Coronavirus: People staying at home ‘making a difference’ to COVID-19 fight

People staying at home to stop coronavirus spreading faster across the UK are “making a difference”, a top government official has said.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, tried to encourage the public to carry on social distancing as the country enters week two of lockdown.

He said the measures were vital to significantly cut the number of people passing on COVID-19, on the same day the UK death toll rose to 1,415.

It is seven days since Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a historic address to the nation and told the public to stay home to save lives and protect the NHS.

Since then, most businesses have been urged to close and let employees work from home and police have been given powers to issue £60 fines for “non-urgent” travel.

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Italy sees 812 more coronavirus deaths, but new cases fall steeply

ROME (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has risen by 812 in the last 24 hours, the Civil Protection Agency said on Monday, reversing two days of declines.

Italy, the world’s hardest hit country which accounts for more than a third of all global fatalities, saw its total death tally rise to 11,591 since the outbreak emerged in northern regions on Feb. 21.

More positively, the number of new cases rose by just 4,050, the lowest amount since March 17, reaching a total of 101,739.

However, the decline in new infections may be partly explained by a reduction in the number of tests, which were the fewest for six days.

Italians have been under nationwide lockdown for three weeks and officials said the restrictions, which were due to end on Friday, look certain for at least two more weeks.

“We have to agree on this with other regions, but I think we are talking about (maintaining the block) until at least mid-April,” Attilio Fontana, head of the worst-affected Lombardy region, told reporters.

The governor of the southern region of Puglia said on Saturday the restrictions should stay until May.

Underscoring the dangers of the disease, the national doctors’ association announced the deaths of 11 more doctors on Monday, bringing the total to 61.

Not all of them had been tested for coronavirus before they died, it said, but it linked their deaths to the epidemic.

Lombardy, which is centered on Italy’s financial capital Milan, accounts for almost 60% of the total deaths in Italy and some 40% of cases.

Fontana said the unprecedented curbs on movement, gatherings and business activity were preventing an exponential rise in cases, and needed to be kept in place.

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“We’re on the right track, we’re maintaining a (chart) line that’s not uphill, but it’s not downhill either,” he said.

The head of the national health institute, Silvio Brusaferro, who is advising the government on how to handle the crisis, also said that for restrictions to be eased “the number of new cases has to fall significantly.”

“For sure the re-opening will happen gradually … we are even considering the British idea of ‘stop and go’, which envisages opening things for a certain amount of time and then closing them again,” he told La Repubblica daily.

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B.C. health officials to provide Monday update on coronavirus response

British Columbia health officials are scheduled to provide their daily update on the province’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic at 1:30 p.m. PT.

Global News will stream the event live here and on our Facebook page and carry it on BC1.

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At B.C.’s last update on Saturday, the province announced its 17th death and raised the count of provincially confirmed cases to 884.

The province reported that 396 people had fully recovered from the disease, meaning 471 confirmed cases remained active.

As of Saturday, 81 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 52 of them in intensive care — double the number of people in the ICU on Thursday.

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UK PM Johnson's adviser Cummings isolating with coronavirus symptoms

LONDON (Reuters) – The coronavirus outbreak at the heart of the UK government spread on Monday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, self-isolating with symptoms just days after the British leader himself tested positive.

A Downing Street spokesman said Cummings, one of the most powerful men in the government, had developed symptoms of COVID-19 over the weekend and was staying at home.

Johnson on Friday became the first leader of a major world power to announce he had tested positive for the virus. His health minister, Matt Hancock, also tested positive and the government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, is self-isolating.

The spokesman said Johnson was working from his finance minister’s office in Number 11 Downing Street.

“He is chairing the daily meetings using video conferencing facilities, he’s working from the Chancellor’s office, he has been able to do everything that he needs to do lead the coronavirus response,” the spokesman told reporters.

“I can confirm that Dom (Cummings) is not in Number 10 today and that he is self-isolating after developing symptoms over the weekend,” the spokesman said. The spokesman was not able to confirm if Cummings was still working, but said he had not been tested for the virus and was not expected to be.

Cummings was seen sprinting out of Downing Street shortly after Johnson revealed he had tested positive. Downing Street did not respond to a request for comment on the adviser’s rapid departure.

Last week, Cummings denied a newspaper report which said he had prioritized herd immunity and the economy in the coronavirus crisis at the expense of pensioners dying.

Britain initially took a modest approach to containing the spread of the disease compared to Italy and France.

But Johnson imposed stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million people could die. He is now self-isolating.

Scientists say the virus’s incubation period is estimated at between one and 14 days, and there have been anecdotal accounts of people spreading the disease without having symptoms.

The spokesman said Downing Street had drafted in experienced former staffers, including Isaac Levido who helped mastermind Johnson’s election campaign, to help with work to fight the coronavirus.

Besides meetings in Downing Street, Johnson ventured beyond Downing Street last week. On Wednesday, a day before his positive test, Johnson answered questions at a weekly session in parliament’s House of Commons chamber.

Johnson also spoke with several lawmakers. Minister for Scotland Alister Jack, who sat next to Johnson before the session, said on Saturday he had developed a temperature and a cough and was now working from home in isolation.

Health officials said on Sunday that figures showed that 1,228 patients in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) had died.

As of 0800 GMT on March 29, a total of 127,737 people in the UK have been tested, of whom 108,215 were confirmed negative and 19,522 were confirmed positive.

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Brighthouse collapses into administration with 240 stores and 2,400 jobs at risk

Major Brit rent-to-own chain Brighthouse has gone into administration with thousands of jobs now at risk.

The High Street retailer had axed 30 stores last month in a last ditch attempt to save the company from collapse.

It then had to close all 240 of its stores nationwide as part of the coronavirus lockdown.

But it has now gone into administration, although its 200,000 customers will still need to keep making payments.

Debt adviser Sara Williams told the BBC: "Now the company is expected to go into administration, customers need to think if they can manage to make the repayments.

"If their income has fallen because of coronavirus, they should ask for a payment break.

"And if the item is just too expensive, they should ask for a lower payment arrangement.

"They may be able to make an affordability complaint and get a refund of the interest they have paid on previous items."

Brighthouse is expected to appoint Grant Thornton as its administrator within days after its investors withdrew support for a proposed restructuring.

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A source close to BrightHouse shareholders had recently told Sky News that a potential collapse had become more likely in recent weeks.

It comes just months after the retailer announced plans to shut down 30 stores and axe 350 staff, having continued to struggle financially.

Three years ago, in 2017, the retailer was ordered to pay back a staggering £14.8million to customers after the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) found it had treated customers unfairly.

Then in 2018 the FCA announced plans to cap the amount of interest that rent-to-own retailers charge customers, which has hit the industry hard.

The cap, which means the maximum interest paid will be no more than the cost of the product itself, started in April 2018.

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Just five months later BrightHouse then reported a £2.2million slump – with a rise in pre-tax loses from £19.9million to £22.1million in the six months to September 29, 2018.

Rent-to-own customers make monthly payments on products at retailers like these until they have paid in full.

But the price can quickly mount up because of interest rates that can reach 99% a year.

The FCA’s rule change now means, for example, if a fridge costs £200, customers will pay no more than £400.

The change had come after the FCA found 400,000 people were paying an extra £23million a year on goods such as TVs and fridges due to overpricing and excessive interest charges.

  • Coronavirus

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Spain’s coronavirus death toll hits 7,340 – and more than 12,000 health worker infected

More than 46,600 coronavirus patients have been hospitalised, with 16,780 recovered and discharged. Health chiefs say although the end of the pandemic is not yet in sight, there is a slowing down of the death, infection and recovery rate which gives “some glimmer of hope for containment.”

The figures released this morning by the Spanish Ministry of Health come as thousands more Spaniards are ordered to stay at home under the State of Emergency rules.

These have been extended today to cover all economic activities considered as non-essential to the running of the country.

These workers, including those on construction sites, have been told to stay at home until at least Thursday, April 10.

Essential services include health, security, telecommunications and the power sector.

Retail establishments selling food and drink will be allowed to remain open, as will chemists, newsagents, pet food shops, launderettes, food delivery businesses, power supply businesses and companies related to petroleum and natural gas, among others.

Workers told to stay at home will get paid but will have to make up the hours later on a phased basis.

The Spanish Government hopes the new measure will help contain the spread of coronavirus by reducing the number of people out and about.

It would like activity level to be “like that on a Sunday.”

Those industries which have to close from today have been given 24-hours grace in order to arrange for the finalisation of their activities.

The original State of Emergency was declared on March 14 so Spaniards are now entering their third week of confinement.

The latest figures also show 12,300 health workers on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus have been infected.

This is a breaking story. Please come back for more updates.

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Fiat Chrysler looks to resume some Italian production next week: union

MILAN (Reuters) – Fiat Chrysler (FCA) (FCHA.MI) is looking to resume some vehicle production from next week at three plants in Italy if it gets the green light from the government, a union representative said on Monday.

Earlier this month, Italy banned travel within the country and ordered a freeze on all business activities deemed non-essential, including the car industry, until April 3 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

FCA informed unions last week that if the government gave it the go-ahead, the automaker would be ready to resume some of its operations on April 6, Gianluca Ficco, a representative for metal workers union UILM, said.

The sites concerned would be the assembly line for the Jeep Compass in Melfi in southern Italy, Atessa’s plant making light commercial vehicles in central Italy and preparatory operations for the new electric 500 in Turin’s Mirafiori factory, he said.

A spokesman for FCA confirmed that for now, the plan was to resume those three lines next week.

However, Ficco said he did not know whether the government would allow non-essential activities to restart then and thought Rome was more likely to extend the ban.

“In any case, when operations restart, FCA will have to make sure that the highest health and safety conditions are assured in all factories,” he said. “Safety devices will have to be increased for sure”.

Luxury carmaker Ferrari (RACE.MI), which, like FCA, is controlled by Exor (EXOR.MI), the investment firm of Italy’s Agnelli family, said on Friday it would reopen its two Italian plants on April 14, provided it had supplies.

Exor said last week that current plant closures at companies it controls, though temporary, might continue.

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Exclusive: American Airlines in talks to hire Millstein for aid advice

NEW YORK (Reuters) – American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O) is in advanced talks to hire Guggenheim Securities co-chairman James Millstein for advice on tapping a $50 billion industry relief package available from the U.S. Treasury Department to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, people familiar with the matter said.

Millstein is one of Wall Street’s most seasoned debt restructuring bankers and from 2009 to 2011 was the chief architect of the Obama administration’s overhaul of certain financial firms the government had bailed out, including insurance giant American International Group Inc (AIG.N).

While American Airlines has said it has not yet decided whether it will seek U.S. government aid, Millstein’s anticipated appointment indicates the largest U.S. airline is actively preparing for such a move and girding for negotiations with Treasury officials.

Coronavirus relief legislation enacted last week provides up to $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees for U.S. airlines that have suffered from an unprecedented decline in passengers, with an additional $25 billion available in direct cash grants that could result in the U.S. government receiving ownership stakes in the companies.

Were Millstein to be hired, he would be advising American Airlines on the form and terms of aid it should pursue and how to navigate the U.S. Treasury Department’s process for requesting the financial assistance, the sources said. Advice given to the Fort Worth, Texas-based company would be done in his own capacity, independent of Guggenheim, the sources added.

The sources cautioned that no decision on American Airlines accepting U.S. government aid had yet been made and requested anonymity to discuss the confidential preparations.

American Airlines declined to comment, while Millstein did not respond to a request for comment.

American Airlines said last week it would be slashing its capacity 60% in April compared with the same period a year ago and up to 80% in May due to a dramatic reduction in customers and travel restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. Its shares have lost roughly half their value in the last five weeks, giving it a market capitalization of about $6 billion.

The company disclosed this month it had access to more than $7.3 billion of liquidity. Its long-term debt as of the end of December totaled about $23.9 billion.

American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said last week that the company would be eligible for up to $12 billion in total U.S. aid. He added that combining government relief with a “relatively high available cash position” would “allow us to ride through even the worst of potential future scenarios.”

Some terms of the cash grants “aren’t currently well defined,” Parker said, adding that the company was not yet certain it would meet the conditions necessary to receive those funds. He said he expected the aid terms “will not be onerous.”

Millstein, a former Lazard Ltd (LAZ.N) banker, has worked on bankruptcies and other challenges facing many U.S. conglomerates over the last two decades, including representing unionized workers in labor negotiations with General Motors Co (GM.N) and other automakers.

Millstein sold his restructuring advisory firm to Guggengeim in 2018. He most recently advised Puerto Rico on its debt woes, as well as California on how to best grapple with catastrophic wildfires and the bankruptcy of power utility PG&E Corp (PCG.N).

Millstein worked with Parker when he advised US Airways on its merger with American as part of the latter’s bankruptcy reorganization in 2013. Parker was CEO of US Airways before assuming the same role in the combined company.

POTENTIAL STRINGS ATTACHED

Should American Airlines seek government aid, it may be forced to accept conditions. Requirements for airlines receiving cash grants include continuing to fly in and out of all U.S. airports that currently have commercial air service, and agreeing to avoid involuntary furloughs of employees, both through the end of September.

The aid would also include restrictions on executive compensation and stock buybacks, as well as suspension of dividend payments. Similar strings are attached to government loans.

United Airlines Holdings Inc (UAL.O) and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), the other two largest U.S. carriers, have expressed cautious optimism about the government assistance, while warning further measures would be required to stabilize their businesses.

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Coronavirus: Spain surpasses China COVID-19 cases as deaths rise to 7,340

Spain has become the third country to confirm more cases of coronavirus than China – as its number of deaths rose by 812 in a day to reach a total of 7,340.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have increased by 6,398 since Sunday to reach 85,195 in total, Spain‘s health ministry said.

The country has now joined the United States and Italy in having more coronavirus cases than China, which had confirmed 82,156 cases as of Monday.

At midday on Monday, a minute’s silence was held in Madrid, Spain’s hardest hit city, for those who have died as an adagio was heard in one of the capital’s best known squares, Puerta del Sol.

Monday’s figures for those who have died in Spain were slightly less than Sunday, when 838 people died – the highest number yet for the country.

Authorities stepped up the country’s 15 day lockdown on Monday, with a new two week period of “hibernation” to alleviate pressure on the healthcare system, a Spanish Cabinet member said.

Only workers in hospitals, pharmacies, the food supply chain and other essential industries are allowed to work until the end of Easter, in mid-April, while everyone else has been asked to stay at home and scale back their work.

Spain’s government has ordered that flags be flown at half-mast and a minute’s silence be observed every day to pay respects to those who have died.

With a population of 47 million compared to China’s 1.14bn, Spain’s healthcare system is struggling to cope with the number of seriously ill patients at once, with hotels converted into makeshift hospitals and a Madrid ice rink turned into a temporary morgue.

At least six of Spain’s 17 regions have reached their limit of ICU beds, with three more close as Madrid started using a convention centre as a hospital and field hospitals continue to be frantically built.

Also on Monday, a health official said Spain’s health emergency chief, Fernando Simon, had tested positive for COVID-19. He is leading the country’s coronavirus response and is in regular contact with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Health official Maria Jose Sierra, who replaced Mr Simon at a daily news conference, said Spain’s trend in daily infections had changed since a lockdown was imposed on 14 March, with new infections now rising at about 12% a day over the past five days instead of the previous 20%.

She also announced 12,298 health workers in Spain have tested positive for coronavirus – about 14% of the country’s cases, roughly the same proportion as last week.

Spain and nearby Italy account for more than half the world’s 34,000 coronavirus deaths, with Italian officials cheering when they reported only 756 deaths in one day on Sunday.

Italy has reported 97,689 infections and 10,779 deaths so far, but on Sunday said the number of confirmed cases had increased by only 5.4% in the past 24 hours and deaths had decreased by about 10% a day since Friday.

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Polish presidential challenger urges boycott of May vote, halts campaign

WARSAW (Reuters) – The main Polish opposition candidate running for president called on Sunday for a boycott of the country’s May election due to the coronavirus and completely suspended her campaign, adding to doubts about whether the vote will go ahead as planned.

The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has so far defied calls to postpone the May 10 election, infuriating the opposition by introducing postal voting rules less than six months before the vote in a move branded unconstitutional by critics.

“Let’s boycott these elections. Poles stay home, your life is the most important thing,” Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, the presidential candidate of the center right Civic Platform (PO) party, told reporters, calling on other candidates to suspend their campaigns.

Her appeal followed protests from numerous mayors, who have said it will be impossible to hold the vote safely in May.

On Sunday, the mayor of the southern town of Bedzin, Lukasz Komoniewski, wrote on Facebook that he would not sign documents to allow elections to take place there.

Incumbent President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, is well ahead in the polls and his election is crucial to the government’s hopes of implementing its socially conservative agenda as the president holds the power to veto laws.

Critics say PiS is keen to hold the elections in May to capitalize on Duda’s current strong position and avoid a later election where the fallout from the pandemic could dent his popularity.

Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, the agrarian Polish Peasants’ Party’s (PSL) presidential candidate, was quoted by state-run news agency PAP as saying he was focusing on amendments to the government’s package of anti-crisis economic measures.

The campaign manager of left-wing candidate Robert Biedron likened Kidawa-Blonska’s move to “political retirement”, PAP reported.

On Saturday, Duda said he hoped the election would go ahead as planned but the situation was unpredictable.

“If it did happen that the epidemic was raging … then in that situation the election date could turn out to be unsustainable, but I am counting on it that we will be able to calmly hold these elections,” he told state-run news channel TVP Info.

Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Thursday that an assessment should be made in two weeks.

Nearly three-quarters of Poles believe the election should be postponed, according to an opinion poll on Wednesday.

France and Bavaria in Germany held local elections on March 15. Jaroslaw Flis, a sociologist with the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, estimates that the Bavarian elections resulted in around 2,000 extra coronavirus cases.

France postponed the second round of its local elections.

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