The Latest: Merkel: Germany facing top challenge since WWII
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 207,000 people and killed more than 8,200. 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 82,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says not since World War II has the country faced a challenge like the current outbreak of the coronavirus.
Merkel on Wednesday night made her first direct TV address to the nation in over 14 years in power, other than her annual New Year’s speech. She called on every person in Germany to help protect those who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Let me tell you: This is serious. Take it seriously too,” Merkel said in her speech that was to be aired on several public and private TV stations starting at 19:15 local time (1818 GMT). An embargoed copy of her speech was given to news agencies for earlier release.
Merkel, who is a physicist by training, said that while researchers were working under high pressure to develop a vaccine and medication to treat the new respiratory illness, currently, the slowdown of virus was the only to deal with it.
“Germany has an excellent health system, perhaps one of the best in the world,” she said. “But our hospitals, too, would be completely overwhelmed if too many patients would be delivered in too short a time.”
China has sent medical supplies to France to help health workers dealing with patients infected by the coronavirus and in need of masks and other protective material.
The Chinese Embassy in France tweeted on Wednesday that a batch of supplies has arrived. The supplies include face masks, medical gloves and protective suits. “United we will vanquish,” the tweet concluded.
China has sent supplies to Italy, the hardest hit among European countries, and to Spain. France took early action to help China, sending 17 tons of similar supplies in mid-February to Wuhan, where the COVID-19 was first detected. What French officials called a “solidarity” shipment has taken some criticism recently in France, where masks are available with difficulty for the general population.
French authorities ordered citizens into confinement this week in an effort to control the virus. As of Tuesday, France registered 7,730 positive cases and 175 deaths.
Hungary’s prime minister has announced a series of measures meant to protect jobs and ease the effects of the coronavirus epidemic on the country’s economy.
Viktor Orban said Wednesday that employers’ payroll taxes would be eliminated until June 30 in sectors already hard hit by the crisis, including tourism, hotels, entertainment, sports and taxi services. Payroll taxes for employees in those sectors also will be cut significantly.
Orban also announced that all existing personal and company loans will be exempt from making principal and interest payments until the end of the year, while interest rates on new consumption loans will be capped .
Labor laws will be loosened so “employers and employees can more easily reach agreements,” Orban said.
Hungary has 58 confirmed cases of people infected with the new virus, with only one death linked so far to COVID-19, a 75-year-old man who was being treated for pneumonia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a 100 billion Turkish lira (US $15.4 billion) relief package in a bid to mitigate the blow from the new coronavirus outbreak.
The “Economic Stability Shield” package announced Wednesday includes delaying debt payments, assisting businesses by deferring tax and social security payments and increasing the lowest pensions.
Erdogan also urged citizens to adhere to government guidance and to stay at home saying: “we can limit the period of home isolation to three weeks if everyone complies to the measures with sensibility.”
Turkey has reported one COVID-19 death and 98 confirmed infections.
The country has suspended flights from 20 countries, closed schools and universities and shut down bars, night clubs, cafes, cinemas and gyms among other measures to contain the virus’ spread.
Barring a miracle, Italy will surpass China in the number of coronavirus deaths in just one more day.
On Wednesday, Italy saw a record new high in the numbers of infections and deaths reported, adding more than 4,200 new cases for a total of 35,713 infections. Another 475 people died, bringing Italy’s death toll to 2,978.
China, where the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged late last year, has seen 3,241 deaths, most in the hard-hit central province of Hubei.
Italy has an older population than China’s, but only has 60 million people to China’s 1.4 billion people. Medical experts say the new virus is killing people over 65 at a much higher rate than other age groups.
President Donald Trump says he’ll temporarily ban non-essential travel across the U.S.-Mexico border because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump says at a White House briefing on Wednesday that he’ll soon invoke a provision of federal law to bar entry to asylum seekers and border crossers. Trump says he only wants to allow travel that is deemed essential, such as movement related to the medical industry, the military or certain industries.
He says some people go back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border for leisure pursuits, such as going to restaurants, and he wants to end that kind of travel on a temporary basis.
A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship will deploy to New York City to relieve pressure on hospitals treating people with COVID-19.
The ship would accept non-coronavirus patients. The news came Wednesday as New York City-area hospitals are clearing out beds, setting up new spaces to triage patients and urging people with mild symptoms to consult health professionals by phone or video chat instead of flooding emergency rooms.
Those moves come in anticipation of a huge spike in coronavirus patients. Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that demand for hospital beds could soon outstrip capacity by tens of thousands as the outbreak surges. Virus cases in the state topped 2,300 Wednesday, with at least 20 deaths.
Florida now has 314 people testing positive for COVID-19 and six deaths.
Its theme parks and bars and nightclubs and many beaches are closed. An exception Wednesday was Clearwater Beach near Tampa, which was open and packed beneath clear, sunny skies.
Most groups there did seem to be sitting at least six feet (2 meters) apart from other clusters of people, but Sarah Kelley, a St. Louis grocery store section manager, agreed that visiting the beach with her two teenage sons may not have been the best idea.
“It is a great festering Petri dish,” she said.
Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. mirror what’s been reported in other countries, with about 4 out of 5 deaths occurring in people 65 and older and no deaths in kids, according to a new federal report.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the findings on Wednesday, in a look at more than 4,200 U.S. cases reported from Feb. 12 to March 16. Officials had limited information, with data on the ages of about 2,500 of them.
Drawing from available information, researchers found about a third of the reported cases were in people 65 and older, but retirement-age Americans made up the bulk of people who suffered severe illness.
More than half of coronavirus patients admitted to hospital intensive care units were 65 and older, the CDC reported. No one 19 or under was admitted to an ICU, the CDC said.
Iceland is aiming to test a higher proportion of its population for the new coronavirus than any other nation in an attempt to find out more about how the COVID-19 disease spreads.
The North Atlantic nation, population 360,000, has 250 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with three hospitalizations and no deaths.
Reykjavik-based biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics has set up a testing facility capable of gathering 1,000 samples a day and hopes to test 14,000 people — about 4% of Iceland’s population.
The company said of 3,700 people tested so far, 0.8% had the virus despite showing little or no symptoms of being ill.
Iceland has quarantined 2,500 people because of possible exposure to the virus. They have been tested and about 10% were found to be infected.
Stefánsson said the difference in infection rates between the general population and those in quarantine showed the effectiveness of government’s efforts.
Vice President Mike Pence has called on hospitals to delay all elective procedures across the country to help ensure medical capacity is focused on stemming the spread of the coronavirus.
Hospital systems in hard-hit areas, including New York and Washington state, have already begun postponing elective surgeries as they anticipate a need for more hospital beds for people diagnosed with the virus.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would sign an executive order to postpone all elective surgeries at New York City hospitals so doctors and nurses can focus on treating patients infected with the virus.
Pence said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma will soon be issue federal guidance on elective procedures.
President Donald Trump says he’ll invoke the Defense Production Act to marshal the private sector in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump also says the Department Housing and Urban Development is providing immediate relief to renters and homeowners by suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April.
More than two dozen Senate Democrats have been urging Trump to invoke the Korean War-era law to increase production of needed masks, ventilators and respirators. Use of the law will also help expand hospital capacity to combat the coronavirus.
Trump announced at a White House briefing Wednesday that he will sign the papers to invoke the act later in the day. The U.S. has had 116 virus-related deaths and over 7,300 infections.
In an unprecedented move during peacetime, the French army has started evacuating critical coronavirus patients from eastern France, the country’s worst hit region by the pandemic.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly said six patients were being transferred Wednesday on an Airbus military plane in order to ease the pressure on the local hospitals of Mulhouse and Colmar. They were being moved to military hospitals in southern France. The transfer is expected to be the first of several.
In an address Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that a makeshift army hospital will be constructed shortly in eastern France. It will house around 30 intensive care beds.
France is Europe’s third worst-hit country in terms of fatalities from COVID-19. Health authorities report at least 7,730 confirmed cases, including 175 who have died.
The state of Alabama is postponing its scheduled March 31 primary runoff in the Senate race between Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville.
Saying having people stand in line to vote is too risky right now, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the runoff is being rescheduled to July 14. The winner will face U.S. Sen. Doug Jones in November.
Five other states also have postponed their primaries because of the coronavirus pandemic: Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio.
___ Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is deferring tax payments until August, providing a wage subsidy for small business and pausing student loan payments amid the pandemic.
Trudeau says government is focused on making sure Canadians have the money they need to support their families, buy groceries and pay the rent. Up to $82 billion Canadian ($56.4 billion) is being spent. The money is about 3% of Canada’s gross domestic product.
Trudeau says he will provide employers of small businesses with a temporary wage subsidy equal to 10% of salary paid to employees, for three months. He says this will encourage employers to keep staff on the payroll.
Trudeau made the announcement outside his residence where he is self isolating after his wife tested positive for the virus. He says she is OK but experiencing flu-like symptoms and headaches. The prime minister says he and his three kids are not showing symptoms.
The trans-Atlantic cruise ship Costa Luminosa, which has several COVID-19 cases among its passengers, is heading for the French Mediterranean port of Marseille.
More than 200 Americans are among the over 1,400 people on the cruise that French authorities say will arrive in Marseille port waters Thursday. It’s not known if French authorities will let the ship in. It’s unlikely they will let the passengers disembark, given the current stringent anti-virus movement rules imposed in the country.
The ship was allowed to stop in Tenerife in Spain on Sunday and offload three people who needed to be evacuated and hospitalized and their spouses. The rest of the passengers were barred from disembarking in the Spanish Canary Islands.
On March 13, officials said Puerto Rico’s first virus case was a 68-year-old Italian woman who arrived on the Costa Luminosa with symptoms. She was taken to a hospital in San Juan and confirmed to be infected. Puetro Rico’s government has since banned cruise ship dockings.
Turkey is sealing its land and rail border crossings with Greece and Bulgaria as part of its efforts to contain the new coronavirus outbreak.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said Wednesday that Turkey’s six border gates with Greece and Bulgaria would be closed as of midnight. Ferry crossings between Turkey and Greece have also been suspended
Thousands of migrants had massed at Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece over the past weeks, after Ankara announced it would no longer prevent migrants from making their way to European countries. The move aimed to force EU countries to share in the burden of caring for more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The U.N.’s International Labor Organization estimates that fallout from the new coronavirus outbreak could cause nearly 25 million job losses and drain up to $3.4 trillion worth of income by the end of this year.
The Geneva-based agency said “an internationally coordinated policy response” could help mitigate such losses through worker protections, fiscal stimulus, and support for jobs and wages,
ILO laid out a number of scenarios on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, estimating an increase in worldwide unemployment of between 5.3 million and 24.7 million people. That’s on top of the estimated 188 million that the agency had predicted late last year in its annual forecast.
The agency noted the global financial crisis boosted global unemployment by 22 million people.
“Falls in employment also mean large income losses for workers,” ILO said as it presented its preliminary assessment.
Authorities in Greece have imposed movement restrictions for migrants and refugees at camps on islands near the Turkish coast as part of public safety measures for the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Wednesday, migrants at camps on Lesbos and four other islands will only be allowed to visit towns on the islands in small groups and for limited periods, the Migration Affairs Ministry said. The ministry said it was also speeding up plans to build detention facilities on the islands or convert existing sites to be used for detention.
Although no infections have been confirmed at the camps, severe conditions of overcrowding and ongoing arrivals are a major source of concern for Greek authorities.
UNESCO says around half the world’s student population is now out of school because of the global virus pandemic.
The latest school closures cover 102 countries with smaller, localized shutdowns in others for a total of 850 million students, from pre-schools to universities. A week ago, school shutdowns covered just 15 countries, the United Nations agency said.
UNESCO said Wednesday that education systems are using both high- and low-tech solutions to bridge the gaps, including video classes and radio programming.
In Detroit, buses were running again Wednesday, a day after drivers failed to report to work and service was canceled over concerns about the coronavirus.
Rides now are free and passengers will enter and exit through a rear side door, steps that avoid contact with drivers. An average of 85,000 people ride the buses each day.
“I feel comfortable now,” said driver Wayne Clayton, who wears a mask. “It’s certainly an important job. We’ve got to get people to work.”
A Christian evangelical group headed by the son of the late televangelist Billy Graham has sent a field hospital to northern Italy to tend to coronavirus patients, joining China in offering aid to Italy’s overwhelmed health care system.
The Defense Ministry said a DC8 belonging to Samaritan’s Purse landed at the Verona airport late Tuesday. The group says it sent a 68-bed field hospital, including eight intensive care beds, 20 tons of medical equipment and 32 specialists. The hospital is to be set up for three months in hard-hit Cremona province of northern Lombardy.
Samaritan’s Purse is headed by the pastor Franklin Graham, one of President Donald Trump’s evangelical allies. Critics have accused Samaritan’s Church of proselytizing through its aid but the group says its aid is provided regardless of religious affiliation.
Aid groups say Italy has a severe shortage of the medical equipment needed to properly fight the coronavirus.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak