The Latest: Brazil leader says coronavirus concern overblown
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 421,000 people and killed over 18,000. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 107,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Brazil President maintains coronavirus concern is overblown.
— LA health officials backtrack on announcement that child died from coronavirus.
— Communist guerrillas in Philippines to observe ceasefire during pandemic.
— Australia’s prime minister announces national COVID-19 coordination commission.
— China reports 47 new COVID-19 cases, says all linked to recent arrivals.
RIO DE JANEIRO — President Jair Bolsonaro is sticking with his contention that concern about the new coronavirus is overblown, and has accused Brazilian media of trying to stoke nationwide hysteria.
Bolsonaro said in a nationally televised address that the media had seized on the death toll in Italy, which he said is suffering so severely because of its elderly population and colder climate.
The president said: “The virus arrived, we are confronting it, and it will pass shortly. Our lives have to continue, jobs should be maintained.”
Bolsonaro added that certain Brazilian states should abandon their “scorched earth” policy of prohibiting public transport, closing business and schools, and calling for mass confinement at home for their residents.
As he spoke, some Brazilians who are home in self-isolation protested what they view as his blasé attitude toward the pandemic by leaning from their windows to bang pots and pans.
About 2,200 people in Brazil have been infected so far, with 46 dead.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County health officials have backtracked on their announcement that a child died from coronavirus, saying it’s possible the death was caused by something else.
During their daily briefing Tuesday, the county health department said the unidentified child from the city of Lancaster was among four new deaths.
Hours later, after Governor Gavin Newsom had cited the death of the teenager as evidence the virus can strike anyone, the county issued a new statement. It said while the youth had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, it was a complex case and there may be an “alternate explanation” for the death.
The health department released no details but Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris told the Los Angeles Times the boy suffered septic shock, a reaction to a widespread infection that can cause dangerously low blood pressure and organ failure. Parris said the boy’s father also has coronavirus and worked in a job where he had close contact with the public.
MANILA, Philippines — Communist guerrillas in the Philippines say they will observe a ceasefire in compliance with the U.N. chief’s call for a global halt in armed clashes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Communist Party of the Philippines says New People’s Army guerrillas were ordered to stop assaults and shift to a defensive position from Thursday to April 15. The rebels said the ceasefire was a direct response to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for a ceasefire in all armed conflicts to fight the illness together.
Guterres issued the call on Monday, saying, “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
The communist insurgency has raged mostly in the Philippine countryside for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. The rebels said their ceasefire is unrelated to a similar move by the military and police but said it can foster the possible holding of preliminary talks to resume long-stalled peace negotiations.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister has announced a national COVID-19 coordination commission to manage private and public sector cooperation on the health and economic crisis.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison named former iron ore mining executive Neville Power as executive chairman of the commission that will work with all levels of government on issues including maintaining supermarket supply chains and rising unemployment.
Morrison has also announced Australia has stepped up testing for the new coronavirus to one of the highest rates in the world. Australia’s 162,747 tests to date is a rate 4.7 times higher than Britain and 25 times higher than the United States.
BEIJING — China’s National Health Commission has reported 47 new COVID-19 cases, all of which it says were imported infections in recent arrivals from abroad.
No new cases were reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak. Wuhan will remain locked down until April 8, while the two-month lockdown of surrounding Hubei province ended at midnight Tuesday.
As the number of domestic community transmissions has dwindled, China is shifting its focus to individuals coming into the country from affected regions like the U.S. and Europe.
Starting on Wednesday, all individuals arriving in China’s capital from overseas must take a COVID-19 test in addition to being quarantined, the Beijing municipal government said in a notice. Those who have entered the city within the last 14 days will also undergo mandatory testing.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced the state’s first death linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a statement, Reynolds identified the deceased as a resident of Dubuque County who was between 61 and 80 years old.
Reynolds said the number of cases of COVID-19 has grown by another 19 across Iowa, bringing the total in the state to 124 confirmed cases.
TUCSON, Ariz. — Police say the reported theft of 29 unused coronavirus test kits from a Tucson health center last week wasn’t really a theft at all.
They say a man who allegedly disguised himself as a delivery driver before stealing the test kits actually was a legitimate delivery driver for a third-party transport company.
Police say a delivery slip retained by the transport company’s branch manager corroborated the man’s account and the unused test kits were accidentally transported following a pickup request. Employees say the kits were returned and police say their investigation is closed.
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says the state has surpassed 160 coronavirus cases as a few dozen new cases were diagnosed in the past day.
He says one of the new cases stemmed from a “coronavirus party.” The governor didn’t give any details about the event but he quickly denounced it.
Beshear says, “Anyone who goes to something like this may think that they are indestructible, but it’s someone else’s loved one that they are going to hurt.”
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County sheriff says gun shops are not essential businesses and ordered them to stop selling to the public during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva says the stay-at-home order covering the county’s 10 million residents, was only meant to keep open businesses that support police departments and other security companies. Instead, he says gun shops used what he calls a “loophole” to stay open and many attracted long lines of customers.
Villanueva says the stay-at-home order is not a reason for “everyone to be panic gun-buying or rushing to stores, which is now what we’re seeing.”
He says gun shops have complied and deputies have not had to issue any citations.
Second Amendment advocates are upset and say plan to challenge stay-at-home order in court.
WASHINGTON — The woman in charge of the U.S. response to the coronavirus says everyone leaving the New York metro area should self-quarantine for 14 days.
Deborah Birx said at a White House briefing that people leaving the hardest hit area of the United States might not be sick, but could have been exposed to the virus. She advises people heading for Long Island, or Florida, North Carolina or other states to stay home for two weeks.
Birx says about 56% of the cases in the United States are coming out of the New York metro area.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is advising President Donald Trump on the pandemic, says about one per 1,000 people leaving New York are infected. He says that’s eight to 10 times more than in other areas.
WASHINGTON — State Department officials say U.S. diplomats abroad have been told to reach out to foreign governments and private companies to find out if they have excess medical supplies they would be willing to sell to the United States to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
The officials say the State Department has created a tracking system to match countries and firms with the equipment they may have with needs identified by U.S. states. The officials stress the effort is not an appeal for donations and that equipment meeting those needs would be purchased.
They say it is an attempt to find countries and companies with excess supplies that could help meet the soaring domestic U.S. demand for personal protective equipment, ventilators and other items. The officials couldn’t say whether any countries or companies have yet responded positively.
CAIRO — Libya’s National Center for Disease Control has announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the war-torn country.
The appearance of the first case in Libya has stoked fears that an outbreak could overwhelm an already strained health care system. Libya is divided between rival governments and embroiled in a long-running civil war.
As the coronavirus sweeps across the Middle East, Libya had been bracing for the virus to arrive, despite dire shortages in medical supplies and protective gear. Public health officials have been warning that the coronavirus could be devastating in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya, where years of conflict have gutted health care systems and ravaged key infrastructure.
MOSCOW — Authorities in Moscow have changed course and are now saying coronavirus patients with relatively light symptoms should receive treatment at home.
Previously, Russian health care officials had hospitalized all those who tested positive for the coronavirus along with those suspected of having it.
Russia has reported 495 cases and no deaths, but Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin says the number of tests was insufficient and the situation could be far more serious. The government said 163,000 coronavirus tests have been done so far.
The new directive from Moscow’s health care department is intended to ease the pressure on hospitals that will have to deal with the gravely ill. It said that patients over 65 and those who are pregnant or have chronic illnesses should always be hospitalized.
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s reviewing a request from the oil and gas industry to ease enforcement on hazardous air and water pollution during the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal is drawing objections from public health and environmental advocates. A former Obama-era EPA enforcement official, Cynthia Giles, says the request amounts to seeking a nationwide pass for the industry on almost all environmental rules.
The American Petroleum Institute made the request in a letter to President Donald Trump last week, and to the EPA on Monday. The oil and gas trade group is citing potential staffing issues during the outbreak, saying worker shortages could make compliance with a range of regulations difficult, such as monitoring, reporting and immediately fixing hazardous air emissions.
Bethany Aronhalt, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, compares the request to businesses asking for flexibility on tax deadlines during the outbreak. Aronhalt says, “In no way would this jeopardize safety, health or the environment.”
Giles says EPA policy explicitly prohibits the agency from promising waiving of enforcement of environmental and public health laws. She called the trade group’s request “alarming” and “wildly overbroad.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump isn’t calling the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus” anymore.
Trump had insisted on pointing out the virus’ Chinese origin in appearances over the past few weeks. Asians have said the term is offensive and has put them at risk.
Trump didn’t use the term during an hour-long appearance Tuesday on Fox News. Nor did he repeat it during a nearly 2-hour White House briefing a day earlier.
The president in the past has defended using the term, but on Tuesday he cited his good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the loss China has suffered because of the virus.
Trump says everyone knows the coronavirus came out of China and says he decided not to make “any more of a big deal out of it.”
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal court has ordered the U.S. to immediately release a woman held in immigration detention because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says in a brief order that Lucero Xochihua Jaimes should be released because public health authorities predict the crisis “will especially impact immigration detention centers.”
The San Francisco-based court took the action on its own without a request from the woman’s lawyer. The court has been considering the woman’s bid to remain in the U.S. based in part on threats from a drug trafficking organization there. She has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years and has six children who are American citizens.
The woman’s lawyer says the government told him that it did not oppose the woman’s immediate release.
She is one of about 37,000 people in U.S. immigration detention. Advocates have been urging the U.S. to release people because of the threat posed by the virus. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says one detainee in New Jersey has tested positive for the virus.
LAS VEGAS — Five Las Vegas businesses have filed a federal lawsuit through an attorney seeking class-action status for 32 million small businesses to collect what he says could be trillions of dollars in damages from the Chinese government for lost income and profits due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Attorney Robert Eglet alleges China was reckless, negligent and covered up information about the respiratory illness instead of sharing information that might have prevented its spread.
Chinese Embassy officials in the U.S. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Before the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, a China foreign ministry spokesman said people should stop making “wrongful remarks that stigmatize China.”
Eglet said that instead of sharing information with the world about a new virus for which there was no vaccine or cure, the government of China intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers while allowing worldwide spread of COVID-19.
Eglet says the lawsuit could take many years to resolve.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department says it has brought home over 9,000 Americans stranded in 28 countries after the global coronavirus all but closed down many national borders and severely curtailed international flights.
That’s up from a total of over 5,000 from 17 countries a day earlier.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the number jumped by roughly 4,000 in a 24-hour period. Several evacuation flights carrying hundreds of Americans home, many of them back from Latin America, have departed since Monday. Some 13,500 Americans have sought assistance from the State Department in returning home.
Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus says the State Department “has never before undertaken an evacuation operation of such geographic breadth, scale, and complexity.” She said U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are continuing to try to arrange flights for Americans.
The department has come under criticism from some stranded Americans and lawmakers for not doing enough to help.
WASHINGTON — A 31-year-old from Mexico has become the first person in immigration detention in the U.S. to test positive for COVID-19.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the unidentified migrant was being held at Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey, when he tested positive. The agency says the migrant is quarantined and is receiving care at an undisclosed location.
The agency says it is suspending the intake of new migrants at the jail.
ICE previously said a member of the medical staff at the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey tested positive for the virus.
CINCINNATI — A Florida spring breaker has apologized for saying he wouldn’t let warnings about the coronavirus stop him from partying and “if I get corona, I get corona.”
The video that went viral was held up as an example of young people ignoring warnings about the pandemic. Brady Sluder, a 22-year-old from suburban Cincinnati, says in an Instagram post that he didn’t realize the impact of his words.
Sluder says, “Don’t be arrogant and think you’re invincible like myself.”
He was visiting Florida’s beaches last week when he made his comments to a TV news crew.
ROME — With Italy on an uphill course to contain the world’s second-largest outbreak of the coronavirus, Premier Giuseppe Conte has announced much stiffer fines for violators of the national lock-down restrictions.
At a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, the government set fines for violators from 400 to 3,000 euros ($440-$3,300). Initially, fines topped out at 206 euros ($227).
Italy is in its third week of lock down, under a government decree that expires on April 3. Earlier, an Italian health official, Franco Locatelli, said a decision on extending the order would be made based on how Italy’s outbreak of COVID-19 is developing. Italy’s outbreak hasn’t peaked, and thousands of new cases are being reported daily.
Gas station workers, fearing they are at risk for contagion, have announced strikes later this week. Conte says the government will try to alleviate their concerns by allowing for staggered opening hours at stations.
WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are trying to lessen the load on health care workers who collect specimens from coronavirus patients.
The Food and Drug Administration says health care workers can let people who have symptoms swab their own noses at testing sites. That means health care workers won’t need to switch masks as often.
Deborah Birx, coordinator of the U.S. coronavirus response, says it’s still important for people to refrain from seeking a test unless it will change the way they will be treated. She has urged people that if they “don’t need a test do not come in to be tested.”
People will still need to go to a testing site, though. The FDA says at-home swabs aren’t recommended, to ensure the samples are properly handled.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging leaders of the world’s 20 major industrialized nations to adopt a “wartime” plan including a stimulus package “in the trillions of dollars.” The plan would be for businesses, workers and households in developing countries trying to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Guterres says in a letter to the Group of 20 leaders that they account for 85% of the world’s gross domestic product and have “a direct interest and critical role to play in helping developing countries cope with the crisis.”
The U.N. chief says, “Anything short of this commitment would lead to a pandemic of apocalyptic proportions affecting us all.”