World COVID-19 afternoon update: Trump lashes out at critics, grim milestone for France

Public health agencies are weighing stronger COVID-19 protection for front-line workers. (Black Press Media)

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 328,275 people and killed more than 14,300. 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 95,650 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

This file was updated at 3: p.m.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • Republican Sen. Rand Paul is first U.S. senator to test positive for COVID-19
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in quarantine after doctor who administered a vaccine to her tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • Colombian authorities say 23 dead in prison riot.

Fauci discusses U.S. president’s medical claims

WASHINGTON — The government’s top infectious disease expert insists he has no disagreement with President Donald Trump over whether a drug to treat COVID-19 is actually at hand.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Trump had heard anecdotal reports that a malaria drug could be used for the coronavirus and so was expressing the hope “that if they might work, let’s try and push their usage.”

Last week, Trump asserted that tests had provided evidence the drug is useful for COVID-19, a statement Fauci contradicted during televised White House briefings. Trump also falsely suggested that the FDA had just cleared the drug specifically for the viral pandemic, when it had not.

On Sunday, Fauci explained that Trump’s views reflected a layperson who was “trying to bring hope to the people” whereas his own job is to “prove definitively from a scientific job that they do work.”

U.S. president lashes out at lawmakers critical of federal response

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is lashing out at governors and other lawmakers who have been critical about the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that they should not be “blaming the federal government for their own shortcomings.”

He added: “We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!”

Democratic lawmakers such as Illinois’ governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were on various TV news shows Sunday saying they had to fight with states over medical resources and questioned why Trump hasn’t yet made military resources available despite triggering the Defence Production Act late last week.

Trump has said repeatedly his administration is not to blame for the growing pandemic including a lack of resources for medical teams.

Grim milestone in France: Virus kills first hospital doctor

PARIS — France’s health minister has said the country reached a grim milestone — the first hospital doctor to have died of the coronavirus.

Oliver Veran said Sunday he had learned of the death of the unnamed 68-year-old emergency doctor from Compiegne in Oise the day before and “shared the pain of the family.”

It is, he said, “to my knowledge… the first case that struck a hospital doctor.”

In the Le Parisien newspaper, the doctor’s son said his father’s illness hit suddenly, saying the family is “sad and angry.”

He added: “He came back very tired after being on duty. He quickly fell ill, no longer ate, had no taste in spite of being of a bon vivant. Despite everything — knowing he was sick, he wanted to go back to work.”

Egypt’s president calls for more discipline

CAIRO — Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el Sissi appealed to his people to help stem the spread of the coronavirus through staying at home and practicing social distancing, as the confirmed cases of the virus reached 327 and 15 deaths.

He warned that that numbers of the infected could be in thousands within days, if people did not take the virus seriously.

“Help us, Egyptians!” he appealed to his people. “We want more commitment and discipline for the next two weeks in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Egypt.”

He urged Egypt’s more than 100 million people to take the spread of virus “very seriously.”

He said his government have taken “simple measures” including the closure of schools and universities, a nightly curfew on shops, restaurants and other businesses in efforts to minimize interaction between people. He also thanked doctors and health workers as “heroes” who are fighting “a battle like a “war.”

Egypt’s health ministry added 33 more confirmed cases of the coronavirus and four new deaths, bringing the total number to 327 and 14 deaths. It said over 50 were discharged from the quarantine after their recovery. The military earlier Sunday reported the death of a major general while taking part in sterilization efforts.

Senior military officer dies of coronavirus

CAIRO — Egypt’s military said a senior officer died Sunday following his infection from the coronavirus.

The military said in a statement that Major General Khaled Shaltout was infected while participating in sterilization which the military has been carrying out across the country.

The military said it has sterilized and disinfected public institutions and several squares in the capital, Cairo and other cities, to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Military spokesman Tamer el-Refai Saturday posted footage on social media showing military personal in protective gear and equipment while disinfecting the Tahrir square, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising, and the metro station there.

Shaltout was the highest official infected by the virus to date in Egypt, which has around 300 cases and 10 deaths.

Governor orders people to stay home

BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a statewide “stay at home” directive, ordering all 4.6 million people in Louisiana to stay at home starting at 5 p.m. on Monday unless they’re performing an essential task like getting food or medicine.

Workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other critical infrastructure are exempt from the governor’s directive.

“The bottom line is we are in a race against time when it comes to this coronavirus and it’s rapid spread in Louisiana,” Edwards said Sunday.

New York, California, Illinois and some cities have issued similar shelter in place or stay at home orders in the last few days. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell had issued a similar order for that city two days ago.

As of Sunday, coronavirus infections in Louisiana have climbed to more than 830. Twenty people in the state have died of COVID-19, state health officials said.

First coronavirus death in Utah

BOUNTIFUL, Utah — Utah has reported its first death related to COVID-19 — a man over the age of 60 who had underlying health problems.

State health and hospital officials said Sunday that the unidentified man from Davis County had been at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful for two days before his death.

The man tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday.

Health officials are working to identify and contact anyone who may have been in close contact with him. His family notified the hospital of the possibility of him having COVID-19 before his arrival.

The hospital’s CEO says workers met him in the parking lot in full protective gear, limiting possible exposure.

Death toll in Turkey climbs to 30

ISTANBUL — Nine more people have died in Turkey from the coronavirus, bringing the country’s death toll to 30.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter that 289 people tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday. The total number of confirmed cases in the country is now at least 1,236.

France: State of health emergency declared

PARIS — France’s Parliament has adopted a bill allowing the government to declare a “state of health emergency” meant to better fight the coronavirus epidemic in the country.

The measure voted Sunday allows the government to issue decrees that curtail temporarily freedoms, including restrictions on movements, trade, entrepreneurship and gatherings. It also enables the government to requisition necessary goods and services to fight against a health disaster.

The state of heath emergency is yet to be formally declared by President Emmanuel Macron’s government during a Cabinet meeting.

The measure was needed to provide legal basis to ensure the continuity of current emergency measures in the country and the democratic functioning of the state.

The bill also includes the postponing of nationwide municipal elections initially due to take place on Sunday and a package of economic measures to support workers and businesses hardly hit by the crisis.

French health authorities have reported 16,018 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 674 people who have died.

Senator Rand Paul tests positive for COVID-19

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is the first U.S. senator to test positive for COVID-19, the infection caused by the coronavirus.

That’s according to a tweet from the senator, who is a top ally of President Donald Trump.

The senator is “feeling fine,” the tweet said. He is “asymptomatic,” and in quarantine.

He was not aware “of any direct contact with any infected person,” the tweet said.

This comes shortly after the nation’s capital announced its second death to coronavirus.

German chancellor goes into quarantine

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone into quarantine after being informed that a doctor who administered a vaccine to her has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Merkel’s spokesman said the German chancellor was informed about the doctor’s test shortly after holding a news conference Sunday announcing new measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Merkel had received a precautionary vaccine Friday against pneumococcal infection.

Seibert said in a statement that Merkel would undergo “regular tests” in the coming days and continue with her work from home for the time being.

Death toll in Italy climbs to 5,476

ROME — The number of deaths of people with the coronavirus in Italy jumped 651 to 5,476 in the last 24 hours, while new infections rose by 10% to over 59,000. The head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, Angelo Borrelli, noted that the increases had narrowed from recent days, adding `’we hope that this trend can be confirmed in the coming days. We should not lower our guard.”

Prison riot kills 23

BOGOTA, Colombia — Authorities in Colombia say 23 prisoners died and another 83 were injured in a riot and attempted escape over poor conditions inmates argue will spread the coronavirus.

The violence happened overnight at the La Modelo jail in Bogota, where all of the deaths occurred, along with several other penitentiaries. Officials said seven workers were injured, two of them in critical condition.

Relatives gathered outside the jail Sunday wearing masks and clamouring for information.

Videos shared by inmates online showed fires inside several jails, prisoners outside their cells and inmates complaining of conditions.

Colombia has confirmed 231 coronavirus cases. Authorities say none are in jails.

New York governor calls for military to mobilize

NEW YORK — New York City’s mayor is telling New Yorkers at the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic that it’s only going to get worse.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that his city is in desperate need of ventilators and other medical supplies and staff. He also lambasted the White House response as non-responsive.

He says he’s asked “repeatedly” for the U.S. military to mobilize, and has heard nothing.

The Mayor said the actions taken by American citizens are “much farther ahead than anything we’ve seen out of the White House.”

U.S. hopeful they’ll escape Italy’s fate

WASHINGTON — The government’s top infectious disease expert says he remains hopeful the U.S. is not on the same trajectory as Italy in the coronavirus struggle.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says the stringent measures being put in place in the U.S. including travel restrictions, the closing of schools and many businesses and other social distancing will go “a long way” to prevent the U.S. from becoming like Italy.

Italy has seen over 50,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 5,000 deaths.

Fauci tells CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it’s hard to know exactly why Italy is “suffering so terribly” but that they did not appear to shut out as well the input of infections originating from China and other parts of the world.

He says the U.S. is “going to be hit, no doubt about it,” but it appears to be in a better position because “we have from the beginning put a kind of clamper” on the virus.

Germany gives medical aid to France

SAARLAND, Germany — Germany’s small western state of Saarland became the third to offer medical help to neighbouring France, which is struggling with a surge in coronavirus patients.

Gov. Tobias Hans said his state would use available hospital beds with ventilators to treat severely ill patients from France’s Grand-Est region.

Public broadcaster SR quoted Hans on Sunday saying that “we will only win the battle again the virus together.”

Saarland came under French control after World War II but was returned to West Germany in 1957 following a referendum.

Germany’s southwestern states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg, which also border France, have already offered spare hospitals beds to treat French patients.

Illinois needs more medical supplies

WASHINGTON — Illinois’ governor says his state is not receiving enough medical supplies.

Gov. Jay Pritzker tells CNN’s “State of The Union” that they got a recent supply but it was a fraction of what was requested. He says they’re buying supplies from the open market and competing with other states also in need of supplies.

He said it’s a bad system.

Pritzker is hopeful that now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is in charge of response he is hopefully it will improve. He says that FEMA is more prepared to manage the crisis than other federal agencies.

Pritzker ordered all 12.7 million people in Illinois to stay at home starting Saturday evening, and said he wished there would be stay-at-home orders nationwide.

He says unless leaders tell citizens to stay home, they just won’t.

Illegal border crossing plummet in U.S.

WASHINGTON — Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says illegal border crossings have dropped by 50% after restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump administration is turning back anyone crossing illegally, among other restrictions.

Wolf says because migrants often come without identification paperwork it’s unclear how to trace their medical history and to determine if they are arriving from an area hard-hit by the virus.

But the Trump administration has also made restriction immigration a top priority, regardless of the pandemic and had already been sending thousands of asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait out their cases. The nation’s immigration courts are still operating with limited closures and some hearings delayed.

Wolf said on Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures” that the borders between the U.S. and Mexico and U.S. and Canada are not shut down, but are only allowing for necessary trade and travel.

He says there’s more than $2 billion combined trade at both borders and it’s important to keep that going. But he says anyone coming for tourism should stay home.

Spain intensifies lockdown

MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says he plans to extend the national state of emergency that includes strict measures to combat the coronavirus.

It means the countrywide lockdown will last at least one month.

Spain is finishing its first week of what was initially a 15-day state of emergency that imposes stay-at-home restrictions and store closings. But with infections and deaths continuing to rise, Sánchez has decided not to wait to extend the lockdown.

To do so, his government will ask the Parliament for its necessary approval on Tuesday.

Spain, the hardest hit country after China and Italy, has 28,572 infections and 1,720 deaths.

Sweden: Military constructs field hospital

STOCKHOLM — The city of Stockholm says it has teamed up with the Swedish military to build a make-shift hospital inside a large fair and convention centre south of the Swedish capital to accommodate a rapidly growing number of coronavirus patients.

Stockholm region officials said the building of the facility will start immediately in co-operation with the Swedish Armed Forces. It will include an intensive care unit.

Stockholm had 661 confirmed cases and seven deaths by Sunday. Nationwide, Sweden has seen a large hike in coronavirus cases in the past week with 1,747 cases and 20 deaths confirmed in the country Sunday.

U.S. economic package expected to be agreed to today

WASHINGTON — U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he expects Congress and the White House to reach full agreement later Sunday on an economic stimulus package that could approach $2 trillion to address the coronavirus crisis.

The package would include $3,000 checks to families and other aid to last the next 10 weeks.

Mnuchin tells “Fox News Sunday” that there is a “fundamental understanding” reached with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to provide significant aid.

He says the deal includes federal loans to small businesses so they can retain their workers; cash payments averaging $3,000 for a family of four as well as “enhanced” unemployment insurance.

The package also will allow the Federal Reserve to leverage up to $4 trillion of liquidity to support the nation’s economy, while hospitals will get “approximately” $110 billion to address a crush of people infected with the virus.

Mnuchin says President Donald Trump has “every expectation” the aid package will help workers and the economy improve “four or eight weeks from now,” but if the virus is still raging after 10 weeks, “we’ll go back to Congress again.”

Mnuchin says he expects a Senate vote on the deal on Monday morning.

Michigan government calls for a national strategy

WASHINGTON — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says her state needs the federal government to provide not only more test kits and masks but also clear guidance on how best to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Whitmer said her state and others are doing the best they can, “but it would be nice to have a national strategy.” As it is, she said the states are “all building the airplane as we fly it.”

She criticized the federal government for not focusing on the threat much earlier. She also said she didn’t want to belabour the point because she needs to be able to work with the federal government.

She said she doesn’t want to fight with the White House, but says a point will come in which failures will need to be examined.

Scotland tells visitors to go back home

LONDON — Authorities in Britain’s remotest regions say an influx of people trying to get away from crowded urban areas is putting local lives at risk.

Scottish authorities told people heading to the sparsely populated Highlands to stay at holiday homes or in camper vans to go home.

The Road to The Isles group, which represents tourism businesses in part of the scenic region, said its area had an aging population and just one ambulance, with the nearest hospital 100 miles (160 kms) away.

Chairwoman Sine MacKellaig-Davis urged people “to stay home, care for loved ones and, as soon as it’s safe to do so, the Road to the Isles and its communities and businesses will welcome you.”

Judy Murray, mother of tennis star Andy Murrray, had a blunter message. She tweeted “Message for those relocating to the countryside” above a picture of a car and trailer with “Go home idiots” and “Covid-19” painted on the side.

New Jersey desperate for face masks and equipment

WASHINGTON — Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey says his state is desperate for more face masks and other personal protective equipment and is not getting nearly what it needs from the federal government.

Murphy said, “We’ve had a big ask into the strategic stockpile in the White House. They’ve given us a fraction of our ask.”

New Jersey is now fourth in the country in terms of the number of positive cases, which the governor says hit more than 1,300 on Saturday with 16 fatalities.

He also cited an urgent need for direct financial assistance from the federal government to help workers and small business. He said, “We think New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut alone, those four states, need $100 billion, direct cash assistance, to allow us to continue the fight.”

Murphy spoke Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

British Doctors call for more protective equipment

LONDON — British doctors and nurses are making urgent pleas for more protective equipment as the number of coronavirus patients in U.K. hospitals soars.

Almost 4,000 medical workers signed a letter to the Sunday Times saying front-line staff felt like “cannon fodder.” They warned that medics would die if they did not receive better equipment.

The letter said that intensive-care doctors and anaesthetists “have been carrying out the highest-risk procedure, putting a patient on a ventilator, with masks that expired in 2015.”

Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is not expected to peak for weeks, and already staff at some hospitals have complained about shortages of ventilators and protective equipment like face masks, safety glasses, gloves and protective suits.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that hospitals would receive new stocks of protective equipment by Sunday afternoon.

The government has also ordered thousands of ventilators and has struck a deal with private hospitals to use thousands of beds and 20,000 medical staff to treat coronavirus patients.

Confirmed coronavirus cases fall in Pakistan, suspected cases are at nearly 6,000

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s top health official has revised the country’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 646 cases. That’s down from the more than 700 confirmed cases reported a day earlier.

Zafar Mirza, the special assistant to prime minister Imran Khan, said the figures he was presenting came from all provincial health authorities. He said the total suspected cases are 5650.

Out of the confirmed cases, 292 tested positive in southern Sindh province, 152 in Punjab, 104 in Baluchistan, 31 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 55 in Gilgit Baltistan, 11 in Islamabad and one in Pakistan controled Kashmir.

Czech government sends thousands of seized face masks to Italy

PRAGUE — The Czech government is sending to Italy about 100,000 face masks and respirators that were among hundreds of thousands seized in the country earlier this week.

Czech authorities used emergency powers to raid a warehouse and seize 680,000 masks and 28,000 respirators on Tuesday.

The state was negotiating to acquire those badly needed masks and respirators with a private company but before reaching a deal the price significantly increased, prompting the seizure.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek later acknowledged it turned out that 101,600 of the protective gear were sent by China’s Red Cross to fellow Chinese nationals living in Italy and apologized for the Czech move.

Czech police are investigating how those masks from China ended up in a warehouse located in northwestern town of Lovosice.

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said on Sunday he would explain the situation to his Italian counterpart and the masks will be transported to Italy early next week.

First caronavirus death in Romania

CRAIOVA, Romania — Romania has reported its first death due to the coronavirus.

Authorities said Sunday the victim was a 67-year-old man with terminal cancer who returned March 6 from France, where he had been receiving treatment.

The man died while in the intensive care unit of a hospital for infectious diseases in the southwestern city of Craiova.

Romania has 367 confirmed cases of people infected with the coronavirus. The country will close its borders to foreigners Sunday night and curfews will be enforced.

No one can leave the hospital until further notice and no one can enter.

The patient with COVID-19 has been transported to another hospital in severe condition.

The files below were updated earlier this week.

  • 70-year-old Canadian man who was on Diamond Princess cruise ship dies
  • Colombia imposes mandatory lockdowns beginning Tuesday
  • Oregon officials working on stay-at-home order for state residents
  • South Korea reports 147 new infections of coronavirus and eight more deaths

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.

Portugal: Beer used as 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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