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World News

Crew of US navy ship to be quarantined in Guam

US officials have arranged for sailors from a virus-stricken aircraft carrier to be quarantined in Guam, where the ship has been docked since Friday.

Guam’s governor said those without the virus would be moved to hotels or quarantined at a naval base.

At least 100 people aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the disease, reports say.

Earlier this week the ship’s captain pleaded for most of his crew to be quarantined so deaths could be avoided.

Until now, sailors from the aircraft carrier had been restricted to the naval base’s pier.

Captain Brett Crozier wrote to the Pentagon warning that the outbreak aboard his ship was “accelerating” because crew members were living in confined spaces.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote in the letter, dated 30 March, which was published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told MSNBC on Wednesday that 1,000 sailors had been taken off the ship and “more and more” were being taken ashore for treatment. Others will remain aboard to keep the vessel running.

Mr Modly said every crew member would be tested for the disease. The ship can carry up to 6,000 people and the secretary said 800 testing kits were available last week. More would be sent, he added.

According to local newspaper Pacific Daily News, Guam’s Governor Lou Leon Guerrero said she supported the move but had “not made the decision lightly”.

Guam is battling the worst coronavirus outbreak in Micronesia, with almost 70 cases confirmed.

To prevent the virus from spreading further, all sailors placed in quarantine must remain isolated for 14 days. They will also have daily medical checks.

“I know there will a small chorus of cynics who will oppose the position, but now is not the time for us-versus-them,” said Ms Guerrero.

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World News

Saudi Arabia asks Muslims to delay Hajj bookings

Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims planning to take part in the Hajj pilgrimage to delay booking amid uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic.

Hajj Minister Mohammed Banten said the kingdom was concerned about the safety of pilgrims and urged people to “wait before concluding contracts”.

Some two million people were expected to travel to Mecca and Medina this July and August for the annual gathering.

Muslims who are physically able must undertake the Hajj once in a lifetime.

The lesser pilgrimage, the Umra, has already been suspended as a precaution to try to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

People are also being prevented from entering Mecca and Medina, as well as the capital Riyadh, as the Saudi authorities attempt to contain an outbreak of Covid-19 that has infected at least 1,563 people and claimed 10 lives in the country.

“Saudi Arabia is fully ready to serve pilgrims and Umra seekers in all circumstances,” Mr Banten told state TV. “But under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic, from which we have asked God to save us, the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens.”

“So we have asked our brother Muslims in all countries to wait before concluding contracts [with tour operators] until the situation is clear.”

He added that the Hajj and health ministries had been inspecting hotels currently being used to accommodate people who had been undertaking Umra before the suspension and then been told to self-isolate or been unable to return home.

The minister also said that, for the time being, people who had purchased Umra visas and that could not be used would be refunded the cost.

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Health

White House turns to statistical models for coronavirus forecast – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Like forecasters tracking a megastorm, White House officials are relying on statistical models to help predict the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and try to protect as many people as possible.

The public could get its first close look at the Trump administration’s own projections Tuesday at the daily briefing.

High numbers of potential deaths estimated under different models have focused President Donald Trump’s attention. He’s dropped talk of reopening the country by Easter and instead called on Americans to stay home for another month and avoid social contact.

Such models are a standard tool of epidemiology, the branch of medicine that deals with how diseases spread and how to control them. But they’re really just fancy estimates, and results vary by what factors the modelers put in. Some models updated on a daily basis may seem disconcerting to average folks searching for certainty.

White House coronavirus task force adviser Dr. Deborah Birx and the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci have been talking about the models at press briefings. Fauci on Sunday cited one estimate of 100,000 deaths. Birx has described how officials are working to refine their own model.

On Monday, Trump signaled that the White House will explain its forecast soon. “We will meet again tomorrow for some statistics,” he told reporters at the daily briefing. As soon as it’s released, the White House model is certain to get a thorough vetting by independent experts.

The models can feed in numbers from around the country on deaths and other data points. They use statistical analysis to predict the outbreak’s path, ferocity and ultimate impact as measured in people sickened, hospitals overwhelmed and lives lost. Fauci and Birx have talked about using testing data — once enough is available.

Part of the idea is to try to drill down close to the community level, providing a tailored view that can help state and local officials. For example, the age of a local population can make a difference.

A senior administration official said other streams of data being analyzed include local hospital capacity, the ability of health departments to trace the contacts of people who test positive, the types of businesses in a community and whether they could ensure worker safety if they reopen and economic modeling under varying scenarios. The official provided details on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing planning.

Birx said the White House task force has looked at about a dozen models designed by other experts.

“And then we went back to the drawing board over the last week or two and worked from the ground up, utilizing actual reporting of cases,” she explained.

Birx singled out projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, suggesting that model is close to how government experts see the situation.

As of Tuesday morning, the IHME forecast predicted about 84,000 U.S. deaths through early August, with the highest number of daily deaths occurring April 15. That would be three days after Easter.

The model generated attention because it offered the first state-by-state outlook for the next several months, based on how the outbreak is reacting to the various containment efforts put in place at different times around the country. It shows how the outbreak will unfold at a different pace in various states. For example, the model predicts it will peak about a month earlier in New York than in Texas.

The IHME model is what’s called a “planning model” that can help local authorities and hospitals plan for such things as how many ICU beds they’ll need from week to week.

“Nobody has a crystal ball,” said Dr. Christopher Murray of the University of Washington, who developed the model. It is updated daily as new data arrives. While it is aimed at professionals, Murray hopes the model also helps the general public understand that the social distancing that’s in place “is a long process.”

Just like a massive evacuation can save lives in a Category 4 hurricane, social distancing and shuttered workplaces can slow the rate at which the virus spreads, in hopes that severe illness and deaths may not hit a particular locality all at once. Overwhelmed hospitals unable to care for patients could make things worse.

Fauci says models are useful, but they represent well-informed guesswork. They involve a wide span of possible results, from a best-case scenario to calamitous impacts. Usually the mid-range estimate gets cited. But sometimes, it’s worst-case projection.

“What I like to do — as a scientist, a physician, a public health official — is to not ignore models,” said Fauci. But to “look at the data as it’s evolving and do everything you possibly can to mitigate that instead of getting overly anxious about the extremes of the model.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

The virus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened about 800,000 people and killed tens of thousands, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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World News

China delays college entrance exam as fears grow over risk of coronavirus second wave

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – China will delay its national college entrance exam by a month as it grapples with a coronavirus pandemic as travellers returning from abroad are fuelling new cases and boosting concern over the threat of a second wave of infections.

The two-day “gaokao” annual test will be pushed back to July 7 and 8, China Central Television said on Tuesday, with Hubei province, where the virus emerged late last year, and Beijing, the capital, being given more leeway in scheduling it.

The delay to the test, seen as opening the way to a life of opportunity and taken by more than 10 million students last year, is the latest sign of China’s struggle to resume normal life after widespread lockdowns aimed at reining in the virus.

“China has slowed transmission of the virus and in so doing, has passed one peak in the outbreak,” said Tarik Jasarevic, a representative of the World Health Organisation. “The challenge now is to prevent a resurgence of new cases.”

The epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region was “far from over”, another WHO official added.

Last week, a study in British medical journal the Lancet Public Health recommended that China extend school and workplace closures, since an earlier relaxation of curbs could bring a second peak in the outbreak by August.

China’s tax authorities acknowledged the pandemic’s impact on exporters, saying they were studying policies to reduce pressure on businesses, from tax cuts to an extension of preferential policies for foreign firms.

New data from a survey of manufacturers showed that factory activity expanded in March from February’s collapse as businesses returned to work, but analysts warned that slumping external demand could prevent a durable recovery.

“The situation could be very fluid as the virus outbreak remains unpredictable,” analysts at ANZ bank said in a note. “Chinese policymakers will likely step up and expand the stimulus programme if needed.”

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RISE IN CASES

On Tuesday, mainland China reported an increase in new infections, reversing four days of declines, as cases rose among arrivals from overseas.

Monday’s 48 new cases were up from 31 the previous day, the National Health Commission said in a statement, with one death.

All were imported, taking China’s tally of such cases to 771, with no new local infection reported.

Many were students returning from overseas. About 35 infected Chinese citizens are still studying abroad, with 11 already cured, education ministry official Liu Jin said on Tuesday.

Locally transmitted infections have mostly declined, but authorities concerned about travellers who caught the virus abroad are stepping up screening and quarantine measures, while slashing international flights and barring most foreigners.

Of Monday’s new imported cases, 10 were in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, involving travellers whose flights were diverted to the regional capital of Hohhot from Beijing, state media said.

The commercial hub of Shanghai reported 11 new imported cases, comprising mainly returning Chinese nationals, while Beijing reported three.

Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province, reported no new infections for a seventh straight day. Groups of medical teams in brightly coloured jackets took photographs around the city as they prepared to leave.

By Monday, total infections stood at 81,518 in mainland China, with 3,305 deaths.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

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World News

China guards against second wave of coronavirus coming from abroad

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – The growing number of imported coronavirus cases in China risked fanning a second wave of infections at a time when “domestic transmission has basically been stopped”, a spokesman for the National Health Commission said on Sunday.

“China already has an accumulated total of 693 cases entering from overseas, which means the possibility of a new round of infections remains relatively big,” Mi Feng, the spokesman, said.

In the last seven days, China has reported 313 imported cases of coronavirus but only 6 confirmed cases of domestic transmission, the commission’s data showed.

There were 45 new coronavirus cases reported in the mainland for Saturday, down from 54 on the previous day, with all but one involving travelers from overseas.

Most of those imported cases have involved Chinese returning home from abroad.

Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday. And restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday.

Five more people died on Saturday, all of them in Wuhan, the industrial central city where the epidemic began in December. But Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, has reported only one new case on the last 10 days.

A total of 3,300 people have now died in mainland China, with a reported 81,439 infections.

Saturday marked the fourth consecutive day that Hubei province recorded no new confirmed cases. The sole case of domestically transmitted coronavirus was recorded in Henan province, bordering Hubei.

With traffic restrictions in the province lifted, Wuhan is also gradually reopening borders and restarting some local transportation services.

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“It’s much better now, there was so much panic back then. There weren’t any people on the street. Nothing. How scary the epidemic situation was,” a man, who gave his surname as Hu,

told Reuters as he ventured out to buy groceries in Wuhan.

“Now, it is under control. Now, it’s great, right?”

All airports in Hubei resumed some domestic flights on Sunday, with the exception of Wuhan’s Tianhe airport, which will open to domestic flights on April 8. Flights from Hubei to Beijing remain suspended.

A train arrived in Wuhan on Saturday for the first time since the city was placed in lockdown two months ago. Greeting the train, Hubei Communist Party Secretary Ying Yong described Wuhan as “a city full of hope” and said the heroism and hard work of its people had “basically cut off transmission” of the virus.

More than 60,000 people entered Wuhan on Saturday after rail services were officially restarted, with more than 260 trains arriving or traveling through, the People’s Daily reported on Sunday.

On Sunday, streets and metro trains were still largely empty amid a cold rainy day. Flashing signs on the Wuhan Metro, which resumed operations on Saturday, said its cars would keep passenger capacity at less than 30%.

The Hubei government on Sunday said on its official WeChat account that a number of malls in Wuhan, as well as the Chu River and Han Street shopping belt, will be allowed to resume operations on March 30.

Concerns have been raised that a large number of undiagnosed asymptomatic patients could return to circulation once transport restrictions are eased.

China’s top medical adviser, Zhong Nanshan, played down that risk in comments to state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday. Zhong said asymptomatic patients were usually found by tracing the contacts of confirmed cases, which had so far shown no sign of rebounding.

With the world’s second-biggest economy expected to shrink for the first time in four decades this quarter, China is set to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.

The ruling Communist Party’s Politburo called on Friday for a bigger budget deficit, the issuance of more local and national bonds, and steps to guide interest rates lower, delay loan repayments, reduce supply-chain bottlenecks and boost consumption.

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Sports

Coronavirus forces NCAA to make massive $375M cut to school payouts

Suspending sports will have ‘huge economic impact’: Steinberg Sports and Entertainment CEO

Steinberg Sports and Entertainment CEO Leigh Steinberg explains how the economy will be impacted by sports events and seasons being canceled due to coronavirus.

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The NCAA will drastically reduce its payouts to Division I schools this year after the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of its March Madness basketball tournaments and other championship events, the organization announced on Thursday.

NCAA’s board of governors voted to distribute $225 million in revenue to Division I schools in June. The sum marked a sharp decrease of an earlier projection for $600 million in revenue distributions, with the first payment originally scheduled for April.

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“We are living in unprecedented times not only for higher education, but for the entire nation and around the globe as we face the COVID-19 public health crisis,” said Michael Drake, chairman of the NCAA’s board of governors and president of Ohio State University. “As an Association, we must acknowledge the uncertainties of our financial situation and continue to make thoughtful and prudent decisions on how we can assist conferences and campuses in supporting student-athletes now and into the future.”

Earlier this month, the NCAA made an unprecedented decision to cancel the men’s and women’s March Madness basketball tournaments due to the coronavirus outbreak. The decision came hours after U.S. sports leagues, including the NBA and NHL, suspended their seasons until further notice.

CORONAVIRUS MOVES NBA TO CUT EXECUTIVE PAY BY 20%

The cancellation cost the NCAA expected revenue from its most lucrative event. The men’s basketball tournament alone generates $867.5 million annually from television and marketing rights, according to the NCAA.

“The Association has prepared for a financial catastrophic event like the one we face now,” Drake added. “While we certainly have challenges ahead, we would be in a far worse position had it not been for this long-standing, forward-focused planning.”

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The $225 million in payouts will include $50 million from the NCAA’s reserve fund. The NCAA noted that it has a $270 million event cancellation insurance policy to cover the remaining distributions within a year.

Television rights, marketing deals and championship ticket sales comprise the bulk of the NCAA’s annual revenue. The Division I board of governors will determine how to disperse the $225 million among its member schools.

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World News

China reports second consecutive day of no new local coronavirus transmissions, imported cases rise

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Mainland China reported a second consecutive day of no new local coronavirus infections as the epicentre of the epidemic Hubei province opened its borders, but imported cases rose as Beijing ramped up controls to prevent a resurgence of infections.

A total of 67 new cases were reported as of end-Wednesday, up from 47 a day earlier, all of which were imported, China’s National Health Commission said in a statement on Thursday.

The total number of cases now stands at 81,285.

The commission reported a total of 3,287 deaths at the end of Wednesday, up six from the previous day.

All of the new patients were travellers who came to China from overseas, with the mainland reporting no locally transmitted infections on Wednesday.

Shanghai reported the most cases with 18 followed by Inner Mongolia region at 12 and Guangdong province at 11.

The number of new daily cases remain down sharply from the height of the outbreak in the country in February, allowing Beijing to push for restarting economic activity in the world’s second biggest economy.

Hubei province, home to some 60 million people, reported no new cases on Wednesday and opened its borders. Public transport restarted and residents in the city of Xianning strolled the streets wearing masks.

The lockdown of Hubei’s capital Wuhan, where the virus first appeared late last year, will be lifted on April 8, a milestone in China’s war against the epidemic as Beijing shifts its focus towards stemming imported cases and rebooting the economy.

Fearing a new wave of infections from imported cases, authorities have ramped up quarantine and screening measures in other major cities including Beijing, where any travellers arriving from overseas must submit to centralised quarantine.

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Business

Airlines call on government to underwrite industry charges

Airlines have called on the government to underwrite hundreds of millions of pounds in regulatory and air traffic control charges as they seek to navigate through the escalating coronavirus crisis.

Sky News has obtained a letter sent on Wednesday by Airlines UK, the industry’s main lobbying group, to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, in which it calls again for a package of emergency support.

In the letter, Airlines UK urged the government to suspend – rather than defer – air passenger duty payments for six months following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It called for the waiving of air traffic control (ATC) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) charges for the whole of 2020, “with payments guaranteed by [the government] so National Air Traffic Services and the CAA can continue to be paid and function as critical enablers of the wider UK aviation landscape, both through the current crisis and then into the recovery phase”.

Airlines UK, whose members include British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, also repeated a call for a moratorium on all litigated claims under EC261, the European law which requires airlines to refund passengers for cancelled flights.

“Carriers should also be permitted to issue vouchers instead of refunds and, should refunds be required, carriers should be permitted to defer payment until the crisis period is over and as defined by air traffic volumes, rather than time period,” the group said.

The letter from Airlines UK comes a day after Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, told British carriers that they could expect to engage in discussions with the government about “bespoke” aid “only as a last resort”.

Mr Sunak said airlines would need to exhaust the resources of their existing shareholders and financial stakeholders before the government would consider an injection of debt or equity.

Tim Alderslade, Airlines UK chief executive, said: “A million people work in UK aviation all over the country.

“It is one of the UK’s international assets, as the third largest globally behind only China and the US.

“We welcome that the Government will enter into negotiations with individual airlines, but we also want to work with them on policy actions that could be taken now which could also have a considerable impact.”

Mr Alderslade added that airlines welcomed Mr Sunak’s confirmation that the government would be prepared to enter talks with individual airlines about “bespoke support”.

The latest industry data suggests that aggregate passenger revenues will fall globally by $252bn as a result of the virus outbreak.

Markets with severe travel restrictions now cover 98% of global passenger revenues, Airlines UK said.

Mr Alderslade also urged Mr Shapps to provide more detail about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme unveiled by Mr Sunak late last week.

“Please can we urge that further clarity is provided as soon as possible owing to the severe cash pressures that airlines are facing,” he wrote.

Mr Sunak’s comments held open the possibility that the government could take a stake in some British airlines, but underlined the remoteness of such a prospect.

The Treasury is keen for major airline shareholders such as easyJet’s Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Virgin Atlantic’s Sir Richard Branson to inject further sums before they can turn to the government for more support.

Mr Sunak also hinted that the Treasury was close to unveiling a further credit facility for companies which do not have an investment grade credit rating.

“I have listened to feedback that suggests some companies including airlines are uncertain whether they can access this Facility – which is for companies rated as investment grade or equivalent,” he wrote.

“I am in discussions to resolve this uncertainty and further announcements will be made shortly.”

Sky News revealed last week that Rothschild, the investment bank, had been asked to advise ministers on a package of measures, and that one option could include direct taxpayer investments in airline shares.

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World News

China's new coronavirus infections double due to imported cases

BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China saw a doubling in new coronavirus cases driven by a jump in infected travelers returning home from overseas, raising the risk of transmissions in Chinese cities and provinces that had seen no new infections in recent days.

China had 78 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said, a two-fold increase from Sunday. Of the new cases, 74 were imported infections, up from 39 imported cases a day earlier.

The Chinese capital was the hardest-hit, with a record 31 new imported cases, followed by the southern Guangdong province with 14 and the financial hub of Shanghai with nine. The total number of imported cases in China stood at 427 as of Monday.

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Beijing has imposed tough screening and quarantine protocols, and has diverted all incoming international flights to other Chinese cities, but that has not stemmed the influx of Chinese nationals, many of whom are students returning home from virus-hit countries.

Of the four new local infections, one was in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday. This follows five days of no new infections in the city, the epicenter of the outbreak in China.

The total accumulated number of confirmed cases in mainland China stands at 81,171. The death toll was 3,277 as of the end of Monday, up by seven from the previous day.

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Politics

Coronavirus: Students to get GCSE and A-level grades with no exams

Students whose exams have been cancelled to stop the coronavirus spread will be given grades so they can still go to college or university, the education secretary has confirmed.

Gavin Williamson told Sky News the full details including who would decide those GCSE and A-level grades and what appeals process would be available would be revealed on Friday.

Pupils are going to be “out of school for quite a considerable time” because it has the “best opportunity” to stop people transmitting COVID-19, he said.

All schools acorss the UK will close their doors from the end of Friday – apart from to children of key workers and the most vulnerable.

As of 9am on Wednesday, there are 2,626 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK – a rise of 676 in the last 24 hours.

Mr Williamson said schools will only re-open when it becomes clear that “is not going to have and impact in terms of spread of the pandemic”.

And he explained plans to cancel exams for around 5 million young people but still grade them so they can “have the best opportunities in terms of progressing their education, or going into work or on to college”.

“We’ve already had discussions of outlines with Universities UK and the headteachers’ unions, giving a clear indication of the route we are looking at going down,” he told Kay [email protected]

“We want to make sure that we get any of the concerns from these bodies and take them on board, and make sure we give the best advice to schools and colleges when we issue that tomorrow.”

He added: “There will have to be an appeals process.”

For trainee teachers who will not have reached the number of mandated days in schools to qualify expecting to start in September, Mr Williamson said the government would be prepared to waive this.

He added “key workers” whose children can still go to school includes “all the people within the NHS and within the schools”.

When asked if universities could be bailed out to stop them closing, Mr Williamson said he was looking at making sure they were still “viable” to operate even if they couldn’t open in September or October.

Damian Hinds, a former Tory education secretary, said headteachers he’s spoken to have been “thinking ahead of time” about how to respond to the crisis.

He told Sky News’ All Out Politics that vulnerable children – such as those at risk of abuse or who have a social worker – “will still be able to go to school”.

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