France’s coronavirus death toll ‘much higher’ than official data, says hospitals chief

Frédéric Valletoux, the president of the French Hospitals Federation, told France Info radio: “We only know the data provided by hospitals. The increase in the official data is already major, but the absolute numbers would no doubt be effectively much higher if we aggregated what is happening in retirement homes as well as the people who die at home or who are not counted.

France had nearly 26,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday and the fifth-largest number of virus-related deaths in the world at more than 1,300.

The head of the country’s public health service Jérôme Salomon said earlier this week that authorities would soon be able to tally retirement home deaths, which is likely to result in a huge increase in registered fatalities.

French media have reported dozens of coronavirus deaths in retirement homes this week, though privately run homes have been reluctant to share data.

M Valletoux added it was tricky to say when the growth rate of new infections and deaths would ebb and whether France was indeed running about eight days behind Italy, the world’s hardest-hit country.

He said: “Confinement and testing procedures are very different in the two countries, even between regions in Italy.

“We do not know when the peak will come, but we are still in the ascending phase.”

In France, which entered a nationwide coronavirus lockdown on March 17, the number of new cases grew at an average rate of 26 percent per day throughout March, but on Tuesday the rate had slowed to an average 15 percent.

He also said that the number of new infections was difficult to compare with other countries as, unlike most of its neighbours, France has not been testing all suspect cases.

He said: “We don’t have the means to test everyone … Italy tests way more people, and the Germans test 10 to 20 times more people than us.

But M Salomon said earlier this week France would soon be able to carry out up to 10,000 tests a day.

The French government has warned that the virtual lockdown imposed to restrict the spread of the flu-like infection could last up to six weeks.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told TF1 television on Monday: “A lot of citizens want normalcy to return, but it’s not happening soon.”

The French, who are under strict stay-at-home orders, can only go outside to buy food, go to work, seek urgent medical care or for brief exercise.

Those on the move must be able to justify their journey on a printed ministry document, including pedestrians.

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‘Business as usual’: Lethbridge first responders face COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has not reportedly hindered Lethbridge’s emergency services just yet.

Insp. Jason Walper with the Lethbridge Police Service said some officers are in self-isolation due to travel, or contact with members of the public, but the impact of COVID-19 has actually decreased slightly the number of calls for service.

He said plans are in the works to enforce social distancing.

“In an abnormal environment, we are business as usual,” Walper said Friday.

“We will continue to respond and will continue to deal with that. We are working with our provincial partners right now to see exactly what our enforcement strategies will look like. There’s still a little work to be done before we can just roll out and go so we’re working on that daily and hopefully over the next couple days will have our enforcement strategy in place.”

Volunteer programs like The Watch have now been put on hold.

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“All volunteers have, in essence, been suspended,” Walper said.

“Just for their own safety and community safety.”

Other Lethbridge first response teams that are also on the front lines are experiencing fewer available staff.

Fifteen per cent of Lethbridge’s regular fire and emergency services staff is in isolation due to travel or contact with potential cases,” ccording to Greg Adair, deputy chief of strategic services.With regular illness absences added to that, Lethbridge fire and EMS staff is down 25 per cent, he said.

“Even with numbers of 25 per cent, we’ve still been able to man all of our fire apparatus and our ambulances, and been able to respond to every emergency that we are called for assistance on,” Adair said.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the South Zone is significantly lower than elsewhere in the province, but that could change at any time.

“Do we have plans in place should those numbers increase? Yes,” Adair said.

“We have been working through those scenarios and we’ve been talking about and planning for those pieces. We’re hoping through proper social distancing we will not have to implement those plans.”

First responders in the Lethbridge area are adamant that people do what they cannot, and stay home.

“We are urging the public to listen to the public health orders, listen to what’s being directed from our local municipality, stay home self-isolate,” Walper said.

“Do what you’re being asked by the province so that we don’t have to step in and enforce those.”

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U.S. House leaders determined to pass $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives are determined to pass a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Friday, or at the very latest on Saturday, hoping to provide the quickest help possible as deaths mount and the economy reels.

On a call with fellow Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House members not to do anything to delay the unprecedented economic aid package that the U.S. Senate backed unanimously on Wednesday night, lawmakers and aides said.

But there were warnings later on Thursday that at least one Republican might act to delay the vote into the weekend.

Representative Madeleine Dean said the message on Pelosi’s two-hour call was “Let’s get this done tomorrow if we possibly can. If not, at the very latest Saturday.”

Dean said she would drive to Washington from her Pennsylvania district for the debate, due to start on Friday morning. “It was so obvious from everyone’s conversation on the call, we know what we have to do. We have to get relief to the American people now,” Dean said.

The Senate bill – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by the U.S. Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the Democratic-controlled House backs it and Republican President Donald Trump signs it into law.

“The House of Representatives must now pass this bill, hopefully without delay. I think it’s got tremendous support,” Trump said at a daily coronavirus briefing.

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The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The Republican-led Senate approved it 96-0 late on Wednesday. The unanimous vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

DEATHS MOUNT, MILLIONS OUT OF WORK

Pelosi told a weekly news conference she expected the bill would have strong support from House Democrats and Republicans.

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases, according to a Reuters tally. The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200.

The crisis has dealt a crushing blow to the economy, with thousands of businesses closing or cutting back. The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

Pelosi said there was no question more money would be needed to fight the coronavirus. She said House committees would work on the next phase in the near term, even if the full chamber is not in session.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy also backs the relief plan. But he wants it to be allowed to work before deciding on more legislation.

“This will be probably the largest bill anybody in Congress has ever voted for,” he told reporters. McCarthy predicted the measure would pass on Friday morning.

The $2.2 trillion bill follows two others that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the federal government spends annually.

Pelosi said House leaders planned to fast-track the rescue plan by passing it via a voice vote on Friday.

There could be opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he opposed the bill, and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing it to pass on a voice vote, rather than recording how each House member voted.

“I’m having a real hard time with this,” Massie, an outspoken fiscal conservative, said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.

House leaders said late on Thursday that an unnamed House Republican might suggest a quorum is not present on Friday morning and call for a recorded vote for final passage. Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer encouraged members to be at the Capitol by 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Friday.

“We will see if the bill can pass by voice vote or if a Republican forces a recorded vote,” Hoyer’s office said in a statement.

The House has 430 members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14.

It would be difficult for all of them to return, given that two have tested positive for the respiratory disease, a handful are in self-quarantine and several states have issued stay-at-home orders. There are five vacant House seats.

The Capitol has laid out special procedures – including barring members from sitting beside one another – to minimize the threat of infection, both to members and staff.

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U.S.-Israeli Pyramid Analytics raises $25 million in funding

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Pyramid Analytics, a U.S.-Israeli developer of a business intelligence platform, said on Thursday it raised $25 million, led by venture capital fund Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP).

Existing investors Sequoia Capital, Viola Growth and Maor Investments also participated in the funding, which will be used for Pyramid Analytics’ expansion and to deepen strategic alliances.

Pyramid Analytics said its technology can give organizations visibility into their operational data to react quickly to business changes.

The company has over 1,500 customers, including leading banks and pension funds.

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After Senate vote, massive U.S. coronavirus bill moves to the House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s unanimous passage of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill sent the unprecedented economic legislation to the House of Representatives, whose Democratic leaders hope to pass it on Friday.

The Republican-led Senate approved the massive bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to none late on Wednesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the Democratic-majority House.

The unanimous vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.

“When there’s a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Individuals even with bravery and valor are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”

The package is intended to flood the country with cash in a bid to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying epidemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000.

It follows two others that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

Republican President Donald Trump, who has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.

Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the pandemic.

The House’s Democratic leaders announced that they would have a voice vote on Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she backed the bill, and was open to passing more legislation if needed to address the crisis in future.

The House Republican leadership is recommending a “yes” vote.

The massive bill, worth more than $2 trillion, includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

There had been some debate about whether all 430 House members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14, would have to return to consider the bill. That would have been difficult, given that at least two have tested positive for coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine and several states have issued stay-at-home orders.

There are five vacant House seats.

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China reports 67 new coronavirus cases, all from international travel

Mainland China reported a second consecutive day of no new local coronavirus infections as the epicenter of the epidemic Hubei province opened its borders, but imported cases rose as Beijing ramped up controls to prevent a resurgence of infections.

A total of 67 new cases were reported as of end-Wednesday, up from 47 a day earlier, all of which were imported, China’s National Health Commission said in a statement on Thursday.

The total number of cases now stands at 81,285.

The commission reported a total of 3,287 deaths at the end of Wednesday, up six from the previous day.

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All of the new patients were travellers who came to China from overseas, with the mainland reporting no locally transmitted infections on Wednesday.

Shanghai reported the most cases with 18 followed by Inner Mongolia region at 12 and Guangdong province at 11.

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U.S. Senate passes $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a $2 trillion bill aimed at helping unemployed workers and industries hurt by the coronavirus epidemic, as well as providing billions of dollars to buy urgently needed medical equipment.

After bitter negotiations, the deeply divided Senate came together and passed the bill by a unanimous 96-0 vote, which sent the massive stimulus package to the House of Representatives, which could vote sometime this week.

President Donald Trump, whose top aides helped negotiate the bipartisan measure, promised to sign it into law as soon as it reaches his desk. “I will sign it immediately,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday.

The massive bill – which would be the largest economic stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

The package is intended to flood the economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of an intensifying epidemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000.

Only two other nations, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases and the World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Top aides to Trump and senior senators from both parties announced that they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

But it was delayed by criticism from both the right and left on Wednesday, pushing the final vote on passage almost another full day.

Several Republican senators had insisted the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more in unemployment benefits than they earned on the job. However, an amendment that would have changed the unemployment provision failed just before the Senate approved the measure.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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IMF approves $1.3 billion loan for Jordan, adjusts for coronavirus expenses

AMMAN (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday its board had approved a four-year, $1.3 billion loan program for Jordan, signaling confidence in the country’s reform agenda at a time it was taking measures to cushion its economy from the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.

The extended fund facility program was anchored by Jordan’s commitments to make structural reforms designed to lower electricity costs for businesses and create incentives for them to hire more young people, the IMF said.

“The aim is to support stronger and more inclusive growth, create jobs, especially for women and young people, and reduce poverty,” the IMF said in a statement.

The program was designed before the coronavirus outbreak, but the IMF said changes were made to support unbudgeted spending covering emergency outlays and medical supplies and equipment.

“If the impact of the outbreak is deep enough to put at risk program objectives, the program will be adapted further to the changed circumstances, upon reaching understandings with the authorities,” the IMF said.

The IMF said the approval would immediately make available about $139.2 million for disbursement, with the remaining amounts phased over the life of the program, subject to eight reviews.

Jordanian Finance Minister Mohammad Al Ississ told Reuters earlier that the loan had been approved. He said in a statement that loan and associated reforms would help Jordan attract more donor and investment funds.

“It signals confidence in Jordan’s economic reform process, and support for our efforts to mitigate the impact of the virus on vulnerable economic sectors and individuals,” Al Ississ said.

Officials are worried the coronavirus crisis, which has hit the thriving tourist sector, will slash growth projections and deepen an economic downturn and a slowdown in domestic consumption. The tourist sector generates around $5 billion annually.

The monetary and fiscal authorities have taken a series of measures from injecting over $700 million in liquidity to reducing interest rates and delaying bank loan installments and customs and tax payments to help soften the negative impact.

The IMF’s approval of Jordan’s programme was testimony to the macroeconomic stability of a country where regional conflict in recent years has weighed on investor sentiment, Al Ississ said.

Al Ississ said late last year that a new IMF deal would help the country secure concessional grants and loans at preferential borrowing rates to ease annual debt servicing needed to reduce the debt to GDP ratio.

Public debt has shot up by almost a third in a decade to 30.1 billion dinars ($42.4 billion) in 2019, equivalent to 97% of GDP.

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UK deaths from coronavirus outbreak rise to 463 as of March 25: Government

(Reuters) – The number of coronavirus deaths in the UK has risen to 463 as of Wednesday from 422 on Tuesday, the British government said, adding that more than 9,500 COVID-19 cases have now been reported in the country.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the UK have risen to 9,529 as of Wednesday, compared to 8,077 cases as of Tuesday, the statement added.

The government is anticipating a peaking of coronavirus cases in Britain in the coming weeks and has appealed to manufacturers to supply the National Health Service with the appropriate requirements.

Britain had been in talks with over 3,000 businesses about supplying ventilators to quickly increase the health service’s capacity. The country’s existing stock of about 5,000-8,000 ventilators is inadequate if cases jump as predicted.

Britain has ordered 10,000 medical ventilators designed at breakneck speed by vacuum cleaner-maker Dyson, according to an internal email to Dyson’s staff, which was seen by Reuters.

Separately, over 170,000 people have signed up to help the NHS tackle the outbreak.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Britons on Monday to stay at home to halt the spread of the virus, imposing curbs on everyday life without precedent in peacetime.

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Accused Christchurch shooter changes plea to guilty: media reports

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Australian man accused of the attacks on two New Zealand mosques last year entered a surprise guilty plea in a Christchurch court on Thursday to 51 charges of murder, local media reported.

Brenton Tarrant, who appeared by video link in a special High Court hearing, also admitted to 40 charges of attempted murder and one terrorism charge, broadcaster TVNZ reported.

Tarrant, 29, a suspected white supremacist, had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and had been due to face a trial scheduled to start in June.

The court will now sentence him on all 92 charges, but did not provide a date for that sentencing. Tarrant was remanded in custody until another court appearance on May 1, TVNZ reported.

Due to a nationwide lockdown in place for the coronavirus outbreak, Thursday’s court hearing took place with minimal staff, lawyers and media present.

Calls and emails to the court by Reuters were not immediately returned.

The court placed a one-hour embargo on reporting the news in order to inform family members and victims about what had taken place before it was made public.

Tarrant has been in plice custody since the March 15 attack, where he used semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch, marking New Zealand’s worst peace time mass shooting.

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