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Pregnant people not at increased risk for coronavirus, experts say

As the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, a pandemic, anxiety around what the virus means for pregnant people grows.

In Canada, there are currently more than 100 cases, according to tallies from the provinces. There are now more than 18,000 cases in more than 110 countries, according to the WHO.

Soon-to-be parents are often in and out of hospitals for medical appointments — places where patients may be treated for the virus and medical professionals may be at risk. Doctors at Toronto hospitals have even called for specialized locations to test for COVID-19 to limit the spread within health facilities.

But are pregnant folks at a greater risk of contracting the virus and passing it to their fetus? According to experts, so far research indicates no.

“There is no evidence that pregnant women are at increased risk from COVID-19,” said Dr. Brett Belchetz, a Toronto-based emergency room physician and CEO of telehealth company Maple.

“This appears different from the flu, for example, where pregnant women typically are at greater risk of flu complications.”

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Coronavirus prompts ‘Late Show,’ ‘Tonight Show’ to drop studio audiences

The ripple effect of the new coronavirus has moved beyond the film and music industry and is being felt in North America’s daytime and late-night TV talk show circuit.

On Wednesday, New York City-based late-night shows The Tonight ShowThe Late Show and Late Night with Seth Myers all announced that they will begin taping episodes without an in-studio audience amid concerns surrounding the global pandemic.

NBC said it was suspending live audiences for the Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers-hosted shows starting March 16, with CBS saying the same of Stephen Colbert‘s show due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

In a statement provided to the Associated Press (AP), NBC said the safety of guests and employees was the company’s “top priority.”

Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Andy Cohen, Wendy Williams and award-winning comedian Ellen DeGeneres will also go without audiences on their respective talk shows.

Along with Colbert, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, HBO’s Last Week Tonight and Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen are set to follow suit, starting this Sunday.

“For the past several weeks, producers have consulted daily to share information with other New York-based late night shows, who will also be moving forward without an audience,” CBS said in regard to the decision on The Late Show.

The step was taken based on guidance from New York City officials, CBS said, and out of an “abundance of caution regarding” the virus and the uncertainty of the situation.

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World News

Finland prepares for third of country becoming ill

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland is recommending cancelling public meetings of more than 500 people until the end of May due to the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday, as the government prepares for the possibility of a third of Finns becoming ill.

Under Finnish legislation, Marin said the government was not able to ban all public meetings unless emergency powers were activated, meaning local authorities are in change of enforcing the recommendation.

The announcement came after country confirmed cases had jumped by 50 in a day to a total of 109, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said, and after the Foreign Ministry recommended citizens avoid traveling anywhere in the world now.

Marin said the government had called a meeting with all parliamentary groups to discuss the circumstances of activating emergency legislation, in case it becomes necessary to impose further restrictions such as regional shutdowns, closing schools and universities or banning air and ferry traffic.

“During the first wave some 35% of Finns could fall ill and that is what we are prepared for,” Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen said.

The government also recommended any people returning from epidemic areas to stay home for 14 days to avoid spreading the infection in workplaces.

The government said Finland would grant 5 million euros ($5.6 million) to international organizations developing a vaccine for the virus.

Earlier on Thursday, healthcare authorities said a heart surgeon who had returned from a trip to Austria had been tested to have coronavirus, having exposed 28 staff members, including another 15 doctors or roughly half of the Finnish capital’s heart surgeons to the virus and sending them to home quarantine as a precaution.

In addition to healthcare staff, four patients and two of their relatives had been exposed.

The government’s recommendation to cancel public events was immediately followed by cancellations by organizers of sports events, including the Finnish Basketball Association cancelling all games at all levels until further notice.

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UK enters delay phase over coronavirus outbreak – but schools set to stay open

The UK has moved from "contain" to the "delay" phase over the coronavirus outbreak, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced.

The announcement means Britain has now switched from trying to contain the COVID-19 outbreak to delaying its spread.

It comes following a COBRA meeting, with Boris Johnson set to hold his own press conference later today.

The move means that from tomorrow (Friday March 13) if you have symptoms of coronavirus you should stay at home for seven days and overseas school trips should not go ahead.

The move comes after teachers were told to prepare “home-learning packs” for students, amid fears schools could be closed for as much as two months.

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"The decision has been taken that we have now moved from a contain phase, into the delay phase," Sturgeon said, following a meeting of the government's emergency committee.

She added: “There will be significant changes to people’s experience.”

The move to the “delay” phase comes a day after the World Health Organisation designated COVID-19 a pandemic.

The number of cases also leapt by 74 on Wednesday to 456, with the figure expected to rise significantly in the coming days.

The UK is not yet, however, copying the drastic action in Italy, where the entire population has been quarantined and football matches played behind closed doors.

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Italy is the worst affected by COVID-19 in Europe, with more than 12,000 cases and 800 deaths.

The country is now on lockdown with events cancelled, workplaces shut and churches, museums, cinemas, theatres and schools closed.

The UK’s move to enter the delay phase comes hours after Ireland also announced the lockdown of its schools.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said the measures take effect from 6pm on Thursday through until March 29.

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He also said indoor mass gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 should be cancelled.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump earlier announced he was suspending travel to the US from 26 European countries – but not the UK or Ireland.

The US president said the "strong but necessary restrictions" would come into effect on Friday, and last 30 days.

Countries across Europe are now implementing month-long emergency restrictions – including closures and cancellations – after the World Health Organisation hit out at “inaction”.

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WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday the number of cases outside China had increased 13-fold in two weeks, and that he was "deeply concerned" by "alarming levels of inaction".

Worldwide there are currently around 130,000 positive cases of coronavirus – mostly in the epicentre of the disease in China – and nearly 5,000 deaths.

Around 70,000 of the cases have recovered, according to reports, with the majority of deaths including elderly people or those with underlying health conditions.

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Billionaires hole up in secret bunkers and private islands over coronavirus fear

For the super-rich, coronavirus preparations are a lot more complicated than stocking up on toilet paper.

High net worth individuals are chartering private jets to take them to remote locations far away from the centres of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some may eventually flee the Earth altogether.

Adam Twiddle from private jet booking service PrivateFly, reported a spike in bookings as wealthy people arranged flights out of high-risk countries.

He said: “Many are from groups which include elderly passengers or those with health conditions that make them particularly concerned about exposure to crowds on airline flights.

"We’ve just flown a group back to London from the south of France, with an immunocompromised passenger on board.”

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Some, reports the Guardian , are taking private medical staff with them to emergency bunkers and remote island holiday homes.

Others are booking special private lounges at airports to keep them away from the crowds. A spokeswoman from luxury travel firm Quintessentially said they had been organising “elite” services where “check-in, customs and security are all done privately and guests are then taken to the doors of the aircraft.”

She added: “Members can request for the jetty to be cleared so they minimise the interactions with other passengers on their way to their seat.”

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While for most of us, COVID-19 test kits are being rationed, and only administered to individuals who have recently returned from a lockdown area such as Wuhan or Italy, Britain’s millionaires are flocking to private Harley Street clinics for testing.

Although Mark Ali, medical director of the Private Harley Street Clinic, has said that private clinics have been refusing private tests in compliance with NHS guidelines, a un-named source at another clinic said that they had been sending samples overseas for private clients.

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Dr Ali did say that his clinic was offering a £350 injection of vitamins and minerals to boost the immune systems of rich clients. “We know that 90% of adults have a deficiency in vitamins – what better to improve that than an IV immune boost?” he said.

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“An intravenous infusion," he added, "ensures instant and optimal delivery of these nutrients to the body’s cells and the nutrients should include vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin B12 complex, glutathione, zinc and essential amino acids such as arginine, taurine, lysine and citrulline.”

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At the other end of the scale, apocalypse shelters costing thousands of times more than £350 are enjoying a boom. Robert Vicino, founder and chief executive of bomb-shelter builders Vivos Group said his company has received an unusually high number of enquiries about their underground shelters own the past few weeks.

One Vivos shelter currently taking bookings is a fortified, nuclear-hardened shelter in South Dakota which the company says is a one-hour drive from the big cities of America’s eastern seaboard.

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The impervious underground complex accommodates up to 80 people, for a minimum of one year of fully autonomous survival, without needing to return to the surface.

Most of the 80 beds are already booked well in advance.

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Couple married for 60 years killed just hours apart by coronavirus

An elderly couple who were married for more than 60 years tragically died a couple of hours apart after contracting the coronavirus.

Severa Belotti, 82, and Luigi Carrara, 86, lived in the town of Albino, in the northern Italian province of Bergamo and reportedly spent eight days locked at home with a fever of 39 degrees.

They were eventually taken to Bergamo Hospital last weekend but their son Luca Carrara to local newspaper Corriere della Sera that they “died alone” in the facility as he was unable to say goodbye.

He added: “Your loved ones stay alone and you cannot say bye, hug them, trying to give some comfort.”

The son also wrote a touching message on social media which read: “Hi mum and dad, this bad virus made you leave the same day, will you keep bickering up there too? I think so, but then everything ended up in a hug."

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Luca, who is currently in quarantine with his family, complained about the Bergamo Hospital saying “they (the staff) do not know where to put patients, probably because doctors are doing a selection and letting the elderly people leave.”

He said his dad had no pre-existing medical conditions, adding “my father did not know what going to the doctor was”.

He said: “The truth is that this is not the common flu, it is a terrible flu and if you end up in hospital, you leave dead or alive.”

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The son says he was not able to see his parents’ bodies after their death because they were taken to the cemetery and will be cremated within days because "there are too many dead people".

There have been 12,462 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy, the most anywhere outside of mainland China, and 827 people have died.

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China government spokesman says U.S. military may have brought virus to China

BEIJING (Reuters) – A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry suggested on Thursday the U.S. military might have brought the coronavirus to the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been hardest hit by the outbreak, doubling down on a war of words with Washington.

China has taken great offence at comments by U.S. officials accusing it of being slow to react to the virus, first detected in Wuhan late last year, and of not being insufficiently transparent.

On Wednesday, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the speed of China’s reaction to the emergence of the coronavirus had probably cost the world two months when it could have been preparing for the outbreak.

In a strongly worded tweet, written in English on his verified Twitter account, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was the United States that lacked transparency.

“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao wrote.

Zhao, an avid and often combative Twitter user, did not offer any evidence for his suggestion that the U.S. military might be to blame for the outbreak in China.

Earlier on Thursday, Zhao’s fellow Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang criticizes U.S. officials for “immoral and irresponsible” comments that blamed Beijing’s response to the coronavirus for worsening the global impact of the pandemic.

Asked about O’Brien’s comments, Geng told a daily news briefing in Beijing on that such remarks by U.S. officials would not help U.S. epidemic efforts.

China’s efforts to slow the spread had bought the world time to prepare against the epidemic, he added.

“We wish that a few officials in the U.S. would at this time concentrate their energy on responding to the virus and promoting cooperation, and not on shifting the blame to China.”

FIRM MEASURES

The coronavirus emerged in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, where around two-thirds of global cases so far have been recorded. But in recent weeks the vast majority of new cases have been outside China.

The Chinese authorities credit firm measures they took in January and February, including to a near total shutdown of Hubei, for preventing outbreaks in other Chinese cities on the scale of Wuhan and slowing the spread abroad.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has pointed to a decision to limit air travel from China at the end of January to fend off criticism that it responded too slowly to the disease. Critics say Trump played down the disease in public and the federal government was slow to roll out tests.

“Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” Trump’s national security advisor O’Brien said during a think-tank appearance on Wednesday.

“It probably cost the world community two months to respond,” during which “we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what’s now happening across the world”, he said.

More than 119,100 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 4,298 have died, the vast majority in China, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has 975 cases and 30 people have died.

“We have done a good job responding to it but … the way that this started out in China, and the way it was handled from the outset, was not right,” said O’Brien.

(the story refiles to corrects typo in headline)

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'Dr Tedros', the WHO chief leading the fight against the pandemic

GENEVA (Reuters) – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), has become the public face of the global fight against coronavirus.

Here are some details of his career:

– A former health minister and foreign minister of Ethiopia, he was elected in May 2017 as the WHO’s first African director-general, vowing to make universal health care his central priority.

    His surprise appointment that year of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador outraged Western donors and activists and he was forced to withdraw it.

   

– Tedros, who goes by the name of Dr. Tedros, was born in Asmara, Eritrea. Now 55, he holds a doctorate of philosophy in community health and a master of science in immunology of infectious diseases, both from British universities.

– He is the first director-general in the WHO’s 72-year history not to be a medical doctor. Since taking the helm, he has instituted reforms at the U.N. agency’s headquarters in Geneva and 150 country offices, with a total of 7,000 staff.

    – Tedros prides himself on going into the field to support WHO operations, making 10 trips to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during its 19-month-old Ebola epidemic, now close to being halted.

    – Weeks after the new coronavirus emerged in China, he flew to Beijing, returning with lavish praise for the Chinese leadership’s commitment to fighting the disease through drastic lockdowns and other measures.

Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law School, told Reuters: “He’s very political, there is no question. And sometimes he is too political.”

    “But what I love about him is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. He is out there personally, becoming the face of WHO, the face of the epidemic.”

– Tedros, who now describes the new coronavirus as a pandemic, has voiced concern at the disease’s “alarming levels of spread and severity”, adding: “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”

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Economy

High-yield default rate could spike to 9.7% in "pessimistic" virus scenario -Moody's

LONDON, March 12 (Reuters) – Credit ratings firm Moody’s said high-yield corporate bond defaults could spike to 9.7% – topping 2002 levels – in a “pessimistic scenario” that sees the coronavirus outbreak last longer and spread more widely that currently assumed. Moody’s raised its “baseline” global default rate projection for year-end by 0.2 percentage points to 3.6% citing slow growth, low commodity prices and volatile markets – adding it assumed a significant blow out in U.S. high yield spreads.

“The new forecasts assume a material increase in the U.S. high-yield spread in the coming two quarters before easing somewhat thereafter,” Moody’s said in its latest global monthly default report.

But “in our pessimistic scenario, we assume the high-yield spread rising to 1,280 basis points (bps) and the global speculative-grade default rate increasing to 9.7%,” it said.

“Such a default rate, if realized, would be comparable to the peak of 9.6% in 2002 but lower than the peak of 13.4% during the global financial crisis.” (Reporting by Karin Strohecker. Edited by Mike Dolan)

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Travel bans accelerated worldwide as coronavirus spread worsens, markets plunge

People around the world became increasingly closed off from one another Thursday as sweeping travel bans accelerated, walling regions apart as a viral pandemic unfolds and financial markets plunge.

It was an outbreak moving, at once, both glacially and explosively, with a virus first detected three months ago in China creeping across borders and producing eruptive outbreaks that have crippled areas.

Even for a crisis that has brought no shortage of headlines, dizzying developments were flashing across screens: An official designation of “pandemic” from the World Health Organization, a dramatic halt to much travel between the United States and 26 European countries, and infections among beloved Hollywood stars, sports luminaries and political leaders. All of it came against a backdrop of plunging world economies that left not only Wall Street investors but people from all walks of life hurting.

“We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who had downplayed the virus for days, suddenly struck a different tone, delivering a somber Oval Office address announcing strict rules on travel from much of Europe to begin this weekend. The State Department followed with an extraordinary warning to Americans to “reconsider travel abroad” too. Local leaders warned things would only get worse.

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