Major U.S. internet firms agree not to cancel service over next 60 days

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. telecoms regulator said Friday that major internet providers – including Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc – agreed not to terminate service for subscribers for the next 60 days if they are unable to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said after calls with more than 50 companies that they also agreed to waive any late fees residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.

They also agreed to open Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them.

Millions of Americans are expected to work and study from home as employers and states urge people to stay away from workplaces and schools to reduce the potential to spread the coronavirus.

Others agreeing to take part include Alphabet Inc’s Google Fiber, Charter Communications Inc, CenturyLink Inc, Cox Communications [COXC.UL], Sprint Corp, T-Mobile US Inc.

“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected,” Pai said in a statement. “Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning.”

Many companies also agreed to waive data limits for the next 60 days.

Charter Communications said it would offer free broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days and waive installation fees to households with students without its service.

For customers with international long distance plans, Sprint will provide free international calling rates from the United States to countries with large coronavirus outbreaks.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, praised the companies adopting the pledge, but said the FCC should do more.

She called on the commission to “provide hotspots for loan for students whose school doors have closed” and “work with healthcare providers to ensure connectivity for telehealth services are available for hospitals, doctors, and nurses treating coronavirus patients and those who are quarantined.”

Pai also said he had asked providers that offer low-income consumers lower-speed cheaper service to increase speeds and expand eligibility. Comcast said Thursday it was raising its speeds for all its low-income users, while AT&T said it was waiving data caps for home consumers that have plans with usage caps.

Internet firms expressed confidence that U.S. networks can withstand the predicted jump in traffic.

The trade group U.S. Telecom said in a letter to Congress on Friday that in areas where workers are being told to stay home the group has “not observed time shifted traffic exceeding peak network capacity.”

Verizon said it had “not seen any measurable increase in data usage on any of its networks.” More than 60% of U.S. network traffic is video and content streaming.

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Here's what the new U.S. restrictions on Europe mean for travelers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will suspend travel from certain European countries for 30 days beginning at midnight on Friday as part of an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

– The restrictions cover people who have been in 26 European countries at any point during a 14-day period before their scheduled arrival in the United States.

– The targeted countries participate in Europe’s “Schengen Area,” which permits passport-free travel. The countries subject to the new restrictions are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

– Travelers from the United Kingdom, Ireland and more than a dozen Eastern and Southeastern Europe nations will exempted. Those countries do not participate in the Schengen Area’s passport-free travel.

– The restrictions will not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, or to spouses, parents and children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, among other exceptions.

– Flights from the affected European nations will be funneled to 13 airports in the United States that serve 90 percent of existing European flights, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official. Boston Logan International Airport and Miami International Airport will be added to a list of 11 airports that have been receiving incoming flights from China and Iran since early February.

– At the same time, U.S. airports are cutting flights. Delta Air Lines said Friday it plans to suspend all flights to and from continental Europe for 30 days – a suspension that could start as early as Sunday.

– The United States is preparing for thousands of new coronavirus cases and will ask Americans returning from the affected European countries to go into self-quarantine for 14 days as part of the effort to contain the outbreak, Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday.

– Travelers coming from the targeted European countries will be subjected to enhanced entry screening upon arrival in the United States, DHS said in a statement on Friday. During that screening, they will be asked about their medical history, current condition, and contact information, which will be supplied to local health authorities, according to DHS. They will be given written guidance about COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, and told to self-quarantine at home, the agency said.

– President Donald Trump’s proclamation on Wednesday said the Schengen countries had the highest rate of coronavirus infection outside of China, and that “the free flow of people between the Schengen Area countries makes the task of managing the spread of the virus difficult.”

– A key question is – What is to stop people from the Schengen region from traveling to the United States via Britain? Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said while Britain maintains entry and exit records for all travelers, it does not regularly share that information with the United States. But she said it can do so on a case-by-case basis upon request.

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Factbox: Latest on the spread of coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the fast-spreading coronavirus to free up $50 billion in federal aid to combat a disease that has infected over 138,000 people worldwide and left more than 5,000 dead.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open in an external browser)


** More than 138,000 people have been infected globally and over 5,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements.

** The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, reported just five new cases on Friday, the second day in a row the tally has been less than 10. That brings the total number of infections in mainland China to 80,813. The death toll is more than 3,000.


** British cases of coronavirus rose 35% to 798 over the past 24 hours. There have been 10 deaths so far.

** Major Spanish regions shut shops, bars and restaurants and Easter parades were cancelled as Spain prepared to enter a 15-day state of emergency on Friday. The number of infections rose to 4,231, up about 1,000 cases from Thursday. About 120 people have died.

** Russia, which has so far recorded 45 cases, will limit passenger flights to and from the European Union, Switzerland and Norway, starting March 16.

** Greece reported its first fatality, a 66-year-old man who had returned from a religious pilgrimage to Israel and Egypt at the end of February.

** The death toll from coronavirus in Italy has jumped in the last 24 hours by 250 to 1,266, a rise of 25%. The total number of infections rose to 17,660.

** The number of confirmed cases in Germany has risen by 671 to reach 3,062, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Friday. It said five people had died after testing positive for the virus.

** A second patient has been diagnosed with coronavirus in Turkey, its Health Minister said on Friday.

** The Bulgarian parliament voted unanimously on Friday to declare a state of emergency until April 13 as the number of confirmed cases in the country more than tripled to 23.


** U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday morning that coronavirus testing in the United States will soon be carried out on a large scale.

** Mexico could consider measures at its northern border to slow the spread of the coronavirus into its relatively unaffected territory. It has confirmed 16 cases, with no deaths.


** Kazakhstan confirmed first coronavirus cases.

** South Korea reported more recoveries than new infections on Friday for the first time since its outbreak emerged in January. The country recorded 110 new cases, compared with 114 a day earlier, taking the national tally to 7,979, with the death toll rising by five to 72 as of late Friday.

** India, with 82 confirmed cases and two deaths, ordered the closure of public buildings, malls, cinemas and bars in several major cities on Friday.

** An 80-year-old man became the fourth patient in Hong Kong to die from coronavirus. The country has so far confirmed around 130 coronavirus cases.

** Thailand reported five new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 75.


**Kenya confirmed East Africa’s first case of coronavirus, a woman who had returned to the capital Nairobi from the United States.

**Ethiopia has confirmed its first case.

**Saudi Arabia detected 24 new cases, 14 of whom were Egyptians. This brings the total in the kingdom to 86.

**In Iran the total number of deaths from the outbreak has risen by 85 to 514, a Health Ministry official said on state TV on Friday, while total infections had increased by more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours to 11,364.


**One of Australia’s highest-profile ministers, Peter Dutton, who is in charge of home affairs, said he had tested positive for coronavirus on Friday. The country has recorded 156 infections and three deaths.


**Switzerland will make 10 billion Swiss francs ($10.52 billion) available in immediate aid to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

**The Indonesian government has prepared a 120-trillion-rupiah ($8.1 billion) stimulus package to support its economy as the spread of coronavirus disrupts global activities.

**Japan’s government is expected to cut its assessment of the economy in a monthly report due later this month.

**Norway’s central bank said on Friday it had offered the first in a series of extraordinary loans to the banking industry, along with a surprise half-point cut in its key policy interest rate.

**France will help all companies in which the French state has a stake to weather the coronavirus crisis, its finance minister said on Friday, putting the growing cost of measures to soften the economic fallout at “dozens of billions”.

**Germany’s KfW state development bank has roughly half a trillion euros in support available to help support Europe’s largest economy, which risks being stricken by the coronavirus epidemic, the Economy Minister said on Friday.

**Sweden’s central bank said on Friday it would lend up to 500 billion crowns ($51 billion) to Swedish companies via banks

**China’s central bank cut the cash that banks must hold as reserves on Friday for the second time this year, releasing 550 billion yuan ($79 billion) to help its coronavirus-hit economy.

**Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered his government on Friday to allocate 300 billion tenge ($740 million) towards measures to boost employment through infrastructure maintenance projects.


**A gauge of stocks across the globe bounced back on Friday led by a late rally on Wall Street, after U.S. President Donald Trump freed $50 billion to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic. [MKTS/GLOB]


**Top Japanese government officials said they were determined to hold a “safe and secure” Olympics on schedule, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said Tokyo should consider delaying them for a year because of the pandemic.

**Walt Disney Co will close its theme parks in California and Florida and its resort in Paris from this weekend through the end of the month, the company said on Thursday.

**The impact of the coronavirus on sport swept into the southern hemisphere, with the cancellation of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix adding to an unprecedented shutdown of elite events and competitions around the globe. [

**The World Trade Organization’s major biennial meeting, due to be held in Kazakhstan in June, was cancelled, setting back its efforts to update the global rules of commerce.

**Bob Dylan’s upcoming concerts in Japan have been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, the tour organiser said.

**India ordered upcoming international cricket matches to be played in empty stadiums.

**The World Endurance Championship has cancelled the Sebring 1,000 Miles race in Florida.

**Nepal has closed all of its Himalayan peaks including Mount Everest this climbing season because of fears of coronavirus contagion.

**France’s rugby federation said on Friday it was suspending all its competitions due to the coronavirus outbreak.

**All elite soccer matches in England, including the Premier League, were suspended until April 4 on Friday due to the coronavirus, English soccer’s governing bodies said in a joint statement.

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World News

Calgarians step up to help people unable to leave their homes

A number of Calgarians are now offering to help people who are shut in due to growing concerns over COVID-19.

Richard Hardy put a post out on social media on Thursday offering to pick up people’s groceries and prescriptions and deliver them.

“We’re worried about those who may not be OK and we’d certainly like to help them out,” he said.

Hardy said the idea came to him when his own mother became ill with bronchitis in Winnipeg and he saw the long lines at some grocery stores.

“I’m fortunate that I have family that can support her and help her out,” he said. “But for those in a different situation, I thought it would be great for myself and my family to step up.”

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Guelph’s COVID-19 assessment centre scheduled to open on Tuesday: Public Health

Public Health says a COVID-19 assessment centre, scheduled to open in Guelph on Tuesday, will be meant for just assessing people and not conducting tests for the novel coronavirus.

Medical officer of Health, Dr. Nicola Mercer, said on Friday that the plan is to determine who needs to be tested and who doesn’t.

“They will be looking at people and deciding who really does need to be tested and those people will be directed elsewhere. Others will be encouraged to go home and remain at home,” she said.

The hope is to alleviate some of the pressures being faced by primary care offices and emergency rooms.

Public Health is also no longer testing everybody with common symptoms to ensure that they are testing the highest risk people who work or live in the highest risk settings.

“They will likely not be tested unless they are seriously ill and need to be admitted to a hospital,” she said.

As of Friday, Public Health tested 132 people in the Guelph area for coronavirus and there have been no positive results, but Dr. Mercer said it is likely Guelph will soon see cases.

“Given that this virus has been picked up at many neighbouring health units, including Waterloo, Halton Region and Hamilton, it is highly likely we will eventually get a case,” she said while noting the agency is completely activated.

Health officials say 80 per cent of people have mild symptoms of the coronavirus and do not require hospitalization.

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How to cope with COVID-19 anxiety, according to a psychologist

A Winnipeg psychologist says it’s normal to feel some anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic but there are ways to cope.

“Anxiety is all about a sense of uncertainty and this is a perfect circumstance where there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman said.

But panicking, Abdulrehman said, can turn a difficult situation into something far worse.

“Keep calm and carry on,” he said. “If we panic, it’s not helpful. It creates mass hysteria.”

Abdulrehman said you can manage your worries by focusing on what you can control, such as following the advice of health officials.

“We’re being encouraged to wash our hands and have good hygiene on a regular basis, we’re being encouraged to not shake hands for a period of time,” he said. “This might be a break from the norm and it might cause people to panic but we have to remember this is a time-limited thing.”

While some changes might be necessary, Abdulrehman said maintaining a sense of routine is important as well.

“Children will look up to that in order for us to be able to have a sense of calm,” he said.

Abdulrehman said you should also limit COVID-19-related news and seek out social supports.

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Recreation centres, libraries among places to close in GTA due to coronavirus outbreak

Several city-run recreation centres, libraries and daycares in areas across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have announced they will close due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The following are a list of cancellations or closure in cities around the GTA:

Mississauga— everything to be closed until at least April 5:

  • Recreation Centres
  • Libraries
  • March Break programs cancelled
  • Living Arts Centre
  • Meadowvale Theatres
  • Museums
  • Missisauga Senior’s Centre
  • Paramount Fine Foods Centre

Brampton — everything to be closed until at least April 5:

  • March Break camps
  • City-run events
  • Council meetings
  • The Rose Brampton
  • City Hall
  • Recreation and community centres
  • libraries

Richmond Hill — everything to be closed until at least April 5:

  • March Break
  • Recreation and culture programs
  • Richmond Hill Theatre for the Performing Arts
  • Community recreation and culture facilities
  • Council and committee meetings

Whitby — everything to be closed until at least April 5:

  • Ashburn Community Centre
  • Brooklin Community Centre
  • Brooklin Community Centre & Library
  • Centennial Building
  • Heydenshore Pavilion
  • Iroquois Park Sports Centre
  • Luther Vipond Memorial Arena
  • McKinney Centre
  • Port Whitby Marina – closed for gatherings, open for boaters
  • Spencer Community Centre
  • Whitby 55+ Centre (Whitby Seniors’ Activity Centre)
  • Whitby Civic Recreation Complex
  • Whitby Public Library – all locations

Pickering — everything to be closed until at least April 5:

  • Pickering Public Library (all branches)
  • Pickering Museum Village
  • Pickering Animal Shelter
  • Brougham Hall
  • Chestnut Hill Developments Recreation Complex & Arena
  • Don Beer Arena
  • Dunbarton Indoor Pool
  • East Shore Community Centre
  • George Ashe Community Centre & Library
  • West Shore Community Centre
  • Dr. Nelson F. Tomlinson Centre & Claremont Library Branch
  • Whitevale Community Centre
  • Whitevale Arts & Cultural Centre
  • Greenwood Community Centre
  • Mt. Zion Community Centre
  • March Break camps cancelled
  • Public city events and programs

Burlington — everything to be cancelled for at least three weeks:

  • Recreation centres
  • Mark Break programs
  • Arenas
  • Pools and community centres
  • Seniors Centre

Markham — everything to be cancelled until at least April 5:

  • Recreation centres
  • Libraries
  • March Break Camps
  • Seniors programs and clubs
  • aquatics
  • fitness centres
  • Council Meetings, General Committee, Development Services Committee, Public Hearings, Committee of Adjustment and all Advisory Committee meetings.

Milton — everything to be cancelled until at least April 5:

  • Ray Twinney Recreation Complex
  • Magna Centre
  • NewRoads Performing Arts Centre / Newmarket Theatre
  • Newmarket Seniors’ Meeting Place
  • Newmarket Youth Centre & Sk8 Park
  • Hollingsworth Arena
  • Old Town Hall
  • Elman W. Campbell Museum
  • Newmarket’s Community Centre and Lions Hall
  • Newmarket Public Library
  • March Break camps cancelled

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Coronavirus ‘infects newborn British baby’ – in world’s youngest ever case

A newborn Brit baby has contracted the coronavirus, it has been reported.

The infant is believed to be the youngest ever victim of the deadly pandemic-causing virus and remains in hospital.

It comes after child’s mother had been rushed to a London hospital days earlier with suspected pneumonia, the Sun report.

The mum is reported by the paper to have been tested North Middlesex Hospital, Sterling Way, London, and her positive result was known only after the birth of her baby.

The baby tested soon after it was born at the hospital, it is believed.

A source told the paper: “Staff in contact with both patients have been advised to self-isolate. Health officials are urgently trying to find out the circumstances behind their infections.”

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Medics are now trying to establish whether the baby was infected during birth, or contracted the virus in the womb.

Both mum and baby are reportedly being treated at two separate hospitals and the condition of both patients is not known at this stage.

It comes just a day after an 18-month-old was reported to have contracted the virus in Hong Kong.

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The UK Government announced on Thursday the country has entered the 'containment phase' of controlling the deadly virus, which has so far claimed 11 lives.

There are currently 798 confirmed cases of the virus in the UK.

Pregnant women and babies are said to be at low risk from coronavirus and likely to exhibit mild symptoms. There is also no proof the coronavirus can be passed to a baby in the womb.

In its latest advice the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say "Pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they develop coronavirus than the general population. As this is a new virus, how it may affect you is not yet clear.

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"It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms.

"There are no reported deaths of pregnant women from coronavirus at the moment.

"If you are pregnant you are more vulnerable to getting infections than a woman who is not pregnant. If you have an underlying condition, such as asthma or diabetes, you may be more unwell if you have coronavirus.

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"As this is a very new virus we are just beginning to learn about it. There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of miscarriage. There is also no evidence that the virus can pass to your developing baby while you are pregnant (this is called vertical transmission).

"It is therefore considered unlikely that if you have the virus it will cause abnormalities in your baby."

The death rates are said to be lowest for those under 30.

North Middlesex Hospital has been contacted for a statement.

  • London
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UK on coronavirus lockdown with mass gatherings and sports games to be banned

Mass gatherings will be banned across Britain in a bid to ease the impact of coronavirus.

Sports fixtures, music concerts and business conferences all face the axe amid mounting efforts to tackle Covid-19.

The Government believes the move, which is set to come into force next weekend, will help free-up emergency services rather than curb the spread of the disease, a Whitehall source said.

Ministers have faced criticism for failing to act earlier, but Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted he is following experts' advice.

Earlier this week, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced gatherings of more than 500 people would be banned as the virus took hold.

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A Whitehall source declined to say how many people meant a “mass gathering”, but said tonight: “Ministers are working with the Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer on our plan to stop various types of public event, including mass gatherings, beginning next week.

“We are also talking to businesses and other bodies about the timing of moving towards much more widespread working from home.

“There are many complex considerations to make all these measures as effective as possible.

“We will make the right decisions at the right time based on the best scientific evidence.

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“For example, we are concerned about the burden large events put on public services – including the health service and the police – from dealing with coronavirus.

“Officials are working with industry bodies to identify how to support businesses that will be affected by this decision.

“We have drafted emergency legislation to give the Government the powers it needs to deal with coronavirus, including powers to stop mass gatherings and compensate organisations.

“We will publish this legislation next week.”

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Meanwhile, a major crackdown on visitors to Parliament was announced last night(FRI) as authorities try to tackle the outbreak.

Tours will be banned, passholders were urged not to invite guests to Westminster, and no new banqueting bookings will be accepted.

MPs were also urged not to carry out official visits abroad.

In a joint statement, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his Lords counterpart Lord Fowler said: “In order to preserve the operation of Parliament, it is our duty to take proportionate and reasonable measures to reduce the risk to those who work on the parliamentary estate and those who have to visit.

“We are clear that now is the time to be pragmatic; everyone in the country is being asked to strike a balance and it is right that we do the same.

“It is in this spirit that we have decided to implement a number of restrictions relating to overseas travel and visitor access.”

The public will still be able to watch debates from public galleries.

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COMMENTARY: Coronavirus will shape our culture

This week felt surreal. On March 11, the World Health Organization officially announced COVID-19 as a pandemic, and then a ripple effect of reactions followed. Concerts and festivals cancelled. NBA suspended. NHL suspended. Travel bans. School closures.

Oddly enough, for some it was the moment when Tom Hanks announced that he and wife Rita Wilson had it that it actually became “real” — not our beloved and untouchable Tom Hanks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has also tested positive since then. It’s been overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for even the calmest of us. On Friday I drove past a ghost-like GO station parking lot, usually without a spare spot for the taking, and then on to the grocery store, where the lineup to the parking lot spiralled down the street. I couldn’t help but think, “I feel like I’m in a movie.”

Few things in my life rival this event. It’s going to leave a deep impression on a plethora of people, especially our kids. But, however we may panic or stress, we have to acknowledge something quite remarkable — we are part of a history-making moment.

The impacts on our culture are already happening, from the postponed film premieres, cancelled concerts and suspended sports. But this is just the beginning. This is too big an event not to fire the imagination or creativity of the human mind.

Like other historic events, there will be a “before” and “after” COVID-19. It’s hard to take it all in stride, but we should pay close attention to the “during” because we’re living in this moment — the big and the small arches of it.

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