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Lebanon records first virus death

BEIRUT: Sanitary workers disinfect the entrance of the Lebanese Parliament in central Beirut yesterday amid the spread of coronavirus in the country. – AFP

BEIRUT: A Lebanese man died yesterday from the novel coronavirus, a health ministry official said, marking the country’s first recorded death from an epidemic that has infected 41 people nationwide. The 56-year-old had been receiving treatment at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri state hospital, the ministry official said, adding that he had recently returned from Egypt, where coronavirus infections have also been detected.

Lebanon, already hit by economic collapse and anti-government protests, is now grappling with an outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 virus-its latest in a long list of crises. Health Minister Hamad Hassan said last week that the country has moved beyond the phase of “containment” and was bracing for a more serious outbreak. Schools, universities, cafes, pubs and other public places have since been ordered shut over fears of the virus. Sport tournaments have been postponed and cultural events cancelled. According to the health minister, the origins of Lebanon’s cases have mostly been traced to other countries.

Lebanon has said it would deny entry to non-resident foreigners arriving from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, which are among the hardest hit by the epidemic. But domestic concern is still high amid fears that Lebanon is not equipped to face a mass outbreak. With a grinding liquidity crunch and dwindling foreign reserves, Lebanon has struggled to secure the dollars needed for medical imports even before coronavirus arrived. Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced on Saturday that the country would suspend payment on Eurobonds.

Death recorded in Canada
Also, Canada has recorded its first death from the new coronavirus, health officials in the westernmost province of British Columbia announced Monday. The victim, a man living at an elderly care facility, “was infected with COVID-19 (and) passed away last night,” the province’s health officer Bonnie Henry told reporters.

Officials have not released the victim’s age. Henry said he had been a resident of the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. Two other residents and two caregivers had also tested positive for the disease. The facility is designed to house around 200 elderly people. Canada has recorded more than 70 confirmed coronavirus infections, nearly all of which are in British Columbia or Ontario, the most populated province.

The Quebec government confirmed two new cases Monday, including one person who was exposed to the virus during a trip to France. The person is currently in self-quarantine at home. Montreal MP Anthony Housefather told CTV he had also self-quarantined after learning that an attendee at a conference he went to in Washington had tested positive for the virus. Housefather added that he felt fine. The virus has killed more than 4,000 people and infected over 110,000 worldwide since it emerged late last year.

German coronavirus deaths
In another development, Germany confirmed its first two deaths from the coronavirus yesterday as its overall number of new infections rose by 20% to 1,139, the latest signs that the epidemic is spreading rapidly in Europe’s largest economy. Germany’s tally, far short of Italy’s 7,300, included a cluster of 322 in one municipality. Officials in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia said an 89-year-old woman had died in the town of Essen and that a 78-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions had died in the badly affected region of Heinsberg.

The patient in Essen had tested positive with coronavirus on March 3 after being taken to hospital in already critical condition, local authorities said. The patient in the Heinsberg district, in Germany’s rural far west had been admitted on Friday with pre-existing heart problems and diabetes, said Stephan Pusch, administrative head of the district. “This shows again that older people and people with pre-existing health problems are particularly at risk,” he said.

No large events
To limit the spread of the virus, the regional government in the also badly affected southern state of Bavaria decided to ban all events with more than 1,000 participants, the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper reported. The decision followed a plea by German Health Minister Jens Spahn to call such large events off nationwide, along with a promise to discuss mitigating the economic consequences of that decision.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition agreed to make it easier for companies to claim subsidies to support workers on reduced working hours until the end of the year. That would make it possible for firms to cut the hours and wages they offered their workers, with the government making up nearly two-thirds of the shortfall, preventing layoffs that might otherwise become necessary. Several German companies have been badly hit, including the carmaker Daimler and the airline group Lufthansa, which has cancelled half its flights over the coming months.

Merkel said on Monday she expected Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to present further measures this week to help companies bridge liquidity problems due to the coronavirus. Scholz told the RND media group on Monday that, if the epidemic pushed the economy into a severe crisis, the government would do “everything necessary” to stabilize it. Officials estimate that Berlin could put together a stimulus package worth up to 50 billion euros ($57.30 billion), without ditching the government’s policy of not increasing debt. – Agencies

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