European Markets Mostly Higher Thursday 

Europe’s major stock indexes were mostly trading in positive territory Thursday, continuing the upswing enjoyed earlier in the day in Asia. London’s FTSE and the DAX index in Frankfurt were both trading at or above one-half of one percent, while Paris’s CAC-40 was slightly lower in mid-morning trading.  A currency trader walks by the screen showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, April 9, 2020.The good news in Europe was a spillover from Asia’s big rally, with Australia, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Shanghai all posting gains at the end of their trading sessions. Japan’s Nikkei index, however, lost a fraction of one percent as the country faces an increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 infections.   In U.S. futures trading, the Dow Jones, S&P and Nasdaq were all trading lower as investors brace for yet another report of huge unemployment claims from the U.S. Labor Department.  Oil markets improved Thursday, with U.S. crude oil gaining 3% to finish over $25 per barrel, while Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose nearly 2%, to settle at over $33 per barrel.  Investors are hopeful that Thursday’s meeting between OPEC members and Russia will lead to a deal to curb production, which has created a glut of supplies as demand has plunged due to the pandemic.     

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US Federal Stocks of Protective Equipment Nearly Depleted

The Strategic National Stockpile is nearly out of the N95 respirators, surgical masks, face, shields, gowns and other medical supplies desperately needed to protect front-line medical workers treating coronavirus patients.The Department of Health and Human Services told The Associated Press Wednesday that the federal stockpile was in the process of deploying all remaining personal protective equipment in its inventory.The HHS statement confirms federal documents released Wednesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee showing that about 90% of the personal protective equipment in the stockpile has been distributed to state and local governments.HHS spokeswoman Katie McKeogh said the remaining 10% will be kept in reserve to support federal response efforts.House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the Trump administration is leaving states to scour the open market for scarce supplies, often competing with each other and federal agencies in a chaotic bidding war that drives up prices.”The President failed to bring in FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) early on, failed to name a national commander for this crisis, and failed to fully utilize the authorities Congress gave him under the Defense Production Act to procure and manage the distribution of critical supplies,” Maloney said. “He must take action now to address these deficiencies.”For the last month, health care workers across the nation have taken to social media to illustrate the shortages by taking selfies wearing home-sewn masks on their faces and trash bags over their scrubs.President Donald Trump has faulted the states for not better preparing for the pandemic and has said they should only being relying on the federal stockpile as a last resort.The AP reported Sunday that the Trump administration squandered nearly two months after the early January warnings that COVID-19 might ignite a global pandemic, waiting until mid-March to place bulk orders of N95 masks and other medical supplies needed to build up the stockpile. By then, hospitals in several states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate equipment and were pleading for help.Trump spent the first two months of the outbreak playing down the threat from the new virus. He derided warnings of a pandemic as a hoax perpetrated by Democrats and the media, predicting as late as Feb. 26 that the number of U.S. cases would soon drop to zero.The stockpile was created in 1999 to prevent supply-chain disruptions for the predicted Y2K computer problems. It expanded after 9/11 to prepare for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. Congress provided money in 2006 to prepare for a potential influenza pandemic, though much of that stock was used during the H1N1 flu outbreak three years later.At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the federal stockpile had about 13 million N95 respirators, masks which filter out about 95% of all liquid or airborne particles and are critical to prevent health care workers from becoming infected. That’s just a small fraction of what hospitals need to protect their workers, who normally would wear a new mask for each patient, but who now are often issued only one to last for days.Federal contracting records show HHS made an initial bulk order of N95 masks on March 12, followed by larger orders on March 21. But those contracts won’t yield big deliveries to the national stockpile until the end of April, after the White House has projected the pandemic will reach its peak.For nearly a month, Trump rebuffed calls to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to order companies to increase production of respirators and ventilators, before he relented last week.
Asked about the AP report, the president suggested Sunday the states should be thankful for the shipments of supplies they have gotten.”FEMA, the military, what they’ve done is a miracle,” Trump said. “What they’ve done is a miracle in getting all of this stuff. What they have done for states is incredible.”

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Ecuador’s president calls for inquiry into handling of virus victims’ bodies

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno is calling for an investigation into the handling of the bodies of coronavirus victims, especially in Guayaquil, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak.Moreno is seeking the probe amid an avalanche of complaints from relatives of victims, who accuse local authorities of mishandling the bodies of their loved ones.The sight of bodies in the street has fueled the anguish of some residents.  The virus is claiming victims so quickly that the backlog has led to bodies being stored in homes of relatives or in refrigerated shipping containers.Ecuador has 242 confirmed deaths and just as many more are suspected of dying from the coronavirus.Moreno said in a tweet that each person deserves a proper burial and that no one will be buried without being identified.Meanwhile, Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said he fired one official who asked for money in exchange for handing over the remains of a victim in a Guayaquil public hospital.So far, there are more than 4,400 cases of the coronavirus in Ecuador, one of the hightest totals in Latin America.

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China President Pledges Help to South Africa in Coronavirus Fight  

Chinese President Xi Jinping is offering support and resources to African countries, especially South Africa, in their fight to control the COVID-19 epidemic.  China state media said Xi recounted during a Wednesday phone call with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa how South Africa reached out to Beijing to offer support in the early stages of China’s coronavirus battle. Xi said China will share its experience in trying to prevent and control the coronavirus and strengthen the cooperation with South Africa in healthcare.  Xi is also urging Chinese nationals in South Africa to lend their support to the country’s anti-epidemic initiatives. South Africa has more than 1,800 coronavirus cases, the most of any country on the continent.  So far, the deaths of 18 people have been linked to the virus.  

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Brazil Turns to Local Industry to Build Ventilators as China Orders Fall Through

Brazil’s health minister said on Wednesday that the country’s attempts to purchase thousands of ventilators from China to fight a growing coronavirus epidemic had fallen through and the government is now looking to Brazilian companies to build the devices.“Practically all our purchases of equipment in China are not being confirmed,” Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said at a news conference.An attempt to buy 15,000 ventilators in China did not go through and Brazil was making a new bid, he said, but the outcome is uncertain in the intense competition for medical supplies in the global pandemic.In one positive sign for Brazil’s supply crunch, a private company managed to buy 40 metric tons of protective masks from China, with the shipment arriving by cargo plane in Brasilia on Wednesday.Young women boxes with donations of food distributed by an NGO to people suffering during the COVID-19 outbreak at the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 7, 2020.The purchase of 6 million masks worth 160 million reais ($30 million) was undertaken by pharmaceutical and hospital equipment company Nutriex, based in Goiania, 220 kilometers east of Brasilia. The firm plans to donate part of the order.Health authorities began to sound the alarm this week over supply shortages as hospitals faced growing numbers of patients with COVID-19.Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country soared to 15,927 on Wednesday, with the death toll rising by 133 in just 24 hours to 800, the ministry said.Rio de Janeiro reported the first six deaths in four of the city’s hillside slums, called favelas, alarming authorities who fear rapid contagion in crowded communities that have limited access to medical care and often lack running water for hygiene.Two of the deaths occurred in Rocinha, one the largest slums in South America where more than 100,000 people live.Mandetta reported the first case of coronavirus among the Yanomami people on the country’s largest reservation and said the government plans to build a field hospital for indigenous tribes that are vulnerable to contagion.“We are extremely concerned about the indigenous communities,” Mandetta said.Anthropologists and health experts warn that the epidemic can have a devastating impact on Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people whose lifestyle in tribal villages rules out social distancing.President Jair Bolsonaro said in an address to the nation that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was saving lives of coronavirus patients and should be used in the initial stages of COVID-19. Due to the absence of scientific evidence on its effectiveness and safety, Brazil’s health authorities limit its use to seriously ill patients who are in hospital.Mandetta said Brazil has hired local unlisted medical equipment maker Magnamed to make 6,000 ventilators in 90 days.Pulp and paper companies Suzano SA and Klabin SA, planemaker Embraer SA, information technology provider Positivo Tecnologia SA and automaker Fiat Chrysler have also offered to help build ventilators, he said. 

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Saudi-led Coalition Announces Cease-fire in Yemen War

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said Wednesday that it was halting military operations nationwide in support of U.N. efforts to end a five-year war that has killed over 100,000 people and spread hunger and disease.The move aims to facilitate talks sponsored by U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths for a permanent cease-fire. It also was pursued in part to avoid a potential outbreak of the new coronavirus, though no cases have been reported so far, military coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.The cease-fire will go into effect at midday Thursday for two weeks and is open to extension, he said in a statement.The announcement was the first major breakthrough since the United Nations convened the warring parties in late 2018 and they signed a cease-fire for the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.But it was unclear if the armed Houthi movement would follow suit. Spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said they had sent the United Nations a comprehensive vision that included an end to the war and to “the blockade” imposed on Yemen.“[Our proposal] will lay the foundations for a political dialogue and a transitional period,” he tweeted Wednesday.Strikes reportedHours after the coalition announcement, Yemen’s information minister said the Houthis had targeted Hodeida and the central city of Marib with missiles, while Houthi media said coalition strikes hit Hajja and Saada provinces.Last week, U.N. envoy Griffiths sent a proposal to the internationally recognized government, the Saudi-led coalition that supports it, and the Houthis — who control the capital, Sanaa, and most of northern Yemen.FILE – A soldier walks at the site of a Houthi missile attack on a military camp’s mosque in Marib, Yemen, Jan. 20, 2020.Griffiths welcomed the cease-fire and called on warring parties to “utilize this opportunity and cease immediately all hostilities with the utmost urgency, and make progress towards comprehensive and sustainable peace.”The adversaries are expected to convene via videoconference to discuss the proposal, which calls for halting all air, ground and naval hostilities.A senior Saudi official, speaking to reporters in Washington, said Riyadh hoped that during the next two weeks the U.N. Security Council would help pressure the Houthis “to stop the hostilities,” join the cease-fire “and also to be serious in such engagement with the Yemeni government.”The U.N. and Western allies have pointed to the threat of the coronavirus to push Yemen’s combatants to agree to fresh talks to end a war that has left millions vulnerable to disease. The United States and Britain have provided the coalition with arms, intelligence and logistics support.Spike in violenceYemen had witnessed a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis began back-channel talks late last year. But a recent spike in violence, including ballistic missiles fired toward Riyadh last month and retaliatory coalition airstrikes, threatens fragile peace deals in vital port cities.Yemen, already the Arab world’s poorest country, has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted the government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.The conflict, largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and regional arch foe Iran, has unleashed an urgent humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions to the verge of famine, forced millions more to seek shelter in displacement camps, and sparked outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria.Saudi Vice Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman tweeted that the kingdom would contribute $500 million to the U.N. humanitarian response plan for Yemen in 2020 and another $25 million to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.The United Nations appealed for more than $4 billion in 2019 for the humanitarian crisis and is expected to ask again for several billion dollars in 2020.

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In Global Life-Death Struggle, Democracy Changes Course

Outside wartime nothing like it as ever been seen before in modern Western history. The lockdowns by democratic states with their draconian constraints on civil liberties and private enterprise fly in the face of an historical progression that’s seen the size and roles of governments shrunk and individual liberty boosted.As governments mobilize resources and coerce people in a life-and-death struggle to contain the coronavirus and mitigate its impact, the state has been unbound. People have been confined indoors, police powers have been expanded, data-surveillance increased and businesses shuttered.  All with little debate.The size and scope of the state’s role in the economy prompted by the coronavirus dwarfs anything mounted to handle the 2008 financial crash. Britain, France and other European countries have offered so far loans and subsidies worth around 15% of their GDPs. America’s stimulus package is at around 10% of GDP. The U.S. fiscal stimulus package was dubbed by Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s economic adviser, “the single largest Main Street assistance program in the history of the United States.”Municipal police officers check documents as they patrol in a street of Sceaux, south of Paris, France, during nationwide confinement measures to counter the Covid-19, April 8, 2020.In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s government not only passed legislation giving it the legal right to control the movement of people, it also seized the power to manage prices and requisition goods. In the United States, President Trump has used the Defense Production Act to prevent the export of surgical masks and gloves.State power is now at its most intrusive since the Second World War. For die-hard advocates of free markets and limited government the abrupt change in direction is horrifying. For others it is less so, even something to be embraced, a harbinger of the future, a turning point that will end up re-reordering their countries.For those on the progressive left, the reemergence of state power is a vindication of long-held beliefs that market-based models for social organization fail the majority of people. They hope the crisis will provide the opportunity to refashion along less market-oriented and more socialist lines. In the United States, supporters of Bernie Sanders say the crisis has exposed for all to see America’s threadbare social-safety net and the need for a government-run single-payer health care system.Last week, Britain’s former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that the government’s massive and unprecedented underwriting of the British economy and labor market vindicated his pre-coronavirus election manifesto, the most left-wing program ever presented by the modern Labour Party.On Europe’s far right, too, there is self-preening as well as hope that the eventual political outcome from the coronavirus will be along lines more to their liking. A future of strong nation states and powerful central governments far less hedged in by Brussels is what they hope the coronavirus will lead to.Europe’s nationalist populists have long demanded more border controls and have advocated for a break with the Schengen system of passport-free travel. They hope the imposition of temporary border controls, in the face of the disapproval of Brussels, will lead to the break-up of Schengen permanently. Luca Zaia, governor of Italy’s hard-hit Veneto region and a member of Matteo Salvini’s populist Lega party, told reporters last month that “Schengen no longer exists” and forecast, “it will be remembered only in the history books.”Some are not waiting for history to reward them. FILE – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban replies to an oppositional MP during a question and answer session of the Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, March 30, 2020.Hungary’s firebrand populist Viktor Orbán, a proponent of what he dubs ‘illiberal democracy,’ has seized the moment to accrue more power. Since his reelection in 2010 civil libertarians have denounced him for initiating a concerted erosion of democratic checks and balances, including the curbing of judicial independence, the politicization of the civil service and state interference in media and civil society. Last week, the country’s parliament, which is controlled by his right-wing nationalist party, gave Orbán the power to rule by decree indefinitely, shrugging off opposition demands for at least an end-date to his one-man-rule in the heart of the European Union. “The Hungarian situation offers us a glimpse of how world politics may function during and after the coronavirus crisis unless we give it careful thought,” frets Umut Korkut, a politics professor at Scotland’s Glasgow Caledonian University. Tom Palmer, a vice president at the Atlas Network, a non-profit which advocates for free-market economic policies and limited government, agrees. The Hungarian example — as well as the unbinding of the state elsewhere in the West — prompts his alarm. “There is a rising tide of authoritarian statism coming,” he says.Coffins arriving from the Bergamo area are being unloaded from a military truck that transported them in the cemetery of Cinisello Balsamo, near Milan in Northern Italy, March 27, 2020.But some governments appear just to be trying to manage public fear with no aim to prolong intrusive power. Others are exploiting it. In many cases established democracies are giving people enough confidence to accept restrictions in exchange for health security. Positive examples include South Korea and Israel, where the introduction of tough measures reflect a strong public consensus for action. In Britain, an opinion poll this week showed that two-thirds of the public back police enforcement of lockdown measures. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, got overwhelming public approval for his nationwide shut-down.But the unbinding of the state does raise serious questions about government overreach and individual rights.Other analysts and commentators remain more sanguine, pointing out that while many Western governments have taken emergency powers during this viral outbreak, no other democracy has given a leader full control as in Hungary. Faced with the prospect of tens of thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of deaths, Western governments have had little option but to expand their authority. People want governments to do whatever is needed to save lives. Once the acute phase of the pandemic is over, everything can revert to how it before, they say. The crisis may even allow for an improvement of democracy — a renewal involving reform of hidebound bureaucracy and a reduction in red tape as well as a greater nimbleness and responsiveness by government. The fight against the Coronavirus has exposed bureaucratic inertia in the West, a leaden-footedness and a failure to act quickly enough. Critics say bureaucracies have become arthritic, adjusting too slowly to the burgeoning crisis and have been reluctant to embrace innovation and flexibility. FILE – A laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for semi-automatic testing at Northwell Health Labs, March 11, 2020, in Lake Success, New York.With the exception of Germany, many Western states have bungled virus testing and been sluggish to embrace the greatest strength of advanced democracies — their industries and manufacturers. As in Britain, so in the United States, commercial and university laboratories were blocked for weeks from developing their own tests for the virus. The government-designed testing kits rolled out at first were faulty.Belatedly, Western governments have started to try to be more responsive and to be smarter in the securing the resources needed to fight the insidious virus, cutting back on red tape, opportunistically embracing innovation, trying to reinvent themselves while tossing aside economic orthodoxy, all for the collective good. That all might leave a lasting legacy.But it remains unclear whether the unbound state will relinquish its expanded authority once the crisis is over. “Some will reassure themselves that it is just temporary and that it will leave almost no mark, as with Spanish flu a century ago,” the Economist magazine editorialized last month. “However, the scale of the response makes covid-19 more like a war or the Depression. And here the record suggests that crises lead to a permanently bigger state with many more powers and responsibilities and the taxes to pay for them,” the editors noted. Governments are never good at handing back powers they have seized. Outside of the democratic states of the West, the picture is gloomier. Dictators and strongman are using the crisis to tighten their grip on power. Many are fearful of political and social revolt triggered by scarcity, fear and an uncontrolled spread of the virus. A member of the non-profit Cambodian Children’s Fund sprays disinfectant to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus in the slum neighborhood of Stung Meanchey in southern Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 24, 2020.In Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev has cited the threat of the coronavirus to crack down even harder on opposition to his rule. So, too, in Cambodia, where Hun Sen has been arresting dissidents on grounds they’re spreading false information about the virus and he’s scapegoating Muslims for its emergence and introducing the contagion into the country. “In Thailand, Cambodia, Venezuela, Bangladesh, and Turkey, governments are detaining journalists, opposition activists, healthcare workers, and anyone else who dares to criticize the official response to the coronavirus,” says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “For authoritarian-minded leaders, the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power. Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity. The health crisis will inevitably subside, but autocratic governments’ dangerous expansion of power may be one of the pandemic’s most enduring legacies,” he fears.FILE – Lebanese policemen remove protesters’ tents in Martyrs Square in Beirut, March 28, 2020.The coronavirus has given governments in the Middle East some breathing space from protest movements that have been burgeoning this year. Public demonstrations have been banned on social distancing grounds. But the Virus and food scarcity risks upending regimes.  In Beirut, protesters flouted a curfew last week chanting, “We want to eat, we want to live.” In Tripoli, the country’s second-largest city, protesters shouted: “Dying from the coronavirus is better than starving to death.”A precipitous fall in oil prices risks destabilizing even strong central powers. With revenues plunging, Saudi Arabia’s ruling family is also at risk, say analysts. Few, though, believe another a coronavirus-sparked repeat of an Arab spring would give rise to the emergence of democracy in the region — more likely just a swap out of authoritarians.Speaking to the French nation last month, France’s Emmanuel Macron promised his people,  “The day after we emerge victorious, will not be like the day before.” His words were meant to reassure the French that the virus would give rise to helpful reform. But they could prove prophetic in quite the opposite way for many countries.   

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Even as Virus Deaths Mount, Governments Eye Exit Strategies

Even as coronavirus deaths mount across Europe, New York and other hot spots, the U.S. and other governments are beginning to envision an exit strategy and contemplating a staggered and carefully calibrated relaxation of the restrictions designed to curb the scourge.”To end the confinement, we’re not going to go from black to white; we’re going to go from black to gray,” top French epidemiologist Jean-François Delfraissy said in a radio interview.At the same time, politicians and health officials emphatically warn that while deaths, hospitalizations and new infections may be leveling off in places like Italy and Spain, and even New York has seen encouraging signs amid the gloom, the crisis is far from over, and a catastrophic second wave could hit if countries let their guard down too soon.”We are flattening the curve because we are rigorous about social distancing,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “But it’s not a time to be complacent. It’s not a time to do anything different than we’ve been doing.”‘Terrible’ developmentIn a sharp reminder of the danger, New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300.”The bad news is actually terrible,” Cuomo lamented. Still, the governor said that hospitalizations were decreasing and that many of those now dying fell ill in the outbreak’s earlier stages.In Britain, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a second night in intensive care but was improving and sitting up in bed, authorities said.Passengers wearing face masks ride a ferry on Yangtze River after travel restrictions to leave Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and China’s epicenter of the novel coronavirus disease outbreak, were lifted, April 8, 2020.In China, the lockdown against Wuhan, the industrial city of 11 million where the global pandemic began, was lifted after 76 days, allowing people to come and go. The reopening was seen as a positive sign but also reflected the communist state’s extensive surveillance apparatus and powers of coercion.Wuhan residents will have to use a smartphone app showing that they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus. Even then, schools remain closed, people are still checked for fever when they enter buildings, and masks are strongly encouraged.In the U.S., with more than 14,000 deaths and more than 400,000 infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was considering changing self-isolation guidelines to make it easier for those exposed to someone with the virus to return to work if they have no symptoms.
Under the proposed guidance, aimed at workers in critical fields, such people would be allowed back on the job if they take their temperature twice a day and wear a mask, said a person who was familiar with the draft but was not authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.’Glimmers of hope’Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, said that the Trump administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country and restart the economy amid “glimmers of hope” that social distancing is working to stop the virus’s spread.”That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now,” he said on Fox News. “But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”The U.S. is seeing burgeoning hot spots in such places as Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Chicago, Detroit, Colorado and Pennsylvania. The New York metropolitan area, which includes northern New Jersey, Long Island and lower Connecticut, accounts for about half of all virus deaths in the U.S.A worker wears a sanitary mask to protect against the novel coronavirus as he works in a greenhouse of the Saracino Flower Farm, in Aprilia, near Rome, April 8, 2020.In Europe, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce in the coming days how long the country’s lockdown will remain in place amid expectations that some restrictions could be eased. Discussions are focused first on opening more of the country’s industries.Proposals being floated in Italy include the issuing of immunity certificates, which would require antibody blood tests, and allowing younger workers to return first, as they show less vulnerability to the virus.Italy, the hardest-hit country, recorded its biggest one-day jump yet in people counted as recovered and had its smallest one-day increase in deaths in more than a month. Nearly 18,000 have died there.In Spain, which has tallied more than 14,000 dead, Budget Minister María Jesús Montero said that Spaniards would progressively recover their “normal life” from April 26 onward but warned that the “de-escalation” of the lockdown will be “very orderly to avoid a return to the contagion.”The government has been tight-lipped so far about what measures could be in place once the confinement is relaxed, stressing that they will be dictated by experts.French authorities have likewise begun to speak openly of planning the end of the confinement period currently set to expire April 15, without giving specifics. The virus has claimed nearly 11,000 lives in France.Three necessary conditionsFrance’s Delfraissy, who leads the scientific council advising the president, said three things are necessary for people to start leaving home regularly: intensive care beds need to be freed up; the spread of the virus must slow; and there have to be multiple tests to see if people are or have been infected and to trace them. He said the French would also need to wear masks in public.British government officials, beset with a rising death toll of more than 7,000, said there is little chance the nationwide lockdown there will be eased when its current period ends next week.The European Union expressed privacy concerns about virus-tracking mobile apps that governments are developing. The apps use smartphone location data to monitor the movements of virus carriers under quarantine — technology the EU said raises questions of “fundamental rights and freedoms.”The desire to get back to normal is driven in part by the damage to world economies.The Bank of France said the French economy has entered recession, with an estimated 6% drop in the first quarter compared with the previous three months, while Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, is also facing a deep recession. Expert said its economy would shrink 4.2% this year.A passer-by wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease, walks past a temporarily closed Seibu department store in Tokyo, April 8, 2020.Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, could contract by a record 25% this quarter, the highest since gross domestic product began to be tracked in 1955.Worldwide, nearly 1.5 million people have been confirmed infected and over 80,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and concealment by some governments.For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and death. Over 300,000 people have recovered.

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US Court Drops Rape, Other Charges Against Mexican Megachurch Leader

A California appeals court ordered the dismissal of a criminal case Tuesday against a Mexican megachurch leader on charges of child rape and human trafficking on procedural grounds.Naason Joaquin Garcia, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, has been in custody since June following his arrest on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added. He has denied wrongdoing.  While being held without bail in Los Angeles, Garcia has remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light of the World.” The Guadalajara, Mexico-based evangelical Christian church was founded by his grandfather and claims 5 million followers worldwide.It was not clear when he would be released.  The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court’s ruling and did not answer additional questions.  Garcia’s attorney, Alan Jackson, said he and his client are “thrilled” by the decision.  “In their zeal to secure a conviction at any cost, the Attorney General has sought to strip Mr. Garcia of his freedom without due process by locking him up without bail on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations by unnamed accusers and by denying him his day in court,” Jackson said in a statement.La Luz del Mundo officials in a statement urged their followers to remain respectful and pray for authorities.  “(W)e are not to point fingers or accuse anyone, we must practice the Christian values that identify us, such as patience, prudence, respect and love of God,” they said.The appeals court ruling states that the Los Angeles County Superior Court must dismiss the 29 counts of felony charges that range from human trafficking and production of child pornography to forcible rape of a minor.The appeals court ruled that because Garcia’s preliminary hearing was not held in a timely manner and he did not waive his right to one, the complaint filed against him must be dismissed.  In June, Garcia was arraigned on 26 counts and waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing — a common move. The following month, he was arraigned on an amended complaint that included three additional charges of possession of child pornography. That time, he did not waive the time limits for a preliminary hearing.  His hearing was postponed several times — in some instances, because prosecutors had not turned over evidence to the defense — as he remained held without bail, prompting his attorneys to file an appeal.  The appeals court ruled that a preliminary hearing on an amended complaint for an in-custody defendant must be held within 10 days of the second arraignment — unless the defendant waives the 10-day time period or there is “good cause” for the delay.  The appeal only mentioned the dismissal of Garcia’s case and not those of his co-defendants, Susana Medina Oaxaca and Alondra Ocampo. A fourth defendant, Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large.  It was not immediately clear if the co-defendants’ cases would also be tossed.  In February, a Southern California woman filed a federal lawsuit against the church and Garcia. In it, she said Garcia, 50, and his father sexually abused her for 18 years starting when she was 12, manipulating Bible passages to convince her the mistreatment actually was a gift from God.The lawsuit will continue despite the dismissal, the woman’s lawyers said Tuesday in a statement.  The dismissal is the latest in a series of blunders on this high-profile case for the attorney general’s office.  Attorney General Xavier Becerra himself pleaded with additional victims to come forward — a move defense attorneys said could taint a jury pool.”It would be hard to believe that, based on the information that we’re collecting, that it’s only these four individuals,” Becerra said in June, repeatedly calling Garcia “sick” and “demented.”Prosecutors Amanda Plisner and Diana Callaghan also said multiple times in court that they expected to file additional charges based on more victims as the case continued to be investigated. But ultimately they only added three counts of possession of child pornography to the original complaint.Plisner and Callaghan were additionally sanctioned by a Superior Court judge in September, who said they had violated a court order in failing to give defense lawyers evidence. The judge later rescinded the sanctions and overturned $10,000 in fines she had levied. 

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