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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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Economy

Canada continuing to assess need for more changes to banks' capital buffers

TORONTO, April 1 (Reuters) – Canada’s financial system has the capacity to respond to further stresses and the regulator will continue to assess if additional changes to banks’ capital buffers are needed, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) said on Wednesday.

OSFI reduced the domestic stability buffer for banks in March to free up C$300 billion ($211.3 billion) of additional lending capacity.

While banks can treat loans subject to six-month payment deferrals as performing loans, they must meet higher capital requirements if they become non-performing beyond that period, OSFI officials said on a media call.

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World News

Britain working with industry on reagent shortage: PM's spokesman

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government is working with industry to address a shortage of chemicals required for coronavirus testing kits to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.

“We’ve been working with industry throughout but as the chief medical officer and the deputy chief medical officer have both set out, there is a global demand for reagents. But it is clear from industry that they are working as hard as they can to support the NHS (National Health Service),” the spokesman told reporters.

Addressing concerns that Britain is lagging other countries in introducing a large-scale testing regime, the spokesman said: “A clear instruction has been issued that where there is capacity available it should be used on testing frontline staff and we expect that to happen.”

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World News

Muslim minority doctors first to die on front line of UK pandemic

Family and patients remember the four doctors who contracted coronavirus while fighting for others with the disease.

London, United Kingdom – The United Kingdom is paying tribute to the first doctors on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic who have died after contracting COVID-19.

All four men – Alfa Sa’adu; Amged el-Hawrani; Adil El Tayar and Habib Zaidi – were Muslim and had ancestry in regions including Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

More: 

  • UK coronavirus deaths rise 27 percent in one day

  • UK: Boy, 13, dies of coronavirus ‘without any family close by’

  • Coronavirus: Which countries have confirmed cases?

Dr Salman Waqar, the general secretary of the British Islamic Medical Association, said the contribution of these doctors was “immeasurable”.

“They were devoted family men, committed senior doctors, and dedicated decades of service to their communities and patients,” he said.

“They gave the ultimate sacrifice while fighting this disease. We urge everyone to do their part and stop further deaths from happening – stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.”

As the country fears a shortage of medical staff amid the pandemic, which has so far killed 2,352 people and infected 29,474 according to government figures, the loss of the doctors has highlighted the vital contribution of medics from minority backgrounds to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

The NHS is the largest employer of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff in the UK with 40.1 percent of medical workers from BME backgrounds.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, announced on Tuesday that about 2,800 medical staff whose visas expire before October 1, will have their visas extended for a year “free of charge”. 

Here, we profile the four doctors who have sadly passed away:

Amged el-Hawrani – A father figure who fought for people

Born in Sudan, the second of six brothers, Amged el-Hawrani was an ear, nose, and throat consultant at university hospitals in the north of England.

Despite having no underlying health issues, el-Hawrani died in hospital on Saturday aged 55.

His youngest brother Amal paid tribute to his sibling who selflessly “took on the burdens of others” and became a “father figure” following the deaths of their eldest brother and father.

“Amged was someone who was very strong in character, both mentally and physically, but in a calm and gentle way,” he said. “His strength was one that was always used as a force for good. He was a protector, a shielder, fighting for people, fighting for his brothers.”

Weeks before his death, el-Hawrani was concerned for his elderly mother who was ill again after having recovered from pneumonia. El-Hawrani finished his night shift and drove a long distance to see her in Bristol, in southwest England. At the time, he had mild flu symptoms which he put down to being overworked.

His funeral went ahead on Tuesday, with only immediate family in attendance. He was buried in Bristol.

El-Hawrani’s colleagues held a minute’s silence for the doctor at Queen’s Hospital in Burton on Monday.

Habib Zaidi – A kind, caring GP whose dedication cost him his life

A general practitioner with Pakistani origins, Habib Zaidi moved to the UK almost 50 years ago and worked in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, southeast England, for more than 45 years.

On Wednesday, at 76 years old, died of COVID-19.

He had been self-isolating for a week when he was taken to hospital and died 24 hours later in the intensive care unit.

His family said they were “heartbroken” by his death, in a statement.

Christine Playle, 73, one of Zaidi’s former patients on whom he performed minor surgery less than three weeks before his death, said she was “shocked and saddened”.

“Dr Zaidi was a very well-liked and respected doctor and was the embodiment of what everyone looks for in their GP – kind, caring, friendly and jolly,” she told Al Jazeera.

“He was a dedicated GP, and that dedication cost him his life.”

In accordance with distancing restrictions, only his immediate family attended his funeral. His widow has now gone into self-isolation.

Adil El Tayar – A consultant who gave his life volunteering in emergency

Adil El Tayar, an NHS surgeon, died on March 25, aged 64.

An organ transplant consultant, he graduated from the University of Khartoum in 1982.

El Tayar had been working at Hereford County Hospital in the west of England as a volunteer in the emergency department, where his family believes he caught the virus.

He began to self-isolate when he displayed symptoms but was eventually hospitalised and placed on a ventilator.

The British ambassador to Sudan, Irfan Siddiq, paid tribute to the father of four on Twitter and thanked healthcare workers everywhere for showing “extraordinary courage”.

He went on to become a medical director before retiring and becoming a volunteer.

Sa’adu’s son Dani told Al Jazeera: “He was a very passionate man, who cared about saving people. As soon you spoke to him about medicine his face would light up. He worked for the NHS for nearly 40 years in different hospitals across London.

“He loved to lecture people in the world of medicine, he did so in the UK and Africa. My dad retired and was working part time at the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital in Welwyn, Hertfordshire until his passing. He was a massive family man and we did everything together, family came first. He left two sons and a wife, who is a retired doctor herself.”

The former president of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki, paid tribute to Sa’adu on Twitter, saying he provided “leadership for our people in the diaspora”

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World News

Swiss coronavirus death toll rises to 378, positive tests hit 17,139

ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss death toll from the coronavirus has reached 378, the country’s public health ministry said on Wednesday, rising from 373 people a day earlier as Switzerland prepares additional measures to mitigate the epidemic’s economic hit.

The number of positive tests also increased to 17,139 from 16,176 on Tuesday, the ministry added.

The Swiss government is preparing to expand an emergency liquidity programme for coronavirus-hit businesses, as banks have already handed out more than half of the 20 billion Swiss francs ($20.70 billion) set aside for state-backed loans.

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World News

Italy's coronavirus lockdown measures to be extended to April 13: minister

ROME (Reuters) – Italy will extend anti-coronavirus lockdown restrictions imposed last month to April 13, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Wednesday.

“We must not confuse the first positive signals with an ‘all clear’ signal. Data shows that we are on the right path and that the drastic decisions are bearing fruit,” Speranza told the upper house Senate.

After days of steep rises in cases, data this week has suggested the pace of growth in the number of total cases in Italy is slowing, with new infections coming in at 4,053 on Tuesday. Deaths have remained largely steady at over 800 a day.

Speranza added that the “battle (against the virus) is still very long.”

Italy was the first Western country to introduce the restrictions and has tightened them week by week, banning all but core activities.

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World News

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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World News

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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World News

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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World News

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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