The Latest: 627 deaths in biggest single day spoke in Italy
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 246, 000 people and killed more than 10,000. 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 86,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
• Italy has additional 627 coronavirus deaths and 5,986 more positive cases.
• British government orders closing of pubs, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms
• Spain still has 80,000 tourists on Canary Islands six days before the closing of all hotels
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 today 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.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s Health Department says the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. territory have more than doubled to 14.
Officials said two of the patients have not traveled. The other patients recently visited places including New York, Florida and Colorado. The majority of those infected are under quarantine at home while one remains hospitalized in isolation.
Officials say there are 52 pending test results. No deaths have been reported.
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 today 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 today.
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.
LONDON — The British government is ordering all pubs, restaurants, movie theaters 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, theaters and leisure centers, should close today and not reopen until further notice. His advice to anyone considering one last trip out tonight: “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 today, Britain had recorded 177 deaths among people with the virus, 40 more than the day before.
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 today 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.
PRAGUE — Czech officials have urged citizens to spend the weekend at their secondary houses and cottages, a popular local pastime.
The government banned traveling 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.
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 liters 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 today 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.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis says feet-washing ceremonies will be omitted from Holy Thursday services, which falls three days before Easter.
The decree issued today 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.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek health and civil protection authorities have tightened measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Civil Protection head Nikos Hardalias said today restrictions on the number of people in supermarkets were being tightened to one person per 15 square meters instead of per 10 square meters.
All visits to prisons are banned, and inmate furloughs and transfers suspended. Private pleasure boats are banned from leaving or entering port, and those currently at sea are ordered back to port by midnight Saturday.
No picnics or group sports are allowed. Farmers’ markets will be shut on Saturday, and restricted in size from next week.
“This is not a drill. It is a real battle,” Hardalias said.
Ferry services to the islands will only be accessible to permanent residents of the islands as of 6 a.m. Saturday, in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading to rural areas with poor health facilities, by people heading to their country homes or native villages.
Sotirios Tsiodras, the Health Ministry’s chief infectious diseases specialist, announced 31 new confirmed cases and three deaths over the last 24 hours, bringing Greece’s total number of confirmed infections to 495 and the death toll to nine.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Netherlands’ government is extending its package of aid for businesses’ hit by the coronavirus to three Caribbean islands considered Dutch municipalities.
Bonaire, Sint-Eustatius and Saba, usually magnets for tourism, have been crippled by worldwide measures aimed at halting the spread of the virus.
“This has serious consequences for businesses’ profitability and for employment,” said Raymond Knops, the minister responsible for the far-flung outposts of the Dutch kingdom.
Among the support measures, employers will be able to apply for welfare payments and defer paying taxes.
The government also is looking at how it can help three other largely autonomous former Dutch territories — Curacao, Aruba and Sint-Maarten.
ATLANTA — A jet carrying 359 people including hundreds of American and Canadian cruise ship passengers returning home from France landed today 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.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says the Department of Education will not enforce standardized testing requirements for students in elementary through high school for the current year.
Trump said students have already been through a lot with schools opening and closings.
He says his administration also has temporarily waived all interest on federally held student loans and he says he’s directed Education Secretary Besty DeVos to tell federal lenders to allow borrowers to suspend their student loans and loan payments, without penalty for at least the next 60 days.
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.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria has confirmed at least 127 cases and 3 deaths from the coronavirus. One patient has recovered.
Health Minister Kiril Ananiev today said the government is declaring a quarantine for the entire country taking effect Saturday.
Bulgarian citizens are not allowed to travel abroad. Traveling between cities in the country is banned except to carry out work duties, due to health reasons or to return to home.
Under the state of emergency imposed last week, people can shop from grocery stores and pharmacies and restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery services.
The new limitations foresee that people over 60 years can shop only for two hours between 8.30 and 10.30 a.m.
People in the cities will be banned from going to parks, playgrounds and other outdoor facilities to limit contacts wit
NICOSIA, Cyprus — The United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus says new personnel arriving to the ethnically split country will undergo a 14-day period of isolation to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus.
U.N. mission spokesman Aleem Siddique said today peacekeepers continue their operations including patrolling the 120-mile buffer zone that cuts the island nation into a breakaway north and an internationally recognized south.
He said the mission has stepped up measures to protect staff including instructing civilian personnel to work from home. It’s also working with Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to assist in any medical emergencies and in the exchange of information.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says the U.S. and Mexico will sharply curtail cross-border travel to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
The limits on travel will apply only to recreational and tourist travel. Trade will not be affected.
The restrictions are similar to limits the U.S. and Canada put in place earlier this week along their shared border
There also will be no ban on people traveling for work or other essential activities.
Trump says these actions taking with America’s North American partners “will save countless lives.”
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan is ordering a work-from-home policy in the usually bustling city of Indonesia’s capital for two weeks starting today.
Baswedan said the city is under disaster emergency state of coronavirus as the country has had 32 deaths from COVID-19, the most in Southeast Asia, and has 369 cases. There has been 19 deaths in Jakarta alone.
“The situation in Jakarta is different from 2 weeks ago or last week,” Baswedan said at a news conference, “The death toll is increasing and we are grieving.”
He instructed the closure of offices in the city with a population of 10 million and asked companies to order their employees to work from home for the next two weeks.
The governor has earlier announced the city closure of schools, tourist destinations, entertainment places and suspended religious mass gatherings.
NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ordering all workers in non-essential businesses to stay home and banning gatherings statewide.
“Only essential businesses can have workers commuting to the job or on the job,” Cuomo said of an executive order he will sign today.
Nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size or for any reason are canceled or postponed.
BERLIN — Authorities in Germany and Switzerland are ratcheting up restrictions on public life following the rapid increase of infections from the coronavirus.
The German state of Bavaria became the country’s first to announce a partial lockdown, shutting many businesses that had remained open and telling people to stay home in most cases. People will be allowed to go out to work, buy food, visit the doctor or exercise, but not in groups.
Another German state, Saarland, planned to follow suit, and two other regions said they would allow only small groups in public.
Neighboring Switzerland said it was banning groups of more than five people in public across the country, and police can fine people who flout the new rules 100 francs ($102).
Italy and Spain have imposed further lockdowns on their residents.
Germany, a country of 83 million people, has 16,290 confirmed infections and 44 deaths so far, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Switzerland, with 8.5 million residents, has 4,164 cases and 43 deaths.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s anti-fraud office has launched a probe into a rising number of imports of fake medical and personal protection products linked to the coronavirus.
The office, known as OLAF, says that investigators have been watching the illicit trafficking of fake products such as face masks, medical devices, disinfectants, sanitizer and COVID-19 test kits.
It says that counterfeit masks are being sold in Europe at prices ranging from 5-10 euros ($5.35-10.70), around three times their normal cost.
OLAF says fake face masks for children also are being smuggled.
Most products are bought online and shipped into Europe via postal or courier services. They routinely arrive in containers with fake certificates and find their way into the normal distribution chain.
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 center 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.
Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan called for lifting sanctions on Iran to enable the neighboring county to win the battle against the coronavirus.
Khan asked his citizens to strictly follow the policy of self-quarantine and social distancing to avoid the spread of the disease.
He says his government will not conceal information from public about the confirmed number of infection. So far the virus has killed three people and infected 464 people across Pakistan.
Khan says he’s not in favor of total lockdown as it would affect poor people and advised against buying food in bulk to avoid shortages.
He asked people to follow preventive measures to avoid the disease.
LONDON — Scientists advising the British government say restrictions on daily life imposed to combat the coronavirus may need to be in place for a year, with periods of less stringent and more stringent measures.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modeling advised this week that the only way to prevent Britain’s health system being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients would be through a combination of widespread social distancing, isolating the infected and closing schools.
The government says it may take stronger measures, such as the enforced closure of pubs and restaurants, if people don’t heed the advice.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is considering reducing the sentences of some convicts in a bid to ease overcrowding in prisons amid the coronavirus pandemic.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party will next week hold consultations with other parties represented in parliament for a legislation to reduce some sentences, according to ruling party legislator Mehmet Mus.
Mus didn’t provide details on the plan to reduce the 280,000-strong prison population.
Milliyet newspaper reported that prisoners convicted of drug-related charges, sexual abuse or of terrorism would be exempt. That would mean dozens of journalists would be excluded because many have been imprisoned on terror-related charges.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul says there were “no positive cases” of the COVID-19 cases in prisons. The government has halted prison visits and transfer of inmates.
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper says more than 4,000 National Guard reservists have been deployed in 31 states to help battle the coronavirus.
Esper told Fox News that the Army Corps of Engineers were in New York three days ago working to help identify sites, such as college dorms or hotels, that it could renovate for hospital beds. Esper says the military also is preparing Army units to assemble field hospitals.
Esper, who has spoken with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, says the Comfort hospital ship will be in New York. He says the Mercy hospital ship will be deployed early next week on the West Coast.
He adds 67 U.S. service members are infected with coronavirus and that 1,500 Americans are quarantined on four U.S. bases in an effort to lighten the burden on the nation’s civilian medical facilities.
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 today 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.
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.
ROME — Outbreaks of the coronavirus have stricken two convents in the Rome area.
Rome daily Il Messaggero quoted the Lazio region’s health commissioner today 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.
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 totaling over 800. So far most cases have been linked to overseas travel, but Niger’s first patient had traveled in four West African capitals.
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 today 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 neighboring Bosnia, the prosecutor’s office said it will prioritize cases of individuals suspected of endangering public health with reckless and illegal behavior. Bosnia has 69 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus infections.
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 Simón, director of Spain’s center for health alerts and emergencies, said today that infections rose by 16 percent 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.
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s health authorities remain confident the country has enough hospital beds to weather the coronavirus crisis despite the recent surge of confirmed cases.
According to the latest figures released today, 2,257 people have been diagnosed with the deadly virus, including 37 patients who have died. The health ministry said 837 persons have been hospitalized — 214 of them over the past day — and 164 patients were in intensive care. The average age of patients admitted to intensive care is 60.
“We have no capacity problems but we are expecting demand to increase in coming days,” said Belgium’s crisis center spokesman Benoit Ramacker.
Belgium has introduced a series a stringent social-distancing measures, including the closure of all “non-essential” shops, to tackle the epidemic, but the ministry says it’s still too early to assess their impact.
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 today’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.
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 today on ministry websites, will remain in effect until April 3.
TORONTO — A union official says Air Canada is laying off more than 5,000 flight attendants as the country’s largest airline cuts routes and parks planes amid the pandemic.
Wesley Lesosky, who heads the Air Canada component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says the carrier is laying off about 3,600 mainline employees as well as all 1,549 flight attendants at Rouge, Air Canada’s discount brand.
He say the layoffs will take effect by April and affect roughly 60 percent of flight attendants at the two segments.
Air Canada says the layoffs are temporary and employees will be returned to active duty status when the airline is able to ramp up its network schedule.
The Montreal-based company said Wednesday it will suspend the majority of its international and U.S. flights by March 31.
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 today 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.
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 today 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.
TOKYO — The foreign ministers of Japan and Iran agreed today to cooperate 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.