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Coronavirus latest news: Worst day so far for UK, as deaths rise by 87 to 422 

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Luxury handbag-maker Mulberry warned it expects to slump to a second-half loss as it said trading has been “severely impacted” by the coronavirus crisis.

The group’s UK stores have been closed since March 21 and it is reviewing its international outlets on a “case-by-case basis”.

It said: “Whilst the board remains confident in the strength of the Mulberry brand, recent trading in our stores, particularly in the UK, has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.”

The Somerset-based firm – which sells high-end bags costing upwards of £1,000 – had been hoping to turn a profit in the final six months of its financial year to the end of March, but now said it is set to post a small loss.

It added that it is now “working to protect Mulberry’s cash and to secure future value for its stakeholders by proactively managing its capital as well as identifying opportunities for cost savings”.

It has suspended shareholder dividend payouts until further notice.

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group bought a 12.5% stake in Mulberry last month.

Mulberry had already been struggling financially before the coronavirus pandemic struck, with bosses warning that the UK market remains tough and heavy discounting is hitting profits.

In November, the company said it recorded a £9.9 million pre-tax loss for the six months to September 28.

Chief executive Thierry Andretta said: “Our highest priority at this time is the health and safety of our colleagues, customers and all other stakeholders.

“Whilst it is uncertain how long the virus will directly impact our markets and our businesses, we remain confident in the strength of our brand and in our strategy over the long term.”

The UK makes up nearly two-thirds of Mulberry’s sales, but Mr Andretta has been looking to increase its international business – and Asia in particular – to reduce its reliance on its home market.



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Coronavirus: Putting the spotlight on the global wildlife trade

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Sun bear rescued from wildlife traffickers in Indonesia

Conservation experts say the coronavirus pandemic, which likely originated at a market selling wild animals in China, is a watershed moment for curbing the global wildlife trade, which can drive extinction and spread disease.

When Adam Peyman walked into a restaurant in Vietnam to order a meal he was shocked to find wild animals, including threatened species, on the menu, alongside traditional rice, noodles and seafood. Sting ray, porcupine, softshell turtle, wild pig and wild goat were all on offer.

“It was a bit of a surprise to see these foods,” says the wildlife manager for the animal welfare organisation, Humane Society International. “But, these kinds of wild foods are considered something of a luxury.”

Feasting on exotic game has become a sign of status and wealth in some Asian countries. The desire for wildlife as food or medicine drives a trade in wild animals, some procured illegally, creating a breeding ground for disease and the chance for viruses to leap to humans.

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US protest by the animal rights organisation, Peta

“The consumption of wild animals, especially wild mammals, which can carry diseases that can cross the species barrier, does pose a real threat to human health,” says Mr Peyman. “It’s hard to tell whether these animals are taken from the wild legally or not, some of them could have been smuggled in and then sold on these wet markets, as they’re called.”

Wet markets

Wet markets have become a familiar sight in many countries in Southeast Asia, particularly mainland China. Selling live fish, chickens and wildlife, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, they get their name from the melting ice used to preserve goods, as well as to wash the floors clean of blood from butchered animals.

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Illegal wildlife trade in Myanmar

Wet markets can be “timebombs” for epidemics, says Prof Andrew Cunningham, deputy director of science at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). “This sort of way that we treat… animals as if they’re just our commodities for us to plunder – it comes back to bite us and it’s no surprise.”

Leap to humans

The current coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, likely originated in the Wuhan seafood market. Despite its name, the market was selling a lot more than fish, including snakes, porcupine and deer, according to one report.

After an initial cluster of cases connected to the market, the virus began spreading dramatically inside China, before reaching much of the world. The origins of the novel virus are unknown, but it most likely emerged in a bat, then made the leap to humans via another wild animal host.

Scientists have for decades been drawing attention to outbreaks of human diseases that have originated in animals, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) and Ebola.

The message from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society is clear: ban live animal markets that trade in wildlife, stop illegal trafficking and poaching of wild animals.

“Not only will this help prevent the spread of disease, it will address one of the major drivers of species extinction,” says the society.

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The Wildlife Conservation Society is calling for a ban on wildlife consumption

In the wake of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China introduced a ban on all farming and consumption of live wildlife, which is expected to become law later this year. Thousands of wildlife farms raising animals such as porcupines, civets and turtles have been shut down. However, loopholes remain, such as the trade in wild animals for medicine, pets and scientific research.

Then there is the traditional Chinese medicines industry, which also uses wildlife products. Only recently, the Chinese government appears to have approved the use of an injection – ironically as a coronavirus treatment – that contains bear bile.

Campaigners worry these exemptions could pave way for illegal trade on wildlife meat, as it did in the past with, for instance, tiger and leopard body parts. So pangolin meat could still be available as the animal’s scales can be used for medicine and its nails as ornaments.

All eyes, therefore, are on the soon-to-be amended wildlife protection law – whether and how it would address those loopholes.

In neighbouring Vietnam, the government is rushing through legislation to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade at street markets and online. But some say it won’t be easy to change cultural attitudes or to enforce bans, when wet markets are part of the local culture, with the belief that the meat sold there is fresh and cheap.

Supply and demand

Prof Dirk Pfeiffer of City University of Hong Kong says the real issue is demand. “The people who are providing them, whether that’s farmed wild animals or animals from the wild, that’s an important source of income for them. Pushing it underground, that’s not the solution, so it needs to be a phased process.”

This isn’t the first time a pandemic has put the spotlight on wildlife trade. The 2002 Sars outbreak, which started in China and claimed more than 700 lives, was linked to bats and mongoose-like civets, although the source was never confirmed.

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Asian civet in Banda Aceh; the mammals were linked to Sars

Prof Cunningham says if we’re to stop another pandemic in the future, we must focus on causes as well as effects. At the root of the problem is the destruction of nature, bringing animals and humans into conflict.

“Even in protected forests, the forests are still there, but the wildlife’s gone from within them because they have ended up in markets,” he says. “.And it’s easy to finger point, but it’s not just happening in China, it’s happening in many other countries and even in the western world. We like to have exotic pets and many of those are wild caught and we ought to be putting our own house in order too.”

Additional reporting Navin Singh Khadka

Follow Helen on Twitter.



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‘We will meet again’: Queen urges Britons to stay strong | World news

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The Queen has praised Britain’s “national spirit” in facing the challenge of coronavirus as she evoked wartime memories to reassure those “feeling a painful sense of separation from their loved ones” to take comfort in the fact: “We will meet again.”

In only the fifth special televised broadcast, other than Christmas messages, of her long reign, she said: “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal.”

“We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us,” she said.

And she drew on the memories of her first broadcast to the nation some 80 years ago, when she and her sister Margaret made a radio broadcast for Children’s Hour.

Speaking with a picture from that first recording visible behind her, she said: “We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety.


“Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.”

She added: “We should take comfort that, while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again: we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

The government hopes that an intervention from the Queen, planned in close consultation with Downing Street, will help to shore up public commitment to the self-isolation guidelines amid fears that warmer weather could lead some to waver.

There had been speculation the Queen might broadcast on Easter Sunday. But it is understood that both Buckingham Palace and Downing Street ultimately agreed on Sunday night as the best moment to maximise the impact of her speech. A senior No 10 official said Buckingham Palace and the prime minister, Boris Johnson, “have been speaking throughout” about the timing.

“The Queen is the best judge of when to talk to the country and we absolutely agree that now is the right time,” the official said. “We have asked the country to make huge sacrifices and life is very difficult at the moment for a great many people. Hearing from Her Majesty the Queen at this time is an important way of helping to lift the nation’s spirits.”

Elizabeth, 94 this month and said to remain in good health, recorded her message at Windsor Castle, where she and the Duke of Edinburgh, 98, are staying for the foreseeable future during the pandemic.

The broadcast was filmed in extraordinary circumstances, with only one cameraman, wearing personal protective equipment, allowed into the White Drawing Room with the elderly monarch, to mitigate the risks to both to her and others.

In a rare and deeply personal address to the nation and Commonwealth, she acknowledged the “pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones”.

She praised NHS frontline workers, care workers and those carrying out essential roles, “who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of all of us”. She told them: “Every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to more normal times.”

She also thanked those who were staying at home, “thereby helping to protect the vulnerable”.
In a rallying call, she added: “Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.”

Her hope, she said, was that those in years to come would look back and say that this generation of Britons “were as strong as any”. She added: “The pride in who we are is not part of our past, it defines our present and our future.”

It was, she said, an increasingly challenging time of disruption: “a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all”.

Her message incorporated footage of NHS frontline staff, workers making deliveries, the armed forces constructing the NHS Nightingale London field hospital and video of the #clapforourcarers moments around the country, along with pictures of rainbows drawn by children.


Clap for carers: millions applaud NHS staff on coronavirus frontlines – video report

“The moments when the United Kingdom has come together to applaud its care and essential workers will be remembered as an expression of our national spirit; and its symbol will be the rainbows drawn by children.” she said.

Apart from her Christmas message, it is rare for the monarch to make a special televised address. She has previously done so at the time of the Gulf war in 1991, on the eve of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, on the death of the Queen Mother in 2002, and on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

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Scottish fruit farmers recruit thousands of locals to save harvest | World news

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Scottish fruit farmers have solved a recruitment crisis which could have resulted in this year’s harvest of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries being destroyed.

Several thousand people, including students and restaurant and bar workers laid off due the coronavirus outbreak, have taken low-paid fruit-picking jobs in Tayside and Fife normally done by seasonal workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

Farmers across the UK have warned that fruit and vegetable harvests are threatened by the Europe-wide coronavirus lockdown, which has prevented tens of thousands of workers flying in from eastern Europe for the picking season.

Recruitment agencies have proposed chartering special flights to bring in workers from the continent, but in Tayside most vacancies have been filled by locals after an urgent appeal from the region’s fruit farmers to fill 3,200 vacancies.

James Porter, a fruit farmer who helps run Angus Growers, a farmers organisation with members in Angus, Perthshire and Fife, said most of the 19 farms that took part in the appeal have filled all their vacancies.

“We’ve had a big response,” he said. “It’s very encouraging and it gives me a bit of hope we might still be harvesting our crops.” Many were students whose university courses had stopped, who normally had summer jobs.

Scottish farms produce about 25% of the UK’s soft fruit each year, he said. Angus Growers members produced 12,400 tons of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries last year.

Picking for the first crops would start in two weeks, Porter said, although picking for berries grown in heated tunnels had begun. Picking would accelerate in May and peak from June onwards.

He said fruit picking was a skilled and demanding job; it required speed, dexterity and knowledge about which fruit to pick. Migrant workers had been doing this work for 10 to 15 years, he said, and were extremely fast.

New recruits also needed to learn how to work safely with machinery and equipment, and maintain social distancing while picking to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus.

New recruits took time and training to develop the skills his normal workforce had, and it was unclear whether the people who had signed up for this season’s harvest would turn up or stay on if they found the job too demanding.

Local recruits may also leave if their old jobs return and universities resume teaching once the lockdown is relaxed, he added. “A lot of things have to line up and work this summer. We really are in uncharted territory.”

Similar problems confronted asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprout farmers this summer, he said.

“This is a big chunk of people’s healthy eating in the summer months, particularly in conditions like this [during the lockdown] where people aren’t necessarily having a healthy lifestyle, having lots of exercise and so on,” he said. “It’s all the more important to make sure we secure the healthy ingredients they need.”

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