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  • Trump, Erdogan speak by phone, ‘stress need’ for ceasefires in Syria & Libya

    US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan underlined on Tuesday the need for ceasefires in Syria and Libya during the coronavirus pandemic, the White House said. The two spoke by phone on efforts to “defeat the virus and bolster the global economy,” according to its statement.

    They “agreed it is more important now than ever for countries in conflict, particularly Syria and Libya, to adhere to ceasefires and work toward resolution,” it said.

    Syria’s government has so far reported only a handful of Covid-19 cases. Health experts warn that the country, torn apart by years of civil war, is especially vulnerable to the virus.

    In Libya, the two rival powers have each instituted social distancing measures, AFP reports.

  • New York coronavirus death toll surpasses 1,500 as nearly HALF tests processed in last 24h come back positive

    New York has 75,795 confirmed cases of coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday, revealing that, of the 18,000 tests processed in the previous 24 hours, 9,000 came back positive. Some 1,550 people have died with the virus since the epidemic began, a single-day increase of 332. New York City has been hit particularly hard - 5,686 of the new cases are located within its five boroughs.

    Some 10,929 people diagnosed with the virus are currently hospitalized in the state. Cuomo, who previously warned of the possibility of running out of ventilators, said he has ordered 17,000 of the machines from China at a cost of about $25,000 each.

    The governor believes the outbreak will peak within the next three weeks. “The range on the apex is seven to 21 days from now,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. Emphasizing the importance of testing, he revealed New York is developing its own antibody test and is currently using a form of saliva testing. The state has conducted nearly 200,000 tests, he said.

    While Cuomo called for “private and public, upstate and downstate” hospitals to function as a single unit, he has been criticized for the high number of hospital closures and consolidations that have occurred during his tenure as governor.

  • Taliban team arrives in Kabul for 1st time since 2001, will monitor prisoner release – spokesman

    A three-member Taliban technical team arrived in the Afghan capital on Tuesday to monitor the release of their prisoners, a spokesman for the insurgent group said. The move is part of a peace deal signed by the Taliban and the US.

    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the team’s arrival in a tweet. It marked the first time a Taliban delegation has been in Kabul since the group was driven out by the US-led coalition in November 2001, AP said.

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday praised the Afghan government negotiating team that was identified to hold talks with the Taliban as appearing to be fairly broad and inclusive, according to Reuters.

    “We have seen a team identified. It looks like it’s pretty inclusive, pretty broad,” said Pompeo, adding that he was “happy about that.”

  • Thousands of S. Korean workers go on unpaid leave as Seoul, Washington fail to agree on military costs

    Seoul on Tuesday criticized the US military’s decision to place thousands of South Korean workers on unpaid leave this week, after the two allies failed to sign a new cost-sharing agreement. Washington and Seoul are embroiled in a dispute dating back almost two years, over how much each should pay to support the roughly 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea.

    With no new pact months after the last agreement expired at the end of 2019, about half of the nearly 9,000 South Koreans employed by the US military command will be placed on unpaid leave starting on Wednesday, Reuters said. US officials have said they will cover the payroll for more than 4,500 workers deemed essential.

    South Korean negotiator Jeong Eun-bo said Seoul regrets the move and the US had not agreed to proposals that would have prevented the furloughs while a new so-called “Special Measures Agreement” is hammered out.

    Washington had demanded up to $5 billion a year, more than five times the $870 million that Seoul agreed to pay last year under a one-year deal, though US officials said they have “compromised” on the numbers.

  • France will produce 15mn face masks per week by end-April – Macron

    France plans to quickly ramp up domestic production of face masks and respirators during the coronavirus epidemic, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday.

    During a visit to a face mask factory, Macron said France needs at least 40 million face masks per week. Current domestic production and stocks are insufficient, he noted.

    The country’s factories would boost output, and by end-April they should be able to produce 15 million face masks per week, the president said.

    Macron added that France has put together a consortium to build more ventilators, Reuters reports. The group will be led by respirator maker Air Liquide, and will also include car parts maker Valeo, car maker PSA and Schneider Electric.

  • Indonesia declares emergency, will suspend all foreign arrivals

    Indonesia confirmed 114 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,528, a Health Ministry official said. Another 14 people had died, taking the toll to 136, according to Achmad Yurianto.

    Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared a national public health emergency over the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, and announced measures to help people with lower incomes. The measures included expanding social welfare, food assistance and giving electricity tariff discounts and waivers.

    Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Indonesia’s government has decided to ban all arrivals and transits by foreigners in Indonesia, Reuters reports.

    Foreigners with stay permits and some diplomatic visits will be exempted from the ban, Marsudi said, adding that the government aims to issue the regulations for the ban on Tuesday. The government will also strengthen screening for Indonesian nationals returning to the country.