Brazil now fourth-highest in Covid-19 deaths

The number of coronavirus fatalities in Brazil has risen by almost 1,000 in a day, making the country’s overall death toll the world’s fourth highest.

Its figure of 28,834 has now surpassed France, and only the US, the UK and Italy have recorded more deaths.

President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently played down the outbreak, although the country has the world’s second-highest number of cases.

He has criticised state lockdowns for harming Brazil’s economy and jobs.

What are the latest figures?

Brazil’s health ministry said the past 24 hours had seen 956 new deaths.

This puts it past France’s total of 28,774. Even if new figures raised the French total back above Brazil, the trends in the two countries show deaths in the Latin American nation are on a far steeper upward trend.

According to a count by Johns Hopkins University, Brazil now has 498,440 confirmed cases.

Only the US has more, with 1.77 million.

The number of deaths in Brazil has been doubling roughly every two weeks, compared to about every two months in the UK, four months in France, and five months in Italy.

Experts have warned that the real figure may be far higher due to a lack of testing.

Will this change Brazil’s policies?

Mr Bolsonaro is unlikely to alter his stance, arguing that the economic fallout of lockdowns is worse than the outbreak.

He has fought what he calls “the tyranny of total quarantine” by state governors – despite the upward tick in cases – and has even called for Brazil’s football season to resume.

He has also been seen mingling with hundreds of supporters in Brasilia while not wearing a face mask.

On Sunday, Pope Francis added to the pressure on the president by highlighting the plight of the people of the Amazon.

“We call on the Holy Spirit to grant light and strength to the Church and to society in Amazonia, which has been harshly tested by the pandemic,” he said.

Amazonas state has one of Brazil’s highest infection rates and also one of the most underfunded health systems.

Many experts believe Central and South America are now the major hotspots for increased infections.

A combination of under-pressure healthcare systems and a mixed response by governments to the severity of Covid-19 has meant the region cannot apply the same easing of lockdowns taking place in Europe and elsewhere.

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People more important than the economy, pope says about Covid crisis

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Sunday that people are more important than the economy, as countries decide how quickly to reopen their countries from coronavirus lockdowns.

Francis made his comments, departing from a prepared script, at the first noon address from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square in three months as Italy’s lockdown drew to an end.

“Healing people, not saving (money) to help the economy (is important), healing people, who are more important than the economy,” Francis said.

“We people are temples of the Holy Spirit, the economy is not,” he said.

Francis did not mention any countries. Many governments are deciding whether to reopen their economies to save jobs and living standards, or whether to maintain lockdowns until they are sure the virus is fully under control.

The pope’s words were met with applause by hundreds of people in the square, many of whom wore masks and kept several meters from each other. The square was reopened to the public last Monday. Normally tens of thousands attend on a Sunday.

The last time the pope delivered his message and blessing from the window was March 1, before Italy, where more than 33,000 people have died from the virus, imposed a lockdown. The last restrictions will be lifted on Wednesday.

Francis led the crowd in silent prayer for medical workers who lost their lives by helping others.

He said he hoped the world would come out of the crisis more united, rather than divided.

“People do not come out of a crisis like this the same as before. We will come out either better or worse than before. Let’s have the courage to emerge better than before in order to build the post-crisis period of the pandemic positively,” he said.

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Fox News reporter attacked, chased from demonstration – The Denver Post

NEW YORK — A Fox News reporter was pummeled and chased by protesters who had gathered outside the White House early Saturday as part of nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd.

For several journalists across the country, the demonstrations were taking an ominous, dangerous turn.

A television reporter in Columbia, S.C., was hurt by a thrown rock Saturday and a journalist in Minneapolis was shot in the thigh by a rubber bullet. Demonstrators also broke windows and vandalized the Atlanta office building where CNN is headquartered, and police in Louisville, Kentucky, apologized after an officer fired what appeared to be pepper bullets at a television news crew.

Fox’s Leland Vittert was rattled following the Washington attack that he said was clearly targeted at his news organization.

“We took a good thumping,” he told The Associated Press. A live shot he was doing was interrupted by a group of protesters who shouted obscenities directed at Fox. Flanked by two security guards, he and photographer Christian Galdabini walked away from Washington’s Lafayette Park trailed by an angry group before riot police dispersed them.

Vittert said there were no markings on him or the crew’s equipment to identify them as from Fox. But he said during the demonstration, one man continually asked him who he worked for. He didn’t answer, but the man found a picture of Vittert on his cell phone and shouted to other protesters that he was from Fox.

“The protesters stopped protesting whatever it was they were protesting and turned on us,” he said, “and that was a very different feeling.”

He compared it to when he was chased away from a demonstration in Egypt during the Arab Spring of 2011 by a group that shouted, “Fox News hates Muslims.”

A correspondent from the website The Daily Caller followed Vittert and the demonstrators as they left the park. At one point, someone took Vittert’s microphone and threw it at his back. One woman chasing him wore a t-shirt that said, “I can’t breathe,” a reference what Floyd said earlier this week when a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck.

Vittert said he was “extremely grateful” to the Daily Caller for documenting the scene; Galdabini’s camera was smashed. “They were putting themselves at risk,” he said.

“It makes me proud to do my job and to be a journalist,” he said. “I’m proud to be an organization that is unyielding in our coverage. We’re going to keep on telling our story and doing exactly what we’re doing.”

Suzanne Scott, CEO of Fox News Media, said in a memo on Saturday that Fox was taking all necessary security precautions to protect its journalists covering the story.

“We are truly living in unprecedented and transformative times and freedom of the press is a vital element to the foundation of our society,” Scott wrote.

On Friday, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his two-person crew were arrested while covering overnight protests in Minneapolis. They were quickly released, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized to CNN.

CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta was targeted later Friday by a group of protesters who also fought with police and set cars afire. While police tried to keep them away from the CNN Center, demonstrators broke windows there and scrawled obscene graffiti on the network’s logo.

In Louisville, WAVE-TV was on the air covering a demonstration when video showed a police officer aiming a rifle at reporter Kaitlin Rust and her crew. She was heard yelling, “I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!” and described them as pepper bullets.

Louisville Police spokeswoman Jesse Halladay apologized for the incident, and said police would review the video for potential discipline.

Demonstrators surrounded the police department headquarters in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday and a scuffle broke out with someone wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Rocks were thrown and Miranda Parnell, a television reporters from WIS-TV, was injured and taken to the hospital, according to a tweet from network anchor Judi Gatson.

It was not clear who threw the rock that hit Parnell.

In Minneapolis on Saturday, a Swedish journalist was shot in the thigh with a rubber bullet, apparently from a police gun, while covering a protest, according to the Norwegian newspaper VG.

AP correspondents Mike Stewart in Atlanta, Jari Tanner in Minneapolis and Bruce Schreiner and Dylan Lovan in Louisville, and Jeffrey S. Collins in Columbia, S.C. contributed to this report.

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Belgian prince contracts Covid-19 after party

A Belgian prince has contracted coronavirus after attending a party during lockdown in Spain, the country’s royal palace says.

Prince Joachim, 28, travelled from Belgium to Spain for an internship on 26 May, the palace said.

Two days later, he went to a party in the southern city of Córdoba, before testing positive for Covid-19.

Spanish reports suggest the prince, a nephew of Belgium’s King Philippe, was among 27 people at the party.

Under Córdoba’s lockdown rules, a party of this size would be a breach of regulations, as gatherings of no more than 15 people are currently permitted.

Spanish police have launched an investigation into the party. Those found to have flouted lockdown rules could be fined up to €10,000 (£9,000; $11,100).

Everyone who attended the party is said to be in quarantine. Prince Joachim, the youngest son of Princess Astrid and 10th in line to the Belgian throne, is said to have mild coronavirus symptoms.

Rafaela Valenzuela, a representative of the Spanish government in Córdoba, condemned the party, calling those who attended “irresponsible”.

“I feel surprised and angry. An incident of this type stands out at a moment of national mourning for so many dead,” she said.

The party was first covered by Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, which cited a document from the Andalucian authorities but did not name the prince.

Belgian media have since confirmed with the palace that Prince Joachim was in Spain, where he remains.

The prince is known to have a long-standing relationship with a Spanish woman, reported to be Victoria Ortiz.

Spain is in the process of emerging from one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. It outlined a four-stage plan on 4 May to start easing the lockdown, which saw children under 14 confined to their homes for six weeks.

The country said it was moving to a second phase from 1 June for 70% of Spaniards, leaving only major cities under tighter restrictions.

Spain has among the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world. As of Saturday, the country had 239,228 infections and 27,125 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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Private equity firm IG4 buys two Brazilian hospitals amid COVID pandemic

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian private equity firm IG4 has spent 200 million reais ($38 million) on two recent deals to acquire hospitals through its recently formed OPY Health unit amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Both hospitals, one in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte in the country’s southeast which OPY bought in March and another one in the Amazonian city of Manaus whose purchase was finalized on Friday, are part of Brazil’s public health system serving low-income members of the population.

The former was purchased from Brazilian construction conglomerate Andrade Gutierrez and the latter from Spain’s Abengoa SA (ABG.MC). Both sellers are restructuring debt.

OPY is in talks to acquire other six Brazilian hospitals, the sources added, asking for anonymity to disclose private talks. At least two more deals may be announced this year, the sources added.

The hospital in Belo Horizonte has 440 beds and the one in Manaus, 380 beds. The latter were recently converted into ICU units when the city’s healthcare system teetered on the verge of collapse as it suffered from one of the country’s worst outbreaks of the virus. The private equity firm is planning to expand the number of beds in both hospitals.

The hospitals represent first investments of the $250 million fund focused in Latin America raised by IG4 last March, mainly from European investors.

The two IG4 Brazilian hospitals will have average revenue of 220 million reais combined, paid by Brazil’s Ministry of Health. Their EBITDA margin is close to 50%, according to the sources.

OPY Health follows a model common in the UK and Canada, where private companies own and manage hospitals serving public health services. In the UK, the largest companies are listed, such as Primary Health Properties Plc (PHP.L).

High margins in private Brazilian hospital chain Rede D’Or have previously lured investors such as Singapore’s GIC Pte and Carlyle Group (CG.O).

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Parolled Australian fears re-arrest for murder in Bulgaria, seeks new trial

SOFIA (Reuters) – An Australian ex-soldier, released on parole after being convicted of a street murder in Bulgaria in 2009, fears he will be rearrested if he tries to leave the country and is now seeking a new trial to try to clear his name.

Jock Palfreeman, 33, who served 11 years of a 20-year sentence for murder and attempted murder in the 2007 stabbing of two Bulgarians, was released on parole in September.

The ruling angered nationalist politicians who criticized his release, while the government decision to keep him in a detention center after his parole strained relations with Australia.

The interior ministry said on Friday that the travel ban would be lifted, a day after the highest appeals court dismissed a request by the ex-chief prosecutor to review the parole.

But Palfreeman, speaking under a portrait of revolutionary Che Guevara which he kept in his cell to keep his spirits up, said he had doubts he would be allowed to leave.

“They could come and arrest me in five minutes,” the bearded Palfreeman told Reuters in the office of his Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association.

Palfreeman co-founded the association to draw attention to alleged abuse and corruption in the prison system.

He has consistently maintained he acted in self-defense, trying to protect minority Roma being attacked by a group of Bulgarians. He believes video footage of the attack, released by an anonymous user on YouTube, will support his case.

“I believe a fair trial would be possible,” he said. “I can speak Bulgarian, I can defend myself because 13 years ago I couldn’t speak Bulgarian. I didn’t know what was happening and there were a lot of things I missed because of the language barrier.”

Palfreeman said he was “completely shocked” by the systemic lawlessness in Bulgarian jails, adding that 90% of prisoners were not allowed to do any work.

Palfreeman, who was serving in the British army at the time of the street fight, said a motion for a new trial was expected to be filed on Monday.

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'At last we're free': Parisians head for the park as lockdown eases

PARIS (Reuters) – Parisians flocked to parks and gardens as they reopened in the sunny French capital on Saturday for the first time after almost 11 weeks of coronavirus lockdown, one of the last areas of France to ease restrictions.

With public impatience mounting and temperatures up to 28 Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) forecast over the holiday weekend, authorities brought forward the parks’ reopening, initially scheduled for June 2.

“At last we’re free,” said Anne, a Parisienne standing near the gates of the 400-year-old Luxembourg Gardens on the city’s Left Bank soon after they reopened. “This feels like being released from a kind of prison.”

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has pressured the government to reopen parks since the national lockdown was eased on May 11. Hidalgo is standing for re-election next month.

Early risers beat the crowds, some bearing breakfast picnics as they waited for the gates of the northeastern Buttes-Chaumont to swing open at 7 a.m., according to TV reports.

Social distancing rules remain in force across Paris, one of Europe’s most densely populated cities, and the recommended wearing of masks in parks may soon become compulsory as health officials remain watchful for any new increase in infections.

France, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, has reported more than 186,000 cases and 28,714 deaths.

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Last chance EU! Bloc warned recovery fund won’t change course of ‘devastating depression’

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The EU has unveiled a proposed 750 billion euro recovery plan to get the continent back on its feet after the pandemic. However, there are already concerns over whether it will be enough to cushion the economic harm done by the coronavirus lockdowns. Rémi Bourgeot, an economist and associate fellow at IRIS, spoke to FRANCE 24 about why it will be difficult for the emergency fund to “change the course”.

He said: “It’s a very substantial amount and would be very impressive to address a normal recession.

“But facing such a devastating depression with no recovery in sight, this is not that substantial.

“Of course, there are clear political limits to what can be done.

“The fact that France and Germany were already able to agree on something of that scale is very significant.”

Mr Bourgeot continued: “But we’re really witnessing an economic crisis of a different magnitude.

“Although this is really a strong political signal and showing some kind of cohesion, it’s really not going to change the course of the depression we’re facing.

“It’s really important in terms of the political signal and it’s going to have an economic impact if it’s used in targeted measures.

“What’s really striking here is that it’s going to benefit those countries that have been hit hardest much more than other countries.”

The grants that are going to be spent will not depend on a nation’s contributions to the union.

However, Mr Bourgeot outlined the reasons why the recovery package is unlikely to “change the course” of the economic crisis.

One “part of the problem” is that it might take too long for the money to reach peoples’ hands.

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The economist added: “Also looking at this year’s recession, we’re talking along the lines of eight percent contraction.

“Even the ECB acknowledges that it could get much worse than 10 or 12 percent, or even more than that.

“So this plan is a lot of money indeed, but facing such a devastating crisis, it’s not going to be enough.

“But it’s also important because those countries which are hardest hit are the same which were hardest hit by the Europe crisis and have a bad fiscal position.

“They don’t feel allowed in this crisis to spend as much on stimulus as those countries which are less hit by the crisis.”

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Edging closer to bailout, Lufthansa accepts tweaked demands by Brussels

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Lufthansa’s (LHAG.DE) management board accepted a more favourable set of demands made by the European Commission in exchange for approval of a 9 billion euro ($10 billion) government bailout, the carrier said on Saturday, paving the way for its rescue.

The agreement comes after Lufthansa’s supervisory board on Wednesday rejected an initial deal with Brussels including conditions that were significantly more painful.

Lufthansa and the rest of the airline sector have been hard hit by what is expected to be a protracted travel slump due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the latest agreement, Lufthansa said it will be obliged to transfer up to 24 takeoff and landing slots for up to four aircraft to one rival each at the Frankfurt and Munich airports.

This translates into three take-off and three landing rights per aircraft and day, it said, confirming what sources had earlier told Reuters.

“For one and a half years, this option is only available to new competitors at the Frankfurt and Munich airports,” Lufthansa said, initially excluding budget carrier Ryanair (RYA.L). “If no new competitor makes use of this option, it will be extended to existing competitors at the respective airports.”

The previous deal had included the forfeiture of 72 slots used by 12 of 300 jets based at the Frankfurt and Munich airports, a source familiar with the matter said.

INTERMEDIATE STEP

The slots, to be allocated in a bidding process, can be taken over only by a European peer that has not received any substantial state aid amid the pandemic, Lufthansa said.

The group’s supervisory board needs to approve the deal, Lufthansa said, adding it would convene an extraordinary general meeting in the near term to also obtain shareholder approval for the bailout.

The largest German corporate rescue since the coronavirus crisis struck will see the government get a 20% stake in Lufthansa, which could rise to 25% plus one share in the event of a takeover attempt. A deal would also give the government two seats on Lufthansa’s supervisory board.

Rivals such as Franco-Dutch group Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) and U.S. carriers American Airlines (AAL.O), United Airlines (UAL.O) and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) are all seeking state aid due to the economic effects of the pandemic.

The German government, which has set up a 100 billion euro fund to take stakes in companies hit by the pandemic, said it plans to sell the Lufthansa stake by the end of 2023.

“The German government, Lufthansa and the European Commission have reached an important intermediate step in the aid negotiations,” Germany’s Economy Ministry said in a statement.

It said that talks with the Commission over state aid continued.

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Calgary homeowners frustrated after getting hit with big property tax bills

It’s a taxing time for some Calgary homeowners who have been hit with double-digit property tax hikes.

Rose Palma owns one home and rents out another. But after getting her tax bill from the city, she’s second guessing whether she wants to be a homeowner in Calgary.

“I think a lot of people got taken back with the sudden increases in the property taxes,” she said.

Palma’s tax installment payments have gone up $45 a month for her own residence, and $47 a month for her rental property.

If those amounts are not adjusted during the tax year, she will be paying an extra $1,100 a year.

“My husband has been unemployed for almost two years now,” she said. “My renter, he lost his job, so they’re only paying me half of what they’re supposed to pay.”

Like many other Canadians, Palma has had to go to her bank to defer her mortgage and reduce her own payments, so this latest expense comes at a bad time.

“This is really causing us some financial difficulty at this time.”

“We have increased property taxes by much less than the rate of inflation and population growth,” he said.

“And since the beginning of the economic downturn, we’ve cut the city’s budget by about three-quarters of a billion dollars.”

Nenshi also pointed out the city did a bit of a shift this year, shifting some of the tax burden from struggling small businesses to homeowners.

“We wanted to ask households to pay a little more, about $20 a month more, so we could give businesses a big tax break.”

Citizen advocacy group Common Sense Calgary told Global News that while supporting businesses is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of homeowners.

“Non-residential property taxes are astronomical in Calgary and it’s crippling businesses, so something needed to be done,” executive director Megan McCaffrey agreed. “But the solution wasn’t shifting taxes onto residential homeowners. The solution was to reduce spending at city hall.

“I think they really need to reconsider their decisions and prioritize Calgarians who are struggling right now.”

Palma said she’s one of many struggling right now, and she’s asking the city for help.

“I don’t think this is the time to hike any taxes,” she said. “Especially with the pandemic. A lot of people lost their jobs. It’s really hard.”

Property tax bills started going out to Calgary households this week.

The City of Calgary has launched a property tax deferral program, allowing business owners and homeowners to defer property tax payments until Sept. 30, 2020, without any penalty fees due to COVID-19.

 

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