Israel makes masks in public compulsory as Passover lockdown begins

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli government issued orders on Tuesday requiring citizens to wear face masks in public to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus as the country enters a lockdown for the Jewish Passover holiday.

The government also approved a timeline for tightened travel restrictions throughout much of the week-long festival, which begins on Wednesday when Jewish families gather for a meal commemorating the Biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Israel has introduced the tougher measures in the hope the coronavirus will have been sufficiently contained once the April 8-15 festival is over to begin a gradual easing of restrictions.

But national leaders have made clear a recovery will take time.

“We will return to full routines within a year,” Defence Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week urged Israelis to wear masks in public, a measure the government said would become compulsory on Sunday.

Children under six, the mentally disabled or those alone in vehicles or workplaces are exempt. The government said masks could be homemade.

A ban on unnecessary out-of-town travel began on Tuesday evening and will last until Friday morning, effectively preventing large gatherings for Passover.

Food shopping within towns will be forbidden from 3 p.m. Wednesday, a few hours before the meal begins, until the following morning.

The government said the holiday shopping ban would not apply to non-Jewish minorities. Around a fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, mostly Muslims, Druze and Christians.

Israel has more than 9,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. At least 60 people have died.

Ahead of the holiday, Israel’s military distributed some 50 tons of fruit and vegetables to residents of an ultra-Orthodox town that has been hit hard by the coronavirus and was sealed off last week, the military said on Tuesday.

Bnei Brak, a town of some 200,000 near Tel Aviv, was declared a restricted zone on Thursday and police have restricted access.

Around one third of Bnei Brak residents who were tested for the virus were found to have it, Israeli media have reported, citing health ministry data.

Many of the town’s residents are poor and some have heeded rabbis who, distrusting the state, spurned anti-virus measures.

In a broadcast Passover benediction on Tuesday, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar sought to reassure the country.

“May the Lord lift the dark and heavy cloud of this pestilence from over us,” he said.

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Swedish government to put forward bill granting it wider powers in pandemic fight

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The Swedish government will put forward a bill granting it wider powers to quickly take steps such as closing transport hubs or restaurants if needed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that has infected thousands across the country.

The bill, which was widely expected to be pass parliament in the coming days after several opposition parties voiced their support, primarily cuts the time needed for the minority government to close many public venues.

While parliament can still reverse measures in a subsequent vote, but does not need to be consulted for prior approval.

“Today, we have decided on a bill to give us the tools to be able to act quickly with more measures if needed,” Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin told a news conference after the government had held talks with opposition parties.

“This proposal applies only to actions associated with the coronavirus and for a limited time only.”

Sweden, where nearly 600 COVID-19 patients have died, has taken a more liberal and low-key approach toward fighting the virus than most other European countries, relying primarily on voluntary measures and common sense than outright bans.

While schools, restaurants and most businesses have remained open, the government has banned public gatherings of over 50 people and shut universities, while authorities have also advised those who can to work from home.

The increased powers to impose restrictions without prior approval by parliament would be valid for up to three months.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said that while most measures were not bans he still expected all Swedes to comply.

“The advise from the authorities are not just little hints,” he said. “It is expected that we follow them every day, every minute.”

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Congress presses Trump administration to fix small business relief program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers have urged the Treasury Department to clarify and streamline the government’s small business loan program, after hearing gripes from local businesses.

Several Democrats sent letters to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza on Tuesday, saying businesses and banks were struggling with the program and needed help.

They said some businesses were struggling to understand whether they qualified for the loans, and others found themselves effectively frozen out as banks prioritized applications from existing clients.

“I am concerned that you have been unable to quickly set up the PPP so that these businesses can receive this funding in an expedient and fair manner,” Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey said in a letter sent Monday.

“Small businesses…are at grave risk of imminent collapse, and you must act quickly to ensure that they quickly get the help they need. Every lost day matters.”

The complaints from Congress come after a rocky first few days for the program, which has been beset by technical problems and paperwork confusion.

The rush to get the plan off the ground resulted in the government making last-minute changes to the program, which was still being tweaked as loans were processed. On Monday, the Treasury published another document aimed at answering frequent questions about the program.

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The program was intended to quickly distribute $350 billion in relief to small businesses as part of a $2.3 trillion economic relief package. It was launched just one week after that package became law, but the speed has left banks scrambling to process loan applications while borrowers rush to claim a piece of the first-come, first-serve assistance.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said earlier on Tuesday that $50 billion across roughly 178,000 loans had already been authorized under the program. But many banks have yet to distribute those authorized funds, as they wait on a critical form from the SBA for borrowers to sign, according to industry officials.

Spokespeople for the Treasury Department and SBA did not respond to a request for comment.

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Coronavirus: New York death rate highest among globally comparable regions

New York has the highest death rate from coronavirus when analysed against comparable regions around the world, Sky News can reveal.

Sky News analysis looked at most affected regions in countries with the highest number of deaths including Italy, Spain, France, UK and China.

The chart above illustrates the exponential deaths from COVID-19.

Spain’s Catalonia and Madrid regions were seeing the second and third highest number of deaths, according to data sourced from the country’s ministry of health.

At the current rate, both regions will see their total death toll double over the next eight to 10 days.

The Lombardy region in Italy, the country with the highest death toll in the world from coronavirus currently, over the past three days has marginally overtaken Madrid in the rate of new deaths.

At the time of this report, the number of people dying from coronavirus in London doubles every five days with the Midlands following an identical trajectory.

The Sky News analysis looked at regions in countries worst hit by COVID-19 starting from the day of the 50th fatality for at least seven consecutive days.

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Other regions considered in our analysis includes Emilia-Romagna in Italy and Ticiano, the Italian-speaking region of southern Switzerland.

New Jersey, the second worst hit state in the US, has also become a region with one of the highest coronavirus fatality rates in the world after United States became the new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Donald Trump earlier warned that the US will reach a “horrific point” in terms of death rates after one of the country’s top doctors said the nation should brace for levels of tragedy reminiscent of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks.

It comes as nearly half the world’s population is under some form restriction as governments try to stop the spread of coronavirus and “flatten the curve” seen in the graphs above.

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Pakistan doctors treating coronavirus patients jailed for protesting lack of equipment

The Pakistani military promised Tuesday that dozens of doctors who were briefly jailed for taking to the streets in southwestern Baluchistan province to protest the lack of protective equipment to treat the growing number of coronavirus cases will get the equipment they need.

The 47 doctors protested in Quetta, the provincial capital, on Monday, when they were detained. They were released later the same day, according to provincial spokesman Liaquat Shahwani.

An army statement on Tuesday said the “emergency supplies of medical equipment, including PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are being dispatched to Quetta.”

However, some of the doctors said they were maltreated by the police and that some of their colleagues were beaten. The physicians declined to give their names, fearing reprisals.

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Two doctors have died after contracting the new virus in Pakistan, which has recorded 4,004 cases and 54 deaths. Many of the cases have been traced to pilgrims returning from neighbouring Iran. Pakistani authorities have imposed a countrywide lockdown until April 14.

Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that with active screening of such cases, there are expectations the virus and COVID-19, the illness it causes, can be brought under control by mid-May.

“With this step, we will go after people without symptoms,” said Namaki, adding this would require a large number of tests. He didn’t elaborate. The health ministry said searching for asymptomatic cases would be combined with restrictions on both city and intercity travel and quarantine.

Iran is facing the worst outbreak in the region. Iran’s state TV said Tuesday the new coronavirus has killed another 133 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,872 amid 62,589 confirmed cases.

The health ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said 27,039 people have recovered so far while 3,987 remain in critical condition.

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Coronavirus lockdown is nothing new for some Moscow residents

MOSCOW (Reuters) – For some elderly Moscow residents, the coronavirus lockdown has a familiar feel – they lived through something like it during a dramatic Soviet-era smallpox outbreak six decades ago.

That crisis, in 1960, was accompanied by emergency measures that were at times more draconian than this time round.

Moscow’s rail, road and air links with the rest of the country were partially suspended, and anyone who came into contact with an infected person was traced and quarantined.

“Immediately in Moscow a special headquarters was set up, which led the hunt for people who had been exposed,” Victor Zuev, 90, a laboratory worker at the time, told Reuters.

“Thousands of people were isolated … they were taken off trains, brought back from abroad,” said Zuev.

This time round, authorities are also tracing and quarantining people.

Smallpox, vanquished worldwide thanks to a vaccine, is a highly infectious disease with a mortality rate of 30%. The Soviet Union officially eradicated it in 1936, but a traveller brought it back to Moscow from India in the final days of 1959.

Self-isolating at home in Moscow now, Vladimir Petrosyan, son-in-law of the traveller who was patient zero, remembers the smallpox emergency.

Petrosyan, 80 and now a professor of chemistry, spent two months in compulsory isolation after contracting the disease.

He was quarantined in Moscow’s Infectious Diseases Hospital N.2. Today it is one of the city’s few centres where patients with the new coronavirus are isolated and treated.

“It was one enormous hall … beds were lined up one after another,” Petrosyan recalled. The hospital was surrounded by a police cordon.

Some Russians question official coronavirus data now. But back then, with Nikita Khrushchev in charge, there was no information.

“There were no announcements in the press, nor on the radio. As always, the government kept people in the dark,” Vladimir Golyakhovskiy, then a doctor at Moscow’s Botkin hospital, wrote in a 2006 memoir.

“So rumours spread around Moscow, each scarier than the last,” he added.

This time, with the official number of coronavirus cases in Moscow still relatively low compared to other European capitals, at 5,181, rumours of unreported cases have swirled online, prompting authorities to introduce penalties for spreading false information.

And whereas in 1960 life in Moscow continued much as normal, this time mayor Sergei Sobyanin has imposed a strict quarantine, shutting cafes and bars and telling residents to remain at home.


Smallpox was brought to Moscow in December 1959 by a sole carrier, а renowned painter of Soviet propaganda posters, Alexei Kokorekin. He had contracted it in India after visiting a city where funeral pyres were held, including of people who had died of the disease.

Petrosyan, who later married Kokorekin’s daughter, said he and his wife were at the artist’s bedside when he died that month.

“He was buried in a lead coffin, because they suspected he had some sort of infectious disease, but they did not know what,” Petrosyan recalled.

Petrosyan and Zuev told Reuters that Moscow’s way of dealing with the new coronavirus, focused on isolating patients and suspected carriers, echoed what was done in 1960.

But with one crucial difference: there was a vaccine against smallpox but there is none yet against COVID-19.

Within weeks of Kokorekin’s death, smallpox vaccines were shipped to Moscow from across the Soviet Union.

“The mass vaccination of 7 million who live or work in Moscow … was carried out in one week,” an article in the New York Times archive, from Feb. 3, 1960, reads.

Moscow’s 1960 smallpox outbreak caused three deaths. The capital’s new coronavirus outbreak has, according to official figures, led to 31, a figure that increases daily.

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Coronavirus: Boris Johnson is ‘a really strong guy’ and will pull through, says friend

A friend of Boris Johnson who worked with him when he was mayor of London says the prime minister is a “really, really strong guy” and “far fitter than he looks”.

Will Walden, who was Mr Johnson’s director of communications at City Hall, said the prime minister would beat COVID-19.

Mr Johnson is in intensive care in hospital after his symptoms worsened on Monday.

Mr Walden said: “He will whip anybody’s backside on a tennis court, he runs regularly, he doesn’t smoke, he drinks moderately.

“So I think if anyone is in a good position both physically and mentally to fight off the disease then the prime minister is that person.”

Mr Walden said he had been in touch with Mr Johnson a few times in the last few weeks and added: “I had a brief exchange with him last week in which I was more concerned about him being in isolation and what he said back to me was, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to beat it’.

“What he meant by that, which is typical of Boris, is we as a country will come together and beat this disease, rather than thinking about himself in regard to that – and that’s pretty typical of the man.”

Mr Walden told Sky News that Mr Johnson would be fighting to get better, but would be frustrated that he was not able to lead the national battle against COVID-19.

“He is strong, he will be concerned about the wider battle the country faces against this disease but he will also have been frustrated that he is in hospital.

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UK PM Johnson in intensive care, needed oxygen after COVID-19 symptoms worsened

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care on Tuesday after receiving oxygen support for serious COVID-19 complications while his foreign minister took over the helm of government as the outbreak accelerated.

The upheaval of Johnson’s personal battle with the virus has shaken the government just as the United Kingdom enters what scientists say will be the most deadly phase of the pandemic, which has killed 5,373 people in Britain and 70,000 worldwide.

Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital across the River Thames from the House of Commons late on Sunday after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature and a cough, for more than 10 days.

But his condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was on Monday moved to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated, in case he needed to be put on a ventilator. He was still conscious, his office said.

“He’s not on a ventilator, no,” Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told LBC radio on Tuesday. “The prime minister has received some oxygen support and he is kept under, of course, close supervision.”

“The prime minister is in intensive care,” Gove said. “He’s a man of great zest and appetite for life.”

But the absence of Johnson, the first leader of a major power to be hospitalised after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, at such a crucial time raised questions about who was truly in charge of the world’s fifth largest economy.

While Britain has no formal succession plan should a prime minister become incapacitated, Johnson asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, 46, to deputise for him “where necessary,” Downing Street said.

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Raab on Tuesday chaired the government’s COVID-19 emergency response meeting, though ministers refused to say who had ultimate control the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons – a role held by the prime minister.

“There are well developed protocols which are in place,” said Gove, who himself went into self isolation on Tuesday after a family member displayed symptoms.

Before he was rushed to intensive care, Johnson had said that he was in good spirits and Raab had told a news conference that Johnson was still running the government, although Raab also said he had not spoken to him directly since Saturday.

British leaders do not traditionally publicise the results of their medical examinations as some U.S. presidents including Donald Trump have.

Raab, the son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938, takes the helm at a pivotal time. Government scientists see the death toll rising until at least April 12 and Britain must ultimately decide when to lift the lockdown.

“The government’s business will continue,” said Raab, a staunch Brexit supporter who has served as foreign minister for less than a year.

Johnson’s move to intensive care added to the sense of upheaval that the coronavirus crisis has wrought after its spread caused widespread panic, sowed chaos through financial markets and prompted the virtual shutdown of the global economy.

The United Kingdom is in a state of virtual lockdown, a situation due to be reviewed early next week, and some ministers have suggested it might need to be extended because some people were flouting the strict rules.

The pound dipped in Asian trading on news of Johnson’s intensive care treatment but then rallied in London trading. Against the dollar, sterling traded to a high of $1.2349, up 0.9% on the session.


Even before coronavirus, Johnson had had a tumultuous year.

He won the top job in July 2019, renegotiated a Brexit deal with the European Union, fought a snap election in December which he won resoundingly and then led the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan 31 – promising to seal a Brexit trade deal by the end of this year.

The government has said it is not planning to seek an extension to that deadline in light of the epidemic.

Johnson has faced criticism for initially approving a much more modest response to the novel coronavirus outbreak than other major European leaders, though he then imposed a lockdown as projections showed half a million people could die.

He tested positive for the virus on March 26.

After 10 days of isolation in an apartment at Downing Street, he was admitted to hospital. He was last seen in a video message posted on Twitter on Friday when he looked weary.

Downing Street said repeatedly on Monday that Johnson remained in charge and was reading documents, but the move to intensive care revealed the gravity of his condition.

James Gill, a doctor and a clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School, said the news of Johnson’s admission to intensive care was “worrying” but not completely out of line with other people suffering complications.

“So far we have seen a deterioration in line with other cases of COVID-19 infections,” he said. “Admission to ITU is worrying news, (but) this is not all together uncommon with this disease, and may be looked at from a positive that the PM is getting the very best care that the NHS has to offer.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said all Americans were praying for his recovery, and other world leaders sent messages of support.

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Indonesia grants Jakarta more powers to tackle coronavirus outbreak

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia approved on Tuesday a request by the Jakarta administration to impose further large-scale social restrictions on the capital, the epicentre for novel coronavirus cases in the Southeast Asian country.

President Joko Widodo has focused on combating the spread of the disease through social distancing policies, but has resisted the tough lockdown measures adopted in many countries.

Official data shows the virus has infected 2,491 people in the world’s fourth most populous country and killed 209, though a low level of testing and data showing a spike in funerals in Jakarta indicates the toll could be higher. A large portion of Indonesia’s confirmed cases are in the city region.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto signed a central government order, which was reviewed by Reuters, giving approval for the Jakarta government to impose a range of social restrictions in the city region over the next two weeks, with state agencies helping to implement them.

The restrictions include limiting religious events, defence-related activities, socio-cultural activities, and the closing of schools and workplaces.

Jakarta had already shut schools and enacted some restriction measures after declaring a state of emergency that runs until April 19, but most are voluntary and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has pushed for a tougher response.

Pandu Riono, a public health expert at the University of Indonesia, said with some of the restrictions already in place “this is just a stamp that makes it look official.”

Governor Baswedan and his representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

There has been friction between the central and local governments on social distancing measures, with some regional leaders attempting to lock down their borders to stem the coronavirus spread.

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Hundreds of thousands of Jakarta residents have left in recent weeks for their home villages to find a safe haven, or after losing their jobs, officials said.

There are also growing fears that the annual exodus of tens of millions of people to homes across the archipelago for the Muslim Ramadan holiday would accelerate the outbreak.

Indonesia said last week it would give cash to poor families to persuade them to stay in Jakarta, but the government has rejected calls for a ban on the “mudik”, as the migration is called locally.

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Japan to issue record amount of extra bonds worth over 18 trln yen -sources

TOKYO, April 7 (Reuters) – Japan will sell a record amount of additional bonds, worth more than 18 trillion yen ($165 billion), to fund its coronavirus stimulus package, pushing overall market issuance beyond 147 trillion yen, two government sources with direct knowledge told Reuters.

The amount of extra bond issuance in the new fiscal year from April will exceed the previous record of 16.9 trillion yen issued during the 2009 global financial crisis, they said.

The sources were speaking on condition of anonymity because the debt issuance plan has not yet been finalised.

All the maturities, except for 40-year bonds, inflation-linked bonds and liquidity enhancement auctions, are subject to increase, they said.

While 40-year bonds and liquidity enhancement auctions remain unchanged from an initial plan, inflation-linked bonds will be cut by 1.2 trillion yen a year, they added.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to roll out a stimulus package worth 108 trillion yen ($990 billion), or a fifth the size of the economy, vowing to take “all steps” to combat deepening fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. ($1=108.8000 yen) (Reporting by Takaya Yamaguchi; Writing by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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