World News

Russia warned NATO remains ready for attack after Putin’s sabre-rattling military drills

The pandemic has forced NATO to cancel some major exercises including the huge US-led Defender Europe 2020 which had been anticipated to be one of the largest US military drills in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which stands accused of waging a mass campaign of disinformation about coronavirus, has been sabre-rattling in drills close to the NATO allies’ borders, including British waters.

Our primary objective is to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis

Jens Stoltenberg

But NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg insisted “operational readiness” had not been affected by the coronavirus crisis and said the alliance’s ability to defend itself had not been weakened.

He told a video news conference: “Our primary objective is to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis.”

Mr Stoltenberg also said NATO’s “core task” to provide security for nearly a billion people would not be impacted by the global crisis.

But he warned the recent Russian war games near NATO ally borders were a stark reminder the alliance must not lose its focus on defending Europe.

Earlier, the US military acknowledged the pandemic was having a major impact on its troop movements across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A spokesman for US European Command said: “In response to the current outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and recent guidance by the Secretary of Defence, we have modified exercise DEFENDER-Europe 2020 in size and scope.

“All movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased.

“The health, safety and readiness of our military, civilians, and family members is our primary concern.”

The exercise had been touted as a sign of US solidarity with Europe and included the movement of some 20,000 troops to the continent.

Several other drills linked to the larger exercise, including Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response have been scrapped.

The spokesman said: “Forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States.”

At a news briefing carried via video-conference from Brussels, Mr Stoltenberg said NATO was doing its part to airlift necessary emergency medical equipment.

He said a military cargo aircraft left Turkey yesterday with a consignment of protective gear and other medical equipment for Spain and Italy.

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Mr Stolttenberg said coronavirus was a “common invisible enemy” and a synchronised response from NATO allies was needed.

He said: “Very often, when we face a crisis, it’s a crisis which is only affecting one or two, or a limited number of nations, and then the other nations can provide support.

“This time, the crisis affects us all.”

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Coronavirus horror: Brit clergyman describes ordeal after becoming Washington’s first case

The Rev Timothy Cole had been at a church conference in Louisville, Kentucky, with clergy from all over the USA at the end of February. When he returned home to Washington DC he felt unwell and started to show flu-like symptoms.

Suddenly you get whacked and you find yourself on this really small dark path and you’ve got no choice but to go down it

Rev Timothy Cole

He told Sky News: “I went to bed for three days, the fever broke, I waited another 24 hours and got up, felt fine. I went back to work.”

But despite his brief recovery, Rev Cole was about to become the Washington’s first case.

He continued to deliver sermons before he eventually collapsed and was rushed to hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19.

He said: “You’re just going along the highway of normality and then suddenly you get whacked and you find yourself on this really small dark path and you’ve got no choice but to go down it.”

He was in hospital for three weeks, given oxygen and placed in intensive care.

He said: “The thing about this disease is the doctors really can’t do very much.

“You’re sitting round waiting for your body to get better or worse.”

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Rev Cole was the first patient in Washington DC but cases in New York, California and Texas have also been traced back to the Kentucky church conference.

He later found his church organist and four parishioners were infected with coronavirus.

He said: “I was thinking about the people who got the virus after me and the inconvenience people had to go through.

“The whole congregation was quarantined for two weeks because of me.”

Washington DC now has over 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and city mayor Muriel Bowser has issued a stay-at-home order.

Rev Cole said: “I was the first case in Washington so obviously it wasn’t something that I expected. It was a bit of a shock.”

He and wife Lorraine said they were grateful for the congregation’s reaction to his diagnosis.

He said: “They stood beside us and prayed for us. They have been a tremendous support and lavished us with affection and kindness.”

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Originally from Edinburgh, Reverend Cole moved to the US capital three years when he was appointed rector at Christ Church, Georgetown.

The former British army chaplain will be delivering a virtual reading at Christ Church this Easter.

He said: “It’s so sad this church, which is 200 years old, will be shut for Easter Sunday for the first time.

“Who knows when I’ll stand in the pulpit again.”

Four new states imposed sweeping stay-at-home directives last night, putting more than 80 percent of Americans under lockdown as the number of deaths in the US nearly doubled in three days.

The governors of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada each instituted the strict policies on a day when the death toll from COVID-19 shot up by 925 to more than 4,800 nationwide, with 214,000 confirmed cases.

Donald Trump said he saw no need for the federal government to issue a nationwide decree, with 39 states and the District of Columbia now requiring residents to stay home except for essential outings to the doctor or to shop for essentials.

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China coronavirus cover-up: Wuhan whistleblower disappears in mysterious circumstances

Dr Ai Fen said she faced “unprecedented, extremely harsh reprimanded” by bosses at Wuhan Central Hospital after she shared a picture of a patient report labelled “SARS coronavirus”. Dr Ai gave an interview to a Chinese magazine criticising the hospital for dismissing the early coronavirus warnings but has not been seen since, according to 60 Minutes Australia.

The world needs different kinds of voices

Ai Fen

Her rumoured disappearance comes amid growing criticism of the Chinese government which faces claims of lying and covering up key information during its coronavirus response.

Beijing is accused of trying to cover up the outbreak by punishing medics who discovered it, denying it could spread person-to-person and delaying a lockdown of affected regions.

Officials are also alleged to have censored spread disinformation overseas including claims that US troops could have been the initial carriers.

In the interview, Dr Ai said she regretted not speaking out more after four fellow medics contracted coronavirus and died while fighting the outbreak.

She said: “If I had known what would have happened today, I wouldn’t have cared about the reprimand. I would have told whoever and wherever I want.”

The interview was posted on Tuesday but quickly retracted from social media by its publisher.

Dr Ai received a patient’s report labelled “SARS coronavirus” on December 30.

She said she broke out into a cold sweat after reading the lab results several times.

The SARS epidemic 17 years ago infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed over 800 people.

The doctor circled the word “SARS” and sent a picture of the report to one of her former classmates and a group chat within her department.

Dr Ai said she alerted hospital authorities about the case.

She told People Magazine: “Later that evening, the stuff was shared all over the place with screenshots of the report bearing my red circle.”

Two days later, she was called in by the head of the hospital’s disciplinary inspection committee.

Dr Ai said she faced “unprecedented, extremely harsh reprimanded” and was accused of “spreading rumours as a professional”.

Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was among eight people who shared Dr Ai’s picture before being reprimanded by police and accused of spreading fake news for warning the public of “SARS at a Wuhan seafood market” on social media.

The 34-year-old doctor contracted COVID-19 and died last Friday.

Three other doctors who worked alongside Dr Li have also died from the disease.

Before her disappearance, Dr Ai denied being a whistle-blower.

She told People Magazine: “I was the one handing out the whistles.

“This incident has shown that everyone needs to have their own thoughts because someone has to step up to speak the truth.

“The world needs different kinds of voices.”

The original article has now been removed from the magazine’s website.

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World News

Putin ‘disappears’ in coronavirus panic as top doctor infected

Putin will hold a government meeting later on Wednesday by video conference, the Kremlin said, a day after a doctor who met him last week said he had been diagnosed with the highly infectious virus. Denis Protsenko last week gave Putin a tour of Moscow’s main coronavirus hospital and shook hands with the Russian leader. Protsenko is now self-isolating in his office.

The Kremlin, which has said that everything is fine with Putin’s health, said the president was now keeping his distance from other people and preferred to work remotely.

Asked if Putin had changed the way he greeted people and was now keeping a distance, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Of course, now everyone is maintaining a social distance. Everyone is doing this.”

Russia expanded its coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday to cover more of its sprawling territory as the official tally of infections rose to 2,777, a one-day increase of 440. Twenty-four people have so far died in Russia, authorities say.

Moscow, a bustling metropolis of more than 12.5 million that has become the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, has come to an eerie standstill since announcing a partial lockdown on Sunday.

Residents can leave their homes only to buy food or medicine nearby, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog or empty their bins. Red Square was largely empty on Tuesday except for police who stopped occasional passersby to check their papers.

On Wednesday, a Moscow city official said authorities had developed a smartphone app for residents who have contracted the virus that would allow officials to monitor their movements. The app will be available from Thursday, the official, Eduard Lysenko, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

The Russian capital is also preparing to roll out a QR-code system where each resident that registers online will be assigned a unique code that they can show to police officers if stopped when going to the shop or the chemist, he said.

Both measures appeared in an unconfirmed draft blueprint for a city-wide surveillance system that was circulated online this week. Kremlin critics said it risked turning Moscow into a “digital concentration camp”.

Lysenko said that anyone without a device that is able to download the tracking app would be lent one by city authorities that they would later return.

Eight southern Russian regions rolled out lockdown measures similar to Moscow on Wednesday, meaning that over two thirds of Russia’s more than 80 regions are now in a state of partial lockdown.

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World News

‘Concealing the truth’ Chinese whistleblower speaks out on COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan

More than 860,000 people have now been infected with the deadly virus and 42,000 dead, as millions are in lockdown across the world indefinitely. COVID-19 is believed to have originated in Wuhan at a seafood market where wild animals including birds, bats and snakes were traded illegally. The first case of the virus is thought to have been recorded as early as December 1, but China did not report the outbreak to the World Health Organisation (WHO) until December 31.

Speaking on Four Corner’s ‘Secrets behind Coronavirus’ documentary, Centre for Strategic International Studies senior fellow Richard McGregor said the Chinese government sat on this information for weeks.

He said last month: “The key point in this saga is they lost about two weeks, maybe three, just when the virus was at its nascent point, just at a time where they could have traced it, a time when perhaps they could have checked it.

“When a group of doctors began sharing information they had about a strange new virus on WeChat, they were doing what you would expect medical professionals to do.

“But, of course, that’s a dangerous thing to do in China.

The central government adopted the policy of concealing the truth

Dr Wu Qiang

“I think there’s little doubt that local officials in Wuhan did withhold information, the doctors who were talking about it were explicitly told to shut up.”

The communist country arrested anyone “spreading rumours” online, including Dr Li Wenliang, who first raised the alert to his former classmates in a private WeChat group.

Former Tsinghua University politics lecturer, Dr Wu Qiang, told investigators that the Chinese government was concealing the truth, which allowed for the outbreak on such a huge scale.

He said: “I have no doubts that the local government reported the situation to the central government.

“So local government were not accountable to the people at that time.


“But the central government adopted the policy of concealing the truth from the public, starting to control the epidemic internally.

“This contradiction prevented them from properly mobilising to deal with the spread of the epidemic.

“Although internal controls were in place, the information kept from the public’s eye caused the outbreak of the disaster and the spread of the disease.”

Dr Wu claims he is not alone in the anger towards the government and said there is a growing amount of unrest in the country over the handling.

He added: “More of the 900 million Chinese citizens, who are equipped with smartphones, have become extremely dissatisfied with the virus in the past month or so.

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“From my own observation, this level of dissatisfaction is unprecedented in the past 80 years.

“They have been tremendously dissatisfied with the local government’s ineffectiveness in epidemic and disaster relief the Wuhan people have seen from the city lockdown, the paralysis of the local medical institutions and the huge risk they face.”

On February 11, 34-year-old Dr Wenliang lost his battle with coronavirus, weeks after sounding the alarm over the virus.

Last week, the Wuhan police made an official apology to the family of Dr Li for their “inappropriate handling of the situation” and revoked the letter of reprimand for spreading rumours.

However, Dr Wu claims the people of China are shocked with the handling of the situation.

He added: “The public intellectuals and the public both realised that Dr Li represented the conscience of China.

“He was oppressed from the beginning for telling the truth and could have saved the lives of tens of thousands of people.

“But all this was concealed due to the authorities’ suppression of free speech.

“I believe the public expressed their dissatisfaction with the government by commemorating him.”

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Merkel humiliation: Party ally claims Chancellor ‘needs to be more like Boris Johnson!’

This is because while Ms Merkel has suffered a number of electoral humiliations in recent years, Mr Johnson enjoyed success in December’s general election. In the country’s 2013 Federal Elections, the AfD (Alternative for Germany), having just been founded, won 810,000 votes winning no seats. But in the next vote four years later, the party boosted their share to over five million votes, a rise bigger than Ukip’s between 2010-2015. In last year’s state elections, Ms Merkel’s party also suffered a huge blow in the Thuringia region – where her CDU party usually dominate.

This time they finished third, behind the AfD in second as Die Linke (The Left) claimed a surprise victory.

Felix Schoenherr of the Werte Union – a group within Merkel’s CDU critical of her leadership – claims that she would have been more successful if she had made her position clear like Mr Johnson did with Brexit.

He told “From what I see in the news Johnson was leaning towards the Brexit crowd while Theresa May was trying to get consensus which didn’t work.

“Johnson was very clever with his clear cut message: ‘Get Brexit done.’

“We have polarisation now in society, and I think Johnson made a smart move by acknowledging this in the election when he said ‘Get Brexit done’.”

However, Mr Schoenherr says Ms Merkel has failed to achieve the same level of authority.

He continued: “From Werte Union’s point of view, this crisis is mainly due to policy on energy and the refugee crisis.

“Also, there is a consensus that there is an appeasement to the left going on from Merkel.

“Around the last 10 years the CDU has tried to reach out to leftist parties, but this is a problem because the party’s standpoint is not clear anymore.

“If you are appeasing your opponents all the time the message cannot be clear, and this has left the party in a state of decline.”

Now, as Ms Merkel vows to step down in 2021, an old rival is aiming to succeed her.

Friedrich Merz has a long history with Ms Merkel after the current Chancellor beat him to the leadership of the party in 2002.

After leaving politics in 2009, Ms Merz is now back in the fold and hoping the series of setbacks for his historic rival could allow him to take her chair as Chancellor.

Many tip the businessman to push the CDU to the right in an effort to revive the party’s electoral fortunes.

Mr Schoenherr believes there are parallels between Mr Merz in Germany and Mr Johnson in the UK.

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When asked by whether there are similarities between Johnson and Merz, Mr Schonherr said: “Yeah, I see certain parallels.”

He added: “From what I see in the news Johnson was leaning towards the Brexit crowd while Theresa May was trying to get consensus which didn’t work.

“Johnson was very clever with his clear cut message: ‘Get Brexit done.’

“The similar thing with Merz is that he is more clear cut while Merkel is just juggling around.

“Johnson took lots of votes from Ukip and the Brexit Party – that is what Merz is trying to do in Germany, to take votes away from the AfD through policy shift.”

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Coronavirus horror: Shocking mob violence plunges Italy into chaos – looting turns rampant

Italy is at risk of total social collapse according to experts, following a surge in supermarket raids and robberies in the country’s southern region. Police have been deployed to patrol supermarkets in Sicily after plots organising raids and thefts were discovered online. There is mounting concern that violence could soon break out due to food shortages after the Italian government extended its strict lockdown until Easter. 

In Sicily, a ferry company has stopped shipping vital supplies of food and medicines after going bankrupt – sparking fears of riots. 

There were angry standoffs between supermarket staff and desperate customers in Palermo, the island’s capital. 

In Naples, protesters gathered outside the home of a woman accused of fleeing northern Italy’s lockdown and later testing positive for coronavirus. 

Raffaele Lettieri, the mayor of her home town Acerra, issued a video message on social media, condemning the woman for breaking quarantine and putting lives at risk.

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He said: “This person came down here from Lombardy on 9 March – today it’s the 29th and only now have we discovered they have tested positive.

“If for 20 days this person hasn’t rigorously respected quarantine, for 20 days they have met people who met other people etc then enough.

“One person who doesn’t respect the quarantine is enough for the virus to spread.”

Following this, a furious mob of people gathered outside her home, prompting mask-wearing police to arrive on the scene and turn away the protesters. 

In response, the young woman hit back at the criticism as she broke down in tears. 

She said: “I never let myself leave my room, leave my house, like has been said. The mayor will have to give me an explanation because from the beginning I explained what happened.

“I explained immediately. Therefore, to be defamed like this I find truly shameful.”


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Italy has recorded the most coronavirus deaths in the world, with more than 11,500 people dead.

There are concerns over civil unrest in the country’s south, where there are soaring levels of unemployment and deprivation.

Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando told daily newspaper La Stampa: “We need to act fast, more than fast. Distress could turn into violence.”

On Saturday, the government announced an urgent £355million fund to help people struggling to buy food. 

Luigi d’Angelo from the Italian Civil Protection is hopeful that the lockdown can be lifted sometime in April, with a “return to normality by June”.

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Germany savaged for ‘selfish’ and ‘sleazy ambition’ amid Europe’s coronavirus outbreak

Germany has joined a group of leading European Union member states in rejecting proposals for further common fiscal measures aimed at helping EU states badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Italy, Spain and France joined forces in asking the Union to issue temporary bonds to help eurozone members cope with the closure of business and factories but Berlin urged for cautious measures as it remains unclear how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last. But the hard stance Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted sparked accusations of selfishness and prejudice against Germany.

Italian journalist Alberto Lupini told Italia a Tavola: “Unfortunately the pandemic is not only taking the lives of too many people and putting the world economy on its knees.

“It’s also killing the dreams of those like me, like you in addition of being a proud Italian, was convinced they could be a proud European to share peace, welfare and civility burying forever hatred and wars. But I’m afraid this can no longer be the case.

“The coronavirus is unveiling selfishness, prejudice and the sleazy ambition of national supremacy based on still being different and superior.”

Mr Lupini continued: “Germany, who was responsible for two world wars it lost and recovered from thanks to the solidarity of other European has never renounced its attempts to rule over the continent.

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“It has been doing it for some time thanks to the strength of its economy which it uses as a mean no less unprejudiced than weapons.

“It has conditioned European institutions for decades, making us all pay for the rightful reunification between the east and the west, and now, in a lucid yet terrifying folly, some of its bureaucrats are tempted to play the final card and exploiting a pandemic they so far thought they were immune from.”

The position Germany adopted also sparked internal warnings about the future of the European Union, with Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni claiming the lack of solidarity some members are showing puts the European project in danger.

Mr Gentiloni urged Berlin to act immediately to support fellow member states amid the growing risk of a global recession sparked by the pandemic.

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Speaking to Euronews, the euro commissioner said:A no to solidarity at this moment would put in danger all our project.

“We can’t avoid a recession in the situation where we have a lockdown of our cities, our services and in several countries also our companies in general.

“But we can also have a strong bounce back after the recession.”

And a group of Italian MEPs and mayors, including the leaders of two of the worst-hit towns in Northern Italy, Bergamo and Brescia, hit out at Germany for the lack of help despite Italy supporting pleas to have German war debt cut to reignite the economy at the end of World War II.


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The letter read: “The debt Germany had after 1945 was 29.7 billion German marks.

“Germany would never have been able to repay it. In 1953 in London, 21 countries (including France, Italy, Spain and Belgium) agreed to Germany halving the debt and delay payment of the remaining debts.

“That way, Germany was able to avoid going into default. Italy is still sure and proud today of that decision.”

They added: “Dear German friends, memory helps make the right decision. Your place is with the great European countries. Your place is with the Europe on institutions, the values of freedom and solidarity. It’s not behind small national selfishness.

“Let’s show everyone together Europe is stronger than those who want it weaker.”

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Coronavirus crackdown: Australia issues HUGE fine to residents flouting lockdown rules

AUSTRALIA imposed new measures to slow the spread of coronavirus in the country on Monday, meaning some residents could be fined or jailed for leaving their home.

The new measures vary between Australian states, as some are worse-hit by the virus than others.

New South Wales (NSW), which is home to Australia’s most populous city, Sydney, has enacted some of the strictest measures in the country.

Residents of the state must not leave their homes unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ for doing so.

These excuses are broadly defined as: obtaining food or other goods and services; travelling for the purposes of work or education if this cannot be done from home; exercise; medical or caring reasons.

Public gatherings of two or more people are also banned, unless such gatherings are of members of the same household or are essential for work or education.

Pubs and restaurants are also required to close, although they may still serve food or beverages for people to consume off the premises.

Failure to comply with the new rules could mean a maximum prison sentence of half a year and/or a fine of up to $11,000 AUD.

In Victoria, on-the-spot fines of $1,652 may be issued to individuals flouting the rules.

The measures have been more or less replicated in other states such as Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, with some differences including severity of fines.

In Queensland, for instance, people living alone are allowed to have one social guest round, who may leave their own home to attend, according to the Guardian.

The Northern Territory and South Australia are not enforcing the two-person gathering rules at all, instead opting for a more lenient 10-person limit.

Although the tougher rules currently in place across some Australian states are broadly similar to those currently enforced in the UK, the country has not been as badly hit by Covid-19 as of yet.

There were 3,966 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 16 deaths in Australia as of Monday, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Confirmed cases in the UK were much higher – around 19,526 – with a total of 1,228 deaths. The figures for both Australia and the UK are likely to have increased since.

On Monday, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $130 billion AUD over the next half a year “to support the jobs and livelihoods” of residents who are expected to be affected.

He also announced a bi-weekly $1,500 “JobKeeper payment” to keep Australians in work.

Mr Morrison said in a statement: “We will pay employers to pay their employees and make sure they do.

“Our actions must be well considered. They must be well tempered and targeted. They must be effective. They must be clear in their purpose and they must be efficient in their execution.

“Some will say it’s too little. Others will say that it’s too much.”

In terms of a tightening of restrictions here in the UK, Boris Johnson has said that this would not be ruled out.

Though it is unclear what form tougher restrictions would take, or how long they might be implemented for.

Total confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide are currently at over 785,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with 37,810 deaths and 165,889 recovered.

The US remains the worst-affected country in terms of infections with 164,539. Italy follows, having recently reported just over 100,000 infections

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Heartbreak as baby dies from coronavirus in US – ‘This is your wake-up call’

Illinois governor Jay Pritzker said the baby was among 13 more deaths reported in the state. He said: “I have some terribly sad news to announce. Among the fatalities over the last 24 hours was a state employee, a member of our team at the Department of Human Services and an infant.”

If you haven’t been paying attention, maybe this is your wake-up call

Dr Ngozi Ezike

Mr Pritzker confirmed the latest fatalities in Illinois as the US coronavirus death toll reached 2,460.

He told  press conference:  “May their memories be a blessing.

“I know how difficult this news can be especially about this very young child.

“Upon hearing it I admit I was immediately shaken, and it’s appropriate for us to grieve today.

“We should grieve with our family of state employees, with the many people we’ve already lost to this virus, young and old.”

Officials said the specific cause of death of the youngster was not clear and that an investigation was underway.

The baby’s death will send shivers down the spine of parents across the USA who were told the elderly and those with underlying health problems were most at risk.

Illinois health director Dr Ngozi Ezike urged people to do all they could to precent the spread of the disease.

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She said: “If you haven’t been paying attention, maybe this is your wake-up call.”

The US death toll has now topped 2,460 with more than 141,000 cases, the most of any country in the world.


Donald Trump has extended his stay-at-home guidelines until the end of April, dropping a hotly criticised plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April after a top medical adviser said more than 100,000 citizens could die from coronavirus.

Mr Trump told a briefing in the White House Rose Garden: “The peak, the highest point of death rate, is likely to hit in two weeks.

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.”

Earlier, Dr Anthony Fauci of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN that the pandemic could ultimately kill between 100,000 and 200,000 people in the US if mitigation was not successful.

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He said: “We feel the mitigation we are doing right now is having an effect.

“The decision to extend this mitigation process until the end of April is a wise and prudent decision.”

The governors of at least 21 states, representing more than half the US population of 330 million, have closed “non-essential businesses” and told residents to stay home.

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