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Business

Asia shares suffer virus chills, central banks offer what they can

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares slid on Monday and oil prices took another tumble as fears mounted that the global shutdown for the coronavirus could last for months, doing untold harm to economies despite central banks’ best efforts.

“We continue to mark down 1H20 global GDP forecasts as our assessment of both the global pandemic’s reach and the damage related to necessary containment policies has increased,” said JPMorgan economist Bruce Kasman.

They now predict global GDP could fall at a 10.5% annualized rate in the first half of the year.

There was much uncertainty about whether funds would have to buy or sell for month- and quarter-end to meet their benchmarks, many of which would have been thrown out of whack by the wild market swings seen over March.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 skidded 1.2% right from the bell, and Japan’s Nikkei 3.7%. EUROSTOXXX 50 futures fell 0.6% and FTSE futures 1.3%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 1.1%, while Shanghai blue chips shed 1.4%.

Central banks have mounted an all-out effort to bolster activity with rate cuts and massive asset-buying campaigns, which have at least eased liquidity strains in markets.

China on Monday became the latest to add stimulus with a cut of 20 basis points in a key repo rate.

Singapore also eased as the city-state’s bellwether economy braced for a deep recession, while New Zealand’s central bank said it would take corporate debt as collateral for loans.

Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB, said the main question for markets was whether all the stimulus would be enough to help the global economy withstand the shock.

“To answer this question, one needs to know the magnitude of the containment measures and for how long they will be implemented,” he added. “This is the big unknown and it suggests markets are likely to remain volatile until this uncertainty is resolved.”

It was not encouraging, then, that British authorities were warning lockdown measures could last months.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday extended guidelines for social restrictions to April 30, despite earlier talking about reopening the economy for Easter.

Japan on Monday expanded its entry ban to include citizens traveling from the United States, China, South Korea and most of Europe.

DOLLAR NOT DONE YET

Bond investors looked to be bracing for a long haul with yields at the very short end of the Treasury curve turning negative and those on 10-year notes dropping a steep 26 basis points last week to last stand at 0.65%.

That drop has combined with efforts by the Federal Reserve to pump more U.S. dollars into markets, and dragged the currency off recent highs.

Indeed, the dollar suffered its biggest weekly decline in more than a decade last week. [USD/]

Against the yen, the dollar was pinned at 107.27, well off the recent high at 111.71. The euro edged back to $1.1096, after rallying more than 4% last week.

“Ultimately, we expect the USD will soon reassert itself as one of the strongest currencies,” argued analysts at CBA, noting the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency made it a countercyclical hedge for investors.

“This means the dollar can rise because of the deteriorating global economic outlook, irrespective of the high likelihood the U.S. is also in recession.”

The dollar’s retreat had provided a fillip for gold, but fresh selling emerged on Monday as investors were forced to liquidate profitable positions to cover losses elsewhere. The metal was last off 0.5% at $1,609.42 an ounce.

Oil prices were again under water as Saudi Arabia and Russia show no signs of backing down in their price war.

Brent crude futures lost $1.56 to $23.37 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell $1.12 to $20.39.

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World News

Petition demands free hospital parking for B.C. health workers fighting coronavirus

A growing number of British Columbians are calling on the provincial government to waive hospital parking fees for health-care workers on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Christine Sorensen, president of the British Columbia Nurses Union, says she’s heard of several members getting parking tickets while on duty.

“They’re getting ticketed when their meters run out because they’re working very long hours in the acute care facilities and other care facilities,” she said.

She adds health-care workers are spending more time disinfecting and decontaminating themselves to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their families and the general public, further adding extra time to their shifts.

“The last thing that nurses or any other health-care provider needs right now is to worry about whether or not they’re going to get a parking ticket,” she said.

“Some members have told me they’re having to leave COVID-19 planning meetings to go and plug the meter or leave the bedside. That is just unacceptable.”

While Sorensen says those tickets have largely been cancelled after nurses dispute the charges and explain the situation, she says waiving the fees outright would save time and stress.

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She said the provincial government should be doing everything it can to support health-care workers while mobilizing the system’s resources to fight the pandemic and treat patients — and that includes making parking free and ensuring there are spaces to park in hospital lots.

Hospital parking fees have been an ongoing struggle in B.C. for years, with earlier petitions and campaigns calling for the removal of fees for not only health-care workers but also for patients and their families.

Dix called the issue “complicated” when explaining why he wasn’t yet removing the fees late last year, despite NDP members voting in favour of the measure at their latest convention.

“It’s a challenging and complicated issue but it’s one the premier has directed me to look at,” he said at the time.

Global News has reached out to the health ministry for comment on free parking for health-care workers.

Private companies operate the parking lots in most provincial hospitals and the province uses its profits either for health services or for community hospital foundations.

Those companies, including Impark, did not return requests for comment Sunday.

Dix said last year that the province brought in $40 million in gross revenues from hospital parking in 2017, a dramatic increase from 2002.

—With files from Richard Zussman

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Politics

Trump Said He Was the President of Manufacturing. Then Disaster Struck.

For a leader who has embraced the language of a wartime president, it is as if the Pentagon asked for missiles and bombers but wouldn’t say how many or where they should be delivered.



By David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman

When President Trump came to office, he promised a new day with America’s manufacturers, casting himself as the first president who understood their needs. He toured factory floors, often handing out his signature “Make America Great Again” hats.

Yet in the first national crisis that required harnessing American manufacturing ingenuity and ramping up production of ventilators, perhaps the most crucial piece of equipment for patients in crisis, the White House’s ability to gather the power of American industry crumpled.

It was unable to communicate how many ventilators it would need or how quickly it would need them. Mr. Trump set states off on a mad scramble to find their own, leading to bidding wars against one another. Even today it is unclear who is deciding where the new American production will be directed — to the highest bidders or to the cities that need them most.

A week after praising General Motors and a small ventilator manufacturer, Ventec Life Systems, for their voluntary efforts to combine cutting-edge technology with G.M.’s expertise at supply chains and mass production, the president blew up at the world’s largest carmaker, accusing its chief executive, Mary T. Barra, of moving too slowly and trying to “rip off” the federal government. In fact, G.M. and Ventec had already signed a partnership — without government help — to ramp up production.

Interviews with White House officials, industry executives and outsiders who tried to intervene make two problems clear. Mr. Trump’s first mistake was recognizing the problem far too late, even though his own medical experts had identified a probable shortage of ventilators as a critical problem in late January, as panic set in that the virus was headed to the United States. Had the president acted sooner, thousands of new ventilators would probably be coming off production lines next month, when they are likely to be desperately needed.

And even after the problem was recognized, and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, took over the process, both the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency struggled to define what was needed, who would pay for it and how to solve the problem of supply chains that stretched across more than a dozen countries.

“We’re going to have plenty,” Mr. Trump said Friday afternoon, declaring that he was invoking the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law, to force the companies to make more. But he gave no numbers — and glided past the complexities of getting between 700 and 1,500 components from more than a dozen nations.

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Business

Coronavirus: EasyJet founder in threat to oust board

The billionaire founder of easyJet is threatening to seek the removal of most of its board members unless it cancels a £4.5bn aircraft order that he warned could threaten its future amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sky News has seen a letter sent on Sunday by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou to John Barton, the low-cost carrier’s chairman, which said he would call an extraordinary shareholder meeting every seven weeks to remove one of its non-executive directors.

Along with other family members, Sir Stelios owns just under 34% of easyJet’s shares.

The entrepreneur is enraged at what he argues is easyJet’s lack of transparency about the order for 107 Airbus planes, which he labelled as “simply shareholder value-destroying”.

He informed Mr Barton that unless his concerns are met by midday on Wednesday, he would begin a rolling programme of calling EGMs every seven weeks to try to remove one of easyJet’s non-executive directors – beginning with Andreas Bierwith.

Prominent business figures who sit on the airline’s board include Moya Greene, the former Royal Mail Group chief executive, and Charles Gurassa, the Channel Four chairman.

Sir Stelios said the Airbus order had saddled easyJet with an existential threat at a time when the world’s aviation industry had effectively been grounded by the COVID-19 outbreak.

EasyJet has grounded its entire fleet and warned that it can no longer give investors guidanx

“Even with a resumption of air traffic, any income from passengers is likely to be too low to keep up with outgoings and would most likely render easyJet insolvent if it continues to pay Airbus for more aircraft,” he wrote.

“This crisis may result in the insolvency of easyJet PLC and if it transpires that a single penny from the company has been paid to Airbus between the grounding of the fleet and the date of the insolvency or any equity-raising which would prevent insolvency, I will personally sue all the easyJet directors for gross negligence and for defrauding easyJet’s creditors with the favouring of one creditor (Airbus with dubious rights to these monies) over all others.”

Sir Stelios’s declaration of war on the easyJet board comes just days after he received a £60m dividend payment from the airline.

In his letter to Mr Barton, he said he had offered to subscribe to new equity in easyJet as part of a wider share issue.

A number of institutional shareholders in easyJet are understood to have been informed of Sir Stelios’s plans over the weekend.

Sir Stelios gave the board until Wednesday to respond to his demands, which include the appointment of an independent law firm to serve notice on Airbus.

He also opposed public statements by easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren that the company was seeking a government loan on commercial terms to help it weather the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said any state support for airlines would need to be in taxpayers’ interest and would be available “only as a last resort”.

That comment implied that airlines such as easyJet would need to tap their own shareholders for funding before approaching the government.

Sky News revealed this month that Virgin Atlantic was seeking financial aid from the taxpayer.

It is not the first time that the easyJet founder has been in dispute with the company over the size of its fleet, having settled several disputes with uneasy truces.

Sir Stelios launched the airline in 1995, before floating it in 2000.

EasyJet could not be reached for comment.

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World News

Australia curbs gatherings, locks down travellers, in new coronavirus measures

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous states will restrict public gatherings to two people from midnight, state leaders said on Monday, as part of a wave of new measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus which has infected more than 4,000 across the country.

The neighbouring eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria account for most of Australia’s total COVID-19 infections and death toll, which stands at 17.

“It is only in exceptional circumstances that you should leave home,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in Sydney on Monday.

“We will get through this. We are in a position now which allows us to control the spread as much as possible.”

Police in neighbouring Victoria will issue fines of A$1600 ($984) to people who breach a limit of two people gathering in public, unless the group is from one household.

“Unless you want to be burying an elderly relative or your best mate, or your parents … do the right thing,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in Melbourne on Monday.

The small island state of Tasmania also imposed a two-person limit on public gatherings from midnight, and became the country’s first state to ban people from alternating between their main home and their second home, if they have one.

“There will not be movement between your shack and your primary place of residence, allowing you to alternate and sleep nights in both,” state premier Peter Gutwein said, using the slang for holiday homes.

“You will need to make a choice,” he added.

Tasmania reported its first coronavirus death overnight, which took the country’s total deaths from the illness to 17. Confirmed COVID-19 cases are around 4,200 nationwide, although authorities said the rate of daily infections had halved in recent days.

Amid the extraordinary shutdown of businesses and resulting layoffs, the regulators and banks have taken measures to pause loan repayments for six months. Overnight, the federal government said it was putting a six-month moratorium on evicting renters.

All travellers arriving home in Australia from overseas meanwhile must go into monitored quarantine in hotels or other facilities for 14 days, under police supervision, according to measures implemented at the weekend.

Australia has swayed in recent weeks between policies designed to keep as many businesses open as possible, and a more aggressive push to lock down the country, causing some confusion.

Amid concerns distressed assets could be snapped up by overseas buyers, Australia said on Monday that all foreign investment proposals would be assessed by the relevant government agency during the duration of the crisis.

While most virus cases have been detected in major cities, clusters have also emerged in tourist destinations, such as in the Barossa Valley, a wine region in South Australia.

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World News

Britons warned some coronavirus lockdown measures could last months

LONDON (Reuters) – Some lockdown measures to combat coronavirus in Britain could last months and only be gradually lifted, a senior medical official said on Sunday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Britain has reported 19,522 confirmed cases of the disease and 1,228 deaths, after an increase of 209 fatalities as of 5 p.m. local time on Saturday compared with the previous day, the health ministry said.

“The important thing is this is a moving target,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said.

“If we do well it moves forward and comes down and we manage all our care through our health and care systems sensibly in a controlled way and that is what we are aiming for,” she told a news conference.

“This is not to say we would be in complete lockdown for six months but it means that as a nation we have to be really, really responsible and keep doing what we are all doing until we are sure that we can gradually start lifting various interventions.”

Her warning came as Johnson wrote to 30 million households in Britain urging them to stick to strict rules to prevent the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS) from being overwhelmed by a surge in cases.

“We know things will get worse before they get better,” Johnson said. “At this moment of national emergency, I urge you, please, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

The number of tests being carried out has hit 10,000 a day, senior minister Michael Gove said and authorities are trying to acquire more ventilators.

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  • UK coronavirus death toll rises to 1,228 people
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Britain has placed an order for thousands of the devices to be made by a consortium of companies including Ford (F.N), Airbus (AIR.PA) and Rolls-Royce (RR.L).

The repurposing of industry echoes Britain’s Second World War effort, with housing minister Robert Jenrick saying that all parts of the country are now on an “emergency footing” as strategic coordination centers are established.

“This is an unprecedented step in peacetime,” he said.

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Business

Bail Out Journalists. Let Newspaper Chains Die.

The coronavirus is likely to hasten the end of advertising-driven media, our columnist writes. And government should not rescue it.

By Ben Smith

Elizabeth Green was musing the other day about buying 261 newspapers.

You could, this Sunday, purchase Gannett, the biggest newspaper chain in the country, for a mere $261 million — about a quarter of what Michael R. Bloomberg spent on his presidential campaign.

And Ms. Green, a founder of the nonprofit education news organization Chalkbeat, is one of the few people who may be able to raise the money to pull off a deal like that.

But she quickly realized that Gannett, the biggest newspaper chain in the country, wasn’t worth it: Buying it would mean signing up to pay off a high-interest loan from a giant New York private equity firm and relying on an advertising business model that may be in its death throes because of the coronavirus.

It’s a moment of deep crisis for the local news business, which could have been blown over by a light breeze and is now facing a hurricane. But it’s also a moment of great promise for a new generation of largely nonprofit local publications.

The time is now to make a painful but necessary shift: Abandon most for-profit local newspapers, whose business model no longer works, and move as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms. That way, we can rescue the only thing worth saving about America’s gutted, largely mismanaged local newspaper companies — the journalists.

“We need to accept that what local news is today is already dying,” said Ms. Green, 35.

She had that realization 12 years ago when she was a local education reporter. Her newspaper, The New York Sun, went under, and she created a new nonprofit organization to stay on the beat she loved. Now, her vision has expanded. She has co-founded the American Journalism Project, which aims to create a huge network of nonprofit outlets, some organized around subjects like education or criminal justice, others focused on covering a town, a city or a state. She wants to replace the hundreds of local newspapers now owned by hedge funds that are slowly being bled dry.

“We need to keep the values, keep the people, keep the lessons learned — and get rid of the shareholders and get a better business model,” she said.

Ms. Green has been working to expand one obviously needed coverage area, public health, to all 50 states, working with the nonprofit news service Kaiser Health News.

And on the local level, she and John Thornton, the other founder of the American Journalism Project, are working on a new project: backing a nonprofit outlet in West Virginia. It will be led by Greg Moore, a former Charleston Gazette-Mail executive editor, and Ken Ward, a reporter at the paper who won a MacArthur “Genius” grant for his coverage of damage done by the coal and gas industries to people’s lives. The not-yet-named new outlet (candidates include “Mountain State Muckraker”) will begin with a staff of about 10, seven of them journalists, a news team on the same scale as the diminished local paper.

“There’s all this ‘doom and gloom for local journalism stories’ that have happened in the last week or so, and I hope that other people see what we’re doing and understand that the important thing is the journalism — it’s the stories, it’s the investigations — that’s what matters,” Mr. Ward said. He will also be on the staff of the nonprofit investigative powerhouse ProPublica and will have support from Report for America, another growing nonprofit organization that sends young reporters to newsrooms around the country.

The news business, like every business, is looking for all the help it can get in this crisis. Analysts believe that the new federal aid package will help for a time and that the industry has a strong case to make. State governments have deemed journalism an essential service to spread public health information. Reporters employed by everyone from the worthiest nonprofit group to the most cynical hedge fund-owned chain are risking their lives to get their readers solid facts on the pandemic, and are holding the government accountable for its failures. Virtually every news outlet reports that readership is at an all-time high. We all need to know, urgently, about where and how the coronavirus is affecting our cities and towns and neighborhoods.

But the advertising business that has sustained the local newspapers — the car dealers, retailers and movie theaters that for generations filled their pages with ads — has gone from slow decline to free fall.

So the leaders trying to get the local news industry through this economic shock need to confront reality. The revenue from print advertising and aging print subscribers was already going away. When this crisis is over, it is unlikely to come back. Some local weeklies recently shut down for good.

Many of the worthy suggestions for saving the news business dodge this central issue. Margaret Sullivan, at The Washington Post, suggested a broad “coronavirus stimulus plan,” and a column in The Atlantic called for a huge government spending on public health ads. Without careful restrictions, a huge share of that government money will go to doomed newspaper chains for whom a major goal, as Gannett’s chief executive said on his last earnings call in late February, is paying a dividend to shareholders unwise enough to invest in his doomed business. (Gannett executives declined to speak to me for this column.)

So what comes next? That decision will be made in the next few months — by public officials, philanthropists, Facebook (which is expected to announce another wave of local news funding soon) and other tech companies, and people like you.

The right decision is to consistently look to the future, which comes in a few forms. The most promising right now is Ms. Green’s dream of a big new network of nonprofit news organizations across the country on the model of The Texas Tribune, which Mr. Thornton co-founded. There are also a handful of local for-profit news outlets, from The Seattle Times to The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Boston Globe, with rich and civic-minded owners. And there is a generation of small, independent membership or subscription sites and newsletters like Berkleyside.

Hundreds of devoted local journalists will be looking for jobs as soon as they can think about anything other than what the coronavirus is doing to local nursing homes and hospitals. We should be helping them, and paying for them, to build these new institutions, large and small.

Government support, as Report for America’s co-founder, Steven Waldman, suggests, could tip toward the new nonprofit organizations and small businesses. Facebook and Google could focus on backing them, rather than paying them to make YouTube videos. A group of journalists in California is now working on a “Marshall Plan” to push the state’s dying outlets into making “brute-force instant transitions" to a sustainable digital model, said Neil Chase, a former San Jose Mercury News executive editor who now leads the nonprofit CalMatters.

The people who run the big newspaper chains — Gannett, Tribune, the bankrupt-but-ambitious McClatchy, and the ruthless Media News Group — disagree, of course. They argue that the dream of digital advertising on a scale that can compete with Google, an original argument for mergers, is still within reach; and that they can cut and centralize their way to stability.

They also point out that these new models carry real risks of their own, and they’re right about that. I’ve learned first hand. I was chairman of the board of the New York nonprofit newsroom The City as it struggled to get its stories read. I’ve watched my wife build a small news outlet from scratch on the hard soil of local advertising and subscriptions at Bklyner. Newcomers will have to scramble to maintain staffs the size of even the most gutted local newsrooms. And nonprofit journalism can be boring, more attentive to its donors than its audience.

“It’s a bad idea to let government and rich people take over the news business and let the distributors completely off the hook,” said David Chavern, the president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, the main newspaper industry lobbying group, which represents both chains and smaller local publishers and is seeking government help. (One legacy asset of the newspaper business is having a good lobbyist in Washington.) He argues that the best public policy, and the salvation for his members, is to force Google and Facebook to pay for the news on their platforms.

None of this is settled or easy. The most heated debate in places where the nonprofit news executives gather — these days, mostly an impromptu discussion on Slack — is whether it’s ever safe or ethical to take government funding.

The name of their Slack channel? #apocalypsenow.

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World News

Coronavirus lockdowns give Europe's cities cleaner air

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Air pollution has decreased in urban areas across Europe during lockdowns to combat the coronavirus, new satellite images showed on Monday, but campaigners warned city-dwellers were still more vulnerable to the epidemic.

Cities including Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Milan and Frankfurt showed a reduction in average levels of noxious nitrogen dioxide over March 5-25, compared with the same period last year, according to the Sentinel-5 satellite images.

That coincides with lockdowns in many European countries which have curbed road transport – the largest source of nitrogen oxides – and slowed output at gas-emitting factories.

The new images, released by the European Space Agency (ESA) and analyzed by the non-profit European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), show the changing density of nitrogen dioxide, which can cause respiratory problems and cancer, like heat maps.

Daily weather events can influence atmospheric pollution, so the satellite pictures took a 20-day average and excluded readings where cloud cover reduced the quality of the data.

Data from the European Environment Agency (EEA) showed a similar trend over March 16-22. In Madrid, average nitrogen dioxide levels decreased by 56% week-on-week after the Spanish government banned non-essential travel on March 14.

The EPHA said people living in polluted cities may be more at risk from COVID-19, because prolonged exposure to bad air can weaken the immune system, making it harder to fight infection.

“That connection is very likely,” Zoltan Massay-Kosubek, policy manager for clean air at EPHA, told Reuters. “But because the disease is new, it still has to be demonstrated.”

Air pollution can cause or exacerbate lung cancer, pulmonary disease and strokes.

China also recorded a drop in nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities during February, when the government imposed draconian lockdown measures to contain the raging epidemic.

In some regions of Poland, however, nitrogen dioxide levels remained relatively high during the period despite its lockdown, perhaps due to the prevalence of coal-based heating.

Countries that went into lockdown later – such as Britain, which did so on March 23 – look set for a pollution reprieve in coming weeks, EPHA said.

Air pollution causes around 400,000 premature deaths each year in Europe, EEA data show.

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World News

Coronavirus: B.C. grocery stores must have hand sanitizer stations, enforce distancing

B.C. grocery stores must have hand sanitizer stations, provide clean carry-out bags and enforce physical distancing measures as they continue to operate through the novel coronavirus pandemic, the province said Sunday.

Those rules and others were issued as the government attempted to clarify how food and grocery retailers can operate under provincial guidelines banning gatherings of more than 50 people, which is meant to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

A statement from B.C.’s COVID-19 joint information centre said that order does not directly apply to grocery stores, although “the spirit of the order should be followed.”

“This means that, for example, in large grocery stores where it is feasible to have more than 50 people present at one time, it is permissible to do so provided that appropriate physical distancing can be maintained,” the statement reads.

Customers should be discouraged from using their own bags or carry-out containers, and stores must use signage to keep customers from placing their own packaging on check-out counters.

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Hand sanitizer containing at least 60 per cent ethyl alcohol must be available in dispensers placed near doors, pay stations and “other high-touch locations” for customer and staff use within all stores, the province says.

Washrooms must be fully stocked with liquid soap, paper towels and warm water, while cleaning schedules and sanitization plans for all stores must be updated and increased.

Stores are also being forbidden from selling bulk items, except through gravity feed bins or where staff can dispense the items.

Staff must be educated in proper hand washing and to avoid touching their face, and anyone who displays symptoms related to COVID-19 must stay home and self-isolate for 14 days.

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World News

France moves patients from swamped hospitals as death toll climbs

PARIS (Reuters) – France used two high-speed trains and a German military plane to move more than three dozen critically ill coronavirus patients on Sunday to ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals in eastern France.

The Grand Est region was the first in France to be hit by a wave of coronavirus infections that has rapidly moved westwards to engulf the greater Paris region, where hospitals are desperately adding intensive care beds to cope with the influx.

The number of coronavirus deaths in France since March 1 climbed 13% to 2,606 on Sunday, while the total number of confirmed infections rose above 40,000.

The specially adapted trains carried 36 patients to the Nouvelle-Acquitaine region in the southwest, where a line of ambulances waited outside Bordeaux station.

“We urgently need to relieve congestion in the region’s intensive care units, because you have to stay one step ahead,” Francois Braun, head of the SAMU paramedics, told RTL radio.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Saturday warned France’s 67 million people that the toughest weeks in the fight against epidemic were still to come, as the number of patients on life support rose to more than 4,600.

Hospitals are racing to add intensive care facilities, sometimes taking ventilators out of operating theaters as they build makeshift units. Student medics are being drafted in and retired doctors are returning to the wards.

President Emmanuel Macron has deployed the army to help to move the sick while a field hospital has been set up in the eastern city of Mulhouse.

Paramedics in hazmat suits loaded several patients on life-support into a German Airbus (AIR.PA) A400M aircraft in Strasbourg for transfer across the border to the German city of Ulm.

European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin hailed the German aid as a symbol of European solidarity, though she expressed frustration at the failure of European Union members to agree on how to mitigate the sharp economic downturn.

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