Details are expected today of plans by the US and Mexico to halt much of cross-border travel without disrupting trade during the coronavirus outbreak.

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said he proposed steps to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that won’t paralyse economic activity and keep the border open to commerce and work.

Pompeo said on Twitter that he was working closely with his Mexican counterpart on travel restrictions.

Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo)

#Mexico Foreign Secretary @m_ebrard and I have been working closely on travel restrictions that balance protecting our citizens from further transmission of #COVID19. Together, we can reduce public health risks and prioritize essential cross-border commerce and trade.

March 20, 2020

Aamna Mohdin

Rail services in Scotland will move to a reduced timetable from Monday 23 March onwards as people follow the extraordinary advice to limit social contact and stay at home.

Network Rail Scotland and ScotRail announced they would be operating a reduced service so emergency staff can travel and will prioritise moving goods and emergency supplies such as medicines can be moved around the country.

David Simpson, ScotRail Operations Director, said: “We are facing an unprecedented challenge on Scotland’s Railway and the revised timetable will help to provide a critical service for the key workers across the country.

“Our own people are absolutely committed and are working flat out on the frontline to help keep the country moving, while also keeping themselves and customers safe.

Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson said the government is in discussions with rail unions to protect rail staff during unprecedented times.

“We are also investigating ways to provide proportionate relief to operators, while also ensuring contractual incentives remain to mitigate the impact of doing so. Any changes to rail franchise contracts, including funding mechanisms, will be made in the best interests of the public and business communities.”

Glasgow Central Station, normally packed with people during rush hour in Glasgow, Britain, 19th March 2020.
Glasgow Central Station, normally packed with people during rush hour in Glasgow, Britain, 19th March 2020. Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa have risen by 52 to 202, according to the country’s health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize.

He is giving a press conference now which is being livestreamed here

Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize)

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize addressing the media at Bophelo House, Free State

March 20, 2020

The virus has multiplied in Africa more slowly than in Asia or Europe, but the number of cases has started to rise more rapidly in South Africa in recent days.


Alex Hern

Twitter won’t be removing a tweet from Elon Musk that claims that children are “basically immune” to Covid-19, a day after committing to remove misinformation related to the disease, the company says.

Musk came under fire on Thursday night for tweeting:

Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Kids are essentially immune, but elderly with existing conditions are vulnerable. Family gatherings with close contact between kids & grandparents probably most risky.

March 19, 2020

The claim isn’t supported by the evidence, which suggests that children can and do catch the virus, with many becoming seriously ill around the world, and many more helping to spread the disease further while suffering mild or no symptoms.

While death rates remain low for under-18s, a March paper in the journal Pediatrics concluded “children at all ages were susceptible to COVID-19”.

But, in a statement given to tech site The Verge, Twitter said it would not be enforcing its new rules on medical misinformation against Musk.

“When reviewing the overall context and conclusion of the Tweet, it does not break our rules”, the company said. “We’ll continue to consult with trusted partners such as health authorities to identify content that is most harmful.”

Musk has been talking down the risk of Covid-19 for some time. On March 6, he tweeted:

He has told employees at one of his companies, SpaceX, that “the risk of death from C19 is vastly less than the risk of death from driving your car home.”

He did not deploy the same metaphor at another of his companies, which makes cars, but instead told Tesla employees that they should continue working at his Fremont, California, factory unless they were showing symptoms, despite a shelter-in-place order in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Musk was eventually overruled by the local sheriff’s office.

Gwyn Topham

Britain’s bus operators have called on the government to provide £1bn in immediate help to maintain critical services as passenger numbers fall away with the coronavirus.

Operators say passenger numbers have already fallen by more than half outside London, with a loss of £50million per week in revenues, even before the closure of schools.

While the government had pledged to deliver £5bn in additional funding over five years to the industry, with the importance of bus services having risen up the political agenda before the coronavirus outbreak, bus firms now say they need a first tranche simply to guarantee income and support staff costs to maintain vital routes.

Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents bus companies, said: “Operators are under extreme pressure and facing impossible choices over which routes they have to cut and how many staff may have to go.”

Firms collectively employ around 100,000 drivers and 120,000 support staff, whose jobs are at risk.

In Britain, BT is to remove all caps on home broadband plans to give customers unlimited data while working from home or self-isolating.

The BT Group, which also includes mobile network EE, said it wanted to help people stay connected during periods of isolation because of the coronavirus outbreak.

If comes after the firm said it was among networks in talks with the Government over allowing ministers to use anonymised mobile data to monitor whether people are following social distancing measures.

Alexandra Topping

An iconic Italian deli which has served London for more than 75 years is raising money so it can supply pasta and sauce to people in need amid the coronavirus crisis, reports London’s Evening Standard.

Lina Stores, which has a site in Soho and another in King’s Cross, wants to make provisions for hospitality staff whose jobs have been cut and people in at risk groups.

“We want to look after London - the community that has been supporting us for over 75 years,” the store, which opened in the 1940s, said in a Go Fund Me page, which has raised more than £11,000 so far and has an aim of £20,000.

Alexandra Topping (@LexyTopping)

Well, this is amazing. Iconic Lina Stores in Soho is raising money to supply pasta and sauce to people in need amid the coronavirus crisis, reports @EveningStandard London's Evening Standard.

Here's the Go Fund me page:

March 20, 2020

It sounds like a plot from the Police Academy films: hundreds of trainee cadets, some just a few weeks into their training, are sworn in and assigned to active duty to deal with a national crisis.

A trope that Hollywood screenwriters have long used in various forms but on Friday it’s a deadly serious reality in Ireland where 319 students will be sworn in at the Garda College in Templemore, county Tipperary, to deal with the coronavirus emergency.

The Garda commissioner, Drew Harris, and justice minister, Charlie Flanagan will preside over a brief attestation ceremony that will observe social distancing protocols.

Some 124 tutors and instructors from the college are also being deployed to frontline policing. The eight-acre campus may be turned into an improvised health facility.

On Thursday the parliament passed draconian legislation to allow police detain people who breach self-isolation instructions. It came as the Health Service Executive reported another 191 cases, bringing Ireland’s total to 557.

Simon Coveney, the tánaiste and foreign minister said political leadership and people’s actions would determine whether Covid-19 “kills hundreds of people, thousands of people or tens of thousands of people in Ireland”.

Irish Police officers walk past a boarded up bar following the cancellation of the annual Saint Patricks Day parade and celebrations on March 17, 2020 in Dublin, Ireland.
Irish Police officers walk past a boarded up bar following the cancellation of the annual Saint Patricks Day parade and celebrations on March 17, 2020 in Dublin, Ireland. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The Guardian’s Editor-in-chief, Katherine Viner, has written to readers about how we aim to cover the Coronavirus crisis, emphasising the value of expertise, scientific knowledge and careful judgment in our reporting

She writes:

With you, we are trying to face this unsettling moment with fortitude, and we’re remembering our history – the Guardian and Observer continued to publish throughout the 1918 flu pandemic and both world wars, and we will do our best to do the same during this global coronavirus pandemic.

Read on here

Sales at the UK chain Wetherspoons have been falling sales after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of the public to stay at home and not visit Britain’s pubs.

The pub chain said that sales, which had risen by 3.2% in the previous six weeks, started falling by 4.5% in the week ending March 15, as the coronavirus pandemic scared customers off.

The decline picked up even further when the Prime Minister told people that it was vital they do not visit pubs in order to slow the spread of the highly infectious disease.

“In the early part of the current week ... sales have declined at a significantly higher rate,” Wetherspoons chairman Tim Martin said in a statement to shareholders on Friday.

Earlier this week the Guardian reported on how staff at the pub chain had spoken of their fears about having to continue working in busy pub environments without masks, hand gel or other protective equipment.

They spoke out as the company announced that its pubs would remain open – but customers will pay by card, avoid standing at the bar and sit at alternate tables.

“We’re effectively going to become Petri dishes,” said one worker who said that he and others should be provided with hand gel, gloves and face masks.

“We come into contact all day with the general public, we handle money, dirty plates, glasses, sometimes bodily fluids, and the fact we can’t wear a mask/gloves front of house is making people feel on edge. We of course are washing our hands as often as possible but it’s just bizarre we aren’t allowed to protect ourselves.”

A sign on a JD Wetherspoon pub in Birmingham stating that to improve ventilation the doors will remain open.
A sign on a JD Wetherspoon pub in Birmingham stating that to improve ventilation the doors will remain open. Photograph: Jacob King/PA

Kim Willsher

France has tightened the rules of who can go out by banning cycling and demanding runners and walkers limit the distance they take from home to a maximum 1-2km and 20minutes.

FFC (@FFCyclisme)

? Face à l'épidémie de COVID-19, la @FFCyclisme demande à tous les cyclistes de faire preuve de responsabilité en évitant toute pratique à l'extérieur durant cette période.

Un seul mot d'ordre : "Sauvez des vies ! Restez chez vous !"

Plus d'informations ?

March 19, 2020

A statement from a cycling body reads: “Faced with the COVID-9 epidemic the French Federation of Cycling asks all cyclists to show their responsibility and avoid all cycling outside during this period. Remember the rule: “Save lives! Stay at home!”

French government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye warned the confinement rules were likely to be tightened further.

“We see quite irresponsible behaviour, people going to beach to the park. We have to tighten the restrictions. the fines are now 135 and their application is strict; Those who haven’t the right to go out, who don’t have their justification document, who overstep the regulations will be sanctioned,” Ndiaye said.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has said he would use “all state power” to tackle the health and economic problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities launched rapid testing for the disease today in areas where there have been cases of the virus, Widodo told reporters.

People wearing face masks as a precaution against the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak attend obligatory Friday prayers at a mosque in Surabaya, East Java, on March 20, 2020.
People wearing face masks as a precaution against the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak attend obligatory Friday prayers at a mosque in Surabaya, East Java, on March 20, 2020. Photograph: Juni Kriswanto/AFP via Getty Images

A scramble by the UK to produce thousands of ventilators to fight the coronavirus outbreak was achieving results as top companies have already produced a prototype and it should be ready for use in hospitals by the end of next week, according to Britain’s health secretary.

“More than half a dozen companies have already made one in prototype, to check with us that we are happy with the quality ,” Matt Hancock told BBC TV.

He also said that negotiations were advancing to purchase new equipment in large numbers that would enable home testing.

“Frankly I don’t care where it comes from as long as we can get our hands on it,” he told the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4.

The tests had only recently been invented and approved by regulators in the past couple of days, he added.

Separately, he said that the UK government was looking “very, very closely” at why there is a coronavirus hotspot in England’s Midlands.

Asked on Sky News about 28 deaths recorded in the West Midlands, he said: “There is a hotspot, not as big as in London, but there is a hotspot in the Midlands.

A critical care nurse in Britain has made a tearful appeal to members of the public to stop stripping supermarket shelves of food after she came off a shift and was unable to buy supplies for her family.

“Those people who are stripping the shelves of basic foods. You just need to stop it because it is people like me who will be looking after you when you are at your lowest, so just stop it,” said the nurse, named as Dawn.

BBC Yorkshire (@BBCLookNorth)

Critical care nurse Dawn has pleaded for the public to "stop it" after being faced with empty supermarket shelves following a 48-hour shift.

March 19, 2020

The recording was played this morning to Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who told the BBC’s Today programme that his heart went out to people like Dawn.

He said that people should follow the guidance which has aleady been set out but the government “would do whatever it takes” if necessary.

Spain is preparing new flights today to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where the local mayor ordered trucks on to the runway yesterday to prevent a plane from landing.

That’s according to Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez, who was speaking after the European Union asked Ecuador to guarantee access to its airports to ensure it can airlift citizens out of the South American nation.

The Iberia flight which was unable to land was planning to repatriate 190 EU citizens.

A journalist at TeleSur has tweeted some footage of how the incident unfolded on Thursday.

Camila (@camilateleSUR)

Alarming incident at Ecuador's International Airport in Guayaquil today as an @Iberia flight from Spain is denied landing by the mayor @CynthiaViteri6 who ordered the blocking of the runway, utilizing municipal and police vehicles.

Helicopter view of the blocked runway:

March 19, 2020

Cirque du Soleil, the world famous entertainment company, has announced it is temporarily laying off 4,679 employees - some 95 percent of its workforce.

Cirque du Soleil (@Cirque)

MISE À JOUR - 17 MARS Nous aimerions vous remercier pour votre soutien en ces temps difficiles. Nous partageons votre déception concernant la suspension de nos spectacles et nous voulons que vous sachiez que nous travaillons activement pour trouver des solutions pour tous.

March 17, 2020

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