France's coronavirus death rate accelerates, cases near 100,000

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s coronavirus figures on Monday showed that the rate of increase in fatalities – now at almost 9,000 – sped up again after several days of slowing, while the increase in people needing intensive care continued to decelerate.

The total number of cases, combining hospital and nursing home statistics, increased by 5,171 over the last 24 hours to 98,010, meaning France will likely become the fifth country, after Italy, Spain, the United States and Germany, to cross the 100,000 threshold on Tuesday.

“The pandemic hasn’t stopped expanding. The figures prove it,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said, adding that the government had decided to mass screen nursing homes which account for about 27% of the total death toll.

“We must keep up our efforts as citizens by staying at home,” Veran added. Some health officials had suggested on Sunday that French people appeared to comply less strictly to the national lockdown than in other countries.

France started including data from nursing homes last Thursday, which partially explains why the official number of deaths has more than doubled since Wednesday.

The health ministry data showed that 605 people died from COVID-19 in hospitals in the last 24 hours – a new daily record – taking hospital fatalities to 6,494. The figure represented a 10% increase, up from 6% on Sunday and 9% on Saturday.

Nursing homes deaths also rose 10% to 2,417, bringing the total to 8,911, an increase of 10% on Sunday’s tally.

A total of 7,072 serious coronavirus cases were being treated in intensive care units, Veran added, a rise of just 1.3% from Sunday, giving the French health system small but much-needed relief.

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'We are at war': Kenya halts movement to areas worst hit by coronavirus

NAIROBI (Reuters) – President Uhuru Kenyatta barred movement into and out of Kenya’s four regions most affected by the new coronavirus on Monday, including the capital Nairobi.

His order tightens restrictions already in place to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 respiratory disease it causes. It applies for 21 days and also includes the port city of Mombasa and the counties of Kilifi and Kwale.

“We are at war and we must win,” Kenyatta said in a televised address. “We must make a stand here, before COVID-19 starts to spread out of control, and we must be ready to go even further if necessary.”

African countries were not among the first hit by COVID-19 but the number of confirmed cases has increased over the last month and there have been hundreds of deaths on the continent.

South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria’s largest city Lagos have all introduced strict measures limiting people’s movement to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

On Sunday, Madagascar extended containment orders for the capital Antananarivo and Toamasina for 15 days. The measures on the Indian Ocean Island suspended all public transport, imposed a daily curfew and closed government offices in the two cities.

Kenya Airports Authority said on Monday it was suspending domestic flights for 21 days at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and other local airports on the coast. Kenya Railways said on its Facebook page it was stopping its daily service between Nairobi and Mombasa.

Kenya, which has reported 158 coronavirus cases and six deaths, had already limited flights in and out of the country.

On Monday, Kenyatta also ordered Kenyans to wear masks while in public.

“This virus is unforgiving and its rate of growth, if not arrested, is exponential,” he said.

Kenyatta said a majority of the COVID-19 cases in Kenya – East Africa’s richest economy – were residents of Nairobi and the country’s coastal strip, and the new restrictions on movement were intended to prevent the virus spreading to other parts of the country.

Movement of food supplies and other cargo will continue as normal, Kenyatta said.

Restrictions already in place, including the daily nightly dusk-till-dawn curfew for the entire country, will continue, he said.

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UK's plan B if 'Team Johnson' is incapacitated? Answer is unclear

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s constitution offers no clear answer to the question now on many Britons’ minds: what happens if Prime Minister Boris Johnson, undergoing tests in hospital after persistent symptoms of coronavirus, cannot continue to lead.

Johnson was admitted to hospital on Sunday for what he said were “routine tests” after still struggling with a cough and a high temperature 10 days after he tested positive for the virus.

His office said he would remain in charge of government, just as he had since he went into self-isolation in his Downing Street residence on March 27. He continues to receive his ministerial box of government documents.

Downing Street has said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who also holds the title First Secretary of State, would deputise for Johnson if necessary. Raab chaired the government’s emergency daily COVID-19 meeting on Monday and will continue to do so while Johnson is in hospital.

“Raab should formally deputise for Johnson until he is back to his normal swashbuckling self,” said Paul Goodman, editor of the ConservativeHome website influential in Johnson’s party.

But Britain’s constitution — an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents — offers no clear, formal “Plan B” or succession scenario, experts said.

“We’ve not been in that kind of situation, we’ve not had to think about it from that point of view before,” Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, told Reuters soon after Johnson was first diagnosed.

Other senior figures have also gone into isolation with confirmed or suspected cases. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who tested positive at the same time as Johnson but had milder symptoms, has recovered and has led some government news briefings on the outbreak.

There is no guidance in the Cabinet Manual, which sets out the rules and conventions for the running of government, on precisely what to do should the prime minister and other senior figures become incapacitated.


In June 1953, then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill suffered a stroke while in office. His illness was kept so secret that some senior ministers were unaware. Churchill surprised doctors by recovering to carry on his duties, returning to Downing Street and running the cabinet two months later.

More recently, Tony Blair twice underwent treatment for a heart condition while prime minister in the early 2000s, each time briefly cutting back on his workload for a couple of days.

Officials said that if Blair were to have been incapacitated, his then-deputy John Prescott would have taken over until a new leader was elected.

Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service from January 2012 to September 2014, said Johnson’s role was crucial at this time, stressing that visible leadership was essential.

Kerslake, speaking to Sky News last month after Johnson tested positive, said officials would need to know what would happen if senior ministers were unable to do their jobs. Losing Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who coordinates policy across government, would be a serious blow, Kerslake said.

Haddon from the Institute for Government said some powers were specifically vested in cabinet ministers, so there was an issue of what happened if they were unavailable.

“If you got to a stage where … you had secretaries of state who aren’t able to perform their functions, then there are question marks about whether junior ministers in their department act on their behalf,” she said.

One lawmaker in Johnson’s party, who has repeatedly tried to bring in a law to formalise who would replace a prime minister in the event of incapacity, said last month that no one seemed to know what would happen.

“In a national emergency, you don’t want to be scrabbling around worrying about who’s in charge,” Peter Bone told the Mirror newspaper.

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Canada, U.S. farms face crop losses due to foreign worker delays

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Mandatory coronavirus quarantines of seasonal foreign workers in Canada could hurt that country’s fruit and vegetable output this year, and travel problems related to the pandemic could also leave U.S. farmers with fewer workers than usual.

Foreign labor is critical to farm production in both countries, where domestic workers shun the hard physical labor and low pay.

In Canada, where farms rely on 60,000 temporary foreign workers, their arrivals are delayed by initial border restrictions and grounded flights. Once they arrive, the federal government requires them to be isolated for 14 days with pay, unable to work.

In the United States, nearly 250,000 foreign guest workers, mostly from Mexico, help harvest fruit and vegetables each year. The State Department is processing H-2A visas for farm workers with reduced staffing, though some companies are still having a hard time getting workers in on time.

Ontario farmer Mike Chromczak said he was afraid he might be unable to harvest his asparagus crop next month unless his 28 Jamaican workers start arriving by mid-April.

“It would be well over 50% of our farm’s revenue” lost, Chromczak said. “But I see it as a much bigger issue than me. This is a matter of food security for our country.”

Steve Bamford’s 35 Caribbean workers are just starting to trickle in to his Ontario apple orchards. Then they are isolated and paid for 40 hours per week during that period without touching a tree. Pruning work, a critical step to maximize yields, is now overdue.

“It’s an extreme cost. You don’t plan on bringing people in and not work for two weeks,” Bamford said.

Some Canadian farmers expect to reap smaller fruit and vegetable harvests this year if foreign labor is not available soon, said Scott Ross, director of farm policy at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

In the United States, “delays are potentially very hazardous to farmers who were counting on that workforce to show up at an exact period of time to harvest a perishable crop,” said Dave Puglia, CEO of Western Growers Association, which represents fruit and vegetable companies in states like California and Arizona.

He said workers in the United States do not have to wait 14 days before they start working, although more efforts are being made to space workers out on the farms.

Dannia Sanchez, president of D & J and Sons Harvesting in Florida, is awaiting approval to bring in some 200 temporary agriculture workers, while blueberries in Florida ripen and Michigan asparagus nears harvest.

Abad Hernandez Cruz, a Mexican farmworker harvesting onions in Georgia, said he is working 12 or more hours a day.

“A lot of people are missing,” he said, referring to farmworkers whose visas weren’t approved after the United States scaled back some consular activities in response to coronavirus.

“If the farm doesn’t produce, the city doesn’t eat.”

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Oil skids on oversupply fears, U.S. stock futures jump

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Oil prices skidded on Monday after Saudi-Russian output discussions showed no immediate signs of progress while U.S. stock futures jumped as investors were encouraged by a slowdown in coronavirus-related deaths and new cases.

Sterling GBP= fell after British Prime Minister was admitted to hospital following persistent coronavirus symptoms as the pandemic rapidly spreads.

Brent crude LCOc1 fell as much as $3 in early Asian trading after Saudi Arabia and Russia postponed a meeting over a potential pact to cut production to Thursday.

Analysts said the news could lead to some sell-off in currency markets too.

Also weighing on the pound were fears other senior government officials who were in the same briefing as Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be affected by the virus, said Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments in Toronto, Canada.

The pound fell 0.4% in early trade on Monday in a knee-jerk reaction and was last down 0.3% at $1.2222.

The U.S. dollar was up a touch against the yen at 108.58.

Equity investors were looking at the positives though.

U.S. stock futures ESc1 jumped more than 1.5% in early Asian trading on Monday after U.S. President Donald Trump expressed hope the country was seeing a “levelling off” of the coronavirus crisis.

The gains came despite New York Governor Andrew Cuomo cautioning that it was not yet clear whether the crisis in the state had reached a plateau.

Australian YAPcm1 and Nikkei NKc1 futures also pointed to gains.

Investors took solace from the fact that COVID-19 cases also appeared to be reaching a peak in Europe with Italy seeing the number of patients in intensive care falling for the second consecutive day.

“Focus in markets will now turn to the path out of lockdown and to what extent containment measures can be lifted without risking a second wave of infections,” National Australia Bank analyst Tapas Strickland wrote in a note.

“Key to a strong rebound in China will be the ongoing lifting of containment measures with Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak – set to lift containment measures on April 8.”

Strickland, however, noted many in China were still subject to social distancing and isolation restrictions to prevent a resurgence in infections.

The pandemic has claimed more than 64,000 deaths as it further exploded in the United States and the death toll climbed in Spain and Italy, according to a Reuters tally.

Concerns about heavy damage to the global economy have pushed investors into the perceived safety of government bonds.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 slipped 6.2%, or $2.13, to $31.98 a barrel while U.S. crude CLc1 dived 7.4%, or $2.12, to $26.12.

Spot gold XAU= was down 0.2% at $1,612.9 an ounce.

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Exclusive: Silver Lake to seek more than $16 billion for buyout fund – sources

(Reuters) – Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners is preparing to seek at least $16 billion from investors for its sixth flagship buyout fund, braving the economic uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak, according to people familiar with the matter.

Investing the money raised in the coming months could allow Silver Lake to snap up companies at depressed valuations, given the pandemic’s impact on the global economy, including the technology and media sectors that the private equity firm focuses on, the sources said.

Buyout funds typically return money to investors three to seven years following their fundraising, long after this pandemic is expected to have subsided. Nevertheless, concerns among institutional investors, such as public pension funds and insurance firms, about their liquidity amid the market turmoil will make Silver Lake’s fundraising a key test of buyout firms’ ability to fundraise during the crisis.

Silver Lake is preparing to start raising the new fund, Silver Lake Partners VI, in the second quarter, amassing between $16 billion to $18 billion, said the sources, who cautioned that the plans are still subject to change.

The sources declined to be identified because the preparations are confidential. Silver Lake declined to comment.

Last year, Blackstone Group Inc (BX.N), the world’s largest private equity firm, raised a $26 billion flagship buyout fund while Vista Equity Partners Management LLC raised $16 billion from investors for its seventh technology buyout fund. CVC Capital Partners Ltd is also raising up to 20 billion euros ($21.63 billion) for its latest buyout fund, which is expected to be the largest ever fund raised in Europe.

More than half a trillion dollars flowed into technology-focused buyout funds, including Silver Lake, between 2008 and 2018, according to data provider Preqin, helping to support dealmaking among companies in software, social media, and cybersecurity.

Silver Lake has $43 billion in assets under management, and its portfolio of companies includes social media firm Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), computer hardware maker Dell Technologies Inc (DELL.N), and movie theater chain AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc (AMC.N), according to its website.

Silver Lake raised $15 billion from investors in 2017 for its fifth buyout fund. That fund had an initial target of $12.5 billion, and as of the end of December 2018 had delivered an internal rate of return (IRR) of 11%, according to the website of Minnesota State Board of Investment, one of Silver Lake’s investors.

The prior $10.3 billion fund, Silver Lake Partners IV, had delivered an IRR of 24.4% as of the end of December, according to the Minnesota State Board of Investment. By comparison, the Minnesota State Board of Investment’s entire private equity portfolio delivered an IRR of 12.5%.

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Turkey to curb some troop movement in Syria as coronavirus cases jump

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Sunday it would minimise its troop movements in operation zones in neighbouring Syria in response to the coronavirus outbreak as the Turkish death toll and infections in the country rose.

Turkey’s death toll from the COVID-19 disease has risen by 73 to 574 in the last 24 hours, with new confirmed cases jumping by 3,135 to total 27,069, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Turkey, which is ninth globally here in coronavirus cases, has curbed much social movement, mostly sealed its borders and shuttered businesses. In the latest step, the defence ministry said it had set up a new unit to battle the spread of the disease.

Troops deployed in Syria will now enter and exit operation areas only with the permission of the head of the army, the ministry said. “Thus, the movement of staff and troops is minimized, unless it is mandatory,” it added.

Turkey’s military backs Syrian rebels in the northwestern Idlib region where it ramped up a deployment earlier this year. Fighting has calmed since Ankara agreed a ceasefire with Moscow, which backs Syrian government forces, a month ago.

In Idlib, where about a million people have been displaced by the conflict in recent months, doctors fear the worst if the coronavirus hits, given hospitals lie in ruins and camps overflow with people devastated by nine years of war.

Turkey’s defence ministry said doctors had been sent to operation areas in part to conduct training related to the severe respiratory disease. The Turkish military also oversees Syrian border regions to the east of Idlib.

At home, Turkey’s outbreak has surged in the last few weeks, with new cases climbing daily. On Friday the government issued a stay-at-home order for most Turks under 20, on top of the existing order for over-65s, plus one for mandatory mask use in crowded public places, shops and workplaces.

On Sunday, the government said residents could apply online for five free masks per week delivered via the post.

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Singapore reports 120 new coronavirus cases in record daily jump

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s health ministry on Sunday confirmed 120 more coronavirus cases, the most new infections reported in a single day for the city-state.

The number of new cases is a 60% increase over the 75 reported on Saturday, which was the previous biggest rise. Singapore has reported a total of 1,309 infections and suffered six deaths from the global pandemic.

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Lebanese stranded abroad by coronavirus outbreak return home

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Several flights carrying Lebanese stranded abroad by coronavirus lockdowns began arriving in Beirut on Sunday, part of a trial run to see whether thousands looking to come home can be safely repatriated without worsening the country’s outbreak.

Their return became a charged issue after powerful parliament speaker Nabih Berri threatened to suspend support for the government if it did not act quickly and other top figures urged immediate action.

Lebanon’s crippling financial crisis including tight capital controls has complicated the plight of Lebanese stuck abroad, with tough restrictions on accessing cash. The government has pledged to help ease bank transfers for students overseas.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, speaking to reporters at Beirut international airport on Sunday, said about 21,000 Lebanese had registered for flights back to Lebanon.

Four flights on Sunday, from Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan, will return about 400 passengers, according to airport sources. They will be tested for coronavirus at the airport and quarantined at hotels while awaiting results.

“Hopefully this cloud, the cloud that is the health situation with corona, passes quickly and infections are minimal for Lebanese whether at home or abroad,” said Diab.

Lebanon has recorded 527 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths. Health officials warn that many facilities are ill-equipped to take on a major outbreak of the pandemic amid a months-long dollar shortage that has disrupted supply chains.

Lebanon said on Sunday it was tightening lockdown measures further to contain viral contagion, restricting the movement of cars, trucks and motorcycles to three assigned days per week. It has also shut most businesses and imposed an overnight curfew.

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Malaysia intercepts boat ferrying 202 suspected Rohingya

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian authorities said on Sunday they had intercepted a boat ferrying a group of 202 people believed to be ethnic Rohingya.

Malaysia, which does not recognize refugee status, is a favored destination for ethnic Rohingya fleeing a military-led crackdown in Myanmar and squalid conditions at refugee camps in Bangladesh.

The boat was found adrift around one nautical mile from a luxury beachside resort on the holiday island of Langkawi, off the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula, the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency said in a statement.

The group included 152 men, 45 women and 5 children. All 202 have been detained at the coastguard’s Kedah state headquarters.

The group will be handed over to immigration authorities for attempting to enter the country illegally, the coastguard said.

The agency said it would also investigate complaints from the migrants about three alleged members of a migrant smuggling syndicate who escaped from the boat while out at sea.

In February, at least 15 Rohingya refugees died when a vessel carrying about 130 people capsized in the Bay of Bengal while trying to reach Malaysia.

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