World COVID-19 afternoon update: New virus test gets results in 45 minutes

Ubaldina Calderon, 92, wearing a protective mask, exits a clinic after receiving a pneumonia vaccine as part of a mass vaccination campaign for the elderly in Lima, Peru, Friday, March 13, 2020. The Ministry of Health is encouraging seniors to get a pneumonia vaccine to reduce the risks of those who might contact the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 297,000 people and killed more than 12,750. 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 91,500 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

Updated at 1:06 p.m., Saturday, March 21, 2020

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • FAA briefly halts flights to NYC-area airports.
  • Italy’s coronavirus deaths, cases continue to rise.
  • U.S. approves first rapid coronavirus test.

U.S.: Rapid coronavirus test gets results in 45 minutes

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid coronavirus test, which produces results in about 45 minutes.

An FDA spokeswoman confirmed the approval after an announcement from Cepheid, a Silicon Valley molecular diagnostics company.

It can take at least a few days to get results from current coronavirus tests, which typically are sent in batches to reference labs, said Dr. David Persing, the company’s chief medical and technology officer.

“What’s really needed is a test that can rapidly determine status of infection on site when patients are being seen,” he said on a company video.

Cepheid said it will begin shipping its tests next week.

U.S.: Jail populations to be reduced

U.S.: New York scours the globe in desperate search for medical supplies

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York is scouring the globe for desperately needed medical supplies and scouting field hospital locations in New York City and its suburbs as confirmed coronavirus cases soar above 10,000 statewide.

Cuomo says the goal is to quickly boost the state’s hospital capacity from around 50,000 beds to 75,000. The state has already hospitalized 1,600 people. The governor says the state will see if Manhattan’s Javits Center could house 1,000 beds.

The state also will immediately conduct trials of an experimental treatment. Cuomo says the Food and Drug Administration is sending 10,000 doses.

Italy’s coronavirus dead now approaching 800

ROME — Italy’s grim tally of coronavirus cases and deaths has continued to soar, with officials announcing new day-to-day highs: 793 dead and 6,557 cases.

The country, the heart of western Europe’s rampaging outbreak, now counts 53,578 known cases. More than 60 per cent of the latest deaths occurred in the northern region of Lombardy, whose hospitals have been reeling under a staggering case load that has left intensive care beds hard to find and respirators in dire supply. The new increases come nearly two weeks into a national lock-down in a desperate bid to contain the spread of the virus.

Uzbekistan: Public transport halted

MOSCOW — The capital of Uzbekistan is halting public transport as of Sunday, according to the country’s office for preventing spread of the novel coronavirus.

The announcement said the ban includes subways, buses and fixed-route minibuses in Tashkent, a city of 2.4 million. Taxis will be allowed to operate if they are disinfected at an official centre.

Uzbekistan has reported 47 cases of infection.

France: Containment measures could be renewed

PARIS — France’s health ministry says the country is “rapidly evolving towards a generalized epidemic on the territory” concerning COVID-19.

It says France’s current containment measures, in place since Tuesday and running 15 days, could be renewed depending “on the observance of the application of containment by the population.”

The French Ministry says severe forms of the new coronavirus are observed even in young adults: 50% of people hospitalized in intensive care are less than 60 years old.

U.S.: Flights to New York City temporarily halted

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted a brief suspension of flights to New York City-area airports because of coronavirus-related staffing issues at a regional air-traffic control centre.

In an alert posted online Saturday, the agency advised air traffic controllers to “stop all departures” to Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark and other airports in the region.

The directive also affected Philadelphia International Airport.

The halt was lifted after about 30 minutes. Initially air traffic controllers were warned it could last several hours.

Africa: Lockdowns rushed as infections rise

Lockdowns have begun in Africa in the latest rushed measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Rwanda’s prime minister announced that all unnecessary movements outside the home are banned as of midnight except for essential services such as health care and shopping.

The East African nation has 17 cases. It has told all public and private employees to work from home. Shops and markets not selling food, fuel or health or cleaning items are closed. All bars are closed and restaurants can only provide takeaway. The measures will last for two weeks.

Tunisia earlier imposed a lockdown.

Russia to aid Italy, Putin says

MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian PM Giuseppe Conte that Russia will provide aid to help Italy cope with the new coronavirus.

Putin said Russia will provide protection means, aerosol disinfection trucks, medical and other equipment and will send teams of experts to the worst affected regions of Italy.

The supplies will be provided by the Russian Defence Ministry and carried by its transport planes.

Turkey: If you’re over 65, you can’t leave home

ISTANBUL — Turkey has banned people above 65 and those with chronic health problems from leaving their homes as part of Ankara’s efforts to combat the novel coronavirus.

The interior ministry said in an order Saturday that the high-risk groups would be under curfew and would not be allowed to leave their residences starting at midnight.

Many Turkish citizens, among them the elderly, have ignored public announcements to remain indoors, flocking to parks and public spaces. The ministry said the continued presence of senior citizens and the chronically ill in the public “risks themselves and public health.”

The ministry said social support groups would ensure their basic needs are met.

At least 670 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine people have died in Turkey.

United States: New Jersey to shutdown nonessential retail busineses

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted he has ordered residents to stay home and nonessential retail businesses to close by 9 p.m. Saturday.

He also said all gatherings are cancelled. He ordered all residents to stay at home with some exceptions, such as obtaining essential goods or services, seeking medical attention, visiting family or close friends, reporting to work, or engaging in outdoor activities. He says gatherings such as weddings, in-person services and parties are banned.

Serbia: 12-hour curfews now in place

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that the government will extend the curfew already in place as part of efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

Vucic said the curfew will extend by additional three hours and will last from 5 p.m. local time until 5 a.m.

Vucic said harsh measures are necessary “so we would survive.” He said a 24-hour curfew will be imposed if people continue to defy orders to stay indoors. Serbia has reported one death from the new coronavirus and 171 confirmed cases.

U.S.: Oklahoma health system calls for donations

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s largest health system, Integris Health, is turning to the public and asking for donations of masks, hand sanitizers, disposable gloves known as nitrile gloves, touchless thermometers, impermeable gowns, eye protection and bleach and disinfectant wipes.

“It’s just the perfect storm of a worldwide pandemic, health care systems around the country and around the world are needing the same things at the same time,” Integris spokeswoman Brooke Cayot says.

Donations are being collected Saturday and Monday afternoons in a parking lot of Integris Baptist hospital in northwest Oklahoma City.

The virus was slower in coming to Oklahoma, Cayot said, but there are now 53 confirmed cases, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Saturday, and one death.

CLEVELAND — Officials are taking steps to reduce jail populations in Ohio’s most populous counties as they work to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Those efforts in the past week have been most notable at the Cuyahoga County jail in Cleveland, where the population fell from nearly 2,000 inmates last week to just under 1,300 on Friday. Officers are being told to issue citations for nonviolent crimes.

In Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, the jail population recently fell to just over 1,000 inmates from around 1,600 inmates on Monday. In Franklin County, which includes Columbus, officials said Saturday the jail population has been reduced to about 1,600 inmates, down from 1,900 on Monday.

Ohio in recent weeks has gained attention for its proactive steps to stem the spread of the virus.

U.S.: Sailor at central command tests positive

TAMPA, Fla. — A Navy sailor assigned to United States Central Command headquarters in Florida has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban made the announcement. Urban says the sailor returned to the U.S. from overseas travel on March 15 and went into precautionary quarantine at his home. He didn’t stop at CENTCOM or at Macdill Air Force base, where the command is located in Tampa.

The sailor started developing symptoms on Wednesday, called ahead to Macdill health officials, and was met outside the base by doctors. Officials say his test returned positive on Friday.

Italy: All must follow the rules

ROME — Italy’s health minister is pleading with people to follow the rules. Minister Roberto Speranza is concerned that too many citizens are flouting lock-down restrictions imposed nearly two weeks ago to contain Italy’s relentless increase in coronavirus cases.

Speranza called for a “great alliance” between citizens and institutions, saying “what counts more is the behaviour of every individual.” He warned that until the virus is defeated, Italy’s economy — nearly stagnant for years before the outbreak — won’t get going again.

After local officials clamoured for days for stronger measures, Speranza on Friday night ordered the closures of all parks and playgrounds and forbade people to travel to weekend homes from Friday through Monday.

Giuseppe Sala is the mayor of Milan, the capital of Lombardy and Italy’s hardest-stricken region. He tried to rally Milan’s 1.4 million citizens, tweeting “by now, we have understood, this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

People currently can go to work, food shop or exercise near their homes. Sala says he’s consulting with other mayors and the regional governor about imposing their own additional measures if the national government won’t.

Germany: Nation now has 20,000 cases

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Germany rose above 20,000, with 70 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Germany’s official Robert Koch Institute listed 16,662 case and 47 deaths, but officials have acknowledged that their count lags behind figures provided by regional health authorities.

Some German states, such as Bavaria, have stepped up measures to contain the outbreak by further restricting the reasons people can leave their homes. That’s prompted some criticism about stricter curfew measures.

Turkey: Picnics and barbecues banned

ISTANBUL — Turkey is suspending flights to 46 more countries, the transport ministry announced, bringing the number of banned flights to 68 countries.

The interior ministry banned picnics and barbecues, expanding measures that included the closure of cafes, bars, schools and communal prayers. The official Anadolu news agency says restaurants would have to set up tables one meter (3 feet) apart. The agency also reported send-off gatherings for new soldiers would temporarily be banned.

At least 670 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine people have died.

Britan: Tourist sites shut down

LONDON — The London tourist sites were eerily empty on Saturday, a day after the government ordered the closure of all bars, restaurants, movie theatres and other places where people congregate. Pigeons outnumbered people in the usually bustling Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.

Parks filled with people strolling and jogging on a cool, sunny spring day, and business continued at the outdoor Portobello Road market — though produce-sellers and some shoppers wore masks and gloves.

There were long lines outside some supermarkets. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is meeting with supermarket executives over the weekend about how to keep the shelves filled.

Africa: Heads of state defy restriction

JOHANNESBURG — A few African heads of state have defied coronavirus-related travel restrictions to attend Namibian President Hage Geingob’s inauguration.

Angola closed its air, land and sea borders this week, but Namibian media showed President Joao Lourenco at Saturday’s ceremony. Also in attendance was President Mokgweetsi Masisi of neighbouring Botswana, which this week suspended international travel by all government employees.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was there. He announced a national disaster even before his country confirmed its first virus case on Friday.

Confirmed cases in Africa have totalled more than 1,000.

Spain: 5,000 new infections in just one day

MADRID — Spain has recorded almost 5,000 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours as it climbed into third place in the global ranking of infections behind China and Italy.

Health authorities said Saturday that virus infections have reached 24,926, up from 19,980 the day before. Total deaths were 1,326, up from 1,002 on Friday. Over 1,600 patients are in intensive care units that authorities admit are at their limits. Madrid is the hardest hit region with almost 9,000 infections.

Spain is approaching one week of tight restrictions on free movement and the closure of most shops as hospitals and nursing homes buckle under the burden of the virus outbreak. But authorities admit that they expect infections to continue to rise before the measures can hopefully reverse the trend.

Russia: Moscow workers labour around the clock to build treatment centre

MOSCOW — A deputy mayor of the Russian capital says workers are labouring around-the-clock to build a centre that can treat hundreds of coronavirus victims, and that completion is expected within a month.

Placards in the style of Soviet propaganda posters have been placed at the site, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside Moscow’s centre, exhorting builders to work at maximum speed one shows Mayor Sergei Sobyanin pointing at the viewer and the slogan “Builders — Minutes count!”

Deputy Mayor Andrei Bochkarev said Saturday that the new facility will be able to accommodate up to 500 patients. Russia so far has recorded 253 cases of coronavirus infection.

Germany: German hospitals to accept French patients

BERLIN — Germany’s southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg is opening its hospitals to patients from the neighbouring region of eastern France that’s struggling with a surge of infections with the new coronavirus.

A spokesman for the state’s health ministry confirmed a report Saturday by the daily Schwaebische Zeitung that governor Winfried Kretschmann has offered assistance to France amid a growing shortage of ICU beds there.

Markus Jox said authorities have asked all hospital in Baden-Wuerttemberg with free capacity to take in French patients requiring ventilators.

Jox said that while the state’s own capacity is limited and there are already some bottlenecks, “we will naturally try to help our French neighbours.”

Britain: Health care system is creaking

LONDON — Britain lags behind Italy, Spain and France in the spread of the new coronavirus, but already the country’s overstretched health system is creaking.

The U.K.’s state-funded National Health Service has about 4,000 critical-care beds and some 5,000 ventilators, and officials say that’s far fewer than will be needed as the number of cases spikes in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, a London hospital temporarily declared a “critical incident,” meaning it could take no more critically ill patients. Unpublished NHS figures seen by The Guardian say the number of confirmed of suspected COVID-19 patients in intensive care in south London rose from seven on March 6 to 93 on March 17.

Engineering firms and automakers are stepping in to manufacture ventilators, and the government says it is shipping large supplies of protective equipment to hospitals. But some medics say they do not have confidence that they will receive the equipment they need to treat patients and keep themselves safe.

Thailand: Shopping malls shut down

BANGKOK — The governor of Bangkok has ordered the city’s popular shopping malls to shut down except for their supermarkets and pharmacies to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The malls’ restaurant outlets are also allowed to operate, but only for takeout and delivery orders. Convenience stores, as well as food stalls and traditional standalone markets selling fresh food, can keep operating.

Other venues in the Thai capital now ordered closed from Sunday until April 22 include swimming pools, golf courses, tattoo parlours and cockfighting rings. Public and private schools and colleges, movie theatres, gyms and bars were already ordered closed.

The latest restrictions come as Thailand announced 89 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing its total to 411.

Netherlands: Military transfers virus patients

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch military is stepping in to help transfer coronavirus patients from the hardest-hit region in the Netherlands to hospitals elsewhere in the country.

Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld tweeted that military logistics specialists will be deployed Saturday to help with transfers between hospital intensive care units.

The decision to deploy the military came after hospitals in the hard-hit Brabant region of the southern Netherlands said they are struggling to cope with all the cases.

The head of infection prevention at the Amphia Hospital in the city of Breda Jan Kluytmans told national broadcaster NOS that “hospitals in Brabant can’t handle on their own the stream of patients we expect in the short term.”

The Netherlands has confirmed around 3,000 coronavirus cases, including 106 deaths.

Greece: China donates 18 tons of medical supplies

ATHENS, Greece — China has sent 18 tons of medical supplies to Greece, including hundreds of thousands of surgical and protection masks.

An Air China flight landed in Athens on Saturday morning bringing in the supplies. They include 8 tons of equipment donated by the Chinese government, among them the 550,000 masks, and 10 tons donated by Chinese businesses and organizations.

China’s ambassador to Greece, Zhang Qiyue, said her country will do anything it can “to help our friends in Greece.” She also commended Greece for the “timely and strong” measures it has taken to limit the spread of the new virus.

Greece has confirmed at least 495 coronavirus cases, including 10 deaths.

Hyudai plants shut down in Czech and Slovakia

PRAGUE — South Korean automaker Hyundai’s car plant in the Czech Republic and Kia’s factory in neighbouring Slovakia have closed their production lines, bringing a key part of both countries’ economies to a standstill.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech in Nosovice won’t reopen until at least April 6 as a preventive measure against the coronavirus outbreak.

Kia is joining its affiliate Hyundai in closing the plant near the Slovak city of Zilina.

In the Czech Republic, Skoda Auto, which belongs to Germany’s Volkswagen Group, and Toyota Peugeot Citroen Automobile, a joint project of Japan’s Toyota and France’s PSA, already suspended production earlier in the week.

The remaining three big car factories in Slovakia have been doing the same, including plants belong to Volkswagen, PSA and Jaguar Land Rover.

Africa: Cases climb to more than 1,000

JOHANNESBURG — The number of coronavirus cases in Africa has topped 1,000, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Angola reported its first cases, and Burkina Faso’s foreign minister announced he is infected. At least 40 of Africa’s 54 countries now have confirmed cases.

The Ivory Coast said it would close its borders starting Sunday, while Ethiopia’s electoral authorities were discussing the possible impact on a national election later this year.

South Korea: Leaders recommend that gyms, clubs and religious facilities close

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s prime minister has “strongly recommended” that the country’s religious facilities, gyms and clubs close for the next 15 days to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Chung Se-kyun said in a nationally televised speech Saturday that the government plans to use administrative orders to shut down the facilities that remain open but fail to enforce proper distance between people.

He said the government could also file damage claims against churches and businesses that become linked to infections after failing to employ preventive measures.

South Korea’s epidemic has slowed, but there are growing concerns about a steady rise in infections in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of South Korea’s 51 million people.

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The files below were posted on Friday, March 20, 2020.

Japan: Canadian man on Diamond Princess dies from COVID-19

TOKYO — Japan’s health ministry says a Canadian man who was a passenger infected with the coronavirus while on board the cruise ship Diamond Princess died of COVID-19 pneumonia Saturday.

The ministry offered condolences to the man, who is only identified as a man in his 70s. The ship that had carried an infected passenger early in its voyage returned to its home port Yokohama near Tokyo in early February. The 3,711 on board remained on the ship for a two-week quarantine that was much criticized as ineffective as allegedly making the vessel “an incubator.”

The Canadian is the eighth confirmed death from among those on the ship, where 712 people were infected and transferred to hospitals during the quarantine. A total of 551 have recovered and left hospitals, the ministry said. Of about 1,000 passengers who were allowed to return home after the 14-day on-board quarantine, seven later tested positive.

China: Wuhan, the virus’s epicenter, reports no new cases for 3rd day

BEIJING — The virus outbreak’s epicenter of Wuhan reported no new or suspected cases again for a third consecutive day.

Overall, China on Saturday reported 41 new cases detected over the previous 24 hours, all among people travelling from overseas, and another seven deaths, six in Wuhan. China now has a total of 81,008 cases and 3,255 deaths.

A total of 71,740 people have been declared cured and released from hospital. Wuhan must go 14 straight days without a new case in order for draconian travel restrictions to be lifted.

People are now better able to move around in the surrounding province of Hubei, although its provincial borders remain closed to the rest of the country. Beijing and other cities are increasingly vibrant as the government attempts to mitigate disastrous effects on the world’s second largest economy, but social distancing and quarantines for new arrivals remain the norm.

Colombia: Mandatory lockdowns

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia is joining a growing list of nations that have imposed mandatory lockdowns for citizens in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

President Ivan Duque announced Friday night that Colombians will be required to isolate in their homes beginning Tuesday and running through April 13.

Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela are among other Latin America countries that have already taken similar measures.

Colombia has confirmed 158 cases of coronavirus infections thus far, with no deaths, and officials are hoping that imposing drastic measures now will help reduce the number of cases in the weeks ahead.

Duque says the lockdown is decision “for health and for life.”

Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, began its own lockdown Friday, leaving the city’s usually traffic-filled streets largely empty.

Sri Lanka: Officials enforce at 2.5-day curfew

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities have closed all expressways for traffic after the government declared a 2 1/2-day curfew.

The island nation has stepped up its efforts to contain the spreading of coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases have risen to 70. The countrywide curfew, which began Friday night, will continue until Monday morning.

Oregon: Order coming — Stay home and Stay Healthy

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Commission Chair Deborah Kafoury say they are working on a forthcoming order directing Oregonians to “Stay Home and Stay Healthy,” to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Wheeler said Friday night that it will be a “stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out” order that will still allow people to visit grocery stores, pharmacies and walk their dogs. Officials plan to work out the details over the weekend.

California and New York have enacted similar measures. Brown has already ordered a six-week statewide school closure, a ban on gatherings of over 25 people and shutdown of bar/restaurant operations other than takeout and delivery for at least four weeks. The Oregon Health Authority has reported 114 COVID-19 cases and three deaths.

China: Wuhan allows some stores to re-open

BEIJING — While entry and exit from Wuhan remains tightly restricted, businesses such as supermarkets, convenience stores and shops selling fresh fruit, vegetables and other daily necessities can re-open.

Only one person per household bearing a special pass can go out each day, with shopping time limited to two hours.

Wuhan, the virus outbreak’s epicenter, reported no new or suspected cases for a third straight day.

Meanwhile, Premier Li Keqiang on Friday urged “efforts to stabilize and support market entities to strengthen the engines for economic recovery,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Li “stressed a stronger sense of urgency on the work and production resumption, as well as the recovery of economic and social order,” including financial assistance to small and medium-size enterprises that form a core source of employment and key links in supply chains.

“Unreasonable restrictions that hinder the resumption of work” should be lifted, Li said. “With effective prevention and control measures, necessary health monitoring and emergency response forces in place, epidemic prevention and work resumption can be advanced in a synchronized way.”

Among measures to help people find new jobs, the central government has launched a website that it hopes will help fill 10 million vacancies by the end of June.

Washington State: Officials crack down on recreation areas

SEATTLE — The city of Seattle and the surrounding King County are closing playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, picnic shelters, ballfields and other active recreation areas in order to follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

Officials made the announcement Friday night, saying ballfields and playing fields will remain open for walking and other non-team activities. Parks, natural lands, regional trails, backcountry trails, and beaches where social distancing can be maintained remain open, officials said. Washington state has the most deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus with at least 83.

“With schools closed and people adapting to new work habits, our parks and open spaces can provide an important break in these stressful times. It is clear, however, that we must continue to be vigilant in these places, as well, and make sure all our residents put into practice Public Health directives,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

China: Wuhan, the virus’s epicenter, reports no new cases for 3rd day

BEIJING — The virus outbreak’s epicenter of Wuhan reported no new or suspected cases again for a third consecutive day.

Overall, China on Saturday reported 41 new cases detected over the previous 24 hours, all among people travelling from overseas, and another seven deaths, six in Wuhan. China now has a total of 81,008 cases and 3,255 deaths.

A total of 71,740 people have been declared cured and released from hospital. Wuhan must go 14 straight days without a new case in order for draconian travel restrictions to be lifted.

People are now better able to move around in the surrounding province of Hubei, although its provincial borders remain closed to the rest of the country. Beijing and other cities are increasingly vibrant as the government attempts to mitigate disastrous effects on the world’s second largest economy, but social distancing and quarantines for new arrivals remain the norm.

Total coronavirus deaths rise to 83 in Washington State

SEATTLE — Washington state health officials reported eight new coronavirus deaths on Friday, bringing the total to 83.

Seven of those deaths were in King County, the epicenter of the outbreak in the state.

More than 1,500 people have tested positive across Washington.

Washington has no plans to enact stronger social distancing measures

OLYMPIA, Wash. — There are no immediate plans in Washington state to enact more stringent social distancing requirements to fight the spread of coronavirus like those imposed by California, New York and other states, Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff said Friday.

“We don’t feel it’s necessary to take that next step today,” David Postman told reporters.

Washington has reported at least 74 deaths from COVID-19, the most in the United States, and more than 1,300 confirmed cases.

The state has already closed schools through the late April, banned events and ordered bars to close and restaurants to serve only take out or delivery options.

Vice-President’s staff member tests postitive for virus

WASHINGTON — The White House says a member of Vice-President Mike Pence’s staff has tested positive for coronavirus.

Pence’s spokeswoman Katie Miller said Friday that the staff member, who is not being identified, did not have “close contact” to either the vice-president or President Donald Trump.

Miller said contact tracing, or contacting everyone the individual has been in contact with, is being conducted in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Miller says Pence’s office was notified Friday evening of the positive test result.

Cuba bans tourists

HAVANA — Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel says the country is temporarily barring tourists in order to prevent the introduction of more cases of coronavirus.

Diaz-Canel and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said in an announcement on state television that only residents of the island would be allowed to enter for the next 30 days starting Tuesday.

As of Friday, Cuba had announced 16 cases of COVID-19 and one death, all in people who had travelled overseas or been in direct contact with a traveller. Diaz-Canel and Marrero said exceptions would be made for people involved in commercial importation, like crews of merchant ships, and for tourism industry workers who need to help tourists leave the country.

Marrero said there were about 60,000 tourists in Cuba as of Friday evening.

The Cuban economy is heavily dependent on tourism, which had already slowed dramatically due to U.S. sanctions tightened by the Trump administration.

Plea for support met with wave of sympathy

BERLIN — A German baker’s tearful appeal for customers not to abandon their local stores during the coronavirus outbreak has been met with a wave of sympathy.

In a video posted on social media Friday, Gerhard Bosselmann said his bakery chain that employs more than 200 people at 20 stores in and around Hannover could collapse within weeks.

Many small and medium-sized companies in Germany have expressed concerns about their future as customers stay at home, relying on deliveries or dashing to supermarkets for bulk buys.

“We need a certain minimum revenue or our company will die within six to eight weeks,” Bosselmann said in the video, which drew more than 2 million views by late Friday.

“You, our customers, can help us by standing by us in bad times, the way we do too,” he added, choking back tears.

Germany had confirmed almost 20,000 coronavirus cases as of Friday, including 67 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Graceland closes

MEMPHIS — Elvis Presley’s Graceland is temporarily closing in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Memphis,Tennessee-based tourist attraction said Friday that tours of Presley’s former home-turned-museum have been called off. Graceland said on its website that it will be temporarily closed from Saturday through April 3.

The tourist attraction is centred on the life and career of the late singer and actor. Presley died in Memphis on Aug. 16, 1977. He was 42.

About 500,000 people, including international travellers, visit Graceland each year. In addition to the museum, Graceland features restaurants, exhibition halls and a concert venue. —-

WASHINGTON — Testing supply shortages are the latest stumble in a botched effort to track the spread of coronavirus that has left the U.S. weeks behind many other developed countries.

Dwindling supplies include both chemical components and basic swabs needed to collect patient samples.

There are “acute, serious shortages across the board” for supplies needed to do the tests, said Eric Blank, of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which represents state and local health labs.

Late Friday, Blank’s group and two other public health organizations recommended that testing be scaled back due to “real, immediate, wide-scale shortages.” The groups said only patients with COVID-19 symptoms who are elderly, have high-risk medical conditions or are medical staff should be tested.

“Testing for individuals who are not in these three groups is not recommended until sufficient testing supplies and capacity become more widely available,” said the joint statement, issued with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

DC’s travel restrictions to remain in place

WASHINGTON — Officials in the nation’s capital are extending at least through April restrictions that include school closures, closed movie theatres and gyms and restaurants and bars serving only takeout.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser made the announcement Friday as health officials confirmed the first coronavirus death in Washington, D.C.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, the director of the district’s health department, said the 59-year-old man had a “complicated medical history” and was admitted to a hospital last week. She said the man tested positive for COVID-19 on March 18. Officials believe he potentially had contact with someone who had the virus.

The district’s restrictions to stop the spread of the virus will remain in effect until April 25.

That means all restaurants and bars will continue to able to offer to offer carry-out to customers or to food delivery services. All dining or drinking in the establishments is prohibited.

Officials said DC public schools would remain closed and distance learning would take place until schools are scheduled to reopen on April 27.

Bowser also loosened some restrictions for residents to apply for unemployment benefits and announced a $25 million recovery fund for local businesses.

Italy: Death toll approaches 6,000 people

ROME — Italy has recorded its highest day-to-day- rise in the number of deaths of persons infected with COVID-19.

Civil Protection Chief Angelo Borrelli announced Friday there were 627 new deaths. The number of new cases also shot staggeringly higher: 5,986 cases.

That brings the official total of new deaths overall to 4,032 and of cases to 47,021.

Authorities said most of the dead had existing health problems before they were sickened with the coronavirus, such as heart disease and diabetes. The soaring numbers in the country with Europe’s largest outbreak come despite a national lockdown to drastically limit the reasons citizens can leave their homes.

Mayors and governors throughout the country have been demanding even stricter measures. Italy’s national government is widely expected to respond soon.

U.S. Airforce struck by coronavirus

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has its first two confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Air Force confirmed Friday an active duty airman who works at the Defence Health Agency in Falls Church, Virginia and had been inside the Pentagon on Monday has tested positive.

The individual has received medical treatment and has self-quarantined at home.

Also, an Air Force defence contractor who works in the Pentagon has tested positive for the virus and has been self-quarantined since March 7, the Air Force said.

Airport closed after workers test positive for virus

CHICAGO — Southwest Airlines has cancelled all of its fights in and out of Midway International Airport after federal authorities closed the airport’s control tower because technicians tested positive for the coronavirus.

The airline’s move resulted in more than 173 cancelled flights on Friday.

The Federal Aviation Administration closed Midway’s control tower on Tuesday after the federal agency said “several” technicians tested positive for coronavirus.

The FAA said in a statement that the airport remained open and operations would continue at a reduced rate until controllers and technicians have a safe working environment.

Alaska: Climbing permits cancelled

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Officials at Denali National Park and Preserve have suspended issuing climbing permits for the tallest mountain in North America.

No permits have been issued to climb either Denali or Mount Foraker, another Alaska Range peak, this year. The climbing season in the Alaska national park about 180 miles (290 kilometres) north of Anchorage usually begins in late April and ends in mid-July.

No permits have yet been issued for this year’s climbing season, and refunds will be issued to those who have started the registration process.

“Considering the anticipated longevity of the international coronavirus response, social distancing protocols, and travel restrictions, park managers have determined the most appropriate course of action is to suspend all 2020 permitting,” Denali officials said in a statement.

No coronavirus in BVI, but restrictions are applied

ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands — The British Virgin Islands won’t bill for water for the next month.

Officials also have closed schools and limited air and sea travel to certain passengers seeking to enter the British Caribbean territory.

The BVI is one of only a handful of islands in the Caribbean with no confirmed cases.

Washington DC has its first coronavirus death

WASHINGTON — Officials in the nation’s capital have announced the first death of a patient from the COVID-19 illness.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the death of the 59-year-old man on Friday.

She said he was admitted to the hospital last week after showing coronavirus symptoms, including a fever and cough, and tested positive. The mayor said the man also had “other underlying medical conditions” but provided no additional details.

DC health officials said there were 71 confirmed cases as of Thursday night.

WHO to youth: “You’re not invincible”

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization has sent a message to young people about the new coronavirus: “You’re not invincible.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says health officials are continuing to learn about the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. He said older people are hardest hit but “younger people are not spared.”

He said data from many countries shows people aged 50 and under make up a “significant proportion” of patients who need hospitalization.

“Today I have a message for young people: You’re not invincible,” Tedros said. “This virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you. Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference.”

He also advised people to be mindful of mental health at a time of rising anxiety about the outbreak, offering some suggestions.

“Listen to music. Read a book or play a game, and try not to read or watch too much news if it makes you anxious,” Tedros said.

BRITAIN: ‘Unprecedented’ support package for workers

LONDON — The British government has unveiled a massive economic support package to protect workers through the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak called the economic intervention an “unprecedented” response by a British government and that it is one of the most comprehensive in the world. It will involve for the first time in the history of the British state the government helping to pay the wages of those in the private sector.

Also announced: Support measures for those who have lost their jobs and for those who are self-employed. A series of taxes, including those on sales, have been deferred while a business interruption loan scheme, worth 330 billion pounds, will be interest free for 12 months.

Serbia: Country marks its first coronavirus death

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced the the first recorded death from the coronavirus.

The death was announced as a 59-year-old man from the northern town of Kikinda.

Brnabic said Serbia has 135 cases of the virus, including eight people in serious condition.

Brnabic said all public transport in Serbia will be halted and restaurants, cafes and shopping malls will close this weekend. Serbia previously had imposed a curfew and banned all citizens over 65 years old from leaving their homes.

National Guard called out in 28 states

WASHINGTON — More than 3,300 Air and Army National Guard professionals in 28 states were actively supporting the COVID-19 response Friday.

The numbers change rapidly as states identify needs and communicate them to their National Guard.

Already, 27 states and Puerto Rico have National Guard personnel activated.

Hookah lounges shut down

MOSCOW — Uzbekistan ordered teahouses, canteens, karaoke clubs, billiard halls and hookah lounges be closed by Saturday.

The government also banned large weddings, burials and wakes beginning Monday.

Uzbekistan has recorded 33 cases of coronavirus infection since the first one was reported on March 15.

France: 100,000 police enforce confinement measures

PARIS — French authorities are imposing a growing crackdown on people who do not respect confinement measures aimed at fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

On the French Riviera, the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, who has himself been infected with the COVID-19 disease, announced Friday a local curfew at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Paris police imposed a ban for the weekend on the Seine River banks, the Invalides Plaza and the Champ-de-Mars near the Eiffel Tower. City parcs are already closed.

“In some areas of the capital, numbers of people are too important,” the police stressed Friday.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner said no national curfew will be established on the French territory. But the government supports initiatives form mayors who take measures specific to their cities, he said. Some mayors are banning access to beaches and woods.

French citizens are only allowed to leave their homes for necessary activities such as shopping for food, going to work or taking a quick walk.

Some 100,000 police are patrolling to ensure respect for the stay-home orders since the country has been put into lockdown on Tuesday.

Britain: Pubs, restaurants, theatres and gyms ordered closed.

LONDON — The British government is ordering all pubs, restaurants, movie theatres and gyms to close in sweeping new restrictions to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said those venues, as well as nightclubs, theatres and leisure centres, should close Friday and not reopen until further notice. His advice to anyone considering one last trip out on Friday night: “Please don’t.”

Johnson said the situation would be reviewed every month to see if the measures can be relaxed.

Restaurants can continue to serve takeout food.

Britain has already asked people to avoid unnecessary contact with others and avoid pubs, restaurants and other venues, and urged Londoners to use public transport only for essential journeys. While many people have complied, some have not.

As of Friday, Britain had recorded 177 deaths among people with the virus, 40 more than the day before.

Spain: 80,000 tourists may be stranded without lodging

MADRID — There are still 80,000 tourists on Spain’s Canary Islands six days before the closing of all hotels in the country as part of a lockdown against the coronavirus.

Authorities said Friday that they expect 30,000 tourists to leave that day.

The Canary Island government is posting social media messages in eight different languages to strongly encourage the remaining tourists to contact their national embassies to help them get home before hotels close on government order on March 26 .

The rush to leave has led to large crowds at airports on the islands while authorities are ordering people to maintain their distance and stay at home to stop the spread of the virus.

Czech: Head for your cottages, secondary homes

PRAGUE — Czech officials have urged citizens to spend the weekend at their secondary houses and cottages, a popular local pastime.

The government banned travelling across the country unless it is for going to work or the travel is linked to doing a particular job. People are only allowed shop, visit doctors and hospitals and family members and close relatives.

The Health Ministry said if people need to go to their weekend homes they have to stay inside of them.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said “it is important not to walk around the places, that’s extremely dangerous.”

Prague’s 774 positive cases is the most in all 14 Czech Republic regions.

P

Portugal: Beer producers to shift to manufacturing disinfectant

LISBON, Portugal — Beer is being used as a disinfectant in Portugal to help fight COVID-19.

Portuguese distillery Levira and beer producer Super Bock Group say they are diverting some 56,000 litres of alcohol from beer production and using it instead to make disinfectant gel to help fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

Portugal has recorded just over 1,000 cases and six deaths.

The distillery said Friday it is aware of a shortage of the gel. It plans to switch more production to disinfectant.

The gel is to be given to three public health service hospitals in the region of Porto, the country’s second-largest city.

Feet washing ceremonies cancelled from church services

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis says feet-washing ceremonies will be omitted from Holy Thursday services, which falls three days before Easter.

The decree issued Friday noted that the disposition against feet-washing, a symbol of humility by priests toward their flock which evokes Jesus’ doing the same to his disciples, comes “by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff, for the year 2020 only.”

In past years, Francis has washed the feet of various people, including jail inmates, during Holy Thursday evening Mass. It was not clear if he would omit the feet-washing ritual at his own Mass.

The Vatican earlier this week already announced that Holy Week ceremonies like Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square won’t take place.

The Vatican said “expressions of popular piety and processions” normally held in the run-up to Easter Sunday can be transferred to suitable days later this year.

American and Canadian cruise ship passengers return to North America

ATLANTA — A jet carrying 359 people including hundreds of American and Canadian cruise ship passengers returning home from France landed Friday at Atlanta’s international airport, where emergency responders prepared to screen them for the coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said three people on the flight tested positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms, while 13 others are sick but haven’t been tested.

Some passengers complained on social media that there were no health care workers or doctors on the plane and they had not been given food in 24 hours.

The passengers from the trans-Atlantic cruise ship Costa Luminosa, which struggled to find a port in Europe after sick passengers were taken away in the Caribbean and the Canary Islands, now face more screening and quarantines.

EI applications surge to 500,000

TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government has received 500,000 applications for employment insurance compared to just 27,000 for the same week last year.

Trudeau says they are receiving a historic number of calls from concerned Canadians amid the pandemic.

Those laid off are able to access employment insurance. The criteria for those eligible was expanded earlier this week.

Spain: Army to set up massive field hospital

MADRID — Health Minister Salvador Illa says the army will help set up a field hospital of 5,500 beds and much-needed intensive care units inside a convention centre in Madrid.

Health workers also have begun outfitting Madrid hotels as makeshift wards for patients considered not in need of intensive care. Madrid has more than 7,000 cases of coronavirus.

“It is very important that we strictly obey the confinement rules,” Illa said. “We are going to go through some very difficult days until we are able to stop the growth of the contagion curve.”

The streets were mostly empty in Madrid and Barcelona, the nation’s largest cities that are normally bustling and packed with pedestrians. Shops are closed and well-spaced lines form at supermarkets and bakeries. Employers have been strongly encouraged to let workers work from home.

Police patrols question those on the street to make sure they are only out for food, medicine or necessary commutes to work. Police say they will deploy extra traffic controls around large cities.

Nearly all residents of New York and California ordered to stay home

New York state joined California on Friday in ordering nearly all residents to stay home, as governors watched with growing alarm as southern Europe buckled under the strain of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re going to close the valve, because the rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as cases in the state climbed to more than 7,000.

Cuomo said is he directing all workers in nonessential businesses to stay home and banning gatherings statewide. The move came after California, the nation’s most populous state, with some 40 million people, all but confined its population in the biggest lockdown in the U.S.

The increasingly drastic measures in the U.S. came as gasping patients filled the wards of hospitals in Spain and Italy, and the global death toll surpassed 10,000, with the virus still multiplying and gaining footholds in new corners of the world.

The World Health Organization noted the epidemic’s dramatic speed.

“It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000,” the U.N. health agency said

France: Canadians disembark cruise ship, “fly home”

MARSEILLE, France — Hundreds of passengers have disembarked from a trans-Atlantic cruise ship that recorded several cases of the virus.

The Costa Luminosa docked in the French port of Marseille on Thursday after a journey that saw mounting concern among passengers about the spreading virus.

The U.S. ambassador to France, Jamie McCourt, tweeted Friday that all U.S. and Canadian passengers disembarked and boarded a plane from Marseille to go “back home.” More than 200 American passengers were among the 1,400 people on the cruise.

Scores of French passengers also were able to disembark, along with some from other nationalities whose governments arranged for repatriation.

The ship has also stopped in the Spanish Canary Islands and Puerto Rico.

United Kingdom: Iconic changing of the Guard cancelled

LONDON — Buckingham Palace says the ceremonial Changing of the Guard has been postponed as a result of the social distancing measures the British government has advised to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the palace say the decision to pull one of the most striking and popular displays of British pageantry will be “reviewed on an ongoing basis, with a view to restarting when appropriate.”

The display is on many tourist agendas when they come to the capital. It involves a group of soldiers being relieved of their duties by a new batch of soldiers. As well as taking place at Buckingham Palace, it can be seen at the nearby St James’s Palace as well as Windsor Castle.

On Thursday, Queen Elizabeth II left Buckingham Palace to go to Windsor Castle earlier than she intended in response to the virus outbreak.

Italy: Coronavirus strikes at convents

ROME — Outbreaks of the coronavirus have stricken two convents in the Rome area.

Rome daily Il Messaggero quoted the Lazio region’s health commissioner on Friday as saying 59 nuns at the Institute of Daughters of St. Camillo, in the hill town of Grottaferrata, have tested positive for COVID-19. One of the nuns has been hospitalized.

The newspaper also said 19 of 21 nuns at the convent of the Congregation of Angelic Sisters, on the outskirts of Rome, have the coronavirus infection.

Churches in Italy are no longer holding public Masses, but some of them are still open for faithful to come in to pray.

Because of nearby Vatican City, Rome is home to dozens of convents or mother houses of congregations of many nuns.

South Africa: International flights banned until June

JOHANNESBURG — Anxiety is rising in Africa’s richest nation as South Africa says coronavirus cases have jumped to 202, the most in the sub-Saharan region.

The country’s largest airport says foreigners will not be allowed to disembark. And state-owned South African Airways is suspending all international flights until June. The Johannesburg airport is the busiest in Africa.

South Africa’s government announced travel restrictions days ago while declaring a national disaster.

Thirty-seven countries in Africa have confirmed virus cases totalling over 800. So far most cases have been linked to overseas travel, but Niger’s first patient had travelled in four West African capitals.

Serbia: 154 arrested for curfew breaches

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s police have detained 154 people for breaching the curfew imposed as part of harsh measures designed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus in the Balkan country.

Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Friday that police made the detentions overnight while patrolling the streets to make sure that people stay indoors between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. (1900 GMT and 0400 GMT), as ordered by the authorities.

Stefanovic also said that 66 people were placed in a quarantine at a military compound near the border with Croatia. The facility has been set up for the Serbian citizens who have returned to the country from abroad and breach the order to remain in self-isolation. Serbia has reported 118 cases of the coronavirus.

In neighbouring Bosnia, the prosecutor’s office said it will prioritize cases of individuals suspected of endangering public health with reckless and illegal behaviour. Bosnia has 69 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus infections.

Spain: More than 1,000 virus-related deaths

MADRID — Spanish health authorities say that 1,002 people have died in the country since the coronavirus outbreak, while infections have reached 19,980.

Fernando Simon, director of Spain’s centre for health alerts and emergencies, said Friday that infections rose by 16% in 24 hours. On Thursday, the death toll in Spain stood at 767, with 17,147 infections.

Spain is in its first week of a lockdown, with the government struggling to reduce the rising contagion rate and give relief to its strained health care system. Over 10,000 people have been hospitalized, including more than 1,000 in intensive care units.

Spain is the second-hardest hit country by the COVID-19 virus in Europe, behind Italy.

Japan: Officials expect school closures to end in April

TOKYO — Japan’s education minister says that the government does not plan to extend school closures and that the new school year is expected to begin in April, as planned.

Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda said that the school closures “will not be extended.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late February announced plans to close all schools from the beginning of March until later in the month when spring holidays begin, effectively creating a month-long interval until the new academic year starting April. It was a way of social distancing, part of government measures to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

During Friday’s the taskforce meeting, Abe cited experts’ views that the domestic situation has not progressed into an explosive infection spread, and Japan still “coping,” while infections in urban areas are on the rise.

He said, however, that nationwide efforts to change patterns of daily activity — such as refraining from large-scale events, school closures and working remotely — has been effective, though it is not known which element was effective.

Italy: All cruise ships banned from docking

ROME — Italy has banned all foreign cruise ships from docking there.

The country is also requiring Italian cruise liners to disembark passengers at their ports of final destination, and not embark any more passengers.

A decree signed Thursday by the Italian health and transport ministers says that Italian citizens who disembark must self-quarantine. Any foreign citizens who disembark from Italian cruise ships in Italy “must be immediately transferred to their destinations abroad at the expense of the ship owner.”

Should there be any COVID-19 cases aboard, any passengers who were in contact with them must go into quarantine in areas designated by health authorities. In the case of foreigners, they will be immediately transferred abroad, in specially protected ways, at the expense of the cruise companies.

The new rules also apply to crews. The decree, posted Friday on ministry websites, will remain in effect until April 3.

Cyprus: Christians and Muslims call for fervent prayers

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The religious leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus’ Christians and Muslims have issued a joint call for all believers to “pray fervently, act compassionately and remain in solidarity” with each other during the coronavirus crisis.

The leaders of the island nation’s Orthodox, Armenian, Maronite and Catholic churches on Friday called for special prayers for the ill and those who passed away due to COVID-19.

They also called for prayers to “uplift” all doctors, nurses and caregivers who are on the front lines of dealing with the virus’ consequences, and urged all to strictly follow the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and state authorities to prevent the spread of the virus.

France: “We must keep the country running”

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron urged worried employees to keep working in supermarkets, production sites and other key businesses amid tight restrictions on movement imposed to fight the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the country.

“We need to keep the country running,” Macron said..

As many workers express fears of the virus, the French government is trying to strike a tricky balance between restrictions and keeping the economy afloat.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire insisted Friday that not only the food industry, but the whole flow of goods to consumers must be guaranteed.

This week, France shut all restaurants, cafes, cinemas and retail shops that are not essential. Working from home has become widespread for employees able to do so.

Businesses allowed to remain open are required to apply strict rules about social distancing, washing hands and disinfection.

French health authorities have reported almost 11,000 cases of people infected with the virus, including 372 who have died.

Japan: Cooperation with Iran

TOKYO — The foreign ministers of Japan and Iran agreed Friday to co-operate in fighting the coronavirus.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif that Japan is providing 2.5 billion yen ($22.8 million) to help Iran battle the virus, which has infected more than 17,000 people and killed more than 1,100 there.

Motegi also urged Iran to play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in the Mideast amid rising tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Japan has dispatched a naval ship to help secure Japanese oil tankers passing through nearby seas.

Britain: 65,000 retired doctors and nurses asked to rejoin workforce

LONDON — Britain is asking 65,000 retired nurses and doctors to return to work to help fight the coronavirus.

The government is sending letters to 50,000 former nurses and 15,000 retired doctors, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped “many, many thousands will respond” to the appeal. He said volunteers would be given training over the next few weeks before being allocated to hospitals.

Final-year nursing and medical students could also be drafted to bolster health care staff.

Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is not expected to peak for several weeks. Already, some hospitals have complained about overworked staff and shortages of ventilators and protective equipment such as face masks.

The U.K. has 3,269 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 144 people have died.

Italy: Mayors call for tighter controls on movements

ROME — Mayors of many towns in Italy are asking for more stringent controls on citizens’ movements to help contain surging coronavirus infections.

Despite a national lockdown that strictly limits conditions under which people are allowed to leave their homes, there have been many violations. Authorities say as of Friday morning more than 53,000 summons have been issued for violations.

Some people are leaving home several times a day to shop for food. While solitary strolling or jogging near one’s home is allowed, some people have been exercising together outdoors.

State radio said Friday that Premier Giuseppe Conte might announce tighter measures nationwide. On Thursday, Italy’s deaths from the virus — 3,405 — surpassed those in China, where the outbreak began.

Belgium: Five million masks arrive from China

BRUSSELS — Belgium has received an order of 5 million protective masks from China amid fears of shortages in hospitals.

The shipment was delivered early Friday at the Liege airport and placed under military surveillance.

A total of 1,795 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded by Belgian authorities, including 21 deaths.

“The need for masks is enormous. It will ease the tension we are starting to feel in hospitals,” Luc Partoune, the CEO of Liege airport, told local media.

A previous order of 5 million masks placed by Belgium was expected last week but was cancelled because of a fraud investigation targeting the Turkish provider.

Indonesia: Grand mosque cancels prayers for two weeks

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The largest mosque in Southeast Asia cancelled mass prayers for the next two weeks to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

The Istiqlal grand mosque in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, is usually packed with thousands of Muslims during Friday prayers.

Imam Nasaruddin Umar says the decision was made after the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s highest religious authority, issued a fatwa or ruling on Monday, allowing Muslims to skip mass prayers in regions where the virus has spread “uncontrollably” until the situation returns to normal.

“Prayers in congregations will be suspended in Istiqlal for the next two weeks, including Friday prayers,” Umar said in a video statement televised nationally in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

“We appeal people not to hold mass prayers in other region where the coronavirus had spread until the danger for the contagion disappears,” he said.

His appeal following orders from President Joko Widodo to the people in the world’s most populous Muslim nation to curb mass religious gatherings to contain the coronavirus.

Indonesia has had 25 deaths from COVID-19, the most in Southeast Asia, and has 309 cases.

On Friday, there were still a few people in Istiqlal. Instead of Friday prayer, they held the noon prayer congregation by practicing social distancing of one meter (yard) apart between worshippers.

Most mosques in cities and districts remained out of red zones of coronavirus outbreak, are holding Friday prayers which commonly believed to be obligatory for Muslim men. They are holding prayers with a shorter sermon and the congregation to bring their own prayer mats.

South Korea: All voters compelled to wear masks and gloves

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s election commission says all voters will be required to wear masks and use disposable gloves at ballot booths during next month’s national parliamentary elections as preventive measures against the coronavirus.

An official from the National Election Commission also said Friday that election workers will conduct temperature checks and provide separate polling places for voters with fever or respiratory symptoms.

Voters will be required to stand at least a meter apart when waiting in lines and sanitize their hands and wear plastic gloves provided by election workers before entering booths.

The commission will establish voting stations at hospitals and other treatment centres for COVID-19 patients who are medically isolated.

Some politicians had called for the country to postpone the April 15 election, which will be a crucial moment for President Moon Jae-in’s government amid concerns about the epidemic’s impact on public health, livelihoods and industries.

Foreign ministers meet, agree on further cooperation

Foreign ministers from Japan, China and South Korea held a video conference Friday and agreed to continue co-operating in their effort to fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his counterparts, China’s Wang Yi and South Korea’s Kang Keung-wha, ensured co-operation among the three countries in their effort and agreed to hold a three-way meeting of health authorities at an early date.

Motegi also proposed sharing of information on drugs and vaccine development, as well as co-operation to ensure shipment of medical supplies and emergency relief goods among the three countries.

Motegi told the other ministers that Japan hopes to fully achieve the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics “as a proof of human victory against the new coronavirus,” the Japnaese foreign ministry said in a statement.

———

The text below was assembled on March 19, 2020.

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 198,000 people and killed more than 7,900. 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 81,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

Updated at 2130 Pacific, March 19

ASIA: Markets rise on Friday

BEIJING — Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday after modest Wall Street gains on hopes government and central bank action can shield the world economy from a looming global recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Benchmarks in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Australia and Southeast Asia advanced. Tokyo was closed for a public holiday. Oil gained again after U.S. benchmark crude soared 23% on Thursday for its biggest one-day gain on record.

Investors were encouraged after seeing more steps by the Federal Reserve and other central banks and governments to support credit markets and the economy.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index rose 0.5% in a relatively modest change compared with violent price swings over the past week.

Hopes are rising for progress in finding virus treatments and that “a boatload of stimulus by both central banks and governments will put the global economy in position for a U-shaped recovery,” said Edward Moya of Oanda in a report.

On Thursday, the European Central Bank launched a program to inject money into credit markets by purchasing up to 750 billion euros ($820 billion) in bonds. The Bank of England cut its key interest rate to a record low of 0.1%. Australia’s central bank also cut its benchmark lending rate to 0.25%. Central banks in Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines also cut their benchmark rates.

They are trying to reduce the impact of a global recession that forecasters say looks increasingly likely as the United States and other governments tighten travel controls, close businesses and tell consumers and travellers to stay home.

Investors also appeared to be encouraged by reports that China is set to ramp up stimulus spending after the province where the virus emerged in December showed no new infections on Wednesday.

China: Reprimanded doctor, now dead, exonerated for for warning of virus

BEIJING — China has taken the highly unusual move of exonerating a doctor who was reprimanded for warning about the coronavirus outbreak and later died of the disease.

The official China News Service late Tuesday said police in the epicenter city of Wuhan had revoked its admonishment of Dr. Li Wenliang that had included a threat of arrest and issued a “solemn apology” to his family.

It said two police officers had been issued “disciplinary punishments” for the original handling of the matter, without giving further details.

In death, Li became the face of simmering anger at the ruling Communist Party’s controls over information and complaints that officials lie about or hide disease outbreaks, industrial accidents, natural disasters and financial frauds, while punishing whistleblowers and independent journalists.

The 33-year-old ophthalmologist died in early February at Wuhan Central Hospital, where he worked and likely contracted the virus while treating patients in the early days of the outbreak.

After seeing thousands of new cases daily at the peak of the city’s outbreak a month ago, Wuhan on Friday had its second consecutive day with no new confirmed or suspected cases.

The health ministry said all of the 39 new cases recorded nationwide Friday were brought from overseas, showing that rigid travel restrictions and social distancing requirements appear to have had their desired effect.

China has loosened some travel restrictions in Hubei, the province surrounding Wuhan, although its provincial border remains closed and Wuhan itself remains under lockdown. Officials say they will only lift the quarantine after Wuhan goes 14 consecutive days with no new cases.

U.S.: Two senators sold more than $2 million in stocks before market meltdown

WASHINGTON — Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., sold as much as $1.7 million in stocks just before the market dropped in February amid fears about the coronavirus epidemic.

Senate records show that Burr and his wife sold between roughly $600,000 and $1.7 million in more than 30 separate transactions in late January and mid-February, just before the market began to fall and as government health officials began to issue stark warnings about the effects of the virus. Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels.

The stock sales were first reported by ProPublica and The Center for Responsive Politics. Most of them came on Feb. 13, just before Burr made a speech in North Carolina in which he predicted severe consequences from the virus, including closed schools and cutbacks in company travel, according to audio obtained by National Public Radio and released Thursday.

Burr told the small North Carolina audience that the virus was “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history” and “probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

Burr’s remarks were much more dire than remarks he had made publicly, and came as President Donald Trump was still downplaying the severity of the virus.

There is no indication that Burr had any inside information as he sold the stocks and issued the private warnings. The intelligence panel did not have any briefings on the pandemic the week when most of the stocks were sold, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person declined to be identified to discuss confidential committee activity.

Burr said on Twitter Thursday that Americans were already being warned about the effects of the virus when he made the speech to the North Carolina State Society.

“The message I shared with my constituents is the one public health officials urged all of us to heed as coronavirus spread increased,” Burr wrote. “Be prepared.”

Burr sent out the tweets before reports of his stock sales. A spokesperson for the senator said in a statement that Burr “has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy” and supports congressional efforts to help the economy. The spokesperson declined to be identified in order to share the senator’s thinking.

The North Carolina senator was not the only lawmaker to sell of stocks just before the steep decline due to the global pandemic. Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a new senator who is up for re-election this year, sold off hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in late January, as senators began to get briefings on the virus, also according to Senate records.

In the weeks that followed, Loeffler urged her constituents to have faith in the Trump administration’s efforts to prepare the nation.

“@realDonaldTrump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe,” Loeffler tweeted Feb. 27.

United Nations: The world is at war with a virus

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the world “is at war with a virus” and warned that “a global recession — perhaps of record dimensions — is a near certainty.”

The U.N. chief said “people are suffering, sick and scared” and stressed that current responses by individual countries will not address “the global scale and complexity of the crisis.”

“This is a moment that demands co-ordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies,” Guterres told reporters from U.N. headquarters. “We must recognize that the poorest countries and most vulnerable — especially women — will be the hardest hit.”

He welcomed next week’s emergency summit of leaders of the Group of 20 major economic powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic saying he will participate with the message that this is an unprecedented situation which requires creativity — “and the magnitude of the response must match its scale.”

U.S.: Coronavirus kills four in a single family; several remain ill

FREEHOLD, N.J. — A fourth member of a New Jersey family died Thursday from COVID-19.

Vincent Fusco died Thursday morning at a hospital in Freehold, NJ.com reported. His death was confirmed by Roseann Paradiso Fodera, an attorney and relative. Fusco’s mother, Grace Fusco, died Wednesday night, hours after another son, Carmine Fusco, died in Pennsylvania.

A sister, Rita Fusco-Jackson, died last Friday. In her final hours, Grace Fusco wasn’t aware her two children had died, Paradiso Fodera, told the newspaper.

Carmine Fusco died Wednesday at a hospital in northeastern Pennsylvania, where he lived. A sister confirmed his death, which was the first in Pennsylvania caused by the virus, to the Morning Call of Allentown.

Carmine Fusco and Rita Fusco-Jackson, who were both in their 50s, were “the most wonderful brother and sister that anybody can have,” their sister, Andriana Fusco, told the newspaper. ““They were good people. I don’t know why this is happening. They didn’t deserve this, they’re too young.”

Carmine Fusco trained horses that competed at harness racing tracks in the area. Andriana Fusco told The Morning Call that she disputed reports that the virus may have been spread through a family gathering attended by a person who’d had contact with 69-year-old John Brennan, a former harness racing trainer who worked for years at New York’s Yonkers Raceway.

Brennan lived in northern New Jersey and was the first person in the state to die because of the virus, on March 10.

Andriana Fusco told the newspaper her brother Carmine hadn’t been in New Jersey in the past two weeks and that she hadn’t seen him since last month. She also said other members of her family had been sickened by the virus.

United Kingdom: Monarch says British should work as one

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II has urged British people to “work as one” to defeat the coronavirus pandemic.

In a rare first-person message, the queen acknowledged that many individuals and families “are entering a period of great concern and uncertainty.“

“At times such as these, I am reminded that our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one, concentrating our combined efforts with a focus on the common goal,” she said.

The queen thanked medics, scientists and emergency workers, and said “we all have a vitally important part to play” in overcoming the pandemic.

The 93-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip, 98, moved to their Windsor Castle residence on Thursday. They usually spend Easter there but have gone a week early, with a slimmed-down staff, because of the outbreak.

Brazil: It’s no longer ‘hysteria’. Borders are closed

SAO PAULO — Brazil is closing its borders with most of its South American neighbours, a decision most of them had already made, and treating any patients with “severe flu” as a coronavirus case.

Latin America’s largest nation is still negotiating with Uruguay. Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta also said families of people who tested positive will receive medical permission to stay home for two weeks.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who initially dismissed the outbreak as “hysteria,” is trying to regain control of the fight against the virus that Mandetta and state governors have led thus far. Brazil has 621 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus and reported six deaths.

Portugal: Most retail outlets must close

LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa announced that people infected with the coronavirus are to be confined to their residences and most retail outlets must close as part of a 15-day state of emergency in the European country.

Those over 70 years old or with chronic ailments should only leave home for short walks for health reasons. Costa said the rest of the population should only leave home to commute to work, shop for necessities, to help a family member, to accompany children, or to walk a pet.

Costa added that all retail shops except supermarkets, bakeries, pharmacies, gas stations, and newsstands are ordered to close.

Africa: Foreigners are being harrassed

JOHANNESBURG — Another U.S. embassy in Africa is reporting anti-foreigner sentiment over the coronavirus.

The embassy in Cameroon says Americans and other foreigners in the major cities of Yaounde and Douala reported “verbal and online harassment, stone throwing and banging on vehicles occupied by expatriates.”

Many of Africa’s more than 600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus are people who recently arrived from the United States, Britain, Italy and other high-risk countries.

The U.S. embassy in Ethiopia issued a similar security alert, prompting the prime minister’s office to announce that COVID-19 “is not related to any country or nationality.

Serbia: Borders closed except for cargo traffic

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia is closing its borders for all but cargo traffic in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the measure takes effect on Friday.

The Balkan country on Thursday closed its main airport in Belgrade for all passenger flights and the national carrier Air Serbia stopped operations.

Officials say the closure of the borders was made partly because some 70,000 Serbs and their families working in West European countries have returned to Serbia in the last few days despite appeals by authorities not to do so.

Serbia, with 103 coronavirus cases confirmed so far, has introduced some of the toughest restrictive measures in Europe. They include an overnight curfew for all citizens and a ban on leaving their homes for all those older than 65.

Czech: Secret funeral for Olympian

PRAGUE — The funeral of Dana Zatopkova, an Olympic javelin champion and the wife of running great Emil Zatopek, will be held at a secret location on Friday due the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The Czech Olympic Committee said the organizers wanted to prevent a gathering of many people, which is now banned, who would like to say goodbye to the popular athlete who died Friday at age 97.

“Under the normal circumstances, we would, of course, like everyone who want to pay respect to her to come,” said Jiri Kejval, the head of the Czech Olympic Committee.

Kejval said a mass will be served for Zatopkova once the crisis with the virus is over and her remains will be buried alongside her late husband in the town of Roznov pod Radhostem in September.

Cruise ships to become hospitals

MIAMI — Carnival Corp. says it will make cruise ships from four of its brands available to serve as temporary hospitals in locations that need them to combat the new coronavirus.

The announcement came after President Donald Trump said at a White House news conference he had spoken with Carnival Chairman Micky Arison about the possibility.

The world’s largest cruise line says its ships could serve mainly to treat non-coronavirus patients, freeing up beds in land-based hospitals for those patients. The company says ships can provide up to 1,000 hospital rooms and are able to be quickly provisioned with the necessary medical equipment, including intensive care units.

Carnival crew would provide such things as food and beverage, and cleaning services, with local medical personnel to handle the treatment of patients, the statement said.

Trump said at a White House briefing that he would present the offer to New York and California during a teleconference later Thursday will all 50 governors.

Two Navy hospital ships also will become part of the effort.

Caribbean: Guadeloupe hit with 45 cases

BASSE TERRE, Guadeloupe — The French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe has declared its own COVID-19 epidemic with 45 confirmed cases.

The local government said Thursday that eight patients remain hospitalized as it urged people to remain indoors on the island of some 390,000 people. The curfew applies to places including beaches and waters surrounding the island.

Guadeloupe banned all incoming commercial passenger flights on Wednesday and starting March 23 will restrict outgoing flights to special circumstances including health-related reasons.

Italy: Country now has the world’s highest COVID-19 death toll

ROME — Italy has become the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, surpassing China by registering 3,405 dead.

Italy reached the gruesome milestone on the same day the epicenter of the pandemic, Wuhan, China, recorded no new infections. Overall, China on Thursday counted 3,249 dead, 156 fewer than Italy, according to the Johns Hopkins University virus map.

Both Italy’s death toll and its new infections shot up again, adding 427 more dead and 5,322 more infections. Overall, Italy has recorded 41,035 infections, a little more than half of China’s positive cases.

Italy’s health care system has been overwhelmed by the virus, and on Thursday a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticized the failure of Italians to fully quarantine and take the national lockdown seriously.

Netherlands: Medical care minister resigns after slumping to the floor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch medical care minister has resigned, a day after slumping to the floor during a parliamentary debate about the government’s handling of the coronavirus.

The Dutch royal house announced King Willem-Alexander had accepted Bruno Bruins’ resignation. It did not give a reason for the minister leaving office.

Bruins collapsed in parliament Wednesday night and was quickly helped to his feet by a fellow Cabinet minister. He later tweeted that he felt faint due to exhaustion and was heading home to rest so he could return to work Thursday.

Bruins has been one of the busiest ministers in government as Dutch authorities attempt to rein in the spread of the coronavirus.

Germany: Outbreak stops commemoration of the Second World War

BERLIN — German authorities have called off an official ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation from Nazi rule because of the coronavirus epidemic.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was due to speak at the event in Berlin on May 8. But the interior ministry said Steinmeier has decided the event shouldn’t go ahead in the current circumstances.

The ministry said that it hasn’t yet been decided how the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender will now be marked.

Russia is still planning a massive May 9 military parade on Red Square marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II victory, the nation’s most important holiday. President Vladimir Putin has invited many global leaders.

U.S.: Severe blood shortage

Israel: Medical staffed lauded

Israelis have stepped out onto their balconies and applauded health care personnel working to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

Around the country, despite rainy weather, Israelis came out to support medical staff, taking a cue from others in Europe who are taking at least a minute each night to come together in gratitude. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, joined in on the initiative.

Israel has identified more than 500 cases of the coronavirus. As elsewhere, Israeli medical staff risk infection as they try to keep the pandemic at bay.

Spain: Military medics may attend nursing homes

Spain’s government is announcing new measures to deal with a wave of more than 80 deaths and hundreds of infections with the new coronavirus reported this week in elderly nursing homes across the country.

Pablo Iglesias, deputy prime minister in charge of social affairs, said Thursday that 300 million euros (323 million dollars) will be provided for regional governments to spend on additional social workers and caretakers in homes for the elderly.

Iglesias acknowledged that workers at these facilities are “overwhelmed,” and they are lacking needed protective suits and other medical material.

Authorities in Madrid, where 40% of the country’s more than 17,000 infections have been identified, are discussing whether to bring military medics and other army resources into the region’s nursing homes.

The Ministry of Health is also drafting a new series of guidelines for nursing homes to deal with infected patients. Many hospitals are reporting to be overwhelmed to deal with the influx of COVID-19 cases.

Russia: COVID-19 cases grow, no deaths

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed the coronavirus pandemic in a telephone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

A Kremlin statement says Putin gave “a high assessment of the results achieved by the People’s Republic of China and the entire Chinese people in countering the spread of the disease.” The call came as the number of COVID-19 cases in Russia continues to grow, reaching 199 on Thursday. No deaths from pneumonia attributed to the disease have been reported in Russia.

Monaco: Royal tests positive for coronavirus

MONTE CARLO, Monaco — The palace of Monaco says Prince Albert II has tested positive for the coronavirus, but says there’s little concern for his health.

In a statement, the palace says the 62-year-old is being treated by doctors from the Princess Grace Hospital, named after his U.S. actress mother.

Albert plans to continue working from his home office in the palace.

– Associated Press

US: All Americans warned against all overseas travel

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has upgraded its already dire warning to Americans against all international travel as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.

The State Department on Thursday issued a new alert urging Americans not to travel abroad under any circumstances and to return home if they are already abroad unless they plan to remain overseas.

“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19,” it said in the new advice. “In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.”

Until the upgrade, the department’s advice to U.S. citizens was to “reconsider” all international travel under what is known as a “level three” alert. The global “level four” warning was unprecedented as such alerts are generally reserved for specific countries embroiled in conflict, natural disasters or where Americans face specific risks.

However, the upgrade will likely have little practical effect because it is not mandatory and there are now limited transportation options for international travel. The only way to ban Americans from going abroad would be to invalidate the use of U.S. passports for such travel, a bar that is currently in place only for North Korea.

In addition, the main impact of State Department travel alerts is to cause insurance companies to increase premiums or cancel travel policies for group and individual tours, many of which had been scrapped even before the alert was raised to level three earlier this week.

The department has already advised Americans that many U.S. embassies and consulates abroad are operating with reduced staff and hours due to the COVID-19 outbreak and that services for Americans in need of assistance are limited.

By Matthew Lee, The Associated Press

North Korea: Under-prepared, supreme leader says it’s ‘heartbreaking’

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un admitted his country lacked modern medical facilities in a rare assessment of its system and said improving its health care was “crucial” as he marked the construction of a new hospital, state media said Wednesday.

Kim’s remarks and the groundbreaking for the new hospital in Pyongyang come amid worries that a coronavirus epidemic in the impoverished country could be devastating due its chronic lack of medical supplies and outdated medical infrastructure.

North Korea has engaged in an intense campaign to guard against COVID-19, though it has steadfastly claimed no one has been sickened, a claim many foreign experts doubt.

During a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a “modern” general hospital in Pyongyang on Tuesday, Kim said the state’s efforts should be directed “to prop up the field of public health,” according to the Korean Central News Agency. It cited Kim as saying the construction must be completed before October’s 75th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Kim said the ruling party decided on building the hospital during a key party meeting in late December and was working to have it finished “in the shortest time.” In a rare admission on a North Korean system, Kim also said, “Frankly speaking, our party … criticized in a heart-aching manner the fact that there is not a modern medical and health care facility even in our capital city,” according to KCNA.

Kim appears to be using the hospital construction to burnish his image as a leader caring about public livelihoods at a time when his country is grappling with international sanctions amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States, said Ahn Kyung-su, head of the Seoul-based private Research Center of DPRK Health and Welfare.

— Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press

China: The largest expulsion of journalists in memory

BEIJING — At least 13 American journalists stand to be expelled from China in retaliation for a new visa limit imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese state-owned media operating in the U.S.

The Chinese government announced Wednesday that Americans working at three major U.S. newspapers would have to surrender their press cards within 10 days. They will all but certainly have to leave the country, as their visas are tied to their media credentials.

The number of affected journalists at the papers — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post — is at least 13 and could be higher depending on how broadly the group is defined, said the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, or FCCC.

It would be by far the largest expulsion of foreign journalists from China in recent memory.

“There are no winners in the use of journalists as diplomatic pawns by the world’s two preeminent economic powers,” the FCCC said in a statement.

— Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

South Korea: Infections spike at nursing hospitals

The mayor of the South Korean city worst-hit by the coronavirus says 87 new cases have been discovered from local nursing hospitals, raising concerns about a possible spike in infections after they waned over the past week.

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said Wednesday that 74 of the cases came from a single hospital and that the 57 patients who were infected would be transferred to other facilities for treatment.

The infections at nursing homes weren’t fully reflected in national figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or KCDC, which said the cases in Daegu rose by 46 in the 24 hours ending midnight Tuesday.

South Korean officials have struggled to stem infections at hospitals, nursing homes, disability institutions and other live-in facilities, which critics say have been poorly regulated for years.

The KCDC says 116 cases and 10 deaths have been linked to a hospital in Cheongdo, near Daegu, where infections surged among patients hospitalized at a psychiatric ward.

South Korea has confirmed at least 8.413 coronavirus cases, including 84 deaths.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s vice health minister who gave daily televised briefings on the country’s anti-virus efforts is quarantining himself after meeting a hospital official who has COVID-19.

Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho on Wednesday said the vice minister, Kim Gang-lip, was among eight ministry officials who met with a group of hospital chiefs at a restaurant in Seoul last Friday to discuss quarantine and treatment for the coronavirus.

G-20: Leaders to hold emergency meeting

The leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies are trying to organize a virtual meeting next week to discuss a co-ordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Saudi Arabia, which currently leads the G-20 presidency, said it is communicating with countries to convene the virtual meeting of leaders.

The kingdom said in a statement Wednesday the Group of 20 countries will act in any way deemed necessary to alleviate the impact of the pandemic and will put forward a co-ordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has come under criticism by some officials around the world, including members of the U.S. Congress, over its moves to ramp up oil production to more than 11 million barrels a day after an agreement with major oil producer Russia fell apart. The Saudi decision to flood the market sent oil prices plummeting below $30 a barrel at a time when markets around the world are also plunging.

Taiwan: Foreigners banned starting March 19

Taiwan is banning foreigners from entering the island.

Chen Shih-zhong, Taiwan’s health minister and commander of the Central Epidemic Epidemic Command Center, announced the ban that starts Thursday. Taiwanese people returning will have to quarantine at home for 14 days.

Taiwan has 77 cases of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Hawaii: Stay away for at least 30 days

Hawaii’s governor is encouraging travellers to postpone their island vacations for at least the next 30 days as the state tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor is directing bars and clubs to close and for restaurants to focus on takeout, delivery and drive-through service. He called for gatherings to be limited to a maximum of 10 people.

Officials have closed schools and facilities and postponed events to prevent the disease from spreading widely in the community and overwhelming the healthcare system. Hawaii has recorded 14 cases of the new coronavirus.

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