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UK Coronavirus death toll rises by 569, bringing total to 2,921

UK Coronavirus death toll rises by 569, bringing total to 2,921 | The Independent

Coronavirus: ‘It is time to ramp up the tests,’ says prime minister

The UK death toll for coronavirus has risen to 2,921 up by 569 from the day before.

Meanwhile, more than 33,700 people have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, according to government figures.

The new death toll, which counts the number of hospitalised patients who have died, was a daily increase of 24 per cent.

More than 163,100 people have been tested for Covid-19 in the UK as of Thursday morning, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

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Gambia coronavirus: Borders are closing, and now this village is split in two

“We are very close,” said Modi Dem, 43, the village chief.

But the novel coronavirus is transforming life for people worldwide after dozens of nations have tightened or closed their borders. Travel bans are commonplace in this age of pandemic: A growing list of places — including Ghana, Kenya, Italy and Chile — have closed their doors without much notice to nearly all foreigners.

Even if they are next-door neighbors.

Gambia, the smallest country in continental Africa, is sandwiched between Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean — a legacy of colonial-era demarcation. The caterpillar-shaped nation sealed its 465 miles of border on March 23.

Police officers with AK-47s are enforcing the measure, which is meant to last three weeks in an effort to curb transmissions, officials say, but could be extended if the outbreak worsens. (Gambia had four cases as of Tuesday, and Senegal had 175.)

International traffic fuels a “high risk of contracting the disease,” the Gambian president’s office warned residents last week in a statement.

The beige stone of Ngunta has become a risky red line.

Travel bans around the world have scrambled markets, doomed business deals, wrecked study abroad plans and canceled untold vacations, but the impact here is more intimate.

Families are separated. Boys are hatching illicit plans to see girls. Rice merchants cannot reach their regular customers, and food supplies are dwindling.

Villagers on the Gambian side say they no longer have easy access to drinking water. Usually, they send horse carts a quarter-mile over the border to fill jugs.

Now people are anxiously sneaking into Senegal with pots. The path is clear when officers are not around.

“We need to do the illegal thing to get clean water,” said Dem, the village head.

People are worried they could be arrested or worse, they said in interviews. Some have seen videos of security forces in Senegal and other countries beating people who break the new coronavirus laws.

Authorities have apprehended two Senegalese fisherman trying to float into Gambia and escorted them into a state quarantine hold, officials said Monday.

Waiting for normalcy to return does not feel like an option, the chief said.

The main road tying Ngunta to the rest of Gambia is in rough condition. Travel, already a hassle, can be dangerous once the rainy season kicks off in June. The isolated economy does not work when it is split in half.

Buba Dem, 37, a sugar salesman, said he cannot afford to lose customers. (Dem, a popular surname in the village, belonged to the brothers who settled here in 1930.)

His wife surveys the horizon. She will shout his name, he said, if she sees anyone in uniform. That strategy worked last week when he stepped onto Senegalese soil to get change.

“I’m scared of getting caught,” he said. “The patrol team could be around at any time.”

Alagie Nije, 14, stuck to his phone this week, trying to persuade his girlfriend on the other side of town to sneak over.

His buddies did the same with their love interests. The teenagers made a pact to look out for each other.

“Tonight we might invite them,” Nije said, laughing.

Hawa Ceesay, 34, is not so bold.

The peanut farmer yearns to see her brother, her best friend, the man who brings her Chinese green tea and chocolate cake.

He was visiting their sick father in Senegal when the border closed.

They are not sure if he has been exposed to the coronavirus, she said, and he does not want to bring it to their doorstep — even if that means he must sleep on the floor for a while.

“Every day I pray he can come home,” she said.

Mamadou Edrisa Njie in Ngunta, Gambia, contributed to this report.

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UN chief says coronavirus ‘worst crisis’ since WWII: Live updates | News

The United Nations chief has warned the coronavirus pandemic presents the world with its “worst crisis” since World War II, with the number of dead in the United States now higher than in China and hard-hit countries in Europe reporting their highest number of deaths in a single day.

The US announced some 800 deaths on Tuesday – bringing the total to more than 3,700. It also has the most confirmed cases. China has reported 3,282 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. 

Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Italy each reported their largest single-day increase in deaths since the start of the pandemic. Some 12,428 people have died from the disease in Italy, the world’s most seriously affected country.


Around the world, nearly 857,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus and at least 178,000 have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 42,000 people have died.

I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur with Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are the latest updates.

Wednesday, April 1 

04:35 GMT – Cluster of infections among medics at hospital in northern Mexico

Some 29 doctors and nurses at a hospital in northern Mexico have been diagnosed with coronavirus, according to a report from Reuters, citing the regional health department.

The outbreak at the government-owned IMSS General Hospital in Monclova in the northern border state of Coahuila is thought to have started when a doctor picked up the virus from a patient at his private practice.

04:30 GMT – Germany reports 5,453 additional cases

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute says the country confirmed an additional 5,453 cases of coronavirus with a further 149 deaths.

The country now has a total of 67,366 cases and 732 fatalities.

04:20 GMT – Taiwan to donate 10 million masks to countries most in need, share expertise

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen says the country will donate masks and other vital medical supplies to its allies and countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus, and collaborate on developing treatments and vaccines. 

The masks will go to the US, the hardest-hit European countries and Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies, according to Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

“Taiwan can help and Taiwan is helping,” he said.

Tsai also said Taiwan is spending the equivalent of $35 billion on measures to support its export-led economy through the crisis.

04:00 GMT – Japan to do ‘whatever is needed’ to control coronavirus

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the government would do “whatever is needed” to control the coronavirus, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prepared to chair a meeting of his coronavirus task force on Wednesday evening.

Japan Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo [Kyodo via Reuters]

Japan has reported some 2,200 cases and 66 deaths. New virus infections in Tokyo rose to a daily record of 78 on Tuesday, for a total of more than 500. Schools have been closed since March 2 and expectations are growing the shutdown will be extended.

03:45 GMT – Reporters Without Borders tracking impact of virus on journalism

Reporters without Borders (RSF) has launched its ‘Tracker 19’ tool to document state censorship, deliberate disinformation and their effect on people’s right to reliable news and information during a global pandemic.

Among its most recent entries are Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s attacks on the media, restrictions on the right to inform in Thailand and Turkmenistan’s decision to ban the word ‘coronavirus’.

03:35 GMT – Malaysia tightens lockdown in ‘second phase’

Malaysia is tightening its lockdown, as the so-called Movement Control Order that was originally to have come to an end on March 31 enters its “second phase”.

The Home Ministry says for the next two weeks, public transport will operated only for selected hours in the morning and evening, while private vehicles (including e-hailing services) will be banned from the roads between 10pm (14:00 GMT) and 6am (22:00 GMT).

Malaysia checkpoint

Malaysia has deployed the military to help enforce a nationwide stay-at-home order that remains in force until April 14 [Fazry Ismail/EPA]

02:40 GMT – Taiwan asks people to wear masks when using public transport

Everyone using public transport in Taiwan will need to wear masks from today while people with fevers will not be allowed into stations or airports.

Taiwan has been widely praised for its efforts to curb the virus’ spread on the island. Al Jazeera’s Erin Hale wrote earlier on Taiwan’s approach as well as the difficulties it faces because of its exclusion from the WHO. 

02:20 GMT – US medical stockpile nearly out of protective gear

The US government’s emergency stockpile of medical equipment is nearly run out of protective gear.

Masks, respirators, gloves, gowns and face shields are all in short supply, two officials at the Department of Homeland Security told Reuters.

02:15 GMT – China data delayed; asymptomatic cases to be reported

China’s National Health Commission has yet to release its daily update on coronavirus cases, with asymptomatic cases expected to be added to the tally.

We’ll bring you the numbers once they’re announced.

China Wuhan

People queue to enter a supermarket in Wuhan as life slowly returns to normal [Aly Song/Reuters]

02:00 GMT – Two staff at overseas missions die in US State Dept’s first coronavirus deaths 

Two locally-employed staff at US foreign missions – one in Indonesia and one in the Democratic Republic of Congo – have died of the coronavirus, the State Department said on Tuesday, its first pandemic-related losses among staff.

01:35 GMT – Hong Kong says pet cat tests positive for coronavirus

Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has revealed that a cat has tested positive for the coronavirus – the third pet to do so in the territory.

The short-haired cat was sent for quarantine when its owner tested positive for COVID-19. The animal does not have any sisgns, the department said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Earlier two dogs tested weak positive or positive during repeated tests for the virus.
Hong Kong is urging that pet cats, dogs and other mammals should be quarantined if anyone in the household is confirmed with COVID-19.

00:30 GMT – ‘The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America’

US President Donald Trump has just shared on Twitter his ‘Coronavirus Guidelines for America’ after warning the country faced a “very painful” two weeks as it confronts the virus.

The recommendations advise the elderly and those with underlying health conditions to stay at home and urge those feeling sick to stay at home and seek medical attention.

20:50 GMT Tuesday – UN chief: ‘COVID-19 worst crisis since WWII’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the coronavirus pandemic is the most serious crisis facing the world since World War II, threatening people in every country and carrying the risk of “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict.”

The UN chief was speaking at the launch of a report on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.

Read all the updates from yesterday (March 31) here.

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India coronavirus: Migrant workers sprayed with disinfectant in Uttar Pradesh

Video showed three people, dressed in protective gear, spraying the liquid directly on a group of Indian workers as they sat on the ground in the northern city of Bareilly.

Ashok Gautam, a senior officer in charge of Covid-19 operations in Uttar Pradesh, told CNN as many as 5,000 people have been “publicly sprayed” when they arrived before they were allowed to disperse.

“We sprayed them here as part of the disinfection drive, we don’t want them to be carriers for the virus and it could be hanging on their clothes, now all borders have been sealed so this won’t happen again,” he said.

He said the disinfectant used was a solution made from bleaching powder, and was not harmful to the human body.

While chemical disinfectants work on surfaces, they can be dangerous to people. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), putting disinfectant on your skin will not kill it if the virus is already in your body.

‘Overzealous action’

The chemical wash has appalled many in India. Lav Agarwal, senior official at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said Monday that local officials involved in the incident have been “reprimanded,” adding that spraying migrant workers was not a “required” policy in the country.

“This is an overzealous action done by some employees at the field level, either out of ignorance or fear,” he said.

The district magistrate of Bareilly, Nitish Kumar, also tweeted that while the municipal corporation and local fire service were under orders to sanitize buses, they were “overzealous” in spraying the migrant workers directly.

“Orders to launch an inquiry against those responsible have been given,” he said.

Video showed the workers being doused in the chemical.

Kumar, who is the highest-ranking district official in the city, added that workers affected by the incident are currently under medical surveillance following instructions from the chief medical officer.

Tens of thousands of India’s 45 million economic migrant workers have been making a long, arduous journeys back to their rural villages. Many of them had lost their jobs as businesses’ shut their doors across India’s cities due to the lockdown.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged all states to seal their borders to stop the virus being imported into rural areas. Officials are now scrambling to find millions of migrant workers who had already returned to small towns and villages across the country, in order to quarantine them for 14 days.

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Inside the White House during ’15 Days to Slow the Spread’

This account of the past two weeks inside the White House is based on interviews during that period with staffers and outside advisers, as well as prior POLITICO reporting. Collectively, staffers described a time of uncertainty and reassessment as the West Wing reoriented itself around a singular mission. They witnessed historic moments from the center of power — the biggest one-day plunge ever for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and then its biggest one-day gain since 1933. They wondered what it would all mean for the 2020 elections — would there even be in-person voting in eight months? Is campaigning as we know it over?

Meanwhile, Americans everywhere grappled with their changing realities: Will the way we celebrate, congregate and pray change forever? Will we become a more isolated society, connected by video conferences rather than in-person gatherings?

“Should I even be here?” a White House official said squeamishly after multiple high-level staffers were exposed to the virus and forced to stay home.

On Tuesday, the White House’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” initiative will come to an end. The country will look to Trump to tell people how much longer daily life will be paralyzed, how much longer they’ll be out of a job.

What he will say, though, is still unknown.


U.S. cases: 0

U.S. deaths: 0

Stock Market: 28,868.80

As with many Americans, the magnitude of the situation didn’t initially set in at the White House.

As early as Jan. 2, the Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contacted the National Security Council to discuss a developing situation in China regarding a respiratory illness they had yet to confirm as a novel coronavirus, according to a White House timeline reviewed by POLITICO. Ten days later, China reported its first death from the virus.

Then, like a dry brush fire, it spread.

The first case of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21. Days later, the president developed a task force to address the potential spread. But publicly, the president and his advisers maintained that the situation was under control, as the president cut off most travel from China at the start of February.

Internally, some White House officials monitoring the situation abroad felt frustrated the virus was being shrugged off by senior officials, including the president. Reducing travel from China was not enough, they argued. They pressed for Trump to take more aggressive action, citing forecasts that indicated the United States could face a trajectory of cases mirroring places like Italy, which saw a spike in mid-February.

Trump came around in late February during an 18-hour trip back from India, where he had spent two days amid cheering throngs, miles from coronavirus concerns. On the flight, he saw the round-the-clock media coverage of the disease. According to his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Trump didn’t sleep on the entire ride back.

Minutes after landing on the morning of Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C., Trump tweeted that he would be holding a briefing to address the situation. He hastily tapped Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the coronavirus task force and predicted the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. would soon be “close to zero.”

The opposite happened.

In early March, the president and his team recognized the writing on the wall, besieged by concerns from allies across the country. There were now more than 1,000 cases in the U.S. The World Health Organization declared a pandemic. The stock market plummeted, even halting trading for 15 minutes on March 9 to avoid a market-crashing slide.

Trump and his team scrambled to address the nation’s concerns in an Oval Office address — only the second one Trump had ever made.

“If tonight isn’t Trump saying, ‘This is bad and could get very worse, you need to take every precaution necessary,’ then he can kiss a second term goodbye,” an administration official said at the time.

He didn’t say that. Instead, the president, in hastily arranged remarks, said he was barring all travel from Europe and promised that health insurers had agreed to cover all coronavirus treatments. Investors panicked — would necessary cargo still be allowed to come into the U.S.? Insurers were taken aback — they had only agreed to cover coronavirus tests, not all treatment.

The White House rushed to clarify. Stocks tumbled further.

Morale bottomed out in the White House.

One White House official said that was the week it all changed. In addition to the president’s prime-time remarks and the stock trading pauses, the virus unexpectedly overturned America’s collective culture. In a span of several minutes that Wednesday night, Hollywood star Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for the virus, the NCAA canceled its national basketball tournaments, and the NBA suspended its season.

“That week made the Democrats’ BS impeachment seem trivial,” another White House official quipped.

Daily life was not going to be the same.

Within a week, most of the U.S. would be shut down.

A week later, Congress would pass the largest economic recovery bill ever assembled.

Here’s what those two weeks felt like inside the White House.


U.S. cases: 6,400

U.S. deaths: 83

Stock market: 20,188.52

The president and his team decided dramatic action was needed to blunt the spread of the virus.

They had seen horrifying new projections from the Imperial College in London that showed millions dying if more extreme measures were not taken. Chastened by the new data, the president’s demeanor changed.

On March 16, a Monday, the president announced new recommendations that Americans should not gather in groups larger than 10 — five times as extreme as guidelines introduced by the CDC just the day before.

It was the start of the White House’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread.”

“With several weeks of focused action, we can turn the corner and turn it quickly,” Trump said. “Our government is prepared to do whatever it takes.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, a global health specialist tasked with leading the coronavirus task force’s efforts, made a direct plea to the American people to heed the guidelines.

“We really want people to be separated at this time, to be able to address this virus comprehensively that we cannot see, for which we don’t have a vaccine or a therapeutic,” she said.

The president dispatched Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to hammer out a stimulus bill with Congress to boost the economy. Mnuchin gave a dire, but prescient, warning to Senate Republicans during a lunch on Capitol Hill: Act now or the U.S. could see double-digit unemployment numbers.


U.S. cases: 13,700

U.S. deaths: 150

Stock market: 19,898.92

On Wednesday, streets in major cities like San Francisco and New York began to empty.

At the White House, the president had a new message: The country is at war.

“To this day, nobody has seen anything like what they were able to do during World War II,” Trump said at a news conference. “And now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together because we are all in this together and we’ll come through together.”

He invoked a wartime law — the Defense Production Act — granting him broad authority to direct manufacturers to make the equipment needed in a crisis. But he said he would only use the law in a “worst-case scenario.”

America was facing an encroaching, lethal, “invisible enemy,” Trump said.

At the White House, the enemy was already within.

Members of the president’s inner circle kept getting exposed to people with coronavirus. Several top staffers, including Ivanka Trump and acting chief of staff Mulvaney, had to isolate themselves.

Members of Congress closest to the president — including his incoming chief of staff, Mark Meadows — were forced to self-quarantine. And even as the president began to use the press briefing room day after day, his own press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, was conspicuously missing. She, like others in the White House who were exposed, were following the very same advice being dished out from the podium: stay home.

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Iran defends its virus response, citing economic concerns

Iran’s president on Sunday lashed out at criticism of the country’s lagging response to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, saying the government has to weigh economic concerns as it takes measures to contain the pandemic.

Hassan Rouhani said authorities had to consider the effect of mass quarantine efforts on Iran’s beleaguered economy, which is under heavy U.S. sanctions. It’s a dilemma playing out across the globe, as leaders struggle to strike a balance between restricting human contact and keeping their economies from crashing.

“Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting. “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.”

Even before the pandemic, Rouhani was under fire for the unraveling of the 2015 nuclear deal he concluded with the United States and other world powers. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement and has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran that prevent it from selling oil on international markets. Iran has rejected U.S. offers of humanitarian aid.

State TV on Sunday reported another 123 deaths, pushing Iran’s overall toll to 2,640 amid 38,309 confirmed cases.

Most people suffer only minor symptoms, such as fever and coughing, and recover within a few weeks. But the virus can cause severe illness and death, especially in elderly patients or those with underlying health problems. It is highly contagious, and can be spread by those showing no symptoms.

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. Many Iranians are still flouting orders to stay home in what could reflect widespread distrust of authorities.

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

Elsewhere in the region, Qatar reported its first death from the new coronavirus late Saturday, saying the total number of reported cases there was at least 590.

The tiny, energy-rich nation said it flew 31 Bahrainis stranded in Iran into Doha on a state-run Qatar Airways flight. But since Bahrain is one of four Arab countries that have been boycotting Qatar in a political dispute since 2017, Doha said it could not fly the 31 onward to the island kingdom.

“Bahraini officials have said they will send a flight for them at some undefined point in the future,” the Qatari government said in a statement.

Bahrain said it planned a flight Sunday to pick up the stranded passengers. The kingdom said it had its own repatriation flights scheduled for those still stuck in Iran and warned Qatar that it “should stop interfering with these flights.”

In Egypt, at least 1,200 Sudanese are stranded at the border after Sudan closed all its crossings, according to Egyptian officials at one of the crossings. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

Sudan, which is still reeling from the uprising that toppled President Omar al-Bashir last year, has five confirmed cases, including one fatality. It’s one of several countries in the region where the health care system has been degraded by years of war and sanctions. Authorities closed the borders to prevent any further spread.

Sudan’s Information Minister Faisal Saleh said Sudanese authorities are looking for lodging in Egypt for the stranded passengers. He said authorities have quarantined at least 160 undocumented migrants who were sent into Sudan from war-torn Libya earlier this month.

Residents in Egypt’s southern city of Luxor say they are providing shelter to the stranded Sudanese.

“We have provided food and medicine to the Sudanese brothers,” said Mahmoud Abdel-Rahim, a local farmer. “People hosted women, children and elders in their homes.”

Egypt, which has reported 576 cases and 36 fatalities, imposed restrictions on cash deposits and withdrawals to prevent crowding at banks as payrolls and pensions are disbursed. Authorities began imposing a nighttime curfew last week.


Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Samy Magdy in Cairo and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed.

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Coronavirus: Family share story of love as hospice faces crisis

Kate and Paddy SloanImage copyright

Image caption

Kate and Paddy Sloan have been together for 35 years

In this world where families send their love through glass divides and locked doors, due to coronavirus, a virtual hug has to be good enough.

Now a family from Northern Ireland are sharing their story, in a bid to boost emergency funds for Marie Curie.

It is one of the biggest charities caring for terminally-ill patients in Northern Ireland.

But it has said it is deeply concerned about the impact coronavirus restrictions will have on its fundraising efforts.

The charity is backing an urgent appeal to the chancellor for financial support.

The toughest part

Kate Sloan, 64, has cancer and is currently in the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast.

She and her husband, Paddy, from Loughinisland, County Down, have been together for 35 years.

Coronavirus has been the toughest part of their hospice journey, said Paddy.

Image copyright

Image caption

Kate Sloan’s family reached out to her through glass on Mother’s Day

When coronavirus meant their children and grandchildren would be unable to hug Kate on Mother’s Day, they figured out a way to be there for her – no matter what.

“They just want to see their mummy and nanny, however, they know that what they’re doing by distancing themselves is vital to the health of Kate and other patients,” he said.

But on Mother’s Day, they made “an amazing effort” to make it special.

‘Part of the family’

“Our son, Aidan, and his wife brought their four children down to see their nanny – and although it was looking through a window holding up a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ sign, it most definitely helped make the day that much easier.

“Our daughter, Roisin, also arrived with a little bag of essentials, waving and smiling through the window, and even that little bit of interaction put a big smile on Kate’s face,” he said.

“It’s difficult, and with present circumstances I know that not being able to hug their mum, or just sit at her bedside and hold her hand, is hard on them but they are glad the facilities at the hospice have enabled me to stay with her and be here for her.”

Mr Sloan said Marie Curie had become “an extension of our family” and were there not only for Kate, but for all of them.

“Due to her illness, Kate is unable to eat or speak, but that hasn’t stopped her personality shining through and the care from the Marie Curie nurses has been so good.

“As I’m able to stay with Kate overnight there is no need for me to leave her side, which is the only place I want to be.”

‘Devastating loss of income’

The network of Marie Curie hospices and community nurses rely on donations to cover the £200,000-a-week running costs.

But its ability to generate this money has been seriously compromised by the pandemic.

It is backing an urgent appeal to the chancellor for financial support.

“We are facing a devastating loss of income,” said Ciara Gallagher, head of partnerships and philanthropy.

Image caption

Marie Curie is one of the biggest charities caring for terminally ill patients in Northern Ireland

She said the charity has had to make “tough decisions locally” to postpone and cancel a number of fundraising events.

“We estimate this will be a loss of approximately £350,000 from these events alone,” she added.

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California Gov. Newsom commutes sentences for 21, including killers

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday commuted 21 prison sentences and pardoned five people who had already served their time behind bars, citing the coronavirus pandemic as a factor in his decision.

Fourteen of the commuted cases involved murder or related charges

In two of the cases, the victims were children. A pregnant woman was the victim in another case.

Among those who had sentences commuted were Suzanne Johnson, 75, of San Diego County, who had served 22 years for assaulting a child who died; 64-year-old Joann Parks of Los Angeles County who served 27 years for the deaths of her three young children who were killed in a house fire, which Parks denies setting; and Rodney McNeal, 50, of San Bernardino County, who served 22 years for fatally stabbing his pregnant wife, a crime he also denies.

Newsom’s office said the clemency grants were in progress before the coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened more than 4,200 Californians.

Attorneys representing inmates this week asked federal judges to free thousands of inmates to help prisons better confront the pandemic, which has sickened one inmate and 12 employees. Newsom said mass inmate releases would further burden strained community health care systems and homelessness programs. But he stopped transfers into the system for 30 days.

The crisis affected his clemency decisions, spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in an email.

Newsom “also considered the public health impact of each grant, as well as each inmate’s individual health status and the suitability of their post-release plans, including housing,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Two of the pardons were intended to help lawful immigrants who face the possibility of being deported based on crimes they committed years ago. Waters said that would be “an unjust collateral consequence that would harm their families and communities.”

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Grounding of Munster charity air ambulance ‘will see lives lost’

The grounding of Ireland’s first charity air ambulance service due to the Covid-19 pandemic halting fundraising activities will cost lives, an executive with the service has warned.

Ruth Bruton, operations manager with the Irish Community Rapid Response Air Ambulance Service, said it had taken the decision to ground the service indefinitely from April 3rd with deep regret.

Ms Bruton said that the service, which is staffed by National Ambulance Service personnel, had flown more than 350 missions since it began operations last September.

“We are very upset that lives will be lost due to the grounding of this service at this time, especially given how vital frontline medical support is during the Covid-19 pandemic and how successful the service has been to date,” she said.

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Migrant children in US custody in New York test positive

Three unaccompanied minor children in U.S. custody in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Thursday.

The children, whose ages and nationalities weren’t released, are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The office is responsible for housing migrant minors.

The agency said it is doing an evaluation of the children and will not release them from New York care provider facilities.

The resettlement office’s medical team “is working with the programs in New York and local health department to collect information and determine next steps,” a statement from the agency said. 

The statement said the office has stopped placements of unaccompanied minor children in the states of California, New York, and Washington, which have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus. With more than 30,000 cases in New York, the state has become the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the United States. 

“ORR is prioritizing local placements for all new referrals from DHS to limit air travel when possible,” the statement said.   

Border patrol agent Joe Romero escorts four unattended migrant children from Ecuador to another agent for transport Tuesday, Feb. 18, by the east bridge near Staton bride in El Paso. The children were waiting by the border fence on the Mexico side alone until agent Romero approached them and began asking them where they were trying to go. The children told agent Romero they did not have parents with them.

The agency said 18 children have been tested for COVID-19, with three presumptive cases confirmed, 11 negative results, and 4 that are still pending.

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The agency said if a health care provider or public health department recommends testing for a child, that they receive the testing. Any child showing symptoms is medically isolated from other children, pending negative test results, the agency said. 

Five staff members and one staff contractor at three separate care provider facilities in New York recently tested positive for COVID-19, the statement said. One staff member at a facility in Texas, and one foster parent in Washington State have also tested positive.

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