The Latest: Pentagon restricts access to building over virus
The Latest on the world’s coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 150,000 people and killed over 5,700. The disease for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority recover.
Pentagon officials have laid out new restrictions for access to the building, saying people who have been overseas should stay away for two weeks and others should expect more screening questions from officers posted at the entrances.
Senior defense officials said in a conference call with reporters that personnel who must access classified information as part of their job will still go to work in the building. But beginning Monday, there will be minimal staffing at the Pentagon and workers who can telework will be encouraged, although not required, to do so.
They said people coming into the building will not have their temperature taken at this point.
As of Saturday, 21 Defense Department personnel worldwide had tested positive for the virus, including 10 service members. Two of the 21 are hospitalized. Also, two of the 21 are in the Washington, D.C., region.
The department on Friday laid out widespread new restrictions on travel and routine job changes by military members, who often move to new units and positions in the spring and summer.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that the nation’s restaurants and places of entertainment will be closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. He also encouraged people not to go to their workplaces unless absolutely necessary.
“Whoever doesn’t need to go work or doesn’t need to be in a certain place, don’t go,” Netanyahu said in a televised address Saturday.
But he stopped short of declaring a widespread shutdown seen in some other hard-hit countries.
Netanyahu told the public that they should prepare for a new routine but that the government would ensure that essential services continue. After panicked scenes in supermarkets over the weekend, he also said the country has no shortages of food or essential items and encouraged public calm.
Shai Babad, the director of the Israeli Finance Ministry, said the closures would include restaurants, malls, movies, gyms and daycare centers. Schools and universities already have been closed, and entry to the country has been tightly restricted.
Israel has detected some 193 cases of the virus.
Netanyahu also renewed a call for an emergency unity government with his political opponents after Israel’s third consecutive inconclusive election this month.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that France is shutting down all restaurants, cafes, cinemas and non-essential retail shops, starting Sunday, to combat the accelerated spread of the virus in the country.
He said grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and other public services including transport will be allowed to remain open.
French authorities had already shut down all schools, banned gatherings of more than 100 people and advised people to limit their social life. Philippe said these measures were “not well implemented.”
“We must show all together more discipline,” he added.
Philippe confirmed that nation-wide municipal elections will go ahead as planned on Sunday but with special measures to keep people at a safe distance and clean shared material.
Health authorities said more than 4,500 cases have been confirmed in France on Saturday, including 91 deaths.
The Canadian government says any Canadian who’s abroad should get back to Canada while it’s still possible. That’s a step up from previous advice, which urged travelers outside the country to think about doing so because of the pandemic.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted the new recommendation, warning that commercial travel options might not remain available.
Some countries have already taken measures such as stopping or sharply limiting air traffic. Canada is asking those who return to self-isolate for 14 days.
In Quebec, the government is asking everyone 70 years of age and older to stay home until further notice.
Premier Francois Legault says seniors are far more at risk for COVID-19 and that’s why he’s asking them to stay inside. He also says that no visitors will be allowed at hospitals, seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities.
Legault says the Canadian French speaking province has adopted a decree to declare a state of health emergency for at least 10 days.
U.S. soldiers returning from Afghanistan have been quarantined amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Saturday, 300 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division returned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina after a nine-month deployment. This is one of the first large groups of military personnel to return home since the start of the pandemic.
The Army says the 14-day quarantine is out of an abundance of caution. As of Saturday, no one in the unit or on Fort Bragg has tested positive for the virus.
The Defense Department says that as of Saturday, 10 service members have tested positive for the virus.
At Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, a second Marine has tested positive for COVID-19 and is being isolated at the base while receiving medical care. The air station says it is trying to determine who may have had contact with the Marine and to notify them of the situation.
At Naval Base San Diego, a sailor has tested “presumptive positive,” the first positive case for a sailor in California. The base says the sailor is quarantined at home.
The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Versailles Palace and other iconic monuments in Paris have been closed “until further notice” as part of the French government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
France has banned all gatherings of more than 100 people, reducing the threshold from a previous level of 1,000 people, as the virus has infected at least 3,600 people in the country and is spreading fast.
Restaurants, cafes and shops remain open, and some museums. On Saturday, Paris terraces and shopping streets were crowded with Parisians, while tourist sites, like the Montmartre neighborhood, appeared almost empty.
France is going ahead with nationwide municipal elections on Sunday but has ordered special measures to keep people at a safe distance and clean shared material. French President Emmanuel Macron ordered all schools to be closed starting on Monday and asked companies to allow workers to stay home.
Italy has reported its biggest day-to-day jump in number of infected cases of COVID-19. National health authorities told reporters on Saturday that health officials recorded 3,497 new cases in 24 hours. That’s roughly a 20% increase in cases from the day before. A little more than half of those new cases occurred in Lombardy, the populous northern region which has been hardest hit in Europe’s worst outbreak. Italy’s total cases now tally 21,157.
The death toll rose by 175. A day earlier, the same authorities had predicted glumly that Italy would still see a jump in cases despite a national lockdown that began on March 9, barely two days after severe restrictions on personal movement in the north. They cited irresponsible behavior by many citizens, who despite the earlier warnings not to gather in large numbers, headed to beaches or ski resorts, and hung out together in town squares, especially after the closure of schools.
Italian doctors in at least two hospitals treating COVID-19 cases have started using a drug normally prescribed for people with chronic inflammatory auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Paolo Ascierto, director of the immunology clinic at the Pascale Institute in Naples, told Italian state TV on Saturday that of the first six ICU patients treated with the drug, three showed significant improvement of their lung inflammation judging by CT scans. One of the six died shortly after the drug was administered.
Ascierto stressed that the drug fights the lung inflammation from pneumonia in coronavirus patients but doesn’t act on the virus itself. Italy’s government pharmaceutical regulator, AIFA, is allowing the drug to be used for compassionate purposes, since it is only officially approved in the country for use in auto-immune diseases.
At Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, which is treating COVID-19 infections in that city, and neighboring towns, Dr. Francesco Vaia said on Sunday said six patients who are seriously ill with the coronavirus are also being treated there with the drug.
Indonesian Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi is the latest senior politician to test positive for the new coronavirus.
State Secretary Minister Pratikno said Sumadi is being treated at the Gatot Subroto Army Central Hospital. He is listed as the Patient 76 of the 96 patients with COVID-19 in Indonesia.
Pratikno said he had permission from Sumadi’s family to announce the name of the patient.
The Netherlands’ world famous Keukenhof flower garden has fallen prey to the new coronavirus.
The attraction in the middle of one of the country’s main tulip-growing regions draws more than a million visitors each year as bulbs burst into bloom.
It had been due to open March 21, but the opening was scrapped Saturday, two days after the Dutch government banned gatherings of more than 100 people through March 31 in a bid to rein in the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The Keukenhof said in a statement it is closely monitoring the situation and is “ready to open April 1, the day after the emergency regulation expires.”
Belgians woke up to a new reality on Saturday. On a sunny day when most would normally take advantage of the day to shop or sit on a terrace, everything, with the exception of pharmacies and supermarkets, was closed.
In the historic center of Antwerp a few people either rode their bicycles, jogged or curiously walked around taking photos of a rarity — being able to stop and look at something with ease without the worry of a crowd.
Birds could be heard singing around the cathedral.
In a sweeping measure, Belgium has closed schools, restaurants and bars as well as canceled sporting and cultural events in an effort to contain the coronavirus.
British budget airline Jet2 apparently turned back in midair all its planes bound for Spain as it announced the cancellation of all its flights to the country.
The company said it decided to cancel the flights as Spanish authorities moved to introduce tighter restrictions. “We know these local measures will have a significant impact on our customers’ holidays which is why we have taken this decision.”
Air traffic monitor Flightradar 24 said at least seven Jet2 flights with a destination in Spain turned around and came back to the U.K on Saturday.
Spain’s government is set to announce Saturday that it is placing tight restrictions on movement and closing restaurants and other establishments in the nation of 46 million people as part of a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.
The Associated Press has access to the draft of the battery of measures that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will announce in a nationally televised address.
According to the draft of the government order, people will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food and medicine, commute to work, go to medical centers and banks, or take trips related to the care for the young and the elderly. Those limitations will take hold at Monday at 8 a.m.
A Chinese Red Cross team of nine doctors and researchers is in Rome, sharing experiences with staff at the Italian capital’s infectious diseases hospital.
Spallanzani Hospital health director Dr. Francesco Vaia on Saturday introduced the team to reporters as experts who were “on the front line” of the anti-COVID-19 efforts in China, which has suffered the world’s largest number of cases and deaths.
Speaking with a hospital mask, and through interpreters, one of the Chinese Red Cross members praised efforts in Italy, which for weeks has been grappling with Europe’s largest outbreak of the coronavirus. The member, whose name wasn’t immediately available said the Chinese, observing how the hospital is handling the cases, said the team believes the Italians have done a very good job. The team also visited the first patients to be treated in Italy for COVID-19: a Chinese couple, in their 60s who became ill in Rome several weeks ago while on vacation but who are now considered recovered.
Vaia gave some cautiously good news: Since Friday, the hospital, which also serves a wider area around Rome, has had no new cases.
India on Saturday declared COVID-19 as a “notified disaster” which would enable the country to provide assistance and spend more funds to fight the pandemic. The move came after the number of coronavirus cases in the country rose to 84, with two deaths. Ten people have recovered fully.
The health ministry said that more than 4,000 people who had contact with the confirmed cases are under surveillance.
On Saturday, a Hindu nationalist group that has ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, hosted a gathering where people drank cow urine, saying it could ward off the coronavirus.
Many Hindus consider the cow sacred and some drink cow urine believing it has medicinal properties. Experts have, however, repeatedly asserted that cow urine does not cure illnesses and there is no evidence that it can prevent coronavirus.
Over the past few days, India has ordered the closure of public buildings, cinemas and bars in several cities, and major sporting events have also been postponed. Several other states in India have also announced more limited restrictions, including the closure of some schools.
Apple CEO Tim Cook says the tech giant’s retail operation outside of China is going online-only for two weeks as part of efforts to fight the global viral pandemic.
Cook tweeted that “Apple will be temporarily closing all stores outside of Greater China until March 27 and committing $15M to help with worldwide recovery.”
In a lengthier online statement, Cook said that Apple’s stores in China have all now reopened and what the company has learned there has helped it develop “best practices that are assisting enormously in our global response.”
Apple’s online stores are still open and workers will continue to be paid, he said.
Health authorities in Spain say coronavirus infections have reached 5,753 people, of which almost 3,000 are in the capital, Madrid.
That represents a national increase of more than 1,500 in 24 hours.
No new figures for deaths were immediately announced, but as of Friday, Spain had recorded 120 COVID-19 deaths.
Spain’s Cabinet is meeting on Saturday to declare a two-week state of emergency, giving the government extraordinary powers that include restricting free movement.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the coronavirus outbreak in his country has not reached a point that requires him to declare a national emergency like the U.S. and parts of Europe.
He said the per-capita infection in Japan is much lower than other countries, though the situation is still volatile and Japan should remain on its guard. “At the moment, we don’t have a situation that requires a state of emergency,” Abe said.
The global economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, and that includes Japan, Abe said, pledging to urgently implement economic measures from a 430 billion yen ($4 billion) package he announced earlier this month.
Japan’s parliament has enacted a time-bound law that allows Abe to declare a national emergency to take measures against the coronavirus, but the law is controversial because it could severely limit civil rights.
Japan as of Friday had 1,413 confirmed cases, including 697 from a cruise ship that docked in the country. There have been 28 deaths, of which seven were former cruise passengers.
Union leaders, industrialists and the Italian government have reached agreement on special measures to keep the country’s factories running during the national lockdown aimed at combatting the spread of the new coronavirus.
After a marathon 18-hour session by video conference, involving several ministers and Premier Giuseppe Conte, participants signed off on a protocol Saturday morning.
Conte has declared the country’s production must not stop, especially in the sectors of food and health supplies. He has promised free disposable gloves and masks for factory workers.
Union leaders said the protocol stipulates that union representatives and workers have a say in safety measures. Among them are that drivers of trucks bringing in supplies from outside companies must stay in their cabs while goods are unloaded. Another measure sees workers entering or leaving factories in staggered numbers instead of entire shifts at once.
Some unions had threatened to strike if strict measures weren’t implemented. Italy has the largest outbreak of COVID-19 outside of China.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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