From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE NORTH 2020 APRIL-JUNE"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D. or return to King Of The North in 2020 January-March
KING OF THE NORTH 2020 APRIL-JUNE

WTO REGION 6 IN 1995 CENTRAL ASIA - RUSSIA, ARMENIA, GEORGIA, AZERBIJIAN, CUBA
  • Today Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north.    The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

WTO REGION 5 IN 1995 WESTERN ASIA/EASTERN EUROPE – BALKAN STATES, POLAND, ROMANIA, HUNGARY, BULGARIA, CZECHO-SLOVAKIA, YUGOSLAVIA, ALBANIA, ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA.
  • Today Western Asia is 23 countries as a subregion: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Yemen.
  • Today Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent.    There is no consensus on the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations.    It is projected to be *Cyprus, *Czech Republic, *Estonia, *Hungary, *Latvia, *Lithuania, *Malta, *Poland, *Slovakia, Slovenia, *Bulgaria, *Romania and *Croatia.
        The above countries with an * in front of them are part of the European Union in todays world.
    • The Balkan peninsula or the region includes: (Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia) with Greece and Turkey excluded.
    • Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Moldova are part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) set up to help ex-communist states harmonise their economic and legal systems with EU demands.
    • On 2/6/2019 Macedonia the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic became the 30th member of a formal signing of the NATO accession protocol and expects Macedonia – now known officially as North Macedonia to formally join the alliance in 2020.    Three other ex-Yugoslav republics – Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro – have already joined NATO, as have other countries in the Balkan region including Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.


    So as 2019 has passed do we know who the "King of the North" is?
    "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.    The king will do as he pleases.    He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.    He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place." (Daniel 11:35,36).
    The king of the north mentioned in verses Daniel 11:36-45 is the same King from the North (also known as the stern-faced king or the horn power) that was introduced in Daniel 8.    Notice how this point is demonstrated.
    Verse 35 points to the appointed time of the end, and verse 36 describes a king who will be successful until the time of wrath is completed.
Rev. 17:11 The Eighth Head: The Seventh Head (revived Roman Empire) will grow an Eighth Head in verse 11 (Some claim this to be "The scarlet animal that is to be destroyed).
    Rev. 17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth (‘Ogdoos’ eighth is connected to ‘Okta’ eight; here the vision shows that the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head or an outgrowth which will be destroyed; “the eighth” king, his “wound being healed,” Rev. 13:3, Antichrist manifested in the fullest and most intense opposition to God.    He is “the little horn” with eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, and to whom the whole ten “give their power and strength,” in Rev. 12:13, 17.), and is of the seven (originally came from the seven heads; The eighth is not one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God opposed features of the previous seven.    For this reason there are not eight heads, but only seven, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven.),
and goeth into perdition (‘Apoleia’ indicating loss of well-being, not of being, is used of the Beast, the final head of the revived Roman Empire; In the birth-pangs which prepare the “regeneration” there are wars, earthquakes, and disturbances, at which Antichrist takes his rise, from the sea, Rev. 13:1; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:9-11.).
(Paraphrased: “The scarlet animal that died is the eighth king, having reigned before as one of the seven; after his second reign, he too, will go to his doom.”).
    [No one can really narrow down who or what this new entity came from, but the following is food for thought.    I ran across a news article dated 6/9/2018 on my “KingOfTheWest2018.htm" file and I discovered the following statement, was made in it and was titled "Russia joined the G-7 in the late 1990s almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, making the group the G-8."    And as it is seen above in prophecy the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head, which was Russia, the eighth as one of the seven.    So as it says above "in his second reign," which was in 2018, "he too, will go to his doom.]
    Most likely this king is the Russian president Vladimir Putin because of his continued push to be in the scene and his interfacing into other areas.
    He is still in search of new nuclear missile with unlimited range, immune to enemy intercept, capable of penetrating any missile defense and can reach virtually any target around the world, “No defense systems will be able to withstand it nicknamed RS-28 Sarmat rocket — “Satan 2,” to wipe out an area the size of Texas or France.
    Putin has deployed a new hypersonic nuclear missile is highly maneuverable, allowing it to easily evade missile defense systems an Avangard missile developed by Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation, and the new Space Force was the new system for deterence forcing China to get in on this.
    Russia deployed the S-350 Vityaz a new generation short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile complex and Pantsir-S and S-400 complexes to Crimea, and Arctic region, the Baltic Sea, and easternmost Khabarovsk region, and their a new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729 (called SSC-8 by NATO), and the Vityaz (Knight) is a short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile system.
    Kiselyov, close to the Kremlin, said the “Tsirkon” (‘Zircon’) hypersonic missile that Russia is developing could hit the targets in less than five minutes if launched from Russian submarines.    Hypersonic flight is generally taken to mean traveling through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound.    “For now, we’re not threatening anyone, but if such a deployment takes place, our response will be instant,” he said.    Kiselyov is one of the main conduits of state television’s strongly anti-American tone, once saying Moscow could turn the United States into radioactive ash.    Speed of sound 767 mph; 667 kilometre in 2.9 sec or a mile in 4.7 sec, therefore the missile 5 times can do it in 0.94 seconds and 1000 miles in 17 minutes.
    During 2019 I could see that several Eastern Europe countries wanted to join the other EU countries to change the policies of the Progressive Socialist parties who have pushed their valaues on all of the European Union's 28 nations for economic growth, security, family values, christian roots and forced Islamic Shria Law issues.
    Do you think that the nations newspapers in Russia put out fake news on Putin, which I assume they do not since they would be shut down that day.    The reason I said this is for the U.S. NY Times and Washington Post that if you keep pushing the Progressive Socialists Liberal Democrat views as you are doing you might find yourself being shut down for what you say in your paper like many of the countries in the world if that future occurs.    What concerns me the most is that is what you want.
    Russia also intends to propose holding a three-way summit on Syria in Russia with Iran and Turkey.    Keep in mind that Syria is a northern country bordered on Israel, and here we have Russia, Turkey and Iran making decisions of what will occur in Syria, and I see that the King of the North, King of the South, and possibly King of the East are setting up a future of biblical proportions, and the King of the West may be out of this picture as God wanted it to be to snare them when the time comes.
    Russia knows what is going on as the OPEC/USA is keeping oil prices down which is putting pressure on Iran, especially now that sanctions are in full effect.    Putin also began pumping alot of oil since he remembered when Reagan lowered the price of a barrel as low as $20, and they could not buy enough wheat to feed them and that forced Russia to tear down the Berlin wall.    Oil was at $55 a barrel in 2019, so more oil pumped is $25 a barrel profit which he knew what Trump was doing to Iran.
    The U.S. was under the Progressive Socialist Liberal Democrats from 2009 to 2018 as Obama and his Czars slowly behind closed doors implemented their changes to the U.S.A. and controlled the press in such away that we did not know what they were doing until the public caught on in 2014 and elected the Republicans to control the House and the Senate, and in 2016 the Deplorables elected a Republican president Donald J. Trump who is turning it around and being attacked constantly.
    Ukranians have been in the corruption of Oligarchs for so long they cannot tell who is who to believe and do not forget that Hillary, Obama and Joe Biden were part of that mess also and several presidents even used Paul Manafort for that issue to interfere in Ukraines politics.    A new Ukraine president Zelensky who was a comedian is taking over and trying to stop the corruption and the war with Russia over the Crimea, and is helping Trump against the corruption in his area.
    It was good to see that Hungary's Orban, and Poland's leaders have won some respect as those who stands by their beliefs and does not sell their souls to the liberal Geroge Soros prodigees and the EU leftist trying to control everyone.
    The Space Race is on again who can afford it and who will achieve it?
    The end of the year was filled with all the connection of Russia with Turkey, China, North Korea, Ukraine and Syria.     When Trump pulled our troops out of Syria and whether the prophecy below represents the beginning of the events happening in late October 2019 is still to be determined if Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests     Ezekiel 38:1 and 18 or Ezekiel 39:1-8 which states about the entwining of Russia the King of the North and the Mideast Nations and the King of the South into the prophecy above in the very near future as the King of the West has pulled out of this mess which I think Trump made the right call probably due to God's influence.
    The following image below is seen at http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterSix/Psalm83.htm so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    Well, lets see what happens in 2020.


2020 APRIL-JUNE

4/1/2020 In Belarus, some don’t wait for Lukashenko to start worrying about coronavirus by Andrei Makhovsky
People shop at the largest food market "Komarovski" amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
in Minsk, Belarus, March 31, 2020. Photo taken March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko may have called coronavirus a “psychosis” that can be fought with vodka, saunas and driving tractors, but some of his citizens are taking matters into their own hands to protect themselves.
    The eastern European country, which Lukashenko has run with an iron fist for a quarter of a century, has been unusual in taking few measures to stop the epidemic. It has staged soccer matches while other countries imposed lockdowns.
    But institutions such as the Stembridge private school in Minsk switched to distance learning last week, after most parents supported the idea.
    “We monitored the international situation and the overall picture looked like it would be more responsible to organize distance learning,” said teacher Evgeniya Gushchina.
    “If you have to choose between the risk to health and the risk of under-education, I choose health.”
    Other Belarusians are also limiting social interactions without an official quarantine.    Some cinemas, cafes and restaurants closed voluntarily.    Passenger numbers on the Minsk Metro have fallen by a quarter.
    “Today in Belarus, there is a paradoxical situation where society does many times more than the authorities do,” said Andrey Dmitriev, head of Tell the Truth, a group that calls for more openness from the authorities.
    “Society does not trust the state today.    A total lack of information will mobilize people to take personal action.”
    Other educational institutions are still open and several people taking children to a kindergarten in Minsk on Wednesday said they had no choice because they had to go to work.
    “We would need someone to stay with him, and not go to work.    But how can you do that on a working day?” said father Stepan.    “But there are no cases of infection in the kindergarten, so fingers crossed.”
    Lukashenko has downplayed the need for social distancing and boasted that he still plays ice hockey and embraces fellow players.    “It’s better to die standing than to live on your knees,” he said.
    His decision to allow football to continue was a boon to fans abroad who are starved of the sport. [nL8N2BM01H]
    Some local supporters say they don’t fear the virus.
    “No, we are not afraid as we are all soaked through with booze,” said Yevgeny, a fan at a recent match.
    The health ministry limits information about the coronavirus, publishing data only every few days without giving total numbers.
    The first coronavirus death was officially reported on Tuesday hours after media reported the news. [nR4N29W04O]
    “The authorities chose the Soviet tactic of silence. But it does not work with the current level of development of information technology.    It brings the opposite result,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
    Lukashenko plays down coronavirus because he is more worried about the potential hit to a struggling economy, Klaskovsky said.    “The less information from the authorities, the more rumors.”
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Kostin and Vasily Fedosenko; editing by Matthias Williams and Giles Elgood)

4/1/2020 Dutch coronavirus measures have lowered infection rate: health official
FILE PHOTO: Pubs and bars at the famous Leidseplein have closed their doors in response to a rapidly expanding
coronavirus outbreak, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Measures to limit the coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands appear to have halved the rate of infection but need to be continued to be really effective, the country’s top official for infectious diseases said on Wednesday.
    The rate of recorded infections in the Netherlands, where more than 1,000 people have died, has dropped considerably since the Dutch government closed all schools, restaurants and bars last month, the head of the Dutch Public Health Institute Jaap van Dissel said in a briefing to parliament.
    “The measures seem to work”, Van Dissel said.    “It is now crucially important to continue them.”
    The average number of people infected by someone carrying the coronavirus has dropped below 1 in the Netherlands since mid-march, Van Dissel said.
    “At that rate the infection will slowly diminish.    But it does not mean we can relax our measures, because then the rate of infections would go up again.”
    Despite the lower infection rate, the number of patients in intensive care units will continue to rise sharply in the coming weeks, Van Dissel said, possibly reaching a peak of around 2,400 at the end of the month.
    Dutch hospitals currently have around 1,600 intensive care beds available and aim to increase this number to 2,400 by Sunday.
    As of Monday, the number of deaths in the Netherlands resulting from the coronavirus epidemic stood at 1,039, while the number of confirmed infections had risen to 12,595.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Anthony Deutsch; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

4/1/2020 Moscow unveils coronavirus tracking app as national lockdown widens
A view shows the kindergarten which is closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Authorities in Moscow unveiled a smartphone app designed to keep tabs on people who have been ordered to stay at home because of the coronavirus and Russia on Wednesday expanded its lockdown to cover more of its sprawling territory.
    Russia’s official tally of coronavirus cases rose to 2,777 on Wednesday, a one-day increase of 440.    Twenty-four people have so far died, authorities say.
    Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, announced a partial lockdown on Sunday. Residents have been told they can only leave their home to buy food or medicine nearby, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog or empty their bins.
    A Moscow city official said that authorities had developed a smartphone app for residents who have contracted the virus to download that would allow them to be monitored.
    The app is still in testing, the official, Eduard Lysenko told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.
    Moscow is also preparing to roll out a city-wide QR-code system where each resident that registers online will be assigned a unique code that they can show to police officers if stopped when going to the shop or the chemist, the official said.
    Eight southern Russian regions rolled out similar lockdown measures to Moscow on Wednesday, meaning that more than 60 of Russia’s more than 80 regions are now in a state of partial lockdown.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/1/2020 Czech Republic’s coronavirus infections top 3,000
A woman wearing a face mask sits on a swing as the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) continues in Prague, Czech Republic, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The tally of coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic has exceeded 3,000 as the central European country ramps up testing and keeps strict measures in place to curb the outbreak.
    The country of 10.7 million people has seen the highest number of cases among the European Union’s eastern wing but far fewer than in western neighbours like Germany and Austria.
    The growth rate of new cases has shown signs of slowing, however, and the government said on Monday it hoped to begin easing restrictions on daily life after the Easter holiday in April if the situation is under control.
    The Health Ministry reported the number of new cases rose by 184 on Monday to 3,001, a 6.5% increase, which is the second-lowest daily rise since the first infections were reported on March 1.    By early Tuesday morning the number of cases stood at 3,002.
    The Czech Republic has recorded 24 deaths and has 291 people in hospital, including 64 in intensive care.
    The number of daily tests was a record 5,313 on Monday, more than double the figure a week earlier, bringing the total number of tests to 48,811
.
    The government aims to increase the testing capacity to 10,000 per day and boost the tracking of contacts of infected people to improve the targeting of quarantine measures.
    The Czech government was one of the quickest in Europe to act when the virus started spreading throughout the continent.
    The Czechs have shut borders to international travel and anyone returning to the country is subject to mandatory home quarantine.
    The government also requires everyone to wear face masks in public and has banned gatherings of more than two people.
    It extended measures on Monday, keeping most shops and restaurants closed until April 11 along with restrictions limiting people’s movements to essential shopping, work or family matters.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Ed Osmond)

4/1/2020 Russian plane with coronavirus medical gear lands in U.S. after Trump-Putin call by Andrew Osborn, Polina Devitt and Steve Holland
A Russian military transport plane carrying medical equipment, masks and supplies lands at JFK International Airport during
the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Stefan Jeremiah
    MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia sent the United States medical equipment on Wednesday to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, a public relations coup for Russian President Vladimir Putin after he discussed the crisis with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Trump, struggling to fill shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment, accepted Putin’s offer in a phone call on Monday.    A Russian military transport plane left an airfield outside Moscow and arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport in late afternoon on Wednesday.
    Emergency aid to Washington was a striking development.    Usually, the United States donates supplies to embattled countries rather than accepting them.    The origin of the gift was bound to revive criticism from Democrats that Trump has been too cozy with the Russian leader.
    “Trump gratefully accepted this humanitarian aid,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by the Interfax news agency on Tuesday.    Trump himself spoke enthusiastically about the Russian help after his call with Putin.
    A U.S. official in Washington confirmed the shipment was a direct result of Trump’s phone conversation with Putin.    The official said it carried 60 tons of ventilators, masks, respirators and other items.
    The official said the equipment would be carefully examined to make sure it comports with the quality requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
    Russia’s Rossiya 24 channel on Wednesday morning showed the plane taking off from a military air base outside Moscow in darkness.    Its cargo hold was filled with cardboard boxes and other packages.
    Confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases have surged to more than 205,000, with 4,500 deaths.
    In Russia, the official tally of confirmed cases is 2,337, with 17 deaths, although some doctors there have questioned the accuracy of official data.
STRAIN IN RELATIONS
    Relations between Moscow and Washington have been strained in recent years by everything from Syria to Ukraine to U.S. election interference, something Russia denies.    Trump spent two years battling a federal investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.
    “Nothing to see here.    Just a Russian military aircraft landing at JFK with 60 tons of medical supplies to support America’s #COVID19 response.    A propaganda bonanza as our own government shrinks from America’s leadership role in a global crisis,” said Brett McGurk, a former American diplomat for Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
    Trump said on Tuesday he and Putin discussed the virus at length.    “Russia is being hit pretty hard,” he said.
    Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Moscow hoped the United States might also be able to provide medical help to Russia if necessary when the time came.
    “It is important to note that when offering assistance to U.S. colleagues, the president (Putin) assumes that when U.S. manufacturers of medical equipment and materials gain momentum, they will also be able to reciprocate if necessary,” Peskov was cited as saying.
    Peskov complained that some U.S. officials had made it needlessly difficult to expedite the aid.    He also was quoted as saying that Russia and China cooperated in a similar way because “at a time when the current situation affects everyone without exception … there is no alternative to working together in a spirit of partnership and mutual assistance.”
    Russia has also used its military to send planeloads of aid to Italy to combat the spread of the coronavirus, exposing the European Union’s failure to provide swift help to a member in crisis and handing Putin a publicity coup at home and abroad.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Polina Devitt in Moscow and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken, David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)
[I can already hear the Democrats and Liberals and Globalist ready to claim that Trump is in collusion with Russia again on CNN since they have nothing else to go on right now except blaiming him for the coronavirus pandemic on him.].

4/2/2020 Serbia to revoke coronavirus information control decree after criticism
FILE PHOTO: Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic attends the Munich Security Conference
in Minsk, Belarus October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s government will revoke a decree giving it control over information on the coronavirus outbreak, following protests and the detention of a journalist for reporting a major hospital lacked protective gear and properly trained staff.
    Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the decree, enforced on Saturday, would be revoked on Thursday “so not a shadow could be cast on our work.”
    The emergency measure, which said information about the coronavirus outbreak could only come from Brnabic or those authorized by her, had drawn criticism from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) watchdog and local media associations.
    On Wednesday, police detained Ana Lalic, a journalist with private news portal Nova.rs, after she reported that staff at the hospital in the northern city of Novi Sad lacked protective gear and proper training.
    Lalic was released on Thursday after questioning. The hospital, which denied the report, filed a lawsuit against her for defamation and upsetting the public.
    Many hospitals in Serbia lacked basic safety gear at the start of the outbreak.    The government has since bought equipment and aid has arrived from China and the European Union.
    Serbia, a candidate for EU membership, has reported 1,060 cases of coronavirus and 28 deaths.    Authorities have declared a state of emergency, closed borders and imposed a 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
    Serbia’s rights watchdogs and opposition parties have accused President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling coalition of stifling media freedoms, attacks on journalists and political opponents, corruption and ties with organized crime.
    Vucic and his allies, who face a national election this year, have denied the accusations.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by John Stonestreet)

4/3/2020 Spat over presidential election tests Poland’s ruling coalition by Marcin Goclowski and Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel//File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s government is at risk of splitting after a junior coalition party said presidential elections should not be held in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, rejecting the main Law and Justice (PiS) party’s line that they should go ahead.
    The lower house of parliament, the Sejm, is expected to vote on Friday on a law that would allow voting in the election to take place exclusively by post, with no physical voting booths.
    A PiS source told Reuters the vote could determine the future of the coalition if members including the Porozumienie (Accord) party oppose the proposed law.
    “We will vote against the proposal,” Porozumienie lawmaker and party spokeswoman Magdalena Sroka told Reuters.
    The PiS-led coalition holds 235 of the 460 seats in the lower house and would lose its majority if Porozumienie quit.
    Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of nationalist PiS and Poland’s de facto leader, reaffirmed on public radio on Friday the party’s position that the presidential election should take place as scheduled.
    Jaroslaw Gowin, who heads Porozumienie in parliament, said in an interview with Polska Times.pl daily that he did not want the election held next month but had not threatened to pull out of the government.
    “The decision about the date of the election has to take into account the epidemic.    There is no space for any political games.    This is a matter of life and death,” Gowin said.
    Opposition parties also want the poll postponed, saying restrictions imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus will prevent them campaigning and that holding the vote, even via post, is a health hazard.
    “All scenarios are possible at the moment,” said a lawmaker from another coalition partner, Solidarna Polska, adding that PiS may try to convince individual Porozumienie members to stay in the coalition if the party withdraws.
    There were 392 new coronavirus cases in Poland on Thursday, the highest daily increase so far, with another 203 reported on Friday, bringing the total to 3,149, according to the health ministry.    Nearly 60 people have died.
POLLING
    Support for President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally and the party’s candidate, has risen during the pandemic to 55%, according to IBRiS pollster.
    In February, he was neck-in-neck with opposition candidate Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska of the centrist Civic Platform (PO), with around 40% of second-round votes.
    “At a time of crisis, voters consolidate around the authorities, assuming the authorities are doing a good job fighting the threat.    And the current rulers are doing a good job,” Kaczynski said.
    PiS won a second term in October parliamentary elections on promises to raise living standards to match those of the West and hefty social handouts.
    Poland has clashed with the European Union on issues including immigration, climate change and the rule of law.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, Joanna Plucinska, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/3/2020 Coronavirus outbreak to delay Romania’s June election: PM
FILE PHOTO: Romania's Prime Minister Ludovic Orban listens during a panel discussion at
the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s centrist minority government will almost certainly postpone a June local election as the coronavirus outbreak ruled out the best conditions for such an exercise, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said late on Thursday.
    The European Union state, which has suffered 2,738 virus infections and 115 deaths, declared a state of emergency on March 16 and enforced a lockdown last week.
    It is due to hold a local election in late June and a parliamentary election in November.
    “Most opinions converge over a peak of the outbreak at some time between April 20 and May 1, with lower spreading risks after that,” Orban told private news television station Digi24.
    “It is almost certain that a local election can no longer be held on June 28.    After consulting the other parties, we will decide a date at which the election can be organised under the best conditions based on the outbreak’s development.”
    Also on Thursday, Health Minister Nelu Tataru said movement curbs could gradually be lifted from mid-May.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

4/3/2020 Russian ventilators sent to U.S. made by firm under U.S. sanctions: Russia newspaper by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: A Russian military transport plane carrying medical equipment, masks and supplies lands at JFK International Airport during
the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Stefan Jeremiah/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ventilators delivered by Russia to the United States for coronavirus patients were manufactured by a Russian company that is under U.S. sanctions, Russia’s RBC business daily reported on Friday.
    A Russian military plane carrying the ventilators along with other medical supplies including personal protective equipment landed in New York on Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone.
    Russian state television footage of the plane’s unloading showed boxes of “Aventa-M” ventilators, which are produced by the Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ) in the city of Chelyabinsk, 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Moscow, RBC reported.
    UPZ is part of a holding company called Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies (KRET), which itself is a unit of Russian state conglomerate Rostec.
    KRET has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014, with U.S. firms and nationals barred from doing business with it.
    The issue was further complicated by the question of whether it was the United States or Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF, which was added to U.S. sectoral sanctions in 2015, that paid for the ventilators.
    A senior administration official on Friday said sanctions did not apply to medical supplies.
    “The United States is purchasing the supplies and equipment outright, as with deliveries from other countries.    The Russian Direct Investment Fund is subject to certain debt and equity-related sectoral sanctions, which would not apply to transactions for the provision of medical equipment and supplies,” the official said.
    The United States began imposing economic sanctions on Russia in 2014 to punish it for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
    Additional rounds of sanctions have since been imposed on Moscow in response to its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and alleged involvement in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018. Moscow denies both allegations.
    On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said Washington agreed to purchase the medical supplies but made no mention of any company or sanctions.    The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it had nothing to add beyond that statement.
    The State Department on Friday did not have immediate comment on the sanctions question.
DEBATE OVER COST
    Trump on Thursday described the Russian shipment as containing “a lot of medical, high-quality stuff” which could save a lot of lives and said he’d “take it every day” if he had the opportunity.
    But debate over who picked up the tab persisted.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow had paid half the cost with the other half picked up by Washington, though the Trump administration official later said the United States had picked up the whole tab.
    On Friday a spokesperson from the RDIF said the fund stood by its earlier statement that it had paid for half of the bill.    The comments got another pushback from Washington.
    The Trump administration official insisted the United States paid the entire cost of the shipment and dismissed the Russian investment fund’s contention that the cost was split.
    Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressed surprise and disappointment that anyone was questioning what Moscow has cast as a sincere goodwill gesture meant to help the United States at a time of crisis.
    “Aren’t ventilators needed in the United States?,” she said, saying Russia could take them back if they were not wanted.
    Rostec, the state conglomerate which ultimately owns the Russian ventilator plant, told Reuters that its units were producing ventilators for the domestic market as part of the Russian government’s measures to fight the virus.
    The decision to ship its products internationally was the prerogative of the Russian president and government, it said.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Gleb Stolyarov, additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington,; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Angus MacSwan and Cynthia Osterman)

4/3/2020 ‘From Russia with love’ mission to Italy hit by press row by Crispian Balmer
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff in full protective gear carry a patient on a stretcher down a street in Naples,
as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Italy, April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca/File Photo
    ROME (Reuters) – Russian criticism of an Italian newspaper was “inappropriate,” Italy’s foreign and defence ministries said on Friday, in a case that has cast a cloud over Moscow’s efforts to help Rome cope with the coronavirus crisis.
    Russia has sent doctors, nurses and medical equipment to disease-stricken Italy in a goodwill operation that Moscow has dubbed “From Russia with love.”
    While the Italian government has warmly thanked Russia, La Stampa, one of the country’s oldest newspapers, has questioned the help.    In one article it quoted anonymous political sources as saying 80% of the equipment was of little or no use.
    It also suggested the activity could lead to a security breach because of the large number of military involved.
    The spokesman of Russia’s Defence Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, took to Facebook on Thursday to denounce the article, accusing La Stampa of besmirching a “noble mission,” whipping up anti-Russian sentiment and spreading fake news.     He added that the paper should learn a Roman proverb “He that diggeth a pit, shall fall into it.”
    The comment was widely denounced on Twitter by Italian journalists as a veiled threat on the life of the reporter who wrote the stories and an attack on press freedom.
    Wading into the row on Friday, Italy’s foreign and defence ministries issued a joint statement thanking Russia for its aid effort, but taking Konashenkov to task for his Facebook post.
SORRY AND SURPRISED
    “In being grateful for this concrete manifestation of support, one cannot, at the same time, not condemn (Konashenkov’s) inappropriate tone,” the statement said.
    “Freedom of expression and the right of criticism are fundamental values of our country, as is the right of reply,” it added.    “At this time of global emergency, the role of the free press to check and analyse remains more essential than ever.”
    There was no immediate comment from the Russian defence ministry in Moscow.
    La Stampa itself said it was “sorry and surprised” that its coverage of the Russian mission had upset Moscow, adding it hoped ties between the two nations would not be hurt by Konashenkov’s “blatant disrespect” for the right to report.
    Italy has registered almost 120,000 cases of coronavirus over the past six weeks and 14,681 deaths – more fatalities than any country in the world.    Russia has recorded 34 deaths to date and 4,149 infections.
    The statement by the Italian ministries said the Russians had sent 32 health workers to Bergamo – the hardest-hit city in the country where thousands have died of coronavirus.
    Russian planes have also flown in, amongst other things, 150 ventilators, 330,000 masks, 1,000 protective suits, an analysis laboratory and three sanitisation units, it added.
    “Our country, the object of such solidarity, can only be grateful,” the statement said.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow)

4/3/2020 Swiss coronavirus death toll rises to 484, cases jump by more than 1,000
FILE PHOTO: A health worker takes a test from a person in a car at a drive-in test center for tests on coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
next to the sign that reads: "Look ahead, don't turn head!", in Luzern, Switzerland March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss death toll from coronavirus has reached 484, the country’s public health ministry said on Friday, rising from 432 people on Thursday.
    The number of people who have tested positive for infections also increased to 19,303 from 18,267 on Thursday, it said.
(Reporting by John Revill)

4/3/2020 Ukraine tightens restrictions to fight coronavirus spread
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, wearing a protective mask used as a preventive measure against coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), delivers a speech during an emergency session of parliament in Kiev, Ukraine March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s government on Friday imposed a series of new restrictions designed to prevent the coronavirus outbreak spreading widely but said it hoped to soften the measures again in late April.
    Ukraine reported 138 new cases of the coronavirus over the past day, taking the total number of infected people to 942 with 23 deaths.
    “The coronavirus infection continues to spread in Ukraine.    The only way to break the chain of infection and save lives is to strengthen quarantine measures,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said in a televised statement.
    Last month, the government imposed an emergency regime across the country with the new measures from April 6 additionally prohibiting visits to parks and sports fields, banning gatherings of more than two people, and obliging everyone to wear masks and carry ID cards when outside their homes.
    Educational institutions, restaurants, cafes, entertainment and fitness centres remain closed, the government said.
    Regional authorities must establish border points with mandatory inspections of passing vehicles, and all arrivals must spend a mandatory 14-days in quarantine.
    But Shmygal said that the government could soften the restrictions later this month, starting with the resumption of public transport and allowing people to go to work.
    “This will allow us to restart the economy from the beginning of May,” Shmygal said.
    Earlier on Friday the government said it had sharply revised Ukraine’s economic outlook, expecting the economy to shrink by 4.8% in 2020 due to the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.
    It had forecast that the economy would grow by 3.7%.    The government also expects inflation will speed up to 11.6% from an earlier estimate of 5.5%.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

4/3/2020 Sweden’s liberal pandemic strategy questioned as Stockholm death toll mounts by Johan Ahlander and Philip O’Connor
FILE PHOTO: A sign assures people that the bar is open during the coronavirus outbreak,
outside a pub in Stockholm, Sweden March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Colm Fulton/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – A spike in novel coronavirus infections and deaths in Stockholm has raised questions about Sweden’s decision to fight the outbreak without resorting to the lockdowns that have left much of Europe at a standstill.
    Governments across Europe have closed schools and taken draconian measures to limit exposure to possible carriers with Germany for example enforcing bans on more than two people meeting in public.
    Among Sweden’s Nordic neighbours, Denmark has closed its borders and shut its schools, as has Norway, while Finland has isolated its main urban region.
    Yet Swedes are able to go to restaurants, get a haircut and send their children to school even as the number of confirmed cases and deaths have mounted, above all in Stockholm which accounts for more than half the fatalities.
    An analysis of smartphone location data showed that while visits to public places has fallen steeply in most European countries, Sweden is bucking the trend.
    But Sweden’s liberal approach, which aims to minimise disruption to social and economic life, is coming under fire as the epidemic spreads in the capital.
    “We don’t have a choice, we have to close Stockholm right now,” Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at the Karolinska Institute, told Reuters.
    She is one of around 2,300 academics who signed an open letter to the government at the end of last month calling for tougher measures to protect the healthcare system.
    “We must establish control over the situation, we cannot head in to a situation where we get complete chaos.    No one has tried this route, so why should we test it first in Sweden, without informed consent?” she said.
    Sweden reported 612 new cases on Friday, bringing the total to around 6,000.    The death toll has reached 333, with fatalities now running at about 25-30 a day, according to the Swedish Health Agency.br> A STORM IN STOCKHOLM
    There are growing signs the virus is spreading at elderly care homes, again mainly in the capital, where some staff at hospitals and nursing homes have publicly warned of a lack of protective equipment such as masks.
    Facing what a local official has called “a storm” of COVID-19 cases, Stockholm has opened a field hospital at a convention complex south of the city centre and called on anyone with medical training to help care for the sick.
    At a news conference this week centre-left Prime Minister Stefan Lofven fielded questions over whether the rising number of cases at Sweden’s nursing homes was evidence of a failing strategy.
    “I don’t think it is a sign of that.    This is what things look like around Europe,” he said.    “We have said all along that things will get worse before they get better.”
    Sweden has focused on isolating and treating the sick rather than closing down swathes of society.
    Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned, high schools and universities have moved teaching online and people have been told not to take unnecessary trips, all quite low-key measures in a European context.
    The public face of Sweden’s pandemic fight, Health Agency Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, only months ago a little known civil servant but now rivalling the prime minister for publicity, has questioned how effectively lockdowns can be enforced over time.
    “It is important to have a policy that can be sustained over a longer period, meaning staying home if you are sick, which is our message,” said Tegnell, who has received both threats and fan mail over the country’s handling of the crisis.
    “Locking people up at home won’t work in the longer term,” he said.    “Sooner or later people are going to go out anyway.”
(Additional reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Giles Elgood)

4/3/2020 Silver lining? Russia’s Cossacks don modified masks against coronavirus by Maria Vasilyeva
A cossack wears the SilverMask reusable face mask while patrolling the streets in Kaliningrad, Russia April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Cossacks and police officers enforcing the coronavirus lockdown in Russia’s western city of Kaliningrad have donned modified face masks that local scientists say can be worn for days without being replaced.
    The trick, they say, is to line the cheap cotton fabric of the masks with an ultra-thin coating of silver.
    The World Health Organization does not generally recommend that healthy members of the broader population use masks and the benefits of the use of silver against the coronavirus have not been tested and are therefore unproven.
    But Kaliningrad’s Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University believes the technique could give the masks additional protective properties, although – like single-use masks – they still would not guarantee full protection from the virus.
    “In my view we’re able to slightly increase the efficiency of this accessory – and it is an accessory, not a medical device – because we believe the active silver surface can kill some amount of the virus,” Aleksander Goyhman, the director of the university’s nano-materials centre, said.
    Russia, which has reported 4,149 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths, has imposed a partial lockdown on many of its regions, including Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave in Europe that borders Poland and Lithuania.
    Cossacks, a conservative Orthodox Christian people that help with some police functions in some of Russia’s regions, have joined officers in Kaliningrad patrolling to make sure people stay at home.
    “We were happy to learn the university would supply us with protection – and not just something simple but something made with modern technology,” said Dmitry Savchenko who is part of a Cossack street patrol.
    The university has already produced its first batch of the masks with the help of a local tailor shop, but they see looming challenges in expanding production – not least in finding enough cotton fabric and silver.
    “Its important for us that someone helps with the raw materials.    We’re not asking for money for anything else. We’re just trying to do something good for people,” said the university’s president, Alexander Fyodorov.
(Editing by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Heavens)

4/3/2020 Ukrainian designer equips doctors for battling coronavirus by Sergei Karazy
Ukrainian fashion designer Ivan Frolov speaks while demonstrating medical protective coveralls in his show room in Kiev, Ukraine April 1,
2020. Designer Frolov postponed his work on a new collection and dedicated all of his resources to sewing protective coveralls
for doctors, who keep providing medical services to patients affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19).REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian fashion designer Ivan Frolov has postponed work on his new collection and is making coveralls for doctors to meet a shortage of protective clothing during the coronavirus epidemic.
    Frolov, whose outfits are worn by Gwen Stefani and Mila Jovovich, said he could not stand aside when the number of coronavirus cases in Ukraine is growing every day.
    “We keep doing what we are good at. We are not doing anything extraordinary. Our production is under the quarantine regime, security measures are at the highest level,” Frolov, whose fashion creations are known for their provocation and sexuality, told Reuters.
    “The real heroes in these circumstances are our doctors, who without real protection have to gear up for an epidemic on a serious scale,” he added.
    Seamstresses are working long hours to produce the coveralls made of a special fabric, known as spunbond, that is used for workwear.
    The initiative is supported by volunteers from across Ukraine, who either donate money or buy accessories and fabric used to make the clothing.
    Frolov has made his patterns available online so anyone can download them and help with making the coveralls.
    Winner of numerous awards, Frolov also advocates social responsibility in the fashion industry.    In collaboration with a Ukrainian jewellery brand, he created a collection devoted to the fight against HIV, with proceeds used to buy HIV tests.
(Writing by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/3/2020 Dutch coronavirus deaths rise to 1,487: health authorities
FILE PHOTO: An ambulance van with a patient leaves Bernhoven hospital, as the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) continues, in Uden, Netherlands, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands announced a further 148 deaths linked to the coronavirus on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 1,487.
    It also confirmed 1,026 new coronavirus cases, taking the overall tally of infections to 15,723, according to the daily report from The National Institute for Health.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens)

4/3/2020 In Communist-run Cuba, the private sector helps the needy as coronavirus spreads by Sarah Marsh and Rodrigo Gutierrez
Bikers chat during a break as they deliver donated food to vulnerable people amid concerns about the spread
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Havana, Cuba April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Upmarket restaurants are delivering free meals to the elderly, while a fashion firm donates face masks.    A business consultancy calls on its clients to donate hygiene products and artisanal soap shops gift their wares to low income households.
    In Communist-run Cuba, the fledging private sector is rushing to set up solidarity initiatives for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak, demonstrating the state no longer has a monopoly on helping the neediest.
    Sometimes the two are even joining forces to combat the common invisible enemy.
    Saverio Grisell, the Italian co-owner of restaurant Bella Ciao, which usually teems with expats, tourists and affluent Cubans, says he discussed how he could help with the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).
    “The president of my CDR gave me a list of 29 elderly people and I decided to give them a meal for free every day,” he said.
    Cuba, which has so far confirmed 269 cases of the new virus, has one of the oldest populations in Latin America.    The virus appears to be particularly deadly for the elderly, who throughout are the world are seeking ways to stay safely at home rather than go outside and risk contagion.
    The CDR now helps Bella Ciao deliver its pizzas and pastas directly to the homes of the elderly.
    “It’s a small gesture of solidarity,” Grisell said, noting that it paled in comparison with the help Cuba sent to his home country of Italy last month in the form of medical staff.
    Cuba has also long provided subsidized food at eateries for the elderly nationwide, and is now dishing out free meals for those on low incomes.
    “It’s admirable,” said Ines Perez, 75, digging into a plate of donated Bella Ciao spaghetti.    “Let’s hope everyone comes onboard and cooperates in the same way to overcome this difficult moment.”
SOLIDARITY: A CUBAN VALUE AND GOOD POLITICS
    Private restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, beauty salons, gyms and shops have flourished in Cuba since former President Raul Castro started inching open the economy with market style reforms a decade ago.
    However, fears those reforms went too far and have fostered too much inequality have prompted a crackdown in recent years on the sector, which now employs around 600,000 people.
    As such, Cuban private businesses likely demonstrate more solidarity than elsewhere not just because it is a value embedded in the culture but also “because it is good politics to exhibit a ‘socialist’ or ‘cooperative’ orientation,” according to Cuba expert Ted Henken at Baruch College in New York.
    Whatever their motivation, the solidarity initiatives are going down well – state-run website Cubadebate even did an article on the Bella Ciao project – and show no sign of abating as the number of coronavirus cases slowly mounts.
    These days, for example, fashion brand Dador is putting its sewing machines to an altogether different task than their usual one of conjuring up limited edition garments for the runway and its Old Havana store.
    Now they are making face masks out of colorful and often patterned cloth.
    Co-founder Lauren Fajardo said they had already collaborated with one group that provides assistance to the elderly, donating 160 masks.
    “We’d like to focus on getting people masks who need them most,” she added.    “Elderly people for example, people in neighborhoods that are very crowded and those who don’t have the option to just stay home because they have to work or find food.”
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Rodrigo Gutierrez in Havana, Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta, Nelson Gonzalez; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Rosalba O’Brien)

4/4/2020 Russian church leader tours Moscow with holy icon to halt coronavirus
Patriarch Kirill, head of Russia's Orthodox Church, conducts a service at a cathedral after driving
the holy icon of the Virgin Mary around the city streets to pray for the end of the coronavirus (COVID-19)
outbreak in Moscow, Russia April 3, 2020. Patriarchal Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s influential Orthodox Church, drove a holy icon around the streets of Moscow in a procession of cars on Friday, as the country fights to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
    The icon of the Virgin Mary was driven 109 kilometres (68 miles) in a procession of sleak black cars shown on state television and was brought to a cathedral in Moscow for a service.
    Patriarch Kirill has said he would use the drive to pray for the end of the coronavirus outbreak and appealed to Russians to respect and follow restrictions introduced by the authorities to stem the contagion, Interfax news agency reported.
    Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, has been in lockdown since Monday and many regions across the country have since imposed similar measures.
    Russia has reported 4,149 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths.
    Some Orthodox priests have taken to helicopters or planes with icons, flying above some Russian regions while singing and praying in the hope of halting the virus.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/4/2020 Ukrainian doctors fly to Italy to help combat coronavirus by Sergiy Karazy
Ukrainian medical personnel board a plane, as they depart for Italy amid the coronavirus
(COVID-19) pandemic, at an airport in Kiev, Ukraine April 4, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine, which expects a sharp rise of coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, sent doctors to disease-hit Italy on Saturday to assist their Italian colleagues and to gain field experience.
    A team of 20 doctors, including surgeons, neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, will be deployed to the region of Marche in central Italy for two weeks, Italian ambassador to Ukraine, Davide La Cecilia told Reuters.
    “The national health service in our country is very stressed. So we badly need medical personnel and are very happy that Ukraine is sending this humanitarian aid,” said La Cecilia at Kiev’s airport, before the medical mission’s departure.
    Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who accompanied the ambassador, said Kiev would send more medical aid and disinfectant to Italy in the coming days.
    “It is an honour for us to help Italy during such tough times.    We know that many Ukrainians live and work in Italy.    By helping Italy, we are helping our citizens,” said Avakov.
    Ukraine’s health ministry has reported 1,096 cases, including 28 deaths since March 3, when the first case was recorded.    But as thousands of Ukrainians have recently returned home from abroad, the ministry expects a much bigger outbreak ahead.    The daily tally of new cases increased to 154 on Saturday from 138 on Friday, up from 62 last Monday.
    The head of the Ukrainian medical mission, neurosurgeon Andriy Miroshnichenko, said that all the team members volunteered to work in Italy.
    “After they come back home, they will be able to treat patients and work having practical experience and knowledge about the disease,” said Miroshnichenko.
    Asked whether the Ukrainian doctors were not afraid to catch the virus themselves Glib Bidyukov, a nurse, said it was “a consciously made choice.”
    “When you choose healthcare, you understand that you put yourself in some danger… Each of us made a choice a long time ago,” Bidyukov said.
(Writing by Natalia Zinets, Editing by Christina Fincher)

4/4/2020 Swiss coronavirus death toll rises to 540, confirmed cases top 20,000
The Notre Dame Cathedral is pictured before watchman Renato Haeusler announces the time, a tradition which dates back to 1405, by
yelling to the four points of the horizon the hour from 10 pm to 2 am, and rings the Clemence bell to signal an emergency because of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at in Lausanne, Switzerland, April 3, 2020. Picture taken April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Switzerland’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has reached 540, the country’s public health agency said on Saturday, rising from 484 on Friday.
    The number of people testing positive for infections also increased to 20,278 from 19,303 on Friday, it said.
    The Swiss government is expected to give an update on the situation at 1300 GMT.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Frances Kerry)

4/4/2020 Confirmed coronavirus deaths in Netherlands rise by 164 to 1,651
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks, as Schiphol Airport reduces its flights due to the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Amsterdam, Netherlands April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw - RC2CWF9UCNWR
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The confirmed death toll from the coronavirus in the Netherlands has risen by 164 to 1,651, health authorities said on Saturday.
    The National Institute for Health (RIVM) said the total number of infections had increased by 6% to 16,627 over the past 24 hours.
    The actual number of deaths and infections is higher than the official figure due to a lack of widespread testing for the coronavirus, the RIVM has said.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch)

4/4/2020 Polish president says postal voting possible for May election: media
FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel//File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Postal voting could allow Poland’s presidential elections to be held in May despite the coronavirus, President Andrzej Duda said in an interview published on Saturday, amid signs the governing coalition could split over the issue.
    The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party wants to hold elections on May 10 despite the pandemic, and has proposed legislation to introduce postal ballots to replace physical voting.
    A more liberal junior coalition partner, Accord, said it was unrealistic for the election to proceed and proposed a postponement of two years.
    “This solution (postal voting) was used a few days ago in Bavaria,” Duda told the Catholic daily newspaper Nasz Dziennik.
    “We can also introduce this idea here … Postal voting would be something new in Poland, but the situation is unusual.”     Asked when elections should take place if not on May 10, Duda said the vote should be held when it is safe to do so.
    In a sign of the party’s determination to implement postal voting, PiS on Friday replaced the head of the post office with Tomasz Zdzikot, who will leave his post as a Deputy Defense Minister.
    Polish daily Rzeczpospolita quoted a source with knowledge of the matter as saying PiS wanted a trusted official as head of the post office at such a critical time.
    Poland has imposed sweeping restrictions on public life to stop the spread of the virus, including closing schools, parks, forests and hotels and banning gatherings outside of more than two people, excluding families.
    As of Saturday, it had reported 3,503 cases of the coronavirus and 73 deaths.
    Duda criticized the European Commission in the interview for a lack of support over the pandemic.
    “As a country we have not received any extra financial help from Brussels,” he said.
    “You can’t see any great engagement from European institutions…concerning the activity of the European Commission, I must say it looks pretty poor,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Koper; Editing by Ros Russell)

4/4/2020 Hungary prepares $30 billion coronavirus package to jump-start economy by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives to attend the plenary session of the
Parliament ahead of a vote to grant the government special powers to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis
in Budapest, Hungary, March 30, 2020. MTI Zoltan Mathe/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary is preparing to announce a roughly $30 billion package of measures to help jump-start the economy, a top government official said on Saturday, as the coronavirus outbreak shutters factories and raises the specter of recession.
    Parliament, where the ruling Fidesz party has a strong majority, has granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule by decree to fight the coronavirus, ignoring calls by opponents and rights groups to put a timeframe on the extra powers.
    Orban, who has been in power for a decade, has flagged the biggest economic package of the country’s history to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic, which has already led to tens of thousands of job losses.
    The premier is expected to unveil the measures on Monday, after the government approves them, his chief of staff Gergely Gulyas told a news conference.    The National Bank of Hungary will announce steps after its policy-making Monetary Council meets on Tuesday.
    Gulyas said the total package would amount to 18-22% of Hungary’s GDP, equivalent to about $30 billion.    It was not immediately clear where the cash would be targeted, though some steps have already been taken.
    The government has imposed a blanket moratorium on all repayments on corporate and household loans this year, and the central bank has launched a series of steps to provide liquidity for banks.
    It has also created a $2 billion special fund to aid the fight against the novel coronavirus, which will include contributions from banks and foreign retailers.
    Domestic banks will be expected to pay 55 billion forints ($163 million) into the fund this year, with multinational retailers adding 36 billion forints.
    Another $4 billion fund was created to aid economic and employment efforts.
    Hungary’s economy grew by 4.9% last year but several analysts now expect a recession this year, as big carmakers have already announced temporary shutdowns lasting for weeks, and sectors including tourism have collapsed.
    Gulyas also said the central bank acted in a timely manner on Wednesday to stem what he called “a strong speculative attack” against the forint, which caused the currency to weaken to record low levels of 360-370 against the euro this week.
    The central bank offered banks a new one-week deposit facility at a rate of 0.9%, a measure that economic analysts called an implicit rate hike.    The move successfully reversed the forint’s rapid weakening and lifted interbank rates.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Pravin Char and Helen Popper)

4/5/2020 Coronavirus cases in Austria still rising but figures ‘hopeful’: minister
FILE PHOTO: Health Minister Rudolf Anschober addresses the media in Vienna, Austria, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus infections in Austria rose on Sunday to 11,897, but the Alpine country reported more newly recovered than newly diagnosed patients and a declining number of people in intensive care.
    On Sunday morning the number of new cases had risen by 270 since Saturday morning, while the number of recoveries rose by 491, according to the health ministry.    It said the daily rate of new COVID-19 infections has fallen significantly in recent days.
    “These are some hopeful figures, but now…we must remain consistent and not give up…Hence my appeal: No private Easter celebrations and Easter holidays,” said Health Minister Rudolf Anschober.
    Some 204 people have died of the global pandemic in Austria.
    Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has indicated he will present a rough road map on Monday regarding when, in which order and under what conditions the restrictions on public life that have been in place since March 16 could be eased.
    “If we all remain disciplined during Easter week, I am confident that we will be able to gradually and cautiously return to normality after Easter,” Kurz told the daily Kleine Zeitung in an interview published late on Saturday.
    Austria has closed nearly all shops, its schools, universities, theaters and museums and has urged people to work from home and only go out if necessary.    Starting Monday, the use of face masks in grocery stores will be obligatory.     Kurz has already said he wants masks to also be worn in public and to broaden testing for infections.    He has urged people to use a tracking app developed by the Red Cross that helps to trace people who had contact with infected persons.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/5/2020 Albania’s coronavirus cases surge for third day in row by Benet Koleka
A medical staff member, wearing a protective suit, checks a returning passenger, as Albanians who had been
stuck in the United Kingdom because of travel disruptions due to measures taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) arrive at Tirana International Airport, Albania April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania reported 28 new cases of the new coronavirus on Sunday and said a failure to respect social distancing had led to the highest numbers of infections over the last three days.
    The COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus has killed 20, infected 361 and caused three to need help breathing, the Public Health Institute said.    It added that 104 had recovered.
    Despite a lockdown monitored by police and the army and hefty fines, some Albanians have slipped through to buy food.    Two were caught having coffee and brandy outside. Mourners who attended a funeral in a northern town also spread the contagion.
    Since the first two cases on March 9, infections rose and fell until they reached 28, the most in a day, on March 26.    They fell up to half over the next week, only to rise to 27 on Friday, 29 on Saturday, the highest ever, and 28 on Sunday.
    One of the poorest countries in Europe, Albania was already hit hard by an earthquake last November that killed 51 people and left 17,000 homeless.    The government is enforcing a tough lockdown to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
    Before enforcing its third 40-hour lockdown on the weekend, the government reminded Albanians they should not be fooled by comparing their country’s figures with those of worst-hit countries because the worst had yet to pass.
    “This increase in the number of cases in Shkoder and Tirana once again shows the failure to apply social distancing and measures to control the infection that the Health Ministry keeps recommending daily,” said Albana Fico of the Health Institute.
    “It is equally important to respect infection prevention measures even with our cousins by avoiding visits for whatever reason,” she added.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/5/2020 Swiss coronavirus death toll rises by 19 to 559, cases top 21,000
A police officer approaches people to control social distancing in the Evaux park during the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, April 4, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Switzerland’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has risen by 19 to 559, the health ministry said on Sunday.
    The number of people testing positive increased to 21,100 from 20,278 on Saturday, it said.
    Switzerland has tested more than 158,000 people for COVID-19.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; editing by Jason Neely)

4/6/2020 Czechs report slowest daily rise in coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: A municipality worker wearing a protective face mask disinfects handrails along the Vltava river to curb
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Prague, Czech Republic, April 1, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic reported its slowest daily percentage rise in confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, as the country entered fourth week of restrictions on business and movement.
    The country had 4,591 cases as of Sunday midnight, up 2.6% from the previous day, the Health Ministry said on its website. This was the lowest percentage increase since early March when the country had a handful of known infections.
    This followed increases of 282 on Saturday, 332 on Friday and 269 on Thursday and was the lowest absolute daily increase since March 22.
    Czech data on new cases have been lower on weekends as some laboratories do not process tests.
    There were 4,710 tests done on Sunday, down from a record 6,889 on Friday but still up by nearly 2,000 from a week ago, when the daily number of detected infections was higher.
    The country of 10.7 million has done 85,014 tests so far and aims to ramp up the testing capacity beyond 10,000 per day.     There have been 72 deaths and 96 recoveries, and on Sunday 391 people were in hospital, including 84 in serious condition.
    The Health Ministry has been testing a “smart quarantine” plan since last week – a system aimed at finer tracking of the infection spread, which the government hopes will allow relaxing some of the restrictions on business and social interactions.
(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka; editing by Nick Macfie)

4/6/2020 With small businesses suffering, Putin faces criticism over shutdown by Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: A man crosses Red Square, after the city authorities announced a partial lockdown ordering residents to stay at home to
prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in central Moscow, Russia March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Left with no income because of the coronavirus lockdown, Dmitry Volodin, the co-owner of several bars in Moscow, says he’s getting inadequate government support, and he has no idea how he can keep paying his staff and his rent.
    President Vladimir Putin last week gave many Russians the rest of the month off, to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, but said employers must keep paying staff.    Many regions have gone into lockdown, ordering residents to stay home.
    “They say ‘pay the salaries’, but no one explains where you’re supposed to get the money from,” Volodin said.    “It will kill the (restaurant and bar) sector.    Many of them won’t survive.”
    Small and medium-sized businesses have voiced anger and warned of mass bankruptcies in petitions to the government, including one with more than 250,000 signatures, illustrating the headwinds Putin faces as he tries to counter the virus.
    Critics point to how other countries have offered to pay workers; Britain, for example, pays up to 80% of wages.    They also note Russia’s huge gold and forex reserves, around $550 billion.
    Putin’s approval rating remains high, but it fell last month from 69% to 63%, near where it stood before Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, an event which sent his ratings surging, according to the Levada Centre.
    Compounded by the collapse of oil prices, anger from businesses comes at a delicate moment for Putin.    He is pushing through constitutional reforms that would allow him to run for president again and, potentially, extend his rule until 2036.
    “This is a very serious political challenge for Putin,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Centre.
    “He has just lost that class, some of which supported him, some of which didn’t – the people in the private and competitive sectors.    These people are probably not going to support him anymore.”
‘TEARFUL’ OUTLOOK
    Putin on March 25 announced a nationwide week off for many and said small businesses would be allowed to pay less national insurance for staff and to defer tax payments and, in some cases, loan repayments for six months.    http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/63061
    “Of course, this won’t help us survive.    It will only be of help to those who survive.    A moratorium on rent is what we need and there isn’t one,” Volodin said.
    Putin then extended the holiday for the rest of April and said salaries must be paid.
    An online petition with more than a quarter of a million signatures reads: “The finance ministry is sitting on a pile of money, while business is going into bankruptcy and the population is becoming impoverished.”
    A joke doing the rounds online goes: “Putin walks into a bar and orders everyone a beer – on the house.”
    Asked about worried entrepreneurs on Friday, the Kremlin said the situation was unprecedented and changing rapidly, but that businesses should tap support measures such as tax holidays that had already been made available.
    “The government is of course monitoring the situation not so much every day as every hour, and depending on how it develops, a scenario of support measures will be built up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    On Monday, the government announced a 150 billion-rouble programme under which banks will offer interest-free loans to small businesses to pay salaries.
    But that has done little to calm people like Dariya Kaminskaya, the owner of a car repair shop where work has dried up.    She says she had already had to pay her seven employees out of her own pocket.
    “This is how revolutions were started in the past, beginning with the proletariat,” she said.    “The outlook is tearful.”
(Additional reporting by Maria Vasilyeva and Darya Korsunskaya; editing by Larry King)

4/6/2020 Denmark to ease restrictions next week after coronavirus lockdown
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen speaks during a news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, at her office in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 6, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS
- THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. DENMARK OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN DENMARK.
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark plans to reopen day care centres and schools for children in first to fifth grade on April 15 as a first step to gradually relax a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Monday.
    The Nordic country, which has reported 187 coronavirus-related deaths, was one of the first European nations to announce closure of schools, day cares, restaurants, cafes and gyms, and shut all borders to most foreigners.
    Frederiksen said last week she would lay out a plan for gradually lifting the lockdown after Easter, if the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths remain stable.
    “This will probably be a bit like walking the rope.    If we stand still along the way we could fall and if we go too fast it can go wrong.    Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time,” Frederiksen told a media briefing.
    Denmark is the second country in Europe to provide dates and detail on a gradual reopening of its coronavirus lockdown after Austria earlier on Monday said it was preparing for a “resurrection” the day after Easter by reopening some shops in an initial loosening of its restrictions.
    Frederiksen cautioned that the gradual reopening would only happen if the numbers stay stable and she urged all Danes to stick to the government’s guidelines on social distancing and hygiene.
    “If we open Denmark too quickly again we risk that infections rise too sharply and then we have to close down again,” Frederiksen said.
    All remaining restrictions including a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people would stay in place until at least May 10, while a ban on larger gatherings like music festivals would remain in place until August, she said.
    Denmark’s Roskilde Festival, one of the largest music and culture festivals in Europe, shortly after said it would cancel this year’s festival.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Grant McCool)

4/6/2020 Poland’s parliament rejects ruling party plan to vote on postal ballot proposal
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Polish Parliament building in Warsaw, November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers rejected a ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party proposal on Monday to hold a presidential election on May 10 by post, making it more uncertain whether the ballot will take place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
    PiS insists the election should be held despite the rising number of deaths caused by the virus.    But critics accuse it of sacrificing public health in a bid to support its ally, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, who is running first in the polls.     It has proposed replacing voting booths with postal ballots.
    Parliament said 228 lawmakers opposed including the plan in the legislative agenda, and 228 were in favour, while three abstained and one did not vote.    The tied result meant the PiS motion was rejected.
(Reporting by Warsaw bureau; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/6/2020 Swiss street artist pays tribute to unsung coronavirus heroes by Cecile Mantovani
Artist David "S.I.D." Perez paints a graffiti of a cashier to pay tribute to essential workers during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Gland, Switzerland, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GLAND, Switzerland (Reuters) – Street artist David Perez has found his own way to pay tribute in Switzerland to the people he regards as the unsung heroes of the coronavirus crisis.
    Perez, 35, has adorned a pedestrian underpass in the town of Gland with a portrait of a masked cashier scanning a bottle of soap and plans to add other figures, such as construction workers or dustmen, to the mural.
    “Today, I will especially pay tribute to cashiers.    They are on the frontline with nurses and others,” he told Reuters.
    He said his mural, adding color to a “sad-looking wall,” was “for our everyday superheroes.”
    Switzerland has recommended that its citizens stay indoors during the coronavirus which has killed more than 500 people and infected over 21,100 in the country, although it has stopped short of ordering a lockdown.
(Writing by Brian Homewood, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/6/2020 Slovak court sentences journalist’s killer to 23 years in prison by Tomas Mrva
FILE PHOTO: Miroslav Marcek walks inside the courtroom at a preliminary hearing as he and other defendants
appear on charges of ordering and carrying out the murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and
his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, in Pezinok, Slovakia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – A Slovak court on Monday sentenced former soldier Miroslav Marcek to 23 years in prison for shooting and killing investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova in February 2018.
    Marcek, 37, who was not present at the sentencing, had admitted guilt in the case, which led to nationwide protests and eventually brought down the Slovak government.
    “It was cold-blooded and malicious.    The victims did not have a chance to defend themselves,” presiding judge Ruzena Szabova of the Specialised Criminal Court said at the hearing in Pezinok, north of Bratislava.    “His confession was a mitigating circumstance.”
    Prosecutor Juraj Novocky, who asked for a 25-year sentence, appealed against the sentence.
    Kuciak had reported on corruption and the links of influential businessmen to political, judicial and police leaders.
    Businessman Marian Kocner, who was a target of Kuciak’s reporting and verbally threatened him in September 2017, is standing trial with two others in separate hearings on charges of paying for the murder.
    High-level corruption and the Kuciak case were central topics in campaigning ahead of the EU country’s national election in February.
    The centre-right Ordinary People (OLANO) led by Igor Matovic won a quarter of votes and formed a four-party coalition government, ousting the centre-left Smer, which ruled for 12 of the past 14 years, from power.
    The other defendants, whose trial is due to resume on April 15, include Marcek’s cousin Tomas Szabo and Alena Zsuzsova, charged with being an intermediary in the case.
    All three deny charges of murder but Kocner pleaded guilty to illegal ownership of ammunition found by the police in his house.
    A fifth suspect, Zoltan Andrusko, admitted to facilitating the murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December last year.
    Marcek also admitted to killing businessman Peter Molnar in 2016 as part of his confession in the Kuciak case.
(Reporting by Tomas Mrva; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Angus MacSwan)

4/6/2020 Austria eyes Easter ‘resurrection’, easing coronavirus lockdown at shops by Francois Murphy
Protective masks for a price of 15 Euros each are on display inside a vending machine in an underground station during
the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria is preparing for a “resurrection” the day after Easter by reopening some shops in an initial loosening of its coronavirus lockdown, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Monday, the first European country to outline such plans.
    The Alpine and largely Catholic nation was broadly shut down three weeks ago, with schools, bars, restaurants, theatres, non-essential shops and other gathering places closed.    The public has been told to stay at home and work from there if possible.
    The lockdown has helped reduce the daily increase in infections to 1.6%, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said.    The number of people in hospital has stabilised.    There have been 12,206 cases and 220 deaths so far in Austria.
    “We reacted faster and more restrictively than in other countries and could therefore avoid the worst.    But this fast and restrictive reaction now also gives us the possibility to come out of this crisis more quickly,” Kurz, a conservative who governs with the left-wing Greens, told a news conference.
    Denmark, the Czech Republic and Italy could outline similar plans soon, but Austria is the first European country to give dates and details.    Kurz cautioned, however, that his plan was tentative and depended on developments over the next seven days.
    “Easter week will be a decisive one for us. It is one that will determine whether the resurrection after Easter that we all hope for can happen as such,” he said.
    Kurz urged the public to stick to overall lockdown measures that which are being extended until the end of April.
GRADUAL REOPENING
    His plan is for non-essential shops of 400 square metres (4,300 square feet) or less and DIY shops to reopen on April 14, the day after Easter Monday.    They would be followed by all shops, shopping malls and hairdressers on May 1.
    However, only one shopper per 20 square metres of shop space will be allowed.
    For their part, restaurants and hotels will have to wait until mid-May at the earliest and no public events will be held until at least late June, Kurz said.
MASKS, NOT HERD IMMUNITY
    Austria has since Monday required shoppers to wear face masks at supermarkets and drugstores of more than 400 square metres. The government said it would extend that requirement to public transport and shops that are reopening.
    While the public has been generally supportive of the mask requirement, wrinkles have appeared, with some supermarkets running out of masks or charging shoppers for them.    Kurz said the government would check that masks are not sold for profit. A scarf or shawl can also be worn instead.
    The chancellor also gave a preview of a study on whether a representative sample of 2,000 people had been exposed to the coronavirus.
    “What we can say is that it is in the thousandths of a percent and an infection rate in Austria…will be around 1%,” Kurz said.    “Any idea of herd immunity has been clearly disproved at the latest by this spot check.”
    Worldwide, over 1.25 million people have been reported infected by the viral pandemic and 68,484 have died, according to the latest Reuters tally, with Italy, Austria’s southern neighbour, suffering the highest national toll.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/6/2020 Russian PM chides regional chiefs for overzealous coronavirus lockdowns
FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin attends a meeting in
Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s prime minister on Monday issued an unusual rebuke to regional governors for closing their borders after some regions, including Chechnya in the south, imposed tough restrictions against the coronavirus.
    Many regions including Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, have imposed partial lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus.    President Vladimir Putin last week said regions should consider further measures that made sense locally.
    The mainly Muslim region of Chechnya said last week it would close its borders with the rest of Russia from April 5 despite having reported only a dozen confirmed cases of coronavirus.
    The southern Astrakhan region also restricted entry to its territory, while other regions such as Murmansk in the far north restricted entry to individual areas, the Kommersant newspaper reported, although those moves received less public attention.
    Russia fought two brutal wars with separatists in Chechnya after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.    The region is now headed by Kremlin-backed governor Ramzan Kadyrov whom human rights defenders accuse of rights abuses that he denies.
    On Monday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, without naming the regions in question, said that “several regions (had) closed their administrative borders, obstructing the passage of people and transport onto their territory.”
    “The government’s signals about the unacceptability of this were heard,” he said.    “…I would like once again to address the leaders of the regions: do not confuse regional powers with federal (ones).”
    Responding on social media, Kadyrov said it was unclear if the comments had been directed at Chechnya, but that the region had not restricted the entry of transport or cargo.
    He added though that Chechnya would not allow in anyone not registered as living there for safety reasons.    “We’ve already had a bad experience.    They brought in the infection, tens have fallen ill, one woman has died.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/6/2020 Czechs to start easing restrictions as coronavirus infections slow
FILE PHOTO: A municipality worker in a protective suit sprays a disinfectant on an embankment along the Vltava river to
curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Prague, Czech Republic, April 1, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government agreed on Monday to relax some lockdown measures that have stifled the economy as growth of new coronavirus infections has been levelling off in recent days, officials said.
    The country was among the first in Europe to declare a state of emergency in March, imposing some of the strictest curbs on public life to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when the proven number of cases was still below 200.
    Data for the past few days have shown a single-digit percentage daily rise in new cases, to 4,735 on Monday.
    Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said that as of Thursday, the government would allow reopening of shops selling hobby goods and building materials, and also relax rules on open-air sports activities where people do not congregate, such as running and cycling. More shops may be opened after the Easter weekend.
    Strict hygiene rules will apply, such as distances between customers, disinfection requirements and health checks on staff, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said earlier on Monday.
    “We are clearly saying now that we are able to relatively well manage the pandemic here, it is not the pandemic managing us,” Vojtech told a news conference.
    “We are not facing massive increases in the numbers of patients – identified or hospitalised.”
    The government also approved, as of April 14, easing restrictions on leaving the country, currently permitted only for commuting workers.     People will have to present “reasonable grounds” to go, and observe two-week quarantine upon return.
    Neigbouring Austria also outlined plans to ease some restrictions, and Germany has prepared list of measures which may allow a phased return to normal life after April 19.
    The Czech government also plans to carry out test samples of the population this week to gain data on the prevalence of the virus among the general public, which will help shape policies.
    A vital aspect of relaxing the lockdown will be a “smart quarantine” plan under which testing teams, using geolocation data from mobile phones and bank transactions, will quickly access, isolate and test all contacts of newly identified patients deemed to be possible spreaders of contagion.
    The Czech Republic had 78 deaths among COVID-19 patients as of Monday afternoon, and 391 people in hospital, including 84 severe cases as of Sunday night, Health Ministry data showed.
    Worldwide, over 1.27 million people have been reported infected by the viral pandemic and nearly 70,400 have died, according to the latest Reuters tally, with Italy suffering the highest national death toll.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Mark Potter)

4/6/2020 Coronavirus epidemic ‘under control’ in Norway: health minister
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask carries shopping bags as he walks on the streets of Oslo following an outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Oslo, Norway March 13, 2020. NTB Scanpix/Hakon Mosvold Larsen via REUTERS.
    OSLO (Reuters) – The coronavirus epidemic is “under control” in Norway, the health minister said on Monday, pointing to the low rate of transmission of the disease.
    A person carrying the novel coronavirus in Norway contaminates now on average 0.7 other individuals, Bent Hoeie told a news conference.     The government’s goal had been to limit the spread to maximum one other person.
    “Before we implemented tough restrictions, every contaminated person in Norway infected 2.5 other individuals on average,” Hoeie said.
    “If this development had been allowed to continue, we would probably have been in the same situation that we have seen in some countries in Europe.”
    The Norwegian government announced three weeks ago emergency shutdowns of many public and private institutions, including schools and kindergartens, sending the economy into a tailspin and triggering hundreds of thousands of layoffs.
    The government will decide on Wednesday whether to extend the restrictions beyond mid-April.    It was not immediately clear which measures could be lifted, nor when they would be.
    Local authorities in the capital Oslo and Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city, have already said they will not reopen schools and nurseries by mid-April because they needed more time to prepare.
    The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said on Monday the number of coronavirus cases in the country stood at 5,755 people, with 59 deaths.
    The FHI also estimated for the first time on Monday that around 14,000 people in total may be carrying the virus in Norway, or 0.26% of the population.
    “It is good news.    It shows the restrictions have worked,” Camilla Stoltenberg, the head of the institute, told public broadcaster NRK.     “(But) we don’t know which specific measures worked.”
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Gareth Jones)

4/7/2020 Russia’s daily rise in coronavirus cases tops 1,000 for first time
A delivery courier rides a bicycle past an entrance of the temporarily closed Exhibition of Achievements of
National Economy (VDNKh), after the city authorities announced a partial lockdown ordering residents to stay at home to prevent
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Russia rose by more than 1,000 for the first time to reach 7,497 in the past 24 hours, the country’s crisis response centre said on Tuesday.
    The number of reported cases rose by 1,154 while deaths rose by 11 to 58, the centre said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Alexander Marrow; editing by Jason Neely)

4/7/2020 Poland pushes forward postal election legislation
Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and other parliamentarians vote at Polish Parliament during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Warsaw Poland, April 6, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS ATTENTION
EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. POLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN POLAND.
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s lower house of parliament controlled by ruling nationalists approved late on Monday draft legislation to allow a May presidential election to be held as a postal ballot due to the coronavirus, state news agency PAP said.
    The Law and Justice (PiS) party has said the election should go ahead despite the rising death toll from the highly contagious respiratory disease and has proposed replacing polling stations with mail-in ballots.
    Critics accuse the governing party of sacrificing public health on the altar of securing the re-election of incumbent Andrzej Duda, its ally, who is ahead in the opinion polls as the public health crisis consolidates voter support for the authorities.
    Parliament had initially voted to bar the PiS plan from its legislative agenda after several deputies from a broad conservative alliance that backs the nationalists in the legislature broke away.
    But the PiS secured a majority late on Monday to approve the postal election bill.    In favour were 230 lawmakers, 226 were against, while two abstained, PAP said.
    The draft legislation will now be sent to the upper house of parliament, the opposition-controlled Senate, which has the power to delay it.    But any veto can be overruled by the lower house, the Sejm.
    Poland has reported a total of 4,413 cases of the coronavirus and 107 deaths, and expects the number of infections to peak in May or June.    The election is scheduled for May 10 and could spill into a run-off vote on May 24.
    Winning the presidential election would enable PiS to cement its reforms of the judiciary which the European Union has said are anti-democratic and subvert the rule of law.    Any president hostile towards the government could block its efforts.
    PiS rejects any accusations about its motivations in the election row, saying it wants to preserve democratic procedures.
    It won a fresh four-year parliamentary mandate last year, helped by a generous welfare spending programme and strong economic growth.     However, a looming recession prompted by the coronavirus crisis could damage public support for PiS.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski)

4/7/2020 Finland extends border controls until May 13
A police officer stops a vehicle for a document check at a traffic control post, as roadblocks were setup
on all routes that connect Helsinki with the rest of the country to prevent the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Lapinjarvi, Finland April 6, 2020. Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s government on Tuesday extended and tightened border controls restricting travel to and from the country until May 13 in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    Finland has followed with mounting concern neighbouring Sweden’s liberal pandemic strategy, fearing cross-border commuters could speed up the spread of the virus in northern parts of Finland with an ageing population and limited intensive care resources.
    “The government’s aim is to further reduce movement in the inherent commute area across the borders with Sweden and Norway,” Finland’s government said in a statement.
    Finland had recorded 2,176 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths by Tuesday, while neighbouring Sweden’s numbers stood at 7,206 and 477 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
    Hundreds of healthcare employees living in Finland cross the northern border to Sweden daily and are vital for the border area’s services in Sweden.
    “Finland considers it indispensable that Sweden instructs its healthcare personnel to better protection and increases testing of these groups,” the government said.
    The Finnish government had already restricted travel across its northern borders to commuters but now only the most essential workers will be allowed to cross with proof of their importance from their employers.
    “Finns who commute to Sweden and Norway across Finland’s borders must remain in quarantine-like conditions when they are in Finland,” the government said.
    Nordic countries gave up passport controls between themselves in 1952 and have a long tradition of unrestricted cross-border working.
    The Finnish government also recommended that shipping companies stop all passenger ticket sales from Sweden, Estonia and Germany to Finland until the restrictions are lifted.
    “Spreading of the epidemic really has slowed down (in Finland),” interior minister Maria Ohisalo told a news conference, adding that the government would be giving more details in the coming days about a so-called exit strategy to gradually lift the restrictions.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen, editing by Ed Osmond)

4/7/2020 Russian-made Superjet wins U.N. contract for air travel services
FILE PHOTO: A Sukhoi Superjet 100 jet is seen on the runway at the MAKS 2017 air show
in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s main home-grown passenger plane, the Sukhoi Superjet 100, will be used by the United Nations for its peacekeeping missions after a contract was signed last month, according to Rosaviatsiya, Russia’s federal air transport agency.
    The aircraft, which entered service in 2011 and was the first passenger jet built in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, has had a troubled history despite the state pouring billions of dollars into its development.    Last year, a Superjet crash-landed in Moscow, killing 41 people.
    U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Nick Birnback said: “We are currently finalising several contracts for stand-by, short term air transport services that could be used in support of our field operations –including peacekeeping.”
    Earlier this year, two sources told Reuters that there had been no confirmed orders for the Sukhoi Superjet 100 beyond a long-standing deal with state carrier Aeroflot.
    “In March 2020, the first U.N. contract was received for using Sukhoi Superjet 100 planes to provide services for U.N. peacekeeping missions,” Rosaviatsiya said in a statement.
    The deal was closed by Russian regional carrier Yakutia Airlines, a Rosaviatsiya representative told Reuters.
    Yakutia Airlines, based in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, around 4,880 km (3,030 miles) east of Moscow, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    Russian helicopters, provided by UTair, are already used by the United Nations.
    Asked about the Superjet contract, a spokesman for the United Nations said it uses a number of different vendors for its aviation needs.    “Many of these contracts are for a standby capability that may or may not be required based on operational considerations,” the spokesman said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow with additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Jane Merriman/Mark Heinrich)

4/7/2020 Slovenian parliament enables sessions from distance due to coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Airport Jozeta Pucnika is closed for passenger traffic due to coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) fears, in Brnik, Slovenia, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic/File Photo
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – The Slovenian parliament on Tuesday passed legislation which will enable the chamber to convene over the internet if that became necessary because of the coronavirus outbreak, parliamentary speaker Igor Zorcic said.
    The parliament also passed legislation which will enable faster enforcement of laws during the coronavirus crisis.
    Slovenia has reported 1,055 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 36 people have died.
    “We are in the middle of epidemics and it is still not clear when it will end … Therefore it is important to ensure that the parliament will be able to discuss all further necessary decrees designed to fight the consequences of the coronavirus in time,” Zorcic told parliamentarians before the vote.
    Until now parliamentarians have been convening in parliament with most of them wearing face masks in recent weeks.
    Since the middle of March, Slovenia has closed all schools, bars, restaurants, hotels, sports centres, cultural institutions and shops, apart from food and drug stores.
    It has cancelled all public transport, including air traffic, and prohibited people leaving their municipality and socialising in public spaces.
(Reporting By Marja Novak; editing by Grant McCool)

4/7/2020 Norway to ease curbs ‘little by little’ after coronavirus lockdown: PM by Gwladys Fouche and Victoria Klesty
FILE PHOTO: Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway, one of the first European countries to curb activities to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, will relax restrictions “little by little,” the prime minister said on Tuesday.
    The Nordic country’s lockdown sent the economy into a tailspin and triggered hundreds of thousands of layoffs.
    “Together we have taken control of the virus, therefore we can open up society little by little,” Erna Solberg told a news conference.
    On Monday, her health minister said the epidemic was “under control” in Norway, pointing to the low rate of transmission.
    Current restrictions, which are in place until April 13, include the closure of nurseries and schools, refusing entry to foreigners who do not live and work in Norway and forbidding people to go to their mountain cabins if they have one.
    Kindergartens will reopen between April 20 and 27, schools from the first grade to the fourth grade will reopen from April 27, and Norwegians can go to their chalets from April 20.
    At the same time, working from home must continue and Norwegians must get used to measures against contamination “for a long time,” Solberg said.
    In addition, major sports and cultural events such as festivals would be banned until June 15 and Norwegians living in Norway are still advised not to travel abroad unless it is absolutely necessary.
    Foreigners without the right to live or work in the country – tourists, for instance – are still not allowed to enter the country.    The only ones who can come are European citizens working in sectors considered crucial, such as agriculture, fisheries or the oil industry.
    Some 5,863 people had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Tuesday, up from 5,755 reported on Monday, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said.    Some 69 people have died of the disease so far.
    Norway’s rate of unemployment rose to 15.4% on Tuesday, the Labour and Welfare Agency said, the highest level on record, up from 14.7% on March 31, as the economy ground to a halt.
    Norway is the latest country to ease some of its restrictions.
    Fellow Nordic nation Denmark, which followed a similarly tough line to Norway, announced late on Monday it would reopen day care centres and schools on April 15 as a first step to gradually relaxing its three-week lockdown.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Victoria Klesty, Nick Macfie and Chris Reese)

4/7/2020 Tyrol, Austria’s ground zero in coronavirus outbreak, lifts quarantines
FILE PHOTO: Residential houses are seen in front of Nordkette mountains at the river Inn after the government announced a curfew on the Austrian province
of Tyrol amid growing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in Innsbruck, Austria March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s Alpine province of Tyrol lifted on Tuesday the quarantine order it placed on its towns and villages to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, though several particularly hard-hit ski resorts remain sealed off.
    The province, wedged between Italy and Germany, was the first to report cases of the new coronavirus in Austria and became its most infected region.
    On March 19 local authorities placed every town under quarantine, ordering people to stay in their community and banning outdoor exercise, even stricter measures than a national lockdown introduced days earlier.
    “We have lifted the quarantine on communities…    The reason was that we have stable infection growth numbers.    The rate of (daily) infection increases was less than 5% and this trend is holding,” Tyrol’s conservative Governor Guenther Platter told a news conference.
    Tyrol’s decision to loosen its measures and align itself with the rest of the country came hours after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Monday outlined plans to start reopening non-essential shops after Easter.
    Tyrol reported Austria’s first coronavirus cases – a couple infected in Italy – on Feb. 25.    It still leads the country in infections, with 2,835 of Austria’s more than 12,500 cases.
    Local authorities in Tyrol have come under fire for their apparently slow response to outbreaks in ski resorts where the virus found a breeding ground in crowded apres-ski bars, infecting hundreds of tourists from across Europe.
    The resort town of Ischgl, where a quarantine remains in place, is at the origin of the country’s biggest cluster of infections.    Just over 600 cases in Austria can be traced back to that area.
    Austria’s public health authority has concluded Ischgl’s outbreak began in early February, even though the first positive test there was a month later.    The first action taken was to order the closure of a bar with an infected staff member on March 9.
    Tyrol’s government has dismissed the finding that Ischgl’s outbreak began in early February as “not serious.”    Prosecutors have asked the police to investigate whether there was a failure to declare an infection after a German media report of a positive test in late February.
    Tyrol is planning extra tests in the coming days in Ischgl and its surroundings as well as at the resorts of St Anton am Arlberg and Soelden, which remain under quarantine.
    “Experts will carry out an analysis and clear things up, then in agreement with the Health Ministry we will decide what to do next from April 14, but we will announce this decision at the weekend,” Platter said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/7/2020 Swedish government to put forward bill granting it wider powers in pandemic fight
FILE PHOTO: Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden and Minister for International Development Cooperation and
Climate Isabella Lovin talks in Geneva, Switzerland, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The Swedish government will put forward a bill granting it wider powers to quickly take steps such as closing transport hubs or restaurants if needed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that has infected thousands across the country.
    The bill, which was widely expected to be pass parliament in the coming days after several opposition parties voiced their support, primarily cuts the time needed for the minority government to close many public venues.
    While parliament can still reverse measures in a subsequent vote, but does not need to be consulted for prior approval.
    “Today, we have decided on a bill to give us the tools to be able to act quickly with more measures if needed,” Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin told a news conference after the government had held talks with opposition parties.
    “This proposal applies only to actions associated with the coronavirus and for a limited time only.”
    Sweden, where nearly 600 COVID-19 patients have died, has taken a more liberal and low-key approach toward fighting the virus than most other European countries, relying primarily on voluntary measures and common sense than outright bans.
    While schools, restaurants and most businesses have remained open, the government has banned public gatherings of over 50 people and shut universities, while authorities have also advised those who can to work from home.
    The increased powers to impose restrictions without prior approval by parliament would be valid for up to three months.
    Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said that while most measures were not bans he still expected all Swedes to comply.
    “The advise from the authorities are not just little hints,” he said.    “It is expected that we follow them every day, every minute.”
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard)

4/7/2020 Neutral Switzerland drafts in army to fight coronavirus by John Miller and Silke Koltrowitz
FILE PHOTO: A sign of Hospital Battalion 2 of the Swiss army is pictured during a media visit of the deployment at Pourtales
Hospital during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Neuchatel, Switzerland, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – In the Swiss Army’s biggest call-up since World War II, thousands of soldiers have been sent to support health workers in the fight against the coronavirus, but the mobilisation has not been without problems.
    Hundreds of soldiers and officers have been confined to barracks after potential exposure to the infection.
    And while around 80-90% of those who got their marching orders on March 16 answered the call of duty, more than 200 could face military justice for failing to report to their units, said army Brigadier Raymond Droz.
    In total, some 5,000 soldiers including members of medical battalions are supporting civil personnel.
    They have been particularly active in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton on the border with Italy where many of Switzerland’s 22,000 infected and 641 dead are from.
    Switzerland is mobilising up to 8,000 members of the military, not only for medical service but to help seal its borders, assist with logistics and provide security support during the crisis.
    Currently, 728 military personnel are in quarantine, Droz said, with 49 in isolation.    A total of 172 soldiers have tested positive, many of them at a school for recruits in Ticino.
    Only one Swiss soldier has tested positive during active coronavirus duty.
    Some have raised concerns that the soldiers have had little to do, and have spent their time in hospital waiting rooms rather than actively helping.
    Speaking at a news conference in Bern, Droz said the army planned to address that, keeping only those soldiers who are needed for duty and sending others home “for the necessary rest and recuperation.”
    Meanwhile, around 240 soldiers did not obey their marching orders, which were delivered via text message, Droz said.
    “When everything has been cleared up – because in some instances, people have gotten dispensations – these people will be reported to the military justice,” he said.    “Then, they’ll be put through the normal judicial process.”
    Penalties levied by military judges can include jail time.
    One local politician described those who failed to heed the call-up as “traitors.”
(Reporting by John Miller, John Revill and Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/7/2020 Russian space agency says Trump paving way to seize other planets
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing
at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, accused Donald Trump on Tuesday of creating a basis to take over other planets by signing an executive order outlining U.S. policy on commercial mining in space.
    The executive order, which Roscosmos said damaged the scope for international cooperation in space, was signed on Monday.
    It said the United States would seek to negotiate “joint statements and bilateral and multilateral arrangements with foreign states regarding safe and sustainable operations for the public and private recovery and use of space resources.”
    It said U.S. citizens should have the right to engage in such activity and that “outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons.”
    Roscosmos said the order put the United States at odds with the notion of space belonging to all humanity.
    “Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation,” its statement said.
    Relations between Russia and the United States are at post-Cold War lows, but cooperation on space has continued despite an array of differences over everything from Ukraine to accusations of election meddling.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “any kind of attempt to privatise space in one form or another – and I find it difficult to say now whether this can be seen as an attempt to privatise space – would be unacceptable.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[I have heard the Liberal Democrats accuse President Donald Trump of every crime in the book for four years but now Russia is accusing him of possible stealing planets in the space race.].

4/8/2020 Russia reports record daily rise in new coronavirus cases, infections up to 8,672
A woman in protective mask walks along the bridge, with the towers of Kremlin and skyscrapers of Moscow-City business centre in the
background, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Moscow, Russia April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Russia rose by more than 1,000 for the second day running, taking the total to 8,672, the crisis response centre said on Wednesday.
    The number of reported cases rose by 1,175, a record daily rise, while deaths increased by five to 63, the centre said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/8/2020 Polish presidential postal ballot raises concern: EU commissioner
FILE PHOTO: European Values and Transparency Commissioner-designate Vera Jourova of Czech Republic attends her
hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s last-minute decision to carry out its May presidential elections by post due to the coronavirus pandemic has raised “concern,” EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Wednesday.
    “I followed this process very closely.    I’m concerned about free and fair elections and the quality of voting, of the legality and constitutionality of such a vote,” she told the newspaper.
    Poland’s parliament, where Poland’s ruling nationalists, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, have a majority in alliance with two other parties, this week backed a plan to conduct the presidential election on May 10 by postal ballot to limit the risks of coronavirus transmission.
    Critics accuse PiS of putting its political interests ahead of public health concerns.    President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS who is seeking a fresh five-year term, is currently ahead in opinion polls.
    “Postal voting is a huge change and such a method is being used for the first time, people aren’t used to it,” Jourova said.
    She pointed to recommendations from the Council of Europe for countries not to carry out “fundamental changes” to electoral rules in the year leading up to elections.
    Winning the presidential election would enable PiS to cement its reforms of the judiciary, which the European Union has said subvert the rule of law.    A president hostile to PiS could block its efforts.     The European Commission is still working on its reaction to a new Polish law that critics say is designed to muzzle judges who question court appointments under new rules, Jourova added.
    Poland’s overhaul of its judiciary constitutes “destruction” not reform, Jourova said earlier this year.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Stephen Coates)

4/8/2020 Czech coronavirus cases top 5,000 but growth slows by Jason Hovet
FILE PHOTO: A municipality worker in a protective suit sprays a disinfectant on an embankment along the Vltava river to curb
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Prague, Czech Republic, April 1, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The number of cases of the new coronavirus in the Czech Republic has risen past 5,000, although a slowing growth rate has given the government confidence to start easing some lockdown measures that have hit the economy.
    The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 195 new cases the previous day, a 4.0% daily rise to bring the total to 5,017, a figure that was updated to stand at 5,033 by 8:25 a.m.
    The daily percentage rise in cases has grown at a single-digit rate so far in April.
    The country was among the first in Europe to declare a state of emergency in March – which parliament agreed on Tuesday to extend to April 30 – and has been swift to put in place drastic measures including closing schools, most shops and restaurants, and restricting people’s movement.
    The government on Monday agreed to relax some measures, such as reopening shops selling hobby goods and building materials, and also eased rules on open-air sports activities where people do not congregate, such as running and cycling.     More shops may be opened after the Easter weekend.
    Like others in central Europe, the Czech Republic has seen far fewer cases of the new virus than western neighbours, along with fewer deaths.
    The ministry has reported 91 deaths as of Wednesday morning and 181 recovered patients.
    A total of 98,681 tests have been carried out, with 7,434 tests conducted on Tuesday, the most since the first infections were detected on March 1.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by David Holmes)

4/9/2020 Polish president wants firms to be relieved from social security payments
FILE PHOTO: President of Poland Andrzej Duda speaks during a news conference after the Brdo-Brijuni
Process Leaders' Meeting in Tirana, Albania May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday he asked Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to exempt all Polish firms from social security payments for three months.
    Duda also said during a televised speech that he wanted the exemption to cover all firms that were established and started operations before March 1.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Jon Boyle)

4/9/2020 Under-used Swiss hospitals hint at hidden toll of coronavirus by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Staff treat a patient in the intensive care unit at the University Hospital (CHUV) during the
coronavirus outbreak in Lausanne, Switzerland, April 3, 2020. Pool/Laurent Gillieron via REUTERS/File Photo
    LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) – Swiss emergency rooms and hospitals are quieter than usual despite an influx of COVID-19 patients, a worrying sign that some doctors say could mean more people are dying at home from other ailments.
    Concerned about the trend amid the pandemic, staff at the Cardiocentro hospital in the southern canton of Ticino bordering on hard-hit Italy called its regular patients to check up on them.
    One of them had been quietly suffering from a heart vessel problem at home for days and, once he was coaxed to come in, was operated on urgently.    Another died before coming into hospital.
    “Many patients tell us I waited because I am afraid of coming into contact with a COVID patient,” Giovanni Pedrazzini, president of the Swiss cardiology society and co-head of cardiology at the Ticino centre which also accepts COVID-19 patients, told Reuters.
    “The risk is that a lot of patients will suffer or die at home when they should go to the emergency room.”
    The World Health Organization has warned of above-normal deaths unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic as health systems become overwhelmed and issued guidelines to avoid them.
    But wealthy Switzerland’s hospitals are holding up well despite its more than 22,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and most have spare capacity.    The Swiss trends hint at the indirect and potentially fatal impact of the pandemic.
‘GREAT SOURCE OF WORRY’
    Olivier Muller, cardiologist at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), told broadcaster RTS he had seen the number of patients with heart attacks drop by 35%. “It is a great source of worry for us,” he said.    “We have early indicators of an excess mortality not linked to COVID-19.”
    Patients with stroke symptoms have fallen by a fifth, Switzerland’s stroke society said.
    The concern about hospitals is understandable as people with heart problems are at risk of complications if they catch COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory disease.
    Unlike China which separated COVID-19 care from general hospitals, that has not always been practical in Europe, although Swiss medical workers defend the mixed approach.
    The drop of 10-30% in emergency room activity at the CHUV can be partly explained by fewer sporting, driving and drinking accidents, said Professor Pierre-Nicolas Carron, emergency room head.    Routine surgeries have also been postponed.
    “We’ve been seeing non-COVID patients come to the hospital very late in the course of their disease,” said Thierry Fumeaux, head of the intensive care unit in Nyon and president of the Swiss Intensive Care Medicine Society.
    “This is probably one of the adverse impacts of the (coronavirus) containment measures.”
    Public health officials who urged people not to unnecessarily tax medical resources during the crisis have sought to reassure the public that a visit to the doctor or emergency room, especially for children, should not be put off.
    “This is really important: For fear of the coronavirus, people should not avoid calling or using the emergency room,” said Daniel Koch, the health ministry’s coronavirus czar.
    Switzerland has reported 705 deaths from COVID-19 and a total of 22,789 infections.    Data on overall causes of death since the coronavirus pandemic began is not yet available.
    “In a few months, we will see, but it will probably be very difficult to distinguish between COVID or not for home deaths,” said Carron.
(Additional reporting by John Miller, John Revill and Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/9/2020 Poland to ease some restrictions after Easter: deputy minister
FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing protective gear disinfects a public bus during the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gdynia, Poland, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek
    WARSAW (Reuters) – To support its battered economy Poland, will ease some restrictions aimed at fighting the coronavirus after Easter, Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska said on Thursday.
    Poland has closed schools, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and cinemas among other moves to contain the virus.    Economists expect the economy to shrink 3.5% this year, triggering a sharp rise in unemployment from the current level of 5.5%.
    “After Easter we will want to turn on the economy a little,” Kraska told news conference without elaborating. The ministry’s spokesman was unavailable to provide details.
    By Thursday, 5,341 people had been infected with the virus, with 164 dead in the country of 38 million people.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/9/2020 Poland may extend restrictions, no drastic new rules planned: minister
FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing protective gear disinfects a public bus during the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gdynia, Poland, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s government may decide on Thursday to extend restrictions to fight the spread of the coronavirus, but no drastic new moves to combat the pandemic are not planned, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Thursday.
    “(Bans) already imposed have helped to contain the virus.    There would be 25,000 people infected instead of the current 5,000 if we had not imposed restrictions,” Szumowski told public radio.
    Poland has already closed schools, restaurants, shopping malls and cinemas among other moves to contain the virus.
    Szumowski also asked Poles, a staunchly Catholic nation, to stay at home for Easter and abstain from travelling to see their families.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz)

4/9/2020 Cubans cast aside coronavirus fears to search for scarcer food by Marc Frank
People line up to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, in downtown Havana, Cuba, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – From the seafront capital Havana to the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains, Cubans are defying fear of the new coronavirus to search for food as global trade disruptions worsen shortages of basic goods on the Caribbean island.
    Residents of all ages are trudging from store to store in the country to locate scarce goods despite recommendations from health experts to stay at home and respect social distancing guidelines to avoid contracting the highly contagious disease.
    Communist-run Cuba imports more than 60% of its food, but the pandemic has forced its government to close the borders, denying it the hard currency from tourism needed to pay for goods from overseas.    The leisure industry accounts for 25% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
    With shortages biting, many residents are using apps to swarm shops when coveted products arrive – from chicken and cheese to powdered milk and tomato sauce – creating long lines on the streets of Havana where police attempt to keep order.
    While Cuba has faced scattered shortages ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union began in 1989, they have worsened since a decline in aid from socialist ally Venezuela and a tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions under U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Now they are intensifying as the pandemic compounds Cuba’s cash crunch and disrupts international trade and food prices.
    “There is a queue for everything, products are scarce,” Havana resident Luis Alberto said as he waited in a line for chicken that stretched for more than 100 meters (330 ft).
    Since the first coronavirus cases were logged on the island last month, authorities have closed the borders to people and called on Cubans to only go out if strictly necessary, always wearing face masks.    Disinfectant has been included on the ration cards that residents use to obtain goods.
    “No one is walking around except the family doctor and nurse,” Nuris Lopez, a hairdresser, said from a medium-sized town in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in eastern Granma province.
    “But when some ground meat finally arrived the other day everyone emerged from their homes in masks and lined up with a policeman keeping order,” she said.
‘PERFECT STORM BREWING’
    President Miguel Diaz-Canel recently warned citizens they would be consuming less imported food “due to the current situation.”
    When ships arrived last week with corn and rice, it was big news in the state-run media.
    Cuba is not a member of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or other multilateral lending institutions it could turn to for emergency funds.
    Economy Minister Alejandro Gil has said the only solution is to “find in agriculture the main source of food for the people” but the sector is suffering an intensifying lack of inputs – like fertilizer and pesticides – partly due to U.S. sanctions.
    “There is a perfect storm brewing. By May, the food situation here will be much worse,” a local agricultural expert said, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on talking with foreign journalists.
FOOD PRODUCTION IN TROUBLE
    Cuba is famous for fighting epidemics and infamous for its centralized and unproductive Soviet-style agricultural system long since jettisoned by other Communist-run countries.
    Many express faith in the former and not the latter.
    “Cuba has the virus under control and I am sure it will stay that way,” said Emandez Maseo, a teacher in eastern Cuba.    “At the same time, we are going into a critical situation, there is nothing in the markets and it is getting worse.”
    Cuba has reported 396 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths, all but a few linked to travelers entering from abroad.
    Much of the economy not related to tourism remains open, but it is hard to see agricultural production making up for lower imports.
    Just 40% of normal fuel supplies and even less fertilizer and pesticides were used for the winter crop, according to the government.    Planting began before the pandemic in November and harvesting ended in March.
    The government has not reported on the results of Cuba’s most important growing season.    Agriculture ministry official Yojan García Rodas told local radio that farmers were able to plant less than half the planned acreage of beans – a local staple – because they had to use oxen to till the land due to lack of fuel.
    Speaking about a plague that wiped out much of the crop, Rodas said only 15% of the 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) planted could be protected by chemical pesticides.
    Luis Enrique Plutin, a farmer working the fields under a hot sun with fellow cooperative members on the outskirts of Havana, was phlegmatic.
    “Through sacrifice and work we can produce something, but not much, for the population,” he said.    “And we can continue to produce more, but imagine the difficulties we have.”
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)

4/10/2020 Less than 1% of Austria’s population infected with coronavirus, study finds
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask passes a closed Zara store in Vienna, Austria April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Less than 1% of Austria’s population is infected with the coronavirus, a study published on Friday found, based on testing a representative sample of more than 1,500 people.
    The first such study in continental Europe, led by pollster SORA which is known for projecting election results, aimed to provide a clearer picture of the total number of infections, given gaps in testing.
    Austria’s current policy is to test people with symptoms, especially if they have been to a known hotspot or in close contact with an infected person.    That means many cases, such as people with no symptoms and those with no known contact to an at-risk area, go undetected.
    “Based on this study, we believe that 0.33% of the population in Austria was acutely infected in early April,” SORA co-founder Christoph Hofinger told a news conference. Given the margin of error, the figure was 95% likely to be between 0.12% and 0.76%.
    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose government commissioned the study and saw initial findings a few days ago, said on Monday that the rate of infection was around 1%. He said that disproved the idea of herd immunity – which requires widespread infection – as a viable policy option.
    Austria reacted early to the outbreak in the country, closing schools, restaurants, theatres and other gathering places more than three weeks ago, and telling the population to stay home and work from there if possible.
    The outbreak has remained within the health system’s capacity and hospitalisations have stabilised, with the daily percentage increase in infections in low single digits.    There have been 319 deaths so far.
    Austria has reported 13,337 confirmed cases, roughly 7,000 of which are still active, meaning they have neither recovered nor died.    The study estimated the current number of infections was more than four times that – around 28,500 people.    It also excluded those in hospital, currently around 1,000 people.
    The study, conducted between April 1 and April 6, in which 1,554 people were tested, did not involve antibody tests, which could tell whether a currently virus-free person was previously infected and is therefore probably immune.    Future studies should involve antibody tests, the government has said.
    Those studies will inform policy as Austria starts to reopen shops as of Tuesday next week.
    “We must monitor whether there is a second wave and the number of infected people starts to rise again… We are still in a very, very sensitive situation.    This study shows that, too.    Corona is in our society,” Education Minister Heinz Fassmann, whose portfolio includes research, told the news conference.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

4/10/2020 Kazakhstan to extend coronavirus emergency to end of April
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear sanitize public facilities to prevent the spread of
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Almaty, Kazakhstan March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan will extend its state of emergency declared over the coronavirus outbreak until the end of April, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s office said on Friday.
    The state of emergency, which has allowed the government to lock down all provinces and major cities and shut down many businesses, was originally due to end on April 15.
    “We have not yet passed the peak of coronavirus infections,” Tokayev said.
    The Central Asian nation bordering China and Russia has reported 802 cases of the disease and nine deaths of people diagnosed with it.    Some 63 patients have recovered.
    The government has said it hoped the total number of cases would not exceed 3,500 and expects the infection rate to peak in mid-April.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/10/2020 Hungary’s ‘real test’ yet to come, PM says, as coronavirus cases jump by Gergely Szakacs
FILE PHOTO: Military police officers patrol City Park as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
continues in Budapest, Hungary, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary needs more ventilators and intensive care hospital beds as part of its efforts to weather the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday, as the government reported the single biggest daily increase in infections.
    Government data showed confirmed coronavirus cases jumped by 210 to 1,190 over the past 24 hours, and the death toll now stands at 77.
    The crisis has presented Orban with the toughest challenge to his decade-long rule.    His response – to rule by decree indefinitely – has drawn criticism from the European Union.
    “It seems as if other countries are already peeking out (of the crisis), as if there was already light at the end of the tunnel,” Orban told public radio in an interview.    “For now, I do not see this in Hungary.”
    “We have won time, we have been defending ourselves well, but the real test is yet to come,” Orban said, adding that Hungary appeared to be heading towards a period of mass infections and it would be difficult to avert such an outcome.
    Orban’s government prolonged a nationwide lockdown indefinitely on Thursday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, asking citizens to respect restrictions on free movement despite the Easter holiday weekend.
    Orban said about a fifth of hospital workers could get infected with the virus, which he said was in line with international experience.
    Hungary will need to have ramped up its stock of ventilators and intensive care hospital beds to 8,000 by the peak of the crisis, Orban said, adding that it usually had about 2,000 available in “normal times.”
RED LINE” ON DEFICIT
    Hungary is also training medical students to be able to assist in intensive care units, Orban said.
    Friday’s jump in cases included 151 infections in an old people’s home in Budapest, of whom seven people have so far died, the latest government tally showed.
    It said the number of infections could increase further still in the facility, which has a capacity of more than 500 people, as laboratory tests were still being conducted.
    Nearly half of Hungary’s confirmed cases of coronavirus are in the capital Budapest, the tally showed.
    Despite the crisis, Hungary should not let its budget deficit exceed 3% of economic output, Orban said, calling the European Union’s ceiling on state finances a “red line” that should not be crossed.
    “Those taking on too much debt now will find themselves hung in a few months’ time, when the first big wave of the crisis will be behind us,” Orban said.
    Orban’s comments put him at odds with his finance minister, Mihaly Varga, who told public radio late last month that Hungary should not stick doggedly to the 3% deficit limit if rebooting the economy required additional action.
(This story has been refiled to fix typo in the headline)
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/10/2020 Russia reports new record daily rise of coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a street, after the city authorities announced a partial lockdown ordering residents to stay at home to
prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in central Moscow, Russia March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 1,786 more coronavirus cases on Friday, its largest daily rise so far, which took the national tally of confirmed infections to 11,917.
    The number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 18 to 94, the Russian coronavirus crisis response center said in a statement.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Frances Kerry)

4/10/2020 Poland may reach peak of coronavirus infections in coming days: government spokesman
FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing protective gear disinfects a public bus during the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gdynia, Poland, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland may see the peak of infections from the coronavirus in the coming days, government spokesman Piotr Muller said on Friday.
    “It seems that if we will maintain our discipline, there is a chance that this infection rise may reach its maximum in coming days, to gradually slow down later,” Muller told public broadcaster TVP Info.
    Earlier, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland may see a peak of infections in May or June.
    Poland reported 5,575 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 174 deaths as of Thursday.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz. Editing by Jane Merriman)

4/10/2020 Moscow mayor warns city of ‘serious test’ as coronavirus numbers climb by Tom Balmforth and Gleb Stolyarov
FILE PHOTO: Cars drive along an embankment of the Moskva River near the Kremlin in
central Moscow, Russia April 8, 2020. (COVID-19). REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The mayor of Moscow urged residents of the capital to brace for a “serious test” from the new coronavirus and said the city would introduce a system of permits for movement to help enforce a lockdown, as infection numbers shot up across Russia.
    The country reported 1,786 new cases, bringing its tally to 11,917, even as Moscow and many other regions neared the end of their second week in a state of lockdown aimed at halting the contagion.    Ninety-four people have died, authorities say.
    In the bustling capital of more than 12.5 million that has become the focus of the Russian outbreak, new cases not only jumped 1,124 to almost 8,000, but the number of patients being hospitalised has also doubled in recent days, one official said.
    “I can tell you for sure that there has been no peak yet whatsoever.    We are at the foothills of the peak, not even in the middle,” Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency published on Friday.     “I can only say that a serious test lies before us and we need to be preparing for it,” he said.
    In a televised address on Friday, Sobyanin said the city would gradually begin introducing a system of passes for residents wanting to move around the city so that authorities could enforce the shutdown.
    Residents in Moscow have been told to stay at home unless they need to make essential trips to buy food or access urgent medical care.
    Police said on Thursday they had already caught 400 people ignoring the order and that they faced small fines.
    “The situation started to get worse from Monday.    The number of seriously ill patients with pneumonia is growing,” Sobyanin said, adding that he felt he had “no choice” but to introduce a permit system.
    “Especially when we see that unfortunately not everyone is following the restrictions that have been set.”
    In Moscow, the influx of patients is already pushing hospitals and ambulances towards their limit, said Deputy Mayor Anastasiya Rakova.
    Russia recorded far fewer cases of the new coronavirus than many Western European countries in the early stages of the outbreak, but its official case tally began to rise sharply this month.
    Officials until late last month were saying that the situation was under control and that there was no epidemic.
    Their tone changed however after Sobyanin, who has taken a prominent role in the crisis, questioned the veracity of official figures and said the real situation was much worse than it looked.
    Some anti-Kremlin politicians have criticised President Vladimir Putin for taking what they say has been too low a profile in the push to contain and slow the spread of the virus.
    The Kremlin has rejected those assertions however, and Putin made his third television appearance dedicated to the crisis on Wednesday, rolling out economic measures to help businesses hit by the lockdown.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Maria Grabar and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Hugh Lawson)

4/10/2020 IMF lends 51.6 million euros to Kosovo to address virus crisis
FILE PHOTO - A medical worker stands in front of ambulance for coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Pristina, Kosovo, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Laura Hasani
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund has approved a 51.6 million euro ($56.06 million) loan for Kosovo to tackle the economic crisis caused by the new coronavirus and address urgent balance of payments issues, the international lender said.
    It said the pandemic will hit Kosovo’s economy hard.
    “The economy is expected to contract by 5% in 2020 as tourism receipts, remittances, exports of goods, and FDI will decrease due to travel restrictions and the effect of COVID-19 in trading partners and remittance-originating countries,” the IMF said in a statement.
    The small Balkan country had expected to see economic growth of around 4% this year.
    The government said it will inject some 180 million euros into the roughly 8-billion-euro economy to help the private sector cope with the crisis.
    As of late on Friday some 250 people were infected with the coronavirus in Kosovo, including seven deaths.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

4/10/2020 Russia launches criminal investigation after Prague removes Soviet military statue by Tom Balmforth and Jason Hovet
FILE PHOTO: The statue of Soviet World War II commander Ivan Stepanovic Konev is loaded on a truck after
removal from its platform in Prague, Czech Republic, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    MOSCOW/PRAGUE (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it had opened a criminal investigation after Czech authorities dismantled the statue of a Soviet military commander last week despite Moscow’s protests, escalating a rancorous diplomatic row over the issue.
    The statue to Marshal Ivan Konev, who led Red Army forces during World War Two that drove Nazi troops from Czechoslovakia, is reviled by some in Prague as a symbol of the decades of Communist rule that followed the war.
    But in Moscow Konev is lionised by authorities as a war hero, and the removal of his statue was cast as a diplomatic insult and part of what Russia sees as a dangerous attempt to rewrite history.
    The statue to Konev, who also played a leading role in crushing the 1956 Hungarian uprising and building the Berlin Wall in 1961, was taken down on April 3 by municipal Prague authorities who said they planned to put it in a museum.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has appealed to Czech Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar to intercede, asking that the statue be sent back to Moscow.
    Russia would be prepared to pay for transport or any other costs, the ministry said.
    “We expect information from you about the place and time of its handing over,” Shoigu said in a defence ministry statement late on Thursday.
    The Czech Foreign Ministry said it was up to the Prague district municipality where the statue had been located to decide whether to give it to Russia.
    On Friday, Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, said it had opened a criminal case into the suspected public desecration of symbols of Russia’s military glory.
    The Czech foreign ministry said it considered the move to be meddling in its internal affairs and that the statue would be treated in a dignified manner after its removal.
    “If Russian bodies continue with confrontational statements and actions in this spirit, it will be a sign they have lost interest in developing mutually beneficial relations between our countries,” it said.
    Russia has no legal jurisdiction in the Czech Republic.
    The statue has for years been the centre of controversy in Prague.    It has been repeatedly vandalised and moves by municipal authorities to cover it up with tarpaulin sparked anger among local pro-Russian residents.
    Ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, the Soviet military campaign has become a highly sensitive subject for Moscow.
    President Vladimir Putin has accused Russia’s detractors of diminishing the Soviet war effort and its huge loss of life, and said Moscow must defend itself from what he has called the rewriting of history.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn, Mike Collett-White, Kirsten Donovan)

4/10/2020 Vending machines selling face masks appear on Warsaw streets
People use a vending machine for face masks, gloves and sanitiser during the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Warsaw, Poland April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Vending machines selling face masks, gloves and sanitizers appeared on the streets of Poland’s two biggest cities this week, as the country stepped up social distancing rules to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
    So far two vending machines have been installed in Warsaw and five in Krakow and there are plans to install several dozen or maybe even several hundred more in the next two weeks, according to the Polish Vending Association, which launched the initiative.
    From April 16, all Poles will be required to cover their mouth and nose in public spaces, health minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Thursday as the government extended lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus.
    The masks on sale in the vending machines are priced at 8.8 zlotys ($2.11) apiece.
    Poland has reported 5,742 cases of the coronavirus, and 175 deaths.    On Thursday the government said businesses will remain locked down until April 19 and limits for schools, as well as rail and air transport, will be extended for another two weeks.
    Aleksander Wasik, head of the Polish Vending Association, which represents vending machine makers and distributors in Poland, said he wanted to make sure that his employees keep their jobs.    He used his industry contacts to get the machines up and running to provide what is most needed during a pandemic: protective equipment.
    “What happened just now is a massive blow to everyone. Many (vending machine) operators became depressed because they were already seeing the possibility of bankruptcies,” he said.
    The initiative is applauded by the customers.
    “I think if it lasts any longer, this whole state of the epidemic, it would come in handy, I see a lot of people coming, there’s interest,” said Pawel Kasprzycki, 67, who bought a mask at one of the vending machine’s in Warsaw.
(Reporting by Jaroslaw Gawlowski; Writing by Alicja Ptak; Editing by Susan Fenton)

4/11/2020 Russia reports 1,667 new coronavirus cases in last day
A man wearing a protective face mask walks along the street, as the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues, in Moscow, Russia April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 1,667 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the national tally of confirmed cases to 13,584.
    The number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country rose by 12 to 106, the Russian coronavirus crisis response center said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/11/2020 Kremlin warns of huge influx of Moscow patients as coronavirus toll climbs by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Gennady Novik
A man wearing a protective face mask walks along the street, as the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues, in Moscow, Russia April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Saturday a “huge influx” of coronavirus patients was beginning to put a strain on hospitals in Moscow as Russia’s death toll rose to more than 100.
    Moscow and many other regions have been in lockdown for nearly two weeks to stem the contagion, but hospitals in the capital are still being pushed to their limit, officials said.
    On Saturday, a Reuters witness saw a tailback of dozens of ambulances queuing outside a hospital handling coronavirus cases in the region immediately outside Moscow, waiting to drop off patients.
    One ambulance driver said he had been waiting 15 hours outside the hospital to drop off a patient suspected of having the virus.
    “The situation in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, but mostly in Moscow, is quite tense because the number of sick people is growing,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview on state television, Russian news agencies reported.
    “There is a huge influx of patients.    We are seeing hospitals in Moscow working extremely intensely, in heroic, emergency mode.”
    Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said hospitals were taking all possible measures to ensure rapid admissions and that cases of ambulances needing to wait hours to drop off patients was not a systemic issue.
AN UNFORTUNATE ‘NECESSITY’
    Russia has reported 13,584 cases of the virus, and the authorities said on Saturday that 12 new coronavirus-related deaths in the last day had pushed the death toll to 106.
    Peskov added that it would become clearer only in the next few weeks whether the country was nearing the worst point in its outbreak.
    Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said on Friday that the city was far from reaching the peak of the outbreak, saying it was merely in its “foothills.”
    On Saturday he said Moscow would introduce digital permits next week to control movement around the city to help enforce the lockdown.
    He said residents will have to request the permits, which will contain a code that identifies the holder, in order to travel using motorcycles, scooters, cars, taxi services or the city’s vast public transport network.
    Sobyanin added that residents should be ready to present identification documents and their digital permit to law enforcement officers patrolling the city.
    “Unfortunately this is a necessity,” Sobyanin wrote on his website.    “It is needed to protect the lives and health of many Muscovites, to overcome this calamity and to return to normal life.”
    A stronger police presence was visible on the streets of Moscow. Traffic police had set up check points on major thoroughfares on the outskirts of the city but were not systematically carrying out checks.
    In the early stages epidemic, Russia recorded fewer cases of the new coronavirus than many Western European countries, but its tally began to rise sharply this month.
    Until late March officials were saying the situation was under control and that there was no epidemic in the country.
(Reporting by Gennady Novik, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Maria Vasilyeva, Katya Golubkova, Dmitry Madorsky and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Tom Balmforth, James Drummond and Hugh Lawson)

4/11/2020 Dutch coronavirus cases rise by 1,316 to 24,413: health authorities
FILE PHOTO: A member of medical staff takes coronavirus test samples during drive-thru coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
testing, on a converted ice rink, in Alkmaar, Netherlands April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Netherlands rose by 1,316 on Saturday to 24,413, health authorities said, with 132 new deaths.
    The country’s cumulative death toll is 2,643, the Netherlands’ National Institute for Health (RIVM) said in its daily update.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/11/2020 Swiss coronavirus death toll rises to 831
FILE PHOTO: An ambulance is pictured during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 831, the country’s public health ministry said on Friday, rising from 805 people on Friday.
    The number of positive tests also increased to 24,900 from 24,308 on Friday, it said.
(Reporting by John Revill)

4/11/2020 Coronavirus spreads at major Kazakh oilfield’s worker camp by Olzhas Auyezov
FILE PHOTO: Tengizchevroil oil and gas refinery in western Kazakhstan is
seen in this August 24, 2004 photograph. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Twelve people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at one of the worker camps located next to the giant Tengiz oilfield in Kazakhstan, its operator Tengizchevroil said on Saturday.
    The Chevron-led group, the central Asian nation’s No.1 oil producer, said critical activities in Tengiz had not been impacted and production was continuing as normal.
    Tengizchevroil said it had taken measures to ensure the safety of workers on the site and avoid output disruption, including through limiting access to the field.
    Earlier this week authorities confirmed the first coronavirus case at a 2,000-bed camp in the so-called rotational village, where workers of the company and its contractors stay during their weeks-long shifts.
    On Saturday Tengizchevroil said that after tracing contacts of the first infected person, 11 more people had been diagnosed with the disease.
    According to the company, the camp has been locked down and workers can enter the Tengiz field itself only after being quarantined for 14 days.    Tengizchevroil has also delayed a planned maintenance turnaround until next year. [nL8N2BW2K1]
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva Editing by William Maclean and David Holmes)

4/12/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases rise by more than 2,000; biggest daily increase
Ambulances queue before driving onto the adjac ent territory of a local hospital amid the coronavirus
(COVID-19) pandemic in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Sunday reported 2,186 new coronavirus cases, the largest daily increase since the start of the outbreak, bringing the national tally of confirmed cases to 15,770.
    The number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 24 to 130, the Russian coronavirus crisis response center said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by John Stonestreet)

4/13/2020 Moscow blames hackers for coronavirus permit problems as cases rise
A medical specialist wearing protective gear stands outside a hospital for patients infected with the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Authorities in Moscow on Monday blamed hackers for bringing down a new website meant to issue travel permits to the city’s residents to use during the coronavirus lockdown after cases of the new virus rose by a record daily amount.
    Russia reported 2,558 new cases on Monday, bringing the overall nationwide tally to 18,328.    Eighteen people diagnosed with the virus died overnight, pushing the death toll to 148.
    Moscow, the worst-hit area, and several other regions have imposed a lockdown to try to stop the spread of the virus, ordering residents to stay at home except to buy food, seek urgent medical treatment, take out the rubbish, or got to work if absolutely necessary.
    Moscow on Monday launched a new website ahead of a permit system they want to start working on Wednesday.    It would tighten monitoring of the lockdown by obliging people to apply for digital passes if they plan to make any journeys by public or private transport.
    But the site was only intermittently available on Monday morning, a failure authorities blamed on malicious hacking attacks.
    Eduard Lysenko, a Moscow city official, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the new website and the Moscow government’s website had been hit by more hacking attacks overnight than during the last six months combined.
    Moscow’s crisis response centre said authorities had nonetheless managed to issue almost 700,000 permits for people to use private or public transport to get to work.
    The Kremlin warned on Saturday of a huge influx of coronavirus patients being hospitalised in the Russian capital and long tailbacks of ambulances were visible.
    In the early stages of the outbreak, Russia recorded far fewer cases of the virus than many western European countries after closing most of its land border with China in January.
    But the number of cases began rising sharply this month.
    China’s northeastern border with Russia has since become a problem for Chinese authorities in the fight against a resurgence of the coronavirus epidemic as Chinese nationals, some of them infected, use it to return home.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Nadya Tsydenova and Maria Kiselyova, Katya Golubkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/13/2020 OPEC, Russia approve biggest-ever oil cut to support prices amid coronavirus pandemic by Katya Golubkova, Rania El Gamal and Ahmad Ghaddar
File Photo: The logo of the Organization of the Petroleoum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is seen
outside of OPEC's headquarters in Vienna, Austria April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    BAKU/DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC and allies led by Russia agreed on Sunday to a record cut in output to prop up oil prices amid the coronavirus pandemic in an unprecedented deal with fellow oil nations, including the United States, that could curb global oil supply by 20%.
    Measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus have destroyed demand for fuel and driven down oil prices, straining budgets of oil producers and hammering the U.S. shale industry, which is more vulnerable to low prices due to its higher costs.
    The group, known as OPEC+, said it had agreed to reduce output by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for May and June, after four days of talks and following pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to arrest the price decline.
    OPEC+ sources said they expected total global oil cuts to amount to more than 20 million bpd, or 20 percent of global supply, effective May 1.    OPEC had the same figure in its draft statement but removed it from the final version.
    The biggest oil cut ever is more than four times deeper than the previous record cut in 2008.    Producers will slowly relax curbs after June, although reductions in production will stay in place until April 2022.
    In a statement from the White House, Trump welcomed the commitment by Saudi Arabia and Russia “to return oil production to levels consistent with global energy and financial market stability.”
    Earlier on Twitter, Trump wrote: “The big Oil Deal with OPEC+ is done.    This will save hundreds of thousands of energy jobs in the United States.”
    Thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi King Salman for pushing the deal through, Trump added: “I just spoke to them… Great deal for all,” Oil demand has dropped by around a third because of the coronavirus pandemic.    Oil prices jumped more than $1 a barrel in Monday trading after the agreement, but gains were capped amid concern that it would not be enough to head off oversupply with the coronavirus pandemic hammering demand.
    Total global cuts will include contributions from non-members, steeper voluntary cuts by some OPEC+ members and strategic stocks purchases by the world’s largest consumers.
    Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Reuters that real effective cuts by OPEC+ would total 12.5 million bpd because Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait would cut supplies steeper given higher output in April.
    Three OPEC+ sources said non-members Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Norway and the United States would contribute 4 million to 5 million bpd.
    Three OPEC+ sources said the International Energy Agency (IEA), the energy watchdog for the world’s most industrialised nations, would announce purchases into stocks by its members to the tune of 3 million bpd in the next couple of months.
    The IEA said it would provide an update on Wednesday when it releases its monthly report.    The United States, India, Japan and South Korea have said they could buy oil to replenish reserves.
SEVERE DISTRESS
    Trump had threatened OPEC leader Saudi Arabia with oil tariffs and other measures if it did not fix the market’s oversupply problem as low prices have put the U.S. oil industry, the world’s largest, in severe distress.
    Canada and Norway had signalled a willingness to cut and the United States, where legislation makes it hard to act in tandem with cartels such as OPEC, said its output would fall steeply by itself this year because of low prices.
    The Canadian government said in a statement it welcomed the OPEC+ deal, saying it was committed to achieving price certainty and economic stability.
    The deal had been delayed since Thursday, however, after Mexico, worried about derailing its plans to revive heavily indebted state oil company Pemex, balked at the production cuts it was asked to make.
    Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday that Trump had offered to make extra U.S. cuts on his behalf, an unusual offer by the U.S. leader, who has long railed against OPEC.
    Trump said Washington would help Mexico by picking up “some of the slack” and being reimbursed later.    He did not say how that would work.,br>     A previous agreement by OPEC+ to cut production this year fell apart because of a dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia, triggering a price war that brought a flood of supply just as demand for fuel was crushed by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Global oil demand is estimated to have fallen by around 30 million bpd as more than 3 billion people are locked down in their homes due to the outbreak.
    Banks Goldman Sachs and UBS predicted last week that Brent prices would fall back to $20 per barrel as cuts would not be enough to help offset severe demand destruction because of the restrictions to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
(Reporting by Reuters OPEC Team, Alex Lawler in London, Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Nailia Bagirova in Baku, Katya Golubkova in Moscow and Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York; Florence Tan in Singapore and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Alex Richardson, Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)

4/13/2020 One in five Kazakhs seek state aid over coronavirus emergency
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past the warning sign, placed near the residential building quarantined in
response to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Almaty, Kazakhstan March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev/File Photo
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Some 3.7 million Kazakhs, or 20% of the oil-exporting Central Asian nation’s population, have applied for financial aid offered by the government because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the cabinet said on Monday.
    Out of those applications, about 1.8 million have already been approved, labour minister Birzhan Nurymbetov told a briefing.
    The Nur-Sultan government has offered to pay 42,500 tenge (about $100) per month to every citizen who loses their source of income during the emergency period, which began on March 16 and is expected to last at least until the end of April.
    The authorities have locked down all provinces as well as several major cities where they also ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down.
    Under its $10 billion stimulus plan, the government plans to create hundreds of thousands of temporary jobs by launching infrastructure maintenance and construction projects.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

4/13/2020 Putin says Russia may need the army to help battle coronavirus by Vladimir Soldatkin and Tom Balmforth
Law enforcement officers wearing protective masks stand guard at a checkpoint set up after Moscow authorities tightened up
measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Monday Russia might need to call in the army to help tackle the coronavirus crisis and warned the contagion was getting worse after the number of confirmed cases rose by a record daily amount.
    Russia reported 2,558 new cases on Monday, bringing the overall nationwide tally to 18,328.    Eighteen people diagnosed with the virus died overnight, pushing the death toll to 148.    Though rising, the number of deaths remains much lower for now than in countries such as the United States and Italy.
    Moscow, the worst-hit area, and several other regions have imposed a lockdown, ordering residents to stay at home except to buy food, seek urgent medical treatment, take out the rubbish, or go to work if absolutely necessary.
    Putin criticised what he said was sloppiness in some regions that had allowed local outbreaks to gain a foothold and urged regional leaders to make use of what he said was a three to four-week lag with Moscow.
    “This reserve (of time) can melt quickly, it must not be spent thoughtlessly, it must be used in the most efficient way,” Putin told the officials in a televised meeting held by video link.
    “We have a lot of problems, we don’t have anything especially to brag about and we definitely mustn’t relax,” he added.
CALL IN THE TROOPS
    Putin urged officials to consider using Russia’s army to help tackle the crisis, noting how it had sent doctors and medical equipment to Italy and Serbia in recent weeks to help.
    A similar move to send medical aid to the United States angered Russian critics of the Kremlin, who cast it as a publicity stunt that squandered precious resources lacking in Russia’s own regions.    The Kremlin denied that and said Moscow could now expect help from the United States in the future.
    “You need to use this experience, of course, and bear in mind that all these options, including the options of the defence ministry, if needed, can and should be involved here,” Putin said.
    Putin said the resources deployed by the army were “only a fraction of what the defence ministry has” and that “the main reserves are still in reserve, so you need to keep this in mind.”
    Separately, the city of Moscow on Monday launched a new website ahead of a permit system it wants to start operating from Wednesday under which residents will have to seek permission before using public transport or their owns cars or other vehicles.
    But the site was only intermittently available on Monday morning, a failure authorities blamed on malicious hacking attacks, some of which they said originated from abroad.
    Moscow’s crisis response centre said authorities had nonetheless managed to issue almost 1.8 million permits for people to use private or public transport to get around the city.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Nadya Tsydenova and Maria Kiselyova, Katya Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones)

4/13/2020 Kiev authorities seal off Orthodox monastery that became coronavirus hotspot by Ilya Zhegulev
Ukrainian law enforcement officers stand guard at the entrance of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery, where multiple
cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have been confirmed, in Kiev, Ukraine April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Authorities in Kiev sealed off a 1,000-year-old Orthodox Christian monastery on Monday after reporting that two of its members had died and more than 90 had contracted the coronavirus, accounting for around a fifth of the Ukrainian capital’s cases.
    The city administration has dispatched doctors and mobile X-ray machines to the sprawling Kiev Pechersk Lavra complex, the headquarters of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church known as the Moscow Patriarchate.
    “We must have a real picture of the outbreak,” Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a statement.
    The Moscow Patriarchate had initially asked worshippers to ignore government-imposed lockdown measures, which include a ban on church gatherings, and urged people to come to church and hug each other.
    But it later fell in line with the quarantine rules, closing its churches to the general public and disinfecting buildings.    The monastery’s head, Metropolitan Pavel, told Reuters last week he had underestimated the problem.
    The monastery is one of Ukraine’s cultural treasures, known for its labyrinthine caves housing the mummified bodies of monks.    Police now guard its entrances and medical teams take the temperatures of those going in and out.
    Several clergymen are in hospital, including Pavel himself.    Vadym Novynskyi, a lawmaker and wealthy backer of the Moscow Patriarchate, said Pavel’s condition was not serious.
    “Yes, he was admitted to the hospital but he already wants to escape from there,” Novynskyi told Reuters.    “The doctors just recommended him to stay a day or two to be sure.”
    Ukraine has 3,102 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 93 deaths.    The authorities have tightened lockdown measures, including making it compulsory to wear a mask in public, in the run-up to Orthodox Easter on April 19.     President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged Ukrainians not to attend church services.
(Reporting by Ilya Zhegulev in Kiev; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

4/13/2020 To Belgrade and beyond: Beijing exports China model of virus management by Keith Zhai and Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask passes by a billboard depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping
as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Belgrade, Serbia, April 1, 2020.
The text on the billboard reads "Thanks, brother Xi". REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic
    SINGAPORE/BELGRADE (Reuters) – Last month, six Chinese medical professionals stepped off an Air Serbia jet in Belgrade to a red-carpet welcome from President Aleksandar Vucic and an array of cabinet ministers.    After elbow-bump greetings, Vucic kissed Serbia’s flag, then China’s.
    In Serbia, one of Beijing’s closest European allies, and a handful of other friendly countries, China is providing on-the-ground guidance to help battle the coronavirus that has swept around the world.
    The outreach is part of a wider push by Beijing to assert global leadership in battling COVID-19 after facing criticism from Washington and elsewhere that it fumbled its early response to the outbreak, believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
    These efforts by Beijing come as western governments, already wary of China’s rising influence around the world, including through its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, are struggling with their own mounting coronavirus death tolls.
    They are part of a long-running effort by China to strike a benevolent posture abroad to offset worries about its growing economic and military might, while presenting alternatives – such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank it set up in 2016 – to Western dominance of global institutions.
    “There is no doubt that China will use the COVID-19 outbreak to further what China views as acting in its own national interest,” said Gordon Houlden, a former Canadian diplomat and the director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute.
    “That will include pushing its own governance model, in this case its methodology of epidemiology,” he said.
    That methodology is based on the aggressive and comprehensive approach China took to combat the virus, including the lockdown of Wuhan, and the know-how it has built as the first country to suffer an outbreak of the disease.
    China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    But ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, at a press conference on Thursday, said the aim of sending medical teams was to share China’s experiences combatting the virus, not to export its governance model abroad.
    In addition to Serbia, Beijing has sent medical teams to Cambodia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Pakistan, Venezuela and Italy, the only G7 nation to join the Belt and Road Initiative and which has been devastated by the coronavirus.    Last week, a 12-member Chinese medical team arrived in the Philippines to aid in the fight against the virus.
    The outreach is on top of the donation or sale of supplies to some 90 countries, including rivals such as the United States, as well as numerous videoconferences with countries and international organisations to share its know-how, according to the China International Development Cooperation Agency.
    “We hope that other countries will not repeat China’s tragedies,” Peng Zhiqiang, a specialist from the Guangdong Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and head of the Chinese team in Serbia, said by phone from Belgrade.
‘TRUST CHINESE EXPERTS’
    Chinese medical teams are advising some host countries on building makeshift hospitals – evoking the 1,000 bed hospital China built from scratch in eight days in Wuhan – and rolling out virus management measures similar to those that helped it slash new infections at home, according to Peng and Liang Wenbin, a member of a Chinese team sent to Cambodia last month.
    Those practices include the quarantine or isolation of people with mild symptoms to curb the early spread of the virus, methods of treating complications and widespread temperature checking for entry into public places.
    On the Chinese team’s advice, Serbia began quarantining people with mild symptoms and deploying troops to build field hospitals for patients with mild symptoms.
    Serbian officials said they welcomed the input, which they say has helped slow the spread of the virus.
    “We changed our approach, and with the support of Chinese experts, we went for more widespread testing,” said a source close to the Serbian presidency, who was not authorised to speak with media and declined to be named.
    “Chinese doctors have welcomed the measures taken by Serbia, and we have embraced the Chinese model, which is to reach and treat as many people as possible – all who are infected,” the person said.
QUARANTINES AND VISA CURBS
    In Cambodia, which has been a loyal supporter of Beijing in Southeast Asia, the issuance of visas for international visitors was sharply curtailed at the suggestion of the team.    The country is bracing for an influx of returnees for the Khmer new year this month.
    Cambodia is also considering the team’s advice to refit hotels and schools for possible quarantine of returnees, said Liang, the member of the Chinese team.
    “The latest restrictions to limit the mobility of personnel and to ban foreigners from coming to the country are the control measures China used,” she said.
    The Cambodian government did not reply to requests for comment.
‘THANK YOU, BIG BROTHER XI’
    Despite its medical outreach efforts, China has faced sharp criticism in Washington and elsewhere for suppressing early information on the virus and downplaying its risks.
    “I am sceptical that many countries will soon forget China’s early missteps that contributed to the global spread of the virus,” said Ryan Hass, a senior Asia director in the Obama administration’s National Security Council who is now at the Brookings Institution.
    The response to the outreach from China in countries like Serbia, however, has so far been positive.
    In Belgrade, the Chinese team visited a memorial to those killed in 1999 when American bombs hit China’s embassy there in what Washington apologised for as an accident.
    After the team’s arrival, a placard was mounted on a central Belgrade street with a picture of China’s leader and big letters in Chinese and Serbian: “Thank you, brother Xi.”
(This story corrects translation in final paragraph)
(Reporting by Keith Zhai in Singapore and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade. Additional reporting by John Geddie in Singapore and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh. Editing by Tony Munroe and Philip McClellan)

4/13/2020 Albania relaxes weekday curfew hours, toughens weekend lockdown by Benet Koleka
FILE PHOTO: Albanian people are being disinfected before entering a market, as Albanian authorities take measures
to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tirana, Albania April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania is relaxing a weekday curfew to allow shoppers longer to collect provisions, but is extending its weekend lockdown and launching police drones to deter rule-breakers as it moves to a second phase of tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
    Each family will how have from 5 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for their designated shopper to spend 90 minutes visiting shops, banks and pharmacies once they receive permission via an app — four and a half hours longer than before.
    But at weekends, the lockdown will be in force from Friday evening until Monday morning, rather than starting at Saturday lunchtime.
    Police also began using drones on Monday to spot anyone going out during the hours of lockdown.
    “Now we are in stage two of fighting this virus.    While we start relaxing the rules with tiny steps, we must be ever more vigilant,” Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said.
    Since recording its first cases on March 9, 467 people in Albania have been confirmed as infected and 23 people have died.
    Most of the 21 new cases detected in the past 24 hours were in the northern town of Shkoder.    The mayor there has shut a main market and ordered public areas to be disinfected.
    Most Albanians have respected the curfew, but some have not.
    A man convicted of drug trafficking and wanted for murder tried to escape when a policeman asked for his ID but was shot and wounded by the officer.
    At the weekend police caught 10 people, including a senior police official, playing soccer by the Adriatic Sea.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/14/2020 Kyrgyzstan extends coronavirus emergency
FILE PHOTO: Local residents wearing protective gear stand guard at a makeshift check point, which was
erected by members of a local community at their own expense to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in the settlement of Chon-Aryk near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov
    BISHKEK (Reuters) – Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday extended until April 30 the state of emergency introduced in its two major cities and several districts due to the coronavirus outbreak, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov’s office said.
    The Central Asian nation bordering China has confirmed 430 cases of the disease    and has introduced a lockdown and a curfew in its capital, Bishkek.
(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Jon Boyle)

4/14/2020 Poland to begin lifting some restrictions from April 19
FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing protective gear disinfects a public bus during the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gdynia, Poland, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will gradually lift lockdown measures imposed to contain the novel coronavirus from April 19, starting with restrictions on shops, the government said on Tuesday, as it prepares to hold presidential elections by post on May 10.
    As of Monday, Poland had reported 6,934 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, and 245 deaths.
    “From the 19th we will slowly start unfreezing the economy,” Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski told Polish private radio station RMF FM.
    Restrictions on shops are likely to be lifted first, Poland’s government spokesman Piotr Muller told public radio.
    Muller said the government would decide on the lifting of further curbs on Wednesday or Thursday.
    Last week the authorities extended a lockdown on schools until April 26 and businesses until April 19.    Limits for air and rail transport have also been extended.    Poland’s borders will remain closed until May 3.
    The May 10 elections are now expected to be held exclusively by post in an effort to curtail the risks associated with coronavirus.    Opposition politicians and critics say the election risks not being free or fair and some have called for voters to boycott the ballot altogether.
    Szumowski said on Tuesday that he is waiting on the General Sanitation Inspectorate to judge the safety of carrying out the elections by post before he will issue his own recommendation.
    Human rights officials, international organisations and European Union Commissioner Vera Jourova have criticised the Polish ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s push to hold elections by post.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz; Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/14/2020 Austria reopening thousands of shops in first loosening of lockdown
A general view of the parking area of a hardware store during the partial reopening of shops after the Austrian government loosens its
lockdown restrictions during the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Thousands of shops across Austria will reopen on Tuesday as it becomes one of the first countries in Europe to loosen its coronavirus lockdown, but the government is still telling the nation it is “not out of the woods” yet.
    Austria acted early in its outbreak to close schools, bars, theatres, restaurants, non-essential shops and other gathering places roughly four weeks ago.    It has told the public to stay home and work from there if possible.
    It has fared relatively well so far, having reported 368 deaths in total, fewer than some larger European countries have been suffering each day.    The daily increase in confirmed cases is in low single digits in percentage terms and hospitalisations have stabilised.
    “Economically, too, we want to come out of this crisis as quickly as possible and fight for every job in Austria,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a conservative governing with the Greens, said in an open letter to the country on Saturday, the eve of Easter Sunday.
    Last week, he outlined a step-by-step plan to reopen parts of the economy, starting with shops of up to 400 square metres (4,300 square feet)- roughly twice the playing area of a singles tennis court – as well as all home-improvement and garden centres on Tuesday.
    They are due to be followed by shopping centres, larger shops and hairdressers from May 1.    Restaurants and hotels could reopen progressively from mid-May, Kurz has said.
    It remains unclear whether, even with limits on the number of people allowed inside shops and a requirement for all shoppers to wear face masks, Kurz is sending a mixed message about the lockdown, which is in place until the end of April.     The World Health Organization on Friday urged caution, saying: “Lifting restrictions could lead to a deadly resurgence,” without mentioning Austria specifically.
    “I am simply 100% certain that we did the right thing and are doing the right thing,” Kurz said in an interview with newspaper Kurier published on Saturday.
    The same day, he told national broadcaster ORF: “We are not out of the woods.    The danger is still among us,” urging the public to keep self-isolating and implement social distancing.
    Other Western European countries are loosening their lockdowns, albeit differently.    On Monday, Spain allowed some activities, including construction and manufacturing, to restart.    Denmark is reopening daycare centres and schools for children from first to fifth grades on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Cooney)

4/14/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases surpass 20,000 in record daily rise
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing protective gear stands outside a hospital for patients infected with
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday reported 2,774 new cases of the coronavirus, a record daily rise, bringing its overall nationwide tally to 21,102, the country’s coronavirus response centre said.
    It said 170 people in Russia diagnosed with the virus have now died, an overnight rise of 22.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/14/2020 Russia says it’s ready for hypersonic missile talks with U.S. by Alexander Marrow
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is seen after a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart
Pekka Haavisto in the House of the Estates in Helsinki, Finland March 3, 2020. Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is ready to discuss hypersonic missiles and other arms control issues with the United States as part of wider discussions about strategic stability, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
    Cold War-era arms control agreements have been in jeopardy as Russia’s relations with the West have soured in recent years.
    In August 2019, the United States pulled out of a landmark strategic arms accord, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), citing Russian non-compliance.
    Both countries are developing hypersonic missiles to expand their defence capabilities, with Russian President Vladimir Putin overseeing a test in Crimea in early January.
    Such missiles, which fly several times the speed of sound and can be steered in flight, are harder to stop than other generations of weapons.    Some experts fear their deployment could trigger a new nuclear arms race.
    Lavrov said he wanted to speak to U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again after receiving a call from him a couple of days ago during which he said Pompeo touched on resuming talks on arms control and strategic stability.
    “We welcome such interest from our American partners because we have encouraged them to address these problems more actively for a long time,” Lavrov said.
    “We are open to talks about new promising developments, including hypersonic weapons in the context of, and I emphasise this especially, taking into account all aspects and factors that influence strategic stability, without exception.”
    Moscow has taken steps to mend ties with the West since the coronavirus outbreak.
    Russia has flown medical supplies and equipment to the United States and Italy to help them fight the epidemic.    Lavrov said Moscow was prepared to fly over more supplies should Washington request them.
(Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/14/2020 U.S. to send Russia equipment to combat COVID-19 by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump told Russian leader Vladimir Putin the U.S. is planning to send Russia equipment to help fight the coronavirus.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced this in an online press conference Tuesday.    The move come as Russia is establishes stricter lockdown measures amid the growing outbreak.
    Authorities reported more than 21,000 cases of COVID-19 in the country and 170 related deaths.        However, Lavrov said it’s just a matter of time until the U.S. is able to send aid.
    “…the United States, when they get production of the relevant equipment in sufficient volumes up and running, will be prepared to send such supplies to our country,” he stated. “I think that it’s a typical, cooperative approach and that it deserves support.”
    The Russian official welcomed the assistance, which follows a history of humanitarian aid between the two countries.
    President Putin warned the number of infected people in Russia is increasing and that the coming weeks will be decisive for the country’s battle against the pandemic.

4/14/2020 Czechs to lift coronavirus lockdown on shops, restaurants over next two months by Robert Muller
FILE PHOTO: Members of Czech Army wearing protective gear carry samples to test people for the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brno, Czech Republic, April 7, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government will allow stores and restaurants to reopen gradually over the next two months to reawaken an economy paralysed by the coronavirus lockdown, officials said on Tuesday.
    In March, the nation of 10.7 million people imposed some of the earliest – and toughest – measures in Europe to curb the outbreak and now joins a group of European countries seeking to cautiously return to business as transmission rates slow.
    While cautioning that the plan could be revised should the rate of infections spike anew, authorities said they would start by letting craft shops reopen on April 20, larger stores on May 11, and restaurants and shopping malls on June 8.
    “This scenario is based on a parameter where the coronavirus will be under control, as it has been until now,” Deputy Prime Minister Karel Havlicek told a news conference.
    Czech authorities had reported 6,101 cases with 161 deaths as of Tuesday with the number of new infections below 300 per day in the past 10 days and hospital admissions below the maximum capacity of the health system.
    Deputy Health Minister Roman Prymula said the virus reproduction or transmission rate, dubbed “R”, was now less than 1 – meaning a person with the virus typically infects less than 1 person on average, and that the epidemic is in decline.
    Nevertheless, Czechs will need to continue wearing face masks until further notice and summer festivals and other events for large groups of people will probably not take place, officials said.
    Theatres, other culture venues for up to 50 people and indoor sections of restaurants would be the last to open on June 8 after beer gardens resume on May 25 under the current plan.
    “We managed to get this epidemic under control in some way, the reproduction number has dropped below 1, meaning that the epidemic has a downward trend here,” Prymula said.
    The plan also foresees a partial reopening of schools for student admission and graduation exams but normal schooling will not restart before the new academic year in September.
    Borders would also remain shut except for travel related to business, medical and family reasons with a 14-day quarantine required on return.    Any wider reopening would have to come in coordination with other European countries, officials said.
    “Ordinary travel will depend on how the situation develops in Europe, it has to be in concert with other countries,” Havlicek said.
    The lockdown has pummelled the Czech economy and cost the services sector an estimated 50 billion crowns ($2.04 billion) in losses through the end of April due to a lack of foreign tourists to Prague and other cities.
    The export-dependent economy received some good news on Tuesday, however.    Hyundai Motor Co’s Czech car plant became the first automaker in the country to get back to work after a three-week outage, and tire maker Barum Continental also reopened.
    The plan to gradually revive the Czech economy comes as the European Commission warned that European Union member states should coordinate any easings of lockdown measures or risk new outbreaks of the coronavirus.
    In Italy, the first EU country to be hard hit by COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the coronavirus, dozens of businesses were allowed to resume activity on Tuesday, although harsh confinement measures remain in place.
    Other countries went further, with Denmark due to reopen schools on April 15 and Austria allowing large shops to restart activities on Tuesday and reopening shopping centres from May 1.
(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka, Writing by Michael Kahn, Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/14/2020 Protesting Poles engage in drive for abortion rights by Joanna Plucinska
People drive their car with a "Women's Strike" banner in protest against the Polish Parliament to debate new limits
on abortion and sexual education in Warsaw, Poland April 14,2020. Maciek Jazwiecki/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poles took to social media and their cars on Tuesday to oppose proposals set to be discussed in parliament this week to limit abortion rights and to criminalise sex education in conservative Poland.
    As restrictions on movement to contain the novel coronavirus prevented street gatherings, protesters driving in their cars blocked off one of Warsaw’s main roundabouts, Rondo Dmowskiego.
    They honked their horns and held up signs in their car windows, footage on social media seen by Reuters showed.
    Polish women’s rights groups also called for Poles to protest on their balconies, in shopping queues and by putting posters in their windows.
    Police, using loud speakers, warned demonstrators they could be held criminally liable if they flouted lockdown rules.
    Abortion rights are a contentious issue in Poland, with the conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) keen to curb the nation’s already restricted access further, despite significant public opposition.
    Parliament is set to decide later this week whether to debate a proposal submitted for its consideration by anti-abortion activists.    It is unclear whether the PiS, which controls the legislature, will back it, however.
    The party, which campaigns on introducing more religious values into public life, has previously retreated from proposals to nearly ban abortion after a massive public outcry.
    Campaigners say it would face renewed criticism if it pushed through legislation when restrictions on public life because of the coronavirus pandemic prohibit large-scale demonstrations.
    “The chaos and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 shouldn’t be used as a distraction from harmful attempts to push through dangerous legislation,” Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s largest human rights groupings, said on Tuesday.
    “The Polish government’s focus during the pandemic should be to protect people’s health and rights, not diminish them.”
WEIGHING SUPPORT
    For the PiS, a tough stance against abortion could bolster its support among the conservative electorate ahead of a presidential election scheduled for May 10.    Its incumbent, Andrzej Duda, is leading in opinion polls.
    Under current rules, abortion is allowed in Poland in the case of rape, incest and risks to maternal health or if prenatal tests show serious, irreversible damage to the foetus.
    The new proposal would eliminate foetal health as an exception, which accounts for the vast majority of legal abortions conducted in Poland.
    “I believe that killing disabled children is simply murder,” Duda, a PiS ally, told Catholic news outlet Niedziela, earlier this month when asked about the proposal.    “If legislation about this crosses my desk, I will certainly sign it into law,” he said.
    The abortion imitative, alongside a proposal to criminalise sex education in schools, was submitted during parliament’s previous term, before the October 2015 general election, which the PiS won.    It must be reviewed by May, according to parliamentary rules.
    The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic on Tuesday also urged parliament to reject the two bills, saying they could restrict women’s rights to safe and legal abortions and children’s rights to sex education.
    A spokesman as well as PiS members of parliament contacted by Reuters did not respond to requests for comment.
    #RatujmyKobiety, which translates as #Rescue Women, was one of the trending hashtags on Twitter in Poland on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; editing by Justyna Pawlak and Barbara Lewis)

4/14/2020 Denmark proposes faster easing of lockdown as coronavirus cases fall: PM
FILE PHOTO: Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen speaks during a news conference on the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, at her office in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 6, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s government plans to reopen society more quickly than anticipated as the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations continues to fall, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Tuesday.
    As a first step in a gradual relaxation of a month-long lockdown, Denmark will on Wednesday reopen day care centres and schools for children in first to fifth grade.
    But the government has faced some criticism for keeping many small businesses such as restaurants, cafes and hair dressers shut.
    “Our job as government is not to look after the interests of certain groups, but to find a balanced solution that is good both in terms of health and also provides significantly better conditions in terms of jobs,” Frederiksen told a news briefing.
    “This will be our approach for the extension of the first phase of reopening,” she said, without specifying details of the government’s proposal.
    The proposal will be discussed with other parties in parliament later on Tuesday, Frederiksen said.
    The Nordic country, which was one of the first in Europe to shut down, had 299 coronavirus-related deaths as of Tuesday, while the number of hospitalizations has fallen over the last two weeks.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Andreas Mortensen; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

4/14/2020 Moscow warns it faces coronavirus hospital bed shortage within weeks by Polina Ivanova and Tom Balmforth
Medical specialists wearing protective gear stand outside a hospital for patients infected with the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Authorities in Moscow have warned that the Russian capital may run out of hospital beds to treat a rising influx of coronavirus patients in the next two to three weeks despite frantic efforts to get more beds in place.
    Moscow, Russia’s worst-hit region, has rushed to reconfigure hospitals to treat patients of the new virus and made thousands of new beds available.
    But officials said those efforts looked insufficient and that they had to ramp up capacity further.
    “…The operational headquarters predicts that despite the inclusion of an increasing number of state, federal and commercial clinics, a shortage of beds in redeveloped hospitals is possible in the next two to three weeks,” the Moscow city health department said.
    It would reconfigure 24 more hospitals given the precarious situation and planned to have a total of 21,000 beds available within the next 10 days, it said in the same statement, which was issued late on Monday.
    New confirmed infections in the Russian capital shot up by 1,489 overnight, a record, bringing its total number of registered cases to 13,002.
    The tally of nationwide cases, including Moscow, stands at 21,102. Authorities say 170 people have died so far.
    Sergei Savostyanov, a Moscow lawmaker who sits on the local parliament’s healthcare commission, told Reuters last week that hospital capacity would be close to breaking point if new cases rose by more than 1,500 in the capital every day.
    “Judging by documents on the healthcare budget I am familiar with and sittings I attend, I think that if 1,500-2,000 people get infected (on a daily basis), we will reach a very serious threshold, which may be critical for the city,” he said.
‘CLOSE TO CATASTROPHIC’
    Moscow Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova said on Friday that the number of seriously sick patients requiring hospitalisation was rising quickly, creating what she said was a “dramatic” burden on the city’s healthcare system.
    On Saturday, one coronavirus patient, Georgiy Federov, described the situation in the hospital where he was taken as “close to catastrophic.”
    “The admissions room was packed with sick people, and most had identical symptoms… Ambulances were arriving every five to seven minutes,” he wrote on social media, adding that he had refused to be held in hospital.
    “Medical staff and doctors are really working as if it was wartime.    It’s some sort of crazy conveyer belt of sick people… Everyone is placed in wards together.    Clearly, bed spaces are already filled to the brim.”
    Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow’s mayor, said on Monday that the city had enlisted around 4,500 university and college medical students to help hospital staff treat the inflow of patients.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/15/2020 Coronavirus cases in Russia near 25,000 after record daily rise
A medical specialist wearing protective gear walks out of a hospital for patients infected with the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday reported 3,388 new cases of the coronavirus, a record daily rise, bringing its overall nationwide tally to 24,490, the country’s coronavirus response centre said.
    It said 198 people in Russia diagnosed with the virus had now died, an overnight rise of 28.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/15/2020 Poland debates abortion rights curbs, coronavirus limits protests by Anna Koper
Women drive their car with a "Women's Strike" banner in protest against the Polish Parliament to debate new limits
on abortion and sexual education in Warsaw, Poland April 14,2020. Human Rights Watch, one of the world's largest
human rights groupings accused the Polish government of taking advantage of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak lockdown to debate new abortion laws. Maciek Jazwiecki/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers are to debate a proposal to tighten already restrictive abortion rules on Wednesday, while rights activists protested on social media as coronavirus limits public gatherings.
    Abortion rights are a contentious issue in Poland, one of Europe’s most devout nations, with the nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party keen to burnish its conservative credentials despite considerable public opposition to further restrictions.
    Proposed as a citizens’ initiative, the draft legislation would ban abortion if prenatal tests show serious, irreversible damage to the foetus, one of the few instances in which the procedure is allowed in Poland.
    Others are incest, rape and risks to maternal health.
    PiS, a party that campaigns on introducing more religious values into public life, has signalled some reluctance to back the bill in parliament, which it controls, ahead of a presidential election on May 10.
    The issue poses a dilemma for PiS, which had previously retreated from proposals to nearly ban abortion after a massive public outcry, because it could galvanise voters on either side of the divide.
    Campaigners also say it would face renewed criticism if it pushed through legislation when restrictions on public life because of the coronavirus pandemic prohibit large-scale demonstrations.
    “It is a difficult subject, and the timing is unfavourable,” said Tadeusz Cymanski, a senior PiS lawmaker.
    Deputies are due to debate the issue late on Wednesday.
TERMINATIONS ABROAD
    Underscoring deep-seated support for further restrictions on the right in Poland, President Andrzej Duda told a Catholic news outlet Niedziela that he would sign further curbs into law.
    “I believe that killing disabled children is simply murder,” Duda, a PiS ally, was quoted as saying.
    Opinion polls show Duda wining the May 10 election, although the ballot is clouded in uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    PiS is seeking to hold the ballot via post rather than polling booths but a legislative proposal on the issue might clear parliament only days before the election date, leaving little time to organise.
    The opposition has said the vote should be postponed because the election campaign has been curtailed by the pandemic, accusing Duda of taking advantage of his position to continue campaigning.
    Rights activists in Poland say the pandemic has also curbed women’s access to abortion abroad because of travel restrictions throughout Europe.
    Many women terminate pregnancies in Germany, Slovakia and further away, in cases when it would be illegal in Poland or when hospitals refuse to perform an abortion that would technically be allowed under Polish rules.
    Andrzej Rychard, a sociologist, said a vote for new abortion rules would likely undermine unity within PiS and its conservative ruling alliance, already strained by internal debates over whether the presidential vote should be delayed.
    “It would remind people that they can mobilise and protest,” Rychard said.    “And that could shake up the ruling alliance.”
(Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

4/15/2020 Moscow’s lockdown permit system fuels surveillance fears by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing protective gear stands outside a hospital for patients infected with
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow authorities said on Tuesday they had revoked 900,000 travel permits for use during the coronavirus lockdown because they contained false data, fuelling fears that the state was using the epidemic to tighten its surveillance of citizens.
    Like the residents of many other regions, 12.7 million Muscovites have been told not to leave home except to buy food, get urgent medical treatment or walk the dog.    From Wednesday, anyone travelling by car or public transport will need to be able to show a permit in the form of a machine-readable QR code.
    Russia recorded 2,774 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, a record daily rise, bringing its nationwide total to 21,102. Officials say 170 people have died.
    Moscow officials said 3.2 million lockdown passes had already been issued, either for one-off trips or for regular commuting to essential places of work that have been allowed to stay open.
    But 900,000 permits are to be revoked because people applied using false information such as digits instead of surnames or incorrect passport or tax numbers, Moscow’s coronavirus task force said.
    Internet freedom advocates say the applications could be used to harvest data not already held, such as addresses.    Some people keep these from the authorities if they can because they fear being scammed or subjected to various kinds of extortion if the information is stolen or illegally bought or passed on.
    “Of course, all these problems … such as questions of privacy and inappropriate surveillance and use of confidential data have come to the fore,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, a lawyer for Roskomsvoboda, a group that monitors internet freedom.
    He and others say it is unclear how the data will be used – or protected.
    Officials say such fears are unfounded, and that the system is simply needed to help enforce lockdown measures.
    Traffic police have set up checkpoints on roads coming into the city and said they will not let anyone in without a permit. The region surrounding Moscow has its own permit scheme.
    City official Eduard Lysenko said false data entry would soon be treated as a civil offence:
    “If any data is entered incorrectly or if it turns out to be false, the pass will be cancelled, and citizens who provide the false information will be held administratively liable.”
    The website issuing permits was briefly unavailable on Monday because of what officials said was sustained hacking attacks, but it was online again by the end of the day.
    Hundreds of thousands of Muscovites left for the countryside at the end of March, just before the start of city-wide closures and restrictions on movement.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/15/2020 Poland’s PiS seeks constitutional change to extend president’s term
FILE PHOTO: President of Poland Andrzej Duda speaks during a news conference after the Brdo-Brijuni
Process Leaders' Meeting in Tirana, Albania May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalists have proposed changing the constitution to extend President Andrzej Duda’s term by two years because of threats related to the coronavirus pandemic, a draft bill filed with the parliament showed late on Wednesday.
    The proposal also said a presidential election due on May 10 would be void under the new rules.    Poland’s constitution says a president’s mandate lasts five years.    The new rules would extend this to seven years.
    “The current state of threat to public security and its expected consequences justifies … a change to the Constitution within the course of (the president’s) mandate,” lawmakers wrote in the draft legislation, signed by senior Law and Justice (PiS) party officials.
    The election next month has been clouded in uncertainty amid restrictions on public life imposed by the Polish government to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    The PiS has so far said it wants the election to go ahead, but through the introduction of mail-in votes instead of voting booths to reduce the risk of contagion among voters.
    Critics have accused PiS of putting political gain ahead of public health in its push for a May election, which opinion polls show incumbent Duda, a PiS ally, would likely win.
    A PiS spokeswoman declined immediate comment on the proposal.
    It was unclear on Wednesday whether PiS would secure enough support in parliament for the proposal, which also removes the right for a sitting president to run for re-election.
    The party and its conservative alliance control the legislature but are short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution.
    Two PiS officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told Reuters the last-minute proposal was intended as a gesture towards some members of its conservative alliance in parliament who had lobbied for such a solution last week.
    The postal vote, the two lawmakers said, was still the party’s preferred outcome.
    Jan Grabiec, a spokesman for the main opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform, said he expected the proposal to be mired in parliamentary procedure long enough that it couldn’t be passed in time to affect the current president’s term.
    PiS needs the backing of the president to push through its conservative agenda and to make further progress in its judiciary reforms, which the European Union has said subvert the rule of law.
    “We don’t expect any discussions with PiS about changing the constitution,” leftist lawmaker Barbara Nowacka said.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alicja Ptak; editing by Justyna Pawlak and Grant McCool)

4/16/2020 Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists begin prisoner swap
Prisoners of war (POWs), wearing protective masks amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, line up
during the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and the separatist republics near the Mayorsk crossing point
in Donetsk Region, Ukraine April 16, 2020. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have started a prisoner swap, the office of Ukraine’s president said on Thursday.
    It is the first swap of 2020 and Ukraine will take back 19 of its citizens, the president’s office said in a statement.    It did not say how many prisoners Ukraine would return.
    The conflict that broke out in 2014 has killed more than 13,000 people, left a large swathe of Ukraine de facto controlled by the separatists and aggravated the deepest east-west rift since the Cold War.
    “The current release demonstrates the effectiveness of the president’s strategy and compliance with the agreements reached during the Normandy summit in December 2019,” the office said.
    The prisoner swap was the third during the presidency of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected last year in a landslide, in part on promises to resolve the stalemated conflict.
    Zelenskiy agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin in December to send prisoners home, and scores were handed over just before the end of the year.
    His office said negotiations were also ongoing on the release of Ukrainians held in Russia itself and in Crimea, Ukrainian territory which Russia annexed in 2014.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Toby Chopra and Peter Graff)

4/16/2020 Russia reports nearly 28,000 coronavirus cases after new record daily rise
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past a figure of a Young Pioneer, a Soviet-era youth organization's member,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 3,448 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, up from 3,388 the day earlier.     The overall number of cases reached 27,938.
    Thirty-four people died in the last 24 hours, which took the national coronavirus death toll to 232
, the Russian coronavirus crisis response centre said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/16/2020 Uzbekistan appeals to labour rights group to lift cotton boycott
FILE PHOTO: Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev attends a news conference with his Kazakh counterpart
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Tashkent, Uzbekistan April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/File Photo
    TASHKENT (Reuters) – Uzbekistan on Thursday appealed to a coalition of human rights groups to end a boycott of Uzbek cotton and textiles to enable the Central Asian nation to boost export revenue and create jobs at a time of a global recession.
    But campaigners in the Cotton Campaign said they want Tashkent to complete its plan to eradicate forced labour before lifting a boycott.
    The government estimates that ending the boycott, which is supported by more than 300 apparel manufacturers and retailers, could allow the country to earn an extra $1 billion by selling cotton and textiles on Western markets.
    In an open letter to the Cotton Campaign leadership, Uzbek labour minister Nozim Khusanov urged it to consider both the progress made by Uzbekistan in eradicating forced labour and the country’s economic circumstances.
    “Lifting of the cotton boycott is one of the few measures that could quickly generate much-needed jobs and support the economic wellbeing of Uzbeks during the COVID-19 crisis,” the government said in a statement.
    “Textile production alone employs 200,000 workers in Uzbekistan; their wages support the livelihoods of one million people.”
    The boycott campaign was launched in 2006 in an attempt to force Uzbekistan to abandon a long-running practice of sending students and public sector employees, including teachers and doctors, to pick cotton for meagre pay.
    It has been supported by the likes of Amazon, Calvin Klein, Adidas and Inditex, and today the nation of 34 million people mostly sells cotton and textiles on Asian markets, which it says means lower prices and limited growth opportunities.
    President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who came to power in 2016, has gradually dismantled the forced labour system, explicitly barring provincial authorities from mobilising students and public sector workers for cotton harvesting.
    Last month, he signed a decree abolishing the system under which provinces were obliged to meet cotton production targets set by the central government.
    The Uzbek government said it expected to boost textile exports to $3 billion this year from $2 billion in 2019, but if the boycott was lifted, export volumes could double year-on-year.
    The Cotton Campaign has yet to respond to the government’s plea, but comments from some of its leaders indicated they considered such a move premature.
    “The issue is less whether to end the Pledge – but when and how – and above all, how ending it can become a catalyst for responsible sourcing and investment in a reforming Uzbekistan,” said Cotton Campaign co-founder Bennett Freeman.
    Nate Herman, senior vice president of American Apparel and Footwear Association, said “additional assurances” of worker protections were required.
    “We recognise and are heartened by the historic progress that Uzbekistan has made toward ending forced labour and members look forward to considering sourcing from Uzbekistan,” said Herman.
    “However, given brands’ zero-tolerance policies on forced labour, anti-slavery legal requirements, and the International Labour Organisation’s finding that more than 100,000 people were in forced labour during Uzbekistan’s 2019 cotton harvest, brands need additional assurances of worker protections.”
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Additional reporting and writing by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by William Maclean and Mike Harrison)

4/16/2020 Hungary extends national lockdown to contain spread of coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Workers wearing protective suits clean and disinfect an underpass to prevent the spread of
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Budapest, Hungary, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary is extending lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus by one week from Saturday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said at a media conference on Thursday.
    The government would review the need to maintain the lockdown each Wednesday, Gergely Gulyas said.
    Municipal governments would be allowed to impose special restrictions at the weekend again to ensure local communities are protected.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves and Krisztina Than; editing by Jason Neely)

4/16/2020 Poland to reopen parks and forest on Monday as it starts easing curbs
FILE PHOTO: A worker disinfects a bus stop against coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
in Krakow, Poland, March 23, 2020. Jakub Porzycki/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will reopen parks and forests on Monday and then revise the rules on the number of customers allowed in shops, as the country starts to loosen its coronavirus lockdown, State Assets Minister Jacek Sasin said on Thursday.
    Poland’s prime minister is expected to announce on Thursday details of the government’s plan for easing restrictions on public life, which were launched to curb the spread of the virus.
    “Final decisions will be taken today. I think that first, starting from Monday we can expect opening of forests, green areas,” Sasin told private radio RMF. He added that Poland will also revise the rules on the number of customers allowed in shops at a time, but did not say when they would come into effect.
    Sasin also said it is too early to talk about reopening of schools.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Susan Fenton)

4/16/2020 Switzerland to announce three-phase exit from coronavirus restrictions
FILE PHOTO: People line outside a supermarket during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s government is due to unveil on Thursday how it plans to relax the country’s shutdown put in place to halt the spread of the new coronavirus epidemic, Swiss media reported.
    Health Minister Alain Berset will outline a three-stage plan to start a gradual opening of businesses and schools which have been shuttered for a month.
    Under Berset’s plan, companies which provide personal services like hairdressers and physiotherapists will be allowed to return to work from April 27, Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zuercher Zeitung reported.
    The number of customers will be allowed on their premises will be restricted, the papers said.
    Following a gap of two or three weeks for monitoring, schools could reopen on May 11.    Bars and restaurant would remain closed until at least June 8, before reopening in the third phase.
    No plans have so far been drawn up for when mass events like concerts or soccer matches can restart.    Switzerland has banned gatherings of more than 5 people under its emergency measures.
    The plans are not yet settled, the Tages-Anzeiger said citing sources, with the government seeking to prevent the country’s regional authorities acting alone.
    Switzerland’s business community, facing huge losses from the shutdown, has been lobbying for lifting the restrictions as a soon as possible.
    The COVID-19 outbreak has so far claimed 973 lives in Switzerland, although the rate of positive tests has slowed in recent days.
    Neighbouring Austria has already announced a partial exit from its own lockdown, while Germany has announced its own small steps out of the lockdown.
(Reporting by John Revill, editing by John Miller)

4/16/2020 Poland’s borders to be closed until at least May 3: PM
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit,
held to discuss the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s borders will remain closed until at least May 3, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday.
    Morawiecki said Poland would start easing some coronavirus restrictions from April 20.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Alan Charlish; Editing by Chris Reese)

4/16/2020 Putin postpones milestone Victory Day military parade over coronavirus by Tom Balmforth and Andrey Ostroukh
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia April 16, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin, citing the deepening coronavirus crisis, said on Thursday Russia would postpone its May 9 celebrations including a huge military parade across Red Square to mark 75 years since the Soviet victory in World War Two.
    The Kremlin had hoped to mark the anniversary with particular pomp this year and that an array of world leaders would attend, but Putin said in televised comments there was now no choice but to push back the event.
    “The risks associated with an epidemic that has not passed its peak are extremely high.    And this does not give me the right to begin preparations for the parade and other public events,” he said.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Russia began rising sharply this month, although it had reported far fewer infections than many western European countries in the outbreak’s early stages.
    Russia confirmed 3,448 new cases on Thursday, a record daily rise that brought its nationwide tally to 27,938.
    Officials say 232 people have died
.
    Several war veteran organisations appealed to Putin this week to postpone the parade, saying they wanted it to be a memorable and spectacular event, something that looked unlikely with Moscow and many of Russia’s regions observing a lockdown.
    Speaking in comments broadcast on state television nationwide on Thursday, Putin did not say when the parade would take place, but said that it would definitely be this year.
    In power as president or prime minister for more than two decades, Putin oversees the May 9 military parade every year from a tribune packed with war veterans.
    The Soviet military campaign in World War Two has become a sensitive subject for Moscow ahead of the 75th anniversary.    Putin has accused Russia’s detractors of diminishing the Soviet war effort and the country’s huge loss of life.
    Many western leaders shunned the May 9 event after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea pushed relations to post-Cold War lows, but this year the Kremlin had hoped many world leaders would attend again.
    The heads of 17 countries, including India, France, Cuba, and Venezuela, had said they would attend this year, the Kremlin said in August last year.
    The Kremlin had invited U.S. President Donald Trump, but Washington said it would send his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien.     Trump had wanted to go, but was told by advisers not to, U.S. officials said.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/17/2020 Cuba will send medical team to Honduras to fight the coronavirus: health minister
FILE PHOTO: Police officers control access to a marketplace as part of restrictions aimed at halting the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tegucigalpa, Honduras April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera
    TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduran Health Minister Alba Consuelo Flores said on Thursday that a Cuban medical brigade would join local medics in the fight against the novel coronavirus as it spreads in the poor Central American country.
    Communist-run Cuba has sent its “armies of white robes” to disaster sites around the world largely in poor countries since its 1959 revolution.    It also sent doctors to Italy to help the fight against the coronavirus.
    “Right now, we’re seeing that health personnel are making us sick, health personnel who are insufficiently qualified, health personnel who definitely have to be replaced because they are fatigued,” Flores told a news conference conducted remotely.
    Honduras has 426 coronavirus cases and 35 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
    The Cuban brigade is made up of four emergency surgeons, two epidemiologists, six intensive-care nurses and four biomedical technicians, she said, without specifying when they would arrive.
    Honduras has some 4,000 medics across 33 hospitals, according to statistics from the Health Ministry.    They serve a population of some 9.2 million people, 62% of whom live in poverty.
    Cubans arrived in Honduras in 1998 after it was devastated by Hurricane Mitch, which caused more than 5,000 deaths.    The program was suspended last year when the Honduran government did not renew the agreement.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Peter Cooney)

4/17/2020 Poland, Hungary scolded for flouting ‘European values’ during pandemic by Marcin Goclowski
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a business
conference in Budapest, Hungary, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The European Union’s (EU) legislature rebuked nationalist-ruled members Poland and Hungary on Friday for flouting “European values” by pressing ahead with an election and assuming extra powers respectively during the coronavirus crisis.
    Hungary’s parliament has granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule by decree for an indefinite time to fight the pandemic, while Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) still plans a May presidential vote.
    In a clause to a resolution carried by 395 votes to 171, the European Parliament deemed both nations’ moves “totally incompatible with European values” of democracy and fairness.
    Hungary had weakened oversight of government, while Poland’s election at a time of health crisis may both endanger lives and undermine the concept of free votes, the resolution said.
    Poland has reported 8,214 coronavirus cases and 318 deaths, while Hungary has had 1,763 infections and 156 fatalities.
    Even before the resolution was passed, the Polish prime minister’s chief of staff Michal Dworczyk rejected it, telling public radio use of postal ballots would make the election safe.
    In power since 2015, the conservative PiS party has been in increasing conflict with Brussels over issues including judicial reforms, refugees, and climate change.
    The party wants to hold the vote on May 10, or one or two weeks later, President Andrzej Duda’s election campaign spokesman Adam Bielan said this week.
    But the opposition says the government is sacrificing public health for political gain.    “Health and life cannot be put at risk by unrestrained lust for power,” Tomasz Grodzki, a doctor and speaker of the opposition-controlled Senat upper house, told private broadcaster TVN24.
    Opinion polls show Duda, a PiS ally, rising in popularity with some projecting him more than 50% of the vote, though turnout could be as low as 30%. Poland’s de facto ruler Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS, has said he fears the coronavirus crisis may weaken support for his party in the longer term.
    Hungary, long criticised around Europe for erosion of rule of law, has responded to criticism of the government’s new powers by saying parliament can revoke them any time.
    There was no immediate response from the Hungarian government to a request for comment on Friday’s resolution.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish in Warsaw and Krisztina Than in Budapest; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

4/17/2020 Russia’s Lavrov, U.S. Pompeo discuss oil markets, coronavirus: statement
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is seen after a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart
Pekka Haavisto in the House of the Estates in Helsinki, Finland March 3, 2020. Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed on a call on Friday to continue coordinating efforts to overcome the crisis in oil markets and the challenges posed by the new coronavirus, a statement said.
    The Russian foreign ministry statement said the conversation followed five phone calls between the two countries’ presidents, that have taken place since April 9.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Chris Reese)

4/17/2020 Pompeo tells Russia’s Lavrov any new arms control talks must include China by Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses a news conference at the
State Department in Washington, U.S., April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told his Russian counterpart on Friday that any future arms control talks must focus on an American proposal for a new arms control accord that includes Russia and China, the State Department said.
    Pompeo emphasized in a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that “any future arms control talks must be based on     President (Donald) Trump’s vision for a trilateral arms control agreement that includes both Russia and China,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
    China, whose arsenal of an estimated 300 nuclear weapons is far smaller than those of Russia and the United States, has rejected such talks.
    Ortagus said Pompeo’s comments came as he and Lavrov discussed “next steps in the bilateral Strategic Security Dialogue, taking into account the COVID-19 pandemic.”
    Trump last year proposed that the United States, Russia and China negotiate a new pact to replace the 2010 New START accord that cut deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and the bombers and land-and submarine-based missiles that carry them to their lowest levels in decades.
    New START will expire next February unless the sides agree to extend it for up to five years.    Russia has said it would be willing to extend the accord, but the Trump administration has declined to state a position.
    The Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov had “reiterated the Russian proposal to extend the START treaty, due to expire in February 2021,” in his conversation with Pompeo.
    “(On the call) it was underlined that Russia is ready to work on possible new nuclear weapons agreements, but that it would be important to preserve… the START treaty while preparations are ongoing,” the ministry said in a statement.
    U.S. administration officials argue that China must be brought into any new arms control pact because of the growing threat they say is posed by its nuclear arsenal, which is undergoing a modernization program.
    Arms control experts, however, have described Trump’s proposal to include China in a new treaty as a “poison pill” strategy to kill New START and end restraints on U.S. nuclear arms deployments.
    Ortagus said Pompeo also discussed with Lavrov bilateral issues, “including the detention of U.S. citizens”    She did not elaborate on the number or identity of Americans detained in Russia.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Jonathan Landay in WASHINGTON and Polina Ivanova in MOSCOW; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Gareth Jones)

4/17/2020 Czech lawmakers call on government to look beyond China for coronavirus supplies by Michael Kahn and Robert Muller
FILE PHOTO: Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib and Taipei city Mayor Ko Wen-je sign a partnership agreement between the
two cities at the Old Town Hall in Prague, Czech Republic January 13, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech lawmakers took aim on Friday at the government’s decision buy protective equipment from China to limit the coronavirus outbreak and called for the next batch of supplies to come domestically or from closer to home.
    The Senate approved a resolution for the government to search for products made at home or within the European Union rather than further abroad.
    “Self-sufficiency in medical supplies is the first step towards country security,” chair of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee Pavel Fischer told Reuters.
    And that means it is high time to call on the government not to rely on an air bridge to China but to create conditions for moving strategic production to the Czech Republic and more broadly to the EU.”
    The move will add pressure on the government to buy at home and is the latest by a European country to boost domestic industries as the pandemic cripples the global economy.    Some countries have imposed export bans on medicines to avoid causing shortages in the bloc.
    The resolution also underlines the debate over whether China has used the pandemic to rebuild influence in a country where it had until recently found a more hospitable reception than in western Europe, investing little and winning influence from Czech lawmakers, the president and the region’s richest businessman.
    Billionaire Petr Kellner’s Home Credit is the only western consumer finance lender in China while President Milos Zeman has sought to curry favour with Beijing since taking office in 2013.
    But fizzled investments, cybersecurity warnings over Huawei and a Prague mayor, who defied China by forming his own diplomatic path with moves such as signing a sister-city agreement with Taipei, have dented the relationship.
    Facing an acute shortage of protective gear for medical staff in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the government reached a deal to buy masks and other equipment from China, where the virus first emerged.
    When the gear arrived, Prime Minister Andrej Babis credited in a speech the close ties of Zeman and former Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik — a key figure in China’s trade and diplomacy offensive in past years — with China for sealing the agreement.
    Tvrdik — the former vice-chairman of Chinese group CEFC Europe — is currently the only non-Chinese board member of CITIC Europe Holdings, which owns property in Prague and controls some companies.
    The government must decide before May 5 whether to extend its deal to buy supplies from abroad, mainly from China, according to Interior Minister Jan Hamacek who has said that in the early stages of the crisis only China had the capacity to make the needed deliveries.
    Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib said domestic companies may be able to fill the gap.
    “It turns out we had a lot of manufacturing capabilities in the Czech Republic.    The Czech underestimated the opportunity to solve the issue using internal capacities and preferred deliveries through China,” he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn and Robert Muller; Editing by Josephine Mason)

4/17/2020 Bulgaria’s Roma fear coronavirus lockdowns leave them with no means to live
A police officer talks to people during a gathering at the biggest Roma-populated district in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 17, 2020. Several
dozens of Roma people gathered to express concern of losing their jobs due to the measures for restricting movement introduced in their
neighbourhood on Thursday in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Scores of Roma people protested in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia on Friday over feared job losses due to a stricter application of a coronavirus lockdown in their main neighborhoods in efforts to halt the spread of the viral pandemic.
    Since Thursday residents of the Fakulteta and Filipovtsi neighborhoods have been subject to checkpoint controls because of concerns about them being at high risk of infection after 10 cases were reported in the impoverished area.
    Bulgaria has registered over 100 new COVID-19 cases since Tuesday, taking the total number to 846 including 41 deaths.    More than half of the confirmed infections are in Sofia.
    People apart from those in Roma neighbourhoods can move freely within the capital while observing social distancing but cannot leave it as part of a broader travel lockdown.
    Mayor Yordanka Fandukova denied that measures to restrict movement in Roma neighbourhoods amounted to discrimination, saying they were about stemming contagion and saving lives of residents there.
    But Roma people, who often say they are marginalized by deliberate policies of discrimination, said the move would leave many of them without the means to live in an area with few secure jobs and rampant poverty.
    “Many of the Roma work on the grey market without contracts or steady employers,” said Hristo Nikolov, a Fakulteta health mediator.    “They cannot provide documents for their employment and now they cannot leave the neighborhood and earn a living.”
    Fakulteta, where more than 45,000 live, became the latest Roma neighborhood to be cordoned off by police.
    Authorities in several other towns, including Sliven, Nova Zagora and Kazanluk, previously locked down their Roma districts in what they said were steps to rein in the spread of the coronavirus.
    “The other problem is that after Fakulteta was sealed off and information got out that probably many are infected there, many Roma who had steady jobs received calls from employers telling them not to show up at work at all,” said Nikolov.
    According to the 2011 census, 325,000 Roma people live in Bulgaria, a country of 7 million.    The European Commission estimates the true number of Roma is around 750,000.
    The government has also halted all private vehicle traffic in and out of Sofia until further notice.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/17/2020 Police levy fines, shut monastery as Ukraine begins Orthodox Easter under lockdown by Ilya Zhegulev and Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing protective gear escorts a man with high body temperature at a checkpoint
during the coronavirus outbreak on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainians geared up to celebrate Orthodox Easter this weekend under the wary eye of authorities who have tightened lockdown measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus and fined people for breaking the rules. While not closing churches, the government has effectively barred attendance by not allowing services with more than 10 people present, and only allowed people to travel in public places alone or in pairs.
    Most church leaders have complied, agreeing to broadcast their services online and on television.
    Priests consecrated the traditional Easter breads directly in bakeries and factories before they were sold, to avoid devotees taking them to priests.    In villages, Easter baskets were left at garden gates for priests to consecrate.
    But police announced criminal proceedings against some rule-breakers, for example against a procession in Sambir in western Ukraine that authorities said violated regulations on social distancing and wearing compulsory masks.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Ukrainians to stay home over Easter, mindful of a potential spike in infections of a disease that has killed 125 people in the country.
    One of the contagion hotspots has been a sprawling 1,000-year-old monastery complex in Kiev, where around a hundred people were infected and two died.
    The monastery had initially criticized the government’s quarantine measures and urged people to continue going to church.    The Kiev authorities have sealed off the complex.
    “This whole situation demonstrates that your nationality, gender or religion are not important to coronavirus,” Zelenskiy said, alluding to the monastery.    “It demonstrates that you cannot have a careless attitude towards the disease.”
    The monastery is the headquarters of the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church known as the Moscow Patriarchate, which has accused the Kiev government of “threats and blackmail” in trying to stop people going to church.
    Its leader, Metropolitan Onuphriy, drew further scrutiny by suggesting that people would gather to celebrate Easter in the streets if they were not doing so in churches.
    Archbishop Kliment, spokesman for the church, said by phone that the church was obeying the government’s quarantine rules.
    “We try to comply with the requirements and let in no more than 10 people into each temple,” he said.
    Asked about Onuphriy’s comments, Kliment said Onuphriy had not called people into the street but observed that they would do so themselves and would need to be handled properly.
    “So it’s better to organise it correctly than to put your head in the sand and think that it’s not happening,” he said.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/18/2020 Croatia extends lockdown until May 4, begins to consider easing
FILE PHOTO: A man crossing a street as Croatia is stepping up measures to fight the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Zagreb, Croatia March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic/File Photo
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia is extending its coronavirus lockdown for another 15 days, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said on Saturday, but added the government was looking at whether it was possible to gradually ease restrictions on movement.
    A month ago, the government closed all the shops, bars, restaurants, schools and public transport leaving open only food stores, pharmacies and petrol stations.
    Croats have been allowed to leave their homes to buy essentials or seek medical treatment, go for a walk or do an exercise, but not in a group and avoiding social contact. Many people have been working from home.
    Croatia has recorded 1,832 cases of COVID-19, with 39 deaths.    On Saturday the number of new infections rose by 18 which is the lowest daily increase registered since March 17.
    The number of new cases has been dipping in recent days, with 50 new cases on Thursday and 23 on Friday.    Last Sunday, health authorities confirmed 66 new cases.
    “We decided to extend the measures for 15 days, until May 4,” Bozinovic said.
    He said the government was considering the possibility of relaxing certain measures to help the economy, while at the same time continuing to protect the health of citizens.
    One such measure could be easing the restriction on leaving their homes, but travel would be possible only within their region of the country.    Travelling between different regions would remain barred unless people have a permit for specific business or medical reasons.
    He gave no timeframe for a decision.    The government is due to convene for a session on Thursday.
    While the government has yet to release its projection of the impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on the economy, the International Monetary Fund forecast a downturn of 9.0% in 2020 and the World Bank projected a fall of 6.2%, mostly due to the country’s reliance on the tourist industry.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/18/2020 Swiss coronavirus death toll reaches 1,111, confirmed infections hit 27,404
FILE PHOTO: Ambulances are pictured in front of a temporary space for patients at the University Hospital (CHUV)
during the coronavirus outbreak in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 31, 2020. Laurent Gillieron/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 1,111 people, the country’s public health agency said on Saturday, rising from 1,059 a day earlier.     The number of people showing positive tests for the disease increased to 27,404, the agency said, up from 27,078. (Reporting by Zurich newsroom)

4/18/2020 Dutch Coronavirus infections reach 31,589, 142 new deaths: authorities
FILE PHOTO: A member of medical staff takes coronavirus test samples during drive-thru coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
testing, on a converted ice rink, in Alkmaar, Netherlands April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Confirmed coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have risen by 1,140 to 31,589, Dutch health authorities said on Saturday.     The death toll among people known to have been infected with the novel coronavirus increased by 142 to 3,601, the Dutch Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said in its daily update.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/18/2020 Putin orders daily coronavirus projections as Russia’s tally nears 37,000
Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing a bus at Platov International Airport amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak near Rostov-on-Don, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to provide daily forecasts of the spread of the novel coronavirus as Russia recorded almost 5,000 new cases in a single day.
    Coronavirus infections in Russia began rising sharply in April after reporting far fewer infections than many western European countries in the outbreak’s early stages.
    On Saturday, Russia’s official tally of coronavirus cases was 36,793, a record overnight rise of 4,785, and death toll rose by 40 to 313.
    The government must “provide a short-term prognosis of the number of citizens who may contract the new infectious disease (COVID-19)” and report its estimates on a daily basis, according to an order published on the Kremlin’s website.
    In Moscow, a city of 12.7 million people which became the epicentre of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, cases jumped by 2,649 to 20,754, and the capital city accounted for half of all new fatalities reported on Saturday.
    However, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the lockdown measures first introduced in March were bearing fruit.
    “The disease rate in the city is growing but not exponentially, and far from the worst-case scenario,” Sobyanin wrote on his website.
    “A week ago, Moscow medical institutions were working at their limit.    Today, they have switched to a more normal mode with a good stock of capacity,” Sobyanin said.
    Initially declared on March 30, the lockdown regime banned residents from leaving their homes unless they were going to buy food or medicines, get urgent medical treatment or walk the dog.
    The authorities also introduced a travel permit system effective from April 15, and Sobyanin said on Saturday the authorities would use traffic cameras to catch drivers travelling without passes.
    Authorities and clerics have urged Christians to stay home during the Orthodox Easter weekend, although a senior cleric urged police on Saturday to be lenient on those who still try to make it to their church.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/18/2020 Albania re-opens some businesses as seeks to limit coronavirus hit to economy by Benet Koleka
FILE PHOTO: Albanian people wait in line before entering a store, as Albanian authorities take measure to stop
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tirana, Albania April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania will re-open about 600 business activities from Monday, ranging from watch repair shops to mining, in a bid to breathe life back into an economy frozen for a month as the country fights the coronavirus outbreak.
    Prime Minister Edi Rama’s government said the low number of deaths and infections, 26 and 548 respectively since the first case detected there on March 9, justified re-starting the economy slowly over the next three weeks.
    The government says it will lose 540 million euros ($587 million) in revenue to June.    Some 50,000 workers have lost their jobs over the past month.
    Government finances had already been hit by having to rebuild homes for 17,000 people who lost theirs in an earthquake in November.
    The list of businesses able to restart work, published on the e-Albania government website on Saturday, also included farming, fishing, food and fish processing and various kinds of retailer.
    Banks, construction firms, call centres, supermarkets, companies transporting goods and clothes makers have remained open throughout the lockdown.
    However, to make sure social distancing measures are still observed once people begin to return to work, the government threatened offenders with tougher punishment, including jail time for those who opened bars and restaurants and those who leave quarantine while infected.
    The updated list allows bars and restaurants to deliver take-out food or for customers to collect it.
    The government also said it will pardon fines for 7,107 pedestrians who have flouted the rules and give 1,941 drivers back their licences, arguing they need a second chance. Some complained this made a mockery of those who obeyed the lockdown.
    While the dusk to dawn curfew and limited hours for shopping will remain in place, pensioners were allowed out of their homes to walk on Saturday for the first time since the lockdown – also for limited hours, and one day only.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/19/2020 Bulgarian Christians celebrate Easter amid coronavirus outbreak by Angel Krasimirov
People wearing face masks in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) maintain social distance as they attend Orthodox
Easter service outside Sveti Sedmochislenitsi (Seven Saints) church in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 19, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Bulgarian Christians flocked to the Orthodox temples for outdoor services on a surreal Saturday night with the Balkan state one of the few countries where churches remained open over the Easter holidays amid the coronavirus pandemic.
    The Easter holiday is the most significant date on the calendar for the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians with thousands of Bulgarians usually packing the churches and their ancestral homes all around the country to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
    This year many Bulgarians opted to watch services live on TV instead after the government urged people to celebrate and pray from home.    But 58-year-old Radka Petrova, a keen church-goer, said she was not afraid of “that virus because the church is a place of healing.”
    “I’m here because my faith is strong and I’m not afraid,” Petrova, wearing a protective mask, told Reuters.    “I remember the communist times and how mounted policemen used to surround the church to intimidate worshippers.”
    Bulgarians were unable to practise or study the Christian faith freely during the communist regime, which ended in 1989.
    “It’s only a virus and we’ll defeat it… Christ is risen!Today we’re celebrating hope in a sea of despair.”
    The restrictions, imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak, have meant observing an Easter Sunday unlike any Bulgarians have lived through before.
    But while most worshippers maintained social distancing between each other to stem transmission of the virus, clergymen largely failed to observe it during the services.
    The decision to keep churches open has sparked an intense debate on social media in Bulgaria.    Many fear churches could become centres of contagion and pose risks to the most vulnerable – the elderly – jeopardising the collective effort to contain the disease.
    Bulgaria, which declared a state of emergency until May 13, has imposed a ban on groups of more than two adults congregating together.    It has shut schools, restaurants and other public venues and imposed a ban on non-essential travel.
    “In the current situation, we must be better and more humble,” Prime Minister Boyko Borissov wrote in Facebook.    “Let’s do everything we can to be proud of our decisions and actions in years to come.”
    The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus has claimed 41 lives across Bulgaria and infected nearly 900 people – one of the lowest rates in Europe.
    “On Easter, our thoughts and prayers will be with those who are no longer among us and those who are fighting this vile disease, doctors and medical workers in particular and everyone who is at the forefront of the fight for life,” Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte said.
    The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been criticised on social media for keeping its houses of worship open in spite of the coronavirus crisis.    Many Bulgarians also pointed fingers at the church for keeping the practices of people kissing icons in churches, and using shared spoons during communion services.
    The coronavirus pandemic has shut down traditional Easter celebrations in many Orthodox Christian countries, including Bulgarian neighbours Greece, Romania and Serbia.
    Easter mass was held in churches across Romania, Greece and Cyprus but they remained closed to the public.    The official clergy in the three countries has urged people to stay away and watch the service either on radio or TV.
    Serbia imposed an 84-hours lockdown set to last from Friday afternoon until early on Tuesday to keep people inside during Easter festivities.
    Ukraine effectively banned church services to the general public by stipulating that only 10 people are allowed to be present at a service.    The government has also repeatedly urged people to stay at home.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie, Michele Kambas, Aleksandar Vasovic and Matthias Williams; Editing by Sandra Maler)

4/19/2020 Poland records spike in coronavirus cases day ahead of easing some restrictions
FILE PHOTO: Health workers wearing protective gear are seen at the territory of a nursing home,
where multiple confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) among the facility staff and
residents were reported, in Bochnia, Poland, April 13, 2020. Jakub Wlodek/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – b>Poland saw its biggest spike in coronavirus cases on Sunday with 545 new infections recorded, according to health ministry data, a day before the country plans to ease some of its pandemic-related restrictions.
    Parks and forests will be reopened on Monday and limits on the numbers of people allowed in shops will be eased, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday.
    But many restrictions, such as covering one’s mouth and nose when outside and wearing plastic gloves in grocery stores, as well as school closures will remain in place.
    As of Sunday, Poland had 9,287 confirmed cases and 360 deaths.    The health ministry on Sunday said it had carried out around 11,200 tests over the course of the last day.
    The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has said it wants to ease the economic pain from the pandemic, with restrictions on public life costing Poland some 10 billion zlotys ($2.4 billion) every day or two.
    The daily rise in new COVID-19 cases has held roughly steady in April after a jump in March, with a dip over Easter. Until Sunday, Poland had not reported more than 500 new cases in one day.
    Testing figures dropped last weekend to around 5,000 a day, in part due to the Easter holidays, health ministry officials said.
    The health ministry was not immediately available to discuss the reasons for Sunday’s spike in cases.
    A spokesman for the health ministry told Polish state news agency PAP that the spike was associated with the discovery of three new coronavirus outbreaks across the country – two in care homes and the other in a hospital.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/19/2020 Putin says coronavirus crisis under full control despite record rise in cases by Andrew Osborn and Polina Devitt
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia April 16, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said that Russian authorities had the coronavirus crisis under full control and that everything would work out with God’s help, even as the country on Sunday registered a record daily rise in cases of the new virus.
    Russia on Sunday reported 6,060 new cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing its nationwide tally to 42,853, though the official death toll of 361 remains relatively low compared with other countries with a similar number of cases.
    In a video message to congratulate Christians on the Orthodox Easter, Putin said the religious festival would strengthen Russians’ hope and faith because the resurrection of Christ was a powerful symbol of rebirth and a reminder that life goes on.
    The Russian leader, who looked relaxed as he sat in front of a fireplace at his out of town Moscow residence, said his country had all the necessary resources to do what was needed for people’s health and the economy.
    “All levels of power are working in an organised, responsible and timely way,” said Putin, who was flanked by painted Easter eggs, a traditional Orthodox Kulich sweet bread, and a big pot of tea.
    “The situation is under full control.    All of our society is united in front of the common threat.”
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying there was hope that signs might start appearing next week that the number of cases, which has risen relentlessly, might begin to plateau.
    Authorities and clerics have urged Christians to stay at home during the Orthodox Easter weekend for their own safety, though a senior cleric urged police on Saturday to be lenient on those who still try to make it to church.
    Coronavirus infections in Russia began rising sharply in April after Moscow reported far fewer infections than many western European countries in the outbreak’s early stages.
    Some Russian doctors questioned the veracity of those early statistics given what they said was the low quality and scale of testing, although Russian authorities say they have carried out 1.94 million tests as of Sunday, a feat they say puts them in the top three countries for testing.
    Russia’s coronavirus epicentre is in Moscow, the capital, where 24,324 cases had been recorded and 176 people had died as of Sunday.
    Private testing results seen by Reuters among people without symptoms suggest the virus has penetrated more deeply into Moscow’s population than the official data show, however.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Polina Devitt; Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/19/2020 Swiss coronavirus death toll rises to 1,135, confirmed infections hit 27,740
A sign is pictured in front of the Swiss Parliament Building (Bundeshaus) during a federal council meeting on the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bern, Switzerland, April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss death toll from the novel coronavirus has reached 1,135 people, the country’s public health agency said on Sunday, rising from 1,111 on Saturday.     The number of people showing positive tests for the disease increased to 27,740, it said, up from 27,404.
(Reporting by Zurich newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/19/2020 ‘I thought I would never wake up,’ Belgian doctor says after surviving COVID-19
Belgian doctor Antoine Sassine, a urologist at Chirec Delta Hospital, who survived the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
after 6 weeks in the intensive care unit and 3.5 weeks in a coma, reacts with members of the medical staff who took
care of him, (L-R) doctor Anne-Catherine Dandrifosse, doctor Matthieu Clanet and head of the intensive care
Sophie Cran, at Chirec Delta Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, April 18, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A Belgian urologist has spoken of his “incredible” experience, having survived COVID-19 and been discharged from intensive care after three weeks in a coma.
    “I was seeing my end,” Antoine Sassine said from his room at Brussels’ Delta Chirec hospital, where he used to work. “I thought I was going to die and would never wake up.”
    The 58-year-old and his team were all diagnosed at the hospital and he was admitted to the intensive care unit when his symptoms worsened.
    Sassine was placed in an induced coma, but says he was aware of his desire to fight the disease and that he also had visions of his late father.
    Describing the experience as “incredible,” Sassine, who was moved out of intensive care on Tuesday, said: “I saw my father, who died four years ago.    I spoke with him.”
    “My greatest joy was when I woke up and saw the faces of my friends, it was indescribable.”
    Now he is looking forward to hugging his family, who he has not seen since he was diagnosed, and recuperating at home.
    Belgium has reported 38,496 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 5,683 deaths.
(Reporting by Yves Herman; Writing by Marine Strauss; Editing by David Goodman)

4/19/2020 Russia reports record daily rise in coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing a street to prevent the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia April 18, 2020. Sofya Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Sunday reported a record rise of 6,060 new coronavirus cases over the previous 24 hours, bringing its nationwide tally to 42,853, the Russian coronavirus crisis response center said.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Russia began rising sharply this month, although it had reported far fewer infections than many western European countries in the outbreak’s early stages.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/20/2020 Belgium says COVID-19 peak passed, starts looking at lockdown exit by Marine Strauss
FILE PHOTO: A police officer talks to medical workers outside a hospital, during the lockdown imposed by the Belgian
government to slow down the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Brussels, Belgium April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium’s immediate coronavirus crisis appears to have passed its peak as the number of people admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 fell to its lowest level in a month, health officials said on Monday.
    Belgium, with one of the highest per capita rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths in Europe, announced that 232 people were taken into hospital on Sunday, the lowest level since March 19.
    “There are several indicators that are going in the right direction and that continue to go in the right direction,” Emmanuel Andre, spokesman for the country’s COVID-19 council, told a news conference.
    “And so yes, by definition, we are going towards what is called de-confinement.    That is to say a progressive enlargement of the safety zone around us so now we’re thinking about how to organise this.”
    Belgium’s national security council is due to meet on Friday to discuss an easing of restriction measures from May 4.
    Officials added that the country may also be beyond its peak for deaths.    Belgium recorded 168 new deaths on Monday, bringing the total to 5,828 deaths.    Just over half have been in nursing homes, the vast majority of them in which COVID-19 is suspected but not confirmed.    Belgium’s inclusion of such cases as COVID-19 deaths partly explains why its figures appear among the worst in Europe.
    The government last week extended measures to control the spread of the coronavirus to May 3, but has now allowed home improvement stores and garden centres to reopen.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss, editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Angus MacSwan)

4/20/2020 Russian coronavirus cases surpass 47,000, new cases drop
FILE PHOTO: A Russian army serviceman wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant while sanitizing a factory amid
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Saint Petersburg, Russia April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 4,268 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, fewer than 6,060 on the previous day, which took the total number of cases to 47,121.
    Forty-four Russian coronavirus patients died in the last 24 hours, the Russian coronavirus crisis response center said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, writing by Maria Tsvetkova, Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/20/2020 Poland may retighten coronavirus restrictions if cases spike: minister
FILE PHOTO: A man uses a vending machine for face masks, gloves and sanitiser during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Warsaw, Poland April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland may reverse the loosening of restrictions to curb the spread of the new coronavirus if the number of new cases rises significantly, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Monday.
    “It can be always (reversed),” Szumowski told public radio, asked if the loosening of restrictions might be reversed if there was a spike in the cases of new coronavirus infections.
    Poland started reopening parks and forests on Monday as the government eased a few of the restrictions that have brought daily life to a virtual standstill. On Sunday, 545 new infections were recorded in Poland, the biggest daily rise to date.
(Reporting by Alicja Ptak; Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/20/2020 Russia to raise as much debt for budget as possible but not at every price: finance ministry by Darya Korsunskaya
FILE PHOTO: Konstantin Vyshkovsky, head of the state debt department at the Russian Finance Ministry, speaks
during an interview in Moscow, Russia March 20, 2019. Picture taken March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Andrey Ostroukh
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia plans to raise as much debt at home this year as possible to finance its budget needs amid the coronavirus crisis but not at any price, Konstantin Vyshkovsky, head of the debt department at the finance ministry, told Reuters in an interview.
    The finance ministry has already set aside around 2.8% of gross domestic product – or nearly 3 trillion roubles ($40 billion) – to soften the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, using a mixture of budget cash, tax breaks and other tools.
    The state’s upper debt ceiling – though not the actual plan – was increased last month to 12.98 trillion roubles in OFZ bonds and $64.4 billion, or its euro equivalent, in hard-currency bonds this year.
    The current plan to raise 2.3 trillion roubles in OFZ bonds and up to $3 billion in Eurobonds this year so far remains unchanged, Vyshkovsky told Reuters.
    “If the budget needs an increase we will try to fulfil these needs as much as the market allows.    But it should be driven by (market) demand,” he said, adding that Russia was ready to offer a “technical premium” of around 5 basis points but not more.
    “If you know that a good is sold in a shop cheaper and cheaper with every week you probably won’t be buying it, this is a dead-end.”
    Vyshkovsky said the new debt ceiling provided flexibility to “react quickly” to negative factors if they arose but said there was no immediate plan to revise the actual state borrowing level this year.
    Foreigners’ share among OFZ holders slipped to 30.9% as of April 10, down from 34.1% in early March but the central bank said last week that the exit of foreigners from the OFZ market had stopped in April.
    Vyshkovsky said foreigners were selling Russian debt as they needed funds to protect their investments in other emerging markets.
    He added that the finance ministry aimed to lengthen the maturity of rouble debt and would target paper with 5 to 10-year maturity, avoiding offerings of short-term debt where possible.
    Russia had a total of 47,121 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday, with 405 deaths.    Russian authorities are offering a wide range of financial support to citizens and businesses.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/20/2020 U.S. envoy blasts Moscow’s ‘secret’ trial of ex-marine charged with spying by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, accused of espionage, is escorted inside a
court building in Moscow, Russia, October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador in Moscow accused Russian authorities on Monday of making a mockery of justice after he was turned away for a second time from what he called a “secret” trial behind closed doors of an ex-U.S. Marine charged with espionage.
    Russia last month began the trial of U.S. national Paul Whelan on charges of spying after his arrest by Russian security agents in a hotel room sting operation in December 2018. He denies the charge.
    The case, as well as that of Michael Calvey, a U.S. investor charged with embezzlement in Russia, has complicated already strained relations between Moscow and Washington.
    Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian and Irish citizenship, faces up to 20 years if found guilty.
    The Moscow court had said the trial would involve classified information and would therefore not be open to the public, but U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan said he had tried to attend the hearing in Moscow on Monday and had been turned away.
    “The fact that it is a closed hearing, that it is a secret trial – Paul hasn’t seen the evidence against him – it makes a mockery of justice,” Sullivan said in remarks carried on the U.S. Embassy’s website.
    He urged Russia’s authorities to ensure Whelan would receive a fair and impartial trial, to grant him a phone call to his family and to allow him medical treatment.
    “He hasn’t been allowed to make a phone call, to speak to anyone in his family in 16 months,” Sullivan said.
    Whelan, who turned 50 in custody last month, has used his appearances at hearings since his arrest to allege he has been ill-treated by prison guards and also denied medical attention.
    Russian authorities have dismissed his remarks and accused Whelan of faking health problems in custody to draw attention to his case.
    The trial’s preliminary hearings began on March 23 even as many court hearings have been put on hold because of the coronavirus lockdown.
    Moscow says Whelan was caught red-handed with classified information, but his lawyer has said he was set up and thought he was receiving holiday photos from a Russian acquaintance.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/20/2020 Slovakia plans to reopen small shops, outdoor sports grounds
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's Prime Minister Igor Matovic wearing a protective face mask attends
a news conference in Bratislava, Slovakia March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia plans to allow the reopening of small shops of up to 300 square metres, outdoor sports grounds, outdoor market places and restaurants for takeaway meals from Wednesday, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Monday, in an easing of its coronavirus lockdown.
    The country has some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in Europe, including bans on international passenger travel as well as all public, religious, cultural and sporting events.    Schools have been closed as well as most shops and people returning from abroad face a compulsory 14-day state quarantine.
    Matovic said the plan was subject to approval by the country’s crisis committee on Tuesday, and any further steps would follow with a two-week delay upon evaluation of the initial relaxation.
    Slovakia will join its neighbours Austria and the Czech Republic in relaxing restrictions as these countries believe they are in a position to keep the spread of the virus under control.
    Slovakia has had only 13 deaths so far, the smallest per capita number in the European Union, but new cases have not yet been on a downtrend.
    “We have courage to open certain shops in a situation when the number of cases is not yet falling.    Let’s do it but we need to be even more responsible (than hitherto),” said Matovic.
    Matovic said that the country would proceed to the next stage if the daily median of new cases in one week does not exceed 100.
    Stage two includes opening short-term boarding houses, hairdressers, taxi services and allowing religious services and weddings to take place with a limited number of participants.
    The central European country of 5.5 million was one of the first ones to impose compulsory wearing of face masks in public and this measure will remain in force for the time being.
    Slovakia recorded the first case of the new coronavirus on March 6 and has so far registered 1,173 cases as of midnight Sunday while 251 people have recovered from the disease.
(Reporting by Tomas Mrva; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jane Merriman)

4/20/2020 Polish opposition, junior ruling party seek election delay by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz
FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel//File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Politicians from Poland’s ruling alliance and the opposition began talks on Monday on delaying next month’s presidential election due to the coronavirus pandemic, amid deep divisions that could deprive the conservative government of its majority.
    The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) is keen to hold the election on schedule on May 10 because President Andrzej Duda, its ally, is projected to win, though a majority of Poles also now back a delay in the vote due to fears over the coronavirus.
    But its junior governing partner, Jaroslaw Gowin’s Accord, whose support PiS needs to govern, wants to delay the election by two years, on condition that Duda would then stand down.    This option would require constitutional change, and therefore the support of the main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO).
    PO leader Borys Budka said on Monday he believed an election could not be held safely in Poland before May 2021.
    “I believe we can build a (parliamentary) majority for this,” he told reporters before going into talks with Gowin.
    After the first round of talks on Monday, Budka said he was optimistic about finding “common ground,” but Gowin struck a more cautious note.
    “It is good that we are holding talks, but we are far from reaching a consensus,” Gowin told news conference, adding that further talks with the opposition were planned.
    Poland reported 545 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, the biggest daily rise to date.    On Monday the total number of infections stood at 9,593, including 380 deaths, in the country of 38 million.
    PiS, which was not represented at Monday’s talks between PO and Accord, has proposed holding the election by postal ballot, though even its own supporters are now mostly opposed to a May vote.    Also, a postal union chief said some 30% of postal workers were on sick leave, raising doubts about the plan’s feasibility.
CHANGING CONSTITUTION?
    PiS has said it would consider postponing the election by just a few weeks but also, in an apparent gesture to Accord, it has proposed legislation to change the constitution that would allow Duda’s term to be extended by two years.
    PiS wants the election to take place soon because it needs an ally as president to ensure it can make further progress in its conservative agenda and controversial judiciary reforms, which the European Union says undermine the rule of law.
    PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski knows his party can accomplish little without the continued support of Accord in parliament.
    “For Kaczynski the stakes could not be higher because he has no majority without Gowin,” said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University.
    “Ruling the country without a majority in the lower house would be very uncomfortable (for PiS),” she said, referring to the possibility of Accord withdrawing its support.
    Accord could join with opposition parties in blocking the postal ballot plan, a plan Materska-Sosnowska said was in any case a “lost cause.”
    Changing the constitution to prolong Duda’s mandate requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which Kaczynski lacks and which gives the opposition leverage.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, and Joanna Plucinska, additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/20/2020 Albania sends 60 more nurses to join coronavirus fight in hard-hit Italy by Benet Koleka
FILE PHOTO: Albanian people dance as a singer performs during a concert for people in home confinement as Albanian authorities take
measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Durres, Albania April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania, which has recorded one of Europe’s lowest numbers of coronavirus cases, sent 60 more nurses to help treat patients in hard-hit neighbour Italy on Monday.
    Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said the move was meant “to show hope and solidarity with the friendly Italian people, who have helped us over the years,” as she saw the nurses off at Rinas airport.
    Her country, one of Europe’s poorest, has reported 584 cases of the novel coronavirus and 26 related deaths, as of Monday.
    In Italy, across the Adriatic Sea, deaths from the infection rose to more than 23,600 on Sunday, the second-highest tally in the world after the United States.    It has recorded almost 179,000 cases.
    Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio welcomed the nurses at the airport in Rome.    He described the help as “another gift coming from our Albanian friends” on Twitter.
    The nurses will join another 30 Albanian medical staff who were sent over in March and have been working in Italy’s north.
    Italy has been a major ally and donor since Albania toppled communism in the late 1980s. Around 400,000 Albanians live and work there.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka, Editing by Andrew Heavens)

4/20/2020 Exclusive: Moscow has more coronavirus cases than state testing shows, private lab data suggest by Polina Ivanova, Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: People travel in a metro train during a partial lockdown imposed to prevent the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The novel coronavirus has penetrated more deeply into Moscow’s population than official data show, private testing results among people without symptoms suggest.
    Moscow, a city of 12.7 million people, is at the epicentre of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, having officially recorded 26,350 cases as of April 20, equivalent to just over 0.2% of its population.
    Early results from the first commercial Russian tests suggest that a much higher proportion of people in Moscow are infected, and that the disease has spread among residents without symptoms.
    Four commercial laboratories in Moscow began offering tests at a cost of between 1,050 roubles and 3,395 roubles ($14-45) each in late March and early April exclusively to people whom state tests do not cover.
    That means people with no symptoms, no history of recent travel or no known contact with coronavirus patients.
    Employees from three Moscow-based private laboratories told Reuters that positive results were coming back in between 1% and 5% of cases – a wide range but a significantly greater share than the official tally.
    Like many countries, Russia is not carrying out mass testing, focusing solely on people with symptoms, those who have returned from abroad or people who have had known contact with infected individuals.
    The authorities do not dispute that there are many asymptomatic cases and that their own testing cannot reflect the full scale of infection in the capital due to its limited scope.
    “The actual number of people who are sick is significantly higher (than official data shows),” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told President Vladimir Putin on March 24, adding that every country was confronted with not knowing the true scale of the disease.
    Russia’s Health Ministry did not reply to a request for comment on the private data findings.
    A spokeswoman for Rospotrebnadzor, the state health regulator, said it would be wrong to infer from the private data that the infection had spread far and wide.
    Russia, she said, was in the top three countries in the world when it came to the number of tests carried out.    Russia says it has so far carried out 2.05 million tests nationwide.
    An employee at Citylab, a chain of commercial laboratories that carried out at least 4,500 tests in different cities, said 5% of results in Moscow had been positive after testing.
    According to the procedure the laboratory follows, the results must be double-checked and can only be confirmed as positive once that is done, the worker said, adding that testing in Moscow started on April 3.
    Citylab did not respond to a request for comment on its data.
ASYMPTOMATIC CASES
    Its results are roughly in line with Russia’s own, limited testing so far of asymptomatic cases.
    The first trial test for COVID-19 antibodies, in which the authorities checked samples from 226 random people to see if they had previously contracted the disease, showed a higher infection rate than official data.
    The results, unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova on April 1, found 11 people had carried the disease, an infection rate of almost 5%.
    Anna Popova, head of Rospotrebnadzor, told the state’s Channel One TV channel on Tuesday that authorities had already confirmed around 6,000 asymptomatic coronavirus cases nationwide as of April 14.
    She did not say how many had been confirmed during state or private testing and there was no breakdown for Moscow.
    Two other private laboratories also showed a higher proportion of positive results than official figures.
    An employee at the Helix chain of commercial laboratories in Moscow who is directly involved in the testing process said he knows from colleagues that 3% of tests in Moscow came back positive in the first week of testing across several locations.
    Each location handled around 30 clients a day.
    A Helix representative said the company was not able to share the results of its testing, which it could only disclose to Rospotrebnadzor.    The watchdog does not disclose individual data sets.
    But Helix said the 3% figure was not accurate.    “Laboratory employees do not have access to these kind of statistics,” Daria Goryakina, Helix’s deputy director, said on Monday.
    Another laboratory, located at the Central Clinical Hospital (CCH), offered tests to the public for several days before limiting access to government officials.
    Two staff members said they found roughly 1% of tests had come back positive.    When asked about the results, the CCH’s laboratory said they were a medical secret.
    It and the Helix chain use the same testing systems as government medical facilities, produced by the Vektor Institute in Siberia.    Citylab uses tests produced by a private company.
    Dr. Kári Stefánsson, head of Iceland-based Decode Genetics, whose firm has been mass testing asymptomatic people in Iceland for free and who is familiar with the Russian data and testing methods, said the results pointed to a higher infection rate.
(The data) is interesting because it probably means that the infection has been much more widely spread in the community than people realised,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mike Collett-White)

4/20/2020 Exclusive: In Russia, a black market for HIV drug to try on coronavirus by Polina Ivanova
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a warning sign during a demonstration prior to the opening of a new section for treatment of patients, affected by the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), at N.I. Pirogov National Medical and Surgical Centre in Moscow, Russia April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A black market has developed in Russia for an antiviral HIV drug explored as a possible treatment for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to sellers, HIV activists and the head of the drug’s main Russian producer.
    More than 20 trials around the world are testing Kaletra as a COVID-19 treatment or post-exposure prophylaxis.
    Russia’s Health Ministry recommended it as a possible treatment for COVID-19 at the end of January after reports from China that it was beneficial, but later added that its efficacy was uncertain.
    That did not deter speculators who bet that shortages of the drug, also produced as a generic in Russia under the name Kalidavir, might arise as the coronavirus spread.
    “Three months ago, people were buying Kaletra from us without much enthusiasm for 900 roubles ($12) a box,” one online trader of HIV drugs said.
    “Now, anticipating (supply) interruptions, people are buying between 100 and 700 boxes from us, at 3,800 roubles a box.    Mainly, people are buying (Kaletra) with the aim of reselling it for a very high price.”
    Resellers can get 7,000-8,000 roubles per box, the trader said – and that frenzy is worrying some HIV-positive people.
    The number of new coronavirus cases in Russia began rising sharply this month, and on Monday it reported a daily rise of 4,268 cases, bringing the nationwide tally to 47,121.
    Kaletra, as with many other prescription-only HIV treatments in Russia, is purchased in bulk by the government and distributed to registered HIV patients for free.
    But interruptions in supplies of these drugs are not uncommon, so many top up their stocks privately, from pharmacies.    People who do not have a Russian passport and others who prefer to stay out of the official system for various reasons also rely on private supplies.
‘120 CALLS A DAY’
    The director of H-Clinic in St. Petersburg, which specialises in infectious diseases and keeps a stock to cover those needs, said his pharmacy had been flooded with calls in recent weeks from worried HIV patients.
    “We have a van coming from the pharmaceutical company, and everything in it has already been claimed in orders,” Andrei Skvortsov said.     “There were up to 120 calls a day.”
    The pharmacy’s supplies of the generic, Kalidavir, were stable, he said, but the distributor of Kaletra had told him the delivery would be the pharmacy’s last because of the need to redirect it for state tenders.
    The Health Ministry did not respond to questions about the drug’s resale online or possible shortages.
    It first instructed doctors to use Kaletra’s combined components, lopinavir and ritonavir, to treat COVID-19 on Jan. 29, based on studies of the treatment of other coronaviruses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
    Produced in Russia by R-Pharm under a deal with the U.S. drug maker and patent-holder AbbVie Inc , Kaletra is supplied in smaller quantities to some pharmacies and AIDS clinics.
    Just 34 packs were sold by such pharmacies in March last year, compared to over 1,500 in March 2020, market research firm Alpharm said.
    One HIV activist in central Russia said speculators were trying to buy Kaletra from HIV patients, for 3,000 roubles a box.
    The activist, who asked to share only his first name, Alexei, runs a ‘back-up medicine cabinet’ together with a network of patients across 20 cities, stockpiling leftover drugs to distribute them to those in need when shortages appear.
BLACK MARKET
    “Messages and calls started coming in from people saying they were ready to purchase these medicines,” Alexei said.
    “They are resellers and middlemen … They are ready to buy everything, down to the last box. We tell them to shove off.”
    R-Pharm chief executive Alexei Repik said for the first time instances were being seen of Kaletra being sold illegally in pharmacies without a prescription.
    “It used not to feature at all, because … the medicine was previously only needed by HIV patients,” he said.
    Repik said police had notified R-Pharm at least twice of seizures of illegally obtained Kaletra.
    R-Pharm assists police in tracing the provenance of drugs being sold illegally, he said, because black market sales of any drug meant patients who truly needed it were losing out.
    Kaletra’s side-effects most commonly include stomach upset and nausea, but it can also lead to liver and heart rhythm problems, meaning it could be dangerous to self-prescribe, he said.
    But Repik did not expect shortages, because R-Pharm was boosting production to cope with expected demand from doctors prescribing Kaletra for coronavirus as well as HIV.
    “But of course no one can predict the full scale of the epidemic,” he added.
    Chinese doctors in Wuhan, where the new coronavirus originated, described the drug as beneficial last week although another study questioned its effectiveness.
    Kaletra stops the HIV virus growing and replicating.    Repik said it had been recommended for the new coronavirus based on past experience with other coronaviruses and preliminary data.
    “(But) it is important to understand that, for now, 100% proven antiviral medicines – medicines that directly attack the (new) coronavirus specifically – they don’t exist, because studies are still ongoing.”
(Additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Kevin Liffey)

4/21/2020 Russia’s confirmed coronavirus cases surge past 52,000
Medical specialists wearing protective gear push a stretcher towards an ambulance while relocating
a non-transparent bag, which presumably contains a human body, outside a hospital for patients infected with
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia recorded 5,642 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, bringing its nationwide tally to 52,763, the Russian coronavirus crisis response centre said on Tuesday.
    Fifty-one people with the virus died in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 456, it said.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Russia began rising sharply this month, although it had reported far fewer infections than many western European countries in the outbreak’s early stages.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/21/2020 Denmark says public gatherings will not exceed 500 people until September
Authorities set up a tent center to test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Vejlby-Risskov arena in Aarhus, Denmark, April 20, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/Bo Amstrup via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark will not allow public gatherings to exceed 500 persons until at least Sept. 1, the Danish health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
    The statement contradicted earlier media reports, which said the government would allow larger public gatherings from May 10. A current upper limit on public gatherings of 10 people is in effect until May 10.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/22/2020 Kremlin says groundless allegations about coronavirus’ artificial origin are unacceptable
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the Kremlin amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Scientists and experts still lack necessary data to determine the nature of the novel coronavirus, and any groundless allegations about its artificial origin are unacceptable, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has said his government is trying to determine whether the coronavirus emanated from a lab in Wuhan, following reports the virus may have been artificially synthesized at a Chinese state-backed laboratory or perhaps escaped from such a facility.
    The Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology dismissed the allegations.
    The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that all available evidence suggests the novel coronavirus originated in animals in China late last year and was not manipulated or produced in a laboratory.
(Reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Toby Chopra)
[Now Russia is joining the cover up of the WHO and China coronavirus spread to the world and as we have known both countries have always ignore their faults although the WHO apparently has not gotten all the available evidence yet from China who is covering it up as it says above the necessary data has not been released.].

4/22/2020 Zagreb earthquake caused $6 billion of damage: minister
FILE PHOTO: A man looks at damages at the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus, following an
earthquake in Zagreb, Croatia March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic/File Photo
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – The earthquake that struck the Croatian capital Zagreb a month ago caused around 42 billion kuna ($6.03 billion) of damage and country will be seeking outside help to pay for the reconstruction work, the government said on Wednesday.
    One person was killed and 27 others were injured in the 5.3 magnitude earthquake on March 22, while many people had to leave their homes due to the damage to buildings.
    “Our experts, who also consulted foreign colleagues, assess the damage at around 42 billion kuna.    The most urgent matter is to complete repairing chimneys, water supply and heating facilities for people to be able to return to their homes,” Construction and Urban Planning Minister Predrag Stromar said.
    After that we will look at repairing the damage to hospitals and schools, he added.
    “We will also seek (financial) help from the European Commission and the World Bank, and also we plan a donor conference,” Stromar said.
    Finance Minister Zdravko Maric said this month Croatia would also need up to 70 billion kuna in the next few months to handle the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/22/2020 Coronavirus cases in Poland exceed 10,000 weeks before election by Marcin Goclowski
FILE PHOTO: A worker wearing protective gear disinfects a public bus during the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gdynia, Poland, April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Confirmed coronavirus infections surpassed 10,000 in Poland on Wednesday, the highest number in post-communist central Europe, as it slowly eases restrictions on public life ahead of a presidential election set for May 10.
    Poland was among the first in Europe to impose stringent curbs on public life such as travel bans, school closures and a shutdown of its borders to try to contain the pandemic.
    A deputy health minister said on Wednesday the rise of new infections “had been contained to a degree.”
    “We are still seeing increases,” Wojciech Andrusiewicz, a ministry spokesman, told reporters.    “What we can achieve is to level them off.    If it wasn’t for the restrictions, we could be seeing 30,000-40,000 people infected.”
    Poland has reported 404 deaths, compared to nearly 25,000 in Italy and nearly 21,000 in France.
    Some 16-17% of the infections were medical workers, Andrusiewicz said, underscoring problems in Poland’s underfunded healthcare system.
    The presidential election has emerged as a contentious issue during the pandemic, with the ruling nationalists insisting the ballot be held on time, despite resistance from the opposition.
    Critics accuse the Law and Justice (PiS) government of putting its own political agenda ahead of public health, with opinion polls suggesting its ally, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, is likely to win the ballot.
    PiS is trying to organise a postal vote instead of at polling booths but its efforts are mired in parliamentary procedure and have faced criticism from postal workers’ unions.
    Amid the political rifts, PiS started easing restrictions on public life this week, reopening parks and increasing the number of people allowed in shops from Monday. The government also announced it may re-open hotels next month.
    Government forecasters expect the economy to contract by between 1% and 4.5% this year, Poland’s first recession since it shed communism in 1989.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Nick Macfie)

4/22/2020 Russia’s confirmed coronavirus cases reach 58,000
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows a new infectious hospital for patients infected with the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 17, 2020. Denis Voronin/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia recorded 5,236 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, bringing its nationwide tally to 57,999, the Russian coronavirus crisis response centre said on Wednesday.
    Fifty-seven people with the virus died in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 513, it said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

4/22/2020 Bulgarian coronavirus cases pass 1,000, health ministry says
FILE PHOTO: Workers spray disinfectant outside St Petka church, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), ahead of Orthodox Palm Sunday services in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria said on Wednesday it had 1,015 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, up from 975 the day before.
    Although increases had been gradual for more than a month, the health ministry said the new total represented a climb of more than 300 cases over the last week.
    It added that 47 people had died from the virus, an increase of two from a day earlier.
    The number of people who have recovered from the COVID-19 disease increased to 174.
    Bulgaria declared a state of national emergency on March 13 and extended it for a further month until May 13 to help stop the spread of the virus.
    Like other countries in Europe, Bulgaria has introduced strict curbs on travel between cities and abroad, closed schools, restaurants and bars, and restricted access to parks.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

4/23/2020 Finland PM to work from home as precaution against coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Sanna Marin holds a news conference about the coronavirus
situation in Helsinki, Finland March 12, 2020. Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin will work from home from Thursday as a precaution against possible exposure to the coronavirus, her office said.
    The decision was made after Marin was told a close contact of someone who had been working at her official residence last week had tested positive on Wednesday.
    “The possibility of exposure is extremely low,” the office wrote in a statement, adding Marin was symptomless and feeling well.
    The individual, who was also asymptomatic, did not meet the prime minister, her family members or her advisory staff when working at the residence, the office said.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; editing by Nick Macfie)

4/23/2020 Russia’s new coronavirus cases fall for third day running as total passes 62,000
A law enforcement officer wearing a protective face mask walks across Red Square amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia recorded 4,774 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, a fall in the number of daily new cases for the third day running, bringing its nationwide tally to 62,773, the Russian coronavirus crisis response centre said on Thursday.
    Forty-two people with the virus died in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 555, it said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow, editing by Maria Kiselyova)

4/23/2020 Tajik leader urges farmers to delay Ramadan fast
FILE PHOTO: Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon attends the 'Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries' on
the sideline of the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen, Fujian province, China, 05 September 2017.REUTERS/Wu Hong/Pool
    DUSHANBE (Reuters) – Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon urged local farmers on Thursday to delay fasting for Ramadan so they can stay healthy and productive during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Muslims around the world fast during day throughout the month of Ramadan, which begins on Thursday this year.    Those who can’t fast because they’re ill are allowed to catch up later in the year.
    Tajikistan has reported no coronavirus cases, but it has closed its borders and taken other steps to keep Covid-19 from spreading. That includes closing mosques.
    In an address to Muslims, who make up the vast majority of the Tajik population, Rakhmon said that ensuring public health and food security was a valid reason to put off fasting.
    “I urge everyone working in the fields … in the name of their health and that of their families, ensuring their households’ welfare, to use this dispensation and delay the fast until a more favourable time,” Rakhmon said.
    The former Soviet republic of 9 million has asked the International Monetary Fund and other donors for emergency aid to offset the impact of global recession on its economy.
    Tajikistan imports some key food, such as wheat, and one of its suppliers, Kazakhstan, has already introduced quotas to limit exports.
    Tajikistan is also likely to have much less hard currency to pay for imports, because Tajiks working in Russia are sending less money home.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov, writing by Olzhas Auyezov, editing by Larry King)

4/23/2020 Russia’s lockdown surveillance measures need regulating, rights groups say by Alexander Marrow
FILE PHOTO: A tower of the State Historical Museum is seen behind surveillance cameras in central Moscow,
Russia January 26, 2020. Picture taken January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Expanding surveillance measures to police Russia’s coronavirus lockdown, including the use of facial recognition technology and collection of personal data, need regulating to ensure they are temporary and proportionate, two rights groups said on Thursday.
    Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s outbreak, is in partial lockdown along with many of the country’s regions and the authorities are using and developing a range of technologies to monitor and regulate residents’ movements.
    Police say Moscow’s 178,000 facial recognition cameras had caught 200 people breaking coronavirus lockdown restrictions by mid-March.    The cameras are capable of tracking individuals using just their silhouette and of detecting groups standing too close to each other, according to the firm which supplied them.
    The Russian capital has also introduced digital passes which are mandatory for anyone wanting to use public or private transport, a system that authorities say 21 of Russia’s more than 80 regions will soon copy in some form.
    Agora, a Moscow-based human rights group, and Roskomsvoboda, a digital rights campaign group, said the unprecedented nature of the pandemic meant some curbing of citizens’ rights and freedoms was justified.
    But in a joint appeal to regional governors they said the expanding surveillance measures had to be regulated to ensure they were legal, proportionate and temporary in nature.
    The authorities … are actively developing technologies to collect personal data including photographs, videos, geolocations, home addresses, car number plates and medical diagnoses,” said Pavel Chikov, a lawyer who heads Agora.
    “There’s not a single federal law regulating the use of facial recognition technology or of digital passes to get around.    And there’s no guarantee enshrined in any regional legal act that … information about Russians’ private lives will be deleted once the quarantine is lifted.”

    The authorities say Russia, like other countries, is confronted with unprecedented and rapidly changing circumstances and that their priority is to do everything they can to try to halt the virus, which has already infected over 60,000 Russians.
    Moscow’s Department of Information Technology (DIT) did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on data collection.    The city police force said it could not comment.
    Artem Kukharenko, founder of NtechLab, the company which supplied Moscow with facial recognition software, told Reuters he did not know how the DIT used the technology but that it had been notified of all its features, which include the ability to track individuals by their silhouette not just their face.
    One medic in Moscow said he and his colleagues had received instructions by WhatsApp, seen by Reuters, from a senior doctor telling them to photograph patients diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, a demand that had caused some unease.
    “I don’t take pictures personally because I think they can be used against people in the future,” another doctor said, declining to be named.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Nadezhda Tsydenova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Nick Tattersall)

4/23/2020 Polish president well ahead for May vote, but criticism rises by Alan Charlish
FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel//File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – President Andrzej Duda, an ally of Poland’s ruling nationalists, is set to win re-election by a landslide in May, two opinion poll showed on Thursday, amid an intensifying dispute over holding the vote during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Scheduled for May 10, the election has been the subject of heated political debate in Poland, with critics accusing the Law and Justice (PiS) government of putting political gain ahead of public health in insisting the vote be held as scheduled.
    Duda is a PiS ally and his victory is crucial for the government’s hopes of implementing its conservative agenda as the president holds the power to veto laws.
    On Thursday one candidate decided to complain to the Supreme Court about a letter from the election commission saying that local authorities would need to share voters’ details with the post office if the election is held by postal ballot.
    Critics of a postal vote during the pandemic, such as EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova, have previously raised concerns about the fairness and transparency of such a vote.
    PiS says a postal ballot, which it is trying to organise instead of using polling stations, will ensure the election can be held safely, even as its officials say the pandemic has yet to peak in Poland.
    Poland has reported 10,511 cases of the coronavirus and 454 deaths.
    An opinion poll, conducted on April 2-12 for the European Council for Foreign Relations think tank and published by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, showed Duda capturing 65% of the vote.    None of the runners-up would reach double digits, it showed.
    The poll showed nearly three-quarters of Poles opposed a May presidential election, with only 29% saying they would vote.
    Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Kantar for state-run news agency PAP showed Duda on 59% with his nearest challengers on 7% and Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, the candidate of the main opposition party Civic Platform (PO), on 4%.
    Asked about the Kantar survey, PO leader Borys Budka said the result showed opposition voters did not want to take part in a postal vote.
    “This survey shows that about 80% of the voters of the democratic opposition will not take part in elections that will be conducted by post … That should give President Duda a lot to think about — does he want to be a president who was not elected legitimately…?
    In an exchange with voters on Facebook, Duda said that he had more confidence in the opinion of Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski, who has said a postal vote would be safe, than he did in the opinions of opposition candidates.
    “Most opposition candidates would like to delay the elections, it’s true, for a variety of different reasons, but unfortunately these are mostly political motivations,” he said.
    Independent candidate Szymon Holownia decided to file a complaint with the Supreme Court about a letter sent by the National Electoral Commission to local election officials saying that municipal authorities would have to share details of voters with the post office.
    “We expect that… local authorities will not be forced to provide access to data until the Supreme Court issues a ruling in this case,” he said in a statement.
    A spokesman for the National Electoral Commission told PAP the letter only expressed an opinion and was not a resolution of the commission.
    PiS has shrugged off opposition calls to postpone the ballot for a year, arguing it is safeguarding democratic procedures.    But it has also given tentative support to an alternative proposal from a junior member of its parliamentary coalition that would give Duda two more years in power via a constitutional amendment.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Alan Charlish; Editing by Justyna Pawlak, Hugh Lawson, William Maclean)

4/23/2020 Journalists at prominent Russian business newspaper complain of pro-Kremlin censorship by Anton Zverev and Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony for newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia,
at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 5, 2020. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Journalists at Vedomosti, one of Russia’s most prominent business publications, on Thursday accused their editor of imposing stifling pro-Kremlin censorship upon them and suggested the board of directors appoint someone else.
    In a blunt editorial article published on the newspaper’s website, journalists complained that Acting Editor-in-Chief Andrei Shmarov had banned the publication of opinion polls carried out by a research firm that has irritated the Kremlin.
    A day earlier, the newspaper’s media reporter, Kseniya Boletskaya, had publicly complained that Shmarov had banned negative coverage of President Vladimir Putin’s plans to change the constitution to allow him to extend his rule until 2036.
    Anyone who flouted the ban would be fired, she said.
    “Changes of this kind undermine trust in the publication,” the editorial article said on Thursday, referring to the alleged ban on publishing offending opinion polls.
    Staff, it said, were determined to defend the newspaper’s values.
    “Having lost its reputation, Vedomosti will become another dependent and managed media outlet whose aim is not to satisfy readers’ needs with news that has been verified and quality analysis, but to serve the interests and ambitions of its official and secret owners,” it added.
    Shmarov did not answer a request for comment and left questions put to him by Reuters unanswered.
    The surveys staff said had been banned, conducted by the Levada Centre, a pollster regarded as more independent than state counterparts, have regularly appeared in Vedomosti.
    The paper this month published a Levada poll which found that 38 percent of Russians believe that Putin represents the interests of oligarchs, bankers and big business.
    Levada was officially classified a “foreign agent” by authorities in 2016, a designation which complicated its life and which is handed out to organizations deemed undesirable.
    Asked about staff claims of censorship at Vedomosti, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin did not interfere in media outlets’ editorial policy and was unaware of the ban on Levada polling.
    “We were and remain interested in having first rate quality publications with very talented teams,” said Peskov.
    Vedomosti has until now been widely regarded as one of the few high profile publications in Russia not to be under the direct control of the authorities or businessmen close to the Kremlin.
    Shmarov was appointed acting editor-in-chief at the end of March, after it was announced that two businessmen would be buying the newspaper.
    “He (Shmarov) yesterday said that he went to the presidential administration for an interview before being appointed and that they drew him red lines (not to cross) and that the most serious one was Levada,” Dmitry Simakov, Vedomosti’s chief editor told Reuters.
    “Yesterday I had a conversation with him and he told me not to mention Levada anymore.    Otherwise, he said they (the Kremlin) would remove him and everyone else and that the publication didn’t have any money.”
    Simakov said he’d refused.
    Philip Sterkin, the paper’s deputy editor-in-chief, told Reuters that Shmarov, in conversations with employees, had referenced the Kremlin’s stance on Levada’s polls.
    Two other newspaper staff who wanted to remain anonymous said that Shmarov had told reporters that the Kremlin had ordered the ban on its polls.
    Deputy Chief Editor Boris Safronov said staff were determined to defend the paper’s integrity.
    “People are determined to fight. And if they lose, then they will leave,” said Safronov.
(Additional reporting by Darya Korsunksaya and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

4/23/2020 Cuba’s ration book stages comeback due to coronavirus pandemic by Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh
A woman shows her ration book, known locally as the "libreta," to buy goods in a subsidized state store, or
"bodega," amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Havana, Cuba, April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s decades-old rationing system, once slated for elimination, is staging a comeback during the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to prevent Cubans from exposing themselves to the novel virus by going on frantic shopping hunts.
    The Communist-run island nation last month closed its borders to travelers, shuttered schools and ordered the use of face masks in a bid to contain the novel virus, sending doctors and medical students to monitor the population.
    Yet hours-long queues outside Cuban supermarkets due to widespread shortages of basic goods risk undermining the country’s response to the spread of the virus, resulting in potential hotbeds of infection.
    To combat that, authorities this month added more products to Cubans’ monthly ration book — known locally as the “libreta” — and started experimenting with online commerce and delivery options.
    The hope is that shoppers do not travel out of their neighborhoods to form long lines at stores because they already know they are guaranteed their rations at their local cornershop.
    Cuban authorities, who have so far confirmed 1,235 cases of coronavirus and 43 deaths, simultaneously shut down some of the biggest supermarkets and suspended public transport.
    “Just as it seemed like it was dying out, the libreta has managed to take a new breath of air,” said Cuban economist Omar Everleny.
    Cuba introduced the “libreta” shortly after the late Fidel Castro’s 1959 leftist revolution, to ensure a survival level of heavily subsidized staples like rice, beans, sugar and coffee for everyone in the face of U.S. sanctions.
    When Fidel’s younger brother Raul Castro took over as president in 2008 and started tentatively liberalizing the Soviet-style economy, he called the ration book outdated and went about cutting the number of items that were rationed.
    Beyond the few remaining centrally planned economies like Cuba’s and North Korea’s, rationing is typically only used during war-time, natural disasters or specific contingencies.
    Raul Castro’s aim was to eventually eliminate broad subsidies in favor of more targeted welfare.
    Yet shortages of basic goods that have worsened of late due to a decline of aid from ally Venezuela and tighter U.S. sanctions have made it difficult to eliminate the libreta altogether.
    Panic shopping in view of the pandemic has forced supermarkets worldwide including in some U.S. cities to introduce their own informal rationing by putting limits on the amount of basic supplies like toilet paper and hand sanitizer that shoppers can buy in one trip.
    In Cuba, some products such as laundry soap and washing-up liquid are being added back on to the government-issued ration book albeit at market rather than subsidized prices while people are now allowed more rations of chicken.
    “This chicken means we don’t have to go to stand in enormous queues,” said Havana resident Margarita Morejon, cutting up chicken in her kitchen.    “It’s not much but it helps us get by.”
    Cubans complain the rations are still insufficient and the state, which only started rolling out internet to the public a few years ago, has started opening some virtual stores as another alternative.
    But its systems crashed in the first week due to the high demand and remain highly unstable even as authorities say they are working on upgrading them.
    “I have been trying to pay for my shopping for 72 hours,” wrote would-be customer Claudia Valle Perez on the Facebook page of state business corporation CIMEX which runs the virtual stores.
    Not all Cubans moreover have a device or the money to access the internet, especially those relying on measly state pensions or wages, like Havana resident Esperanza Moreno, 68, whose pension is equivalent to around $15 per month.
    She said the old-fashioned libreta is “like a lifeline in these times of virus.”
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta, Sarah Marsh and Reuters TV; Editing by Alistair Bell)

4/24/2020 Russia’s coronavirus case tally nears 70,000
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing protective gear stands outside a hospital for patients infected with the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday reported 5,849 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its nationwide tally to 68,622.
    Sixty people with the virus died overnight, pushing the death toll to 615, Russia’s official crisis response centre said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/24/2020 Hungary, China sign loan deal for Budapest-Belgrade Chinese rail project by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Finance Minister Mihaly Varga speaks during a business
conference in Budapest, Hungary, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary and China have signed a loan agreement to finance the construction of a railway link between Budapest and Belgrade, Finance Minister Mihaly Varga announced on Friday.
    Varga said in a video on his Facebook page that the loan carried a fixed interest rate and an early repayment option but he did not say what the exact terms were.
    A key piece of data in the loan agreement is what interest rate Hungary will pay.
    Earlier this month, Hungary drafted legislation to classify all data included in contracts for the $2.1 billion, tax-payer funded rail project for 10 years.
    “We have a loan agreement that is advantageous and secure for Hungary,” Varga said in the video, adding that the terms of the loan were “favourable relative to the currently available debt financing conditions.”
    Some 85% of the financing comes from China as a loan, while 15% is provided by Hungary, he said.
    Varga said the new rail link, to be completed by 2025, would allow Hungary to be a centre for European logistical networks as Chinese goods travel from Greece to western Europe.
    The 150-km (93-mile) Hungarian stretch of the railway will be built by CRE Consortium which includes holding company Opus Global, controlled by Lorinc Meszaros, an associate of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    The other half of the winning consortium is owned by China Tiejiuju Engineering & Construction Kft. and China Railway Electrification Engineering Group Kft., representing the Chinese state railways company.
    According to a statement by Opus in 2019, the holding company could earn revenues worth about 295 billion forints from the project over the planned construction period.
    The project has suffered significant delays.    China, Serbia and Hungary signed a memorandum of understanding on the 370-km (230 mile) rail route in December 2014 in Belgrade.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

4/24/2020 Moldovan leader says Russian loan row risks economic crisis
FILE PHOTO: Moldova's President Igor Dodon addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s President on Friday accused the opposition of provoking an economic crisis in the tiny eastern European country by blocking the receipt of a Russian loan.     Squeezed between European Union member Romania and non-EU Ukraine, Moldovan politics tend to divide those who favour closer ties with the West and those who seek a strong alliance with Moscow.
    It is seeking external financing to support its economy during the turbulence caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the government expects that the 10-year loan could partially cover this year’s state budget deficit.
    “The opposition is worried that Moldova will receive a loan of 200 million euros from Russia.    It is not the conditions that concern them, and not some points in the agreement, but the fact that Moldova will receive the money,” Igor Dodon said on an official social media feed.
    “They would like to provoke a crisis, bring people to the street and return to power on this wave,” he added.
    The opposition says Russia’s motivation in providing the loan is to support pro-Russian President Dodon, who plans to run for a second term in presidential elections later this year.
    Serdgiu Sirbu, a lawmaker from the opposition pro-European group Pro-Moldova had petitioned the court to block the loan, after objecting to some of the loan conditions.
    The loan agreement had been ratified by the parliament on Thursday, but the court decision to “suspend (the loan agreement) pending a substantive review” makes the date of receipt of the money uncertain as it is unclear when the court will rule on whether the loan is legal or not.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, writing by Pavel Polityuk; editing by Barbara Lewis)

4/24/2020 Up to one in 10 residents of Moscow may have had coronavirus infections: laboratory by Anton Zverev and Maria Tsvetkova
A medical specialist takes a test for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Hadassah clinic at the
Skolkovo innovation centre on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    SKOLKOVO, Russia (Reuters) – Tests in the wider Moscow region to see if people are carrying coronavirus antibodies suggest that as many as one in 10 residents may have been infected, a government project said on Friday.
    The results, disclosed to Reuters by Moscow’s International Medical Cluster, suggest that the novel coronavirus has spread more widely than the official tallies of confirmed infections.
    Moscow and the Moscow region around it has reported 44,786 confirmed cases of the virus, suggesting 0.2% of the area’s population of more than 20 million has been infected.
    The Moscow branch of the Israeli Haddassa Medical clinic offers tests for the presence of antibodies to people with no flu-like symptoms for 4,300 roubles ($57.70) – so its tested group is self-selecting rather than being a random sample of the population.
    It has conducted about 1,000 tests in its first two weeks of the program, the International Medical Cluster said on Friday.
    “Last week, when the testing was launched, about 3% of people had (coronavirus) antibodies.    This week, the figure rose to about 9-10%.    That means that gradual immunisation is underway,” it said.
    The test is produced by the China-based Genrui Biotech company and certified for use in the European Economic Area, the laboratory said.
    It is not yet known whether antibodies to the new coronavirus confer some level of immunity, in the way that antibodies to many other infectious diseases do.
    Despite a partial lockdown across the country, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose sharply in Russia this month and surpassed 68,000 on Friday.
    The results given by the International Medical Cluster on Friday follow earlier data harvested from the first trial test for COVID-19 antibodies when the authorities checked 226 samples and found 11 people had carried the disease, an infection rate of almost 5%.
(Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Frances Kerry)

4/24/2020 Fires near Chernobyl pose ‘no risk to human health’, IAEA says
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a wooden house on fire, as an operation to extinguish wildfires around the defunct Chernobyl
nuclear plant continues, in Lyudvynivka in Kiev Region, Ukraine April 18, 2020. REUTERS/Volodymyr Shuvayev
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Radiation from fires that have torn through forests around Ukraine’s defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant poses “no risk to human health,” the U.N. atomic agency said on Friday, based on data provided by Ukraine.
    The main fire among several blazes was extinguished last week but advanced far into the 30 km exclusion zone around the plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986.    Smaller fires are still burning in the exclusion zone, its administration said on Friday evening.
    Footage from the site has shown plumes of smoke billowing from the charred landscape, and environmental activists have said the burning of contaminated trees and other vegetation could disperse radioactive particles, posing a health risk.
    “The recent fires in the Exclusion Zone near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine have not led to any hazardous increase of radioactive particles in the air,” the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement.
    The Vienna-based IAEA, which acts as the U.N. nuclear watchdog but also aims to encourage the peaceful use of nuclear energy, said it was basing its assessment on data provided by Ukraine.
    The IAEA said it found “the increase in levels of radiation measured in the country was very small and posed no risk to human health.”
    There had been “some minor increases in radiation,” the IAEA said, adding the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine had found “the concentration of radioactive materials in the air remained below Ukraine’s radiation safety norms.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams in Kiev; Editing by Mark Potter)

4/24/2020 Banned Vienna protest against lockdown draws 200
An elderly man wearing a face mask is arrested by the police during a demonstration against the anti-coronavirus measures taken by the Austrian
government as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Vienna, Austria, April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – A crowd of around 200 defied a police ban to gather in central Vienna on Friday for a protest against Austria’s coronavirus lockdown.
    The restrictions have been in place for more than a month and helped flatten the curve of infections.    The government shut bars, restaurants, schools and non-essential shops, allowing some shops to reopen last week in a first easing of the curbs.
    The protest’s organisers, the Initiative for Evidence-Based Corona Information (ICI), want the lockdown ended.
    They argue, among other things, that wearing face masks and fabric equivalents that are compulsory in shops and on public transport is counter-productive.
    Public gatherings of more than five people remain banned, and a demonstration of five people was registered in the city for Friday afternoon. However, police then banned it, saying more would come and organisers could not guarantee to respect social distancing rules.
    While anti-lockdown demonstrations have not become a feature of the outbreak in Europe, in the United States protesters have taken to the streets in several states.    Public health officials there have warned against a premature easing of social distancing orders.
    In Vienna on Friday a crowd that a Reuters photographer estimated at around 200 assembled on a square behind the Vienna State Opera, chanting slogans including “We are the people” and “Kurz must go,” referring to conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
    After looking on for an hour, police dispersed the crowd, checking the identities of those who stayed.    There was one arrest, a spokesman said.
    ICI urged people to respect the ban on Friday’s event but said it would register “a new, bigger demo” for a week’s time.
    While there has been some criticism of some aspects of Austria’s lockdown, the opposition and public have been largely supportive, though the far-right Freedom Party now says the measures are too intrusive.
    Polls suggest that during the pandemic there has been an increase in support for Kurz and his party, which is in coalition with the left-wing Greens.
    The lockdown has also help cut the daily increase in infections to less than 2%, which the government says justifies the planned step-by-step reopening of shops, restaurants, bars, schools, museums and churches.
    Austria has reported 530 coronavirus-related deaths so far, fewer than some larger countries have reported daily.
(Reporting by Leonhard Foeger and Francois Murphy; editing by John Stonestreet)

4/24/2020 Arctic surfers ride out Norway’s coronavirus blues by Elin Lindkvist
A small group of surf enthusiasts have been able to take advantage of Norway's flexible lockdown rules
to plunge into the arctic waters off the spectacular Lofoten archipelago. via REUTERS TV
    UNSTAD, Norway (Reuters) – The surfer in the black wetsuit rides the wave as it crests against a backdrop of snow-covered hills and leaden skies, wiping out close to shore before getting back on his board and trying again.
    He is part of a small group of enthusiasts who have been taking advantage of Norway’s flexible lockdown rules to plunge into the arctic waters off the spectacular Lofoten archipelago.
    “You forget about the goddamn coronavirus, you forget about your bills, you forget about problems, you focus only on the waves,” said Kristian Breivik, co-owner of the Lofoten Surf Centre.
    As well as the stunning snow-capped mountains that plunge into the sea, the chain of islands above the Arctic Circle is home to unique cold-water reefs, a millennium-old fishing culture and a thriving population of whales.
    In recent years, growing numbers of surfers have moved there, in search of the perfect wave in a setting that enjoys the midnight sun in summer and the northern lights in winter.
    Norway’s lockdown, imposed in mid-March, is less strict than most others in Europe. People have been allowed to leave their home, as long as they are symptom-free and stand apart, so the Lofoten surfers are still able to hit the waves.
    The country is also gradually reopening as the virus containment measures take effect.    Kindergartens started again on Monday and elementary schools will resume next week.
    “I can be out here hiking, snowboarding and surfing and enjoying friends and company,” said national surf team coach Shannon Ainslie – for whom, as a South African, the absence of sharks is a particular attraction.
    “So I work and live here … and go surf,” he said.    “Life’s good.”
(Writing by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; editing by John Stonestreet)

4/24/2020 Dancing in the streets: Ballet stars perform in empty Amsterdam
Ballet dancer Yvonne Slingerland Cosialls of the Dutch National Ballet performs on the streets of Amsterdam for the "Gently Quiet" project,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Six dancers from the Dutch National Ballet headed out into the empty streets of Amsterdam this week to perform their parts in a piece of choreography inspired by the coronavirus lockdown.
    Each put on a solo performance out in the open, some in front of landmarks including the Amstel Hotel and the Eye film museum.
    Footage of each piece will be edited together into a film titled “Gently Quiet” that will be streamed online by early May, the National Ballet said.
    “I like this project as we can show what we want to do and what we are waiting for to do again,” said 25-year old dancer Yvonne Slingerland, who performed her piece beside the Amstel river on Friday.
    “Even if we are in this weird situation we are still moving and we are still trying to get to the audience.    I think art right now is really important for everyone.”
    All bars, restaurants, museums and other public places have been shut in the Netherlands since March 15 in an attempt to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    The National Ballet has cancelled all its performances until June 1 and stopped its dancers from rehearsing together.    Many have resorted to practicing at home.
    “This is our way of bringing a poetic production, despite not being able to work together in our studio or to perform in front of an audience,” National Ballet spokesman Richard Heideman said.
(Reporting by Hilde Verweij; Writing by Bart Meijer; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

4/24/2020 Sweden to shut bars and restaurants that ignore coronavirus restrictions
FILE PHOTO: People socialize and enjoy the spring, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues,
in Stockholm, Sweden, April 22, 2020. TT News Agency/Anders Wiklund via REUTERS/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden warned on Friday it would shut restaurants and bars in the capital that did not comply with guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, amid signs Stockholm residents were beginning to ignore the rules.
    The capital has been the hardest-hit city in Sweden, accounting for more than half of Sweden’s 2,021 fatalities from COVID-19, the disease cause by the coronavirus.
    Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg said there were worrying signs that as the weather got warmer, people in the capital were beginning to ignore social-distancing rules.
    “As the sun begins to shine, we are beginning to see some worrying reports of open-air restaurants full of customers, of places packed with people, and we have to take this seriously,” Damberg told a news conference.
    “I don’t want to see any full open-air restaurants in Stockholm or anywhere else.    Otherwise, businesses will be closed.”
    He said this would apply to bars and restaurant around the country, not just Stockholm.
    Authorities in Sweden have opted against the kind of total lockdown seen across much of Europe, relying on Swedes’ sense of social responsibility with a strategy based on mostly voluntary measures to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.
    Primary and secondary schools are open, and while the government has banned mingling at bar counters and gatherings of more than 50 people, food and drink is still served at tables indoors and outside.
    Stockholm finance chief Anna Konig Jerlmyr said the capital’s authorities would be increasing checks to make sure bars and restaurants were following social distancing rules round the clock.
    “This is the biggest challenge Stockholm has faced in modern times,” she said.    “These restrictions are not general advice.    These are important rules that are about life and health and must be followed by everyone, all the time.”
    More than 1,100 people have died in Stockholm as a result of the new coronavirus, with 280 new confirmed cases reported on Thursday even though testing is largely restricted to patients admitted to hospital and healthcare workers.
    “The healthcare system is under great pressure,” said Per Follin, the head of infectious disease control in Stockholm.    “We need to keep going with the measures we have so this ends quickly.”
(Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard, Larry King)

4/25/2020 Trump and Putin issue rare joint statement promoting cooperation by Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a
bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin issued a rare joint statement on Saturday commemorating a 1945 World War Two link-up of U.S. and Soviet troops on their way to defeat Nazi Germany as an example of how their countries can cooperate.
    The statement by Trump and Putin comes amid deep strains in U.S.-Russian ties over a raft of issues, from arms control and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria to U.S. charges that Russia has spread disinformation about the novel coronavirus pandemic and interfered in U.S. election campaigns.
    The Wall Street Journal reported that the decision to issue the statement sparked debate within the Trump administration, with some officials worried it could undercut stern U.S. messages to Moscow.
    The joint statement marked the anniversary of the April 25, 1945 meeting on a bridge over the Elbe River in Germany of Soviet soldiers advancing from the east and American troops moving from the West.
    “This event heralded the decisive defeat of the Nazi regime,” the statement said.    “The ‘Spirit of the Elbe’ is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.”
    The Journal said the last joint statement marking the Elbe River bridge link-up was issued in 2010, when the Obama administration was seeking improved relations with Moscow.
    Trump had hoped to travel to Moscow to mark the anniversary.    He has been complimentary of Putin, promoted cooperation with Moscow, and said he believed the Russian leader’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    Senior administration officials and lawmakers, in contrast, have been fiercely critical of Russia, with relations between the nuclear-armed nations at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
    The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday issued a bipartisan report concurring with a 2017 U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia pursued an influence campaign of misinformation and cyber hacking aimed at swinging the vote to Trump over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
    U.S. intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Moscow is meddling in the 2020 presidential election campaign, which Russia denies.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, editing by Ross Colvin and Chizu Nomiyama)
[WELL YOU KNOW THE CRAZY DEMOCRATS AND THEIR LAMENEWS SERVICE AS WELL AS THE INTELLIGENCE SYSTEMS WILL DEFINITELY GO CRAZY NOW REPORTING RUSSIAN COLLUSION BS AGAIN BECAUSE THEY ARE DESPERATE FOR ANYTHING.].

4/25/2020 Slovakia lifts coronavirus quarantine from a Roma settlement
FILE PHOTO: A child is pictured wearing a protective face mask as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads in the
area around Roma settlements, in Krompachy, Slovakia April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovak authorities have lifted a quarantine on one of five Roma settlements locked down in early April to prevent the spread of coronavirus from the communities, chief public health officer Jan Mikas said on Saturday.
    Slovakia closed off the settlements on April 9 after reports of a cluster of coronavirus cases in them, highlighting difficulties faced by Europe’s largest ethnic minority during the pandemic.
    “Sixteen days ago, we were forced to impose quarantine on five Roma settlements.    Today, the first, at Bystrany, we can open and lift the quarantine here,” Mikas said during a televised press conference just outside the settlement.
    Roma communities across eastern Europe are impoverished, plagued by high unemployment and historically the target of discrimination, and the coronavirus outbreak has many feeling more vulnerable.
    Prime Minister Igor Matovic praised the settlement’s residents for their discipline.
    “Today, an ordinary Roma settlement of Bystrany becomes an example for the whole of Slovakia.    The people here were responsible,” Matovic said.
    Many of those infected had returned to the five communities from the British city of Sheffield, public health officers said.
    Slovakia has reported 1,373 cases of the coronavirus and 17 deaths as of Saturday.
    The country started lifting some of its anti-coronavirus measures earlier this week, easing some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in Europe.
    But Matovic warned that the epidemic was not over yet.
    “I would like (all) people to remain as vigilant as here in Bystrany,” he said.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Ros Russell)

4/25/2020 Serbia sends four planes carrying medical equipment to Italy by Ivana Sekularac
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic wearing a protective face mask poses next to the pilot holding one of
the packages with medical supplies, the writing on it reads: "Let's win together! Courage, Italy, Serbia is with
you!
" at Nikola Tesla Airport, where planes with medical supplies are set to fly to Italy to help the fight
against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Belgrade, Serbia April 25, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia sent four planes carrying medical equipment including gloves, masks and protective suits to Italy on Saturday as a donation to help the EU member state tackle the spread of coronavirus.
    Another four equipment-laden planes will be sent in the next two days, also donated by the Serbian government, President Aleksandar Vucic said.
    “We will win together, be brave Italy, Serbia is with you,” Vucic wrote on one of the boxes of equipment before it was loaded on to a plane.
    Last year Italy was Serbia’s second-largest trade partner after Germany, statistics bureau data in January showed.
    Italian companies including Fiat employ more than 20,000 people in Serbia.
    “On its path to Europe, Serbia always had help from Italy,” Vucic said, noting that during devastating floods in 2014, Italy was one of the first countries to send aid.
    “This is our opportunity to say thank you.”
    Serbia so far reported 7,483 cases of people infected with the coronavirus and 144 deaths.
    The Balkan country has been cultivating strong ties with China and has received help from Beijing, which sent six doctors to help their Serbian colleagues during the pandemic.
    Vucic had at the beginning of the crisis criticised the European Union for introducing a ban on the export of masks to non-EU countries, including Serbia.
    Recently EU officials, including its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, have criticised Vucic for praising only China for help.
    “I have never seen billboards thanking the European Union,” Borrell told members of the European Parliament in Brussels this week, referring to billboards in Belgrade featuring a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping thanking China for its help during the coronavirus crisis.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by David Holmes)

4/25/2020 Russia needs to borrow 1 trillion roubles more to cover non-oil revenue shortfall
FILE PHOTO: Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov delivers a speech during a session of the
lower house of parliament in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will need more than 1 trillion roubles ($13.44 billion) of additional borrowing this year to cover the shortfall in non-oil and gas revenues, the Interfax news agency cited Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as saying on Saturday.
    Speaking on a state television program, the minister also said that 2 trillion roubles are expected to be directed from Russia’s National Wealth Fund to cover shortfalls in revenues that do come from the oil and gas sector.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/26/2020 Russia at risk of spike in coronavirus cases during May holidays: official by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists transport a person on a stretcher into an ambulance outside a hospital for patients infected
with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia could experience a spike in cases of the new coronavirus if people flout lockdown measures during public holidays scheduled for early May, a top health official said on Sunday.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Russia began rising sharply this month, reaching more than 80,000 on Sunday after a record 6,361 new cases were registered over the past day.
    Anna Popova, head of Russia’s consumer health watchdog, said the country had so far avoided a spike in cases and could continue to do so “if only we do not give up during the holidays.”
    “That is the biggest risk today,” Popova said in an interview on state television, Russian news agencies reported.     Russia only has a handful of working days between May 1 and May 11 this year, with back-to-back long weekends for the Labour Day and Victory Day state holidays.    Many Russians typically take the entire period off work for travel or family holidays.
    Russia, which has so far recorded 747 coronavirus-related deaths, has declared lockdowns across the country, including in the capital Moscow, the area worst-affected by the virus.
    Muscovites are only allowed to go out to buy food or medicines at their nearest shop, get urgent medical treatment, walk their dog, or take out the trash.    They must apply for a digital permit for any other movement across the city. Popova urged Russians to remain home during the holidays in a bid to help stem contagion.
    “We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones,” she said.
    President Vladimir Putin announced this month that Russia would postpone its May 9 celebrations, including a massive military parade across Red Square to mark 75 years since the Soviet victory in World War Two.
    The Ministry of Defence said on Sunday that 874 troops had tested positive for the virus since March, as well as 779 cadets and students of military academies across the country.
    The ministry said earlier this week it had ordered thousands of troops to remain in quarantine for two weeks after the Red Square military parade was called off. [L8N2C83HF]
    Next week Putin will address the measures needed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday, Russian news agencies reported.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Peter Graff and David Clarke)

4/27/2020 Russia’s stranded migrants lose jobs, rely on handouts and peers for food by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Ibragim Artykov, builder from Tajikistan, poses for a picture during an interview amid the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Dmitry Madorsky
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Even before Moscow’s coronavirus lockdown, Ibragim Artykov, a builder from Tajikistan, was down on his luck.    Over two months, he had four jobs and in all of them his employers either underpaid him or disappeared without paying him at all.
    Now the 32-year-old, one of 10 million labour migrants in Russia, can’t find a job at all because of the coronavirus lockdown that is four weeks old.
    There is no official word on when it will be eased, and Artykov cannot go home to wait it out as all flights are grounded.
    “We have no home, no car, no stash of money, so we’re only just somehow surviving.    One person lends money, another helps with food, whatever they can,” he said outside a rented apartment where he is staying with acquaintances.
    “We can’t live on water and oxygen, and we need to somehow survive.    I don’t think there’s anything more terrifying than dying of hunger.”
    President Vladimir Putin has said the epidemic is yet to peak.    Moscow has suspended all work except that considered essential in order to slow the spread of the virus.
    That means that in Moscow and its surroundings alone, 2.2 million migrants legally registered to work have lost jobs in construction and other sectors, said Valentina Chupik, a Moscow-based expert on migration.
    The real figure is likely to be much higher, as millions of economic migrants – many from poor Central Asian republics whose economies rely on them sending home some of their salaries – work in the grey economy where they can easily be exploited or cheated by employers.
    Russia’s government has come under fire from some Kremlin critics for not handing out enough economic support to citizens and businesses hit by the crisis.    Migrants are not eligible for any state support.
    Some officials have pushed for emergency measures that would entitle them to benefits. Russian media outlets have warned of the risk of a rise in crime.
    Artykov believes the government should either allow migrants to leave Russia en masse or to help them financially while the lockdown lasts, though he was skeptical that would happen.
    “The third option is death and no one wants that.”
    Migrant communities and charities have organised emergency help for hard-up migrant families.
    Khabibullov Qurbonov, 32, raised 900,000 roubles ($12,170) on his blog, and headed to the market to buy rice, flour, potato and other staples which he handed out to hundreds of families using a taxi service that offered the use of its cars for free.
    Other charities are also handing out food.
    “Today we’re distributing food to migrant families who found themselves stuck in Russia without being able to get back home or earn their bread,” said Irina Konsol, director of the Klavdia charity.    “Those people are starving.”
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Madorsky, Aleksander Reshetnikov, Anastasia Adasheva, Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

4/27/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases rise to 87,147, surpass China’s
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists transport a person on a stretcher into an ambulance outside a hospital for patients
infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 6,198 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday versus 6,361 on the previous day, which took the national tally of infections to 87,147.
    The Russian coronavirus crisis response centre said that 50 more deaths of coronavirus patients were confirmed in the last 24 hours.
    In the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, Russia surpassed mainland China, which reported the total of 82,830 cases on Monday.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Maria Tsvetkova, Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/27/2020 Russia overtakes China with coronavirus cases at 87,000 by Katya Golubkova and Anastasia Lyrchikova
A medical specialist walks out of a mobile laboratory, which carries out tests to detect the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) near
the Moscow International Business Centre, also known as "Moskva-City", in Moscow, Russia April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia overtook China in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, when its tally climbed above 87,000, as pressure rose on the government to consider easing lockdown restrictions for businesses to help shore up the rattled economy.
    Russia, the world’s largest country by territory, has been on lockdown since President Vladimir Putin announced the closure of most public spaces in late March. These measures are due to expire on April 30 and Putin has not yet said if he plans to extend them.
    Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s safety watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, told state television on Monday that, in her view, restrictions should be in place until May 12.
    Earlier Prime Minister Mikhail Mishushin asked his government to submit proposals by Thursday to ease some of the restrictions on businesses.    Many firms have warned that they risk going bankrupt if the lockdown continues, and thousands of workers have been laid off.
    Mishustin told an online government meeting that as soon as the situation started to improve “we would need to consider a step-by-step cancellation of restrictions on certain companies…operations.”
    On Monday, the authorities reported 6,198 new cases of the new coronavirus, bringing the total to 87,147, with 794 deaths.
    Moscow plans to open two new hospitals, with 1,500 beds each, in the defence ministry’s Patriot museum and in the Crocus exhibition centre, once a spot for lavish concerts, business daily RBC reported on Monday.
    St Petersburg, the country’s second largest city, is also turning Lenexpo, which used to host Russia’s top economic forum, into a temporary hospital with 1,000 beds.
ENERGY SECTOR IN FOCUS
    Russia, one of the world’s top oil and gas exporters, is particularly vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus at production sites. Most are located in remote areas accessible only by air, meaning the workers must be in close proximity, increasing their risk of infection.
    Citing local officials, news agency Interfax said on Monday that an airport in Sabetta, in the northern Yamal peninsula, had been shut down for quarantine after cases of the new coronavirus were detected at the Yamal LNG production site controlled by Novatek.
    A total of 143 cases were confirmed in Sabetta, the local crisis response centre said separately.
    In the northwestern region of Murmansk where Novatek is building a plant to supply its next LNG project, the Arctic LNG 2, more than 800 workers tested positive for coronavirus, the local crisis response centre said on Sunday.
    Velesstroy, a sub-contractor for the plant, temporarily suspended work at the site near Murmansk, but said in a statement to Reuters that the project would remain on schedule.
    To limit the risk of contagion at more than 1,000 power plants in Russia, including nuclear ones, more than 200,000 employees – or nearly a third – were recently tested for the virus, the energy ministry said.
    It did not say how many of those tests returned positive.
    Mainland China, where the new coronavirus first emerged, reported a total of 82,830 cases on Monday.    China is now fighting an increased number of new cases coming from Russia.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev, Vladimir Soldatkin, Darya Korsunskaya and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Alex Richardson)

4/28/2020 Russia reports record daily rises in new coronavirus cases and deaths
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask walks behind medical specialists outside Pokrovskaya hospital, which delivers medical
aid to patients infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus cases in Russia climbed on Tuesday to 6,411, a record daily rise, bringing its nationwide tally to 93,558, the country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.
    The number of deaths rose by 72, also a daily record, taking the total number of fatalities to 867.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow, Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/28/2020 Putin to speak on Russia’s coronavirus situation later on Tuesday
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony for newly appointed foreign ambassadors to Russia,
at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 5, 2020. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin would give a speech about the coronavirus situation in the country later on Tuesday.
    “President Putin has a big speech planned, but I am not going to announce anything, let’s wait until the meeting,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/28/2020 Hungary to ease lockdown restrictions, Magyar Nemzet says
FILE PHOTO: Military police officers patrol the deserted Heroes' Square as the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues in Budapest, Hungary, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government plans to ease the lockdown that has kept the country’s businesses shut and residents mostly at home since mid-March, according to the pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet, which published the outlines of the plans on Tuesday.
    Hungary has restricted public gatherings and shut down businesses during the novel coronavirus pandemic, like most other countries.    It has avoided the massive toll in Italy and Spain, with 2,649 cases as of early Tuesday and 291 deaths in a population of 10 million people.
    Consequently, it has built up a supply of protective gear and hospital technology like respirators.    With the healthcare system prepared for an increase in the number of cases, a gradual opening is now possible, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.
    The loosening will begin early next month, Orban said on Friday, adding that he expected the economy to recover rapidly from the effects of the pandemic.
    Hungary’s economic contraction this year is likely to be steeper than the government’s projection last month of 3%, Finance Minister Mihaly Varga told Reuters on Friday.    Its budget-deficit goal of 3% of gross domestic product is “not carved in stone,” he added.
    Starting next week, smaller retail outlets may open, Magyar Nemzet said, without naming its sources.    Over the course of May, a gradual opening of hotels, restaurants and coffee shops may follow.
    Everyone entering a business or restaurant must wear face protection of some kind, it said.    The gradual opening may include longer opening hours and more kinds of shops allowed to open.
    Food stores may have to calculate the safe maximum number of customers in the store at the same time.    Stricter health protocols regulating restaurants and other businesses will probably be in place for the whole year.
    Austria, which Orban has said is a model for his policies as it is further along the course of the epidemic, announced further easing on restrictions from April 30.
    Magyar Nemzet is generally well-informed about government plans and almost always echoes the government’s opinions.    A government spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King)

4/28/2020 Czechs report six-week low in daily rise of new coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: A man gets his temperature taken at Skoda Auto's factory as employees return to work after
the company restarted production following a shutdown last month due to the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak in Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic, April 27, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic has reported its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus cases in more than six weeks as it eases out of a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of infection.
    The number of cases rose by 41 on Monday, bringing the total to 7,449, with 223 deaths.
    The central European country with a population of 10.7 million has seen far fewer cases than its western European neighbours after taking quick action to close schools and most shops and require face masks in public.
    Interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in the Czech Republic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2S2oJ8A?eikon=true
    The daily increase in new cases has been below 100 since April 22 while businesses have put pressure on the government to lift some of its lockdown measures in place since mid-March.
    Consequently the government has sped up its phased re-opening, even though some health experts have cautioned against moving too quickly.
    From Monday, shops up to 2,500 square metres (26,910 square feet) and public spaces such as fitness centres have been reopened.    The government is planning a full-reopening of shops and restaurants by May 25.
    Restrictions on gatherings have been loosened, with groups of up to 10 now permitted in public, up from a previous limit of two.    Czechs are once more allowed to travel abroad but have to present a negative coronavirus test or quarantine when they return.
    The country’s car manufacturing sector is also starting back up, giving some relief to an economy set to contract sharply this year.
    Skoda Auto, a unit of Volkswagen and the country’s biggest exporter, returned to work on Monday after a more than five-week outage since major factories idled last month to fight the spread of the virus.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/28/2020 Tusk urges Poles to shun May presidential vote out of ‘decency’ by Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks enjoy walking in the Lazienki Royal Park after loosening of the lockdown
measures by the government due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Warsaw, Poland April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish voters should boycott a presidential election set for May 10 out of “basic human decency” because of the new coronavirus pandemic, Donald Tusk, leader of the centre-right European People’s Party and a former prime minister, said on Tuesday.
    Tusk said a government plan to hold the vote via a postal ballot was insufficient to mitigate safety concerns in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and accused the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) of subverting the constitution.
    The election has become highly divisive in Poland, with the PiS insisting it go ahead on schedule despite a mounting number of deaths from the highly contagious COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
    Opinion polls show fewer than 30% of Poles are likely to cast ballots if the vote is held on May 10 as scheduled.
    “Basic human decency does not allow us to participate in what is being proposed,” Tusk said in a video posted on Twitter, adding that he would not cast his vote.
    “If you don’t know how to act, be decent,” he said, citing the late anti-communist activist, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who is seen as a leading moral authority by many Poles.
    Tusk said he thought PiS could be persuaded to work on an alternative election plan that would be “safe and fundamentally fair.”
    Poland currently has 12,089 confirmed coronavirus cases and 570 deaths.    Schools and most shops are shut, Poles must wear face masks outside and the country’s borders are closed as part of a lockdown designed to halt the spread of the virus.
DIVIDED
    Critics accuse PiS of putting its own political interests ahead of public health concerns, a charge it denies.    The party hopes to secure the re-election of its ally, President Andrzej Duda, who is currently ahead in the opinion polls.
    Poland’s opposition remains divided, however, with only the Civic Platform, a centrist grouping once led by Tusk, calling for an outright boycott of the election.
    A final decision on the postal ballot rests with parliament, which is only expected to vote on the matter on May 6, just days before the election date.
    PiS says it might agree to delay the vote by a week or two, a margin allowed by the constitution. But the government would have to declare a state of emergency or of natural disaster to delay it for any longer, a move PiS has resisted so far.
    PiS and its conservative allies hold a majority in parliament but members of its ruling coalition have signalled they could vote against the postal ballot plan and have suggested delaying the election by two years.
    The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said on Monday that the current PiS proposal for a postal ballot could disenfranchise some voters abroad and limit the scope for election observers to take part.
    Human Rights Watch also urged Warsaw to reconsider.
    “Poland’s voting process should protect voters during the pandemic.    It’s no solution to rush through a potentially flawed voting system or to postpone the election by two years,” Lydia Gall, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.
    PiS, well ahead of its rivals in the opinion polls, fear support will erode as the lockdown measures hammer the Polish economy.    Losing an ally as president would undermine its efforts to reform Poland’s judiciary – moves criticised by the European Union – and tighten its hold on power.
(Reporting by Warsaw bureau, editing by Justyna Pawlak and Gareth Jones)

4/28/2020 Czech parliament backs short emergency extension as lockdown seen ending early
FILE PHOTO: A cat walks past a police officer guarding the closed Prague Castle, as the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Prague, Czech Republic, April 19, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The lower house of the Czech parliament voted on Tuesday to extend a state of emergency until May 17, a week less than the government had sought, as the country charts a course to emerge from a coronavirus lockdown earlier than forecast.
    Prime Minister Andrej Babis had asked for an extension until May 25 to be able to keep restrictions on business in place.    The state of emergency was due to expire on April 30.
    The government is reluctant to end the emergency early even though it has already reopened some shops and services over the past week as the pace of new infections has declined.
    It has announced that it now expects to reopen the economy faster than previously forecast, although not in time for the deadline now set by parliament.
    Babis said after the vote that the government would seek legal amendments to keep some restrictions in place after the state of emergency ends, news agency CTK reported.
    The Czech Republic has seen a drop in new cases to the lowest level in six weeks, with 41 new infections on Monday and a total of 7,486 on Tuesday afternoon. [L5N2CG2NM]
    The number of active cases has also declined from peaks, to 4,319 on Tuesday, which has allowed the government to speed up its original plan to gradually reopen all shops and services and some schools.
    Shops up to 2,500 square metres have been opened since Monday, and limitations on movement and foreign travel have been lifted.
    The government now plans for most activities and services including pubs and hotels to restart by May 25 rather than June 8 as previously planned.
    For the rest of the academic year ending in June, schools are expected to open only partially, for example for final exams.    From May 25, limited groups of younger children will start school on voluntary basis.
    There has been no decision on allowing large public gatherings.
    The faster pace of restarting the economy and social life has unnerved some epidemiologists, including the head of the Health Ministry’s advisory group, Rastislav Madar, who has told Czech media he saw the acceleration as risky.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

4/28/2020 Putin extends Russia’s non-working period due to coronavirus until May 11
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with regions' heads via a video link amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia April 28, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday extended a non-working period in Russia aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus until May 11, speaking during a televised meeting with senior government officials and regional heads.
    Restrictions were due to be lifted at the end of April, but Putin said the peak of Russia’s coronavirus infections had not yet been reached.
    He ordered the government to come up with fresh measures aimed at supporting the economy and citizens, and to prepare recommendations on gradually easing the coronavirus lockdown restrictions by May 5.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt, Darya Korsunskaya and Vladimir Soldatkin, Writing by Alexander Marrow)

4/29/2020 Russia’s coronavirus case tally nears 100,000 milestone
FILE PHOTO: An employee wearing a protective mask washes multicoloured figures of monkeys, which are on display outside
a cafe, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday reported 5,841 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing its overall nationwide case tally to 99,399.
    The official nationwide death toll reached 972 on Wednesday after 108 people with the virus died in the last 24 hours, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/29/2020 Poland to reopen hotels and shopping malls on May 4: PM
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit, held
to discuss the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will reopen hotels and shopping malls on May 4 while it will consider reopening pre-schools on May 6, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday, in a move to ease restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
    Poland started relaxing some curbs earlier in April, saying they were costly for the economy.    It has reopened forests and parks and eased rules on the number of customers in shops.
    By Wednesday, the European Union member state of 38 million had reported 12,415 cases and 606 deaths.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Editing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/29/2020 Slovenia to ease coronavirus restrictions, gradually reopen schools by Marja Novak
FILE PHOTO: A worker sprays disinfectant to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), outside the hospital in Kranj, Slovenia March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – Slovenia will from Thursday lift a restriction imposed at the end of March that prohibited citizens from travelling outside their local municipalities, Prime Minister Janez Jansa said on Wednesday.
    Education Minister Simona Kustec told national TV Slovenia later on Wednesday that schools and kindergartens, which have been closed since the middle of March, would gradually start reopening from May 18. She did not give details.
    Slovenia, which has 2 million residents and borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, has so far confirmed 1,418 coronavirus cases and 89 deaths.
    Jansa thanked citizens for following restrictions imposed from the middle of March to curb the pandemic and said in a speech sent to the media: “Thanks to you, Slovenia is the most successful (in curbing the coronavirus) among all neighbours of the focal country Italy.”
    He added that Slovenia was also among countries that had suffered less economic and social damage than most because of the government’s quick response, which included financial help of about 3 billion euros or some 6% of gross domestic product to companies and citizens hurt by the outbreak.
    Jansa said more restrictions would be lifted on Monday, but gave no details.    The government said earlier that hairdressers and beauty parlours, as well as outdoor bars and restaurants and a number of shops, would be able to open from Monday.    Libraries and museums are also expected to open on Monday.
    He said, however, that large public events, including large sports gatherings, in Slovenia and the rest of Europe would “most probably” only be possible after a vaccination or medication for the coronavirus is discovered and widely used.    He also called on citizens to remain disciplined in the coming weeks to prevent the spread of the virus.
    On Monday, several hundred people protested in various Slovenian cities against Jansa’s centre-right government and its coronavirus restrictions.
    Slovenia closed all schools, bars, restaurants, hotels, cultural and sports centres, and shops, apart from food and drug stores, and suspended public transport in the middle of March. It has prohibited any socialising in public spaces and introduced an obligatory quarantine for most people entering the country.
    The first restrictions were lifted last week when car service centres and shops that sell cars, bicycles, furniture and construction material were allowed to open.    Residents are obliged, however, to wear face masks in all indoor public spaces.
    The Bank of Slovenia said last month the country’s GDP could fall by 6% to 16% this year due to the coronavirus, while the government expects a budget deficit of 8.1% of GDP this year after a surplus of 0.5% in 2019.    Slovenia’s export-oriented economy expanded by 2.4% last year.
(Reporting by Marja Novak; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

4/29/2020 Bosnia reports sharp rise in coronavirus cases after relaxing lockdown by Daria Sito-Sucic
FILE PHOTO: Members of local Islamic council (Dzemat) prepare for praying in an almost empty Sultan Ahmed mosque, as Friday prayers were suspended
following the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/ Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia reported on Wednesday its sharpest daily rise in new coronavirus infections this month after its two autonomous regions had gradually begun to ease lockdowns.
    There were 93 new infections and two deaths in the previous 24 hours, compared with 20 new infections a day earlier and 49 the day before that, officials said.
    The total number of infected people rose to 1,677 with 65 deaths, while 29,130 have been tested.
    Both the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic imposed lockdowns last month after the outbreak of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.    Their measures included barring people aged over 65 and children up to 18 from leaving home at all.
    The Serb Republic, which started on Monday to let senior citizens leave home for three hours each workday and some businesses to reopen, reported 59 new cases.    Its officials urged citizens to continue to avoid gatherings and to wear masks at all times. [L5N2CF5TI]
    “The percentage of positive cases in relation to those tested is revealing a lowering of individual discipline in obeying the prescribed measures,” Serb Republic Health Minister Alen Seranic said, adding that 8% of those tested in the past 24 hours were found to be positive, up from 5% previously.
    “The whole community is behaving in a more relaxed manner than before, when we had a different number of cases from now,” said Seranic, who is a trained epidemiologist.
PUBLIC APPEAL
    In the northern town of Banja Luka, which has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases in Bosnia, Pedja Kovacevic, head of the intensive care department at the main hospital, said health workers had been able to cope with the pandemic so far.
    “What is terrifying is that we have the largest number of sick and hospitalised patients in the hospital in the ninth week, and I call on the public and every citizen to think twice (before leaving home),” Kovacevic said.
    The Bosniak-Croat Federation lifted its night curfew last Friday and abolished a measure of obligatory quarantine.    It also allowed senior citizens and children to leave home every second day for several hours.
    Its crisis headquarters decided on Wednesday to reinstate the night curfew during the three-day Labour Day holidays and banned gatherings of more than five people.
    It also decided that all wholesale trade businesses and retail shops as well as hair-dressing and cosmetic salons will reopen from May 1, ordering owners to provide disinfection of hands and footwear for customers and disinfect premises each day before opening.
    “We are aware that we’ll see new peaks and trends of the disease, but we have to go back to normal life,” said Goran Cerkez, the federation assistant health minister.
    “We shall see how that proceeds, and whether we have to reinstate restrictions will depend on the citizens.”
    Bosnia’s economy has been hit hard by the lockdowns and the closure of many businesses.    The International Monetary Fund has forecast growth to shrink 5% this year.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Nick Macfie, Gareth Jones and Jonathan Oatis)

4/29/2020 Hungary eases coronavirus restrictions outside Budapest
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a conference
in Budapest, Hungary, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday lifted some restrictions outside Budapest imposed to contain the coronavirus outbreak, saying shops and restaurant terraces will be allowed to reopen without time limits.
    Existing restrictions will continue for now in the capital, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections.    Those include a 3 p.m. closure of shops other than those selling food or medicines.
    A phased reopening is the government’s strategy to head off deeper and more lasting harm to the economy, which is expected to shrink by about 4% this year based on a Reuters survey.
    “The first part of (our) defence measures has ended,” Orban said in a video posted on his Facebook page, adding the health care system was prepared to handle a period of mass infections as Hungary had ramped up its stock of protective gear.
    “Today, we no longer need to worry that anyone will be left without care.    We can gradually restart life in Hungary.”
    As of Wednesday, Hungary reported 300 deaths among a total of 2,727 cases of COVID-19, the highly contagious lung disease caused by the new coronavirus.    Some 1,347 of the infections were in Budapest.
    Orban said that outside the capital open-air swimming pools will also be permitted to reopen but the wearing of masks or face-coverings would remain mandatory in shops and on public transport.
    He said any further loosening of restrictions would be reviewed every two weeks.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/29/2020 Serbs bang pots to protest government and strict coronavirus measures by Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: Dragan Djilas, the head of the opposition Alliance for Serbia, bangs a pot from his terrace to protest government's
policies during the coronavirus crisis in Belgrade, Serbia, April 27, 2020. Picture taken April, 27, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – For two nights, a cacophony of tin pans, drums, whistles, and horns has reverberated through much of Serbia as citizens, stuck at home under curfew, vent their anger at the government and its tough containment measures to curb the new coronavirus.
    Serbia, which has reported 8,497 confirmed cases and 173 deaths from COVID-19., introduced stringent measures last month, including a state of emergency, closure of borders, daily curfew from 1600 GMT, and total lockdowns all weekend, including all four days of the Easter holiday.
    The government has started to lift restrictions as the rate of infections slows, but said that a lockdown during the Labour Day holiday on May 1, a important celebration in Serbia, should remain in place.
    The banging is due to continue on Wednesday evening, and recalls similar popular protests from 1996 to 1997 when Serbians rebelled against election fraud and the former strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
    At the balcony of his apartment in Belgrade’s Vracar neighbourhood, Dragan Djilas, the head of the opposition Alliance for Serbia, and a former leader of the student protests of the 1990s, used a wooden spoon to bang a pot.
    “This energy (from the 1990s) has re-emerged as the people cannot endure any longer … these lockdowns, these 80-hour incarcerations,” Djilas told Reuters.
    The protests also express many people’s discontent with the policies of President Aleksandar Vucic, a former nationalist firebrand and former information minister under Milosevic who later adopted pro-European values, and with his Serbian Progressive Party.
PENT-UP DISCONTENT
    Many in Serbia accuse Vucic and the ruling coalition of autocracy, oppression against political opponents, stifling of media freedoms, corruption, cronyism, and ties with organised crime.    Both Vucic, in power since 2012, and his allies deny such accusations.
    Most of Serbia’s opposition parties, which are frequently divided and bickering, have boycotted parliament.    They have said they will not take part in elections initially set for April and postponed until later in the year.
    Bojan Klacar, the executive director of the Belgrade-based pollster CESID said the protest could damage the Serbian president and his allies, but added that a divided opposition was unable to tap into its energy.    He added that heavy-handed handling of the crisis did not dent popularity of Vucic among his supporters.
    From his window in a concrete, Communist-era building in the Novi Beograd neighbourhood, Dobrica Veselinovic, a prominent activist of the Ne Davimo Beograd (Do Not Drown Belgrade) rights group, played Bella Ciao, a song of Italian antifascist fighters during the World War II.
    He also projected a banner reading “noise against dictatorship” and “raise your voice every evening from 2005” (1805 GMT) onto the wall of a nearby building.
    “The most important thing is that people (who disagree with the government) realize that they are not alone…. We invited people to raise their voice against what is happening in society,” Veselinovic said.
(This story corrects number of fatalities in paragraph 2 to 173 from 1,678)
(Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

4/29/2020 Finland to reopen schools and daycares gradually starting May 14
FILE PHOTO: Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin arrives for the second day of a special European Council summit in Brussels,
Belgium February 21, 2020, held to discuss the next long-term budget of the European Union. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland will reopen schools and daycare centres after May 13, having kept them mostly closed since March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government said on Wednesday.
    Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said children would return to school gradually, starting on May 14 for a little more than two weeks, before their summer break begins as usual at the start of June.
    Pupils at upper secondary and vocational schools will continue to study remotely, she added.
    The spread of the coronavirus has showed signs of slowing in Finland, with the number of cases per capita well below those of neighbouring Sweden, Norway and Estonia.
    Education Minister Li Andersson said there were no longer grounds for keeping the schools and daycares closed.
    “It is clear that a long period of remote teaching may have negative impacts on children’s learning and wellbeing,” Andersson told a news conference.
    By Wednesday, 206 people had died in Finland and it had 4,906 confirmed coronavirus cases.
    The Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare said some 200 cases of infection had been found in children under 16 years old in Finland but none of them had been hospitalised.
    The institute’s Director of Health Security Mika Salminen said more evidence had emerged during the school closure to prove that children played a very small role in spreading the virus.
    “Also children don’t generally infect adults,” Salminen said in reference to the coronavirus, adding there was little evidence of such cases.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Alex Richardson, Chris Reese and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

4/29/2020 Russia flies nuclear-capable bombers over Baltic Sea in training exercise
Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber flies over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea in this screen grab taken
from video released on April 29, 2020. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has flown two nuclear-capable Tu-160 strategic bombers over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea, the Russian Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday, a move that prompted Finland, Denmark, Poland and Sweden to scramble jets to escort them.
    The ministry said the flight was routine in nature and strictly adhered to international airspace regulations.
    Russia carries out similar training flights over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as over the Black and Baltic Seas on a regular basis, a policy some NATO members regard as unhelpful sabre-rattling.
    The two Tupolev T-160 aircraft, which can carry up to 12 short-range nuclear missiles, were in the air for eight hours, the Russian Defence Ministry said.
    “At specific stages of the route, the aircraft were escorted by the Finnish Air Force’s F-18s, Royal Danish and Polish Air Force F-16s, as well as by the Swedish Air Force’s Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets,” it said.
    Russia made a similar statement on Tuesday, saying two Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers had flown a routine four-hour flight over the neutral waters of the Barents and Norwegian seas, prompting Norway to scramble its jets to escort them.
    Also on Tuesday, it said advanced jets belonging to its Baltic Fleet had rehearsed striking naval targets in the Baltic Sea.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/30/2020 In lockdown, ‘desperate’ Swiss turn to snooping and snitching by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: A sculpture of monkeys is pictured on the desk of Christian Sideris, founder of detective agency Seeclop, during an
interview with Reuters amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A mother checking on her ex-husband’s sexual habits to protect their asthmatic child; a retiree frustrated with a neighbour who talks loudly on late-night conference calls; a woman angry with a family downstairs for hosting large play dates.
    These are all client requests made to a Swiss private detective since the country imposed coronavirus confinement measures six weeks ago.
    Christian Sideris, founder of Seeclop, a six-man detective agency in Geneva, has refused all but one of them, urging his callers to seek other solutions in extraordinary times, but the requests reveal the mounting frustration of living together.
    “We have a lot of these types of cases because people are confined and on top of each other all day,” he said, describing some callers as “desperate.”
    Normally, Sideris gets beyween two and four requests a year for such cases.    Since lockdown began, he has had two a week.
    He accepted the asthmatic child case since, after a week of trailing the father, it showed he had multiple girlfriends and visitors despite COVID-19 restrictions, a potentially important part of the custody dispute.
    “In normal times, you would never have a judge who asks about his different mistresses or whether he stays far enough away in the grocery queue but these are not normal times,” said Sideris, one of Geneva’s 468 registered agents.
    The Swiss are known for complaining about their neighbours, often using rules designed to keep the noise down.    These are rigorously enforced in Geneva, where 16th Century protestant reformer John Calvin banned instrumental music when he was in charge.
    Today, Geneva’s Public Health and Tranquility Law regulates the hours for practising a musical instrument and home DIY, with fines of up to 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,000).    Running a bath after 9 p.m. is banned.
    As the coronavirus crisis drags on, police said noise complaints in Geneva had more than doubled this month to 1,233, including about kids on scooters indoors and late-night home improvements.
    One resident complained to police about a neighbourhood choir intended to cheer people up.
    “We were disappointed and sad,” said resident Audrey Lecomte. The choir got off with a warning and responded by reducing the show’s length and placing chalk markers to encourage spectators to social-distance.
    The police are back, but only to watch, and one grumpy neighbour said the music still went on for “too long.”
(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; Editing by Michael Shields, Matthew Lewis and Giles Elgood)

4/30/2020 Hungarian schools to remain closed until end of May: government
FILE PHOTO: Military police officers patrol the deserted Heroes' Square as the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues in Budapest, Hungary, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Schools in Hungary will remain closed until the end of May and events with more than 500 participants cannot be held until Aug. 15, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said on Thursday.
    Orban announced on Wednesday that some restrictions outside Budapest imposed to contain the coronavirus outbreak will be lifted starting next week.
    Existing restrictions will continue for now in the capital, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/30/2020 Czechs say coronavirus spread contained, to carefully reopen
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker gathers information from a woman that wants to get tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a part of a study
about undetected infections with the coronavirus in the population in Prague, Czech Republic, April 23, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The spread of the novel coronavirus has been contained in the Czech Republic and the government will continue to cautiously open up the economy, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Thursday.
    The country has seen the number of new cases drop below 100 for the past eight consecutive days, and the number of active cases has also been on the decline.
    The ministry said the reproduction rate of the virus has dropped to 0.7, which means every newly infected person passes the infection to less than one other person.
    It predicted 7,900-9,700 total infections at the end of May, from 7,581 reported as of Thursday morning.
    Positive developments have prompted the government to start reopening shops and services as well as non-urgent medical care as doctors fear the impact of neglect in standard care.
    “So far we do not see a negative trend resulting from previous relaxations,” Vojtech told a televised news conference.     “We will proceed with caution, gradually in the upcoming waves, and I believe we are on a good path,” he said.
    The country has also seen a decline in the number of hospitalised patients, to 348 on Wednesday from a peak of 446 on April 9.    So far 227 people have died, equal to 21 per million people.
    The government, under pressure from business and the general population, has lifted most limits on movement and sped up reopening shops and services.
    Most activities will be allowed as of May 11 and May 25.    Stores of up to 2,500 square metres reopened on Monday.
    The head of the Health Ministry’s epidemiological advisory team, Rastislav Madar, has cautioned about the faster relaxations, saying they may be risky.
    Schools are not to reopen fully until September, and the government is also keeping in place an obligation to wear face masks in public and a ban on large public gatherings.
    The government is hoping that a system of tracing and testing contacts of infected people, newly boosted by an army of testers, mobile apps and location data from phones and payment card transactions, will be enough to contain any flare-ups without the need to reintroduce blanket restrictions.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/30/2020 Russia’s coronavirus case tally surges past the 100,000 mark after record daily rise
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing protective gear transports a man on a stretcher outside a hospital for patients infected
with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s nationwide tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surged past the 100,000 mark on Thursday after a record daily rise in new cases, days after President Vladimir Putin warned the peak of the outbreak was yet to come.
    Russia, the world’s largest country by territory, has been on lockdown since Putin announced the closure of most public spaces in late March.
    It this week overtook China and Iran in the number of confirmed cases.    Though Russia is rising up the table of nations with the highest number of confirmed cases, it has so far recorded far fewer deaths relative to many of the most hard-hit countries.
    Russia’s nationwide case tally now stands at 106,498, the country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said on Thursday.    It said 101 people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus had died in the last 24 hours.    That means the official overall death toll now stands at 1,073 people.
    Authorities began recording a sharp rise in cases this month after registering much lower case numbers than other countries in the early stages of the outbreak.
    Russia is now in its fifth week of a lockdown that, together with the collapse of oil prices, has put the economy on course for a 4-6% contraction, according to the central bank.
    Putin, addressing the nation on television on Tuesday, said the lockdown measures would have to be rolled over for another two weeks.    He warned the outbreak’s peak was still ahead.
    “The situation is still very difficult,” said Putin.    “We are facing a new and perhaps the most intense stage in countering the epidemic.”
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov/Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/30/2020 Ukraine reaches 10,000 coronavirus cases as public chafes against lockdown by Pavel Polityuk
Police officers and members of the National Guard of Ukraine stand guard during a protest to demand support from the government
for small businesses and easing of lockdown measures put into place because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
in front of the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers building in central Kiev, Ukraine April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine reached 10,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday as Health Minister Maksym Stepanov urged the public to be patient and not violate lockdown measures that have kept the country’s death toll far lower than in much of western Europe.
    The government shut businesses such as cafes, restaurants, markets and cinemas last month, closed its borders to foreign citizens and shut down almost all air and rail travel, causing a spike in job losses.
    Anger at the lockdown led to hundreds of businessmen protesting near the government building on Wednesday, while Stepanov also said more people were ignoring a ban on visiting parks.
    Stepanov told a televised briefing that 261 people had died from COVID-19.
    “But this is not the thousands that are happening in Italy and Spain.    Quarantine was introduced very quickly (in Ukraine) and it was thanks to this that we managed to contain the situation,” he said.
    “Thanks to the quarantine measures, we managed to avoid the peak incidence and peak load on the medical system.”
    The government has extended the lockdown until May 11 and expects the pandemic to peak in Ukraine early next month.    It is considering whether to open food markets back up in the meantime, with social distancing rules.
    But there are growing signs of public impatience.
    “What do we see in the last days?    We see rallies, people on the streets, we see traffic jams, we see an increase in the number of people in parks.    I understand that being in quarantine for five, six weeks is very difficult,” Stepanov said.
    “When you go out to rallies or when you start violating the quarantine, don’t think about just yourself.    Think about your loved ones whom you can infect by becoming infected at such events.”
    The government had been particularly anxious to avoid a spike in new infections over Orthodox Easter on April 19, after a prominent monastery became an infection hotspot.
    The pandemic is expected to tip Ukraine into recession this year, prompting the government to appeal to the International Monetary Fund for aid.
    The government has allocated 6 billion hryvnias ($222 million) for payments to the unemployed and has increased its forecast for the unemployment rate this year to 9.4%.
    A survey carried out by the Rating research group in early April showed 8% of Ukrainians had lost their jobs during the lockdown, and 29% had taken a vacation.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/30/2020 Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin tells Putin he has coronavirus by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin chairs a meeting on measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) via video link in Moscow, Russia April 8, 2020. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that he had been diagnosed with the new coronavirus and was temporarily stepping down to recover.
    Mishustin, 54, suggested that First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov serve as acting prime minister in his absence.
    Putin, who was listening on a televised video conference, sighed when he heard the news, wished Mishustin a speedy recovery and said he agreed with the proposed replacement.
    Mishustin, who has been one of the main coordinators of Russia’s response to the new coronavirus, is the first high-ranking Russian official to publicly say they have the virus.    He broke the news hours after the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Russia surged past the 100,000 mark.
    “I have found out that the coronavirus tests I had done returned with a positive result,” said Mishustin, who was appointed by Putin in January.    “I need to self-isolate, and follow doctors’ instructions.    This is necessary for the safety of my colleagues.”
    Mishustin said he would remain in contact with members of the government and Putin by phone and video conference despite his condition.
    “What is happening to you can happen to anyone,” Putin replied matter-of-factly.    “When you get to the hospital, call me.    I’ll be waiting for your call.”
    The broadcast of the meeting, which showed the men on split screens, lasted just under four minutes.
    Mishustin will spend his self-isolation period at a hospital under the supervision of doctors, his spokesman Boris Belyakov said, without disclosing the exact location where the prime minister would be treated.
    Belyakov added that all those who had been in contact with Mishustin would go into self-isolation and be tested for the virus.
    Russia’s nationwide tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surged past the 100,000 mark earlier on Thursday after a record daily rise in new infections.
    Russia this week overtook China and Iran in the number of confirmed cases arising from the global pandemic.
    Russia has so far reported 1,073 coronavirus-related deaths, a figure far lower than many of the hardest-hit countries however.
    Putin has warned the peak of the outbreak has yet to come, and the authorities have said there could be a new spike in cases if the population flouts lockdown measures during public holidays in early May.
    The world’s largest country by territory, Russia has been on lockdown since Putin announced the closure of most public spaces in late March to limit the scope for the virus to spread.
    Putin and the cabinet have been holding remote meetings to avoid contact.
(Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Anton Zverev; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Andrew Heavens)

4/30/2020 Czechs to allow cultural and sports events with up to 100 people in next reopening wave
FILE PHOTO: People watch a performance from their cars at a drive-in theater as the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues in Prague, Czech Republic, April 26, 2020.REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government will allow cultural and sport events with up to 100 people to go ahead from May 11 as part of a next phase of relaxing restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, officials said on Thursday.
    This will include cinema screenings, theatres performances and religious services, and comes sooner than the government had originally planned after it said the spread of the virus was now contained.
    Large events, however, like music festivals due this summer with thousands of people will not take place, Culture Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said.
    The central European country of 10.7 million is cautiously opening up its economy after it shut schools, shops and restaurants in March and imposed a lockdown.
    The Czech Republic has seen the number of new cases drop below 100 for the past eight consecutive days, and the number of active cases has also been on the decline.
    Stores of up to 2,500 square metres reopened on Monday.
    From May 11, shopping malls and larger shops are also set to reopen, along with outdoor restaurants and pubs, hairdressers, and museums.
    The last phase is due on May 25 with restaurants, pubs and hotels returning to action.
    For an interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in the Czech Republic:
https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/yzdpxoyxnvx/index.html?eikon=true
(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

4/30/2020 U.N. experts urge lifting of Cuba embargo to save lives in coronavirus fight
FILE PHOTO: A police officer organizes a line of people to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Havana, Cuba, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – United Nations human rights experts on Thursday urged the Trump administration to lift the U.S. financial and economic embargo on Cuba, saying it limited the Communist-ruled island’s ability to fight the coronavirus pandemic and save lives.
    The independent experts said in a statement that Washington’s embargo on Cuba is obstructing humanitarian responses to aid the country’s healthcare system in fighting the new coronavirus outbreak, potentially increasing the heavy physical and psychological suffering caused by COVID-19.
    “In the pandemic emergency, the lack of will of the U.S. government to suspend sanctions may lead to a higher risk of such suffering in Cuba and other countries targeted by its sanctions,” the U.N. human rights experts said in the statement.
    “We are particularly concerned about the risks to the right to life, health and other critical rights of the most vulnerable sections of the Cuban population,” the experts added.
    The joint statement was issued by independent human rights experts, including one with a U.N. global mandate to investigate the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures and another on the right to development.
    Cuba has reported 1,501 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 61 COVID-19 deaths, according to figures reported on Thursday by state media.
    Under President Donald Trump, the United States has tightened its decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in a renewed attempt to force the one party system to reform.    But Washington has faced calls to ease U.S. sanctions on Iran, Venezuela and other countries during the coronavirus outbreak.
    The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control earlier this month released guidance on humanitarian exemptions to Washington’s sanctions, including for Cuba.    But the U.N. rights experts said the “cumbersome” process for exporting and re-exporting goods to Cuba, which makes it less efficient to purchase medicine, medical equipment and technology, has not changed or become any easier.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Tom Brown)

4/30/2020 Former Polish presidents, PMs call for presidential election boycott
FILE PHOTO: Former Polish President Lech Walesa attends a rally during celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the first free
democratic parliamentary election in Poland, at the Old Town in Gdansk, Poland June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Nine former Polish prime ministers and presidents urged voters on Thursday to boycott next month’s planned presidential election, arguing that the ballot, to be held by post, could be unconstitutional and did not guarantee voter confidentiality.
    The group included Lech Walesa, who helped overthrow communism as head of the Solidarity trade union movement.    Former European Council president and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk and some opposition presidential candidates have already said they would not take part in the May poll.
    The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has sought to go ahead with the election amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic by proposing changes to the electoral code allowing for the vote to take place exclusively by post.
    Critics, including human rights groups and election observers, say the legislative changes, which have still yet to be approved by parliament, have been rushed through and could stop the elections from being free or fair.
    “The procedure of voting by post in this form and time, as is proposed by the ruling party, are pseudo-elections.    We will not take part,” the leaders said in a joint statement.
    “The Constitution allows for a state of emergency which would allow for moving the election term while maintaining political stability.”
    Opinion polls show fewer than 30% of Poles are likely to cast ballots if the vote is held on May 10 as scheduled.
    The head of the Supreme Court, a chamber of which could judge on the validity of the election, ended a six-year term on Thursday, opening the way for PiS to pick a supporter of its contested judiciary overhaul to replace her.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

4/30/2020 Bosnia’s coronavirus-free Adriatic resort charges disinfection entrance fee
FILE PHOTO: The moon is reflected in the sea in the town of Neum August 27, 2012. REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The authorities in Bosnia’s sole Adriatic resort Neum have begun charging an entrance fee for the disinfection of vehicles as a measure to keep the town coronavirus free with the Labour Day holidays starting on Friday, local media reported.
    Zivko Matusko, the mayor of the town which lies along Bosnia’s 12-mile stretch of the coastline, told N1 television the decision had been made by the town’s civil defence headquarters and that the money would be spent on disinfectant and staff to carry out the process.
    The fee, ranging from 2.5 to 5 euros, depends on the type and size of vehicle.    Disinfection of vehicles entering Neum has been obligatory since the start of the coronavirus outbreak last month but there has not been a charge until now.
    Matusko had previously said he feared an influx of visitors over the holiday weekend. However, Bosnia’s two regions on Wednesday reinstated stricter measures on the movement of people during the three-day period after the number of coronavirus cases soared following an easing of restrictions. [nL8N2CH5J0]
    Neum had been the only Bosnian town where visitors needed to show medical receipts on entry to prove they were not infected with COVID-19.    That measure was abolished on Monday, according to N1.
    The town relies on tourism and wants to keep its coronavirus-free image for the upcoming summer season.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

5/1/2020 Russia reports record daily rise in coronavirus cases after PM’s infection by Gleb Stolyarov
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),
ECMO Centre of the City Clinical Hospital Number 52, where patients suffering from the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated, in Moscow, Russia April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov?
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday reported a record daily rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, a day after Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced he had been diagnosed with the new virus and was temporarily stepping down to recover.
    The nationwide case tally rose by 7,933 cases and now stood at 114,431, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.
    It said 96 people diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, had died in the last 24 hours.    That raised the official overall death toll up to 1,169.
    Mishustin, the prime minister, told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that he had been diagnosed with the virus and would self-isolate.    First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will serve as acting prime minister in his absence.
    Mishustin, who had been one of the main coordinators of Russia’s response to the new coronavirus, was the first high-ranking Russian official to publicly say they have the virus.
    Russia’s outbreak got off to a slower start than many other countries.    But cases began to sharply rise last month, and on Thursday surged past the 100,000 mark.
    Although Russia is rising up the table of nations with the highest number of confirmed cases, it has so far recorded far fewer deaths than many of the hardest-hit countries.
    Putin has warned the peak of the outbreak has yet to come, and the authorities have said there could be a new spike in cases if the population flouts lockdown measures during long public holidays in early May.
    The world’s largest country by territory, Russia has been on lockdown since Putin announced the closure of most public spaces in late March to limit the scope for the virus to spread.
    Putin and the cabinet have been holding remote meetings to avoid contact.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/1/2020 No popcorn at movies as Czechs prepare to reopen cinemas and other businesses
FILE PHOTO: People stand on the Vltava river bank amid an outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Prague, Czech Republic, April 29, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic outlined rules on Friday for cinemas, hairdressers and other businesses to re-open on May 11 that include a food and drink ban at the movies as the country eases restrictions aimed at slowing the coronavirus’s spread.
    Hairstylists will need to wear both a mask and a protective shield and manicurists and pedicurists must also wear gloves, Health Minister Adam Vojtech told a news conference. Their customers must keep two metres apart.
    “When it comes to barbers and hairdressers, it is essential that operators have double respiratory protection,” Vojtech said.    “So, in addition to the mask, there is also a protective shield.”
    The central European nation of 10.7 million is cautiously opening up its economy amid signs the outbreak has come under control.    Schools, shops and restaurants were shut down and a lockdown imposed in March.
    The Czech Republic has reported a total of 7,689 cases and 237 deaths.    On Thursday, it recorded 103 new cases, the first time since April 21 that daily new infections climbed above 100.    Active cases have steadily declined.
    The government said on Thursday it would allow the opening of cultural and sport events with up to 100 people as part of a next phase of relaxing restrictions, to start on May 11.    That will also include shopping malls and larger shops.
    At theatres, audience members must leave every other row empty and couples can sit together at cinemas but must be separated by a seat from others.
    “It will not be possible to consume or sell any food, including drinks,” Vojtech said, adding that masks need to stay on during the film.    “That means no popcorn.”
    At restaurants with outdoor areas, customers not dining together must sit 1.5 metres apart but can remove their masks while eating and drinking.
    The government is hoping a system of tracing and testing contacts of infected people, newly boosted by an army of testers, mobile apps and location data from phones and payment card transactions, will be enough to contain any flare-ups without re-introducing blanket restrictions.
    Stores of up to 2,500 square metres reopened Monday, and restaurants, pubs and hotels should open their doors on May 25 in the next reopening stage.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn and Jason Hovet, editing by Larry King)

5/1/2020 Hungary PM warns of potential second coronavirus wave in October-November
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a conference in Budapest, Hungary, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary needs to prepare for a potential second wave of coronavirus cases in October and November after a likely slowdown in the outbreak’s infection rate in the summer, the prime minister told state radio on Friday.
    Viktor Orban also said restrictions on movement in Budapest and surroundings, where 80% of the country’s coronavirus deaths have been recorded, would not be eased until the fatality rate fell in that area.
    From Monday, Hungary will lift some curbs in the countryside, where shops and restaurant terraces will be allowed to reopen as the government tries to put the battered economy back on track.
    “The virus has not gone away, we have only won some time,” Orban told state radio.    “We have to prepare for a second wave (of the epidemic) in October-November.”
    As of Friday, Hungary has reported 2,863 cases of COVID-19, and 323 deaths.
    Orban said the focus was on creating as many jobs in the country as had been destroyed by the economic fallout from the virus outbreak.
    He said his government would offer paid training and widen the public works programme.    The army was also in a recruitment phase.
    A phased lifting of restrictions is the government’s strategy to head off more lasting damage to the economy, which is expected to shrink by about 4% this year based on a Reuters survey. It expanded by 4.9% last year.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and John Stonestreet)

5/1/2020 Cuba protests ‘terrorist aggression’ after embassy shooting by OAN Newsroom
A statue of Cuban national hero Jose Marti is visible behind Secret Service investigators as they look at three bullet holes in a fence after police
say a person with an assault rifle opened fire at the Cuban Embassy, Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
    Cuban officials are speaking out after a shooting outside its embassy in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said he lodged a protest against what he called “serious terrorist aggression.”
    “I summoned the United States’ chargé d’affaires in Havana to address this grave act,” he stated.    ”I expressed our most forceful protest for the serious terrorist aggression perpetrated against the Cuban Embassy.”
    The official went on to speak directly to the U.S. saying it’s America’s responsibility to protect diplomats and their facilities.
    “I asked her how the United States government would react in the face of an attack like this on any of their embassies,” Rodriguez explained.    "I insisted that it is an obligation of all states to adopt the necessary measures to protect the locations of accredited diplomatic missions in their territory against any intrusion or harm.”
    The Cuban foreign minister claimed the incident was encouraged by hostile rhetoric against Cuba.    As of Thursday night, however, there was no word on a motive.
    Neighbors called 9-1-1 around 2 a.m. on Thursday after hearing gunshots outside the embassy.    No one was hurt, but the building was damaged.
    Police arrived to find 42-year-old Alexander Alazo nearby with an AK-47 and ammunition.    He’s been charged with assault with intent to kill.
    D.C. Police and the Secret Service are still investigating the incident.

5/1/2020 President Trump: Sweden is paying heavily for its decision not to lockdown by OAN Newsroom
People gather in a park in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday April 22, 2020 despite the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. (Anders Wiklund/TT via AP)
    President Trump said Sweden is “paying heavily” for failing to implement necessary coronavirus mitigation measures.    On Thursday, the president compared the country’s death toll to surrounding Denmark and Norway where strong lockdowns were in place.
    His remarks came as Sweden has yet to mandate stay-at-home and other sanitary measures like requiring residents to wear masks in public.    The country also made the decision to keep schools and businesses open amid the coronavirus pandemic.
    In response, President Trump reaffirmed that the U.S. made the right decision in handling the crisis.
    “So, you know, it’s really not quite what was reported, but the number of deaths are tremendous in Sweden compared to the countries that’s around where they did very strong lockdowns,” he explained.    “…It’s a very big difference, but again, as Sweden didn’t go really herd as you understand it.”
    Sweden has over 21,000 confirmed coronavirus cases with nearly 3,000 deaths.
People enjoy themselves at an outdoor restaurant, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in central
Stockholm, Sweden, Monday April 20, 2020. (Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency via AP)

5/1/2020 Russia drops plans for Putin mosaic in military church
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a new Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Russian Armed Forces during construction
works outside Moscow, Russia April 28, 2020. Sergei Kiselyov/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A grandiose mosaic depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials will not be put on display in a new military church after objections from the Kremlin leader, a church official said on Friday.
    Russia is building a massive cathedral dedicated to its armed forces just west of Moscow.    It had been scheduled to open its doors this month to mark 75 years since the Soviet victory in World War Two, but its inauguration is likely to be postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
    A picture of the mosaic, which shows Putin alongside Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top officials showing their support for Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, was first published by the MBKh news website last week.
    Another mosaic panel photographed separately showed a group of women gathered in front of a sign reading “Crimea is ours.”
    Speaking to the Interfax news agency on Friday, Bishop Stefan, the cathedral’s archpriest, said its arts committee had decided not to put the mosaic on display in line with the “wish of the head of state.”    He did not provide further details.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that Putin was aware of the mosaic but that the Russian leader thought it was too early to celebrate the accomplishments of the country’s current leadership.
    The Crimean peninsula’s annexation propelled Russia’s relations with the West to a post-Cold War low and saw a string of countries impose economic sanctions on Moscow.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

5/1/2020 Putin’s critics try to tap discontent over coronavirus lockdown pain by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder
and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Emboldened by a dip in President Vladimir Putin’s ratings, the Kremlin’s critics are campaigning for the government to step up economic support for individuals hit by the coronavirus lockdown as they try to tap signs of discontent.
    Three petitions launched by Putin critic Alexei Navalny that have garnered over 1.2 million signatures between them accuse the government of failing to provide adequate economic aid and demand it provide more from its vast reserves.
    The petitions have no binding power, but they suggest anger in some quarters over the economic pain inflicted on households by the shutdown that began in late March and is still underway.
    Signatories want every Russian adult to be paid 20,000 roubles ($270) for April and for utility bills and taxes for small businesses to be waived.    They also say 2 trillion roubles should be set aside to help small businesses.
    The Kremlin has called Navalny’s proposals populist and superficial.
    Putin on Tuesday rolled over the lockdown until May 11, extending a period during which employers are expected to pay their staff. Many entrepreneurs say they can’t afford to do that.
    To ease the pain, Putin and his government have offered the highest band of unemployment benefit – 12,130 roubles – to anyone who lost their job after March 1.    Some small businesses will receive 12,130 roubles a month per employee to pay staff.
    Small businesses have also been offered access to loans at preferential rates and tax breaks.    But the bulk of the economic aid is earmarked for big business, critics say, and others stand to get far less at a time when Russia has more than $560 billion in international reserves.
    “We think Putin will emerge from this situation with serious image and electoral losses.    How deep they are remains to be seen,” said Leonid Volkov, a close ally of Navalny.
    “We have the sense this is a severe crisis, that people don’t like how the authorities are dealing with the problems or rather how they are being left to face the problems on their own.”
    Putin, whose term in office does not expire until 2024, has survived many crises before, and there is no sign that he is about to be toppled.    But the economic fallout from coronavirus is creating a headache for him.
    The lockdown, compounded by the crash in oil, Russia’s main export, has put the economy on course for a 4-6% percent contraction, the central bank says, and economists warn of a looming surge in unemployment and a wave of bankruptcies.
    Polling data on Putin is sometimes contradictory.
    This week, the VTsIOM state pollster said that public trust in Putin had dipped to its lowest level since January 2006 according to one measure.    But measured another way, trust was still high at around 70%, it said.
    Some slippage is apparent though. Even before the severity of the crisis had crystallised, Putin’s approval ratings, though still robust, fell 6% last month to 63%, their lowest since 2013, the Levada pollster said.
($1 = 75.3575 roubles)
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and William Maclean)

5/1/2020 Russia reports record daily rise in coronavirus cases after PM’s infection by Gleb Stolyarov
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),
ECMO Centre of the City Clinical Hospital Number 52, where patients suffering from the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated, in Moscow, Russia April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov?
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday reported a record daily rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, a day after Prime Minister     Mikhail Mishustin announced he had been diagnosed with the new virus and was temporarily stepping down to recover.
    The nationwide case tally rose by 7,933 cases and now stands at 114,431, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.
    It said 96 people diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, had died in the last 24 hours.    That raised the official overall death toll to 1,169.
    Mishustin told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that he had been diagnosed with the virus and would self-isolate.    First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will serve as acting prime minister in his absence.
    Mishustin, who had been one of the main coordinators of Russia’s response to the new coronavirus, was the first high-ranking Russian official to publicly say they have the virus.
    On Friday another member of the Russian Cabinet, Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev, announced he had been diagnosed with the new virus and that he would be treated in hospital.    Dmitry Volkov, one of his deputies, also tested positive for the coronavirus, the ministry said.
    Russia’s outbreak got off to a slower start than many other countries.    But cases began to sharply rise last month, and on Thursday surged past the 100,000 mark.
    Although Russia is rising up the table of nations with the highest number of confirmed cases, it has so far recorded far fewer deaths than many of the hardest-hit countries.
    Putin has warned the peak of the outbreak has yet to come, and authorities have said there could be a new spike in cases if the population flouts lockdown measures during long public holidays in early May.
    The world’s largest country by territory, Russia has been on lockdown since Putin announced the closure of most public spaces in late March to limit the scope for the virus to spread.
    Putin and the Cabinet have been holding remote meetings to avoid contact.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Jonathan Oatis)

5/2/2020 Austrians let their hair down as coronavirus curbs are relaxed by Lisi Niesner
Manuel, hairdresser at the Hair Concept Grecht salon, wears a protective mask as he works during the global
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, May 2, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrians flocked to newly reopened hairdressers, beauticians and electronics shops on Saturday, as they relished the loosening of a seven-week-old coronavirus lockdown, although the move could yet cause a rebound in infections.
    The Alpine republic acted early in its outbreak to close restaurants, bars, theatres, schools, non-essential shops and other gathering places, which helped reduce the daily increase in infections to less than 1%.    Austria has reported about 15,500 cases and 589 deaths so far.
    The conservative-led government has said those relatively low numbers justify a phased reopening.    The second phase – shopping centres, larger shops and service providers including hairdressers – began on Friday, a public holiday, meaning almost all those reopened on Saturday.
    “After seven weeks in which no appointments were possible, I have the great fortune of having got the first appointment at my hairdresser,” Gertraud Schubert said proudly as she had her hair cut and coloured at Hair Concept, a Vienna salon which is fully booked for the next three weeks.
    Of several European countries which have loosened their lockdowns, Switzerland and Denmark have already let hairdressers reopen, prompting relief among many who had grown scruffy and unkempt while working from home.
    In Vienna, hairdressers and clients wore face masks, which are required in shops and on public transport.
    The lockdown loosening started on April 14 with DIY and garden centres as well as non-essential shops of up to 400 square metres.    Restaurants, cafes and bars can reopen on May 15, followed by hotels on May 29, provided infections do not surge.
    While new infections remain low, there are indications of a possible rebound.    The reproduction rate, the number of people on average who catch the virus from each infected person, has been rising for several days, according to a report https://www.ages.at/download/0/0/ec577379e9f1d2ddb6622b12f51e139f56b7deb5/fileadmin/AGES2015/Wissen-Aktuell/COVID19/Update_Epidemiologische_Parameter_des_COVID19_Ausbruchs_2020-04-30.pdf by public health body AGES published on Thursday.     The reproduction rate, often referred to as R and calculated over 13 days, was 0.67% nationally.    In Vienna, home to more than a fifth of the population, it was already close to 1, the report showed.    Above 1, infections increase exponentially.
    Austria also relaxed its general lockdown rules on Friday, saying the public no longer needed a reason such as shopping or exercise to leave their homes.
(Additional reporting by Leonhard Foeger and Francois Murphy; Writing by Francois Murphy and James Drummond; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/2/2020 Growing chances more Slovak shops will reopen soon, prime minister says by Jason Hovet
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's Prime Minister Igor Matovic wears a protective face mask as he speaks during a news
conference at the Government Office in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Chances are rising that Slovakia will allow more shops to open next week, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Saturday as the number of new coronavirus infections remained low.
    The country of 5.5 million people has reported 1,407 cases of the virus, although daily new infections have been less than 10 for the past week.
    “The chance that all shops outside of shopping malls will be open from May 6 are dramatically rising,” Matovic said in a Facebook post on Saturday, after only four new infections were recorded for the previous day.
    Slovakia has reported 24 deaths from COVID-19, giving it one of the lowest rates per capita in Europe.
    It has already started easing some restrictions.    Smaller stores, outdoor markets and takeaway restaurants have been allowed to reopen in the first step of a four-stage plan to restart the economy.
    Stage two is expected to start on May 6 and includes opening hairdressers and taxi services.    It will also allow religious services and weddings with a limited number of guests.
    All will be subject to strict hygiene rules.
    A team of public health experts will meet on Monday to consider the reopening of more shops, Matovic said on Thursday.
    Authorities will still monitor for any resurgence in infections.
    More than two-fifths of infected patients have recovered since the first detections of the new virus were reported in Slovakia in March.     The country was one of the quickest to close borders and implement measures to contain the spread.
    The economy, though, has been hard hit by a lockdown of many activities and the central bank on Wednesday predicted the economy would shrink by between 5.8% and 13.5% this year.
    For an interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in Slovakia: https://tmsnrt.rs/2xd7Rox?eikon=true
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by David Holmes)

5/2/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases hit new high, Moscow warns of clampdown by Gleb Stolyarov
FILE PHOTO: Vehicles spray disinfectant while sanitizing a road amid the outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 1, 2020. Sergei Kiselyov/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 9,623 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, its highest daily rise since the start of the pandemic, bringing the total to 124,054, mostly in the capital Moscow, where the mayor threatened to cut the number of travel permits.
    The death toll nationwide rose to 1,222 after 57 people died in the last 24 hours, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said, after revising the previous day’s tally.
    Russia has been in partial lockdown, aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, since the end of March.    In Moscow, people who have not obtained a special permit for free movement, are only able to leave their homes to shop, walk their dogs and dispose of garbage.
    President Vladimir Putin has ordered the restrictive measures, called non-working days, to continue until May 11 inclusive, when the country finishes celebrating the Labour Day and Victory Day holidays.
    Despite a relatively low number of cases and deaths compared to the United States, Italy and Spain, which have been hit hardest by the disease, Russia’s infection curve has not reached a plateau.
    Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin issued an appeal on Saturday to Muscovites to continue to self-isolate.    He said the number of critically ill patients is rising, but not as steeply worst-case scenario projections.
    “However, it is obvious that the threat is on the rise,” he said in his blog.
    Sobyanin told Rossiya-1 TV station that the Moscow authorities may cut the number of digital permits issued for travel across the city if the situation worsens.
    Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the second-most senior official in the country after Putin, told the president on Thursday that he had tested positive for coronavirus and that he was temporarily stepping down to recover.
    First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov is now serving as acting prime minister in his absence.
    On Friday, another member of the Russian cabinet, Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev, announced he had been diagnosed with the virus and that he would be treated in hospital. Dmitry Volkov, one of his deputies, also tested positive, the ministry said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and James Drummond)

5/3/2020 Coronavirus cases in Russia rise by record daily amount, mortality rate slows by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Sunday recorded its highest daily rise in confirmed coronavirus cases with 10,633 new cases, bringing the total to 134,687, with more than half of cases and deaths in Moscow.
    But the mortality rate has slowed in recent days and remains much lower, in relative terms, than many other countries.
    Russia has said its lower mortality rate was because the Russian outbreak occurred later than in many other countries which gave the authorities more time to prepare.
    Russia’s nationwide death toll rose to 1,280 on Sunday after 58 people died in the last 24 hours, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said on its website.
    Russia has been in partial lockdown since the end of March to curb the spread of the virus.    People in Moscow can leave home to visit the nearest food shop or chemist, walk their dog or throw out rubbish but need special passes for other activities.
    President Vladimir Putin has ordered the nationwide lockdown to remain in place until May 11 inclusive, when Russia finishes celebrating its Labour Day and World War Two Victory Day holidays.
    Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin urged residents on Saturday to continue to strictly self-isolate over the long holidays.
    Sobyanin said there had been progress in expanding testing, allowing the authorities to treat those in need more quickly.
    But he said the number of critically ill patients was rising, albeit not as steeply as worst-case scenario projections.    He said he thought 2% of Moscow, with a population of 12.7 million, had been infected, a much higher figure than official statistics show.
    “It is obvious that the threat is growing,” he said on his website.
    He told Rossiya-1 TV station that the Moscow authorities might cut the number of digital permits issued for travel across the city if the situation worsened.
    Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s second-most senior official after Putin, told the president on Thursday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was temporarily stepping down to recover.
    First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov is now serving as acting prime minister in his absence.
    On Friday, another Russian cabinet member, Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev, announced he had been diagnosed with the virus and would be treated in hospital. Dmitry Volkov, one of his deputies, also tested positive, the ministry said.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stoyarov; Editing by Edmund Blair)

5/3/2020 Armenia reopens bars and shops despite rising coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO - People, wearing protective masks as a preventive measure during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
walk past flowering trees in a street in Yerevan, Armenia March 23, 2020. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Landlocked Armenia will reopen shops, restaurants and bars, resume manufacturing and lift restrictions on movement from Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan said, despite a recent rise in confirmed infections.
    The South Caucasus country has registered 2,386 cases of the coronavirus and 35 deaths, with the number of infections rising from an average of 50 a day in mid-April to more than 100 in recent days, including 134 registered on Wednesday.
    Armenia, with a population of 3 million, has been looking to ease the hit on its economy which it expects to shrink by 2% in 2020.
    Smaller shops, beauty salons and dry cleaners will open on Monday, Avinyan said on social media, adding that the construction and manufacturing industry would also be allowed to work as normal.
    But malls, trade centres, markets and all schools and colleges will remain closed.    Public transport is to remain suspended.
    Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said last week the country was preparing to lift most restrictions and ease the pressure on the economy subject to the spread of the virus.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; editing by Nick Macfie)

5/3/2020 Serbia to end state of emergency as coronavirus infections slow
FILE PHOTO: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic wearing a protective face mask gestures after
speaking at Nikola Tesla Airport, in Belgrade, Serbia April 25, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia will end its state of emergency over the coronavirus next week, as the rate of infections has slowed sufficiently, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday.
    The lifting of the state of emergency – involving closure of borders and airports, a daily curfew, and weekend lockdowns since mid-March – should be ratified by the government-controlled parliament on Wednesday, Vucic said.
    “Conditions have been met … we should not have curfew by Thursday,” Vucic said in a broadcast by the private Pink TV.
    The Balkan nation has confirmed 9,464 cases and 193 people deaths from the COVID-19 disease, but infections have declined to under 5% of the thousands of people tested daily, epidemiologists say.
    Serbia will next week restart bus and rail services and allow commercial flights later in May.
    Shopping malls, cafes and restaurants will also reopen on condition they maintain social distancing.
    Predrag Kon, an epidemiologist and member of the crisis committee tasked with combating the virus, said most sanitary and medical measures to counter the pandemic will stay in place.
    “These curfews will end … but the condition of an epidemic will remain,” he said in the broadcast.
    The government has already allowed small businesses to open, shortened a night curfew and eased the lockdown for the elderly.
    To help the economy, which faces recession this year, Belgrade also introduced a 5.1 billion euro ($5.6 billion)support programme for small businesses.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/3/2020 Easing lockdown measures, Bulgaria to allow movement outside local communities by Angel Krasimirov
FILE PHOTO - Workers spray disinfectant outside St Petka church, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), ahead of Orthodox Palm Sunday services in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria plans to lift a ban on people travelling outside their local communities next week as it begins easing coronavirus restrictions, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Sunday.
    Checkpoints controlling intercity travel would be most probably removed on Wednesday when Bulgaria marks St George’s Day, Borissov said.
    The travel restriction had been important, he said, adding that citizens should remain disciplined in the coming weeks.
    “I really rely on discipline,” he said.    “We have to get used to living with this virus, it won’t be over in a year or two,” Borissov told a news conference.
    Bulgaria has so far confirmed 1,611 cases of the illness and 72 deaths.
    In mid-March, the country closed all schools, bars, restaurants, hotels, cultural and sports centres and gyms, as well as shops, apart from food and drug stores.    It also prohibited socialising in public spaces and introduced obligatory quarantine for most people entering the country.
    Borissov said more restrictions would be lifted in the coming days.    Outdoor bars and restaurants will be opened following inspections by regional health inspectorates and the food safety agency.
    Athletes will be allowed to conduct individual training.
    “Individual outdoor sports activities are allowed as of tomorrow but not competitions,” Borissov said.    “Swimming pools will also be opened, subject to all safety measures – disinfectants in the changing rooms, (keeping) a safe distance."
    Bulgaria, a Balkan country with a population of nearly 7 million, declared a state of emergency until May 13 to confront the spread of coronavirus.    Borissov said that a draft bill regarding lifting the state of emergency will be prepared on Monday.
    Bulgaria, one of the poorest but also least indebted EU members, maintains tight fiscal discipline.    But the government expects coronavirus lockdown measures around the globe will shrink the economy by 3% this year, and increase its fiscal gap to 3% of economic output.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by David Goodman and Frances Kerry)

5/4/2020 Postal workers raise alarm over hasty Polish mail vote
A postman delivers the letters to a mailbox following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in Warsaw, Poland, April 29, 2020. Picture taken April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s postal workers are growing increasingly concerned as the country prepares for its first presidential election by mail on Sunday, arguing they are not equipped to carry out the vote safely and effectively amid the coronavirus pandemic.
    Unresolved issues include how to deliver ballots to damaged or missing postal boxes, ensuring ballots go to the right people and protecting oneself when interacting with voters under quarantine, postal workers and their union leaders said.
    With just days to go, the ruling nationalists are trying to persuade sceptics in parliament to clear legislation that would allow postal voting, something that’s normally only allowed in rare circumstances, such as when a voter cannot make it to a polling booth.
    While a parliamentary vote on the issue is set for Wednesday, one of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s main allies, Accord, has threatened to block the legislation, meaning the postal vote might be scrapped altogether.
    One 32-year-old postal worker in central Warsaw said he was worried last-minute planning could lead to problems on election day and that postal workers could be held liable for anything that goes wrong, like undelivered or damaged ballots.
    “There’s almost no communication,” he told Reuters, asking not to be identified as postal workers were told last month not to speak to the press.
    “I am of course worried that I could infect someone,” he said.
    Draft legislation being debated by parliament says details of how ballots should be delivered and picked up would be outlined by appropriate cabinet ministers.
    Election monitors, opposition candidates and EU officials have criticized the plans, saying the decision to change the electoral code allowing for the mail vote was rushed and could prevent the vote from being free and fair.
    Union leaders added that many postal workers were concerned they hadn’t been informed how long the virus could survive on a ballot and whether that posed a risk to themselves, voters, or officials who count votes.
    “This unpredictable chaos means people are worried, they are scared and they don’t know what this election will look like,” Dorota     Gardias, the head of the Trade Unions’ Forum, an umbrella organisation for several labour unions in Poland, told Reuters.
    Poland has confirmed 14,006 cases of coronavirus and 698 deaths.
    A spokeswoman for Poczta Polska, the state-owned postal service, denied that postal workers had not been sufficiently informed about the preparations for the elections.
    She added that postal workers would be offered extra pay to work during the elections.
    For many postal workers, whose starting salary is usually the minimum wage of 2,600 zlotys ($620) a month before tax, the additional money could convince them to set aside any concerns.
    The amount has not yet been announced, but some postal workers said they expected it could be the equivalent of a month’s salary.
    “If I didn’t get additional money, then I would probably go on sick leave,” the postal worker from Warsaw told Reuters, saying he would likely put the extra cash in savings.
    With these incentives in mind, Poczta Polska is still hoping to be ready for the May 10 vote, even though PiS has admitted it might need to be delayed by a week or two.
    “This is the safest solution, the one that most adequately protects the life and health of Poles,” the head of Poczta Polska, Tomasz Zdzikot, told right-wing magazine Sieci in a recent article.
($1 = 4.1843 zlotys)
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/4/2020 Cuba calls attack on Washington embassy terrorism; police say gunman heard voices by Sarah Marsh
FILE PHOTO - Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel attends an official welcoming ceremony held by Mexico's President
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Cortes
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Monday called a gun assault last week on its embassy in Washington a “terrorist attack,” while U.S. court papers said the suspected gunman was a psychotic Cuban emigre who heard voices.
    There were no injuries in the attack last Thursday, but gunshots riddled the facade and some penetrated the building.    Police arrested Alexander Alazo, 42, at around 2 a.m. after he fired an AK-47-style semi-automatic rifle 32 times at the embassy, according a memorandum filed on Sunday in support of pretrial detention.
    Alazo told investigators he would have shot the ambassador if he had come out because he was “the enemy.”    Voices in his head had told him to protect his family from what he believed were Cuban organized crime groups affiliated with the Cuban government that he claimed were following them and wanted to harm them.
    He admitted he had been prescribed antipsychotic medication in March but did not fully comply with the prescription, a fact U.S. state prosecutors argued “strongly weighs against his release” before trial.
    “I must denounce the terrorist attack … and demand from the United States government a thorough and swift investigation, harsh sanctions and security measures and guarantees for our diplomatic missions,” Diaz-Canel told a virtual summit of the non-aligned movement early on Monday.
    Last week, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said a dozen diplomats and workers had been in the embassy at the time of the attack, which was recorded on surveillance video.
    Rodriguez said hostility toward Cuba by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump fomented violence.    The U.S. State Department did not immediately reply to request for comment.
    Trump has unraveled a U.S.-Cuban detente carried out by his predecessor Barack Obama.
    Before attacking the embassy, Alazo first tried unsuccessfully to set fire in the rain to a gasoline-soaked Cuban flag, on which were scribbled the words “Stop Lying to People.    Respect.    Trump 2020.    USA, Land and Family,” according to court papers.
    Alazo said he had emigrated first to Mexico in 2003 and then to Texas in 2007 claiming political asylum.    In 2014 he returned to Cuba to preach at a church, he said, adding he left after being threatened by Cuban organized crime groups.
    Convinced he was being followed, he traveled in 2018 to Germany and other countries to avoid being caught, according to the investigators’ interview with his wife, a traveling nurse.
    She told authorities the family would live in hotels because he was too paranoid to live at their home.    It was only in March 2020 that he had received a diagnosis of a delusional disorder.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Additional Reporting in Washington by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by David Gregorio)

5/4/2020 Swiss environmentalists demand ‘green recovery’ after coronavirus by Cecile Mantovani
President of the Swiss Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga delivers a speech at the extraordinary session of Swiss Parliament
during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bern, Switzerland, May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    BERN (Reuters) – Environmental activists delivered a petition to a special session of the Swiss parliament on Monday demanding that a government aid package should promote a “green recovery” from the coronavirus crisis.
    With some lawmakers wearing protective face masks, parliament convened at an exhibition centre rather than its normal building so members had extra space to maintain social distancing rules.
    Campaigners said the 62 billion Swiss francs ($64 billion) in emergency economic aid should be used in an environmentally friendly way.
    More than 22,000 people signed the petition demanding that support for companies in sectors with large greenhouse gas emissions like aviation be tied to reducing their environmental impact.
    The package includes 1.28 billion Swiss francs in loan guarantees for Lufthansa units Swiss and Edelweiss.
    “We are here because we want to make it a green recovery.    We need to foster measures that help us to quit fossil fuels now in the wake of corona,” said Georg Klingler from Greenpeace Switzerland.
    “We need to make our society more resilient for the crises to come,” he told Reuters.
    He urged the government to back measures to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and promote renewable energy, and called on the financial industry to fund sustainable solutions.
    “Today they are still heavily invested in fossil fuels and financing a world that will get 4C to 6C hotter,” he said.    “That is not sustainable at all.”
    Many environmentalists see efforts to minimise the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic as a chance to scale up the technologies needed to speed a transition to cleaner energy.
    Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, has also said support from governments could drive rapid growth in battery and hydrogen technology to help the world to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.
    The Swiss government has made few moves in that direction, although President Simonetta Sommaruga said last week the government’s climate targets were still valid and airlines needed to contribute to them.
    Campaigner Zoe Roth from Basel said the COVID-19 crisis presented an opportunity to change thinking.
    “During this corona crisis we have seen how vulnerable this world is,” she said.    “In the … climate crisis, which is way bigger, we really need to do something.    We need to take this crisis as a chance to build a more just and more sustainable future,” she said.
(Reporting by Cecile Mantovani and John Revill; Writing by John Revill; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/4/2020 Norway pledges $1 billion to vaccines against COVID-19, other diseases by Gwladys Fouche
FILE PHOTO: Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg speaks during a joint news conference with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway will give $1 billion to support the distribution worldwide of any vaccine developed against COVID-19 as well as for vaccines against other diseases, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Monday.
    Oslo made the pledge as part of a donor conference held on Monday by the European Union to raise 7.5 billion euros ($8.23 billion) towards the testing, treatment and prevention of the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
    Non-EU member Norway is a co-chair of the event as a long-standing donor to global health initiatives.
    “This is a global problem that needs common solutions between countries, not least with distribution, so that everyone gets access to the vaccine,” Solberg told Reuters in an interview ahead of the conference.
    The $1 billion will go to GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, a global partnership of private and public organisations focusing on immunisation worldwide, as direct funding for the period 2021-2030.    Norway has financed GAVI since its inception in 2000.
    Solberg said she regretted the United States, a close ally of Norway, had stopped funding the World Health Organization (WHO) and that it was not part of Monday’s initiative, which also includes Canada, Japan and Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the G20 group of nations.
    “It is a pity the U.S. is not a part of it.    When you are in a crisis, you manage it and you do it jointly with others,” Solberg said.
    “Everyone will certainly evaluate their work at some point and see what could have been done differently,” she said.    “But you do this afterwards, not when you are in the middle of it.”
    Oslo will also give an additional 50 million crowns ($4.8 million) to the WHO to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, on top of its normal funding to the U.N. agency.
    Norway has already announced 2.2 billion crowns in funding to the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), set up to fight emerging epidemics by funding the development of new vaccines.
    She said it was also in the interest of western nations to help developing nations with their coronavirus response to prevent longer-term problems.
    “Without the medicine and the (possible) vaccine, there will be bigger economic setbacks, bigger security and environmental challenges, as well as migration challenges,” she said.
(This story corrects currency in 9th paragraph to Norwegian crowns from U.S. dollars)
(Editing by Barbara Lewis)

5/4/2020 Slovakia will accelerate reopening of economy hit by coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: A child is pictured wearing a protective face mask as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads in
the area around Roma settlements, in Krompachy, Slovakia April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia will accelerate the reopening of its economy from its coronavirus shutdown as the rate of new infections has slowed, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Monday.
    The central European country of 5.5 million people has recorded fewer cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness than its neighbours and almost half of the reported 1,413 infected people have since recovered.
    Matovic told a news conference that the second and third stages of a four-part plan to restart the economy would be merged.    “We have been successful above expectations (in containing the virus)…but we still must remain very careful.”
    Hotels, taxi services, religious services and weddings will reopen with some limits on Wednesday, he said.    Shops outside of shopping malls and restaurant terraces as well as outdoor tourist attractions, museums and galleries will also open.
    All will be subject to strict hygiene rules and the authorities will monitor any resurgence in new infections.
    The last stage of reopening – including public and sporting events, shopping malls, theatres and cinemas where larger numbers of people gather – will be launched only after May 20.
    Slovakia was one of the quickest countries in Europe to close borders and implement measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.    But its economy has been hard hit by a lockdown of many activities and the central bank last week predicted the economy would shrink by between 5.8% and 13.5% this year.
    The country has reported 25 deaths from COVID-19, giving it one of the lowest rates per capita in Europe.
    The authorities started relaxing restrictions in late April when smaller stores, outdoor markets and takeaway restaurants have been allowed to reopen.
    (For an interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in Slovakia: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/xegvbkkybpq/index.html?eikon=true)
(Reporting by Tomas Mrva; Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Toby Chopra and Mark Heinrich)

5/4/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases rise again by over 10,000
FILE PHOTO: A man rides a bicycle along empty Red Square near St. Basil's Cathedral in central Moscow,
Russia May 1, 2020. Russia marks the Spring and Labour Day without traditional demonstrations
and celebrations due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has risen by 10,581 over the past 24 hours compared with a record of 10,633 on the previous day.
    This brought Russia’s nationwide tally to 145,268, the country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said on Monday.
    It also reported 76 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total death toll in Russia to 1,356.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/4/2020 Romania president will enforce ‘state of alert’ from May 15
FILE PHOTO: Romania's President Klaus Werner Iohannis arrives for the second day of a special European Council summit in
Brussels, Belgium February 21, 2020, held to discuss the next long-term budget of the European Union. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania will not extend a state of emergency past its May 15 expiry date, but will impose a “state of alert” allowing some modest relaxation of restrictions, President Klaus Iohannis said on Monday.
    “Unfortunately this epidemics has not yet passed.    We need to be responsible and be very cautions further ahead,” Iohannis said, adding that some travel restrictions were lifted but “people won’t be allowed to travel in groups larger than three.”
    Gatherings outdoor, indoor were still banned, he added.
(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/4/2020 Ukraine government agrees to partially ease lockdown on May 11
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a statue of Neptune wearing a protective face mask with the words "Thanks to doctors"
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Lviv, Ukraine May 3, 2020. REUTERS/Roman Baluk
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s government on Monday extended a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic until May 22 but agreed to partially lift some restrictions from May 11, according to televised cabinet proceedings.
    The partial lifting of the restrictions includes opening parks and recreation areas, and allowing some shops, such as those specialising in household goods or textiles, to open. Cafes can reopen for takeaway services.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/4/2020 Finland to let restaurants, theatres reopen from June 1 as curbs ease
FILE PHOTO: Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin arrives for the second day of a special European Council summit in Brussels, Belgium
February 21, 2020, held to discuss the next long-term budget of the European Union. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland will lift some coronavirus restrictions from June 1, allowing restaurants to reopen gradually and public services including libraries, theatres and sports facilities to start operating again, the government said on Monday.
    A ban on public meetings will be relaxed from a maximum of 10 people to 50 people from the same date, but emergency powers will be kept in place, it said.
    Essential travel, such as work-related journeys, to countries in Europe’s Schengen open-border area will be allowed from May 14, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said.
    Professional sports events and competitions will also restart from June 1, under “special arrangements,” including restrictions on the crowd, the government said, without giving further details.
    As of Monday, Finland had 240 deaths and 5,327 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to health authorities.
    Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the disease’s reproduction rate, known as the RO, had fallen to 0.8 in recent days, meaning the outbreak was shrinking.
    “Because we have succeeded well in containing the spread of the epidemic in Finland for the time being, it is possible to move from widespread restrictions towards the principles of a hybrid strategy of testing, tracing, isolating and treating,” Marin told a news conference.
    The government had already announced it was reopening schools from May 13.
    Finland never introduced a strict lockdown or a curfew due to the coronavirus and has allowed its citizens to keep practising outdoor sports freely in the relatively sparsely populated country, while calling for them to respect safety distances also outdoors.
    Some of the restrictions that will remain in place include a ban on visits to elderly care units as well as a recommendation to avoid all non-essential travelling abroad.
    The government is still recommending people work remotely and for the over 70s to stay at home and avoid physical contact as much as possible.
    The government said there was still a risk of the epidemic regaining strength.
    The reopening of restaurants on June 1 is subject to an epidemiological assessment closer to the date and the government will change legislation in order to set restrictions on opening hours and the maximum number of customers.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Mark Potter and Alison Williams)

5/5/2020 Russia reports 10,102 new coronavirus cases
An employee wearing a protective mask uses a device to take passengers' body temperature near a mosaic artwork, which depicts German
philosopher Karl Marx, at an entrance to a metro station in central Moscow, Russia May 1, 2020. Russia marks the Spring and Labour Day
without traditional demonstrations and celebrations due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus cases in Russia has risen by 10,102 over the past 24 hours, compared with 10,581 the previous day.    This brought Russia’s nationwide tally to 155,370, the country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said on Tuesday.
    It also reported 95 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total death toll in Russia to 1,451.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/5/2020 Polish Senate rejects postal election rules ahead of May 10 ballot by Anna Koper and Agnieszka Barteczko
The Polish Parliament during a session in Warsaw, Poland May 5, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The Polish Senate on Tuesday rejected a government proposal to conduct a presidential election scheduled for May 10 as a postal ballot because of the coronavirus pandemic, in a widely anticipated hurdle for the ruling nationalists.
    The Law and Justice (PiS) government has argued an election could be held safely despite a rising number of deaths from the COVID-19 disease caused by the highly contagious novel coronavirus if it is done by post instead of in-person at voting booths.
    But opposition parties, which control the Senate, said mail-in ballots would not mitigate health risks or concerns over election fairness.
    The final say rests with the lower house of Parliament, the Sejm, where PiS holds a fragile majority.    The Sejm is scheduled to vote on the draft law later this week.
    The election date has become highly contentious, with government critics accusing PiS of putting its own political gain ahead of public health.    Opposition parties have said the vote should be postponed by months.
    PiS has refused to budge, however, with opinion polls showing the incumbent, Andrzej Duda, an ally the party needs to push through its conservative agenda, likely to win by a landslide if the election is held soon.
    Critics say that only Duda was effectively able to campaign ahead of the election, with other candidates constrained by restrictions on public life imposed by the government to contain the spread of the virus.
    They also argue that a substantial change of voting rules – postal ballots are allowed in Poland only in rare circumstances – so close to an election date makes it impossible to ensure proper monitoring and access for all eligible voters.
    “This law will change the system and I am afraid it will bring us closer to authoritarian rule,” Bogdan Borusewicz, a senior senator from the centrist Civic Platform, said during a debate before the vote.
SHIFTING DATE
    PiS has signalled it will seek to postpone the election until May 17 or May 23 to better prepare for the election if the new voting rules are approved.    Its legislative proposal envisages the possibility of a small shift in an election schedule, normally banned under Polish law.
    It may still lose the vote later this week, with some members of its conservative parliamentary coalition expressing opposition to postal voting this month because of health concerns due to the pandemic.    That could plunge Poland into political turmoil at a time when a decisive response is needed to prop up a teetering economy.
    The PiS-nominated Parliament speaker, Elzbieta Witek, said on Tuesday she would ask the Constitutional Tribunal whether she can postpone the election, signalling the party’s preferred course of action if the postal vote is rejected.
    “Tomorrow morning I am submitting a motion to the Constitutional Tribunal in which I want to ask whether it will be contrary to or consistent with the constitution if I postpone the election date,” Witek said.
    The tribunal – a judicial body established to resolve disputes on the constitutionality of the activities of state institutions – is headed by Julia Przylebska, described by PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski as a close friend.
    Changes to the tribunal are among several reforms of the justice system introduced by PiS since it came to power in 2015, which have been criticised by the European Union as subverting democratic norms.
(Reporting by Anna Koper and Agnieszka Barteczko; Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; editing by Timothy Heritage, Justyna Pawlak and Leslie Adler)

5/5/2020 Croatia’s ruling conservatives target summer election
FILE PHOTO: Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic speaks during a joint statement to the press in the
village of Kastanies, near the Greek-Turkish border, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis/File Photo
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia’s conservative ruling party will seek a parliamentary election during the summer depending on the evolution of the coronavirus outbreak, one of its top officials said on Tuesday.
    Branko Bacic, head of the Croatian Democratic Union’s (HDZ)parliamentary group, told reporters that could be in June, July or August.    “We want the epidemiological conditions to be conducive for organising the elections,” he said.
    Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s government is widely perceived as having successfully limited the spread of COVID-19 and some analysts believe the HDZ wants to take advantage of that by bringing forward a vote originally due for the autumn.
    In lockdown for more than a month, Croatia has had just 2,112 coronavirus cases with 83 deaths and began reopening its economy last week.
    In one recent public opinion poll, HDZ led with 27.9% of support from the opposition Social Democrats with 23.2%.
    Media had been speculating that an election would be held in the summer given the possibility of a second coronavirus wave later in the year.    Some quoted HDZ officials anonymously speculating the date could be July 5, 12 or 19.
    Parliament must be dissolved between one and two months before.
    In recent years, Plenkovic’s government has strongly improved fiscal performance and run a budget surplus for three years, but it has failed to improve the investment climate and reduce the bloated public sector or over-reliance on tourism.
    Due to the coronavirus, Croatia expects an economic downturn of 9.4% this year, largely due to a collapse in tourism, which accounts for nearly one fifth of gross domestic product.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/5/2020 Invoking Cossack resistance, Ukrainian mayor defies lockdown measures by Ilya Zhegulev
FILE PHOTO - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, government officials and businessmen, wearing protective
masks used as a preventive measure against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), attend a meeting on support for small
and medium businesses, in Kiev, Ukraine April 6, 2020. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KIEV (Reuters) – The mayor of a town in central Ukraine has unilaterally decided to ease lockdown restrictions, causing a row with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government as it seeks to avoid a second wave of novel coronavirus infections.
    Cherkasy mayor Anatoliy Bondarenko decided to open shops, hairdressers and restaurants on April 30 after appeals from businesses.
    The move comes amid signs of growing impatience in Ukraine against lockdown measures imposed in March which the authorities say have kept infection rates lower than much of Western Europe.
    The government announced a partial lifting of restrictions from May 11 but has cajoled citizens and local authorities not to let their guard down in the meantime.
    Police have recorded more than 10,000 violations of lockdown rules, and the health minister has spoken out against people going to parks or holding rallies.    Hundreds of businessmen protested against the lockdown in Kiev last week.
    Ukraine has 12,697 coronavirus cases, including 316 deaths.
    Bondarenko’s decision prompted police to launch criminal proceedings against the Cherkasy authorities and summon the mayor for questioning.    Zelenskiy accused Bondarenko of trying to boost his popularity at the expense of citizens’ lives.
    Bondarenko responded in a video message, invoking the spirit of Cossack resistance for which the area was once known.
    “Cherkasy will resist.    Cherkasy is a free Cossack city,” he said.
    In a separate post, he said that although Cherkasy businesses could reopen, citizens should behave responsibly and observe social distancing rules.
    The region is an historic centre for the warlike Cossack communities known for their horsemanship, as well as the birthplace of Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko, whose name Bondarenko also referenced.
    More recently, Cherkasy lent its name to the last Ukrainian navy vessel to resist Russian forces during the annexation of Crimea in 2014, an episode which was turned into a film last year.
    Deputy Mayor of Cherkasy Ihor Voloshyn told Reuters other cities such as Lviv in the west and Dnipro to the east had come out in solidarity with Bondarenko.
    The mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, called on the government to stop the “persecution” of Bondarenko and said Kiev should give cities more autonomy to decide whether to lift lockdown restrictions.
    Bondarenko, accompanied by some supporters, appeared at a police station for interrogation on Monday but he was not allowed into the building.    A senior local police official later said the interrogation of witnesses in criminal cases related to lockdown violations would be postponed – due to the lockdown.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Angus MacSwan)

5/6/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases rise by more than 10,000 for fourth straight day
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) walks in Krasnogorsk outside Moscow, Russia May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus cases in Russia rose by 10,559 over the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 165,929, the coronavirus crisis response centre said on Wednesday.
    It was the fourth consecutive day that cases had risen by more than 10,000.
    It also reported 86 new fatalities from COVID-19, bringing the total death toll in Russia to 1,537.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/6/2020 Czech population’s coronavirus immunity low, antibody study shows
FILE PHOTO: People keep social distance while waiting in line to be tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a part of a study about
undetected infections with the coronavirus in the population in Prague, Czech Republic, April 23, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Immunity to the novel coronavirus is building up very slowly in the Czech Republic, with likely no more than 4-5% of the population covered, the health ministry said on Wednesday, after mass testing for antibodies that started last month.
    The preliminary results from the study found immunity levels were likely lower in the two biggest cities of Prague and Brno.
    Overall, it found 107 positive cases after testing 26,549, making it one of the largest studies in Europe.
    The Czech Republic, a country of 10.7 million, was one of the swiftest in Europe to impose curbs on travel and border crossings and shut most shops and restaurants in March.
    The country is only now reopening in phases and Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the study would not change plans.
    The study estimated the number of people infected by the virus but not showing symptoms could range from 27-38%.
    The country has recorded 7,899 cases of the virus, much lower than in western European neighbours.    More than half have recovered and 258 have died.
    The number of active cases has steadily declined, to 3,624 reported on Wednesday morning.    New infections have been below 100 all but one day since April 22.
    In Germany, more than 10 times as many people have likely been infected than the confirmed number of cases, researchers from the University of Bonn concluded this week from a field trial in one of the worst hit towns.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)

5/6/2020 Putin’s rating dips to low, but poll shows rising support for extending rule by Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony for newly appointed foreign ambassadors
to Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 5, 2020. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has slipped to its lowest level in more than two decades amid the coronavirus crisis, even as support for his plan to extend his rule for years ahead has risen, a poll showed on Wednesday.
    The poll, by the Levada-Center, showed Putin’s support fell to 59% in April, from 63% in March.    It was the worst result for Putin recorded by Levada since September 1999 when Putin was a rookie prime minister with a 53% approval rating.
    However, support for his plan to change the constitution to allow him to extend his rule until 2036 rose to 47 percent in April, up from 40 percent in March.    A nationwide vote on the proposed change, scheduled for last month but delayed because of the virus outbreak, is now expected later this year.
    Putin’s approval rating is still very high by Western standards, and there is no sign that the man who has dominated Russian politics as president or prime minister for more than 20 years and survived many crises, is about to be toppled.
    Economic and social fallout from the coronavirus crisis is causing problems for him though, as the number of cases continues to sharply rise, oil prices remain historically low and a lockdown poisons the economy and people’s livelihoods.
    The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by more than 10,000 on Wednesday for a fourth consecutive day and now stands at 165,929, though at 1,537 the death toll remains far lower than in many other countries.
    The poll was conducted by phone because of the coronavirus-related lockdown, rather than face-to-face, which Levada’s Deputy Director Denis Volkov said may have clipped 1-2% off Putin’s approval rating.
    Even taking that into account, Volkov said an outcome of 61% would still mean Putin’s rating was on a par with 2013, a year before     Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea prompted his ratings to surge.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cast doubt on the poll.
    “I’m not inclined to entirely trust Levada’s polls,” Peskov told reporters.    “There are other polls which give a different picture.”    A survey from state-run pollster VTsIOM gave Putin a trust rating of 69.8% in April.
    Among those who said they intended to take part in the vote on constitutional change, 58 percent said they would back the changes and only 25 percent vote against them.
    “What is important is that those that are ‘for’ are very well mobilised and are ready to come (and vote),” said Volkov.
    Levada said the survey was conducted on April 24-27 and that 1,608 people had been polled across Russia.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/6/2020 Dutch to begin easing lockdown measures next week, government says
FILE PHOTO: People toast as they party in an apartment to celebrate King's Day (Koningsdag), during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Amsterdam, Netherlands, April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands will begin easing coronavirus lockdown measures next week nearly two months after they were imposed, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.
    The phasing out of the restrictions will be rolled out over the next four months.    They could be curbed if the new coronavirus starts spreading more quickly, Rutte warned.
    “Steps to slowly open the economy and public life will give our country the space to look forward and make plans for the future.    We will do that as quickly as possible, but it is better to be safe now than sorry later.”
    Face masks will be compulsory on public transport from June 1, he said.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling, Editing by Franklin Paul)

5/6/2020 Netherlands to begin phased easing of lockdown Monday: broadcaster
FILE PHOTO: A customer follows arrows on the floor of a prototype location of fast food giant McDonald's for restaurants which respect the 1.5m
social distancing measure, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Arnhem, Netherlands, May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands will begin a phased easing of its almost two-month-old coronavirus lockdown on Monday, according to a report by the national broadcaster NOS.
    Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to announce the reopening schedule in a live TV broadcast at 1700 GMT on Wednesday evening, the NOS said, citing anonymous sources.
    From next week, elementary schools will reopen, with classes split and rotated to enable greater distancing.
    Beauty salons and hairdressers will also be allowed to reopen, for customers who make appointments, and non-contact outdoor sports such as tennis will be permitted, the NOS said.
    Public transport will resume normal schedules from June 1, but with just 40% of seats available to allow for social distancing, and with the wearing of face masks compulsory.    High schools will also reopen in June.
    Millions of commuters generally take the Netherlands’ efficient trains, buses and trams to work every day.
    Since the lockdown began in mid-March, they have kept running, but with most people working from home, they have been virtually deserted.
    The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Netherlands rose by 232 to 41,319 on Wednesday, with 36 new deaths for a total of 5,204, the National Institute for Health (RIVM) said in its daily update.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/6/2020 Danish malls and restaurants to reopen next as virus lockdown eases
FILE PHOTO: Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen arrives for the second day of the European Union
leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause/File Photo
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Danish shopping malls, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to open next Monday and older children will return to school in the second phase of Denmark’s reopening from its coronavirus lockdown, under a government proposal set to be debated shortly.
    “The government is proposing that we reopen the entire retail sector including shopping malls, that restaurants and cafes can open again, and that older schoolchildren can get more of their everyday life back,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said, according to the Ritzau news agency.
    Denmark was among the first countries to restrict public gatherings and close schools, restaurants and bars in a lockdown that quickly helped curb the spread of the virus.
    The government is talking to opposition parties about its plan, which it has promised to publish before May 10.
    Day care centres and primary school classes for ages 6 to 12 were reopened two weeks ago, followed by hairdressers and other small businesses on April 20, as the number of infections and deaths declined.
    “All parties want to open everything up, no one wants to keep parts of Denmark closed even one day more than necessary, but everyone also acknowledges that we should do the most responsible thing for health,” Frederiksen told Ritzau.
    She said she hoped agreement would be reached quickly so that the latest easing could start on May 11.
    Denmark has seen daily infections and hospital admissions decline steadily, prompting Frederiksen to say last week that the spread of the virus was “under control.”
    So far, 9,938 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Denmark, a country of 5.8 million people, and 506 have died with the disease, according to data from health authorities.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/6/2020 Belgium to open shops and allow Mother’s Day meetings
Belgium's Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes holds a news conference after a meeting of the National Security Council discussing
post-lockdown measures amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium, May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian shops will be allowed to open from Monday and people will be able to host others at their homes from Sunday, opening the door for Mother’s Day celebrations, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said on Wednesday.
    The country of 11.5 million people, among the European nations worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, began easing lockdown restrictions at the start of this week, allowing businesses that do not have contact with consumers to restart.
    Belgium, whose capital Brussels hosts the headquarters of the European Union and the NATO military alliance, has 50,781 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,339 deaths.    However, the rate of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths has fallen steadily from early April peaks.
    From Sunday, Mother’s Day, Belgian families will be able to host up to four people, and always the same people, at their homes while respecting a social distance.    Ideally, this would be outside, such as in a garden or on a terrace.
    “I recognise this does not replace the pleasure of being able to embrace someone you love, but we cannot do more for the time being,” Wilmes told a news conference
    The day after, all stores will be able to open, although they will have to limit the number of shoppers inside and make changes to protect staff.    Shoppers are strongly encouraged but not obliged to wear masks.
    Markets cannot reopen.    Cafes, restaurants, sports, cultural centres and tourist sites will also have to remain closed.        Sports competitions will not restart before August.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/6/2020 Russia preparing for three-stage easing of coronavirus restrictions by Andrey Ostroukh and Alexander Marrow
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting, dedicated to the country's automobile industry, at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia April 24, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia plans to ease its restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus in three stages, officials said on Wednesday.
    Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the outbreak had stabilised in the past two weeks, with the growth in cases in the capital explained by increased testing.    But he said the public should keep observing self-isolation measures even when some restrictions are eased from May 12.
    Russia’s total number of coronavirus cases rose on Wednesday by more than 10,000 for the fourth consecutive day to 165,929, while the death toll climbed to 1,537.
    Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova became the latest high-ranking official and third cabinet minister to be diagnosed with the coronavirus.
    In a televised video conference with government officials and regional heads, President Vladimir Putin lent his support to the three-stage plan for reducing restrictions.    He said Russia should not rush, however, as any haste in removing preventative measures could undo their impact so far.
    At first, people will be allowed to go for walks and exercise on the streets, said Anna Popova, head of the consumer health regulator Rospotrebnadzor, but she gave no specific time frame.
    The second stage would see educational establishments and some service-sector businesses return to operation, with recreational facilities including parks and squares then reopening in the third stage, she said.
PUTIN APPROVAL SLIPS
    Despite Russia’s ostensible success in protecting its most vulnerable citizens from the coronavirus, the government has been criticised for failing to provide families and businesses with enough support amid the economic shutdown.
    Putin’s approval rating has slipped to its lowest level in more than two decades during the coronavirus crisis, even as support for his plan to extend his rule for years ahead has risen, a Levada-Centre poll showed.
    The authorities are looking for ways to cushion an economic contraction exacerbated by a global slump in the price of oil, Russia’s key export, as well as the coronavirus outbreak.
    In 2020, the economy may shrink up to 6%, the central bank predicted last month, when it slashed interest its rates and pledged more cuts to the cost of lending later this year.
    Loan arrears and bad loans in Russia are expected to grow this year.    People and companies deemed the most vulnerable to the current crisis owe banks around 19 trillion roubles ($250 billion) – a third of the banks’ overall credit portfolio.
($1 = 74.6500 roubles)
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/6/2020 U.S.’s Pompeo, Russia’s Lavrov discussed arms control issues: U.S. State Department
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is seen after a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart
Pekka Haavisto in the House of the Estates in Helsinki, Finland March 3, 2020. Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the next steps on arms control issues in a call with his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said in a statement but gave no other details.
    In a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last month, Pompeo had said any future arms control talks needed to include China.    The two on Wednesday also discussed global response efforts to the novel coronavirus, the department said.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

5/6/2020 Polish opposition gears up to block postal ballot plan for election
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Polish Parliament during a session in Warsaw, Poland May 5, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s opposition leaders urged their lawmakers to rush to Warsaw on Wednesday to reject legislation that would allow a presidential election to go ahead on May 10 by postal ballot amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
    Poland’s nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has ignored calls to postpone the election.    Incumbent Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, is for now ahead in opinion polls but the party fears they will lose support as the coronavirus crisis drives the Polish, and wider European, economy into a deep recession.
    PiS says a postal ballot is a safe way to hold the election, but opposition parties, election observers and the European Union say such a vote would lack transparency and fairness.
    The upper house of parliament, the Senate, rejected the postal ballot bill on Tuesday but the Sejm lower house, where the government has a narrow majority, could overturn that verdict in a vote expected either late on Wednesday or more likely on Thursday.
    If the Sejm also rejects the bill, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Michal Dworczyk, warned on Wednesday of “a very serious political crisis,” saying that Poland might have to hold a snap parliamentary election.
    On the postal ballot legislation, much will hinge on how many lawmakers turn up to vote.
    “Today all of our members are coming to the Sejm so we can… together oppose this bad legislation,” said Krzysztof Gawkowski, head of the Left’s parliamentary caucus.
    The centrist main opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO), also told its lawmakers to be physically present during the vote in the Sejm, even though members of parliament have been able to vote virtually during the coronavirus outbreak.
    “We want to be sure that in any case one of our members isn’t robbed of the ability to vote due to technical issues with the connection,” PO spokesman Jan Grabiec told Reuters.
ACCUSATIONS
    Opposition parties accuse PiS of putting their narrow political interests ahead of public health concerns and the integrity of the democratic process.    They want the government to declare a state of emergency or of natural disaster, which would then allow it legally to delay the vote till later this year.
    A junior partner in the ruling coalition, Accord, has signalled it might side with the opposition in the vote on the postal ballot legislation, though its lawmakers are split.
    Election officials say Poland is not technically ready to hold a traditional election with polling stations on Sunday if lawmakers reject the legislation.
    The PiS-nominated speaker of the Sejm, Elzbieta Witek, said on Tuesday she would ask the Constitutional Tribunal whether she could postpone the election till May 23 at the latest, the ruling party’s preferred option if the postal ballot is blocked.
    Critics say the Tribunal cannot rule on the issue.
    Although parliament holds most power in Poland, PiS needs the support of the president to push through more reforms of the judiciary that the EU has said undermine democratic norms.
    Commenting on how the coronavirus lockdown might harm the economy, and with it support for the government’s agenda and its preferred presidential candidate, a lawmaker from a party allied with PiS, Tadeusz Cymanski, told Reuters: “In the autumn … people will be more tired.    They might be irritated."
    “The results of such a crisis are most felt after some time,” he said.
    As of Wednesday, the new coronavirus had infected 14,647 people and killed 723 in Poland.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Koper and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Jon Boyle and Gareth Jones)

5/6/2020 Baltic states to create ‘travel bubble’ as pandemic curbs eased
Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas attends a video call with his Latvian counterpart
Krisjanis Karins and Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in Tallinn, Estonia May 6, 2020. Estonian Government/Handout via REUTERS
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will open their borders to each others’ citizens from May 15, creating a Baltic “travel bubble” within the European Union amid an easing of pandemic restrictions, their prime ministers said on Wednesday.
    “It’s a big step towards life as normal,” Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas wrote on Twitter.
    The Baltic travel area would be first of its kind in the bloc, where most countries restricted entry to non-nationals and imposed quarantine on incoming travellers as the coronavirus spread across the continent.
    Citizens of the three countries will be free to travel within the region, but anyone entering from outside will need to self-isolate for 14 days, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said.
    “We showed a good example by stating, very clearly, that only countries which successfully dealt with the situation can open themselves up,” he added.
    “I think we will keep to this principle when dealing with countries where the situation is very bad, which did not take measures to control the virus spread.”
    Poland and Finland could be the next countries to join the free travel bloc, said Skvernelis.
    The European Commission has recommended that internal border controls between all member states should be lifted in a coordinated manner, once their virus situation converges sufficiently, the commission’s office in Lithuania said.
    Moves to selectively open borders have emerged elsewhere.    Australia and New Zealand are working towards resuming travel between the two countries.
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, all major trading partners, are also taking cautious steps to re-open their economies.     “This is a very important stimulus for regional tourism businesses.    It will not get them back to where they were, but many jobs will be saved,” said Zydre Gaveliene, head of a tourism lobby group in Lithuania.
    The region has been part of the European Union since 2004 and the European free-travel Schengen Area since 2007.    Estonia and Lithuania closed their borders to non-citizens during the outbreak and all three nations imposed mandatory quarantines on anyone entering for non-work-related reasons.
    New infections have slowed to a trickle with none of the countries reporting more than five new cases on Tuesday. In total, Estonia has recorded 55 deaths, Lithuania 48 and Latvia 17.
    “For me personally, this means that, after the month-long stagnation, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Vilnius resident Gabija Narusyte, 47, told Reuters.
(Reporting By Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Gederts Gelzis in Riga, Tarmo Virki in Tallinn. Writing by Andrius Sytas; editing by Niklas Pollard and Nick Macfie)

5/6/2020 Russia’s culture minister tests positive for coronavirus: TASS
FILE PHOTO: Russian Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova attends a government meeting chaired by Prime Minister
Mikhail Mishustin in Moscow, Russia January 21, 2020. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s culture minister has tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the third confirmed member of the cabinet to catch the disease, the TASS news agency reported on Wednesday.
    Olga Lyubimova has mild symptoms and is continuing to work remotely, her press secretary Anna Usacheva said, according to TASS.
    Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin last week told President Vladimir Putin he had been diagnosed and was temporarily stepping down to recover.
    First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov is replacing Mishustin in his absence.
    Putin said Mishustin was recovering from the virus despite still having a fever.
    “He is taking part in our daily work, in the preparation of our decisions,” Putin said of the prime minister at a videoconferenced government meeting broadcast on state television.
    Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev said last week he had been diagnosed with the virus and would be treated in hospital.    Dmitry Volkov, one of his deputies, also tested positive, the ministry said at the time.
    The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said on Wednesday that the number of cases had risen by more than 10,000 for a fourth consecutive day and stood at 165,929.    Russia has recorded 1,537 coronavirus-related deaths.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Alexander Marrow and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet)

5/6/2020 Slovakia reopens more shops, other businesses as coronavirus cases ease
FILE PHOTO: Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic speaks at a news conference in
Bratislava, Slovakia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia reopened restaurant terraces, hotels, all shops outside large malls and other businesses on Wednesday, expediting plans to revive the economy thanks to better-than-expected progress in containing the coronavirus outbreak.
    The government, which opened small shops on April 22, also gave the green light for religious services and weddings to take place with a limited number of guests.
    Slovakia’s coronavirus lockdown loosened further as the government on Wednesday merged the second and third stages of its reopening plan.
    Wednesday’s moves, under which hairdressers could also return to work, came after tests showed 11 consecutive days of single-digit growth in new infections.
    The latest figures showed 1,429 cases in total with 25 deaths, and more than half of those infected already recovered.
    The central European country of 5.5 million people has recorded far fewer cases of the new coronavirus than its neighbours after acting faster than most to shut borders and impose other tough measures to curb contagion.
    Slovakia was one of the first countries in Europe to ban international passenger travel.    It imposed a compulsory 14-day quarantine in state-run centres for people returning from abroad and ordered compulsory wearing of face masks in public.
    Prime Minister Igor Matovic has said the next stage will be launched at the earliest on May 20 and allow shopping malls, theatres and cinemas to return to business.
    The final stage would include reopening schools and kindergartens while allowing mass public and sporting events.
    The Slovak economy is expected to record its worst-ever performance this year due to the virus-induced lockdown.    The central bank last week predicted the gross domestic product would shrink by between 5.8% and 13.5% in 2020.
(For an interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in Slovakia, click https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/xegvbkkybpq/index.html?eikon=true)
(Reporting by Tomas Mrva; Editing by Michael Kahn and Mark Heinrich)

5/7/2020 Mayor says Moscow’s real coronavirus case tally is more than triple the official: TASS
Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin visits the Dream Island amusement park ahead of its
upcoming inauguration in Moscow, Russia February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said on Thursday that the real number of coronavirus cases in the Russian capital was actually around 300,000, a figure that is more than three times higher than the official total, the TASS news agency reported.
    Authorities have reported 92,676 cases of the novel coronavirus in Moscow.    The nationwide case tally as of Thursday was 177,160.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

5/7/2020 Dutch agency will review government performance during coronavirus
A restaurant tests servers providing drinks and food to models pretending to be clients in a safe
"quarantine greenhouses" in which guests can dine in Amsterdam, Netherlands May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch Safety Board said on Thursday it would conduct an independent investigation and review of the country’s preparedness and government performance during the coronavirus outbreak.
    The announcement came a day after Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a three-month roadmap toward relaxing lockdown measures announced in mid-March, including opening schools and some businesses.
    The review will look at “the preparation for a pandemic, the crisis management and the measures taken, as well as the phasing out of those measures.”
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/7/2020 Russia reports new record daily rise in coronavirus cases
A general view shows the State Historical Museum and the Kremlin wall as the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Moscow, Russia May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Thursday reported 11,231 new cases of the novel coronavirus, a record daily rise that pushed the national case total to 177,160.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 88 people had died overnight, bringing the coronavirus death toll to 1,625.    Moscow, the worst-hit area, also reported a record overnight case increase of 6,703 new cases.
    Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said on Wednesday that the case total was rising in the capital because the amount of testing had been stepped up.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

5/7/2020 Georgian ex-President Saakashvili toasts appointment to Ukraine reform role by Ilya Zhegulev
FILE PHOTO: Former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili speaks during news
conference in Warsaw, Poland September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, was appointed on Thursday to a senior role at an advisory body on reforms chaired by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
    The move marks another political comeback for one of the post-Soviet world’s most recognisable politicians, although it was not immediately clear how much influence Saakashvili would be able to exert over Zelenskiy’s administration.
    He joins as Ukraine faces a recession caused by a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and the government is trying to secure aid from the International Monetary Fund that is contingent on Kiev’s reform performance.
    According to a decree published by Zelenskiy’s office, Saakashvili will head an executive committee at the National Reform Council.
    “Several bottles of excellent Georgian wine from my village broke through the lockdown and reached me today.    In principle, today there is something to celebrate,” Saakashvili wrote on his Facebook page.
    The former Georgian president had been sounded out for the post of deputy prime minister in April, but that move petered out after he held talks with lawmakers in Zelenskiy’s party who would have needed to confirm his appointment.
    Saakashvili also served for a brief but turbulent spell under Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, and became an outspoken critic of Poroshenko’s government.
    The council was set up by Poroshenko in August 2014 to drive reforms but it has not met since Zelenskiy’s election last year.
    Former Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, who served under Zelenskiy, said the council had become a decorative institution and the significance of Saakashvili’s appointment would depend on whether the body would be given more heft.
    The role in the council could bring Saakashvili closer to Zelenskiy and also allow him to speak his mind, Honcharuk said.
    “In the national council, he is closer to the president.    Moreover, as the deputy prime minister, Saakashvili would not have been able to criticise the prime minister.    Now it will be much easier for him to do this,” Honcharuk told Reuters.
RAN SOUTHERN ODESSA REGION
    Under Poroshenko, Saakashvili was brought in to run the southern Odessa region of Ukraine in 2015, based on his track record of fighting corruption as president of Georgia after the 2003 Rose Revolution.
    But he resigned a year later, accusing Poroshenko of corruption, which Poroshenko denied.
    The Ukrainian authorities stripped Saakashvili of his citizenship when he was abroad, but he barged his way through a checkpoint at the Polish border to get back into Ukraine in September 2017.    He was deported five months later.
    Saakashvili returned last year after Zelenskiy restored his citizenship in one of his first official acts as president.
    News of Saakashvili’s prospective appointment as deputy prime minister drew an angry reaction from Georgia’s current government, which said it would withdraw its ambassador to Kiev for consultations if it went ahead.
    A Georgian court sentenced Saakashvili in absentia to six years in prison in June 2018 for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the 2005 beating of an opposition member of parliament when he was president.
    Saakashvili, who has denied all charges against him, was sentenced to a separate three years in prison in January 2018 after he was convicted of seeking to cover up evidence about the murder of a Georgian banker.
    His supporters said the verdict was politically motivated.
(Reporting by Ilya Zhegulev; Editing by Matthias Williams and Peter Cooney)

5/7/2020 Poland’s electoral commission confirms Sunday election won’t happen by Marcin Goclowski and Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed ballot box and toy people figures are seen in front of displayed Poczta Polska
(Polish Post Office) logo in this illustration taken May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s electoral commission said on Thursday a presidential election could not be held on Sunday, while the lower house of parliament gave the green light for the vote to be held by post at a later date following a dispute over voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
    The election was scheduled for Sunday but the opposition said the ruling nationalist party, Law and Justice (PiS), would be putting political gain ahead of public health if it went ahead. Opinion polls had put incumbent president Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, on course for a landslide victory.
    Late on Thursday, the National Electoral Commission said the vote could not take place as planned.
    “The National Electoral Commission informs voters, electoral committees, candidates and electoral and local administrations that the vote on May 10, 2020 will not be able to take place,” it said in a statement.
    PiS and its junior coalition partner, Accord, reached a deal on Wednesday on postponing the ballot in anticipation that the Supreme Court will declare the election invalid because of the inability to vote physically under coronavirus restrictions.
    But although the Sejm, or lower house, approved legislation allowing the election to be decided only by postal ballot, the timing of the vote remains unclear.
    Duda said he hoped the election would be held as soon as possible.    Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin told private radio RMF FM the earliest possible date would be June.
    “Yesterday we worked out a solution which is good for Poland, which guarantees safe, fully democratic and transparent elections,” Accord party leader Jaroslaw Gowin told reporters on Thursday before the parliamentary vote.
    While opinion polls show many Poles opposed holding an election during the pandemic, government critics said it was unclear what legal basis PiS had to cancel Sunday’s vote.
    “Formally, the election has not been postponed,” said Borys Budka, head of the centrist Civic Platform opposition party, while acknowledging an election could not now be held on Sunday.
    He said the legislation on a postal vote still did not guarantee a free and fair election.
CONCERN ABOUT CAMPAIGN
    Opposition critics and international monitors say only Duda has been able to campaign properly, with rivals constrained by travel and other restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.     Duda has backed reforms of the judiciary which the European Union’s executive, the European Commission, has said violated democratic norms.    Having an ally as president is crucial for the government to be able to implement its conservative agenda as the president has the power to veto laws.
    PiS had also wanted the election to go ahead now because of concerns that the recession likely to follow the coronavirus pandemic will dent support for the government and Duda.
    Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University, told private broadcaster TVN24 that PiS “had to step back for the first time in five years.”
    But there was relief among voters. “I wouldn’t have had a chance to vote,” said Joanna Jasina, a 27-year-old waitress in Warsaw who was worried about the health risks and organisational problems.
    Civil rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar welcomed the moves away from holding the election on Sunday.    But he told Reuters such moves reflected a deterioration of the rule of law under Pis, saying: “The disease predates what we are experiencing now.”
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Daniel Wallis)

5/7/2020 Albania sticks to re-opening plan due to few virus cases by Benet Koleka
FILE PHOTO: Albanian people are being disinfected before entering a market, as Albanian authorities take measures to
stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tirana, Albania April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania will let shopping centres and services start work and drivers travel without permission from Monday due to the low number of infections with the new coronavirus after Thursday marked the ninth day without any deaths, officials said.
    To make sure its deficient health system would not be snowed under, Albania has closed its borders and imposed long lockdowns since its first case on March 8. In May, still enforcing dusk-to-dawn curfews, more businesses have resumed working or will.
    Albania has registered 31 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 842 infections, including 10 in the last 24 hours.    After 605 recovered, 206 people are still ill with COVID-19 but just 38 of them are in hospital, and of those only seven are in intensive care units.
    “Fortunately, we are not facing those indicators that stop the opening,” said Mira Rakacolli, the head of the committee of health experts managing the crisis, said in a statement.
    Albania wants to re-start its economy as soon as possible after the World Bank said it is headed for recession, shrinking by 5% or 6.9% depending on the time that most activities resume.
    If there had been an average of 15 infections daily, or 90 people needed to go to hospital and 20 in intensive care, the re-opening should have been rolled back, Rakacolli said.
    Medical staff in the public health sector have been hailed as heroes after some remained in hospitals, for up to two months, to care for patients.
    With 9,806 tests done so far, the government has come under opposition criticism for hiding the extent of the outbreak.    Experts said they are now tripling daily tests and strengthening teams on the ground tracing the contacts of infected people.
    The statement said the experts denied the new coronavirus might have been in Albania in January and February, as claimed by some, including Bardh Spahia, an opposition official in charge of health issues.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; editing by David Evans)

5/8/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases rise by more than 10,000 for sixth straight day
Police officers wearing protective face masks speak in a street amid the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus cases in Russia rose by 10,699 over the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 187,859, the coronavirus crisis response centre said on Friday.     It was the sixth consecutive day that cases had risen by more than 10,000, but down on Thursday’s record daily rise of 11,231.
    It also reported 98 new fatalities from COVID-19, bringing the total death toll in Russia to 1,723.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/8/2020 Denmark to ease coronavirus restrictions further from June 8
Ufuk Kekec, a courier at an online shopping company, carries goods to deliver to consumers amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Broendby, a suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark, May 7, 2020. Ritzau Scanpix/Martin Sylvest via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Danish museums, amusement parks and cinemas will be allowed to reopen from June 8, the government said on Friday, after it struck a deal with parliament on how restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 could be eased further.
    In the third phase of its reopening plan, Denmark will also increase the maximum number of people allowed to meet in public to between 30 and 50, up from a 10-person limit, it said.
    Danish shopping malls, schools for the oldest students and restaurants will be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks said the government late on Thursday as it enters the second phase of reopening after curbing the spread of the virus.
    The third reopening phase would only take place if the number of infected and hospitalisations did not “increase more than expected,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
    Night clubs, music venues and gyms would remain shut until the fourth phase of the reopening which is expected to start by the beginning of August, it added.
    Denmark was among the first countries to restrict public gatherings and close schools, restaurants and bars in a lockdown that quickly helped curb the spread of the virus, meaning it was also one of the first European countries to open up again.
    So far, 10,083 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Denmark, a country of 5.8 million people, and 514 have died of the disease, according to data from health authorities.
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/8/2020 Slovenian cyclists stage anti-government coronavirus protest by Marja Novak
Protesters wearing protective masks ride bicycles during an anti-government protest, as the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Ljubljana, Slovenia May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – Thousands of cyclists took over streets in the centre of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana on Friday evening to protest against the government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa and the restrictions it has imposed to fight the coronavirus.
    Cyclists sounded horns and shouted “thieves, thieves,” following allegations of government corruption in purchasing face masks and ventilators reported by TV Slovenia last month.
    The government has denied wrongdoing.
    The centre-right government took over after the previous centre-left administration resigned because it lacked sufficient support in parliament. [nL8N2B67HI]
    The protest, organised by civil society groups, was the largest in recent weeks.    Cyclists staged a smaller demonstration in Maribor, Slovenia’s second city, on Friday.
    The cyclists carried Slovenian flags and held banners saying “Raise workers’ wages,” “Careful, the government is falling.” and “Stronger together.”    Most wore face masks.
    “I want this government to go.    They are taking away our future,” said a young protester who did not want to give her name for fear of being fined for breaking rules against public gatherings during the epidemic.
    Police fenced off parliament while a police helicopter flew above the protesters.
    “We call upon people to respect decrees aimed at protecting public health,” police said.    They gave no immediate estimate of the number of protesters but reported no violence.
    Slovenia imposed a wide-ranging lockdown in mid-March. So far it has confirmed 1,450 coronavirus cases and 100 deaths.
    The government started lifting restrictions on April 20 when car service centres and some shops reopened, while bars and restaurants have been allowed to serve food outdoors since Monday.
    Next week, public transport will resume gradually and some pupils will return to school on May 18.
    People must still wear face masks in indoor public places and stand at least 1.5 meters apart in any public space.
    The government has set aside 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion) to help citizens and companies hit by the coronavirus. [nL8N2BQ7K3]
    Slovenia’s economy is expected to contract by about 8% this year although the fall could exceed 15% if lockdown measures last longer than expected, according to the government’s UMAR macroeconomic institute. [nL8N2CN85X]
(Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/8/2020 Ukraine must drain corruption swamp, Saakashvili says in latest comeback by Ilya Zhegulev
FILE PHOTO: Georgia's former President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks with journalists after his meeting with members
of Ukraine's Servant of the People parliament fraction in Kiev, Ukraine April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, vowed on Friday to help his new boss, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, clean out a political “swamp” of oligarchs’ interests that he said were preventing Ukraine prospering.
    He spoke to Reuters in an interview a day after being appointed to advise Zelenskiy on reforms, a surprise political comeback in his adoptive country for one of the post-Soviet world’s most recognisable figures.
    Twice president of Georgia, Saakashvili had a brief but stormy spell in Ukrainian politics five years ago under Zelenskiy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko in which he once clambered onto a roof to avoid law enforcement.
    His reappearance ruffled feathers in Kiev and in Tbilisi — Georgia’s government recalled its ambassador for consultations in protest.
    He joins Zelenskiy as Ukraine faces the prospect of a recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic — which Saakashvili argued makes sweeping reforms all the more urgent.
    “President Zelenskiy has a clear mandate from the population of Ukraine to drain the swamp, to clean up the corruption mess that Ukraine has inherited, and to go against the vested oligarchic special interests,” he said.
    Time has been lost since Zelenskiy’s election last year, he said.    “But now, with the challenge of imminent, huge crisis … there might be no other option but fast reforms and changes. Because we are dealing with a situation when Ukraine either changes or disappears as we know it.”
ECHOES OF TRUMP
    His language echoes that of U.S. President Donald Trump, who vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington of lobbyists and elites, and has expressed admiration for Saakashvili.
    The 52-year-old had initially been sounded out for the post of deputy prime minister, but the move met with resistance in parliament.
    “The point is that President Zelenskiy, by appointing me, demonstrated he is prone to unconventional, brave steps,” Saakashvili said.
    “I myself was surprised and President Zelenskiy was taken by surprise by the amount of fear that my candidacy generated.    And this is a fear of not a healthy personal nature.    This is a fear of old lobbies that don’t want any change,” he said.
    He promised to help drive an overhaul of the judicial system — long seen as riddled with corruption — as well as deregulation and tax reform.
    “We’ve been unable to create state institutions and democratic framework for real change.    Rather we created some ugly post-Soviet structure that is more or less, in many ways, more corrupt than the Soviet Union ever was,” he said.
    “And that’s the system that is killing Ukraine.”
RUNNING FEUD
    Under Poroshenko, Saakashvili was invited to run the southerly Odessa region in 2015, based on his track record of fighting corruption as Georgia’s leader after its 2003 Rose Revolution.
    He was among several foreign politicians and technocrats to be given key posts by the pro-Western leadership in Kiev after the Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, fled in the face of street protests.
    But the appointment descended into a running feud. Saakashvili resigned, accusing Poroshenko of corruption, which Poroshenko denied.
    Ukraine stripped Saakashvili of his new citizenship when he was abroad, but he barged his way through a checkpoint at the Polish border to get back into Ukraine in September 2017.
    Five months later, he was deported after playing a cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement that saw him variously live in a tented protest camp, go on hunger strike, and break out of a police van with the help of his supporters.
    Zelenskiy restored his citizenship in one of his first official acts as president.
    A benchmark for the progress of Ukraine’s reforms has been its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a new loan agreement.    The government hoped to secure an $8 billion package but the IMF this week switched to what is likely to be a more modest loan deal with fewer riders.
    Saakashvili saw it as evidence of the international community’s scepticism about Kiev’s ability to pass reforms, but also called for the IMF to increase its lending to Ukraine.
(Reporting by Ilya Zhegulev and Sergiy Karazy; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/9/2020 Putin presides over slimmed down Victory Day as coronavirus cases rise by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

A combination picture shows empty Red Square on Victory Day, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany
in World War Two, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2020, and
Russian servicemen marching during the Victory Day Parade at the same location May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia marked 75 years since the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two on Saturday, but the coronavirus outbreak forced it to scale back celebrations seen as boosting support for President Vladimir Putin.
    With coronavirus infections rising, Putin last month postponed the highlight of annual Victory Day celebrations, a massive parade on Red Square that showcases Moscow’s most sophisticated military hardware, to an unspecified date.
    Clad in a black rain coat, a sombre-looking Putin laid a bouquet of red roses at the Eternal Flame war memorial outside the Kremlin walls after a brief downpour in the Russian capital.
    “We will certainly celebrate this anniversary extensively and solemnly, as usual,” Putin said, pledging that Russia would hold its traditional Red Square military parade and commemorative processions at a later date.
    A column of soldiers marched past after he had spoken as a military band played the Russian national anthem.
    Overhead, 75 military planes and helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters, Russia’s most advanced warplanes, flew over central Moscow despite cloudy skies.
    A group of fighter jets left a trail in the sky in the colours of the Russian national flag.    In the absence of the usual ground parade, state television broadcast a replay of last year’s Red Square parade.
    Putin in previous years has basked in national pride watching Russian tanks rumble across the square with world leaders by his side. But a recent poll gave him his lowest approval rating in more than two decades, albeit a still high 59%, and the country’s economy is slipping into a deep downturn.
    Moscow and other regions have observed lockdowns since late March to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected 198,676 Russians so far.    The number of cases overtook French and German infections this week to become the fifth-highest in the world.
    Similar Victory Day fly-pasts were held in other Russian cities, but some had to be cancelled because of unfavourable weather conditions.
    Fireworks will be let off across Russia as much of the country remains in lockdown, the Defence Ministry has said.
    Public processions commemorating Soviet participants in the war that are normally held on May 9 took place online, with people uploading pictures of family members and telling their war stories.    The pictures were also being broadcast on state television.
    On the eve of the anniversary, Putin sent congratulatory letters to many former Soviet republics, as well as to the leaders of Britain, the United States and France, suggesting the need to rekindle their nations’ cooperation during World War Two to solve today’s problems.
    Putin has accused Russia’s detractors of diminishing the Soviet war effort, and on Friday he warned post-Soviet leaders against what he said were attempts to rewrite the history of World War Two.
(Editing by Giles Elgood/Andrew Osborn)

5/9/2020 Shunning virus lockdown, defiant Belarus stages Victory Day parade by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian members of the military take part in the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi
Germany in World War Two, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Minsk, Belarus May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Thousands of soldiers marched in Belarus on Saturday to celebrate the Soviet victory in World War Two, as President Alexander Lukashenko rejected calls for lockdown measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
    Lukashenko, who has ruled the eastern European country since 1994, has called fears over the coronavirus a “psychosis” and variously suggested drinking vodka, visiting saunas or playing ice hockey to beat the disease.
    Spectators in stands in the capital Minsk, a few of whom wore masks, looked on as soldiers marched, tanks rolled past and Su-30 fighter jets flew in formation overhead.
    Lukashenko’s insistence on going ahead with the display contrasted with neighbour Russia, which scaled back celebrations amid a jump in coronavirus cases and postponed its usual massive military parade on Red Square.
    Dressed in military uniform and surrounded by generals, Lukashenko said it was unacceptable for Belarus to even think about cancelling the parade.
    “There will be people who will condemn us,” Lukashenko said.    He told such critics: “do not rush to draw conclusions, let alone condemn us, the heirs of the Victory, the Belarusians … We simply could not ??t differently, we had no other choice.”
    Belarus has not imposed lockdown measures or social distancing rules, and kept its borders open while countries around the world have closed them.
    “This is a demonstration of determination, will, strength, not so much for society as for the inner circle of the elite,” said Andrey Egorov, senior analyst at the Center for European Transformation.    “It’s a demonstration that everything remains under control.”
    Another reason for staging the parade could be an act of one-upmanship against Russian President Vladimir Putin.    Ties between the two traditional allies have been strained, especially over Moscow’s decision to scale back subsidies and loans that prop up Lukashenko’s rule.
    “Against the background of Putin’s cancelled parade, Lukashenko has the opportunity to draw attention to himself,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
    “This is such a kind of revenge for the numerous humiliations. Putin hid in the bunker, and Lukashenko at that time will be standing on the podium in a beautiful uniform.”
    The World Organisation has called on Belarus to introduce tougher measures to fight the coronavirus and the head of its Minsk office has expressed concern about holding the parade.
    There are 21,107 confirmed coronavirus cases in Belarus, with 121 deaths.    But some in the country believe the official statistics underestimate the true toll.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ros Russell)

5/9/2020 Russia records more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases in past day
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks along a street amid the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities said on Saturday they had recorded 10,817 new cases of the coronavirus in the last day, pushing the nationwide tally to 198,676.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said that 104 people had died overnight, bringing the national death toll to 1,827.
    Russian coronavirus cases overtook French and German infections this week to become the fifth-highest in the world.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Catherine Evans)

5/9/2020 Russia buries latest priest to die from coronavirus by Maria Tsvetkova
Mourners and service workers gather near a grave during the funeral of Orthodox deacon Andrei Molchanov, 54, who died after
contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a cemetery in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Father Andrei Molchanov, the latest Russian Orthodox priest to die from the novel coronavirus, was buried on Saturday by his heartbroken daughter who said she wished the Moscow church where he served had closed earlier.
    Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called in late March for believers to pray at home.    However tough government lockdown measures at the end of that month, which closed down restaurants and most stores, and told people to stay at home, did not order churches to shut.
    “I believe above all else that we should have closed churches, along with restaurants and other places,” Anastasia Molchanova, the late priest’s daughter, told Reuters after his burial.
    Despite the patriarch’s call, most churches in Moscow, including Molchanov’s, remained open until mid-April before Russia’s consumer health watchdog, a government agency, issued an order to shut them.
    The consumer health watchdog and the Russian Orthodox Church did not immediately respond to requests for comment.     At least 11 other Russian clerics in addition to Molchanov have died since the start of the outbreak, according to a list published by     “Orthodoxy and the World,” an online media outlet that focuses on religious and social issues.
    Most of them served in churches in the capital Moscow, which accounts for more than a half of Russia’s 198,676 cases and 1,827 deaths, and the wider Moscow region.    Many more clerics have been infected with the virus, Russian media have reported.
    Father Molchanov fell sick shortly after an Easter service, which he conducted in an empty church to broadcast it online. He later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
    The 54-year-old deacon died on May 3 in Moscow’s main hospital for treating coronavirus patients. Molchanov’s wife later developed pneumonia and several other members of the clergy in the same church, including a senior priest, came down with symptoms of the virus, his daughter said.
    Molchanov’s body was taken on Saturday from a morgue back to the Church of Saints Zosima and Savvatiy in eastern Moscow, where he served and may have been infected.
    His memorial service was carried out by a priest wearing a medical mask outside the church, which was closed.    The gravediggers who buried him wore protective suits.
    More than 20 parishioners, some of them in tears, watched the service from a distance and lit candles in front of a portrait of the priest.
    Molchanov’s daughter said she was now taking care of her sick mother but that the only thing she could do was to bring groceries to her door.
    “That’s the hardest thing.    Everybody is quarantined.    There is nobody to give a hug.    I cannot even go to hug my mum.”
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Pravin Char)

5/9/2020 More than 1,000 queue for food in rich Geneva amid virus shutdown by Cecile Mantovani and Denis Balibouse
Volunteers distribute bags with food and essential products received from donations at Vernets ice rink in Geneva,
following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Geneva, Switzerland, May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 1,000 people queued up on Saturday to get free food parcels in Geneva, underscoring the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the working poor and undocumented immigrants even in wealthy Switzerland.
    The line of people stretched for more than 1 km (half a mile) outside an ice rink where volunteers were handing out around 1,500 parcels to people who started queuing as early as 5 a.m.
    “At the end of the month, my pockets are empty.    We have to pay the bills, the insurance, everything,” said Ingrid Berala, a Geneva resident from Nicaragua who works part-time.    “This is great, because there is food for a week, a week of relief…I don’t know for next week.”
    In a nation of nearly 8.6 million, 660,000 people in Switzerland were poor in 2018, charity Caritas says, particularly single parents and those with a low level of education unable to find work after losing a job.
    More than 1.1 million people were at risk of poverty, which means they have less than 60% of the median income, which was 6,538 Swiss francs ($6,736) for a full-time job in 2018.
    Swiss bank UBS has calculated that Geneva is the second-most expensive global city for a family of three to live in, behind only Zurich.    While average incomes are also high, that helps little for people struggling to make ends meet.
    “I think a lot people are aware of this, but it is different to see this with your own eyes,” said Silvana Matromatteo, head of the aid group Geneva Solidarity Caravan.
    “We had people in tears who said ‘It is not possible that it is happening in my country.’    But it is here and maybe the COVID-19 brought everything out and this is good, because we will be able to take measures to support all these workers, because they are workers above all.”
    Patrick Wieland, chief of mission for the Doctors Without Borders group, said a survey last week showed just over half the food recipients interviewed were undocumented, while others had attained legal status, were Swiss or were seeking asylum.
    Just over 3% had been tested positive for COVID-19, three times the overall rate in Geneva, which he attributed to poor and overcrowded housing.
    “In Geneva, one of the richest cities in the world, there have always been people living precariously, especially all the people who work as housekeepers, in agriculture, on construction sites or in hotels, and they found themselves overnight without a job because of COVID-19,” he said.
    One illegal immigrant who called himself Fernando said he lost his restaurant job during the crisis and had no pay.
    “I’m very grateful to receive this help and if the situation changes for me, I am committing to do the same thing that they are doing for me,” he said.
(Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/10/2020 Russian coronavirus cases above 200,000
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks along a street amid the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian authorities said on Sunday they had recorded 11,012 new cases of the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 209,688.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 88 people had died in the past day, pushing the national death toll to 1,915.
    Russian coronavirus cases overtook French and German infections this week to become the fifth highest in the world.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by David Clarke)

5/10/2020 Moscow reports 18% more deaths in April than same month last year
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past the Kremlin wall amid the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The total number of deaths registered in Moscow rose sharply in April compared with the same month last year and was also significantly higher than the number officially confirmed as having been caused by the new coronavirus, official data showed.
    This raises the possibility that the official death toll from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, seriously understates the spread of the virus in the Russian capital.
    Many countries are looking at “all-cause mortality” statistics as a guide to understanding the full impact of the virus, as some deaths caused by COVID-19 may go unrecorded, while the death toll from other illnesses may also rise during a time when healthcare systems are under strain.
    The data published on Sunday shows Moscow recorded 11,846 deaths in total in April, the first month when the city recorded a large number of deaths caused by COVID-19.    That is 18% more deaths than recorded in April 2019.
    The new data was first reported by The Moscow Times on Sunday.
    The number of deaths compares with just 658 fatalities registered in April as having been caused by COVID-19.
    The figure is also up 20% compared with an average of the same month during the previous 10 years, according to the open data published by the Moscow government, which is based on the number of death certificates issued each month.
    Other countries are also paying increased attention to the number of “excess deaths” as a guide to measuring the full impact of the pandemic, since many deaths from coronavirus are never identified as such due to insufficient testing.
    A report published by Italy’s statistics bureau on Monday showed nationwide deaths were up 39% since the first official COVID-19 death occurred, compared with an average of the same period during the previous five years.
    Just over half of these “excess deaths” were registered as caused by COVID-19.    The remaining 46% were most likely to be deaths caused by the virus among patients who were not tested for it, or else deaths that could be attributed to the strain on the health system, the bureau said.
    As of Sunday, Russia had registered a total of 1,915 deaths from the new coronavirus.
    Cases of infection rose by 11,012 in the last 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 209,688.    Russian coronavirus cases overtook French and German infections this week to become the fifth highest in the world.
    Russia recorded its first death from the novel coronavirus on March 26.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/10/2020 Poland has 14 days to announce new presidential vote date: electoral commission
FILE PHOTO: The Presidential Palace is pictured in Warsaw, Poland, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The head of Poland’s electoral commission said on Sunday that the speaker of parliament had 14 days to declare the date of a new presidential election.
    Poland had been due to hold a presidential election on Sunday and, while the vote was not officially cancelled or postponed, the electoral commission had said on Thursday it could not be held due to the coronavirus crisis.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Pravin Char)

5/10/2020 Swiss back-to-school angst illustrates worries around easing lockdowns by Emma Farge and John Miller
Didier Pittet, director of the Infection Control Programme of the University Hospital (HUG), gestures during an interview with Reuters
on Swiss schools reopening during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    LAUSANNE/ZURICH (Reuters) – Getting children back into classrooms may seem like a reassuring step toward normalcy after weeks of coronavirus lockdown but for some parents in Switzerland like Audrey Razama, it’s a source of anxiety.
    Swiss schools start reopening on Monday and Razama’s 5-year-old daughter is due to join classmates.    Razama, from the western town of Vevey, is instead opting for home schooling, worried that her daughter could bring home the virus and infect her younger sister, who has a heart murmur.
    Last month, parents in Denmark experienced similar angst: schools re-opened to many empty desks.    France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States are also planning education reboots.
    Switzerland, which has recorded more than 30,000 cases of the coronavirus, with 1,500 deaths, is loosening its lockdown as the outbreak eases, like other countries in Europe. Swiss health officials say young children rarely experience severe COVID-19 symptoms and seldom infect others.
    But Razama’s fears highlight parents’ concerns as governments inch toward normalcy: What is really the best way to protect their children?
    “Precaution needs to take priority amid all this uncertainty,” Razama, 32, told Reuters.
    While it is not known how many parents share her worries, an online petition to officials in Bern including Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset and Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga to halt school openings has some 21,200 signatures so far.
    The government cites scientific papers supporting its view that youngsters are unlikely to pass coronavirus infections between one another or bring them home from school.
    Daniel Koch, Switzerland’s coronavirus czar, has given grandparents the green light to hug children up to 10 years old, sparking controversy.
    “Most children with the disease got it through infected parents,” Koch said last month.    “There is no danger from children, not even for high-risk patients or grandparents.”
    Didier Pittet, an expert on reducing infection at the Geneva University Hospital, also believes the timing is right.
    “Children are carriers of the virus, sometimes even in a big quantity, but there is very little, even no evidence, that shows that they are really efficient transmitters,” Pittet told Reuters.    “The epidemic curve has really decreased. We can’t stay in confinement for eternity.”
    Still, this is fertile territory for doubt.
    Even studies cited by the health ministry — and a review released by Switzerland’s own national COVID-19 task force — acknowledge children’s role in transmission remains “highly uncertain.”
    Marco Ajelli, a mathematical epidemiologist from Italy’s Bruno Kessler Foundation, said children’s ability to infect others merits more scrutiny, calling it “one of the biggest unknowns of COVID-19 epidemiology.”
    Adding to worries about risks, three children in New York have died from a rare, mysterious inflammatory syndrome while also testing positive for the virus.
SPLIT CLASSES
    Even as Swiss classes re-start, they will hardly be normal.
    Awarding of grades has been scrapped.    Many schools are splitting classes in half, with attendance trimmed to just two days a week per group, to accommodate that change.
    There will be ubiquitous hand-sanitizing stations.
    Desks are being moved further apart, with markings being taped to floors, to help children observe new space limits.    And older children from their 10th year, as well as university students, must wait until at least June 8 for classes to begin.
    It is not clear yet how many parents will be like Razama and keep their children at home.
    The central government in Bern delegates education largely to the 26 cantons, which have crafted their own approaches to re-opening guided by principles set out by the federal health ministry.
    Zurich, like many cantons, decided that children not under quarantine have virtually no reason to skip classes, while teachers in risk groups can be excused.
    Still, administrators around the country have also told parents whose children may have a risky health condition that individualized solutions may be possible, in consultation with doctors.
    “We only have fewer than 10 families who said they will not send their children back to school,” said Veronique Restrepo, a primary school director in Geneva.
    “But we will see on Monday, because maybe some were not comfortable to say this to us and will not send their children.”
‘TRYING TO REASSURE’ PARENTS
    Some parents said they still feel cornered.
    “Our children are being sent out like scouts to see what happens to them,” said Laeticia Dupraz, 27, with a 6-year-old daughter in school and a 4-year-old son at home.
    Even those resigned to school resuming worry education in the era of coronavirus will be jarring, especially for the youngest students.
    “This is very complicated, especially with my little girl who is 5 years old, to explain to her that she cannot hug her teacher,” Marion Moussadek, a mother of two children in Geneva, told Reuters on Sunday.
    Switzerland requires school attendance for 11 years, and under normal circumstances parents face fines up to 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,150) for keeping their children away.
    Most officials, however, favour a softer approach amidst the crisis.
    “It is not our role to threaten parents,” said Julien Schekter, of Vaud canton’s learning office.    “We are trying to reassure them.”
(Additional reporting by Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; Editing by Frances Kerry)

5/10/2020 Kyrgyzstan to ease coronavirus
FILE PHOTO - A man sprays disinfectant while sanitizing a car as local residents wearing protective gear stand guard at a
makeshift check point, which was erected by members of a local community at their own expense to prevent the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in the settlement of Ala-Too near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov
    BISHKEK (Reuters) – Kyrgyzstan will end the toughest restrictions it introduced to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, such as curfews, and allow certain businesses to reopen from Monday, the Central Asian nation’s government said on Sunday.
    The former Soviet republic will in the meantime keep in place lockdown regulations barring travel between provinces, the cabinet said.
    Among the businesses allowed to reopen from May 11 are providers of maintenance, cleaning and financial services, lawyers, property and tourist agents, as well as some non-food retailers.
    Kyrgyzstan, which borders China, has confirmed 1,002 COVID-19 cases, of which 12 have died and 675 people have recovered.
(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by David Clarke)

5/11/2020 Russia overtakes Italy and Britain after record rise in coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: A man visits a makeshift memorial for medics, who reportedly died in Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Region in the
times of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in central Saint Petersburg, Russia May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s coronavirus cases overtook Italian and British infections on Monday to become the third highest in the world after a record daily rise hours before President Vladimir Putin was due to review the country’s lockdown regime.
    The official tally surged to 221,344, meaning Russia now has more registered cases than Italy or Britain and only trails Spain and the United States, as the number of new cases of the novel coronavirus jumped by 11,656 in the past 24 hours.
    More than half of all cases and deaths are in Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak.    On Monday, it reported an overnight increase of 6,169 new cases, bringing its official total to 115,909.
    The country’s coronavirus response centre also reported 94 new deaths, taking the overall death toll to 2,009 people.    The official death toll remains far lower than in many countries, something Kremlin critics have queried.
    Russian officials attribute the rising and large number of cases to a massive testing programme which they say has seen over 5.6 million tests conducted.
    Putin is due to hold a meeting later on Monday, a public holiday in Russia, to decide whether to modify the country’s lockdown regime which entered into force at the end of March.
(Reporting by Moscow newsroom; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/11/2020 Hungary to summon Nordic diplomats over rule-by-decree row by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto attends an interview with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Marton Dunai
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will summon the ambassadors of five Nordic countries on Monday over their countries’ criticism of a controversial law that empowers Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to carry out measures by decree against the novel coronavirus.
    Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Facebook on Sunday that he would summon the diplomats as Hungary “wanted no pitiful hypocritical tutelage” and reiterated Budapest would go its own way.
    The law, which authorises Orban to bypass Parliament indefinitely in measures to contain the virus and mitigate its after-effects, has provoked an international wave of criticism, including from rights groups and the EU Commission.
    The Council of Europe, the EU’s main human rights body, was among the first to warn Hungary about its democratic backslide and its issues over freedom of expression in a March 24 letter by Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric.
    “An indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency cannot guarantee that the basic principles of democracy will be observed and that the emergency measures restricting fundamental human rights are strictly proportionate to the threat which they are supposed to counter,” Buric wrote then.
    The foreign ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden wrote to Buric on May 6 that they “share the concerns expressed in that letter.    Even in an emergency situation the rule of law must prevail.”
    Orban has been at odds with European Union institutions since taking power in 2010, going head to head over economic policies, alleged corruption, immigration and his ever-expanding influence over all walks of life.
    The combative premier has used that pretext to paint the EU as an adversary in massive campaigns, an electoral strategy that has paid handsome dividends at the polls, helping to cement his rule, but has left him ostracised among his European peers.
    The European People’s Party suspended the membership of Orban’s Fidesz from the mainstream conservative group over such conflicts, but the premier continues to use the issue for political gain.
    Orban on March 26 told Buric that the law did not give him unlimited powers and could be withdrawn by Parliament – where his Fidesz holds a two-thirds majority – at any time.
    “If you cannot help us in the current crisis, please at the very least refrain from blocking our defence effort,” Orban wrote to the secretary general.    The vast government-controlled or loyal press repeated that phrase for weeks.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King)

5/11/2020 Thirsty Czechs toast return to beer gardens as lockdown eases by Michael Kahn
A bartender carries beers at an outdoor seating section of a pub, as the Czech government lifted more restrictions allowing restaurants with outdoor
areas to re-open amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic, May 11, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Thirsty Czechs were allowed to return to beer gardens on Monday in one of the government’s most eagerly anticipated measures to relax coronavirus restrictions.
    Authorities also permitted some schools, hairdressers, malls, cinemas and other businesses to reopen.    Museums and galleries opened their doors and the government gave the green light for weddings, cultural and religious events of fewer than 100 people.    Professional sports teams resumed full training.
    But for many Czechs – who rank as the world’s biggest beer drinkers per capita – the reopening of restaurant terraces and beer gardens was a highlight of the government’s plan to re-start the economy in stages.
    “Considering the beer is finally in a glass rather than a plastic cup from a take-away window, it is absolutely great,” said Ivan Verner, a retiree sipping a Pilsner Urquell at the historic U Pinkasu pub in central Prague.
    Late-morning drinkers filled half the tables.    The other half were closed due to social distancing restrictions.
    “I’ve been looking forward to this moment since they announced the news beer gardens would reopen,” Verner said.
Strict lockdown measures have taken a harsh economic toll, with Czech manufacturing activity at its weakest since the 2009 global financial crisis.    But the country is now slowly moving towards some semblance of normality.
    “The clothes we should have been selling for the spring, we will now be selling in the summer and in the fall,” said Michal Micka, owner of the Pietro Filipi and Kara fashion brand chains, who predicted a 25% sales drop in 2020 as a best-case scenario.
    “That is the only way to deal with this.    We have stock and we have to sell it.”
    The government has sought to help companies with salary subsidies and rent deferrals but many firms say a complicated application process makes assistance hard to come by.
    Authorities also eased travel restrictions from Monday, allowing residents from outside the European Union to enter the country if they can show a negative COVID-19 test and are taking up certain kinds of work, such as in the healthcare sector.
    Trains and buses also restarted foreign routes while Czech Airlines has said it will resume some operations on May 18 with flights to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris and Stockholm.
    The Czech Republic reported 8,123 cases of the virus by Monday morning with 280 deaths, far less than many of its western European neighbours.
(For an interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in the Czech Republic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2S2oJ8A?eikon=true)
(This story corrects year in paragraph 8)
(Additional reporting by Robert Muller, Jason Hovet and Jiri Skacel, Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/11/2020 Gloved and masked, Belgians head back into shops after lockdown by Hortense de Roffignac and Bart Biesemans
People wearing protective face masks are seen at a shopping centre as Belgium began easing lockdown restrictions amid
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium allowed most of its shops to reopen on Monday with strict hygiene rules for customers, following in the footsteps of Spain in an easing of its eight-week lockdown as the number of COVID-19 cases fall.
    Belgians must now shop alone and should wear face masks and in some stores even gloves.    But many still thronged shopping streets for the first time since mid-March, albeit with a cordon system in place to create one-way routes and avoid pedestrians from bumping into one another.
    “At first, we weren’t following the indications, but now we get it, we see the markings on the ground,” said shopper Ambroisine Igouanga, who works in Brussels, wearing a brightly-coloured homemade cotton face mask.
    The nation of 11.5 million people closed restaurants, cafes, gyms and schools from March 14 and then ordered that all non-food shops close from March 18.
    The government has begun allowing a gradual easing of restrictions from May 4, with a series of phases of further re-opening during the course of the month.
    However, beauty salons, hairdressers and tattoo parlours remained closed because physical distancing is not possible.
    With almost 55,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 8,707 deaths, Belgium has been among the most affected in Europe per capita, although it was also quick to report deaths in care homes and also counts deaths of those suspected to have the COVID-19 disease, based on symptoms.
    In an encouraging sign, the number of hospital admissions in Belgium was 60 over the past 24 hours, compared to 10 times that level each day in late March.
LINES, STRESS … SALES?
    Complete with mini-roundabouts on pedestrian streets to allow people to change direction, shoppers were greeted by “welcome back” signs in shop windows, hand sanitizers, gloves, police patrols, and also long queues.
    “Unfortunately, I had to wait ages for some hearing aid batteries.    It was urgent,” said Salvatore, a jobless man who works in the still-shuttered restaurant sector.
    Others were just grateful to be able to go out, and some were expecting stores to be offering reductions.
    “It’s great, I’m expecting sales, I think everyone is,” said Firene Azeri from Azerbaijan, who lives in Brussels with her husband and child.
    Elisabeth, a saleswoman working at a clothes shop in central Brussels, said she had seen consumers squabbling over places in the queues outside shops.
    “There’s a lot of stress: people argue over who is where in the line, but here everything is calm.”
(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/12/2020 Overloaded ventilator fire kills five coronavirus patients in Russia: media
Emergency specialists work on a site of fire, that killed five novel coronavirus patients in an
intensive care unit, at a hospital in Saint Petersburg, Russia May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A fire apparently started by an overloaded ventilator killed five novel coronavirus patients in an intensive care unit in a Russian hospital on Tuesday, news agencies reported.
    Russia’s emergency ministry confirmed the death of intensive care patients in a hospital in the city of St. Petersburg but did not say how many people had been killed.
    “Ventilators are at their limit.    According to preliminary data, there was an overload and the machine ignited, which caused the fire,” one source told the Interfax news agency.
    The emergency ministry said 150 people had been evacuated from the hospital.
    The number of new cases of the coronavirus in Russia rose by 11,656, as of Monday, a record daily increase, bringing the official total to 221,344.
    Only Britain, Spain and the United States have recorded more cases.
    On Saturday, one person was killed after a fire broke out at a Moscow hospital treating patients infected with the coronavirus.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Alexander Marrow)

5/12/2020 Russia reports 10,899 new coronavirus cases, surpasses UK tally
FILE PHOTO: Medical specialists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) work at the infectious disease ward
of the Vishnevsky Institute of Surgery, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
are treated, in Moscow, Russia May 8, 2020. Sofya Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday reported 10,899 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours, bringing the nationwide total past that of Britain to 232,243, the third highest total worldwide.
    The country’s coronavirus response centre said the death toll from the virus rose by 107 people to 2,116.
    Russia puts the continued daily rise in cases down to widespread testing.    It has carried out more than 5.8 million tests.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/12/2020 Austria’s Kurz aims to lift border controls to Switzerland by June
FILE PHOTO: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attends a news conference during the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, May 11, 2020. Hans Punz/Pool via REUTERS
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Austria aims to ease some border controls with Switzerland within days and to end all controls by June, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Swiss broadcaster SRF on Tuesday, as countries push ahead with loosening COVID-19 restrictions.
    “We are in a good exchange with the Swiss government,” Kurz told the broadcaster in an interview.    “Our goal is that we can reach an agreement in coming days over a significant easing and that the border controls can be completely ended in June.”
    Switzerland and Austria are among European countries that enacted border controls weeks ago, to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus.    They have been moving to open some closed crossings in recent weeks and also ease migration restrictions as new infections and deaths waned.
    Switzerland has about 30,400 confirmed infections and 1,561 deaths, while Austria reported about 16,000 infections and 600 fatalities.
    Kurz said that declining infection rates in Switzerland and Austria “are developing similarly well,” creating an opening to relax the border limits.    He said that Austria and Switzerland were moving ahead, while acknowledging regions including Bavaria in Germany had shown more reluctance.
    “Both Switzerland and Austria are small, export-oriented countries that are well-connected internationally,” Kurz said.    “It’s clear that the desire in our countries to open is perhaps stronger than elsewhere.    Our goal is of course to solve the situation involving our larger border with Germany.    Talks with Germany are going excellently.    Expect a breakthrough there, too.”
    European Union officials have warned that the bloc must go “back to the future” of open borders once the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control, after a spate of frontier closures by member states fraying its cohesion.
    Switzerland is not in the EU, but has agreed to open borders to neighbors in normal times.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Peter Cooney)
[OPEN BORDERS IS WHY THE VIRUS SPREAD SO FAST IN THE 27 NATIONS OF THE EU AND THE BAN TRUMP DID TO CHINA IS WHY THE U.S. DID NOT HAVE TRIPLE OF THE CORONAVIRUS CASES TO DATE.].

5/13/2020 Russia suspends use of ventilator type after hospital fires: regulator
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist is seen in a window after a fire, which killed five novel coronavirus patients
in an intensive care unit, at a hospital in Saint Petersburg, Russia May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has suspended the use of Russian-made medical ventilators of a certain model manufactured after April 1, a state healthcare regulator said on Wednesday, following two hospital fires reported to involve two such machines.
    The Aventa-M medical ventilator was used at the Saint George’s Hospital in St Petersburg where five people died in a fire on Tuesday, and also in a hospital in Moscow where a fire killed one person on Saturday.
    Roszdravnadzor, the regulator, said on Tuesday it was checking the quality and safety of the ventilators in the two hospitals.
(Reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva and Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

5/13/2020 Russia reports more than 10,000 new coronavirus infections
A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a break at the infectious disease ward of the Vishnevsky Institute
of Surgery, where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated, in Moscow, Russia May 8, 2020. Sofya Sandurskaya/Moscow
News Agency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday reported 10,028 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its nationwide tally to 242,271.
    Russia’s coronavirus response centre said 96 people died overnight, bringing the official death toll to 2,212.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

5/13/2020 With Castro-era biotech, Cuba seeks to compete in coronavirus treatment race by Sarah Marsh
FILE PHOTO: Cuban doctors hold an image of late Cuban President Fidel Castro during a farewell ceremony before departing to Italy to assist,
amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Communist-run Cuba, laboring under a six-decade U.S. embargo, is betting a biotech sector begun by late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro can give the Caribbean island an edge in a global race to find effective treatments for the new coronavirus.
    Cuba is especially touting an interferon it produces, a decades old antiviral agent that boosts immune system.
    The island nation says it has been successful in treating the novel coronavirus at home and in China, and that 80 countries have already expressed an interest in buying its interferon alpha 2b.
    The government is hoping that its interferon and other treatments it is developing will provide a lift to its struggling economy.
    “We have good products like interferon alpha 2b that we are exporting and that open possibilities,” Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said during a recent televised roundtable.
    Interferons have long been used internationally to treat dengue fever, cancer and hepatitis B and C.    Studies during the SARS epidemic in 2003 suggested interferons might also be useful against coronaviruses.
    Havana has promoted that China, where the pandemic emerged last year, included interferon in its treatment guidelines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.    One of the interferons it used is produced by a joint Cuban-Chinese venture Changheber, Cuban authorities said.
    Critics have accused Cuba of advocating a treatment that is unproven for COVID-19, as well as originally obscuring the fact other countries also produce interferon alpha 2b.
    Interferons can cause serious side effects when administered in their usual forms – injections or infusions – some of which may mirror COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and breathing difficulty.
    Cuba, however, says it has treated nearly all of its patients with interferon injections and credits the medicine for helping it achieve a lower mortality rate among its 1,804 confirmed COVID-19 cases – 4.1% versus an average of 5.9% for the rest of the Americas.
    It has also flagged a trial at Taihe hospital in China’s Hubei province at the height of its outbreak that suggests newer ways of administering interferon may help contain the virus and even prevent contagion with fewer side effects.
    None of the nearly 3,000 healthcare workers who used interferon nose drops became infected with the novel coronavirus, according to an informal study report reviewed by Reuters.    They included more than 500 with high exposure to infected patients, the Chinese researchers said.
    The trial used interferon alpha, albeit not specifically the Cuban version, and the results have not been formally peer-reviewed or published in reliable medical journals.
    In a separate trial at Union hospital in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 patients who inhaled interferon in an aerosol formulation had faster improvement in respiratory symptoms and clearance of the virus from their blood than patients who did not receive interferon, according to another informal report by Chinese, Australian and Canadian researchers.
    Randomized controlled trials are needed to corroborate these early findings and dozens of studies involving interferon are underway worldwide.
    Cuba is not waiting for those results.    It is already starting to use interferon nose drops for infection prevention in medical workers.
FIDEL’S BIOTECH INDUSTRY
    Interferon, considered a potential miracle drug in the 1970s and 1980s, has a special place in Cuba.
    Castro, whose 1959 revolution prioritized health and education and who often took a keen interest in scientific developments, sent Cuban scientists abroad to study its production.
    They swiftly figured out how to manufacture it at home and the drug was used successfully during a 1981 outbreak of hemorrhagic dengue fever.    That was when Cuba’s biopharmaceutical sector started to grow in earnest despite obstacles posed by the U.S. trade embargo.
    It now produces most of the drugs used in Cuba as well as more than 300 products for export to more than 50 countries, including a therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer called CIMAvax.
    There are now 21 research centers and 32 companies employing some 20,000 people under the umbrella of the state-run BioCubaFarma.
    Medicine exports brought in $442 million in 2016, according to the latest available official data, surpassing export revenue from sugar, rum or tobacco.
    Supporters of Cuba’s success say it disproves the idea that free market competition is needed for pharmaceutical and biotech innovation.    Skeptics question whether the mostly state-financed industry is in fact profitable, and whether it can flourish given Cuba’s cash woes.
    Cuba has not been able to produce enough medicines to fully meet domestic demand in recent years under strict austerity measures.
    But the pandemic may present a unique opportunity for the sector to burnish its reputation and generate hard currency.
    BioCubaFarma President Eduardo Martínez gave a presentation last week on a raft of drugs Cuba is testing and developing to strengthen the immune system against COVID-19, prevent a worsening of symptoms and help patients recover.
    It is developing its own version of AbbVie’s Kaletra, an HIV therapy being tested in combination with other drugs, including interferon, against COVID-19.
    Martinez said Cuba’s efforts were garnering interest abroad, and he anticipates high demand.
    “We are creating the conditions to introduce (these drugs) at an industrial level and to crank up their production,” he said.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Additional Reporting by Nancy Lapid in New York and Roxanne Liu in Bejiing; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Bill Berkrot)

5/13/2020 Swiss doctor taps his past to help Zurich meet PPE needs by John Miller
Swiss doctor Stefan Metzker stands beside boxes containing personal protective equipment (PPE) during an
interview with Reuters, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Spital Maennedorf hospital
in Maennedorf, Switzerland May 12, 2020. Picture taken May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    MAENNEDORF, Switzerland (Reuters) – Love led a young Swiss doctor to emigrate to South Africa, his wife’s home country.    Years later, love for his disabled child brought him back to Switzerland.
    The know-how Stefan Metzker gained on his journey – first as a Cape Town intensive care doctor, then supplying African doctors with Chinese-made surgical gear and now as a Swiss hospital CEO – prepared him to help when COVID-19 struck.
    Answering a call from Zurich officials desperate for face masks, surgical gowns and gloves, Metzker leveraged a Chinese business contact he had forged decades ago to secure 23 million items of medical gear.
    Since April, passenger-turned-cargo jets belonging to Lufthansa unit Swiss Air Lines have made 15 non-stop flights from Shanghai to Zurich.
    The 16th and final flight, with the last of what amounted to 230 tons of equipment, is due later this month.
    “I wouldn’t have recommended it if I hadn’t known the people in China for years through my activities in South Africa,” Metzker, 59, told Reuters.
    “Based on trust, and the long relationship I had, it was possible to pay up front.    That allowed us to secure large volumes at reasonable prices, at a time when raw materials were extremely scarce.”
    Business leaders like Apple’s Tim Cook, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff have used connections or pledged personal wealth to secure medical supplies or finance coronavirus relief.
    The air bridge Metzker helped organise underscores how people far from the limelight have also tapped their experience to make a difference.
SWITZERLAND TO SOUTH AFRICA
    After apartheid’s collapse, Metzker and his wife, Christine, left Switzerland in 1995 for Cape Town’s Tygerberg Hospital, for a job treating intensive care patients.
    There, he watched aghast as surgeons clad only in traditional cotton scrubs became soaked with blood of patients, many of whom had AIDS.
    Since South African hospitals could not afford expensive protective clothing, Metzker said he enlisted university partners in the early 2000s to develop affordable, re-usable medical textiles.
    “We developed a fabric to protect us against blood and body fluids,” Metzker said.    “Through this business, I made relationships with international suppliers.”
    In 2009, however, Metzker’s family returned to Switzerland so his son, who has a severe neurological disease, could safely attend school in his electric wheelchair.    Metzker took a job as CEO of Spital Maennedorf, a 150-bed, 950-employee hospital on Lake Zurich.
    As COVID-19 rolled over Switzerland in February and March, officials in Zurich feared a three-month protective equipment supply in the nation’s emergency stockpile would not last.
    With nations everywhere clamoring for equipment, Zurich’s government pharmacy put out an all-points bulletin, asking for help from anybody who could get their hands on masks, gloves and scrubs.
    Metzker remembered his Chinese contacts and stepped forward.
    “I thought to myself, Oh, man!    It can’t be that a country like Switzerland is heading toward a disaster without the protective material we need,” he said.
    There were challenges.
    A sudden change in Chinese regulations stalled one early April shipment at Shanghai customs before the Swiss consulate in China intervened to finally get the plane aloft, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said.
    Metzker said the regional government reacted swiftly, paying in advance after he reassured them the Chinese supplies would come through.
    Zurich officials did not release the price tag for the material but said they are satisfied they got a fair deal.
    “In view of the dramatically worsening situation, it was the right decision that saved time and money in the end,” Andreas Hintermann, who heads Zurich’s cantonal government pharmacy, told Reuters on Wednesday.
    “Mr. Metzker was able to get in touch with reliable dealers in China and ultimately led … negotiations on price and quality.    He was certainly the decisive success factor.”
RISING PRICES
    Zurich opted to have gear shipped directly from Shanghai, not via another country, for fear other governments might seize it. Germany accused the United States of “modern piracy” in early April in a case of masks diverted from an airport in Bangkok.
    There was another reason for haste: Prices were rising as demand skyrocketed. A surgical gown he bought for less than $2 now costs about $8, Metzker said.
    Metzker’s hospital doubled the number of ICU beds with ventilators to 12, though they were never completely filled.
    Still, he said, it was “mind-blowing” just how much protective equipment was needed, with doctors and nurses discarding layer after layer every shift.
    With Zurich-area hospitals’ shelves now stocked and COVID-19 infections waning, Metzker believes they are prepared should the virus flare up again, which some fear as Switzerland joins other countries in gradually relaxing restrictions.
    “We probably could even afford the luxury of shipping by sea or by train in the future,” Metzker said.    “We’re ready for a second wave, if there is one.”
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

5/13/2020 Chinese lab boosts Serbia’s coronavirus testing capacity
Scientists work with samples taken for testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the "Huo-Yan" (Fire Eye) National Laboratory
for Molecular Detection of Infectious Agents in Belgrade, Serbia, May 12, 2020. Picture taken May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
(This May 12 story corrects Chinese name of lab to Huo-Yan, not Huo-Yun)
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – A Chinese-built state-of-the-art laboratory is helping to nearly double Serbia’s testing capacity for COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, in the latest example of close ties between Belgrade and Beijing.
    The Huo-Yan National Laboratory for Molecular Detection of Infectious Agents in Belgrade is the first that the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) has helped to build in Europe and has the capacity to carry out more than 2,000 tests a day.
    The laboratory’s 40 employees were all trained by Chinese colleagues who previously set up COVID-19 testing laboratories in Wuhan, where the new coronavirus first emerged, and 10 other Chinese cities.
    To prevent infections, all 40 employees are being accommodated in nearby hotels and cannot see their families.
    Jelena Begovic, a coordinator in charge of the laboratory, said another lab with a daily capacity for 1,000 samples, would also be built in the southern Serbian town of Nis.
    Once the pandemic ends, the labs will remain at the disposal of Serbia’s healthcare system, she said, adding that there had been talks with the BGI about future partnership.
    “Information is nowadays sometimes more valuable than gold.    In that sense, (the lab) is also a source of information for them (the BGI) regarding this region… Through cooperation like this, I think we both can have huge benefits,” she said.
    The BGI runs similar laboratories in the United Arab Emirates and Brunei, according to its website.
    China sent doctors, ventilators and medical masks to Serbia in March, as the virus was beginning to spread across Europe, in a sign of what Beijing’s ambassador to Belgrade, Chen Bo, called the “iron friendship” between the two nations.
    Beijing has also extended loans worth billions of dollars to build railways, roads and power plants in Serbia, a candidate for European Union membership.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/13/2020 Belgium set to reopen schools, markets, museums and zoos
Belgium's Health Minister Maggie De Block attends a news conference after a meeting of the National Security Council discussing post-lockdown
measures amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium, May 13, 2020. Eric Lalmand/Pool via Reuters
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian schools will partially reopen and markets, museums and zoos will also be allowed to operate again from next Monday, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said on Wednesday, in a further easing of the country’s two-month coronavirus lockdown.
    Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million, is among the European nations worst hit by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, but it began a phased easing of the restrictions at the start of May.
    Wilmes said the reopening of non-food shops this week had proceeded smoothly even if there were now queues outside some stores.
    “We have taken a new step, for some too big, for others too small.    Improvements are coming, but we must be patient.    We cannot do everything at once,” Wilmes told a news conference.
    Belgium, whose capital Brussels hosts the headquarters of the European Union and the NATO military alliance, has so far reported 53,981 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,843 deaths.
    However, the rate of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths has fallen steadily from early April peaks and the government’s team of health experts on Wednesday described the trend as “encouraging.”
    From next Monday, primary and secondary schools will restart smaller classes of final-year pupils under strict social distancing rules.
    Museums, historical buildings and zoos can also admit their first visitors from Monday, although they will have to sell time-specific tickets online and set up a one-way system showing how people must move through their rooms and galleries.
    Hairdressers and beauty salons will reopen for appointments only.    Markets comprising up to 50 stalls will be allowed, with masked stall-holders and one-way systems of passage marked out.
    Sports clubs will resume training in the presence of a coach and with no more than 20 people present.    Libraries too can reopen.
    However, cafes, restaurants and sports and cultural centres will have to remain closed for at least another three weeks.    No sports or cultural events will take place before June 30.
    “There will not be a return to normal life this summer,” Wilmes said.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by Marine Strauss and Gareth Jones)

5/13/2020 Kazakhstan to reopen mosques, hotels, restaurants, passenger trains
FILE PHOTO: A police officer wearing a protective mask directs local residents as they walk through a checkpoint, set up to lock down the city to
prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan will reopen places of worship, hotels, and small cafes and restaurants from May 18, the government said on Wednesday, two months after the Central Asian nation began a coronavirus lockdown.
    Mosques, churches and other places of worship will be allowed to fill up their premises by no more than 30% of capacity, the cabinet said.
    As for cafes and restaurants, only those operating outdoors or having no more than 30 seats will be able to reopen.
    The government said it was also expanding internal flights and would gradually resume passenger train service – a very popular mode of travel in a nation the size of Western Europe – from June 1.
    Kazakhstan has confirmed 5,417 COVID-19 cases with 32 deaths and let a state of emergency introduced in mid-March lapse this week while keeping lockdowns in place.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by William Maclean)

5/13/2020 Hungarian Roma feel vindicated by school segregation ruling by Krisztina Fenyo and Balazs Kaufmann
A general view of the Roma part of the town Gyongyospata, Hungary, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    GYONGYOSPATA, Hungary (Reuters) – Hungarian minority Roma said on Wednesday they felt vindicated by a court ruling that a school had unlawfully segregated Roma children for years and the award of $310,000 in compensation, but they feared renewed tension.
    Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, at odds with the European Union for his perceived erosion of the rule of law, sparked protests when he hinted in January that the state should disobey any court order to pay restitution to the Roma and provide training instead.
    The Kuria (Supreme Court) case involved an elementary school in Gyongyospata, an eastern town that has been a flashpoint of ethnic tensions which have hit other schools.
    “It’s important that we too can be right at last,” said Niki Csemer, 20, who was a student at the time the school operated separate classes for Roma and majority white students between 2003 and 2017.
    According to a 2011 report by minority rights ombudsman Erno Kallai, the school kept classes for Roma on the ground floor and white classes on the upper floors.
    “Gypsy classes were placed in clusters, away from the other classes,” Kallai wrote in his report, demanding that the school end the practice.
    Csemer, whose attended the school, said she felt vindicated.
    “For once we are not oppressed and the courts, even the Supreme Court, is on our side,” she told Reuters.
    Csemer’s husband, David Berki, 22, went to the same school.    He expects ethnic tension to rise because majority whites will not accept the payments to the Roma, working out at around $5,000 per child.     “They will pick us apart, but we’ll take it in stride,” he said.    “There will be no kind of peace here.”
Roma believe their education has been sub-standard.
    “If you count it, each kid will get about 1.5 million forints ($5,000),” said Geza Csemer, Niki’s uncle and the chair of the local Roma government.    “Would you give up your education for that?    Knowledge is forever, and these kids were denied that.”
    Roma in Hungary live in disproportionate poverty, suffer from prejudice in schools and workplaces and have been subject to intimidation and occasionally deadly violence by the far right, rights activists say.
    Ilona, a retiree who declined to give her last name, said her grandchildren went to the Gyongyospata school and the classes were separated based on academic performance, not race.
    “What kind of a court is this, slapping this village with that amount of fine?” she asked.    “This is not fair.”
($1 = 325.5400 forints)
(Writing by Marton Dunai; editing by Nick Macfie)

5/13/2020 Czech PM Babis says borders with Austria, Slovakia could reopen in June
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives for a European Union
summit meeting in Brussels, Belgium, February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria could open their mutual borders as soon as June 8, allowing residents of the three countries to travel between them, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday.
    Babis said the neighbours were thinking about how to open their borders at the start of the summer tourist season after making similar progress in controlling the coronavirus pandemic.    Measures to stop the virus spreading have stalled economic activity worldwide.
    “I think it could somehow work out that on June 8 or 15, our three countries would open together,” Babis said in online interview at blesk.cz news website.
    The three are among at least 17 members of the “Schengen” area, where borders are normally invisible between 26 EU and other European countries, to impose emergency controls since March to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    Babis said negotiations were not currently underway with Germany, the Czech Republic’s biggest trading partner, to lift travel restrictions because the coronavirus situation there was not as stable as in its other neighbours.
    The European Union pushed on Wednesday for a safe reopening of borders, while insisting on protective measures such as masks on planes, to try to salvage the lucrative summer season for the ravaged tourism sector as coronavirus infections recede.
    Nearly all travel has been halted in Europe, a devastating blow for tourism, which normally contributes almost one-tenth of the EU’s economic output.
    The Czech Republic, which had reported 8,223 cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday morning with 284 deaths, has eased restrictions in recent weeks to allow travel across the border under certain conditions.
    This includes EU business travellers and students as well as some non-EU citizens for seasonal and healthcare work.
(Reporting by Robert Muller, Editing by Michael Kahn and Catherine Evans)

5/14/2020 UK says Belgium is worse on COVID-19 deaths per million
People wait at a bus stop in Elephant & Castle station, following the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
    LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom is on a similar level to France, Italy and Spain on COVID-19 deaths per million but Belgium is worse, a junior British health minister said on Thursday.
    “If you look at the death rate per 100,000 or per million, actually we are on a similar level to France, Italy, Spain, Belgium is above us, the United States is below,” Edward Argar, a junior health minister, told Sky News.
    “Different statistics can be portrayed in different ways,” he said.
    The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll now exceeds 40,000, by far the worst yet reported in Europe, according to official British statistics published on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton)

5/14/2020 Exclusive: U.S. considers returning Cuba to list of state sponsors of terrorism – source
FILE PHOTO: Tourists in a vintage car pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is considering returning Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a senior Trump administration official told Reuters on Thursday, a move that would mark another major blow to increasingly tense relations between Washington and Havana.
    There is a “convincing case” that Cuba should be placed back on the U.S. blacklist, in part because of its continued backing for socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the refuge it gives to leaders of Colombia’s ELN rebel group, the official said.
    Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official did not rule out that a decision on Cuba’s re-listing could come by the end of the year.
    In what was possibly a preliminary step, the Trump administration said on Wednesday it had put the Communist-ruled island back on a separate list of countries that do not cooperate fully with its efforts to counter terrorism.    Havana has long denied any link to terrorism.
    Returning Cuba to the blacklist would be a further rollback of the detente that former President Barack Obama orchestrated between the old Cold War foes.    His decision to formally remove Cuba from the terrorism list in 2015 was an important step toward restoring diplomatic ties that year.
    Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela has gone down well in the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a key political swing state as he seeks re-election in November.
    Designation by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism, which carries the potential for sanctions and trade restrictions, would put Cuba in the company of Iran, North Korea, Syria and Sudan.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell)

5/14/2020 Putin says fourth minister had coronavirus after cases pass 250,000 by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks in a business district amid the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia’s education minister had caught the new coronavirus, making him at least the sixth senior official to be swept up in the pandemic that has officially infected more than 250,000 people nationwide.
    But Anna Popova, a senior health official, said Russia had managed to stop the growth rate of infection after authorities reported a one-day rise in new coronavirus cases of fewer than 10,000 for the first time in almost two weeks.
    Putin, speaking at a televised government meeting via video link, said it was “no secret” that Valery Falkov, 41, the minister of science and higher education, had tested positive and recovered, and asked him how he was feeling.
    “Thank you Vladimir Vladimirovich, I’m better already and I’m actively back at work,” the minister replied.
    Falkov is the fourth member of Putin’s government known to have caught the coronavirus, including Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin who is still recovering, but has remotely attended at least one government meeting by video conference.
    Earlier this week, the Kremlin’s veteran spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he had also fallen ill with the coronavirus and contracted double pneumonia.
    The Kremlin has said the health of Putin, 67, is carefully guarded and most of his recent public appearances have been at government meetings via video link from a room at his residence outside Moscow.
    Moscow and much of the country are in their seventh week of a lockdown, but factory and construction workers have gone back to work after Putin said on Monday that a gradual easing of the restrictions was feasible.
    On Thursday, Russia’s official coronavirus case tally passed the 250,000 mark after 9,974 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, the lowest one-day rise in almost two weeks.
    “I would say that today we have halted growth,” Popova said in the preview of a video interview due to be aired on Sunday on the Rossiya-1 television channel.
    At 252,245, the case total is the second highest in the world after the United States, although authorities say the high figure shows how thoroughly officials are testing people.
    Ninety-three people died overnight, pushing the death toll to 2,305, a level that is well below many countries and has prompted the Kremlin’s critics to cast doubt on the accuracy of the figure.    Officials deny any data manipulation.
    Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said on Thursday that authorities would begin free mass testing of residents from Friday and that they aimed to be testing 100,000 people a day by the end of the month.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/14/2020 Ultra-nationalist party stages anti-government protest in Sofia
Supporters of Vazrazhdane (Revival) party hold Bulgarian flags as they take part in an anti-government
protest in front of the parliament in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Some two thousand supporters of a fringe ultra-nationalist and pro-Russian party marched through central Sofia on Thursday accusing the government of imposing confusing restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus.
    Protesters waved party and national flags and chanted “resignation” and “mafia,” to express their frustration that the centre-right government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov extended restrictions until June 14.
    This is the first public protest after the Balkan country introduced a state of emergency two months ago that closed schools, restaurants and bars and prompted many businesses to limit or halt operations due to restrictions and reduced demand.
    Bulgaria started easing the lockdown in late April, but still requires social distancing in public places and keeps its borders closed.
    The protest by the Vazrazhdane party, which has around 1% support nationally, was largely peaceful, but several people were detained when they tried to break through a police cordon around the country’s parliament.
    The protesters accused the government of providing confusing information and incompetent handling of the COVID-19 crisis.     “We do not think we should live as slaves, we should live a normal life,” said Kostadin Kostadinov, chairman of Vazrazhdane.    “?ur patience is over and we want this government to go.”
    Borissov returned to power in 2017 for his third term since 2009, promising that his coalition government would spur economic growth and increase incomes in the European Union’s poorest member state.
    His GERB party remains the most popular political formation, according to the latest opinion polls with most of Bulgarians approving of the measures that have largely contained the spread of the infection.
    As of Thursday, Bulgaria has 2,100 registered cases, including 99 deaths.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

5/14/2020 Baltics open Europe’s first pandemic ‘travel bubble’ as curbs ease
Estonian police and border guard officers show the car driver where to go at border crossing point between
Estonia and Latvia, as travel restrictions for residents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are lifted during
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Ikla, Estonia May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    IKLA/AINAZI BORDER CROSSING POINT, Estonia/Latvia (Reuters) – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia opened their borders to each other at the stroke of midnight, creating the first “travel bubble” within the European Union in a bid to jump-start economies broken down by the coronavirus pandemic.
    A dozen Estonian border guards removed all signs directing vehicles to stop at the border and huddled together at the roadside for cake and coffee.
    “We have the little celebration because the border is now open again,” officer Martin Maestule told Reuters on Friday just after midnight as the first cars sped through on the reopened main road of the region.
    Citizens and residents of the three generally sparsely populated Baltic nations are now free to travel within the region, though anyone entering from outside will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
    “The Baltic Travel Bubble is an opportunity for businesses to reopen, and a glimmer of hope for the people that life is getting back to normal,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said in a statement.
    The Baltic neighbours opened as the EU executive seeks to coax the 27 member states to reopen internal borders and restart wider travel, albeit with safety measures such as requiring people to wear face masks on airplanes.
    New coronavirus infections in the three Baltic republics have slowed to a trickle with none of the countries reporting more than seven new cases on Wednesday.    Authorities have loosened lockdowns since late April.
    The region as a whole has recorded fewer than 150 deaths from the disease – far below individual larger euro zone countries such as Italy, Spain, France or Germany.
    “The Baltic states are close partners, have a similar epidemiological situation and their economies are well integrated, so the free movement of people as well as goods is very important for the region,” said Arnoldas Pranckevicius, the European Commission representative in Lithuania.
    “Opening the borders is up to the member states, and the European Commission expects them to talk to each other, to coordinate their actions and to not discriminate against nationals of other EU members.”
    Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – the three poorest members of the euro zone – expect their economies to shrink by 7-8 percent this year, in line with the rest of the currency union.    Lithuania has warned of a “double digit” drop if economies are not reopened by the summer.
    Estonia has given an emergency loan of 100 million euros ($108 million) to Baltic Sea shipping firm Tallink, badly hit by the region’s lockdowns, while Lithuania is setting up a state-run facility to provide loans or assume assets of key companies if they do not survive the crisis.
    The Baltic countries were quick to close their borders and impose lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus.
    “There is no reason to fear that opening the border will cause the spread of the virus,” Estonian Interior Minister Mart Helme said.
    Travel restrictions were eased between Finland and Estonia, as well as between Poland and Lithuania this week but only for those on the move for business or education.
    But neither Poland nor Finland are rushing join the full “travel union” with their Baltic neighbours as yet, despite an invitation to do so.
    “At first glance, I think that, for instance, Poland and Finland would be logical and potentially good candidates,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said.
    Poland and Finland have also reported relatively low numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths.
(Reporting by Janis Laizans at the border, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Tarmo Virki in Tallinn, Gederts Gelzis in Riga with additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw; Writing by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Niklas Pollard, Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)

5/15/2020 Slovenia calls an end to its coronavirus epidemic, relaxes some border controls by Marja Novak
FILE PHOTO: A man and his dog stand outside of supermarket due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fears, in Medvode, Slovenia, March 18 , 2020. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – The Slovenian government late on Thursday called an official end to its coronavirus epidemic, becoming the first European country to do so, after authorities confirmed less than seven new coronavirus cases each day for the past two weeks.
    People now arriving in Slovenia from other European Union states will no longer be obliged to go into a quarantine for at least seven days as was the case from early April, the government said in a statement.
    The country of 2 million people, which borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, has so far reported 1,464 coronavirus cases and 103 deaths.    It declared an epidemic on March 12.
    “Slovenia has tamed the epidemic over the past two months… Today Slovenia has the best epidemiologic picture in Europe,” Prime Minister Janez Jansa told parliament earlier on Thursday.
    The end of epidemic means some measures, including financial aid to citizens and firms hit by the coronavirus, will expire at the end of May.
    The government said foreign citizens who show signs of coronavirus infection will still not be allowed to enter the country.
    A quarantine of at least 14 days will remain in place for people from non-EU states, except for some exemptions including diplomats and people transporting cargo.
    Citizens will still have to follow basic rules to prevent a possible spread of infection, the government said without elaborating.
    People have been required to wear masks in indoor public spaces, stand at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) apart and disinfect hands upon entering public spaces.
    Since the middle of March, Slovenia has closed all schools, sports and cultural institutions, bars, restaurants, hotels and shops apart from food and drug stores, while cancelling public transport.
    The government has started easing the lockdown from April 20.    Public transport resumed earlier this week while next week some pupils will return to schools.    All bars and restaurants as well as small hotels with up to 30 rooms will be allowed to open next week.
(Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

5/15/2020 Georgian president pardons two opposition politicians
FILE PHOTO: Georgia's President Salome Zurabishvili attends the MEDEF union summer forum renamed La Rencontre des
Entrepreneurs de France, LaREF, at the Paris Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, France, August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili on Friday pardoned two opposition politicians, a former mayor of the capital and an ex-defence minister, in a move to reduce political tension ahead of a parliamentary election this autumn.
    The release of former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava and ex-defence minister Irakli Okruashvili was a part of a political agreement between the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition parties reached on March 8.
    The ruling party, which initially agreed to the pair’s release, later refused to recognise the move was part of the deal, which also included electoral reform ahead of the vote.
    The international community, including U.S. lawmakers and European politicians, have been urging Georgian authorities to fulfil promises and to release opposition politicians.
    “Searching for a way out of difficult situation, easing tensions, maintaining stability, as well as maintaining the country’s international prestige is my duty,” Zurabishvili said in a televised statement.
    “That is why I’ve made this decision and I will not allow the situation in the country to worsen, I will not allow a new polarisation and a new confrontation to take place, I will not allow that an internationally recognised agreement has not been implemented.”
    Opposition leader Ugulava was sentenced to 38 months in jail on Feb. 10 on charges of misusing public funds while mayor of Tbilisi, his second conviction on similar charges.
    Okruashvili, also an opposition leader, was sentenced to five years in jail on April 13 on charges of engaging in mass violence during the anti-Russian protest outside parliament in June 2019.
    The opposition said that both cases were politically motivated.    Several criminal cases have been opened against opposition leaders and activists amid mass protests against the government and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream party that began last summer, and several arrests have been made.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/16/2020 Slovakia lifts last Roma settlement quarantine
FILE PHOTO: Police officers guard a Roma settlement after the government decided to close the area, following several people
had tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Zehra, Slovakia April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia lifted a quarantine on the last of five Roma settlements that were closed off in April to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, a member of the European Parliament and the country’s permanent crisis committee said.
    “I would like to thank you for enduring this and for being patient and responsible. Stay careful,” Peter Pollak, who is himself a Roma, told inhabitants at the settlement in a Facebook video posted on Friday.
    Residents of the Zehra settlement in the country’s east were quarantined for 37 days.    The quarantine was lifted on Friday, Pollak said.
    The crisis committee decided to lift the quarantine after testing all inhabitants and moving 16 infected people and their families to a temporary quarantine centre, which was already housing 26 infected people and their relatives.
    Quarantines in one settlement ended on April 25 and in another three on May 1.
    Roma communities across eastern Europe are impoverished, plagued by high unemployment and historically the target of discrimination, making the coronavirus outbreak another challenge for the ethnic minority.
    As of Thursday, Slovakia had reported 1,480 confirmed coronavirus cases and 27 deaths.    The country has fewer cases than its neighbours and has recorded one of the lowest death tolls per capita in Europe after the government moved quickly to impose tough restrictions in the early days of the outbreak in Europe.
(Reporting by Tomas Mrva; Editing by Sam Holmes)

5/16/2020 Russia reports 9,200 new coronavirus infections
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist, wearing a protective suit amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
assists an elderly woman to cross a road in Moscow, Russia May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia reported 9,200 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, down from 10,598 new cases reported the previous day.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said the overall number of cases nationwide stood at 272,043.    It added that 119 people had died over the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll from the virus to 2,537.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Pravin Char)

5/16/2020 Ultra-nationalist party stages anti-government protest in Sofia
Supporters of Vazrazhdane (Revival) party hold Bulgarian flags as they take part in an anti-government
protest in front of the parliament in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Some two thousand supporters of a fringe ultra-nationalist and pro-Russian party marched through central Sofia on Thursday accusing the government of imposing confusing restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus.
    Protesters waved party and national flags and chanted “resignation” and “mafia,” to express their frustration that the centre-right government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov extended restrictions until June 14.
    This is the first public protest after the Balkan country introduced a state of emergency two months ago that closed schools, restaurants and bars and prompted many businesses to limit or halt operations due to restrictions and reduced demand.
    Bulgaria started easing the lockdown in late April, but still requires social distancing in public places and keeps its borders closed.
    The protest by the Vazrazhdane party, which has around 1% support nationally, was largely peaceful, but several people were detained when they tried to break through a police cordon around the country’s parliament.
    The protesters accused the government of providing confusing information and incompetent handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
    “We do not think we should live as slaves, we should live a normal life,” said Kostadin Kostadinov, chairman of Vazrazhdane. “?ur patience is over and we want this government to go.”
    Borissov returned to power in 2017 for his third term since 2009, promising that his coalition government would spur economic growth and increase incomes in the European Union’s poorest member state.
    His GERB party remains the most popular political formation, according to the latest opinion polls with most of Bulgarians approving of the measures that have largely contained the spread of the infection.
    As of Thursday, Bulgaria has 2,100 registered cases, including 99 deaths.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

5/16/2020 Police use tear gas on Polish protestors demanding businesses reopen
Presidential candidate, Pawel Tanajno uses a megaphone during an anti-government protest, amid the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Warsaw, Poland, May 16, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Police in Warsaw used tear gas on Saturday against protestors demanding the government act faster to allow businesses to reopen following a coronavirus shutdown.
    Hundreds of protestors gathered in Warsaw’s Old Town in the early afternoon, carrying signs saying “Work and bread” and “It will be normal again.”
    Poland has been steadily loosening coronavirus restrictions in recent weeks in an effort to cushion the economy.    Hair salons and restaurants are expected to reopen with new safety measures in place on Monday.
    But the protestors, who have gathered in Warsaw repeatedly in recent weeks, say restrictions need to be lifted further in order for them to sustain their livelihoods.
    Police blocked the planned march, saying in a statement published on Twitter that public gatherings are still banned under the government restrictions.
    “Unfortunately we are dealing with cases of aggression towards police.    Due to the attacks on civil servants, we used methods of direct confrontation such as physical force and (tear) gas,” the Warsaw police said in a tweet.
    Jacek Bury, a senator and member of Poland’s main opposition grouping, the Civic Coalition, said he was detained by police during the protest and that they used force against him.
    As a senator, Bury would have immunity from being prosecuted for taking part in the protest and breaking coronavirus restrictions.
    The police said on Twitter that they did not detain anyone who held state immunity, arguing the senator had entered a police vehicle himself and refused to leave it.
    Borys Budka, the head of the Civic Coalition, said on Twitter that he expected the interior minister and the head of Warsaw’s police service to explain the use of force during Saturday’s protest.
    The organizers of the protest were not immediately available for comment.
    The government has said that some restrictions need to remain in place for some time still, to ensure public safety and prevent the virus spread from accelerating.
    Poland has confirmed 18,257 cases of coronavirus and 915 deaths.
(Reporting by Kacper Pemper, Alicja Ptak and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Frances Kerry)

5/16/2020 Poland appoints conservative interim Supreme Court head in judicial turmoil by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Marcin Goclowski
Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski during a press conference in Warsaw, Poland April 4, 2020. The main centrist opposition
grouping, Civic Platform (PO), chose on May 15, 2020 Trzaskowski as its new presidential candidate after its
previous candidate, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, resigned on Friday. Dawid Zuchowicz /Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s president appointed an ultra-conservative as new interim head of the Supreme Court on Friday after his predecessor resigned, deepening judicial and political turmoil ahead of a controversial presidential election.
    Aleksander Stepkowski is an ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and a founder of think tank Ordo Iuris which, among other issues, supports stricter restrictions on abortion.
    He was appointed by President Andrzej Duda, another close PiS ally, after Kamil Zaradkiewicz, an ex-justice ministry official, resigned earlier in the day after a standoff with judges.
    PiS has been accused by the European Union’s executive body of undermining judicial checks and balances.    The party says its judicial reforms are designed to remove the residue of Poland’s Communist-era legal system and boost efficiency.
    The acting Supreme Court chief is meant to oversee the election of a successor to Malgorzata Gersdorf, who was a high-profile critic of the conservative nationalist government until her term ended in April.
    In a televised statement, Zaradkiewicz accused judges who opposed him of trying to impose their own rules on the selection process and intimidating new judges appointed under PiS reforms.    “I no longer intend to tolerate such practices,” he said.
    Bartlomiej Przymusinski, a judge and spokesman for the Iustitia judges association said Stepkowski would work in favour of the ruling party.
    “Stepkowski is a former politician.    I expect him to continue PiS’s policy of taking over the Supreme Court,” he said.    Stepkowski was not immediately available to comment.
OPPOSITION’S ELECTION CANDIDATE DROPS OUT
    Poland is expected to hold a presidential election at the end of June or start of July, after the original May 10 date was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    The main centrist opposition grouping, Civic Platform (PO), chose Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski as its new candidate on Friday after its previous candidate resigned.
    Trzaskowski, a former member of European Parliament, has sought to introduce sex education in Warsaw, a move PiS said could propagate “LGBT ideology” and needlessly “sexualize children.”
    The previous PO candidate, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, had urged Poles not to vote if the election were held in May as scheduled, to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19. Support for her plunged below 5% from above 20% in February.
    Duda leads the race with 45% support followed by independent candidate Szymon Holownia at 19%, the agrarian PSL party’s Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz 17% and far-right candidate Krzysztof Bosak 9%, according to a recent opinion poll.
(Reporting Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Joanna Plucinska and Marcin Goclowski, writing by Alan Charlish, editing by Mark Heinrich and Philippa Fletcher)

5/16/2020 Hungary to start easing coronavirus curbs in capital from Monday
FILE PHOTO: A vendor wearing a protective face mask waits for customers at a newsagent's shop amid the spread
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Budapest, Hungary, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will start lifting coronavirus restrictions in Budapest from Monday, though residents returning to shops or travelling on public transport will have to wear face masks, officials said on Saturday.
    Two weeks after easing the lockdown in other parts of the country, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said authorities had succeeded in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the capital too.
    “It has become clear that we’ve managed to curb the epidemic in Budapest as well,” he said in a video on his official Facebook page.    “Therefore, we can shift to the second phase of defence in Budapest as well, cautiously … and thus we lift the lockdown.”
    From May 4, the government lifted some restrictions outside Budapest and its outskirts, allowing shops and restaurant terraces to reopen.
    Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said on state television that it was now time to gradually open up Budapest as the number of infected people has substantially declined, adding that the government had consulted first with medical experts.
    He said restaurants and cafes would be able to reopen their terraces from Monday.    All shops will also be allowed to open, but a special three-hour window will be maintained for the over-65s to do their grocery and pharmacy shopping.
    Wearing a mask in shops and on public transport will be mandatory and social distancing must be maintained.
    Public parks, the city zoo, swimming pools and baths will also be able to operate as usual from Monday while wedding parties with less than 200 participants will be permitted in Budapest from mid-June.
    Despite the significant relaxing of the lockdown, schools will remain closed at least until the end of May nationwide.
    A phased reopening is the government’s strategy to head off deeper and more lasting harm to the economy, which is expected to shrink by about 4% this year based on a Reuters survey.
    The central European country of 10 million people imposed a nationwide lockdown in March.    Some key sectors including tourism ground to a virtual standstill, and car makers’ temporarily halted production in March and April.
    As of Saturday, Hungary had reported 448 deaths among a total of 3,473 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.    Some 1,655 of the infections were in Budapest.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Pravin Char, Christina Fincher and Helen Popper)

5/16/2020 Sarajevo protests Mass for slain Nazi allies with march for their victims by Daria Sito-Sucic
Police officers stand guard, as they secure a protest against a mass for the
Nazi collaborators in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 16, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Thousands marched through Sarajevo on Saturday to commemorate victims of the Ustasa regime, a puppet state founded by Croat fascists and allied to Nazi Germany, and to oppose a Catholic Mass held in the city for Ustasa and their families, slain at the end of World War Two.
    The Mass is part of annual commemorations that Croatia introduced three decades ago for the tens of thousands of Croatian and Bosnian Ustasa members and their supporters, who were reportedly killed by the partisans of Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito at the end of the war.
    The commemorations usually take place in the Austrian village of Bleiburg, on the border with Slovenia, but this year Austrian authorities cancelled the planned open air Mass due to bans on large gatherings and travel restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The Croatian and Bosnian Bishops’ Conferences then announced they would hold the Mass in Sarajevo instead, in a move which outraged anti-fascist and Jewish groups who said it would honour a regime that killed more than 10,000 Sarajevans, most of them Jews.
    Saturday’s protest in Sarajevo stretched from the site in the city where Ustasa militias hanged 55 local anti-fascists in spring 1945 to the central memorial for the city’s World War Two liberators, Tito’s partisans.
    People blocked the traffic and sang anti-fascist songs, notably Bella Ciao, the anthem of Italian anti-fascists.
    “My two grandfathers, their brothers and my grandmother were all killed by these fascists who have been honoured today,” said retired electro-technician Cedomir Jaksic, 63.
    “It is not normal that a city such as Sarajevo, which was terrorised so much in both World War Two and the last war (in the 1990s), allows something like this to happen,” he added.
    Billboards with photographs of the hanged anti-fascists were displayed at both sites.    A red banner reading “I am an anti-fascist too” was displayed across Sarajevo’s main street.
    After the defeat of the Nazis, Ustasa supporters fled the Balkans and reached Bleiburg, before being sent back and meeting their deaths.
    The Croatian parliament has sponsored the Bleiburg event as a commemoration of “victims of the communist regime.”    But in recent years it has turned into a rally used by Croatian far-right groups trying to rehabilitate the Ustasa regime.
PROTECTED MASS
    Police sealed off the area around Sarajevo’s Catholic Cathedral, where Bosnian Archbishop Cardinal Vinko Puljic said Mass to a congregation of few dozen Croat dignitaries and priests.
    In his sermon Puljic asked for more information on how the people had died and where they were buried, as well as for respect and forgiveness for all victims of World War Two.    Smaller memorials were also held in Zagreb and Bleiburg.
    The members of the Bosnian tripartite presidency condemned the Mass, as did the U.S and Israeli embassies in Bosnia.
    The speaker of the Croatian parliament, Gordan Jandrokovic, said during a brief commemoration in Zagreb that they aimed to commemorate innocent victims and did not plan to rehabilitate the Ustasa.
    Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Mass “risks becoming a glorification of those who supported the Nazi-allied fascist Ustasa regime, complicit in the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings.”
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

5/16/2020 Miners in Poland’s Silesia region to go back to work next week: PM
FILE PHOTO: File photo of miners working about 500 meters underground at the Boleslaw Smialy coal mine, a unit of coal miner
Kompania Weglowa (KW) in Laziska Gorne, Silesia, southern Poland September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel//File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Miners in Poland’s Silesia region, which has seen the largest concentration of coronavirus cases in the country, will be able to return to work on Monday and Tuesday, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Saturday.
    The virus spread quickly in coal mines in Silesia, which as of Saturday had 138 new cases out of 168 in all of Poland, according to health ministry data.
    Silesia has 5,132 confirmed coronavirus cases, while Poland has 18,184 in total and 912 deaths.
    Morawiecki said health and safety measures will be taken to allow for the miners to return to work and that there was no need to isolate the region.
    “We are coming out of this rut, this difficult epidemic…we are saving hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Silesia,” Morawiecki told reporters.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

5/16/2020 Austrian borders with Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary to reopen June 15
A no passage sign stands at a German-Austrian border crossing bridge over the river Salzach, amid the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Laufen, Germany, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Christine Soukenka
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Austria’s borders with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary will fully reopen on June 15, the interior ministry said on Saturday, extending an easing of border controls to its eastern neighbours previously agreed with many of its neighbours to the west.
    The announcement follows a previously coordinated step to fully remove barriers on travel between Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein from June 15 onwards and ease restrictions on who is allowed transit in the meantime.    Restrictions remain in place for transit from Italy.
    “Our goal is to have as much freedom as possible and as few restrictions as necessary,” the country’s interior, foreign and Europe ministers said in a joint statement.    “These easings create a bit more normality for people in the border region and make it easier for commuters to lead a smoother everyday life.”
    The European Union on Wednesday pushed to reopen internal borders and restart travel, but recommended Europe’s external borders remain closed for most travel at least until mid-June.
(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Francois Murphy; Editing by Christina Fincher)

5/17/2020 Russia allows foreign athletes entry as coronavirus cases pass 280,000
FILE PHOTO: A specialist sprays disinfectant while sanitizing a bridge amid the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 16, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov?
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian government said on Sunday it would allow foreign athletes competing in its domestic sports leagues to enter the country as the number of cases of the novel coronavirus passed 280,000.
    Russia closed its borders in March to foreigners and grounded international flights, except those repatriating Russians or returning foreign nationals to their country of origin, in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.
    The government said athletes and coaches under contract with a Russian sports organisation would be put under medical observation and obliged to spend two weeks in quarantine upon their return to the country.
    “The decision will help professional sports organisations, including the soccer clubs in the Russian Premier League, to resume training after the easing of measures linked to the spread of the coronavirus,” the government said in a statement.
    The Russian Football Union said on Friday the country’s top professional soccer league would resume matches on June 21 after having suspended the season in mid-March because of the coronavirus.
    President Vladimir Putin said this week it was time to gradually lift the nationwide restrictions that had forced many people to work from home and businesses to temporarily close.
    Russia’s coronavirus task force said on Sunday it had recorded 9,709 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 281,752, the second highest in the world after the United States.
    Ninety-four people died overnight, pushing the death toll to 2,631, the authorities said.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Polina Devitt; writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Editing by Ed Osmond)

5/17/2020 Skiers return to Slovenian resort after lockdown eases
People ski on the slopes of Kanin after the Slovenian government called an official end to the country's
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Kanin, Slovenia, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic
    KANIN, Slovenia (Reuters) – Hundreds of skiers hit the slopes at Slovenia’s highest ski resort on Sunday after it reopened following a coronavirus lockdown that lasted nearly two months.
    Slovenia became the first European country on Thursday to declare an official end to its coronavirus epidemic.
    The small mountainous country of around two million people has so far reported 1,466 coronavirus cases and 104 deaths.    Slovenes still have to respect social distancing and are obliged to wear face masks in indoor public spaces as well as disinfect their hands when entering such areas.
    There were about 200 skiers at the Kanin resort on Sunday morning, with up to 300 expected during the whole day.    The resort lies in western Slovenia, close to the border with Italy, and boasts a snow cover of at least 3.5 meters depth at present.
    “Unique, fantastic, the weather, the snow, the silence, the air, being free,” said Barbara and Franci, a couple from the capital Ljubljana.
    Slovenia started easing its lockdown measures on April 20. Public transport resumed on May 11 and Kanin ski resort reopened on May 14.    All shops and restaurants will be able to reopen on Monday when some pupils will also return to schools.
    “The hardest thing (during the epidemic) was that I could not be fully active in sports and I can feel today that I am a bit out of condition,” said Omer, another skiier from Ljubljana.
    Although the government has provided financial help to citizens and companies hit by the coronavirus, tourist centres have seen a sharp fall in their income due to the coronavirus epidemic and the resulting lockdown.
    The government expects Slovenia’s economy to shrink by at least 8% this year after a 2.4% expansion in 2019.
(Reporting by Borut Zivulovic, writing by Marja Novak; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/17/2020 Demolition of Albanian national theatre sparks angry protests by Benet Koleka
Albanian activists and supporters clash with police as they protest against the demolition
of the National Theatre in Tirana, Albania May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albanian authorities began demolishing the national theatre building early on Sunday after dragging away two dozen actors and activists protecting the site, drawing a large crowd chanting “shame” and “dictatorship.”
    For more than two years actors, activists and the opposition have contested plans by Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama to build a new theatre, saying the existing building was part of the country’s heritage, and accused him of corrupt practices.
    A large police force showed up before dawn and removed members of the Alliance to Protect the Theatre, using pepper spray.    Mechanized diggers then began demolishing its front column, bearing the words “National Theatre.”
    The fate of the building, constructed in 1939 and made into a national theatre in 1945, has divided society, with many angry that Rama had chosen to act during the coronavirus lockdown.
    “This is no longer about the theatre’s demolition but the downfall of democracy and freedom.    We are in a dictatorship,” an unidentified member of the alliance said on a Facebook video.
    Rama, whose government says the theatre was decrepit and in need of modernisation, stuck to his idea he was pushing for progress, after building a new soccer stadium and market.
    “These are the same people who rise against every project in Tirana.    They do not want development, but they cannot stop Tirana,” Rama said in a Facebook post.
    Protesters shoved police blocking access to the site and chanted “down with the dictatorship,” leading to 37 arrests.    One policeman was hospitalized after being hit by protesters, while a Reuters witness also saw one protester with head injuries.
    One of those arrested, media analyst Alfred Lela, said after his release that police had used unjustified violence and verbal abuse.    Policemen kicked protesters, who threw water bottles, according to a Reuters witness.
    The police said accusations of violence were untrue.
    Critics of the original plan for a new theatre said the work had been awarded to one of the government’s preferred partners without being subject to tender, with the construction of several new high-rise properties included in the deal.
    The Socialist government withdrew that plan in February.
    Protesters have claimed that a six-month period is required by law for a new project to be approved, and that the government has not secured the proper permits to carry out the demolition.
    Mariya Gabriel, the European Union’s Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner, last week urged further discussions before any decision was made on the theatre.
    Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said the demolition was illegal, and had also “demolished the foundations of society.”
    President Ilir Meta, who holds a largely ceremonial role in government, has complained to the constitutional court about the demolition, which he has called an “legal, moral and constitutional crime.”    The court is yet to rule.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Jan Harvey)

5/18/2020 Orban’s government expects emergency powers to end by early June
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures during a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the presidential
building in Belgrade, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Serbia, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The government of Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban expects that much-criticised emergency powers it adopted in response to the coronavirus pandemic will end by early June, his chief of staff told broadcaster Hir TV late on Sunday.
    Orban faced accusations of an autocratic power-grab after lawmakers gave his government permission in March to rule by decree in matters related to COVID-19.    As of Monday, Hungary recorded 3,535 cases of the virus, and 462 deaths.
    The premier’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said the government would submit a bill to parliament on May 26 proposing an end to the emergency powers.    Last week he said this would likely be later in June.
    “Our intent is to submit the bill to Parliament on May 26, which means it will be June by the time it passes, and the extraordinary status quo ends in Hungary,” Hir TV quoted him as saying on its website.
    Parliament, where Orban’s ruling Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority, is widely expected to approve the bill.
    As Hungary’s infection rates declined, it began to ease a lockdown in the capital Budapest from Monday, allowing people back into shops and restaurant terraces, following the rural easing with a two-week delay.
    Orban used a visit to neighbouring Serbia on Friday to say he would already relinquish the powers in May, lambasting his critics who had warned he might use the extra licence to further consolidate his influence in Hungary.
    The 56 year-old premier, who has extended his influence over most walks of life in the central European country during his decade-long rule, faces the toughest challenge of that period as the coronavirus lockdown, as elsewhere, is expected to push the economy into recession this year.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/18/2020 Russia’s new coronavirus cases below 10,000 for third day in a row
FILE PHOTO: Specialists wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing an underground passage amid the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 16, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Monday reported 8,926 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours, pushing its nationwide case tally to 290,678.
    The daily rise in cases was for the third day in a row below 10,000, a threshold that it has been above for much of May.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 91 people had died overnight, bringing the death toll to 2,722.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/18/2020 Ukrainian hospitals struggle amid health care cuts by OAN Newsroom
In this photo taken on Saturday, May 9, 2020, a paramedic helps a patient suspected of having coronavirus
to get out from an ambulance to a hospital in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. Ambulance medics experience shortages of
protective gear and many ambulance medics in the city got infected. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
    Medical workers in Ukraine are struggling in the battle against the coronavirus.    Doctors have said they are being left with substandard equipment, drug shortages and low wages.
    This comes after Ukraine’s former administration previously crippled the country’s health care system by cutting subsidies to help cover wages and hospital bills.    President Volodymyr Zelensky has reportedly taken action towards offering new subsidies to increase medic wages.
    A number of health workers have fallen ill and some have reportedly died as protective equipment is running short.    Many people are blaming the hospital conditions on corruption.
In this photo taken on Sunday, May 10, 2020, Dr. Olha Kobevko, left, fills in daily medical documents at the
regional hospital in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. The hospital lacks a centralized oxygen supply and has to rely mostly
on refillable oxygen masks, reflecting a pitiful state of Ukraine’s underfunded health care system that was quickly
overwhelmed by the coronavirus even with a relatively low number of infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
    “To say there is no virus is to say there is no war in Ukraine because you can’t see it, but it’s there even if you don’t believe it,” stated Dr. Olha Kobevko, an infectious disease specialist in Chernivtsi.    “It’s here inside, you can see it when you bury the dead.”
    Medical workers account for roughly one-fifth of coronavirus cases in Ukraine.    The government relaxed lockdown measures last week, which has sparked concerns over a second wave of infections.

5/18/2020 Coronavirus pushes Swedish deaths to highest since 1993 in April
FILE PHOTO: People respect social distancing as they sit at the Gallerian shopping center, as the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues, in Stockholm, Sweden, May 12, 2020. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – More Swedes died in April than in any one month since 1993, figures from the Statistics Office showed on Monday, as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pushed the death toll higher.
    Sweden, which has stopped short of the strict lockdown measures enforced by many countries, has suffered a higher death rate during the coronavirus pandemic than its Scandinavian neighbours.
    In Sweden, the pandemic has caused around 3,700 deaths since the first reported fatality in March, but has not been as deadly as some seasonal flu over the last three decades, when the toll in December 1993 and January 2000 was higher, the Statistics Office said.
    The toll for all deaths in December 1993 was 11,057 compared to 10,458 in April this year.
    In terms of fatalities in relation to the size of the population, in January 2000, 110.8 people died per 100,000 of the population, higher than the 101.1 people in April this year.
    The death tolls in both 1993 and 2000 were high as a result of outbreaks of seasonal influenza, the Statistics Office said.
    In total, 97,008 Swedes died in the whole of 1993, the deadliest year since the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Barbara Lewis)

5/19/2020 Kremlin says Prime Minister Mishustin back to work
FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin chairs a meeting on measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) via video link in Moscow, Russia April 8, 2020. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is back at work after being diagnosed with the new coronavirus, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
    The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree cancelling a temporary transfer of Mishustin’s duties to First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov, who had been Russia’s acting prime minister since April 30.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Catherine Evans)

5/19/2020 Czech coronavirus cases show biggest rise in four weeks, infections hit coal mine
FILE PHOTO: A police officer in a protective suit checks the temperature of a person inside a car at
Slovak-Czech border in Drietoma crossing, Slovakia, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic reported its biggest daily rise in new coronavirus cases in four weeks, climbing by 111 to an overall total to 8,594 as of Tuesday morning.
    The health ministry also reported two new deaths, putting the toll from the virus at 299 in the central European country.
    The rise is partly due to an outbreak reported by state-owned coal miner OKD at its Darkov mine near the eastern town of Karvina, close to the Polish border, Czech Radio reported.
    The radio said 53 cases had been confirmed among 860 miners tested by Monday evening.
    OKD and national health officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    The Czech Republic closed schools, shops and borders soon after the outbreak started in March and has seen a increase in the number of people recovering.
    The government has been eager to reopen the economy in recent weeks by getting most shops up and running along with cinemas, theatres and outdoor pubs and dining places, and lifting some restrictions on cross-border travel.
    The government plans, as of next Monday, to let restaurants run indoor dining, and will open hotels, relax rules for wearing face masks and allow younger children to return to schools.
    The government is also planning to further ease travel to and from countries deemed safe of risks from the coronavirus from June 8, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Monday.
(For an interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in the Czech Republic: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/yzdpxoyxnvx/index.html?eikon=true)
(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Timothy Heritage)

5/19/2020 Russia reports 9,263 new coronavirus infections, total nears 300,000
Russia's Emergencies Ministry members wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) spray disinfectant
while sanitizing the platforms of the Kievsky Railway Station amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
in Moscow, Russia May 18, 2020. Sofya Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday that 9,263 new cases of the novel coronavirus had been reported in the last 24 hours, pushing its nationwide tally to 299,941.
    The daily rise in cases was below 10,000, a threshold that it has been above for much of May, for the fourth day in a row.
    Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 115 people had died overnight, bringing the death toll to 2,837.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Catherine Evans)

5/19/2020 Dutch schools, cafes and museums to reopen in June
FILE PHOTO: A tourist looks at an announcement that the Van Gogh Museum is closed because of the coronavirus
outbreak, in Amsterdam, Netherlands March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands will press ahead with a further easing of lockdown measures in June due to a steadily declining number of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday.
    High schools will reopen on June 2 and elementary schools will return to full schedules on June 8, Rutte said, detailing a decision by the Dutch government.
    The easing will take place nearly two and a half months after lockdown measures were imposed across the country of 17 million in mid-March.
    “We earned the space we are getting for sticking to the guidelines,” Rutte said in a live television broadcast.    “We have to stick to the rules because we know the virus can flare up again.”
    The number of infections from the novel coronavirus rose by 108 to 44,249 on Tuesday, with 21 new deaths over the last 24 hours.    The death toll stood at 5,715, national health authorities said.
    Cafes and restaurants will be permitted to open on June 1, with a maximum of 30 guests, Rutte said.    People must keep 1.5 metres apart from others, unless they live together.    Museums will also reopen, but tickets will only be sold online in advance to avoid crowds.
    Homes for the elderly, where infection rates have been relatively high, will again allow visitors, with more widespread testing available to reduce risks.
    Public transport will also resume regular schedules, with non-medical face masks compulsory for anyone over 13 years of age.    Only essential travel will be allowed and less than half of seats will be available.
    Gyms and dance venues will remain closed and large sporting events banned, probably until Sept. 1.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by Barbara Lewis)

5/19/2020 Romanian minister calls for migrant labour rethink after slaughterhouse COVID cases by Thomas Escritt
Romanian Labour Minister Violeta Alexandru gives a news conference after talks with German
Labour Minister Hubertus Heil in Berlin, Germany, May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The coronavirus crisis must prompt a rethink of the conditions in which some people from Eastern Europe work in the farms and food industry of Western Europe, Romania’s labour minister said after outbreaks in German slaughterhouses.
    Most of Europe’s borders have been closed since late March as a result of governments’ attempts to slow the spread of the virus, but 30,000 Romanian workers have been among the few who have continued to move, flown to Germany to work in the food sector on flights chartered by farmers.
    Like all EU citizens, Romanians can work anywhere in the 27-nation-bloc, a fact which Germany’s highly competitive food-processing industry has relied to keep down costs.
    But critics worry that costs have been pushed down too far.
    Workers recently arrived on charter flights posted videos on social media showing them crammed into accommodation with four or more people to a room, in defiance of social distancing guidelines designed to reduce the risk of transmission. Reuters has not verified the videos.
    At least two have since died of coronavirus, autopsies showed, though they are believed by German and Romanian authorities to have contracted the illness before leaving home.
    Others, mostly longer established in Germany, are working in abattoirs that have seen a spate of coronavirus outbreaks, including hundreds of employees testing positive in an individual slaughterhouse.
    “The circumstances we are going through reveal a number of systemic problems that we haven’t addressed properly during the last years,” minister Violeta Alexandru told Reuters after driving 18 hours from Bucharest to Berlin for a fact-finding mission into the conditions Romanians are working under.
    Other migrants described being charged for accommodation, leaving them with a net wage of as little as 6 euros per hour, making a mockery of Germany’s 9.35 euro minimum wage.
    “The coronavirus crisis acts like a magnifying class to highlight what’s already good or bad in a society,” German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil told a joint news conference with Alexandru on Tuesday.
    “When we have mass infection of Romanian workers in the meat industry, then I have to say it’s not acceptable.    I have to say it makes me ashamed,” he said, pledging more support to local labour authorities to ensure minimum labour standards were being properly enforced.
    A draft government proposal seen by Reuters last week said Germany would order meatpacking plants to stop using subcontractors and to improve hygiene standards in the workplace and accommodation.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/19/2020 Kyrgyzstan to lift most coronavirus-linked restrictions
FILE PHOTO: Kyrgyz law enforcement officers patrol a street near the government house, after authorities declared
a state of emergency in the capital Bishkek and imposed a curfew as an additional measure to prevent the spread
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov/File Photo
    BISHKEK (Reuters) – Kyrgyzstan will lift most of the remaining coronavirus-related restrictions in the coming days, reopening the retail and services sectors and public transportation, the government said on Tuesday.
    The country has confirmed 1,243 COVID-19 cases with 14 deaths, and 898 people have recovered.    It ended a state of emergency this month which had been introduced in March and saw curfews imposed in major cities.
    Hotels and most service providers will reopen across the nation of 7 million from May 21, while malls and large non-food markets – a key sector for the country which serves as a regional hub for Chinese consumer goods – will reopen on May 25, Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov told a briefing.
    Public transit will also restart work from May 25, he said.    Higher-risk facilities such as public pools and saunas will remain closed and so will schools, although kindergartens may reopen in June.
(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov and Angus MacSwan)

5/20/2020 Russia says many coronavirus patients died of other causes. Some disagree by Polina Ivanova and Maria Tsvetkova
Liubov Kashaeva wearing a protective mask sprays antiseptic while tending plants at her family's country house near the town of Chekhov
in Moscow Region, Russia March 29, 2020. The death of Liubov Kashaeva, who earlier twice tested positive for the new coronavirus,
was not counted in Russia's death toll and put down to the cancer she had suffered from. Picture taken March 29, 2020. Courtesy of Daria
Kornilova/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Before she died in a Moscow hospital earlier this month, Liubov Kashaeva, 74, twice tested positive for the new coronavirus.    Her death was not attributed to the virus, however.    It was put down to the cancer she had been suffering from.
    “The medical death certificate … said she died of a malignant tumour,” Kashaeva’s daughter-in-law, Daria Kornilova, said.    “Coronavirus was not mentioned anywhere.”
    Kashaeva is one of thousands of Russians infected with the novel coronavirus whose deaths have been put down to other causes.
    Russia has registered the second highest number of infections globally, at 299,941 total cases, and 2,837 deaths.    That produces a death rate of 1.88 per 100,000 Russians, according to Johns Hopkins University.
    The equivalent U.S. figure is 27.61 per 100,000 Americans, and 52.45 in Britain.
    Russia has defended the way it counts coronavirus deaths.
    “We now know all the characteristics of COVID-19 sufficiently well,” pathologist Oleg Zairatyants, author of the Moscow Health Department guidelines for coronavirus autopsies, told Reuters.
    “The result (of the analysis) is objective and pronounced by the commission … Unfortunately people are dying, but their cause of death is clear to us,” he said, when asked about deaths not being attributed to COVID-19 even when someone had tested positive for the virus.
    However, the relatives of several deceased patients dispute that their loved ones would have died when they did had it not been for the virus.
    Kashaeva had been diagnosed with late-stage bowel cancer in January.    But she was due to start chemotherapy and the family expected to have more time with her.     On May 3, Kashaeva was taken into hospital after feeling weak.    Scans showed she’d developed pneumonia in both lungs, a common symptom of the coronavirus infection, and two tests were taken, coming back positive.    On May 8, Kashaeva died.
    “Coronavirus killed our grandmother of course and we’re grieving,” Kornilova said.    “If it wasn’t for coronavirus, with chemotherapy she would have held out for some time.” ‘NOT HIDING ANYTHING’
    Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, has said that over 60% of deaths of people infected with the coronavirus in the capital city in April did not enter its death toll tally, and were put down instead to other causes.
    Those cases occurred “as a result of an obvious alternative reason, such as vascular catastrophe (heart attacks and strokes), late-stage malignant diseases … and other incurable diseases,” it said.
    The Moscow Health Department said the way Russia counted coronavirus deaths was more accurate than other countries and cited the benefits of a nationwide testing programme which has seen over 7 million tests done.
    The jump in the death rate could be attributed to a seasonal increase in acute respiratory infections, including COVID-19, which had accelerated the progress of chronic diseases, it said.
    Kornilova said she felt that the decision on how to classify her mother-in-law’s death “depended on the party line."
    “And as far as I know, right now, the party line says … that Russia’s death toll must be as low as possible.”
    The Kremlin said Russia’s use of autopsies in determining cause of death sets it apart from many Western countries, where this is not done.
    “We’re not hiding anything.    Cause of death is determined by an autopsy.    It’s specifically the autopsy that allows us to produce an accurate judgment, on the basis of which cause of death can differ,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an emailed response to questions.
    Unlike most countries, Russia relies on a postmortem analysis to decide whether the death of an infected person was caused by the virus.
.     Some doctors, however, say the distinction is arbitrary.
    “Simply put, no one ever dies ‘from’ a virus.    People die from complications resulting from a virus,” Alexey Erlikh, head of the intensive cardiac care unit at Moscow’s Hospital 29, which has been designated to treat coronavirus, said.
    “But they also die from the complications of a chronic illness that are caused by the virus.    Some people believe that such deaths shouldn’t be counted in the coronavirus death toll.    I believe they should,” Erlikh said.
    “On this point I am strongly at odds with some of my colleagues, those top doctors whose pictures are hanging up all over the city.”
‘FROM’ OR ‘WITH’?
    In Britain, all deaths of people who tested positive for the coronavirus, and those with a negative test where coronavirus is suspected, enter the death toll, Carl Heneghan, a doctor and professor at Oxford University said.
    “We’re not in a position to distinguish dying ‘from’ or ‘with’ coronavirus,” Heneghan said in an email.
    Speaking anonymously, a Moscow-based pathologist said that making a clear distinction between the two was virtually impossible.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) says it sees no problems with Russia’s approach.
    “There is no conscious undercounting,” Melita Vujnovic, the WHO’s chief representative in Russia, told Russian state TV last week.    “It is possible that some recounts may be done or something else … but right now I don’t see anything serious.”
    Some Russians remain sceptical.
    Leo Shlykov, a communications manager in Moscow whose father died on May 11 after a positive coronavirus test and 11 days on a ventilator, said that his family would have hospitalised his father earlier if they had thought so many people were dying of COVID-19.
    The death certificate did not register coronavirus as his father’s cause of death, Shlykov, writing on social media, said.     “Yes, he had a heart attack a few years ago, yes, he had renal failure and diabetes, but if it wasn’t for coronavirus, he would still be alive.”
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Polina Nikolskaya, Maria Vasilyeva, Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mike Collett-White)

5/20/2020 PM Mishustin says Russia’s coronavirus outbreak reaching stabler phase
FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin takes part in a video conference call on the implementation of economy and social sphere relief
measures amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Moscow, Russia May 19, 2020. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s coronavirus outbreak is entering a more stable phase, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Wednesday, while warning that restrictions should be lifted carefully in the 17 regions where such moves have been authorised.
    Russia’s coronavirus cases passed through 300,000 on Wednesday, but with the lowest daily rise in infections since May 1.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Darya Korsunskaya and Maria Kiselyova, Writing by Alexander Marrow; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/20/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases pass 300,000 as WHO says situation is stabilising
A member of the Russian Emergencies Ministry wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant while sanitizing the Leningradsky
railway station amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s coronavirus case tally, the second highest in the world, passed 300,000 on Wednesday, but a representative from the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the situation was starting to stabilise.
    Russia’s 8,764 new novel coronavirus infections took the nationwide total to 308,705.    But the daily increase was the lowest since May 1.
    Only the United States has reported more cases than Russia, though the Russian death rate remains much lower than many other countries, something that has been queried by some critics and relatives of those who have died.
    Russia says the way it counts deaths is more accurate than others however and has defended its approach.
    The overall death toll edged up to 2,972 on Wednesday, with 135 new fatalities reported in the past 24 hours, the country’s coronavirus response centre said.
    Dr. Melita Vujnovich, the WHO’s Russia representative, said on Wednesday that she believed the situation had entered a stabilisation phase, the TASS news agency cited her as saying.
    In Moscow, Russia’s worst hit-region now in its eighth week of a lockdown, citizens remain largely confined to their homes unless they obtain digital passes to make certain journeys.
    Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Tuesday it was too soon to consider letting people out for walks or exercise.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maria Kiselyova, Writing by Alexander Marrow; editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/20/2020 Ukrainian Lawmakers: Biden tapes show quid pro quo by OAN Newsroom
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to media during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine,
Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Zelenskiy announced an investigation Wednesday into the leaked tapes that allegedly
feature the country’s former president Petro Poroshenko and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and appear to be yet
another episode of an anti-Biden campaign waged by a Ukrainian lawmaker. (Sergey Dolzhenko/Pool Photo via AP)
    Ukrainian lawmakers released the recording of a 2016 phone call between Joe Biden and then-President Petro Poroshenko.    In the recording, Poroshenko told Biden he asked prosecutor general Viktor Shokin to resign.
    Biden has since admitted that he blocked aid to Ukraine unless the prosecutor was fired over Shokin’s investigation into gas company Burisma and his son Hunter.
    “I’m a man of my word and now that the new prosecutor general is in place, we’re ready to move forward to signing the $1 billion loan guarantee,” Biden stated.
    He also asked Poroshenko to nationalize Ukraine’s largest bank, which is a move that was reversed because it’s considered illegal by the new Ukrainian government
.
FILE – In this March 12, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President
Joe Biden arrives to speak about the coronavirus in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
    The former vice president can be heard making the following comments in the recording:
    “This is getting very, very close.    What I don’t want to have happen.    I don’t want Trump to get into the position where he thinks he’s about to buy into a situation where the financial system is about to collapse, where he is going to be looking to pour more money into Ukraine.    That’s how he’ll think about it before he gets sophisticated enough to know details.”
    Ukrainian lawmakers said the recording confirms Biden’s quid pro quo and conflict of interest in their country.
[Well the Biden quid pro quo that he committed which is on video and he is still denying it today which makes him a liar and he is denying sexual assault charges, and he I hope he did not do any denying of masking on Flynn to so it seems like mister wants to be president if elected is probably lying to you about everything he is going to do also.    Wake up Americans who may vote for a Democrat it is time to stop the DEEP STATE in their tracks and vote for "America First".].

5/20/2020 Swedish antibody study shows long road to immunity as COVID-19 toll mounts by Johan Ahlander and Niklas Pollard
FILE PHOTO: A sign assures people that a pub is open during the coronavirus outbreak in Stockholm, Sweden, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Colm Fulton/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – A Swedish study found that just 7.3 percent of Stockholmers developed COVID-19 antibodies by late April, which could fuel concern that a decision not to lock down Sweden against the pandemic may bring little herd immunity in the near future.
    The strategy was championed by Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, whose recommendation for voluntary measures against the virus, rather than a mandatory lockdown like those imposed by many other countries, has divided opinion at home and abroad.
    Sweden’s strategy of keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open even as much of Europe hunkered down behind closed doors exposed it to criticism with death rates running far higher than in Nordic neighbours, even if much lower than in countries such as Britain, Italy and France that shut down.
    The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in Sweden has fallen by a third from the peak in late April and health authorities say the outbreak is slowing.    However, Sweden has recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in Europe over the last seven days.
    The antibody study sought to look into the potential for herd immunity, a situation where enough people in a population have developed immunity to an infection to be able to effectively stop that disease from spreading.
    The findings were roughly in line with models predicting a third of the Swedish capital’s population would have had the virus by now and where at least limited herd immunity could have set in, the Swedish Health Agency said on Wednesday.
    “It is a little bit lower (than expected) but not remarkably lower, maybe one or a couple of percent,” Tegnell told a Stockholm news conference.    “It squares pretty well with the models we have.”
    However, the herd immunity concept is untested for the novel coronavirus and the extent and duration of immunity among recovered patients is equally uncertain as well.
    The study drew on some 1,100 tests from across the country although only figures for Stockholm were released.
    While Health Agency officials have stressed herd immunity is not a goal in itself, it has also said the strategy is only to slow the virus enough for health services to cope, not suppress it altogether.
    They have said that countries employing wholesale lockdowns to prevent any exposure to the coronavirus could face renewed outbreaks as restrictions were eased and be more susceptible to any second wave of the disease.
    The World Health Organization has warned against pinning hopes on herd immunity.    It said last week global studies had found antibodies in only 1-10 percent of the population, results in line with recent findings in Spain and France.
HERD IMMUNITY IS A LONG WAY OFF, IF EVER
    Bjorn Olsen, Professor of Infectious Medicine at Uppsala University, is among dozen academics who have criticised Sweden’s pandemic response and labelled herd immunity a “dangerous and unrealistic” approach to dealing with COVID-19.
    “I think herd immunity is a long way off, if we ever reach it,” he told Reuters after the release of the antibody findings.
    Sweden’s approach, shaped by a conviction the coronavirus can be slowed but not fully suppressed, is reflected not just in an aversion to quarantines and closures but in a decision to carry out relatively little testing and contact tracing.
    Tests are largely restricted to hospitalised cases and health care workers.    Weekly test numbers still run at less than a third of the government’s goal of 100,000, a far lower per capita rate than Sweden’s Nordic peers and below that of most West European countries.
    Meanwhile the death toll has continued to rise, compounded by a failure to protect the old and infirm in a country famed for its welfare state.
    Helen Gluckman, 55, wept bitterly as she related how her 83-year-old father died of a COVID-19 infection contracted in a nursing home after untested patients were admitted there.    “We don’t know what will happen when other countries open up, but right now one can’t help but think Sweden has really failed.    There are more than 3,000 dead now.    That is a horrible number.”
    With cases having crossed the 30,000 mark, Sweden’s death toll in the pandemic has reached 3,831, more than three times the combined total of Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, all nations with similar welfare systems and demographics.
    While others locked down to buy time, critics like Olsen say Sweden has done “too little, too late.”    They say its laissez-faire approach, also playing down risks posed by asymptomatic spreading of COVID-19, has been catastrophic for the elderly.
    The government remains adamant that Sweden’s high per capita death toll did not result from the lack of a national lockdown.
    Defending the strategy, Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hellengren said most Swedes had voluntarily minimised their social interactions and movements outside the home.    “The Swedes have really changed their behaviour,” she told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Andreas Mortensen in Copenhagen; Writing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/20/2020 Luxembourg starts mass COVID-19 testing, aims to cover everyone soon by Hortense de Roffignac
FILE PHOTO: People wear protective masks as they cross the street during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak in central station of Luxembourg, in Luxembourg, April 20, 2020. Reuters/ Johanna Geron/File Photo
    LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – Luxembourg began mass testing for COVID-19 this week with the goal of covering all of its 600,000 people as soon as possible to stave off a second wave of infections following the easing of lockdown measures.
    The diagnostic tests are voluntary, building up from around 1,500 daily tests to 20,000 a day next month.    The aim is to test everyone in the Grand Duchy, in contingents and in some cases several times.
    Ulf Nehrbass, CEO of the Luxembourg Institute of Health and spokesman of the COVID-19 Task Force, said it was important to check whether the IT system was able to handle the workload.
    “Of course it is clear that everything has to go into a test run and this has to be done in the coming days with a capacity of about 1,500 per day.    That is enough to see if the IT system is stable,” he said.
    He said more laboratories had been added to the project, allowing authorities to obtain results from four tests simultaneously through the “pooling” method: a positive result means the tests are re-checked individually.
    Mass testing also aims to enable the isolation of asymptomatic people with COVID-19, to reduce the spread of the virus.    Nehrbass estimated around 1,500 people in the Grand Duchy are asymptomatic.
    Luxembourg plans to set up to 17 stations to test both citizens and cross-border commuters from Belgium, Germany and France.    The country, which has to date reported 109 COVID-19 deaths and 3,958 confirmed cases, does not have any border controls related to the disease.
(Writing by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

5/21/2020 U.S. to fly aid into Russia where coronavirus cases are climbing
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Emergencies Ministry members wearing protective gear spray disinfectant while sanitizing the Leningradsky
railway station amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A U.S. military transport aircraft was expected to deliver a first batch of medical aid to Russia on Thursday, including 50 ventilators, to help Moscow cope with a rising number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths.
    Russia’s case tally, the world’s second highest, rose to 317,554 on Thursday after 8,849 new infections were reported, while the death toll climbed past the 3,000 mark after 127 people died in the last 24 hours.
    Only the United States has more confirmed cases of the novel infection.    At 3,099, Russia’s toll is much lower than many European countries however, something that has sparked debate about the methods it uses to count fatalities.
    Russia cites a huge testing programme, which it says has seen over 7.8 million people tested, as the reason for its large number of reported cases, and says many involve Russians without symptoms of the virus.
    Government officials also say there are signs that the outbreak is beginning to stabilise, and that daily increases in new cases have become smaller in recent days.
    The United States has said it will send 200 U.S.-manufactured medical ventilators to Russia after U.S. President Donald Trump offered the assistance in response to a request from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Moscow sent medical supplies itself to the United States last month.
    Even though relations between Washington and Moscow remain at post-Cold War lows, the presidents of the two countries have spoken by phone several times in recent months to discuss the pandemic, oil and arms control.
    Russia’s government has ordered thousands of Russian-made ventilators, but suffered a setback when the model of ventilator it wanted was reported to have caused fatal fires in two Russian hospitals this month.
    The same ventilator type was part of the batch of medical supplies Russia sent to the United States.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/21/2020 Hungary to scrap border zones for holding asylum seekers after EU court ruling: PM aide
FILE PHOTO: Gergely Gulyas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff speaks during an
interview in his office in Budapest, Hungary on September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Gergely Szakacs/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary will scrap border transit zones where asylum seekers were held while authorities reviewed their applications after a European court ruling that deemed the practice unlawful, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.
    The European Union’s top court ruled last Thursday that four asylum seekers stuck in a transit zone on the Hungarian-Serbian border had effectively been detained and that a local court should release them immediately.
    “The Hungarian government disagrees with the ruling, we consider it a risk with regard to European security, but as an EU member state, we will adhere to all court rulings,” Gergely Gulyas told an online press briefing.
    The Court of Justice was reviewing the case of two Afghan and two Iranian nationals who arrived in Hungary from Serbia in late 2018 and early 2019 and applied for asylum from the Hungarian Röszke transit zone on the Serbian-Hungarian border.
    Gulyas said four people currently in the transit zone would be detained elsewhere, while another 280 people would be moved to a facility for asylum seekers.
    Once the transit zones are scrapped, asylum requests can only be submitted at Hungarian embassies and consulates, Gulyas said.
    During the peak of the migration crisis in 2015, Orban effectively sealed Hungary’s southern border with a fence.    Hungary was a transit route for hundreds of thousands of migrants heading through the Balkans to Western Europe.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves; editing by Nick Macfie)

5/21/2020 Russian, Turkish foreign ministers back Libya ceasefire in call: Moscow
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is seen after a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart
Pekka Haavisto in the House of the Estates in Helsinki, Finland March 3, 2020. Lehtikuva/Markku Ulander via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu backed an immediate ceasefire in Libya during a phone call on Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    The two diplomats also supported the resumption of the United Nations political process in the North African country, the statement said.
    They spoke a day after the Libyan National Army of eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar said it had pulled back from some Tripoli frontlines, calling into question its ability to sustain a year-long offensive aimed at seizing the capital.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/22/2020 Russia reports record daily rise in new coronavirus deaths
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Emergencies Ministry members wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
spray disinfectant while sanitizing the Kievsky Railway Station amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 18, 2020. Sofya Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – from the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a record daily rise, taking the country’s official nationwide death toll from the virus to 3,249.
    The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre reported 8,894 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections to 326,448.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow, Editing by Catherine Evans)

5/23/2020 Kazakhstan, Turkey may resume flights in late June
FILE PHOTO: Airplanes of Turkish Airlines sit on a tarmac, during the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Istanbul Airport, Turkey March 29, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakh and Turkish airlines may resume passenger flights between the two countries in late June, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Industry and Infrastructural Development has said, if the novel coronavirus epidemic remains under control.
    Kazakh minister Beibut Atamkulov discussed the plans in a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart Adil Karaismailoglu, the ministry said in a statement late on Friday.
    If successful, the reopening would be Kazakhstan’s first after it suspended all international passenger flights in March due to the pandemic and only allowed special flights repatriating its citizens.
    This month, Kazakhstan has gradually resumed domestic flights with all provinces set to be reconnected from May 25.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

5/23/2020 Cuba credits two drugs with slashing coronavirus death toll by Sarah Marsh
FILE PHOTO: People line up to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in downtown Havana, Cuba, April 3, 2020. Picture taken April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Communist-run Cuba said this week that use of two drugs produced by its biotech industry that reduce hyper-inflammation in seriously ill COVID-19 patients has sharply curbed its coronavirus-related death toll.
    Health authorities have reported just two virus-related deaths over the past nine days among more than 200 active cases on the Caribbean’s largest island, a sign they may have the worst of the outbreak under control.
    The government, which hopes to increase its biopharmaceutical exports, has touted various drugs it produces for helping prevent infection with the new coronavirus and treating the COVID-19 disease it causes.
    It ascribes the recent reduction in deaths of severely ill COVID-19 patients largely to the use beginning in April of two drugs that appear to help calm the “cytokine storm,” a dangerous overresponse by the immune system in which it attacks healthy tissue as well as the invading virus.
    One is itolizumab, a monoclonal antibody produced in Cuba and elsewhere.    The other is a peptide that Cuba says its biotech industry discovered and has been testing for rheumatoid arthritis in Phase II clinical trials.
    “Some 80 percent of patients who end up in critical condition are dying.    In Cuba, with the use of these drugs, 80 percent of those who end up in critical or serious condition are being saved,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Thursday in a meeting shown on state television.
    Scientists caution that large placebo-controlled studies are needed to assess the safety and efficacy of these drugs for treating COVID-19.
    But Cuba’s experimental treatments have helped it achieve an overall COVID-19 death rate of 4.2%, compared with the regional and global averages of 5.9% and 6.6%, respectively, health authorities say.
    Fatality rates depend on many variables, including the rate of testing, quality of healthcare systems, and age and underlying health condition of the population.
    Official data suggests that Cuba, with universal healthcare and a well-staffed care system, has done well in containing its outbreak.    It has registered less than 20 cases per day over the past week, down from a peak of 50 to 60 in mid-April.    In total, Cuba has reported 1,916 cases for a population of 11 million and 81 deaths.
    That translates to an infection rate 0.71 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with about 29 per 100,000 for the United States, according to a John’s Hopkins University tally.
    Swift action helped Cuba contain its outbreak. After closing borders, schools and public transportation in March, Cuba urged residents to stay home, made wearing of masks obligatory, and employed effective contact tracing to curb the virus spread.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

5/23/2020 Russia reports 9,434 new coronavirus infections
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Emergencies Ministry members wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) spray
disinfectant while sanitizing the Kievsky Railway Station amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 18, 2020. Sofya Sandurskaya/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Saturday that 9,434 new cases of the novel coronavirus had been reported in the last 24 hours, pushing its nationwide tally to 335,882.
    The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre reported 139 new fatalities after a record of 150 deaths the day before, bringing the death toll to 3,388.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

5/24/2020 Russia reports 153 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll yet
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) works in the hospital
No. 1 named after N.I. Pirogov, which delivers treatment to patients infected with the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia May 23, 2020. Kirill Zykov/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Sunday reported 153 coronavirus deaths over the previous 24 hours, the epidemic’s highest daily toll, raising total fatalities to 3,541, the country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.
    It also said 8,599 new cases had been documented, fewer than on the previous day, pushing the nationwide tally of infections to 344,481.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Andrey Ostroukh; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/25/2020 Russia’s coronavirus infections pass 350,000
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) works in the hospital
No. 1 named after N.I. Pirogov, which delivers treatment to patients infected with the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia May 23, 2020. Kirill Zykov/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Cases of the coronavirus in Russia climbed to 353,427 on Monday, having risen by 8,946 in the past 24 hours, the country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.
    It said the number of fatalities had risen by 92 overnight, taking the overall nationwide death toll from the virus to 3,633.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/25/2020 Russia seeks 18-year jail term for ex-U.S. Marine in spying trial by Tom Balmforth and Alexander Marrow
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, accused of espionage, is escorted inside
a court building in Moscow, Russia, October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian prosecutors asked a court on Monday to sentence former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is on trial accused of spying for the United States, to 18 years in a maximum security prison, his lawyer said.
    Whelan, a U.S. national who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, has been in custody since he was detained in a Moscow hotel room in December 2018.    He says he was set up in a sting and has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
    “The prosecution has made a very harsh demand, it’s absolutely unjustified and groundless.    To be honest, we’re in shock,” Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told reporters after Monday’s hearing.
    The court will announce its verdict on June 15, he said.
    The trial, which began on March 23, has been closed to the public as its content broaches classified information.    Many of the case’s details have emerged through his lawyer.
    U.S. Ambassador in Moscow John Sullivan said the proceedings amounted to a “secret trial” and a “mockery of justice.”
    “There is no legitimacy to a procedure that is hidden behind closed doors. It is not transparent, it is not fair, and it is not impartial,” he said.
    The prosecution accuses Whelan of being at least a ranking U.S. military intelligence colonel and that he was caught red-handed trying to obtain secrets, his lawyer said.
    The defence said Whelan had only believed he was receiving photographs of a trip that he and an acquaintance had been on, not classified material, and that he had been tricked, Zherebenkov said.
    “This was a game by Russia’s Federal Security Service…,” he said.
    U.S. authorities have called the charges against Whelan spurious and have called on Russia to release him, describing the case as a “significant obstacle” to improving bilateral ties.
    Whelan, 50, has used his appearances at hearings to allege he has been ill-treated by prison guards and been denied medical attention.    Russian authorities have accused him of faking health problems to draw attention to his case.
(Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by John Stonestreet)

5/25/2020 ‘Corona town’: Cuban graffiti depicts anguish, urges courage
Cuban artist "Mr Myl" paints a mural which reads in Spanish: "Courage", amid concerns about the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Havana, Cuba, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – A skeleton reaches up from the ground to clutch at a fantastical winged creature.    A hunched figure wearing a face mask drags behind it an entangled mass of stricken faces and lanky limbs.    A butterfly flutters out of the mouth of a body laid to rest.
    Welcome to “Ciudad Corona” (Corona Town), a collection of murals by Cuban artist Yulier Rodriguez in the backyard of a friend’s home in southern Havana.
    Rodriguez is one of several urban artists who have taken to Cuba’s walls to express anguish but also hope regarding the coronavirus pandemic – some in public spaces, others, like his, in private for fear of running into trouble with Communist authorities.
    Cuba has reported 1,947 coronavirus cases and 82 deaths so far.    Official data shows the Caribbean island registered fewer than 20 new cases per day over the last week compared to the 50 to 60 that were occurring daily in mid-April.
    “I felt compelled to express the energy of the moment, the way this illness drags along everyone in its path, be they rich or poor, military or civil,” Rodriguez told Reuters.
    Graffiti started gaining traction in Cuba in the mid-2010s due partly to the increasing influence of international culture as the country slowly opened, allowing greater internet access and the opportunity to travel.
    For some artists, Cuba’s many abandoned or dilapidated buildings made for the perfect canvas.    The flipside is that public spaces are tightly controlled, so artists have to be careful with either their message or their identity.
    In a more upbeat mural in central Havana, “Courage” is emblazoned in capital letters above a multi-storey black-and-white mural of a child wearing a face mask on a dilapidated building.
    “In Cuba, you need to live with courage all the time,” the author “Mr Myl” said, declining to disclose his real name and covering his face with a floppy hat and face mask.
    In Cojimar, a fishing village east of Havana that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s novel, “The Old Man and the Sea,” a group of youngsters have painted colorful murals on ruins by the sea.    One depicting a child holding a rainbow-colored pinwheel against a flowery background is dedicated to healthcare workers fighting the virus.
    Hip hop musician Sekou Sarrias, who led the project, said the aim was not only to express gratitude but also to provide joy to those living among these ruins.
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Paul Simao)

5/25/2020 Polish health minister denies wrongdoing in procurement spat by Marcin Goclowski
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks enjoy walking in the Lazienki Royal Park after loosening of the lockdown measures by
the government due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Warsaw, Poland April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski denied on Monday any wrongdoing as he reacted to accusations of inadequate supervision over procurement of equipment to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
    The allegations against Szumowski, a popular politician in the nationalist government, have hit the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party before a presidential election expected at the end of June or early July, according to political scientists.
    Poland has a lower coronavirus death rate than many other European countries.    According the latest tally on the health ministry’s Twitter account, Poland had reported 1,007 deaths and 21,631 cases of the coronavirus as of Monday afternoon.
    But Polish media have accused Szumowski’s ministry of inadequate supervision of the procurement of items such as protective masks.    Gazeta     Wyborcza daily reported that the ministry bought masks with fake certificates from a skiing instructor who is a family fiend of Szumowski.
    “Neither I, nor my brother, nor my wife, have done anything wrong.    There is not a single fact that would indicate any irregularities,” Szumowski told private broadcaster Polsat News.
    “It is evidently a game resulting from the election calendar and I have become a bit of a target to hit,” Szumowski said.
    President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS, remains the favourite in the election but opinion polls show support for Duda is falling as he and PiS struggle with image problems.
    A government spokesman apologised on Monday on behalf of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who was photographed sitting in a restaurant with officials, even though he is only allowed to do so with his family.
    Szumowski told weekly newspaper Sieci that Poland, which has been gradually easing its coronavirus lockdown, was well equipped to avoid a return to it after successfully halting the spread of an outbreak in Silesia.
    “There are tools to control this monster,” Szumowski said.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, editing by Ed Osmond and Timothy Heritage)

5/25/2020 Denmark to let cross-border couples meet again
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, Denmark October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen/File Photo
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark eased its border controls with other Nordic countries and Germany on Monday, allowing cross-border couples separated by the coronavirus lockdown to meet again if they can prove they have been in a relationship for at least six months.
    The government said that within a couple of days, partners of residents of Denmark living across one of its borders would be asked to produce a written declaration to be granted entry.
    “If you say, you are in a relationship and put it in writing, that is enough,” Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup told local broadcaster TV2.
    For now, though, couples will need to show shared text messages, private photos or personal information about their partner, Danish police said earlier in the day.
    That had sparked an outcry on Monday from lawmakers over privacy, leading to the hasty change being pushed through by the government.     “They can bring along a photo or a love letter,” deputy chief Allan Dalager Clausen told Danish broadcaster DR.
    “I realize these are very intimate things, but the decision to let in the partner ultimately rests on the judgment of the individual police officer,” he said.
    While good news for separated couples, the move highlights some of the issues lawmakers and authorities around the world face as they gradually reopen their countries’ borders.
    Denmark closed its borders for non-citizens on March 14 to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, meaning only people with a clear purpose could enter the country.
    Since then, elderly couples have been seen on the Danish-German border drinking coffee on each side of border and holding hands over the barriers to stay in touch with each other.
    Some lawmakers took to social media to express their displeasure with the new guidelines, saying it was a violation of the right of privacy.
    “I’ve never heard of a country where entry requires the showing of intimate texts or photos from a partner.    We finally allowed couples to visit each other, but did not abolish the right of privacy,” Kristian Hegaard of the Social-Liberal Party said on Twitter.
    Summer cabin owners and grandparents of Danish citizens will now also be seen as having a creditable purpose to visit Denmark, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have issued a new set of guidelines for business travel in and out of Denmark.
(Reporting by Andreas Mortensen; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Hugh Lawson)

5/25/2020 Ukrainian workers start returning to Poland as lockdown eases by Sergiy Karazy
Vadym Diachenko, a 26-year-old Ukrainian worker, speaks during an interview with Reuters in his native village
Chernyakhiv, Ukraine May 20, 2020. Diachenko is among the first Ukrainian seasonal workers to return to Poland as
lockdown measures in both countries against the novel coronavirus pandemic begin to ease. REUTERS/Sergiy Karazy
    CHERNYAKHIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Coronavirus or no, Vadym Diachenko needed no persuading when an employment agency offered to fly him back to Poland from his native Ukraine to work at a meatpacking plant.
    Diachenko, 26, is among the first seasonal workers to return to Poland on specially chartered flights as lockdown measures in both countries against the coronavirus pandemic begin to ease.
    The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the flow of migrants including in Poland, where 1-2 million Ukrainians help plug labour shortages in industries such as construction and farming.
    “People are sitting here and don’t know what money to live on and how to survive,” Diachenko told Reuters before his flight back to Poland, where he will return to a meatpacking plant where had previously worked last year.
    “For me personally, when I was offered to go abroad, I did not have to think and I did not hesitate, I was ready to accept all their conditions and go for work.”
    Workers have their temperatures taken at Kiev’s Boryspil airport before departure, and are issued masks.    On arrival, they are put in quarantine for two weeks in hostels or rented apartments provided by the employment agency that recruited them, Gremi Personal.
    “We currently work with over 120 companies, every day we have several new requests from companies that need workers,” the agency’s boss, Yevhen Kyrychenko, said.
    For Ukraine, such workers have been a valuable source of foreign exchange.    Ukrainians earned $12.9 billion in remittances last year, or 7.8% of economic output.    But that source of income dried up in March, when tens of thousands of workers streamed home before both countries shut their borders.
    Lockdown measures in Ukraine are expected to push the country into a sharp recession, with many businesses either shut or operating with restrictions.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/25/2020 Electronic voting in some Russian regions on extending Putin’s term: election chief
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia May 22, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Remote electronic voting on constitutional changes that could greatly extend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule will be used in three or four regions but not rolled out nationwide, the Central Election Commission chief said in an interview.
    Putin signed a decree, published on Saturday, that would allow remote and online voting to be introduced at the federal level, with sponsors of the bill saying the coronavirus outbreak had made the changes necessary.
    In March, Putin postponed a vote on constitutional amendments, already approved by parliament and Russia’s Constitutional Court, that would reset his presidential term tally to zero, permitting him to serve two more back-to-back, six-year terms until 2036.
    In an interview published by Rossiskaya Gazeta late on Sunday, elections chief Ella Pamfilova said initial trials and testing would be needed before electronic balloting.    “Remote voting will not be carried out on a national scale.    We are talking about no more than three or four regions.”
    Originally scheduled for April 22, the vote was postponed indefinitely in late March, with Putin citing the coronavirus epidemic as the reason for the move.
    Pamfilova said in the interview with Rossiskaya Gazeta that the election commission was working off the assumption that Putin would name the date for the new vote one month in advance.
    She said benefits of electronic voting include raising turnout, increasing the speed and accuracy of processing votes and lowering the cost of holding elections.
    She added that introducing the new system would be gradual and require a strong network and computing infrastructure in place to ensure it can handle the demands of millions of citizens and potential hacking attacks.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Katya Golubkova and Mark Heinrich)

5/25/2020 Finland to spend 100 million euros on coronavirus protection
FILE PHOTO: Finland's Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen holds a news conference on
the family leave reform in Helsinki, Finland February 5, 2020. Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Finland said on Monday it plans to place between June and August orders for protective equipment and respirators worth 100 million euros ($109 million) to fight the coronavirus and prepare for a possible upsurge in demand for the equipment.
    The 5.5-million nation has said infections from the novel coronavirus are slowing.    Last week, it allowed children to return to daycare centers and elementary schools, in an easing of its coronavirus-related restrictions.
    “The corona epidemic will continue to slow down, but we are prepared for the fact that the disease situation may change in the future and the demand for protective equipment may increase from the current level,” Health Minister Aino-Kaisa Pekonen said in a statement.
    The procurement plan includes at least 9 million surgical mouth and nose pads, at least 1.5 million respirators, up to 150 million nitrile gloves and 6 million protective jackets and aprons each.
    Finland has recorded 6,579 infections of the new coronavirus and 307 deaths, according to state health statistics.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; editing by Barbara Lewis)

5/25/2020 Exclusive: Ukraine’s anti-graft bureau probes state tender for medical suits by Natalia Zinets
Employees sew protective suits at the Textile-Contact company's factory in Chernihiv, Ukraine April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian anti-corruption officials are investigating a tender for 71,000 hospital protective suits during the coronavirus pandemic after the government for the first time bypassed its own procurement rules in the health sector.
    Ukraine, long dogged by rampant corruption, has won rare praise from international donors for its efforts to overhaul procurement processes and tackle graft in its health system.    The donors’ aid, which hinges on Kiev’s success in tackling graft, is sorely needed as a deep recession looms.
    Asked about the tender, Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau (NABU) told Reuters it was working on a pretrial investigation into possible abuse of office after an unnamed lawmaker raised concerns on the issue.    NABU gave no further details, saying that divulging information could harm its investigation.
    The head of Medical Procurement of Ukraine (MPU), a state body set up in 2018 to combat corruption in the awarding of health sector contracts, accused the government of violating its own rules by overruling his agency’s choice for the tender and awarding the contract to a company that delivered the suits very late and at an inflated price.
    “This practice is counterproductive and illegal,” Arsen Zhumadilov told Reuters in an interview.
    The MPU handles procurement of medicines and medical equipment on behalf of the health ministry.
    The health ministry denies any wrongdoing in the medical suits case and said it was forced to act due to Zhumadilov’s own mismanagement of the situation.
URGENT NEED
    The row comes at a testing time for Ukraine, which has so far reported 21,245 cases of COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, with 623 deaths.    Medics accounted for about a fifth of Ukraine’s cases, highlighting the urgent need for more protective suits.
    Last month MPU conducted a tender and awarded the contract to Textil-Kontakt, which had already supplied suits to hospitals.    But the government voided the deal, saying Textil’s gear offered no better protection than a painter’s overalls and lacked the proper certification.
    “(Doctors) need personal protective equipment.    If, instead of a biological protection suit, a house painter’s overall is bought … well, I’m sorry,” Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told Reuters.
    Textil and Zhumadilov said Textil’s suits fulfilled health ministry criteria.    It had already made around 23,500 suits when the contract was cancelled, said Textil founder Oleksandr Sokolovsky.
    The government then awarded the contract to a firm called Meddiv, which charged 489 hryvnias ($18) per suit, compared to Textil’s 245 hryvnias.
    Meddiv did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
    Meddiv imported the suits from China, causing weeks of delay, and as of May 19 only around 29,000 had arrived in Ukraine, according to customs documents published by an opposition lawmaker.
    Meddiv’s lack of experience in handling larger contracts or overseas shipments should have excluded it from the bidding process, Zhumadilov said.
    “Our anti-corruption officer said that according to our procedures this company could not have qualified for our tender,” he added.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Ilya Zhegulev; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/25/2020 Putin back in Kremlin, Russia looks to ease lockdown in some regions by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) works in the hospital No. 1
named after N.I. Pirogov, which delivers treatment to patients infected with the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia May 23, 2020. Kirill Zykov/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin made a rare lockdown appearance in the Kremlin on Monday after officials said improvements in the coronavirus situation may allow Russia to re-open some tourist resorts soon and relax restrictions in many regions.
    Russia, which has reported the world’s third most coronavirus cases, confirmed 8,946 new infections on Monday, bringing its nationwide tally to 353,427. Officials reported 92 new deaths, pushing the toll to 3,633.
    Moscow, Russia’s worst-hit region, is entering its ninth week of lockdown.    Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said it is too early to lift restrictions but allowed state registry offices to open in the capital from Monday.
    Russia’s borders remain closed, as are schools and most non-essential shops, but Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin urged Russians on Monday not to travel abroad on holiday this summer.
    Mishustin, who returned to work last week after recovering from the coronavirus, used a televised government meeting to say licenced sanatoriums would re-open on June 1 and tourist resorts could open fully when the situation became normal.
    “It’s better and safer to spend the holidays in your own country,” Mishustin said.
    Anna Popova, head of Russia’s consumer health regulator, said 44 of Russia’s over 80 regions were in a position to relax lockdown restrictions, allowing people to go for walks and for some non-essential shops to re-open.
    Putin met the head of the state Russian Railways company face to face in his first appearance at the Kremlin since May 9, when Russia commemorated victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
    For weeks, Putin has been filmed at his residence west of Moscow chairing government meetings by video conference from a room critics call the bunker.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not immediately reply when asked if Putin had returned to working normally in the Kremlin.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Alexander Marrow, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Katya Golubkova and Timothy Heritage)

5/26/2020 Russia reports record one-day rise in coronavirus deaths
FILE PHOTO: A member of the Russian Emergencies Ministry wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant while sanitizing the Leningradsky
railway station amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday 174 people with the coronavirus had died in the past 24 hours, a record one-day amount that pushed the nationwide death toll to 3,807.
    Officials reported 8,915 new cases on Tuesday, pushing its overall case tally to 362,342.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/26/2020 Russia prosecutors seeking maximum sentence for retired U.S. Marine accused of espionage by OAN Newsroom
FILE- In this Aug. 23, 2019, file photo, Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow on Dec. 28, 2018,
speaks while standing in a cage as he waits for a hearing in a court room in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    A former U.S. Marine being held in Russia is awaiting a verdict as prosecutors and his defense council conclude their arguments.
    On Monday, prosecutors asked a Moscow court to give Paul Whelan a maximum sentence of 18-years in a maximum security prison.
    “We have to admit that this is a very severe requirement from the prosecutor, it is absolutely ungrounded and badly motivated,” said Vladimir Zherebenkov, Paul Whelan’s lawyer.    “We are shocked, to be honest.”
    The trial, which began March 23, has been sealed off to the public due to confidential information discussed in the case.    This move was criticized by U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan who questioned the transparency of conducting a trial hidden behind closed doors.
    “It’s a fundamental human right that anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent and is tried in a fair, impartial and public hearing,” said Sullivan.    “The fact that it is a closed hearing, it’s a secret trial…Paul (Whelan) hasn’t seen the evidence against him…makes a mockery of justice.”
File – John Sullivan appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, on Oct. 30, 2019 (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)
    Whelan was detained in a Moscow hotel in 2018 over accusations of trying to steal secrets from the Russian government.    The former Marine claims to have been on vacation when he was arrested, but Russian authorities believe he was working as a U.S. Intelligence officer.
    Supporters believe the cards are stacked against Whelan and that the final verdict will not go his way.
    U.S. officials have said this case is a significant obstacle to improving U.S.-Russian relations.    In the meantime, a verdict is expected to be handed down to Whelan on June 15.

5/26/2020 Kosovo president rejects EU mediator for talks with Serbia by Fatos Bytyci
FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci attends an interview with Reuters in Berlin, Germany, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said on Tuesday he would not take part in talks on normalising ties with Serbia led by an European Union special mediator, calling instead for an increased U.S. role in the dialogue.
    Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a guerrilla uprising by its ethnic Albanian majority, and agreed to an EU-sponsored dialogue with Belgrade in 2013 to resolve all outstanding issues.
    Normalisation is among key conditions the EU has set for admitting Kosovo as a member state, and by Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, to lift its veto on Kosovo joining the United Nations.
    In March, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appointed Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak as special mediator for Kosovo.
    But Slovakia is one of five EU member countries – along with Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Spain – that still decline to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
    “In front of us we will have two negotiators from the countries that do not recognise Kosovo’s independence,” Thaci told reporters in Pristina, referring to Lajcak and Borrell, a former Spanish foreign minister.
    Thaci said he would join any meetings organised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
    “But there is no inclination on my part to participate in a negotiation process that is led by Lajcak,” he said.
    Thaci said only the United States, which brokered Bosnia’s peace accord 25 years ago and led NATO’s 1999 air strikes that halted Serbia’s brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Kosovo, could really advance dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.
    More than 110 countries have recognized Kosovo’s statehood including its biggest political and financial backer the United States.    President Donald Trump named Richard Grenell, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, as the U.S. envoy on Kosovo.
    Grenell has brokered a deal to resume direct commercial flights and railway traffic between Kosovo and Serbia.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/26/2020 Hungarian PM’s power to rule by decree to end on June 20: government by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: New Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga speaks during an interview
with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Krisztina Than/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary aims to lift a state of emergency spurred by the coronavirus crisis on June 20, its justice minister said on Tuesday, as the government prepared a bill ending the power to rule by decree which drew international condemnation.
    Right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban obtained the powers without a time limit in a vote by parliament where his party holds a two-thirds majority, drawing European Union criticism about democratic backsliding in Budapest.
    Orban said earlier that parliament could at any time cancel the special powers to manage the country without parliament’s consent, which he said were necessary to curb the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fall-out.
    Asked to clarify whether that meant the special powers would also end on June 20 in addition to the standard state of emergency invoked to tackle a crisis, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the two “by definition go hand in hand.”
    Justice Minister Judit Varga, announcing the June 20 target for lifting the emergency in a Facebook post, described the international criticism as “unfounded attacks.”    She added: “We expect (our critics) to apologise for waging a smear campaign instead of cooperating on defence (against the coronavirus).”
    Parliament, dominated by Orban’s Fidesz party, was expected to vote to rescind his emergency powers in the coming weeks.
    Hungary reported a total of 3,771 coronavirus cases and 499 deaths as of Tuesday, fairly low numbers compared with other EU countries due to an early and strict lockdown, which the government has been gradually easing since early May.
    Orban’s power to rule by decree continued with parliament in session.    His latest decree stipulated government approval for major foreign stakes in domestic firms until the end of 2020.
    Orban, who has extended his influence over most walks of life in the central European country during his decade in power, faces his toughest challenge as the economy is expected to slide into a coronavirus-induced recession this year.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/27/2020 Poland to scrap obligation to wear masks on May 30
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit, held to
discuss the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERSFile Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poles will be allowed to go out in public without protective masks on from May 30 and cinemas, theatres, swimming pools and gyms will reopen on June 6, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday.
    Morawiecki also told a news conference that public gatherings of up to 150 people will be allowed in coming days, and that he expects the economy to return to “fully normal” conditions in July at the latest.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Agnieszka Barteczko and Hugh Lawson)

5/27/2020 Serbia blocks flights from Montenegro over coronavirus row
FILE PHOTO: Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the second
China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia has banned inbound flights by Montenegro’s flag carrier Montenegro Airlines after Podgorica refused to open its borders to people from Serbia, where coronavirus persists.
    Serbia’s Directorate for Civilian Aviation said it decided to act as Montenegro’s move affect reciprocity in air transportation.
    Montenegro’s prime minister Dusko Markovic on Monday declared his country free of coronavirus.
    Markovic also said Montenegro would open borders to travelers from countries reporting no more than 25 cases of infection per 100,000 people. Serbia, where the infection rate is higher, was not on the list.
    As the coronavirus infection rate dropped, Serbia earlier this month opened borders with most of its neighbors, including Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary.
    Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told Serbians, who visit Montenegro in large numbers, “they should not go where they are undesirable.”
    So far, Serbia, with a population of 7.2 million, has reported 11,227 cases of coronavirus infection and 239 deaths.    Montenegro has reported 324 cases and nine deaths.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/27/2020 Swiss to announce further relaxation of coronavirus rules: NZZ
FILE PHOTO: An employee of Zurich’s public transport operator Verkehrsbetriebe Zuerich (VBZ) hands out
protective face masks to passengers, as a measure against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at a tram stop at Bellevue square in Zurich, Switzerland May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland will decide on Wednesday on further relaxations of restrictions brought in to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, including how to reopen nightclubs and football stadiums, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung paper reported.
    A four-person limit on the number of people who can eat together in restaurants will be scrapped, while the government could relax curbs on the size of public gatherings, the newspaper said, citing sources.
    A maximum of five people have been allowed to meet in public under Swiss restrictions introduced in March, but this could now rise to 30 people.    Private events of up to 300 people could be allowed again, allowing holiday camps for children to open.
    The government is expected to outline its plans to the public after a cabinet meeting.
    Health Minister Alain Berset wants to stick the plan to allow theatres, cinemas, zoos, swimming pools and mountain railways to open on June 8, the paper said.
    Other members of the coalition government want a faster opening up, the paper added, although this was unlikely.
    From June 8, nightclubs could also reopen, with an upper limit of 300 people, while football stadiums and theatres could open with no more than 1,000 people, the paper said.
    But distancing rules where the government asks people to keep two metres (6 feet) apart will remain in force, the paper said, noting how difficult this could be for restaurants to enforce.
    Switzerland has already reopened shops, schools and beauty salons.    The country is also testing a mobile phone app to help trace the disease.
    The number of new cases of COVID-19 in Switzerland has eased in recent days, rising by 15 new cases on Tuesday to 30,761, while the death toll has reached 1,648.
(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

5/27/2020 Putin says worst-case coronavirus scenario in Moscow averted as lockdown unwinds by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin, amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia May 27, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, had succeeded in preventing what he called worst-case scenarios as the city announced it would ease tough lockdown measures within days.
    Speaking to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, an ally, by video conference, Putin said it was obvious the situation in the city of 12.7 million people had stabilised thanks to steps taken by the authorities.
    It was now time for Moscow to provide medical help to regions where the coronavirus remained rampant, said Putin, something Sobyanin said would be organised immediately.
    “The situation in Moscow, like in general across the country, is really stabilising … The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the capital has halved … Significantly more people are being discharged from Moscow hospitals than being admitted,” said Putin.
    “Fortunately, it’s obvious that it was possible to avoid (worst-case) scenarios.”
    Sobyanin told Putin he intended to loosen the capital’s lockdown from June 1.    He later published details of how he would do that, saying he would trial the looser regime for two weeks from Monday before deciding on further steps.
    Muscovites will be allowed to go out for walks three times a week in masks and to do early morning outdoor physical exercise.    Non-food shops can also reopen along with certain services, said Sobyanin.
    He left a system of digital passes for people wanting to use public or private transport in place.
    Russian authorities earlier on Wednesday reported 8,338 new coronavirus infections, pushing the overall case tally up to 370,680, the third highest in the world.    The total official death toll stands at 3,968.
    Sobyanin said the overnight increase in coronavirus cases in Moscow had fallen to a low of 2,140.    Previously, he said, daily infection increases were running at over 6,000 every day.
    He also said that the number of seriously ill people in the Russian capital being hospitalised and those with coronavirus-related pneumonia had fallen by 40 percent since May 12.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

5/27/2020 Russia postpones July BRICS summit due to coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro prepares to deliver a speech during a Dialogue with BRICS Business
Council & New Development Bank at the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it has decided to postpone the summit of the BRICS nations, initially scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg in July, due to the spread of the coronavirus.
    The meeting of the heads of State Council of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has also been postponed.    The events were due to be hosted by St Petersburg on July 21-23.
    “The new dates for the summits will be determined depending on the further development of the epidemiological situation in the states of the groupings and around the world,” the organising committee said in a statement.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alison Williams and Lisa Shumaker)
[Formed before 2010 BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa] and these nations Afghanistan, Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey, as well as Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, Bangladesh and Greece have considered joining it as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whic was created in June 2001, members Pakistan, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajkistan, Kyrgystan, India.    On 11/14/2019 the economies known as BRICS, back the idea of developing a common payment system.]

5/27/2020 Poland’s PM is confident presidential vote will be held in June
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki waves as he leaves after the second day of the European Union leaders summit, held to discuss
the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo May 27, 2020
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s presidential election will be held in June, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday, amid speculation that a spat over legislation on the way the vote will be conducted may push the ballot date back well beyond next month.
    “I’m sure that the election should take place in June; that the election will take place in June,” Morawiecki told a news conference.
    Poland’s governing nationalists on Tuesday accused opposition lawmakers of trying to delay the ballot, after the speaker of the Senate said it would not reconvene to discuss legislation for the vote until next week.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/27/2020 Poland’s ruling party sees June 28 as deadline for presidential vote
FILE PHOTO: Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski applauds during a session of Poland's lower
house of parliament in Warsaw, Poland November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The last possible date that Poland could hold a presidential election on is June 28, the leader of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party said on Wednesday, amid deepening conflict surrounding the timing of the vote.
    The date of Poland’s presidential election, originally scheduled for May 10, remains uncertain, with PiS accusing the opposition-controlled Senate of delaying tactics designed to help their main candidate’s chances.
    Planning for the election collapsed earlier this month because of the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the government to abandon the original schedule.
    “Our position is clear, shared: the elections will take place,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski told a news conference, flanked by the leaders of the junior partners in his ruling alliance.
    “If there are any attempts to oppose this, then we will use all the means at the state’s disposal to see to it that the law is followed.”
    Opponents say PiS rushed legislation that would allow the election to take place through the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, without due care and attention, meaning more work is required in the opposition-controlled Senate.
    On Tuesday, Senate speaker and vocal government critic Tomasz Grodzki said that the chamber would not reconvene until next week to allow committees time to work on the legislation, drawing fierce criticism from PiS.
    PiS is keen to get incumbent president and frontrunner Andrzej Duda – an ally of the party – re-elected before the economic fallout from the pandemic weighs on his popularity.
    As of Wednesday morning Poland had reported 22,303 cases of the coronavirus and 1,025 deaths.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Alan Charlish, Editing by William Maclean)

5/27/2020 Georgia to reopen all shops, cafes, resume public transport before June 8: PM
FILE PHOTO: Officials wearing protective gear take the body temperature at a check point, after Georgian authorities tightened up
measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Marneuli near Tbilisi, Georgia March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia will restart public transport and reopen shops, shopping malls and cafes and restaurants before June 8, the ex-Soviet country’s Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on Wednesday.
    Gakharia told the government that public transport, including the metro, would resume on May 29, while shops and shopping malls, roofed and open-air markets, and restaurants with open spaces will reopen from June 1.
    Restaurants of all types, hotels and inter-city transportation will resume operations from June 8.
    “We took a decision on further easing the existing restrictions by considering the economic and social interests of our citizens,” Gakharia said, adding that wearing face masks on public transport and in shops would remain obligatory.
    Swimming pools, gyms, theatres and night clubs remain closed.
    Georgia had reported 735 cases of the coronavirus as of Wednesday, with 12 deaths.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

5/28/2020 ‘No evidence’ reopening of Finland schools has spread virus faster
FILE PHOTO: Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin arrives for the second day of a special European Council summit in Brussels, Belgium
February 21, 2020, held to discuss the next long-term budget of the European Union. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Finland has seen no evidence of the coronavirus spreading faster since schools started to reopen in the middle of May, the top health official said on Thursday.
    “The time has been short, but so far we have seen no evidence,” Mika Salminen, director of health security at the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, told a news conference.
    Finland started to reopen schools and daycare centres from May 14 following an almost two-month shutdown.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/28/2020 Russia’s coronavirus death toll passes 4,000
People rest on the shore of the Gulf of Finland amid the outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Saint Petersburg, Russia May 27, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Thursday reported 174 deaths from the new coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, matching its record daily rise for fatalities and taking the overall death toll to 4,142.
    The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said the overall number of infections had risen by 8,371 to 379,051.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by Alexander Marrow, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/29/2020 Russia reports record one-day rise in coronavirus deaths
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask washes the window of a store amid the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday reported 232 deaths from the new coronavirus in the last 24 hours, a record one-day amount that pushed the nationwide death toll to 4,374.
    Officials said 8,572 new infections had been confirmed, bringing the national tally to 387,623, the third highest reported total in the world after the United States and Brazil.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/29/2020 Bulgaria to end quarantine on travel from most of EU
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) wait
outside a labour office in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria plans to lift an obligatory 14-day quarantine from June 1 for travellers from most European Union countries, but not those states with the biggest coronavirus outbreaks, a senior health official said on Friday.
    The quarantine will remain obligatory for travellers from Sweden, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Malta, the official said, as well as the UK, which is in a transition period after leaving the EU.
    Angel Kunchev, the country’s chief health inspector, said the anti-virus taskforce had proposed to the government to lift the quarantine as of June 1.    The health minister still needs to approve the plan.
    A ban on the entry of visitors from outside the EU will remain in place.
    Bulgaria has eased most of the restrictive measures it imposed in March to combat the spread of the coronavirus, allowing restaurants, cafes, gyms and theatres to reopen and lifting a ban on travel between cities.
    Last week it scrapped a ban on the entry of citizens from other EU countries, but imposed a 14-day quarantine.    By allowing visitors from other EU countries it aims to restore trade and boost summer tourism to its Black Sea resorts, hard hit by the lockdown.
    “We plan to lift the obligatory quarantine for Bulgarians returning from abroad and for travellers from the European Union countries and Serbia and North Macedonia,” Kunchev told reporters.
    “We will keep it for the eight EU countries that have the biggest registered cases in the past two weeks,” he said.
    The Balkan country of 7 million people registered eight new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total registered cases to 2,475, including 136 deaths – a much lower rate than many other EU countries.
    Kunchev said 1,016 people have recovered from the virus.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Susan Fenton)

5/30/2020 Russia reports 181 new coronavirus deaths, down from Friday’s record high
FILE PHOTO: Vehicles spray disinfectant while sanitizing a road amid the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Saturday reported 181 deaths from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, down from the record 232 deaths registered the previous day and pushing the nationwide death toll to 4,555.
    Officials said 8,952 new infections had been confirmed, bringing the national tally to 396,575, the third highest reported total in the world after the United States and Brazil.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

5/30/2020 Uzbekistan extends duration of coronavirus curbs, but eases some
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks line up at a safe social distance outside the grocery store amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tashkent, Uzbekistan April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov
    TASHKENT (Reuters) – Uzbekistan has extended measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus until June 15, but relaxed some restrictions, allowing the resumption of domestic tourism and soccer games, the authorities said on Saturday.
    The former Soviet republic had locked down all its provinces and closed all non-essential businesses in March.
    The Tashkent government eased some restrictions this month, dividing the country into “green,” “yellow” and “red” zones on the basis of the rates of newly-detected infections.
    The new measures allow many businesses to reopen from June 1, depending on the zones the fall in, for example, in “green” zones, children’s summer camps, recreational and sports centres will start working and people will be allowed to hold weddings and other traditional ceremonies with up to 30 guests.
    Central Asia’s most populous nation of 34 million, which resumed domestic air flights and train services this month, said the domestic football league would resume, without spectators, from June 5.
    Bus tours between provinces will also resume, with halts barred in “red” zones, the cabinet said.
    It announced a plan this week to subsidise the tourism sector, with measures such as paying tour operators and agents $15 for every tourist brought in from abroad, but it remains unclear when the borders will re-open for foreigners.
    Uzbekistan has confirmed 3,513 virus infections and 14 deaths.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

6/4/2020 U.S. delivers second wave of ventilators to Russia by OAN Newsroom
US soldiers unload medical aid from the United States, including ventilators as a donation to help
the country tackle the coronavirus outbreak, after a US airforce plane landed at Vnukovo International
Airport outside in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)
    The U.S. has donated another 150 ventilators to Russia in an effort to help the country battle the rising number of COVID-19 cases.    A second delivery made its way to Moscow Thursday as part of a $5.6 million humanitarian effort by the U.S.
    The deal stems from Russian President Vladimir Putin reaching out to President Trump for help after Russia sent aid, including ventilators, to the U.S. in April.
    U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan was at the airport to oversee the delivery.
    “It is an example of the United States supporting the people of Russia,” he stated.    “We may have many significant policy differences with the government of Russia, but we are committed to doing all we can to help.”
U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, left, and Dmitry Nikitenko, the first deputy general director
of the Pirogov’s National Medical and Surgical Centre, speak to the media in front of medical aid sent from
the United States, including ventilators as a donation to help the country tackle the coronavirus outbreak,
at Vnukovo International Airport outside in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)
    The Russian government had previously ordered thousands of ventilators, which were made in the country, but hit a snag when the model was found to cause fatal fires in two hospitals.

6/4/2020 One century on, Hungarians still feel World War One ‘injustice’ by Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo
FILE PHOTO: People walk across the bridge over the Danube River that connects Hungary, which has its own forint currency,
with Slovakia which is a member of the eurozone, in Sturovo, Slovakia November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File Photo
    ESZTERGOM, Hungary/STUROVO, Slovakia (Reuters) – For Laszlo Petrik, an ethnic Hungarian living on the Slovak side of the River Danube, the treaty after World War One which led to Europe’s maps being re-drawn stirs up strong feelings.
    Many Hungarians view the Treaty of Trianon – signed on June 4, 1920 – as a national trauma because it took away two-thirds of the country’s territory and left millions of ethnic Hungarians living in what are now Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Austria and Ukraine.
    “This is the greatest injustice ever and one that no one has remedied,” Petrik said, standing in Sturovo near the bridge that connects the town with Esztergom in Hungary.    The bridge, which was blown up in 1944 by German troops, was rebuilt in 2001.
    “Half of my relatives are over there (in Hungary) and even though we have the European Union there is still this division.”
    Today, ethnic Hungarians cross the bridge to shop and work in Hungary and Hungarians like to pop over to Slovakia.
    A nationwide survey conducted by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in May showed 85% of Hungarians believe Trianon was the greatest tragedy in Hungary’s history.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a nationalists who has been in power for a decade, in 2010 declared the June 4 anniversary a “day of national unity” as part of his efforts to restore a battered sense of national pride.
    He has won popularity at home by offering ethnic Hungarians citizenship and a right to vote in elections.
    Orban has never suggested re-uniting lost territories with Hungary, and relations with neighbours are mostly amiable.
    However, tensions resurface, most recently with Ukraine over a language law that curbed minorities’ access to education in their mother tongues.
    Parliament on Thursday debated a resolution that calls on parliaments of Central European states to enshrine the right to national identity as a constitutional right.
    Speaker Laszlo Kover said the struggle of ethnic Hungarians for this right was a “European affair as all European nations will face a similar struggle for identity in the coming period.”
    Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic, addressing ethnic Hungarians on Tuesday, said that even though history had redrawn the borders it was time to look ahead.
    “On the 100th anniversary of the Trianon Treaty I offer my hand to act together in order to resolve our common issues,” he as saying by Korkep.sk, a Hungarian-language news site in Slovakia.
(Additional reporting by Balazs Kaufmann and Anita Komuves; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/4/2020 Russia sends second batch of fighter jets to Syria: embassy
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Mayor of Moscow
Sergei Sobyanin, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence
outside Moscow, Russia May 27, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia flew a batch of advanced MiG-29 fighter jets to Syria, Moscow’s embassy in Damascus said, with Syrian pilots already using the planes to conduct missions within the country’s airspace.
    President Vladimir Putin last week ordered Russia’s foreign and defence ministries to hold talks with its close ally, Syria, to obtain more facilities and maritime access there, in addition to the two military bases it has already.
    Russia’s Embassy in Syria said on Twitter late on Wednesday that the latest batch of planes was for the Syrian military.
    “Syrian Arab Army received the second batch of advanced MiG-29 fighter jets from #Russia – in the framework of military & technical cooperation between our countries. Syrian(s) already begin to carry out missions on those planes,” it said.
    It shared a link to a May 30 report by the Syrian Arab News Agency, which cited a Syrian military source as saying the fighters were more effective that their previous generation and would be used in Syrian airspace from June 1.
    The United States in late May accused Russia of deploying fighter aircraft via Syria to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for the eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
    It said aircraft had arrived in Libya after being repainted to conceal their Russian origin in Syria, stating that the aircraft would likely provide close air support and offensive fire.
    Reuters sent a request for comment to the Russian defence ministry last week.    It did not respond.
    Libya’s civil war has drawn in regional and global powers with Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt backing the LNA and Turkey supporting the internationally recognised government of national accord.
    The LNA was driven out of Libya’s capital, Tripoli, on Thursday, after a year-long assault.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/4/2020 Czechs to free up travel with Germany, Austria, Hungary on Friday: CTK agency
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives for a European Union summit
meeting in Brussels, Belgium, February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government will drop restrictions on travel to and from Austria, Germany and Hungary on Friday, Prime Minister Andrej Babis was quoted as saying on Thursday.
    The move follows the reopening of the border with Slovakia on Wednesday, and is part of a plan to allow free travel with most EU countries as of June 15.
    Babis said the government would meet on freeing up travel on Friday morning.
    “I will propose that we do it as soon as possible.    I am hoping that as of midnight tomorrow travel will be freed up with these countries,” CTK quoted Babis as saying during a trip to Karlovy Vary, a spa city near the German border.
    Austria, which shares a frontier with the Czechs, has opened its borders to all neighbours apart from Italy.
    Germany has said it will drop border restrictions on June 15.
    The Czechs are planning to allow hassle-free entry from more than 20 European states also from June 15.    Visitors arriving from places where the epidemic is still strong will have to provide a negative COVID-19 test or stay in quarantine.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Jon Boyle and Giles Elgood)

6/4/2020 Sweden to ease travel curbs despite signs of rising coronavirus infections
FILE PHOTO: A medical staff wearing a protective gear, administers a test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a test facility,
in a tent outside the Skane University Hospital, in Lund, Sweden, April 29, 2020. TT News Agency/ Johan Nilsson via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden will ease restrictions on domestic travel from June 13, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Thursday, despite signs that novel coronavirus infections are increasing in parts of the country.
    Sweden has not imposed a social lockdown, instead relying primarily on voluntary measures focused on social distancing and hygiene to check the spread of the virus.
    It has kept most schools, restaurants and businesses open and instructed people not to make unnecessary journeys.
    With the number of deaths and people treated at intensive care falling, Lofven said that Swedes who were symptom-free could now plan visits to their summer cottages or relatives in other parts of the country.
    “This decision does not mean that the danger is over,” Lofven told a news conference.    “It doesn’t mean that life is back to normal again, and other restrictions remain in place."
    “If the curve showing the seriously ill turns up again, there will be new restrictions.”
    The easing of travel restrictions, however, comes after the Public Health Agency reported a rise in cases that could not wholly explained by increased testing.
    “Unfortunately, in Sweden, we can see an increase in cases again,” Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference, urging people not to ease up on social distancing.
    Tegnell said the increases in new cases was seen primarily in Western Sweden and among younger people.
    “Cases among the really old have declined quite rapidly.    It shows the measures taken have had an effect,” he said.    “There’s reason to believe the decline in deaths will continue.”
    Lofven said travel restrictions were not the most effective way of preventing the spread of the disease.
    He said social distancing rules would apply on trains and other forms of public transport and people should continue to follow all other restrictions wherever they were.
    “When you get to your destination you have to do exactly what you would do at home, social distancing rules still apply,” he said.    “We cannot have crowded pubs and we cannot have crowds anywhere else, either.”
    Sweden has 41,883 confirmed COVD-19 cases in total.
    Sweden registered 20 new deaths on Thursday, taking the total to 4,562, much higher than in neighbouring Nordic countries but also much lower than the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Spain
.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Simon Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/4/2020 Ukraine may grant visa-free access to citizens of China, Australia, Arab states to boost tourism
FILE PHOTO: Tourists take pictures at the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine is considering cancelling its visa requirement for tourists from China, Australia, New Zealand and Arab states in order to attract more visitors once lockdowns ease and bring more money into the economy, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday.
    The government expects the economy to shrink 12% in the second quarter after a 1.5% drop in the first quarter.
    “It is necessary to liberalise the visa policy: if countries cancel visa requirements for Ukrainians who come to them, we will cancel for them too. We need to compete for tourists,” Zelenskiy said.
    According to the president’s communications department, a foreign tourist usually spends $120-150 a day and stays in Ukraine for an average of three to four days.    Around 14 million tourists visited Ukraine in 2018.
    Last year, Ukraine introduced electronic visas for citizens of 52 countries, including China and Australia. A single 30-day visa costs $85.
    European Union citizens can enter for short trips without a visa.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

6/4/2020 Belarus leader names new prime minister two months before election by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting
in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, February 7, 2020. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko named a former diplomat who had been overseeing the defence industry as prime minister on Thursday, two months before a presidential election which poses his biggest political challenge in years.
    Roman Golovchenko, who was previously head of the state military-industrial committee, replaces Sergei Rumas, who was dismissed with his entire government on Wednesday after less than two years in office.
    The appointment of a man with experience in the defence sector is intended to consolidate power and signals Lukashanko’s readiness to get tough if necessary to hold on to power, political analysts said.
    “Today is not the time for breaking things.    It’s not even time to build,” said Lukashenko, who portrays himself as a guarantor of stability.    “Today it is necessary to save what has already been built.”
    Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former Soviet collective farm boss, has tolerated little opposition since taking office in 1994 and hopes to extend his long rule in the Aug. 9 election.
    But public frustration with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances about the economy and human rights have reinvigorated opposition to his rule.
    Thousands of people across the former Soviet republic of 9.5 million have been lining up at election meetings to show support for others seeking to run against Lukashenko.
    “In a difficult situation for himself, Lukashenko wants to tighten the screws,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
    Police have arrested two of Lukashenko’s opponents but a repeat of previous crackdowns could undermine his attempts to build ties with the West as he tries to distance Belarus from traditional ally Russia, which has cut oil supplies and subsidies that propped up his rule.
    Signalling their concern, the U.S., British and European Union missions said in a joint statement that media freedom and the right of peaceful assembly were “essential to legitimate elections.”
(Additional reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Alexander Marrow and Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Gareth Jones and Timothy Heritage)

6/4/2020 Polish government wins confidence vote before presidential election by Marcin Goclowski and Alan Charlish
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit, held to discuss
the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s nationalist government won a vote of confidence in parliament on Thursday which it called to shore up its authority before a presidential election.
    Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki unexpectedly asked for the vote in the lower house after a series of setbacks threatened to derail the re-election campaign of President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
    Duda had long been the clear favourite in the June 28 election but opinion polls have shown his lead narrowing.    One poll on Monday showed he would lose a second-round runoff against either of his main challengers.
    His re-election is important for PiS’s hopes of implementing its conservative agenda, which includes judicial reforms that critics say reduce the independence of courts.
    In the vote, 235 lawmakers supported the government, 219 opposed it and two abstained
.
    PiS’ image as been hurt by its failure to organise the presidential election on schedule after a junior coalition partner blocked the initial plan to hold it on May 10, during Poland’s coronavirus lockdown.
    Parliament was also set to hold a no-confidence vote in Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski, who is under fire over alleged irregularities in the purchase of face masks during the coronavirus outbreak.
    “If you have enough votes, dismiss us.    If not, let us act, don’t disturb us,” Morawiecki said before the confidence vote in the Sejm, or lower house, where PiS has a majority.
    Katarzyna Lubnauer, an opposition lawmaker, said PiS wanted to draw attention way from the planned no-confidence vote in Szumowski and asked: “Is this a panic attack?
    Duda’s campaign has also been set back by accusations that a public radio station tried to censor a song critical of PiS and that member of the ruling party do not comply with coronavirus restrictions.    PiS has dismissed the accusations.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, Alan Charlish, Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/4/2020 Putin backs state of emergency in Arctic region over fuel spill in river
Russia's President Vladimir Putin discusses a diesel fuel leak at a thermal power station in Krasnoyarsk Region
and its damage control during a video conference call with officials at the Novo-Ogaryovo state
residence outside Moscow, Russia June 3, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a state of emergency in the Arctic city of Norilsk on Wednesday after a huge leak of fuel into a river and upbraided a senior official on television over what he said was a bungled state response.
    A fuel tank at a power station in the remote, industrial region lost pressure on May 29 and leaked 20,000 tonnes of fuel and lubricants, the Investigative Committee, a law enforcement agency, said. Much of flowed into the river Ambarnaya.
    At a televised government meeting to discuss the spill, Putin said he was shocked to find out local authorities had only learned of the incident from social media two days after it happened and scolded the region’s governor Alexander Uss on air.
    “What – are we to learn about emergency situations from social networks?    Are you alright healthwise over there?” Putin said, waving his hand across his eyes.
    The state environment watchdog said 15,000 tonnes of oil products had seeped into the river system with another 6,000 into the subsoil.    The state fisheries agency says the river will need decades to recover.
    An expanse of crimson water could be seen stretching from shore to shore down a river and one of its offshoots in aerial footage published by the RIA news agency this week.
    Putin said he supported a proposal to declare a national state of emergency in the area as it would help the clean-up.
    Norilsk, a remote city of 180,000 situated 300 km (190 miles) inside the Arctic Circle, is built around Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer.
    The company says it is doing all it can to clear up the spill and it has brought in specialists from Moscow who have sectioned off the affected part of the river to stop the oil products spreading further.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Giles Elgood)

6/9/2020 Romania’s president aims to extend state of alert to fight coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis gestures as he arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit,
held to discuss the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s state of alert in place since May 15 to fight the new coronavirus must be extended by another 30 days until the middle of July, President Klaus Iohannis said on Tuesday.
    Iohannis ordered a strict lockdown in early March to rein in the outbreak and replaced the state of emergency with a softer state of alert mode last month.    “We see the number of new infections have not dropped significantly, so we need this mode extended to fight the virus (further),” he said.
    The extension must be approved by parliament, where the centrist government lacks a majority.    The leftist Social Democrats that lead the opposition have threatened to block the extension, accusing the cabinet of trying to remake daily life through “fines and restrictions.”
    Romania has so far recorded 20,749 cases of COVID-19 infections, of whom 14,910 have recovered and 1,345 died.    Over the past 24 hours it recorded 145 new cases.
    Under the state of alert, a ban on travel without official permission was lifted, church services were allowed to resume outdoors and restaurants with outdoor seating reopened.
    Iohannis said further restrictions would be lifted on June 15 with shopping malls, kindergartens, after-school facilities and swimming pools reopening after three months of closure.    But restaurants with indoor seating would remain closed.
(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/9/2020 Russian chefs in naked lockdown protest after virus strips them of income by Anastasia Adasheva
Employees of the Funky Food 11 restaurant wearing face masks pose for a photo without clothes to draw
attention to a crisis in the restaurant industry caused by the lockdown measures imposed to prevent the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Krasnodar, Russia, in this undated picture obtained from social
media. The banner reads: "Naked restaurants. When is the end?" FUNKYFOOD_11 via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian restaurant owners stripped of their income by the coronavirus lockdown are campaigning for their businesses to be allowed to reopen by posting pictures of themselves naked on social media.
    Hundreds of bar, restaurant and cafe employees have posted photographs of themselves naked with carefully positioned plates, cups, saucepans, bottles, bar stools and napkin holders.
    Their demand is for authorities to allow them to start serving clients as the country gradually eases measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
    “We are naked because we are left with nothing,” said Arthur Galaychyuk, owner of the Relab Family bar chain in the city of Kazan, whose 20 employees took part in the campaign.
    Restaurants in Kazan will be allowed to open their summer terraces on June 11 after more than two months of lockdown.
    “We don’t want to stage a strip show or to fool around, we only want one thing – to work!” said Pavel, a chef from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, in a post with a group picture of his colleagues wearing only masks and holding kitchenware.
    “We don’t pose more of a risk then supermarkets, shopping malls, hair salons or public transport,” the post said.
    Authorities in Novosibirsk have not announced when local restaurants can open.
    President Vladimir Putin ordered strict lockdown measures at the end of March shutting all businesses except food stores and pharmacies.    The country’s regions were allowed to adjust the measures depending on the situation on the ground.
    Moscow is in the process of lifting the lockdown and many businesses, including shopping malls, book stores and beauty salons have reopened.
    The Russian capital plans to allow cafes and restaurants to open their outside terraces later in June before reopening fully from June 23.    Indoor restaurants and bars remain closed in other parts of Russia.
(Writing by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Janet Lawrence)

6/9/2020 Putin and Merkel discuss Syria, Libya, Ukraine in phone call: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he
arrives for the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Syria’s humanitarian aid needs in a telephone call, the Kremlin said in a statement on Tuesday.
    Putin and Merkel also expressed their concern over an escalation of fighting in Libya and their support for four-way talks on conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin added.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/9/2020 Defaced statue of Belgian colonial king taken away, future unclear
A damaged statue of former Belgian King Leopold II is seen being removed for possible renovation
in Ekeren, Belgium, June 9, 2020. Footage ATV - Antwerp Television/Handout via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A statue in Belgium of King Leopold II that was daubed with paint and burnt during protests inspired by the death of black American George Floyd was removed on Tuesday for possible renovation.
    Statues such as that of the colonial-era monarch whose troops killed and maimed millions of people in Congo have become a focus of anger and debate during the worldwide protests.
    In Belgium, the number of people campaigning both to remove and to keep figures of him is growing.    Another statue of the king, in the park of the Africa Museum, in Tervuren, near Brussels, was found sprayed with graffiti on Tuesday.
    An online petition against the king passed 64,000 on Tuesday.    It says Leopold killed more than 10 million Congolese people in a 23-year reign over the colony.
    Congo was Leopold’s personal fiefdom from 1885 to 1908. Adam Hochschild, the U.S. author of the best-selling book “King Leopold’s Ghost,” concluded that about half the local population perished under the Belgian monarch.
    Villages that did not meet their rubber collection quotas were made to pay the debt by providing severed hands.
    Another petition, wanting to keep the statue of Leopold in the Antwerp suburb of Ekeren and insisting he was not a “slave king,” crossed the 8,000 mark.    It said that Leopold should not be held responsible for the actions of those running the colony.
    After the order for it to be removed by Antwerp council, the defaced statue was taken on Tuesday to the city’s Middelheim Museum of open air sculpture, whose staff would make an assessment of the damage.
    It was not clear if the statue would return.    Council officials could not immediately be reached for further comment.
    The local mayor told Belgian media there were already plans to make some changes in the area where the statute stood and he was not certain whether it would fit in in the future.
    London’s mayor has ordered a review of the capital’s statues and street names after the toppling of the statue of a slave trader in the English city of Bristol by anti-racism protesters triggered a debate about Britain’s imperial past.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/9/2020 Fuel from Russian Arctic spill reaches large lake, says governor
A member of the Marine Rescue Service takes part in a clean-up operation following a huge leak of diesel
fuel into the river after an accident at a power plant outside Norilsk, in Krasnoyarsk region, Russia, in this handout
picture released June 8, 2020. Picture released June 8, 2020. Marine Rescue Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION
EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Diesel fuel from a major spill in Russia’s Arctic has reached a pristine lake which is the basin for a river flowing into the Arctic Ocean, a regional official said on Tuesday, but the mining giant embroiled in the scandal rejected his allegation.
    A fuel tank at a power station in the city of Norilsk lost pressure in late May and leaked 21,000 tonnes of diesel into rivers and subsoil, an incident Greenpeace compared to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
    Workers are trying to clean up and contain the fuel, which has reached Lake Pyasino, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Norilsk, according to the region’s governor.
    “The fuel has got into Lake Pyasino,” Alexander Uss, governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, told state TV.
    “Now it’s important to prevent it from getting into the Pyasina River, which flows north.    That should be possible.”
    Lake Pyasino, about 70kms long, feeds into the Pyasina River, which flows into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean.
    Norilsk, a remote city of 180,000 situated 300kms (190 miles) inside the Arctic Circle, is built around Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer.
    In a report on its clean-up progress published on Tuesday, the company said that the fuel had not reached Lake Pyasino.    It said it had set up structures on the nearby Ambarnaya River to contain the spill and prevent it from spreading further.
    There was no risk of pollution for the Kara Sea, it said.
    Norilsk has said it believes the accident was caused by thawing permafrost which weakened the foundations of the storage tank.
    Ecologists have said the spill will cause extensive damage to the local environment.
    “This will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks,” said Vasily Yablokov, Greenpeace Russia’s climate project manager.
    President Vladimir Putin last week declared a state of emergency in the region and criticised authorities for what he said was a bungled response to the incident.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Andrew Osborn, Peter Scott and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Editing by Ed Osmond and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

6/11/2020 Belarus unit of Gazprombank raided as Lukashenko cracks down on election opponents by Andrei Makhovsky
Challenger in the upcoming presidential election Viktor Babariko, who resigned as head of Belgazprombank to launch his
bid for the presidency, attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Security officials in Belarus on Thursday raided the local unit of Russia’s Gazprombank, which until recently had been headed by one of President Alexander Lukashenko’s main rivals in a presidential election due in August.
    A spokesman for the State Control Committee said the raid was connected to an investigation into tax evasion.    Officials at Belgazprombank were not immediately available for comment.
    Presidential challenger Viktor Babariko told reporters that the purpose of the searches was to put pressure on him.
    Lukashenko has ruled the ex-Soviet country with an iron fist since 1994 but has faced protests in recent weeks as unhappiness with his presidency was exacerbated by public anger over his decision not to impose a lockdown to halt the novel coronavirus pandemic.
    Babariko resigned as head of Belgazprombank to launch his bid for the presidency.    He vowed to continue his political fight on Thursday.
    “The only right … response to the lawlessness is the continuation of our actions, the continuation of our struggle,” he said.
    The authorities also detained blogger Sergei Tikhanouski who helped lead protests against Lukashenko and whose wife planned to run against the president.    Charged with disrupting public order, Tikhanouski faces three years in prison.
    Lukashenko has accused the opposition of trying to destabilise Belarus, which he said could lead to a “massacre on a square.”
    Thousands of people across the former Soviet republic of 9.5 million have been lining up at election meetings to show support for people seeking to run against Lukashenko.
    Public frustration with his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances about the economy and human rights have reinvigorated opposition to his rule.
    Lukashenko has dismissed fears about the virus as a “psychosis.”    He rejected calls for a lockdown or social distancing measures, and instead suggested remedies such as drinking vodka or visiting saunas.
    Belarus reported 51,816 coronavirus cases as of June 11, including 293 deaths.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

6/11/2020 Citing virus, some Russian election officials shun vote to extend Putin rule by Maria Vasilyeva
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with social workers
of state-run institutions and non-profit organizations, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence
outside Moscow, Russia June 8, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Hundreds of Russian polling station officials, citing the risk of spreading the coronavirus, say they won’t help organise a nationwide vote on reforms that could extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule until 2036.
    In the July 1 ballot, Russians will vote to approve or reject constitutional reforms including a change that would allow Putin to serve two more six-year terms, if re-elected, instead of stepping down in 2024.
    But around 350 election officials across the country say taking part is too dangerous at a time when authorities are still reporting thousands of new infections each day despite a drop in cases in the capital Moscow.
    The officials have started a petition to try to encourage peers to join the boycott.
    The “July 1 vote poses a danger to our lives and health and to the lives and health of voters,” the group said in a statement.    “We just don’t understand why such sacrifices and risks are needed, why we need to hold such a vote now and at any price.    We are not expendable.”
    The boycott looks for now unlikely to severely disrupt the vote, which is administered by at least 1 million such officials.    But it amplifies a complaint made by Putin’s critics that he has scheduled the vote too early, from a health and safety viewpoint, for political reasons.
    “It is unclear what the urgency (of this vote) is,” a member of a Moscow local election commission Sergei Romanchyuk said.
    “Why can’t we wait until September or even next year?
    The Kremlin has denied politics are at play and said all necessary safety precautions will be taken.
    Critics say Putin is rushing to take advantage of a feel-good patriotic vibe often generated by the annual Red Square military parade – on June 24 this year – as well as good summer weather and the easing of lockdown restrictions.
    No opposition events are expected to be allowed before the vote, with critics saying coronavirus-induced bans on public events are an easy way for the Kremlin to avoid protests.
    The vote is being held over seven days to reduce health risks, electronic voting is allowed in two regions including Moscow with its 7.3 million voters, and polling stations may be outdoors.
(Additional reporting by Anton Derbenev; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich)

6/11/2020 Finally” say activists as Swiss same-sex marriage bill advances
FILE PHOTO: A rainbow flag is pictured on the window at Vogay, an association for the sexual and
gender diversity, after an interview about the upcoming "gay wedding" vote in the Swiss Parliament in
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 1, 2020. Picture taken June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s lower house of parliament approved draft legislation on Thursday to let same-sex couples marry in a country that has lagged other parts of western Europe in gay rights.
    Despite opposition from conservatives, legislators also voted to let lesbian couples use sperm donations to conceive children.    The legislation will now move to the upper house for a final vote.
    “By 132 votes to 52, with 13 abstentions, the National Council says YES to #Ehefüralle with real equality!” rights group Pink Cross wrote on Twitter, using a hashtag meaning “marriage for all.”
    Campaigners said the change had been a long time coming.    Switzerland passed a law specifically protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination only in February.
    “Finally, it was about time for this basic human right!” wrote one Twitter user, using the name you_can_call_me_flower.
    The draft law is moving through parliament 13 years after civil partnerships became legal in Switzerland, helped in part by progressive parties’ electoral gains in October that shifted parliament more to the left.
    A survey commissioned by Pink Cross in February showed more than 80% of Swiss support same-sex marriage.
    However, the country’s political institutions have tended to be more conservative than the general public, and the upper house is typically more cautious about social change.
    “In the future, marriage should be open to all opposite- and same-sex couples, that is the core of the proposal,” Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told the debate.
    “The Federal Council (the government) welcomes the fact that this will eliminate today’s unequal treatment,” he added.
Click here https://www.openlynews.com/i/?id=76a38722-856c-475c-be31-30b54b45ed68 for a Thomson Reuters Foundation Factbox on gay marriage around the world.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/11/2020 After long delay, parents finally meet surrogate baby in Ukraine by Margaryta Chornokondratenko and Sergiy Karazy
Andrea Diez and Fernando Montero, Argentine citizens and parents of newborn Ignacio, react during their first meeting
in the Hotel Venice owned by BioTexCom clinic in Kiev, Ukraine June 10, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – For parents Jose Perez and Flavia Lavorino, the wait is finally over.    On Wednesday, the couple from Buenos Aires met their baby son Manu for the first time, 71 days after he was born to a surrogate mother 8,000 miles (12,875 km) away in Ukraine.
    “Joy, excitement, happiness, accomplishment,” a beaming Perez told Reuters, when asked how they felt.
    Lockdowns and closed borders imposed by governments around the world to contain the coronavirus pandemic had prevented the parents from travelling to Kiev to pick him up until now.
    Before Wednesday, Perez and Lavorino had only seen Manu, short for Manuel, in videos and photographs as they waited for special government permission to travel.
    Now Lavorino can cradle Manu in her arms.    As Perez kisses his head, the baby gives a little yawn.
    Taking two flights with a layover in Madrid, the couple brought clothes, sneakers, blankets and a soccer T-shirt from Argentine Club Atlético Independiente with them. Lavorino worried the tiny socks for Manu would no longer fit.
    “Everything was a struggle … I don’t have many words to describe just what I feel inside, there is so much emotion,” said Lavorino.
    The Argentine couple was among dozens in Europe, the United States, China and elsewhere whose babies were stranded at the BioTexCom clinic in Ukraine.
    Perez, a 47-year-old doctor, and Lavorino, a 41-year-old social worker, had been trying to have a child for years before turning to surrogacy, which is legal in Ukraine.
    “Every year is hard, but each year you also have the pain of the previous one,” Perez said.    “It costs you more to keep your hopes up.    You are worn out physically and mentally, so the last years were even worse than the first ones,” Lavorino said.
    They arrived in Ukraine at the end of May, along with eight other families from Argentina whose babies had been born or are due to be born at the clinic.
    On arrival, Perez and Lavorino were placed under quarantine for seven days at a hotel in the suburbs of Kiev before meeting Manu.    They were not allowed to leave their rooms, and meals were left on a table outside their door.
    “The coronavirus has shown that there are many things in life that can make you stronger – hugs, kisses, the touch of those you love – these things,” Perez said.
    “This pandemic has shown us that these things are feelings you have to hold onto more closely.”
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

6/11/2020 Sweden indignant as Finland excludes it from travel curb easing by Anne Kauranen
FILE PHOTO: Cakes that look exactly like rolls of toilet paper are displayed at Ronttosrouva bakery,
as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Helsinki, Finland, April 7, 2020.
Picture taken April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Attila Cser/File Photo
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s government said on Thursday it will lift coronavirus-related restrictions on leisure travel to and from neighbouring Baltic and Nordic countries, but excluded Sweden, prompting indignation in Stockholm.
    “Unfortunately, the epidemic situation in Sweden does not enable giving up the restrictions yet,” Minister of Interior Maria Ohisalo told reporters.
    The Swedish government said the Nordics are one of the most interconnected regions and jointly represent the world’s 11th largest economy.
    “There is indignation over the situation, not least in border areas.    Sweden has not closed its borders in the Nordics,” a spokeswoman for Sweden’s Minister of Interior Mikael Damberg told Reuters.
    For tourists to and from Denmark, Iceland and Norway, as well as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where the infection rate is similar to Finland’s, restrictions will be lifted on June 15, Ohisalo said.
    They will remain on Finland’s eastern land border with Russia and on the western border with Sweden.
    “Sweden is a very important border neighbour and partner country for Finland,” Ohisalo said, adding the restrictions would be lifted “as soon as the epidemic situation permits.”
    Transit traffic via Helsinki airport will be allowed, enabling national carrier Finnair to restart connecting flights from Asia to Europe, the government said.
    Sweden has adopted fewer restrictions than its neighbours and by June 10, Sweden’s COVID-19 deaths were 4,717 – four times the number in the other Nordic countries combined.
    Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Finland hoped its relaxation would lead to reciprocity, adding Norway and Denmark had promised to consider including it in their travel bubble.
    The epidemic has slowed in Finland, with the total number of cases at 7,040 on Wednesday and 28 patients hospitalised, of which only 4 are in intensive care, health officials said.
    From the start of July, public gatherings, such as sporting events, of more than 500 people will be allowed if social distancing rules can be respected, the government said.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, additional reporting by Colm Fulton in Stockholm; Editing by Catherine Evans and Barbara Lewis)

6/11/2020 Serbia to keep balancing West, Russia and China, president says by Aleksandar Vasovic
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is seen during an interview with Reuters
in Belgrade, Serbia, June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Belgrade wants to keep balancing its ties with the West, China and Russia as it seeks to join the European Union and reach a settlement with Kosovo, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday ahead of a parliamentary election.
    Before it joins the EU, Serbia must normalise ties with Kosovo, its predominantly ethnic Albanian former province, which declared independence in 2008, almost a decade after a brutal war.
    Kosovo’s independence has been recognised by over 100 countries, including the United States and most EU members.
    But Serbia, which sees Kosovo as an inseparable cradle of its national identity, has been blocking its membership of international organisations, including the United Nations, together with its allies Russia and China.
    Vucic, whose ruling Serbian Progressive Party is a frontrunner in a parliamentary election on June 21, said Serbia was ready to talk to Pristina “without a timeline” and “in good faith,” but that mutual recognition was not on the agenda.
    “We are ready for talks but … no white flag,” he told Reuters in an interview.    “The dialogue is welcome if it is a dialogue … in which it can be seen what is possible, what is a compromise."
    “We believe it is in the best interest of (Kosovo) Albanians and the international community … to talk about a free flow of capital, people and services.”
    EU-sponsored talks between Serbia and Kosovo, which has a significant Serb population who want to be ruled from Belgrade, stalled in 2018 when Kosovo introduced a 100% import tax on goods from Serbia.
    The removal of trade barriers by Kosovo’s new government this month paves the way for a resumption of talks.
FROM FIREBRAND TO ‘EURO-REALIST’
    Vucic was a nationalist firebrand during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but now espouses alignment with the EU.
    Vucic who does not face a presidential election until next year, said he was confident his party would garner a majority of votes on June 21.
    The opposition and watchdogs have frequently accused him and his Progressive Party of autocracy, violence against political opponents, election rigging, corruption, nepotism and ties with organised crime, accusations they vehemently deny.
    Vucic said Belgrade did not plan to choose between Russia, a natural Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally; the EU, Serbia’s main trading partner; and China.
    China sent medical aid and doctors to Serbia in March to help tackle the coronavirus, and Belgrade speaks of an “iron friendship.”    In the past decade, China has also provided billions of dollars in soft loans.
    “We have … our own agenda … one chair, not two … How could we say ‘Long live Hong Kong and long live Taiwan’ and then expect Chinese support for our territorial integrity (with Kosovo) … not to mention that they are our friends who have helped us,” Vucic said.
    Serbia remains dependent for energy on Russia, with which it also cooperates militarily.    President Vladimir Putin has visited Belgrade twice since Vucic came to power in 2012, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due in Serbia next week.
But Serbia will also continue pushing to join the EU, with which it has a pre-accession Association Agreement and is a membership candidate, even though the bloc currently lacks the appetite for new members.
    Vucic described himself as a “Euro-realist,” adding that EU membership remains Serbia’s stratregic goal: “Apart from joint values … 67% of our trade exchange is with the EU.”
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/11/2020 Norway mosque shooter jailed for 21 years for murder, anti-terrorism offence
Al-Noor Islamic Centre Mosque shooter Philip Manshaus appears for the verdict at Asker and Baerum district
court in Sandvika, Norway June 11, 2020. Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – A far-right Norwegian man was jailed for 21 years on Thursday for the racially motivated murder of his Chinese-born stepsister and attempting to kill worshippers in a mosque shooting spree.     Philip Manshaus expressed strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views before last year’s attack and was unrepentant at trial.
    Manshaus, now 22 years old, shot and killed Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen in their family home, later explaining he believed the adopted daughter of his father’s spouse posed a risk to the family because of her Asian origin.
    He then drove to the nearby al-Noor Islamic Centre and entered the building, firing several shots but hitting no one before being overpowered by a 65-year-old member of the congregation who wrestled away his guns.
    “He went in with the purpose of killing as many Muslims as possible,” judge Annika Lindstroem said.
    Manshaus expressed admiration for the massacre of more than 50 people at two New Zealand mosques last year by a white supremacist who filmed and broadcast the killings live.
    The attack also drew comparisons with the massacre of 77 people by far-right mass killer Anders Behring Breivik in 2011 in Norway’s worst peacetime atrocity.
    Manshaus wore a helmet camera, filming the mosque shooting, but failed in his attempt to broadcast the attack online.
    In his first court hearing last August, Manshaus appeared with black eyes and bruises on his face and neck from the ensuing fight at the mosque.
    The court rejected the defence’s plea to declare Manshaus insane, relying instead on a psychiatric evaluation which found him fit to stand trial.
    The 21-year prison term, the steepest available for the first-degree murder and breach of anti-terrorism law, also contained a provision that his release can be put off indefinitely should he still be considered a threat to society.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche, Editing by William Maclean)

6/11/2020 Polish archbishop urges protection of ‘family values’ ahead of vote by Wojciech Zurawski
Catholic faithful take part in a Corpus Christi procession in Wroclaw, Poland June 11, 2020. Kuba Atys/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) – A Polish archbishop on Thursday sought to reaffirm Christian family values at the heart of conservative President Andrzej Duda’s re-election campaign, saying foreign “ideologies” were undermining the institution of marriage.
    Archbishop Marek Jedrazszewski delivered the message to hundreds of people gathered, despite social distancing rules amidst the coronavirus outbreak, for a procession in the city of Krakow to mark the Catholic Corpus Christi holiday.
    “(Foreign) ideologies undermine the institution of marriage and the family and we find their echo frequently in our homeland,” Jedraszewski said.    “This is even more painful because it puts us in clear opposition to more than 1,050 years of Christian tradition in our nation.”
    Duda, an ally of the ruling right-wing nationalist PiS party seeking a second term at the polls on June 28, vowed on Wednesday to protect family values in part by banning education surrounding LGBT issues.
    The PiS argues that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) “ideology” is an invasive foreign influence undermining traditional values in the staunchly Catholic nation.
    Duda’s main opponent is liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski of the centre-right opposition Civic Platform (PO) party.    He has drawn criticism from religious conservatives for introducing education about LGBT matters in Warsaw schools.
    The PiS is keen to secure Duda’s re-election as it would cement its grip on power to complete reforms to the judiciary and media sectors that the European Union has challenged, saying they violate EU standards on democracy and rule of law.
    Duda remains the frontrunner but his lead has shrunk as the coronavirus crisis has damaged the economy.
    The Krakow archdiocese called on participants in the Corpus Christi gathering to respect social distancing rules, like wearing masks, but many did not do so, a Reuters witness said.
    Poland has 28,201 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease and 1,215 deaths.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/11/2020 Russian health workers’ coronavirus compensation proves hard to get for some by Polina Nikolskaya and Maria Vasilyeva
Medical specialists wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk outside outside the I.I.
Dzhanelidze Research Institute of Emergency Medicine amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 8, 2020. Picture taken June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Yelena Nikonorova, a nurse in the Russian town of Belebey, took a new job on a hospital ward on April 1.    Two days later, she went on sick leave.    A month later, she was dead after contracting the coronavirus, her death certificate shows.
    Local health ministry officials say her illness was not work-related.    That means her relatives may not be eligible for financial compensation.
    President Vladimir Putin has ordered payments of 2.7 million roubles ($39,3860) be paid to families of health workers who die after being infected while treating coronavirus patients.
    Medics who contract the virus at work but survive are eligible for a one-off payment of 68,811 roubles ($990).
    But the families of three medics who died after contracting the virus and five health workers told Reuters they had faced difficulties getting compensation, citing bureaucratic obstacles.
    “My mum spent her whole life in healthcare, half of her career (working) on a hospital ward,” said Nikonorova’s son, Pavel, who has written to Putin asking for help in showing how she died.    “I’d like the truth.”
    The Health Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    Reuters could not determine how widespread the difficulties in getting compensation are, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was inevitable that some problems arose in such a large country, and the Kremlin tried to fix those that did.
    “It would be wrong to paint a picture of what is happening based on individual cases,” he said, praising the “titanic efforts” made to respond to the situation.
    Peskov said Putin received a huge number of letters and the Kremlin tried to deal with each one “as soon as they get to us.”
    It was not immediately possible to ascertain the status of Nikonorova’s son’s letter, he said, as such appeals take time to go through the system.
    Russia has reported over 500,000 coronavirus cases and 6,532 deaths but the World Health Organization has questioned the accuracy of the tally, which is relatively low for such a large country.
    Relatives of some thousands of victims who had the coronavirus have also complained that the virus was not registered as cause of death.
    The Kremlin has denied there is anything untoward with the official tally, and Russian officials say the way the country counts coronavirus deaths is more accurate than elsewhere.
NO MORE THAN COCKROACHES
    Though Nikonorova, 56, had diabetes, she had only a surgical face mask for protection in Belebey, about 1,250 km (775 miles) east of Moscow, her son said.
    Three other healthcare workers who got the virus said they had not been tested for the virus in the first stage of treatment, so were not eligible for compensation, which depends on a positive test result.
    “You have to fight to prove you got sick at work,” said Antonina Sedova, a nursing assistant at St Petersburg’s Research Institute of Emergency Medicine, where 111 out of 2,100 employees had been diagnosed with the virus by May 1, according to Anton Povzun, the head doctor.
    “We’re no more than cockroaches to the bosses,” Sedova, who contracted the coronavirus but has not yet been compensated, wrote in a letter to Putin demanding more personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.
    Peskov said the letter’s status was not immediately clear, and Sedova’s institute denied having a shortage of PPE.
    Four medical workers from the same workplace as Sedova died after contracting the virus, St Petersburg healthcare officials confirmed.
    They included Larisa Veselago, a gynaecologist who died on May 8, her daughter-in-law Katerina said.    The family has received confirmation from the hospital that she died after contracting the coronavirus at work.    The approval of city authorities is now needed for compensation to be paid out.
    St Petersburg’s health committee said the number of staff infected at the hospital was a medical secret, but confirmed four people had died.
    It said the hospital had resolved 68 compensation cases.    Over 4,000 medical staff had been infected in St Petersburg and, as of June 9, 1,392 of them had been classified as having contracted the coronavirus, it said.
($1 = 69.3700 roubles)
(Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova,; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

6/11/2020 IMF warns of coronavirus, reform risks in Ukraine after approving $5 billion deal by Matthias Williams
FILE PHOTO: International Monetary Fund (IMF) logo is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington, U.S., as IMF Managing
Director Christine Lagarde meets with Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    KIEV (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund on Thursday warned of “large risks” to Ukraine’s outlook after approving a new $5 billion deal for the country tumbling into a recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
    The IMF sees the eastern European country’s economy shrinking 8% this year, a steeper decline than the government’s estimate of around 5%, and said “output is not expected to reach its pre-crisis levels until 2023–24.”
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government has said the IMF programme was needed to stave off default, as a nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of COVID-19 forced many businesses to shut or operate under restrictions.
    Ukraine received a first loan tranche of $2.1 billion this week but must continue to pass reforms to qualify for further disbursements.    These include further steps to clean up the banking sector and governance at major state-run companies.
    “Risks to a new programme are very large, stemming from a possible deepening of the COVID-19 crisis and a further deterioration in global economic and financial conditions, as well as possible domestic policy slippages and reversals, as vested interests may continue to push back against reforms,” the IMF said in a document.
    To secure the IMF deal, Ukraine had to pass legislation that prevents the former owners of insolvent banks from regaining their assets.
    The move was viewed as aimed at the interests of Ihor Kolomoisky, who formerly owned the country’s largest lender, PrivatBank – nationalized in 2016 – and who has waged a legal battle to regain control or receive government compensation.
    The IMF wants further amendments to the banking legislation by November.
    After Kiev secured the deal, the central bank on Thursday cut its main interest rate to the lowest level since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

6/12/2020 Ukraine leader cancels meetings, trips after wife tests positive for coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska attend the enthronement ceremony
of Japan's Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo, Japan, October 22, 2019. Carl Court/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy cancelled face-to-face meetings and visits and will limit his contacts to a close circle after his wife tested positive for coronavirus, the presidential press service said on Friday.
    "Face-to-face meetings… are excluded in the coming days.    Participation in mass events is also excluded, working trips outside the capital of Ukraine are cancelled,” the press service said in a statement.
    Earlier on Friday, Olena Zelenska said she had tested positive for coronavirus but her husband and their two children had tested negative.
    “Today I received a positive test for coronavirus.    Unexpected news.    Especially considering that I and my family continue to follow all the rules – masks, gloves, a minimum of contacts,” Zelenska wrote on Facebook.
    She said she felt well and was not hospitalised, but was isolating from her husband and children.
    Ukraine has reported 29,753 coronavirus cases, including 870 deaths.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Toby Chopra)

6/12/2020 Russian nuclear-powered sub enters service amid arms control fears
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the troops during the military parade during the
Navy Day celebration in St.Petersburg, Russia, July 28, 2019. Dmitri Lovetsky/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s most-advanced new nuclear-powered submarine entered service on Friday, the defence ministry said, at a time of growing arms control tensions between Moscow and the West.
    The Knyaz Vladimir (Prince Vladimir) – designed to carry Bulava intercontinental nuclear missiles – was enrolled into the navy during Friday’s Russia Day celebrations.
    The announcement comes against the background of a rift with Western powers over Ukraine and fears of a burgeoning arms race following the demise of a landmark Cold War-era nuclear pact.
    The Borei-A (Boreas) class submarine is named after a ruler of the medieval Kievan Rus, the territory in modern-day Ukraine from which the Russian state would later emerge.
    The first upgraded 955A model to be produced in the Borei class is one of the centrepieces in President Valdimir Putin’s plans to upgrade the nuclear-powered fleet.
    The Borei submarine project, started shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, had long been plagued by shortages of cash and failures during tests of the Bulava missile.
    The global arms control architecture erected during the Cold War to keep Washington and Moscow in check has come under strain since the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
    In August last year, the United States pulled out of the accord that banned the deployment of short and intermediate range missiles, accusing Moscow of flouting it, something Russia denies.
    The last major nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States, the New START treaty, is due to expire in 2021.    It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads the world’s two biggest nuclear powers can deploy.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/12/2020 Putin appeals to Russians’ core values as vote on extending term looms
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an awards ceremony marking Russia Day
in Moscow, Russia June 12, 2020. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin appealed to what he termed Russians’ core values on Friday, the country’s national day, as he sought to rally support for a vote on constitutional reforms that could potentially keep him in office until 2036.
    The plebiscite will run from June 25-July 1 and, if approved, includes a change that would allow 67-year-old Putin, in power since 1999, to serve two more six-year terms in the Kremlin after 2024, when he would under current laws be obliged to step down.
    “We have a common historical code, moral foundations… Respect for parents and family (and) love for our soil,” Putin said at a flag-raising ceremony in Moscow to mark Russia Day.
    “As you’d expect, there have been frequent requests to include these fundamental, core principals into the Russian constitution.    I’m sure that the absolute majority of our citizens share and support such a position.”
    With coronavirus curbs limiting his appearances, it was Putin’s second public outing in just over a month. He attended a slimmed down Victory Day military parade on May 9.
    The Kremlin has consistently cast the constitutional vote as a broad legislative exercise covering a range of issues that include defining marriage as between a man and a woman and enshrining the rouble as Russia’s only legal currency.
    Months of public television, online and poster advertisements have failed to highlight the fact that the amendments would also allow Putin to run again for president.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by John Stonestreet)

6/12/2020 Belarus president accuses election rival of corruption after raid by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their
meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, February 7, 2020. Alexander Zemlianichenko/File Photo
    MINSK (Reuters) – The leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, on Friday accused his political rival Viktor Babariko of corruption but denied trying to block Babariko from standing against him in the presidential election in August.
    Lukashenko has ruled the eastern European country with an iron fist since 1994 but faces the biggest challenge to his authority in years, with thousands of people taking to the streets recently to support opposition candidates.
    Public frustration with Lukashenko’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and grievances about the economy and human rights have reinvigorated opposition to his rule.
    Babariko, seen as Lukashenko’s most serious rival, is the former head of the local unit of Russia’s Gazprombank, whose offices were raided on Thursday in a tax evasion case.
    Babariko, who denies allegations of corruption, said the raid was designed to put political pressure on him. Lukashenko denied that the criminal case was related to the election, but he said Babariko could not wash his hands of the allegations and blame other officials at the bank.
    “What struck me most is that this scoundrel, I cannot call him otherwise, says: ‘I have nothing to do with this.    They are the ones to blame’,” Lukashenko was cited by the state news agency BelTA as saying.    “Look, they were not only his deputies.    They are one gang.”
    Belgazprombank said on Thursday that it was continuing normal operations and that its financial stability had not been affected.
    On Friday, Russian shareholders of the bank, Gazprom and Gazprombank, published a joint statement, saying the management board of Belgazprombank had made new appointments on Thursday, calling the move “illegal.”
    They said the shareholders plan to defend their interests “by all the available legal means” and they are making efforts to “safeguard financial stability of the bank.”
    Russia and Belarus, usually seen as allies, have been engaged in a number of rows recently, including over oil and natural gas supplies.
(dditional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Matthias Williams and Giles Elgood)

6/12/2020 For gay stars of banned condom ad, no let-up in Poland’s LGBT rights clampdown
Gay married couple Dawid Mycek (35) and Jakub Kwiecinski (38), who were featured in an advert for Durex condoms along with straight couples,
embrace as they pose for a photograph in Hel, Poland June 11, 2020. Picture taken June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek
    WARSAW (Reuters) – For Jakub Kwiecinski, a ban by Poland’s public broadcaster on a condom advert featuring him and his husband has come as no surprise, but it does make him uneasy about what targets a government clampdown on LGBT rights will pick on next.
    The advert features both gay and straight couples, and broadcaster TVP told Reuters its decision not to air the footage in the staunchly Catholic country followed “a large number of complaints …about advertising clips with intimate content.”    It did not specify further.
    But the ban, which took effect this week, roughly coincided with a promise by President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the governing right-wing nationalist PiS party, to allow no teaching of LGBT issues in schools if he wins a second term in office on June 28.
    “When we found out (about the ban) … we were honestly not surprised… We see Polish TV is becoming a government mouthpiece,” Kwiecinski’s partner Dawid Mycek, 35, told Reuters TV.
    For Kwiecinski, 38, a former producer at TVP, there is “some kind of paradox that in Poland where we don’t have sexual education, TV commercials try to do what our government should do.”
    Poland has refused to recognise any form of same-sex union – Kwiecinski and Mycek got married in Portugal – and the PiS labels what it terms lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender “ideology” an invasive foreign influence that undermines traditional values.
    Several pro-LGBT parades became flashpoints for violence in the run-up to national elections last year, and the country was this year voted the worst in the European Union for LGBT rights in a poll by Brussels-based NGO ILGA-Europe.
    Kwiecinski, who says TVP laid him off in 2017 two days after he published a video with a Christmas song featuring him and Mycek, is not hopeful that ranking will change any time soon.
    “There is a concern about what will happen next,” he said.    “First they remove you from the advert, and then they’ll say that all the LGBT plots from the movies and series will be removed.”
(Reporting by Lewis Macdonald and Alicja Ptak; editing by John Stonestreet)

6/12/2020 Special Report: How China got shipments of Venezuelan oil despite U.S. sanctions by Luc Cohen and Marianna Parraga
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro hold anti-Trump banners during a rally against the
U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, in Caracas Venezuela, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo
    CARACAS/MEXICO CITY(Reuters) – Last year, China replaced the United States as the No. 1 importer of oil from Venezuela, yet another front in the heated rivalry between Washington and Beijing.
    The United States had imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company as part of a bid to topple that country’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro. U.S. refineries stopped buying Venezuelan crude.    Caracas’ ally China, long a major customer, suddenly found itself the top purchaser.    Through the first six months of 2019, it imported an average of 350,000 barrels per day of crude from Venezuela.
    But in August, Washington tightened its sanctions on Venezuela, warning that any foreign entity that continued to do business with the South American country’s government could find itself subject to sanctions. State-owned China National Petroleum Corp, known as CNPC, stopped loading oil at Venezuelan ports that month.    China’s import data showed purchases started to slow, and by late 2019, abruptly stopped.
    China’s largest oil company, like customers in some other countries, seemed to be knuckling under to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats, despite Chinese President Xi Jinping’s professed support for Maduro.
    But China never stopped buying.    Crude from Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, kept arriving at Chinese ports with the help of a     Switzerland-based unit of Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, and a roundabout delivery method that made it appear as if the oil’s origin was Malaysia, Reuters has found.
    Between July 1 and Dec. 31, tanker ships delivered at least 18 shipments totaling 19.7 million barrels of rebranded Venezuelan crude to Chinese ports, Reuters determined.    That finding is based on a review of ship-tracking data, internal PDVSA documents and interviews with four petroleum analysts who have tracked flows of Venezuelan oil around the globe.
    A unit of CNPC chartered at least one of those tankers, meaning it was responsible for the oil aboard, the ship-tracking data show.    That vessel, called the Adventure, took on Venezuelan crude on July 18 and discharged it in China on Sept. 4, the data show.    No charter information was available for the other ships that offloaded crude in China.
    CNPC did not respond to requests for comment.
    Those 18 shipments represented more than 5% of Venezuela’s total exports in 2019, worth around $1 billion at market prices for the country’s flagship crude grade, known as Merey, based on OPEC figures.    The sales provided much-needed support to Maduro’s government, though Reuters could not determine how much was added to state coffers; PDVSA often sells its crude at steep discounts, and some of its sales go to pay down debt rather than generate cash.
    The mislabeled shipments have continued into this year, Reuters found.    The review used data available on financial information provider Refinitiv Eikon, photos culled from satellite imagery and Automatic Identification System (AIS) data transmitted by oil tankers.    New York-based Refinitiv is part-owned by Reuters’ parent company, Thomson Reuters.
    The shipping method – involving the transfer of oil between tanker ships at sea – has for months been under scrutiny by the Trump administration.    Washington in February slapped sanctions on Rosneft Trading SA, the Geneva-based subsidiary of Rosneft , which it alleges was helping Venezuela to export its oil using so-called ship-to-ship (STS) transfers to mask the true origin of the crude.    Rosneft denied wrongdoing.
    “The Company has always been conducting and is conducting its business in full compliance with applicable international legislation,” Rosneft said in a June 5 statement in response to questions for this article.
    Russia’s energy ministry did not reply to a request for comment.
    China’s indirect imports of Venezuelan crude fall into something of a gray zone, according to Peter Harrell, a sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington.
    Harrell believes U.S. sanctions give Washington authority to punish foreign companies that purchase PDVSA oil through a middleman – particularly if the company “knows or should have known it was Venezuelan crude.”    But that does not obligate the U.S. government to act.
    “At the end of the day, these sanctions are fundamentally policy calls,” Harrell said.
    Reuters could not independently verify if China knew the oil that reached its shores via Rosneft Trading came from Venezuela.
    The U.S. Treasury Department, which enforces trade sanctions, declined to comment.
    Asked about the Reuters findings, Elliott Abrams, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for Venezuela, said in an interview that potential U.S. sanctions against Chinese companies purchasing transshipped crude were “on the table.”
    “We will be taking individual actions with respect to STS transfers,” Abrams said.
    China’s General Administration of Customs did not respond to requests for comment.    The Foreign Ministry told Reuters there was nothing improper about China’s dealings with Venezuela.    The ministry said U.S. sanctions had “severely affected” relations between Venezuela and the rest of the world, but said Beijing intends to continue trading with the country.
    Neither PDVSA, Venezuela’s Oil Ministry, nor the Information Ministry – which responds to media inquiries on the government’s behalf – responded to requests for comment. Venezuelan officials have repeatedly described U.S. sanctions on their country as illegal and unilateral.
    Oil analysts since last year have said Venezuelan oil was making its way to China by way of STS transfers.    This account is the first to reveal the extent of those shipments and demonstrate how systematic the tactic has been.    Reuters also reviewed internal PDVSA documents that showed the Rosneft unit was involved in moving the oil.
    So much PDVSA oil was shipped to China this way that the country’s total 2019 imports of Venezuelan oil averaged 283,000 barrels a day.    That’s 24% higher than the 228,700 barrels a day reported by Chinese customs, according to Reuters calculations based on comparisons of the Refinitiv Eikon data to official Chinese customs data.
    That was not enough to offset entirely the impact that U.S. sanctions had on PDVSA; U.S. refiners were importing an average of 500,000 barrels per day when the sanctions were imposed in January 2019.    But it helped Venezuela keep its oil industry alive at a time when the drop in demand from foreign buyers was creating a glut onshore, nearly forcing PDVSA to halt production in key oil fields.
    The STS maneuvers mirror tactics that Iran, whose oil industry is also under U.S. sanctions, has used to ship its oil to China for years.    As Reuters documented in reports in 2019 and 2015, Iranian oil often is labeled as coming from neighboring Iraq.[https://reut.rs/2XIOeiE]
    A representative of the operator of a Chinese terminal where one such shipment unloaded in 2019 denied that the origin of the oil was Iranian.
    Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, said in a statement “how we sell or export our oil is no one’s business.”    He said U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports are “illegal.”
    The Chinese shipments of Venezuelan crude were unusual for a variety of reasons, oil analysts said.
    STS transfers typically are used for legitimate purposes – such as offloading oil from deep-water drilling ships or pumping oil from large tankers onto smaller vessels that can navigate narrow or shallow waterways.    The use of this technique to transport oil from Venezuela to China was not seen until the middle of last year, the oil analysts said.
    Tankers leaving Venezuela loaded with PDVSA crude did not travel straight to China as they had in the past.    Instead, 15 tankers whose routes were reviewed by Reuters left Venezuela and first headed for the coast of Malaysia, tracking data show.    A few miles offshore, in the Malacca Strait, each rendezvoused with a second, empty tanker that had pulled alongside.
    The full tanker then pumped its load into the waiting vessel, and in some cases into multiple smaller vessels.    Eighteen of those receiving ships then headed to China, where the Venezuelan crude was offloaded and recorded as a product of Malaysia, Chinese customs records show.
    Reuters could not ascertain who changed the crude’s labeled origin before it reached Chinese customs, nor whether doing so expressly violated any maritime laws or local laws in any applicable jurisdictions.
    Michelle Bockmann, markets editor and analyst at Lloyd’s List, a shipping trade publication, said the relabeling was highly uncommon.    With the exception of Iran, Bockmann said she could not recall any other instance of crude changing identities in this way.
    The imports were a break from China’s past practice.    China routinely has imported oil from countries such as Brazil and Russia using STS transfers.    But Chinese customs accurately recorded the true countries of origin in those cases, according to Chinese customs data and Emma Li, a Singapore-based oil analyst with Refinitiv.
    In addition, Malaysia is a mid-sized oil producer that has not traditionally sold crude to China in the volumes recorded by Chinese customs last year, the records show. China’s stated 2019 imports from Malaysia were 400% higher than levels recorded just three years earlier, and the highest ever recorded by Refinitiv Eikon, whose figures date to 2006.
    The Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation, the government agency largely in charge of foreign trade, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Malaysia’s state-owned oil company Petronas.
    This triangulated trade in Venezuelan oil is now in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
    The company that lifted the oil from Venezuela for the China shipments identified by Reuters was Rosneft Trading, according to internal PDVSA documents reviewed by Reuters. Until late March, it was a major player in Venezuela’s oil industry.    The U.S. Treasury on Feb. 18 hit Rosneft Trading with sanctions for allegedly helping Venezuela sidestep the U.S. pressure campaign and sell its oil abroad.
    Among the tactics employed by Rosneft Trading were STS transfers, U.S. officials allege.    By using one ship to haul crude out of Venezuela, then a second to deliver it to China, Rosneft Trading attempted to blur the chain of ownership and disguise the oil’s provenance, Abrams, the State Department’s special representative for Venezuela, told Reuters, without providing further proof of Rosneft’s intentions.
    “The whole purpose is to evade, the whole purpose is to mislead,” Abrams said.
    On March 28, Rosneft announced it was ending its Venezuela operations and selling all its assets in the country to another, unnamed Russian state-owned firm.
    “Rosneft has no ongoing business involvement, assets or operations in Venezuela; therefore, there is no subject for providing further comments,” the company said in its June 5 statement to Reuters.
    The Trump administration, meanwhile, gave Rosneft Trading customers until May 20 to unwind their contracts with the company or face U.S. sanctions.    Asked whether Chinese customers were involved in hiding the Venezuelan origin of the crude, Abrams said that Asian clients often did not care “how it gets to them, what it’s labeled, as long as they’re getting what they bought.”
    China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was not aware of the STS transfers in question.
    “The cooperation between China and Venezuela will be carried out normally no matter how the situation changes,” the statement read.    “It’s legitimate and benefits the people of both countries and will not be affected by any unilateral sanction measures.”
    Reuters could not ascertain the final customers for the PDVSA crude in China.    But Venezuela’s heavy Merey blend is a favored feedstock for refineries making asphalt in China, according to industry sources there.
    One of the earliest STS transfers involved the Adventure, a tanker chartered by a CNPC subsidiary.    On July 18, it took on 1.9 million barrels of Venezuelan crude from another vessel in Malaysian waters, then headed for China, Refinitiv Eikon data show.
    The manager of the Adventure, Greece-based Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Ltd, said it had never entered into any agreement with PDVSA or any company sanctioned by the United States, and that it “respects and complies in full” with U.S. sanctions.    The maritime company said the cargo’s bill of lading and certificate of origin said the oil had come from Malaysia.
PIT STOP IN MALAYSIA
    Malaysia is a popular location for STS transfers of crude because of its proximity to Singapore, one of the world’s largest oil trading and storage hubs.    One of the STS transfers reviewed by Reuters occurred near Malaysia’s port of Kuala Linggi; the rest took place outside the country’s Tanjung Bruas port.
    To demonstrate how these STS transfers work, Reuters used records available on Refinitiv Eikon to reconstruct a shipment to China of 2 million barrels that left the Jose terminal in northeastern Venezuela on Aug. 5, 2019.
    The oil was carried aboard a Liberia-flagged vessel called the Delta Aigaion, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and an internal PDVSA document seen by Reuters.    The crude was a heavy blend known as Merey 16, which is unique to Venezuela, and the customer was listed as Rosneft Trading, the PDVSA document shows.
    The Delta Aigaion sailed to waters off Malaysia near the port of Tanjung Bruas.    There, the crew used a STS transfer to offload the Merey 16 to another tanker, the Malta-flagged Lipari, on Oct. 28, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.    The Lipari then headed for China, discharging its crude on Dec. 12 at the port of Zhanjiang, the data show.
(For a graphic showing the path of the two ships, see: https://tmsnrt.rs/2UpBlrH)
    Refinitiv Eikon ship-tracking data shows the location of ships and indicates how full they are.    In this case, the data showed that the draft of each ship changed dramatically while the two were in the same location off Malaysia’s coast at the same time.    The draft is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of a vessel’s hull – a sign of how heavy a load it is carrying.    The draft measurements showed that the Delta Aigaion arrived in Malaysia full and left empty, while the opposite was true for the Lipari – an indication that an oil transfer between the two took place.
    In a photo taken using a European Space Agency radar satellite and provided to Reuters by San Francisco-based earth imaging company Planet Labs, the Delta Aigaion and the Lipari can be seen approaching one another to start the oil transfer on Oct 28.    The authenticity of that photo was verified by oil industry data provider TankerTrackers.com, which specializes in satellite image analysis for vessel tracking.
    Refinitiv Eikon retrieves location information from satellite images as well as from land-based sensors that collect data from ships’ transponders.    Ships are required by international maritime law to carry transponders to transmit information about their position, speed and destination.    The U.S. government has accused tankers and shipping firms transporting oil from Venezuela and Iran of manipulating this data to evade authorities, either by flashing false destinations or simply turning off their transponders.
    The Delta Aigaion, while on its way to Venezuela in July after leaving its previous berthing in India, never indicated it was heading to the South American country, Refinitiv Eikon data show.    The tanker listed its destination as “For Orders,” a message meaning it had not yet received instructions on where to go next.
    Delta Tankers Ltd and TMS Tankers Ltd, the shipping companies that manage the Delta Aigaion and Lipari, respectively, did not respond to requests for comment.    MMC Corp Bhd and T.A.G. Marine Sdn Bhd, which operate the Tanjung Bruas and Kuala Linggi ports, respectively, did not respond to requests for comment.
    When the Lipari unloaded in the southwestern Chinese city of Zhanjiang, Chinese customs labeled the crude as “Singma blend,” a grade of crude that did not exist in the market before last year.    Customs recorded the country of origin as Malaysia.
    Li, the Refinitiv analyst, said the labeling of the crude as a blend appears to be incorrect.    If the crude were a blend of different grades – a practice common in the oil industry – the STS operation would have involved multiple vessels bringing crude from separate origins, Li said.    Ship-tracking data show no indication that this occurred.    “It doesn’t look like there’s any blending,” Li said.
    For 14 of the 18 tankers reviewed by Reuters, the grade of crude recorded by Chinese customs was Singma or Mal, another blend that did not exist before last year, data compiled by Li show.    In other cases, the Venezuelan crude was given the names of more established Malaysian grades such as Miri or Kimanis, or was not specified, according to the data compiled by Li. Merey 16, the Venezuelan blend, was not mentioned.
ROSNEFT EXIT
    The arrival of Venezuelan oil in China via STS transfers continued through at least the first two months of 2020.    During January and February, Chinese customs once again reported no imports of Venezuelan crude.    However, nearly 130,000 barrels per day of PDVSA oil arrived at Chinese ports in those two months from seven tankers that had done STS operations, according to the Reuters review.
    With U.S. pressure on Venezuela rising, it is unclear whether the tactics PDVSA and its partners employed over the past year to export Venezuelan oil will remain viable.
    Even before it announced its complete withdrawal from Venezuela on March 28, Rosneft had not lifted any crude from the country’s ports for around a month.    Meanwhile, global oil prices have plunged in recent months due to a collapse in demand resulting from the spread of the novel coronavirus.    Venezuela’s crude output has dropped by more than 20% this year to below 700,000 barrels per day.     Still, there are signs the discreet trade will continue.
    With few established oil companies willing to buy oil directly from Venezuela over fears of provoking Trump, two little-known Mexican firms – Libre Abordo and Schlager Business Group – recently emerged as the largest intermediaries for PDVSA crude.    The companies told Reuters they had a deal with Maduro’s government to supply goods, including corn and water trucks, in exchange for the oil, which they then resell.
    The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has been investigating the two companies, among others, as part of an inquiry into possible violations of U.S. sanctions on PDVSA, according to three people familiar with the matter.
    The Mexican firms said swaps of goods for Venezuelan oil were permitted under U.S. sanctions as long as no cash payments reached Maduro’s government.    The companies said they have no knowledge of any U.S. investigation into their practices.
    On Feb. 11, a Panama-flagged tanker named the Athens Voyager loaded some 700,000 barrels of crude near western Venezuela’s Amuay oil port, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.    Its customer was Libre Abordo, according to an internal PDVSA document viewed by Reuters.
    On Sunday, April 5, the fully loaded Athens Voyager arrived at its destination: the Linggi STS hub off the coast of Malaysia.    There it pumped its cargo onto a Liberia-flagged vessel named the Loyalty A on April 17.
    The manager of the Athens Voyager, Greece-based Chemnav Shipmanagement Ltd, deferred comment to the vessel’s owner, Marshall Islands-based Afranav Maritime Ltd. The manager of the Loyalty A, Jacinta Marine Corp of Lagos, Nigeria, did not respond to a request for comment.
    On June 2, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Afranav Shipmanagement for its alleged role in trading Venezuelan oil.    It said the Athens Voyager had lifted oil from Venezuelan ports as recently as mid-February.
    Afranav did not respond to requests for comment.
    Libre Abordo, meanwhile, declared bankruptcy on May 31.    It said its arrangement with Venezuela had been suspended by Maduro, and that it was the target of an international pressure campaign driven by Washington.
    In a June 8 email to Reuters, Libre Abordo confirmed that the oil transported aboard the Athens Voyager was registered in its name.    On June 10, Libre Abordo said further that the documentation of origin reflected that the crude came from Venezuela.    The company said it sent the oil to Malaysia, where it was offloaded to another ship at the behest of the final customer, whose name it would not disclose.
    According to Refinitiv Eikon data, the receiving vessel, the Loyalty A, is currently en route to Qingdao, China.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City, Aizhu Chen in Singapore, Muyu Xu in Beijing, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur, Michelle Nichols in New York, and Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Marla Dickerson)

6/14/2020 Ukraine Anti-Corruption Bureau seizes $6M bribe by OAN Newsroom
Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky, left, and National Anti-Corruption
Bureau chief Artem Sytnik at a pile of USD 6 million in plastic bags during a briefing in an anti-corruption
prosecutor’s office in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    Ukrainian officials recently revealed they were offered a $6 million bribe to end an investigation into the former minister of ecology and founder of a major energy company.
    Ukraine’s anti-corruption prosecutor held a news conference on Saturday, where the cash bribe on was put on display.    The criminal investigation was against the head of Burisma, who is suspected of using his position to enrich his gas company.
    According to officials, this is the largest cash bribe ever detained in the country.
    “The sum of the bribe was $6 million USD, of which $5 million was offered to the very person who had to close the criminal proceeding,” explained spokesman Nazar Kholodnytsky.    “$1 million was intended for the so-called ‘consultant services’ of the middleman.”
    Three people have been detained in connection to the bribe, including a high-ranking tax official.
    Officials have stated the investigation is not related to the allegations against Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who used to work for Burisma.
[5/21/2020 Reports: Biden-Ukraine corruption authorized by Obama by OAN Newsroom
    New reports claimed former President Barack Obama gave full authorization of Joe Biden’s shady dealings in Ukraine.    One America’s Kristian Rouz looks into the matter.
]

6/16/2020 Former Marine sentenced to 16 years - US citizen convicted of espionage by Russia by Kim Hjelmgaard and Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
    American Paul Whelan, a former Marine, was convicted by Russia of spying Monday, receiving a 16-year prison sentence in a maximum-security prison colony.
    Whelan pleaded not guilty to the espionage charges and claimed he was set up in a sting operation orchestrated by Russia’s intelligence services.    He was visiting Russia for the wedding of a friend when he was arrested in December 2018 after receiving a USB flash drive that allegedly contained classified Russian information.
    Whelan’s trial began March 23, but the proceedings have been closed to the public, and many of the case’s details have emerged through his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov.
    “This is slimy, grubby, greasy Russian politics.    Nothing more, nothing less,” Whelan said before the sentencing. Prosecutors asked for an 18-year prison sentence.
    Zherebenkov said Whelan would appeal the verdict.    The U.S. Embassy in Moscow denounced Whelan’s trial as unfair and said no evidence for his alleged crimes was provided.    In Russia, a maximum-security prison colony is akin to a labor camp.
    Whelan, 50, is the director of global security for a Michigan-based auto supplier.    He was born in Canada to British parents and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan.    He holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports.    The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Sullivan, described the allegations against Whelan as spurious and the court case as a “mockery of justice.”    Former CIA agents told USA TODAY that Whelan does not fit the profile of a covert U.S. intelligence operative and that it’s more likely the Russians nabbed him as leverage against the Trump administration in a game of geopolitical chess.
    “If Paul were being tried in Washington – or Dublin, London, or Ottawa – then I might have some anxiety about the outcome.    A conviction would reflect evidence of guilt, a sentence would reflect the severity of Paul’s actions,” Whelan’s brother, David, wrote in an email to reporters before the verdict.    “But this is Russia.    A conviction merely reflects that the defendant did not confess.    And the sentence, whatever it may be, says more about the legal system than it does about the defendant’s actions.”
    Whelan said he is a victim of “political kidnapping” and begged President Donald Trump to intervene on his behalf.    “Mr. President, we cannot keep America great unless we aggressively protect American citizens wherever they are in the world,” he said from inside a glass enclosure in Moscow City Court in June last year.
    Whelan said he has been threatened, abused and unable to access medical care during his imprisonment in a czarist-era Moscow prison.    After the verdict, his brother said in a statement that the family will continue “to fight for Paul’s release” and that they were “looking to the U.S government to immediately take steps to bring (him) home.”
    “We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities,” the statement said.
    Though Trump has touted his record of securing the release of Americans held abroad – including Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran freed by Iran – the president has said little publicly about Whelan.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Moscow to release Whelan last week.
    “Rest assured Ambassador Sullivan and his team will keep fighting for Paul,” Pompeo said.
    Monday, Pompeo said he was “outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict U.S. citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses.”
    Xiyue Wang, an American graduate student who spent more than three years behind bars in Iran before being released in December, told NPR in an interview that his Iranian interrogators were not especially interested in gleaning any information from him.    He was told he was held because Iran’s authorities believed he would be useful in their negotiations with the United States.    Relations have deteriorated under Trump.
“This is slimy, grubby, greasy Russian politics,” said Paul Whelan, an American sentenced to 16 years in prison on Monday
in Moscow. The former Marine was arrested in December 2018, accused of spying on Russia. PHOTOS BY AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

    Whelan is confined to a defendants’ cage for a hearing Aug. 23, 2019, at a court in Moscow.    He pleaded not guilty to espionage charges but was convicted.

6/16/2020 Russia’s coronavirus cases near 550,000
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes care of a patient in the Intensive Care Unit
(ICU) of the City Clinical Hospital Number 15 named after O. Filatov, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
in Moscow, Russia, in this handout picture released June 12, 2020. Andrei Nikerichev/Moscow News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday reported 8,248 new coronavirus cases, bringing its nationwide infection tally to 545,458.
    The authorities said 193 people had died of the virus in the last day, raising the official death toll to 7,284.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

6/16/2020 Ukraine president’s wife hospitalized with moderate COVID-19
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska attend the enthronement ceremony
of Japan's Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo, Japan, October 22, 2019. Carl Court/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – The wife of Ukraine’s President, Olena Zelenska, was hospitalized after contracting coronavirus and her condition was stable, the presidential office said on Tuesday, adding a fresh test of her husband showed he remained negative.
    Zelenska said last week she had tested positive for coronavirus, while her husband Volodymyr Zelenskiy and their two children had tested negative.    The President also cancelled all meetings and visits.
    “Olena Zelenska’s current diagnosis is COVID-19 – bilateral polysegmental pneumonia of moderate severity.    (She) Does not require oxygen donation.    The condition is stable,” the office said in a statement.
    It said Olena was isolated and under medical supervision. The new tests of President and children were negative.
    Ukraine went into lockdown in March, preventing a massive spread of coronavirus.    In late May the government began to ease the restrictions, allowing restaurants, gyms, and public transport to operate.    Since June 15, the country resumed air flights to and from the country.
    However, in recent days Ukraine has seen a significant rise in coronavirus cases, which the government attributes to the neglect by citizens of medical steps to contain the infection.
    “We all confused the mitigation of quarantine measures with the complete abolition of all restrictions that exist in the country,” health minister Maksym Stepanov told a televised briefing on Tuesday.
    Ukraine reported 32,476 coronavirus cases as of June 16, including 912 deaths.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk)

6/18/2020 Czechs lay ground for further easing of coronavirus measures
FILE PHOTO: Children exercise in a park as the Czech government lifted more restrictions allowing people go out without face masks in
most public spaces, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic will loosen many remaining restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the coming weeks, allowing larger crowds to gather, people to mostly ditch face masks and zoos and museums to return to normal operations.
    Health Ministry Adam Vojtech said on Thursday the country, which has kept the daily rise in new infections to below 100 for the past two months, was moving away from blanket nationwide measures to a localised approach and individual responsibility.
    “The virus is still here, it has not disappeared anywhere,” he told a news conference.
    The country of 10.7 million has reported a total of 10,176 cases of the novel coronavirus, although almost three quarters have recovered.    Its death toll of 333 people is a fraction of that in much of western Europe.
    The government has allowed shops, restaurants and entertainment like cinemas and theatres to re-open since May. It opened up to travel from most other European Union countries this week.
    From June 22, gatherings can reach 1,000 people, up from 500.    Trade fairs with up to 5,000 people will also be allowed.    Pools, zoos, museums and castles and chateaus can also return to normal operations, cancelling limits on visitors.
    Starting in July, pubs can stay open past 11:00 p.m. and filmgoers can again enjoy popcorn and other snacks in cinemas, according to plans.
    Vojtech also said face masks inside should no longer be mandatory from July 1 for most of the country.    However, hot spots like in the capital, Prague, or the Karvina mining region in the east, where cases have been higher, would still need to use masks.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet, editing by Larry King)

6/18/2020 Russia’s new coronavirus cases rise at lowest in six weeks
FILE PHOTO: An employee walks through a disinfection tunnel manufactured by Russian company Mizotty at the company's
factory in Penza, Russia, in this still image taken from undated handout video. Mizotty/Reuters TV via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Thursday reported 7,790 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its lowest daily rise in infections in six weeks, bringing the nationwide total to 561,091.
    Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 182 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 7,660 since the crisis began.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/18/2020 Kazakhstan tightens COVID-19 restrictions, former president tests positive
FILE PHOTO: Police officers wearing protective masks are seen at a checkpoint, set up to lock down the city to prevent
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan said on Thursday it would tighten coronavirus-related restrictions during the coming weekend and an aide said former President Nursultan Nazarbayev had tested positive for COVID-19.
    Shopping malls, markets and parks will be closed in big cities on June 20-21 and additional hospital beds will be made available for COVID-19 patients, the government said, citing a worsening of the outbreak in the Central Asian country.
    It also ordered all provinces to broaden testing for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
    The spread of the virus has accelerated in the nation of 19 million since it ended a nationwide lockdown last month.    Kazakhstan had reported about 23,000 cases as of Friday, with 100 deaths, up from about 5,000 at the end of its lockdown.
    Nazarbayev’s spokesman, Aidos Ukibay, announced on Twitter that the former president had tested positive for the virus.    At 79, Nazarbayev retains sweeping powers as national leader, chair of the security council and head of the ruling party.
    “There is no reason for concern,” Ukibay wrote.
    Several members of the oil-producing nation’s government self-isolated earlier this week after Healthcare Minister Yelzhan Birtanov and lower house speaker Nurlan Nigmatulin tested positive for COVID-19.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

6/18/2020 Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev contracts COVID-19
FILE PHOTO: Kazakh former President Nursultan Nazarbayev attends a meeting in
Moscow, Russia March 10, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s influential former president Nursultan Nazarbayev has self-isolated after testing positive for COVID-19, his spokesman Aidos Ukibay wrote on Twitter.
    “There is no reason for concern,” Ukibay wrote, referring to the health of 79-year-old Nazarbayev, who retains sweeping powers as Yelbasy, or national leader, and chair of the oil-rich nation’s security council.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/18/2020 Poles turn to rustic bolt-holes at home to escape COVID-19 by Malgorzata Wojtunik
Guests Patrycja and Rafal Bagrowski ride bikes at the Stare Gospodarstwo farmhouse, following the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Pierszczewko, Poland June 16, 2020. Picture taken June 16, 2020. REUTERS/Matej Leskovsek
    CZASTKOWO, Poland (Reuters) – As summer begins and the lockdown eases, more Poles are shunning foreign resorts and are opting instead for holidays in remote rural settings at home, perhaps a forest tent or a lakeside cottage far from tourist crowds and COVID-19.
    When Malgorzata and Maciej Bryl opened their 4rest Camp in the Kashubian lake region, comprising round yurts overlooking the lake, they had not expected such a surge in demand this season from guests yearning for rural solitude.
    “We noticed that guests’ expectations are changing and it’s not about having an all-inclusive option in a hotel with a swimming pool … anymore,” Maciej said, adding that Poles were looking for safety from the disease in secluded spots.
    Poland has so far reported 30,701 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,286 deaths.    Most shops and businesses have reopened as the lockdown eases, but Poland has recently seen an uptick in the number of new cases to around 400 or more.
    “The coronavirus is always somewhere around, so the fear remains and in this solitude we simply feel safer,” said Justyna Stanczak, a guest at 4rest camp.
    The Bryls also run a 20-room guest house, but the number of reservations has dropped compared to the same time last year as people want to socially distance from other guests, Malgorzata said.
    Aleksandra Klonowska-Szalek, co-founder of booking platform Slowhop which lists rentals in hidden corners of Poland, said interest in renting small houses in remote areas has soared.
    Since hospitality restrictions were lifted in May, her website has seen a 400% increase in reservations from the same time last year.
    Pawel Piwowar of Stare Gospodarstwo farmhouse said Poles were rediscovering their own country’s hidden attractions.
    “Those unable to take foreign trips are very eager to come and visit our place, which means our high season will last longer,” Piwowar said, adding they already had bookings for November, while the season usually ends in September.
(Additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/18/2020 Iran to send black boxes from downed Ukrainian airliner to Ukraine: minister
FILE PHOTO: Security officers and Red Crescent workers are seen at the site where the Ukraine
International Airlines plane crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the
outskirts of Tehran, Iran January 8, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iran will send the black boxes from a downed Ukrainian airliner to Ukraine, Iran’s minister of Roads and Urban Development, Mohammad Eslami, said on Wednesday, according to the Tasnim news agency.
    The Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down on Jan. 8 by an Iranian ground-to-air missile, killing 176 people in what Tehran termed a “disastrous mistake” at a time of heightened tensions with the United States.
    Ukraine initially lacked the technical capability to read the boxes but now says it has that ability, Eslami said.    He said “the Americans” may have provided Ukraine with the necessary software and documents to read the black boxes of the 737-800 airliner made by U.S.-based Boeing Co.
    The reading of the boxes will take place in coordination with the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.
    “The necessary coordination is in this way that the reading of the black box be done in the country of Ukraine in the presence of representatives of ICAO,” Eslami said.    “And if the conditions aren’t provided then at that time the reading will take place together in France.”
    The fate of the cockpit voice and data “black box” recorders has been the subject of an international standoff eclipsed by the coronavirus crisis, which Iran says has also contributed to delays in a probe by Iran’s Air Accident Investigation Board.
    Iran’s envoy to ICAO said last week that France’s BEA air accident agency had been asked by Iranian investigators to read the black boxes if the BEA could accommodate this.
    A spokesman for BEA said it had exchanged messages with Iran offering technical support and discussing logistics due to the coronavirus crisis, but added that Iran had not conveyed a formal decision on how to read the black boxes.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Tim Hepher; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

6/18/2020 Bulgarian PM says opponents trying to undermine him to block euro entry
FILE PHOTO - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov arrives for the a special European council on
budget in Brussels, Belgium February 20, 2020. Julien Warnand/Pool via REUTERS
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Wednesday accused his political opponents of trying to undermine his government with the aim of blocking Bulgaria’s deeper integration into the European Union.
    Borissov, 61, whose third government took office in 2017, has come under pressure this week due to an audio file published by some local media in which a voice similar to Borissov’s is heard making offensive remarks about the head of parliament and a deputy minister.
    The voice on the recording also boasts about ordering an independent financial regulator to carry out a probe into a Bulgarian company.
    Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the file.
    Prosecutors have launched a probe into the audio, which refers to events of April, 2019, to check if it was acquired via illegal eavesdropping and whether it had been doctored.
    In an emotional statement from the headquarters of his centre-right GERB party on Wednesday evening, Borissov said the audio had been doctored and called it a “manipulation.”
    He also said that pictures of him published earlier on Wednesday on a local news website were “a setup.”
    In one of the photos, Borissov is shown sleeping next to a gun on a bedside nightstand.    Other pictures show only the nightstand filled with 500 euro notes and gold bars.
    Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the pictures.
    “Today our political opponents hit rock bottom,” Borissov said.
    “Why now?    Because July is an important month… Bulgaria, along with Croatia, is confidently on its path to join the banking union and the euro zone… They will not make me quit, nor will I stop.”
    Bulgaria, one of the European Union’s poorest countries, hopes to join the ERM-2 ‘waiting room’ to the euro in July.
    Borissov said entry in the banking union would ensure strict supervision over money flows and banks and would set the country, once the Soviet Union’s closest satellite, firmly in the Euro-Atlantic community.
    Despite public anger over endemic corruption in the country, Borissov’s popularity has risen amid the coronavirus pandemic.    Bulgaria has reported a relatively low 181 COVID-19 deaths, and two recent opinion polls showed his party ahead of its rivals.
    Borissov said his opponents, including President Rumen Radev, the main opposition Socialist party, and other smaller political factions, were trying to rattle him and trigger early elections so the president could appoint a caretaker government.
    General elections in Bulgaria are due next March.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

6/19/2020 Russian war veterans quarantined before watching parade with Putin, says Kremlin
A Russian serviceman is seen onboard a military vehicle before a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade in Moscow, Russia,
June 18, 2020. The military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two
was planned for May 9 and postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian war veterans due to join President Vladimir Putin to review a June 24 military parade on Red Square are being quarantined at health resorts beforehand to protect their own health and that of others, the Kremlin said on Thursday.
    The parade, originally scheduled for May 9, is designed to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, but was postponed due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    The move to quarantine the veterans beforehand would help safeguard Putin from getting the virus.
    The Kremlin said earlier this week that Putin was protected from the coronavirus by special disinfection tunnels that anyone visiting his residence outside Moscow or meeting him in the Kremlin must pass through.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a group of war veterans was now in quarantine at sanatoriums and rest homes in “lovely conditions.”
    “Above all there is a concern for their health, since they will be there together and chatting with one another,” he said.
    Taking such precautionary measures was important, he added, and it was a good opportunity for veterans to receive additional medical care.
    The annual parade is a raw display of military strength and patriotism that has become a hallmark of Putin’s rule.
    Some cities have postponed their own military parades however, citing the coronavirus, but in Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, plans remain in place, with a rehearsal taking place on Wednesday evening.
    Russia had registered 561,091 cases of the coronavirus and 7,660 deaths as of Thursday.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/19/2020 Norway must keep strict border controls to avoid new infections: PM by Gwladys Fouche and Terje Solsvik
FILE PHOTO: Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg attends a panel during the annual Munich
Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 14, 2020. REUTERS/ Andreas Gebert
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway, which has some of the strictest travel restrictions in Europe, must maintain tight control of its borders to avoid importing COVID-19 cases from abroad, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Friday.
    Fears of an early second wave of infections in Europe are growing as the continent lifts travel restrictions ahead of the summer holidays.
    “There is still a danger of new infections … Cases of infection coming from abroad is the biggest danger today,” Solberg told parliament.    “So it is important to keep control.”
    While other European countries have gradually lifted some, or all, travel restrictions, Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but belongs to the passport-free Schengen travel zone, has followed a tougher line.
    Most non-residents, including tourists, are still not allowed into the country, though those who work in sectors deemed crucial, such as agriculture or oil, and those who can prove a family link with Norway can come.    They must undergo a 10-day quarantine.
    However, since Monday citizens and foreign residents of Denmark, Iceland, Finland and the Swedish island of Gotland have been allowed to enter Norway, and without undergoing quarantine.
    People from mainland Sweden are not allowed into the country given the higher number of infections there.
    As of June 18, Norway had identified a total of 8,692 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 244 deaths.    It has estimated that no more than 1% of its 5.4 million population has been infected since the outbreak began.
    Norway was early in Europe in imposing a lockdown, in mid-March and was able to begin lifting restrictions after Easter.    The main restriction still in place is a ban on gatherings of more than 200 people.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/19/2020 Czechs record biggest daily jump in coronavirus cases in two months
FILE PHOTO: People stand on the Vltava river bank amid an outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Prague, Czech Republic, April 29, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic reported its biggest one-day jump in new coronavirus cases in two months on Friday, with the daily rise exceeding 100 for only the third time since mid-April.
    The number of new cases was 118 on Thursday, the Health Ministry said, the largest daily rise since April 21.    The central European country has since May been relaxing rules to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    The country had reported 10,283 cases as of Friday morning, of which almost three quarters have recovered.    Its death toll of 334 is a fraction of those seen it its western neighbours.
    With cases waning, the government has started focusing on localised measures rather than nationwide bans to contain the spread of the virus.
    According to health officials, the country has two hot spots in Prague and the eastern mining region of Karvina.
** For an interactive graphic: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/gjnpwdbovwr/index.html
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/19/2020 Hungary ready to take steps in case second wave of coronavirus comes: PM Orban
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures during a news conference at the presidential building
in Belgrade, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Serbia, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government will take the necessary legal and economic measures to protect lives in case there is a second wave of the novel coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.
    “If there are signs pointing to a second wave (of the virus) coming, we will not hesitate to take the necessary legal and economic steps,” Orban said.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

6/19/2020 Cuba starts easing lockdown but shortages hamper businesses
People wait in line to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Artemisa, Cuba, June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – In much of Cuba, restaurants welcomed back customers on Thursday while families escaped cities for the beaches as the government started to ease the Caribbean island’s three-month-old lockdown restrictions after curbing the coronavirus outbreak there.
    Only the capital and neighboring Matanzas province have reported new cases in recent weeks.
    The government has authorized activity to resume in the rest of the country, to the delight of Cubans tired of staying at home, although some businesses complain that shortages of basic goods that worsened in the wake of the pandemic are hampering a return to normal.
    “It’s a relief to be able to go out, especially for the children who worried me the most,” said Lisandra Hernandez, on a beach in Artemisa, the province just west of Havana, with her husband and two young children.    “We go to the supermarket, run errands but the kids have been stuck indoors for three months, without setting foot outside.”
    Cuba closed its borders, suspended public transport and schools, and banned onsite dining at restaurants when the novel coronavirus started to spread there.    Citizens were ordered to stay at home except for work or essential tasks.
    Last week, the government said it would start to ease its lockdown although face masks would remain mandatory in public spaces and schools would only resume in September.
    On Wednesday, it said international tourism, a key source of hard currency, would re-start in July albeit only with travelers arriving via charter flights and tested upon arrival for the coronavirus.
    The absence of tourism has further dented an economy already struggling with a decline in Venezuelan aid and tighter U.S. sanctions.    Shortages of even basic goods have worsened.
    In Artemisa, the capital of Artemisa province, several owners of private businesses, which in Cuba do not have access to wholesale stores, complained of a lack of supplies, hampering a return to normality.
    Raul Jimenez said his private cafeteria lacked staple items like ham and bread for sandwiches so was limited largely to selling fresh fruit juices.
    “We have basically nothing to offer,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

6/19/2020 Police break up new protests in Belarus as Lukashenko warns of foreign plot by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Victory Day parade, which marks
the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Minsk, Belarus May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    MINSK (Reuters) – Police in Belarus arrested demonstrators and journalists on Friday evening to break up new protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, hours after he blamed foreign plotters for fomenting unrest.
    For the second evening in a row, protesters had formed a long line through the centre of the capital Minsk in solidarity after the jailing of Viktor Babariko, Lukashenko’s main rival in August’s presidential election.
    Protests also broke out in several other towns across the eastern European country.
    Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist for 26 years, but faces his biggest challenge in years as frustration over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has combined with grievances over the economy and human rights.
    Relations with traditional ally Russia have been strained in recent months as Moscow reduced subsidies that have propped up Lukashenko.    But his crackdown on opponents will likely hobble his efforts to mend fences with the West.
    The European Union called for the release of Babariko, widely seen as the most potent challenger to Lukashenko.
    As criticism of Babariko’s arrest grew, Lukashenko said his government had foiled a plot to foment a revolution akin to the street protests in Ukraine in 2014.
    He said political forces from “both from the West and from the East” had concentrated their interests in Belarus, and that “certain forces” had intensified their efforts.    He did not give details or say which foreign country was involved.
    “That was the goal.    The masks were torn not only from certain puppets we had here, but also from puppeteers who sit outside Belarus,” he said.
    Babariko was head Belgazprombank, of the local unit of Russia’s Gazprombank, before running for president.    A top security official said Babariko was controlled by Russian “puppeteers” and Lukashenko said the bank’s money was being used to finance Babariko’s campaign.    Babariko’s campaign team called the allegations against him “an absurdity.”
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had no plans to intervene.    Separately President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko spoke by phone but the Kremlin readout did not mention Babariko’s arrest.
    Lukashenko’s allegations of a foreign plot came after authorities opened a criminal case against Belgazprombank.     On Friday, Lukashenko said the International Monetary Fund was demanding Belarus impose lockdown measures as a condition for loans, but Minsk would not cave in to the demand.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk; Andrey Kuzmin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry, Giles Elgood and Alex Richardson)

6/20/2020 U.S., Russian envoys to discuss arms control in Austria next week: State Department
FILE PHOTO - National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International
Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Special Presidential Envoy Marshall Billingslea will travel to Austria on Monday and Tuesday to discuss “mutually agreed topics related to the future of arms control” with Russian Deputy Foreign Sergei Ryabkov, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.
    “The United States has extended an open invitation to the People’s Republic of China to join these discussions, and has made clear the need for all three countries to pursue arms control negotiations in good faith,” the State Department said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for China to join the United States and Russia in talks on a nuclear arms control agreement to replace the 2010 New START accord.
    New START, which imposes the last remaining limits on U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear arms to no more than 1,550 each, expires in February.
    China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal.
    Billingslea had said last week that he had agreed with Ryabkov on a time and place for the negotiations in June.
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

6/20/2020 Kazakhstan’s ex-president is asymptomatic after positive coronavirus test, report says
FILE PHOTO: Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's former president, leaves after the enthronement ceremony of Japan's
Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2019. Carl Court/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s powerful former president Nursultan Nazarbayev is feeling well and showing no symptoms associated with coronavirus despite a positive test, his spokesman told local news website Tengrinews on Saturday.
    Nazarbayev, 79, who resigned last year, remains an influential figure in the oil-rich nation of 19 million where he is seen as a guarantor of stability.    His spokesman Aidos Ukibay said there was no reason for concern about his health at the moment.
    “The disease is asymptomatic,” Ukibay told Tengrinews.
    Nazarbayev’s office said he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin whom he thanked for a message of support and wishes of swift recovery.
    The veteran politician, who had run the former Soviet republic for almost three decades, retains the posts of the ruling party leader and security council chair and holds the official title of Yelbasy, or national leader.
    Kazakhstan, which borders China and Russia, has reported about 25,000 cases of coronavirus, with 113 deaths.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mike Harrison)

6/20/2020 Kremlin: Putin concerned about arrangements with U.S. amid protests – IFX
    Russia's President Vladimir Putin discusses a diesel fuel leak at a thermal power
station in Krasnoyarsk Region and its damage control during a video conference call with officials at the
Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia June 19, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin is concerned about how much he can trust arrangements with U.S. President Donald Trump amid protests in the United States, the Interfax news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Saturday.
    U.S. and Russian envoys are due to discuss “mutually agreed topics related to the future of arms control” in Austria next week, the U.S. State Department has said. [nL1N2DX00N]
    Referring to Trump, Peskov said Putin needs to understand that “agreements with his political counterpart can be trusted.”
    There is a growing unpredictability in steps by Washington and this is worrying world capitals, Peskov was quoted as saying.
    “And it is important for President Putin to understand that he has a vis-à-vis (Trump) who can responsibly engage in a dialogue with him on how to amend this situation,” Peskov said.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Toby Chopra and Giles Elgood)

6/21/2020 Ukraine apartment block gas explosion kills at least one
Members of emergency services work at the site of a damaged building after a suspected
gas explosion, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – A gas explosion at a multi-storey apartment block in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv has killed at least one person, rescuers said on Sunday.
    Several people could be trapped under wreckage after four floors of the nine-storey building have been destroyed, the State Emergency Services said in a statement.
    It said 21 residents had been evacuated from the building, but it was not immediately clear how many people had been inside. (Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by David Goodman)

6/21/2020 Serbians head to polls in Europe’s first post-lockdown election by Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a face mask is reflected in a poster depicting Serbian President and the leader of
ruling Serbian Progressive Party Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbians go to polls on Sunday to elect a new parliament in Europe’s first national election since coronavirus lockdowns took effect some three months ago, with the ruling conservatives seen winning a comfortable majority.
    Polling stations will be equipped with face masks and hand sanitisers for the use of the country’s 5.5 million voters, many of whom are expected to skip voting – partly due to fears of becoming infected.
    Turnout could also be hit by the boycott campaign of some opposition parties, who say the vote will not be free or fair due to President Aleksandar Vucic’s firm grip over the media.
    According to the latest opinion polls, Vucic’s conservative Serbian Peoples’ Party (SNS) is set to garner about 50% of the vote, boosted by widespread public approval over the government’s handling of the pandemic.
    Vucic’s coalition partner, the Socialist Party, is expected to come second with about 10%, while an opposition centre-right party led by Aleksandar Sapic, the mayor of a Belgrade municipality, is tipped to come third.
    Vucic himself is not up for re-election, but the opposition parties that are boycotting the poll accuse him of using his position as president to promote his party.
    Serbia, which has a population of 7.2 million, has so far reported 12,803 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 260 deaths.    It was among the first European countries to start opening its borders on May 22 and all lockdown curbs have since been lifted.
    Still, persistent health concerns will keep some voters at home, especially among higher-risk groups.
    “A number of voters above 65 will not vote because they are afraid they could get infected,” Bojan Klacar, executive director of the CESID pollster told Reuters.
    Voters largely back efforts by Vucic’s ruling coalition to push for Serbian membership of the European Union while maintaining strong ties with Russia and China.
    But the future government will face increasing EU and U.S. pressure to recognise the independence of Serbia’s former province of Kosovo, a move seen as key for regional stability.
(Editing by Helen Popper)

6/21/2020 Poles run for LGBT equality ahead of presidential vote by Alan Charlish
Members of a group supporting LGBT rights protest in Warsaw, Poland June 20, 2020. Jedrzej Nowicki/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Around a hundred Poles took part in an “Equality Run” on Saturday, condemning discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community during a presidential election campaign where gay rights have provoked fierce debate.
    The run took place as a number of anti-government protests from groups including LGBT rights protestors and feminists took place in Warsaw.
    Facing an increasingly tight contest for the June 28 vote, incumbent President Andrzej Duda, an ally of ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS), has attempted to rally his conservative base by taking aim at what he calls LGBT “ideology.”
    PiS has said this is a foreign influence undermining traditional values.
    “We need to show that we are everywhere, that we exist, we do sport, we have fun, it’s not like we are people with a foreign ideology,” said 26-year-old office worker Zoska Marcinek before the race.
    The runners, some decked out in the rainbow flag of the LGBT community, ran 5 kilometres along the banks of the Vistula river.
    Duda has drawn criticism for comparing the push for LGBT rights to Soviet indoctrination.    A member of his campaign team said in a television broadcast last Saturday that LGBT people were not equal with “normal” people.
    Duda has said his words on LGBT “ideology” and communism were taken out of context, while his campaign team has rejected accusations of homophobia.
    Around 200-300 people gathered at a separate protest called “People, not an Ideology” in central Warsaw, brandishing placards with slogans like “Make Peace, Stop PiS.”
    “I am a normal person… like every other person, and I demand equality,” said 22-year-old student Weronika Tomikowska during the protest.
    LGBT rights have been major campaign theme in staunchly Catholic Poland since the main opposition candidate and Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski introduced a sex education programme in city schools over a year ago that includes teaching about LGBT issues.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Jan Harvey)
[There is at least one country that is still following the word of God and they are Catholics in Poland, but the Catholics in many other countries have caved into the demonstrations in fear I guess mostly politics but even the Catholic Church in Rome and the Pope are not condemning them because they have got in bed with the Globalists even after the homoexual activities that attacked their church with extreme child sexual molestation and even today we still do not know if it has been stopped.].

6/21/2020 Hungary’s leading website index.hu says its independence is at risk
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Hungary's main independent website Index is seen on board front of
the Index headquarters in Budapest, Hungary, September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The editor-in-chief of Hungary’s news website index.hu said on Sunday the outlet that has been a leading critic of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government was at risk of losing its independence because of what it called “external influence.”
    Szabolcs Dull did not give details in the statement, but the editorial team has complained since 2018 that a change in the ownership of an organisation that handles its advertising had threatened its ability to report independently.
    Index.hu is the largest outlet in Hungary critical of Orban after a major shake-up in Hungary’s media sector in recent years that left most news outlets under control of the government or under the control of pro-government business executives.
    “We have been affected by an external influence that might lead to the disappearance of the newsroom,” Dull said in the statement signed by dozens of reporters who work for index.hu.
    The statement said the fate of the news website could be decided in the coming days.
    The website has since September 2018 published a gauge with three settings: independent, in danger and not independent.    On Sunday, for the first time, the indicator on the graphic had moved to signal “in danger.”
    Orban has extended his influence over many walks of life in the central European country during his decade-long rule.
    The European Union has criticised him for policies it says threaten the rule of law by imposing party control over the judiciary, media and academic institutions.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Edmund blair)

6/21/2020 Hungarian protesters fear govt control in arts university’s overhaul
People dance as students attend a protest against threats to academic
freedom in Budapest, Hungary, June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hungarians protested on Sunday against the planned reform of the prestigious University of Theatre and Film Arts which they fear will bring the school further under government control.
    The protesters, many of them university students and staff, actors and writers, carried placards and made speeches in front of the main building denouncing the planned changes.
    “The government has already damaged Hungarian culture a great deal and we have to raise our voice against what they are planning to do now,” said Jozsef Mate, a theatre fan at the protest.
    A bill introduced in parliament on May 26 would transfer the ownership of the state-run institution, which goes back 155 years, to a private foundation.
    The government argues the new structure will make the country’s most important institution for training theatre and movie directors and actors more flexible and efficient and help the school access more finances.
    The government has already reshaped Corvinus University, a major school of economics, in such a way and the reorganisation of seven other schools is in progress.
    The fact that the universities in question will be governed by a board of trustees “not only diminishes the state’s influence on these schools but completely eliminates it,” Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister’s chief of staff, said on Thursday.
    But critics say the trustees will be appointed by the government and given the right to appoint the head of the school in a non-transparent manner, without consulting faculty or students.
    The institution is “going to be managed by a foundation, through which the government can exercise total control over the university,” a petition initiated by students says.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban has extended his influence over most walks of life in the central European country during his decade-long rule.
    The European Union has long criticised him for policies it says threaten the rule of law by imposing party control over the judiciary, media and academic institutions.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves, Krisztina Fenyo and Balazs Kaufmann; editing by Nick Macfie)

6/22/2020 U.S., Russian envoys tight-lipped as arms control talks start in Vienna
Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives for a meeting with U.S. special envoy
Marshall Billingslea in Vienna, Austria June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Nuclear weapons talks between the United States and Russia started in Vienna on Monday, with the two countries’ envoys making only guarded comments shortly before they met.
    Little has been said officially about the arms control negotiations but the U.S. envoy has made clear they will be about nuclear weapons, suggesting they will include replacing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in February.
    “We’ll see,” U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea told Reuters when asked what he expected to come of the talks as he arrived with his delegation at a palace adjoining Austria’s Foreign Ministry.
    He declined to elaborate on their content.
    His Russian interlocutor, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, was equally cautious, telling reporters soon afterwards: “Let’s see, let’s see. We are always very hopeful.”
    The U.S. State Department has said Billingslea will be in Vienna for the talks on Monday and Tuesday.
    New START imposes the last remaining limits on U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear arms to no more than 1,550 each. It can be extended for up to five years if both sides agree to.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for China to join the United States and Russia in talks on an agreement to replace New START.    China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal.
    Reuters reporters at the palace did not see any Chinese officials.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

6/22/2020 Polish president to visit U.S. for talks with Trump on security, health
FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda attends election rally in Krakow,
Poland June 21, 2020. Adrianna Bochenek/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda will discuss health, security and development with U.S. President Donald Trump during a visit to Washington on Wednesday, his top aide told Polish public radio.
    Duda will be the first foreign leader to visit the White House since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on a trip just four days ahead of Poland’s presidential election on June 28, and which was announced unexpectedly last week.
    “I can say there will be good news from Washington,” Krzysztof Szczerski, the president’s chief of staff, said on Monday.    “There will be three main topics: first of all, health, secondly, investments and development, and third, security.”
    Security topics would cover energy, the Three Seas Initiative and cybersecurity, while health issues on the agenda concerned how to jointly tackle the coronavirus pandemic, he added.
    Duda will also discuss the security concerns of nations in the region, Szczerski said.
    Last June, Trump agreed to send 1,000 more troops to Poland.    Last week, Reuters reported the project was crumbling amid disputes over funding and where to garrison the troops.
    The report was denied by some Polish government officials and the U.S. envoy to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher.
    On Monday, Trump said the United States would cut its troops in Germany by 9,500, to 25,000.    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said he hopes some of them will be moved to Poland.
    Duda has said cooperation between the United States and Poland on nuclear energy projects will also figure in his talks.
    An ally of Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, Duda has been leading in opinion polls, although some recent surveys have shown he may not win the second round of the vote.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

6/22/2020 Exclusive: Kremlin hopes big companies and prize draws will boost Putin vote turnout: documents by Katya Golubkova, Maria Tsvetkova and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony
in Sevastopol, Crimea March 18, 2020. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin has asked some Russian companies to mount internal information campaigns to boost turnout in a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms that could allow President Vladimir Putin to keep power until 2036, documents seen by Reuters show.
    The documents, sent to at least three large private companies to help them explain the reforms and voting procedures to employees, also show a prize draw will be held near polling stations to attract voters, offering those who vote the chance to win a car or apartment.
    Reuters could not ascertain how many companies had received the documents or whether state firms had received the same advice.    The Kremlin and the Central Election Commission did not respond to requests for comment.
    Though encouraging turnout is legally permissible, the draw will enable companies to check which of their employees has voted, as those who enter the draw will receive a unique QR (quick response) code that means they can be traced.
    A high turnout would be likely to improve the already high chances of the constitutional changes being approved in the vote, which is taking place over seven days – from June 25 until July 1 – to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
    It would also help the Kremlin show there is wide public support for the changes, which include an amendment that would allow Putin two more six-year terms as president if re-elected.    Current constitutional limits bar him from seeking re-election when his mandate ends in 2024.
    The Kremlin has said the constitutional reforms are needed to enshrine key rights.
    Authorities have tried to boost turnout before, by laying on free food and entertainment near polling stations.
    During Putin’s 2018 re-election campaign, voters were encouraged to take polling station selfies in a contest to win modest prizes.    Several people told Reuters at the time their bosses had told them to take part to prove they had voted.
    The documents, authenticated by three corporate sources, include a note to companies explaining what they called Project     “Mobilisation in companies 2020” and a timetable with instructions on how to encourage employees to vote.
    In a section entitled “Additional information on those who did not vote at the polling station on election day,” the advice to companies is: “(Send a) reminder of the need to vote (by telephone, SMS or text message)’.”
TRICKY QUESTIONS
    One of the documents sent to companies offers talking points for discussions with employees entitled “Answers to tricky questions.”    The first hypothetical question is: "Is it true that Putin is changing the constitution for himself so that he can remain in power?'
    Part of the suggested response is: “Putin is doing this for us so that whoever comes after him could not collapse the country like (Mikhail) Gorbachev and (Boris) Yeltsin did.”
    The briefing note also told company bosses to tell staff that Putin had been forced to change his mind about how he conducted a power transition because of global instability.
    “Putin could stay in power without any official title,” said the document.    “Putin is Russia’s national leader.”
    Opinion polls suggest the constitutional reforms are likely to be approved, but turnout is important for the Kremlin.
    Putin’s approval rating is 59%, according to Levada, an independent pollster whose research the Kremlin has said it is not inclined to trust.    Though high by most countries’ standards, it is at its lowest since 1999.
    Polls show people’s willingness to protest has risen as lower oil prices and a prolonged lockdown have battered the economy, unemployment has risen, and a Kremlin plan to reverse years of falling real wages has been knocked off course.
    Opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman said the information campaign was a “show” intended to boost turnout for Putin, who said on Sunday he was considering seeking re-election if the constitutional changes were approved.
    “Without a mass turnout, the show does not have any meaning.    It’s shameful to take part (in the vote),” Roizman wrote on Twitter.
    Participants in the draw will answer questions about the constitution.    Those who answer correctly will have the chance to win prizes.    Four officials in different regions confirmed to Reuters the fact that they would be issued with unique QR codes.
    During the first six days of early voting, firms will pass back that information to an entity called “the Project Office” at the end of each day, the documents say.
    On July 1, the main voting day, information will be relayed back every two hours.
    At least nine of over 80 regions, including Moscow, have announced draws so far.    Organisers in three regional capitals – Irkutsk, Buryatia and Tula – told Reuters the idea to hold such draws near polling stations and use QR codes was their own. (Writing by Andrew Osborn, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/22/2020 Russia’s Putin says he may seek another term if constitutional changes passed
Russia's President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with health workers at the Novo-Ogaryovo
state residence outside Moscow, Russia June 20, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin is considering running for a new term as Russia’s president if voters approve constitutional changes that would enable him to do so, Russian news agencies quoted him as saying in an interview on Sunday.
    Russia will hold a nationwide vote from June 25 to July 1 on proposed changes to