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Brazil's governors press Bolsonaro for more coronavirus support

BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s governors pressed President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday for more federal support in the coronavirus battle after he blasted them as job-killers and undermined their orders with a decree keeping churches open at evangelical preachers’ request.

Bolsonaro has increasingly echoed the view of U.S. President Donald Trump that jobs should be prioritized over restrictive measures to slow the outbreak, as world health experts suggest.

In a public letter, Brazil’s governors argued that the federal government had not done enough to fund the fight against the virus that has infected some half a million people globally.

Confirmed cases in Brazil had roughly doubled in four days to 2,915 on Thursday, according to the Health Ministry, with 78 dead from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, which relies on dwindling oil tax revenue to keep public services running, Governor Wilson Witzel said he may have to loosen an order closing businesses if the federal government does not offer aid.

“The people will only accept confinement if they’re able to eat. Business leaders will only pause activity if they have conditions for financing,” Witzel told Reuters. “I can’t ask people to go hungry.”

The governors’ letter listed eight proposed measures for Bolsonaro to take, such as suspending state payments to the federal government and helping states buy medical equipment.

Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, who campaigned alongside Bolsonaro in 2018 but has become one of his chief critics during the public health crisis, said he expected to see concrete federal aid measures implemented within 72 hours.

Bolsonaro is under growing pressure to improve his handling of the outbreak, which he initially labeled a “fantasy” and continues to characterize as “a little flu.”

Across cities, protesters have been banging pans in almost nightly protests, and Bolsonaro’s support is down in opinion polls, with Brazilians clearly favoring the governors’ response.

After Bolsonaro blasted some governors on Wednesday for the “crime” of shutting down many businesses amid the outbreak, the president undermined their efforts with a decree on Thursday exempting churches from closure orders, heeding requests from evangelical leaders, an important constituency for him.

In Sao Paulo, the country’s most populous state, which has been most stricken by the epidemic, Doria recommended that churches close their doors for 60 days.

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'Stigmatised': India's coronavirus 'heroes' come under attack

Health and other frontline workers have been threatened, many of them evicted from rented houses over fear of infection.

Doctors, nurses and other frontline workers in the fight against coronavirus in India, who have been hailed as “heroes”, have come under attack and in some cases evicted from their homes by panicked residents.

Some e-commerce giants have even halted deliveries partly due to the harassment of staff, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi said abuse of hospital workers had become a “huge issue”.


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Reports of attacks and abuse have come from across India, increasing with the imposition this week of a 21-day nationwide lockdown. In at least one case, police were accused of beating a delivery driver carrying medicines.

Sanjibani Panigrahi, a doctor in the western city of Surat, described how she was accosted as she returned home from a long day at a hospital that is treating COVID-19 patients.

She said neighbours blocked her at the entrance to her apartment building and threatened “consequences” if she continued to work.

“These are the same people who have happily interacted with me (in the past). Whenever they’ve faced a problem, I’ve helped them out,” the 36-year-old told AFP.

“There is a sense of fear among people. I do understand. But it’s like I suddenly became an untouchable.”

This week, doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences appealed to the government for help after health workers were forced out of their homes by panicked landlords and housing societies.

“Many doctors are stranded on the roads with all their luggage, nowhere to go, across the country,” the letter said.

Modi called on Indians to stop treating medical workers as pariahs, describing those fighting the virus as “God-like”.

“Today they are the people who are saving us from dying, putting their lives in danger.”

Health workers are not the only ones facing the brunt of the frightened population in an environment where misinformation and rumours are thriving.

Airline and airport staff, who are still being called on for evacuations of Indians stuck overseas and to manage key cargo deliveries, have also been threatened.

Indigo and Air India have condemned threats made against their staff.

An Air India flight attendant told AFP her neighbours threatened to evict her from her apartment while she was heading to the United States, saying she would “infect everyone”.

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” she said, afraid to reveal her name over the fear of further stigmatisation.

“I was scared that even if I did go home, would someone break open the door or call people to kick me out?”

Her husband had to ask the police for help.

Others have not been as lucky, the flight attendant said, with one colleague – who declined to speak to AFP – forced out of her home and now living with her parents.

“With all the fake news and WhatsApp forwards, they don’t know what is going on, so there’s this paranoia that makes them behave like this,” she said.

T Praveen Keerthi, general secretary of the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (IPCA), told AFP the organisation had received more than 50 complaints from airline crew.

“Airline staffers are being stopped from entering their own residential premises by security guards,” he said.

“We also have families and children that we leave at home to help fellow citizens … The least we expect is for our colleagues to not be harassed and ostracised.”

Airport workers involved in moving essential supplies have also faced attacks as have delivery workers transporting medicines and groceries.

E-commerce giant Flipkart temporarily suspended services this week.

The Walmart-owned group said it only resumed home deliveries after police guaranteed “the safe and smooth passage of our supply chain and delivery executives”.

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Man accused of New Zealand mosque shooting that killed 51 changes plea to guilty

One year after killing 51 worshipers at two Christchurch mosques, an Australian white supremacist accused of the slaughter on Thursday changed his plea to guilty.

Twenty-nine-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism. The killing spree was the deadliest in New Zealand’s modern history and prompted the government to rush through new laws banning most semi-automatic weapons.

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2 more positive COVID-19 cases at Calgary care home have community on edge

The McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, adding to the three cases reported at the facility Tuesday.

A resident in her 80s died after testing positive for the virus. The loss is hitting uncomfortably close to home for families.

Jenny Miller is visiting her 95-year-old mother Muriel, communicating in written messages through the window.

“I just really needed to see her,” Miller said.

“It’s got to be short words. I just wrote: ‘We love you,’ and I asked how she was feeling and she’s doing hand signals,” Miller said. “She’s not alarmed, she knows that something bad is going on and they’re doing everything right.”

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Mexican government officials send mixed virus social distancing signals

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s deputy health minister unveiled public social distancing measures to fight the coronavirus on Tuesday, even as some top government officials seemed to shrug off his appeal for people to keep a distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart.

The defense minister and finance minister were among about a dozen senior officials who gathered for a news conference where the measures were announced. They stood on a cramped stage, with little space evident between them, as a slide showed a cartoon figure with outstretched arms to indicate safe distances.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been criticized for an allegedly cavalier approach to the virus, encouraging people to go out to restaurants, for example, despite more stringent measures recommended by his government.

Mexico so far has just 367 cases and four deaths but is bracing for a fast rise in infections in coming weeks.

At Tuesday’s event, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said Mexico had seen an increase in non-imported coronavirus cases and was stepping up mitigation measures, starting with suspension of large events.

“We have decided to temporarily suspend events with 100 people or more,” Lopez-Gatell said at the president’s regular news conference. “All gatherings – public, private, governmental, social – must be avoided throughout the month.”

The government also announced some work restrictions, low or zero interest loans for small businesses, protections for the elderly and vulnerable, and said some military medical facilities would be opened to the public.

Lopez-Gatell defended Mexico’s handling of the epidemic, saying it was adopting measures at an earlier stage than countries that have been hit hard by the virus, such as Spain, Italy and the United States.

“Mexico is entering the epidemic a month later,” he said adding it is best practice to “not take the measures too early but reserve them for the exact moment of the inflection point, which is the change in the curve in the number of daily cases.”

Lopez Obrador is due to sign a decree that companies must permit vulnerable populations such as senior citizens, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases to stay home from work, with pay.

Lopez Obrador suggested titans of Mexican industry are also stepping up, noting that billionaire Carlos Slim told him that he will not lay off any workers during the coronavirus crisis.

Slim’s holding company Grupo Carso said later Tuesday its employees would keep their jobs even if some of the group’s businesses temporarily closed.

Additionally, the Carlos Slim Foundation said it would donate 1 billion pesos ($40.36 million) to various public efforts to combat the coronavirus, including helping to provide medical equipment such as ventilators.

Lopez Obrador said the government has enough resources to maintain social programs, weather falling oil prices and proceed with signature projects such as the Mayan train and a refinery near the southern port of Dos Bocas.

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As Sao Paulo goes into coronavirus lockdown, China offers to help Brazil

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro patched up a diplomatic spat with China on Tuesday, agreeing in a call with President Xi Jinping to fight the spread of coronavirus together as Brazil’s largest city went into its first day of lockdown.

The dispute began last week when Bolsonaro’s son blamed Chinese authoritarianism for preventing faster action against the coronavirus, drawing blistering comments from China’s ambassador to Brazil and entangling the upper reaches of the Brazilian government in the row.

Coronavirus deaths in Brazil on Tuesday rose to 46 from 34, and cases rose to 2,201 from 1,891, according to government figures. Wanderson de Oliveira, a Health Ministry official, told reporters Brazil would vastly expand testing in the coming days.

Economic prospects are worsening for Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, amid the pandemic as data showed consumer confidence falling to a three-year low in March. Retail sales in January declined at the fastest rate in over a year, indicating consumer spending was off to a weak start in 2020, even before the coronavirus outbreak.

Two of Brazil’s top airlines said they would cut more than 90% of their domestic flights until at least May.

The slowdown is set to worsen as Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic powerhouse, began a two-week lockdown on Tuesday. The state government ordered all non-essential services and businesses to close in the country’s largest city.

During morning rush hour the city’s streets, usually gridlocked with some of the worst traffic on the continent, were quiet. The offices and shopping centers of financial artery Faria Lima were closed. 

Buses still ran and construction was allowed to continue in a bid to avoid complete economic collapse in Brazil’s financial hub. Restaurants were open for takeout and delivery workers whizzed through the thinning traffic on bikes and scooters.

“It’s all empty… the bus, train, metro, all empty,” said Gidalva do Santo, 50, who had left home briefly to visit the doctor. Suffering from hypertension, do Santo is vulnerable to the coronavirus and, wearing a facemask, she said she was taking all possible precautions.

“Everyone is scared, but I think everyone has to look after themselves, taking hygiene seriously, washing their hands.”

Sao Paulo, which recorded the first cases, has been the hardest hit.

Waiting for a train in a usually packed station, Antonio Lima, 50, said he was worried about what the virus might mean for his small construction business.

“It’s a constant worry, because we have workers to pay. If it is halted and there’s no financial solution, companies will go bust,” he said.

Bolsonaro has faced fierce criticism for his blasé treatment of the outbreak, referring to it as a “little flu” and flouting social isolation guidelines, with his approval ratings slumping to the lowest level since he took office.

The president said on Twitter that his call with Xi that morning included a discussion of how to grow the two countries’ trade relationship. China is Brazil’s largest trading partner and the top buyer of Brazilian soy, beef and other raw commodities.

Bolsonaro did not mention the barbs his son Eduardo traded with China’s Ambassador Yang Wanming. Yang had retweeted a message calling the Bolsonaro family a “huge poison” before deleting it, in turn drawing a rebuke from Brazil’s foreign minister who said it was inappropriate behavior for an ambassador.

Xi and Bolsonaro’s conversation included discussion of cooperation in medical supplies, Yang said on Twitter, without saying what that might involve.

A Chinese diplomatic source said the country, which has seen some success in taming the virus through severe lockdown measures, would provide Brazil “with material and technical assistance to the best of its ability.”

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Mexican referendum rejects U.S. Modelo brewer in new investment blow

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Residents of a Mexican city on the U.S. border voted against completing a billion-dollar brewery being built by Constellation Brands Inc, the government said Monday, dealing a fresh blow to investor confidence under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist, backed the weekend vote in the city of Mexicali on the brewery, which opponents said poses a threat to the local water supply in the desert region. The New York state-based company has repeatedly denied that is the case.

The rejection of the plant, started under the previous government as one of the biggest foreign investments of recent years, has raised more questions about how reliable contractual agreements in Mexico have become under Lopez Obrador.

“They have to respect the decision of the people. I think (the company) will understand when there’s a result like this one,” Lopez Obrador told a regular morning news conference.

The vote follows the demise of a $13 billion Mexico City airport, a partly built project that Lopez Obrador scrapped in October 2018 a few weeks before taking office.

Both cancellations were the result of referendums he had pitched as exercises in local control. Both had low turnouts.

Constellation did not reply to a request for comment. The U.S.-based company previously said it would consider other locations if Mexico became problematic.

Constellation’s shares tumbled 12% on Monday to close just above $105, down from a previous high of $208 on Feb. 20.

Only 36,520 people in Mexicali, a city of 1 million, cast valid votes. Over three-quarters rejected the brewery because they did not want water used for “these types of industries.”

That meant only about 4.6% of Mexicali’s electorate participated, according to employers’ confederation Coparmex, which slammed the process.

“President Lopez Obrador is destroying Mexico,” Coparmex said in a tweet.

Lopez Obrador said his support for the result of the local referendum did not mean his government opposed foreign private investment. He said he planned to discuss an alternative site for the brewery with Constellation (STZ.N).

The results came as the Mexican peso hit a new low, trading at 25 pesos per dollar for the first time ever.

“That may be due to a larger perception of risk in Mexico” connected to the referendum, said Gabriela Siller, head of economic analysis for Mexico City-based Banco Base.

Several Mexican business lobbies blasted the vote, saying it would generate uncertainty and hurt investment at a time when Mexico’s economy is weak and at risk from the coronavirus pandemic.

Only about 1% of Mexico’s electorate participated in the public consultation on the fate of the Mexico City airport.

Constellation, which brews Modelo, Corona and other Mexican beers for export to mostly American drinkers, has countered that the brewery would affect less than 1% of local water supplies, and that the plant had all the requisite permits.

A Mexican government official said under Chapter 14 of the newly ratified United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the cancellation could be considered an indirect expropriation if the U.S. government wanted to pursue the matter.

“Surely the U.S. government is directly talking to the Mexican foreign ministry about this,” the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

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Angela Merkel coronavirus scare: German Chancellor in quarantine due to COVID-19 fear

Germany is one of the biggest hit countries in Europe with coronavirus and has implemented strict measures to try to halt the deadly virus. On Sunday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed she would go into quarantine after coming into contact with a doctor who has tested positive for the coronavirus. The German Chancellor will continue to work from home despite being in isolation.

Mrs Merkel will also submit repeated COVID-19 tests over the next few days, the spokesman said.

The spokesman added that it was too soon for a conclusive test on her at the moment.

On Friday afternoon the German Chancellor received a vaccine shot against pneumococcus, a pneumonia-causing bacteria, from a doctor who later tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the statement.

It comes as coronavirus has swept across the continent leading to thousands of deaths.

On Sunday, Germany announced they were banning gatherings of over two people due to COVID-19.

“The great aim is to gain time in the fight against the virus,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told a press briefing.

For at least the next two weeks, people will not be allowed to form groups of more than two in public unless they live together in the same household or the gathering is work-related.

As part of stricter rules, restaurants can only offer takeaway services and hairdressers and beauty, massage and tattoo parlours must close.

“The danger lies in the direct social interaction,” state premier Armin Laschet said.

Despite confirming over 24,000 cases of COVID-19, the nation has one of the lowest fatality rates, with just over 90 deaths.

On Sunday the country announced an additional 2442 cases of coronavirus and nine new deaths.

Germany, however, is far behind the hardest-hit country in Europe, Italy.

Italy, on Sunday, recorded a further 651 new coronavirus deaths, in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 5,476.

But, in some good news for the country, the rate of increase in new infections was nine percent – the lowest since outbreak began.

Italy has imposed a strict lockdown to try to prevent the spread of the deadly virus — with the country reporting 53,578 cases.

On Saturday evening, Italy recorded 793 deaths in one day.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Saturday evening, warned the UK was “two or three weeks” behind Italy.

The Prime Minister has urged Britons to follow government advice on social distancing, warning further measures will be brought forward, if necessary.

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Abortion activists in Poland fret as coronavirus curbs access

WARSAW (Reuters) – Natalia Broniarczyk, an activist with a charity that assists Polish women who want to terminate pregnancies, says its hot line began ringing non-stop after the government announced border closures to stem the coronavirus outbreak last week.

Many callers were worried about their shipments of abortion pills, which are illegal in Poland, and others feared they would not be able to reach clinics abroad in time to have the procedure, which is unavailable in Poland in most cases.

“The idea that we would have to tell a woman that because of the pandemic she won’t be able to go abroad to have an abortion, as she had been planning to, was horrifying,” Broniarczyk said.

In the first couple of days her charity, called Aborcyjny Dream Team, spoke to over a hundred women, compared to some 10 calls or fewer they take a day normally.

Staunchly Catholic Poland has some of the toughest abortion rules in Europe, with the procedure allowed only in the case of some fetal abnormalities, rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health.

Even when abortion is technically legal, some hospitals refuse to perform it, citing rules that allow doctors to refuse treatment when it contravenes their religious beliefs.

Many women seek help and treatment abroad, a solution that becomes more difficult when governments restrict travel in the hope of limiting the spread of infection.

One woman Broniarczyk said was helped by a European network of abortion activists was 20 weeks pregnant, and had wanted to abort the fetus that doctors said would die shortly after birth because of severe deformities.

She had been refused treatment in Poland and was booked into a hospital in the Netherlands.

Travel restrictions made it impossible for her to reach the Netherlands in time, so the activists helped her get to Britain via Berlin.

When she reached Berlin, Justyna Wydrzynska, who, like also works at Aborcyjny Dream Team, contacted her.

“I called her and asked how she felt,” said Wydrzynska. “She said ‘fine’, but I could hear her voice trembling.”


Asked to comment on such activities, the spokesman for the Polish Ministry of Health said: “At a time of threat from an epidemic, the most important thing is to secure the health and life of millions of Poles.

“At the core of our actions, as well as the actions of other countries, is to stop the rising number of infections.”

Kamila Ferenc, a lawyer with the Federation for Women and Family Planning in Poland, said she expected many women to fail to get assistance because of the spread of coronavirus.

“The border closures, flight cancellations, difficulties crossing borders where queues can last hours, all that will heavily weigh on women who want to terminate a pregnancy, both legally or illegally,” she said.

Just under 50% of Poles support the current rules on abortion, but the ruling Law and Justice party, a conservative grouping, has said they should be tightened further.

In Germany, next door to Poland, a Polish doctor said he worried more women would now seek “back alley” abortions.

“Women are appalled, they are desperate, and completely dependent on lawmakers who decide whether they can go abroad or not,” said Janusz Rudzinski, a gynaecologist who works in a clinic in Frost which provides abortion services to Polish women.

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Indian state promises compensation to workers hit by coronavirus

The 200-million-strong UP state to make payment to poor and daily wage workers for income lost due to the pandemic.

Millions of poor Indians may receive cash compensation for income lost due to coronavirus, as officials in northern Uttar Pradesh (UP) state start counting the number of qualifying citizens on Wednesday.

UP – the most populous state with a population of 200 million and one of the poorest in India – became the first to announce on Tuesday that it would make online payments to poor and daily wage workers if they lost work because of the global pandemic that has caused chaos worldwide and badly affected economic activities.


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“We are tabulating the number of vegetable vendors, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, autorickshaw drivers and temporary staff at shops,” said a labour official who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“This is a major decision. But we don’t have any data on the workers. The announcement is to make online payments to them, so we need the information such as social security numbers, bank account numbers, of all workers.”

25 million jobs could be lost globally

The International Labour Organization said on Wednesday that about 25 million jobs could be lost globally due to coronavirus.

With three deaths and 151 confirmed cases of the virus, of which 16 were from UP, India has seemingly fared better so far than elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America.

Experts say the low number of infections in the second-most-populous nation might be due to the low rate of testing by authorities. They also say India’s already overstretched medical system would struggle to deal with a major rise in serious cases.

About 30 percent of UP state’s population – or 60 million people – live below the poverty line, surviving on less than $2 a day, according to Indian government and World Bank data.

The labour official said departments, including labour, finance and agriculture, were meeting on Wednesday, with a final report to be submitted to the chief minister within three days.

“We are in the process of preparing a scheme,” the state’s principal secretary for finance, Sanjiv Mittal, confirmed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Labour experts said the federal government must also consider reimbursing the labour costs of coronavirus-hit industries and small businesses to ensure they do not lay off staff.

“Workers in certain sectors, such as hotels, food and beverages, poultry and transport, are already hit by social distancing,” said labour economist Anoop Satpathy of the VV Giri National Labour Institute.

“As the number of affected cases increase and we move towards a lockdown situation, businesses and workers will be severely impacted,” said Satpathy, who headed the Indian government’s expert committee on minimum wages.

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