'Demographic flooding': India introduces new Kashmir domicile law

Under the law, those who have resided for a period of 15 years in Kashmir are eligible to become permanent residents.

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – The Indian government has announced a new set of laws for Indian-administered Kashmir, including domicile rights for Indian citizens, that experts and residents fear will alter the demographic status of the Muslim-majority Himalayan region.

Under the new law, those who have resided for a period of 15 years in Indian-administered Kashmir or studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10/12 examinations in educational institutions located in the region are now eligible to become permanent residents.

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The announcement came nearly eight months after the Indian government stripped the disputed region of its limited autonomy that had protected the region for decades from demographic changes.

‘Worry the Kashmiris’

The new law announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs also provided domicile status to the children of central government officials who have served in Indian-administered Kashmir for a total period of 10 years.

The notification by India’s Hindu nationalist government comes as the country of 1.3 billion people is under a 21-day lockdown due to coronavirus fears.

The government changed the geographical and political status of the Indian-administered Kashmir region on August 5 after it abrogated Article 370 – a law that restricted rights over jobs, scholarships and land to the permanent residents of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Subsequently, the Muslim-majority region was divided into two federally-administered territories with little power vested in the hands of the local people to decide their future.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had justified the stripping of the region’s special status saying it will bring development.

Retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, who has challenged the abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court, said it is “a permanent resident by stealth”. “It should worry the Kashmiris.” 

“The effect of this notification would be felt in [the] Jammu [region] because there are not many people who have come into Kashmir in the last 15 years,” he told Al Jazeera.

‘Demographic flooding’

While the law has triggered fear among Kashmiris about the “permanent settlements by the outsiders”, the experts say it will lead to “demographic flooding”.

“It is a lot to circumvent the law. I think it illustrates clearly that some will not stop from politicking during coronavirus,” Siddiq Wahid, a political analyst based in Indian-administered Kashmir told Al Jazeera, referring to the current coronavirus crisis.

“Obviously it is an attempt to change the demographics, not only change but flood it. It will lead to demographic flooding,” Wahid said.

He said the change of law “is much larger than [the issue of jobs]”. “I am not even thinking about jobs.”

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, professor of legal studies based in the region, said: “It was in the offing.”

“The whole purpose of revoking Article 370 was to settle outsiders here and change the demography of the state. Now this provides the modalities and entitles so many categories of Indians whose settlement will be legalised over here.”

But the leaders of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) justified the step, saying it will secure jobs only for the domiciles of the region.

“We have been pitching for it. Everyone in Jammu and Kashmir is happy, let people who live here for 15 years get the benefits, no other outsiders will get it,” said Ashok Kaul, the general secretary for the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to the new law, jobs up to the lowest level of non-gazetted rank are reserved for Jammu and Kashmir domiciles.

Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and a pro-Indian politician who was recently released after seven months of detention, criticised the government for bringing in the law when the focus should be on fighting the current pandemic.

“Talk about suspect timing. At a time when all our efforts and attention should be focused on the #COVID outbreak the government slips in anew domicile law for J&K. Insult is heaped on injury when law offers none of the protections that had been promised.” 

‘To protect Kashmir’s unique identity’

Khurram Parvez, a human rights defender based in the region, said: “By virtue of this order, outsiders are also going to be the claimants of jobs in Jammu and Kashmir, which already has a huge unemployment problem. This is an act against the interests of unemployed youth.”

The right-wing BJP has been opposed to the special status given to Indian-administered Kashmir in 1947 when British India was partitioned into Hindu-majority India and Pakistan as land for Muslims. But Kashmir’s status could not be decided at the time as its then-Hindu ruler signed an Instrument of Accession with India, with New Delhi granting it a measure of autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag and right to make laws.

Prime Minister Modi made the abrogation of Article 370 as one of his poll planks in the 2019 elections that he won by a landslide.

Rakesh Sinha, BJP leader and member of the upper house of Parliament, denied it was an attempt to change the demography of the state. 

There is an attempt to spread rumours about altering the demography of the state,” Sinha told Al Jazeera.

“To protect Kashmir’s unique identity is our moral and constitutional obligation. Identity of the northeast is protected and so is that of Kashmir so that the uniqueness of their culture remains protected.”

Akash Bisht contributed from New Delhi

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Preliminary study finds UK lockdown is slowing spread of COVID-19

LONDON (Reuters) – Lockdown and social distancing measures introduced by the British government to slow the spread of COVID-19 may already be working, according to preliminary research findings, and could soon see Britain’s epidemic of infections declining.

Scientists used an online survey to ask 1,300 people in Britain to list their contacts for the previous day – and found that the average number of contacts now is more than 70% lower than before the lockdown.

“If we see similar changes across the UK population, we would expect to see the epidemic to start to decline,” said John Edmunds, who led the study at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

He added, however, that the findings were very preliminary and should not be seen as suggesting “job done”.

“Rather, they should be used as motivation for us all to keep following UK government instructions,” Edmunds said. “It’s imperative we don’t take our foot off the pedal. We must continue to stop transmission of the virus to reduce the burden on the National Health Service now and over the coming months.”

Like many other countries affected by the pandemic of disease caused by the new coronavirus, Britain has imposed strict social distancing measures including shop and school closures. Authorities are also asking everyone to stay at home except for essential travel.

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REPRODUCTION NUMBER

The research, which was not peer-reviewed but was posted on LSHTM’S Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases website, looked at a key feature of infectious disease epidemics known as the reproduction number, sometimes called the R0, or ‘R nought’.

This describes the number of people, on average, who will catch a disease from a single infected person. If that number can be brought down to below 1.0, this signals that an epidemic will decline.

Using the change in contact patterns, the Edmunds’ team calculated a change in reproduction number between the pre-lockdown and post lockdown periods.

The finding that the mean number of contacts per person measured is more than 70% lower now than before the lockdown suggests that the R0 reproduction value now would be between 0.37 and 0.89, they said, with the most likely value being 0.62.

Independent experts not directly involved in the research said its findings were useful and encouraging.

“Given the flattening in new cases and that we have some measures in place now for over two weeks and a type of lockdown for over one week, their conclusion that R0 may be below 1 is credible,” said Keith Neal, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Nottingham University.

Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway University of London, added: “It is also valuable that this study shows that R0 can be reduced significantly even when people are still allowed to go out for essential food and medicines and with essential workers still operating.”

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China and Australia target Pacific with coronavirus aid

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Beijing has ramped up its diplomatic push into the Pacific, pledging coronavirus aid and medical advice, although its efforts are being impeded as islands close borders to stop the spread of the disease from hotspots including China.

Chinese embassies have held cheque presentation ceremonies in multiple Pacific islands, after Beijing pledged to provide $1.9 million for testing kits and protective equipment this week.

“This is a global effort by China to change the perception of early January that China was the source of the virus, to China is the source of the solution,” said Richard McGregor, senior fellow with Australian foreign policy think tank the Lowy Institute.

“If their system is mobilized to not just sending these materials to New York and Italy but even tiny countries, it gives you a sense of how galvanized they are to use this moment to build China’s reputation.”

The Pacific islands have grown as a strategic priority for China and the United States and its allies, including Australia, who are keen to lock in relationships with countries that control strategic waterways between the Americas and Asia.

Australia is the region’s biggest aid donor but Pacific islands have turned to China in recent years for budget assistance.

A World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman said New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Fiji and Guam can test for COVID-19, but other countries need to send specimens to Australia, New Zealand or the United States for testing.

China’s ambassador to Papua New Guinea (PNG), Xue Bing, said 2,000 testing kits, face masks and goggles were ready to be shipped from China, although flight restrictions prevented their delivery, PNG’s Post Courier newspaper reported.

FACE MASKS

PNG’s health minister Jelta Wong told Reuters: “If China sends it down we will receive it.”

“We have not opened our borders as yet and we won’t open until we are sure we have protocols in place,” Wong said.

PNG, with one confirmed case of COVID-19, tests at a local medical institute using two machines donated by Australia, he said.

“We only have aid coming from Australia,” said Wong.

The Solomon Islands, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing last year, said it received $300,000 from China and was advised by the Chinese embassy in Honiara to buy equipment from the Beijing Genomics Institution.

The office of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said it was trying to charter a flight from French Polynesia to China to return with medical supplies.

The Chinese embassy had also organized for a ship from Guangdong to carry several thousand face masks and protective suits donated by Guangdong province.

The secretary of Kiribati’s ministry of health and medical services, Kaaro Neeti, told Reuters the island was unable to test for COVID-19 but a Chinese donation “is in the pipeline”.

China has also offered test kits and medical supplies to Vanuatu, Tonga and French Polynesia.

McGregor, from the Lowy Institute, said China’s capacity to organize a teleconference for health officials from 10 Pacific nations on March 10 with Chinese medical experts in Beijing was “astounding” and the Australian government would be concerned its aid effort was being surpassed by China.

“If they are sending much-needed equipment it is a good thing, but it also has a geopolitical aspect.”

Australia will redirect its existing aid budget for the Pacific to focus on COVID-19, and keep essential aid workers in Pacific countries, an official said.

At a G20 leaders video conference last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged other nations to contribute to the Pacific.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately respond to questions.

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UK to speed up coronavirus testing as criticism grows

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s government said on Wednesday it would ramp up the number of coronavirus tests amid widespread criticism that it was doing far too few, as ministers suggested that shortages of chemicals were partly to blame.

Officials say testing for COVID-19 is key to fighting it, not least to check if medics on the frontline of the epidemic could return to work.

But while Germany has been testing about 500,000 people a week, Britain’s current capacity is just 12,750 a day, a figure the government said it was aiming to double by mid-April.

“I hope on testing … you will see significant increases this week. We expect to be at 15,000 tests over the course of this week and then moving further forward in the future,” housing minister Robert Jenrick told broadcaster ITV.

“We do need to go further and we need to do that faster.”

The number of coronavirus deaths in Britain rose to 1,789 people, figures on Tuesday showed, a 27% increase in a day with one of the victims a 13-year-old boy with no apparent underlying health conditions.

So far, tests have been focused on those suspected to have the virus who have been admitted to hospital but the government says it is trying to extend this to key staff in the National Health Service (NHS).

Jenrick said more than 900 health workers were tested over the weekend and a further 8,240 individuals on Monday, as he faced a barrage of questions in media interviews about the low number of tests.

“Fix Testing Fiasco Now,” the Daily Mail newspaper said on its front page.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said shortages of necessary chemicals had been a factor.

“A critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents which are necessary in the testing,” he said, saying the government was working with companies worldwide to obtain what was required.

The Chemical Industries Association said that, while there was escalating demand, “there are reagents being manufactured and delivered to the NHS”.

“Every business here in the UK and globally is looking at what they can do to help meet the demand as a matter of urgency,” it said in a statement.

An opposition Labour lawmaker said the problem was that ministers appeared not to have ordered enough of the chemicals from companies that had offered to make what the government needed.

“These are often the same chemical companies which are producing chemicals for the tests in Germany,” Bill Esterson said.

“Companies in the UK can make them. They haven’t been asked. The shortage is because they haven’t been ordered.”

Asked about the apparent discrepancy between the government and industry over the shortages, Jenrick said several chemicals were required, “and not all of them, as I understand it, have always been available in the UK in the quantities that we need.”

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Coronavirus: Health experts debunk claims about milk and COVID-19

Health experts have debunked claims that drinking cow’s milk could help ward off coronavirus.

It comes after a Facebook post titled “Fight COVID-19 with a Glass of Milk” by The Bullvine – an American website which describes itself as “an independent, online community for professionals in the dairy breeding industry” – was shared more than 1,500 times.

It claimed that milk protected from the virus because it contains “lactoferrin, which is a protein that helps to fight off viruses,” as well as “Vitamin C and Zinc, which both play very important roles in strengthening your immunity.”

The post has now been given a “false information” tag by Facebook due to a lack of scientific evidence to support the claims.

Health experts in the US say it is misleading to say drinking milk will help prevent or fight off coronavirus – the highly contagious infection which attacks the respiratory system.

“There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

To protect against infection, the CDC recommends washing hands often, avoiding close contact with people who are ill, wearing a face mask when feeling ill, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and social distancing.

The British Nutrition Foundation states that “no food or supplement, can protect you from getting the coronavirus”.

It adds: “Nevertheless, having a healthy diet is important in supporting our immune function and many nutrients influence the body’s ability to fight infection.”

While vitamin C and zinc play vital roles in the body’s immune system, milk does not contain a significant amount of either.

“Cow’s milk is not a good source of vitamin C or zinc based on [the Food and Drug Administration’s] definition of what can be called a ‘good’ source”, the National Dairy Council (NDC) confirmed to Reuters.

The NDC listed other nutrients present in cow’s milk – including Vitamin A, D and protein – that can help maintain healthy immune function.

The British Nutritional Foundation said that while there is some evidence vitamin C and zinc supplements may help with the common cold, it is not clear whether they would have any effect on coronavirus symptoms.

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‘It’s not funny!’ Germany BANS April Fool’s Day jokes amid coronavirus lockdown

April 1 is traditionally a time for pranks, but other countries around the world, including India, have issued similar pleas amid concerns about the spread of false information – with some even going so far as to threaten culprits with prison. Meanwhile, Tech giant Google, famous for its annual spoofs, has cancelled the tradition because of the pandemic which has killed about 40,000 people worldwide. Under the heading “Corona is no joke”, Germany’s health ministry urged the public to invent stories related to the virus.

In the current situation, we kindly ask you to do without made-up stories on the subject of coronavirus on April 1st this year

Germany’s health ministry

It explained: “In the current situation, we kindly ask you to do without made-up stories on the subject of coronavirus on April 1st this year.

“This minimises the risk that the fight against the virus is made more difficult by incorrect information on the subject.”

Out of a worldwide total of more than 860,000 cases of COVID-19, Germany currently has 71,808, with 775 deaths.

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Elsewhere, Thailand said jokes about the virus could be punished under a law carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The Government’s official Twitter account warned: “It’s against the law to fake having COVID-19 this April Fools’ Day.”

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook to tell people not to prank about the virus, adding that anyone spreading rumours or false information could likewise spend time behind bars, plus a fine of up to £80,000 ($99,200).

In India, Maharashtra state’s cybersecurity unit pledged to take legal action against anyone spreading fake news on April Fools’ Day.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted: “The state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumours/panic on #Corona.”

He had instructed the authorities to “act swiftly & strongly (against) such miscreants”, Mr Deshmukh added.

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In the UK, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman told Express.co.uk there were no plans to follow Germany’s example and issue a similar Twitter directive.

April Fool’s Day traditions are widespread throughout the world. In one famous prank in 1957, BBC’s Panorama ran a feature about Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti and was subsequently deluged with inquiries about where to buy a spaghetti plant from people taken in by the joke.

In Odesa in Ukraine, April Fool’s Day is an official holiday.

With people relying on the internet and media for vital information about coronavirus, there are fears that jokes could fan the spread of misinformation.

From drinking cow urine to sleeping by chopped onions, myths about how people can catch and cure COVID-19 are already widely circulating.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described it as an “infodemic”, which could increase the spread of the virus among vulnerable people.

Google said it had suspended its annual April Fools’ tradition “out of respect for all those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”.

In an internal email to staff, it said: “Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one.”

In previous years Google has advertised fictitious jobs at a new research centre on the moon, turned Google Maps into a game of Where’s Waldo – also known as Where’s Wally – and claimed its search technology uses trained pigeons to rank pages.

Taylor Herring, a British PR agency whose clients include TV channels and international brands, has also advised all companies to ditch the jokes this year.

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Heroic OAP sacrifices herself to save younger coronavirus victims – ‘I’ve had good life’

Suzanne Hoylaerts from Binkom, near Lubbeek in Belgium, refused a potentially life-saving ventilator to help her battle the coronavirus disease before she died in hospital. The pensioner was admitted to hospital after displaying COVID-19 symptoms including shortness of breath and a loss of appetite.

She was then placed in isolation after testing positive for the invisible killer disease.

However, this is where Ms Hoylaerts quickly deteriorated and doctors offered her a ventilator.

But she refused, reportedly telling doctors: “I don’t want to use artificial respiration.

“Save it for younger patients. I already had a good life.”

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She died two days after being admitted to hospital.

Her grieving daughter Judithtold Dutch newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws: “I can’t say goodbye to her and I don’t even have a chance to attend her funeral.”

The family are unsure how Ms Hoylaerts came to contract coronavirus because she was following the strict lockdown rules in Belgium.

Belgium on Tuesday imposed its coronavirus lockdown restrictions to continue until April 12.

The nation imposed a lockdown on Wednesday, March 18 in effect for two-and-a-half weeks until April 5.

The EU has banned all non-essential travel to 30 countries in Europe.

Belgium’s coronavirus death toll is at 705, with 12,775 confirmed cases.

The news comes after a 12-year-old Belgian girl was named as the youngest victim to die of coronavirus in Europe.

Dr Emmanuel Andre, a government spokesman in Belgium, said the death of somebody so young “is a very rare occurrence” and the tragedy “shook us”.

Mr Andre said it was “an emotionally difficult moment, because it involves a child, and it has also upset the medical and scientific community.”

He added: “We are thinking of her family and friends. It is an event that is very rare, but one which upsets us greatly.”

Spokesman Steven Van Gucht said the girl had a fever for three days before her death and tested positive for coronavirus.

It comes amid concerns of a global shortage of ventilators that will be needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus.

Ventilators are used to help people with respiratory difficulties to breathe.

They are high-tech versions of the “iron lungs” that kept people alive into the 1950s during fierce polio epidemics.

Worldwide, the devices have become shorthand for the rapid advance of the disease – but officials fear their stocks are inadequate.

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Ask Amy: It’s hard to party with “one-party” rule – The Denver Post

Dear Amy: I am an intellectual conservative, living in liberal and one-party Berkeley, California.

Time after time at dinner parties (even my own), the guests just assume that I am a liberal like they are.

When I tell them that I’m fairly conservative, they just don’t get it. They freely disparage “right-wing hillbillies” and say that all conservatives are “evil people.”

One time I countered, “Forty percent of the people in this country are not evil. They are good people. They just have different values from yours.”

The table became silent, they all glared at me, and the dinner party was ruined.

What is one to do? Must one just smile faintly and bear it? What can one say?

— Frustrated Republican in Berkeley

Dear Frustrated: Whenever I try to tackle a politics-adjacent question, the reader-responses range the gamut from people decrying my conservative hot takes, my liberal views, or my “both-sides-ism.” This tells me that people are avoiding nuance, context, or subtext.

My take on the phenomenon you describe is that one unexpected and unfortunate consequence of our president’s personal and public comportment is that it seems to have inspired a parallel mindset in the opposition. I do not lay the blame for the close-minded attitude of many progressives on the current administration; I simply note the parallels.

Each of us is entirely responsible for our own behavior. But the stereotyping and overall narrow-minded attitude you describe is something you might want to gently ask these liberal intellectuals to reflect upon. Practice a question: “Are you interested in learning more about how conservatives like me view current events — and what we are thinking about?”

Yes, it might be easier for you to simply sit through this sort of group-think, but you should not take the blame for “ruining” a gathering simply because you have asked people to be open-minded and rational. Nor do I think that you (or anyone) should feel forced to stay silent when others are being rude, crude, or reactionary.

Surely anyone worthy of being called a “liberal” should defend your right to speak your own mind, and should maintain an attitude of open-minded curiosity about people who think differently than they do.

Dear Amy: I’m a media producer with an emphasis on video production. I mainly work on documentaries, so I usually work with people who don’t have on-camera experience.

When I put microphones on people, I try to make small talk about whatever common subjects I can think of (sports, pets, kids, where they’re from, etc.). The goal is to loosen them up for when they have to talk on camera and to alleviate some tension regarding me, a stranger touching their body and clothes to properly place the mic and hide the cable. (I do always say, “I’m putting the mic here, is that OK?”)

Recently I put a mic on a very pregnant woman. I was going to say, “Congratulations on the pending arrival, I have a daughter myself and it’s great…”

Instead, I made a comment about the weather because I thought if I mentioned the pregnancy it would be akin to commenting on her body and I’m “woke” enough to know that people, especially women, don’t like that.

Was I correct in not acknowledging the pregnancy, or would using the pregnancy to relate on a “I’m a parent too” level be acceptable? Trying to make people comfortable and relaxed is my number one priority.

— Too Woke in Chicago?

Dear Too Woke: You understand the important role you have in helping to calm jittery nerves during what can be a nerve-wracking process. Your sensitivity is commendable.

No, you should not mention a woman’s pregnancy as you are helping to affix her mic. The main reason for this is because a person getting ready to be interviewed on camera should be concentrating on their own preparation. Pregnancy is a diverting topic to discuss just before being interviewed.

If a woman makes a reference to her own pregnancy, then yes — congratulate and briefly share your positive parenting experience with her, but the time for more leisurely chit chat is after the interview is wrapped.

Dear Amy: “Just Wondering” was worried about his girlfriend’s habit of texting a (male) co-worker after work-hours. I agree with you that any of us has the right to maintain friendships outside of the love-relationship, but Wondering’s girlfriend should show him her texts and reassure him. Secrecy makes all of this worse, maybe for no reason.

— Been There

Dear Been There: I agree.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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Denmark ‘succeeds’ in social distancing as Nordic country prepares to lift lockdown

Denmark has reported a death toll of 77 since the coronavirus pandemic was first reported in January. The Nordic country announced the social distancing measures on March 11.

After two weeks in lockdown, the country announced an extension until after Easter.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said: “We do see signs that we have succeeded in delaying the transmission of corona in Denmark.”

“The transmission is spreading slower than feared,

“Over the past week the number of hospital admissions has risen slightly slower than the week before and without the explosion in the numbers that we have seen in other countries.”

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“If we over the next two weeks across Easter keep standing together by staying apart, and if the numbers remain stable for the next two weeks, then the government will begin a gradual, quiet and controlled opening of our society again, at the other side of Easter”.

The Social Democrat leader warned that they would have to “tighten up even more instead” should the figures begin to rise after the lockdown is lifted.

Last week, the number of patients in hospitals due to Covid-19 nearly doubled from 254 to 533, according to numbers published by the Danish Health Authority.

Denmark has recorded 2,577 coronavirus cases in total.

Denmark’s measures are considerably tougher than those of other Nordic countries that remain open for business, but they are not as strict as the restrictions in more affected countries.

In countries like Italy or France citizens are only allowed to leave their houses to buy groceries, go to work if essential or for medical emergencies.

Denmark has closed schools, universities, day cares, restaurants, cafes, libraries, gyms and hair salons, and shut all borders to most foreigners.

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It also limited public gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

According to Frederiksen, lifting the lockdown would mean reopening schools and people working in shifts to avoid large concentrations of traffic and people.

The Danish Prime Minister said she intended to announce a plan for the first stage of a reopening by the end of the week.

She first must undergo a consultation with other parties in government.

Globally, the coronavirus death toll has reached 35,006.

The current number of infections worldwide has surpassed 738,400.

The two most affected countries are Italy and Spain, as Europe sees itself at the centre of the crisis.

In Finland the lockdown measures have been prolonged by a month in the southern area of the country.

The move will affect 1.7 million people who make up almost a third or the country’s population.

The restrictions were set out by the Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government and were due to last until April 13.

The will now stay in place until May 13 in an attempt to “slow down the spread of coronavirus infections and to protect those at risk”.

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Grounded cabin crew get hospital training as Sweden battles coronavirus

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Furloughed crew from crisis-hit Scandinavian airline SAS are taking a three-day course in basic hospital duties to help plug gaps in a Swedish healthcare system strained by thousands of coronavirus cases.

The airline, part owned by the governments of Sweden and Denmark, temporarily laid off 10,000 staff – 90% of its workforce – this month to cut costs and ride out a plunge in air travel due the pandemic and related border closures.

With Stockholm’s healthcare system in need of reinforcement as cases rise, Sophiahemmet University Hospital is teaching former cabin crew skills such as sterilizing equipment, making hospital beds and providing information to patients and their relatives.

The first students are due to complete the course on Thursday and the response has been overwhelming.

“We now have a long, long list of healthcare providers that are just waiting for them,” said Johanna Adami, principal at the University. Airlines in Australia, and the U.S. have also enquired about using the training methods for their staff.

She said municipalities, hospitals and nursing homes have all been queuing up to employ the re-trained staff, who will number around 300 in the coming weeks. Adami said airline staff were particularly suited to helping in the healthcare sector.

“They have basic healthcare education from their work. They are also very experienced to be flexible and think about security and also to handle complicated situations,” she said.

Sweden has around 4,500 confirmed cases of the virus and 180 deaths, with the capital especially hard hit. Healthcare officials in Stockholm have scrambled to set up a temporary hospital in a convention center and warned of a lack off staff and safety equipment to meet the crisis.

Malin Ohman, 25, a airline stewardess from northern Sweden was in the first class of students.

“In the a blink of an eye I decided – ‘yes of course, why wouldn’t I’,” she said of her decision to retrain. “I felt that we could just contribute with something,” she added.

The course is free of charge and the companies involved with the training are not seeking to make a profit. Funding, about 7 million Swedish crowns ($698,000) is provided by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg foundation.

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