Categories
Politics

Coronavirus aid deal is no panacea for coming U.S. state budget woes

(Reuters) – A massive federal spending bill aimed at deflecting the economic harm caused by the spreading coronavirus does not address the billions of tax dollars U.S. states stand to lose as major parts of the nation have shut down.

While the $2.2 trillion bill, which won final congressional approval on Friday, allocates $150 billion for states and cities, that money is just a stopgap reimbursement for expenses incurred from fighting the virus.

Meanwhile, income and sales taxes, the biggest revenue producers for states, will drop as unemployment skyrockets and consumer spending falls with the shuttering of nonessential businesses and services.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday said his state, where New York City has become the nation’s hot spot for virus cases, “has no state revenues to speak of” and faces dramatic spending cuts.

“We have about a $10 (billion) to $15 billion hole. Federal government gave us zero, nada, niente, zilch,” he told reporters, noting that the $5 billion allocated to New York in the federal legislation covers only coronavirus expenses.

Citing expected “precipitous declines in revenues,” New Jersey State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio froze $920 million in spending this week.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has acknowledged the need for further financial assistance for states beyond the current legislation.

Eric Kim, Fitch Ratings’ head of state government ratings, said, “New spending is not the problem for most states, but rather lost revenue brought on by severely reduced economic activity.”

State revenue reports for the month of March will begin to show a slide in revenue, while April, the biggest month for state personal income tax collections, presents a new problem.

Most of the 41 states that levy taxes on personal wages and salary have followed the U.S. government’s lead and extended the income tax filing deadline to July 15. That move will result in revenue gaps that spill into a new fiscal year, which begins on July 1 for most states.

And so-called rainy day funds – money set aside for the unforeseen – are unlikely to offer much of a cushion.

Balances in these funds as a percentage of general fund spending reached an all-time high of 7.6% in fiscal 2019 and totaled a collective $72.3 billion, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

California has a $21 billion rainy day fund, its largest ever, for a nearly $150 billion general fund budget. Illinois, the lowest-rated U.S. state at a notch or two above junk, has just under $60,000 stashed away, which would cover state operations for less than 30 seconds, according to the state comptroller’s office.

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World News

NHS nurse who posted emotional panic-buying video has coronavirus symptoms

A critical care nurse who broke down in tears over empty supermarket shelves has revealed that she has coronavirus symptoms.

Dawn Bilbrough, 51, from York, has been self-isolating at home since she finished a 48-hour shift at hospital.

She made a plea last week to urge people to stop panic-buying after she struggled to find basic foods in her local supermarket, with the video going viral online.

In an interview with ITV's Good Morning Britain today, Dawn said she believed she has caught COVID-19.

She told the hosts: "It began with chest discomfort. When I do anything – us women like to do things around the house – but that’s making me kind of breathless right now.

"Ongoing nausea and persistent headaches…so yeah, I do believe that I have COVID but obviously I haven't been tested, so they haven't confirmed."

Presenter Lorraine Kelly then asks if medical staff have been given enough personal protective equipment.

Dawn says there were enough masks and gloves in the hospital when she was working last week but it was also the time when coronavirus hit.

"I couldn't possibly comment I'm afraid," she added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said home testing kit will be available in Boots stores across the UK and Amazon within days.

The finger-prick test will be able to determine whether someone has already had the COVID-19 disease that is sweeping the country.

Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England (PHE), said: "Once we are assured that they do work, they will be rolled out into the community.

"Testing the test is a small matter, and I anticipate that it will be done by the end of this week.

"In the near future people will be able to order a test that they can test themselves, or go to Boots, or somewhere similar to have their finger prick test done.

The news comes after Prince Charles has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now self-isolating at his Scottish residence.

It also emerged shortly after that Charles had met with the Queen on March 12, and she is currently staying at her Berkshire residence, Windsor Castle, where she is in “good health”.

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World News

Coronavirus: can immunosuppressive therapies save lives? London, Ont., researchers launch study

Researchers out of Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University in London, Ont., are trying to better understand the immune system’s response to the new coronavirus and whether or not immunosuppressive therapies can improve mortality rates.

According to the team, some early reports from scientists and physicians suggest that the virus can cause a cytokine storm in some patients, which is when the immune system goes dangerously overboard in responding to it.

“Some researchers are suggesting that mortality could be improved with immunosuppressive therapies,” said lead researcher Dr. Douglas Fraser.

“However, evidence to support this is severely lacking at this time.”

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Researchers are testing daily blood samples taken from London Health Sciences Centre patients presumed to have COVID-19 and looking for inflammatory biomarkers to track the changing immune response over time. Researchers will be comparing that data “to the immune response in patients with other infections, as well as in healthy controls.” The data will also be useful in future studies.

“This study could also inform why some people become critically ill and others do not, and help determine who will respond to certain therapies,” said Fraser.

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World News

Iran to use 20% of state budget to fight coronavirus

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran is to allocate 20% of its annual state budget to fighting the coronavirus outbreak in the country, one of the worst-hit in the world, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday.

Iran’s death toll from coronavirus rose to 2,517 on Saturday, with 139 fatalities in the past 24 hours, as cases rose 3,076 to 35,408, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on state television.

“We are in difficult conditions, in conditions of sanctions but we have allocated 20% of our budget this year to corona, … and this might be surprising for the world from a country under sanctions,” Rouhani said in comments broadcast on state TV.

Shut out of international capital markets and facing a further hit to its finances with the collapse in oil prices coming on top of U.S. sanctions, Iran is struggling to shield its economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

Rouhani reassured the public that the country had a strong healthcare system able to cope should there be a rapid progression of the disease. The state health insurance would cover 90% of coronavirus-linked costs of patients, he said.

The budget allocation, amounting to about 1,000 trillion rials, would include grants and low-interest loans to those affected by COVID-19, Rouhani said.

The allocated amount is worth some $6.3 billion at the rial’s free market exchange rate of about 160,000 rials per dollar. But the government may decide to allocate some of the funds at the official rate of 42,000 which is used to subsidize food and medicine

On Thursday, Rouhani said the government was seeking approval to withdraw $1 billion from Iran’s sovereign wealth fund for the fight against coronavirus.

Tapping the sovereign fund requires the agreement of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Iranian authorities, blaming U.S. sanctions for hampering Tehran’s efforts to curb the outbreak, have urged other countries and the United Nations to call on Washington to lift the sanctions. Washington has rejected easing the sanctions.

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Business

Worry, problems and strife: Investors fear markets not out of woods despite big rally

NEW YORK (Reuters) – After a brutal meltdown, some investors have been wading back into U.S. stocks. But others are wary of another leg down as the coronavirus spreads and its economic impact is difficult to predict.

High-profile investors from BlackRock Inc to billionaire William Ackman have turned more bullish on equities in recent days, as unprecedented stimulus from the Federal Reserve, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed Friday, and a call by President Donald Trump to get the U.S. back to work in weeks rather than months sparked the biggest weekly rally in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1938.

But other investors, economists, and strategists are fearful of advising a jump back in, with no certainty about when the coronavirus will be got under control.

“People are trying to time the bottom and that’s indicative of an early bear market, when people have hope,” said Richard Bernstein, chief executive officer of Richard Bernstein Advisors. “The beginning of a bull market starts with complete despair, when you’ve killed hope.”

Bernstein said he was a “data hawk” and was looking for a combination of “improving fundamentals” – eyeing the basic health of the asset, rather than trading patterns – and “total disbelief,” adding that in 2009 investors did not believe the bull market was real.

After a slump into bear market territory, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI surged over 20% from its recent low last week, which by one definition suggested a new bull market. That definition, however, should be treated with significant caution.

BofA said on Friday that its Bull & Bear Indicator – a key market measure used to track positioning – had hit “maximum bearish,” which could imply a rebound. However, that could have been borne out by the rally seen in the past week.

Ackman, whose Pershing Square LP fund gained a net 6.8% this month according to one investor, wrote to investors last week to say he had taken off credit market hedges and invested the money in new and existing stock holdings after turning “increasingly positive” on stock and credit markets.

Credit Suisse said there was merit in being an early mover rather than waiting until a market bottom “has become apparent,” while the BlackRock Investment Institute said the sell-off created value for long-term investors.

While some investors believe an earlier return to work would boost the U.S. economy, health experts say a haphazard patchwork of restrictions across states and a slow-to-mobilize White House could make the coronavirus impact worse. Cases in the United States soared past 115,000 on Saturday, the highest number in the world.

“Those advocating for less strict policy options have no real idea of the full social and economic costs of a large epidemic,” said Steven Riley, Professor of Infectious Disease Dynamics at Imperial College London, Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health, in an email to Reuters.

The possibility that the coronavirus outbreak fades, only to return once restrictions holding back economic activity are lifted, could cause “a severe financial crisis,” said business consultancy Fathom Consulting.

Edward Moya, senior market analyst at currency trading firm OANDA in New York, said the “longer we don’t have people going to work, the greater the shock on the economy” – which could mean “U.S. markets open limit down at the start of next week.” Limit down refers to the restrictions placed on how fast markets can fall.

BEAR MARKET BOUNCE

Stocks have been highly volatile in the past few weeks, falling around 30 percent to notch a bear market then staging a stunning rally on hopes that the stimulus will help the economy.

Money managers rebalancing their portfolios to boost equity exposure into the end of the quarter may be supporting stocks.

A moderation in equity volatility could also help, as it is “an important precondition for investors to raise equity exposures,” said analysts at Deutsche Bank. The Cboe Volatility Index is down from its high earlier this month – although still pricing in some turbulence.

Still, on Friday, Wall Street stocks ended their massive three-day surge.

Shaun Osborne, Chief FX Strategist at Scotiabank, said in a research note on Thursday that there were a number of risks that could easily derail optimism, including how Western economies manage the virus and the re-emergence of cases in China. A more persistent slowdown that limits forward visibility on earnings further “will curb the ability for stocks to rebound,” he said.

Retail investors are particularly bearish, with a survey showing them the most pessimistic about the stockmarket since spring 2009.

Action in haven assets such as gold also points to continued skepticism. George Gero, managing director at RBC Wealth Management, said he received calls from clients wanting to add to their gold holdings last week through exchange traded funds.

“Everywhere investors look, they see worry, problems and strife,” Gero said.

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World News

Coronavirus: University of Guelph convocation, alumni weekend will not be held this June

The University of Guelph has announced that it will not be holding its usual spring convocation and alumni weekend events in early June in an effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, officials stress that students on track to graduate will still graduate and will receive degree parchments in the mail.

“We know that this is very disappointing news for our graduating students, their families and our alumni,” said president Franco Vaccarino.

“Both convocation and Alumni Weekend are very important for our University. Celebrating our students’ accomplishments is a source of great joy for everyone on campus, and both events provide opportunities for us to look back with pride and to look forward with hope. However, the safety of our community must be our top priority.”

The university says it is “exploring other potential ways” to celebrate graduation that could potentially include a rescheduled ceremony, as well as looking into “how to conduct Alumni Weekend reunions that meet requirements for social distancing.”

As of Friday afternoon, no alternative plans were confirmed for either convocation or alumni weekend but “more information is forthcoming.”

In addition to the sheer number of people who would be taking part in convocation or alumni weekend events, Vaccarino said officials also considered that both require significant planning and travel, which cemented their decision.

“Our world is so very different from what it was even just a few weeks ago,” Vaccarino said.

“Things are changing every day, sometimes even by the hour. In the last few weeks, we have had to make decisions and adapt — and we have had to do it faster than we ever imagined. But our University’s resiliency during these challenging times has amazed me. We will continue to work through this together.”

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Business

China's auto industry wastes no time coaxing drivers back to showrooms after lockdown

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s auto industry has gone from zero to sixty in its post-pandemic campaign drive, with manufacturers and dealers quick to woo back lockdown-weary consumers through campaigns as unusual as a makeup-promoting personality touting car leasing.

Social media celebrity Lipstick King urged millions of fans on a live-streamed shopping show to sign up to a lease deal for General Motors Co’s (GM.N) Cadillac CT4 compact sedan.

“This color has the sense of ‘I’m in charge’ independence,” he said, displaying a scale model of a chocolate-colored car.

The plug is just one part of an eruption of promotional campaigns featuring steep discounts, cold-calling and gimmicks, from an industry obliterated by government restrictions on movement imposed in January to curb the spread of a virus which in China has infected 81,000 people and caused 3,300 deaths.

The economy shrank 21% in January-February with sales in the world’s biggest vehicle market last month plunging 79%. Retail sales of passenger cars dropped 45% in the first three weeks of March, and the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers does not expect demand to normalize until the third quarter.

With authorities gradually easing restrictions, automakers and dealers have started the engines on their promotional machinery to undo what consulting firm IHS Markit described as an “unprecedented and almost instant stalling of demand”.

U.S. electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has launched test-drive and delivery services involving no staff contact, while Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd is delivering disinfected cars and dropping off keys with drones.

The EV unit of Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd (601238.SS) is even testing a system to perfume its Aion LX SUV with the aroma of traditional Chinese medicine.

(GRAPHIC: China’s car sales suffer biggest ever monthly fall – here)

FREE MASKS

SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW) – a venture between SAIC Motor Corp Ltd (600104.SS), U.S. maker GM and a local partner – on Feb. 25 started offering up to 11,000 yuan off purchases of its Wuling and Baojun brand vehicles, until the total discounts given reach 1 billion yuan ($141.69 million). Buyers also get medical masks.

Seeing the promotion, restaurateur Wang Zhiyuan, 37, visited an SGMW dealership in Beijing earlier this month and received a 2,000 yuan discount on a Wuling Hongguang commercial minivan.

Family sauna equipment supplier Mo Xiufeng, 40, was at the same dealership viewing the same vehicle to make a purchase he had been chewing over since before the lockdown.

“I haven’t been able to come in the meantime because, fearing the virus, I didn’t want to leave my home,” he said.

The dealership sold just 20 vehicles in February. It targets March sales of 100, versus an average of 500 before the virus.

Due to the campaign, SGMW’s nationwide is a picture of even quicker recovery. A spokeswoman said March registered at least five days of sales surpassing 5,000 vehicles, with one day reaching 6,000, exceeding last year’s daily average. At the beginning of February, sales were around 200.

NO INVENTORY

Still, industry bodies have called for government help including purchase tax cuts on small vehicles, support for sales in rural areas and eased emission rules. The China Automobile Dealers Association has lobbied for loans to dealerships and temporary liquidity support such as credit lines.

Local authorities in cities that rely heavily on vehicle manufacturing, such as Guangzhou in the south and Ningbo in the east, have also started to offer purchase incentives.

Visits to showrooms by a Reuters reporter and telephone interviews with 50 dealerships across China indicate the campaigns are indeed bringing shoppers back.

A Beijing dealership for a joint venture between Dongfeng Motor Group Co Ltd (0489.HK) and Japan’s Honda Motor Co Ltd (7267.T), however, has a problem beyond footfall that is likely to leave March sales in “single digits” versus the usual 100.

“The problem now is we don’t have enough cars in inventory,” the sales manager told Reuters.

Dongfeng Honda is based in the city of Wuhan where the virus was first reported at the end of last year, and where business activity has been restricted for two months. A Honda spokesman said production at the venture was gradually increasing.

“The manufacturer said new cars would not arrive until mid-April,” the sales manager said, standing in a deserted showroom.

(This story has been refiled to correct CT4 in paragraph 3 to car)

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Economy

No half measures for Singapore

Having decided that this is no time for half measures, Singapore has come up with a surprisingly large stimulus package to take the edge off the coronavirus-induced economic pain.

While it may not stave off a recession, powered mainly by the panic in the global financial markets, Singapore’s response is among the most focused and forceful globally.

The total stimulus of about $55 billion represents roughly 11 per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP), making it the largest among advanced economies after Germany and Britain.

By that measure, Singapore’s stimulus is way bigger than some of its closest competitors.

For instance, Hong Kong’s $22.4 billion aid package is about 4 per cent of its GDP. South Korea’s $13.7 billion stimulus is just 0.6 per cent of its GDP.

In the Asean region, only Malaysia has pledged more – a stimulus package of $89 billion, nearly 18 per cent of the country’s GDP.

Singapore’s political leadership has taken a risk in forking out such a large amount from a shrinking economy – a risk made more manageable by salting away large reserves in good times.

Nevertheless, economic thinking that champions free markets considers the state an inefficient conduit of income distribution.

Singapore, however, has a reputation of efficiently targeting policy measures, unlike places like Malaysia and India where fiscal leakages have been a perennial problem.

That may have been a source of confidence in the decision-making process, allowing Singapore to boldly confront the crisis with the full force of the resources available.

Despite the pace at which the economic outlook has deteriorated, prompting a second official downgrade of GDP growth in less than six weeks, the framework of the stimulus package shows no signs of haste or desperation.

Headline numbers may suggest the bulk of the stimulus is targeted at business and industry.

But the way the aid is designed will ultimately benefit the unemployed and those who may get retrenched.

The threat to jobs is real.

DBS Bank estimates total retrenchments this year will top 24,500, up from an annual average of about 14,500 in a normal year.

Referring to the stimulus, OCBC Bank’s head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling said: “The focus is still squarely on protecting jobs, incomes and the livelihoods of Singaporeans.”

For instance, the wage offsets will help with cost relief for companies and, as a result, may protect jobs. “That’s where the up to 75 per cent wage offset will come in, very quickly and very usefully, over the next few months,” Ms Ling said.

Compare this with the US$2 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) rescue package which includes a US$500 billion fund to help industries, and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to US$3,000 apiece to millions of American families.

Several Republicans insist the Bill does not ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more in unemployment benefits than they earned on the job.

Some Democrats have called it “a historic corporate giveaway”.

Singapore’s package, on the other hand, is more targeted.

“It is in line with the philosophy of the Singapore Government – to provide targeted help when needed, and to make good use of resources, not frittering away fiscal resources they have accumulated,” Ms Ling said.

The hardships of average Singapore families have not been forgotten.

The Government is tripling the handout each individual gets, as well as parents of young children, and also giving cash top-ups to PAssion cards, aimed at helping individuals.

Yet these particular measures will in turn help the worst-hit segments of the service sector that accounts for about two-thirds of the nation’s GDP and employment.

The payments to citizens will boost consumer confidence and their purchasing power, in turn helping the retail sector and other service providers.

The overall fiscal deficit will rise to $39.2 billion, or 7.8 per cent of GDP, according to DBS Bank’s estimates.

Still, given Singapore’s track record of fiscal prudence, a historically high deficit is unlikely to shake investor confidence in its economic management.

In fact, Singapore’s “whatever it takes” stance is probably what is really required to put a floor under this economic downturn, which has largely been a crisis of confidence.

The supply chain disruptions caused by measures to contain the spread were made worse by panic in the financial markets.

Then desperation by certain central banks virtually froze lending and borrowing.

DBS senior economist Irvin Seah said there could be more downside risks to the global outlook.

“Singapore is heading into uncharted waters, which calls for unprecedented fiscal push to buffer the economy from the incoming storm,” Mr Seah said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore stands ready to do its part, while the Government has promised more measures if the situation demands it – whatever it takes to overcome an unprecedented crisis.

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World News

Mark Blum, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ star, dies of COVID-19 at 69

Actor Mark Blum has died of complications from the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19, according to an executive with the labour union SAG-AFTRA. He was 69.

The actor, who appeared in films like Desperately Seeking Susan and Crocodile Dundee, died Wednesday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital of complications from COVID-19, his wife Janet Zarish confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter.

Blum’s most recent work included playing the bookstore owner Mr. Mooney on the Netflix series You, and he also appeared on HBO’s Succession. 

Madonna called her Desperately Seeking Susan co-star Blum “a remarkable human.”

She says she remembers him as “funny, warm, loving and professional.” She says his death is “another reminder that this virus is no joke.”

“I Want to Acknowledge the Passing of a remarkable Human, fellow actor and friend Mark Blum, who succumbed to Coronavirus,” she wrote on Instagram. “This is really tragic and my heart goes out to him, his family and his loved ones. I remember him as funny warm, loving and professional when we made Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985!!

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-NZ4cnooM2/

I Want to Acknowledge the Passing of a remarkable Human, fellow actor and friend Mark Blum, who succumbed to Coronavirus. This is really tragic and my heart goes out to him, his family and his loved ones. I remember him as funny warm, loving .and professional when we made Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985!! Another reminder that this virus is no joke, nothing to be casual about or pretend wont affect us in some way. ♥️ we need to stay grateful -be hopeful- help each other-and follow the quarantine rules! #covid_19 #markblum #desperatelyseekingsusan

A post shared by Madonna (@madonna) on

Blum was involved in the New York theatre community, frequently appearing on Broadway in shows such as the revival of Twelve Angry Men.

Playwrights Horizons, a not-for-profit, off-Broadway theatre located in New York City, remembered Blum in a Twitter post.

“With love and heavy hearts, Playwrights Horizons pays tribute to Mark Blum, a dear longtime friend and a consummate artist who passed this week,” the theatre company wrote. “Thank you, Mark, for all you brought to our theater, and to theaters and audiences across the world. We will miss you.”

Rebecca Damon, executive vice-president and New York president of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) labour union, also paid tribute to Blum on Twitter.

“It is with such deep sorrow that I’m writing to share the news that our friend and former board member Mark Blum has passed away as a result of complications from the coronavirus. Mark was a dedicated Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA board member serving from 2007-2013,” Damon wrote.

She called him a “master teacher, a loyal friend and a beautiful human.”

“Mark was smart, funny, and a true actor’s actor. He will be deeply missed. Thinking of you all. Please #stayhome. #COVID19,” she added.

Many others took to Twitter to send their condolences once news of Blum’s passing spread.

 

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

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers 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. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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.

— With files from the Associated Press

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Health

Coronavirus: First COVID-19-related death reported in Middlesex-London

Ontario’s Middlesex London Health Unit is reporting the first local death related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The death was a man in his 70s who had returned from Portugal earlier this month. Health Officials say he passed away Friday night.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of this man’s passing and extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends,” says Dr. Chris Mackie, Medical Officer of Health and CEO of the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

“We are asking everyone to recognize the seriousness of this virus and how important it is to limit its spread.”

The man initially tested positive for COVID-19 on March 19 at the London Health Sciences Centre. Health officials have been in communications with his close contacts, who they say have been in self-isolation and are being closely monitored.

“Please exercise physical distancing, limit any contact with others and only go out to buy supplies when it is necessary. What we do right now will affect how the local situation develops over the coming days and weeks,” Mackie said.

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

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers 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. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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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