Acting US Navy chief resigns over ship virus row

The acting US Navy secretary has submitted his resignation amid criticisms of his response to a ship with a Covid-19 outbreak, US media say.

Thomas Modly had ousted the captain of the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier after he pleaded for help in a letter leaked to the public.

Mr Modly had apologised on Monday after he called Captain Brett Crozier’s actions “naïve” and “stupid”.

Army Undersecretary James McPherson is expected to replace Mr Modly.

Mr Modly told the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Monday that what their former captain did “was very, very wrong” and amounted to “a betrayal of trust with me, with his chain of command”, according to recordings leaked to US media.

“If he didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public…then he was A) too naïve or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this,” Mr Modly said. “The alternative is he did it on purpose.”

Amid criticisms from lawmakers, Mr Modly issued an apology the same day, saying: “I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite.”

Captain Crozier sent a letter to defence officials on 30 March begging for assistance with a coronavirus outbreak on his vessel, which has more than 4,000 crewmembers.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote, requesting that nearly the entire crew be quarantined.

Captain Crozier was fired last week, and footage of his crew sending him off with cheers and applause went viral.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Monday, telling reporters he may get involved in the row.

“You have two good gentlemen and they’re arguing. I’m good at resolving arguments,” he said.

The president said he “heard very good things” about Captain Crozier and did not want his career to be ruined “for having a bad day”, but added that “the letter should not have been sent to many people unclassified”.

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NYC virus deaths exceed 3,200, topping toll for 9/11 attacks – The Denver Post

NEW YORK — New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed the number of those killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11, health officials said Tuesday. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson lay in intensive care with the virus.

At least 3,202 people have died in New York from COVID-19, according to the count released by the city. The deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil killed 2,753 people in the city and 2,977 overall, when hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths, its biggest one-day jump yet, for a statewide toll of nearly 5,500, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“Behind every one of those numbers is an individual. There’s a family, there’s a mother, there’s a father, there’s a sister, there’s a brother. So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers,” he said.

But in an encouraging sign, Cuomo reported that hospital admissions and the number of those receiving breathing tubes are dropping, indicating that measures taken to force people to keep their distance from one another are succeeding.

And alarming as the one-day increase in deaths might sound, the governor said that’s a “lagging indicator,” reflecting severely ill people who had been hospitalized before this week. Over the past several days, in fact, the number of deaths in New York appeared to be leveling off.

“You see that plateauing — that’s because of what we are doing. If we don’t do what we are doing, that is a much different curve,” he said. “So social distancing is working.”

Across the U.S., the death toll neared 12,000, with around 380,000 confirmed infections. Some of the deadliest hot spots included Detroit, New Orleans and the New York metropolitan area, which includes parts of Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In London, the 55-year-old Johnson, the world’s first head of government known to have fallen ill with the virus, was in stable condition and conscious at a hospital, where he was receiving oxygen but was not on a ventilator, said his spokesman James Slack. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was designated to run the country in the meantime.

Deaths in Britain rose to nearly 6,200, after a one-day increase of almost 800.

“We’re desperately hoping that Boris can make the speediest possible recovery,” said Cabinet minister Michael Gove, who is among scores of British officials in self-isolation.

Stocks rose during the day on Wall Street after a big rally the day before on news that the crisis may be easing in some of the world’s hardest-hit places. The S&P 500 was up nearly 2.5% at midday.

Elsewhere around the world, there were contrasting developments.

Chinese authorities lifted the lockdown on Wuhan after 76 days, allowing residents to travel in and out of the industrial city of 11 million where the worldwide outbreak began. China, which officially recorded more than 82,000 infections and over 3,300 deaths, listed no new cases on Tuesday, though the country’s figures are regarded with suspicion by some public health experts.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures because of a spike of infections in the country with the world’s oldest population. The order will close hostess bars and other night entertainment.

“My lifestyle will change. These are difficult times” said Yoshiyuki Kataoka, 44, a nightlife industry worker. “Maybe I’ll become a recluse.”

In some European hot spots, as in New York, authorities saw signs that the outbreak was turning a corner, based on slowdowns in new deaths and hospitalizations.

In Spain, new deaths Tuesday rose to 743 and infections climbed by 5,400 after five days of declines, but the increases were believed to reflect a weekend backlog. Authorities said they were confident in the downward trend.

In Italy, the hardest-hit country of all, with over 16,500 deaths, authorities appealed to people ahead of Easter weekend not to lower their guard and to abide by a lockdown now in its fifth week, even as new cases dropped to a level not seen since the early weeks of the outbreak.

“Finally it seems we are beginning to see a lessening of new cases” after a plateau, said Giovanni Rezza, director of the infectious-disease division of Italy’s national health institute.

New cases were also slowing in France and Portugal. To keep up social distancing, Paris banned daytime jogging just as warm spring weather settled in.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that if Americans continue to practice social distancing for the rest of April, “we will be able to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

“I want the American people to know there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and we feel confident that if we keep doing the right thing for the rest of this month, that we can start to slowly reopen in some places,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

One lockdown exception in the U.S. was Wisconsin, which asked hundreds of thousands of voters to ignore a stay-at-home order to participate in its presidential primary Tuesday.

Lines were particularly long in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold, where just five of 180 traditional polling places were open. Many voters across the state did not have facial coverings in line with public health recommendations.

In Madison, city workers erected hard plastic barriers to protect poll workers, and voters were encouraged to bring their own pens to mark their ballots.

Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have been confirmed infected and over 75,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and deliberate underreporting by some governments.

For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia. Close to 300,000 people have recovered worldwide.

One of the main models on the outbreak, from the University of Washington, is projecting about 82,000 U.S. deaths through early August, with the highest number on April 16.

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Spain's coronavirus deaths tick up again to near 14,000

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s pace of coronavirus deaths ticked up for the first time in five days on Tuesday, with 743 people succumbing overnight, but there was still hope the national lockdown might be eased soon.

Tuesday’s toll from the health ministry compared to 637 deaths registered during the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 13,798, the second highest in the world after Italy.

Still, the proportional daily increase of 5.7% was about half that reported a week ago.

“It is normal to have some oscillations … What matters is to see the trend and the cumulative data,” said Maria Jose Sierra, deputy chief of health emergencies, adding that latest data included some delayed notifications from the weekend.

Total cases rose to 140,510 – the highest in Europe and second in the world after the United States.

As officials worked on a plan to lift some of the tough restrictions in place that have shut down non-core firms, the Spanish unit of Germany’s Volkswagen said it may partially reopen a plant in Navarra region on April 20.

Employment rules for farms were eased to bring in temporarily up to 80,000 migrants and jobless people to cover a shortfall of foreign seasonal labourers. That, officials hope, will prevent food shortages and preserve Spain’s status as the European Union’s biggest exporter of fruit and vegetables.

QUESTIONS OVER DEATH NUMBERS

For lockdown restrictions to be lifted, officials say testing has to be widened, to find carriers who may have mild or no symptoms.

The government is planning mass, quick antibody tests in coming days. Cadena Ser radio said about 62,000 people would be tested twice with an interval of 21 days to see the effect of any easing of measures on contagion.

Some Spanish media have reported in recent days that insufficient testing means the real death toll could be much higher.

Asked about that, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero told a news conference it was possible there could be time lags between the report of a death and its attribution to the virus, but that she had no further information.

Thirteen of Spain’s 17 regions have registered more deaths than usual, and in 11 of those, the number of extra fatalities is higher than the number confirmed to have died from the coronavirus, according to Reuters calculations based on data collected by the health and justice ministries.

In the central region of Castilla La Mancha, around 2,000 more people died than usual between March 15 and April 3, but fewer than 1,000 coronavirus deaths were registered during those three weeks.

Care homes for the elderly have been among the worst-hit by the pandemic, accounting for a third of all deaths, according to some estimates. But not all were the source of bad news.

In the northern Basque city of Guernica, relatives, neighbours and the local fire brigade applauded care staff at the Juan Calzado nursing home, dancing to the sound of loud pop music played via loudspeakers. The staff decided to move in with its virus-free residents for 15 days so as not to expose them to contagion from the outside, Reuters footage showed.

“I am staying home, with my other family!” said home director Visi Garcia.

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Pell says he holds ‘no ill will’ over abuse claim

Cardinal George Pell has said he “holds no ill will” towards his accuser after Australia’s highest court overturned his conviction for child sexual abuse.

The former Vatican treasurer, 78, was the most senior Catholic figure ever jailed for such crimes.

In 2018, a jury found he abused two boys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

But the High Court of Australia quashed that verdict on Tuesday, bringing an immediate end to Cardinal Pell’s six-year jail sentence.

The Vatican said it welcomed the decision, adding that it was committed to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors.

Cardinal Bell has maintained his innocence since he was charged by police in June 2017.

His case rocked the Catholic Church, where he had been one of the Pope’s most senior advisers.

“I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel,” he said in a statement.

“However, my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church.”

Why was Cardinal Pell jailed?

In December 2018, a jury found him guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choir boys in St Patrick’s Cathedral in the mid-90s – when the cleric was Archbishop of Melbourne.

Cardinal Pell appealed against the verdict last year, but judges in another court upheld the decision by a 2-1 majority.

His conviction was based on the testimony of a man alleged to be the sole surviving victim. Dozens of other witnesses provided alibis and other evidence.

In his appeal to the High Court, the cleric argued that the jury’s verdict had relied too heavily on evidence from the surviving victim. His lawyers didn’t try to discredit that testimony, but argued that other evidence had not been properly considered.

The court’s seven judges ruled unanimously in Cardinal Pell’s favour, and said in their verdict that other testimonies had introduced “a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place”.

Cardinal Pell has since been released from jail – 400 days into his initial six-year sentence – and cannot be retried on the charges.

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Social distancing is now ‘new normal’ with no end in sight – latest coronavirus warning

New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian insisted we “have to be honest with ourselves”, adding there is “no simple way” to deal with the outbreak. She said: “That is the new normal. Not having physical contact, socially distancing is, at the very minimum, a way of life for us.

“Because we have to be honest with ourselves – until a vaccine is found, there is no simple way to deal with this issue.”

Ms Berejiklian’s comments come as questions were raised about whether a decision on lifting the UK’s lockdown restrictions would be delayed while the Prime Minister is in hospital with coronavirus.

Boris Johnson was moved to intensive care on Monday evening after being admitted to to St Thomas’ hospital in London on Sunday.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said the decision would not be delayed.

He told Good Morning Britain: “It will be the case that we will take that decision collectively as a Cabinet.

“The person who will chair that Cabinet, the person who will make the final decision of course is, as I mentioned earlier, the Foreign Secretary.

“But I think it’s important to recognise, yeah lockdown is painful, it’s difficult.

“It’s particularly difficult if you’re living in circumstances where you don’t have easy access to green space, you’ve maybe got children at home.

“I don’t underestimate how difficult it is, but the Prime Minister’s condition is a terrible and sad reminder of the fact that this disease spreads rapidly, and has a virulence which is frightening.

“So that’s one of the reasons we have this lockdown, so we can slow the spread of the disease and strengthen the NHS.”

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England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it would be a “mistake” to discuss the UK’s exit strategy from the lockdown because the number of cases has not yet reached its peak.

Speaking during Monday’s Downing Street press conference, he said: “The key thing is to get to the point where we are confident we have reached the peak and this is now beyond the peak, and at that point I think it is possible to have a serious discussion about all the things we need to do step-by-step to move to the next phase of managing this.

“But I think to start having that discussion until we’re confident that that’s where we’ve got to, would I think be a mistake.”

Professor Dame Angela McLean, the Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser, added that decisions could only be made once data had been collected.

She said: “We need a good, long time series of data on all of these stages of infection in order to be able to tell what the impact of the measures that came on March 23 are going to be.

“It’s too early to tell yet, we need people to carry on following those instructions so that we can work out three weeks later what actually happens in hospitals.

“We need to know how well the current restrictions are working before we can say anything sensible about what the next stage might be.”

Asked whether easing the measures could be staggered by region or by type of person, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Obviously we’re very mindful of the challenges businesses are facing, small businesses, all employers and of course the workforce as well.

“But the risk is if we start taking our eye off the ball, of tackling the coronavirus, stopping the spread and getting through the peak, we risk delaying the point at which we could in the future take those decisions on easing restrictions.

“So it is really important right now to keep the over-riding focus on maintaining the discipline that we’ve had, keeping adherence to the guidelines that the Government has set out and making sure that we stop the spread of coronavirus.”

It comes as there have been 55,242 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK, with the death toll at 6,159.

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UK PM Johnson 'stable' in intensive care, needed oxygen after COVID-19 symptoms worsened

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was stable in intensive care on Tuesday after receiving oxygen support to help him battle COVID-19, while his foreign minister led the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.

The upheaval of Johnson’s personal battle with the virus has shaken the government just as the United Kingdom enters what scientists say will be the most deadly phase of the pandemic, which has killed 5,373 people in Britain and 70,000 worldwide.

Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital across the River Thames from the House of Commons late on Sunday after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature and a cough, for more than 10 days.

But his condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was moved on Monday to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated, in case he needed to be put on a ventilator. He was still conscious, his office said.

“He is receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance,” Johnson’s spokesman, who traditionally speaks without his name being published, told reporters.

“The prime minister has been stable overnight and remains in good spirits,” the spokesman said. “He has not required mechanical ventilation, or non-invasive respiratory support.”

But the absence of Johnson, the first leader of a major power to be hospitalised after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, has raised questions about who is truly in charge of the world’s fifth largest economy at such a crucial time.

While Britain has no formal succession plan should a prime minister become incapacitated, Johnson asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, 46, to deputise for him “where necessary”, Downing Street said.

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WHO LEADS?

Raab on Tuesday chaired the government’s COVID-19 emergency response meeting, though ministers refused to say who had ultimate control over the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons – a role held by the prime minister.

“There are well-developed protocols which are in place,” said Gove, who himself went into self-isolation on Tuesday after a family member displayed coronavirus symptoms.

Before being rushed to intensive care, Johnson had said he was in good spirits and Raab had told a news conference that the prime minister was still running the government, although Raab also said he had not spoken to him directly since Saturday.

British leaders do not traditionally publicise the results of their medical examinations as some U.S. presidents including Donald Trump have.

Raab, the son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938, takes the helm at a pivotal time. Government scientists see the death toll rising until at least April 12 and Britain must ultimately decide when to lift the lockdown.

“The government’s business will continue,” said Raab, a staunch Brexit supporter who has served as foreign minister for less than a year.

Johnson’s move to intensive care added to the sense of upheaval that the coronavirus has wrought after its spread caused global panic, sowed chaos through financial markets and prompted the virtual shutdown of the world economy.

The United Kingdom is in a state of virtual lockdown, a situation due to be reviewed early next week, and some ministers have suggested it might need to be extended because some people were flouting the strict rules.

The pound dipped in Asian trading on news of Johnson’s intensive care treatment but then rallied in London trading. Against the dollar, sterling traded to a high of $1.2349, up 0.9% on the session.

CRITICISM

Even before coronavirus, Johnson had had a tumultuous year.

He won the top job in July 2019, renegotiated a Brexit deal with the European Union, fought a snap election in December which he won resoundingly and then led the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan 31 – promising to seal a Brexit trade deal by the end of this year.

The government has said it is not planning to seek an extension to that deadline in light of the epidemic.

Johnson has faced criticism for initially approving a much more modest response to the coronavirus outbreak than other major European leaders, though he then imposed a lockdown as projections showed half a million people could die.

He tested positive for the virus on March 26.

After 10 days of isolation in an apartment at Downing Street, he was admitted to hospital. He was last seen in a video message posted on Twitter on Friday when he looked weary.

James Gill, a doctor and a clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School, said the news of Johnson’s admission to intensive care was “worrying” but not completely out of line with other people suffering complications.

“So far we have seen a deterioration in line with other cases of COVID-19 infections,” he said. “Admission to ITU is worrying news, (but) this is not altogether uncommon with this disease, and may be looked at from a positive that the PM is getting the very best care that the NHS (Britain’s state-run National Health Service) has to offer.”

President Trump said all Americans were praying for his recovery, and other world leaders sent messages of support.

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Firefighters continue to battle Chernobyl fire

Radiation levels spike as forest fire hits Ukrainian nuclear zone.

Ukrainian authorities reported a recent spike in radiation levels in the restricted zone around Chernobyl, scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, caused by a forest fire.

Ukraine’s head of ecological inspection service, Yegor Firsov, said on Facebook, “There is bad news – radiation is above normal in the fire’s centre.”

The post included a video with a Geiger counter showing radiation at 16 times above normal levels.

The fire has spread to about 100 hectares (250 acres) of forest, Firsov wrote.

Kyiv mobilised two planes, a helicopter and more than 100 firefighters to battle the blaze, which broke out on Saturday and spread over 20 hectares in a forested area near the Chernobyl power plant.

By Sunday morning, the fire was under control and no increase in radiation in the air was detected, the emergencies service said in a statement.

However, it noted increased radiation in some areas had led to “difficulties” in fighting the fire, while stressing people living nearby were not in danger.

On Monday, firefighters said they managed to put out the smaller of two fires, which engulfed about five hectares (12 acres), but the second one was still burning across an area of about 20 hectares (50 acres).

Police said they tracked down a person suspected of starting the blaze by setting fire to dry grass in the area. A 27-year old man said he burned grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish the fire when the wind caused it to quickly spread.

The authorities said while radiation levels in the area engulfed by fires substantially exceeded normal levels, those in the capital, Kyiv, about 100km (60 miles) south, were close to normal.

Ukrainian police said they ramped up patrols in the area around the Chernobyl zone to prevent new fires.

Chernobyl polluted a large swath of Europe when its fourth reactor exploded in April 1986, with the area immediately around the power plant the worst affected.

People are not allowed to live within 30km (18 miles) of the power station.

The three other reactors at Chernobyl continued to generate electricity until the power station finally closed in 2000. A giant protective dome was put in place over the fourth reactor in 2016.

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Riding out the pandemic, Rio surfers catch a wave of controversy

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Despite stay-at-home orders aiming to protect people from the new coronavirus, many of Rio de Janeiro’s famous beaches have been buzzing with surfers seeking to catch the season’s first big swell.

That has thrown surfers such as Guilherme Faria headlong into a public debate about the legal limits on outdoor sports – in his case, a question that will be soon be decided by a judge.

The 22-year-old said he was catching 9-foot curlers on Copacabana Beach on Sunday morning when a policeman with a whistle between his teeth hauled him out of the water and down to the station.

“Unfortunately, surfing is now a crime,” said Faria, who received a court summons – seen by Reuters – after his booking. “I hope I don’t end up with a criminal record for something as silly as that.”

A few hours later, even with the threat of a fine, Faria and his board were back in the Copacabana surf.

Like thousands of Rio’s famously sporty locals, Faria could not resist the call of the outdoors. The esplanade lining the city shore is packed with joggers. Groups of spandex-clad bicyclists zip up and down the city’s serpentine mountain roads.

On March 17, city and state officials implored residents to stay at home, nominally closing beaches and city parks as the coronavirus pandemic tears through Latin America’s third-largest city.

Rio is Brazil’s second-most infected state, according to the Health Ministry, which reported 12,056 confirmed coronavirus cases across the country as of Monday.

Some athletes have complied, citing the danger of spreading the disease en route to beaches. Many argue that sports-related injuries could divert vital medical resources away from the coronavirus fight. The debate has also roiled other solo sports, from skiing to climbing.

“There are different opinions among different sports associations. New guidelines come out every week,” said Ana Carolina Corte, the official doctor for the Brazilian Olympic Committee. She added that some sports could still be done “alone, without crowds, without running alongside other people.”

Even legal decrees have been subject to debate.

The governor of Rio state, for instance, banned “spending time at beaches,” as some might describe a surfer bobbing in the water, but not a roller skater gliding past.

Yet some surfers have argued they merely cross over the sand to enter the ocean or even enter the water via rocky outcroppings.

Still, many athletes acknowledge their concerns pale next to the challenge Brazil faces. State governors, including those in Rio de Janeiro, have warned that underfunded public healthcare systems could soon collapse.

Bruno Bocayuva, a surfing journalist in Rio, has given up surfing for weeks in favor of jumping rope, doing push-ups and keeping in shape any way he can.

“I’m really missing that sensation of being in the water, of paddling, of catching a wave, of connecting with nature through surf, which provides such an intimate connection. But I know this is the moment to think of the collective good,” he said.

“I’m letting this wave pass, to surf the next one in the near future.”

BITTER DEBATE

Perhaps due to its high visibility or anti-establishment vibes, surfing has emerged as unique target of ire across the region.

In Costa Rica, a video on social media last week showed a police officer apparently firing a gun in the direction of 28-year-old law student Rafael Villavicencio as he left the water.

Reuters could not verify the video’s authenticity. The head of the Costa Rican police said they had opened an investigation into the incident.

“Although it’s true that the surfers weren’t following orders, that doesn’t mean an official should act in that way,” said Villavicencio’s lawyer, Rafael Brenes.

Argentina’s media heaped scorn on one surfer for entering the country from Brazil with boards on the roof of his car. The man later violated a mandatory quarantine, according to police.

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez called him “an idiot” on national television.

Similarly, Peruvian authorities raised eyebrows when they nabbed two surfers in a highly publicized operation involving a police helicopter.

In Brazil, a surf-crazed nation where urban beaches are often clogged before and after work, the debate has taken an acrimonious and even political turn.

President Jair Bolsonaro has berated Rio Governor Wilson Witzel for closing beaches, calling the move “dictatorial.”

Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, a congressman from Sao Paulo state, just down the coast, argued in a Facebook post on Thursday for a decree to allow surfing that conforms with social distancing.

With or without a decree, many surfers are simply doing what they can to dodge attention – and each other.

“I came early to avoid this total isolation controversy,” said Ricardo Bacão, a 65-year-old surfer from Rio’s Ipanema neighborhood, as he exited the water on Sunday morning.

“In the same way that people run, they hike, they ride bikes, somebody can grab a board, leave the house, go directly to the water, paddle and go home.”

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UK long-range weather: Warm temperatures to ‘dominate’ throughout April – charts

Britain faced soring temperatures at the weekend as large parts of the country saw a glimpse of spring sunshine. Those temperatures are set to return for large parts of the UK this month according to the latest graphs, with the Met Office predicting above-average temperatures. Although there will be some brief periods of showers throughout April, the Met Office’s long-range forecast has predicted dry weather will be constant for many.

Reporting on the period between April 11-20, the Met Office said: “Over the rest of the Easter weekend, there should be a good deal of dry, settled weather with sunny spells.

“It will be driest in the south, with the greatest chance of rain and stronger winds in the far north and northwest of the UK.

“Temperatures above normal, and warmest in the south, but with overnight frosts further north.

“Beyond the Easter weekend, this weather pattern is expected to continue with dry weather dominating.”

In graphs from weather forecaster, WX Charts, the UK is set to see temperatures hitting above 20C (68F) for large parts of the country on April 8.

Although the north of England will not see the best of the sunshine, temperatures will still be in the high teens.

That band of hot weather will continue the following day, with WX Charts showing temperatures once again around 20C (68F) on April 9.

In conjunction with the Met Office’s long-range reports, WX Charts also forecasts between April 13-15 temperatures will once again soar to 20C and above (68F).

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The Met Office reported the final 10 days of the month, dry weather is most likely.

They said: “Although confidence is low during this time period, the most probable scenario is that dry weather should dominate, with some interludes of more changeable weather at times.”

Today, many across the country will experience temperatures in the high teens, with London reaching 20C (68F), the Met Office has reported.

This bright and clear weather will remain for most of the day until the evening whereby the north will see some showers.

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Commenting on today’s forecast, Met Office meteorologist said: “There will be a few shallow mist and fog patches across the country on Tuesday morning.

“They’ll soon lift and the temperatures will also rise.”

“Most places will be dry and bright during Tuesday morning but more high cloud across Scotland will turn the sunshine hazy during the afternoon.

“Otherwise for many it’s simply a sunny day feeling warm in the sunshine in the south with temperatures hitting 17 to 20 degrees but the wind will pick up across the north and west of Scotland later on.

“That will make it feel cool and that wind will continue to pick up it will turn cloudy and wet in the far northwest.

“By the end of Tuesday with the wind by this day too reaching gale-force.”

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Life under lockdown: Coronavirus sparks fears for UK prisons

Social distancing often means solitary confinement as the virus takes hold, while guards are calling for early releases.

London, United Kingdom – Prisoners across England and Wales are being confined to their cells for almost 24 hours a day, with some doubled-up in cells built for one person, as institutions try to halt the spread of coronavirus. For those behind bars, the reality of life under lockdown is bringing “unprecedented” risks.

Social distancing is impossible in already overcrowded institutions, and hygiene measures are difficult to enforce, making prisons a “petri dish” for the virus, experts have warned. And prisons will increasingly be forced to cope with fewer staff, making it harder to safely enable time outside the cell.

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In March, an 84-year-old sex offender with underlying health conditions was the first British inmate to die after contracting the virus. As of Sunday, two more prisoners had died, and 88 had tested positive across 29 prisons, prompting urgent calls to release inmates to try to slow the rate of infection.

“We have a higher percentage of people who could die from it than [in] the general population,” Andrea Albutt, head of the Prison Governors Association (PGA), told Al Jazeera.

Last month, the National Audit Office revealed prisoners are being held in unsafe and crowded conditions, many being forced to “double-up” in cells built for one. The report also found that prisoners are being held without access to the services they need. It is feared this will become worse with the COVID-19 restrictions.

Jails are required by the government to enforce social distancing measures and lockdown procedures; visits have been cancelled, and daily routines suspended.

Other than essential work, such as in kitchens or laundry, there are “no off-wing activities at all”, said Albutt: “Only a small number of prisoners can come out of their cells at any one time in order to do the necessities – clean the cell, have a shower, make phone calls, time in the open air.” Albutt believes this is happening daily, but warned it could change as staffing levels continue to deplete.

“We’re at a point where the government has to make a decision now; the virus is getting a grip in our prisons. If we don’t reduce the kind of prison population through early release schemes now, this week, we’ll have too many cases and it won’t make a difference,” said Albutt.

Pregnant women in custody who do not pose a high risk of harm to the public will be temporarily released from prisons in England and Wales within days, while up to 4,000 low-risk prisoners will be released on temporary licence, the Ministry of Justice announced this week. It follows moves in Northern Ireland to release up to 200 individuals coming to the final three months of their sentences. The Scottish government has proposed emergency legislation to give ministers the power to release inmates early if staffing numbers fall below “safe” levels.

The move has followed urgent calls from prison governors and campaign organisations including the Prison Reform Trust and Appeal to lower prison numbers and try to control the spread of the virus across a justice system that has the highest incarceration rates in Western Europe.

Al Jazeera understands that inmates inside HMP Thameside, a private prison managed by Serco, are being kept inside cells for more than 23.5 hours at a time, with only 20 minutes exercise outside. One prisoner at Thameside, who suffers from severe PTSD from his time inside, tweeted recently: “There is no greater test than when faced with solitude.” Serco, which manages six adult prisons in the UK, including HMP Thameside, told Al Jazeera they were following the Ministry of Justice guidance on social distancing.

But the reality of this is de facto solitary confinement.

“The sickness levels of prison officers are increasing at a pretty exponential level. There’s going to be fewer and fewer staff looking after more and more difficult prisoners,” said John Podmore, a former prison governor who is now professor of applied social sciences at the University of Durham and a freelance criminal justice consultant.

“A prolonged lockdown will exacerbate mental health problems. The word unprecedented doesn’t even come close to describing where we’re at,” he added. “If you imagine yourself in enforced solitary confinement in a large toilet, with an unscreened lavatory and someone you’ve never met before, the mental health implications are huge,” he said.

People in prison are more likely to suffer mental health issues than those in the community, yet prisoners are less able to manage their mental health conditions because most aspects of their day-to-day life are controlled. And during these unprecedented times, the little control they did have will be almost non-existent.

“Some prisoners will find it easier to cope than others, if they’re avoidant they might prefer to be on their own, initially,” said Naomi Murphy, a consultant clinical and forensic psychologist and clinical director of The Fens OPDP Service at HMP Whitemoor, a Category A high-security prison. “But a sizeable part of the population will seriously struggle with extended lock-up – it could lead to health anxiety and apathy, but also self-harm and suicide.”

Prisoners who are already vulnerable will be hit particularly hard. “Those suffering from paranoia will find it difficult to connect with the real world and they could find themselves in a spiral,” says Murphy. “Some people will struggle a lot with extended lock-up, and it will be difficult to get back on track potentially; for some, this could be really quite dire.”

Inmate, HMP Nottingham

Being locked up in cells for extended periods will also have an effect on immune health, and less access to daylight and free movement will make sleep more difficult, says Murphy. To mitigate this, staff at HMP Whitemoor have been introducing yoga and wellbeing packs to prisoners. And while the kind of face-to-face mental health support previously offered will no longer be possible, staff are making use of talking to prisoners during exercise hours, at a safe distance, and are offering “open letterbox” contact through cell doors.

Other measures are being put in place to help prisoners stay connected with friends and family. Free daily 10-minute phone calls are being offered at HMP Doncaster, for example.

One prisoner at HMP Nottingham wrote a letter of thanks to staff who they said had gone above and beyond the call of duty. “I want to thank all A Wing staff for getting up each morning and despite your own fears and worries to come into work to help us prisoners to have time out of our cells and keep us updated and for treating us like equals,” they wrote. “I have seen prison officers in a new light.”

The Ministry of Justice said its “utmost priority” was to protect life during the outbreak. “We have flexible plans in place to keep all staff and prisoners as safe as possible, and are issuing secure phone handsets to help offenders keep in touch with their loved ones.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “This is an unprecedented situation because if coronavirus takes hold in our prisons, the NHS could be overwhelmed and more lives put at risk.

“All prisoners will face a tough risk assessment and must comply with strict conditions, including an electronic tag, while they are closely monitored. Those that do not will be recalled to prison.”

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