For European governments battling to brace economies pummelled by the coronavirus, there might be no better time to go green. Normally thrifty countries, such as Germany, accept they will have to spend heavily to weather the economic shock of the coronavirus. Many also face the challenge of ploughing billions of euros into climate schemes to keep carbon reduction pledges. Could "green stimulus" be the answer? For budget hawks preparing to throw out the traditional fiscal rule book to fight the pandemic, green bonds - raising debt for funding projects such as renewable energy and public transport - might be a palatable option. Coronavirus has taken some focus away from environmental issues but pressure is now mounting to design spending around climate change. On Tuesday, UK government adviser Chris Stark urged governments to "look to green stimulus". Germany is pulling out the stops, eyeing around 350 billion euros of new debt to finance stimulus. Europe s biggest economy separately aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030. Britain, meanwhile, has promised to pay 80% of wages for employees facing layoffs as a result of lockdown measures, to be funded by selling more debt. It has also previously pledged to bring carbon emissions to almost zero by 2050. Simon Bond, director of responsible investment portfolio management at London-based Columbia Threadneedle, wrote last year to the UK Treasury urging it to issue "green gilts". He said now was the time to roll them out given the pressing need for stimulus due to the virus outbreak. "The rationale for green gilts is to target projects which actively contribute to the aspiration to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050," Bond told Reuters. "Those projects should be part of green infrastructure spending and associated with fiscal stimulus." GREEN YIELD CURVE So far governments have been relatively slow to embrace green debt; there are just 12 sovereign green bond issuers worldwide, amounting to less than a tenth of the green bond market, which also includes debt from companies and other entities and saw $250 billion in new issuances last year. But debt agencies say change is on its way. Germany plans to issue a green bond in the second half of 2020 as does Italy; other candidates are Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Britain. Germany s debt agency told Reuters its green bond plans would go ahead despite the coronavirus outbreak. It has just published an update, announcing Germany would "substantially strengthen and decisively develop" the green and sustainable investment market. It also hopes to establish a green yield curve for the euro area, as its chart below shows. GREEN AGENDA GROWING Green bonds currently comprise less than 0.1% of total sovereign debt, according to S&P Global. Given governments have some $9 trillion of outstanding debt worldwide, going green on even a small portion of that would give the market a huge boost. What s held them back so far is fear that green bonds will damage mainstream issuance programmes by stealing trading volumes from those markets, eventually raising overall borrowing costs, officials from five European debt agencies told Reuters. It could also further fragment a market already thinned out by the European Central Bank s asset purchase programme. Even in Britain, home to a $2 trillion gilt market, debt agency chief, Robert Stheeman, has expressed doubts that issuing green gilts would be cost effective. But debt agencies have come up with strategies that could allow green borrowing without the associated risks. Denmark is considering an issue whose proceeds may not be earmarked directly for environmental projects but would come with a pledge for equivalent green spending, said Thorsten Meyer Larsen, head of monetary policy operations and government debt at Denmark s central bank. Under this idea, it would attach a green certificate to a standard government bond. "Everyone can see that the green agenda is growing and we want to be part of that, but not in a way that s detrimental to our existing bonds and bondholders," Meyer Larsen said. "So if you buy that (equivalent spending) idea then that s a bit more straightforward." INVESTMENT CLAMOUR Germany is, meanwhile, exploring an option to sell twin bonds: so a green issue with the same maturity and coupon as its conventional peer and replacing part of the conventional bond s auction volume, according to a market participant with knowledge of the country s plans. The person said that during a crisis, perhaps like the ongoing volatility, investors could switch from the green bond to the conventional issue, which would have better trading volumes. Liquidity tends to be less concerning for companies as they rely less on bond markets for their funding, said Geraint Thomas, EMEA head of green loans and bonds at MUFG. But concerns of green bond programmes boosting borrowing costs may be unfounded, according to some analysts and investors. The investment industry is clamouring for green securities, as pension funds, sovereign investors or family offices request more environmentally friendly securities. Demand for top-rated sovereign names is likely to be high. Bram Bos, lead portfolio manager of green bond strategy at NN Investment Partners, also expects the stimulus programmes to bring more governments to the market, raising its size. "More green expenditure could lead to more green bond issuance and less concerns around liquidity of green bonds."
The new coronavirus continued its spread across some of the most-vulnerable nations of the Mideast on Tuesday as the International Monetary Fund warned that a lack of medical supplies in Iraq, Sudan and Yemen could lead to a surge in prices. There are some 30,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the Mideast, the vast majority in the hard-hit nation of Iran. While most recover from the virus and the COVID-19 illness that it causes, bottoming crude oil prices have put additional strain on even the wealthiest countries of the region. The IMF, which traditionally has urged governments to implement greater austerity measures, now urges Mideast governments to offer temporary tax relief and cash transfers. ``Given the large numbers of people employed in the service sector, there will be wide reverberations if unemployment rises and wages and remittances fall, the IMF s director for the Middle East, Jihad Azour, said in statement. In Egypt, tourist cancellations have reached 80%, while retail and hospitality sectors have also been hard-hit in countries like the United Arab Emirates where tourism is a pillar of the economy, according to the IMF. The arrival of the global pandemic in Syria with one positive case, as well as in the Gaza Strip, has raised concerns the virus could run rampant in some of the most vulnerable areas in the Middle East. War-torn Libya and Yemen, which have yet to report any cases, are also a source of concern. The worst outbreak in the Mideast is unfolding in Iran, where authorities reported another 127 deaths on Monday, bringing the total number of fatalities to more than 1,800 amid more than 23,000 confirmed cases. The dead included the mother-in-law of the son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the state-run IRNA news agency said. Lines have formed outside grocery stores, banks and gas stations across the Syrian capital, Damascus, as people braced for wider closures. The government has already closed restaurants, cafes and other businesses, and has halted public transportation. In Egypt s Mediterranean city of Alexandria, dozens of people early Tuesday prayed to God for help against the virus. Online video showed people praying from their windows and balconies. Others showed some three dozen people marching in a side street and chanting: ``There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Messenger, drawing criticism from people who said the demonstrators should have stayed at home.
As coronavirus deaths surge in Britain, a group of London volunteers has set up a catering service to provide free meals for hard-pressed nurses at a major public hospital fighting the pandemic. The group, called Critical NHS, gets food from local businesses and delivers it three times a day to nurses and other frontline staff at St George s Hospital in south London. Many British people revere the National Health Service and the free care it provides. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday that the NHS could be "overwhelmed" by the coronavirus in just two weeks. As of Sunday, 281 people with COVID-19 had died in the United Kingdom. The government said there are 5,683 confirmed cases, with London hardest hit. Critical NHS, the volunteer group, was set up on Thursday by husband and wife Niall Barrett and Janneke Diemel, who were responding to an appeal from a senior nurse at St George s to "drop off a box of biscuits or something the staff can snack on." "Our first run was 20 pizzas," said Barrett. "The nurses loved that, they were so appreciative. And then it kept growing and growing." Barrett and Diemel, who run a golf travel company, were quickly joined by two part-time coaches from Battersea Ironsides, a local rugby club. Other local people have offered to drive, donate and run the Twitter account. A crowdfunding account set up on PayPal raised 22,000 pounds ($25,500) in just four days. Barrett said many nurses were too busy to buy food, or found their usual eating places had closed. BEYOND INCREDIBLE Local pubs and restaurants donate meals or sell them cheaply. Then the volunteers at Critical NHS deliver the meals to the hospital s general intensive care unit, where it is distributed to nurses, ambulance crew, porters and other staff. By sourcing the food locally, he said the group hopes to help hard-hit small businesses stay afloat. "Part of the ethos is to buy from local businesses," said Barrett. "Then we can support them and support the nurses at the same time." A Chinese restaurant and a pizzeria sold the group food at half price, while a pub gave it 40 Sunday roasts - a British tradition - at cost. "The support has been beyond incredible," wrote Anthea Allen, the senior nurse at St George s who made the original appeal, in an email thanking the community. She said the staff "have been kept afloat by this support. They no longer have to bring their meals to work. We have shared food with the wards who are also caring for Covid patients." Covid is short for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. Flush with donations, the volunteers plan to to set up a food bank at St George s where nurses can get pasta, eggs, milk, tampons and other basic supplies. Last week a video on social media showed an exhausted nurse driven to tears after finding shelves bare after her shift at a critical care unit in York. Critical NHS is also earmarking money to pay for hotels for nurses who can t get home between shifts, and said it had received requests to extend its services to another London hospital. With over 9,000 staff, St George s University Hospitals, the NHS trust that runs the hospital, says it is the largest healthcare provider in southwest London. At the back of its sprawling grounds in Tooting is a special unit to deal with cases of the coronavirus. Another group, called Clap For Carers, is calling for all Britons to applaud at 8 p.m. on March 26 to show NHS staff "our appreciation for their ongoing hard work and fight against this virus." ($1 = 0.8624 pounds)
Iran on Sunday announced 129 new deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, raising to 1,685 the official death toll in one of the worst-hit countries along with Italy and China. Health ministry spokesman Kianouche Jahanpour said more than 1,028 new cases had been recorded in the past 24 hours and a total of 21,638 people had now tested positive for the virus.
Michel Barnier, the European Union s chief negotiator for the bloc s future relationship with Britain after Brexit, has been infected with the new coronavirus. The 69-year-old Barnier said in a Twitter video message Thursday that he is doing well and is in good spirits, while the EU s executive arm said negotiations with British officials can continue. ``I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team,`` Barnier said from his home, where he has been confined. ``For all those affected already, and for all those currently in isolation, we will get through this together. Barnier s announcement prompted a series of good wishes messages, including from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel. European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said von der Leyen will be tested following Barnier s positive result. Barnier and the EU chief last met two weeks ago. So far she has not shown any symptom of illness. Michel s press service said he is well, too, but will ``telework at home for another two days`` as a matter of precaution after meeting with Barnier 12 days ago. Even before Barnier s tweet, the second round of post-Brexit trade negotiations that was due to take place in London this week had already been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. London is the epicenter of Britain s virus infections. The pandemic has scuttled face-to-face negotiations between the two sides and has increased speculation that the U.K. government will have to extend its self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to strike a deal with the bloc. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is refusing to discuss that idea, at least in public. On Wednesday he said the Dec. 31 date was enshrined in British law, and ``I have no intention of changing it. Johnson s spokesman, James Slack, said ``we send Michel Barnier our best wishes. He would not comment on whether the transition period could be extended beyond the end of 2020. ``We ve been in close conversation with the EU about looking at ways to continue progressing the negotiations, and I believe both sides have shared their texts of potential agreements, Slack said. The coronavirus pandemic has infected 219,000 people around the world and killed more than 8,900. About 84,000 have recovered. Aside from the elderly and the sick, most people only have mild or moderate symptoms, like a fever or cough. Negotiating teams from both sides have looked at alternative ways of continuing the negotiations during the outbreak, including by video conferencing. Mamer said on Thursday talks can continue, insisting that the two sides remain in contact remotely. Although Britain left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31, it remains part of the bloc s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of this year. Johnson has said he wants a comprehensive trade deal completed this year. The Conservative leader said he won t seek an extension to the country s current transition period, insisting that 11 months is more than enough time to secure a wide-ranging deal with the EU for goods and services. Under the terms of Britain s departure from the EU, the country can request a one-time extension to the transition for up two years. The coronavirus outbreak, though, has raised questions as to whether a Brexit trade deal can now be completed in time, given the increasingly onerous restrictions on travel and work being put in place as a result of the outbreak. Opposition lawmakers from the Labour Party have said the Johnson should ask for an extension given how an already tight timetable has been made even tighter by the virus. The talks began earlier this month in Brussels, and are due to alternate between the EU s headquarters and London.
African countries have been among the last to be hit by the global coronavirus epidemic, but as cases rise, many nations are now taking strict measures to block the deadly illness. Here is a snapshot of the situation on a continent plagued by weak health systems and shortages of doctors and hospital beds, but where many countries have top-level expertise in fighting contagious disease. Slow to arrive, but now spreading The first case in Africa was recorded in Egypt on February 14, and by early March there were only two more cases in Algeria and Nigeria. Experts initially wondered why the continent appeared to have so few cases -- and some speculated whether the virus was spreading undetected. Since then, confirmed cases have spread steadily and in a little over a week, more than 20 new countries have been infected, bringing the total to 30 of 54 African nations with 450 known cases of the virus. The worst-affected countries are in North Africa, where local transmission is now taking place and 10 deaths have been confirmed. Egypt has recorded 166 cases and four deaths, and Algeria 60 cases and also four deaths. Sudan and Morocco each have one death. Economic powerhouse South Africa has 62 cases, many of which were imported, although the virus is now spreading in the community. In East Africa, home to hubs Ethiopia and Kenya, there are a total of 20 cases across six countries. Senegal is the worst-affected in West Africa with 27 cases -- most of whom were infected by a single citizen who had returned from Italy. Travel restrictions Watching from afar as disaster unfolds in Asia and Europe -- where many are suffering the consequences of being slow to act -- some African countries have wasted no time in taking drastic measures. Air traffic in particular has been hard hit as nations across the continent realised their first cases had come from citizens returning from travel abroad in infected countries. In comparison to many countries in the West, measures have been decisive and very strict. Morocco has stopped all international flights "until further notice", aside from special planes authorised to repatriate European tourists. Somalia, a country riven by decades of conflict, also banned all international flights -- including for cargo -- after confirming its first case. Humanitarian flights, however, will be allowed to proceed. Chad, where no cases have been reported, has also shut its airports and borders with affected Sudan and Central African Republic. Similarly, neighbouring Mali, also with no confirmed cases, has announced all commercial flights from virus-affected countries will be stopped. Guinea-Bissau is also set to halt all flights in and out of the country. Cape Verde is due to stop flights too, from virus-hit European countries, as well as Senegal, Nigeria, Brasil and the United States. Others are banning flights and travellers depending on their origins. Senegal has blocked air links with seven European countries and the Middle East. Togo and Madagascar have taken similar measures. Others like Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Ivory Coast have blocked foreigners from high-risk countries -- in some cases allowing those in who hold resident permits. Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea are among those insisting on self-quarantine for travellers from high-risk countries. Tourism has been hard-hit, including the cruise industry, with ships blocked by many countries including Madagascar, Senegal, Seychelles and Mauritius. Bans and cancellations At least 13 countries on the continent have closed or are preparing to shut down their school systems all the way up to university level. This includes Kenya, Rwanda, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast. To add to this measure, Kenya has encouraged working from home, which has seen thousands streaming from the capital to their rural houses. Some countries have also taken strong measures regarding religious gatherings. In Senegal, the powerful Muslim brotherhoods have suspended religious festivities planned for this month. Tunisian authorities have suspended group prayers, including on Fridays. Major sporting and cultural events have also been hit by the wave of bans. The annual Bushfire music festival in Eswatini has been cancelled, while in South Africa, the popular AfrikaBurn festival will also not go ahead, while a plethora of sporting events have been blocked. Tunisia meanwhile is continuing with sporting events without spectators.
Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners in response to the coronavirus epidemic, a judiciary spokesman said on Tuesday, The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus has reached 853 and a total of 14,991 people have been confirmed infected across the country, one of the worst national outbreaks outside China, where the new virus originated. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said only those serving sentences of less than five years had been freed, while political prisoners and others charged with heavier sentences linked to their participation in anti-government protests remained in jail. "Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak," Esmaili said. He did not elaborate on when those released would have to return to jail. On March 10, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said he had asked Tehran to free all political prisoners temporarily from its overcrowded and disease-ridden jails to help stem the spread of coronavirus. Iran has released at least a dozen political prisoners in the past days, according to activists and rights groups. But prominent political prisoners still remain in jail. The United States has called for the release of dozens of dual nationals and foreigners held mainly on spying charges in Iran, saying that Washington will hold the government directly responsible for any American deaths. Iran s clerical rulers have rejected locking down cities despite the rising death toll and the rate of new cases but they have urged people to avoid travelling ahead of Iranian new year on March 20 amid concerns over further spread of the virus. Many Iranians have ignored calls by the health authorities to stay at home, and shops and restaurants remained open in the country. In a rare move, the establishment has closed the holy Shi ite Muslim sites and shrines in Mashhad and Qom, the epicentre of Iran s coronavirus outbreak. Police dispersed a group of hardline demonstrators who gathered on late Monday at Imam Reza Shrine in Mashahd and Masumeh Shrine in Qom to protest against their closure, state media reported. Two protesters had been arrested. Officials have blamed U.S. sanctions, reimposed on Tehran since Washington quit Iran s 2015 nuclear agreement with six powers, for hampering Tehran s fight against the coronavirus. Tehran has called on other countries to back its call for lifting of U.S. sanctions. Sources told Reuters on Monday that Washington was unlikely to ease sanctions on Iran despite an appeal from China that it do so because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Iran said it had asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $5 billion in emergency funding to combat the outbreak. The United Arab Emirates, a rival of Iran, has put aside differences to lend support by sending two planes carrying 32 tonnes of medical supplies, including gloves and surgical masks. Other countries in the Middle East have imposed strict measures such as closing their borders and suspending flights. Kuwait’s health ministry on Tuesday reported seven new cases, all among Kuwaitis who had been to Britain to take the country’s toll to 130. Bahrain on Monday reported the Arab Gulf region’s first death from the disease as the number of infections in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council crossed 1,000. Oman, which lies across the Gulf from Iran, said anyone entering the sultanate as of Tuesday would be quarantined. It had earlier imposed restrictions on entry to allow only Gulf Arab citizens.
Turkey identified 12 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total to 18, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday, marking the highest daily rise since the country announced its first case last week. Koca said two of the new cases were related to the first case reported in the country, seven had travelled from Europe and three from the United States. Last Wednesday, Turkey became the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as "vigilant" measures to delay it. Since then, the government has ramped up measures to halt the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, holding sports events without spectators and halting flights to many countries. The Istanbul governor s office said on Monday that Turkish citizens who request to return from nine European countries will be brought back until midnight on March 17 on condition that they are quarantined. They will be housed for 14 days in three student dormitories in Istanbul, the city s governor said. The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) warned on Monday that the real number of cases may be higher than officially reported, and the recent trend indicated that the epidemic could reach serious levels. "We are hearing from doctors all around the country that the number of cases is much higher than 18," TTB head Sinan Adiyaman told a news conference. "The picture emerging in the last few days suggests that the epidemic could reach serious levels, we advise those older than 65 to stay at home," he said. Separately, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Monday that all non-emergency court hearings will be delayed. Thousands of Muslims returning to Turkey from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia were taken into quarantine on Sunday and the Interior Ministry said that bars and nightclubs will be closed from Monday to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s corruption trial has been postponed until May 24 due to concerns about coronavirus, Jerusalem s District Court said Sunday. Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier ever to be indicted in office, had been scheduled to stand trial from Tuesday over alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In a statement, the court noted that given the coronavirus pandemic it had been instructed to hear "only urgent matters". "We have decided to postpone the first hearing (in Netanyahu s trial) until May 24," the court said. Israel has 200 confirmed cases of the virus with tens of thousands of people in home quarantine. Netanyahu has been charged with a range of offences including receiving improper gifts and offering a media mogul lucrative regulatory changes in exchange for favourable coverage. He denies wrongdoing. Despite the indictments, Netanyahu s right-wing Likud party won the most seats in March 2 elections and he is aiming to form a new government. But Likud and its allies fell short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, or parliament. It was Israel s third inconclusive vote in less than a year. Netanyahu has called on his main challenger Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party to form an emergency, national unity government to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Gantz has said he is open to discussing the proposal, with negotiations set for this week.
European Union leaders vowed Tuesday to stand united in combating the spread of the coronavirus ravaging member country Italy, and agreed to draft a plan to address any medical shortages and set up a fund to help overburdened health care systems. The pledges came at a rare video conference among national heads of state and government as COVID-19, which is now present in all 27 EU member countries, took its toll on European politics, forcing meetings to be canceled, a parliamentary session to be cut short, and even sending some senior officials home to work.
Algeria s government has cancelled political gatherings because of the coronavirus, it said on Tuesday, though it was not immediately clear if this would entail a ban on the mass protests that have convulsed the state for more than a year. Health Minister Abderrahmane Benbouzid said in comments broadcast on state television that the government was acting to slow the spread of the disease, with 20 confirmed cases in the country. "All sports, cultural, political and economic gatherings are cancelled. We do not take any risk," he said. There was no immediate comment from leading figures in the political opposition, known as the Hirak, over the move. However, one student demonstrator, Riad Mekrez, 25, said: "I disagree with it. Hirak must goes on even if I acknowledge that we need to protect people from corona." Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad said the country faced an unprecedented "multi-dimensional crisis" and urged people to make fewer demands of the government and reduce their street presence. The demonstrators are demanding wholesale changes in the political establishment, including the departure of the entire ruling elite and the army s withdrawal from politics. The protests forced the ousting last April of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the arrest of many senior figures on corruption charges. Algeria s authorities have publicly praised the protest movement as a moment of national renewal and pledged to meet its demands, while using a big police presence and arrests to put pressure on demonstrators. In December, the authorities held a presidential election to replace Bouteflika despite vehement opposition from the protest movement, which said any vote held while the old ruling elite remained in power would be illegitimate. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was elected in the vote, has promised to change the constitution in order to satisfy public demand for change. Algeria s 20 confirmed coronavirus cases so far are mostly from one family in the town of Blida south of the capital.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday made his first visit to Wuhan since a coronavirus outbreak forced an unprecedented lockdown of the central city of 11 million people, in a sign that authorities efforts to control the virus are working. Xi s arrival came on the same day that Wuhan shut the last of 14 makeshift hospitals opened to manage a surge in coronavirus patients that had overwhelmed the city s health care system, news website The Paper reported.. Earlier on Tuesday, China announced that it had just 19 new coronavirus infections on Monday, down from 40 a day earlier. That also marked the third straight day of no new domestically transmitted cases in mainland China outside of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, even as the disease spreads rapidly in other countries, including Italy and the United States. News of Xi s Wuhan visit gave a lift to Chinese stocks, with the blue-chip index ending the day 2.1% higher after falling into negative territory in morning trade. "It is obvious that Xi could not have visited Wuhan earlier because the risk of him contracting the virus there was initially too high," Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters. "He is there now to reap the harvest. His being there means the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) may declare victory against the virus soon," Zhang said. China came in for criticism at home and globally over its early response to the outbreak, suppressing information and downplaying its risks, but its draconian efforts at control, including the lock-down of Wuhan and Hubei province, have been effective at curbing the spread. Also on Tuesday, Hubei said it would implement a "health code" system to allow people in areas at medium or low risk to start travelling. Qianjiang, another city in Hubei, said that all traffic checkpoints will be removed, public transportation will restart and firms will resume work in the near future, according to a report on an official website. IMPORTED CASES During his trip to Wuhan, Xi will "visit and express regards to medical workers, military officers and soldiers, community workers, police officers, officials and volunteers who have been fighting the epidemic on the front line, as well as patients and residents during the inspection," state news agency Xinhua said. Separately, Taiwan s government said a second round of evacuations of its citizens stranded in Wuhan had begun, after weeks of arguments between the Chinese-claimed island and Beijing over the arrangements. Of the new coronovirus cases announced by China on Thuesday, 17 were in Wuhan. Two others - in Beijing and Guangdong province - involved people who had arrived from Britain and Spain, respectively. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,754. Chinese authorities have ramped up warnings about the risks from foreigners and Chinese nationals travelling to China from viral hot spots abroad such as Iran and Italy. As of Monday, there were 69 imported cases. Globally, more than 114,300 people have been infected by the coronavirus and over 4,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements. Since the outbreak, 59,897 patients have been discharged from hospitals in China. Recently discharged patients need to go into quarantine for 14 days. Xi, who was mostly absent from Chinese state media coverage of the crisis in its early days, has become for more visible in recent weeks. The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the official People s Daily, on Tuesday detailed the various instructions and actions Xi had given and taken between Jan. 7 and March 2 to combat the epidemic. "Xi personally commands the people s war against the epidemic. He has been paying constant attention to the epidemic prevention and control work and made oral or written instructions every day," the newspaper said.
Sudan s prime minister survived an assassination attempt on Monday after a blast in the capital, Khartoum, Sudanese state media said. Abdalla Hamdok s family confined he was safe following the explosion, which targeted his convoy. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Hamdok was appointed prime minister last August, after pro-democracy protests led to the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April and replace it with a civilian-led government. Hamdok has confirmed the government will cooperate with the International Criminal Court s efforts to prosecute those wanted for war crimes and genocide in connection with the Darfur conflict in Sudan in the 2000s. Transitional authorities announced in February that they agreed to hand over al-Bashir to the ICC along with other former officials wanted by the ICC. Nearly a year after al-Bashir s ouster, the country faces a dire economic crisis. Inflation stands at a staggering 60% and the unemployment rate was 22.1% in 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund. The government has said that 30% of Sudan s young people, who make up more than half of the over 42 million population, are without jobs. *This story was edited by Ahram Online.
Italy announced a sweeping quarantine early Sunday for its northern regions, igniting travel chaos as it restricted the movements of a quarter of its people in a bid to halt the new coronavirus relentless march 15 across Europe. Shortly after midnight, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree affecting 16 million people in the country s prosperous north, including the Lombardy region and at least 14 provinces in neighboring regions. The extraordinary measures will be in place until April 3. ``For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed, there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory,`` Conte said. ``Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues. Around the world, other countries have been increasingly imitating China - where the virus first emerged late last year _ by imposing travel controls and shutting down public events. China has suffered about three-fourths of the world s 106,000 coronavirus infections and most of its nearly 3,600 deaths. There was chaos and confusion in the hours before Conte signed the decree, as word leaked to the news media about the planned quarantine. Students at the University of Padua in northern Italy who had been out at bars on a Saturday night saw the rumors on their cellphones and rushed back to their apartments to grab their belongings and head to the train station. Hundreds of passengers, some wearing face masks and rubber gloves, crammed onto the last local train leaving Padua at 11:30 p.m. Anxious students wrapped scarves around their heads, shared sanitizing gel, and sat on their suitcases in the aisles. No conductor came by to check tickets. ``I read two hours ago that they may be putting out an urgent decree putting Padua in the red zone. Because I would like to return down south to my relatives, I decided to go earlier,`` said one student, Roberto Pagliara, who moved up a planned Tuesday departure for his hometown of Puglia in southern Italy. Italy on Saturday reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since its outbreak began on Feb. 21. The number of infected people rose 1,247 in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 5,883. Italy s death toll rose to 233. Regional politicians were taken aback by the lockdown. Stefano Bonaccini, president of the Emilia Romagna region, said parts of the decree were confusing. The mayor of Asti, in the Piedmont region, posted an irate video on his Facebook page slamming Rome for not keeping regional leaders in the loop. ``Nobody told me, Maurizio Rasero screamed, adding that he had hundreds of messages on his cell phone from alarmed citizens. ``It s incredible that information that is so delicate and important would come out in the newspaper first.`` The fate of foreign visitors stuck in red zones in northern Italy was not immediately clear. The move echoed China s lockdown of some 60 million people in central Hubei province in late January, which is now in its sixth week. China s harsh travel restrictions came too late to prevent infected people from seeding outbreaks elsewhere, but the World Health Organization has credited the lockdown with slowing the spread of the virus and ``buying the world time to handle the outbreak. With a nose-dive in tourist traffic and disruptions to supply chains, stocks got off to another rocky start Sunday as Mideast indexes opened down 6% to 8%. Around the world, more events and festivals were called off, including the women s world hockey championships in Canada. Bahrain said its Formula One race this month will take place without spectators over virus fears. Japan s time-honored grand sumo tournament opened Sunday in Osaka to no fans and wrestlers arrived wearing face masks. The virus outbreak has left the cruise ship industry in disarray. The Grand Princess cruise ship, where 21 people have tested positive for the virus, was headed to the port of Oakland, California, after idling off San Francisco for days. There is evidence the ship was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of almost 20 cases during an earlier voyage. ``Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined,`` U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said. ``Those who will require medical help will receive it. The ship, which is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries, is expected to reach Oakland on Monday. According to the ship s captain, guests who require acute medical treatment will be transported to health care facilities in California; healthy Californians will go into quarantine in state; other U.S. residents will go to quarantines elsewhere; the crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship. Grand Princess Capt. John Smith said he was not yet told what will happen to passengers from other countries. In Egypt, a cruise ship on the Nile carrying more than 150 people was under quarantine in the southern city of Luxor after 45 people on board tested positive for the virus. The port of Penang in Malaysia turned away the Costa Fortuna cruise ship because 64 of the 2,000 aboard are from Italy. The ship, which had already been rejected by Thailand, was heading to Singapore. And in Malta, which reported its first case of the virus Saturday, the MSC Opera ship agreed not to enter the Mediterranean country s port amid local worries _ even though there are no infections suspected on board. The ship continued to Messina, Sicily, where passengers were allowed to disembark. In the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged older adults and people with severe medical conditions to ``stay home as much as possible`` and avoid crowds. A federal official told The Associated Press that the W hite House had overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and sick Americans not fly on commercial airlines. The U.S. death toll from the virus climbed to 19, with all but three victims in Washington state. While many scientists said the world is clearly in the grips of a pandemic _ a serious global outbreak - the World Health Organization isn t calling it that yet, saying the word might spook the world further. ``I think it s pretty clear we re in a pandemic and I don t know why WHO is resisting that, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. As of Saturday, nearly 90,000 cases have been reported in Asia; more than 8,000 in Europe; 6,000 in the Mideast; about 450 in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and fewer than 50 cases reported so far in Africa. In Iran, fears over the virus and the government s waning credibility has become a major challenge to leaders already reeling from American sanctions. More than 1,000 infections were confirmed overnight, bringing the country s total to 5,823 cases, including 145 deaths. China on Sunday reported 44 new cases over the past 24 hours, the lowest level since it began publishing nationwide figures on Jan 20, and 27 new fatalities. South Korea reported 272 new cases, taking the total to 7,313, with 50 deaths overall. The virus has not even spared islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, with the tiny archipelago nation of the Maldives reporting its two first cases.
The worsening coronavirus epidemic heaped fresh misery on the airlines sector on Thursday, as British regional carrier Flybe became the first big casualty of a slump in travel demand and Norwegian Air scrapped its profit guidance for this year. Airlines across the world are rushing to cut flights and costs, and warning of a hit to earnings, as a new virus that started in China spreads around the world, raising fears of a pandemic that could plunge the global economy into recession. In a sign of the difficulties this is creating for airlines, a Turkish Airlines jet was flown back to Istanbul without any passengers on board on Thursday on orders from Singapore after a passenger who had arrived on the same plane on Tuesday tested positive for the virus. Finnish national airline Finnair, meanwhile, said the impact of the new coronavirus, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives and infected tens of thousands more in over 60 countries, would be worse than the SARS epidemic in 2003. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned on Feb. 20 of a potential $29 billion hit to airlines revenues this year, but that was before fresh travel restrictions put in place by several countries as the virus gained a stronger hold outside of China, in places such as Italy, Iran and South Korea. Among the latest events to be cancelled around this world due to the crisis is the world air traffic management congress in Madrid, which had been scheduled for March 10-12. GROUNDED The failure of British regional airline Flybe comes less than two months after a rescue due for the company was agreed by its owners and the UK government. Despite its commitment to improving regional transport links, the British government backed away from that deal due to the scale of the hit to demand from the virus outbreak. "All flights have been grounded and the UK business has ceased trading with immediate effect," Flybe said as it entered administration, a form of protection from creditors. The failure of the airline, which has long struggled with losses, not only puts around 2,400 jobs at risk but could also see some regional UK airports struggle and business travel hit. Flybe carried around eight million passengers a year between 81 airports and was owned by a consortium of Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital. Its collapse came a day after Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O Leary predicted that the coronavirus crisis would lead to bankruptcies. "It s inevitable in the next couple of weeks we ll see more failures," O Leary told Reuters - citing Flybe as among the most vulnerable. "Where you have a massive short-term decline in bookings you have a massive short-term decline in cash flow," he said on the sidelines of an industry event in Brussels on Tuesday. Norwegian, a pioneer of low-cost transatlantic travel, has also been struggling for years due to cut-throat competition and heavy debts built up during rapid expansion. The company, which has repeatedly raised cash from shareholders in order to stay in business, said on Thursday it was scrapping its 2020 earnings guidance, which had predicted a return to profit after three years of losses, due to the drop in travel demand and disruption caused by the virus. It also said it would cancel 22 long-haul flights between Europe and the United States from March 28 to May 5, with routes from Rome to Los Angeles, Boston and New York seeing a reduced number of departures. In addition, it will cut the number of flights between London and New York, flying twice, rather than three times, on some days. "At this stage, it is too early to assess the full impact on our business," it said in a statement. Norwegian shares, which have lost more than 50% of their value this year, were down more than 3% at 0820 GMT. Willie Walsh, the outgoing CEO of British Airways parent IAG , also warned governments this week against any temptation to prop up airlines that were already struggling. "I don t believe it s appropriate for governments to provide state aid to airlines that were not sustainable before the coronavirus," he said at the Brussels gathering. ($1 = 0.7770 pound)
Turkey said that two more of its soldiers were killed Wednesday in a Syrian government attack in northwestern Syria, as steady clashes between the two national armies continued to rack up casualties. Turkey has sent thousands of troops into the area to support Syrian insurgents holed up there, but hasn t been able to stop the Russian-backed Syrian government offensive to retake the Idlib province. Near the Turkish border, the Idlib area is the last rebel stronghold after nine years of war in Syria. The Turkish Defense Ministry s statement said that the latest Syrian attack on its troops also wounded six soldiers. It did not provide further details. The assault came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to depart for Moscow where he says he aims to broker a cease-fire in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces in northwestern Syria have killed more than 50 Turkish troops in the past month, including 33 soldiers killed Thursday in a single airstrike. Moscow has laid the blame for the escalation on Ankara, ahead of the summit between the two main power brokers in Syria. Russian officials have said they hold Turkey responsible for the collapse of a cease-fire agreement reached in Sochi, Russia in 2018. They say Ankara has failed to honor the deal and rein in militants who continued attacking Syrian and Russian targets.
Syrian government shelling killed one Turkish soldier and wounded another in northwest Syria, Turkey s Defense Ministry announced, days after serious clashes between the two armies appeared to signal a new stage in the nine-year war. The soldier s death, announced late Monday, raises to 55 the number of Turkish losses this month in direct clashes between Turkish troops and Russian-backed Syrian forces. The death toll includes 33 Turkish soldiers killed Thursday in a single airstrike. The Syrian government s monthslong offensive into northwest Syria s Idlib province, the last rebel-held area in the country, has sparked one of the war s worst humanitarian crises. Almost one million Syrian civilians have fled north toward the sealed Turkish border. Turkey has sent thousands of troops into Idlib to support the opposition fighters holed up there, but hasn t been able to roll back the government s advance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes to broker a cease-fire in Syria later this week when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Tensions in Idlib rose following the Syrian strike that killed the 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. Turkey responded with drone attacks and shelling that killed more than 90 Syrian troops and allied gunmen. The Turkish air force also shot down two Syrian warplanes after Syria s air defenses shot down one of its drones. The Syrian pilots ejected safely. Outraged by the assault against its forces in Syria, Turkey has opened its western borders for thousands of migrants and refugees wanting to cross into Europe. It is Ankara s latest bid to pressure the European Union to help handle the fallout from the disastrous Syrian war. Thousands of migrants have since tried to cross into Greece by land and sea. Greek authorities have made clear their side of the border is shut and have turned to arresting dozens of those who managed to find a way through the frontier.
Syrian government forces and their allies retook early Monday a key northwestern town days after losing it to rebel forces, pro-government media and an opposition war monitor said. The town s recapture comes escalating and direct clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces that could signal a new stage in the war. Turkey backs fighters in Syria s Idlib province, where the last remaining rebel forces in the country are holed up, and has sent thousands of troops into the area. The fighting has also sparked one of the war s worst humanitarian crisis, with almost one million Syrian civilians fleeing toward the sealed Turkish border. Syrian activists said Turkish drone strikes killed more than 90 Syrian government forces and allied fighters. Turkey has lost 54 soldiers in February, including 33 killed Thursday in a single airstrike. Outraged, Turkey s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his country s European borders were open Saturday for thousands of migrants and refugees as he sought to pressure Europe to help Turkey handle the fallout from the war in Syria. The new gains at Saraqeb on the ground also bring the last segment of a highway that links the capital Damascus and the major northern city of Aleppo under government control. The highway was reopened late last month before insurgents seized Saraqeb, which sits on the highway, last week. On Sunday, Turkish troops shot down two Syrian warplanes after the Syrian military downed a Turkish drone, a major escalation in the direct conflict between Syrian and Turkish forces. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said Syrian troops and their allies regained control of Saraqeb after fighting with al-Qaida-linked militants. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops captured the town under the cover of airstrikes by the Russian air force. Syrian government forces have captured dozens of villages since they launched a Russian-backed offensive in Idlib in early December leaving hundreds of civilians dead and displacing more than 950,000 triggering a humanitarian crisis. Amid the rising tensions bewteen Turkey and Russia s ally Syria, Turkish broadcasters reported that Erdogan would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 5. The trip was later confirmed in a message to journalists.
The United Nations migration organization said Sunday that at least 13,000 people were massed on Turkey s land border with Greece, after Turkey officially declared its western borders were open to migrants and refugees hoping to head into the European Union. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan s decision to open his country s borders with Europe made good on a longstanding threat to let refugees into the continent. His announcement marked a dramatic departure from the current policy and an apparent attempt to pressure Europe. The U.N. s International Organization for Migration said Sunday that by the previous evening, its staff working along the land border ``had observed at least 13,000 people gathered at the formal border crossing points at Pazarkule and Ipsala and multiple informal border crossings, in groups of between several dozen and more than 3,000. Greek authorities fired tear gas and stun grenades through Saturday to prevent repeated attempts by a crowd of more than 4,000 people massed at the border crossing in Kastanies to cross, and fought a cat-and-mouse game with groups cutting holes in a border fence along the border to crawl through. Others were making the short but often perilous sea crossing from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands. At least three dinghies carrying migrants arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday morning. Turkey s decision to open the borders with Greece came amid a military escalation in northwestern Syria s Idlib province that has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians to flee fighting there, with many of them heading toward north toward Turkey.
Iran on Thursday confirmed three more deaths from novel coronavirus, taking the total to 22, the highest toll outside China, state media reported. Publishing a map showing the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran, the IRNA state news agency said that 141 people had been infected by the virus, without specifying whether that figure included the 22 dead.
Tunisia s parliament began debating on Wednesday and looked set to approve a new coalition government, after months of political wrangling that has slowed the north African country s efforts to tackle looming economic problems. Elyes Fakhfakh, who was designated prime minister last month by President Kais Saied, has brought parties from across the political spectrum into his cabinet - and they continue to disagree on several big policy areas. His government is expected to pass a confidence vote later on Wednesday, however, though it may prove fragile after struggling to reconcile the differences over policy and cabinet positions. If it were to lose the vote, another parliamentary election would be held. The last election, held in October, produced a deeply fragmented house in which no party won more than a quarter of the seats. An earlier attempt to form a government was defeated in a confidence vote in January. Introducing his proposed government s programme in parliament on Wednesday, Fakhfakh said its priorities would include fighting widespread corruption and reforming public services and the state phosphate producer. It would work to maintain the value of the currency, which has recovered in recent months after years of decline, he added. Central Bank governor Marwan Abbasi said this month that the International Monetary Fund had been in favour of the dinar losing some value to bolster exports. The new government would immediately face a major economic challenge after years of low growth, persistent unemployment, big government deficits, mounting debt, high inflation, a weak currency and deteriorating public services. It will need to find new external financing after an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan programme ends in April, with no new support yet agreed. Parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi said he would also start the process for voting judges onto the constitutional court, a body agreed in the 2014 constitution to arbitrate disputes between branches of government but not yet set up.
I always tell my friends who are subjected to verbal intimidation by some Islamists that they should not be angry with these insults, but rather to be happy because these insults indicate that our words are actually making some change. I find 3 kinds of those rude religious people: First, the negligent rabble and they know nothing about Islam and are used by the political Islam leaders to intimidate the opposition