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Coronavirus: Working from a holiday home! Barbados to offer year-long stays to remote workers

People working from home during the coronavirus pandemic could be given the opportunity to relocate to the Caribbean under a proposal from the Barbados government.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley is considering introducing a “Barbados Welcome Stamp” which would allow international arrivals to live on the island while working remotely for up to a year.

Ms Mottley has proposed the scheme as short-term travel has been become more difficult during the pandemic.

Tourism makes up 40% of Barbados’ GDP and 30% of its workforce is employed in the sector, according to Travel Market Report.

But the industry has been badly affected as the coronavirus pandemic has grounded airlines and berthed cruise ships.

Ms Mottley proposed offering the option of a year-long stay as Barbados is set to open its borders to international visitors again on 12 July.

The move would allow those who took up the offer to immerse themselves in the island’s Bajan culture and lifestyle in a way that holidaymakers are unable to.

Ms Mottley said in a statement: “You don’t need to work in Europe, or the US or Latin America if you can come here and work for a couple months at a time; go back and come back.

“But in order for those things to truly resonate, what does it mean? It means that what we offer has to be world class and what we continue to offer is world class.”

She added: “The government is committed to working with you on the promotion of new concepts like the 12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp, being able to open our borders to persons travelling and making it as hospitable as ever for all of us, and making it available for Barbadians from every walk of life to believe that for special occasions, or just for so, that they can come out and be a part of this wonderful exercise.”

All visitors arriving on the island will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result and must wear a face mask at the airport.

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Global coronavirus cases rise to more than 12 million

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases exceeded 12 million on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, as evidence mounts of the airborne spread of the disease that has killed more than half a million people in seven months.

The number of cases is triple that of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organization.

Many hard-hit countries are easing lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of the novel virus, while others, such as China and Australia, implement another round of shutdowns in response to a resurgence in infections. Experts say alterations to work and social life could last until a vaccine is available.

The first case was reported in China in early January and it took 149 days to hit 6 million cases. It has taken less than a third of that time – just 39 days – to double to 12 million cases, the tally shows.

There have been more than 546,000 deaths linked to the virus so far, within the same range as the number of yearly influenza deaths reported worldwide. The first death was reported on Jan. 10 in Wuhan, China before infections and fatalities surged in Europe and then later in the United States.

The United States reported a daily global record of 56,818 new COVID-19 infections on July 3 when global cases reached the 11 million mark. The United States recorded a total of 3 million cases on Tuesday, and accounts for more than a quarter of both global cases and global fatalities putting President Donald Trump’s pandemic strategy under scrutiny.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for coronavirus after downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic. The country has reported between 20,000 and 50,000 new cases daily since July 1. Brazil has more than 1.7 million cases and nearly 68,000 deaths.

The Reuters tally, which is based on government reports, shows the disease is spreading the fastest in Latin America. The Americas account for more than half the world’s infections and almost half its deaths. Brazil and the United States account for around 45% of all new cases since the beginning of July.

India – the country with the third highest number of infections – is battling an outbreak of more than 20,000 new cases each day.

In countries with limited testing capacity, case numbers reflect only a proportion of total infections. Experts caution that official data likely underrepresents both cases and deaths.

(To see a Reuters interactive, open this link in an external browser: tmsnrt.rs/2Zedzk8)

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David Attenborough in appeal to save charity behind London Zoo

LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough has appealed for donations to save the conservation charity behind two leading British zoos, London and Whipsnade, which has been hammered financially by the coronavirus pandemic.

The short video clip, which will air on British television on Thursday, draws attention to the scientific work of the Zoological Society of London and features images of animals both in the two zoos and their native habitats.

“The Zoological Society of London has made an outstanding contribution to conservation and our understanding of wildlife for 200 years,” said Attenborough, noting that the two zoos are home to over 20,000 animals, some of them endangered.

“The national institution is now itself at risk of extinction,” said Attenborough, 94, who is famed worldwide for his documentaries on the natural world.

The ZSL has lost vital income after the coronavirus pandemic forced its zoos to close for the first time since World War Two, he said, urging people to make donations via the link zsl.org/justgiving.

In a separate press release, ZSL director Dominic Jermey said the zoos would be unable to recoup the money lost even though they have now been allowed to reopen, due to social distancing measures and heavily restricted visitor numbers.

“Unlike any other UK zoo, our zoos are the lifeline for ground-breaking research at the world-renowned ZSL Institute of Zoology and fund our global conservation projects – work that has never been more vital,” he said.

The research includes looking into how diseases such as coronaviruses transfer from wildlife to humans, he added.

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Canada handled the coronavirus outbreak better than United States, PM Trudeau says

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada handled the novel coronavirus outbreak better than many of its allies, including the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, in a rare public comment on the faltering U.S. effort.

Canada – with a population one-tenth the size of the United States – has so far recorded 8,711 deaths and 106,167 cases and Trudeau said the situation was stabilizing, although some hot spots remained.

In contrast, the United States has recorded more than 3 million cases and 131,336 deaths. Authorities have reported alarming upswings of daily case loads in roughly two dozen states over the past two weeks.

“We were able to control the virus better than many of our allies, particularly including our neighbor,” Trudeau told a briefing, saying Canada’s success would help efforts to restart the economy.

Canada and the United States have blocked nonessential travel between the two nations since March and are discussing whether to extend the ban when it expires on July 21.

Canadian health officials said the death toll could hit 8,900 by July 17.

Deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo said the outbreak was largely under control, while stressing measures such as contact tracing and quarantine would still be essential.

“If we relax too much or too soon, the epidemic will most likely rebound, with explosive growth as a distinct possibility,” he told a separate news conference.

Although Trudeau’s relations with U.S. President Donald Trump have been good over the last 18 months, he skipped a Washington meeting on Wednesday to herald the start of a new continental trade agreement with the United States and Mexico.

Trudeau, who would have had to enter a 14-day quarantine period on his return, repeated concerns about the possible imposition of U.S. tariffs on Canadian exports of aluminum.

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Moscow theatres to reopen in August as Russia's coronavirus cases pass 700,000

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Residents of Moscow will be permitted to visit the theatre again from Aug. 1 for the first time in more than four months, authorities said on Wednesday as coronavirus infections in Russia edged past the 700,000 mark.

Theatre audiences at 50% capacity will be allowed, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoy was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency. Shvydkoy added that he hoped this percentage could be increased by September.

Russia’s nationwide case tally stood at 700,792 as of Wednesday, the fourth highest in the world after India, Brazil and the United States, while 10,667 people have died from the virus, according to official data.

However, since measures meant to slow the spread of the virus began to be eased in May, the number of new cases recorded each day has been on a downward trend. Russia says 472,511 people have recovered from the virus.

Some businesses returned to work in May, following a nationwide non-working period in April, while in Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, the phased reopening of shops, restaurants and gyms came in June.  

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the country’s coronavirus situation was leaning towards improving and that there was cause for more optimistic forecasts.

Russia’s healthcare regulator, meanwhile, said it had found no direct link connecting domestically-produced ventilators with two hospital fires that killed six people in May.

Russia suspended the use of all Aventa-M ventilators produced at a factory near the Ural mountains while an investigation by the regulator, Roszdravnadzor, into the cause of the two fires at hospitals treating patients for the novel coronavirus was ongoing.

Roszdravnadzor said it had discovered some small violations, as well as discrepancies between the product and its operational and technical documentation.

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Politics

Coronavirus: Chancellor Rishi Sunak reveals stamp duty cut and jobs bonus scheme

Britons eating out will get discounted food, house buyers will pay less stamp duty and companies will get bonuses for retaining workers under the chancellor’s plans to kickstart the UK economy.

In his summer economic update to the House of Commons, Rishi Sunak warned the UK is facing “profound economic challenges” as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The chancellor admitted Britons are anxious about losing their jobs and rising unemployment, with the UK economy having shrunk 25% in just two months – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

But Mr Sunak told MPs: “We’re not just going to accept this. People need to know we will do all we can to give everyone the opportunity of good and secure work.

“People need to know that although hardship lies ahead, no one will be left without hope.”

He vowed to turn the UK’s national recovery “into millions of stories of personal renewal” as he unveiled a £30bn package of measures.

These include:

  • a £1,000 bonus for each worker that companies bring back from furlough and employ through to January next year;
  • a “kickstart scheme” to directly pay firms to create jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds;
  • cash for businesses to take on trainees and apprentices;
  • an eight-month temporary cut in stamp duty, with no charge on property transactions below £500,000;
  • a cut in VAT on food, accommodation and attractions from 20% to 5% until 12 January;
  • an “Eat Out to Help Out” discount of up to £10 per head to get Britons back to restaurants, cafes and pubs;

After announcing what he dubbed a “plan for jobs”, Mr Sunak told the Commons: “We will not be defined by this crisis, but by our response to it.

“It is an unambiguous choice to make this moment meaningful for our country in a way that transcends the frustration and loss of recent months.

“It is a plan to turn our national recovery into millions of stories of personal renewal.”

In his announcement of an immediate cut to stamp duty, which will last until 31 March next year, Mr Sunak revealed he was lifting the threshold on paying stamp duty from, currently, property transactions above £125,000 to transactions above £500,000.

He told MPs: “The average stamp duty bill will fall by £4,500. And nearly nine out of 10 people buying a main home this year, will pay no stamp duty at all.”

And, saying he is ready to “act with a plan for jobs”, Mr Sunak also announced he will pay companies £1,000 for each employee they bring back from the government’s jobs retention scheme, which has supported more than nine million workers but is due to end in October.

He said the new bonus scheme could cost around £9bn if every furloughed employee was retained by their firms, telling company bosses: “If you stand by your workers, we will stand by you.”

The chancellor added: “If you’re an employer and you bring back someone who was furloughed – and continuously employ them through to January – we’ll pay you a £1,000 bonus per employee.

“It’s vital people aren’t just returning for the sake of it – they need to be doing decent work.

“So for businesses to get the bonus, the employee must be paid at least £520 on average, in each month from November to the end of January – the equivalent of the lower earnings limit in national insurance.”

In what has been described as a “mini-Budget”, the chancellor also presented plans to get pubs, restaurants, cafes and B&Bs “bustling again”.

For the next six months, from 15 July to 12 January, Mr Sunak will cut VAT from 20% to 5% on food from restaurants, cafes and pubs, accommodation in hotels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan sits, and attractions such as cinemas, theme parks and zoos.

The chancellor also hailed a “creative” scheme to give everyone in the country an “Eat Out to Help Out” discount during August.

“Meals eaten at any participating business, Monday to Wednesday, will be 50% off, up to a maximum discount of £10 per head for everyone, including children,” he said.

Mr Sunak told MPs that such a scheme “has never been tried in the UK before”.

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Business

Exclusive: EU reaches deals with Roche, Merck for supply of COVID-19 drugs – source

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission has reached agreements with pharmaceutical companies Roche (ROG.S) and Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE) to supply experimental drugs that can be used to treat COVID-19 patients, a commission source told Reuters on Wednesday.

The EU executive agreed to the deal to source Roche’s RoActemra and Merck’s Rebif for supply to any 27 EU members states willing to buy them, the source who is familiar with the issue told Reuters. The person declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The source declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

Roche and Merck were not immediately available for comment. A commission spokeswoman was also not immediately available for comment.

The agreements follow requests from EU states in May to acquire the two drugs which are considered potentially useful against COVID-19.

RoActemra is a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, which has been tested on COVID-19 patients in combination with Gilead’s (GILD.O) antiviral remdesivir, the only treatment so far authorised by the European Union for its use against COVID-19.

Rebif is used to treat multiple sclerosis patients. It was originally developed by the Swiss biotech firm Serono before Merck bought the company.

Both drugs target proteins in the body associated with inflammation, and there is some hope that they may help severely ill COVID-19 patients suffering from a so-called cytokine storm, a severe immune system reaction that in some cases has led to organ failure of those infected with the new coronavirus.

The companies said in letters sent to the EU Commission that they could meet demand from EU countries, the EU source said, declining to name the EU states that expressed interest in the drugs.

EU countries have now to agree with the companies on the supplies needed, the source said.

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Coronavirus: Airborne transmission of COVID-19 cannot be ruled out, says WHO

The World Health Organisation has recognised there is “evidence emerging” of airborne transmission of coronavirus, which could lead to changes of guidance on distancing.

Speaking at a briefing on Tuesday, the organisation’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said discussion was ongoing in response to evidence that shows some virus particles linger in the air after being exhaled rather than sinking straight to the ground.

The findings were initially published in an open letter in the Clinical Diseases journal from 239 scientists in 32 countries, and encouraged WHO to update its guidance on transmission.

Currently, the Geneva-based agency says the illness is primarily spread by heavy droplets that fall to the floor once exhaled by an infected person.

WHO technical lead for infection prevention and control, Benedetta Allegranzi, also acknowledged the evidence but said it was not yet definitive.

She said the possibility of airborne transmission “cannot be ruled out” in poorly-ventilated settings such as crowded and closed areas, but stressed that more evidence needed to be “gathered and interpreted”.

Meanwhile, Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado, said the researchers were “definitely not” attacking the WHO but felt they “needed to go public” after the organisation was “refusing to hear the evidence”.

He suggested this could be due to a high bar of proof set on the possibility of aerosol transmission due to the worry it could potentially cause.

“If people hear airborne, healthcare workers will refuse to go to the hospital,” he said, adding that people could buy large numbers of face masks, potentially leaving none for developing countries.

Mr Jimenez later criticised the WHO’s panel for assessing infection risk, saying it was lacking experts in aerosol transmission.

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Australia battles to contain Melbourne coronavirus outbreak

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia should slow down the return of its citizens from abroad, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, as the country grapples with a fresh coronavirus outbreak that has forced it to isolate its second most populous state.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales, the busiest in the country, was closed overnight and around 4.9 million residents in the Victorian capital of Melbourne will return to partial lockdown at midnight following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city.

“The rest of the country knows that the sacrifice that you’re going through right now is not just for you and your own family, but it’s for the broader Australian community,” Morrison said during a televised media conference.

Morrison said he would take a proposal to a national cabinet of state and territory leaders on Friday, seeking to slow down the return of Australian citizens and permanent residents by reducing the number of repatriation flights. The two groups have been the only arrivals allowed since Australia closed its international border in March.

Neighbouring New Zealand announced on Tuesday that its national airline will not take new inbound bookings for three weeks to reduce the burden on overflowing quarantine facilities.

In Australia, red flags have been raised by potential quarantine breaches that the Victorian state government believes led to returnees spreading the virus. Officials have begun an inquiry.

Victoria reported 134 new infections on Wednesday, down from the previous day’s record 191 but well over the low single digit daily increases of the country’s other seven states and territories.

Fears of a broader second wave were underscored on Thursday by an official report of three new COVID-19 cases in the national capital, Canberra. Two of the infected people had returned from Melbourne last week, and the third was their housemate.

In Sydney, authorities were scrambling to track down 48 passengers who were allowed to disembark a flight from Melbourne overnight without being checked for COVID-19 symptoms.

The resurgence of the virus deals a blow to Australia’s hopes of cushioning its landing as it sinks into its first recession in three decades. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the border closure and Melbourne lockdown would cost the economy up to A$1 billion ($700 million) per week.

Morrison said the government would offer additional income support beyond a wage subsidy currently due to end in September, while Frydenberg said income tax cuts may be accelerated.

BORDER CONTROL

At the Victoria and NSW border, police checkpoints caused delays of more than an hour for drivers. The state line is heavily trafficked by daily commuters who live and work on either side.

“I got a permit but with all the checks, my commute across was heavily delayed,” Amanda Cohn, who crosses the border from her home in NSW each day to reach the Victorian hospital where she works, told Reuters. “Plenty of others need to get across and they don’t have a permit.”

Authorities had hastily set up a system to issue travel permits for a select group, but a website created to dispense passes crashed soon after its launch.

Victoria’s only other internal border, with South Australia, has been closed since mid-March.

In Melbourne, renewed lockdown measures will kick in at midnight for at least six weeks, closing down cafes, bars, restaurants and gyms, and confining residents to their homes except for essential business.

Among the new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday were 75 occupants of nine public housing towers that were earlier this week placed into complete lockdown, barring their 3,000 residents from leaving for five days.

Nationwide, Australia has reported about 9,000 COVID-19 cases and 106 deaths from the virus.

($1 = 1.4399 Australian dollars)

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Masks, disinfectant, social distancing: Japan responds to disaster amid coronavirus

Yatsushiro, JAPAN (Reuters) – Boxes of surgical masks, bottles of disinfectant and a sign saying “Please wear a mask” mark the entrance to a public gym in Yatsushiro city, a shelter for residents fleeing devastating floods in southwestern Japan this week.

Elsewhere in the gym, cardboard partitions separate the 233 evacuees’ sleeping areas and another sign instructs them to check their temperature each morning, then sterilise the thermometers.

The measures show what a thorny issue it is for Japan to deal with natural disasters in the time of coronavirus.

Japanese authorities have been warning local officials for months to include coronavirus measures in their disaster preparations. Residents have been urged to seek shelter with friends or relatives if possible to avoid overcrowding evacuation centres.

But coronavirus contagion was the last thing on the mind of 78-year-old retiree Aiko Ishimura when neighbours knocked on her door on Monday to tell her about evacuation orders.

Ishimura, who lives alone, had planned to shelter at home.

“So we just came as we were. We were in such a rush to come here, we didn’t bring anything,” Ishimura, who fled with neighbours, told Reuters. “I wasn’t worried at all about coronavirus, not at all.”

“We don’t have many cases here in the first place. We don’t really do the whole mask-wearing thing,” she added, although she said she keeps a mask in her pocket.

Kumomoto prefecture, where Yatsushiro is located, has had only 49 of Japan’s more than 20,000 coronavirus cases, according to public broadcaster NHK.

That compares with close to 7,000 in Tokyo, where cases are on the rise again among its 14 million residents.

Misa Matsuda, a 48-year-old nurse, accustomed to the annual floods in the region, had also intended to remain at home. But she was stunned early Monday when she opened her door and found the river flowing just a few feet from her house.

“I thought, there’s no way the water would come up here to our house, where it’s a bit of a hill,” she said.

Extreme weather disasters have become increasingly common in Japan recently. Last year, Typhoon Hagibis killed nearly 100 people, a year after more than 200 died in western Japan in the worst flooding in decades.

Matsuda said she wasn’t too concerned about coronavirus because basic steps were being taken, but did worry residents would congregate to chat, creating just the sort of crowded conditions authorities say increase infection risk.

City official Takanobu Ono said the evacuation centre was limited to 300 people despite a capacity for 500. But he said the priority for evacuees was escaping with their lives.

“Some of have just been saved by the skin of their teeth,” he said. “The reality is that coronavirus is less of a concern for them … So we’re taking the measures we have to, but haven’t been so strict about it.”

About 60 people have died or were feared dead from floods and landslides triggered by torrential rains that have pounded the southwestern island of Kyushu, including Kumamoto prefecture, since Saturday. Extreme rain warnings were issued for parts of central Japan on Wednesday.

Disaster experts said persuading people to evacuate early and find alternative shelters was vital, but agreed that convincing people to plan ahead was often tough.

“We kept saying, ‘Check your hazard map,’” said Masako Yoneda of the Japan Academic Network for Disaster Reduction, which issued an urgent warning on the topic in May. “But still, there are people who don’t check.”

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