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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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300 die in Iran after drinking methanol in bid to cure coronavirus

300 people in Iran have died after consuming methanol in the false belief that high-proof alcohol is a cure for the coronavirus.

Local media in Iran, where alcohol is banned, have reported more than 1,000 people becoming sick after ingesting the toxic substance.

A string of fake remedies circulating social media has led to dozens of cases of people falling severely ill after consuming bootleg alcohol containing methanol.

Messages that hand sanitiser acts as a strong protective barrier against the disease are thought to have led many to believe drinking the solution would have a similar effect.

Other social media accounts in Farsi which falsely suggested a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the virus with whiskey and honey, have also fed the belief that high-proof alcohol would kill the virus.

The pubic in Iran remain suspicious of the government after it downplayed the impact of the pandemic on the country.

Home to 80 million people, Iran reported 144 new deaths from coronavirus on Friday, bringing the country's death toll to 2,378, with a total of more than 32,300 infected.

International experts however also fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases.

Dr Knut Erik Hovda, a clinical toxicologist who studies methanol poisoning in Oslo, fears the Covid-19 outbreak in Iran could be even worse than reported.

  • Coronavirus blunder as cops raid comedy club after it posted old routines on Facebook

She said: "The virus is spreading and people are just dying off, and I think they are even less aware of the fact that there are other dangers around.

"When they keep drinking this, there's going to be more people poisoned."

Iranian media aired footage of those affected by the alcohol poisoning being treated on beds needed for victims of the coronavirus.

The media also showed a boy as young as 5 years old who has turned blind because the alcohol poisoning.

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Banker awarded £11k for being forced to work under bright lights

A banker who was forced to work under bright lights that gave her migraines has been awarded almost £11,000.

HBOS consultant Rajni Duggal won a disability discrimination claim as it was established that her bosses knew she suffered from light sensitivity.

An employment tribunal heard she used toilets at a nearby train station to avoid fluorescent spotlights.

Employment Judge David Khan said: “The lighting caused her to suffer dizziness, dry eyes, pain behind her eyes, headaches and migraines, which meant she could not concentrate on her work or not work at all.”

Ms Duggal’s suffering began after spotlights were added to highlight posters in a 2013 refurb at HBOS in Mayfair, West London. Lights in a hall shone through her office’s glass door.

Bosses made adjustments the judge said “removed the disadvantages”. But the branch shut and her new workplace in Fenchurch Street said its fluorescent lights would not be changed.

Judge Khan said: “The claimant was exposed to bright lights, particularly in the stairway, toilet and back office.

"She wore dark glasses to protect her eyes to access these areas. It was agreed she’d use the toilet at Fenchurch Street station to minimise her exposure to the lighting.”

LED spotlights and a dimmer switch were fitted almost 11 months later but Judge Khan said it was an “unreasonable delay”.

He ordered HBOS to pay Ms Duggal £10,000 for injury to feelings and £827.82 in interest.

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Coronavirus blunder as cops raid comedy club that posted old videos on Facebook

Bungling police raided a comedy club that was posting old routines on Facebook after fearing it was staging a lockdown-flouting show.

Owner Paul Blair, 33, was sitting at home enjoying the recordings of past performances when he got a call warning him his club was swarming with cops.

Twelve officers in vans ­surrounded it after someone who tuned into the online show – ­featuring comics in front of a 200- strong audience – mistakenly thought it was happening live.

Paul logged into CCTV cameras outside The Hot Water Comedy Club in Liverpool on Saturday to see the puzzled bobbies.

The club has been shut due to the outbreak but has continued showing the archived footage.

Shortly before police swooped it had shown clips from a show recorded on March 7.

Paul said: “We’d advertised it quite clearly. We record all of our shows, so we have a massive archive.

“We all need a laugh in these difficult times and even if we can’t be open we’ve got quality jokes that can cheer someone up.

“We’re trying to raise some money as well for our comedians because they’re all out of a job now that we are on lockdown. But about five minutes before the show ended we got a call from the shop next door telling us police had just surrounded the club. They must have been baffled.

“It’s fair play to the police as well as they’re only trying to keep people safe. But it’s biggest laugh we’ve had this year.”

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A concerned viewer failed to read that the show, headlined by comic Paul Smith, was pre-­recorded and rang the police.

CCTV cameras captured one of the officers whipping out his phone to watch the live stream while others looked confused.

Dad-of-one Paul said: “It’s just funny to watch the video.

“There are so many of them and you can see them pop up one by one and have a puzzled body language.

“Only thing missing from this bit is the Benny Hill theme song.”

A Merseyside Police spokesman said: “Our officers responded to a report from a member of the public concerned that a ­comedy club was open. To verify this they attended the club and found it closed.”

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As Iran coronavirus deaths rise, Rouhani hits back at criticism

Iranian president says economy is a factor in the country’s COVID-19 response as punishing US sanctions remain in place.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has hit back at criticism over the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying he had to weigh protecting the country’s sanctions-hit economy while tackling the worst outbreak in the region.

Iran, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries from the virus, reported 123 more deaths on Sunday in the past 24 hours, pushing its overall toll to 2,640 amid 38,309 confirmed cases.


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The president reacted on Sunday at criticism of its lagging response to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the region, which has so far infected 38,309 people in the Islamic Republic, and killed more than 2,600 others – according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University in the United States. 

Rouhani described international outcry at the government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran as a “political war”, saying he had to weigh protecting the economy while tackling the virus, labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Leaders around the world are struggling to strike a balance between containing the pandemic and preventing their economies from crashing.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rouhani said the government had to consider the effect of mass quarantine efforts on Iran’s beleaguered economy, which is under heavy US sanctions.

“Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us,” Rouhani said. “We must put these principles together to reach a final decision.”

“This is not the time to gather followers,” he added. “This is not a time for political war.”

In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear deal signed three years earlier between Iran and world powers. Washington has since imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran that prevent it from selling oil on international markets. 

Iran has urged the international community to lift sanctions and is seeking a $5bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Last week, United Nations rights chief called for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran facing the new coronavirus pandemic to be “urgently re-evaluated” to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.

“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said.

In recent days, Iran has ordered the closure of nonessential businesses and banned travel between cities. But those measures came long after other countries in the region imposed more sweeping lockdowns.

Just over a week after saying he expected the measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus to be eased by early April, Rouhani warned on Sunday that “the new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged.

“We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date,” he added.

“The new way of life we have adopted” is to everyone’s benefit, Rouhani noted, adding that “these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time”.

After the president’s warning, the reopening of schools following this year’s Persian New Year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely.

On a positive note, Rouhani said he had been told by top health experts and doctors that “in some provinces, we have passed the peak [of the epidemic] and are on a downward trajectory”.

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