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Central American countries up fight against coronavirus

SAN SALVADOR/TEGUCIGALPA/PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – Central American countries took further and tougher steps to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus on Saturday with measures ranging from bans on large gatherings to travel restrictions.

El Salvador’s Congress approved a series of emergency measures sought by President Nayib Bukele to prevent the spread of the virus and to fend off the risk of a public health crisis.

The measures include restrictions on entry to and exit from El Salvador, as well as curbs on public gatherings. El Salvador has so far not reported any cases of coronavirus.

Earlier, Honduras and Guatemala banned public gatherings to prevent the virus from spreading as quickly as it has in Asian and European countries. Panama had already banned large gatherings.

Meanwhile, authorities in Panama said flights arriving from Europe and Asia would be temporarily suspended, with the exception of flights that transport doctors, medical equipment or other humanitarian aid.

So far, more than 150,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus across the world and over 5,500 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

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Harry and Meghan ‘will bring baby Archie to spend summer with the Queen’

Harry and Meghan will bring baby Archie over to the UK to see his great-grandmother the Queen this summer, it has been reported.

The visit will be baby Archie's first UK trip since his parents announced they will be stepping back as senior royals in January.

During their trip to the UK, they will go to stay at the Queen's Scottish estate in Balmoral, the Times reports.

But it is unclear when exactly the Sussexes will visit Balmoral.

Archie could also join his mum and dad at the trooping of the colour in June as well.

The Sussexes are also expected to spend time with Prince Charles and his wife Camilla .

The Queen is reportedly "very sad" at how little she sees Archie and "upset" that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have now moved to Canada.

One royal source claims the move has left the Queen fearing that she'll never see her great-grandson again.

Harry and Meghan’s final official engagement as senior royals came on Monday March 9 when they joined other members of the Royal Family at Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth Day Service ahead of them officially stepping down on March 31.

Meghan flew back to Canada without Harry after reportedly breaking down in tears as she paid her final farewells to her and Harry’s staff at Buckingham Palace.

Baby Archie might have a "lonely" upbringing in Canada, according to a royal commentator who claimed it was sad he will not see much of his cousins.

  • Meghan Markle
  • Prince Charles
  • Prince Harry
  • Princess Diana
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Coronavirus: European ski resorts close early to stop COVID-19 spread

Ski resorts across Europe have shut down more than a month early as countries attempted to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Austria, France, Andorra, Italy, Norway, Spain and Switzerland have all closed their resorts this week as governments placed a limit on crowds and closed public places to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well as disrupting holidays for tourists across Europe, seasonal staff are now out of a job more than a month before the European ski season was due to shut down at the end of April, and the beginning of May for some.

These are the details for each country:

France

French mountains officially closed at midnight on Saturday after just four hours notice from the government – and just two weeks before most British schools go on their Easter holidays.

On Saturday afternoon, resorts and tourist boards had reassured visitors they would stay open until the end of the season.

But French prime minister Edouard Philippe announced at 8pm that the country must “close all non-essential locations, notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs and shops” from midnight.

He did not mention ski resorts specifically, but ski lifts and resorts have been deemed as “non-essential” to French life.

Mr Philippe called on the French people to have “more discipline” after initial orders to start social distancing were largely ignored.

British ski holiday company Inghams said “as a responsible tour operator” they would not be operating any more holidays to French resorts for the rest of the season.

It urged those due to travel to France on Sunday to not go to the airport and said it is “working on plans to bring home all guests currently in France”.

Austria

Right next to hotspot Italy, Austria has closed its borders with the country, and also with Switzerland.

All ski lifts in Austria will stop operating at the end of the ski day on Sunday.

Resorts in the Paznaun Valley closed earlier this week as visitors were placed in quarantine for two weeks from 13 March.

They included the apres destination of Ischgl after hundreds of Norwegian and Danish tourists were infected after visiting the Kitzloch bar where a bar keeper was carrying the virus, local media reported.

St Anton and Heiligenblut were also included in the qurantine due to clusters of cases there.

Anybody who has been to those three resorts since 28 February, or been in contact with people who have, must isolate for 14 days, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

The Alps’ longest-running ski festival, Snowbombing, held in Austria’s Mayrhofen, has also been cancelled as the government banned outdoor events with more than 500 people.

Switzerland

The Swiss government announced a ban on all social gatherings of more than 100 people on 13 March, forcing ski resorts to shut early as the number of people on the slopes cannot be restricted effectively.

Verbier, Zermatt and Saas Fee all closed on Friday.

Arosa, St Moritz, Davos Klosters and Samnaun will close at the end of Sunday’s session, as will hundreds of smaller resorts ahead of the total ban on 16 March.

Laax, a ski resort in the Graubunden canton where cases are increasing rapidly, was due to host the British Freestyle Ski and Snowboard Championship (the BRITS) from 30 March to 3 April.

Italy

Coronavirus cases in the UK increased rapidly after half-term ski trips to northern Italy, which then prompted a lockdown of the region.

Italy, the worst hit country outside China, was the first European country to close its ski resorts, with the majority shutting down on 9 March when the entire country was placed on lockdown.

The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Italy.

Norway

Four major Norwegian ski resorts closed on Thursday, including Hemsedal and Trysil which are popular with British skiers and snowboarders.

Other mountains are set to follow as all outdoor sporting and indoor sporting events were banned.

Andorra

All four resorts in Andorra’s Pyrenees closed on 14 March.

Ski Andorra said it made the decision “as a measure of responsibility” and wants to “return to normality as soon as possible” but the health of guests, workers and the general population is more important than anything else.

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Four new presumptive COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, officials confirm

Four new presumptive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Saskatchewan, a government spokesperson said on Saturday night in a statement.

Three of those presumed to have the virus are in Regina and two are in the same household.

One of those in the household was recently in Vancouver at a dental conference with someone who was later confirmed to have COVID-19, the statement said. Both people are in their 40s and are recovering at home in isolation.

The third person is in their 20s and was recently in Tennessee.

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Coronavirus: Edmonton Public Library to close all branches

Edmonton Public Library announced all 21 branches would be closed as of Saturday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier in the week all EPL classes, events and meeting room bookings were suspended.

EPL had been monitoring developments and made the decision following consultations with the City of Edmonton and Alberta Health Services.

“The health of our staff and customers is of upmost priority as we work to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Edmonton Public Library CEO Pilar Martinez wrote in a statement.

During the closure, users can still return materials on loan. Return chutes will remain available while the branches are closed.

Staff can still be reached by phone at 780-496-7000, by text at 587-817-0337 or online.

Library users can still access EPL’s digital library which includes eBooks, eAudiobooks, streaming movies, eMagazines and online classes.

Those without a library card can still register online for access to the digital library.

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Latest on the spread of coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – Spain and France imposed stringent measures to combat the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, the death toll kept climbing in China and the United States extended a travel ban.

In Spain, the government plans to put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown from Monday as part of a 15-day state of emergency plan, a draft of an official decree seen by Reuters said.

France will shut shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from Sunday with its 67 million people told to stay home in a country where the number of cases has doubled in 72 hours.

Mainland China had 20 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on March 14, the National Health Commission said on Sunday, up from 11 the previous day. The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far is 80,844. The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 3,199 as of the end of Saturday, up 10 from the previous day.

In the United States, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package early on Saturday that would provide free testing and paid sick leave. President Donald Trump extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland, a day after Washington suspended travel from certain European countries for 30 days beginning at midnight on Friday.

Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, two days after he stood next to a Brazilian official who was tested positive.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser

DEATHS/INFECTIONS

– Some 153,864 people have been infected by the coronavirus across the world and 5,800 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

– The number of new coronavirus cases imported into mainland China from overseas surpassed the number of locally transmitted new infections for the first time on Friday, according to data released by the National Health Commission.

EUROPE

– The Spanish government draft measures say that from Monday all citizens must stay home except to buy food, go to the pharmacy, to the hospital, or to work or for other emergencies.

– Spain is the second-hardest hit country in Europe after Italy, with 5,753 cases recorded on Saturday, up by a third from Friday even as health authorities in Madrid, which has the highest number of cases, stopped testing people with only mild symptoms.

– Italy agreed a series of measures to improve health controls in factories, offices and other workplaces that have been allowed to stay open during the country’s lockdown.

– The British government will ban mass gatherings from next week, an escalation of its crisis plan that critics had said was too relaxed.

– Germany urged people returning from Italy, Switzerland and Austria to self-isolate for up to two weeks. Germany also said it was amending a decree issued this month that required a government agency to approve exports of protective equipment such as masks, goggles and gloves.

– In France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the country must “close all non-essential locations, notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs and shops.” However, he said Sunday’s local elections would go ahead under strict sanitary conditions.

– Several hundred anti-government “Yellow Vest” protesters demonstrated in Paris, defying a ban on mass gatherings.

– Norway is to shut its ports and airports from Monday, although exemptions will be made for Norwegians returning from abroad as well as for goods, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Saturday.

– Greece said on Saturday it banned all flights that were still operating to and from Italy, after reporting two more fatalities from the coronavirus, raising the total number of deaths in the country to three.

– The Russian government said on Saturday it was closing the country’s land border with Poland and Norway to foreigners from midnight as a precautionary measure.

– The Czech government shut most shops and restaurants for 10 days on Saturday. The surprise move came after other restrictions in recent days, including closing schools and banning public events such as sports games or concerts.

– In Denmark, Copenhagen health authorities confirmed the first death of a person infected with coronavirus on Saturday, when an 81-year old patient died in a hospital in the city.

AMERICAS

– The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package early on Saturday that would provide free testing and paid sick leave, in a bid to limit the economic damage from a pandemic that has shuttered schools, sports arenas and offices.

– President Donald Trump said he had taken a coronavirus test but his temperature was “totally normal,” as he extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland. Washington suspended travel from certain European countries for 30 days beginning at midnight on Friday.

– Honduras issued a country-wide red alert for two weeks starting on Saturday. The Central American country reported its third case earlier this week.

– Ecuador’s government on Saturday announced the closure of its borders from Sunday to all foreign travelers, after local authorities confirmed a second death from the infection.

ASIA

– Japan will aim to spearhead cooperation among major nations around the world to support a weakening global economy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, warning that policy coordination was critical to fight “disruptions” in world financial markets.

– Abe said Japan is still preparing to host the Olympics, despite rising global concern about the viability of the summer Games.

– Indonesia’s capital city will close all schools and order remote teaching for at least two weeks, Jakarta’s governor said on Saturday, as the first cases were also reported in other parts of the archipelago. Indonesia’s transport minister has been hospitalized in Jakarta after contracting coronavirus, a government official said, the country’s most high-profile confirmed case so far.

– Mainland China had 11 new confirmed cases on Friday, up from eight cases a day earlier, but only four of those – all in the virus epicenter of Hubei province – were locally transmitted, according to data released on Saturday.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

– The death toll from infections in Iran rose on Saturday to 611, state TV said, citing a health ministry official who put the total number of those diagnosed with the disease at 12,729.

– The United Arab Emirates said it was shutting major tourism and cultural venues, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum and the Ferrari World theme park, from March 15-31, as Gulf states stepped up measures.

– Jordan said it would stop all incoming and outgoing passenger flights from Tuesday as it tightens border controls and bans public gatherings and events to combat the spread of coronavirus.

– Yemen’s Saudi-backed government said on Saturday it was suspending all flights to and from airports under its control for two weeks starting on March 18, except for flights with humanitarian purposes.

– The Palestinian Authority suspended prayers in mosques and churches in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, and Gaza’s Hamas rulers said all the enclave’s border crossings would be shut for travel.

– Rwanda has confirmed its first case of coronavirus, an Indian citizen who arrived in the East African nation from Mumbai on March 8, the Health Ministry said.

– Other African nations to have reported cases of the virus include Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.

– Senegal’s President Macky Sall on Saturday ordered all schools and universities closed for the next three weeks and religious festivals canceled. French authorities were trying to arrange emergency travel from Morocco to bring back hundreds of French nationals who found themselves unable to leave after flights to European countries were suspended.

– Sudan has ordered the closure of schools and universities for one month from Saturday, the prime minister’s office said, adding that all public gatherings such as weddings and social events, will also be banned.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

– Austria is making 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) immediately available to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the conservative-led government said as it ditched a central pledge to balance its budget.

– Switzerland will make 10 billion Swiss francs ($10.52 billion) available in immediate aid to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

– The Indonesian government has prepared a 120-trillion-rupiah ($8.1 billion) stimulus package to support its economy.

– Japan’s government is expected to cut its assessment of the economy in a monthly report due later this month.

– Norway’s central bank said on Friday it had offered the first in a series of extraordinary loans to the banking industry, along with a surprise half-point cut in its key policy interest rate.

– France will help all companies in which the French state has a stake to weather the coronavirus crisis, its finance minister said on Friday, putting the growing cost of measures to soften the economic fallout at “dozens of billions”.

– Germany’s KfW state development bank has roughly half a trillion euros in support available to help support Europe’s largest economy, which risks being stricken by the coronavirus epidemic, the Economy Minister said on Friday.

– China’s central bank cut the cash that banks must hold as reserves on Friday for the second time this year, releasing 550 billion yuan ($79 billion) to help its coronavirus-hit economy.

MARKETS

– A gauge of stocks across the globe bounced back on Friday led by a late rally on Wall Street, after U.S. President Donald Trump freed up $50 billion to tackle the pandemic.

EVENTS CANCELED, POSTPONED, PARED BACK

– Walt Disney Co will close its theme parks in California and Florida and its resort in Paris from this weekend through the end of the month, the company said on Thursday.

– The impact of the coronavirus on sport swept into the southern hemisphere, with the cancellation of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix adding to an unprecedented shutdown of elite events and competitions around the globe.

– India suspended domestic soccer until the end of this month while domestic cricket was put on hold indefinitely.

– The World Trade Organization’s major biennial meeting, due to be held in Kazakhstan in June, was canceled, setting back its efforts to update the global rules of commerce.

– All elite soccer matches in England, including the Premier League, were suspended until April 4 on Friday, English soccer’s governing bodies said in a joint statement.

– The filming in Mexico of a big budget Steven Spielberg-produced Amazon mini-series, starring Spanish actor Javier Bardem, has been suspended due to concerns about the coronavirus, according to a letter sent to cast and crew on Friday and seen by Reuters.

– Dubai said on Saturday it was temporarily suspending operations at four major theme parks and tourist attractions until the end of March.

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Australia's' 'war cabinet' set to meet as COVID-19 cases surpass 250

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s new national cabinet is set to meet Sunday as the country’s cases of coronavirus topped 250 and the government faced questions about the possible closure of schools and tighter border controls.

The government has already advised against non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, though this does not include schools, airports or public transport.

The national cabinet which includes federal, state and territory leaders, dubbed a “war cabinet” by the media, will hold its first meeting via teleconference on Sunday to discuss the response to the spread of the virus.

The meeting is expected to canvas whether schools should be closed and whether border controls should be further tightened to contain COVID-19, a deadly respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus that has so far infected 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800 globally.                                                          

“We are rightly, keeping all options on the table, whether it’s in relation to travel or whether it’s in relation to schools. The schools question will be very much guided by the medical advice,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC television. 

“One of the things that they have talked about, is not moving too early on something like that.”

Visitors who have been in high-risk nations are already banned from entering Australia, while New Zealand on Saturday said it would require incoming travelers, including its own citizens, to self-isolate for two weeks.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Sunday the government’s approach was designed to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections to avoid the country’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

“We were quick to put in place travel restrictions. Our strategy has been around containment, about flattening out that curve and ensuring that our health system gets the resources we need,” he told Sky news.

The national cabinet meeting comes as the government launches a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign focused on good hygiene, and the formation of a Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit to address the economic fallout.

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Coronavirus: BC Ferries reduces Vancouver-Victoria service, closes buffets

BC Ferries says it is reducing service between Vancouver and Victoria and shuttering on-board food buffets due to concerns over coronavirus.

The company said Saturday it was cancelling multiple sailings throughout Sunday and one round-trip sailing Monday between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay “in order to meet current traffic demands.”

Four round-trip sailings on Sunday have been cancelled between noon and 6 p.m., while Monday’s cancelled sailings were set to leave Swartz Bay at noon and leave Tsawwassen at 2 p.m.

Customers with reservations on cancelled sailings will be advised by email and will be accommodated on a later sailing, with refunds available. Those without reservations will be put on standby.

Full details can be found here.

 

BC Ferries says it is also shutting down the Pacific Buffet available on the Spirit of Vancouver Island, the Spirit of British Columbia and the Coastal Celebration until further notice “to mitigate the spread of illness, including COVID-19.”

The company has already made adjustments to curb the spread of the virus, including extra cleaning of common areas and “locations that are touched frequently by people throughout the day.”

However, passengers are still not allowed to stay in their vehicles if they are parked on an enclosed bottom deck, citing Transport Canada regulations.

The federal agency is not waiving the restriction during the pandemic for “safety reasons,” BC Ferries told Global News on Friday, but added arrangements can be made if drivers are showing symptoms.

Drivers can stay in their vehicles if they are on an open car deck on an upper level.

—With files from Gord Macdonald

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Iran horror: Prisoners in jail holding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe dying in large numbers

Nazanin was due to be released on medical furlough from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison but, despite the regime’s efforts to keep her alive as a valuable hostage, this is being blocked by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, her husband Richard said. It was feared the 41-year-old, jailed since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government, which she denies, had contracted coronavirus. But in recent days she has rallied. Last night one political prisoner, arrested during the November anti-regime demonstrations, described the hellish conditions being endured by inmates there.

His words – smuggled out of Evin through the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) opposition group – reveal a complete lack of medical attention as more and more inmates develop symptoms.

“The situation here is that really we’re all ill. We all have a dry cough. We all have fever. There are inmates who are suffering from a fever as high as 42 or 41 degrees. If you touch their forehead, your hand would burn,“ said the prisoner, known only as Meqdad.

“All we can do is try to reach the clinic by pushing and shoving. And once there, the guards tell us there is no doctor or that the doctor is not coming, return to your ward or we will use force.

“There are no test kits available. If, by chance, we happen to find a doctor, all they do is to aim their digital thermometer at us, without even approaching us.

“All they give are expectorant syrup. They do not even have any antihistamine – you cannot even find anti-allergy shots here. You cannot find even a pill for cold here,“ he said.

Any pretence of maintaining hygienic standards has long since been abandoned.

“Hygienic conditions here are awful,” he added.

“Prisoners who are imprisoned for embezzlement or financial fraud have money. They can afford to buy disinfectants for themselves from outside the prison, but we political prisoners are without that kind of money. We cannot even buy alcohol to clean our hands; we do not have detergents to wash our hands with.”

Chillingly, he told of a “number” of inmates transferred to Massih Daneshvari hospital who have not returned. 

“They never came back,” he added.

“It seems that those whom the regime was unable to kill during the November uprising are being liquidated in the prison by coronavirus. They can eliminate whoever they choose, under the guise that the prisoner has contracted coronavirus, and the prisoner is taken away without anyone knowing about his whereabouts. “

And there was no evidence of the large-scale medical furloughs promised by the regime. 

“Raissi (Ibrahim Raissi, the Head of the Judiciary) says they are setting 54,000 prisoners free. That is pure nonsense.

“Only the prisoners who spy on other prisoners were given furlough and their number does not exceed 10 people. 

“We urge the UN and WHO representatives who are currently in Iran to come and visit us.

“Come and see what conditions I am having to survive in Ward 4, where guards do not dare approach us for the head count, where they address us from a distance while wearing masks and gloves.

“Come and conduct snap inspections, especially wards 209 and 240 that are run by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and also wards 1A and 2A of the IRGC intelligence prison which aren’t even officially part of the system.”

Nazanin, from north London, had flown to Iran to introduce her parents to the couple’s young daughter Gabriella.

The Foreign Office has been trying to secure her immediate release on medical grounds.  But claims this was due to happen by Iran’s ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinijad failed to materialise.

Last night, Richard said: “Nazanin is still there. Last week Iran’s Ambassador tweeted that she was about to be released. Every day it was ‘tomorrow’. Her bags are packed.

“My reading is that Iran’s foreign ministry wants her to come out temporarily because she remains a valuable asset for Iran. But this is being blocked by the Revolutionary Guard which is asserting its control.

“We were really convinced she got Covid-19 last week. She had all the symptoms but she’s recovered. We’re hoping she’s had it and survived it but, of course, she could simply have had something similar.

“They’re not testing anyone and they’re not treating anyone there. She’s high profile and we know that when they ran out of detergents and disinfectant in her ward, it would be the same throughout the prison.  

“Only those of the elite class who fell foul of the regime are being allowed to buy in provisions. She is certainly not being given that option.

“We are very worried and are keeping a close eye on things. “

Iran says it has had 10,000 coronavirus infections and 429 deaths.

But yesterday Iranian opposition group the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK) said that more than 4,000 Iranians had died after contracting the virus. 

Of those, 650 were in the holy city of Qom, where clerics continue to reject government advice.

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Whistler Blackcomb to shut down as Vail Resorts ceases operations due to coronavirus

Fears over the coronavirus have now hit the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, which will shut down for a week starting Sunday along with all of Vail Resorts’ other North American properties.

The company announced Saturday it will suspend operations at all North American mountain resorts from Sunday through March 22 and will use that time to determine its plans for the rest of the season and whether it’s “advisable or feasible to re-open.”

Lodging and properties will remain open for guests currently at those resorts, but Vail said it will not be taking new reservations for the coming week.

Employees will be paid during the eight-day period, and will not need to resort to using vacation or sick time, CEO Rob Katz said in a statement.

“Their commitment to our company and guests during this uncertain time has been unwavering and I am personally grateful beyond words,” he said.

“This was not an easy decision to make, as we deeply considered the impact it will have on our guests, employees, and the people and businesses in our communities.”

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