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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson Hospitalized With Coronavirus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was diagnosed with the new coronavirus more than a week ago, was admitted to a hospital Sunday for tests.  Johnson’s office said he was hospitalized because he still has symptoms 10 days after testing positive for the virus. His admission to an undisclosed hospital in London wasn’t an emergency.Downing St. said it was a “precautionary step” and Johnson remains in charge of the government.Johnson, 55, has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26.Johnson has continued to chair daily meetings on Britain’s response to the outbreak, and has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation.In a message on Friday, he said he was feeling better but still had a fever.The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, but for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.Johnson has received medical advice by phone during his illness, but going to a hospital means doctors can see him in person.Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, 32, revealed Saturday that she spent a week with coronavirus symptoms, though she wasn’t tested. Symonds, who is pregnant, said she was now “on the mend.”The government said Sunday that almost 48,000 people have been confirmed to have COVID-19 in the U.K., and 4,934 have died.Johnson replaced Theresa May as prime minister in July and won a resounding election victory in December on a promise to complete Britain’s exit from the European Union. But Brexit has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe.Johnson’s government was slower than those in some European countries to impose restrictions on daily life in response to the pandemic, but Britain has been effectively in lockdown since March 23.Several other members of Johnson’s government have also tested positive for the virus, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock and junior Health Minister Nadine Dorries. Both have recovered.News of Johnson’s admission to hospital came an hour after Queen Elizabeth II made a rare televised address to the nation, urging Britons to remain “united and resolute” in the fight against the virus.Drawing parallels to the struggle of World War II, the 93-year-old queen said that “while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

Queen Elizabeth Addresses ‘Challenge’ of COVID Pandemic

Queen Elizabeth II urged Britons to “rise to the challenge” of the coronavirus pandemic in a rare address to the nation Sunday night.“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time,’’ she said, speaking from her residence in Windsor.The Queen thanked workers at the National Health Service as well as those continuing to work essential jobs.“Every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to normal times,” the Queen said, going on to add her thanks for every Briton who is staying at home.“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge,” she said.The Queen left London to stay in the Windsor castle as the COVID-19 pandemic affects Britain.Her son, Prince Charles, has been diagnosed with a mild case of the virus.Queen Elizabeth II records an annual Christmas message to Britain, but very rarely addresses the country in Sunday’s fashion. Other instances of such an address by the 93-year-old monarch include one before the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 and after the Queen Mother’s death in 2002.
“While we have faced challenges before, this one is different,” the Queen said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly all nations around the globe.The United Kingdom has recorded more than 48,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 5,000 resulting deaths. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for the virus last week and is isolating at home.

Spanish Players Criticize League’s Call for Furloughs

Soccer players in Spain on Sunday criticized the Spanish league’s decision to ask clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs during the coronavirus crisis.The league on Friday said the furloughs were needed because there was no agreement on the size of the salary cuts players must take to reduce the financial impact of the pandemic.”It is strange that the Liga supports [the furloughs],” Spain’s players’ association said in a statement.It said the league should have created a financial cushion for this period considering it always boasted about its “economic control measures” and the “well-balanced economy” of the Spanish clubs. The association said it also should be taken into account that the league has been temporarily suspended and not yet canceled.The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.The players said they agree with a salary reduction to help the clubs during the crisis, but not to the extent the league wants, which could amount to nearly half of the total losses if the competition is not resumed.Players said they want to keep negotiating directly with the clubs instead of being forced into furloughs.”The clubs and the players have been reaching agreements regarding the salaries,” the players’ association said. “What footballers are not going to do is relinquish labor rights.”Barcelona and Atlético Madrid are among the Spanish clubs requesting furloughs, but both directly negotiated the amount of the salary reduction with players — 70% in both cases. Both clubs and their players are contributing to guarantee the wages of non-playing employees being furloughed.The government furloughs help reduce the clubs’ labor costs while also guaranteeing players their jobs once the crisis is over.Spain has more than 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 12,500 deaths. The nation is expected to remain in a lockdown until April 26.There is no timetable for the return of the Spanish league.Players maintained their position to only resume competing when health authorities deem it safe for everyone’s heath, a view also shared by the Spanish league.The league has suggested it will recommend teams start mini-camp while the lockdown is still in place, if it’s possible to do so within the restrictions imposed by authorities.

Ukraine: Fire Near Contaminated Chernobyl Site Extinguished

Emergency authorities in Ukraine say there are no signs of any fire still burning in the uninhabited exclusion zone around the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant after firefighters mobilized to put out a blaze.The country’s State Emergency Service said early on Sunday that background radiation levels were “within normal limits.”More than 130 firefighters, three aircraft, and 21 vehicles were deployed on April 4 to battle the fire, which was said to have burned around 20 hectares (50 acres) in the long-vacated area near where an explosion at a Soviet nuclear plant in 1986 sent a plume of radioactive fallout high into the air and across swaths of Europe.Fire and safety crews were said to be inspecting the area overnight on April 4-5 to eliminate any threat from sites where there was still smoldering.The blaze required seven airdrops of water, officials said.The Ukrainian State Emergency Service said that “as of April 5, 7:00 a.m., there was no open fire, only some isolated cells smoldering.”It said firefighters hadn’t seen any flames since around 8:00 p.m. on April 4.Officials had earlier shared images taken from an aircraft of white smoke blanketing the area, where it said firefighting was complicated by “an increased radiation background in individual areas of combustion.”There was no threat to settlements, the State Emergency Service said.A number of regions of Ukraine this week have reported brushfires amid unseasonably dry conditions.Fires are a routine threat in the forested region around the exclusion zone where an explosion 33 years ago ripped a roof off the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near the now-abandoned town of Pripyat.The 1986 explosion sent a cloud of radioactive material high into the air above then-Soviet Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, as well as across Europe as Soviet officials denied there had been any accidents.Dozens of people in Ukraine died in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, and thousands more have since died from its effects, mainly exposure to radiation.A second massive protective shelter over the contaminated reactor was completed in 2016 in hopes of preventing further radiation leaks and setting the stage for the eventual dismantling of the structure.

US Braces for Worst COVID-19 Weeks

“It’s only been 30 days since our first case,” battle-fatigued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday about the COVID-19 outbreak that has invaded his state.  “It feels like an entire lifetime.”New York is the U.S. state hardest hit by the coronavirus, where it has claimed more than 3,500 lives.  Public health experts say the situation is about to get worse, not only for New York, but for the rest of the United States as well.While Cuomo said the state is about seven days away from its apex of the health crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump warned Saturday that the U.S. would soon face its hardest two weeks with the virus.“There’s going to be a lot of death,” Trump said.U.S. hospitals have been fighting the coronavirus battle with a woefully inadequate arsenal.  Hospitals have been pleading for ventilators for their patients and the protective gear that doctors and other medical workers wear to prevent passing the disease back and forth between themselves and their patients.New York received a shipment of 1,000 ventilators Saturday from China.  “This is a big deal and it’s going to make a significant difference for us,” Cuomo said.Cuomo also said 85,000 volunteers are helping New York combat the virus and that he will sign an executive order allowing medical students slated to graduate this spring to graduate early and start practicing.A medic of the Elmhurst Hospital Center medical team reacts after stepping outside of the emergency room on April 4, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York.Some states have been at odds with the White House because the Trump administration has not mounted a unified approach to combatting the virus, leaving each state to craft its own strategy to find medical equipment and drugs to fight the deadly virus.The Washington Post reported the White House got its first official notification of the outbreak in China on January 3, but it took the administration 70 days to treat the outbreak as the deadly pandemic it has become.The global tally of confirmed cases has climbed to more than 1.2 million and almost 65,000 deaths.Spain, with more than 126,000 cases and almost 12,000 deaths, plans to extend its nationwide lockdown by 15 more days, until April 26. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Saturday he would ask parliament to extend lockdown measures for the second time after first extending them to April 11.Italy, the second-hardest-hit European country after Spain, has had more than 11,000 of its medical workers infected by COVID-19, according to its National Institutes of Health and an association of physicians. The groups said about 73 physicians have died from the virus. Infections among medical personnel amount to nearly 10 percent of all infections in Italy.Carabinieri military police patrol Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican April 5, 2020, before Pope Francis leads Palm Sunday Mass without public participation due to the spread of coronavirus disease.Britain’s Ministry of Justice said Saturday that thousands of prisoners would be released within weeks as part of its broader campaign to contain the spread of the virus. Britain reported 708 deaths overnight, boosting the country’s death toll to more than 4,300. The ministry said the inmates would be electronically monitored to ensure they remain at home and could be returned to prison “at the first sign of concern.”France’s military has begun moving patients to hospitals across the country in an effort to contain the coronavirus’s spread in the hard-hit area in and around Paris. Military planes, helicopters and trains are transporting patients to less-affected areas in western France. More than 7,500 deaths and 90,000 infections have been reported in France.China observed a national moment of mourning for three minutes Saturday morning, as flags flew at half-staff and air sirens sounded to remember COVID-19 victims and the “martyrs” or front-line medical workers who died in the Asian nation’s fight to save the sick.The coronavirus first emerged late last year in China’s Hubei province, killing more than 3,300 people.       

Virus Alters Holy Week Celebration Worldwide, But Not the Spirit

For Pope Francis at the Vatican, and for Christians worldwide from churches large and small, this will be an Easter like none other: The joyous message of Jesus Christ’s resurrection will be delivered to empty pews.Worries about the coronavirus outbreak have triggered widespread cancellations of Holy Week processions and in-person services. Many pastors will preach on TV or online, tailoring sermons to account for the pandemic. Many extended families will reunite via Face Time and Zoom rather than around a communal table laden with an Easter feast on April 12.”I’ll miss Mass and the procession,” said Aida Franco, 86, a retired teacher from Quito, Ecuador. “But God knows better.”Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, will be celebrating Mass for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Easter in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica, instead of in the huge square outside filled with Catholic faithful.In the pope’s native Argentina, the archbishopric of La Plata encouraged the faithful to use any type of plant at home for a “virtual” blessing that will be livestreamed during Palm Sunday services this weekend.The pandemic has prompted cancellation of a renowned annual tradition of sawdust and handmade flower carpets coating the streets of Antigua, a colonial Guatemalan city, during its Holy Week procession. Instead, some residents will make smaller carpets to display outside their homes.”We know this is happening because of some message from God,” said Cesar Alvarez, who has been making the multicolored carpets with his family for 28 years. “But we’re taking it with a lot of sadness.”A leaflet listing Holy Week activities sits among empty pews during a live-streamed mass at the St. Augustine Church & Catholic Student Center, March 29, 2020, in Coral Gables, Fla.In some communities, there are innovative efforts to boost Eastertime morale.At Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, family ministries director Heather Jackson is organizing an Easter egg hunt that embraces social distancing. Parents and children are creating colorful images of Easter eggs to display in windows or on garage doors, and the “hunt” will entail families driving around in their cars, or strolling on foot, trying to spot as many eggs as possible.”It’s about keeping people safe while maintaining that sense of joy,” Jackson said. “It will be a difficult time, because it’s a time for families to come together and right now we just can’t do that.”If not for the virus, 32-year-old Chris Burton — a writer, teacher and devout Baptist in Brooklyn, New York — would be planning a trip to Maryland for Easter dinner with his family.Instead, he plans to watch the online service of his church, Trinity Baptist, and then catch up with relatives by phone.Burton, who has experienced five bouts of pneumonia since 2011, has blogged about the need to shelter in place. Yet he still hopes this Easter will rekindle the uplifting emotions he’s cherished since wearing his Easter suit in childhood.”All that’s happening doesn’t mean we need to be somber,” he said.In Venezuela, Catholic officials said that after the Holy Week liturgies, some priests would try to take the Blessed Sacrament — the wine and bread of Holy Communion — on a vehicle and, using loudspeakers, invite congregants to join in spirit from their windows and balconies.A similar used of priest-carrying vehicles was proposed in the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism.In Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country, Rio de Janeiro’s huge Christ the Redeemer statue has been closed indefinitely. Large Holy Week gatherings are banned in several states after a federal court overruled a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro exempting religious services from quarantine measures.Many faithful across Latin America say they’ll miss Holy Week’s observances, yet there is acceptance of the cancellations.The owners of a house known for their seasonal decorations have put up a display combining Easter and coronavirus-related social distancing measures in their yard, seen April 1, 2020, in Washington, D.C.”It’s sad because we can’t be with our Lord in his Calvary, but it’s fine,” said Felipe Navarrete of Santiago, Chile. “The health of the population comes first, and we have to be responsible with older people who join these rituals the most.”Many pastors are pondering their upcoming Easter sermons, including the Rev. Steven Paulikas of All Saints Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. His sermon will be transmitted online but delivered in an empty church.”It’s started me thinking about the empty tomb,” he said, referring to the biblical account of Christ’s resurrection after his crucifixion.”That emptiness was actually the first symbol of this new life,” Paulikas said.On the evening of April 9 — Holy Thursday commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles — Paulikas is organizing a communal supper for his congregation, hoping members will join via Face Time.At St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick, Ohio, Father Bob Stec also is organizing a pre-Easter initiative, arranging for each of the parish’s 5,500 families to get a friendly call from another member.He’s expecting upwards of 20,000 people to watch the online Easter service.”We’re going to try to flood their senses visually and audibly with the sounds and images that will give them hope,” he said.Stec knows the key point of his own message.”This is one of those wake-up calls,” he said. “We’re more aware than ever how desperately we need God in our lives.”In Atlanta, an Easter message for Emory University is being prepared by Robert Franklin, a professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology.”The first Easter with its joyful surprise emerged out of suffering, fear, suspicion, death, sorrow and grief,” Franklin writes. “Easter in the time of COVID-19 is closer existentially to that first Easter than to our customary cultural festivals of self-indulgence and triumphalism.”  

At Least 19 Killed in Mexico Gang Clash

A gang battle in Mexico has left at least 19 people dead in the northern state of Chihuahua, officials said Saturday.At least five armed clashes have occurred in the Madera community so far this year, local authorities have said.”The state attorney general, in conjunction with the public safety office and Mexican army, launched an operation to investigate and locate armed groups that staged a confrontation that left 19 people dead yesterday in the town of Madera,” authorities said.According to early reports, the bloodshed occurred Friday evening when alleged hitmen of the Gente Nueva group, part of the Sinaloa Cartel, were driving on a dirt road in Madera.There they were ambushed by men from the opposing group La Linea, part of the Juarez Cartel.Responding authorities seized 18 long firearms, one short, two vehicles and two grenades at the site of the clash.The Mexican government has blamed the La Linea cartel for the massacre of nine Mexican American Mormons last November when they were traveling on a rural road between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which borders the United States.

France Launches Terror Probe After Two Die in Stabbing Spree

A Sudanese refugee went on a knife rampage in a town in southeastern France on Saturday, killing two people in what was being treated as a terrorist attack.The attack in broad daylight, which President Emmanuel Macron called “an odious act,” took place with the country on lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.Counterterrorism prosecutors launched an investigation into “murder linked to a terrorist enterprise” after the rampage in a string of shops in Romans-sur-Isere, a riverside town of 35,000.The assailant, identified only as Abdallah A.-O., a refugee in his 30s from Sudan who lives in the town, was arrested without a fight by police.”He was found on his knees on the pavement, praying in Arabic,” the prosecutor’s office said.According to witnesses cited by local radio station France Bleu Drome Ardeche, he shouted “Allah Akbar!” (God is greatest) as he stabbed his victims.”Anyone who had the misfortune to find themselves in his way were attacked,” town Mayor Marie-Helene Thoraval told AFP.David Olivier Reverdy, from the National Police Alliance union, said the assailant had called on police to kill him when they came to arrest him.’Jumped over the counter’The suspect first went into a tobacco shop, where he attacked the owner and his wife, Thoraval said.He then went into a butcher’s shop, where he seized another knife before heading to the town center and attacking people in the street outside a bakery.”He took a knife, jumped over the counter, and stabbed a customer, then ran away,” the butcher’s shop owner, Ludovic Breyton, told AFP. “My wife tried to help the victim but in vain.”Interior Minister Cristophe Castaner, who visited the scene, said two people were killed and five others injured.”This morning, a man embarked on a terrorist journey,” he said.The initial investigation has “brought to light a determined, murderous course likely to seriously disturb public order through intimidation or terror,” according to the national anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office (PNAT).It said that during a search of the suspect’s home, “handwritten documents with religious connotations were found in which the author complains in particular that he lives in a country of nonbelievers.”The suspect, who obtained refugee status in 2017, was not known to police or intelligence services in France or Europe, PNAT said.Macron denounced the attack in a statement on Twitter.”All the light will be shed on this odious act which casts a shadow over our country, which has already been hit hard in recent weeks,” he said.France is in its third week of a national lockdown over COVID-19, with all but essential businesses ordered to shut and people told to stay at home.The country has been on terror alert since a wave of deadly jihadist bombings and shootings in Paris in 2015. In all, 258 people have been killed in France in what have been deemed terrorist attacks.

Technology Helps Doctors, Health Industry Track Patients, Treatments

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overwhelm doctors and hospitals throughout the country, medical technology firms and health centers are trying to gain “situational awareness” — giving doctors what they need to know about the sick patients filling emergency rooms.For doctors and staff, “it’s really hard to know what sorts of patients are coming,” said Warren Ratliff, the chief executive of MDmetrix, a software firm that provides analysis of health care inside hospitals.The staff “can see they’re backing up,” he said. But they have few tools to compare patients showing up today with those admitted yesterday, or to show what treatments might be working on certain groups of patients, he added.A frustrated doctorMDmetrix was created by a doctor frustrated that he couldn’t analyze data across patients. With electronic medical records, which have been in use in the U.S. for years, mostly for tracking and billing, physicians typically view one patient’s record at a time.   Enter medical technology firms like MDmetrix, which offer information dashboards and apps so that doctors and hospitals can look for trends and insights across patient outcomes. The technology pulls data from patients’ electronic medical records.As they deal with the patients in front of them, hospitals and doctors are struggling to answer what may seem like simple questions, Ratliff said. How many ventilators are being used? Is low oxygen an indicator of COVID-19? Has anyone followed up on patients who were tested and sent home?The demand for information extends to whether there are different treatments for different groups, he said.Different patients, different treatments“Is there a difference in the treatment between smokers or nonsmokers?” Ratliff said. “In a couple of years, an after-action report will come out. But that’s way too late if you’re fighting a battle right now.”With the push of a button, clinicians and hospital administrators get MDmetrix’s COVID-19 dashboard of charts and graphs that they can view to improve patient care. The information is a real-time snapshot of “whether treatment protocol A is working better than protocol B for any subset of patients,” Ratliff said.As for privacy concerns, data pulled from patient records is stripped of its identity and aggregated, complying with health care privacy laws, Ratliff said.MDmetrix is being used at the University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center, both in Seattle. The company is providing its “COVID-19 Mission Control” software for free to hospitals and medical centers.Leveraging the electronic health recordA recent paper in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association outlined efforts at the University of California San Diego Health to quickly build new dashboards based on electronic health records to manage the growing crisis.  The authors conclusion: Electronic health records “should be leveraged to their full potential.”Over the past several years, there’s been an explosion of technology tools to analyze and aggregate data drawn from electronic health records, said Julia Adler-Milstein, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. But the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing hospitals and companies to find ways – sometimes in just days – to analyze data and get critical information to decision-makers.“This has been a pressure test,” she said. “How can we get cuts of our data for the new disease?”Figuring out trends inside a hospital is also the work of TransformativeMed, an electronic record-keeping application that tracks a patient as he or she moves through the hospital. It is being used at the University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center; MedStar Health in the Washington, D.C., area; and VCU Health Center in Richmond, Virginia.Tracking a patient — from symptoms, lab results and treatments — can help a hospital understand how a disease is progressing through a community, how effective treatments are and what isn’t working, said Dr. Rodrigo Martinez, chief clinical officer at TransformativeMed and an ear, nose and throat doctor.A generational opportunityThe battle against COVID-19 could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to greatly improve the health care system, he said. The social distancing requirements will boost telehealth, with patients and their health care providers likely to appreciate how much can be accomplished through video chat, he said. 3-D printing, which is being used to repair and create ventilators, will help the medical supply chain. And home lab tests will also likely grow.Add to the list companies such as TransformativeMed and MDmetrix, which are finding trends in patients’ electronic health records.“It’s not that we are creating new technologies,” Martinez said. “We’ve had technologies waiting in the wings, waiting for the opportunity to be applied.”

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