Paris hospitals to be overwhelmed 'within 48 hours'

The French capital accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s cases.

A spike in coronavirus patients means hospitals in and around Paris will reach saturation point within 48 hours, the head of the French Hospital Federation said on Friday, even though the peak of demand is not expected until April.

Paris and its suburbs now account for more than a quarter of the 29,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in French hospitals, with almost 1,300 now in intensive care. The death toll nationwide as of Thursday evening stood at 1,696.

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“We will clearly need help in the Ile-de-France (Greater Paris region) because what happened in the east is coming here,” Frederic Valletoux, the federation’s president told BFM TV.

He was referring to the Grand Est region, where the first major cluster took hold in France and where hospitals are already overwhelmed, with the army helping to transfer some critically ill patients to other cities.

“We will be at the limit of our capacities in 24 or 48 hours. We will need to show real solidarity between regions, hospitals and increase the numbers of patient transfers.”

Officials in the Paris area have been scrambling to find more intensive care beds, ventilators and medical staff and spread the load of patients across the capital and its wider suburbs.

President Emmanuel Macron on March 17 imposed a lockdown to slow the spread of the virus, but doctors say they expect a wave of cases next week after the government pressed ahead with local elections and thousands of people mingled in parks and streets before they were confined at home.

“If we let hospitals cope by themselves, and let every territory that has been taken by the epidemic cope alone, then we shall head towards a catastrophe,” Valletoux said.

Macron said on Friday that he had a “very good discussion” with US President Donald Trump over the coronavirus crisis, and that the two were preparing a new initiative to combat the pandemic.

“In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we are preparing with other countries a new strong initiative in the coming days,” the French president said on Twitter.

Macron on Friday was also due to meet with trade union leaders for talks on how to save the French economy from implosion due to the shutdown of business activity.

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Edmonton police say romance scams growing in lonely new coronavirus reality

A police detective in Edmonton says enforcement agencies around the world are seeing a spike in romance scams as fraudsters prey on people’s loneliness.

“They’re using the coronavirus as a means for empathy, caring,” Det. Linda Herczeg said.

The economic crimes detective says scammers will incorporate COVID-19 into their lies and say things like: “‘My family has it and I need money for healthcare, can you please send it?’ ‘No honey, I can’t come see you because I’m in isolation.’”

In 2019, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre noted $19 millions dollars were stolen from Canadians through romance scams alone. Herczeg said the virus is only making that worse.

“Especially with the whole self-isolation — people are alone and they’re by themselves and a lot of them are going onto the internet to find company or someone to chat with,” she explained.

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Edmonton is a prime example. In 2017, 11 locals were scammed out of $396,698. In 2019, those numbers jumped significantly, to 62 victims and $3,201,280.

2020 is trending even higher.

Since January, 21 Edmontonians have been lured in and conned by romance scams, costing them $1.7 million dollars.

Herczeg said the predators see the isolation aspect of coronavirus as an opportunity.

“When you have someone taking the time to be part of your life and sharing conversations with you via Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Facebook’s another big one.

“They’re taking to you, you feel like you’re a part of something and somebody cares.”

She said victims often respond the same way once they realize they’ve been lied to.

“The first thing that they do is erase any trace of evidence that they have to show that they were victimized or scammed,” she said.

“We need you to keep that information and we need you to keep that data. Super, super important. If we don’t have the information, it really makes it difficult for us to do the investigation.”

She said it’s important for people to report the fraud, even though it may be uncomfortable.

“We understand and we sympathize with the victimization. We know that you’re embarrassed and we know that there’s that fear of reporting. We know there’s that fear of your family finding out for victim shaming or victim blaming.”

By speaking out victims can help authorities build cases against perpetrators and prevent them from scamming other people.

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Russia announces first coronavirus death

A 79-year-old woman is the country’s first death from the coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

Russia said on Thursday a 79-year-old woman with underlying health issues who tested positive for the new coronavirus had died from pneumonia, the country’s first confirmed death resulting from the virus.

Russia, which has temporarily barred entry to foreigners and imposed an array of flight restrictions, has reported 147 coronavirus cases so far, less than many other European countries.

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That figure has risen sharply in recent days, however, but authorities have said the situation is under control and that most infected people have entered Russia from coronavirus hot spots.

Some doctors have questioned the veracity of Russian data, given what they say is the patchy nature of testing. But the government has said it has been transparent about its handling of the crisis, and that its statistics are accurate.

Moscow’s coronavirus crisis centre said in a statement on Thursday that the elderly woman who died had begun receiving treatment last week in a private clinic before being moved to a hospital specialising in infectious diseases.

It did not say where the woman was thought to have picked up the virus but said her circle of close acquaintances had been identified and was under medical observation.

None of them was displaying any serious coronavirus symptoms, it said. Russians above the age of 60 were strongly advised to minimise contact with other people, it added.

“The main message of the government is not to panic and that everything is under control,” said Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Moscow.

“But there is a lot of concern, of course. People don’t trust the low number of cases the government is reporting, and are worried that the government is hiding the true story – something, of course, they have experienced a lot in the past. Even the comparison with the Chernobyl nuclear explosion has been made.

“People have been panic buying – also out of experience, that food could come in short supply.

“There are different schools of thought here. There are experts who believe that Russia, by quickly closing the border with China, did manage to keep the infections low. Also, there were quarantine rules in place for people coming from affected countries, with very high prison terms if violated.

“But there are also many experts who believe that we simply don’t know how widespread the virus is at this stage. The government has centralised testing, which is done by one Siberian-based company – and experts have called this test unreliable. Other companies who have developed tests are not allowed to sell them.

“Also, doctors have said they did not report suspected cases of COVID-19 because they were worried patients would be sent to a government facility where they could be put in the same room with other patients, and face an even more dangerous situation. Doctors also did not report because they were worried they would have to close their practice because of the fear of spreading the virus.

“One sign that things could be a lot worse is the sudden increase of pneumonia cases – up 37 percent, to 2,000 cases.

“Another sign is that the government in recent days has also tightened its measures, closed borders for all foreigners until May 1, closed schools, and the elderly have been advised to stay home.

“And a 500-bed infectious diseases hospital is being built outside of Moscow, which should be done by next month. That’s another big issue – the lack of proper healthcare has been a big issue in the past few years, and people wonder how the government is going to cope when the virus becomes widespread. The government says they have 12,000 intensive care beds and a population of 147 million, but questions are being raised about the condition of healthcare facilities and their equipment.

“Streets here still look normal and busy. People are still going about their usual business. The Metro is less crowded, though people are taking their cars, causing huge traffic jams.”

More than 218,900 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 8,926 have died, with cases and deaths outside China overtaking those in the country where the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally. Infections outside China have been reported by 172 countries.

In Mainland China, which has 80,907 cases, there have been 3,245 deaths. Italy, the second-hardest hit nation, has seen 2,978 deaths among 35,713 confirmed cases.

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