The Latest: Germany’s Merkel not in favor of border closures
The Latest on the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the globe:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear that Germany doesn’t intend to close its borders in the light of Europe’s coronavirus epidemic, arguing that it makes more sense for people arriving from badly hit regions to quarantine themselves at home.
Germany had some 1,300 infections as of Wednesday but, so far, only three deaths — a low rate that experts have put down to rapid testing as the outbreak unfolded.
Merkel said at a rare, hastily convened news conference Wednesday in Berlin that it’s important for European leaders to discuss “what are good and effective measures and what aren’t.”
She said “we in Germany, in any case, are of the opinion that border closures are not an appropriate response to the challenge.”
Germany isn’t a direct neighbour of Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak. Austria and Slovenia to Italy’s north and Malta to the south have largely closed their borders with Italy.
Spain’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 2,000, with roughly half of them in the Madrid region, where two-thirds of the country’s virus deaths have occurred.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 2,002 cases nationally, up by 363 from the previous day. Deaths reached 47, up by 11 from Tuesday.
Fernando Simón, director of Spain’s health emergency center, said Wednesday that Madrid’s fatalities are high because much of the contagion there is taking place in nursing homes. The COVID-19 virus is particularly hard on the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Madrid and two regions in northern Spain are closing schools and universities for two weeks to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Long queues have formed at Madrid area supermarkets amid signs of panic buying.
Simón said working from home and cancelling classes were “very beneficial” to help reduce the number of people using public transport.
Beijing’s city government says all passengers arriving in the city from overseas, regardless of their points of departure, are now be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
The order, which goes into immediate effect Wednesday, is part of stepped-up measures to prevent the virus that was first detected in China from re-entering the country.
The move was announced by the deputy head of the city’s Communist Party committee’s organization department, Zhang Qiang, at an emergency meeting on the virus. It reverses a previous order that only required quarantine for those arriving from countries with a large number of cases, including South Korea and Japan.
Chinese health ministry spokesman Mi Feng told reporters Wednesday that domestic control efforts remained effective but the rapid spread of the virus abroad was “introducing uncertainties” and rigorous efforts must be maintained to “vanquish the epidemic.”
Of the 24 new virus cases reported by China on Wednesday, five had arrived from Italy and one from the United States. China has had over 81,000 virus infections and over 3,000 deaths.
Belgium’s health ministry has announced a first death related to the coronavirus.
Health authorities said Wednesday the patient was a 90-year-old woman.
Since the epidemic that emerged in China late last year began, 314 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Belgium but the ministry predicted that more cases would soon emerge, saying hospitals are seeing more and more people with respiratory infections.
The European Union nation introduced a series of preventive measures on Tuesday, including a recommendation to ban indoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people. Schools remain open so far but the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are being urged to avoid public transportation.
Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s oil and gas producer, says it has taken action to stop what it described as “abusive behavior” in one of its office buildings after images shared on social media showed a migrant worker wearing a hand sanitizing dispenser for employees to use.
The worker was shown looking downcast, even humiliated, and wearing a blue surgical mask and a large white-shaped box with the words “Hand Sanitizer” in the middle and a dispenser underneath. White men in suits are seen approaching him for sanitizer.
Aramco said on its Arabic Twitter account Wednesday that it has taken action to stop and prevent this. The company said this effort at sterilization was taken without its approval.
Social media users in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf blasted the images as racist.
The Italian government announced Wednesday it is earmarking 25 billion euros (nearly $28 billion) to confront the coronavirus with the first spending commitments by the end of week.
Economic Minister Roberto Gualtieri said a decree expected by Friday will outline spending of about 12 billion euros ($13.4 billion). That will include measures to support health services and the civil protection agency and to support the labor market.
The measures aim to ensure that no one loses work due to broad government restrictions on movement, to provide liquidity to support families and businesses and to allow delays in payments such as taxes and mortgages. He declined to specify exactly what measures would be included in the first decree.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said the European Union has indicated a willingness to contribute resources, which could ease the fiscal burden on Italy and keep down its deficit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is citing expert estimates that up to 70% of the population could be infected by the new coronavirus as she insists on the necessity of measures to slow its spread.
Germany had confirmed some 1,300 infections as of Wednesday, with two deaths. The government has recommended the cancellation of all events with more than 1,000 people, among other things.
Merkel noted at a news conference in Berlin: “You have to understand that if the virus is there, and the population has no immunity yet to this virus, there are no vaccines and no therapy so far, a high percentage – experts say 60 to 70% — of the population will be infected.”
She said the priority is to slow the spread of the disease “so all the measures we are taking are of the greatest significance because they are giving us time – it does matter what we do, it is not in vain.”
The coronavirus is starting to slow industrial production in Italy and has forced a major cruise line limit port calls in Italy.
The Costa Crociere cruise line, based in the Italian city of Genoa, said it will only stop in Italian ports to allow guests to disembark and return home — calling off any excursions or new embarkations through April 3.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced Wednesday that it would temporarily close its four Italian plants in the coming days to fully sanitize work and production spaces and to adequately space production lines. Production will resume Monday at lower volumes.
It previously temporarily halted production of the 500L in Serbia after China’s lockdown blocked delivery of some parts. A Fiat Chrysler spokesman said the new temporary closures are strictly related to efforts to contain the virus.
Fiat Chrysler produces the Panda sub-compact in Pomigliano, near Naples, the Jeep Renegade, Jeep Compass and 500X in Melfi, in Basilicata, the Alfa Rome Giulia and Alfa Romeo Stelvio in Cassino, south of Rome, and commercial vehicles in the Sevel joint venture with PSA Peugeot in Abruzzo.
Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in his private library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures and barred the general public from St. Peter’s Square and took precautions to limit the spread of infections in the tiny city-state.
Francis sent out special prayers for prisoners, the sick and hospital personnel caring for them, delivering his weekly catechism lesson via livestream rather than in person. He was surrounded by a handful of priest translators who took turns delivering his comments in a variety of languages, making sure to sit a meter (yard) apart.
Usually the pope’s weekly Wednesday audience is a boisterous affair that fills St. Peter’s or the Vatican auditorium with tens of thousands of people. But for this week’s audience, the first of Italy’s nationwide lockdown, the square was empty and police barred access to St. Peter’s Basilica to anyone but individuals seeking to pray.
Scores of passengers and crew aboard a river cruise boat are being held under quarantine in eastern Cambodia after a British passenger tested positive for the coronavirus.
The vessel belonging to Viking River Cruises is under police guard as it remains moored on the Mekong River outside the town of Kampong Cham.
Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng on Wednesday visited the Kampong Cham provincial hospital, where the 65-year-old woman from the United Kingdom is being held for observation and treatment. The woman is Cambodia’s third confirmed case.
Mam Bunheng said late Tuesday that the remaining 63 passengers and crew aboard would be tested and quarantined for 14 days. Four other passengers from the U.K. have already been tested with negative results.
The luxury cruise originated in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and visited the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, before arriving at Kampong Cham.
The Vatican representative to East Timor said a visit by Pope Francis has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Monsignor Marco Sprizzi of the Apostolic Nunciature told reporters in Dili that Francis had previously indicated his willingness to visit East Timor later this year. But Sprizzi cited concerns about large crowds, saying “because he did not want his people affected by the coronavirus, he canceled his visit.”
The Vatican had never confirmed Francis would visit Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea later this year. The only foreign travel it has confirmed this year, a May 31 daytrip to Malta, likely will be called off given Malta on Tuesday barred all air traffic to and from Italy.
The Vatican, a walled city-state in the heart of Rome, has adopted the same sweeping lockdown measures imposed throughout Italy to contain the spread of the virus.
Francis now issues his blessings and celebrates his private morning Mass via livestream, and the Vatican has closed St. Peter’s Basilica to tourists, though it remains open for private prayer.
Indonesia says a foreigner has become its first fatality from COVID-19.
Achmad Yurianto, the government spokesman on efforts to contain the coronavirus, said Wednesday the 53-year-old woman had diabetes and lung disease and had contracted the virus abroad.
Yurianto did not reveal the patient’s nationality and said her husband will be repatriated soon.
The spokesman said two of Indonesia’s 27 cases have recovered. More than 119,000 people worldwide have contracted the virus, with more than half of those recovered. The virus causes mild illness for most people but can severe in older people and those with existing health problems.
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