Belarus Does Not Give Up on Football

Football leagues around the world have canceled soccer games for the foreseeable future as one of the measures to slow a rapid COVID-19 spread. But soccer, or football, as it is called in much of the world, continues to be played in Belarus where the number of confirmed infections is still relatively low.The country’s autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed the virus scare as overblown and has advised his people to continue business as usual, especially agriculture. Local media published photos of the Belarus president playing ice hockey.Top Belarusian football division, Vysheyshaya Liga, is run by the Belarusian Football Federation and currently includes 16 teams. The country has never excelled in soccer and has never qualified for the World Cup or the European football championships.But with sports fans around the world deprived of their favorite pastime, Belarus is getting attention and signing broadcasting contracts with a growing number of countries to carry their games. People in India and Israel, not just neighboring Russia, could soon become familiar with members of teams such as FC Minsk or Dinamo Minsk and their individual styles.Belarus soccer fans hope the exposure will inspire their teams to play better and qualify for the next UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations) champions league. UEFA Championship is also known as the European Cup.The spokesman for the Belarus Football Federation Aleksandr Aleinik said the organization is respecting the recommendations by the Sports Ministry.  “All those who are in contact with fans were given protective gloves,” he said. But images of fans from some of the games Saturday show very few wearing masks and some of them cheering without any shirts on.The outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has been especially deadly for the northern city of Bergamo. The unprecedented toll has been traced to a February football match in Milan. More than 2,000 fans traveled from Bergamo to Milan to watch the Atlanta vs. Valencia match at Milan’s San Siro Stadium February 19. As they chanted in the packed stadium it is believed they picked up the new coronavirus strain and took it home to Bergamo. Two days later, Italy confirmed the first case of locally transmitted COVID-19.  Six weeks later, Italy reported that the number of deaths from the coronavirus had topped 10,000. Bergamo is struggling to bury and cremate the number of bodies after several hundred people sometimes die in one day.   European football leagues have canceled local soccer matches until at least the end of April to help slow the rapid spread of COVID-19. The European championship has been postponed until the summer of 2021 because the domestic competition cannot be completed in time for this summer.Most European countries have locked their borders and ordered closures of schools and all but essential businesses. People are asked to stay at home, gather in very limited numbers, sometimes no more than two, and keep a distance from others when they have to go out. In some cases, governments have imposed strict measures such as curfews and mandatory quarantine.  But measures vary from country to country.  In Sweden, restaurants and bars in some cities seemed as lively this month as ever, with the government allowing people to choose how to protect themselves. Schools, day care centers, gyms and beauty salons remained open even as they closed in neighboring Denmark and Norway.  The government announced tougher measures last week after the number of infections and COVID-19 deaths suddenly soared.  But Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said you cannot legislate everything and that individuals also have to take responsibility.Some experts also say that it is counterproductive to impose measures that cannot be sustained for a long period of time. Meanwhile, ordinary people in countries hit by the virus may have to weigh daily the pros and cons of stepping out of the house for weeks or months yet to come.   

UK’s Prince Harry, Wife Meghan, do not Need US Help for Security Costs, Spokeswoman Says

Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, have no plans to ask the U.S. government for help with security costs, the couple said in a statement on Sunday in response to a tweet from President Donald Trump that the United States would not pay for their protection.In January, the couple said they would step away from their royal duties and according to media reports, recently relocated to Los Angeles. Earlier on Sunday, Trump tweeted: “Now they have left Canada for the U.S. however, the U.S. will not pay for their security protection. They must pay!”A spokeswoman for the couple said later in a statement: “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have no plans to ask the U.S. government for security resources. Privately funded security arrangements have been made.”The duchess, Meghan Markle, who married Prince Harry, the grandson of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, in 2018, criticized Trump during his 2016 election campaign as misogynistic and divisive.Last year, Trump, on being told of Meghan’s criticism, said: “I didn’t know that. What can I say? I didn’t know that she was nasty.” But he also wished her well in her new life as a British royal.The couple stunned the royal family in early January with an announcement they would be stepping down from their roles as senior royals, in order to gain freedom from the intense media scrutiny that has followed them for several years.They had been living for several months with their son, Archie, on Vancouver Island in Canada.Britain’s Sun newspaper reported last week that the couple took a private flight to Los Angeles, but did not say when. Earlier this month, the United States and Canada agreed to close their border to non-essential travel at land crossings to ease the strain on health systems caused by the coronavirus.Meghan Markle was raised in the Los Angeles area and her mother, Doria, still lives there. Walt Disney Co said last week that Meghan had narrated a nature documentary that will be released on its Disney+ streaming platform on Friday.Last month, Canada said it would no longer provide security once the couple were no longer working members of the British royal family.The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had been assisting London’s Metropolitan Police with security for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex “intermittently” since November, when the couple began a six-week vacation in Canada, Reuters reported in February.

Husband of Jailed UK-Iranian Woman Says Temporary Release Extended in Tehran

The husband of the jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says his wife has had her temporary release extended for another two weeks by the Iranian government.“Nazanin’s father got told today that it has been extended until Saturday, April 18, an extra two weeks,” husband Richard Ratcliffe told AFP in an e-mail on March 28.He added that the news had brought “a lot of relief in our house.”Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, currently on leave from Evin Prison at her parents’ house in the Iranian capital, had been due to return to custody on April 4.Her husband had previously said she was required to wear an ankle bracelet and to remain within 300 meters of her parents’ home.Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since April 2016. In September 2016, she was sentenced to 5 years in prison for allegedly “plotting to topple the Iranian government.” She denied the charges, as did her employer and the British government.Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, his daughter Gabriella and his mother arrive at Downing Street in London, Jan. 23, 2020.On March 17, her husband said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was among up to 80,000 prisoners temporarily released by the Iranian government — a measure that authorities said was meant to help curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.Iranian President Hassan Rohani on March 24 said that the “government’s coronavirus crisis team has decided to extend [the overall prisoner] parole from April 3 to April 19,” adding that it could be extended again if the situation requires.Iran is the hardest-hit country in the Middle East by the coronavirus pandemic. As of March 28, it has reported more than 25,000 cases of infections and 2,517 deaths. However, experts warn that ascertaining an accurate number of cases anywhere in the world is impossible because of the lack of testing.Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 after visiting relatives in Iran with her young daughter.She worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time.Britain has demanded her release and that of other dual nationals imprisoned in Iran. Tehran does not recognize dual citizenship.Former British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote in a tweet that the latest development was “a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness.””Let’s pray that this remarkable family are reunited soon,” he added. 

Germany’s Merkel Shines in Virus Crisis Even as Power Wanes 

In her first address to the nation on the coronavirus pandemic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel calmly appealed to citizens’ reason and discipline to slow the spread of the virus, acknowledging as a woman who grew up in communist East Germany how difficult it is to give up freedoms, yet as a trained scientist emphasizing that the facts don’t lie. Then, wearing the same blue pantsuit from the televised address, the 65-year-old popped into her local supermarket to pick up food, wine and toilet paper to take back to her Berlin apartment. For her, it was a regular shopping stop, but photos snapped by someone at the grocery store were shared worldwide as a reassuring sign of calm leadership amid a global crisis. With the coronavirus outbreak, Merkel is reasserting her traditional strengths and putting her stamp firmly on domestic policy after two years in which her star seemed to be fading, with attention focused on constant bickering in her governing coalition and her own party’s troubled efforts to find a successor. Merkel has run Germany for more than 14 years and has over a decade’s experience of managing crises. She reassured her compatriots in the 2008 financial crisis that their savings were safe, led a hard-nosed but domestically popular response to the eurozone debt crisis, and then took an initially welcoming — but divisive — approach to an influx of migrants in 2015. In the twilight of her chancellorship, she faces her biggest crisis yet — a fact underlined by her decision last week to make her first television address to the nation other than her annual New Year’s message. “This is serious — take it seriously,” she told her compatriots. “Since German unification — no, since World War II — there has been no challenge to our country in which our acting together in solidarity matters so much.” With Germany largely shutting down public life, she alluded to her youth in communist East Germany as she spelled out the scale of the challenge and made clear how hard she found the prospect of clamping down on people’s movement. “For someone like me, for whom freedom of travel and movement were a hard-won right, such restrictions can only be justified by absolute necessity,” she said. But they were, she said, “indispensable at the moment to save lives.” The drama was evident in Merkel’s words, but the manner was familiar: Matter-of-fact and calm, reasoning rather than rousing, creating a message that hit home. It is a style that has served the former physicist well in juggling Germany’s often-fractious coalitions and maintaining public support over the years. “Merkel painted a picture of the greatest challenge since World War II, but she did not speak of war,” the influential Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper wrote. “She did not rely on martial words or gestures, but on people’s reason. … Nobody knows if that will be enough, but her tone will at least not lead the people to sink into uncertainty and fear.” Merkel’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is still very much a work in progress, but a poll released Friday by ZDF television showed 89% of Germans thought the government was handling it well. The poll saw Merkel strengthen her lead as the country’s most important politician, and a strong 7% rise for her center-right Union bloc after months in which it was weighed down by questions over its future leadership. The poll, done by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The 65-year-old chancellor initially had Health Minister Jens Spahn be the public face of the government’s response, drawing some criticism but has taken center stage over the past two weeks. She kept that up after going into quarantine on Sunday after a doctor who gave her a vaccination tested positive for the coronavirus. Since then she has twice tested negative for the virus herself but continues to work from home. On Monday, she led a Cabinet meeting by phone from home and then issued an audio message setting out a huge government relief package to cushion the blow of the crisis to business — a format she said was “unusual, but it was important to me.” Her vice chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who is also finance minister and a member of her coalition partner Social Democrats, has also had a chance to shine in the crisis, leading the way with the aid package that will allow Germany to offer businesses more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) that he described as a “bazooka.” The jury is still out on how the government’s approach will work, but after having run a budget surplus for a half-decade, Germany is well-prepared to offer the massive aid program. Its health care system has been in good enough shape to be taking in patients from overwhelmed Italy and France, with intensive care beds still available. Although Germany has registered the third-highest number of coronavirus infections in Europe with 57,695, it has only seen 433 people die, placing it sixth in Europe behind Italy, Spain, France, Britain and even the Netherlands. Italy alone has over 10,000 dead. Experts have attributed Germany’s success partially to widespread and early testing for the virus, among other things. In an audio message Thursday night, Merkel cautioned, however, that it was far too early to declare victory over COVID-19, saying “now is not the time to talk about easing measures.” No matter what the outcome of Germany’s virus-fighting efforts, it won’t change the fact that the Merkel era is drawing to a close. Merkel has never shown any signs of backing off her 2018 vow to leave politics at Germany’s next election, due next year. But the crisis may burnish her government’s lackluster image and improve its chances of making it through to the fall of 2021, after persistent speculation that it wouldn’t last the full legislative term. And it certainly could put her successor on a better footing —though just who that will be is also up in the air. Merkel stepped down as her party’s leader in 2018 but her own choice as a successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, lasted just over a year before declaring that she would step down after failing to establish her authority. The decision on who will take over the leadership of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party was supposed to be made in April, but has been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
 

Italy, Spain Hardest Hit by Coronavirus in Europe

Italy, the European country hardest hit by the coronavirus, confirmed 10,023 people dead and 92,472 infected as of Saturday.Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made the announcement Saturday evening in a joint appearance with Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri.On a somewhat positive note, Conte said that on Saturday Italy also had more than 1,400 people who recovered, the highest number to date.Conte said that under the solidarity fund for the municipalities program, which has an advance payment of $4.8 billion, mayors will soon be issuing food vouchers for low-income and poor people facing challenges due to the lockdown of the country and the shutdown of nonessential factories and businesses. Many Italians have seen a drastic decrease of income.Relatives attend the funeral of a woman who died from the coronavirus disease, as Italy struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Seriate, March 28, 2020.”With a Civil Protection order we will add to this fund (the solidarity fund for the municipalities) 400 million euros. We are distributing this fund to the municipalities, but they must use it to support poor people who cannot afford food shopping. With these 400 million that will be distributed to the 8,000 municipalities of our territory it will be possible to issue vouchers and to give food,” Conte said.Local municipalities are obliged to use the fund for food, medicines and other essential goods for citizens of the poorest segments of Italian society.Conte also said that if data collected show a decrease in the intensity of the coronavirus and if it is feasible, schools may open Friday.In Spain, the health ministry confirmed 832 deaths Saturday, bringing the total number of victims to 5,690.  The country has the highest death toll in Europe after Italy.Health authorities said Friday the country was getting closer to the peak of the virus outbreak. In the meantime, hospitals have surpassed their capacities and patients infected with coronavirus continue to arrive, which has forced medical personnel to accommodate them elsewhere.As of Saturday, France had 37,575 confirmed cases of infection and 2,314 deaths, with 319 new deaths in the last 24 hours, health authorities said.Sheep walk back to their shelter near the Mont-Saint-Michel, northwestern France, on March 28, 2020, during a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the country has not seen the worst yet, warning that the first 15 days of April will be crucial.”We must all together face a considerable challenge and make an intense effort. An effort that will endure because I want to tell you things with clarity, the fight has just begun. The first 15 days of April will be difficult, even more difficult than the 15 days that have just passed,” Philippe said.Meanwhile, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France had ordered more than a billion protective masks, mostly from China, as the country was running short of the much-needed item to fight the spread of COVID-19.In Germany the number of deaths has been relatively low, compared to other European countries. According to Die Zeit newspaper, Germany had 397 victims – a death rate below 1 percent — as of Saturday, and 53,340 people tested positive for the coronavirus.Experts believe that strict measures, extensive testing and a strong health care system have helped the country to deal more effectively to keep the death toll lower, while the number of infections is high.Germany has closed nonessential services and has banned public gatherings of more than two people until April 20. 

Rosneft Hands Venezuelan Oil Business to Russian State Firm

Russia’s Rosneft oil company said Saturday that it’s halting operations in Venezuela and selling its assets there to a company fully owned by the Russian government, a move apparently intended to protect Russia’s largest oil producer from U.S. sanctions while Moscow continues supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.The sale follows the U.S. imposition of sanctions on two Rosneft subsidiaries in an effort to cut a critical lifeline Russia extended to Maduro after the U.S. government made it illegal for Americans to buy crude from Venezuela.Rosneft, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s longtime associate Igor Sechin, said that its move meant that “all assets and trading operations of Rosneft in Venezuela and/or connected with Venezuela will be disposed of, terminated or liquidated.”It said in a statement that it “concluded an agreement with a company 100% owned by the government of the Russian Federation, to sell all of its interest and cease participation in its Venezuelan businesses,” including multiple joint ventures, oil-field services companies and other activities.The sale could help shield Rosneft by handing over control of the Venezuelan operations to a fully state-owned venture that unlike the state-controlled Rosneft isn’t answerable to private investors.U.S. pressureIn February, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the Rosneft subsidiary based in Geneva that sells crude to European customers. U.S. authorities vowed to keep applying pressure and hit a second Rosneft subsidiary with sanctions earlier this month.FILE – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, March 12, 2020.Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev said the company’s decision was aimed at “protecting the interests of our shareholders.” He added in remarks carried by Russia’s Tass news agency that Rosneft expected the U.S. to now waive sanctions against its subsidiaries.”We really have the right to expect American regulators to fulfill their public promises,” he said.Konstantin Kosachev, the Kremlin-connected head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, reiterated that Russia’s view is that “unilateral U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are unlawful and inhumane.””Moscow and Caracas will remain partners amid the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela,” he told the Interfax news agency.Recognition of GuaidoThe U.S. was first among nearly 60 nations to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido a year ago as Venezuela’s rightful leader. The international coalition considers Maduro illegitimate after 2018 elections widely deemed fraudulent because the most popular opposition candidates were banned from running against him. Russia’s support has helped Maduro to face down U.S.-backed efforts to unseat him.Rosneft said in its statement that “the concluded transaction and the sale of assets will result in Rosneft receiving as a settlement payment a 9.6% share of Rosneft’s equity capital that will be held by a 100% subsidiary of Rosneft and accounted for as treasury stock.”

Chinese Firm Offers to Replace Faulty Test Kits Sold to Spain

A Chinese company offered Friday to replace thousands of faulty coronavirus test kits after Spanish health authorities – desperate for materials to cope with the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll – complained they did not work as promised.China has sold face masks and other medical equipment through a series of personal contacts with Spanish authorities, including discussions between chief executives of Chinese tech giant Alibaba and Spain’s King Felipe.But the first shipment of 640,000 test kits was found to have “insufficient sensibility” to reliably identify infected patients, according to Health Minister Salvador Illa, who announced Thursday that 58,000 kits had been returned.FILE – This undated file photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC’s laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus.The Chinese company supplying the test kits, Shenzhen Bioeasy Technology, said in a statement quoted by Reuters that the incorrect results may have resulted from a failure to collect samples or use the kits correctly.The firm said it had not adequately communicated with clients how to use the kits and would resend them “assuring the sensitivity and specificity needed to help Spain fight against COVID-19.”Spanish medical experts, who have examined the 9,000 kits delivered last week, said they have only a 30 percent probability of detecting the virus.“They are useless,” said Victor Jimenez Cid, a senior professor in microbiology at Madrid’s Complutense University. For a test to be effective it must have a 70 percent to 80 percent probability of detecting the virus, Cid said.The failure of Bioeasy’s testing kits is a painful setback for Spanish medical authorities, who are struggling to cope with more than 64,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 4,900 deaths, second only to Italy.It is also hugely embarrassing to China, which is seeking to rehabilitate a national image tarnished by its faulty early response to the virus in Wuhan by offering assistance to other hard-hit countries.“First they send us the virus, then they sell us the medications to stop it and then defraud us. It’s great for China” said a guest in a panel discussion on a broadcast on the Spanish TV channel La Sexta.An emergency worker wearing a protective suit closes the door of an ambulance transferring a COVID-19 patient in Barcelona, Spain, March 27, 2020.The test is performed by dipping a swab with a sample of a patient’s saliva in a protein extraction that gives color indications of the virus’s presence. The speedy method is essential for emergency examinations by hospitals as well as improvised drive-through facilities that Spanish authorities are setting up to isolate and quickly treat cases of contamination.Until now, Spanish hospitals have relied on slower molecular laboratory testing, which requires specialized personnel and take four hours to produce a result. Tests like those offered by Bioeasy are supposed to produce a diagnosis in 15 minutes.Mass testing methods proved essential in South Korea’s successful effort against coronavirus and they are recommended by the World Health Organization as an essential way of controlling the pandemic’s spread.A priest wearing a gloves to protect against coronavirus waits in front the cemetery chapel during the coronavirus outbreak in Madrid, Spain, March 27, 2020.The Chinese embassy in Spain tweeted that Shenzen Bioeasy is not licensed to sell the product and is not included on a list of “recommended suppliers,” which its ministry of commerce offered the Spanish government.Spain’s health ministry said Bioeasy products have been approved by European Union quality control agencies and that the “specifications of this test, at least of the lot that was received, do not correspond with EU quality certifications.”Officials said the deal with Bioeasy was made through an unidentified intermediary.Health ministry emergency coordinator Fernando Simon said Spain is trying to import 6 million testing kits from China and other EU countries. He also said that “intense efforts” are underway with Spanish biotechnology firms to produce them. 

Congressman Raises Concerns Over Trump Administration Tactics on Kosovo

A prominent member of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday issued a highly critical statement on U.S. policy toward Kosovo.Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Since than the country has been recognized by more than 110 countries, including the United States, but not by Serbia and its ally Russia.House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, a Democrat, said there is something wrong with the U.S. foreign policy toward Kosovo and “we need to correct it.”In his statement, Engel expressed his serious concerns “with the heavy-handed tactics the Trump administration is using with Prishtina,” Kosovo’s capital.Engel was referring to State Department pressure on Prishtina, especially on the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti, to lift tariffs the country had imposed on Serbia.“This administration turned to economic penalties just a few short weeks after the Kurti government took office. Rather than letting a new government facing a pandemic staff its agencies and set up internal procedures, the U.S. contributed to a political crisis in Prishtina over the tariffs on Serbia,” Engel said.On March 25, after only 50 days in office, the Kurti government did not survive a no-confidence vote in parliament, initiated by its ruling coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).The government was dismissed following political bickering over whether to declare a state of emergency to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and after Kurti dismissed the LDK internal affairs minister, Agim Veliu.Kurti’s government is expected to continue as a caretaker government, pending creation of a new government.“There are good reasons for Kosovo to lift tariffs, mostly that they are hurting Kosovo more than they are providing leverage to reach a peace deal with Serbia,” Engel said.“Regardless, tariffs are a legitimate tool of a sovereign nation. As such, they’ve been imposed around the world by [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump against friends and foes, alike, for economic and political reasons,” Engel said.Engel said the Trump administration used “overbearing tactics with a friend which relies on our support” instead of working with Kurti government, “as it sought to work with the previous Kosovo government” to forge policies that promote lasting peace and prosperity.“Strong-arming a small democracy is the act of a bully,” Engel said.While Serbian diplomats are campaigning around the world to “derecognize” Kosovo’s independence, and Serbia is purchasing heavy weaponry from Russia and strengthening the relationship with Moscow, the pressure imposed on Prishtina for its tariffs on Serbia has been “decidedly unbalanced,” Engel said.The U.S., he added, should work with European allies “to treat both countries as independent and sovereign partners, applying consistent standards to both sides as we try to restart peace talks.”The arms purchases from Russia require U.S. sanctions on Serbia under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, passed in the aftermath of 2016 Russian interference in U.S. elections, Engel said.“Neither have we imposed those sanctions, nor have we energetically pressed Serbia to end its derecognition efforts,” Engel said.“When U.S. law says we should sanction Serbia due to its security ties with Russia, we should.”    

Scotland Reports 1,059 Coronavirus Cases, 33 Deaths

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reports that as of Friday, there were 1,059 cases of COVID-19 in Scotland — an increase of 165 from Thursday.
 
At a news conference Friday in Edinburgh, Sturgeon also reported an additional eight deaths from the virus overnight, bringing the total number of fatalities in Scotland to 33.
 
The first minister said she expects those numbers to be an underestimate. She urged people to stay indoors, and to go out only for essential shopping and exercise, or care for others.   
 
Sturgeon also stressed the importance of supporting mental health during the coronavirus crisis, and she announced Friday about $4.7 billion in additional funding for National Health Service mental health support services, including 24-hour support phone lines and internet services. 

Reaction to News UK’s Johnson Has Tested Positive for Coronavirus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was in self-isolation at his Downing Street office.
 
Here is reaction to the news.
   Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of UK’s Opposition Labor Party 
 
“I wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery and hope his family are safe and healthy. Coronavirus can and does affect anyone. Everyone be safe. Our own health depends on everybody else.”   
 Indain Prime Minister Narendra Modi 
 
“You’re a fighter and you will overcome this challenge as well. Prayers for your good health and best wishes in ensuring a healthy UK.”
 Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster 
 
“Best wishes to the Prime Minister and Carrie (Symonds, Johnson’s fiancee). No one is immune. Let’s all follow the guidelines.”
 Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon 
 
“I send my very best wishes to Boris Johnson and his family. I don’t underestimate for anybody how difficult it is to be positive for this virus so I certainly send my best wishes to him for a very speedy recovery.”

Belarusian Journalist Satsuk Detained for Alleged Bribe Taking

The Belarusian news website ej.by says state authorities have detained its director and editor in chief on suspicion of accepting a bribe.
 
Syarhey Satsuk was detained on March 25 during a special operation by officers from the Financial Investigations Department, the website said on March 26.
 
The editorial office of the online publication was searched following the detention of the site’s editor in chief, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said, adding that documents were seized during the operation.
 
Calling the accusations against Satsuk “lies and nonsense,” his brother, Alyaksandr Satsuk, told RFE/RL that he did not rule out that the detention may be connected with investigative reporting he’s done into alleged corruption at the Health Ministry related to the import of medications.
 
The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, on March 26 said he was “very much concerned” over Satsuk’s detention.
 
Desir noted that the journalist is “known for his previous reporting on corruption issues in the health sector” and also recently published articles critical of the country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
 
The OSCE representative insisted that journalists “should not be intimidated, prosecuted, or detained for reporting on issues of public interest and on the COVID-19 situation.”
 
“Journalists have a key role to play in reporting on the pandemic and in providing important information to the public,” he added.
 

Russia Proposes Grain Export Quota in Response to Coronavirus

Russia’s Agriculture Ministry has proposed to limit grain exports for three months, it said on Friday, prompting concern among traders that the measures by the world’s largest wheat exporter could be extended.
 
In fellow Black Sea exporter Ukraine, the economy ministry on Friday said it was monitoring wheat exports daily and would take measures if needed. Bakers and millers in the country had earlier asked for grain exports to be limited to prevent a surge in bread prices if the spread of the coronavirus accelerates.
 
The proposal to limit grain exports to 7 million tons for April-June was a response to the Russian government’s request this week to consider whether exports of any food should be limited because of the coronavirus pandemic.
 
The ministry said that the measure, if approved, would cover the main grain types – wheat, rye, barley and corn – to help to ensure stability in the domestic food market.
 
The size of the limit doesn’t have much bite, traders said, because 7 million tons is more or less the general expectation for Russia’s export volumes until the end of the 2019/20 season on June 30.
 
But the move has raised expectations that further steps might follow, given Russia’s history of limiting grain exports in tough times, such as when ruble weakness causes a jump in domestic prices or prospects for the new crop are disappointing.
 
“It is a symbolic gesture, but a worrying one,” one European trader said.
 
“Is this a first step in moves to reduce exports to preserve Russia’s own food supplies amid the coronavirus? This is the worry.”
 
Wheat futures in Paris extended gains and were up 1.8% on Friday after news of the quota proposal.
 
Russia exported 25.2 million tons of wheat, rye, barley and corn in the July-December period last year. From the start of this year to March 26, Russia’s wheat, rye, barley and corn exports totaled 7.2 million tons, the ministry added. 

Germany Flies Hundreds of Tourists Out of Nepal

A Qatar Airways charter flight arranged by the German government has picked up hundreds of tourists stranded in Nepal as the country went on lockdown at the beginning of this week.The tourists, who were mostly German nationals or had some connection to the country, flew out of Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport on Friday, a Nepalese immigration official said.The airport in Nepal’s capital reopened for the flight, which was designated to pick up the tourists and did not bring any passengers to the country.The government ordered a countrywide lockdown that included halting all flights and road travel as a prophylactic measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Businesses and government offices were also closed.Up to 10,000 tourists were stranded in Nepal as result of shutdown.Nepal has confirmed only three cases of the coronavirus, including one person who has recovered. 

COVID-19 Diaries: Arriving Home to a Totally Changed Rome

We made it home to Italy, just north of Rome, last Friday and that’s when our two-week quarantine began.As soon as we arrived, we had to declare to the local health authorities that we understood the rules — we were to stay indoors and not leave the house, not even for food. All I can say is thank goodness home deliveries are working!It took my 18-year-old twin sons and me an entire day to get home from England. We are only too aware that we were very lucky; three days earlier the EU had announced that travel into the Schengen area was halted for 30 days, with the only exception for returning long-time residents.From London Heathrow airport, we flew to Dusseldorf, Germany, to catch a completely booked connecting flight to Rome. Many on our initial flight were university students headed for Milan who discovered their connecting flight had been cancelled. No one told them what they should do. In fact, Dusseldorf airport was deserted and our flight to Rome was one of only a handful that had not been cancelled.My sons study in the south of England and I had gone there to attend a parents-teacher evening on Feb. 27. At that time, Italy had locked down 11 towns in the north due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I could not have known that soon that would be the fate of the whole of Italy.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
An empty street leads to the ancient Colosseum, in Rome, March 24, 2020.Finally, we could go and collect our suitcases in what was another deserted airport terminal. I had never seen Rome airport so empty, with all its shops closed. I had made sure that a car with driver was waiting for us. As we were driven on Rome’s notoriously busy ring road, we could not believe how few cars we passed.As we drove into town, there were many police roadblocks, but no one stopped us. We had to collect some keys at one address, pick up some things for the kids somewhere else and finally pick up my car to drive home. We were able to achieve all that driving through a spectral Rome.We saw virtually no people or cars – a surreal scene for residents long accustomed to Rome’s unbearable traffic with its honking cars and scooters whizzing by left and right. It dawned on us very quickly there would be no freedom of movement for any of us; our lives would be radically different.Medical personnel talk outside the retirement home Giovanni XIII, where coronavirus swabs were carried out on the staff of the facility, after the death of a patient, in Rome, March 24, 2020.We were exhausted but happy to get home at 11 pm. We went to bed knowing our lives in Italy were not going to be anything like what we knew in the past. And the next morning that reality hit us — no leaving the house, no food except what was left in the elevator of our building for us, no speaking with anyone except on the phone or WhatsApp. No going for a walk, no going to the gym, no meeting up with friends. Outside, cafes, restaurants and shops all were closed.The weather at this time of the year is beautiful and we are allowed out on our terrace of course. But when we look outside we see no one; everyone is locked up at home in self-isolation. The rare person who walks by heading to buy food is wearing a protective mask and gloves. The boys and I look at each other and ask ourselves a question no one is able to answer: How long is this going to last?