No sugar-coating: Trump changes tack on coronavirus

There was no sugar-coating it this time. No optimistic talk of miracle cures or Easter-time business re-openings.

There was just the cold, hard reality of the facts on the ground.

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” a grave-faced Donald Trump said in his Tuesday afternoon press conference.

“This is going to be a very, very painful two weeks.”

How painful? When the president was asked how many Americans are currently projected to die from the virus given even the current mitigation efforts, he said it was better if his medical experts responded.

The number of deaths, based on current projections, is between 100,000 and 200,000. On 15 April, for instance, 2,214 Americans are expected to die.

“No-one is denying that we’re going through a very, very difficult time,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “That’s what it is.”

The president tried to frame this news as best he could, noting that the projections for US casualties if the government had done nothing were in the millions.

“A lot of people were saying think of it as the flu, but it’s not the flu,” he said. “It’s vicious.”

Of course, it was just a week ago the president himself was making exactly such comparisons, noting that the early fatality numbers were much less than those from the flu or even automobile accidents.

“We lose thousands of people a year to the flu,” he said then. “We never turn the country off.”

Now, however, the seriousness of the situation has hit home.

He spoke of checking in on a friend who was in the hospital with the virus – “a little older, and he’s heavy, but he’s tough person” – only to find out he was now in a coma.

“I spoke to some of my friends, and they can’t believe what they’re seeing,” he said.

Mr Trump’s change of attitude also extended to some of his recent political feuds.

Just days after attacking Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, mocking her name and calling her incompetent on Twitter, the president said he had a “really great conversation” with her and detailed the support the federal government was providing her state.

Last Friday, he had suggested that if state leaders were not “appreciative” of him, he wouldn’t talk to them.

On Tuesday, he recounted conversations with Democratic governors in California and Louisiana.

The new call from the White House was to continue the current mitigation efforts for an additional 30 days; that even if things go from bad to worse in the weeks to come, the efforts will pay off.

It will, however, be a long, slow grind.

“There’s no magic bullet,” said Dr Deborah Birx, one of the experts on the US taskforce,.

“There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. Just behaviours,” she said.

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Sweden offers lifeline to grounded airline workers with vital COVID 19 hospital role

The crew from crisis hit airline SAS are taking a three day course in general hospital practice. Out-of-work crew are hoping to help the Swedish healthcare system meet the demand of thousands of coronavirus cases.

SAS is partially owned by the Swedish and Danish governments.

The airline has temporarily laid off 10,000 to cut costs from the loss of air travel amid the pandemic.

That equals 90 percent of the airlines workforce, who are now seeking other employment for the time being.

Flights around the world have been mostly grounded due to border closures attempting to curb the virus’ spread.

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Stockholm’s healthcare system is in desperate need of reinforcements for medical staff.

Sophiahemmet University Hospital has reached out to former cabin crew, offering to teach them general hospital working skills.

These involve sterilising equipment, making hospital beds and providing medical information to patients and relatives.

The intensive course teaches furloughed workers all the skills needed in three days.

The first students are due to complete the course on Thursday.

Johanna Adami, principal at the University, has said the response has been overwhelming.

She said: “We now have a long, long list of healthcare providers that are just waiting for them.

“They have basic healthcare education from their work.

“They are also very experienced to be flexible and think about security and also to handle complicated situations.”

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According to the principal, hospitals and nursing homes are desperate to employ the newly trained staff.

Currently the hospital are predicted to create 300 new healthcare workers.

Adami said that airline staff are well suited to the retraining, and have basic experience from their previous work.

Airlines in Australia and the US have enquired about the hospitals training methods.

Sweden has 4,435 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday evening.

Of that number, 180 have died after contracting the virus.

The Swedish government has come under fire for not introducing lockdown measures.

Prime Minster Stefan Löfven addressed the nation on the 22nd of March, saying: “We who are adults need to be exactly that: adults. Not spread panic or rumours.”

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Coronavirus: Manitoba courts prepared for backlog, experimenting with new technology

Manitoba’s court system has made several changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including adjourning several cases and limiting access to the courthouse, but the Chief Justice and Chief Judge say they are doing their best to overcome the obstacles.

Many less urgent cases have been adjourned and jury trials have been cancelled until the end of June.

Chief Justice Glenn D. Joyal said the Court of Queen’s Bench is prioritizing cases in areas including family law, child protection, criminal law and civil litigation.

“In the area of child protection, we obviously want to ensure to the extent that we can we prioritize those motions and applications that need to be prioritized.”

Chief Justice Joyal said he’s also bracing for possible new disputes that may arise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have to be dealt with in a timely manner.

“You may have in some situations a government in good faith passing an important piece of legislation, but that legislation is nonetheless challenged because of the implications for what somebody, a litigate, might think are potential compromises to his or her or other civil liberties,” Chief Justice Joyal said.

The Provincial Court is operating similar to the Court of Queen’s Bench, where non-urgent matters have been adjourned.

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Chief Judge Margaret Wiebe said the urgent cases that are being heard, which include in custody cases and protection orders, are utilizing technology to practice physical distancing.

“We have gone to great lengths to focus on having hearings by video and by telephone appearances,” she said.

“Many counsel are not coming to the courthouse. We are having clerks text them before their matter comes up so that they do know their matter is appearing; they can call into telephone lines which have been put into each of the courtrooms.

“We are focusing on video, we are not transporting people unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Given the number of matters that have been adjourned, Chief Judge Wiebe estimates it could take up to a year and a half for the Provincial Court to catch up once the pandemic is over.

“I think it’s going to be difficult for us to catch up with the volume, particularly that we have in this court, any sooner than 18 months or so,” she said.

“That is a guess; maybe we can do it faster.”

Chief Justice Joyal is aiming to catch up in the summer months, if the spread of COVID-19 levels off in Manitoba by then.

Cases can also be thrown out if a judge finds the defendant’s constitutional right to a timely trial had been violated under the Jordan decision.

“I can’t telegraph or anticipate what court rulings will be,” Chief Justice Joyal said. “The Jordan case also, I think, allows for contextualization of situations and circumstances and this is a circumstance like no other.”

Going forward, Chief Justice Joyal is hoping to gain valuable lessons from this experience which has forced unprecedented changes on the court system. He said the court system could carry on with some of the technology introduced during the pandemic, while balancing public access.

“We’re learning in different areas how we might not only improve the system in good times, but how we can maybe anticipate and guard against inconvenience in bad times.”

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Ontario elementary teachers get salary, benefits boosts in tentative contract deal

TORONTO – Ontario’s elementary teachers have agreed to salary increases of one per cent a year for three years, but will get higher benefit increases than the government originally sought.

The Canadian Press has obtained a memo of highlights that the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario sent to its members about the tentative contract deal it recently reached with the provincial government.

The government had previously said it would not budge beyond an offer to increase both wages and benefits by one per cent per year, but ETFO secured four per cent annual increases to benefits.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce had also wanted concessions on a regulation that dictates seniority-based hiring, but while the agreement doesn’t come with any such concessions, it also doesn’t come with guarantees that the government can’t make changes to it.

The agreement also contains a Support for Students fund, which ETFO says will create about 434 teacher positions, meant to address areas such as special education, English language learners, and mental-health initiatives.

The government has also made a “binding, enforceable” commitment in writing to maintain the current full-day kindergarten structure, with one teacher and one early childhood educator.

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LA gun stores reopen, deemed ‘essential’ business

Los Angeles County is reopening gun shops to the public after a federal memo listed them as “essential” businesses.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva closed shops last week, but reversed course on Monday, following the guidance.

The LA county closures had prompted a lawsuit from gun rights groups.

The change comes amid a national dispute over whether gun access is critical amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The federal guidance issued on 28 March classified munitions makers and sellers as “essential critical infrastructure workers”.

Mr Villanueva said that though the memo was non-binding, it has national scope and he would therefore open shops closed last week.

Please see my statement regarding clarification on essential businesses during the #Covid19 Crisis: #LASD #FlattenTheCurve #SheriffV pic.twitter.com/tJSMyQrGDo

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Previously, Mr Villanueva had told gun shops to close in the nation’s most populous county, as long queues due to panic-buying posed health risks.

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, who issued a state-wide stay at home order to combat the spread of Covid-19 earlier this month, has said each of the state’s counties may determine whether firearm stores, like groceries and pharmacies, were essential businesses permitted to remain open.

The state has seen over 130 deaths due to the novel coronavirus. The US currently has over 164,000 confirmed cases.

An order was issued closing gun stop to the public, but dealers could continue to do business with police, security companies and some residents who had not yet collected their previously purchased firearms.

The National Rifle Association – one of the most powerful gun lobby groups in the US – and other pro-gun groups filed a federal lawsuit against California officials on Friday over store closures. The mandatory closures violated the US Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, the suit said.

Gun control groups have argued keeping these shops open is not safe in a pandemic.

Across the nation, Covid-19 has caused a rise in firearm sales, including from many first-time buyers, local media report. States have taken different approaches to gun access amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The Texas attorney general has deemed gun shops essential businesses protected by the Second Amendment, but New Jersey has restricted business to appointment-only sales during limited hours.

Pennsylvania residents may also continue to buy firearms as long as they abide by social distancing guidelines.

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4 charged in central Alberta ATM theft, police pursuit: RCMP

RCMP say four people were arrested after a robbery at a central Alberta gas station that resulted in a police pursuit.

In a Monday news release, RCMP said officers were called to a Fas Gas location in Two Hills at around 4 a.m. on March 28 for reports of a robbery.

According to RCMP, a truck was used to gain entry into the gas station. Suspects then used a tow strap to pull out an ATM, police allege.

Along with the ATM, police say several other items were also stolen.

Police say one man was assaulted during the incident and suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

“Two Hills RCMP responded — and with the assistance from St. Paul RCMP — located the truck driving northbound on Highway 36,” RCMP said. “A pursuit was initiated, and the vehicle came to a stop on a road in Saddle Lake.”

RCMP say they were able to recover the ATM, a cash register and several other stolen items.

They allege the truck used in the incident was stolen from St. Paul on March 26.

Four people are facing charges, including 18-year-old Sheldon Bull and 19-year-old Timothy Favel, both of Saddle Lake, and two 15-year-olds who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The town of Two Hills is located approximately 137 kilometres east of Edmonton.

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Coronavirus will ‘change the world’ and Brussels will NOT survive, predicts French MP

“The health crisis we are all living through is one of major severity and scope,” M Bayrou, president of the Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem) party and mayor of the south-western city of Pau, told newspaper Le Figaro. He said: “The risk of social explosion is real. No crisis comes without major shake-ups or violence. But this tragedy will change our view of the world.

“We have learned that we are all ultimately one humanity threatened by a single epidemic, and that our method of organisation has made us weaker.”

The post-coronavirus period will be “very long,” M Bayrou continued, adding the pandemic would trigger an “unprecedented economic, social, and maybe even democratic crisis.”  

“A new world must emerge from this enormous upheaval,” he said, as he stressed the importance of solidarity between European states in times of crisis.

The Brussels bloc “will not survive this crisis without solidarity,” the French centrist noted.  

His comments echoed those made by France’s European Affairs Minister Amélie de Montchalin later on Sunday, who said that the EU’s response to the outbreak would determine its credibility and utility.

“If Europe is just a single market when times are good, then it has no sense,” Mme de Montchalin told France Inter radio.
 
“Our Europe is one of action, one of solidarity, and if certain countries see otherwise, well then the question of their place will raise itself, as will what the union should be doing as a group of 27,” she continued. “The crisis raises existential questions for Europe.”

The EU has so far failed to agree on measures to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic.

The bloc’s divisions were exposed after leaders hit an impasse on Thursday over how to minimise the economic damage and prepare for an eventual recovery, with the poorer south angered by the reluctance of the richer north to offer more support.

Germany and the Netherlands strongly opposed a push by Italy, Spain, Portugal and France to issue joint ‘corona’ bonds to help finance an economic stimulus. They also locked horns over the sharing of medical equipment and border controls.

Mme de Montchalin, for her part, warned there would be no economic rebound in Germany and the Netherlands if the rest of Europe remained sick.

However, she cited a decision by Germany and others to take in seriously ill French coronavirus patients and relieve pressure on France’s healthcare system as proof that solidarity between EU states still exists.

Europe is the continent worst hit by the epidemic that arrived from China earlier this year, with more than 20,000 deaths.

Over 738,500 people have been infected across more than 170 countries and regions and about 35,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally published on Monday. 

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The grim crisis in Europe’s care homes

Deaths can be invisible, coffins are hard to hide.

Outside the Rothschild care home in Paris, a delivery van pulls up to unload its pale wooden cargo, still wrapped in factory plastic.

A delivery man tells one waiting journalist, it is “non-stop”.

The gates of the care home are firmly shut. Sixteen people have died here from suspected coronavirus, another 80 are infected.

Shuttered from the outside world

More than a third of care homes in the Paris region alone are thought to have been affected by coronavirus. But while hospital deaths are recorded in the daily toll of coronavirus, deaths in care homes are not.

Alexandre Sanner works as a doctor for another care home, in Vosges, in the east of France, where at least 20 people have died.

“There was a cluster of about fifty people with fever, followed by severe pneumonia,” he said. “At the height of the epidemic here, there must have been 25 or 30 patients on oxygen.”

Few of the cases in France’s retirement homes are ever tested for the virus, once an initial outbreak has been confirmed. But day after day, stories are emerging of double-digit death tolls inside these institutions, now virtually shuttered from the outside world.

As Italy and Spain have so far seen Europe’s biggest and deadliest outbreaks, so have the elderly in care homes borne the most painful brunt, enveloped by twin crises of mass infection and staffing shortages.

In Italy, hundreds of deaths have been reported in residential homes in Bergamo in the north, while 83 elderly residents went without food at a home for two days in the south because staff had to go into quarantine.

Alarm at runaway death rates in Spain’s care homes was first raised at Madrid’s Monte Hermoso centre, where at least 20 died from coronavirus. Military units were dispatched to care homes around the country, offering emergency assistance and disinfecting more than 1,300 centres.

The arrival of authorities often comes too late. Twenty-three people were found dead in another Madrid residence, including two of the nuns who provided care.

In a home in Alcoi, near Alicante, 26 out of 130 residents died. More than 1,600 residents of care homes died in the first four weeks of March, with more than half believed to have fallen victim to Covid-19.

Relatives express anger at the lack of information about the outbreaks, while workers explain that already insufficient staffing levels and a lack of protective clothing quickly lead to a state of collapse as carers come down with the virus and have to self-isolate.

France is launching a new app to count coronavirus cases inside care homes, and include them in its national totals. France’s most senior health official has said that numbers could spiral as a result.

The speed of this epidemic has left the government racing to catch up.

‘There’s nothing we can do’

At the beginning of March, President Emmanuel Macron visited a care home to talk about protection from the virus. He was filmed sitting at a table, surrounded by elderly residents: no face-masks; no social distancing.

A few days later, all visits to France’s retirement homes were banned. And last week, the government said all residents should be individually isolated in their rooms.

But care workers say that they are now the biggest risk to residents.

We talked to one nurse, who wanted to be known just as “Carol”. She said that some homes had been keeping masks in reserve for a coronavirus outbreak, and not giving them to staff.

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And with many staff off sick or in isolation themselves, she says, the spread of this virus is very hard to control.

“As soon as the coronavirus enters a care home, it’s all over,” she told me.

“There’s nothing we can do. Since we don’t have enough staff, it’ll be dramatic. Once the virus enters the home, there’ll be a huge number of deaths.”

‘The fight has only just begun’

Space in hospital life-support units in the Paris region is now critically low and there are shortages of some drugs.

The health minister has said France will begin mass testing of its population, and has ordered a billion face-masks to protect healthcare staff.

The prime minister Edouard Philippe has extended the national quarantine for another two weeks.

“The fight has only just begun,” he said, warning that the first half of April would be “even more difficult” than the previous 15 days.

Every night, French residents stand at their open windows to applaud the country’s medical staff.

Solidarity with doctors, nurses and care-home workers is one thing. But polls suggest that trust in the government has plummeted, even before the wave of this epidemic has peaked.

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