The Latest: Wuhan reports no new cases of virus infection
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 215,000 people and killed more than 8,700. 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 83,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.
China’s health ministry says the virus epicenter of Wuhan and its surrounding Hubei province have reported no new cases.
The ministry said Thursday that results over the past 24 hours showed 34 new cases, all detected in people arriving from abroad.
Eight new deaths were reported, all in Wuhan.
Wuhan at the peak reported thousands of new cases of coronavirus infection daily, overwhelming its health care system.
Of those new cases of infection, 21 were in Beijing, nine in the southern manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong, two in Shanghai and one each in coastal Zhejiang and Heilongjing in the far northeast.
China has only just begun loosening draconian travel restrictions within the country, but has stepped-up 14-day quarantine regulations on those arriving in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere from overseas, amid expectations of a new influx of students and others returning home.
China has now recorded a total of 80,928 confirmed virus cases with 3,245 deaths. Another 70,420 people have been released from hospital and 7,263 remain in treatment.
Washington, D.C., has announced eight new identified cases of the COVID-19, bringing the total to 39.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a state of emergency and closed all schools through the end of the month. The popular Cherry Blossom Festival has been postponed, White House and Capitol tours have been cancelled and the National Zoo, Smithsonian museum network and Kennedy Center have closed.
Washington’s tally doesn’t include people who may have been infected in Washington but live in nearby northern Virginia or southern Maryland.
Panama has declared a nightime, nationwide curfew starting immediately to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Security Minister Juan Pino said the curfew would be in effect from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., with exceptions only for police, firefighters, health service, canal, migration and sanitation employees. Pino said violating the curfew would be punishable by fines or jail terms.
Panama now has 109 coronavirus cases and one death. Neighboring Costa Rica announced its first death from coronavirus, an 87-year-old man, and 69 total cases.
Between 400 and 500 nonresidents are stranded in Panama after attending a music festival, with many of them being quarantined at the concert site near the Caribbean beach of Playa Chiquita.
Organizer James Baker of Manchester, England said those attending the event, called Tribal Gathering, included people from Spain, Canada, the United States, Denmark, France, Great Britain, and Hungary, as well as Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile and Mexico.
Baker said authorities in Panama had instituted a requirement that all those seeking to leave had to prove they had been in Panama for at least 14 days amid the new coronavirus outbreak. Most of the estimated 2,300 attendees at the event, which ran from Feb. 29 to March 15, have been able to leave.
But Baker said Wednesday that many of the remaining festival goers and staff may need help getting back to their home countries due to flight and transport cancellations related to the outbreak
Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has become the first known member of Congress to test positive for the new coronavirus.
Diaz-Balart entered self-quarantine in Washington Friday, according to a statement. He said he decided not to return to South Florida because his wife has a pre-existing medical condition. Diaz-Balart developed symptoms, including a fever and headache, on Saturday. He learned Wednesday that he had tested postive for the COVID-19 virus.
“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement Wednesday. “However, it is important that everyone take this extremely seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick and mitigate the spread of this virus. We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times.”
Other members of Congress, including Florida Sen. Rick Scott, have self-quarantined, but none have reported positive test results. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tested positive for the virus last week.
Diaz-Balart has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is scaling back the aggressive operations it launched under President Donald Trump as the country contends with the new coronavirus outbreak.
ICE says that starting Wednesday it is focusing its efforts on tracking down people in the U.S. without legal authorization who pose a risk to public safety or would be subject to mandatory detention on criminal grounds. The agency had been aggressively detaining anyone in the country without authorization as part of stepped up enforcement under the Trump administration.
The agency said in a statement that its investigations unit will focus on public safety and national security. That would include drug and human trafficking as well as anti-gang operations and child exploitation cases.
ICE said the change was temporary and intended to ensure the welfare and safety of the public and its agents.
It will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities except in “the most extraordinary circumstances” during the crisis.
Australia’s largest airline has announced it will suspend all international flights and stand down two-thirds of its 30,000 work force in response to the new coronavirus.
Qantas’ announcement on Thursday follows plans announced on Tuesday to cut 90% of international passenger seats and 60% of domestic capacity.
Qantas said the suspension won’t take effect until late March as the airline repatriates Australians following the government’s advice to its citizens on Wednesday not to travel anywhere overseas.
Qantas subsidiary Jetstar will also suspend all international flights. Jetstar Japan and Jetstar Pacific have already stopped flying while Jetstar Asia will be grounded from March 23.
Scientists in China are reporting disappointing results from the first study completed on a potential COVID-19 treatment.
A combination of two antiviral drugs that are used now to treat HIV — lopinavir and ritonavir — did not resolve symptoms quicker than usual care did. The study involving 199 hospitalized, severely ill patients was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
However, “intriguing” signs were seen in some other results. There were slightly fewer deaths among those given the drugs but the comparison group that received just usual care also was sicker, making this information hard to interpret, two editors wrote in an editorial in the journal.
Many other medicines are still being tested in various experiments including remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug that has shown some promise against viruses similar to the one causing COVID-19.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration now says two screeners at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City have tested positive for the new coronavirus. That brings the total to 11 TSA officers who have tested positive around the country.
TSA announced the two cases at JFK on Wednesday. Both have not been on the job since last week.
The agency earlier reported a positive test by a checked baggage screener at Newark-Liberty International Airport.
The agency has been telling officers who may have come into contacted with an officer who tests positive over the past two weeks to self-isolate.
In addition to JFK and Newark, officers have now tested positive at airports in San Jose, California; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida; Cleveland and Atlanta.
Faced with a lengthy shutdown due the coronavirus pandemic, movie theaters are requesting relief from the U.S. government.
The National Association of Theater Owners, the trade group that represents most of the industry’s cinemas, said Wednesday that it’s asking for immediate relief measures for its chains and its 150,000 employees. The theaters are requesting loan guarantees for exhibitors, tax benefits for employees and funds to compensate for lost ticket sales and concessions. NATO said the movie theater industry is “uniquely vulnerable” to the crisis and needs assistance to weather a near total shutdown of two to three months.
The U.S. State Department says it is halting visa issuance at its embassies and consulates around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement Wednesday came as several lawmakers sought explanations from the department about difficulties some of their constituents overseas are having in getting assistance from embassies and consulates.
The department said in a notice that it was temporarily suspending “routine visa services” for non-U.S. citizens at its overseas diplomatic missions “in most countries.” “Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible but we are unable to provide a specific date at this time,” it said.
The department did not provide a list of affected countries but said visa applicants should check with individual embassies to check on their status.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says the state will open a temporary 250-bed hospital by Friday on the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem.
Oregon purchased the pop-up hospital several years ago for a crisis situation such as this, she said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Oregon officials are working to identify 1,000 temporary beds around the state and patients in hospitals who do not have the new coronavirus, and who are in recovery from other illnesses and procedures, will start to be moved to those beds, Brown said.
The state has contracted with a private company for 20,000 test kits and the first batch of 5,000 should arrive soon, said Brown’s chief-of-staff, Nic Blosser. The tests will first be used on frontline healthcare workers, first responders and those living in community-style nursing homes.
Poland’s biggest laboratory that is testing for coronavirus infections says it has suspended activity after one of its scientific employees tested positive for the virus. The employee was not involved in the diagnostic process.
The head of the PZH laboratory in Warsaw, Grzegorz Juszczyk said in a statement Wednesday that people who recently had contact with the employee are being submitted to a quarantine and are waiting for the results of their own tests.
Juszczyk said that three other laboratories in Warsaw are ensuring continuous testing, and there are other laboratories elsewhere in the country. The PZH laboratory will resume work as soon as possible, he said.
A nation of 38 million, Poland has confirmed 287 cases of infection with coronavirus. Five have died.
Britain is closing all its primary and secondary schools because of the new coronavirus, one of the last countries in Europe to do so.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson says schools across England will close after Friday until further notice.
The governments of Scotland and Wales have already announced that schools there will close Friday, and schools in Northern Ireland on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said closing schools is of “limited value” in slowing the spread of the virus but that now is the right time to do it.
He said there would be measures to ensure that health care workers and other key staff who are parents can still go to work.
The U.N. cultural organization, UNESCO, says that as of late Tuesday, over 850 million children and youth – roughly half of the world’s student population – has to stay away from schools and universities because of the pandemic.
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.”
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