World News

UK to use firefighters to deliver food, collect bodies in coronavirus crisis

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom will use firefighters to help deliver food, retrieve dead bodies and drive ambulances as it braces for the looming peak of the coronavirus outbreak that has already claimed the lives of more than 22,000 people across the world.

Britain initially took a strikingly modest approach to the worst health crisis since the 1918 influenza epidemic but then changed tack to impose stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million British people could die.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a virtual lockdown of the world’s fifth largest economy to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus banning Britons from leaving their homes for all non-essential reasons.

So far, 578 people in the United Kingdom have died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 11,658. The UK toll is the seventh worst in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Under a deal struck between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Fire chiefs and Fire and Rescue Employers, firefighters will continue to respond to their usual emergencies but will now also carry out new tasks.

“We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes. The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities,” said Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary.

“Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval.”

As well as collecting those who die should there be mass casualties, firefighters can drive ambulances, and take food and medicine to the vulnerable under the agreement.

To cope with the outbreak, Britain has already asked tens of thousands of retired doctors and healthcare workers to return to work, while hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to assist the state-run National Health Service.

On Friday, the capital’s ambulance service appealed to former paramedics and control room staff for help, and London’s police force asked officers who have retired in the last five years to come back.

“It is important that we take all reasonable steps to bolster our numbers,” London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said.


Britons across the country took to their balconies and front doors on Thursday evening to applaud health workers and bang pots and pans to show support for those working for the nation’s much-loved NHS.

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  • UK working quickly as it can on ventilators after missing EU scheme: PM's spokesman

There has been criticism that the government has not acted quickly enough to provide protective equipment to frontline healthcare staff and it is also scrambling to source thousands of ventilators to treat those with severe breathing problems caused by the virus.

The government has admitted that it missed an opportunity to join a European Union procurement scheme to source the equipment because of an email mix up.

“There was an issue in terms of communications so the tendering process on those schemes had already started,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma told BBC radio on Friday.

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UK's plan B if 'Team Johnson' is incapacitated? Answer is unclear

LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) – What would happen if British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s case of coronavirus – so far he has “mild symptoms” – were to become more serious or even incapacitate him and his team? Under Britain’s uncodified constitution, the answer is unclear.

Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock both said they were able to keep working from self-isolation at home after confirming they had tested positive for the virus.

But the fact that two such crucial members of the British government have contracted the disease – and their top medical adviser is now self-isolating with symptoms – has raised questions about how the government would function without them at a time of global crisis.

With only an unwieldy collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents to go by, there is no simple, formally-enshrined “Plan B” or succession scenario, experts said.

“We’ve not been in that kind of situation, we’ve not had to think about it from that point of view before,” Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, told Reuters.

Whereas in the United States the vice president steps up if the president dies or becomes incapacitated, Britain has no formal deputy or caretaker prime minister who would take over.

Downing Street has already said, however, that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would deputise if necessary.

Nor is there any guidance for such circumstances in the Cabinet Manual which sets out the rules and conventions for the running of government, and there is little precedence.

When asked about who would stand in for the prime minister, his spokesman said: “The prime minister has the power to delegate responsibility to any of his ministers, but for now it is the prime minister and then the foreign secretary.”


In June 1953, then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill suffered a stroke while in office. His illness was kept so secret that some senior ministers were unaware.

Churchill surprised doctors by recovering to carry on his duties, returning to Downing Street and running the cabinet two months later.

More recently, Tony Blair twice underwent treatment for a heart condition while prime minister in the early 2000s, each time briefly cutting back on his workload for a couple of days.

Officials said had he been incapacitated, his then-deputy John Prescott would take over until a new leader was elected.

There is no suggestion Johnson is unable to perform his job, and his spokesman said he could carry on as before, although he was now doing so via teleconferencing.

Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service from January 2012 to September 2014, agreed that Johnson and ministers could continue to operate by video, but said there were potential drawbacks.

“It is a cabinet government but the prime minister’s role is crucial at this time, not least … because of the visible leadership that the country needs,” he told Sky News.


Kerslake said officials would need to know there was a system for what would happen if senior ministers were unable to do their jobs.

Losing Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who coordinates policy across government, would be a serious blow.

“He is critical to all of this,” Kerslake said. “If, for whatever reason, he was ill, who takes over from him?”

Haddon said some powers were specifically vested in cabinet ministers, so there was an issue of what happened if they were unavailable.

“If you got to a stage where … you had secretaries of state who aren’t able to perform their functions, then there are question marks about whether junior ministers in their department act on their behalf,” she said.

One lawmaker in Johnson’s party, who has repeatedly tried to bring in a law to formalise who would replace a prime minister in the event of incapacity, said last week no one seemed to know what would happen.

“In a national emergency, you don’t want to be scrabbling around worrying about who’s in charge,” Peter Bone told the Mirror newspaper.

However, Haddon said naming Raab as Johnson’s substitute would prevent a political squabble among senior ministers over who fronted press conferences or chaired meetings.

“It is valuable for them to work out contingencies for various scenarios and they have obviously done a certain amount of thinking about that,” she said.

She said prime ministers and cabinet ministers were often absent and government operated in their absence.

“Secretaries of state go on holiday and their department functions without them. The prime minister goes on holiday and the rest of government is able to continue working,” she added.

“If there are things that (are) invested in a secretary of state and it is not proper for someone to act on their behalf, that’s when it becomes a problem.” (Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mike Collett-White)

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MLB ballparks empty as coronavirus weighs on

MLB fan on baseball season: The show should go on

Atlanta Braves fan Philip Wolfe discusses the possibility of the MLB suspending its season over coronavirus fears.

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ARLINGTON, Texas — There will be no hot dogs on the grill, no beer on tap, no vendors in the stands selling peanuts and Cracker Jack.

The shiny new stadium deep in the heart of Texas will still be waiting for its first Rangers game. Instead of warming up for his debut with the New York Yankees after a record $324 million, nine-year contract, Gerrit Cole is playing catch with his wife at home.

Ticket windows are closed at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals baseball team, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


With the start of the Major League Baseball season indefinitely on hold because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, ballparks will be empty Thursday on what was supposed to be opening day.

“You’re used to seeing people run all over the place. We have over 200 people (who work) at the park,” said Roger Bossard, the groundskeeper in his 54th year with the Chicago White Sox. “Certainly, it’s eerie when no one’s around. You walk around the hallways or underneath the stands there, and there’s nobody there — but understandably.”

From Baltimore to Miami in the east, San Diego to Seattle in the west — and 11 other cities that would have hosted season openers Thursday — there will be no games, or at the remaining 15 MLB stadiums, for at least a couple of more months.

An empty Angel Stadium of Anaheim is shown in Anaheim, Calif., on March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

By then, when the weather will be warmer, the Rangers will be able to stay out of the heat by closing the retractable roof at their $1 billion-plus stadium, the only new major league ballpark opening this season.


After the postponement of a Chris Stapleton concert that was to be the inaugural event at Globe Life Park on March 14, only three days after an open house that went on as scheduled, the Rangers were supposed to play an exhibition game there this week. Their home opener was set for next Tuesday after a season-opening series in Seattle.

“The stadium was 100 percent ready to go,” said Casey Rapp, GM of the new Rangers stadium for Delaware North Sportservice, which also oversees concessions for 10 other MLB ballparks. “It’s the little things that we were trying to make perfect.”

While there was plenty of time to finish construction of Globe Life Park, Rapp and his group haven’t yet been able to serve people during a full-scale event at the stadium.

The South East entrance to the newly constructed home of the Texas Rangers baseball club, Globe Life Field, sits empty of any pedestrian traffic in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, March 25, 2020.(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Concessionaires start planning months in advance of the openers. That means a lot of products, such as hot dogs, bottled beverages and frozen foods, had already been delivered to many ballparks before the season was put on hold.

“It’s definitely different … it’s kind of unheard of (that) all the major sports inside the United States would be closed at the exact same time,” said Ken Gaber, vice president of operational excellence for Delaware North Sportservice. “Personally, it’s difficult. I think everybody feels the exact same way.”

Delaware North has donated to local charities more than 41,000 pounds of food, including perishable items already sent to MLB stadiums it operates, and concessions from its other venues, including some NBA and NHL arenas suddenly shut down in the middle of those seasons. There were also several spring training venues at the peak of their schedules.


The World Series champion Washington Nationals have reduced staff at Nationals Park, where a facilities group is still maintaining the ballpark and putting on the finishing touches for the season.

“Prior to every baseball season, you’re always working very aggressively to get ready for opening day. That’s a fixed date and time and you just have to be ready,” said Frank Gambino, Washington’s senior vice president of ballpark operations. “We had been working very diligently, and continue to work diligently, to try and get as close as we can to ready for whenever opening day eventually comes.”

This March 25, 2020, photo shows closed gates at Nationals Park in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Gambino said the Nationals were able to defer many of the concession deliveries and stocking of the stadium while monitoring the COVID-19 situation.

There have been no reports of any MLB players testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Two minor leaguers in the Yankees system did, and the Red Sox closed down their entire spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida, this week after saying that one of their minor league players had tested positive.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.


The Baltimore Orioles were scheduled to open at home Thursday against the Yankees, likely with a clean-shaven Cole on the mound for the visitors. Camden Yards will be ready whenever the season finally starts, and the Orioles hope to maintain the enthusiasm that was whipped up for the team throughout a now-extended offseason.

“The bright spot in this sort of cloudy day is that our fans will be craving baseball,” said Jennifer Grondahl, the Orioles vice president of community development and communications. “If we can put together a season and the entertainment that we have planned and add to that, I feel like we’ll be able to continue that momentum.”

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World News

Crash in northwest Calgary sees woman get thrown from bus

A woman is in hospital after a three-vehicle crash at Crowchild Trail and 5 Avenue N.W. on Friday evening.

Calgary police said a Lexus was heading south on Crowchild Trail when it allegedly ran through a red light and collided with a Calgary Transit bus.

A female passenger was thrown from the back window of the bus and was rushed to Foothills Medical Centre in serious but non-life threatening condition.

Another passenger from the bus was treated for minor injuries.

Brian Zhung was driving east on 5 Avenue N.W. and his Toyota sedan was also involved in the crash.

Zhung said he was able to walk away with just a minor cut to his head.

Southbound Crowchild Trail and 5 Avenue N.W. were closed as the CPS Traffic Unit investigated the crash.

Officers said speed and impairment are not believed to be factors and no one is in custody.



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GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks fall as virus uncertainty lingers; dollar set for weekly loss

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2020 (Updates prices, changes comment, byline, dateline; previous LONDON)

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) – Stocks across the globe fell on Friday after a historic three-day run-up, with indexes poised to close the month and quarter with starkly negative performances.

The volatility of the erratic markets is expected to continue as the coronavirus pandemic that triggered closures in economies worldwide remains very much a threat.

The United States surpassed two grim milestones on Thursday as virus-related deaths soared past 1,000 and it become the world leader in confirmed cases.

The uncertainty over the overall human and economic toll was reflected in financial markets, with MSCI’s gauge of global stocks on track to post both its largest weekly percentage gain since 2008 and its largest monthly and quarterly drops since 2008.

The infection rate for the coronavirus is driving much of the market at a time of great uncertainty, said Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at INTL FCStone Financial Inc in New York.

“My big hang-up here is when the curve does start to flatten, that doesn’t mean we can return to normal human and economic behavior. If we do return to normal human and economic behavior, we risk the chance the curve goes parabolic again. Just from the perspective of how long this potentially can last, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty,” he said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 827.25 points, or 3.67%, to 21,724.92, the S&P 500 lost 87.31 points, or 3.32%, to 2,542.76 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 255.69 points, or 3.28%, to 7,541.85.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 3.22% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 2.41%.

Emerging market stocks lost 1.07%.

Stock markets have rallied over the past week on trillions of dollars of enacted and pledged economic stimulus by policymakers worldwide, from central banks to governments.

Policymakers may need to offer more stimulus as the virus slams the brakes on economic activity and increases healthcare spending.

“Next week, markets will likely continue to focus on the spread of COVID-19 – whether European cases are reaching a peak, how much of the U.S. will be put in lockdown, and whether China can avoid a second wave,” said Gaétan Peroux, strategist at UBS Global Wealth Management.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that will flood the world’s largest economy with money to stem the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

Amid the avalanche of stimulus, the U.S. dollar was little changed for the day and remained on track for its biggest weekly decline since May 2009.

The dollar index fell 0.393% on Friday.

The euro was up 0.24% to $1.1055, the Japanese yen strengthened 1.57% versus the greenback at 107.92 per dollar, while Sterling was last trading at $1.2367, up 1.36% on the day.

The U.S. currency’s fall after two weeks of steep gains suggests the Federal Reserve’s efforts to relieve a crunch in the dollar funding market are working, some analysts said.

“What we are seeing is abating stress in the money markets. Action by central banks has been successful so far and a shortage of dollars has been taken off the table,” said Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX and EM research at Commerzbank.

U.S. Treasury yields were headed for a weekly decline, though the range of trading was far less volatile than in the previous two sessions.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 22/32 in price to yield 0.7377%, from 0.808% late on Thursday. The 30-year bond last rose 1-26/32 in price to yield 1.3267%, from 1.395%.

Oil prices continued their fall on demand concerns as the virus slowed economies to a crawl, which outweighed the stimulus efforts.

U.S. crude recently fell 5.44% to $21.37 per barrel and Brent was recently at $24.54, down 6.83% on the day.

Gold market participants remained concerned about a supply squeeze after a sharp divergence between prices in London and New York. The virus has grounded planes used to transport gold and closed precious metal refineries.

Spot gold dropped 0.3% to $1,623.82 an ounce. The metal was on track to post its largest weekly advance since 2008.

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World News

Coronavirus shock claim: Yanis Varoufakis reveals 2008 crisis NEVER ended

The eurozone was already in a weak state before the impact of coronavirus. Eurozone real GDP increased just 0.1 percent quarter on quarter and one percent year on year in the fourth quarter of 2019, resulting in its weakest performance in six years. Germany’s output was flat, while Italy and France suffered contractions.

Outside the eurozone, the UK economy also stalled in the fourth quarter.

IHS Markit expects the spreading virus to do serious damage to trade, travel and tourism and financial markets.

Italy is especially vulnerable, given its fragile economy, the high incidence of COVID-19, and resulting restrictions on activity.

As many economists wonder whether the coronavirus pandemic will be a rerun for Europe of the 2008 financial crash, leading economist and former Greek Financial Minister Yanis Varoufakis argued it would be a mistake to see the economic response to coronavirus in isolation, as the outbreak has merely deepened and accelerated a crisis that has never ended.

In a video posted on his YouTube channel DiEM25 last week, he said: “Don’t let anyone tell you that the 2008 crisis ended and that now you have a new one.

“That crisis never ended. It just moved in different forms, travelled from one continent to another.

“But nevertheless it has always been with us.

“The world never went back to some kind of equilibrium after 2008.

“What coronavirus has done, it has deepened and accelerated this never-ending non-stop crisis that began in 2008.”

Mr Varoufakis explained that the only reason why there has been a resemblance of recovery after 2011 is because central banks and governments took it upon themselves to reflect the financial markets.

He added: “They printed trillions and trillions of money and threw them at the 0.1 percent at corporations that were already full of money. For example, Apple, Google and so on.

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“They boosted inequality massively and stabilised financial markets. But at the same time, they depleted all serious investments in good quality jobs in labour. health, education.”

The expert noted: “This is why there has been so much discontent even before COVID-19 arrived on the scene.

“When coronavirus arrived on the scene it found a global capitalism that was sitting on a gigantic bubble of private debt that had been minted by central banks on behalf of financial capital.

“COVID-19 has pricked the bubble on which financial capitalism was sitting up until now.

“So even if the financial markets are eroded once more, the level of investment is going to be even lower than it was.”

Referring to the proposals of his political movement DIEM25 or Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, the former Finance Minister argued they have never been more pertinent and urgent than now.

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He said: “We need a common investment policy based on an alliance between the European investment bank and the European Central Bank.

“We need a universal basic dividend.

“We need a carbon tax and a social equity fund, the purpose of which will be to energise both private capital and public finance.

“We need public financial instruments in order to take the liquidity that exist in our financial circuits and put it into good use.

“Press them into public service in terms of public health, in terms of creating good quality jobs.

“The agenda of DIEM25 has never been more pertinent and has never been more urgent than today.”

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World News

Halifax police release photo of suspect linked to pair of Clyde Street arsons

Halifax Regional Police have released photos of a man they believe is linked to a pair of arsons in the municipality’s downtown core earlier this month.

Police say that at 1:55 a.m. on March 12, officers, along with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, responded to a suspicious fire at 5455 Clyde St.

The fire was quickly extinguished, but police say a similar call occurred at 3:45 a.m. on March 14.

In both incidents, the businesses located at the address were closed and no one was injured.

Investigators have now deemed both fires to be arsons and they believe the same person is responsible for both incidents.

Police say the suspect is described as a man dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt and black pants.

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World News

Britain's PM Johnson has coronavirus, self-isolates in Downing Street

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating at his Downing Street residence but said he would still lead the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.

Johnson, 55, experienced mild symptoms on Thursday, a day after he answered at the prime minister’s weekly question-and-answer session in parliament’s House of Commons chamber, and received the positive test result around midnight.

“I’ve taken a test. That has come out positive,” Johnson said on Friday in a video statement broadcast on Twitter. “I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus. That’s to say – a temperature and a persistent cough.

“So I am working from home. I’m self-isolating,” Johnson said. “Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”

British health minister Matt Hancock said later on Friday morning that he has also tested positive and is self-isolating at home with mild symptoms.

Johnson is the first leader of a major power to announce a positive test result for coronavirus. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went into isolation earlier this month after his wife tested positive for the virus.

U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both been tested, so far with negative results.

Johnson chaired a government meeting on the coronavirus on Friday morning via teleconference.


It was not immediately clear how many Downing Street staff and senior ministers would need to isolate themselves given that many have had contact with Johnson over recent days and weeks.

The moment Johnson felt symptoms he took steps to avoid close contact with anyone, a spokesman said, adding that ministers would need to self-isolate if they developed symptoms but that he was unaware of further testing among senior ministers.

Johnson will have his meals delivered to the door of an apartment at Number 11 Downing Street, while he self-isolates for seven days from the warren of corridors and rooms that make up the seat of British political power at Number 10 Downing Street.

“The doors between Number 10 and Number 11 have been closed off to all other staff who work in the building,” a Downing Street spokesman said. “The PM will work from the office and the study in Number 11.”

His finance minister, Rishi Sunak, who traditionally works out of Number 11 Downing Street, is not self-isolating, a Treasury source said.

Britons paid tribute to health workers on Thursday evening, clapping and cheering from doorways and windows. Johnson and Sunak took part, but came out of separate entrances on Downing Street and did not come into close contact, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

It was not immediately clear whether Johnson’s 32-year-old partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, had been tested.


Queen Elizabeth last saw Johnson on March 11 and she remains in good health, Buckingham Palace said. The 93-year-old monarch usually sees the prime minister once a week but has recently conducted the regular audience by telephone.

“The queen last saw the PM on the 11th March and is following all the appropriate advice with regards to her welfare,” a palace spokesman said.

So far, 578 people in the United Kingdom have died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 11,658. The death toll is the seventh highest in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week. He is in good health and is now self-isolating at his residence in Scotland with mild symptoms along with his wife Camilla, who tested negative, his office said.

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World News

Coronavirus: New city tipline looks to crack down on Londoners violating COVID-19 orders

Are you a non-essential business defying government orders to close amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

How about a Londoner going to the grocery store despite recently testing positive?

Or maybe a traveller failing to self-quarantine for two weeks after returning from south of the border?

If you’re any or all of these things, the city has a message for you: follow COVID-19-related orders or face the consequences.

To prove they’re not bluffing, the city, in partnership with the London Police Service (LPS) and the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), says a new tipline has been set up to crack down on those flouting provincial orders and municipal closures.

Londoners can contact the tipline by email or phone to voice concerns about non-essential businesses that are still open, large gatherings of 50 or more people, Londoners not following federal government quarantine orders, and people taking part in activities at closed outdoor structures.

“Everyone has the responsibility to follow all of the orders that have been issued by governments, and to take every precaution possible to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Dave O’Brien, the city’s division manager of corporate security and emergency management, in a statement Friday.

Despite efforts from health and government officials in reinforcing the importance of physical distancing and, if necessary, self-quarantining, O’Brien says they continue to see people not paying attention.

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“When we receive a call or email through this new process, we will work with our community partners at LPS and MLHU to enforce the restrictions that have been put in place,” he said.

Londoners can utilize the tipline by emailing [email protected] or by dialing 519-661-4660.

The city says the email address will be monitored 24/7, while the phone line will be monitored Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

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UPDATE 2-Lebanon vows total economic overhaul by year-end amid debt talk kick off

* Central bank has $22 bln of liquid FX reserves

* Economy expected to contract 12% in 2020

* Inflation predicted to top 27% this year (Adds details, investor presentation slides)

By Tom Arnold and Eric Knecht

LONDON/BEIRUT, March 27 (Reuters) – Lebanon launched formal debt restructuring talks on Friday with a pledge to implement an economic turnaround plan by year-end, but officials painted a gloomy picture of rapidly dwindling reserves and soaring inflation ahead.

Lebanon, one of the world’s most indebted countries, suspended payments on all $31.3 billion of its international Eurobonds this month, saying it could no longer repay them while prioritising scarce dollars for critical imports.

It has also earmarked some $57 billion of domestic T-bills and bonds for restructuring, while just over $2 billion of bilateral and multilateral debt will remain untouched.

“This government has a full agenda over the coming months to design and implement its comprehensive recovery plan, and conduct its public debt restructuring,” Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said in a webcast presentation.

“Our aim is to finalise this ambitious turnaround agenda before year-end 2020.”

Finance ministry officials described an economy sinking deeper into turmoil, projecting a GDP contraction of 12% for 2020 and inflation topping 27%, an outlook made worse by the outbreak of coronavirus and no sign that badly needed foreign inflows would soon return. The country’s economy had already contracted by nearly 7% last year, the presentation showed.

Having defaulted for the first time, the country’s dollar-denominated bonds have slumped to around 15 cents on the dollar in recent weeks, with a broader global market rout adding to the challenge facing Lebanon to turn around its economy.

The presentation showed the central bank’s liquid foreign exchange reserves at $22 billion and public debt at 178% of GDP at end-2019.

“Confidence in the past economic model is shattered. External and fiscal imbalances have become greater than Lebanon can bear and the complete reshaping of Lebanon’s economic and banking system…have become necessary, said Finance Ministry Director General Alain Bifani.

Bifani said reforming the country’s oversized banking sector required “disentangling” the links between cash-strapped commercial banks and the central bank after years of them funnelling dollars to the central bank at sky high interest rates.

The debt negotiations mark a new phase in a crisis that has seen the Lebanese pound lose more than 40% of its value since October, while hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost and scores of businesses shut.

Government officials said they were aiming for a fair and equitable treatment of creditors.

Lebanon has asked creditors to register their holdings by April 17.

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