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Off-licences to stay open during lockdown as they’re deemed ‘essential’

Off-licences, public loos and credit unions will stay open after being added to the list of "essential shops" during the coronavirus shutdown.

The updated list clarifies which businesses can stay open after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the shutdown of "non-essential" stores in the UK in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Other shops and stores that will stay open include cash points, car rental services, banks and post offices.

Boris Johnson had already announced that supermarkets, pharmacies and newsagents were allowed to stay open as they are classed as essential.

The PM announced to the nation this week that residents will only be allowed to leave their homes for shopping for basic necessities — and that these should be kept as infrequent as possible.

He said: "You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine — and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.

“If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.”

The lockdown has also seen the closure of libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship.

Mr Johnson has said people can now only go outside for shopping, one form of exercise a day, for a medical need, or to travel to or from work.

The government has however encouraged online shopping, retailers will still stay open for online orders and that people can still have items delivered to their homes.

Although, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's are among the supermarkets whose websites have crashed since the lockdown announcement due to an overload of shoppers.

Sainsbury's introduced a new delivery policy on Monday to ensure the elderly and most vulnerable are given priority.

Many supermarkets are taking steps to ensure the most vulnerable have access to essentials.

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Number of coronavirus cases in Germany rises to 36,508: RKI

BERLIN (Reuters) – The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Germany has risen to 36,508 and 198 people have died of the disease, statistics from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

Cases rose by 4,995 compared with the previous day while the death toll climbed by 50, the tally showed.

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Alberta construction sites allowed to continue with precautions during COVID-19 pandemic

While construction projects, job sites and work camps are legally exempt from Alberta’s COVID-19-related 50-person mass gathering rule, industry leaders said they are still implementing extra safety protocols to stop the spread of the virus and are following advice from Alberta Health.

Bill Black, president and chief operating officer of the Calgary Construction Association, said the organization, along with other industry stakeholders, are taking the health and safety of workers during this pandemic very seriously.

The CCA and other groups recently put together a pandemic planning guide of best practices to be used as a guideline for other construction contractors, Black said.

“If the density of workers got to the point that it was considered contrary to the social distancing recommendations, then the workloads are being adjusted. The number of people on site are being reduced and the prioritization of work is being changed,” Black said.

“When this crisis began to emerge, the safety resources took on the challenge of a new threat and a new issue, and applied their experience and began to compile safety protocols.”

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Black said the “safety-conscious” industry looked at everything, including managing sites, proximity of workers, sanitizing equipment and hand tools, restricting meetings and changing lunchtime procedures.

Several industry workers, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, raised concerns with Global News about construction sites, like the Calgary Cancer Centre, and questioned whether they were safe.

In a statement, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Infrastructure said all workers are required to work six feet from each other for extended periods of time. It added that the Calgary Cancer Centre site is two million square feet in size and allows for “adequate social distancing.”

“Cleaning products are available and are being used to sanitize lunchrooms. Any staff or workers with any signs of illness or who have traveled recently are required to stay home and self-isolate. The Calgary Cancer Centre project has reviewed their COVID-19 processes and protocols with the government’s Occupational Health & Safety and Environmental Public Health departments,” the statement read.

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Planning for ‘post-COVID’: Lethbridge event organizers in limbo with cancellation decisions

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Canada, large gatherings and travel are being discouraged, impacting the tourism industry in southern Alberta.

The International Air Show announced earlier this week they won’t be going ahead this year, which is a disappointment as the organizers also postponed the event in 2019.

“It’s been a bittersweet experience, it’s been… a long process of making that decision,” said Stacy Green with the International Air Show Association.

The Air Show welcomed an average of 8,000 people each year in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

Green says they were very busy planning the 2020 event, but knows postponing another year was the right decision.

“We thought it would probably be in our best interests, as well as in the interest of those that support us,” he said.

Another popular summer activity for many in the Lethbridge area is Whoop-Up Days, offering family-friendly events, including a parade and midway for five days in August.

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The event is mainly held at Lethbridge’s Exhibition Park, bringing in 30,000 to 40,000 visitors each year — amassing an estimated $2-3 million in revenue every summer.

Rudy Friesen, CEO of Exhibition Park says they are following the health situation closely and have not yet cancelled or postponed the events associated with Whoop-Up Days.

“The focus right now is, what the next 30 to 60 days are going to look like,” said Friesen.

“That’s critical to us at this point.”

According the Tourism Lethbridge, around 400,000 hotel rooms were occupied last year in Lethbridge, in part thanks to the city’s attractions.

“Realistically, these large events bring in substantial numbers of people,” William Slenders, executive director of Tourism Lethbridge said.

He says their principal message for southern Albertans is to look to the future.

“Plan your summer vacation, maybe buy some gift certificates ahead of time to support your local economy,” he said.

“Get everything planned for post-COVID.”

The Lethbridge Jazz Festival could not provide comment on whether they will continue this year or not, but said it had an attendance of around 2,000 people in both 2018 and 2019.

Lethbridge Pride Fest is also in limbo, and estimates nearly 6,000 people participated in the festival in June 2019.

The Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism, and Status of Women did not respond to request for comment on the fate of the Alberta Summer Games at time of publishing.


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U.S. warship sails through Taiwan Strait amid heightened China tensions

TAIPEI (Reuters) – A U.S. warship passed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the U.S. and Taiwan militaries said, following heightened tensions between China and Taiwan that has seen Taiwanese air force jets scramble to intercept Chinese fighters.

The ship sailed north through the waterway and was monitored by Taiwan’s armed forces, the island’s defense ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

It described the sailing as an “ordinary mission”, saying there was no cause for alarm.

Anthony Junco, a spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said the ship was the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, which conducted “a routine Taiwan Strait transit March 25 (local time) in accordance with international law”.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he said.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue and Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control. The narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the island from China is a frequent source of tension.

In recent weeks China’s air force has carried out several exercises close to Taiwan, causing Taiwan’s mostly U.S.-equipped military to scramble fighters to intercept and warn away the Chinese aircraft.

Taiwan has called the Chinese drills provocative and has called on China to pay more attention to fighting the spread of the coronavirus rather than menacing Taiwan.

The United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, but is the island’s most important international supporter and main source of arms.

In January another U.S. warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait less than a week after President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election by a landslide on a platform of standing up to China.

Tsai visited a military base on Tuesday and again warned of the threat from China during the virus outbreak.

“Everyone knows that although at present there is an intense epidemic situation, the Chinese Communist’s military aircraft continue to harass Taiwan; their threat to Taiwan and regional security has not gone down,” she said.

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Global coal power plant capacity falls for fourth year, but China a concern, says report

SINGAPORE – The number of coal-fired power plants under development worldwide fell last year (2019), as climate concerns and competitive renewable energy projects chipped away at coal’s viability, a study released on Thursday (March 26) showed.

The study by four non-governmental organisations looked at key indicators of the coal power sector globally, including capacity growth, construction starts and the amount of capacity permitted for construction.

For the fourth consecutive year, despite an uptick in the number of new coal plants going into operation, the overall global pipeline for new coal power capacity continued to contract.

Coal power capacity under construction and in pre-construction development has fallen two-thirds from 1,468 gigawatts (GW) in 2015 to 499.2 GW in 2019, say the authors. Capacity under construction fell 16 per cent last year compared with 2018.

Globally, the amount of power generated from coal fell 3 per cent last year compared with 2018, with coal plants operating on average 51 per cent of their operating hours, a record low.

“Global power generation from coal fell by a record amount in 2019, as renewable energy grew and power demand slowed down,” said Dr Christine Shearer, lead author and director of the coal program at Global Energy Monitor (GEM), which tracks global coal plant development.

Coal plant retirements also accelerated last year. But perversely, new plants, mainly in China, led to additional global capacity but ultimately less power generation because of reduced usage.

“The number of new plants added to the grid accelerated, meaning that the world’s coal plants were operated a lot less – more plants generating less power. For banks and investors that continue to underwrite new coal plants, this means weakened profitability and increased risk,” Dr Shearer added.

Globally, 33 governments and more than 120 banks and insurers are leading a movement to shift away from polluting coal.

Burning it in power stations and steel mills is the single largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas heating up the planet. It is also a major source of harmful air pollution.

China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter and largest coal consumer, with about half the world’s fleet of coal-fired power stations.

The authors found that outside China, the global coal fleet shrank overall with continued retirements in the United States and the European Union.

Within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, coal power capacity has been declining since 2011, say the authors, with the exception of Japan. Nearly half of the retired coal power capacity in 2019 was in the US. During President Donald Trump’s tenure, US coal plant retirements have increased 67 per cent compared to President Barrack Obama’s time because of cheaper gas and renewables.

Globally, construction starts were down 5 per cent from 2018 and 66 per cent from 2015, compared to 2019, say the authors from GEM, Greenpeace International, the Sierra Club, and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Despite the decline in new project starts, the coal fleet grew by 34.1 gigawatts (GW) in 2019, the first increase in net capacity additions since 2015. Nearly two-thirds of the newly commissioned capacity was in China and it came online after being under construction for several years.

China’s continued additions to its coal fleet put at risk global targets to limit planetary warming, even if the plants are only running 50 per cent of the time or less.

The United Nations’ peak climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the global economy needs to cut CO2 emissions by nearly half by 2030 to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Even at this level, there will be serious risks from more extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

The world has already warmed 1.1 deg C, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization says.

Meeting the 1.5 deg C target, part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, means deep cuts in coal use and rapid phase-out of coal plants. But China’s development plans, and likely economic stimulus to recover from the pandemic, risk undermining the 1.5 deg C target, say analysts.

“The long plateau of coal use in China and emissions sticking close to current levels by 2030 or 2040 is the nightmare scenario,” said Mr Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

“The concern about China’s coal plants is not that they are going to run 24/7 and generate that much CO2. The big concern is that they will generate drag in terms of very powerful stakeholders resisting the shift away from coal,” he told The Straits Times.

For example, from March 1 to 18 (2020), more coal-fired capacity was permitted for construction in China (7.9 GW) than in all of 2019 (6.3 GW), according to GEM.

In South-east Asia, commissioning of new coal plants has been slowing.

“South-east Asia is often hailed as the next centre for coal plant development. Construction starts there have fallen over 85 per cent, from 12.8 GW in 2016 to 1.8 GW in 2019,” says the report.

Vietnam recently announced it was cutting its targets for coal-fired power generation from 2020 until 2030.

The pandemic has also led to a delay for some coal projects in Asia, says GEM.

In South and South-east Asia, GEM identified 15 locations totalling an estimated US$21 billion (S$30.5 billion) in capital outlays where coal-fired power plant construction is now on hold due to workforce and supply chain disruptions because of the coronavirus. Most of the projects are in Indonesia.

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Tempers rise in U.S. Senate as vote nears on $2 trillion coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators were set to vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, although critics from the right and left threatened to hold up the bill.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

Several Republican senators said the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more than they earned on the job.

“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told a news conference.

In response, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was prepared to block the bill if Republicans do not drop their objections.

That came after leaders of both parties predicted a Wednesday vote.

“Today the Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the chamber convened at noon (1600 GMT).

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  • Factbox: What's in the $2 trillion U.S. Senate coronavirus rescue package

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party was willing to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

“Help is on the way. Big help. Quick help,” he said on the Senate floor.

Trump is ready to sign the measure into law, the White House said, but it was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to his desk. McConnell did not say what time the Senate would hold its vote, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

The package will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the $3.8 billion allocated to his state would not cover the tax revenue it stands to lose from reduced economic activity. His state accounts for roughly half of all U.S. coronavirus cases.

“That is a drop in the bucket,” he said at a news conference.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed 812 people in the United States and infected more than 59,200.

The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX rallied for a second straight day, closing up 1.15%. [nL1N2BI1YH]

Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval, which could lead to further delays.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told lawmakers that they would be notified 24 hours before any action.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring their return, through a “voice vote” that would require only a few lawmakers to be present.

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said he would prefer that approach and called for its passage on Friday.

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

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Coronavirus: City of Regina updates lunch program and makes inspection changes

With continuing efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, the City of Regina has made changes to two programs.

Starting March 26, 1,000 bagged lunches will be distributed from neighbourhood centres to children and youth in need of food support. This will replace the programs that were previously run by schools.

Families in need will receive a food package that contains a week’s worth of lunches through this program.

The Regina Exhibition Association Limited will provide facilities and staff to prepare the lunches daily. They will work with city staff who will be distributing the food packages.

The Mosaic Company has donated $50,000 to make ensure the program is possible.

“My council is very proud of Regina and residents about what they have been doing, but again, more needs to be done,” Micheal said Fougere, Regina mayor.

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“One of the things the city wants to do is help residents continue social distancing with this new lunch program.”

The packages will be distributed Monday to Friday from 12:30 to 4 p.m. at a different centres each day.

A second change has also been made starting immediately to contain the spread of COVID-19. Many public facilities are now closed, including City Hall. Building permit applications will now be submitted by email, and building permit inspections will no longer be done in person.

City inspectors will use live video-conferencing tools like to conduct inspections remotely.

The city says that service levels will remain the same. Review targets are 10 days for residential applications, and 20 days for commercial applications.

Mayor Fougere expressed gratitude to the Provincial Government for continuing to take steps that will ensure public safety, by stating, “I want to thank the province for acting swiftly and decisively.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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$30,000 in drugs seized during St. Catharines police raid, 3 arrested

Three people, including two from Hamilton, Ont., are facing multiple charges after a police raid in St. Catharines, Ont.

Niagara Regional Police say they responded to a report Tuesday afternoon of armed men at a home on Niagara Street near Church Street.

With help from the Emergency Task Unit and K9 units, police arrested two adults and a teenager at the home.

Police say that while no firearms were found, they did seize nearly $30,000 worth of fentanyl and cocaine as well as some cash.

Schakeil Nixon, 23, of Hamilton, a 17-year-old Hamilton boy, and Samantha Alligood, 30, of St. Catharines have been charged with drug trafficking offences.

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Taliban, Afghan government to discuss prisoner release

Development could remove the deadlock holding up negotiations between the armed group and the Afghan government.

Officials from the Afghan government will meet with Taliban members to discuss an initial release of prisoners, Afghanistan’s National Security Council (NSC) said.

Wednesday’s announcement came after the two sides met earlier via video conference.

More:

  • US envoy urges Kabul, Taliban to begin prisoner releases

  • Taliban rejects Afghan government’s phased release of prisoners

  • Afghanistan-Taliban talks at risk as unrest continues

“To carry out these further discussions, a Taliban team will meet with the government face-to-face in Afghanistan in the coming days,” the NSC said on Twitter.

The Taliban said on Wednesday that the release of prisoners by the Afghan government would begin by the end of March.

The development could remove a key factor in the deadlock holding up negotiations between the armed group and the Afghan government under a US-brokered peace process.

“The meeting decided that the release of the prisoners will practically start by the end of March,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said on Twitter, referring to a virtual meeting that included Taliban and Afghan government officials.

Also at the gathering were American and Qatari officials and members of the International Red Cross, Shaheen said, adding the Taliban would send a team to the Bagram detention centre where many of its prisoners were held.

The two sides have differed on prisoner releases, with the Afghan government seeking a phased and conditional release and the Taliban wanting all prisoners freed in one go, as envisaged in a deal signed with the United States in Doha last month.

It was not immediately clear how many prisoners would be released. The Taliban have demanded 5,000 as a precondition to talks, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the government would release 1,500 initially.

The impasse threatened to derail a carefully negotiated peace process outlined in the agreement, including a pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan after more than 18 years of fighting.

The two sides have been speaking in recent days over Skype, officials have said, as the coronavirus pandemic has curbed international travel.

The decision on prisoners came just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Kabul and Doha to try to salvage the peace process set in motion by February’s American troop withdrawal agreement.

The deal was supposed to lead to negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government for a peace arrangement. But it has suffered setbacks because of the prisoner disagreement, and a political feud between rival Afghan politicians that has held up the appointment of a negotiation team. 


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US-Taliban deal: Can peace finally come to Afghanistan?

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