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Business

Coronavirus: Cough and cold medicine prices hiked by 10.7%

Retailers hiked the price of cough and cold medicines by 10.7% last week according to a snapshot analysis of the impact of coronavirus on the economy.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) using online prices set by a number of UK retailers showed the sharp increase for the week ending 29 March compared to the week before.

It was the most marked rise among a set of “high-demand products” that saw increased demand from consumers during the early stages of the pandemic.

A new, continuous cough is one of the main symptoms of the virus.

Other items saw much more modest price increases, with pet food and paracetamol up by just over 2% while handwash and toilet rolls were up only marginally.

A few of the products such as antibacterial wipes, baby food and pasta saw prices fall slightly.

Overall, the basket of 22 high-demand products saw prices on average rise by 1.1%.

The report did not give an explanation about why some of the prices had risen.

Britain’s competition watchdog has previously raised concerns that businesses might seek to exploit the situation – for example by charging excessive prices.

Sky News has contacted the British Retail Consortium for comment on the ONS figures.

The supermarket industry has been a beneficiary of higher revenues during the early part of the pandemic, with figures this week showing shoppers spent £1.9bn on stockpiling groceries ahead of the UK lockdown.

Companies have responded by expanding delivery operations and in some cases taking on thousands of extra staff, as well as providing measures to try to help the most vulnerable customers and NHS workers.

The ONS data was part of a wider analysis of the initial impact of the pandemic across the UK economy.

It also showed that, for 3,642 businesses surveyed over the period from 9 March to 22 March, 27% said they were reducing staffing in the short term.

Those figures suggested an even bigger impact to come as it was only on 20 March that Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a shutdown of much of the UK economy.

The British Chambers of Commerce, a business lobby, separately reported that almost half of British companies expect to lay off 50% or more of their workforce temporarily.

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World News

India PM plans staggered exit from vast coronavirus lockdown

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India will pull out of a three-week lockdown in phases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday, as officials battle to contain the country’s biggest cluster of coronavirus infections in the capital, New Delhi.

The shutdown, which has brought Asia’s third-largest economy to a shuddering halt, is due to end on April 14.

Modi had ordered India’s 1.3 billion people indoors to avert a massive outbreak of coronavirus infections, but the world’s biggest shutdown has left millions without jobs and forced migrant workers to flee to their villages for food and shelter.

He told state chief ministers that the shutdown had helped limit infections but that the situation remained far from satisfactory around the world and there could be a second wave.

“Prime minister said that it is important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once lockdown ends,” the government quoted him as saying in a video conference.

India has had 1,965 confirmed infections, of whom 50 have died, low figures by comparison with the United States, China, Italy and Spain.

But the big worry is the emergence of a cluster in Delhi because of a gathering held by a Muslim missionary group last month that has spawned dozens of cases across the country, officials said.

Thousands of people visited the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat in a cramped corner of Delhi over several days in March, including delegates from Muslim-majority countries Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

About 9,000 people linked to the Tablighi have been tracked down including 1,300 foreigners and transferred to either quarantine centres or hospitals, a top official said.

These people had either attended prayers and lectures at the Tablighi’s headquarters in the densely packed neighbourhood or came into contact with them later.

“This has emerged as a critical node in our fight against the coronavirus,” the official leading the operation to trace potential virus carriers told Reuters. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The Tablighi is one of the world’s largest proselytising groups, drawing followers from the South Asian Deobandi branch of Sunni Islam.

Its leader, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, issued an audio message to his followers asking them to cooperate with the government to fight the disease.

“We have to take precautions, follow the guidance of the doctors and give full support to the government such as not crowding into places,” he said. “This is not against the principles of Islam.”

Muslims make up about 14% of India’s 1.3 billion population, the largest Muslim minority in the world.

Health experts have warned that the death toll could surge across South Asia, home to a fifth of the world’s population and with weak public health systems.

Bangladesh, home to about 160 million people, has extended a lockdown that was initially intended to last 10 days by a week, so it will last till April 11, the Public Administration Ministry said in a statement.

Pharmaceuticals and export-oriented factories such as the garments industry, which account for over 80 percent of overseas shipments, can keep running, the ministry said.

“If the garment factory owners want, they can run their factories following proper health guidelines,” Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said.

Sri Lanka’s central bank asked Sri Lankans overseas to deposit their foreign currency holdings in Sri Lankan banks to help the country tide over the economic pain.

The island nation’s key export earners, including tourism, textiles and garments and worker remittances, have ground to a halt.

Following is data on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia, according to government figures:

* Pakistan has registered 2,291 cases, including 31 deaths.

* India has registered 1,965 cases, including 50 deaths.

* Sri Lanka has registered 148 cases, including three deaths.

* Afghanistan has registered 196 cases, including four deaths.

* Bangladesh has registered 56 cases, including six deaths.

* Maldives has registered 28 cases and no deaths.

* Nepal has registered six cases and no deaths.

* Bhutan has registered five cases and no deaths

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Business

German carmakers had crisis call with Merkel: Handelsblatt

HAMBURG (Reuters) – The bosses of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), BMW (BMWG.DE) and Daimler (DAIGn.DE) held a crisis call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday to discuss how to get production restarted, Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper reported on Thursday.

Carmakers have halted production at some sites as governments around the world have imposed lockdowns on their populations in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Volkswagen Chief Executive Herbert Diess last week said the carmaker might have to cut jobs if the pandemic is not brought under control as it is still spending about 2 billion euros ($2.18 billion) a week.

Handelsblatt cited participants in the call as saying carmakers were particularly concerned about the supply chain.

A Volkswagen source told Reuters the carmakers discussed the situation in the industry and how production could be started up again after the coronavirus crisis. There was agreement that an EU-wide approach to re-starting production was needed, the source said.

“It doesn’t help if one country forges ahead and then everything in Italy or Spain is still at a standstill,” the source said, adding that such a scenario would result in gaps in the supply chain.

The Volkswagen source said in the talks there had been agreement that a working group, including the government, industry and the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, should be set up to develop standards for protecting employees when production is restarted, such as protective clothing, masks, distancing workers and frequent cleaning of sanitary facilities.

The source said the carmakers also discussed the situation facing car suppliers and that while big original equipment manufacturers were well provided for in terms of liquidity, that was not the case for many suppliers.

A source at Daimler said Merkel, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Joerg Hofmann, head of the IG Metall trade union, had all taken part in the meeting with Daimler CEO Ola Kaellenius, BMW boss Oliver Zipse and Volkswagen CEO Diess.

A survey published on Wednesday showed Germany’s export-dependent manufacturing sector saw the steepest decrease in output in almost 11 years in March, as the coronavirus pandemic forced plant closures in Europe’s biggest economy.

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World News

China says new coronavirus deaths on April 1 steady at six

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China reported on Thursday six new coronavirus deaths as of the end of Wednesday, the same number as on Tuesday.

China had 35 new coronavirus cases on April 1, all of which were imported, the National Health Commission said on Thursday.

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As Spain battles virus, medics' unions hit out

MADRID (Reuters) – When Spain’s first case of coronavirus was recorded on Jan. 31 – a German tourist in La Gomera, one of the remote Canary Islands – there seemed little cause for concern.

“We believe that Spain will have, at most, not more than a few diagnosed cases,” Fernando Simon, the country’s health emergency chief, told reporters.

Now, COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, has killed more people in Spain than China, where it originated.

Across the globe, the pandemic has swamped health systems and triggered calls for more and better protective equipment for those fighting it.

Spain’s doctors and nurses, who have released clips of each other cutting up plastic garbage bags to use as protective clothing, say their situation is worse than many.

More than 15,000 of them are sick or self-isolating and unable to help patients. That’s around 14.7% of the country’s confirmed cases, said a health ministry spokeswoman. One union has said the concentration is higher in the capital Madrid – 21% – the epicentre of the outbreak that has killed more than 9,000 and infected more than 100,000.

Medical workers in Italy, for example, make up just under 10% of reported COVID-19 cases, a smaller share than in Spain – although scientists say the data are not directly comparable because medical staff may not be tested at the same rate.

In a town in Catalonia, as many as one in three medical staff have been out of action because they were infected or self-isolating.

Cellphone footage has aired on Spanish TV and on social media showing patients with oxygen tanks packed into the corridors – some laid out on the corridor floors – of hospitals.

In Spain, unions representing Spain’s medical staff are taking action. Unions have filed lawsuits in at least 10 of Spain’s 17 regions asking judges to compel the authorities to provide equipment within 24 hours in line with health and safety law, said a spokeswoman for the national federation of doctors’ unions, CESM. In Catalonia, the top regional court on Tuesday rejected the 24-hour deadline but said authorities must provide protection measures whenever equipment arrives.

The health ministry said it had always acted on scientific evidence, following experts’ recommendations, and taking steps based on a thorough assessment of the situation at any given time. Health Minister Salvador Illa has said the equipment market was simply overwhelmed, but said on Tuesday the ministry had managed “steady and continuous deliveries” of equipment.

“We feel very proud of what the Spanish healthcare workers are doing,” he told a news conference.

Spain’s health service, like Italy’s, is run at regional level. The central government took control by declaring a state of emergency on March 14, and the authorities are trying to hire thousands of extra staff. But the health ministry – like everyone globally – has struggled to get hold of supplies.

“The explosion of cases in Spain is not normal … it has been very poorly managed since the beginning,” said Tomas Toranzo, president of CESM, whose members are filing the suits. “The coronavirus infection was underestimated, treated like a mild flu, and it seemed that this would only affect a few elderly.”

ADVICE IGNORED

Unions say their members were ignored. Already in February, there were signs the virus was spreading, said Angela Fernandez, a Madrid surgeon and deputy secretary of the doctors’ union AMYTS.

She said doctors in major hospitals in Madrid noticed a cluster of unusually severe pneumonia cases that didn’t correspond with the end of the flu season – similar to those that Chinese doctors had recorded on the new coronavirus. But strict protocols limiting testing from Spain’s health ministry prevented doctors nationwide from testing for it.

It took until March 11 for the health ministry to allow doctors to test people who displayed even mild symptoms. Such confusion was widespread globally.

Spain’s health workers, a dozen of whom spoke to Reuters, say they were vulnerable in other ways too.

In mid-February, Jesus Garcia Ramos, the representative for health and safety for Madrid’s nurses’ union, Satse Madrid, asked the regional health authority for extra training to prepare for coronavirus patients, he said. One thing they wanted to know: How to take off protective equipment without infecting the wearer.

He said it took 10 days for the first training sessions to begin on Feb. 25, the date Madrid reported its first case. In some other Madrid hospitals, training didn’t start until the first week of March, he added. By then, the number of cases nationwide had leapt from dozens to hundreds.

The Madrid authority did not respond to requests for comment.

RAINCOATS AND SHOWER CAPS

A doctor in Barcelona said he was also ignored.

Josep Maria Puig, who works at Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar, said he suggested to regional health officials from late February that they consider calling up retired health workers and building makeshift hospitals. It took a couple of weeks for them to act – too long, he said.

Puig, who is also secretary general of Metges de Catalunya, Catalonia’s biggest doctors’ union, said Spain wasted crucial time and “failed spectacularly” to get personal protection equipment (PPE) to its own healthcare workers, despite real-time lessons from Italy: “Italy was 10 days ahead of us, which should have allowed us to see where things could be heading.”

A spokesman for Catalonia’s health department did not respond to requests for comment.

On March 18, the central government issued a document outlining “alternative strategies” for staff dealing with the shortage. Adapted from a similar one prepared by America’s Centers for Disease Control, it said staff lacking masks had five options, including re-using masks or only providing them to staff at the highest risk of infection. It also suggested different kinds of aprons and gloves that could be used.

Some nurses have been forced to improvise, fashioning protective clothing from garbage bags, shower caps, or raincoats from a Madrid amusement park.

In the town of Igualada, an hour’s drive north of Barcelona, a local government spokesman said that about one-third of the hospital’s 1,000 staff – all of whom have been tested – have had to self-isolate either because they had symptoms or were in touch with people who may have been.

A total of 98 people in Igualada have died of the disease and, of the more than 600 infected, 154 are healthcare workers, according to the regional health authority.

On March 12, Igualada became the first municipality in Spain to be completely sealed off, following Italy’s example with the northern region of Lombardy. Only those providing vital services can enter or leave.

“TSUNAMI MOVIE”

In Alicante, a Spanish port city popular with tourists, doctor Victor Pedrera said that on March 5, he asked the management of his healthcare centre and the local health authority to cancel all non-essential medical appointments to prepare for the pandemic.

The request was ignored, he said.

“I felt totally helpless, because more and more people with respiratory symptoms were coming,” he said. “It was like a tsunami movie where you see the wave coming and no one is doing anything.”

Only more than two weeks after Pedrera’s request did his clinic totally suspend non-essential appointments, he said.

Valencia’s health authority said it had recommended hospitals set up virtual appointments from early March, and had always acted to minimise the risk for the population.

Infections of healthcare workers have continued to rise.

On Monday Fernando Simon, the health emergency chief, tested positive for coronavirus.

The health ministry said Simon was not available to comment as he was in isolation. On Tuesday, he connected by video to the government’s daily news conference. He said, “I’m feeling very good. A good night’s sleep has done me good. I have to keep the quarantine even inside my house. I’m in my room and I’m not coming out of it.”

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World News

Trump says China's coronavirus numbers seem 'on the light side'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the coronavirus statistics China was reporting seemed “a little bit on the light side,” while his national security adviser said Washington had no way of knowing if Beijing’s figures were accurate.

The comments came after a senior Republican lawmaker cast doubt on Beijing’s data and Bloomberg News said a classified U.S. intelligence report had concluded that China had under-reported the total cases and deaths it had suffered.

The coronavirus outbreak began in China in late 2019 but Beijing has reported fewer cases and deaths than in the United States, which now has the world’s largest outbreak, with 214,000 confirmed cases and 4,800 deaths.

Trump told a daily briefing by his coronavirus task force that he had not received an intelligence report on China’s data, but added:

“The numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side – and I am being nice when I say that – relative to what we witnessed and what was reported.”

Trump said he had discussed how China had dealt with the coronavirus outbreak in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Friday, but “not so much the numbers.”

Trump, who has toned down his criticism of China’s handling of the virus outbreak since the call, also said the U.S. relationship with China was “very good” and both sides wanted to maintain multi-billion dollar trade deal reached earlier this year.

“As to whether or not their numbers are accurate,” he added, “I am not an accountant from China.”

Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told the same briefing Washington was “just not (in) the position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China.”

“There’s lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are too low,” he said. “You got access to those reports that are coming out of Chinese social media … we just have no way to confirm any of those numbers.

Earlier, Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused Beijing of hiding the true number of those impacted. He said he had called for the State Department to investigate Beijing’s “initial cover up and subsequent actions regarding this pandemic.”

The Bloomberg report cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying that a classified report, received by the White House last week, concluded that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths was intentionally incomplete.

China reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday and for the first time disclosed the number of cases of people who have the highly contagious disease but do not show symptoms.

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B.C. trades students could see delays entering work force as coronavirus upends training

The B.C. government is grappling with ways to ensure trades students and others requiring hands-on learning will get the training needed to enter the workforce.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to many colleges fast-tracking students without all the technical requirements, as well as cancelling practicums until the fall in some cases.

The province is trying to figure out a way to ensure students are ready to start working in the trades, even if they haven’t received the standard practical training.

“That is a real concern. Minister Melanie Mark is reviewing that now with presidents of universities and colleges. All of the lab work that needs to be done, it’s not just in those practical applications or co-op programs where there is hands-on work,” Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

“There are many bachelor of science degrees that require intense laboratory work that has to be done under supervision within a confined area that is usually on a campus.”

For example, welding programs are cancelled at the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT) because instruction is done in close contact with students. In addition, the building normally houses between 60-120 people at any given time.

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BCIT has moved 50,000 students to primarily online learning.

The faculty of nursing at Langara College is still doing practicums.

But the dean of the program, Dr. Ann Syme, says they are being done under the rules laid out by the province’s chief medical health office.

“We have to be very sure when we enter the clinical placement areas that we are following all the policies, which we do anyways, but now we need to be just a little more mindful,” Syme said.

“We are working with the health authorities to ensure we can bring our students in. It’s normally a cohort of eight plus an instructor. But if we can’t bring in the eight, we will bring two one day, two the next day, two the next and two the next day. We want to make sure our students get the kind of exposure they need.”

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National Steel Car in Hamilton suspends operations due to shortage of PPE

A major Hamilton manufacturer is suspending its operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Steel Car says the government mandate that personal protective equipment (PPE) must be prioritized for health-care workers and first responders means PPE won’t be available for manufacturing employees.

As a result, the company will be temporarily suspending fabrication and construction by end of day Friday, April 3.


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Politics

Pelosi wants 'vote by mail' provisions in next coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she hopes “vote by mail” provisions can be part of the next coronavirus response plan being put together by House Democrats.

Speaking in a conference call, Pelosi said at least $2 billion was needed to enable voting by mail, in order to give citizens a safe way to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. She said Democrats had gotten just $400 million for that purpose in a recent bill.

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Politics

Coronavirus: ‘Concerning’ rise in car journeys as people urged to stay at home

A “concerning” rise in car journeys has sparked fresh warnings for people to stay at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, revealed motor vehicle usage in Britain has jumped to around a third of usual levels.

Despite a gradual drop off to 27% on Sunday, the number leaped by 10% to 37% in a single day.

Bus and underground journeys in London also rose, but National Rail train usage dipped slightly compared to the latest figures.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, Dr Doyle said that while “most people” are following the rules to stay at home “everyone needs to do that” because “we need to save lives and protect the NHS” during the COVID-19 outbreak.

She also revealed a “slightly concerning” rise of new UK cases on Wednesday by 390 to 3,009.

“It’s still too early to say whether the plateau of hospital admissions has ended but we’ve now seen three days of increases in a row,” she explained.

“We need to protect the NHS, and the best way to do that is to stay at home, to avoid catching the disease yourself and obviously avoid giving it to anyone else.”

She added that although most of the people being admitted to hospital for coronavirus are in London, the Midlands is becoming “a concern as well”, warning: “The threat is everywhere… There is no reason to be complacent.”

Globally, the UK has started pushing up towards the deaths trajectory experienced in Italy.

The latest figures announced on Wednesday said another 563 people died in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus – bringing the total number of deaths to 2,352.

More follows…

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