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Portugal suspends rents, worries surface over post-pandemic housing crisis

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s parliament approved on Thursday the suspension of rents for vulnerable households and cash-strapped small firms during the coronavirus outbreak, but rights groups warned that the measure might only delay a looming housing crisis.

The measure suspends rents until a month after the state of emergency ends. After that, renters are expected to repay what they owe in monthly installments for up to a year.

Those eligible include people whose household income fell 20% or more from the previous month or the same period last year, or who put at least 35% of their income toward rent.

The state of emergency was declared on March 18 and extended on Thursday by 15 days. It was not clear how much longer it will last, but Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Wednesday restrictive measures could be in place for months as the country approaches an expected plateau of coronavirus cases at the end of May.

Activists deemed the measure “insufficient”. Though rental prices may fall after the outbreak as demand for holiday lets dissipates, housing groups argue incomes are unlikely to recover fast enough for people to repay the debt.

“The loss of income because of the pandemic is hitting families already in very bad shape,” Stop Despejos and Habita, two of the biggest housing groups in the country, said in a joint statement.

“When the state of emergency ends people will face an economic crisis,” they said. “How will those who are unemployed start to pay rent again?”

Rents have skyrocketed in Portugal in recent years due to the rise of holiday apartments and controversial schemes such as the “golden visa” – granting residence to non-EU property buyers – while salaries remained almost unchanged.

A quarter of the population is on the lowest minimum wage in Western Europe of just 635 euros a month, with household savings at approximately 4.9%, according to Eurostat – one of the lowest rates in Europe.

Last week the government and central bank predicted a recession and a rise in unemployment in 2020 as the pandemic causes a slump in private consumption, investment and exports.

A group of lawyers providing free legal advice to people affected by the crisis fears a wave of evictions once the government lifts the rent suspension and landlords start demanding reimbursements.

“This pandemic crisis puts people’s right to work and housing at risk. We expect a housing crisis,” said Vasco Barata, from the Plataforma Solidaria group. “That’s what worries us.”

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France's coronavirus death toll jumps to nearly 5,400 as nursing homes included

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of cumulative known deaths from coronavirus in France surged to nearly 5,400 on Thursday as the country started including fatalities in nursing homes in its data.

Jerome Salomon, head of the public health authority, said the number of coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals rose 12% on Thursday to 4,503 from a day earlier.

He added that a provisional tally showed that a cumulative 884 people in total had died in nursing homes. This makes for a total of 5,387 lives lost to coronavirus in France.

Salomon said the number of known infections rose to 59,105 from 56,989 in France. The number of patients requiring life support rose to 6,399 from 6,017 on Wednesday.

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Canada faces 'critical week' in coronavirus crisis, death toll jumps

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada faces “a critical week” in fighting the coronavirus, a senior official said on Thursday, as the death toll jumped and the most populous province said residents should brace for a stark scenario.

Canada’s public health agency reported deaths had surged 21% to 127 from 105 on Wednesday while positive cases rose to 10,132 from 9,017.

“This is a critical week in our fight against the coronavirus,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a daily briefing.

The health agency is particularly worried by the spread of the coronavirus in seniors’ residences, which are turning into hotspots in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia – the three biggest provinces by population.

The agency also predicted a surge in Ontario, which accounts for more than a third of Canada’s 38 million citizens.

Ontario premier Doug Ford said he would release sobering internal projections on Friday.

“It’s going to be hard for some people to hear but … I have to be up front with people, and I’m going to be, and people will see some really stark figures tomorrow,” he said.

Click tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in a separate browser for GRAPHIC tracking the global spread of coronavirus.

Authorities in Canada’s largest city Toronto complained that people are defying a shutdown order.

“We don’t want to see the beaches and the parks packed,” Ford told a briefing in Toronto.

In Quebec, premier Francois Legault urged police “to be less tolerant” when dealing with those ignoring orders to stay at home. People flouting the rules face fines from C$1,000 to C$6,000, he told reporters.

Legault, who has repeatedly expressed concern about shortages of crucial medical supplies, said the province had enough ventilators for another week.

Some medical personnel have raised concerns about a lack of personal protection equipment such as masks.

Trudeau said authorities had received over a million masks late on Wednesday.

“This is in addition to the 10 million masks that have come in over the last days and are being distributed … as quickly as possible,” he told a daily briefing.

Trudeau sidestepped requests to outline the projections Ottawa was using.

“I think people can imagine a range of scenarios that shows everything from everyone gets suddenly better within the next few weeks to this situation just keeps getting worse,” he said.

“Just highlighting that range is not as useful or important as being able to get … clearer analysis of what we are likely to face.”

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U.S. paying Russia for entire planeload of coronavirus equipment sent by Moscow: U.S. official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is paying Russia for a planeload of medical equipment sent by Moscow to help fight the coronavirus outbreak, a senior Trump administration official said on Thursday, clearing up confusion as to who footed the bill.

It had been unclear whether Russia had sent the 60 tons of equipment as a gift or whether it had sold the shipment of ventilators, masks, respirators and other items.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow had paid half the cost with the other half picked up by Washington.

But the senior official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the United States paid.

“The United States is purchasing the supplies and equipment outright, as with deliveries from other countries,” the official said. “We appreciate Russia selling these items to us below market value.”

The official did not give an exact cost. The State Department did not respond to requests for further clarification on who paid for the supplies.

The plane arrived on Wednesday at John F. Kennedy airport in New York and the gear was to be inspected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make sure it met U.S. quality standards.

The shipment has drawn fire from critics of the Kremlin who said Russia was experiencing severe shortages of such items. Nations around the world are scrambling to get medical equipment to use against the pandemic.

The gear was sent shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the issue in a phone call.

“Trump gratefully accepted this humanitarian aid,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by the Interfax news agency on Tuesday.

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Second-degree murder charges laid in shooting deaths of Alberta men

A 31-year-old Alberta man has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of two men who were killed north of Edmonton late last week.

At around 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 27, RCMP said two vehicles stopped along a rural road near Glendon, Alta., when a verbal and physical confrontation broke out between the people inside the vehicles.

A third vehicle arrived at the scene and “several shots were fired,” RCMP said, resulting in the death of two men.

Bonnyville RCMP were called to the scene at around 4 a.m. the next morning, after a citizen came upon the men’s bodies on the road outside of a parked truck, police said in a news release Thursday.

The victims have been identified by police as 39-year-old Jacob Sansom, of Nobleford, Alta., and 57-year-old Maurice Cardinal, of Bonnyville, Alta. Autopsies deemed both deaths homicide, RCMP said.

Sansom was Cardinal’s nephew.

Colleagues told Global News Sansom was a firefighter with the Nobleford Fire Department.

“As this big, tall, kind of intimidating looking guy, when you get to know him… his heart was huge. He would always help people out, whether it was people in the community, or the fire department,” said Ryan Wagner, the fire chief at Nobleford Fire Station.

RCMP said Thursday their investigation led them to a suspect, who turned himself in to the Bonnyville RCMP detachment.

Anthony Bilodeau, of Glendon, Alta., is charged with two counts of second-degree murder. The 31-year-old was remanded into custody and is scheduled to appear in St. Paul Provincial Court via CCTV on April 9.

Glendon is located about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

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B.C. health officials to provide Thursday update on coronavirus response

British Columbia health officials are slated to provide their daily update on the province’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic at 3 p.m. PT Thursday.

Global News will stream the event live here and on our Facebook page and carry it on BC1.

On Thursday, Canada reached 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

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As of Thursday morning, B.C. had confirmed 1,066 cases and 25 deaths. The province says 606 people have fully recovered.

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Denver weather: Cloudy, cold and some snow Thursday

There will be some snow and colder weather in the metro area before temperatures rebound to more spring-like levels over the weekend.

Snow is likely on Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. There is a slight chance of rain and snow showers before 1 p.m. After that, snow is likely.

Total accumulation of less than a half inch is possible.

There is a 70% chance of new snow accumulation of up to 2 inches in the evening, mainly before 11 p.m.

Thursday is expected to be cloudy with a high near 34 degrees and an overnight low around 19. It will be breezy with gusts as high as 23 mph.

Friday is expected to be partly sunny with a high near 45 degrees. There is a 20% chance of snow showers before midnight and an overnight low around 28 degrees.

Saturday is expected to be mostly sunny with a high near 60 degrees and a low around 36.

The temperature will climb to 69 degrees on Sunday. The day will be mostly sunny with a low around 40.

Monday is expected to be sunny with a high near 71 degrees and an overnight low around 42. Tuesday is also expected to be sunny with a high near 70 and an overnight low around 41.

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Tiger King bombshell: China’s big cat death row exposed amid Netflix surge

Netflix mega hit ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ has bewitched viewers across the globe. The bizarre true-crime flick has perched atop of the streaming platform’s most popular list for the last 11 days and looks unlikely to budge any time soon. It follows big cat keeper Joe Exotic’s feud with nemesis Carole Baskin, an animal sanctuary owner, leading to his arrest for allegedly hiring someone to kill her. The TV show has led many to question the treatment of big cats that are not free to roam in the wild and whether members of the public should be able to own them at all. While the health and happiness of these animals is validly being questioned, their treatment is nothing compared to the barbaric acts being carried out in other countries. This is most notable in South East Asia, where tigers are poached from the wild and brutally slaughtered to make animal luxuries for some of China’s elite. Documentarian Aldo Kane told Express.co.uk about the grim reality of the tiger bone product industry and the horrors happening to big cats put on death row. 

Former Royal Marine Aldo Kane, of Scotland, exposed the shocking goings-on in the BBC documentary ‘Tigers: Hunting The Traffickers’, which aired last month.

He went undercover alongside wildlife investigators and activists, bravely putting their lives at risk to reveal the truth about the trade and butchering of big cats. 

The shameful scenes were filmed in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – where traffickers and criminal gangs exploit tigers in a multi-million-pound industry.

In those nations, products including tiger bone wine and glue were revealed to have been purchased by wealthy individuals.

For some the “luxury items” are a sign of opulence to boast with before friends and for others who believe in “trafficker pedalled myths” it is a virility aid.

Mr Kane explained that wild tigers are on the “brink of extinction” after numbers have “halved from 8,000 to 4,000” over the last 35 years.

One of the several reasons cited for this devastating decline is poaching, which has been further fuelled by the illegal trade of tiger bone products.

He told Express.co.uk: “Tiger bone products are no longer part of traditional chinese medicine, it’s more that traffickers are pedaling this as a status symbol.

“It’s the equivalent of a posh pair of shoes, a new car or a new watch – the status of being able to afford this wild animal.

“Then there are some who believe it increases men’s sexual prowess – if they consume the beast, then they become the beast.”

JUST IN: China’s tiger bone wine toasts exposed amid ‘coronavirus fallout’

The disturbing reality behind the production of tiger bone products sees tigers being snatched from the wild or allegedly sold by farms – meant to increase their numbers.

From there, individuals pay for the tiger of their choosing to be slaughtered in front of their eyes or recorded via camera phone. 

Tigers are often killed through electrocution or drowning then gutted, disemboweled and all the flesh is carved away from their skeletons. 

Their bones are then either boiled for days until it forms a dark black glue that can be added to a bottle of alcohol or stewed with wine for up to eight years.

Mr Kane told Express.co.uk: “These tiger products are being seen as ‘commodities’. They are being made to be taken everyday or with friends as a sign of stature.”

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In the documentary, wildlife investigator Chau Doan posed as a wealthy businessman looking to have a tiger killed for the bone-based products – in a bid to expose the evil trade.

He was taken to a secret hideout where the tigers were being kept in tiny, cramped conditions on “death row”.

During the stint, Mr Doan was told by one of the criminals that they were selling as many seven tigers to the slaughter every day.

That horrifying statistic – if the numbers are accurate – equates to more than 210 tigers being murdered every month from just one illegal spot alone.

Mr Kane told Express.co.uk that the business was an “industrial-sized operation” in what is considered to be an already “out of control” industry.

Hidden camera footage taken for the documentary showed extremely overweight and bloated tigers that appeared barely able to walk and in clear discomfort. 

Mr Kane revealed that this is an additional cruel measure to ensure that those operating within the criminal trade can make even more profit. 

He told Express.co.uk: “From what we could tell, the tigers were pumped full of liquid to increase their weight, as they are sold per kilo when boiled into the glue.

“The tigers are obese anyway because they don’t get exercise and are kept in a cage – which are only a few feet across.

“When they can’t exercise their muscles atrophy and they become quite large – that’s on top of whatever they are already being pumped with.”

One of the alleged reasons behind buyers’ demanding proof of the killing is to ensure the products are legitimate.

Mr Kane told Express.co.uk: “They will come to see the tiger being killed and stay three days while it’s boiled into glue.

“This is to prove one hundred percent that it is a tiger and that’s why the videos are made too. It’s provenance for the people who buy the product that the exact process they specified happens.”

Mr Kane claims that this distrust could stem from the blackmarket trade and smuggling of big cat carcasses from South Africa.

He alleges that the bones of lions, cheaters, jaguars and other animals are being transported along trade routes to south east Asia – where they are then sold as “tiger bones or ‘tiger bone product”’.

Another grim find during the documentary was that one Laos trafficker was keeping dead tiger cubs in his freezer.

After placing hidden cameras around the facility, video footage captured the unnamed owner of Say Namthurn being “caught red-handed”.

Mr Kane described the clip: “They’re lifting up the freezers and pulling frozen tiger cubs out of the freezer.”

The individual was later sentenced to six years in prison for wildlife trafficking after being caught transporting seven dead tiger cubs at a border crossing.

While putting an end to the trade may appear hard, Mr Kane suggests that a multitude of things could stop the criminal industry once and for all. 

One of those is China clamping down on tiger products, which he believes could create a ripple effect across south east Asia.

Mr Kane told Express.co.uk: “From my opinion, if China was to step in line then other countries would follow because of its sway due to economical reasons.

“The problem is the traffickers, middle men and entrepreneurs are touting ‘new miracle cures’ from different parts of the tigers, that are not used in traditional Chinese medicine.”

Another relates to reeducating people about tiger bone product myths including it being a sex aid.

Despite this, Mr Kane fears that many buyers are only using the product as a way to showcase their wealth – but with the bleak note, he held optimism for the future.

Mr Kane admitted to Express.co.uk: “I don’t think the younger generation are as active as the older generation.

“The younger generation – similar to the rest of the world – are not doing old traditional things.”

China has come under increasing pressure recently to enforce strict legislation on the trade of wild animals – after claims coronavirus was spread from wet markets.

Mr Kane told Express.co.uk: “Coronavirus may or may not have a positive effect for wildlife in China and south east Asia – if a ban is put on wildlife products that will help. 

“But we know from what we’ve seen and investigated that what China says and does are two very different things.”

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Exclusive: UK's worst case coronavirus toll is 50,000 dead but UK is not on course for that

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government’s worst case scenario envisages a coronavirus death toll of 50,000 people if self isolation is not adhered to, but the United Kingdom is not right now on course for a toll of that scale, a source familiar with the government’s emergency discussions said.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, the worst day for deaths is projected to be April 12, which this year is Easter Sunday.

A so-called best case scenario in the circumstances would be a death toll of 20,000, according to the source.

A Downing Street spokeswoman declined immediate comment.

The United Kingdom’s coronavirus death toll rose 24 percent in one day to 2,921, as of April 1.

Stephen Powis, the medical director of National Health Service England, said on Sunday that the United Kingdom would be doing well if it kept the coronavirus death toll below 20,000.

According to a study by Imperial College last month, if no measures were taken then the outbreak would have caused more than half a million deaths in Britain and 2.2 million in the United States.

Worldwide, coronavirus deaths have reached more than 47,000, according to a Reuters tally.

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Von der Leyen issues grovelling apology to Italy with promise of more coronavirus help

The German vowed to deliver the support needed to help Rome through the economic consequences of its three-week lockdown. Prime minister Giuseppe Conte was forced to extend his closure of businesses and ban on public gatherings until April 13 in a desperate bid to curb the spread of the deadly disease, which has blighted his country. Italy is the world’s worst-affected country with 13,155 deaths related to the COVID-19 outbreak and over 110,000 total cases.

After much of the bloc turned its back on Rome, Mrs von der Leyen promised to come to its rescue with an attempt to rebuild European solidarity.

In an open letter, she wrote: “Today Europe is mobilising alongside Italy. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.

“It must be recognised that in the early days of the crisis, in the face of the need for a common European response, too many have thought only of their own home problems.”

The European Commission President claimed that she has already rolled out a list of measures designed to help revive Italy’s fortunes after the coronavirus crisis comes to an end.

“In the past month, the European Commission has left no stone unturned to help Italy,” she said.

But the EU’s most senior official refused to engage in a discussion over the so-called “coronabonds” scheme, a pan-European joint debt mechanism, which has been requested by Rome.

Instead she vowed to “allocate up to €100 billion to the hardest hit countries, starting from Italy, to compensate for the reduction in the wages of those working on shorter hours”.

The newly-minted measure provides “loans guaranteed by all member states – thus demonstrating European solidarity”.

Mrs von der Leyen vowed “every euro still available in the EU’s annual budget be spent on tackling the crisis”.

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The top eurocrat, however, was accused of simply delivering empty promises instead of concrete solutions.

Matteo Salvini, the League leader and former deputy prime minister, said: “Commission president von der Leyen has apologised today to Italy and Italians.

“She could have thought of this sooner. From Europe, all we are getting are words and smoke: zero substance.”

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The Italian prime minister called for strict spending rules associated with the bloc’s European Stability Mechanism bailouts to be dropped.

Mr Conte fumed: “If we are a union, now is the time to prove it.”

Germany and the Netherlands, who have both opposed the “coronabonds” concept, have insisted using existing EU structures are the best way to mitigate the economic chaos caused by the global pandemic.

EU leaders failed to find a common response during a European Council summit last week and gave their finance ministers more time to draft a new strategy.

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