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EU weakness EXPOSED: Orban’s coronavirus power-grab shows how toothless Brussels really is

The notoriously authoritarian leader has given himself infinite power to lock down all aspects of daily life and borders in the country – without any specified end date. His ruling Fidesz party, which holds a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament, won a crucial vote on Monday, that essentially handed Mr Orban opportunities to bypass their assembly on any law, putting the country under his sole control for as long as he sees fit. Mr Orban’s new powers include imposing prison sentences of up to eight years for anyone spreading misinformation or flouting the coronavirus quarantine rules.

The indefinite state of emergency hands him the right to rule-by-decree, with any planned national elections cancelled until further notice, effectively enabling him to remain in power.

After the Bill was passed in the Hungarian parliament, Mr Orban insisted the emergency measure “poses no threat to democracy”.

In an astonishing repose to the move, the European Commission claimed it would not stand in the way of any capital’s restrictive measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak in Hungary, which has seen 525 infections and 20 deaths so far.

The Commission’s chief spokesman said: “We are blocking no one from doing what it takes.

“We will, however, remain vigilant across the board in all member states on the fact we do this based on the standards that we have in the European Union in all policy areas.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned emergency pandemic measures enforced by EU governments should be “strictly proportionate”, but stopped short of naming Hungary.

The EU figurehead said only that it would “analyse” the new Hungarian law and “closely monitor” its application

Brussels has now come under attack for this response from furious critics, accusing the EU of being powerless.

R. Daniel Kelemen, Professor of Political Science and Law, and Jean Monnet Chair in EU Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey, lashed out at several of the bloc’s leaders, including Ms von der Leyen, Donald Tusk and Manfred Weber.

He tweeted: “Well @EPP @EPPGroup @vonderleyen @donaldtuskEPP @ManfredWeber @CDU @CSU @cdavandaag @lesRepublicains – what do you have to say for yourselves now?

“Proud of giving the EU its first dictatorship?”

He also told the Los Angeles Times newspaper: “It’s a dangerous signal to aspiring autocrats as to what they can get away with during the crisis.”

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Norbert Röttgen, head of the German parliament’s influential foreign affairs committee, tweeted: “The EU Commission has to act immediately.

“The EU26, including Germany, have to demonstrate that they will not tolerate this abuse of the corona-crisis.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director at the Human Right Watch campaign group, raged: “Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s planned emergency rule would let him “govern without meaningful control,” giving him “a free hand to do away with even what’s left of the free press.”

“Wake up, European Union!”

A furious Twitter user said: “European Union is useless. Why pretend to care about human rights and European values if you let Orban and the Polish right to do what ever they want?”

Several other leaders have demanded Hungary be stripped of EU membership.

Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch liberal MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s rule of law group, said: “Viktor Orbán has completed his project of killing democracy and the rule of law in Hungary. Clearly, the actions of the Hungarian government are incompatible with EU membership.”

Mr Röttgen also tweeted the move from Mr Orban “effectively eliminates opposition” and was a breach of basic principles the EU “cannot accept”.

Alexander Stubb, a leading figure in the European People’s Party, the EU’s main centre-right grouping, said that if ever the time had come to expel Mr Orban’s Fidesz party from the EPP, “that moment is now”.

The former Prime Minister of Finland said: “When you start encroaching on the basic principles of what we stand for the punishment needs to be as severe as possible.

“This is in many ways a test of leadership for the whole EU and the EPP as well.”

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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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World War 3 fears: ‘Domino effect’ error could spark major US-Iran conflict in Middle East

Tensions between the US and Iran remain high following the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani earlier this year. Iranian expert of Iran International TV Dr Pupak Mohebali warned one wrong move from Iran on its adherence to current nuclear treaties could spark a major conflict with the US. During an interview with Express.co.uk, Dr Mohebali warned attitudes in Iran were changing towards the nuclear treaties the country had previously agreed to.

She noted, disobeying or withdrawing from these treaties could result in stronger sanctions or military intervention from the US.

She said: “I would not say there is one worst-case scenario but more like a domino effect.

“One problematic decision leads to another and another.

“If Iran was to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) it could bring further diplomatic isolation or it might lead to more international sanctions on the country.

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“It may even cause the US military to start on Iran.

“We could see a heightening of tension between Tehran and Washington, the same as we have the past few years.”

Dr Mohebali explained how attitudes were shifting in the Iranian Parliament on procuring nuclear material.

She said: “This prospect of Iran withdrawing from the NPT is not just discussed among the hardliners in Iran.

“We can see it is being discussed widely among moderates like the Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Iranian Prime Minister said if security council sanctions are reimposed Iran may exit not only the current nuclear deal but the NPT.

“That has been said and that is not a good scenario at all.

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“Although we do see Iran still saying that they do not seek to develop nuclear bombs the problem is the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report show that Iran has nearly tripled its stockpile of Uranium.”

IAEA director Rafael Grossi has also demanded Tehran cooperate with the body to allow them to inspect suspected nuclear sites.

In early March he argued Iran should cooperate immediately and fully with the agency but so far Iran has refused to give definitive answers on three locations nuclear material may have been used or stored.

The IAEA has insisted without cooperation with Tehran it will be difficult for the agency to declare whether Iran has all of its nuclear material.

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Coronavirus India update: Latest death toll in India as country locks down 1.3bn people

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has banned citizens from leaving their homes completely in light of the increase. Images and videos show chaotic scenes as people rushed to shops for supplies immediately after the announcement.

Prime Minister Modi said: “The entire country will be in lockdown, total lockdown.”

He added: “To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family… every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown.”

Mr Modi warned if India does not “handle these 21 days well, then our country… will go backwards by 21 years.”

He called on Indians to unite and take responsibility for tackling COVID-19.

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“This is a curfew. We will have to pay the economic cost of this but [it] is the responsibility of everyone.”

The new measures follow a sharp increase in cases in recent days.

There have been 519 confirmed cases across India and 10 reported deaths.

All non-essential businesses will be closed but hospitals and other medical facilities will continue to function as normal.

Schools and universities will remain shut and almost all public gatherings will be banned.

Big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai were already under social distancing restrictions, but now the rules extend to the whole country.

Air and train travel has also been heavily restricted, with all international flights grounded.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to the region and urged any Brits in India to make arrangements to travel back to the UK.

India has one of the highest populations in the world, standing at 1.3 billion.

Major concerns have been raised about how the country’s health system will be able to cope with the demand coronavirus could bring.

The prime minister has introduced extra funding to help the system cope, although for such a densely packed population it is feared the virus will spread exceptionally quickly.

Health researchers have warned more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May.

The Global Health Security index, and joint project developed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, ranks India 57th out of 195 nations in terms of its pandemic preparation.

The 21 day period, or three weeks, is the recommended time it takes to break the cycle of infection.

The UK is just at the beginning of its initial three-week lockdown.

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Coronavirus USA: Iran accuses US of making special version of COVID-19 to only infect Iran

Iran is among one of the worst-hit countries in the world, with over 21,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The disease has killed at least 1,812 Iranians, including 127 in the past 24 hours. The scale of the outbreak in the country has prompted Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to accuse the US of manufacturing a “special version” of the deadly virus.

Khamenei, Iran’s top political, military and religious leader, turned down offers of US support on Sunday, in a speech to mark the start of the Persian calendar year.

When rejecting the offer of aid from the Americans he claimed Washington would exploit any acceptance of aid.

In his speech, the Ayatollah said: “The American leaders have said several times that ‘we are willing to provide you with treatment and medical assistance’.

“First of all, you face shortages yourselves. If you have anything available, use it yourselves.

“Second, you, Americans, are accused of producing this virus.

“I do not know how true this accusation is. But as long as this accusation stands, which sane mind will trust you?”

Khamenei’s accusation is part of a mounting, and wholly unsubstantiated, propaganda effort against the United States led largely by nations ranged against Washington.

The Chinese government has already accused the USA of manufacturing the virus, circulating conspiracy theories throughout the state.

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Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Washington of dishonesty over what the US government knows about COVID-19.

His accusations, made on Twitter, have been widely recirculated on the internet.

The Chinese official continues to circulate conspiracy theories on social media, writing: “I really think COVID-19 has been here in America for a while.

“Do you guys remember how sick everyone was during the holidays/early January?

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“And how everyone was saying they had the ‘flu’ and the flu shot ‘didn’t work’?”

He also accused the US President of scapegoating China for his continued reference to the disease as the “Chinese virus”.

Donald Trump has been widely condemned for referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”.

He has referred to it as such on Twitter and during televised press conferences and use of the term is believed to be inciting racist attacks against Asians of different ethnicities.

Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a community-based civil rights organisation in San Francisco, said: “The President of the United States, and other White House officials, using the term ‘Chinese virus’, or ‘Kung-Flu’, or ‘Wuhan virus’, we believe is inciting and provoking this anti-Asian sentiment and is really responsible in the rise of these more violent acts.

“He’s refusing to call it by its correct medical name, which is COVID-19, or the coronavirus.

“He’s refusing to do that, even after it was called to his attention that this is harming and endangering the lives of Asian Americans.”

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EU accused of plotting Italy’s eurozone exit as doctor claims: ‘We’ll end up like Greece’

The eurozone was already in a weak state before the impact of coronavirus. Eurozone real GDP increased just 0.1 percent quarter on quarter and one percent year on year in the fourth quarter of 2019, resulting in its weakest performance in six years. Germany’s output was flat, while Italy and France suffered contractions.

IHS Markit expects the spreading virus to do serious damage to trade, travel and tourism and financial markets.

Italy is especially vulnerable, given its fragile economy, the high incidence of COVID-19, and resulting restrictions on activity.

As many economists wonder whether the coronavirus pandemic will be a rerun for Europe of the 2008 financial crash, in an interview with Express.co.uk, Maurizio Brucchi, a renowned Italian doctor who also served as Mayor of Teramo, claimed Brussels is plotting against Italy and using the coronavirus pandemic to sideline the boot-shaped country just like they did with Greece.

He said: “We trusted the EU – but they don’t think of us as their equals.

“Germany and France do not consider ourselves on their level

“They want us to end up like Greece. That’s their goal.

“And if they don’t do anything, we will.

“What Christine Lagarde said the other day is not accidental.

“She should have been removed from office after that.

“It doesn’t matter what Ursula von der Leyen said afterwards, trying to make up for it.

“We, Italians, do not feel European at the moment.”

Last week, European Central Bank (ECB) chief Christine Lagarde claimed it was not the Frankfurt-based authority’s role to “close the spread” in sovereign debt markets – referring to the gap between Italian and German bond yields that is a key risk indicator for Italy.

Ms Lagarde also rebuffed suggestions that she hoped to emulate Mario Draghi, her Italian predecessor as ECB president, saying that she did not seek to be “whatever it takes, number two”.

The remarks stirred fears the ECB was retreating from being a lender of last resort to Italy just as concerns intensified about the economic impact of coronavirus.

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Speaking to the ECB’s top decision-making body in a call on Friday, Ms Lagarde said she was sorry for comments that led to the biggest single-day fall in Italian government bonds in a decade, two people involved in the call told the Financial Times.

Unearthed reports suggest the EU might be indeed plotting to sideline Italy out of the eurozone.

According to a 2012 report by The Daily Telegraph, Germany drafted plans for Greece to default, potentially leaving the euro, as the EU had started facing up to the fact that the Greek debt crisis was spiralling out of control – with or without a second bailout.

Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels to approve the next tranche of loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, designed to stave off national bankruptcy while the new Greek government was putting the country’s finances in order.

However, the severe austerity measures being demanded caused such fury in Greece, that Wolfgang Schäuble, the former German Finance Minister, did not believe that any government would have been able to implement them.

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According to the publication, his worries were brought into the open after a secret European Commission was published, in which Mr Schäuble claimed that even if Greece had made good on its promises, it would have not been enough to reach the target of bringing total debt to 120 per cent of GDP by 2020.

A eurozone official told the publication: “He just thinks the Greeks cannot do what needs to be done.

“And even if by some miracle they did what has been promised, he – and a growing group – are convinced it will not pull Greece out the hole.

“The idea instead is that the Greek government should officially declare itself bankrupt and begin negotiating an even bigger cut with its creditors.

“For Schäuble, it is more a question of when, not if.”

Greece did indeed come precariously close to toppling out of the eurozone in 2015 at the height of a debt crisis, which required lenders throwing the country a financial lifeline on three occasions.

Its fiscal progress is currently being monitored by the eurozone and the IMF, which together lent Athens more than €250billion (£232billion) during its decade-long debt crisis.

The Greek economy will grow only slightly this year due to the impact of the coronavirus, by little over 0 percent, Christos Staikouras told Greece’s ANT1 TV on Wednesday.

The country had previously estimated economic growth of 2.8 percent this year.

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Euro on the brink: EU’s single currency faces its ‘death’ as inaction could destroy euro

They warned the EU’s Frankfurt-based central bank to ramp up bond purchases in order to halt one of the sharpest rises in borrowing costs for Italy, the country worst hit by the viral outbreak outside of China. Italy’s 10-year bond yield grew above 2.1 percent on Monday, up nearly 0.4 percent, as remarks made by ECB president Christine Lagarde continue to cause concerns in the debt market. Ludovic Colin, a portfolio manager at Vontobel Asset Management, said: “Italy, and other Eurozone members, needs to be able to deploy a fiscal response to the crisis at a cheap price.

“The ECB can’t let this go further.”

Ms Lagarde last week provoked fury after claiming it is not the ECB’s job to “close the spread in bond markets”.

Italians spreads above German bonds – a key measure of country risk in the Eurozone – hit their highest level since last June.

Investors claim the damage is now down and only a strong-minded approach from Ms Lagarde will be able to persuade her critics she can keep control of borrowing costs through the EU’s single currency bloc.

Mark Downing, a chief investment official at BlueBay Asset Management, said: “It’s all well and good saying ‘sorry,’ but if they want to see some impact they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is.”

The ECB has already pledged a £108 billion expansion to its quantitive easing programme, on top of the £18 billion a month already committed to.

Some members of the ECB’s governing council have already suggested allowing the bank to increase its bond purchases.

The current asset purchase programme falls short of the £72 billion a month seen at the ECB’s quantitive easing peak.

Fabio Panetta, an ECB executive board member, said: “If necessary, we can further expand the programme.”

Philip Lane, the central bank’s chief economist, added it was “ready to do more” to curtail government debt fears.

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Experts believe the ECB would have to increase its bound-buying programme by at least an extra £90 billion for it to be effective.

“Last week’s ECB decision gave it more ammunition to combat the fallout from the coronavirus, but it will not be enough,” said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist at Capital Economics.

“We now think the bank will soon make an explicit commitment to keep sovereign bond yields low for all governments at least for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.”

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Italy has announced its own £22.5 billion rescue package to protect businesses and homeowners against the impact of coronavirus on the economy.

Economists, however, still expect a huge recession to rip through the country because its huge national debt, which sits at around 140 percent of GDP.

They warn unless the ECB can help keep borrowing costs low, investors could begin to question the sustainability of the debt.

Mr Dowding said: “If they don’t show up with the big bazooka, Lagarde could end up responsible for killing the euro.”

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Schengen deal crumbles: Nine EU countries close borders as 170million citizens on lockdown

Nearly 170 million people have been ordered to remain in their homes as France and Spain joined Italy in enforcing strict quarantine rules amid the deadly viral outbreak. No fewer than nine EU countries have introduced drastic measures in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus over the coming weeks. Spain issued a state of emergency, leaving many British tourists trapped in their hotel rooms, with prime minister Pedro Sanchez announcing on Saturday evening that people could only leave their homes to buy groceries and pharmaceutical products, go to the bank or hospital, or take care of relatives.

It is only the second such time the special powers have been used since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Its government announced yesterday the death toll had risen by more than 150 to 292, and more than 2,000 new cases were registered, bringing the total to 7,844.

Mr Sanchez warned: “From now on we enter into a new phase. We won’t hesitate in doing what we need to beat the virus. We are putting health first.”

France is also planning on tougher sanctions after senior politicians were infuriated by citizens ignoring their calls to cut out socialising and unnecessary trips.

Prime minister Edouard Philippe said: “The first measures that we took, curbing public gatherings were imperfectly applied.

“The best way to slow the epidemic is staying away from people. We must absolutely limit our movements.”

The country had already shut bars, restaurants, museums and non-essential shops over the weekend in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.

But President Emmanuel Macron flirted with danger after allowing nationwide municipal elections to go ahead. He insisted the virus must not harm democracy.

Measures were put in place to keep voters at a safe distance from one another and sanitise surfaces.

There are 5,437 cases in France, with some 300 in a serious condition and 127 deaths.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer claimed between 50 and 70 percent of the country would contract coronavirus.

He said: “It is precisely that which will put an end to the virus since it will create a sort of majority immunity so the virus will die out by itself.”

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Fears continue to grow for Italy, the worst affected country outside China, where the virus originated.

Doctors said hospitals were at the “point of no return” as cases continue to rise.

The death toll had reached 1,809 by yesterday, increasing some 368 in a day, the largest daily rise to date.

The total number of cases continued to rise, reaching 24,747 after a jump of 3,590 in 24 hours.

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Lombardy, which is at the centre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, is running out of intensive care beds after shouldering more than half of the country’s cases.

Germany, a country famed for keeping its borders, open has decided to partially shut its frontiers with Austria, France, Denmark, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The border will remain open to cross-border commuters and goods, but interior minister Horst Seehofer warned citizens “not to undertake non-compulsory trips”.

He said: “The situation is very serious.

“As long as there’s no European solution, you must act in the interest of your own population… those who don’t act are guilty.”

Mr Seehofer said the virus was advancing “quickly and aggressively”, claiming the outbreak’s “peak” was yet to come.

Germany saw a rise in 402 new cases, increasing the total to 6,215 with 13 deaths.

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz has ordered citizens to remain in their homes unless they need to buy essential supplies, or supply healthcare to those in need.

Belgium and the Netherlands have ordered all bars and restaurants to close their doors, and all non-essential shops, excluding supermarkets and pharmacies, must close at weekends.

Schools and universities have both been closed for at least three weeks as part of the coronavirus crackdown.

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Coronavirus has left Boris Johnson ‘haunted’ knowing it will ‘define’ his legacy

Boris Johnson has been left looking "haunted" by the rapidly worsening outbreak of coronavirus across the UK as he realises the decisions he takes now will define his time in office, insiders allege.

The PM has been criticised for advocating a less urgent approach to shutting outlets and banning large-scale events than countries in Europe.

Today, the number of deaths in the UK soared to 35, up 14 in a day, while the number of cases has risen to 1,391.

The Prime Minister has reportedly emphasised to his inner circle the need to be seen to be taking action, following last week's charges of "complacency".

“They aren’t enjoying this much,” one colleague of the prime minister and his team told the Sunday Times . “They look haunted. They know his entire premiership will be defined by the decisions they make.”

Last week, Mr Johnson delivered an astonishingly sobering message to the public, saying he had to "level" with people that "many more loved ones will die" as a result of coronavirus.

They reportedly fear a second wave of infections this winter could lead to even more fatalities, so are keen to be taking action as public opinion demands more action is taken amid fears of an Italy-style fallout.


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According to one Government source, this includes banning mass gatherings – secretly regarded by decision-makers as a "marginal" move: "Stopping mass gatherings may not do much good but it has very little downside."

The Premier League and EFL suspended all football until April last week, while other top sporting events were axed, but this went against the official government advice, which was to allow them to continue in the face of similar measures being taken on the continent.

Another source told the Sunday Times: "Some people seem to be under the misapprehension that we can stop it. That ship has sailed globally. What we need to do is mitigate and safeguard as many people as possible."

An unnamed Tory MP said the Prime Minister fears the potential backlash at home if Covid-19 claims more UK lives than lives abroad, while another remarked: "The problem is that it is Tory voters who will be dying."

Earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people aged over 70 will be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect them from the virus.

Asked if that time frame was in the Government's plan, he told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so, because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it's for their own self-protection."

Pressed on when the measure will be introduced, he said: "Certainly in the coming weeks, absolutely."

Mr Hancock added: "The measures that we're taking, the measures that we're looking at taking, are very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country in order to tackle this virus."

He also confirmed that ministers were seeking to give police powers to arrest and forcibly quarantine people who are sick with the virus but are not self-isolating.

"We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health, yes, and that's important," he told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.

"I doubt that actually we will need to use it much, because people have been very responsible."

It has been reported tonight that Brits face being detained for for refusing to self-isolate or £1,000 fines .

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Politics

Coronavirus crisis: Government ready to close pubs, restaurants and shops to fight disease

The crisis is now expected to last until spring 2021, according to a leaked document from Public Health England. It fears that 80 percent of the population are likely to be infected in the next 12 months with up to 7.9 million going to hospital. Pensioners aged over 70 will be asked not to go out for up to four months for their own “self-protection”. Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged to “stop at nothing” to limit the disease’s impact and said everyone’s life will be affected. Millions of Europeans are in lockdown, only able to leave homes under limited circumstances. 

The US Federal Reserve last night cut interest rates to zero due to the virus. Ireland’s government yesterday ordered all bars in the Republic to close for at least two weeks and urged residents not to hold private parties, hitting St Patrick’s Day celebrations tomorrow, the biggest day in the country’s social calendar. 

Millions of Europeans now face draconian clampdowns shutting many shops and eateries and stopping residents from leaving homes. 

Emergency plans in the UK are being ramped up as the death toll yesterday rose to 35 after 14 more patients died in England. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold daily press conferences with experts from today to keep the public fully informed about what actions to take. 

Police are expected to be given powers to arrest people with the virus who refuse to self-isolate. 

Public Health England emergency preparedness and response team’s document warns that one in ten people could have symptoms at the peak of the outbreak. 

It is the first time health chiefs tackling the virus have admitted that they expect it to circulate for another 12 months and lead to huge extra strain on an already overstretched NHS. 

An estimated 500,000 of the five million vital workers in “essential services and infrastructure”, such as the NHS and social care, could be off sick at any one time. 

The document says that: “As many as 80 percent of the population are expected to be infected with Covid-19 in the next 12 months, and up to 15 percent (7.9 million people) may require hospitalisation.” 

The report has been drawn up in recent days and approved as accurate by Dr Susan Hopkins, lead official dealing with the outbreak. 

It is not believed to have detailed how many deaths are expected. 

But if the 80 percent figure proved correct, the one per cent death rate suggested by many experts could lead to more than 531,000 deaths. 

If Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty’s suggestion that the death rate may be closer to 0.6 percent is right, some 318,000 deaths could occur. 

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “For the public to hear that it could last for 12 months, people are going to be really upset about that and pretty worried about that. 

“A year is entirely plausible. But that figure isn’t well appreciated or understood. 

“I think it will dip in the summer, towards the end of June, and come back in November, in the way that usual seasonal flu does. I think it will be around forever, but become less severe over time, as immunity builds up.” 

Italy was the first European country to order the population to stay at home. France, Belgium and Spain later closed bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and the Netherlands announced last night it was following suit. Mr Hancock said the government has not ruled out taking the same action. 

“We’ll do what is necessary because the top priority is to protect life and you do that by protecting the vulnerable and protecting the NHS,” he said. 

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister and this Government are committed to keeping the public informed every step of the way about what we’re doing to fight the spread of coronavirus.” NHS England said the patients whose deaths were announced yesterday were aged from 59 to 94 and many had underlying health conditions. 

The U.S. Fed has slashed interest rates for the second time in under two weeks in a bid to shore up the US economy. 

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