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Italian doctor rages at ‘unprepared’ coronavirus workers sent in ‘like soldiers to war’

Although the coronavirus infection in Italy is slowing, yesterday another 837 people were recorded as having died in a single day.

This takes the total to almost 12,500, among which 66 doctors have now died.

Giovanni Leoni from the National Federation of Doctors furiously told the BBC’s Today show that health workers lacked the necessary equipment to fight the outbreak.

He said to Radio 4: “They worked without the right equipment like proper masks and they weren’t given them.

“Not enough have been tested, we were completely unprepared.

“China showed us what we needed to do and we didn’t follow it.

“It’s like sending soldiers to war empty-handed, unable to defend themselves.”

More to follow…

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U.S. air strikes killed civilians in Somalia, Amnesty International says

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – U.S. air strikes in Somalia killed two civilians and injured three in February, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Wednesday, in a statement that raised questions over U.S. investigations of such allegations.

U.S. Africa Command said it was assessing the allegations and goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

U.S. forces have been fighting a decade-long struggle against the al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab. The insurgency wants to overthrow Somalia’s shaky, internationally backed government and rule using its own strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Africa Command says air strikes are a key weapon against al Shabaab, but Amnesty says they also mistakenly target civilians.

A U.S. airstrike in the town of Jilib on Feb. 2 hit a family having a meal, Amnesty said, killing 18-year old Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar, injuring her two younger sisters – aged 7 and 12 – and her 70-year-old grandmother. Amnesty cited an interview with the girls’ father, who was present but uninjured in the strike.

“He was very devastated, he didn’t know why his family was targeted,” Amnesty researcher Abdullahi Hassan told Reuters. “He said, ‘I’m now in my farm, alone in an open place, if they want to kill me.’”

Mohamed Omar Abukar, the son of the 70-year-old woman, told Reuters his family had been devastated by the strike. His youngest niece had come to the capital for medical treatment, he said.

“She is OK and walking. My mum and my niece Fatuma … are too seriously injured to be brought by car to Mogadishu,” he said.

Another strike on Feb. 24 on the village of Kumbareere, about 10 kilometers north of Jilib, killed Mohamud Salad Mohamud, a 53-year-old father of eight who ran a banana farm and the local office for telecom company Hormuud, Amnesty said. Hormuud confirmed his death.

Africa Command – also known as AFRICOM – issued statements after both strikes saying it had killed militants.

“Following every airstrike, U.S. Africa Command conducts additional analysis to ensure the military objectives were met and that there were no civilian casualties,” AFRICOM told Reuters in response to the allegations from Amnesty.

“Our in-depth post-strike analysis relies on intelligence methods that are not available to non-military organizations, including Amnesty International … The command’s civilian casualty allegation assessment process is precise, comprehensive, and led by a team of experts.”

Amnesty researcher Hassan said Africom should be more transparent about how it investigates allegations of civilian deaths.

“They seem to be living in denial that the airstrikes actually kill civilians,” he said.

Last year, Amnesty issued a report alleging 14 civilian deaths in five U.S. air strikes in 2017 and 2018. At the time, Africa Command rejected the report but later said a review found that two civilians had been killed in a 2018 strike.

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China reports 36 new coronavirus cases

BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported on Wednesday a fall in new confirmed coronavirus cases, with almost all cases imported from overseas.

China had 36 new cases on Tuesday, the National Health Commission said on Wednesday, down from 48 a day earlier.

All but one of the cases were imported, bringing the total number of imported cases to 806.

Another 130 asymptomatic cases were reported, with a total of 1,367 such cases under observation as of March 31.

There was one reported new case of a local infection, in Guangdong province.

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Coronavirus map LIVE: ‘Prepare for 240,000 to die’ Dire warning as COVID-19 peak looms

The White House has issued a stark warning to Americans as officials projected the coronavirus pandemic could claim 100,000 to 240,000 lives, even if people adhere to the social distancing guidelines of six feet of separation. Officials also warned the worst case scenario predicted between 1.5million and 2.2million deaths. President Donald Trump said the latest prediction was “sobering” as he urged Americans to brace for a “very, very painful two weeks”.

The President’s coronavirus task force presented the findings at a two-hour press briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

Mr Trump said: “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.

“We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.”

Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who serves on the task force, said people should be prepared for such high fatalities.

When discussing the new projections, Dr Fauci said: “The answer is yes – as sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it.

“Is it going to be that much? I hope not and I think the more we push on the mitigation the less likely to be that number but, being realistic, we need to prepare ourselves that is a possibility that that’s what we’ll see.”

The figures are calculated from models using data on how the virus has spread overseas and in hotspots such as New York.

The US has the most coronavirus cases in the world, with the latest figures exceeding 188,000.

The vast majority of cases, over 75,000 originate in the state of New York.

America’s death toll of 4,055 remains far behind Italy and Spain, who are on 12,428 and 8,464 respectively.

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8.08am update: England accounts for 91% of UK deaths

Yesterday marked the UK’s biggest rise in coronavirus related deaths, up 393 to 1,808.

According to date by Sky News, England accounts for 91 percent of all UK deaths, with a total of 1,651.

A third of England’s deaths are located in the capital, with 568.

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Coronavirus: How to keep your husband happy in lockdown posters condemned

The Malaysian government’s department for women has apologised after it released series of online posters telling women how to keep their men happy during its COVID-19 lockdown.

Titled ‘Household Happiness’ the tips posted on Facebook and Instagram included giggling coyly instead of nagging, not allowing your appearance to slip and making sure the home is clean.

One suggested women avoid being sarcastic if their partner was not helping with the housework.

The online posters, with the hashtag #WanitaCegahCOVID19 (Women Prevent COVID-19), were condemned by women’s rights groups who said the campaign could worsen gender stereotypes and possibly encourage domestic violence.

The Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) said the Facebook and Instagram posts reinforced negative gender stereotypes of both women and men.

“It implies that women are ultimately responsible for getting domestic chores done when the duty should be a shared one,” it said in a statement.

“It makes women the ones who need to persuade their partners to chip in, and worse, asks that women downplay a rightful request by using infantile language and mannerisms – so as not to offend the apparent sensitivities of men.

“The implicit message is that men are allowed to slack off on domestic work and it’s women who must follow up with them – but they should only do so nicely.

“In short, it sends the message that women are subordinate in the home and are not allowed to function as equals to men.”

In a statement the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said the aim had been to share methods and practices to sustain positive relationship within a family while women are working from home.

Director-general Datuk Saidatu Akhma Hassan said: “We are sorry if some of tips shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties, and we will be more careful in the future.”

Three of the four posters have now been removed from social media.

Malaysia has shut schools and non-essential shops and imposed tight restrictions on travel and movement in a bid to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

Local media reports suggest a government helpline to aid domestic abuse victims and vulnerable children has had double its usual number of calls since the start of the lockdown.

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UN chief says coronavirus 'worst crisis' since WWII: Live updates

Guterres’ warning comes as US fatalities exceed China’s with about 857,000 people globally confirmed with the disease.

The United Nations chief has warned the coronavirus pandemic presents the world with its “worst crisis” since World War II, with the number of dead in the United States now higher than in China and hard-hit countries in Europe reporting their highest number of deaths in a single day.

The US announced some 800 deaths on Tuesday – bringing the total to more than 3,700. It also has the most confirmed cases. China has reported 3,282 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. 

Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Italy each reported their largest single-day increase in deaths since the start of the pandemic. Some 12,428 people have died from the disease in Italy, the world’s most seriously affected country.

More:

  • Coronavirus: Which countries have confirmed cases?

  • Coronavirus: Why are deaths rising so quickly in Spain?

  • Timeline: How the new coronavirus spread

Around the world, nearly 857,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus and at least 178,000 have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 42,000 people have died.

I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur with Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are the latest updates.

Wednesday, April 1 

01:30 GMT – ‘The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America’

US President Donald Trump has just shared on Twitter his ‘Coronavirus Guidelines for America’ after warning the country faced a “very painful” two weeks as it confronts the virus.

The recommendations advise the elderly and those with underlying health conditions to stay at home and urge those feeling sick to stay at home and seek medical attention.

Read all the updates from yesterday (March 31) here.

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From zero to hero: Italy's Chinese help beat coronavirus

FLORENCE (Reuters) – In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato.

Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attack by people who feared they would spread the coronavirus through Italy.

But in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s biggest single Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early, strict adoption of infection-control measures.

“We Italians feared that the Chinese of Prato were to be the problem. Instead, they did much better than us,” said Renzo Berti, top state health official for the area, which includes Florence.

“Among Chinese resident in Prato there isn’t even one case of COVID contagion,” he said, referring to COVID-19, which has killed almost 12,000 people in Italy, more than in any other country.

Ethnic Chinese make up about a quarter of Prato’s population, but Berti credits them with bringing down the entire town’s infection rate to almost half the Italian average — 62 cases per 100,000 inhabitants versus 115 for the country.

Prato’s Chinese community, built originally around the textile industry, went into lockdown from the end of January, three weeks before Italy’s first recorded infection.

Many were returning from new year holidays in China, the then epicenter.

They knew what was coming and spread the word: stay home.

So as Italians headed to the ski slopes and crowded into cafes and bars as normal, the Chinese inhabitants of Prato had seemingly disappeared. Its streets, still festooned with Chinese New Year decorations, were semi-deserted, shops shuttered.

There is some anecdotal evidence that Chinese people elsewhere in Italy took similar precautions, though national data on infection rates among the community is unavailable. The health ministry did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Milan restaurateur Francesco Wu, a representative of Italian business lobby Confcommercio, said he urged Italian counterparts in February to shut down their businesses, as he had done.

“Most of them looked at me like a Cassandra,” he said. “No one could believe it was happening here … Now Troy is burning and we are all locked inside.”

‘ITALIAN FRIENDS LOOKED AT ME ODDLY’

When Chinese-born businessman Luca Zhou flew home from China on Feb. 4 to rejoin his wife and 28-year-old son in Prato, he put himself straight into quarantine in his bedroom for 14 days, separated from his wife and son.

“We had seen what was happening in China and we were afraid for ourselves, our families and our friends,” said the 56-year-old, who has a business exporting Italian wine to China.

After emerging from his self-quarantine, he ventured outside in mask and gloves. He said the few other Chinese on the streets also wore them, anxious not to spread the virus to others.

“My Italian friends looked at me oddly. I tried many times to explain to them that they should wear them … but they didn’t understand,” Luca said.

“When I came back to Prato, no Italian authority told me anything. We did it all by ourselves. If we had not done it, we would all be infected, Chinese and Italians.”

Italy was one of the first nations to cut air links with China, on Jan. 31, though many of its Chinese residents found their way home via third countries. On Feb. 8, almost a month before closing all schools, it offered students returning from holidays in China the right to stop attending classes.

“In Prato, there was a boom in take-up,” said local health director Berti, saying families had been obliged to contact his authority if they wanted to pursue this option. It was then that he began to realize how differently the Chinese were behaving.

More than 360 families, or around 1,300 people, registered as having put themselves into self-isolation and also signed up to his authority’s health surveillance scheme, which monitored symptoms remotely and communicated with them in Chinese.

As Italian infections began to take off in late February and early March, some families, many of whom retain Chinese citizenship, even began sending children to relatives in China, alarmed at the attitude and behavior of Italians around them.

Another who went into self-isolation after returning home from China was 23-year-old university student Chiara Zheng.

“I was conscious of the gravity of the situation. I felt a duty to do it for other people and those close to me.”

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U.S. offers to lift Venezuela sanctions for power-sharing deal, shifting policy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Tuesday offered to begin lifting Venezuela sanctions if the opposition and members of President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party form an interim government without him, marking a shift in a U.S. policy that has failed to end his grip on power.

With the South American nation squeezed by low world oil prices, a spreading coronavirus pandemic and a U.S. economic pressure campaign, Washington moved to a more toned-down approach aimed at promoting fair elections as soon as this year to end the political crisis there.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally announced the administration’s power-sharing “Democratic Transition Framework” for Venezuela, which proposes for the first time a “sequenced exit path” from tough U.S. sanctions, including on the vital oil sector, if Maduro and his allies cooperate.

But it will be no easy task to draw Maduro or his associates onto a path of political reconciliation with opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as the legitimate interim president.

Maduro has held onto power despite repeated U.S. efforts to oust him and shown no willingness to seriously negotiate an end to his rule. As such, Tuesday’s announcement could be seen as a bid by the administration to cut its losses and move on.

Under the U.S. proposal, both Maduro and Guaido would step aside and neither would be part of the transitional government.

The initiative comes less than a week after the U.S. government took a more confrontational tack, indicting Maduro and more than a dozen other current and former top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism,” accusations he dismissed as false and racist.

Maduro’s staying power has become a source of frustration for President Donald Trump, U.S. officials have said privately. Maduro retains the backing of the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba.

But the Trump administration hopes an energy dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia that has contributed to the plunging price of oil – Maduro’s main financial lifeline – and the growing coronavirus threat will help make Maduro and his loyalists more pliable.

“The regime is now under heavier pressure than it has ever been,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Reuters earlier. “Maybe this pressure will lead to a serious discussion within the regime.”

The U.S. proposal, which Abrams said was approved by Trump, calls for the opposition-controlled National Assembly “to elect an inclusive transitional government acceptable to the major factions.” A council of state would govern until it oversees elections, which Pompeo said the United States hoped could be held in six to 12 months.

Though the administration has never wavered in public about its support for Guaido, he has struggled to muster the street protests of his first few months as opposition leader. Ordinary Venezuelans, weighed down by food shortages and hyperinflation, have increasingly expressed disappointment at his failure to achieve a change of government.

Venezuela’s foreign ministry dismissed the U.S. proposal as “an effort to win geopolitical advantage in the midst of a frightening global pandemic.” Abrams, in a conference call with reporters, called the Venezuelan government’s response “totally predictable.”

QUESTIONS ABOUT MADURO’S FUTURE

In an apparent softening of tone, Abrams told Reuters that while Maduro would have to step aside, the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and even suggested that he “could theoretically run” in the election.

Pompeo insisted that “Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela,” but said the administration hoped he would take the U.S. proposal seriously.

“If the conditions of the framework are met, including the departure of all foreign security forces,” Pompeo told reporters, “then all remaining U.S. sanctions would be lifted.”

With experts deeming OPEC member Venezuela among the countries that could be hardest hit by the coronavirus, Guaido proposed over the weekend the formation of an emergency government of members across the political spectrum.

The U.S. plan seeks to build on the effort by Guaido as well as a failed round of negotiations between the two sides in Barbados last year, which the Trump administration dismissed at the time.

The proposal represents a significantly less bellicose tone from the administration’s pronouncements since January of last year, when Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a sham. Maduro calls Guaido a U.S. puppet.

Asked whether the new proposal indicated the United States was backing away from Guaido, Pompeo said the administration remained “supportive of the work that the rightful president of the Venezuelan people, Juan Guaido, is engaged in.”

But the success of the plan, which calls for power-sharing between the Guaido-led opposition and Socialist lawmakers, would ultimately hinge on Socialist leaders turning on Maduro, the same strategy that Guaido has been unable to execute.

Under the proposal, individual sanctions on dozens of Venezuelan government officials could be lifted as soon as they give up their posts during the transition.

Broader economic sanctions, including on Venezuela’s oil sector and state oil company PDVSA, would be removed only after Maduro leaves office and all Cuban security forces and small Russian contingent are withdrawn, Abrams said.

“People should hire lawyers and start talking to the Department of Justice,” he added, saying the proposal would not have a mechanism to revoke U.S. indictments against Maduro and his loyalists.

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Vancouver paramedic on front line of COVID-19 crisis has gear stolen

A Vancouver paramedic can’t go back to work after someone broke into her car and stole her equipment.

Annelie Van der Heyden returned to her East Vancouver home on Sunday night after a marathon shift with BC Emergency Health Services.

She said she packed all her gear into a bag rather than keeping it in a locker because she wasn’t sure where her next shift would start.

“I brought it home but I didn’t want to bring it into my house and contaminate my house,” she said. “I was tired. I figured I’d deal with it in the morning.”

The next day, she saw that someone had broken into her car and stolen her gear — including two sets of her uniform, a number of masks, and a green stethoscope — from the trunk.

Van der Heyden said the theft brings additional stress to an already challenging time for first responders dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

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She hopes that someone finds the gear and returns it, no questions asked.

“Stranger things have happened. I hope that somebody spots it and decides they’re not going to get any money for it,” she said.

“I understand that times are hard for everybody, but I hope that somebody can find it within themselves to return it.”

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Singapore warns firms to enable home-working as coronavirus cases rise to 926

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore said on Tuesday it could force companies to suspend operations if they do not do more to ensure employees can work from home to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections, as the city state reported 47 more cases of the respiratory illness.

“If we assess that a company has not made a serious enough effort to implement telecommuting, we may have to issue a stop work order,” Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said. She said that if the nature of their business allowed work to be done from home, firms should do their utmost to make this happen.

The Southeast Asian city-state recorded its third death from the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday. It has reported a total of 926 cases of the virus to date.

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