Iran calls on U.S. to allow IMF to give it $5 billion emergency loan for COVID-19 response
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday to give the sanctions-hit country a $5 billion emergency loan to combat its novel coronavirus outbreak.
The Islamic republic is battling one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks, which it says has killed close to 4,000 people and infected more than 64,500, though there has been speculation both in Iran and abroad that the real number of deaths and infections is much higher.
Iran has said it needs what would be its first IMF loan in over half a century to continue fighting the virus, but the United States, which effectively holds a veto at the IMF, is reportedly set to block the loan, arguing Iran will use the funds for military purposes.
“I urge all international organizations to fulfil their duties,” Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting. “We are a member of the IMF… if there’s going to be any discrimination between Iran and others in giving loans, neither we nor world opinion will tolerate it.”
With France locked down, Good Friday service to be broadcast live from inside fire-ravaged Notre-Dame
A handful of people will celebrate a Good Friday service inside Paris’ famed Notre-Dame cathedral almost a year after the church was ravaged by a fire.
The service will include the veneration of the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ on the cross, according to the president of the Friends of Notre-Dame, Michel Picaud. The crown used to be kept in the cathedral, but has been stored in the Louvre museum since the fire on April 15 last year.
The Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Michel Aupetit, will lead the service, along with the Rector of Paris.
The archbishop said the service would be broadcast on television and radio so the faithful could follow as France remains under a nationwide lockdown amid a coronavirus outbreak that keeps getting worse in spite of the broad measures.
There will be no other Easter services in the cathedral, and restoration work on the ancient building has stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iran’s coronavirus death toll nears 4,000
Iran on Wednesday reported 121 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing its overall number of fatalities to 3,993.
In the past 24 hours, 1,997 new cases of COVID-19 infection were detected in Iran, state news agency IRNA quoted health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour as saying.
That put the number of confirmed cases at 64,586, he added.
Iran, which announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19, is by far the worst hit by the pandemic in the Middle East, according to official tolls.
But there has been speculation abroad that the real number of deaths and infections in the country could be higher.
WHO officials defend COVID-19 response after Trump accusations of “China-centric” bias
World Health Organization officials defended the agency’s COVID-19 response Wednesday after President Trump accused it of “probably” misleading the public. Mr. Trump said the WHO had acted in a “very China-centric” manner as it reacted to the pandemic that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“They criticized my China travel ban and they were wrong about that,” the president said, threatening to slash U.S. funding for the WHO. “They’re wrong about a lot of things. They seem to be very China-centric. We have to look into that.”
On Wednesday, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge said the world was, “still in the acute phase of a pandemic, so now is not the time to cut back on funding.”
Dr Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, defended the U.N. agency’s cooperation with China as, “absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible.”
“This is what we did with every other hard hit country like Spain and had nothing to do with China specifically,” Aylward said, adding that the initial decision to suggest keeping borders open was taken in light of Chinese efforts to aggressively track and quarantine suspected virus cases.
Twitter boss Jack Dorsey pledges $1 billion for virus relief efforts
Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey said Tuesday he was committing $1 billion of his personal fortune to coronavirus relief through his philanthropic fund.
Dorsey said in a series of tweets that he would transfer his equity in his digital payments group Square to his limited liability corporation Start Small, contributing around 28 percent of his overall wealth.
“Why now? The needs are increasingly urgent, and I want to see the impact in my lifetime,” Dorsey said. “I hope this inspires others to do something similar. Life is too short, so let’s do everything we can today to help people now.”
CDC set to loosen back-to-work guidelines for some who self-isolate, Pence says
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is about to change its guidelines for self-isolation to make it easier for those who have been exposed to someone with the new coronavirus to return to work if they are asymptomatic, Vice President Pence said Tuesday.
The public health agency, in conjunction with the White House coronavirus task force, will announce the changes Wednesday, Pence said at Tuesday’s task force press briefing.
Under the new guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they are asymptomatic, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, a person familiar with the proposal under consideration told The Associated Press. The person described the proposal on the condition of anonymity because the draft had not been finalized.
1st day of Japan’s state of emergency sees trains still packed for morning rush
The first full day under Japan’s state of emergency has underwhelmed. While some popular retail and tourist spots were unusually quiet, it looked like business as usual on Tokyo’s infamously congested public transit.
The lax heeding of requests for people to stay at home generated a fusillade of disappointment, frustration and anger online.
“Even with the emergency declaration, this is Shinagawa train station at rush hour. It’s this morning, ok? Screwed up or what?” said one tweet.
“Eight am, on the train to Osaka,” said another, posting an image of people standing shoulder to shoulder on a train, some without face masks.
A salesman interviewed outside Omiya station north of Tokyo confessed he didn’t want to be there. “I’m extremely afraid,” he told the TBS network. “Salaried workers like us have to ride the train every day. What will become of us?”
The government’s official “3c” mantra — avoid close spaces, close conversation, and crowds — has become a wry joke. “Nothing has changed on the 3c Odakyu train line,” one commuter posted.
The turnout is undermining faith in Japan’s bid to slow the pandemic without a full-fledged lockdown.
Texas nursing home doctor testing drug touted by Trump on 27 COVID-19 patients
When a coronavirus outbreak hit a Texas nursing home, Dr. Robin Armstrong reached for an unproven treatment: the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.
First, he needed to find a supply. But at a moment when President Donald Trump is heavily promoting the drug, Armstrong is no regular physician. He is a Republican National Committee member and GOP activist in Houston, and after calling Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas chairman of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, Armstrong soon had enough doses to begin treating 27 infected residents of The Resort at Texas City.
Armstrong, the medical director at the facility, said Tuesday it is too soon to tell whether the treatment will work. But his sweeping use of the drug at one nursing home along the smoggy Texas coastline illustrates how Mr. Trump’s championing of the medication is having an impact on doctors across the U.S., even as scientists warn that more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19.
“I probably would not have been able to get the medication had he not been talking about it so much,” Armstrong told The Associated Press.
Republican Bryan Hughes, a Texas state senator, said he is helping organize a pipeline of hydroxychloroquine donations to other states through their GOP leaders. Hughes said he has spent recent weeks helping Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia receive or expect shipments from Amneal Pharmaceuticals, a maker of the drug based in New Jersey. Last month, the company announced it had donated 1 million tablets to Texas.
– Associated Press
UN suspends peacekeeping deployments
The United Nations on Tuesday suspended new peacekeeping deployments due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. The rotation and deployment of U.N. peacekeepers and international police will be suspended until June 30.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric made the announcement, saying the 13 peacekeeping missions of the U.N. “are working full-time to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19” and to ensure that incoming uniformed personnel don’t have COVID-19.
Dujarric explained to CBS News, “There is no movement of troops, coming in or out,” but added that, “A few, limited exceptions may be considered.”
“Our priorities are to ensure the COVID-19-free status of incoming uniformed personnel, and mitigate the risk that UN peacekeepers could be a contagion vector and simultaneously maintain our operational capabilities,” Dujarric said.
Both the pandemic outbreak and expenses related to coronavirus appear to be at issue.
John Prine, American folk singer and songwriter, has died at age 73
John Prine, the singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Hello in There” and scores of other works, died Tuesday at the age of 73, according to The Associated Press.
His family announced his death was due to complications from the new coronavirus. He died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where he had been hospitalized last month.
Winner of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year, Prine sang his conversational lyrics in a voice roughened by a difficult life, particularly after throat cancer left him with a disfigured jaw.
He joked that he fumbled so often on the guitar that people thought he was inventing a new style. But his open-heartedness, eye for detail and sharp and surreal humor brought him the highest admiration from critics, from such peers as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and from younger stars such as Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, who even named a song after him.
– Associated Press
Poor and minority communities hit hard by COVID-19 in the South
The coronavirus has been exploding across the South. In a dozen Southern states, there have been nearly 65,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 1,700 deaths.
Governor John Bel Edwards reported 70 new deaths Tuesday and said they’re still bracing for the worst.
There’s an alarming disparity in the state: more than 70% of the coronavirus deaths are African Americans, who comprise only 32% of the population.
“It’s very sad to say I’m not shocked this is happening if you have a disease that’s going to kill more people with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and you have a health disparity like this, it’s not shocking,” said Dr. Amy Lessen of Dillard University. Louisiana has one of the nation’s highest rates of people with preexisting conditions.