bit we could be within like a week of running out of test supplies.” Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
“If we ramped it up we could be within like a week of running out of test supplies,” said New Brunswick Premier <a href=”https://twitter.com/BlaineHiggs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BlaineHiggs</a>. He said the province is about 3-4 weeks away from running out of protective equipment — but they have orders pending that they hope will arrive. <a href=”https://t.co/Q91i0RWQOm”>pic.twitter.com/Q91i0RWQOm</a>
Nova Scotia on Thursday extended its state of emergency for another two weeks. The province also announced help for small businesses and a temporary program to help workers who don’t qualify for employment insurance. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.
Prince Edward Island has announced a $1-million fund to help people not covered by other support programs announced since the COVID-19 crisis began. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I, and get the latest update from Premier Dennis King.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister is urging people to prepare for an increase in cases. “We are, from experience of our other jurisdictions, not yet into our likely surge period. This is likely to come over coming weeks, and we are working hard to understand when that might be,” John Haggie said. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
Northwest Territories health officials have reported two travel-related COVID-19 cases, including one in a small community. The latest cases bring the territory’s case count up to four. Read more about what’s happening across the North.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.
From The Associated Press, updated at 6:30 a.m. ET
With more than 245,000 people infected with COVID-19 and the death toll topping 6,000, sobering preparations are underway in the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked the Pentagon for 100,000 body bags because of the possibility funeral homes will be overwhelmed, the military said.
White House coronavirus task force co-ordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said U.S. infection data suggests Americans need to emulate those European nations that have started to see the spread of the virus slowing through strict physical distancing.
The Trump administration was formalizing new guidance to recommend Americans wear coverings such as non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandanas over their mouths and noses when out in public and preserve medical masks for those on the front lines.
But there are still shortages of critical equipment, including masks, in Europe and the U.S.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that New York could run out of breathing machines in six days. He complained that states are competing against each other for protective gear and breathing machines, or are being outbid by the federal government.
Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in hopes of boosting production of medical-grade masks by Minnesota-based 3M to assist first responders. Washington is also trying to crack down on a growing black market for protective medical supplies.
In a sign of the outbreak’s impact on the U.S. military, the captain of a navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the virus was fired by navy leaders who said he created a panic by sending his memo pleading for help to too many people. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly says the ship’s commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in hard-hit Italy, Spain and parts of Europe
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 9:45 a.m. ET
Europe’s three worst-hit countries — Italy, Spain and France — surpassed 30,000 dead, or over half of the global toll.
Spain is closing Friday a black week, with its death toll for the new coronavirus nearing 11,000. More than half of those occurred during the past seven days. There are also more infections than any other country in Europe.
The bottleneck in Spanish labs conducting the tests has led to relatively low levels of testing in Spain compared to other European countries, authorities have acknowledged. But even with statistics that are believed to be conservative in showing the extent of the epidemic, Spain on Friday neared 118,000 cases, second only to the United States. Official Health Ministry data showed that 7,472 of those infections had been in the past 24 hours. Spain also registered 932 new deaths, 18 less than its daily record of 950 the day before.
Italy, with more than 115,000 reported cases as of Friday morning, has seen new infections levelling off after three weeks of the West’s first nationwide shutdown.
The head of Germany’s disease control agency says the number of people who die of COVID-19 is likely being undercounted. Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute said Friday that he believes “we have more dead than are officially being reported.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Wieler was suggesting that deaths are being undercounted only in Germany, or worldwide, and reporters were unable to ask follow-up questions during his online news conference. Germany’s low death rate from coronavirus has drawn international attention. Experts say the difference compared to other countries is partly due to mass testing and well-equipped hospitals, but they caution that the number of deaths is likely to rise.
The United Kingdom’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by 684 to 3,605 as of Thursday afternoon, up 23 per cent from the previous day. A total of 173,784 people have been tested, with 38,168 testing positive as of Friday morning. A new hospital was opened in London on Friday, erected to provide thousands of extra beds for patients with the coronavirus and built in just nine days. The Nightingale Hospital, which will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen, will eventually be able to treat about 4,000 patients. It has been set up in the Excel Centre in London’s Docklands.
With help from the military, it is the first of six new temporary hospitals to be set up across the country to cope with the outbreak, including Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow in Scotland. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter Friday he was remaining in isolation with mild symptoms of the coronavirus, including a high temperature. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II will give an address about the coronavirus on Sunday at 8 p.m.
The French prime minister said he is “fighting hour by hour” to ward off shortages of essential drugs used to keep COVID-19 patients alive. At least 570 people have died in nursing homes in France’s eastern region, suggesting the national death toll could be far higher than thought.
Greece has quarantined a migrant camp after 20 asylum seekers tested positive, the country’s first such facility hit since the outbreak. Police in Greece say they have issued 17,358 fines for people breaking the new restrictions on leaving home since a lockdown began on March 23.
The Netherlands is not in a full lockdown, but bars, restaurants, museums, schools and universities are closed and the government is urging people to stay home and practise social distancing. Amsterdam is banning boats from its central canals beginning Sunday as authorities fear warm spring weather will lead to overcrowding on the famed waterways. The country’s public health institute on Friday reported 148 new deaths in the outbreak, bringing the Dutch death toll to 1,487.
Here’s a look at China, South Korea and some other areas of concern around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 9:45 a.m. ET
The South Korean capital of Seoul says it will ask more than 8,500 theatregoers to self-monitor at home after Canadian and American cast members of The Phantom of the Opera were found to have the coronavirus.
Seoul City official Na Baek-ju said Friday the musical’s international tour was halted following the positive test of an unidentified Canadian actress, who began experiencing throat pain and dry coughs days after she began performing at the city’s Blue Square theatre on March 14. She last appeared on stage on Monday, a day before her test.
Officials have since tested 138 of her contacts, including colleagues and guests at the downtown Somerset Palace hotel, and confirmed the infection of an American actor on Thursday. Na said officials were still awaiting test results for 48 people while the other 89 tested negative. He said the hotel was ordered to prevent guests from leaving the property and stop taking new customers.
South Korea earlier on Friday reported 86 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its nationwide total to 10,062.
WATCH | Debunking COVID-19 myths about lemons, masks and holding your breath:
China on Friday reported 31 new confirmed virus cases, 29 of them from overseas, and four new deaths. China now has recorded a total of 81,620 cases and 3,322 deaths, although those figures are generally considered too low because of a lack of testing and a reluctance to report the scale of the original outbreak.
More than 3,000 health-care workers contracted COVID-19 and the government says 14 died of the disease. Among them was Dr. Li Wenliang, who was threatened with punishment by police after publicizing news of the outbreak but has since been listed among the national “martyrs.” His family was issued a “solemn apology” and two police officers were issued “disciplinary punishments” for their handling of the matter.
Singapore will close schools and most workplaces for a month as it moves to curb the increase of COVID-19 transmissions in the country. Most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, will be closed from next Tuesday, and schools will be closed from Wednesday. Essential services such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and banking services will remain open.
“Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lee urged residents to stay home and only leave to buy essential items.
The country has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, and has routinely reported more than 50 new cases daily. As of Thursday, Singapore had 1,049 cases and five deaths. Singapore has also reversed its recommendations that people should wear masks only if they are feeling unwell.
“We will no longer discourage people from masks. Wearing a mask may help to protect others in case you have the virus but don’t know it,” said Lee, adding that the government will distribute reusable masks to all households as of Sunday.
Indonesia’s coronavirus death toll rose to 170, passing South Korea as the country with the highest number of recorded fatalities in Asia after China.
More than half of Africa’s 54 countries have closed their land, air and sea borders, while fears rise that the coronavirus-related restrictions are delaying access to critical aid. Humanitarian organizations are now in the extraordinary situation of negotiating humanitarian corridors in peaceful regions. And in Kenya, travel restrictions have delayed the delivery of pesticides needed to fight the most devastating locust outbreak some East African countries have seen in 70 years. A World Food Program official says lockdowns and other restrictions “may affect us very, very much” on a continent where millions of poor people must now stay at home.
India will pull out of a three-week lockdown in phases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as officials battle to contain the country’s biggest cluster of infections in New Delhi.
The Middle East has confirmed over 85,000 cases of the virus and over 3,700 deaths, most of them in Iran. Iran state TV reported Friday the virus killed another 134 people, pushing the country’s death toll to nearly 3,300 amid more than 53,000 confirmed cases. Iran’s parliament speaker is among those who have contracted the disease.
Pakistan, with 2,450 confirmed cases and 35 deaths, has been sharply criticized for moving too slow to curb large gatherings, including a gathering of tens of thousands of Muslims from several Islamic countries in March. The gathering of Tableeghi Jamaat missionaries is blamed for several outbreaks of the new virus elsewhere in the world. The first confirmed cases that emerged in Gaza were traced to the gathering.
Turkey is preparing to treat COVID-19 patients with blood donated from people who have survived the disease. Kerem Kinik, the head of the Turkish Red Crescent organization, late Thursday called on “heroes who have come out victorious from the ‘Corona War”‘ to donate blood for the treatment, which uses plasma from people who have recovered to help seriously ill patients. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry sent a circular to the country’s 81 provinces setting out guidelines for the volunteer blood plasma donations, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Australian officials closed internal borders on Friday and warned people to stay home over the upcoming Easter holiday as the country seeks to capitalize on a further fall in the rate of new coronavirus cases.
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