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Coronavirus: Germany shuts down borders, halts public life

March 18, 2020

German authorities are turning visitors back at the airports amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Angela Merkel has urged Germans to rise to the challenge of a lifetime in helping to curb the outbreak. Follow DW for the latest.

Children watching Angela Merkel's speech on TV
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Click here to follow the latest on the coronavirus on Thursday

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the coronavirus pandemic is the greatest challenge in decades.
  • French police handed out over 4,000 fines on the first day of a nationwide lockdown
  • More than 1,300 people have been infected by the virus in Germany, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • US President Donald Trump is to activate a defense law that lets the government boost production of masks and respirators.
  • The Eurovision Song Contest has been canceled, becoming the latest in a string of events to be called off.

Read moreGermany turning people back at the airport: What you need to know

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

00:00 This concludes our live updates on the coronavirus outbreak for the moment. More information on the outbreak is available on our page and on DW TV. Thank you for joining us.

23:30 El Salvador's government said on Wednesday it has suspended deportations of its nationals from the US and Mexico, reported Reuters.

23:09 The European Central Bank launched a €750 billion ($820 billion) emergency bond purchase scheme. The Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme should push down borrowing costs and help counter the economic slowdown in the bloc caused by the virus. The scheme will last until it ECB "judges that the coronavirus Covid-19 crisis phase is over, but in any case not before the end of the year," said the bank in a statement.

23:00 Airlines continue to be hit: Delta Airlines said 10,000 employees have taken voluntary unpaid leave. Workers will forgo their salary but keep benefits such as health insurance. Australia's biggest airline Qantas will halt all international flights later in March after Australia's government advised its citizens not to travel abroad.

22:45 Costa Rica reports its first death from coronavirus, according to its health ministry.

22:30 The United Arab Emirates will suspend entry of valid residence visa holders who are still abroad starting at midday local time on Thursday for two weeks.

22:10 Portugal declared a 15-day state of emergency, following the actions of neighboring Spain and France. "This is not an interruption of democracy. It is democracy trying to prevent an irreparable interruption in people's lives," said President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa during a televised address.

21:45 French police handed out over 4,000 fines on Wednesday for violating the order to stay home on the first day of the nationwide lockdown. "The fine was €35 ($38) yesterday, and now from today is €135 and it can go up to €375. It should be a factor that dissuades people," said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to TF1 television.

21:12 Israel is stopping anyone from entering the country, unless they are a citizen or have permanent residency. The new regulations will come into effect immediately, said the country's foreign minister. New rules will also apply to Palestinian people living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank but who travel to Israel to work.

21:00 The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) will close its floor for trading and switch completely to electronic trading due to health concerns.

"NYSE's trading floors provide unique value to issuers and investors, but our markets are fully capable of operating in an all-electronic fashion to serve all participants, and we will proceed in that manner until we can re-open our trading floors to our members," said Stacey Cunningham, the head of the exchange.

20:33 China will provide the EU with 2 million surgical masks, 200,000 more specialized N95 respirator masks and 50,000 testing kits, said the head of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

20:28 Thousands of Muslim worshipers in Bangladesh held a joint prayer meeting and chanted "healing verses" from the Koran in a bid to ward off the coronavirus pandemic. Pictures from the meeting were met with outrage online in the Muslim-majority country.

20:17 US Senate passed the first coronavirus aid package on Wednesday, which provides paid sick leave for a large number of US workers and provide free coronavirus testing. The legislation still needs to be signed by President Donald Trump before going into effect.

20:14 French police gave out nearly 4,100 fines to people breaking the isolation order on Wednesday. Since the day before, people in France are only allowed to leave their homes for essential trips, and only after signing a document stating where they are going.

19:47 Germany currently has over 12,300 confirmed coronavirus cases, and the virus has so far claimed 28 lives, according to the data compiled by the US-based Johns Hopkins University. Over 100 people have already recovered.

19:33 Two polar bear cubs first ventured outside in the Dutch Ouwehands Zoo today, but with no visitors present. The zoo in the central town of Rhenen is closed to the public until at least April 6, under a government order that bans gatherings of over 100 people. The yet unnamed twins were born in late November but remained in their mother's den until Wednesday.

19:10 Another 89 people died of the coronavirus in France during the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 264.

18:59 Almost 24,000 people responded to a call sent out by the authorities in Ireland, in which officials urged retired doctors, nurses, medical students and other inactive healthcare professionals to help fight the outbreak. Ireland currently has 65,000 practicing nurses and midwives. Out of 15,000 registered doctors, 7,000 are currently working.

18:52 Germany has expanded its travel restrictions for the citizens of Austria, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Denmark. Only German nationals or foreign citizens with an "urgent reason to travel" are now allowed to enter Germany by plane or ship, said the country's Interior Ministry.

18:50 UK officials say the number of people who died of the coronavirus is now 103, compared to 71 on Wednesday.

18:47 Serbia has deployed its military to its border crossings in a bid to curb the spread of the new virus. The border crossings have been controlled by the police since 2007, and the non-EU country has been a member of the visa-free Schengen zone since 2009.

Footballers working from home due to coronavirus

18:31 Jordan's military is set to lock down the capital, Amman, on Thursday until further notice.

18:14 Italy declared 475 new deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday. The unprecedented increase marks the biggest day-to-day jump in any nation, including China, since the outbreak began in late December. The total death toll in Italy is now nearly 3,000.

18:03 Peru's president, Martin Vizcarra, ordered a curfew to spread curb COVID-19 spread.

"We're decreeing mandatory confinement from today, from eight at night to five in the morning," he told a news conference.

17:54 British supermarket chains Tesco, Sainsbury, and Asda all limited purchases of food on Wednesday to prevent panic buying.

17:40 Merkel urged Germans to follow official announcements rather than rumors and to support fellow citizens.

"This is a dynamic situation — and we will continue to learn as we go along, so that we change tack at any time and take different steps using different tools. And we will explain that too, as the time comes," the chancellor said.

"That is why I also ask you please not to believe rumors, but only the official announcements which we also always have translated into many languages."

"We are a democracy: We don’t live by force but through shared knowledge and cooperation. This is an historical challenge and it can only be overcome together."

"And we shall overcome it – of that I am completely sure. But how high will the number of victims be? How many loved ones will we lose? To a large degree, we have control over that.  We can all now act together and with determination. We can accept the current restrictions and support one another."

17:30 In a video message to the German nation, Chancellor Angela Merkel has appealed to citizens to do their part in helping overcome the virus, saying it was the country's greatest challenge in decades.  

"Millions of you cannot work, cannot take your children to schools or kindergartens. Theaters, cinemas and stores are closed.  And perhaps most difficult of all – we cannot have the contacts to one another that we otherwise take for granted. It’s natural that in a situation such as this, all of us has many questions and concerns about how things will continue."

"I truly believe that we will succeed in the task before us, so long as all the citizens of this country understand that it is also their task."

"So let me say this: The situation is serious. Please take it seriously. Since German unification, indeed since the Second World War, there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such a degree of common and united action."

17:25 The French military has used a military plane to evacuate six patients from eastern France to ease pressure on local hospitals, a move considered to be unprecedented in peacetime. The patients have been transported to military hospitals in the south of the country. More such transfers are expected.

17:24 More young people in France and Italy are falling ill than previously thought, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx told reporters in Washington.

"There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about young people getting very seriously ill," she said. "It may have been that the millennial generation - our largest generation, our future generation that will carry us through for the next multiple decades - there may be a disproportional number of infections among that group."

17:23 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools will close in England, following Scotland and Wales.

The schools will close on Friday and stay closed "for the vast majority of pupils until further notice," Johnson said in a televised speech.

17:21 Authorities in the Bavarian town of Tirschenreuth imposed a curfew to fight the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, making the eastern town the first place in Germany to limit the citizens' movement. The residents are still allowed to buy foods, go to work, or visit the doctor. The curfew is set to last until April 2.

17:16 The Defense Production Act, which Trump is set to sign on Thursday, will allow the administration to boost the production of masks, respirators, ventilators and similar necessary equipment.

The law was created in 1950, during the Korean War, and has been used several times since.  It gives the president authority to steer resources from the US industry "to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs," according the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We will be invoking the Defense Production Act just in case we need it," said Trump on Wednesday.

17:07 German national team players have donated €2.5 million ($2.7 million) to causes related to fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Click here for the full story.

"In times like these, we have to look out for each other," said team captain Manuel Neuer in one of several Instagram videos released by the team on Wednesday. "We have also put our heads together and have decided to donate €2.5m to good causes."

16:52 Austria will introduce border checks with Germany on midnight Wednesday. Germany already restarted border checks on Monday.

16:34 US President Donald Trump rejected accusation of racism after repeatedly referring to the novel coronavirus as "the Chinese virus."

"It's not racist at all," he told a reporter. "As you know, China said it was started by American soldiers."

16:30 "This virus is presenting us with an unprecedented threat but is also presenting us with an unprecedented opportunity to stand as one against the common enemy, the enemy of humanity," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

16:26 Addressing reporters in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged "flattening the curve" of the infection by slowing down its spread.

"This access is saving lives and buying time for the development of vaccines and treatment," he said.

16:21 At least one US Navy hospital ship will go to New York City to ease pressure on the existing medical facilities.

16:19 Donald Trump has suspended all evictions and home loan foreclosures as the country faces the coronavirus pandemic.

16:18 US President Donald Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act, which would allow the US government to expedite the production of equipment needed to fight the outbreak.

16:14 Turkey and Poland joined the range of countries that have announced large aid packages mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

16:12 Schools in Scotland and Wales will close on Friday, with England still not decided on the issue.

16:10 Cybercriminals in Germany are using the pandemic to steal private data, said the Bavarian interior minister, Joachim Hermann. The attackers are sending out emails that attack files. They are made to look like information from the local health officials or the World Health Organization, or as advertisements for face masks.

Others present themselves as family members who had contracted the new virus and ask for money for treatment.

"Even in the age of the coronavirus, you still should not open attachments from unknown senders and you should be suspicious," minister Hermann said.

16:04 Germany is considering converting hotels, big venues and rehabilitation facilities into makeshift treatment centers.

"The measures "can build up additional capacity for the numerous simpler treatments... freeing up hospitals to deal with the more serious cases," federal and state officials said in a statement.

15:59 The first person to die of coronavirus in Cuba is a 61-year-old Italian tourist, Cuban officials said. The island has 10 confirmed coronavirus cases.

15:56 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked for "urgent" help from the US military as the number of infected was close to 1,000 in the American metropolis.

"There are American military officers right now still building a wall at the southern border when all they should be doing domestically is addressing coronavirus," de Blasio told broadcaster NBC. "We need their medical resources, their logistical know-how, we need them to help ensure that food and medicine moves around this country and our supply chain is not disrupted."

15:52 Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg is planning emergency legislation that would give the government the right to take decisions on the coronavirus outbreak without consulting the parliament.

15:45 Coronavirus death toll in Italy's most severely hit region, Lombardy, has jumped by 319 and is now at 1,959 deaths, according to a report by the AFP news agency. While the Wednesday figures have not yet been officially announced, the nationwide death toll for Italy stood at 2,503 on Tuesday.

15:34 Canada has announced a coronavirus aid package worth Ca$82 billion ($56.4 billion, €51.9 billion), including direct aid to help workers and businesses. 

World in coronavirus mode — DW correspondents report from around the globe

15:25 A British cruise ship that was rejecting docking by the authorities of Barbados has now docked in Cuba. The ship, MS Braemar, has over 1,000 onboard including five confirmed coronavirus infections and about 50 more people isolated for showing flu-like symptoms.

The communist-ruled Cuba has agreed to allow the ship to dock for "humanitarian reasons."

14:58 The UK government has urged all British tourists in Spain to return home.

14:56 Austria said they would spend up to €38 billion ($41.4 billion) to support the economy.

14:53 The number of people infected worldwide has reached 200,000, with over 8,000 dead. Over 82,000 are now considered recovered from the virus, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.

Here's an interactive map from the Johns Hopkins University with live data on the coronavirus pandemic.

14:51 North Macedonia calls a state of emergency due to the coronavirus.

14:50 The Trump administration has asked the US Congress for another $45.8 billion in funding to various US agencies working to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The request is separate from a $1 trillion stimulus package designed to mitigate the impact on the economy.

14:45 In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels. Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano ordered the police to stop their attacks.

"We call on them to be a part of the solution in fighting our common enemy, the coronavirus,'' Ano said in a statement.

14:32 With Italy the hardest-hit nation after China, DW's Seema Gupta describes the situation in the north of the European country as "very dire."

"We're hearing dramatic stories of funeral workers getting infected because they are having to deal with an overwhelming number of deaths," she said. "People are not allowed to attend the funerals of their loved ones in the area now."

14:30 DW's correspondent in Rome, Seema Gupta, says people in the Italian capital now "keep a distance" from each other.

"You look at that person coming down the street — you cross the road to go the other side," she said. "A growing number of people now put masks on. If they don't have a mask, they use a scarf."

14:27 DW's correspondent in Rome, Seema Gupta, says the Italian Interior Ministry has noted 8,000 curfew violations in just one day.

"People have to fill in a self declaration form in order to move around for essential activity or for work or for health issues," she told DW TV. "You have to declare also if you are under quarantine or if you've tested positive and if anybody violates that, they face a charge of causing a pandemic."

14:22 The pandemic might destroy up to 25 million jobs globally, according to the UN agency in charge of workers' rights.

"However, if we see an internationally coordinated policy response, as happened in the global financial crisis of 2008/9, then the impact on global unemployment could be significantly lower," said the International Labour Organization.

14:19 Hungary has decided to briefly open its borders for citizens of Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia stuck at the border between Hungary and Austria. Hungary serves as a transit country for guest workers from the Balkans.

14:17 Greenland, the world's largest island with the population of some 56,000 people and one confirmed coronavirus infection, will stop all air traffic to the island for at least two weeks. The ban will also apply to domestic flights in the sparsely populated territory.

14:12 China has sent one million mask to France to help the EU country's response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

14:08 Croke Part, Ireland's biggest sports stadium, has been converted to a drive-thru coronavirus testing center for northern Dublin.

14:05 The Czech Republic imported 150,000 new coronavirus tests from China, which were delivered to the European country on Wednesday.

14:03 The US military reported 13 new cases of the coronavirus among their members, bringing the total of the infected troops to 49.

13:58 Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Germany is suspending the intake of refugees on humanitarian grounds "until further notice," according to a spokesperson in the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

13:50 The US border with Canada will be closing temporarily for "non-essential traffic," US President Donald Trump said on Twitter.

"Trade will not be affected," he added.

13:46 The premier of the German state of Saxony, Michael Kretchmer, called for military assistance at the crowded border crossings with Poland. Long lines of people were waiting to cross the border amid escalating lockdown measures after Poland reintroduced border checks. On Wednesday, the German Red Cross reported the lines were stretching up to 60 kilometers (37 miles) into Germany.

13:43 Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti fired the country's interior minister Agim Veliu after the minister clashed with him on coronavirus response. Previously, Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci proposed declaring a state of emergency, a suggestion later rejected by the prime minister. The interior minister, however, publicly sided with the president.

"In these circumstances I am obliged to act and I have decided to dismiss the interior minister Veliu," Kurti said in a press statement.

13:37 "It is with deep regret that we have to announce the cancelation of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 in Rotterdam," the organizers of the ESC said in a statement. The annual event had been planned for May.

"We would ask people to bear with us while we work through the ramifications of this unprecedented decision and patiently await any further news in the coming days and weeks."

13:28 The coronavirus pandemic is bringing more disruption to Europe: the beloved Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), that sees European music acts compete in an internationally televised show, will not take place this year.

12:45 Iran's official COVID-19 death toll jumped drastically from 988 to 1,135, health officials confirmed Wednesday. The increase in deaths is the largest single 24-hour increase in Iran since officials first acknowledged that coronavirus had reached the country.

With more than 17,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases, Iran is one the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. Some experts estimate the actual case numbers could be much higher than officially reported.

Read moreIran faces catastrophic death toll from coronavirus

12:14 Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, told Germany's Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung Wednesday that lockdowns in euro zone countries to counter the spread of coronavirus could shrink the EU's economy by 5%. 

12:07 Nigeria said it would ban entry to people arriving from 13 countries starting Friday. These include the United States, Britain, Germany, China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan.

11:33 Spanish health authorities said Wednesday the number of COVID-19 infections in the country rose by 2,500 cases in 24 hours to over 13,700. The current number of fatalities is at nearly 600. Spain has been under a lockdown since the beginning of the week. 

11:21 The 2020 Glastonbury Festival in Great Britain has been canceled. One of the world's largest outdoor music festivals, Glastonbury had been due to take place in June. Organizers said tickets for 2020 will be rolled over to 2021. 

11:05 Reza Ahmari, public relations director for the German Federal Police at Frankfurt Airport, told DW that around 140 people have so far been refused entry at Frankfurt Airport on Wednesday, adding that the new measures would affect around 120 flights on Wednesday, and there are around 9,000 passengers to be reviewed. 

11:00 Belgium became the latest European country to issue a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. The lockdown is expected to last until April 5. 

According to DW's Brussels correspondent, Bernd Riegert, police in the Belgian capital said they would enforce the lockdown "slowly" and in a "friendly way." Brussels is the de-facto capital of the European Union. 

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said people should only go out in case of emergency, or to supermarkets, pharmacies or doctors. Any gatherings or meetings will be prohibited.

10:16 European markets fell in early trading Wednesday as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the global economy.

Frankfurt's DAX fell 3.7%, the FTSE 100 in London dropped 4.3% and the CAC in Paris lost 3.4%.

09:58 Lothar Wieler, president of Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI), warned that Germany could have 10 million COVID-19 cases in a few months if the containment measures ordered by the government are not followed. 

"The epidemic is taking an exponential course," Wieler said in Berlin on Wednesday, adding that people need to avoid social contact as the virus is mainly spread person-to-person.

According to the RKI, there are currently 8,200 COVID-19 cases in Germany, which is a rise of 1,000 cases in 24 hours. At least 12 people have died in Germany from a COVID-19 infection. 

09:25 Traffic was backed up for more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) on the A4 highway at the German-Polish border Wednesday morning as border controls were introduced by Poland. German police in the border city of Görlitz in Saxony advised all travelers to avoid roads in the area. 

09:15 German border officials began turning back non-EU citizens arriving at Frankfurt Airport Wednesday morning in accordance with an entry ban announced Tuesday evening.

Ahmari told German broadcaster Hessische Rundfunk that immigration authorities expect that many passengers arriving Wednesday do not know yet that they will have to be turned back.

"It could be the case that there are 20 or 30 passengers on board a plane that will need to directly fly back on the same plane," said Ahmari, adding that passengers denied entry will have access to a transit area with facilities. Airlines have been asked to fly those denied entry back to their airport of origin.

Read more: German government to fly home tens of thousands of tourists

08:00 Russian authorities said schools nationwide will close on Monday. Russia currently has 114 COVID-19 cases, and Moscow is currently implementing containment measures including border closures and bans on public gatherings. 

07:15 South African health officials said the number of COVID-19 cases has risen by 23 to 85. At least eight of the cases were "transmitted locally" said Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize. 

06:50 Belgium will impose a lockdown to restrict the movement of people starting at noon Wednesday until at least April 5. The Belgian capital, Brussels, is the de-facto capital of the European Union. 

03:30 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) rejected a surprise request by Venezuela for an emergency $5 billion loan to fight the coronavirus outbreak. An IMF spokesperson said the request can't be considered because there was "no clarity" among the IMF's 189 member states on who it recognizes as Venezuela's rightful leader.

03:00 The German Patient Protection Foundation said a plan needs to be implemented to better protect people who work in the care sector to ensure elderly care homes and mobility care services continue to operate. According to the foundation, the sector provides care and assistance to and estimated 3.4 million people that are especially susceptible to coronavirus. 

02:30 The German government should motivate manufacturers to produce supplies needed to tackle coronavirus, Alice Weidel the co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) parliamentary faction told the press agency DPA.

Could we run out of medicine?

01:50 Human rights organization Pro Asyl called on Germany and other European countries to push forward with plans to take in refugee children currently living in overwhelmed Greek camps, despite the travel bans imposed by coronavirus.

01:40 The coronavirus death toll in the US has reached more than 100, according to John Hopkins University.

01:35 "I believe that we all underestimated the virus at the beginning, because we are not experts," EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a broadcast of Bild Live.  "All these measures that seemed drastic or draconian 14 days or three weeks ago  — now we've understood that it needs to be this way."

01:30 Mainland China reported 11 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, down from 13 on Monday. The country also reported 13 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19. Chinese health authorities said that 12 of these new infection cases were imported  The virus originated in China but has spread around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that Europe is now at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

01:20 The Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) will re-open on Wednesday after Philippine authorities exempted trading platforms from strict quarantine measures. The PSE had suspended trading operations on Tuesday, becoming the first stock exchange in the world to close down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

01:15 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted that his second coronavirus test came back negative. 

01:10 Many Parisians stepped onto their balconies late Tuesday evening to applaud healthcare workers who left their homes to help those infected with COVID-19. The country is on lockdown to stop the virus from spreading. 

Spain and Italy — countries also under sweeping quarantine orders — showed their appreciation to healthcare workers in the same way just days before.

Paris residents applaud coronavirus healthcare workers

01:00 Brazilian security forces say that they have caught 586 prisoners who escaped from three jails in the Sao Paulo area on Monday. Around 800 prisoners failed to return to after they were told their day-release privileges were being revoked over fears that the prisoners might bring the virus back with them into prison.

00:40 US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is said to have warned Republican senators that failure to act on a proposed coronavirus rescue package could lead to US unemployment as high as 20% and lasting economic damage, reported Reuters news agency.

00:30 Canada is the latest country announcing a new financial support package to help counter an economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadian government is preparing around Can$25 billion ($18 billion, €16 billion) to help businesses and households. 

00:20 Brazil's government statistics agency IBGE is putting its 2020 census on hold for a year until 2021 in order to protect the health of census-takers and the households that they visit.

00:10 Here's a summary of the latest global figures:

  • 197,168 confirmed cases globally
  • 7,905 global deaths 
  • 80,840 recovered
  • All 50 US states have confirmed cases of the virus. There are 6,421 confirmed cases in the US.

00:05 Follow yesterday's coronavirus developments here: Germany implements non-EU travel ban

dj, wmr, kmm/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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