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OPEC and allies likely to cut production if US joins cuts: sources
6 April 2020, 10:04 PM

The group of oil producers known as OPEC+, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, are likely to agree to cut production at a meeting scheduled for Thursday as long as the United States joins in cutting output, three OPEC+ sources told Reuters.

A previous production-cut deal ended last month after Russia and Saudi Arabia were unable to come to an agreement to curb output further as the coronavirus pandemic destroyed demand.

Now, with fuel demand falling by roughly 30%, members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia are looking to rein in supply. However, they want others, like the United States, to join.

Masks should be prioritised for health workers to avoid shortage against coronavirus: WHO
6 April 2020, 9:25 PM

The World Health Organisation (WHO) voiced concern on Monday that the wearing of medical masks by the general public could exacerbate the shortage for health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It said lockdowns in many places are proving effective in dampening spread of the coronavirus but any lifting of restrictions requires a calibrated, step-wise approach based on data.

European nations including hardest-hit Italy and Spain have started looking ahead to easing their lockdowns as fatality rates have fallen, while Austria said on Monday it would start reopening shops from next week, although it widened a requirement to wear face masks.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gheybresus, noting that several countries were considering new recommendations on masks, said: “First and foremost medical masks must be prioritised for health workers on the front lines of the response.

“We are concerned that the mass use of medical masks by the general population could exacerbate the shortage of these specialised masks for the people who need them most,” he told a virtual news conference.

“Masks alone cannot stop the pandemic, countries must continue to find, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact.”

Tedros also announced that Lady Gaga would direct a televised live concert “One World: Together at Home” with top entertainers including Elton John and Paul McCartney later this month to support health workers. “It has been an honour to help with this huge broadcast event that will take place on April 18 where we need to tell the stories of and celebrate the frontline community, health care workers and their acts of kindness,” Lady Gaga told reporters.

In the past week, $35 million had been raised for WHO’s solidarity fund, the American pop star added.

Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, said governments would have to look at specific parameters, including hospital bed occupancy, the doubling rate of infections and the proportion of positive results compared to all tested samples, to determine whether they can start lifting easing measures.

“So (we need) a step-wise approach of unlocking somewhat and then waiting to see. I think you need to say we’ll stop doing this element of the shutdown and then we’ll wait and we’ll look at the data. And if that works, we’ll go to the next stage.”

He said it was very important to help fragile countries in the developing world to avoid a lockdown situation.

Tedros, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, said Africa should do its utmost to prevent coronavirus transmissions. But he condemned what he said were suggestions by some scientists that the “testing ground” for experimental vaccines should be Africa. Normal protocols will be followed, he said.

“We will be announcing as soon as possible, hopefully during this week, a big initiative to accelerate the research, development and production of vaccines and also design mechanisms for equitable distribution,” Tedros said.

UK PM Johnson’s health worsens, taken to intensive care
6 April 2020, 9:25 PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition has worsened since being hospitalised with persistent COVID-19 symptoms and he has been moved into intensive care, his Downing Street office said in a statement on Monday.

“Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the Prime Minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.

“The PM has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is the First Secretary of State, to deputise for him where necessary.”

Europe dares to consider easing lockdowns as US enters “peak death week”

European nations, including hard-hit Italy and Spain, have started looking ahead to easing coronavirus lockdowns after steady falls in fatality rates, as the United States prepared on Monday for what one official called “peak death week”.

In Spain and Italy, which account for over 40% of the world’s fatalities, the death rate has been declining for several days and public discussion has turned to how and when to ease weeks of drastic curbs on personal and economic activity.

Germany, seen by many as a guide for how to tackle the pandemic by combining restrictions on movement with widespread testing, drew up a detailed plan.

Yet the global figures remain stark, and show no sign of plateauing yet. A Reuters tally at 1400 GMT put the number of confirmed cases at 1.27 million – just three days after it crossed the 1 million mark – and deaths up by 17 000 over the same period to 70 395.

Confirmed US cases topped 336 000 on Sunday, making the United States by far the world leader, with deaths going over 10 000.

“It’s going to be the peak hospitalisation, peak ICU week and unfortunately, peak death week,” Admiral Brett Giroir, a physician and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” TV programme on Monday.

Roughly twice as many people a day are dying in the United States as in Spain or Italy, and hospitals report chaotic shortages of beds, ventilators and protective gear.

While New York City accounts for almost a third of US coronavirus deaths, more than 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that a shortage of medical professionals was replacing a lack of equipment as the city’s primary need, calling for an additional 45 000 clinical personnel for April.

“Light at the end of the tunnel”

A University of Washington model, one of several cited by US and some state officials, projected that the peak need for hospital beds would come on April 15, and that daily deaths would peak, at 3 130, on April 16.

President Donald Trump, whom critics have accused of playing down the epidemic and trying to rush an end to the devastating economic paralysis, for his part on Monday repeated a message he had expressed at the weekend, tweeting “LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!”

In Britain, Johnson tweeted: “I’m in good spirits and keeping in touch with my team, as we work together to fight this virus and keep everyone safe.”

The British government reported 439 deaths in the 24 hours to Sunday evening, the lowest daily toll since March 31.

On Sunday, Neil Ferguson, a professor at Imperial College in London who has helped shape the government’s response, said he expected Britain’s epidemic to plateau in seven to 10 days.

“What’s critically important then is how quickly case numbers go down: do we see a long flat peak or do we, as we hope, see a much faster decline, and that really depends on how effective the current measures are,” he told the BBC.

Spain saw its daily deaths fall from Thursday’s peak of 950 to 637 on Monday, for a total of more than 13 000 deaths; Italy on Sunday reported 525 deaths, its lowest daily death toll in more than two weeks, for a total of more than 16 000.

As the numbers have flattened in Italy, there has been increasing discussion about rolling back a lockdown that has closed most businesses and slammed the brakes on an already fragile economy.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at the weekend that Spain’s lockdown would remain in place until April 26, but opened the door to easing some restrictions, such as keeping all non-essential workers at home, after Easter, which falls this Sunday.

When to ease up?

Central to most countries’ planning is the need to “flatten the curve” to avoid exhausting their supply of intensive care beds; significantly, Italy reported that the number of patients in intensive care had fallen for the second day running.

Austria said on Monday that it was turning a corner and would start reopening shops from next week, although it widened a requirement to wear face masks.

Measures to prevent a new upsurge in cases, such as masks, testing for infection and contact tracing, will also be crucial to most countries’ ability to relax their lockdowns.

Once more, the blueprint may come from Germany, which, despite being Europe’s most populous country, has recorded only 1 448 deaths from 98 000 confirmed cases.

A draft action plan compiled by the Interior Ministry and seen by Reuters says it should be possible to keep the average number of people infected below one per person – the measure of an epidemic in retreat – even as public life and economic life are gradually allowed to resume.

Germany, with Europe’s largest economy, has been under lockdown, with restaurants and most shops closed, since March 22 – and the document assumes the pandemic will last until 2021.

But the plan says the measures foreseen, including mandatory mask-wearing in public, limits on gatherings, the rapid tracing of infection chains and selective quarantining, should allow a phased return to something approaching normal life.

Germany’s lockdown is due to end on April 19, but the government declined to confirm that it was on track to do so.

“Even if some people are demanding it, the government can’t yet give an exit day, a firm date from which everything will be different and the measures relaxed,” a spokesman said.

Phelps urges athletes to take care of mental health after Games delay
6 April 2020, 9:00 PM

Olympic great Michael Phelps has voiced his concerns over the negative impact on athletes’ mental health of the Tokyo Games postponement prompted by the new coronavirus pandemic.

Last month the International Olympic Committee decided to delay the Tokyo Games for a year as the global health crisis prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak hit the professional sports calendar and brought daily life to a grinding halt for millions.

“You go through something for four years and we kind of know exactly when it’s going to come and our bodies are ready for it, then we have to wait,” the retired swimmer, who won 28 Olympic medals, told NBC in an interview on Monday.

The 34-year-old American urged athletes to use the downtime as an opportunity to further hone their skills.

Phelps added that he had enormous empathy for athletes grappling with the delay, with the Olympics now scheduled to be held from July 23-Aug. 8 2021, and said it was imperative they were “taking care of their mental health.”

He raised his concerns just days after compatriot and four-times Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles said she had cried at news of the postponement.

“It’s our life,” said Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. “I’ve tried to replay what I would be going through emotionally at this very time if I was still competing – it’s hard to really comprehend it.”

Online South Africans have more confidence in government than in business: Ipsos
6 April 2020, 7:16 PM

A majority of online South Africans are confident that the national government is effectively addressing the threat posed by the spread of the coronavirus, even as lockdowns and closures force millions to isolate themselves. They also expressed their confidence in international institutions in handling the crisis.

The poll results show that about six in every ten online South Africans expressed confidence in the South African Government (61%) dealing with the spread of the pandemic. SA businesses are not (yet?) viewed with confidence regarding Covid-19 as only slightly more than half (52%) expressed confidence in the institutions that should play a key role in keeping our economy going.

However, with more and more businesses taking bold and active steps to support communities during these difficult times, this result might change rapidly in the weeks to come.

On the other end of the scale, the South African border control authorities are viewed rather negatively regarding their handling of the crisis, as half (50%) indicated that they are not confident in the actions taken by the SA border control authorities to curb the inflow or outflow of possibly infected people into (or out of) the country.

Tracking opinions about COVID-19 on a global scale

Ipsos has been conducting a global tracking survey since early February 2020, aiming to monitor and understand drivers of change in six broad areas:

  • Purchase metrics and purchase intentions;
  • Social issues and response to actions;
  • Incidence of counter-measures;
  • Behavioural and attitudinal measures;
  • Responsibility and credibility; and
  • Long-term outlook.

The global tracking survey has been conducted in the high-risk and heaviest-hit countries.  However, in South Africa, the first wave has just been completed, but the survey will now be conducted regularly. Given the rapidly evolving nature of circumstances and the spread of the virus, questions in the survey get adapted regularly.

 

When analysing results and reporting on findings it was possible to do some comparisons between South African results and the results of similar questions asked in other parts of the world. The results show that – in the majority of the countries participating in this study – citizens expressed confidence in their respective governments’ efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Across the world, Chinese (97%), Vietnamese (94%) and Indians (85%) expressed the most confidence in their governments.  They are followed by citizens from Canada (74%), Italy (66%), South Africa (61%), Australia (60%), the UK and Brazil (both at 59%), France,  the USA and Russia (all at 50%). Looking at the bottom of the list, less than half of citizens in Germany (49%), Japan (48%) and Mexico (45%) expressed confidence in the way their national governments are handling the crisis situation around the coronavirus.

Perception of threat

A question was asked about the magnitude of the threat posed by the coronavirus to the world, and the citizens’ country, local community, family and to them personally.

The results for South Africa show that online citizens believe that the biggest threat is to the world as a whole (94%), as well as to South Africa as a country (90%).

 

Similarly, most global citizens appear to be fairly concerned about the threat that the coronavirus poses on different levels (personal, family and community), but there is a much higher perceived threat at a national and global level. This view of coronavirus (and COVID-19) as a global threat is prevalent across the different countries surveyed.

Vietnamese (62%) and Italians (56%) perceive the virus to be a threat to them personally, while citizens in the USA (29%), Australia (28%), Japan (26%), Canada (25%) and Russia (17%) are least likely to agree that the virus poses a threat to them personally. (Again, this might be one of the measures changing rapidly in weeks to come, depending on the spread of the virus to new territories, more people testing positive for COVID-19, more deaths registered and the scarcity of equipment – like PPE, ventilators and ICU beds – becoming more and more evident.)

 

Weather

 

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