The Latest: UN agency warns nations for scenarios like Italy
The Latest on the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the globe:
World Health Organization officials are telling national governments it’s time for aggressive action now that the worldwide coronavirus outbreak has reached the level of a pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that with the U.N. health agency’s pandemic declaration on Wednesday, countries were being called upon “to scale up your emergency response mechanisms.”
His advice included: “Ready your hospitals, protect and train your health workers, and let’s all look out for each other because we need each other.”
Illustrating the severity and speed of the virus’ spread, Italian officials said Wednesday evening that coronavirus cases in the country grew to 12,462 infections and 827 deaths.
They attributed the one-day increase to the heavily impacted Lombardy region not fully reporting its numbers on Tuesday.
Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, gave a blunt warning about the urgency of the public health emergency.
Ryan said: “Iran and Italy are in the frontline now. They’re suffering, but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon.”
The World Health Organization has declared the worldwide outbreak of the new coronavirus a pandemic.
Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the spread of COVID-19 had reached the level of a pandemic, noting there are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 deaths.
He said that while the declaration “doesn’t change what countries should do” to aggressively contain the virus, the U.N. health agency is “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity.”
Tedros said: “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.
The U.S. State Department says foreign ministers from leading industrial nations who had planned to meet in Pittsburgh this month will instead hold a video teleconference because of coronavirus concerns.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Wednesday that the change in the Group of Seven meeting was made “out of an abundance of caution.”
The G-7 consists of the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan. The meeting was scheduled for March 24-25.
The worldwide epidemic also led more universities to move their classes online, the pope’s weekly catechism lesson to be live-streamed and governments to ban public gatherings.
Italy’s justice minister says 12 prison inmates died of drug overdoses and 16 others escaped during riots at more than two-dozen prisons sparked by new coronavirus containment measures.
The riots on Sunday and Monday broke out after corrections authorities suspended or limited family visits for two weeks to prevent the spread of infections.
While briefing the Italian Parliament on the prison riots, Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said the unrest involved some 6,000 prisoners at facilities around the country.
Bonafede confirmed on Wednesday that 16 inmates broke out of a medium-security prison in Foggia and remained at large. The 12 prisoners who died overdosed after breaking into prison infirmaries.
The minister says 40 prison guards were injured.
Anxiety about the virus and overcrowding fueled the protest over the family visit decision.
The Italian Justice Ministry ministry says 100,000 face masks have been allocated to protect prison guards, personnel and inmates alike.
The director of the U.S. government health agency that deals with infectious diseases says he’d welcome the restoration of a White House National Security Council office that dealt with pandemic preparedness.
Dr. Anthony Fauci directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Lawmakers asked him at a House Oversight hearing on Wednesday if the dismantling of the National Security Council office had been a mistake.
Fauci responded that he wouldn’t necessarily characterize that as a mistake. But he added: “We worked very well with that office, and it would be nice if that office were still there.”
Congressional Democrats accuse the Trump administration of dismantling the pandemic preparedness office and are pushing legislation to set up such an office again.
Belgium’s health ministry has announced the country’s first three deaths related to the novel coronavirus and Albania and Bulgaria each had their first deaths.
In Belgium, a 90-year-old woman and two men aged 73 and 86 with the virus have died.
The ministry said infections have been confirmed in 314 people but it expects more cases to soon emerge in Belgium.
Health authorities in Bulgaria say the country’s first virus victim was a 66-year-old woman who had a preexisting health condition, while Albanian authorities reported the death of a 73-year-old-woman with complications from other diseases.
Honduras, meanwhile, confirmed its first two coronavirus cases. One was a 42-year-old pregnant woman who traveled from Spain to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. . The other patient is a 37-year-old woman who had traveled from Switzerland.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told a U.S. House committee that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is going to get worse.
Fauci told the the House Oversight and Reform Committee in Washington on Wednesday that “I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now.”
He says how much worse it gets depends on two things: the ability of U.S. authorities to curtail the influx of travelers who may be bringing the disease into the country and the ability of states and communities to contain local outbreaks in this country.
Asked if the worst is yet to come, Fauci said: “Yes, it is.”
Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield reported that U.S. virus deaths now stand at 31 and confirmed cases are over 1,000.
Canada is announcing $1 billion ($730 million) in funding to help health-care workers cope with the increasing number of new cases and to help Canadian workers who are forced to isolate themselves.
The money will help buy masks and other supplies for health-care workers as well as funding research for a vaccine.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is also loosening restrictions on employment insurance payments for people who are off work due to illness by waiving the waiting period for benefits. Trudeau says Canada has been fortunate so far. Canada had 93 confirmed cases and one death as of Wednesday morning.
Swiss customs authorities have shut down nine border crossings with Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak, to channel border traffic through seven other sites.
The move announced Wednesday follows a decision by Italian authorities to continue to allow cross-border traffic with Switzerland despite adopting strong quarantine measures across Italy. Neighbors Austria and Slovenia have barred travelers from Italy without a medical certificate.
Swiss customs officials are advising tourists from Italy to refrain from traveling to Switzerland by rail or road “insofar as possible.”
Italy has been hardest hit in Europe, with over 10,100 cases and 631 deaths.
The U.S. military says some passengers from a cruise ship that carried at least 21 people infected by the coronavirus have arrived at an air base in Georgia and will now begin a 14-day quarantine.
The passengers arrived early Wednesday at the base in Cobb County, just northwest of Atlanta, Dobbins Air Reserve Base said in a statement.
Base officials didn’t specify the number of patients now on base, but they’ve said previously they were planning for dozens.
The passengers are from the Grand Princess, which had to circle at sea for days before being allowed to disembark in Oakland, California.
Britain’s Treasury chief has announced a 30 billion-pound ($39 billion) package of measures designed to help the economy as it struggles in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
Rishi Sunak, who has been Chancellor of the Exchequer for less than a month, said Britain’s Conservative government would do “whatever it takes” to shore up the economy through what he said will be a “temporary disruption.”
The Bank of England issued an emergency rate cut earlier Wednesday, slashing its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25%. Britain has 373 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six deaths.
Sunak said the government will provide whatever resources the National Health Service needs to get through the outbreak, which he said could affect one-in-five workers.
He said the government’s statutory sick pay will apply to anyone who has to self-isolate, even without showing any symptoms..
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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