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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Merkel left red faced as Italian MPs mention Nazi reparations in coronavirus support row

Angela Merkel was asked to consider the colossal debts racked up by Adolf Hitler’s evil war efforts some 81 years ago today. Rome has become infuriated with the German Chancellor after she helped block the creation of so-called “coronabonds”, a shared Eurozone debt mechanism to help prop up economies worst-affected by the global pandemic. In an open letter to the veteran leader, 12 Italian politicians, including the mayors of Venice and Bergamo, called on Mrs Merkel to reconsider her position.

“Currently the Netherlands are leading a group of countries, though, which resist this strategy, and Germany also seems to want to follow this group,” they wrote.

“The Netherlands are the one state, which has been evading taxes of the important European countries with its tax system for years. Our public budgets and the socially weak in our countries who have to pay the price for this. Those who are most affected by the crisis.

“The Dutch attitude is in every aspect an example of a lack of ethics and solidarity. But it was solidarity which was shown to you Germans after the war and until reunification by many European countries.”

The group were keen to remind Mrs Merkel that Hitler’s war machine run up debts of over €15 billion, in the Germany’s original deutsche mark currency.

They accused her of ignoring the generosity of Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, who have all voiced support for the creation of coronabonds, in halving the German debt in 1953.

“After 1945 the German debt had reached the amount of what was 29.7 billion deutsche mark,” the group wrote.

“Germany would never have been able to pay back the accumulated debt. In 1953 in London, 21 countries allowed for cutting the debt in half and the deferment of payments of the rest of the debt.

“This way German was able to avoid state bankruptcy. Italy is still proud and convinced of the correctness of the decision back then. And we repeat: with the eurobonds for the fight against coronavirus old debts are neither cancelled, nor shared.”

Despite the growing support for a joint Eurozone debt instrument, the single currency bloc’s bailout chief has warned it could take years to set up.

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Klaus Reglung, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, said any short-term lending programmes would have to come from existing structures.

He said if the goal is to cover short-term lending to bolster healthcare or support businesses “then I think the only way is to use existing institutions with existing instruments”.

He told the Financial Times it was possible to create a new bespoke EU institution if there were political agreement between European capitals.

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However, he added: “It would take one, two or three years, and member states have to come up with capital or guarantees, or assign future revenue.

“One cannot create bonds out of nothing.”

Eurogroup finance ministers are currently debating the plans, which are expected to be returned to leaders in the coming weeks.

Last week EU heads of state refused to sanction coronabonds and instead told officials to work on new plans to prop up the bloc’s ailing economy. 

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Opinion | Coronavirus Has Taught Us More About Trump Than We Wanted to Know

Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo has emerged as the anti-Trump.


By Gail Collins and Bret Stephens

Ms. Collins and Mr. Stephens are opinion columnists. They converse every week.

Bret Stephens: Gail, I’m having a weird disconnect. On Friday, I rode my bike all the way up to the George Washington Bridge. The weather was perfect and New York had never looked so glorious. The next day, which was dank and rainy, Donald Trump raised the possibility of quarantining New York, along with parts of the tristate area.

I experience this presidency as a cross between Stephen King’s “It” and “The Truman Show.” Nonetheless, Donald Trump’s popularity is rising. What gives?

Gail Collins: I still adhere to the rule that there is no situation so bad that Donald Trump can’t make it worse.

Bret: If he had been the designer of the Titanic, there would have been fewer lifeboats.

Gail: Or his minions would have forgotten to check for holes.

But even as we’re seeing him flounder, people want to believe they have a leader who knows what he’s doing in this crisis. So it’s not surprising his polls have ticked up.

Although actually Trump’s popularity hasn’t risen all that much considering the intensity of the situation. Certainly nothing compared to what we saw with George W. Bush after 9/11.

Bret: Not a perfect comparison. You can fault George W. Bush in any number of ways, but he did not spend the months before 9/11 repeatedly telling the public that there was absolutely no threat of a terrorist attack on our soil or boasting that he had it all under control, or claiming Osama bin Laden was a liberal hoax to delegitimize his presidency and wreck the economy.

Gail: Excellent point.

Bret: The inability of so much of the public to remember what Trump was saying just a month ago suggests that, in addition to the coronavirus crisis, we’re also experiencing a national amnesia pandemic.

Gail: Maybe it’s just national attention deficit disorder. People do hit a point where they just can’t cope with coronavirus discussions 24-7.

Hey, maybe as a public service we should briefly change the subject. Have you heard there’s a race for the Democratic presidential nomination?

Bret: Could we have a do-over? Watching Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences in recent weeks, I find myself fantasizing about the New York governor becoming the party’s nominee. Your thoughts?

Gail: Cuomo has an, um, forceful personality. Perfect for the present moment, when he can represent the frightened, beleaguered public. Joe Biden got to be the likely Democratic presidential nominee with the exact opposite aura — the candidate who didn’t drive a large chunk of the voting public nuts.

Bret: Fair point, and if the pandemic is behind us by Election Day, maybe Cuomo’s style won’t wear as well, just as Rudy Giuliani’s wore thin a few years after 9/11. But for the time being, Cuomo is playing the part of the president we wish we had — compassionate, well-informed, firm, but also flexibly responding to changing conditions — as opposed to the irascible, ignorant and self-infatuated president we do have.

Gail: No question Cuomo’s the hero in that pairing. And you could certainly sell tickets to the debate.

Bret: Biden is like the guy in the audience raising his hand and hoping the moderator calls on him. I fear this is an inauspicious beginning for the general election.

Gail: I’m not going to argue that Biden has been a stirring presence. But I was listening to him on TV the other night, and he was pretty clear in what he thought should be happening, policy-wise.

The moments when he really makes contact, though, are the personal ones — talking about having get-togethers with his grandkids where Biden and his wife sit on the porch while the kids sit a distance away on the lawn. Hard to imagine Donald Trump sitting still for that.

And of course Biden relates so intensely to what the country’s going through because of his own history of family tragedies.

Bret: Those of us in lockdown nation definitely could use an empathizer-in-chief. I just went back and looked at the clip of Biden’s interview on CNN, when he spoke about his own extensive experience of tragedy and grief. It was moving and real, the candidate at his best.

Gail: This is not the moment to have a leader whose most stirring emotional experience was firing people on reality TV.

Bret: But here’s my fear: the Biden campaign reminds me a bit of John McCain’s 2008 campaign — minus the Sarah Palin part, of course. McCain started off as the presumptive front-runner, then nearly ran out of gas before making a miraculous primary comeback. But then his campaign sorta just flatlined. In the meantime, he ran as the candidate of character and personal biography, not energy, ideas, and hope. And he got crushed as the country went through the crucible of the 2008 financial crisis.

Gail: I was covering McCain when he crashed and burned. Once the national focus switched over to the economic crisis, he was just sort of lost. He and Barack Obama were at a big bipartisan meeting on what to do next, and McCain didn’t seem to have a clue.

Biden’s not like that. He isn’t a personality-personal-history candidate; he’s a former-vice-president-who-knows-how-the-system-works candidate.

Bret: If Biden is going to make himself more relevant to the moment, I think he needs to do more than emphasize his command of bureaucracy or his experience of personal tragedy. He’s going to need to reintroduce voters to the “Scranton Joe” side of his biography. One reason I suspect Trump is benefiting politically from the pandemic is that he’s been talking about minimizing the economic fallout and getting the country back to work. That might be irresponsible from a medical and epidemiological point of view. But it resonates with millions of Americans, especially small business owners and their employees faced with complete financial ruin if the shutdowns carry on for months. Biden needs to compete with those voters, particularly those in must-win states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Gail: How are you feeling about the shutdowns? As it stands now, it’s easy to imagine them going on for months.

Even if New York does hit its peak in April, as the experts are now predicting, it’ll be summer before we’re really back to normalcy. And even then the virus will probably be wreaking havoc in other parts of the country where the contagion started later.

Bret: I’m not averse to the kinds of shutdowns that have been imposed so far, especially in dense urban areas where the risk of mass contagion is so high. I’m not averse to extending them by another three weeks, either, as Trump did over the weekend. We’ve got an urgent health crisis and critical shortages of essential medical equipment, particularly ventilators, so buying some time makes sense.

On the other hand, the idea of a much longer nationwide shutdown strikes me as no less dangerous, potentially more so. The economic damage would be monumental, beyond anything in the power of the government to fix. It runs the risk of creating a secondary health crisis in terms of depression, isolation, suicide, addiction and so on. And even then the virus is going to continue to run its course until we’ve found a vaccine or at least more effective medication.

Gail: You know I’m going to ask you what the alternative is.

Bret: I’m intrigued by countries like Holland and Sweden, which are pursuing a mitigation strategy instead of a suppression strategy. Obviously the jury is still out on what sort of outcomes they’ll have, and perhaps they’ll be terrible. But given that this is a pandemic whose consequences are going to be so far-reaching, I think there ought to be room for a certain amount of variety and intelligent experimentation in terms of response.

Then again, I’m not often in the habit of advocating the Swedish model!

Gail: Having lived through decades of fruitless arguments about why we should emulate Sweden, I’m just going to shrug and cede the point. But go on.

Bret: Can we encourage habits of social distancing without enforcing total lockdowns? Can we have restaurants open but cut their seating capacity by 60 or 70 percent, so customers aren’t so close? Can we focus our efforts on protecting the most vulnerable part of the population, especially the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, while accepting a heightened level of risk for others?

Gail: God, the idea of going out with friends to a restaurant sounds like a kind of Shangri-La. But it also scares the heck out of me. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed over the last couple of weeks, but given the incredible stress on our hospitals right now, the idea of just taking the risk to see what happens is … unnerving.

Bret: I don’t know. As my very wise mom never tires of reminding me, I don’t have a degree in medicine or public health.

Gail: Loved that column about your mother, by the way.

Bret: Thanks! She liked it too and only wishes I would agree with her more often. (As in: always.) But I was struck by a quote from John F. Kennedy that appeared in a recent Times obituary of the science writer Daniel Greenberg: “Scientists alone can establish the objectives of their research, but society, in extending support to science, must take into account its own needs.”

Gail: Nice, but I don’t think we’re letting scientists run the game. The real decisions are being made by people like — Andrew Cuomo. I’d love to hear you two argue the point out. Winner gets to run for president.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Coronavirus: Girl, 12, becomes youngest known person to die in Europe

A 12-year-old Belgian girl has become the youngest known person in Europe to die after contracting coronavirus.

Authorities in Belgium said the child was by far the youngest among the country’s more than 700 victims.

National crisis centre spokesman Emmanuel Andre said it is “an emotionally difficult moment, because it involves a child, and it has also upset the medical and scientific community”.

He added: “We are thinking of her family and friends. It is an event that is very rare, but one which upsets us greatly.”

It is not yet known if the girl had underlying health conditions.

Mr Andre said 98 people had died with the infection over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 705 in a country of around 11.5 million people.

More than 12,705 cases have been confirmed so far in Belgium.

He said that Belgian authorities expect the spread of the disease to reach its peak in the next few days.

“We will arrive at a point where we’re close to saturation point at our hospitals,” he said.

Before the 12-year-old girl’s death, the youngest person in Europe to die after contracting the highly contagious respiratory infection was believed to be Vitor Godhino, a 14-year-old boy from Porto in Portugal.

In the UK, the youngest person to die was an 18-year-old who had serious underlying health issues.

On Tuesday, Spain recorded the 849 new coronavirus deaths – the highest number since the pandemic hit the southern European country.

That brings the total number of fatalities in Spain from 7,340 to 8,189 – although the percentage rise is slightly down on Monday.

The number of confirmed cases in Spain stands at 94,417 – up 9,222 from 85,195.

The new deaths in Spain take the worldwide total past 38,000, and the new cases nudge that global figure close to 800,000.

The World Health Organisation warned that while attention has shifted to epicentres in western Europe and North America, COVID-19 epidemics are “far from over” in Asia and the Pacific.

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A Loyal Chinese Critic Vanishes, in a Blow to the Nation’s Future

The sudden silence of Ren Zhiqiang, a vocal member of the Communist Party, signals a retreat from the principles that led China out of poverty.


By Li Yuan

Weeks before Ren Zhiqiang disappeared, leading to fears among his friends and fans that he had been picked up by the Chinese authorities, the 69-year-old former property mogul locked himself up.

It happened at an exhibition he held in December to show off his wood sculptures, a late-life passion after retirement and rising censorship left him little else to do. He barred himself inside a small work studio, so that attendees could view him only through a small window or from the open roof.

It was performance art, Mr. Ren explained to his friends, to show his isolation after the government barred him from social media and giving speeches. When friends asked how the government might react, he smirked the way he usually did when challenging authority.

Now, Mr. Ren may have gone further than the current leadership will allow.

His friends say he vanished this month after writing an essay critical of the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. The essay, which was shared widely within private internet message groups, never named Xi Jinping, China’s top leader. But it said the actions of a power-hungry “clown” and the Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech had exacerbated the epidemic. It declared that the party should “wake up from ignorance” and oust the leaders holding it back, just as it did with the leaders known as the “Gang of Four” in 1976, ending the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

The disappearance of Mr. Ren, a longtime critic of the Chinese government, adds to fears that China is sliding backward and abandoning the reforms that saved it from extreme poverty and international isolation. Mr. Ren was no radical — he was a decades-long loyal Communist Party member, the former leader of a state-run company and a friend to some of China’s most powerful politicians. He emerged in what now seems a distant time, from the 1980s to the period before Mr. Xi became top leader, when the party brooked no challenge to its rule but allowed some individuals to question some of its choices.

Mr. Ren’s fate remains unclear. But if he was punished for his writing, it suggests China’s leadership won’t tolerate criticism no matter how justified it might be.

Like Mr. Xi, Mr. Ren was born into party royalty. His father was a deputy commerce minister. His mother went to school with the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung, who held him in a photo when he was a baby, according to his social media posts and media interviews.

He was also well connected. He has been friends with Vice President Wang Qishan of China since he was in junior high. Mr. Ren wrote in his 2013 autobiography that Mr. Wang would sometimes call him late in the evening and chat for hours.

Mr. Ren hired Liu He, China’s main negotiator in the trade war with the United States, as a part-time researcher when Mr. Liu was a graduate student. Yu Zhengsheng, a former member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, its highest ruling body, worked with Mr. Ren when he was the construction minister and wrote the introduction of Mr. Ren’s first book in 2002.

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Winnipeg’s King’s Head Pub delivering groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

After shutting off their taps and closing their doors during the COVID-19 outbreak, a longtime Exchange District drinking establishment is getting back to business with a brand new mission.

The King’s Head Pub is getting into the grocery game.

Starting Tuesday the pub will start taking orders for grocery packages through their website, with curbside delivery anywhere in Winnipeg starting Wednesday.

“We had a few conversations with our suppliers and … we decided that we would try to repackage so that we could do more of a grocery-style of service,” explained King’s Head owner, Chris Graves.

“So we’re putting it in packages for families of two or four and we’re doing that with produce as well as protein — it’s like a hamper-style type of service.”

Graves says the food, including fruit and vegetables as well as meats, will be delivered to the pub by his regular suppliers, and then his staff will re-package the items for delivery.

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The whole process will be contactless, he says, with food-grade boxes of food dropped-off and picked-up at by King’s Head staff once an order is placed by phone or online.

Both the produce and protein boxes are portioned out for between five to seven days worth of food, he added.

“It gives me an avenue of being able to keep going, and keep my staff on as well, which is the most important thing,” he said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Coronavirus: Why are wet markets still open in China amid coronavirus crisis?

Experts warn wet markets, where animals are butchered in front of shoppers, are a “ticking time bomb” and could lead to another outbreak of a disease similar to coronavirus. The disease is thought to have first leaped to humans from a wet market in Wuhan, China, which sold animals like bats, chickens and reptiles. Another coronavirus named SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which broke out in 2002/2003 and led to the deaths of hundreds, was also believed to have originated in a wet market.

China has now banned the sale of wildlife for consumption under President Xi Jinping in a bid to protect “public health and ecological security”.

A number of countries in Asia, including Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, have a culture whereby it’s considered normal to sell exotic animals for human consumption at wet markets.

According to The Mirror and local sources, Tomohon market in Indonesia is still operating “business as usual”, despite the local mayor calling for a ban on wild meat.

Meanwhile, in Chatuchak, Bangkok, Thailand, a range of wild animals including African wild cats, tortoises and snakes all continue to be sold despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Monkeys, dogs, cats and bats are sold at the “Extreme markets” – nicknamed for their cruelty.

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Traders often use a single knife to slaughter all the animals, regardless of contamination from blood or faeces, before selling on body parts in other countries.

In the town of Mong-La, Burma, near the Chinese border, drugs, wildlife and women are notoriously trafficked.

The town’s markets sell a selection of body parts ranging from endangered species, including tiger skins, bear paws and pangolin scales – which are considered an invaluable item in Chinese medicine.

Professor Andrew Cunningham from the Zoological Society of London has called for an international ban on wet markets and insists species which don’t usually mix in the world are much more prone to catching viruses from one another.

Both COVID-19 and SARS are understood to have originated in a bat.

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Professor Cunningham said the extreme stress the animals are put under highly increases the chances of virus shredding.

He told the Mirror: “Where live animals of different species are brought together and held in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, the likelihood of an animal being present that carries a potentially zoonotic virus (which are passed from animal to humans) is increased.

“The highest priority for the protection of the human health is to ban wet markets.”

The trade is believed to be worth around £58billion a year and there are fears the powerful industries could influence Asian politicians to keep them open.

China has shut down around 20,000 of these sites, similar to the procedures taken after the SARS outbreak.

Steve Gagster, of Bangkok-based anti-trafficking group Freeland, said: “Wuhan is a major wake-up call – mother nature’s revenge.

“The way to prevent further outbreaks is to stop the trade. China has put in place a ban, but this needs to be permanent as it is the biggest importer of wildlife in the world.

“Most wildlife is trafficked by gangsters. This is not a regulated trade so no wonder there are infections and the viruses spreading.

“HIV, SARS and bird flue all came from animals and now this one too. These markets are ticking time bombs.”

The Vietnamese Government has ordered its officials to draft a legal ban on wildlife markets following pressure from the rest of the world.

An estimated 20,000 markets in China are believed to have been closed down.

Jerry Flocked from the Humane Society International said that “it would be a grave mistake to think that the threat is isolated to China.”

He added: “Wildlife markets across the globe, but particularly in Asia and Africa, could easily be the start of disease outbreaks in the future.”

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Fracking Once Lifted Pennsylvania. Now It Could Be a Drag.

Natural-gas companies operating in the state were looking shaky before the coronavirus hit. Local economies are now at risk.


By Peter Eavis

CARMICHAELS, Pa. — The last time the global economy was in free fall, an economic savior showed up in southwestern Pennsylvania. Energy companies, which had discovered a way to get at the state’s vast natural-gas reserves, invested billions of dollars in the region, cushioning the blow of the Great Recession.

“There were just so many jobs,” Debbie Gideon, a retired community banker, recalls. “It was crazy.”

But 12 years later, as the region braces for the coronavirus recession, natural-gas companies are much more likely to weigh on the local economy than to rescue it.

Even before the latest shock, gas operators were reeling from self-inflicted wounds. They had taken on too much debt and drilled so many wells that they had flooded the market with gas, sending its price into a tailspin.

To conserve cash, the firms have been frantically slashing investments, cuts that will pummel local suppliers and contractors. “Every time one of these slowdowns occurs, they beat down every vendor they can,” said Steve Stuck, president of Jacobs Petroleum in Waynesburg, which supplies diesel to the natural-gas operators.

Pennsylvania, home to the United States’ first major oil wells and a large coal producer for decades, has a long history with the fossil fuel industry. That was a reason the state, unlike New York, allowed gas companies to use hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale formation, estimated to be the largest gas field in the United States.

To many businesspeople and residents, the bet has paid off, not least by creating many well-paying jobs in struggling parts of the state. And though the industry, which Pennsylvania has allowed to operate through the coronavirus emergency, goes through ups and downs, they expect it to remain an important part of their economy for years to come.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bust, because we have 40 to 60 years of gas,” says Mike Belding, a former Marine helicopter pilot and now a commissioner for Greene County. “That’s past our lifetimes.”

But there are strong signs that this natural-gas shakeout could grind on longer than others. And if it does turn into a rout that leads to large layoffs and business closures, Pennsylvania may have to reassess its great shale experiment.

“There is not a lot of knowledge of how fragile these companies are,” said Veronica Coptis, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, which has often been critical of the coal and shale industries. “And when the companies start to struggle financially, the people who get hurt the most are the employees.”

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Growth in Australia coronavirus cases slows, but experts urge caution

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Tuesday reported a sustained fall in the country’s rate of new coronavirus infections but officials and experts warned against complacency, stressing the need for further strict social distancing policies.

To ensure compliance, state authorities enacted sweeping powers to impose hefty fines and potential jail terms on anybody breaching rules that include a ban on public meetings of more than just two people.

Health Minister Greg Hunt reported there were about 4,400 coronavirus cases nationally, with the rate of growth in new infections slowing to an average of 9% over the past three days from 25-30% a week ago.

Of those, 50 people were in intensive care and 20 were on ventilators, Hunt said. The death toll in a country of almost 25 million stood at 19.

Based on the completion of more than 230,000 tests, the death rate for Australian cases was below 1%, significantly under the 10% being reported by some other countries and suggesting “early promising signs of the curve flattening,” Hunt said.

“That’s an achievement to which all Australians have contributed,” he said in a televised news conference.

Countries around the world are chasing the goal of “flattening the curve”, referring to a slowdown in the anticipated first wave of infections to stop hospitals being overrun with critical patients.

Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital, said while Australia stopped short of the full lockdown imposed by other countries, it introduced social distancing measures relatively early.

“We acted much earlier than the likes of Italy and the United States,” Collignon told Reuters. “We had much less community transmission and we still shut our borders and implemented social distancing policies such as shutting down bars and pubs, and did much more testing.”

Collignon also noted there may be an element of luck in the current trend, and backed official moves to keep social interactions to a minimum.

Several states introduced penalties on Tuesday for people flouting social distancing requirements. The repercussions differ from state to state, but include fines of up to A$11,000 ($6,779), the potential of a six-month prison term and the requirement to wear an electronic tracking device.

CURVE FLATTENING

Philip Russo, president of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, said talk of curve flattening was “premature.”

“We need to have weeks on end of decreasing numbers of new cases on a daily basis,” Russo said. “What we are seeing now is quite possibly normal daily variation.”

The government’s own caution was highlighted by a deal to boost the public health system with an extra 34,000 hospital beds sourced from private hospitals, along with thousands of doctors and nurses. Australia will also take delivery of more than 5,000 ventilators at the end of April, Hunt said.

Health officials said earlier on Tuesday they wanted to increase testing, especially in places of COVID-19 clusters such as Sydney’s Bondi area, which drew attention earlier this month after people ignored social distancing rules and flocked to the beach. NSW officials said that the virus may have been transmitted in the Bondi community via an infected backpacker who was not aware they were carrying the disease.

Like all affected countries, Australia’s financial and jobs markets have been roiled by the outbreak, prompting the government to unveil several stimulus packages.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that 113,000 businesses had registered interest in a new A$130 billion ($80 billion) six-month wage subsidy designed to stop spiralling unemployment and business closures.

The “job keeper” allowance brought the country’s coronavirus-related stimulus so far to A$320 billion, or about 15% of Australia’s gross domestic product, as economists forecast the country’s first recession in almost three decades.

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