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Scotland’s First Minister Gives Coronavirus Update

In her daily coronavirus briefing Monday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took the opportunity to wish British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — hospitalized for symptoms related to COVID-19 — a speedy recovery.  Johnson tested positive for the virus over a week ago and as recently as Friday reported he was doing well. But the prime minister was taken to the hospital late Sunday on his doctor’s recommendation for further testing.At her news briefing in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said Johnson’s situation is a reminder the virus can affect anyone and everyone.Sturgeon announced an additional 255 people in Scotland tested positive for the coronavirus since Sunday, raising the nation’s total cases to 3,961.  Sturgeon also took the opportunity to introduce Scotland’s acting chief medical officer, Dr. Gregor Smith, who had been deputy CMO for the past five years. He takes the place of Catherine Calderwood, who resigned late Sunday following criticism she received for twice traveling to her second home in violation of social distancing guidelines.Sturgeon said Smith will hold the post “for the foreseeable future.” 

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Queen’s Address Overshadowed as British Prime Minister Hospitalized

British Prime Minster Boris Johnson remains in a central London hospital under observation, having been admitted there on the advice of doctors Sunday night. He was hospitalized on precautionary grounds for further tests as his symptoms had not improved. Johnson was diagnosed with the coronavirus eleven days ago. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the shock announcement overshadowed Queen Elizabeth’s rare televised address to the nation

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Once Just for Business, Virtual Meetups Offer Social Lifeline During Pandemic  

Madison Keesler clears furniture and pets from the living room, while Benjamin Freemantle chomps on a banana topped with peanut butter. The two, who live together, are preparing to dance with dozens of other members of the San Francisco Ballet company currently sequestered throughout the city and around the world.  Since shelter-in-place rules went into effect three weeks ago, the company has met virtually – by video chat – for its daily class. Once used mostly for corporate meetings, video conferences have suddenly become the lifeline connecting isolated friends, co-workers, and family members. “A ballet company in particular, the people you work with and especially the dancers, they become like family,” says Keesler who is a soloist with the company. The abrupt cancellation of performances and loss of the daily ritual and camaraderie has been challenging. “So at least this offers waking up, turning on your computer and you still get to chat with them and see them a little bit,” she says. The virtual classes, which the company has been sharing publicly, have also been a comfort to thousands of fans, deprived of a performance season but now given access to an intimate view of dancers at work in kitchens, bedrooms and hallways. “People really want to know who the dancers are, and you just don’t get to know that on stage,” says Freemantle, a principal dancer with the company. “So even just this little glimpse into your living room or something where, I think you get to see a little bit of who that person is.”  “You also get to see who are the real ballet nerds, with the ballet barre bolted into the wall,” chuckles Freemantle, who is improvising with kitchen chairs for the moment.  Dancers Madison Keesler and Benjamin Freemantle take a virtual class with other members of the San Francisco Ballet company. (Courtesy Madison Keesler and Benjamin Freemantle)Amateurs are also joining in the class. Writes one fan, “Dream come true to see this and do a class at home with the SF Ballet! Be still my heart.” Support of old comrades Old friends are also connecting in new ways. Lexine Alpert is in touch every week with a group of women activists she’s known since the early 80’s when they joined forces in San Francisco as the “Nuclear Beauty Parlor.”   Now dispersed around the country, the group normally gathers every two years. But since physical distancing began, they’ve felt compelled to meet each week using Zoom.   Ten women appeared for a recent call, many with cocktails in hand. “It was wonderful,” says Alpert. “Each of us spontaneously spoke about what we’re going through with this virus. It was a really nice to hear everybody’s take on how they’re handling the situation.”  Alpert, a retired social worker, also meets virtually with her book club and refugee support organizations she is affiliated with. “It’s just a way to stay connected to one another,” she says. Since social distancing began, this group of women activists, who’ve known each other since the 1980s, have started meeting weekly using Zoom.Coming soon to a laptop near you Louie Schwartzberg had spent months generating buzz and cultivating an audience for his documentary film “Fantastic Fungi,” selling out theaters in the U.S. and Europe for the planned release date of March 26.   When theaters were forced to close, he had to quickly come up with a new plan. “We pivoted when we heard about this pandemic because people can no longer come to the theater and we really wanted to continue this feeling of connection,” says Schwartzberg.  The solution was a virtual release: people could enjoy the film at home and watch live Q&A sessions with the film’s panel of experts. “It was amazing. We probably got 20,000 attendees and participation from 101 countries,” says Schwartzberg. Known for his dazzling time-lapse nature photography, Schwartzberg has had a camera clicking away somewhere every day for the past 30 years and knows a lot about waiting patiently.  Of the forced sequestration he has this to say, “Maybe there is a little bit more time to stare at a certain flower in the garden. Maybe there’s a little bit more time to think about your friends and your family.” Ten years of closely observing mushrooms for his current film has also given Schwartzberg a perspective on surviving natural threats, “One of the messages in the movie, which I didn’t realize until I finished the movie, is that individuals with a community survive better than individuals alone, that ecosystems flourish with this connectivity.” And during the pandemic, technology is playing a vital role in sustaining those communities.

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Efficacy of Anti-Coronavirus Drug Tops US Treatment Debate

The debate over the usefulness of an antimalarial drug to treat U.S. coronavirus victims is pitting President Donald Trump against the country’s top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. With the U.S. coronavirus death toll increasing by hundreds a day, Trump at daily news briefings regularly touts the use of hydroxychloroquine, calling it a potential “game-changer” to save lives.  President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 5, 2020, in Washington.”What do you have to lose? Take it,” the president said in a White House briefing over the weekend. “I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine — try it if you’d like.” Fauci, often standing a step or two away from the U.S. leader in the White House briefing room, says data showing possible hints of success from use of the drug in treating coronavirus patients is “at best suggestive” and not based on scientific studies. He is the longtime director of the country’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A contentious debate over the use of the drug erupted at a coronavirus task force meeting in the White House situation room on Saturday between Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro and Fauci, who consistently has voiced skepticism and caution about use of the drug. FILE – White House trade adviser Peter Navarro speaks during a television interview at the White House, Oct. 8, 2019.“This drug could save lives,” Navarro told CNN on Monday. “We are at war here. We’re trying to make sure as few people die as possible.” But Navarro also acknowledged, “There are downsides to this. There can be in some cases negative effects. It’s related to [the] heart and related to vision.” He said that ultimately, use of the drug must depend on agreement between doctors and their patients after they have discussed possible side effects. Navarro downplayed the weekend argument with Fauci, saying, “If we didn’t have disagreement and debate in the Trump administration, this administration wouldn’t be as strong as it is.” Navarro, a social scientist with a doctoral degree but not a medical doctor, said initial studies from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first appeared, show use of the antimalarial drug is promising as a treatment. Fauci mostly dismisses the reports, saying they were not conducted under rigorous scientific testing protocols. Navarro said the U.S. has a stockpile of 29 million tablets of the antimalarial drug, adding that “virtually every New York (coronavirus) patient is given hydroxy.” The country’s biggest city is at epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. FILE – President Trump listens as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 5, 2020, in Washington.The debate over hydroxychloroquine comes as Trump, Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams all are warning Americans they face daunting days ahead, as the U.S. death toll mounts rapidly with more than 9,600, and with 337,000 confirmed cases of the infection. “This is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” Adams told “Fox News Sunday.” “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”  Trump, speaking to reporters at a Sunday evening briefing, expressed some optimism, saying there is a “light at the end of the tunnel,” while noting the difficult circumstances that lay immediately ahead. “The next week and a half, two weeks, are going to be, I think, they’re going to be very difficult,” Trump said.  “At the same time, we understand what they represent and what that time represents. And hopefully, we can get this over with, because this is a very horrible thing for the world.” Fauci said that stay-at-home orders that cover 41 of the country’s 50 states and social distancing guidelines take time to show their effects. A body wrapped in plastic is unloaded from a refrigerated truck by medical workers wearing personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns, March 31, 2020, at a hospital in New York.”What you’re hearing about potential light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t take away from the fact that tomorrow, the next day, are going to look really bad,” Fauci said. Trump has not issued national lockdown orders like those in Italy and Spain, preferring to leave that decision to state governors.  Most have given their own order, but nine have not. Fauci said the people in the nine states are “putting themselves at risk” by not self-isolating, even if their governors have not issued stay-at-home orders.  “This virus does not discriminate” whether one lives in a small community or a large city,” Fauci said.       

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Fires Near Chernobyl Increase Radiation Level

Two forest fires near the now defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine have boosted the radiation level in the area. Ukrainian firefighters worked into Sunday night to put the fires under control. Emergency services said one of the fires that spread to an area of about five hectares was contained. The other fire was covering a much larger area, of about 20 hectares. Fire officials said radiation levels in the area near Chernobyl were considerably higher than normal.  The emergencies service, however, said radiation levels in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, about 100 kilometers south, were within normal range. The fires were within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone established after the 1986 explosion at the plant, an area of 2600 square kilometers which was largely evacuated because of radioactive contamination. Since than about 200 people have remained in the area, disregarding orders to leave.  

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US Military Helps in Efforts to Fight Coronavirus

The U.S. President expects rough weeks ahead in the fight against the coronavirus as the number of people who die will likely increase. At the same time, White House officials says they are also hopeful that they will start seeing a stabilization of cases across large metropolitan areas where the outbreak began. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details on what the U.S. military is doing to help fight the disease.

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US Health Officials: Shocking US Coronavirus Death Toll Just Ahead 

U.S. officials warned Sunday of a difficult upcoming week as the nation deals with the toll of the coronavirus outbreak. “This is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told “Fox News Sunday.” “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”  President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters at an evening briefing, expressed some optimism, saying there is a “light at the end of the tunnel,” while noting the difficult circumstances that lay ahead. “The next week and a half, two weeks are going to be, I think they’re going to be very difficult,” Trump said. “At the same time, we understand what they represent and what that time represents. And hopefully we can get this over with, because this is a very horrible thing for the world.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, highlighted that stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines take time to show their effects. “What you’re hearing about potential light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t take away from the fact that tomorrow, the next day, are going to look really bad,” Fauci said. FILE – Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is seen at the White House, in Washington, April 1, 2020.The United States is by far the world leader with 337,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University figures early Monday.  The country also had more than 9,600 deaths, with about one-third of those in New York City where hospitals are scrambling to cope with the patient load. Trump has not issued national lockdown orders like those seen in Italy and Spain, preferring to leave that decision up to the individual governors of the 50 states.  Most have given their own order, but nine have not. Fauci said the people in the nine states are “putting themselves at risk” by not self-isolating even if their governors have not issued stay-at-home orders.  “This virus does not discriminate” whether one lives in a small community or a large city,” Fauci said. The president also spent part of his Sunday briefing again pushing a drug used to treat malaria, lupus and arthritis.  Hydroxychloroquine carries major potential side effects and studies are still being done to see if it could be a safe and effective treatment for coronavirus patients. Fauci said in an interview earlier with CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday there is nothing that scientifically proves it has any benefit against the coronavirus.   “The data are really just, at best, suggestive. There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there’s no effect,” Fauci said. 

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Coronavirus Concerns in US, Britain as Italy and Spain Show Signs of Progress

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who last week tested positive for coronavirus, remained hospitalized Monday after being admitted for additional testing after having a persistent high fever. His office called the development “precautionary” and said he remained in charge of the government. Britain has emerged as one of the latest hot spots in the pandemic, reporting more than 600 deaths Sunday. Other parts of Europe showed some improvement after weeks of devastating impacts from the virus that have caused governments to put residents on lockdown to try to slow its spread. Italy, which has the most deaths, reported its smallest increase in two weeks, while Spain also reported its latest in a string of lower daily death and new infection counts. In the United States, the western states of Oregon and Washington said they will send thousands of badly needed ventilators across the country to New York, the hardest-hit area in the country.A ventilator is displayed during a news conference on March 24, 2020 at the New York City Emergency Management Warehouse, where 400 ventilators have arrived and will be distributed.About one-third of 9,600 people who have died from the coronavirus in the United States have been in New York City, where makeshift field hospitals and a U.S. Navy medical ship are trying to take some of the strain off the city’s health care system. Other parts of the country are emerging as concerns with mounting case numbers, including Pennsylvania, Colorado and the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, where about 1,000 cases have been confirmed. South Korea, one of the first hot spots in the outbreak, reported just 47 new cases Monday, but the country’s vice health minister cautioned the need for continued vigilance and for people to stay home to prevent an infection “explosion.” Kim Gang-lip said data from smartphones showed too many people were going out to restaurants and parks in recent weeks. Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging governments to take steps to protect women after a “horrifying” increase in domestic violence during the outbreak.