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France extends lockdown to April 15 as coronavirus wave swamps Paris
27 March 2020, 9:37 PM

France will extend a national lockdown until April 15 after reporting its biggest daily death toll from coronavirus, its prime minister said on Friday, and officials warned that hospitals around Paris could be overwhelmed in 48 hours.

“At the end of these first 10-days of confinement, it is clear that we are only at the beginning of the epidemic wave,” Edouard Philippe told reporters after a cabinet meeting. “It has overwhelmed the East and is now arriving in the Ile-de-France (Greater Paris region) and the Hauts de France (northeast).”

President Emmanuel Macron imposed a lockdown on March 17, until the end of the month to slow the spread of the highly infectious respiratory disease.

But doctors have said they are bracing for a new wave of cases next week after the government pressed ahead with local elections and thousands of people mingled in parks and streets before they were confined at home.

The capital and its suburbs now account for over a quarter of the 29,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in French hospitals, with almost 1,300 now in intensive care.

Worldwide, the pandemic has infected more than 551,800 people and killed nearly 24,900.

16-year-old victim

Highlighting the brutality of the coronavirus, a 16-year-old girl with no underlying health conditions became the first teenager to die of the virus on Thursday.

The death toll nationwide stood at 1,696, with signs that the virus is also becoming endemic in the southwest of France – even if the lockdown has slowed its advance.

Officials in the Paris region have been scrambling to locate more intensive care beds, ventilators, and medical staff and spread the load of patients across the capital and its broad girdle of suburbs.

“The wave is here. The numbers are dizzying,” said Aurelien Rousseau, the Paris regional head of the Public Health Authority, adding that efforts were being ramped up to meet the surge in infections.

France has already increased the number of intensive care units (ICU) from 5,000 to about 8,000, but doctors say the Paris region is close to its limit. The capital itself is trying to increase current capacity from 800 to 1,200 ICU.

Frederic Valletoux, the French Hospital Federation president, said he could see the situation becoming as bad as in eastern France, where the first major coronavirus cluster surfaced and where hospitals are already swamped with cases.

“We will be at the limit of our capacities in 24 to 48-hours,” said Valletoux.

A nurse at a Paris hospital said that while the hours were long and conditions increasingly difficult, the situation was not yet out of control.

“Everybody in the hospital is doing what they can to make sure nobody is lost, but goodwill is not always enough and I fear that in the coming days we will put ourselves in situations that are morally and physically difficult to cope with.”

Soldiers brought in to move patients 

The army has been drafted to move some critically ill patients from the Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Colmar areas of the east to other cities, while on Thursday the first patients were moved to western France from the east on high-speed TGV trains.

“If we let hospitals cope by themselves, and let every territory that has been taken by the epidemic cope alone, then we shall head toward a catastrophe,” Valletoux said.

Bruno Riou, a medical director at the AP-HP hospital group in Paris who is in charge of the coronavirus response team, told reporters it was likely that transfers would begin from Paris to other regions soon.

The hope, he said, was to send some patients to less stricken regions to give breathing room for Paris so that if the peak then shifted to other regions, the capital could again take patients in two weeks’ time.

Isolation centers were being set up across Paris to allow people with symptoms to be assessed to avoid cramming hospitals.

“This center was set up to welcome patients that are suspected of having the coronavirus and to group patients in a place where we ensure patients are isolated,” one of the attendants at a center in Cergy-Pointoise, in the northeastern Paris suburbs, told Reuters TV.

Other regions are also starting to feel the pinch with medical staff decrying a lack of equipment, especially masks.

“They are letting us enter the lion’s cage without anything to protect ourselves and our patients,” said Michelle Drouin, a nurse and union official in the southwestern Aude region.

She bemoaned that medics were having to replace their blouses with plastic bags. “They are turning us into serial killers. They are putting at risk health professionals and, because they are a vector of the virus, their patients too.”

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world: 

SA COVID-19 infections rise to 1170, death toll reduced to one
27 March 2020, 7:56 PM

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, says the number of coronavirus infections now stands at 1170 and the death toll has been reduced to one person.

Earlier reports, said two women from the Western Cape had died. Mthembu says clarification will be provided soon on the death toll. The death of the other person is suspected to be as a results of other health complications and not coronavirus as it was initially reported.

He was speaking at an Inter-ministerial briefing in Pretoria.

“Whilst indeed there has been a reported number of two deaths, arising out of COVID-19,what has now been confirmed by the authorities is one death. The other death is suspected. The minister will explain all that at an appropriate time.”

In the video below, Minister Jackson Mthembu briefs the media under Day 1 of the lockdown: 

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has slammed those who seek to undermine the national lockdown which is part of wide-ranging interventions to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. He has been speaking in Pretoria at an inter-ministerial briefing on the back of Day 1 of the national lock-down.

Mbalula says there have been some challenges with public transport, particularly long queues and a lack of transport to ferry essential workers.

“The first challenge in terms of public transport of transporting workers with essential need like those working in the banks or supermarkets, in the hospitals … the operations started well today; we had challenges of long queues where the taxi industry did not come to the party to transport people and we want to emphasize once more that the regulations as stand in relation to 5am to 9am in the morning, but afternoon 4pm to 8pm. That still stands. Public transport is shutdown. There’s only a limited (transport) for essential workers.”

Coronavirus WhatsApp number: 

Harry and Meghan move to Los Angeles, Britain’s Sun newspaper says
27 March 2020, 7:42 PM

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have left Canada and moved to Los Angeles, where they plan to make a permanent home after stepping back from their royal duties, Britain’s Sun newspaper reported on Thursday.

The Sun said the couple took a private flight to Los Angeles, but did not say when. Last week, the United States and Canada agreed to close their border to non-essential travel to ease the strain on health systems caused by the coronavirus.

A spokeswoman for Prince Harry declined to comment on the report, which The Sun dubbed as an exclusive.

Harry and Meghan will cease their royal duties at the end of March as they carve out “a progressive new role,” mainly based in North America, which they aim to finance themselves.

 

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A post shared by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (@sussexroyal) on

They had been living for several months with their son Archie on Vancouver Island in Canada.

“This move was planned for some time. They realized Canada would not work out for various reasons and they want to be based in the Los Angeles area,” the Sun quoted an unidentified royal insider as saying.

Meghan Markle was raised in the Los Angeles area and her mother Doria still lives there.

People magazine, citing an unidentified source, said on Thursday the couple had already settled into a home in the Los Angeles area and had not ventured out. California imposed a state-wide stay at home order last week in a bid to contain the coronavirus.

The report was published the same day that Disney announced that Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, had narrated a nature documentary that will be released on its Disney+ streaming platform on April 3.

It is the first job for the former “Suits” television series actress since she and Harry announced in January that they were stepping down from their royal duties.

The film, titled “Elephant,” follows the journey of a family of elephants across Africa. The film will raise money for the charity Elephants without Borders.

Taxi drivers appeal for the relaxing of transport curfews
27 March 2020, 7:01 PM

Metered taxi and E-hailing drivers in Port Elizabeth are appealing to the Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula to relax the transport curfews put in place during the coronavirus lockdown.

Many drivers have raised concerns, saying commuters who are essential workers were left stranded after 9am. Public transport only operates between 5am and 9am in the morning and four and eight in the evening.

In the video below, taxi drivers voice their concerns regarding transport curfews during the 21-day lockdown: 

There are also limits on the number of passengers a taxi can carry.

Cab driver Moegamat Mujahied says the fixed times will be a major blow for the next 21-days.

“Like this morning (Friday), we had a huge problem out in Kobus Road in Gelvandale, where all the workers that had to come and work in the retail shops were left stranded. There were no taxis available and taxi quantums which are 16-seaters had to carry only seven people. It just doesn’t equalize to travel all the distance to the northern areas to town with just seven people from the business perspective it does not work.”

In the video below, the impact of the national lockdown on public transport: 

ICC postpones World Cup qualifiers due to coronavirus
27 March 2020, 6:12 PM

The International Cricket Council (ICC) said on Thursday that all qualifying events for the 2021 Twenty20 World Cup and 50-overs version in 2023 that were scheduled to be held before June 30 have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The flu-like virus has infected more than 543,418 people around the world and killed over 25,278 since appearing in China at the end of last year.

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world: 

The pandemic has also brought global sport to a standstill and the ICC said in a statement the World Cup qualifiers would also be impacted.

“In light of the significant global health concerns at the current time and the restrictions on movement imposed by governments across the world, the ICC has taken the decision to postpone all events up until the end of June subject to further review,” Chris Tetley, ICC head of events, said.

“Work will continue on contingency plans and options for both men’s qualification pathways. We will provide updates in due course on these plans and decisions on the staging of the remaining events this year.”

India host next year’s T20 World Cup and the 50-overs event in 2023. As many as eight events will now be postponed due to the ICC decision.

This year’s women’s T20 World Cup was held in February-March in Australia, which will also host the men’s version starting in October. The World Cup trophy tour for the men’s event, which was scheduled to start next month, was also postponed.

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