Exclusive: Qatar Airways says it will need state support as cash runs out

DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar Airways will have to seek government support eventually, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker told Reuters on Sunday, warning that the Middle East carrier could soon run out of the cash needed to continue flying.

Several states have stepped in to help airlines hammered by the coronavirus pandemic that has virtually halted international travel, with the United States offering $58 billion in aid.

Qatar Airways is one of few airlines continuing to maintain scheduled commercial passenger services and over the next two weeks expects to operate 1,800 flights.

“We have received many requests from governments all over the world, embassies in certain countries, requesting Qatar Airways not to stop flying,” Baker said by phone from Doha.

The state-owned carrier is operating flights to Europe, Asia and Australia, repatriating people who have been left stranded after many countries shut their borders.

“We will fly as long as it is necessary and we have requests to get stranded people to their homes, provided the airspace is open and the airports are open,” Baker said.

However, he warned that the airline was burning through cash and only had enough to sustain operations for a “very short period”.

“We will surely go to our government eventually,” Baker added.

He declined to say when the airline would need state aid, which could come in the form of loans or equity, but said it was taking measures to conserve cash.

Employees have taken paid and unpaid leave voluntarily and Baker said he had forfeited his salary until the airline returns to full operations. Staff would not be forced to take pay cuts, though Baker said some had offered to do so.

The airline had said before the pandemic it would report a loss this financial year because of a regional political dispute that forces it to fly longer, more expensive routes to avoid airspace that it had been banned from using by some of neighboring countries.

Rivals Emirates and Etihad Airways, of the United Arab Emirates, have grounded passenger operations, which Baker said had not benefited his airline.

Qatar Airways has been operating some flights at 50% occupancy or less and if it fills 45% of seats on flights over the next two weeks it will carry about 250,000 passengers.

“We are not taking advantage … this is a time to serve people who want to be with their loved ones in a very trying time,” Baker said.

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Chinese markets linked to coronavirus re-open selling bats and scorpions

Bats and scorpions are back on sale at Chinese meat markets – just months after the outbreak of coronavirus which has caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world.

A shocking eyewitness report claims huge crowds descended on indoor markets in Guilin, south west China, and Dongguan, southern China, when they re-opened yesterday.

Many places in China, where the killer disease originated, have celebrated "victory" over coronavirus as businesses open their doors for the first time in weeks.

The scene was witnessed by a Mail on Sunday correspondent, who described it as "deeply troubling".

The paper reports that no efforts seemed to have been made to prevent a future outbreak by raising hygiene standards.

In Dongguan, bats – linked to the Covid-19 outbreak – are advertised by a medicine seller.

The Chinese population have been urged by the government to return to normal, with just a tiny number of new infections reported.

The unnamed China-based correspondent said: "Everyone here believes the outbreak is over and there's nothing to worry about any more.

"It's just a foreign problem now as far as they are concerned."

  • Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe moans jail's coronavirus restrictions are 'over the top'

And in Dongguan, they stated, the only change was that guards were stopping people taking pictures.

"The markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus," they said.

The coronavirus has been traced back to a market in Wuhan, which was completely shut down in the aftermath of the outbreak.

More than 665,000 people have been infected around the world, with Spain, Italy, the US and Britain among the worst-affected countries.

At least 30,900 people are known to have died.

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Coronavirus: Saskatchewan athlete Brock Weston recounts falling ill with COVID-19

The possibility of having COVID-19 started to become real for Brock Weston as he drove home to Saskatchewan.

The Wisconsin college student had had fever sweats the night before. A stuffy nose and sore throat he thought were from dust in the air or maybe, at worst, a cold or flu had been hanging around for a couple of days.

“I had no appetite. I couldn’t smell. My eyes were hurting,” the 25-year-old told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“I thought, ‘OK, maybe this is a little more than just the flu.’”

Weston, who plays hockey and studies biology and chemistry at Marian University, had been packing for his trip home last week when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians abroad to hurry back.

While on the road, he called his parents about taking extra precautions for his arrival at the family farm near Maidstone, about a two and half hour drive west of Saskatoon.

When he got there, he still felt lousy. He was running a fever and coughing and noticed pressure in his chest when he took deep breaths.

“You read about the people that started with this mild chest pressure and all of a sudden they’re in the hospital and can’t breathe,” Weston said.

“I was definitely nervous once I started to kind of realize that I might have it.”

He did a self-assessment, which told him he should call for a referral. He phoned a clinic in town, which led to more calls until he was booked in for a test.

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When he arrived for testing in Lloydminster, Weston phoned from a parking spot and was directed to a building through a set of doors. He was instructed to sanitize and put on a mask.

Weston said a health worker took a swab resembling a large Q-Tip and inserted it high into both sides of his nose.

“It was mostly just uncomfortable,” he said.

“Kind of like a sneeze that would never come.”

He was told it could take a week for results, but three days later he received a call.

He had tested positive for COVID-19.

Weston is self-isolating in the basement of his parents’ house while they stay upstairs. He said he’s sharing the story of his symptoms and diagnosis so others will take the virus seriously, stay home and think of others.

COVID-19 certainly slowed him down, he said.

“I had absolutely no sense of smell and no taste. I had no appetite for five days. I lost over 10 pounds.

“I kind of got this migraine that just carried over four or five days that made my eyes just hurt. Couldn’t look to left, right, up, down.”

Weston said he’s now feeling almost 100 per cent, after lots of sleep and liquids.

And he’s helping out on the farm.

“It’s a little easier on the farm because I can stay six feet away from Dad outside.”

Weston is not entirely sure where he contracted the virus, but believes it was while he was in Nashville on a spring break with friends.

He has to have two negative test results to be out of quarantine. The first test is set for Saturday.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.


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Coronavirus: Dufferin County, Ont. declares state of emergency

Dufferin County, Ont. declared a statement of emergency on Thursday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the rapidly changing conditions, it has become necessary to declare an emergency so that we may be able to address resident needs in a more timely manner,” Dufferin County Warden Darren White said in a statement.

County officials say the emergency declaration doesn’t change the rules that exist to ensure the municipality operates effectively.

“The county continues to provide essential services to the community,” officials say.

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“This includes, but is not limited to our long-term care home, income and community housing supports, waste and recycling pick-up, general maintenance of county roads, building permit applications and inspections.”

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 835 active cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario. There have been 15 deaths in the province.

Map of Canadian COVID-19 cases:

 

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Coronavirus: can immunosuppressive therapies save lives? London, Ont., researchers launch study

Researchers out of Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University in London, Ont., are trying to better understand the immune system’s response to the new coronavirus and whether or not immunosuppressive therapies can improve mortality rates.

According to the team, some early reports from scientists and physicians suggest that the virus can cause a cytokine storm in some patients, which is when the immune system goes dangerously overboard in responding to it.

“Some researchers are suggesting that mortality could be improved with immunosuppressive therapies,” said lead researcher Dr. Douglas Fraser.

“However, evidence to support this is severely lacking at this time.”

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Researchers are testing daily blood samples taken from London Health Sciences Centre patients presumed to have COVID-19 and looking for inflammatory biomarkers to track the changing immune response over time. Researchers will be comparing that data “to the immune response in patients with other infections, as well as in healthy controls.” The data will also be useful in future studies.

“This study could also inform why some people become critically ill and others do not, and help determine who will respond to certain therapies,” said Fraser.

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Coronavirus: Website launched to help people donate in Waterloo region, Guelph

One of the major coronavirus-related questions being asked by members of the Waterloo region and Guelph communities is ‘how can we help?’

With that in mind, a group of doctors in the area have launched a website called Covidhealth.ca, which will allow people to lend a hand.

The effort is being spearheaded by Dr. Sarah Rinaldi, who practices in New Hamburg, Ont., and Dr. Sharon Bal, who practices in Cambridge, Ont.

Rinaldi said it was born from hearing stories of people in the community looking to lend a hand.

“I’m a member of a bunch of social groups of physicians and every day I was just seeing more and more posts saying, ‘I have a friend who has a 3D printer and they’re looking to get involved’ or ‘I know this person in the community, they have boxes of masks or gloves. How can we donate them?’”

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At home with coronavirus, UK's Johnson writes to the nation

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is self-isolating at 10 Downing Street after testing positive for coronavirus, will write to every UK household to urge people to stay at home.

Johnson, who has described his symptoms as mild, is leading the government’s response to the crisis, chairing meetings by video conference. The health minister, Matt Hancock, has also tested positive and is working from home.

“We know things will get worse before they get better,” Johnson will write in his letter, which will be sent to 30 million households across the United Kingdom starting from next week.

“But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal,” he will say, according to a statement from Downing Street.

Britain has reported 17,089 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,019 deaths. The peak of the epidemic in the country is expected to come in a few weeks.

After initially taking relatively modest steps compared with other European nations, Johnson ramped up his response to coronavirus in the past week, ordering pubs, cafes, restaurants and shops to close and making social distancing compulsory.

In his letter, he will thank all those working for the state-funded National Health Service (NHS), which provides free healthcare to everyone living in the United Kingdom and inspires huge respect across society.

“It has been truly inspirational to see our doctors, nurses and other carers rise magnificently to the needs of the hour,” Johnson will say.

“Thousands of retired doctors and nurses are returning to the NHS – and hundreds of thousands of citizens are volunteering to help the most vulnerable.

“That is why, at this moment of national emergency, I urge you, please, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

The letter will come with a leaflet containing the government’s advice on hand washing, rules on leaving the house, guidance for those self-isolating with symptoms or shielding vulnerable people, and explanations of symptoms.

The letter and leaflet are part of the government’s public information campaign on coronavirus, and are expected to cost 5.8 million pounds ($7 million) to print and distribute.

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SNC-Lavalin withdraws financial guidance, works to cuts costs amid COVID-19 crisis

SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. is withdrawing its financial guidance for 2020 as it works to cut costs and manage its cash flow due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact of the company’s operations around the world.

The company says it has been able to continue work with clients from non-office-based locations, and to move work among different jurisdictions as required.

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However, it says where it’s not possible for employees to carry on productive client work, due to temporary shutdowns or the nature of the client service, actions are being taken, including reduced hours and employee furloughs.

SNC also says all of its executive leadership will be taking a 20 per cent reduction in salary and board members will take a 20 per cent reduction in cash compensation for the second quarter.

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Covid-19 Aid: Aviation sector, which is critical to economic recovery, to get $750 million aid package

SINGAPORE – Singapore will retain a minimum level of air connectivity even as airlines continue to ground flights amid the Covid-19 pandemic so that Singaporeans can return home and supply lines for essential goods stay open.

It is also critical to keep the aviation sector going so that the economy can pick up again when the time comes, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Thursday (March 26), as he unveiled a $750 million aid packge for the industry.

He said: “Our aviation sector has significant linkages to the rest of our economy. If it collapses in a crisis, it will be very hard for the aviation industries to rebuild after the crisis is over, and the recovery of the rest of the economy will be impeded.

“We must therefore ensure that this temporary shock to our air hub does not become a permanent one.”

The aviation and tourism sectors have been the most badly hit by the outbreak.

As part of the Supplementary Budget, firms in the aviation sector will be able to tap an enhanced wage subsidy programme that will see the Government co-fund up to 75 per cent of wages for local workers. The support for the aviation sector will cost the Government more than $400 million.

In addition, the sector will get a $350 million enhanced aviation support package – more than three times the $112 million package announced earlier – to help them get over the “single biggest shock” the global aviation sector has ever experienced, Mr Heng said.

As part of the support extended, firms will get a total of 75 per cent wage offset for the first $4,600 of monthly wages, for their employees.

The $350 million aviation support package will fund measures to reduce costs for airlines, ground handlers and cargo agents so that they can continue to operate.

Airlines will get substantial cost savings on various fronts.

From April to end-October, they will get a 10 per cent landing charge rebate for all scheduled passenger flights landing in Singapore and 50 per cent rebate on rental paid for airlines’ lounges and offices within Changi Airport’s terminal buildings.

They will also get 100 per cent rebate on parking charges at Changi Airport from August to October – an extension of the rebate announced in the previous Stabilisation and Support Package.

Ground handlers will get rebates on rental paid for their lounges and offices within Changi Airport’s terminal buildings. Meanwhile, the cargo sector will get additional rebates on landing charges and rent, on top of what was previously announced.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will also allow Singapore carriers and the airport operator to partially or fully defer payment of certain fees to CAAS between April this year and March next year. The value of the deferred fees is about $140 million.

More details will be provided to companies by Changi Airport Group and the CAAS.

Mr Heng noted that the profound impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the economy will be felt for years to come.

“State support for the private sector where there are critical national interests at stake is not unprecedented,” he added, citing previous examples in Europe and United Kingdom.

“We will support our aviation sector to ride out the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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Quebec to provide update as tighter restrictions take hold to curb coronavirus spread

The Legault government is expected to provide an update Thursday afternoon on the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the province.

Three more deaths have been recorded in Quebec — including the first in Montreal — bringing the total to seven fatalities.

As of Wednesday, 1,339 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the province and nearly half of them are in Montreal. There are 78 people in hospital and 34 of them are in intensive care.

Premier François Legault said Quebecers are in the battle of their lives and he reiterated his call for people to stay home.

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“Every action we take will bring us closer to victory,” he said.

In Montreal, public health officials confirmed there is an outbreak of the illness in two locations: a long-term care centre, or CHSLD, and a health-care facility.

A paramedic with Urgences-santé has also tested positive for the disease. The medical service, which serves Montreal and Laval, said in a statement that the man has been in self-isolation since he experienced symptoms and he is doing well.

The jump in cases has prompted the government to tighten restrictions to curb COVID-19. All non-essential businesses are physically closed until April 13.

In Gatineau, police handed down a $1,000 fine to a group of people not respecting social distancing on Wednesday night.

A new drive-thru testing centre is also opening in Côte Saint-Luc, an on-island suburb of Montreal, where several people have tested positive for COVID-19. The city declared a state of emergency last week and officials have been urging people to stay home.

— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier and the Canadian Press

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