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Death toll rises to 24 from Delhi riots during Trump trip

Riot death toll climbs

At least 24 people were killed and 189 injured in three days of clashes in New Delhi that coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump's first state visit to India, with the death toll expected to rise as hospitals continue to take in the wounded, authorities said Wednesday.

Shops, Muslim shrines and public vehicles were left smouldering from violence between Hindu mobs and Muslims protesting a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam.

Twenty-four deaths were reported at two hospitals in New Delhi, officials said.

The clashes were the worst communal riots in the Indian capital in decades. The law's passage in December earlier spurred massive protests across India that left 23 dead, many of them killed by police.

The dead in this week's violence included a policeman and an intelligence bureau officer, and the government has banned public assembly in the affected areas.

Police spokesman M.S. Randhawa said 106 people were arrested for alleged involvement in the rioting.

Officials reported no new violence Wednesday as large police reinforcements patrolled the areas, where an uneasy calm prevailed.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval toured the northeastern neighbourhoods of Delhi where the rioting occurred, seeking to assure fear-stricken residents including a female student who complained that police had not protected them from mobs who vandalized the area and set shops and vehicles on fire.

While clashes wracked parts of the capital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a lavish reception for Trump, including a rally in his home state of Gujarat attended by more than 100,000 people and the signing of an agreement to purchase more than $3 billion of American military hardware.

On Wednesday, Modi broke his silence on the violence, tweeting that “peace and harmony are central to (India's) ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times."

New Delhi's top elected official, Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal, called for Modi's home minister, Amit Shah, to send the army to ensure peace.

Police characterized the situation as tense but under control. Schools remained closed.

Sonia Gandhi, a leader of the Congress party, India's main opposition group, called for Shah to resign. She accused Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of creating an environment of hatred and its leaders of inciting violence with provocative speeches that sought to paint Muslim protesters against the citizenship law as anti-nationalists funded by Pakistan.

New Delhi's High Court ordered the police to review videos of hate speeches allegedly made by three leaders of Modi's party and decide whether to prosecute them, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The clashes escalated Tuesday, according to Rouf Khan, a resident of Mustafabad, an area in the capital's northeast.

Khan said mobs with iron rods, bricks and bamboo sticks attacked the homes of Muslims while chanting "Jai Shri Ram," or “Victory to Lord Ram,” the popular Hindu god of the religious epic “Ramayana.”

As Air Force One flew Trump and his delegation out of New Delhi late Tuesday, Muslim families huddled in a mosque in the city's northeast, praying that Hindu mobs wouldn't burn it down.



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An increasingly isolated Iran tries to control virus crisis

Iran increasingly isolated

Iran girded Wednesday for a long battle against the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly across the country and the wider Middle East, even though officials in the Islamic Republic had earlier minimized the outbreak that has now killed 19 people, the highest toll outside of China.

President Hassan Rouhani said there were no immediate plans to quarantine cities, but he acknowledged it may take “one, two or three weeks” to get control of the virus in Iran, which has been linked to most of the over 210 confirmed cases in the region.

As Iran's 80 million people find themselves increasingly isolated in the region by the outbreak, the country's sanctions-battered economy saw its currency slump to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in a year.

Rouhani sought to portray the virus crisis in terms of Iran's tense relationship with the U.S., which under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with world powers and sent its economy into freefall.

“We must not let the United States attach a new virus to the coronavirus by stopping our social activities through tremendous fear. This is a conspiracy we see today and you see in foreign propaganda,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting, according to a transcript on the presidency's website.

“They are also suffering from coronavirus. Influenza has killed 16,000 people in the United States, but they are not speaking about themselves. Americans better take care of thousands of flu casualties in their own country,” he said.

The comments by Rouhani came as Iran appeared to be slowly coming to grips with the scope of the crisis.

In Tehran overnight, mass transit workers disinfected buses and the capital's subway system, removing overhead handles to try to limit surfaces where the virus could rest. Traffic again appeared lighter on Tehran's normally gridlocked roads amid a winter rain. Signs warned Iranians not to touch surfaces in crowded areas.

In Qom, the Shiite holy city south of Tehran that government statistics say has been hit hardest by the virus, photos published by the judiciary's Mizan news agency showed doctors wearing high-end face masks.

The masks are difficult to find in Iran, as is alcohol-based hand sanitizer and other materials, because Iranian law typically prohibits the import of items that can be made locally. Those rules have been loosened in the crisis.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 19 people have died from the illness, which is named COVID-19, with 139 confirmed cases in the country. The World Health Organization says the virus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing over 2,700 deaths, mainly in China.

The first two cases of the virus were reported Wednesday by the government of neighbouring Pakistan, with one of the infected patients having travelled to Iran with his family.

Experts are concerned that Iran may be underreporting cases and deaths, given its rapid spread from Iran across the Persian Gulf. Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a hard-line lawmaker. has alleged there have been 50 deaths in Qom alone, which the government denies.

Figures released Wednesday still showed no cases confirmed in the Iranian city of Mashhad, even though a number of cases reported in Kuwait are linked to there.

“We must be optimistic, because pessimism causes us to attract this disease," said Afsaneh Azarloo, a Tehran resident. "We should be optimistic and hope that nothing bad will happen to us.”



Brazil confirms first coronavirus case in Latin America

Virus reaches Latin America

Brazil's government confirmed on Wednesday that a 61-year-old Brazilian man who travelled to Italy this month has Latin America's first confirmed case of the new coronavirus spreading worldwide.

“We will now see how this virus behaves in a tropical country in the middle of summer, how its behaviour pattern will be,” Brazil's Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said in a press conference.

The Brazilian man spent two weeks in northern Italy's Lombardy region on a work trip, where he contracted the contagious virus, the Health Ministry said.

Authorities had already said Tuesday evening that a first laboratory test for the COVID-19 virus had a positive result, and were waiting for a second test to confirm it.

Since the virus began to spread throughout the world from China, Brazil and other countries in the region have registered dozens of suspected cases, all of which previously had been discarded following tests.

According to the Health Ministry, the man began to show symptoms compatible with the illness, such as a dry cough, throat pain and flu symptoms. Lombardy is the epicenter of the outbreak in Italy, and there have been hundreds of confirmed cases there as well as several deaths.

Sao Paulo's Albert Einstein Institute, where the man received medical attention, carried out respiratory tests, and the Adolfo Lutz Institute in the same city carried out the subsequent test confirming the virus The man was in stable condition and in isolation at home in Sao Paulo.

Brazil's national health agency Anvisa has been working to map all contact the man had with others, and on Tuesday requested the manifest of the flight he took to investigate other possible cases.

The Health Ministry said that the man received some 30 family members at his home after returning to Sao Paulo on Feb. 21. Those people are under observation, as are with passengers from the plane.

“Our healthcare system has already undergone grave respiratory epidemics before,” Mandetta said. “We will get through this situation, investing in science, research and clear information.”

Residents of the biggest city in Latin America were beginning to acknowledging the risks of an epidemic Thiago Alves, the manager of drugstore in central Sao Paulo, said he had sold more than 3,000 masks on Wednesday.

“We are already short and it isn't even the beginning of the afternoon,” he said.





Italy seeks to calm fears in Europe as cases, deaths rise

Italy seeks to calm fears

Italy sought international support for its virus containment efforts Wednesday even as its caseload reached 374, people linked to Italy got sick elsewhere in Europe and the world, and the U.N.'s health agency urged a scaled-up response.

Premier Giuseppe Conte's government appealed to European neighbours for co-operation, not isolation and discrimination. Italy has been struggling to contain the rapidly spreading outbreak that has given the country more coronavirus cases outside Asia than anywhere else.

“Viruses don’t know borders and they don’t stop at them,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza insisted at the start of a crisis meeting with World Health Organization and European Union representatives in Rome.

Twelve people infected with the virus have died in Italy since Friday, all of them elderly, having other health conditions or both, civil protection chief Angelo Borelli said.

The Italian government has been defending its handling of the crisis, even as it acknowledges alarm over its increasing cases and inability to locate the origin of the outbreak clustered in northern Italy.

Germany and France also reported two cases apiece in people with no known ties to Italy, travel to China or contact with an infected person, raising concern about additional clusters with no known origin possibly forming in Europe.

Latin America reported its first case, in a Brazilian man who recently visited Italy's Lombardy region, the epicenter of Italy's outbreak. Algeria reported Tuesday night that an Italian man who travelled to the north African country this month as its first case.

In Europe, Greece registered its first confirmed virus case in a woman who had recently travelled to Italy’s afflicted north, after Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases Tuesday from people who had also recently visited the region.

Spain has reported nine new cases since Monday, all with an Italy link and two of France's five new cases had ties to Italy. Local authorities in Austria took quarantine measures after two unconfirmed cases had an Italy link, only to remove them when tests came back negative.

Overnight, Italy registered 52 more cases, bringing its total to 374. Hard-hit Lombardy, where 10 towns are on army-manned lockdown, still had the most cases with 258 — four of them children. But Veneto saw a spike of 28 new cases overnight, bringing its total to 71.

In France, a 60-year-old Frenchman died in a Paris hospital, France’s second virus-related death. His case worried French authorities, because he was one of two new patients who tested positive for the virus in France this week who had not travelled to a "risk zone," according authorities in his home region north of Paris.

A German man with the virus was in critical condition and his wife also tested positive, but German officials to date have not been able to trace the origin of their contagion. Officials expressed fear of infections spreading since the wife works in a kindergarten and the man had been to Carnival parties.

The man had come into contact with dozens of people, including doctors and nurses at a Cologne hospital where he had gone for an unrelated health checkup, German officials said. Schools and kindergartens in the area where he became ill remained shut.

The Italian national health system has been overwhelmed with distribution problems slowing the delivery of masks and protective gear for medical personnel in the hard-hit areas. In addition, officials are battling to contain panic among Italians who are stocking up on bottled water, long-life milk and other non-perishable food that have left some supermarket shelves empty.

Italy is in some ways a victim of its own scrupulousness, with virologists noting that it is registering so many cases because it’s actively looking for them.

Borelli noted that Italy had tested 9,462 people already — more than 95% of whom have tested negative. Of those who are positive, two-thirds are being treated at home without requiring hospitalization.

WHO Europe chief Dr. Hans Kluge complimented Italy for its management of the emergency, but said it needed to “scale up” its response. He also noted shortcomings, particularly in outfitting medical personnel with necessary masks and protective gear.

Doctors and nurses are "the front-line heroes" of the response, Kluge said at a news conference with the Italian health minister at his side.

“We need to train them and provide them with the necessary protective equipment," he said.

He said it was important to avoid creating panic and keeping the measures proportional to the risk.

Borelli, the civil protection chief, acknowledged the mask supply problems Wednesday. He said the government had met with producers to centralize the distribution system to make sure the gear gets to the provinces where they were needed.

Rome authorities reported some good news on an otherwise bleak day: Both Chinese tourists from Wuhan who have been treated at the Spallanzani infectious disease hospital have now tested negative after more than two weeks of anti-viral treatment.

But alarm, caution and panic spread in Italy and beyond.

At a high school in Vienna, students were kept inside to be tested for the virus after a teacher who recently returned from a trip to Italy started showing symptoms of the virus, Austrian media reported. But the test came back negative.

Elsewhere, authorities in Austria placed an apartment complex in the southern town of Bad Kleinkirchheim under quarantine after a 56-year-old woman from Italy died overnight. That test, too, came back negative and the quarantine was lifted.

In Croatia, where a second case was confirmed in the twin brother of a young man who contracted the virus in Milan, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic warned against panic shopping.

“Panic should stop," Plenkovic said. “Don’t go shopping in such a way that others cannot buy groceries.”

Syracuse University was sending home 342 students on its study abroad program in Florence, and Ireland’s Six Nations rugby match against Italy in Dublin on March 7 was postponed.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the country is preparing for the possibility of an increase in cases.

“The appearance of the coronavirus in Italy has certainly created a new situation in Europe, the virus has come a lot closer,” Seibert told reporters. “This means a new challenge for all states in Europe, including for Germany.”



Biden claims momentum as Sanders marches past debate fray

Sanders marches past fray

Eyeing a South Carolina victory to rescue his presidential ambitions, Joe Biden claimed one of the state's most coveted endorsements on Wednesday as Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders marched past the blistering assault from his rivals on the debate stage the night before.

And Pete Buttigieg, a leading critic of both Biden and Sanders, cancelled multiple events on the day saying he was sick.

The developments came just three days before South Carolina's presidential primary election — and six days before Super Tuesday — with the Democratic establishment growing increasingly concerned that Sanders, a polarizing progressive, is tightening his grip on his party's presidential nomination.

Biden is staking his candidacy on a win in South Carolina on Saturday that would deny Sanders a third consecutive clear victory. He got a boost Wednesday after earning the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking black member of Congress and a South Carolina political kingmaker.

"I want the public to know that I’m voting for Joe Biden. South Carolina should be voting for Joe Biden," Clyburn said, later adding “I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us.”

Speaking afterward, Biden predicted victory and slapped at Sanders. "Today, people are talking about a revolution," Biden said. “But what the country’s looking for are results.”

The night before, Biden and his Democratic rivals unleashed a roaring assault against Sanders during a contentious debate that tested the strength of the undisputed front-runner in the party’s presidential nomination fight.

Sanders faced the brunt of the attacks for much of the night, and for one of the few times, fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren was among the critics. The Massachusetts senator pressed the case that she could execute ideas that the Vermont senator could only talk about.

“Bernie and I agree on a lot of things,” she said. “But I think I would make a better president than Bernie."

A group of moderates, meanwhile, fought to emerge as the chief Sanders alternative.

Biden argued that only he has the experience to lead in the world. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar repeatedly contended that she alone could win the votes of battleground state moderates. And Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, pointed to Sanders' self-described democratic socialism and his recent comments expressing admiration for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's push for education.

“I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s," Buttigieg declared.

But the moderates did little to draw separation among themselves, a dynamic that has so far only benefited the Vermont senator. Sanders fought back throughout the night, pointing to polls that showed him beating the Republican president and noting all the recent attention he's gotten: “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why.”

Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver argued afterward that the debate didn't knock Sanders off his front-runner perch.

"They threw everything they could at Bernie Sanders. None of it stuck," Weaver said, adding that some candidates showed “an air of desperation.”

Trump, who returned to Washington early Wednesday after a two-day trip to India, responded to a reporter's shouted question about whether he'd seen the debate: “I did,” he said while stepping into a car. “Not too good, not too good.”



Globe braces for long battle against virus as cases spread

Bracing for long virus battle

Scientists raced to find a treatment, crews scrubbed everything from money to buses, and quarantines were enforced Wednesday from a beachfront resort in the Atlantic to an uninhabited island in the Pacific as the world fought the spread of a new virus.

Worries over the ever-expanding economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis multiplied, with factories idled, trade routes frozen and tourism crippled, while a growing list of countries braced for the illness to claim new territory. Even the Olympics, five months away, wasn't far enough off to keep people from wondering if it would go on as planned.

“We don’t expect a miracle in the short term,” said Kianoush Jahanpour of the health ministry in Iran, where an official tally of infections of 139 was doubted by some who thought the problem was far bigger.

About 81,000 people around the globe were sickened by the coronavirus that kept finding new targets.

In Europe, where Germany, France and Spain were among the places with a growing caseload, an expanding cluster of more than 200 cases in northern Italy was eyed as a source for transmissions. In the Middle East, where cases increased in Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq, blame was directed toward Iran. In Asia, where the crisis originated late last year in China, threats continued to emerge around the region, with South Korea battling a mass outbreak centred in the 2.5 million-person city of Daegu.

Though the virus pushed into countries both rich and poor, its arrival in places with little ability to detect, respond and contain it brought concern it could run rampant there and spread easily elsewhere.

“We’re going to be trying to slow down the spread so that our hospitals are not overwhelmed in one big gulp, one big hit,” said Ian Mackay, who studies viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia.

In South Korea, workers sanitized public buses, while in China, banks disinfected banknotes using ultraviolet rays. In Germany, authorities stressed “sneezing etiquette,” while in the United States, doctors announced a clinical trial of a possible coronavirus treatment.

Around the world, as Christians marked the start of the holy season of Lent with Ash Wednesday, worshipers found churches closed and rituals changed by virus fears. Even in St. Peter’s Square, many of those gathered for Pope Francis’ weekly audience wore face masks and clergy appeared to refrain from embracing the pontiff or kissing his ring.

Services in Singapore were broadcast online to keep people from crowded sanctuaries where germs could spread, bishops in South Korea shuttered churches for what they said was the first time in the Catholic Church’s 236-year history there, and in Malaysia and the Philippines, ashes were sprinkled on the heads of those marking the start of Lent instead of using a damp thumb to trace a cross of ashes.

“We would like to be cautious so that the coronavirus will not spread,” said the Rev. Victorino Cueto, rector of the National Shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila in the Philippines.

Major gatherings were eyed warily, with organizers scrambling to respond in the face of the epidemic. Looming largest of all are the Olympic games, whose opening ceremonies are scheduled for July 24 in Tokyo. A member of the International Olympic Committee, Richard Pound, sounded alarms a day earlier, saying the virus could force a cancellation of the games. The Japanese government, in turn, gave mixed signals, insisting they would go forward yet urging that sports events now be curtailed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for major sports and cultural events in the coming two weeks to be cancelled or postponed to stem further infections. Meanwhile, the top government spokesman said Olympics preparations would proceed and the games would go on as planned.

The South Korean military announced additional infections among its troops, with 20 cases on its bases and some 9,570 people in isolation. The U.S. military, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, confirmed the first infection of an American soldier, a 23-year-old man based at Camp Carroll near Daegu, a day after Americans said a military spouse also had contracted the illness. Bowling alleys, movie theatres and a golf course on four American bases in the country were closed.

Italy recorded 52 new infections on Wednesday and Greece became the newest country to see a case of the virus. South Korea announced 284 new cases, largely in Daegu, bringing its total to 1,261. China, still the epicenter of the crisis even as new outposts caught the world’s attention, reported 406 new cases and 52 more deaths. The country has a total of 78,604 cases of the virus and 2,715 fatalities.

China said Wednesday that those sickened by the virus included 555 prisoners who officials said likely became infected by guards using the same bus station as a nearby pulmonary hospital. In a twist, China is now heavily regulating arrivals from abroad, with authorities placing South Koreans under monitoring, state broadcaster CCTV reported, after five people on a flight showed signs of fever.

Indonesia said it evacuated 188 crew members from the World Dream cruise ship and planned to take them to remote Sebaru Island. The workers were released from quarantine in Hong Kong after finding no infections, but authorities mandated an additional observation period.

And on the opposite side of the world, the MSC Meraviglia was denied permission to land in Grand Cayman, where it was due to arrive Wednesday, following a decision by Jamaica to refuse it entry. The cruise line expressed frustration with the moves, which came after it reported one crew member from the Philippines was sick with common seasonal flu.



South Korean virus cases jump again, 1st US soldier infected

First US soldier infected

The number of new virus infections in South Korea jumped again Wednesday and the U.S. military reported its first case among its soldiers based in the Asian country, with his case and many others connected to a southeastern city with an illness cluster.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 134 of the 169 new cases were confirmed in Daegu, where the government has been mobilizing public health tools to contain the virus. Another 19 cases were in neighbouring North Gyeongsang province towns.

A U.S. military statement said the 23-year-old soldier was in self-quarantine at his off-base residence. He had been based in Camp Carroll in a town near Daegu, and visited both Carroll and nearby Camp Walker in recent days, according to the statement.

South Korean authorities and U.S. military health professionals were tracing his contacts to determine if other people may have been exposed.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea. United States Forces Korea previously said a widowed dependent had the virus, the first case involving a USFK-related individual. South Korea’s 600,000-member military has reported 18 cases and placed thousands of soldiers in quarantine as a precaution.

Col. Edward Ballanco, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, said two bowling alleys at Camp Walker and Camp Carroll and a golf course at Camp Walker were closed after the soldier's case was confirmed. All restaurants at the bases, and also Camp Henry and Camp George in Daegu, could now provide only takeout meals with soldiers and family members prohibited from dining there, he said.

South Korea now has 1,146 confirmed infections of the virus and 11 fatalities from the COVID-19 illness it causes. The national government has been channeling medical personnel, protective suits and other supplies to Daegu, and there are concerns the local hospitals are being overwhelmed and fatigued doctors are becoming vulnerable to infections.

“This week will be critical in the fight to combat the (COVI-19) illness,” Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said at meeting in Daegu City Hall to discuss quarantine efforts.

The number of cases were expected to rise as health workers finish testing hundreds of members of the Daegu branch of a church that has the country's biggest cluster of infections. The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which mainstream Christian organizations describe as a cult, agreed to hand over a list of 200,000 members nationwide so screenings could widen.

China, by far, still has the most cases and deaths from the illness, though its numbers have slowed recently. Chinese officials Wednesday reported another 406 cases and 52 additional deaths, all of them in hard-hit Hubei province and all but 10 in the epicenter of the city of Wuhan.

China has recorded 2,715 deaths from COVID-19 and 78,064 confirmed cases of the virus on the mainland since the illness emerged in December.

China has put Wuhan and nearby cities under virtual quarantine for weeks, halting nearly all movement except for disease prevention, health care and supplying necessities. It has sent thousands of personnel to build and staff virus-dedicated hospitals in the epicenter region. In the capital Beijing and throughout the country, public events were cancelled and factories, offices and schools closed.

Chinese banks have been ordered to disinfect old banknotes before reissuing them to the public. State broadcaster CCTV showed staff of a state-owned bank in Shanghai putting old banknotes under ultraviolet disinfection and putting them into a vault. The bank told CCTV money removed from high-risk sites such as hospitals and markets would not be returned to circulation. Other banknotes will be disinfected and sealed for at least 7 days before being recirculated, the bank said.

While the response efforts to the disease have long focused on China and its neighbours, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier called for Americans to be prepared for the illness to spread there.

New outbreaks occurring in far-flung places were raising concerns about containing the illness and what will happen when it reaches new places.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen — and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. CDC told reporters Tuesday.

Uncertainly remained over how best to stem the spread of the illness. Italy had taken Europe’s most stringent preventative measures and yet became home to the biggest outbreak outside Asia. Experts in Japan acknowledged the mishandling of a virus-stricken cruise ship could have allowed the problem to magnify.

Several Middle Eastern countries reported jumps in new cases tied to travel from Iran, which has the highest in the Middle East with 95 cases and 15 deaths. Kuwait's KUNA news agency said 11 cases have been confirmed there as of Wednesday. Bahrain had 17.

Japan's case total of 860, third highest behind China and South Korea, includes 691 from the Diamond Princess. Four former passengers on the ship have died and more than a dozen people who were evacuated by their home countries later tested positive for the virus. Six government officials involved in the quarantine effort also became sick.

Overnight, 445 Filipinos who were mostly crewmembers on the ship flew home to begin a 14-day quarantine. Eighty Filipino crew members who tested positive for the virus stayed behind in hospitals in Japan.



'A world of hurt': 39 states to investigate Juul's marketing

39 states to investigate Juul

A coalition of 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday.

Attorneys general from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas said they will lead the multi-state investigation into San Francisco-based Juul, which also is facing lawsuits by teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company's vaping products.

The state officials said they also will investigate the company's claims about the risk, safety and effectiveness of its vaping products as smoking cessation devices.

“I will not prejudge where this investigation will lead," Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement, “but we will follow every fact and are prepared to take strong action in conjunction with states across the nation to protect public health.”

Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavours in response to concerns by government officials and others.

“We will continue to reset the vapour category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working co-operatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes," the statement said.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said underage vaping has become an epidemic across the country.

“I cannot sit on the sidelines while this public health epidemic grows, and our next generation becomes addicted to nicotine,” Moody said.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford added, "Preying on children and those looking for help to quit smoking is the one of the most despicable examples of risking people's lives for corporate profit."

The scope of the investigation by dozens of states leaves Juul with little choice but to change its marketing practices, said James Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine.

“When you see these kinds of numbers, it means they’re in a world of hurt,” said Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “They can’t seriously litigate this.”

The brainchild of two Stanford University design students, Juul launched in 2015 and quickly rocketed to the top of the multibillion-dollar vaping market.

The company initially sold its high-nicotine pods in fruit and dessert flavours, including mango, mint and creme. The products have become a scourge in U.S. high schools, with one in four teenagers reportedly vaping in the past month, according to the latest federal figures. Juul is the most popular brand, preferred by 60% of high schoolers.

Juul’s meteoric rise has been followed by a hasty retreat in recent months amid a nationwide political backlash over vaping.

Although Juul remains the dominant player in the U.S. vaping market, the company has made several concessions, including halting its advertising and pulling all its flavours except menthol and tobacco from the market.



Italy sees virus cases spike 45% in one day; 11 now dead

Italy virus cases up 45%

Italy reported a 45% one-day increase in people infected with the coronavirus as other countries in Europe recorded their first cases Tuesday, producing evidence that travellers are carrying the virus from the European outbreak's current epicenter.

Italian officials reported 11 deaths and 322 confirmed cases of the virus, 100 more than a day earlier. While the majority were concentrated in northern Italy, some of the new cases registered outside the country's two hard-hit regions, including three in Sicily, two in Tuscany and one in Liguria.

An Italian couple from the afflicted north tested positive in the Canary Islands off Africa, forcing the quarantine of their hotel in what one guest said felt like being “monkeys in a cage.” Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, all in people who recently travelled to Italy.

The four new deaths in Italy,like the seven reported earlier, were in patients who were elderly, suffering from other ailments or both, officials said.

Amid increasing cases and distribution problems with protective gear and test kits,Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte defended the measures Italy has taken to contain the outbreak and predicted a stabilizing of numbers soon. But he acknowledged that the rise in cases — the most outside Asia — was “worrisome."

“Obviously I can't say I'm not worried because I don't want anyone to think we're underestimating this emergency," he said before a meeting with a visiting World Health Organization mission. “But we trust that with the measures we've implemented there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theatres in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo'Euganeo.

But Italy hasn't yet identified the source of the outbreak. Angelo Borrelli, the head of the Italian civil protection department, said the increase in cases from 222 to 322, representing a 45% increase, came from people who tested positive for the virus in a 24-hour period from Monday evening to Tuesday evening.

The southern island of Sicily reported its first three positive cases from a woman vacationing from Bergamo, in Lombardy and two others travelling with her. Two cases were also reported in Tuscany, south out of the epicenter.

Spain counted three active cases: a woman in Barcelona who had been in Lombardy in recent days, and a doctor from northern Italy and his partner who were vacationing in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.

The hotel where the couple was staying, the H10 Adeje Palace was locked down after they tested positive for the virus, and 1,000 tourists were prevented from leaving the hotel grounds, though they were allowed to circulate outside their rooms and use the hotel facilities.

“We feel a little bit like monkeys in a cage here as there are media representatives present near the hotel and police officers guarding the area are wearing masks,” Harriet Strandvik, the mother in a family of four at the hotel, told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat.

Hotel guests were informed of the quarantine via a flyer slipped under their doors late Monday: “Kind guests, we inform you that the hotel is closed for health reasons.''

Italians Paolo and Laura Martinelli waited in their room Tuesday for a medical team to take their temperatures. “There’s a beautiful view of the sea which we are watching right now. We don’t feel like recluses,’’ Martelli, 89, told The Associated Press by telephone.

The Canary Islands, an archipelago west of the African coast, is a popular vacation destination that attracts Europeans year-round.



Drugmaker Mallinckrodt reaches $1.6-billion opioid settlement

$1.6B opioid settlement

The generic drugmaker Mallinckrodt has a tentative $1.6 billion deal to settle lawsuits over its role in the U.S. opioid crisis, it announced Tuesday.

The deal is intended to end hundreds of lawsuits faced by the company over opioids.

The company said that it had an agreement with a key committee of lawyers representing thousands of local governments suing various drug industry players over opioids — and that the deal has the support of the attorneys general of 47 states and territories.

The company, based in Staines-Upon-Thames, England, was one of the highest-volume opioid producers in the U.S. at the height of the nation's prescription drug crisis, shipping 2.3 billion pills from 2006 to 2014, according to federal data.

In 2010 alone, Mallinckrodt's SpecGX subsidiary, shipped 210 million doses of oxycodone to Florida, then the epicenter of the black market opioid trade. The company's potent 30 milligram pills were especially sought after by people with addiction.

Documents gathered as the company prepared for trial showed that a Mallinckrodt sales manager told a distributor in 2009 of the pills: "Just like Doritos; keep eating, we'll make more." A company spokesman later called the statement “outrageously callous.”

The company argued in court filings that unlike makers of brand-name drugs, it did not promote opioids to doctors or understate the addiction risks. But plaintiffs in the cases said Mallinckrodt continued to ship suspicious orders without making sure the drugs weren't going to be diverted to the black market.

Under its agreement, Mallinckrodt is filing for bankruptcy. The plan calls for it to make payments for eight years after the company emerges from the protections. That route is similar to one OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is taking to settle opioid claims against it.

For Mallinckrodt, there are business concerns, beyond the potential liability in opioid cases, that contributed to its seeking bankruptcy protection.

“Reaching this agreement in principle for a global opioid resolution and the associated debt refinancing activities announced today are important steps toward resolving the uncertainties in our business,” Mark Trudeau, president and CEO of the company, said in a statement.

Joe Rice, a lawyer on the executive committee of plaintiffs suing in federal court over opioids, said in an interview Tuesday that some details of the Mallinckrodt agreement still remain to be ironed out.

Most of the money contributed by Mallinckrodt would go to a trust to pay for addiction treatment and other costs related to an opioid crisis that has been linked to more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000. Additionally, the trust would be able to buy Mallinckrodt stock at a fixed price; it could be sold to help the cause.



Michael Jordan's poignant Kobe Bryant tribute: A piece of me died

Poignant tribute to Kobe

Michael Jordan says he didn't see Kobe Bryant as his rival for the mythical honour of being recognized as the best basketball player ever.

Instead, he came to love Bryant as the little brother he never had, and as a student eager to learn from Jordan's experiences and skills.

“He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be,” Jordan said Monday at Bryant's public memorial service at Staples Center. “And as I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.”

Jordan broke into tears with those words during a moving speech about his largely unpublicized friendship with Bryant, who died along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash Jan. 26.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said. “And as I look (around) this arena and across the globe, a piece of you died, or else you wouldn’t be here. Those are the memories that we have to live with and we learn from. I promise you from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please rest in peace, little brother.”

The heartfelt comments from Jordan, the relatively media-shy billionaire owner of the Charlotte Hornets, were a poignant highlight of the two-hour ceremony. Jordan also provided a memorable image from the event when he stepped up to help Vanessa Bryant off the stage after she delivered her eulogy of her husband and daughter.

“Kobe never left anything on the court, and I think that’s what he would want for us to do,” Jordan said. “No one knows how much time we have. That’s why we must live in the moment. We must enjoy the moment. We must reach and see and spend as much time as we can with our families and friends and the people that we absolutely love.”



Mubarak, Egypt's autocrat ousted by protests, dies at 91

Hosni Mubarak dead at 91

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader who was the autocratic face of stability in the Middle East for nearly 30 years before being forced from power in an Arab Spring uprising, died Tuesday, state-run TV announced. He was 91.

Mubarak was a stalwart U.S. ally, a bulwark against Islamic militancy and guardian of Egypt's peace with Israel. But to the hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians who rallied for 18 days of unprecedented street protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere in 2011, Mubarak was a latter-day pharaoh and a symbol of autocratic misrule.

His overthrow, however, plunged the country into years of chaos and uncertainty, and set up a power struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood group that he had long outlawed. Some two and a half years after Mubarak's ouster, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi led the military overthrow of Egypt's first freely elected president and rolled back freedoms gained in the 2011 uprising.

State TV said Mubarak died at a Cairo hospital where he had undergone an unspecified surgery. The report said he had health complications but offered no other details. One of his sons, Alaa, announced over the weekend that the former president was in an intensive care after undergoing surgery.

El-Sissi offered condolences and praised Mubarak's service during the 1973 war with Israel but made no mention of Mubarak's almost three-decade rule as president of the most populous Arab state. He announced three days of national mourning beginning Wednesday.

“The Presidency mourns with great sorrow the former President of the Republic, Mr. Mohammed Hosni Mubarak," he said in a statement. It referred to Mubarak as "one of the leaders and heroes of the glorious October war, as he assumed command of the Air Force during the war that restored dignity and pride to the Arab nation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “deep sorrow” over Mubarak’s death. “President Mubarak, a personal friend of mine, was a leader who guided his people to peace and security, to peace with Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Mubarak “spent his life serving his homeland and the issues of righteousness and justice in the world, with the issue of our Palestinian people at the top of them.”

The United Arab Emirates also mourned the former president and extended condolences to el-Sissi and Mubarak’s family, the official WAM news agency reported. It said UAE flags would be lowered for one day of mourning.



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