The Latest: Pence urges US hospitals to delay all electives
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.
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.
A government spokesman in Pakistan has backtracked his statement that a 90-year-old man died because of coronavirus.
Faizullah Faraq, the spokesperson in Gilgit Baltistan government in northern Pakistan, issued this clarification Wednesday about an hour after confirming the first death from the infectious disease.
He said according to latest information the 90-year-old man died of pneumonia. Faraq said a latest medical report now suggests the man did not test positive. He did not explain what caused this discrepancy.
Pakistani media had extensively reported the first death.
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.
Greece is banning all gatherings of more than 10 people, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The measure will be enforced with a 1,000 euro ($1,008) fine for each member of the group in violation of the new rule, which takes effect Thursday.
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.
Hungary’s prime minister made an announcement about the coronavirus crisis live on Facebook but it had no sound, so most of the country still has no idea what he said.
Viktor Orban has been using social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, to make announcements, show videos of his trips abroad or send greetings on national holidays or, recently, on International Women’s Day.
Wednesday’s announcement drew tens of thousands of mostly baffled comments below the soundless post, with many people wondering what he was saying. Several Hungarian news sites pointed out that it would be have been a better idea for Orban to use Hungary’ amply funded state media for such announcements.
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.
The new restrictions, valid for 30 days, mean that many charity group workers will not be allowed access to the camps.
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.
Authorities say a New York man threatened to blow up an office building where New York state set up its coronavirus testing command post.
The Journal News reports that Pedro Cheng was arrested and charged Tuesday in Westchester County court with making a terrorist threat to the building in New Rochelle. A message seeking comment was left Wednesday with the organization representing Cheng.
Police say he called Monday evening and said he was going blow the building up “with all you guys inside.” It isn’t clear whether Cheng knew the health department had operations there. Search dogs found no bomb.
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.
Britain’s beloved soap operas are falling victim to the new coronavirus.
The BBC says it is suspending production on shows including the prime-time soap “EastEnders” and medical dramas “Casualty,” “Doctors” and “Holby City.”
The broadcaster said it would show two episodes of “EastEnders” a week instead of the usual four, to make the stock of already-recorded shows last longer.
Broadcast since 1985, “EastEnders” follows the lives of characters in a fictional working-class London neighborhood.
The producers of Britain’s most-watched soap, “Coronation Street,” have not yet announced whether they will suspend production.
Puerto Rico’s governor has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily halt all commercial passenger flights to and from the U.S. territory for two weeks to help curb coronavirus cases. The FAA has not responded.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez on Wednesday also announced that doctors no longer need permission from the island’s Health Department to request that someone be tested for COVID-19.
The governor on Sunday announced a two-week curfew that has closed down nearly all businesses except gas stations and those in the health, finance and food sectors.
The European Union is trying to help repatriate around 80,000 citizens stuck outside Europe after the coronavirus hit global transport systems, but says it faces huge logistical challenges.
The EU’s executive commission said Wednesday that many Europeans have been brought back from China and Sri Lanka, and that other cases had arisen in the United States and Japan.
The EU has helped bring back more than 600 European citizens – but also some U.S., Swiss and Bosnians — from Morocco after the country said it was cancelling flights on Sunday night. EU officials helped win a reprieve and flights can now continue until Thursday. Hundreds of Europeans are also stuck in the Maldives.
The Eurovision Song Contest has been canceled, becoming the latest victim of the coronavirus epidemic.
The 65th edition of the annual celebration of pop and often-trashy glamor was due to be held in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, with the grand final being held May 16.
The European Broadcasting Union said Wednesday organizers had explored “many alternative options” to allow the contest to go ahead. But it said uncertainty created by the spread of COVID-19 and restrictions put in place by many governments had made it “impossible to continue with the live event as planned.”
Europe has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
Britain is one of the few European countries not to order the mass closure of schools in response to the coronavirus pandemic — but that has started to change.
The governments of Scotland and Wales both say schools will close on Friday.
England, which is home to 56 million of the U.K.’s 66 million people, has not yet closed schools but a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson says an announcement will be made “imminently.”
It’s not clear how long the schools will remain shut. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Wednesday that “I cannot promise they will reopen before the summer holidays.”
British schools go much later into the summer than American schools, ending in mid-July last year.
The governor of the Italian region hardest-hit by coronavirus infections is warning citizens that if they don’t stay in their homes as they should, he’ll ask the central government for even stricter measures.
Italian authorities say too many people are violating last week’s national decree, which allows people to leave homes to go to workplaces, buy food or other necessities or for brief strolls outside to walk dogs or get exercise. Of hundreds of thousands of people stopped by police for checks, tens of thousands have received a summons for going out without valid reasons.
Lombardy Gov. Attilio Fontana told a news conference Wednesday “every time out of the house is a time you put yourself at risk and put others at risk” for catching COVID-19.”
As of Tuesday, Lombardy had slightly more than half of Italy’s 31,506 virus cases and 1,640 of Italy’s 2,503 deaths. Italy is the second hardest-hit nation after China in the pandemic.
Not all Parisians are obeying the rules to stay inside to contain the new virus.
Paris police said Wednesday hey checked more than 10,000 people after new confinement measures went into effect at midnight, and by late morning had fined 522 violators.
Most were individuals who defied rules against non-essential movement around town, but four people were also fined for keeping non-essential businesses open.
People are required to carry a special document if they leave their homes explaining why. It can be handwritten or saved on a phone if people don’t have printers at home.
France has 7,730 cases of the virus, including 175 people who have died.
Tens of thousands of Russians and Ukrainians have been stranded abroad as countries close borders and suspend air traffic amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 35,000 Ukrainians await evacuation in different countries, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy said Wednesday. He asked the government to allocate $4 million for flights to bring them back home. Earlier this week 175 flights brought more than 33,000 Ukrainians back home.
At the same time Russian authorities are working to help tens of thousands of Russian tourists facing difficulties returning home. According to Russia’s state tourism watchdog Rosturizm, there are 100,000 Russian tourists still abroad.
More than 1,000 Russians found themselves trapped in Montenegro after its air space was closed. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the situation “critical.”
Zakharova added the situation was difficult in Latin America and Moldova as well.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his country will impose an entry ban for people from parts of Italy, Spain and Iceland, citing the World Health Organization declaration that Europe is now the center of the world’s coronavirus pandemic.
Abe also said Japan will step up quarantines for visitors from 38 countries including most of the rest of Europe, as well as Iran and Egypt. It will require a self-quarantine at designated locations and restraint in using public transportation for 14 days. Visas issued in those countries will be revoked.
Abe also urged the Japanese citizens to reconsider any overseas trips “regardless of the area.”
The traffic jam on the Czech-Polish border has gone from bad to worse despite the efforts from those countries’ leaders to deal with coronavirus supply chain disruptions.
The line of trucks waiting on the Czech side to enter Poland at the northern Nachod – Kudowa-Slone crossing was more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) long on Wednesday. It was 40 kilometers (25 miles) the previous days.
To ease the situation, Poland opened three more crossings on Wednesday after Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek spoke to their Polish counterparts.
The miles of trucks have been also queuing at northeastern Czech Republic at another crossing to Poland and on the border with Slovakia in the east.
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