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Monday, Sep 21, 2020

UN chief calls for global ceasefire amid infection fears; Corona beer maker halts production

Antonio Guterres warns pandemic could hit people in conflict zones especially hard. Two Mexican brewers, including the producers of Corona beer, have said they are reducing production

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday renewed his call for a global ceasefire, urging all parties engaged in conflict to lay down arms and allow war-torn nations to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“The worst is yet to come,” Guterres said, referring to countries beset with fighting like Syria, Libya and Yemen.
“The COVID-19 storm is now coming to all these theatres of conflict.”

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday reported 239,279 cases of coronavirus worldwide, an increase of 26,135 cases from its previous count, and said the number of deaths had risen by 930 to 5,443.


UN warning

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there had been some progress following his March 23 call for peace, but that fighting still rages in a number of countries, hampering the ability to put into place plans to combat the virus.

“The need is urgent,” Guterres said at a UN press conference.

“The virus has shown how swiftly it can move across borders, devastate countries and upend lives.”

He said that parties involved in conflict in a number of countries, including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, have expressed support for his call.

“But there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds – between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people,” Guterres said.

“In many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting – and some conflicts have even intensified.”


Germany figures give ‘hope’

Latest figures which show the spread of the coronavirus slowing in Germany give “hope”, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, but warned it was still too early to relax curbs on public life.

“It’s true that the latest figures, as high as they are, give us a little bit of hope,” said Merkel in her weekly podcast, adding that it was however “definitely much too early … to think about loosening the strict rules we have given ourselves”.


New York public defenders unable to reach inmates

Lawyers representing inmates in New York federal jails said on Friday they had been largely cut off from their clients since in-person visits were halted last month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The majority of requests for a telephone consultation result in no response at all,” the Federal Defenders of New York wrote in a letter filed in Brooklyn federal court.

The group also said jail officials had not followed through on promises last month to set up regular videoconferences.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn and the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in Manhattan halted in-person lawyer visits on March 13 because of the pandemic.


Corona beer producer halts brewing

Two Mexican brewers, including the producers of Corona beer, have said they are reducing production because of the health emergency in the country over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Grupo Modelo – whose brands include Pacifico and Modelo as well as Corona – said the measure was in line with the Mexican government’s order to suspend all non-essential activities until April 30 to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“We are in the process of lowering production at our plants to the bare minimum,” the company said in a statement on Thursday, adding it would complete the suspension in the following days.

Dutch-Mexican brewer Heineken Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma – which makes the Tecate and Dos Equis brands – likewise said on Friday it was “executing a plan to reduce our operations … safeguarding care for the environment and with the sole objective of avoiding irreversible effects that could make it impossible to reactivate our economic activity”.

Mexico’s government has said that only key sectors such as agribusiness will be able to continue to function under current restrictions.


Italy and Russia spar over alleged virus spies

Italy was engaged in a war of words with Russia on Friday over allegations Moscow hid spies among doctors it had sent to the country’s coronavirus epicentre near Milan.

The unusual exchange between the traditionally friendly nations followed the publication of an Italian newspaper story about the purportedly nefarious nature of the Russian mission.

The Russians came last week to help disinfect hospitals and care homes in a northern Italian region that has recorded over half of the country’s 14,681 official Covid-19 deaths.

It was a chance for Russian President Vladimir Putin to exert “soft power” at a moment of dire weakness for the West.

But Italy’s La Stamp newspaper said on Thursday that the 104-strong contingent of doctors and experts almost certainly included officers from Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.

“Without a doubt, there are GRU officers among them,” former Nato chemical weapons expert Hamish De Bretton-Gordon told the paper.


France reports record 588 more deaths

France on Friday reported 588 more coronavirus deaths in hospital, its biggest 24-hour toll in the country since the epidemic began.

The new deaths brought to 5,091 the total number of people who have died in hospital of Covid-19 in France, top health official Jerome Salomon told reporters.

There is no daily toll for those who have died of Covid-19 in old people’s homes in France. But Salomon said that a total of 1,416 people had died in such establishments from Covid-19 during the epidemic. This brings the total French toll to at least 6,507.

France has been in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic, with only essential trips allowed outside that have to be justified with a signed piece of paper.

In a glimmer of hope, Salomon said that 1,186 more people had been hospitalised suffering from the coronavirus with 263 more entering intensive care, the lowest such increases for over a week.

He said that there were a total of 64,338 confirmed cases in France, an increase of 5,233 on the day earlier. But this does not include all cases as testing is not universal.


World’s largest jazz festival cancelled

This year’s Montreal Jazz Festival, the world’s largest, and other popular summer jamborees in Canada’s francophone metropolis were cancelled Friday due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers announced.

It had been scheduled to start on June 25.

“This decision, which was made with our private partners and the government, was not an easy one, but it had become necessary in order to protect the public, the artists and our employees,” the Jazz Festival’s general manager Jacques Primeau said in a statement.

The Francos de Montreal music festival, which is put on by the same group and was scheduled for June 12, was also cancelled, he said.

The pair of summer festivals attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to Canada’s second-largest city.


Trump, Macron plan UN Security Council talks

US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Friday urged top-level UN talks on the coronavirus crisis, with France pushing for a focus on war zones around the world.

The two leaders spoke by phone and “discussed convening P5 leaders soon to increase UN cooperation on defeating the pandemic and ensuring international peace and security,” the White House press office said.

The P5, or permanent five members of the UN Security Council, are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Macron’s office said that this would be “an important signal” in the face of a global pandemic that poses a particular threat in areas of armed conflict.

However, the P5 countries have been at odds over recent weeks when it comes to issues surrounding the virus.

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