Zimbabwe customs officials walk out over coronavirus fears

HARARE (Reuters) – Customs officials at Zimbabwe’s biggest airport stopped reporting for work on Wednesday, fearing exposure to coronavirus and a lack of measures to prevent its spread, their union said.

Zimbabwe has recorded one death from three confirmed cases of coronavirus, but the opposition and critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa accuse his government of under-reporting the number of cases. The government denies this.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority Trade Union said its members at the main airport in the capital Harare came into contact while dealing with the man who died from coronavirus, but they were not tested or put into mandatory isolation.

“There is very high exposure of all staff at the referred airport due to lack of proper stop gap facilities to mitigate the possible spread of the deadly virus,” said Lovemore Ngwarati, the union’s secretary general.

“The workers shall not report for duty until proper measures are taken to substantially mitigate the danger.”

Faith Mazani, commissioner general of Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, did not respond to calls for comment.

Facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, Zimbabwe is grappling with soaring inflation and shortages of foreign currency and medicines that has crippled its hospitals.

Doctors at state hospitals who ended a three-month strike in January say the medical facilities still face a critical shortage of equipment and medicine.

The Zimbabwe Doctors Hospital Association (ZDHA) said its members at Harare Central Hospital had on Wednesday withdrawn their services due to lack of protective clothing to handle coronavirus patients.

“This is not a strike. We will go back once they make available personal protective equipment,” Tawanda Zvakada, the ZHDA secretary general, told Reuters. He declined to say how many doctors were absent from work.

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Explainer: China's symptom-free coronavirus carriers raise fears of new wave of infections

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The existence of a substantial but unknown number of asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus in China has raised concerns among the public that people could still be spreading COVID-19 without knowing they are sick.

As the virus continues to wreak havoc across the world, China is close to declaring victory and is already easing travel restrictions. The border of Hubei province, epicenter of the virus, opened on Wednesday after a two-month shutdown.

But there are concerns that the end of the lockdown will release thousands of infectious people back into circulation.

Asymptomatic cases present a huge challenge in the control of infectious disease, making it harder to detect and stop transmission.

In China, the number of known asymptomatic cases is classified, and it is not included in the official data, though the South China Morning Post, citing unpublished official documents, recently said it was more than 40,000.

China had reported 81,218 coronavirus cases, and 3,281 deaths by the end of Tuesday.

Asymptomatic cases are currently found through “contact tracing”. China identifies people exposed to someone with a confirmed diagnosis, and if they test positive, they are quarantined whether or not they manifest symptoms.

“Asymptomatic patients have all been discovered during our contact tracing,” said Wu Zunyou of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention at a briefing on Tuesday. “So will they be able to create transmission? They won’t.”

Still, the failure to include them in the official data has raised concerns about Beijing’s commitment to transparency, and some experts say it could also create a misleading picture about how the epidemic spreads and whether or not it is under control.

Despite recording zero new infections from March 18 to March 22, the COVID-19 hotspot city of Wuhan disclosed on March 20 that one newly diagnosed case was not included in the official data because the patient, a 62-year old man surnamed Zhang had shown no symptoms.

Citing hospital sources, the news magazine Caixin also reported that a new case in Wuhan on Tuesday was a doctor who had been infected by an asymptomatic patient.

China says asymptomatic patients will be added to the list of confirmed patients if they show symptoms at a later stage. But it remains unclear how many asymptomatic cases remain undiagnosed and therefore unquarantined.

Some experts warn that undetected, asymptomatic patients could create fresh transmission routes once lockdowns are eased.

“It is especially concerning given that many countries have yet to implement sufficient levels of widespread community testing,” said Adam Kamradt-Scott, a public health specialist at the University of Sydney.

It is also unclear how much they might infect others.

“We know that that is possible, but we do not believe that that’s a major driver of transmission,” said Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization at a briefing early in March.

New studies show that asymptomatic carriers could pose risks. One analysis of the Diamond Princess cruise ship outbreak showed that 33 of the 104 infected passengers remained asymptomatic even after an average of 10 days of observation at the Self-Defense Forces Central Hospital in Japan.

While many appeared healthy throughout, a few other initially asymptomatic passengers quickly became seriously ill.

Another study published on March 23, looking at cases in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, said 18% of patients were asymptomatic. Another even found that people are more likely to transmit the disease when symptoms are at their mildest.

The Yale School of Public Health said the existence of presymptomatic (asymptomatic) patients meant that screening procedures at airports and other points of entry were insufficient to prevent the coronavirus passing from China to other countries.

“The real picture will only come to light when we have a serological test to find out who has been infected,” said Ian Henderson, Director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at Queensland University.

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Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – The United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization said, as the U.S. negotiators reached an agreement on a $2-trillion aid package and India announced a nationwide lockdown in the world’s second-most populous country.

DEATHS, INFECTIONS

** Nearly 421,000 people have been infected across the world and more than 18,800 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

** For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

EUROPE

** Fatalities in Italy surged on Tuesday, dashing hopes the epidemic was easing after more encouraging numbers in the previous two days.

** France’s death toll is much higher than the official tally, which only accounts for those dying in hospitals and does not include those dying at home or in retirement homes, the head of the hospitals federation said.

** More than 170,000 people signed up to help Britain’s National Health Service, and the parliament is set to suspend sitting for at least four weeks.

** Nurses and doctors demanded action after Spain reported its sharpest daily increase in new cases on Tuesday and said about 14% of the nearly 40,000 infections were among health workers.

** Russia’s total number of cases reached 658 on Wednesday with a record daily rise, a day after Moscow’s mayor warned the outbreak in the capital was much worse than official figures showed.

AMERICAS

** The Trump administration sowed confusion over use of a 1950s-era emergency act to procure coronavirus test kits amid severe shortages of equipment for medical workers.

** The virus has killed more than 700 people in the United States and infected over 53,000.

** Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed virus “hysteria” and urged mayors and state governors to roll back lockdown measures that have brought Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to near standstills.

** Mexico temporarily halted the processing of asylum requests from Tuesday, as its cases climbed to 405.

** An emergency aid package for Canadians facing economic harm from the outbreak was stalled.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

** Australia said on Wednesday it would force passengers on a ship into quarantine on a tourist island and refused entry to another vessel, as authorities slapped heavy curbs on movement and officials warned an accelerating number of patients could overwhelm intensive care units.

** Mainland China reported a drop in new cases on Wednesday as imported infections fell and no locally transmitted infections were reported.

** India woke up to a sweeping lockdown of its 1.3 billion people, but the order did not stop crowds of people thronging to stock up at grocery shops and chemists.

** The Indian government banned the export of a key malaria drug, as experts test its efficacy in treating patients with COVID-19.

** Tokyo became the center of Japan’s epidemic as it registered a record 17 new cases on Tuesday. The national tally is 1,214, with 43 deaths.

** Malaysia will extend a two-week restriction of movement order and unveil a second economic stimulus package.

** Thailand recorded 107 new cases on Wednesday, bringing its total to 934, while South Korea’s tally rose to 9,137 with 100 new infections.

** Singapore’s government said on Wednesday it was not ruling out holding a general election during the outbreak.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

** Israelis were instructed on Wednesday to stay within 100 meters of their homes under tightened restrictions that further reduced public transport, required employers to check workers for fever and set sanctions for people who defy rules.

** About half of Iran’s government employees were staying at home on Tuesday as the country’s death toll topped 2,000.

** Egypt has declared a two-week curfew, and those who violate the measure will be penalized under emergency laws, the prime minister said.

** Congo closed its borders and imposed a state of emergency.

** Libya confirmed its first case on Tuesday.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

** U.S. senators and Trump administration officials agreed on a massive economic stimulus bill early on Wednesday, with the Senate set to vote on the $2-trillion package later in the day and the House of Representatives vote expected soon after.

** Asian shares gained on Wednesday in the wake of Wall Street’s massive rebound on the stimulus bill agreement.

** Airlines urged governments to speed up bailouts to rescue the air transport industry as they doubled their estimate of 2020 revenue losses from the crisis to more than $250 billion.

** Seventy percent of people in G7 countries expect their household to lose income due to the outbreak, according to a survey on Wednesday.

** British inflation fell in February, before the crisis hit the country, with a further sharp fall predicted in the next couple of months due to the collapse in global oil prices caused by the pandemic.

EVENTS

** The Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021, the first such delay in the Games’ 124-year modern history.

** Japan’s J.League delayed the restart of soccer matches to May.

** The Cannes Film Festival venue is opening its doors to the town’s homeless who have nowhere to go during the lockdown.

** Two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut were spending their final weeks on Earth in quarantine before they are scheduled to blast off on April 9 for the International Space Station.

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Playground structures off limits in Port Hope due to COVID-19

Port Hope is closing more public spaces in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In a release, the municipality states that all municipal playground structures are off limits to the community. The town acknowledges that enforcing the new rule is difficult, so it’s asking caregivers to help the town enforce it.

Residents can still enjoy the town’s green space, but the municipality is asking people to practise social distancing. Anglers are also asked to keep two metres apart at all time. The fish-cleaning station is closed.

Garbage collection is still taking place in parks and along trails and pathways, and the city is reminding residents to use the garbage bins provided in these spaces. Anyone who is sick should put tissues, masks or anything else in a plastic bag instead of throwing it directly into a garbage can.

The Baulch Road dog park is closing on Wednesday, March 25, along with the skate park and tennis courts at the Town Park Recreation Centre. The town says these spaces are closing to stop groups from forming at those locations.

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Cougar seen on deserted streets as nature reclaims coronavirus-quarantined city

A wild puma has been filmed stalking the streets of a deserted city which had been placed on lockdown due to coronavirus.

In the video, recorded yesterday, the powerfully-built animal takes advantage of the curfew to roam through a car park and public walkway.

But, spooked by a policeman and a photographer, the beast suddenly breaks into a run, looking panicked while trying to find an escape route in the concrete jungle.

It then leaps over a two-metre high fence with its powerful back legs, vanishing into someone’s garden.

The bizarre incident was filmed in the Chilean capital of Santiago and authorities confirmed they were later able to capture the wild beast, which they said was frightened.

Police said it had prowled into a school to try to evade capture but was safely tranquillised and taken to a zoo where it will be looked after until it can be returned to the wild.

The cougar was an adult male weighing 35kg, Prensa Latina reports.

Chile has 922 confirmed cases of coronavirus and two deaths related to COVID-19, the disease it causes.

In response to the pandemic, the government has closed schools and imposed a nighttime curfew to try and hinder the spread of the highly-contagious virus.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions in the US, are normally shy animals but have been known to attack and kill humans.

Last year, a mum fought a cougar who had grabbed her son by prying the animal's jaws open in a terrifying battle.

And a man was left battered and bloody after a cougar leaped on top of him and tried to kill him while he was out running.

Luckily, he had the strength to fight the animal off and choked it to death, but was left with permanent facial scars.

  • Animals
  • Coronavirus

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More than 170,000 volunteer to help UK fight coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 170,000 people have signed up to help Britain’s National Health Service tackle the coronavirus outbreak just hours after a request for a quarter of a million volunteers.

“At times of crisis people come together,” Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, told BBC TV. “This is a health emergency and we can all play a role.”

Related Coverage

  • Some UK health workers feel inadequately protected, NHS pressure group says

Britain had called for 250,000 volunteers to deliver food and medicines, provide transport for patients and supplies, and to telephone those who are becoming lonely because of self isolation.

The system aims to reach up to 1.5 million people who are “shielding” – keeping themselves at home for 12 weeks under government advice to protect those with serious health conditions.

The death toll from coronavirus in the United Kingdom jumped on Tuesday by 87 to a total of 422 – the biggest daily increase since the crisis began.

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Canada to spend millions to help world’s poor amid COVID-19 pandemic: minister

International Development Minister Karina Gould says Canada will spend millions to help the world’s most desperate people fight COVID-19 because it is in the country’s long-term security interest as well as being the right thing to do.

Gould says that’s why Canada has earmarked $50 million, part of its response to today’s launch of the United Nations COVID-19 humanitarian response plan.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Gould rebutted criticism in some quarters that the government ought to be focusing instead on Canadians hunkering down at home to limit the spread of the virus.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is set to launch a $2-billion global appeal today, calling for a co-ordinated response to help the world’s war-torn, displaced and otherwise most destitute people who are facing new misery because of the pandemic.

Guterres has sent a letter to the G20 members, including Canada, urging them to spend more to prevent the virus from spreading like wildfire in developing countries burdened by poor health systems and massive refugee influxes.

Gould says the government needs to help Canadians at home with an $82-billion spending package, but it must also spend $50 million globally to protect Canada’s future security and economic prosperity from a virus that knows no borders.

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Calgary hairstylist weighs risks of staying open amid COVID-19 crisis

A Calgary hairstylist is wondering how long her business can stay open amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Aisha Ladha operates Hair by Aisha and rents a chair out of a salon at Skribbles Hair Company in northwest Calgary.

The salon is quiet these days. In fact, on Tuesday morning, she was the only person there.

“Business has definitely slowed down. We have had a lot of clients obviously wanting to do social distancing,” she said.

“I have personally been calling all of my clients just to see what they want to do” said Lahda, who has been a hairstylist for 19 years.

She said some clients plan to wait the crisis out, but for those who do come in to get their hair done, Ladha said all possible precautions are being taken.

Still, she is worried.

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“We are not six feet away from the next person. We are right up against them, so of course, you are worried about it,” Ladha said.

“But we are doing everything we can and we are hoping that clients are doing everything they can with coming in: making sure they are washing their hands as soon as they come in, making sure they haven’t been away travelling or that they don’t feel sick.”

Ladha said between each client, she and her fellow stylists are sanitizing the chairs and wiping down all surfaces.

“We are trying to do the best we can on our end to keep our business still going,” she said.

Ladha is also concerned about how this will affect her financially.

“What I depend on is interacting with people,” she said.

“I am definitely worried about how financially this is going to be in the long term. It’s already a lot slower than it has been, and it’s getting slower.”

So why did she decide to remain open? Ladha said it’s about making clients feel good, especially in these stressful times.

“It gives them a place to come and escape and for a little bit, and when they are here, they can actually focus on themselves and feel really good about themselves and that’s what I like,” she said.

According to Alberta Health Services, there are no restrictions on personal services like hairdressers, tattoo parlours or massage services at this time. Service providers are reminded to take preventative measures like thoroughly cleaning equipment, providing handwashing stations for staff and clients, and asking customers if they feel sick.

Ladha said there are only two or three people at a time in the salon now. It is home to four stylists, all of whom are facing an uncertain future.

“We are sort of waiting to see what the government has to issue,” Ladha said


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Coronavirus aid bill negotiations continue, agreement in principle reached: sources

The House of Commons was expected to sit Tuesday for the tabling of legislation meant to provide economic support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as of Tuesday night, talks over the draft bill stretched on.

Negotiations continued through the night and, at 11 p.m., opposition party sources said they expected it would be at least a few hours before legislation was expected to be put before the House.

Earlier, sources said that an agreement in principle had been reached.

Under the special operating rules for this extraordinary sitting of the House of Commons, a relief package and other measures can only be passed by unanimous consent of all Liberal, Conservative, BQ and NDP MPs in the House.

One Conservative MP said the party was ready to pass the aid package but not if it was a “power grab” for the Liberals.

“We asked them to remove the power grab,” tweeted Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre just before 11:45 p.m. ET. “They have not gotten back to us. As of 11:39pm, we haven’t seen a new bill.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had earlier said that proposed sweeping new powers to let the government spend money without parliamentary approval are needed because the COVID-19 pandemic presents an “exceptional situation.”

Speaking with reporters in his daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage, where he is in self-isolation, Trudeau was questioned on proposals that Global News first reported were contained in a draft version of the coronavirus support bill.

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One fifth of American companies in China back to normal operations: Survey

BEIJING (REUTERS) – More than one fifth of American companies in China are back to normal operations after widespread disruptions caused by the coronavirus epidemic, a survey showed on Wednesday (March 25).

Nearly a quarter of the respondents to the survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China said they expected a return to normal operations by the end of April, although another fifth expect delays throughout the summer.

“This is one of the areas that I think provides some sense of optimism,” the chamber’s president, Alan Beebe, said at a news conference accompanying the survey’s release.

The outbreak began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, causing massive disruptions to business operations, supply chains and economic activity. The outbreak has killed more than 3,200 people and infected more than 81,000 in China alone.

Half of the 119 respondents to the survey are experiencing revenue declines of over 10 per cent, and 14 per cent reported losing at least a half-million yuan (S$102,000) per day as a result of delays to re-opening businesses.

The survey also highlighted the reliance of American companies on China’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), which have been slowest to get back to work and are most vulnerable to cash flow disruptions.

“Longer-term policy measures aren’t enough for the little guys,” said Greg Gilligan, the chamber’s chair, warning that some may not make it long enough to see government support.

Eight in ten respondents said SMEs contribute up to half of annual revenues, and over a tenth said that 75 per cent or more of their supply chain depends on SMEs.

The chamber is calling for its members to directly support their SME suppliers and customers, Beebe said.

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