We are closing this blog now and launching a new one here. On Saturday Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said school closures are not yet warranted, though mass gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned in Australia from Monday. He said not everyone should rush out and get tested if they had symptoms.
Murphy said that in Australia, “Community transmission is so low at the moment that we are focusing our testing on returned travellers or contacts of people who are sympathetic. We don’t want people with an ordinary mild cold in Australia to get tested. We need to preserve the testing for those who needed it.”
Elsewhere in the world, the US president Donald Trump, after initially declaring coronavirus a “hoax,” has declared a national emergency, which he described as “two very big words”. He’s freed up $50 billion in federal resources to the states to combat the virus, but refused to take responsibility for lack of testing availability and delays in rolling tests out.
And in the UK, mass gatherings are set to be banned.
Australia can "flatten the curve".
In Australia there are now 197 confirmed cases of coronavirus , including three deaths. From Monday, gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned. The chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy has just said this has put Australia in a good position.
We are starting these measures perhaps a little bit before some have said they are needed. We in Australia want to flatten that curve and keep this under really tight control. We do not want to see rapid increases like we have seen in some parts of the world. That is why we are moving early.
We have modelling that says an infection could take some months to go right through the community with a flattened curve. But it depends on how it develops. It might develop in focal parts of the country where we might be able to control it, if it develops in a number of parts it could last for quite a number of weeks. At the moment we are just focusing on containing and flattening it, and we will be reviewing our public health measures every day.
Earlier in the day Australia’s shadow health minister Chris Bowen slammed the prime minister Scott Morrison’s handling of the virus. Bowen questioned why the prime minister and other minister’s were not tested after the home affairs minister Peter Dutton was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Friday. Dutton has now been admitted to hospital. Bowen accused the cabinet of failing to take the same measures the community is being told to undertake in terms of self-isolation and testing.
But in a press conference immediately after Bowen’s, Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy backed Morrison’s decision not to get tested. Murphy said;
No member of cabinet was in contact with Minister Dutton within 24 hours of him becoming symptomatic, nor was I in fact in contact with him. So the prime minister was very, very clear to me that the cabinet and all the public officials follow the exact same public health rules as everybody else in the Australian community. If there had been a requirement for quarantine, he was insistent that government and cabinet follow those rules, so we just follow the normal public health advice, no-one had been in contact with the minister in that period.
Murphy said only people in close contact with someone in the 24-hour period before they developed symptoms needed to go through testing and isolation. Murphy said:
That has always been our public health advice. So if you have been in contact with them two or three days before they are symptomatic, they are very, very, very unlikely to be infectious so we don’t believe you need to quarantine.
This is because people are most likely to spread the disease when showing symptoms, such as coughing and spluttering.
New Zealand cancels Christchurch shootings remembrance service
A national remembrance service to mark the one year anniversary of the Christchurch mosques attack in New Zealand has been cancelled due to the coronavirus.
As recently as Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the event could take place as New Zealand is yet to record a community transmission of Covid-19.
“This is a pragmatic decision. We’re very saddened to cancel, but in remembering such a terrible tragedy, we shouldn’t create the risk of further harm being done,” she said.
Health officials announced the country’s sixth confirmed case of the disease.
"A gob-smacking lack of judgement"
Australia’s shadow health minister Chris Bowen has criticised Australian prime minister Scott Morrison for not cancelling large public gatherings sooner. From Monday, mass-gatherings of more than 500 people will banned, but will not include schools and universities.
Until Friday Morrison insisted he would go to the football to see the Shark’s first NRL match, drawing criticism from his opponents and some public health workers. Morrison said: “‘The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved Sharks; it might be the last game I get to go to for a long time”.
Following public pressure Morrison has now said he will not attend the game. On Saturday morning Bowen said Morrison had displayed “a gob-smacking lack of judgement”. He said the public were tired of mixed-messaging from the federal government;
I understand many people are disappointed about various events, but as I said, tough decisions now avoid much tougher times later. I was disappointed, in fact gobsmacked that the prime minister indicated he would still be attending the football after the advice from active medical officers.
Yes, the advice only formally comes into effect on Monday, but leadership is about more than rules and regulations. It is about being the example you set. I understand Scott Morrison wanted to go to the football... I wanted to go to the football as well. But as soon as that advice was clear, I thought it was a gobsmacking lack of judgement for Scott Morrison to continue to go to the football, sending a terrible signal and message to the Australian people.
On Australia’s home affairs minister Peter Dutton being tested with coronavirus, Bowen said; “We wish him the best, this is not a pleasant disease”. However, Bowen said there was “a lack of information before the Australian people, and this confusion makes it worse”.
Melbourne bureau-chief Melissa Davey here with you for the next eight hours or so bringing you the latest developments. You can contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter.
Here in Australia the Victorian government will soon reveal more details about event cancellations following the cancellation of the Grand Prix on Friday. For the first time in almost a century, Sydney’s Royal Easter Show has been cancelled.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has issued a statement saying “the time has come to put in place social distancing measures to mitigate spread, rather than a strategy based primarily on case finding”. These measures include:
- Limiting non-essential organised gatherings to fewer than 500 people
- Limiting non-essential meetings or conferences of critical workforce eg healthcare professionals and emergency services
- Encouraging all Australians to exercise personal responsibility for social distancing measures
- Initiating measures to protect vulnerable populations, such as reducing visitors to all residential care facilities and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
However schools, universities and shopping centres are not included in the ban.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone said the evidence around schools “can be somewhat difficult to interpret clearly, and we need to be understanding and follow the evidence in that respect”.
So we will work with, again with the Chief Medical Officer and the other health officers to ensure the timeliness of that. Clearly, where there’s been an outbreak in... the school it’s appropriate that certain schools will be put into quarantine during that time. However, as we get deeper into the evolving pandemic response and effects, we will have to work with the best possible evidence. If we do nothing, if we turn a blind eye, our public hospital system will be overrun, and that is not in the interest of anyone in our community at all.
On Saturday morning the president of the Australian Primary Principals Association, Malcolm Elliott, told the ABC that “some schools are a little more advanced than others” in their preparation. He said;
The show should go on, and if it is possible for schools to remain open then they should. In the interests of children and the interest of families, social organisation, but what happens now of course is that we are all on tenterhooks. We’re all unsure about what the spread the virus will be, when it might strike particular schools or how widespread this might become and how quickly. So it is a very difficult thing to plan for, in any real meaningful way.
Here’s a summary of the latest events.
- The global death toll reached 5,359, while 142,557 cases have been confirmed. In addition, 70,176 people have recovered, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The institution draws from official figures, so the true toll could be higher.
- The US president declared a national emergency. Donald Trump, who started out by dismissing coronavirus as a hoax, took the major step of designating it a national emergency. That allowed him to sweep aside a host of rules and regulations in order to try to stop its spread. But he repeatedly refused to accept any responsibility for his own administration’s response to the outbreak.
- Europe is now the centre of the pandemic, the WHO said. Its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the continent has more cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined apart from China.
- The UK is set to ban mass gatherings – a significant U-turn by Downing Street. A Whitehall source briefed reporters that ministers are working on a plan to stop “various types of public event, including mass gatherings, beginning next week”. The government has thus deemed such measures unnecessary.
- The UK death toll reached 11 as the first death in Scotland was confirmed. The nation’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, said the patient was an “older person who had underlying health conditions”.
- The UK could be added to the US’ travel ban, Trump said. Responding to news of a significant uptick in the number of UK cases, Trump indicated he was thinking of extended his ban to a country he has thus far protected, while taking others off the list.
- UK sporting events and elections were postponed. Almost all professional football in Britain, including a significant portion of the grassroots game, was suspended. Rugby fixtures were put off and the London marathon was postponed. In golf, the Masters, which is played in the US, was also cancelled. Local and mayoral elections due to take place in the UK later this year were put back to 2021.
- Spain declared a state of emergency, while a host of other countries announced strict new measures. Among them were France, Canada and Cyprus, as well as Bosnia, Switzerland and a string of others.
- Ivanka Trump working from home after contact with Australian government minister who has the virus. Donald Trump’s daughter, who serves in the White House, will not self-quarantine despite coming into close contact with the Australian home affairs minister, Peter Dutton.
The former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Clare Gerada, has confirmed she contracted the virus – and is now recovering:
Emotional scenes are playing out across Italy as people sing Italian songs, as well as the national anthem, from their balconies in a show of solidarity as they remain in lockdown country grapples to contain a coronavirus outbreak.
In Naples, neighbours sang along to a song by the Neapolitan singer, Andrea Sannino, called ‘Abbracciame’ (Hug me), while in Turin the choice was a classic by the late Domenico Mudugno, ‘Meraviglioso’ (wonderful).
In Milan, Rome and other places, people sang along to the national anthem Inno di Mameli. Italians have been told to “stay at home” until 3 April.
Mauritania has confirmed its first case, according to AFP. The agency reported that the country’s health minister, Mohamed Nedhirou Ould Hamed, said the case involved a recently returned foreigner who tested positive on Friday. In a televised address, he said:
He was immediately isolated and the state has all the means at its disposal to take care of those suffering from the virus.
A statement from the health ministry, also released on Friday, said the man was an “expatriate” who had flown into Mauritania from Europe on Monday. He isolated himself after a friend in Europe tested positive for the virus. Health officials discovered he was feverish on Friday morning and he was confirmed positive for coronavirus later in the evening.
The health minister also promised, in his televised address, that the government would stop charter flights coming to Mauritania from France.
The West African state of Guinea registered its first coronavirus case on Friday too. And Senegal, which shares a border with Mauritania, registered 11 new coronavirus infections on Friday, bringing its total number to 19. Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria have all also recently registered coronavirus cases.
Eswatini, the land-locked southern African country formerly known as Swaziland, has reported its first confirmed case, its minister of health has said.
A 33-year-old woman, who returned from the United States at the end of February and then travelled to Lesotho before returning home to eSwatini, is currently in isolation, Lizzie Nkosi added.
The French health minister has announced an increase of 800 cases in the last 24 hours. Olivier Véran said the evolution of the spread of the virus was “rapid and real”:
We now have 3,661 cases, 79 deaths. Of the sick, 154 people re in intensive care. We are only at the beginning of the epidemic and it is progressing, which was expected.
Véran added that 98% of those who have tested positive have since recovered.
France has banned gatherings of more than 100 people across the country as schools began closing on Friday for an indefinite period. The previous maximum was more than 1,000 people.
The Eiffel Tower, Château de Versailles, Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou have closed. The Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, said there would be no Sunday masses held in churches on the Paris region.
Thousands of jobs are set to go at the Dutch national airline, KLM, as it deals with the impact of the outbreak, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports.
Its chief executive, Pieter Elbers, said KLM will shed as many as 2,000 jobs and ask personnel to work shortened hours, while grounding its fleet of six Boeing 747s from 1 April.
In the coming months we’ll reduce 1,500 to 2,000 jobs to mean that not only in the coming weeks, but in the coming months we will have fewer colleagues.
The airline’s top official said the job cuts mainly included part-time workers, those destined for retirement and natural attrition.
A cruise ship has been docked in isolation in northeastern Brazil after two passengers were found to have symptoms resembling that of the new coronavirus, local authorities say.
According to the Associated Press, the Brazilian state of Pernambuco’s health secretariat decided to keep the ship – with its 318 passengers and 291 crew members – in isolation in the capital of Recife on Thursday. Officials have not released the name of the ship.
Some passengers had disembarked before officials decided to isolate the ship and Brazil’s health authority asked tourist agencies to facilitate the return of those people. Authorities took action to prevent additional passengers from leaving.
The first passenger suspected of having the virus was described as a 78-year-old man who displayed respiratory problems. Officials said the man was taken from the ship to a private clinic for treatment and testing for the coronavirus.
Authorities reported a second possible case on Friday. That passenger had a fever and difficulty breathing, so was moved to a private health unit onshore to undergo the coronavirus test.
The result of the tests will dictate whether the ship’s passengers are placed into quarantine, the state’s health secretary, André Longo, said in an interview with the Globo television network.
The former Nato secretary general, Javier Solana, has been admitted to hospital after testing positive for coronavirus, a source has told Reuters, adding that his health was evolving positively and that he had been put under observation as a precaution.
Solana, 77, served in the role from 1995 to 1999, as European Union high representative for foreign affairs from 1999 to 2009 and was Spain’s foreign minister under prime minister Felipe González from 1992 to 1995. He attended an event with the current Spanish foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, on Monday.
The US death toll has risen to 47 after six more deaths were reported in Washington state and a further one was reported in Colorado – the first in that state. Local authorities said a woman in her 80s who had underlying health issues has died.
Ukraine is closing its borders to foreigners for at least two weeks and will stop all flights, as it reported its first Covid-19 fatality on Friday.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the country’s Security and Defence Council, said the measure will take effect in 48 hours. Minutes later, Ukraine announced the news that a woman in her 70s, who lived in north-west Zhytomyr region and was suffering from double pneumonia after a trip to Poland, had died.
The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, asked elderly people to remain at home and asked employers to let workers work from home, wherever possible. He alsoasked Ukrainians who were on holiday or who work abroad to return home by the time the travel ban comes into effect.
Danilov said all Ukrainians would be allowed to return to the country, and those coming back from the nations most affected by the pandemic will have to be quarantined. The ban on foreigners would only be waived for diplomatic workers, he said.
Norway has introduced travel restrictions designed to combat the spread of the virus. Ullensaker municipality has said on its website:
Foreign travellers from countries outside the Nordics arriving at Oslo airport will have to return home.
Norwegians arriving at Gardermoen airport, located outside Oslo, will immediately be sent home into quarantine.
Ireland is advising its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution before deciding to travel to other EU member states due to action over the spread of the coronavirus, the country’s foreign minister says.
Ireland has previously only urged against all travel to Italy and advised avoiding non-essential travel to China, Iran and Spain.
The Associated Press is reporting that a second person who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump last weekend has tested positive for coronavirus. The agency is citing a Republican party official who it says spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private health matters.
The person attended a Trump fundraising at the president’s Florida resort on Sunday.
Trump also spent time last weekend with a Brazilian official who tested positive just days later.
A deal has been reached for an aid package and Democrats in the House of Representatives will soon pass it, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said.
We are proud to have reached an agreement with the administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass [the bill].
Pelosi and the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, have been negotiating since Thursday on a multi-billion US dollar package that aims to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic, which has infected 138,000 people worldwide, killed more than 5,000 and closed down schools, sports arenas, theatres and offices across America.
The bill would provide for free coronavirus testing and two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus, Pelosi said earlier in the day. It also would expand safety-net programs that help people weather economic downturns.
Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress have waited to hear from the president before weighing in on the measure. Pelosi does not need their support to pass legislation out of the House but it is unlikely to get far in the Republican-controlled Senate without bipartisan support.
IMF hit by coronavirus diagnosis
The International Monetary Fund has advised all staff at its Washington, DC headquarters to work from home until further notice after an employee was diagnosed with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, a spokesman has said.
The fund said it also has suspended all mission travel to European countries designated as Level 3 community spread areas by the Centers for Disease Control, but it “remains fully operational and stands ready to serve its members.”
UK set to ban mass gatherings – government source
In the UK, mass gatherings are set to be banned as part of the battle against coronavirus in a significant shift in the government’s position, the Press Association reports. A Whitehall source has told the news agency:
Ministers are working with the chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer on our plan to stop various types of public event, including mass gatherings, beginning next week.
We are also talking to businesses and other bodies about the timing of moving towards much more widespread working from home.
There are many complex considerations to make all these measures as effective as possible. We will make the right decisions at the right time based on the best scientific evidence.
Other countries to introduce stringent measures include Cyprus, Bosnia and Uzbekistan.
Cyprus is banning entry to non-residents for 15 days, its president Nicos Anastasiades has announced. From Sunday, only Cypriots, legal residents, diplomats, registered students and specific authorised people will be admitted.
Anastasiades asked Cypriots abroad not to travel back to Cyprus unnecessarily and said all private and public educational institutions will remain closed until 10 April.
Anastasiades said restrictions at crossing points on the divided island’s ceasefire line would remain in place, asking Cypriots to cross only for “necessary trips”.
Bosnia’s authorities have agreed to require two weeks of isolation starting Monday for all its nationals arriving in the country from abroad. The move is likely to discourage members of the large Bosnian diaspora from visiting during forthcoming Easter holidays.
And Uzbekistan has suspended all flights to and from France, Spain, and Britain, as well as barring citizens of six countries –including Iran and Italy – from entering the country.
In addition to Italian and Iranian nationals, Uzbekistan has barred French, Spanish, South Korean and Chinese citizens from entering. The Central Asian country, which had already suspended flights to China, South Korea and Iran, has yet to report any cases of the virus.
Canada has unveiled aggressive new measures to contain the outbreak; shutting down parliament and advising against foreign travel, even as Justin Trudeau urged citizens to remain calm in a national address delivered from self-imposed quarantine. He told the nation:
We have an outstanding public health authorities who are doing an outstanding job. We will get through this together.
Trudeau, whose wife has been confirmed as having contracted the virus, said he remained symptom free.
Of course, [working from home] is an inconvenience and somewhat frustrating. We are all social beings after all. But we have to do this because we have to protect our neighbours and our friends – especially our more vulnerable seniors and people with pre-existing conditions.
Officials announced a raft of new measures including closing parliament for five weeks and redirecting incoming international flights to a small number of airports as part of enhanced screening measures.
The government also announced it will ban cruise ships with 500 people from docking in the country’s ports until 1 July – but stopped short of closing the borders. Canada’s health minister, Patty Hajdu, said:
Borders don’t stop travellers. Travellers find other ways into countries. Travellers become less honest. Canada’s approach from the very beginning has been to use science and evidence.
Instead, the government has asked Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside the country and to limit contact with crowds. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said:
Social distancing is an important contribution that everyone can make to our control efforts. This means avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings, considering shopping or taking public transport in off-peak hours and greeting one another with a wave or elbow instead of a handshake, kiss or hug.
The actions you take today will save lives. This is a serious public health threat, and a crisis as well as an emergency.
Officials in Toronto, the country’s largest city, announced the closure of all child care facilities, public libraries and community centres. They also announced the surprise cancellation of all spring break camps and urged residents to reconsider taking public transit.
Experts cautioned that no clear blueprints yet exist on now to stem the spread of the virus— but that certain measures have shown degrees of success. Dr Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist and the medical director of prevention and control at Toronto’s university health network, said:
There’s no complete science behind any of it really — but it’s worthwhile to explore different ways of trying to control things. That’s where the social distancing makes sense to consider doing it early and trying to reduce the overall impact on everybody.
Egypt has reported 13 new cases, bringing the total of cases detected in the country to 93, Reuters quotes its health ministry as saying. The new cases reported include five Egyptians and eight foreigners.
The country has recorded two deaths because of coronavirus – one of a German tourist and another of a 60-year-old woman, the ministry added.
Another to reported its first coronavirus cases was Kosovo, which said a 20-year-old Italian woman and a 77-year-old Kosovar man were confirmed sufferers. The health minister, Arben Vitia, has said:
Their condition is stable. We are identifying others that were in contact with the two patients and they are being isolated.
We are closing land borders but not for Kosovo citizens who want to return, and our citizens will be self-quarantined for 15 days. From March 16 all flights will be cancelled.
Local media said the 20-year-old Italian woman was working for a humanitarian organisation, while the man had also arrived from Italy in the past few days.
The also government said it would isolate two regions where the first patients were discovered, as well as closing all restaurants and shopping centres. Schools were closed on Wednesday.
Uruguay has also confirmed its first four recorded cases, its ministry of health announced in a tweet. All four cases were people who had arrived to Uruguay from Milan, Italy between 3 and 6 March, the ministry said, adding that the patients are stable and at their homes.
Suriname has identified its first case, the country’s vice president told the national assembly. Michael Ashwin Adhin said the patient had traveled to the South American country last week from the Netherlands and that borders and airports will close at midnight for all persons and flights.
Plans to close off Catalonia have been announced by the northeastern Spanish region’s president, Quim Torra, who called on the central government to help by authorising the closure of ports, airports and railways.
The evolution of the contagion calls for most drastic action. We need to restrict entry and exit to protect ourselves.
While Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, major transport hubs come under the mandate of the central government.
His call, which would affect Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents, came hours after the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said that a national state of emergency would be declared on Saturday. And, in Madrid, the regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso recommended that residents not leave their homes.
In Europe, Hungary is closing all schools and will continue education as best as it can via digital channels, its prime minister Viktor Orbán has said.
In a Facebook video, he said he expected the Hungarian economy to stall soon and it will have to be restarted; an effort the government will participate in.
Multiple times during this press conference, Trump has been asked about the Brazilian official whom he met and who subsequently tested positive. He was asked if he was offering different advice to Americans than he’s practising himself.
I think they have to listen to their doctors and they shouldn’t be jumping to get the test unless they have it.
In response to a followup question Trump said he would be tested “fairly soon.”
Asked how long the national emergency would go on for, Trump did not give a specific answer. Trump said:
I hope not long [but] it gives us the power it needs to get rid of the virus.
He also said that the Trump administration is in touch with other countries dealing with the coronavirus.
They’re calling us and asking for advice. They’re calling for advice from the people behind me.
Trump again refuses to take responsibility for the US’s response to the spread of coronavirus, which many have said was too slow. Asked about the closure of the White House’s pandemic office under his watch, he said:
When you say ‘me’, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people in my administration we could ask, perhaps ... I don’t know anything about it. You say we did that but I don’t know anything about it.
Here’s a little more detail on Trump’s comments in respect of the US’s travel ban. Addressing potentially adding the UK to the list, he said:
We are looking at it based on the new numbers that are coming out and we may have to include them in the list of countries that we will, you could say ban or whatever it is, during this period of time, but yeah their numbers have gone up fairly precipitously over the last 24 hours so we may be adding that and we may be adding a couple of others and we may frankly start thinking about taking some off.
Trump also stressed the importance of local governments staying consistent in their steps to fight coronavirus. Governors around the country have issued bans of large gatherings at varying levels.
We must take all precautions and be responsible for the actions we take.
Then Trump made a small tangent to note all the major sporting events that have been postponed, canceled, or dramatically scaled back to prevent transmission of the virus.
It’s incredible with what’s happened to the sports of the world. They’ve done a great service. We can learn and we will turn a corner on this virus. Some of these doctors say it will wash through, it will flow through. Interesting terms. And very accurate. In a number of weeks I think you will find it’s a very accurate term.
It’s important to note that Trump, during a question and answer session following his remarks, was asked whether he or his staff were taking any precautions to make sure they get tests for coronavirus. Trump stressed repeatedly that he and his staff did not have any exposure.
I don’t if I’ve had any exposure but I don’t have any symptoms.
UK could be added to US travel ban – Trump
Trump is asked why the UK was exempted from the travel ban list. He says that was the expert advice and, looking at the increase in the number of cases in the UK, the country may be added to the list soon, while other countries might be taken off it.
Trump, who initially called coronavirus a “hoax”, explicitly refuses to take responsibility for the “lag” in testing in the US, blaming what he says were outdated rules and regulations that he says were not designed for this sort of outbreak.
Fauci backs him up, saying the CDC-designed system was not designed for this and the US needed the help of private business.
Trump also said the United States would take advantage of low oil prices and buy a large quantity of crude to fill the nation’s strategic reserves.
Based on the prices of oil, I’ve ... instructed the secretary of energy to purchase, at a very good price, large quantities of crude oil for storage in the U.S. strategic reserve ... We’re going to fill it right up to the top.
The US vice president, Mike Pence, says coronavirus is now present in 46 of the 50 states of the union.
He says the administration will be able to say when Google’s screening website will be available by Sunday.
Meanwhile, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic senator in Congress, released a statement welcoming Trump’s invocation of the Stafford Act. His response, blasted out before Trump’s presser ended, is below:
I’m pleased the president heeded our calls to invoke the Stafford Act to extend vital financial assistance to help keep communities safe from the coronavirus outbreak. I urge New York and other states to immediately request these newly available funds and for the Trump administration to approve these requests without delay.
As other steps are considered, the president must not overstep his authority or indulge his autocratic tendencies for purposes not truly related to this public health crisis.
Trump has introduced representatives from partner organisations working with the White House to combat the coronavirus. They include representatives from Walmart, Walgreens, LHC Group, Signify Health.
Most of the business people gave brief remarks about how eager their respective companies are to help.
Trump then said as part of the coronavirus response “we’ll be changing a lot of the rules and regulations for future.” [SIC]
“I guess that’ll continue to an extent but we hope it never happens but we’ll be changing a lot of the wholes and speculations,” Trump said.
Trump added that “I’ve waived interest on all student loans held by government agencies.”
The president said he instructed secretary of energy Dan Brouillette to buy “large quantities” of gasoline “in the US strategic reserve.”
Trump has said:
To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words. The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50bn – a very important and a large amount for states and territories or localities in our shared fight against this disease.
Trump says the federal government is partnering with the private sector to accelerate production of test kits to make them more widely available to Americans.
Alongside Trump was Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health expert who is on Trump’s coronavirus task force. He says:
We still have a long way to go. There will be many more cases. But we’ll take care of that. What’s going on here today is going to help it end sooner than it would have.
Dr Birx took a few minutes to explain a new coronavirus website for texting. She held up a chart to explain how the website would work (C-SPAN’s Craig Caplan snapped a picture).
Dr Birx also set out how the screening website will work – saying it will guide people through a series of yes or no questions and then, based on their responses, direct them to where they can get the type of health they need locally.
This will include whether or not a test is needed at all.
Here’s a little more detail on Trump’s comments. Flanked by aides including vice-president Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, has said the move will waive a number of other requirements meant to benefit doctors and fight the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s been an ongoing concern about the availability of tests for the coronavirus. Trump said his team expected “half a million additional tests will be available early next week”.
“Which will bring probably 1.4 million tests next week and five million in a month,” Trump said. “Our overriding goal is to stop the spread of the virus.”
Trump also refers to the sort of drive-through testing systems that have been seen in other countries and that are designed to minimise the exposure of medical staff.
He stresses that the US authorities do not want people to get tested if it’s not necessary. The president also thanks a series of private enterprises for their work in equipping the US with some of the tools with which to battle the spread of the virus; including Google, which he says will set up a screening website.
Trump claims as many as half a million coronavirus tests will be made available next week, while millions more will follow.
Trump says the order will give broad new authority to the US health secretary to waive a series of laws and regulations to give healthcare operators more flexibility as the battle the spread of the virus.
Trump declares US national emergency
The US president says the step will “open up access to up to $50bn” and ordered all 50 states to set up centres to deal with the virus and activate contingency plans.
Trump is speaking now. He opens by saying the US has made more progress than “other areas of the world”, attributing that to an “early” decision to “close the borders”.
Denmark is shutting its borders to most foreign visitors for a month from Saturday, in a move unprecedented in peacetime as part of efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus.
The restrictions will come into force at 11am GMT on Saturday and continue until at least 13 April, the country’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen has said.
All tourists, all travel, all vacations, and all foreigners who cannot demonstrate a credible reason to enter Denmark will be denied entrance at the Danish border.
Danish citizens and foreigners working in Denmark will still be free to enter and leave the country. The transport of goods, including foods, medicine and industry supplies, will also not be affected, she said.
The country of 5.7 million people has reported 801 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far and no deaths.
Large swathes of Denmark have been in lockdown since Thursday after the government shut all schools and universities and sent home all public sector workers with non-critical jobs in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
The government has notified neighbouring countries Germany, Norway and Sweden as well as the European Commission, Frederiksen said, adding that authorities would need a few days to fully establish the border controls.
What is a US national emergency?
Donald Trump, as US president, has the power to declare a national emergency, which gives power to the federal government to more freely redistribute funds to state and local governments in a time of the crisis.
The president is set to declare a national emergency because of the coronavirus outbreak under the Stafford Act, which was signed into law in 1988 and is designed to encourage local municipalities to design and run their own disaster mitigation efforts, with federal assistance.
The last time Trump declared a national emergency was in February 2019 when he declared a national emergency to divert funding for his border wall. That national emergency was declared under a different act, the 1976 National Emergencies Act.
Amid reports he’s preparing to declare a national emergency, the US president Donald Trump is due to speak soon. Our US politics live blog will be covering it and I’ll post those updates that are relevant to the pandemic here as well.
In addition to the measures we reported earlier, Poland says it will ban foreigners from entering the country from Sunday and impose a 14-day quarantine on its citizens returning home. Morawiecki has said:
The state will not abandon (its citizens). However, in the current situation we cannot allow ourselves to keep borders open to foreigners.
Nadine Dorries, a junior health minister in the UK’s government who tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week, says her mother has now been confirmed as having contracted the virus.
Azerbaijan has banned wedding celebrations and other public events, the authorities have said the day after the country recorded its first death.
The measures, which come into force on Saturday, also include shuttering museums, cinemas and theatres. The authorities said the country’s border with Georgia will be closed for 10 days and that all large cultural and sporting events will be postponed by a month.
The former Soviet country said on Thursday that a woman who had been quarantined after returning from neighbouring Iran had died from the virus.
Schools and universities in the country have been closed since the beginning of March and the authorities extended the closure of the border with Iran for another two weeks on Thursday. Azerbaijan has so far recorded 19 cases.
Tunisia will immediately suspend prayers in mosques, close cafes at 4pm every day, and ban all cultural, sports and economic gatherings to combat the spread of the coronavirus, its prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh has said.
The government has also closed Tunisia’s maritime borders, suspended all flights to and from Italy, in addition to reducing flights with Egypt, Germany, Britain and France. Tunisia has confirmed 16 cases; mostly among recent arrivals from Europe. And the disease is expected to hit its crucial tourism sector hard.
In London, parliament is limiting visitor access from Monday and introducing restrictions on overseas travel. The Speakers of the Commons and the Lords, Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Lord Fowler, have said:
We are resolved that parliament should, insofar as possible, continue to fulfil its important constitutional duties of passing legislation, holding government to account and, crucially, representing the views of the people of the United Kingdom and making their voice heard.
In order to preserve the operation of parliament, it is our duty to take proportionate and reasonable measures to reduce the risk to those who work on the parliamentary estate and those who have to visit.
We are clear that now is the time to be pragmatic; everyone in the country is being asked to strike a balance and it is right that we do the same. It is in this spirit that we have decided to implement a number of restrictions relating to overseas travel and visitor access.
These steps have been developed in conjunction with Public Health England and reflect the government’s current approach. Members of the public wishing to enter the parliamentary estate solely to view Westminster Hall will not be admitted.
The number of people in Germany with coronavirus has climbed again – this time to 3,634. The eighth death in the country was announced on Friday and a German man died in Egypt last week.
In a brief press conference, the chancellor Angela Merkel pledged government support for the economy and for society “on all levels”. She described the widespread closure of schools, the announcement of a massive credit programme for businesses and a work reduction programme to support workers and employers as far-reaching measures that would help ease the burden. In contrast to the financial crisis of 2008/9, she said:
Here we’re dealing with an opponent, if I may put it like that – a virus that we don’t know, where we don’t know how we can combat it either, through vaccines or medicine. And that’s why we have to act where we can do so in the most vigorous way we can.
Merkel said she hoped all citizens would show solidarity by keeping their distance. She said it was an “apparent paradox” that the weakest, oldest and those with pre-existing conditions could be best helped if social contact was avoided
Meanwhile, Berlin’s senate has decided – along with 12 of Germany’s 16 other states – to close all schools and kindergartens. To its list of cultural institutions forced to close, which included theatres, opera houses museums and concert halls, it has now added nightclubs and bars.
The famous fish hall in the northern port city of Hamburg has closed for the first time in its 300-year history, authorities said.
India has reported its second coronavirus death. Its ministry of health and family welfare said the person lived in the capital, New Delhi.
In Poland, public gatherings are to be limited to 50 people, restaurants, bars and casinos are to close and no inbound flights will be allowed from Sunday onwards, the country’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said.
He said food deliveries would still be allowed and the flight ban would not include charter flights.
The American singer, Kelis, has cancelled her two UK gigs next week, which were scheduled for Manchester on Monday and London on Tuesday. She has said:
The health and well-being of you, me, our families, friends, and our greater community is of utmost importance ... I look forward to seeing you soon and in the meantime, please take care of yourselves and each other.
The singer, who is touring to mark 20 years since the release of her debut album, Kaleidoscope, said she hope the shows can be rescheduled for the summer.
The number of cases in Germany has increased from the 3,000 reported earlier on Friday to 3,062, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. It said five people had died after testing positive for the virus.
Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, a State Department official has confirmed the Chinese ambassador was “summoned with regard to what the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said over Covid-19”.
Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the accusation on Thursday on his Twitter account.
An editorial in the official China Daily on Friday intensified a war of words with the United States, blasting “China-bashers”. Earlier this week, the US national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said China reacted slowly to the emergence of the coronavirus, probably costing the world two months when it could have been preparing.
The US State Department has summoned the Chinese ambassador over a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson’s comments about claims that the US military was responsible for bringing the new coronavirus to the province of Wuhan at the start of the outbreak.
That’s just breaking now on Reuters.
Some more interrogation now of that ‘Herd Immunity’ strategy which appears to be a par of the UK government’s response to the pandemic.
While questioning the logic that underpins it, this piece by a virologist in The Converstion online journal questions how much of the discussion around herd immunity is actually part of the policy being pursued.
Jeremy Rossman, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Virology and President of Research-Aid Networks, University of Kent, argues:
A delay strategy when combined with surveillance and containment, as recommended by the WHO, could be very effective in combating the spread of COVID-19.
Yet if we slow the spread of the virus but are relying on herd immunity to protect the most vulnerable people, we would still need 47 million people to be infected.
Many of Britain’s biggest insurers are pulling down the shutters to new travel insurance customers, with Aviva, Direct Line and Churchill the latest to stop selling policies as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Responding to the moves, the consumer body Which? said the government, insurers and the travel sector needed to “urgently” work together to tackle the challenge because “the industry depends on people having the confidence to travel knowing they will be covered”.
On Wednesday 11 March, LV became the first big insurer to stop selling travel insurance to new customers. Then on Friday 13 March, Direct Line and Churchill said they had taken a decision to temporarily suspend the sale of travel insurance to new customers “so we can focus on our existing customers”.
The World Health Organisation has been rolling out details of a new disease Solidarity Response Fund.
It enables private individuals, corporations and institutions around the world to come together to directly contribute to global response efforts, and has been created by the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, together with WHO.
The director general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said earlier that Europe is now at the centre of the global coronavirus outbreak.
School closures lasting four weeks could cut 3% from the UK’s GDP, costing the economy billions of pounds, according to research being considered by the government as it weighs up the benefits and risks of shutting down classrooms.
Advisers at the Department for Education and No 10 are examining a range of options from complete closure of all schools and colleges in England, which would affect around 7 million children, to more nuanced policies.
Measures being looked at include those effected in Japan, where schools sent home individual classes and age groups when a certain percentage of children were infected, and Austria, where elementary schools have stayed open to effectively act as daycare for the children of essential workers.
Belgium has followed a similar path. Other countries have closed all schools.
Delta Airlines in talks for financial aid - reports
Extraordinary times - or carnage - in the business world. After we reported earlier that Lufthansa was considering an application for financial aid from the German government news now also breaks that Delta Airlines is in talks with the White House regarding support that can be provided.
That’s according to a memo to employees from the company’s CEO, and which has been reported by Reuters.
Peru has announced it will suspend all flights to and from Europe and Asia for 30 days beginning on Monday, March 16.
The government announced the measure via supreme decree on Friday just two days after closing all its schools until the end of the month and ordering travelers from France, Spain, Italy and China to quarantine themselves for 14 days on arrival in the country.
The country had 28 Coronavirus cases as of Friday morning, according its health ministry. Gatherings of more than 300 people have been banned while concerts and football matches have been cancelled or postponed.
The Andean country is a major tourist destination and Canatur, the main tour operators union, says the $5.2bn sector is in crisis. Cancelled trips from Europe and Asia represent $650m in lost revenue and the loss of some 800,000 direct and indirect jobs, it said on Thursday.
First coronavirus death in Scotland confirmed
The Scottish government has confirmed the first coronavirus related death in Scotland.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Catherine Calderwood said:
I am saddened to report that a patient in Scotland who has tested positive for Coronavirus has died in hospital. I offer my deepest sympathy to their friends and family at this difficult time.
The patient, who was being treated by Lothian Health Board was an older person who had underlying health conditions. No further information will be available to protect patient confidentiality.
The British government strategy of striving to achieve ‘herd immunity - by broadening the peak of the epidemic, and allowing immunity to build up among the population - is beginning to come under greater scrutiny.
Critics including the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt have expressed concern about the decision to delay more drastic measures, such as school closures.
Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser, has defended the approach, seeking to underline that it is epidemiology that is guiding the decision not to impose more draconian restrictions on the public’s day-to-day lives immediately.
But among others asking questions about the strategy is Anthony Costello, a paediatrician, research scientist and former director of mother, child and adolescent health at WHO.
In this twitter thread, he states that vaccines are a safer way to develop herd immunity, without the risks associated with the disease itself and asks: “Is it ethical to adopt a policy that threatens immediate casualties on the basis of an uncertain future benefit”
He also asks if the herd immunity strategy conflicts with WHO Policy, adding: “After the announcement of this being a pandemic, Dr Tedros, Director General WHO, said ‘The idea that countries should shift from containment to mitigation is wrong and dangerous.’”
London marathon postponed until October.
The London marathon has been postponed until October 4, organisers have just announced.
Hugh Brasher, the event’s director, said: “The world is in an unprecedented situation grappling with a global pandemic of COVID-19 and public health is everyone’s priority.
“We know how disappointing this news will be for so many – the runners who have trained for many months, the thousands of charities for which they are raising funds and the millions who watch the race every year.”
Greek health authorities have announced further preventative measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, saying all bars, malls, restaurants, take-aways and beauty parlours have been ordered closed as the number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 190.
Supermarkets, bakeries, pharmacies and other private health stores can remain open. Earlier Friday, the Greek ministry of culture said all archaeological sites and state-run museums would stay shut until at least March 30, citing the extraordinary circumstances.
The move was announced after it emerged that several sites had reported shortages of staff and guards because of Covid-19 concerns. Announcing the introduction of the extra measures, health minister Vassillis Kikilis said it was clear that not all Greeks were adhering to restrictions that had been introduced for their protection.
“I had said that we would enforce whatever measure was needed to protect our people,” he told reporters. “Today we are extending the measures so as not to enable coronavirus to spread. Firstly, because new cases have appeared. Secondly, because the restrictive measures are not being adhered to.”
Of the 190 confirmed cases, 47 are currently hospitalised in isolation wards around the country.
Gordon Brown: Our leaders are failing us
The world’s citizens are being put at risk because of a lack of leadership, according to the former UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, writing today for the Guardian.
Brown also called for much greater collaboration on a global scale to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, asking:
Why is there, as yet, no internationally coordinated medical project – equivalent to the wartime Manhattan Project – mobilising all available global resources to discover a coronavirus vaccine and to fast-track a cure?
Brown also takes aim at a familiar opponent, populism, writing that the very idea of global collaboration – and the convening of what would be a “virtual” G20 – sits uneasily with what he describes as the “America first”, “China first”, “India first” and “Russia first” populist nationalism of recent years.
The outbreak in Venezuela ( which earlier confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus) could hardly come at a worse time for Venezuela, which despite boasting the planet’s largest proven oil reserves remains mired in years-long economic and social turmoil, reports Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogota.
Hyperinflation is rampant, with shortages in basic foodstuffs and medical supplies already a daily reality.
The country’s health services are among the hardest hit by the crisis, with hospitals regularly facing power outages while basic supplies - from latex gloves to routine antibiotics - are often hard to come by. 4.5m people have fled Venezuela, with health care workers and disease specialists among them.
Around 3.4 percent of confirmed coronavirus patients have died, according to the World Health Organization, a rate that analysts say would likely be much higher in Venezuela.
“Just one case in a hospital could lead to transmission within the system, putting already sick patients at risk,” Kathleen Page, associate professor and medical doctor at Johns Hopkins University, and Tamara Taraciuk Broner, a Venezuela expert at Human Rights Watch, wrote this week in Foreign Policy.
“There is no capacity for complex care due to a lack of basic X-rays, laboratory tests, intensive care beds, and respirators.”
Yesterday, Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro declared a health emergency ahead of any confirmed cases of Covid-19, banning flights from Europe and neighbouring Colombia.
Trudeau says he has no symptoms and is feeling good
The Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau - whose wife tested positive for Covid-19 following a trip to the UK - has told a press conference that he has no symptoms of the coronavirus and he is feeling good.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau announced Thursday evening that she had tested positive for the coronavirus and plans to remain in isolation for the next two weeks. Her symptoms have been described as mild.
He said that Canada is looking to reduce the number of airports receiving visitors from overseas
Lufthansa to apply for financial aid
The leading German business daily, Handelsblatt, is reporting that Lufthansa, the nation’s flagship airline, will apply to the German government’s multibillion liquidity fund for help due to the financial fallout from the coronavirus.
In an internal video message to employees, the airline’s CEO, Carten Spohr, said the company would look to the German government for help, as well as entering discussions with governments in the other countries where it has a subsidiary, about possible state aid.
A spokesman for the company, Europe’s largest-grossing airline, which last week announced it would cut the number of its flights by 50% in response to the health crisis, confirmed the reports.
Apple’s worldwide developer’s conference, the company’s biggest annual event where it reveals the changes heading its software over the coming year, will be online only for the first time, it said today.
“The current health situation has required that we create a new WWDC 2020 format,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. The company is avoiding the word “cancellation”, instead the press that this year’s even, which will take place in June, “will take on an entirely new online format packed with content for consumers, press and developers alike”.
The event the phone-buying public will be most interested in, the keynote speech that launches the conference, has been streamed live online for several years. But behind the scenes, WWDC is an important annual occurrence for the community of developers who work on iOS and macOS apps, offering them their only real chance for face-to-face conversations with Apple staff.
Apple is also committing $1m to local organisations in San Jose, where the conference would have taken place, to offset revenue loss.
Security forces in Iran are to empty the streets of cities across Iran in the next 24 hours in a drive to fight the spread of the new coronavirus, according to state television.
The move came as the World Health Organization (WHO) said Iran needed to do more to contain the disease.
Tehran has recorded 514 people killed and 11,364 diagnosed infections, making Iran one of the worst affected countries outside China.
Iranian officials have repeatedly complained that many Iranians have ignored calls to stay home and avoid travel, Reuters reports.
“Our law enforcement and security committees, along with the interior ministry and provincial governors, will be clearing shops, streets and roads,” state TV cited Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri as saying at a meeting about the virus. “This will take place in the next 24 hours.”
Back at the WHO press conference and Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, has said that each country must decide on measures to protect its own population.
As part of an overall strategy there is a place inside national borders for restricting movement.
Earlier, he compared the pandemic to the way in which HIV was treated, where those who had tested positive were in a position to protect others.
Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller has announced that the German capital’s public transport system is to be drastically scaled back to an “emergency service” in line with other measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, and in order to protect its staff and passengers.
Buses and trams will run a skeletal service from now on, until at least until the end of the easter holiday, with passengers asked to enter buses by the middle door, rather than the front.
Tickets will have to be bought in advance because they will no longer be available from the driver. So far no plans have been publicised over whether the S-Bahn train service which runs through the city, is to be scaled down. Unlike the rest of the transport network, it is owned and operated by the national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn.
A press conference later today will follow a meeting ofBerlin’s senate place this afternoon is expected to make more details known.
Demand for public transport has already fallen, over fears of getting coronavirus. And with schools, kindergartens and most institutions either closed or due to close on Monday, and many people working from home, it is expected demand will further decrease in the coming days.
Meanwhile Deutsche Bahn has said while it has no plans to curtail its train service, passengers with tickets for journeys they now no longer feel able to take, will be able to rebook journeys at a later date at no extra cost.
Mixed messages have been coming out of Mexico today, where health experts expect localised spread of coronavirus to begin in the last week or March or first week of April, according to reports.
By then, health officials say the country will have 20,000 tests ready to go, and private and public labs across the country prepped for testing.
So far, Mexico has 16 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with no deaths. The biggest threat still lies from people already infected entering the country, which is why the government is considering introducing travel restrictions and extra surveillance on travellers from the US.
“The possible flow of coronavirus would come from the north to the south. If it were technically necessary, we would consider mechanisms of restriction or stronger surveillance,” the deputy health secretary, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, told a news conference last night.
“Mexico wouldn’t bring the virus to the United States, rather the United States would bring it here.”
On the other hand, in response to Donald Trump’s travel ban on 26 European countries, US-bound passengers flying on the national airline, Aeromexico, will from today be required to spend 14 days in Mexico before taking a connecting flight. The airline had already imposed a similar rule for passengers travelling from China. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the announcement unleashed furious reactions on social media with some tweeters accusing the government of prioritising American lives over Mexicans.
Europe now centre of pandemic - WHO
Europe is now the world centre for the coronavirus outbreak, according to the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In a press briefing at WHO headquarters, he said that Europe had more cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined apart from China.
The UK government’s coronavirus strategy and the plan to build up herd immunity is facing mounting growing criticism from the scientific community. More experts are questioning the failure to test more suspected cases and the decision to hold back on the more drastic social distancing measures introduced in many other countries.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, says the UK strategy is “dangerous”.
Peter Drobac, a doctor in global health and infectious disease at Oxford University, says the “the UK is really out on a limb”.
Speaking to the BBC he added:
They waited too long to respond, and we really have to question the wisdom of the idea that we can time social distancing interventions just right to blunt the peak. They are taking an approach which puts them alone in the world. And I think it’s a gamble.
The broadcaster and physicists Prof Brian Cox tweeted his doubts about the lack of testing.
Professor Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organization, outlined his concerns about the herd immunity strategy in a Twitter thread.
Schools in England should be remain open until the government calls for their closure, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, told a conference of head teachers.
“In the overwhelming majority of situations, there is absolutely no need to close a school or send pupils or staff home. Obviously there is action to be taken in the event of a positive test but even then, your local health protection team can help stabilise the situation,” Williamson told the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders in Birmingham.
“At present we are clear that the best course of action is to keep schools open unless you are advised to close by Public Health England.
“The chief medical officer has said the impact of closing schools on children’s education will be substantial, but the benefit to public health would not be. The government is particularly mindful of the strain on public services like the NHS that would be caused by key workers having to stay home to look after their children as a result of school closures.
“We will be constantly reassessing this position based on what the chief medical officer and the government chief scientific adviser tell us about whether the evidence would require us to close schools in the best interests of children and the best interests of teachers. Only in line with this clear advice will we take this step.”
Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested negative
The Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has tested negative for the coronavirus, his son told Fox News on Friday following media reports that his father, who recently met with Donald Trump, had tested positive.
“The test is negative,” Eduardo Bolsonaro told Fox News Channel in an interview.
The news follows some confusion today after local media in Brazil reported that Bolsonaro had tested positive.
Bolsonaro himself has lashed out on Twitter at “fake news”.
Switzerland closes all schools
Switzerland has announced it is closing all schools and is to provide around 10bn Swiss francs in aid for businesses hit by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The situation is difficult,” the Swiss president, Simonetta Sommaruga, told reporters, as the government listed a range of measures to halt the spread of the virus after the number of positive tests in the country ballooned to more than 1,000.
UK local and mayoral elections postponed to 2021
Local elections have been postponed until May next year in England.
The contest were due to be held in May for 118 councils in England along with eight posts for directly elected mayors, including for the mayor of London.
A councillor in an English village where one of the first UK cases of coronavirus was confirmed has described the government’s strategy of tackling the disease as “a crime against our country”.
Samantha Flower, who is a member of the Conservative party and a social care manager for Sheffield City council, said: “I’m very concerned. They [the UK government] are saying they want as many people to get this disease to create a herd immunisation. But it won’t. My suspicion is that they don’t have the money for social care or NHS so that the weak and the old die.
“I’m saying that as a Conservative councillor and I don’t care if I get sacked. You judge a society by how they treat their vulnerable people. You judge leadership by how it treats its most vulnerable people.
“How do we care for them – by saying it would be better for pretty much everyone to get this disease when we know that our loved ones are going to die? It’s not OK.”
Flower is a Conservative councillor on High Peak borough council and represents the Derbyshire village of Burbage, where one of the first known UK cases of Coronavirus was confirmed. Burbage primary school and a nearby medical centre were temporarily closed after a parent tested positive for the virus on 27 February, when just 15 cases had been confirmed in the UK.
She added: “We could follow the World Health Organization’s advice and stop this now but the government’s chosen not to. Our prime minister has just said to us ‘your loved ones are going to die’ and that’s not OK. It’s abhorrent. It’s a crime against our country. We have the measures and capabilities to prevent this.
“I’m not trying to be an alarmist but the World Health Organization has set very comprehensive guidance and we’re not following it.”
- The global death toll of the coronavirus pandemic has passed 5,000, according to tallies kept by both Johns Hopkins university in the US and the Reuters news agency. Both source their information from official figures, so the true toll could be higher.
- Spain has become the latest country to declare a state of emergency after the number of confirmed cases in the country passed 4,200 and the death toll rose to 120. Spain is the second-worst affected EU country after Italy.
- The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive on an initial coronavirus test, but his son cautioned against the press jumping to conclusions. Reports claimed the White House was to hold an emergency meeting on the diagnosis after Bolsonaro dined with Trump last week.
- In Britain, 208 more cases of coronavirus have been detected since yesterday, bringing the total number of confirmed Covid-19 patients to 798 – a rise of 35%. There have been 10 deaths so far from the virus in the UK.
- The Queen has cancelled forthcoming visits to Cheshire and Camden, London, as a sensible precaution amid the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak, as a driver on the London underground transport network tested positive for Covid-19.
- A number of sports fixtures have been cancelled or postponed, including the Champions League and Europa League, England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka, the Masters golf tournament, and all professional football in England and Scotland.
- France limited public gatherings to no more than 100 people, as countries around Europe brought in a range of stringent measures in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
The first cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Venezuela, where the country’s healthcare system has already been under massive strain in recent years.
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said that the country is suspending classes at public and private schools starting on Monday, Reuters reports.
“Early today, two cases were certified,” Rodriguez said in a televised statement. “One 41-year-old citizen was traveling in the United States. The other was traveling in Spain.”
The two both arrived on a flight from Spain and both have been put in quarantine, she said.
Queen cancels engagements as 'sensible precaution'
The Queen’s upcoming visits to Cheshire and Camden, in London, have been postponed as a “sensible precaution” amid the coronavirus outbreak, Buckingham Palace said, PA Media reports.
A statement said:
As a sensible precaution and for practical reasons in the current circumstances, changes are being made to The Queen’s diary commitments in the coming weeks.
In consultation with the Medical Household and Government, Her Majesty’s forthcoming visits to Cheshire and Camden will be rescheduled. Audiences will continue as usual. Other events will be reviewed on an ongoing basis in line with the appropriate advice.
Global coronavirus death toll passes 5,000
The death toll of the global coronavirus pandemic has passed 5,000 since the virus was first identified in December, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins university.
The site, which has been running an interactive map showing the number of infections reported around the world, reports 5,065 deaths so far, out of 136,929 confirmed cases. The total number of patients that have recovered from the disease is 69,623, Johns Hopkins reports.
The region with the highest death toll so far is the Hubei province of China, where the Covid-19 disease first emerged, with 3,062 deaths, followed by Italy, Europe’s worst affected nation, with 1,016 deaths, then Iran with 514 deaths. All figures are those officially reported.
Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, has tweeted to say that his father’s coronavirus test is not yet complete.
It appears that although Bolsonaro’s initial test has come back positive, he is awaiting the results of a second, definitive test.
Meanwhile, however, the Fox Business network is reporting that the White House is due to hold an urgent meeting on Bolsonaro’s positive coronavirus test.
25 more confirmed Covid-19 cases in Scotland
The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Scotland increased to 85 in the latest daily figure, an increase of 25 from yesterday, Aamna Mohdin reports.
A total of 3,314 Scottish tests have been carried out, of which 3,229 tests were confirmed negative.
Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the largest number of positive cases, 21, followed by Lothian with 20 cases.
The increase in positive cases follows the government’s advice to cancel events with over 500 people to reduce the potential impact on emergency services.
The figures come as the Scottish Conservatives cancelled their spring conference due to the coronavirus pandemic. The event was due to take place in Perth in mid-May, but will now be moved to later in the year.
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said:
It’s become clear we have no option but to postpone the party conference that was planned for May.
The same goes for a party convention that was due to go ahead later in March.
Wales’ Six Nations game at home against Scotland on Saturday became the latest sport event to be postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement comes just hours after the Welsh Rugby Union insisted earlier on Friday the game would “go ahead as planned”.
The organisers of the Boston Marathon have announced that the event is to be postponed until 14 September.
Spain declares state of emergency
The Spanish government is to declare a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus epidemic, paving the way for drastic containment measures after the number of confirmed cases in the country passed 4,200 and the death toll rose to 120, Sam Jones reports from Madrid.
In an urgent appearance on Friday afternoon, the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the cabinet would convene on Saturday to declare an emergency by activating article 116 of the constitution.
Its provisions allow the government to limit the movement of people and vehicles in specified places, to temporarily requisition goods, to take over factories and businesses, to ration the consumption of basic items, and to issue the necessary orders to ensure the provision of services.
The article has not been used since 2010, when it was enacted in response to an air traffic controllers’ strike. The state of emergency will initially apply for two weeks, but can be extended with parliamentary approval.
Spain is the European country most affected by the outbreak after Italy, which has confirmed 15,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths.
The decision came after the government of neighbouring Portugal also enacted a state of alert as the number of cases in the country reached 78, explaining the situation was now “a fight for our survival and for the protection of Portuguese lives”.
As well as ordering the closure of schools and universities, it said the number of customers allowed in bars and restaurants would be reduced.
The Madrid authorities have not ruled out a lockdown of the capital, the mayor said on Friday morning, as the number of cases in the region reached 2,000.
José Luia Martínez-Almeida told Antena 3 TV that he had not discarded the idea of locking down the city, saying it would be “irresponsible” not to look at every possible scenario.
He added: “We can’t say that it’s going to happen immediately, nor can we say we’ve ruled it out.”
The mayor also suspended licenses for terraces and seating areas outside bars and cafés in the capital, urging owners to shut them down before it became mandatory.
The mayor said “stricter measures would be needed” to halt the spread of the virus, adding that children’s play areas in parks would be closed from Friday.
Hours earlier, authorities in the Basque country had activated a civil protection plan, which allows the regional government to order the confinement of people to stop the spread of the disease.
“We need to use all containment and prevention measures as the situation is serious. We’re not over the worst yet,” the Basque president, Iñigo Urkullu, said on Friday morning.
The Basque country has confirmed 346 cases of the coronavirus, and here have been 11 deaths.
On Thursday night, the regional government of Catalonia ordered around 70,000 people in four municipalities in the Barcelona region to remain in their homes for a fortnight after a steep increase in Coronavirus cases in the area.
Igualada, Vilanova del Camí, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Òdena have been placed in lockdown after the number of cases linked to a hospital in Igualada rose to 58 on Thursday.
“No one is allowed out of these affected areas,” the regional government said on Thursday evening.
“Only emergency personnel and vehicles bringing fuel and food supplies will be allowed to move around the area.”
The move comes almost a week after neighbourhoods in a small town in the northern region of La Rioja were placed in lockdown after a cluster of cases was traced to a funeral in the nearby Basque Country.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now warning against all but essential travel to the regions that the Spanish Ministry of Health have designated as areas of community transmission of coronavirus.
They are Madrid and La Rioja, and the municipalities of La Bastida and Vitoria (both in the Basque Country) and Miranda de Ebro (in Castilla y León).
Masters golf tournament is postponed
Augusta National has not ruled out hosting the Masters later in 2020 after postponing the first major of the year, as scheduled for April, Ewan Murray reports.
A statement issued from the club on Friday followed the model of the PGA Tour, which scrapped the Players Championship after just 18 holes and three subsequent tournaments.
The Masters, which began in 1934, has been contested each year since the end of the second world war.
Care homes across the United Kingdom are banning visits from friends and family and keeping residents indoors in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, Amelia Hill reports.
The government has not told care providers to shut their doors to all non-essential visits but the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Commons health and social care committee, told BBC Newsnight on Thursday he was “personally surprised that we’re still allowing external visits to care homes”.
Mario Kreft, the chair of Care Forum Wales, which represents more than 450 care and nursing homes, advised people on Thursday morning to stay away. “Simply put, not visiting care homes is likely to save people’s lives,” Kreft said.
He called for bureaucracy to be cut so older people who no longer needed hospital care could be transferred to care homes, freeing up hospital beds.
“We’ve got to do everything that we can to ensure that people are safe, and I would say this to anybody who wants to visit a loved one in a care home to think very, very carefully because totally accidentally, this virus could be transmitted,” he said.
The Jack Ma Foundation, the charitable foundation set up by the founder of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba, has announced plans to donate 500,000 testing kits and a million masks to the US.
Drawing from my own country’s experience, speedy and accurate testing and adequate personal protective equipment for medical professionals are most effective in preventing the spread of the virus. We hope that our donation can help Americans fight against the pandemic”
The foundation has already helped sourcing and delivering materials to combat Covid-19 to other countries suffering outbreaks, including South Korea, Italy and Iran. Ma’s donation follows the purchase of 31 tons of medical supplies from China by the Italian government, which arrived in Rome early this morning.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tested positive for Covid-19 just over a week after a high-profile event in London where she was filmed hugging the singer Leona Lewis and kissing the former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, Matthew Weaver reports.
The wife of the Canadian prime minister was also photographed at the Wembley Arena We Day event on 4 March alongside the F1 driver Lewis Hamilton and the actor Idris Elba. Four days later, Grégoire Trudeau went to an International Women’s Day party attended by the former supreme court president Lady Hale.
It is feared Grégoire Trudeau may have contracted the virus during her London trip. She reported feeling unwell following her return to Canada earlier this week.
The University of Oxford has announced that it has six students who have tested positive for Covid-19, and that it may switch to “more extensive use of technology for teaching and assessment” next term.
The university said in a statement:
To date, six students have been diagnosed positive for coronavirus at the University. All are receiving all necessary support and medical attention and are recovering well.
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, has now written to all staff and students to outline new measuresdesigned to ensure the University remains open and operational as far as possible while following the latest public health advice.
The measures include advice to all UK undergraduates to return home as soon as possible after the end of term today, unless there is a compelling reason to stay in Oxford. The move is designed to reduce the pressure on colleges and academic departments. Accommodation is being made available for those students who are unable to return home.
The small number of exams which were due over the Easter break have all been cancelled or rearranged. Students have been notified and will be kept informed as new arrangements are made
Comprehensive and detailed contingency plans are also being drawn up for the next University term, including more extensive use of technology for teaching and assessment. The University will update staff and students when these plans are finalised shortly.
Formula One has called off the Bahrain and Vietnamese Grand Prix after the cancellation of Sunday’s Australian season-opener due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Guardian sports desk reports.
Bahrain, the second race on the calendar which was due to take place on Sunday 22 March, had already been scheduled to be run without spectators under floodlights at the Sakhir circuit.
Vietnam’s first Formula One Grand Prix had been scheduled for 5 April on the streets of Hanoi as the third round of the season. Both races have now been postponed just over 12 hours after the Australian Grand Prix was officially abandoned following a positive coronavirus test from a McLaren team member.
208 more confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK
According to the latest figures from the Department of Health, there are now 798 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, 208 more than yesterday.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro 'tests positive for coronavirus'
Update: Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, has tweeted to say that his father’s coronavirus test is not yet complete
The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has tested positive for coronavirus, according to local media.
The reports of a positive test come after Bolsonaro’s press secretary was found to have the disease following a trip to the US. His son Eduardo Bolsonaro, a congressman who was also on the trip, tweeted that his father “is not exhibiting any signs of the disease”
Bolsonaro dined with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night and videos and photos, including some on Wajngarten’s own Instagram account, showed the press secretary, Bolsonaro and Trump all in close proximity. “I’m not concerned,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the crisis. On Wednesday, he said “Other flus kill more than this” and has also called concern over coronavirus “oversized”.
Romanian prime minister self-quarantines
Romania’s interim prime minister, Ludovic Orban, announced on Friday that he and other senior party leaders were going into a 14-day self-imposed quarantine after a party colleague tested positive for coronavirus, Kit Gillet reports.
The senator, Vergil Chitac, had attended a recent party leadership meeting.
Orban also announced that all ministers in his cabinet would be tested for the virus, and would remain isolated in their offices in order to avoid direct contact with others. He recommended that journalists be tested, too.
As of Friday afternoon, Romania had 73 confirmed cases of the virus, with no fatalities. Six individual have been discharged from hospital.
Schools have already been cancelled across the country, with events of over 100 people banned and museums shut. On Friday, the Romanian Football Federation announced that it was suspending all games until the end of the month.
France limits public gatherings to 100 people
Authorities in France are tightening controls on mass gatherings, limiting numbers to no more than 100, after previously saying no more than a 1,000 would be allowed.
The prime minister, Edouard Philippe, told TF1 television that the new limit would come into force immediately.
The idea is that we can slow the progression and the circulation of the virus
100 people - that means that there will inevitably be signficant consequences for the theatres and the cinemas.
The coronavirus has killed 61 people in France and infected 2,876, according to figures released by the health ministry late on Thursday.
Austria has just announced it is following Italy in closing almost all shops except for supermarkets and chemists, Kate Connolly reports.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that the communities of Paznautal and St Anton would be placed under quarantine.
The coronavirus epidemic is causing inreased stress and anxiety, particularly among people with existing mental health problems, practitioners and campaigners have said, Jessica Murray and Harriet Sherwood report.
Reactions to the crisis can include feeling overwhelmed, fearful, sad, angry and helpless, according to experts. Some people may have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Fear of contact with others, travelling on public transport or going into public spaces may increase, and some people will have physical symptoms, such as an increased heart rate or upset stomach.
The World Health Organization has acknowledged that the crisis is generating stress, and has advised people to avoid watching, reading or listening to news that causes feelings of anxiety or distress.
Stephen Buckley, of the mental health charity Mind, said: “We know that the coronavirus and its impact are causing stress and worry for many people. If you already have a mental health problem, it’s possible that the worries of coronavirus may be affecting how you’re coping.”
Anyone from anywhere in the world arriving in Malta will have to undergo two weeks of mandatory self-quarantine, the country’s prime minister, Robert Abela, announced on Friday.
Anyone breaking the order will face a €1,000 fine for each breach, the Times of Malta reports. Police will carry out spot checks to ensure that the quarantine is observed. The paper quoted Abela as saying:
If someone breaches it every day of the quarantine, then they will have to pay €14,000. We will not tolerate people not abiding by quarantine terms.
Malta closed all schools, universities and childcare centres earlier this week.
Cyprus has been told that a much-anticipated trip to the island by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall next week will be postponed because of the global pandemic, Helena Smith reports.
The royals were due to spend three days in the former British colony in a tour that also included visits to Bosnia and Jordan. It was to be the first royal visit since Queen Elizabeth’s trip to Cyprus in 1993.
A Clarence House spokesman said:
Owing to the unfolding situation with the coronavirus pandemic, the British government has asked Their Royal Highnesses to postpone their spring tour to Bosnia, Cyprus and Jordan.
Health authorities in Cyprus’s internationally recognised southern sector have confirmed 14 cases of coronavirus so far. Another five more have been announced in the island’s breakaway Turkish-run north, bringing the total to 19 islandwide.
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, believes more needs to be done to coordinate international action on tackling the coronavirus, his official spokesman has said, Heather Stewart, the Guardian’s political editor, reports.
In a briefing to reporters on Friday, his spokesman said:
The prime minister believes that this is a crisis which affects countries around the globe, and does require a global response.
He added that Johnson has discussed the handling of the outbreak with presidents Macron and Trudeau in the past few days, and will hold more talks with leaders today.
Former chancellor Alistair Darling told the BBC’s Today on Friday that he was concerned about the lack of coordination. He said:
One of the reasons that the global economy recovered 10 years ago was because of international cooperation. We all did the same thing, from communist China to republican-led United States, international cooperation at the moment is in something of short supply.
A civil protection plan has been activated by Iñigo Urkullu, the president of the Basque country, which allows the Spanish region’s government to order the confinement of people to stop the spread of the disease.
“We need to use all containment and prevention measures as the situation is serious. We’re not over the worst yet,” Urkullu said on Friday morning.
The Basque country has confirmed 346 cases of the coronavirus, and here have been 11 deaths.
Separately Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) warned against all but essential travel to the regions that the Spanish Ministry of Health have designated as areas of community transmission of coronavirus.
They are Madrid and La Rioja, and the municipalities of La Bastida and Vitoria (both in the Basque Country) and Miranda de Ebro (in Castilla y León).
In Scotland, launch events for the Edinburgh International Festival have been cancelled and Scottish football authorities have postponed the rest of the season, following advice from the Scottish government to scrap large gatherings above 500 people.
The Edinburgh International Festival announced it will cancel all gatherings associated with its 2020 programme launch, initially set to run from 18th to 25th of March in Edinburgh and London.
Instead the Festival is creating a digital event to be broadcast live on 18th March, 12pm on its Facebook page.
Fergus Linehan, festival director at Edinburgh International Festival, said: “At this point, the Festival is almost 5 months away. For now we remain committed to running the International Festival as planned. In hope that the pandemic will be curbed by August, we must continue to provide security for our artists and for our sector.
“We hope that in August, our Festival will provide a much-needed moment of joy after what will have been a challenging summer. To reassure our audiences, we have also revised our refunds policy to offer anyone with Coronavirus related concerns a ticket refund.”
The Scottish FA and Scottish Professional Football League announced the postponement of this weekend’s and following midweek’s fixtures, starting with tonight’s Premiership match between Motherwell and Aberdeen and the Championship match between Queen of the South and Ayr United.
The suspension will also affect non-professional and grassroots games until further notice, Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA chief executive said.
Ethiopia has confirmed its first case of coronavirus, Agence-France Presse reports, shortly after Kenya became the first east African country to report a case of the disease.
A 48-year-old Japanese man who had arrived in the country on 4 March 4 from Burkina Faso was confirmed to have contracted the virus, the French news agency reported the Ethiopian health ministry as saying.
He is undergoing medical follow-up and is in a stable condition. Those who have been in contact with this person are being traced and quarantined.
PA Media reports that a school in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, has been closed due to a case of coronavirus. Lanark Grammar school in Lanark was closed by South Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire.
Dr John Logan, NHS Lanarkshire consultant in public health medicine, said:
We would like to reassure all staff and parents that the risk of contracting coronavirus from this individual is very low.
Our public health team is in the process of identifying and contacting the limited number of people who were in very close contact with the confirmed case and issuing public health advice.
We want to reassure these teachers and parents - and indeed everyone at this time - that they should follow the most up-to-date healthcare advice, which can be found on the NHS Inform website.
We would like to thank everyone at the school for their cooperation and support. We are working towards reopening the school on Monday.
Tony McDaid, executive director for education at South Lanarkshire council, said:
The health and safety of our staff and young people are of paramount importance to us.
As soon as we were notified of this matter we immediately met with NHS Lanarkshire’s public health officials and agreed that to close temporarily as a precaution would be the most appropriate step to take.
We of course regret the inconvenience this will cause but hope parents, carers and others will understand our reasons for this course of action and fully support our decision.
We will keep all parents, staff and teachers updated during this period.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised Britons against all but essential travel to Madrid and some other regions of Spain.
We are advising against all but essential travel to the regions of Madrid, La Rioja and the municipalities of La Bastida, Vitoria and Miranda de Ebro. Airlines are continuing to run flights as normal to and from these areas.
Turkey has announced its second confirmed case of Covid-19, two days after the virus finally reached the tourism and travel hub, Bethan McKernan, the Guardian’s Turkey and Middle East correspondent, reports.
The new patient is a relative of the first, who contracted the novel coronavirus after a visit to Europe. Both are in isolation and are in a stable condition, health minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday morning.
The new case follows extra measures announced Thursday evening by Ibrahim Kalin, a senior aide to president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to contain the spread of the virus.
Turkey’s spring school holiday will be moved up one week to 16 March, after which there will be at least one week of online remote teaching. Universities will also be closed for at least three weeks from Monday and all sports events will take place without spectators until the end of April.
Turkey, a tourist hub linking Europe and western Asia, had around 50 million visitors last year. It also hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, including some 3.5 million Syrians. Aid agencies have warned of possibly catastrophic consequences if the coronavirus reaches vulnerable undocumented and refugee populations in the region.
Hospitals in Istanbul and the capital Ankara have been set up to test and quarantine patients suspected of having the virus.
The border with Iran, one of the worst affected countries, remains shut, and flights to several destinations with high rates of infection were cancelled last month. International travel for public servants is now under review.
On Thursday, Kalin also advised against all travel excluding extraordinary circumstances and 14-day self-quarantine on return to Turkey for all citizens and foreigners.
Erdoğan is still set to meet with his German and French counterparts in Istanbul next Tuesday, as well as possibly Boris Johnson, for talks on the fighting in Syria’s Idlib province.
In her inaugural speech, Greece’s first female president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, has urged citizens to comply with the emergency measures announced by health authorities to stem the spread of coronavirus, reports Helena Smith in Athens.
Speaking after taking the oath of office in a ceremony dominated by Covid-19, the progressive former high court judge singled out the pandemic, underlying the risk it posed especially for the elderly.
“We are called upon, as an absolute priority, to effectively confront the recent coronavirus pandemic which is a real danger for older citizens,” she told the nation emphasising that the restrictions were vital “so as not to sow panic and prompt the collapse of the health system”.
Sakellaropoulou, who was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of MPS when she was nominated for the post in January, was sworn in before an almost empty chamber as parliamentarians, in line with a government ban on mass gatherings, stayed away.
There were no handshakes in a ceremony depicted on state-run TV as being both swift and subdued, if also emotionally charged.
Greek health authorities have so far declared 117 confirmed Coronavirus cases and one death.
The country was among the first in Europe to shut schools and universities. On Thursday, after revealing the fatality, the government announced that cinemas, theatres, gyms and nightclubs would also be closed. A 66-year- old man, who contracted the virus during a tour of religious sites in Israel and Egypt, died after waging a week-long battle for his life in a hospital in the western port city of Patras.
Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, has broken ranks with government colleagues and urged the immediate closure of schools and colleges to slow coronavirus, reports Rory Carroll in Dublin.
The Sinn Féin member said the region should buck the decision by Boris Johnson to keep UK education facilities open and instead emulate Ireland’s shutdown. O’Neill said:
People are rightly concerned about the impacts on their families and their children and as a parent, I share those concerns and I have been contacted by many parents who did not send their children to school this morning.
To protect the public, schools and colleges should now be closed. There has been contradictory medical evidence and in that context my view is that we should err on the side of caution.
On Thursday, Sinn Féin agreed with the decision to keep schools open but the example south of the border, and restrictions announced by sporting clubs and churches, paved a U-turn.
Earlier on Friday, Arlene Foster, the first minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist party, said schools would need to close but at a later, unspecified date. Northern Ireland has recorded 20 cases of Covid-19.
The split happened hours before the publication of an official report into the cash-for-ash scandal that is expected to censure Foster.
From Monday, almost no-one will be allowed to enter or leave the Czech Republic, as it effectively closes its borders in response to the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the world.
According to a report on expats.cz, all foreign nationals without residence will be barred from entering, while all Czech citizens and holders of residence permits will be barred from leaving.
The only exceptions to the ban will be Czech nationals and holders of residence permits returning to the country - although they may face quarantine - and those who live within 50km of the borders with Austria and Germany and work in those countries.
A further 13 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 38, Public Health Wales has announced.
On Friday Dr Robin Howe, incident director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at PHW, said the new cases include four people in the Caerphilly area and two in the Swansea area, the Press Association reported.
Dr Howe said:
All patients are being managed in clinically appropriate settings based on the assessment of a specialist infectious disease consultant.”
Public Health Wales is working with our partners in the Welsh Government, the wider NHS in Wales, and others now that we have entered the delay phase of the UK Coronavirus action plan.
This is now not just an attempt to contain the disease, as far as possible, but to delay its spread”
3,000 now infected in Germany
Kate Connolly, our correspondent in Berlin, reports that 3,000 people in Germany now have coronavirus. Six people have so far died.
Berlin, Bavaria and two other states are the first to announce the blanket closure of schools and kindergartens. Two others, the worst-hit state of North Rhein Westphalia where over 1,000 are infected, and Rheinland Pfalz, are expected to make similar decisions later today.
Michael Müller, the mayor of Berlin, said public transport is also due to be reduced to a minimum.
In the Bundestag legislation has been passed this morning allowing companies to access compensation if they put their employees on so-called ‘Kurzarbeit’ or reduced working hours, enabling them to continue paying them their full wage. The law in all its detail will be fully enacted within the next ten days.
“We will not leave anyone alone,” Olaf Scholz, the finance minister said. In addition Scholz and the economics minister Peter Altmaier are planning billions of Euros of liquidity help for businesses, in an effort to protect firms and jobs.
Meanwhile the German Football League, the DFL has announced that Bundesliga and second league matches will be halted from next Tuesday until 2 April. Matches this weekend will continue to take place, but without spectators.
This morning at a regular press conference which the head of the Robert Koch Institute, the leading public health and safety body in Germany has been holding for the past two and a half weeks, its director, Lothar Wieler said public health bodies had three aims in their attempts to tackle the virus.
- To try to ‘level off’ the epidemic curve, to ensure the most seriously ill don’t end up having to be hospitalised at the same time.
- To try to speed up the adaptation of hospitals to cope with an increase in intensive care beds and patients who will need respiratory assistance. He said the virus was a “stress test” for Germany’s health care system.
- To slow down the spread of the illness by cancelling large events. Every citizen should be prepared to reduce their social contacts, he said. “Each and every one of us needs to simply consider what he absolutely has to do”, and cancel everything else, he said.
Wieler said Bavaria’s decision to stop visitors to care homes was “a very sensible measure” and that school and kindergarten closures were “a good measure in helping the slowing down” of the virus.
“But then you have to ask who looks after the children,” he said. “The medical staff is mainly made up of females. So a concept needs to be created as to who will look after the children to allow these people to still be able to work”.
Wieler said that between 60-70% of the population would get the virus, due to the fact that it is new, there is no immunity against it, no vaccination against it and no treatment for it” and that “many many people” will have had it already without knowing it, and will have already recovered. Those numbers are unquantifiable, but the more people who get it, long term, the better, as that will increase the immunity levels.
Four-fifths of people will get it very mildly with many not even realising they have it, he added.
One fifth will suffer serious symptoms. That could still amount to millions of people being severely ill at once, hence the repeated stress by health officials on slowing down its stress.
Ireland is to swear in around 325 trainee police officers next week to boost frontline policing as the country adapts to a partial lockdown to delay the spread of coronavirus, reports Rory Carroll in Dublin.
An Garda Síochána, the name of the force, announced on Friday that it would also defer training until further notice and reassign tutors and instructors to operational roles.
The commissioner, Drew Harris, has restricted annual leave and asked senior officers who were due to retire soon to stay on in the national interest.
“The commissioner has designated the ongoing situation as an ‘exceptional event’, the force said in a statement.
Additional duties include showing a visible police presence at shops and pharmacies which have been the scene of panic buying since the government announced restrictions on Thursday. Harris told a media briefing:
People need to remain calm about the food supply. The fear of looting should not arise. We’ve had no looting incidents yet. People have been calm and well-mannered in terms of their shopping. We are there but that’s primarily to provide reassurance and help with traffic flow.
The garda training college at Templemore, in county Tipperary, is being considered as a medical centre or quarantine facility.
The staff union for the NHS, the GMB, is calling on the UK government to requisition all private hospital beds if more capacity is needed to treat patients seriously ill as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
In a statement, GMB London called on the government to act now to give itself the legal powers it would need to take control of private sector hospitals. Warren Kenny, GMB London regional secretary, said:
There are approximately 128,000 overnight beds in the NHS in England. Only a small number of these are intensive care beds.
It is not clear what the current numbers are of beds in private sector hospitals but estimates put the figure somewhere in the region of 8,000. Some of these will also be intensive care beds.
GMB London know that all sorts of contingency plans will be being drawn up in the background by very capable medical and scientific advisers to deal with the emergency. Some of these plans will involve cooperation with private sector hospitals.
However, the Government and their advisers must have available to them the powers to requisition these hospital beds if required to increase capacity to deal with the crisis. In particular, using these beds to divert non-coronavirus-related treatments from NHS hospitals may make sense. This could be particularly the case in London.
The electorate will expect the government to be able to mobilise all health capacity - be it public or private - to deal with what the Prime Minister has described as ‘the worst public health crisis for a generation’. The private health sector cannot be excluded from this mobilisation.
UK rail unions are reporting widespread anger among tube workers and loss of trust in the Transport for London management, amid fears over workers’ exposure to infection on the London Underground, Gwyn Topham, the Guardian’s transport correspondent, reports.
The RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
There’s a growing sense of anger amongst tube staff that they are being cut adrift in what is clearly a dangerous front-line environment in terms of the coronavirus spread.
We cannot allow this situation to continue and we want an urgent top level summit to address this crisis of confidence. The union will take whatever action is required to protect the well-being and livelihoods of our members.
A spokesperson said:
Our members have the right to a safe working environment and we will issue guidance to retreat to a place of safety if they think their well-being and personal safety is being compromised.
A British woman who died in Bali after contracting coronavirus has been named in Australian media as Kimberley Finlayson.
Finlayson died earlier this week in a Bali hospital after coming down with Covid-19 while on holiday with her husband, Ken, who has since tested negative for the virus. She was said to have suffered from a series of pre-existing medical conditions.
Sanglah Hospital director, Wayan Sudana told 7NEWS.com.au: “Based on information from Bali Health Agency the laboratory test result of the husband of the Covid-19 patient number 25 are complete. The lab test result is negative.”
The Scottish government has opened an advice helpline for businesses following yesterday’s announcement that gatherings over 500 will be advised to cancel from Monday, Aamna Mohdin reports.
Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop said the government wrote to all planning authorities this week encouraging them to relax their approach to the enforcement of planning restrictions on shop delivery times and opening hours.
Scotland’s football authorities announced they would “enter discussions” with the Scottish government before deciding whether to postpone matches.
In a joint statement, the Scottish Professional Football League and Scottish FA confirmed games would go ahead as planned this weekend. Following the discussion with the Scottish government, the football authorities will “provide clear and unequivocal advice” on what happens to games from next week.
The Scottish FA confirmed they would also take part in a Uefa video conference call on Tuesday to discuss whether Euro 2020 will need to be cancelled.
Scotland are due to face Israel in the Uefa Nations League play-off semi-final against Israel on 26 March at Hampden Park.
The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast has been looking at the question of whether the UK National Health Service is fit to tackle the developing coronavirus pandemic.
The NHS is bracing for a major surge in hospital admissions as the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, made a firm commitment to helping the NHS get “whatever it needs”.
Denis Campbell, the Guardian’s health policy editor, tells Rachel Humphreys there is genuine concern among staff that the service will not be able to cope in the event of a sustained crisis of the type being seen in Italy.
All professional football in England suspended
The Premier League, the Football League and the Women’s Super League and Championship have suspended all matches until 3 April in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Paul MacInnes reports.
An unprecedented development, it follows the revelation overnight that several Premier League clubs have members of staff, including players and coaches, who are displaying symptoms of the virus.
All schools in Croatia are to shut from Monday, the country’s prime minister announced on Friday morning. Andrej Plenkovic told reporters:
The whole world is at war with the virus. The responsibility of every citizen is an essential discipline that will affect the spread of the epidemic. I call on everyone to be accountable and to listen carefully to the instructions and to all public health professionals. The headquarters will continue with all its activities as before, twice a day at 9 am and at 4 pm.”
Everybody is thinking about closing schools. Our health experts say that a very small percentage of those infected are below the age of 20. But children are especially important, and we will stop teaching from Monday for two weeks.
Reuters currently has the country down as having 27 cases, but a reader who sent in details of the schools closures says the most recent figure is 31.
From Monday, all schools in the German state of Bavaria will be shut until the end of the Easter holidays on 19 April, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.
The five week holiday means almost no child in Bavaria will be able to go to school or kindergarten, with emergency care organised in only a few cases, according to the paper.
Bavarian prime minister Markus Söder also announced that he would ban visits to retirement homes and hospitals and that events with more than 100 visitors would be banned unless they were absolutely necessary.
Mount Everest climbing season called off
The climbing season on Mount Everest has been called off amid fears over the coronavirus pandemic, Pete Pattisson reports.
The Nepal government suspended all mountaineering permits on Thursday and, as we reported earlier, will stop issuing on-arrival tourist visas, dealing a devastating blow to the country’s tourism industry.
Nepal’s tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai told the Guardian, “We will review the decision if the situation improves, but for now everything has been cancelled. Those who have paid for climbing permits will be refunded.”
The Chinese government has also cancelled all expeditions from the north side of Everest.
The announcement comes as Nepal enters its peak tourist season when tens of thousands of trekkers and mountaineers were expected to test themselves among the highest mountains in the world.
Trekking and climbing are a lucrative and vital source of revenue for Nepal. Last year the government earned over £3.5 million from issuing climbing permits on peaks above 6000 metres, including Everest.
Despite its impact, the decision appears to have the support of the tourism industry.
Mingma Sherpa, the director of Seven Summit Treks, Nepal’s biggest and arguably most successful expedition company, supported the move. “No doubt our business will suffer but who will be responsible if the virus spreads on the mountain,” he said. “The mountain is here, it’s not moving anywhere. People can come and climb next year.”
Nuru Janbu Sherpa, the CEO of International Sherpa Adventure, a trekking and expedition company said, “It’s a positive decision as it will help to contain the spread of the virus. If waiting six months helps to protect people, we have no problem with suspending our business.”
However, Sherpa warned that the decision will hit many low wage labourers who depend on climbing for their livelihood.
The mountaineering industry in Nepal has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years. Climbing on Everest was effectively called off following an avalanche in 2014 and the 2015 earthquake. Last year, the government was widely criticised for failing to manage the huge numbers of climbers on the peak, which some claimed contributed to the deaths of 11 mountaineers.
Nepal has had just one confirmed case of the coronavirus, said Basu Dev Pandey, the director of the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease hospital in Kathmandu, but he warned the country was at risk due its location between China and India.
In a further blow to the economy, last week Qatar barred entry to travellers from 14 countries, including Nepal, leaving tens of thousands of migrant labourers unable to start work in the emirate. Almost 30% of Nepal’s GDP comes from remittances sent by its migrant workers, who are largely based in the Gulf and Malaysia.
PA Media has more details on the London underground train driver who has tested positive for coronavirus.
The man, who works on the tube’s Jubilee Line, has been off work this week after returning to the UK from holiday in Vietnam, sources told the news agency. An internal message to staff said the driver, based at the North Greenwich depot, had been self-isolating but had tested positive for Covid-19. The memo said:
The operator is receiving support from health services and is continuing to follow Public Health England (PHE) advice to self-isolate.
The train operator has recently returned from a trip abroad, where it is thought the illness may have been contracted.
Rail union leaders wrote to the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, on Thursday, voicing concern about what advice transport workers are being given. The letter said:
We are writing jointly as representatives of workers in the transport industry to implore you to break your silence and give leadership on measures that public transport can take to tackle coronavirus.
Transport workers are receiving different advice from different companies - and in some cases even within the same company - about what actions to take in the event of suspected or actual illness.
There is concern of ‘over-managing’ attendance procedures and how they are being applied. Clearly, if someone is told to self-isolate they should not then be penalised by their employer for doing so in the interest of public health, yet this is currently the case in the rail and bus industries.
Our privatised transport system is not conducive to swift and co-ordinated responses. There is apparently no consistency across the public transport network in how transport workers will be treated if they fall ill.
Companies where employees work side by side with transport workers employed by another company are being treated differently, leading to confusion and frustration.
The Scottish government is advising that gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled next week, as the number of positive cases jumps to 60 yesterday.
Were you planning on attending an event or a trip that might now not go ahead? If so, please get in touch with the Guardian reporter Aamna Mohdin, who is based in Edinburgh, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barack Obama is to blame for shortcomings in the United States government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Donald Trump has said.
But not to worry, he has fixed the problems by slashing red tape.
In the UK, a hospital left a patient with coronavirus on a ward of critical ill patients while she was being tested, according to a local newspaper report.
The Basingstoke Gazette reports that it was told by an employee of Basingstoke and North Hampshire hospital that the woman, who was showing coronavirus symptoms, was moved into a ward with critically unwell women.
However, Hampshire NHS Trust says that the reports are completely untrue.
According to the paper:
The unwell patient remained on the ward around critically ill people for hours until results revealed she had coronavirus. Nurses in normal uniform and without protective gear moved her.
The member of staff contacted this newspaper after being appalled by the practice which they claim will lead to a ‘dangerous spread’ of the disease and warns the hospital is on the brink of an outbreak.
Now a patient who was forced to temporarily share the ward with the Covid-19 sufferer is displaying symptoms of the disease.
You can read more on the Basingstoke Gazette website.
England's cricket tour of Sri Lanka cancelled
England’s tour of Sri Lanka has been officially called off due to the global spread of the coronavirus, Ali Martin reports.
The decision was announced by the England and Wales Cricket Board and their Sri Lankan counterparts on Friday morning while Joe Root’s players were out in the middle playing the second day of their final warm-up fixture in Colombo.
The two-match series, part of the World Test Championship, was due to start in Galle next Thursday. But with England supporters due to begin travelling out to the island in the coming days, and apparent unease among the squad about the situation, a postponement became inevitable.
The World Health Organisation is using its Twitter feed to highlight the important role that women play - often unpaid and unrecognised - in handling outbreaks such as the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Champions League postponed
Uefa has postponed all Champions League and Europa League fixtures next week because of the coronavirus, the Guardian’s sport desk reports.
Two Europa League games, those between Sevilla and Roma as well as Inter and Getafe, had already been postponed this week and on Thursday next week’s game between Manchester City and Real Madrid was suspended.
On Friday morning the European governing body announced that all games next week had been suspended.
Authorities in Madrid, the capital of Spain, have not ruled out a lockdown of the capital, the mayor said on Friday, as the number of cases in the region reached 2,000, Sam Jones reports from the city.
José Luia Martínez-Almeida told Antena 3 TV that he had not discarded the idea of locking downthecity, saying it would be “irresponsible” not to look at every possible scenario. He added:
We can’t say that it’s going to happen immediately, nor can we say we’ve ruled it out.
The mayor also suspended licenses for terraces and seating areas outside bars and cafés in the capital, urging owners to shut them down before it became mandatory.
He said “stricter measures would be needed” to halt the spread of the virus, adding that children’s play areas in parks would be closed from Friday.
On Thursday night, the regional government of Catalonia ordered around 70,000 people in four municipalities in the Barcelona region to remain in their homes for a fortnight after a steep increase in Coronavirus cases in the area.
Igualada, Vilanova del Camí, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Òdena have been placed in lockdown after the number of cases linked to a hospital in Igualada rose to 58 on Thursday. The regional government said on Thursday evening:
No one is allowed out of these affected areas.
Only emergency personnel and vehicles bringing fuel and food supplies will be allowed to move around the area.
The move comes almost a week after neighbourhoods in a small town in the northern region of La Rioja were placed in lockdown after a cluster of cases was traced to a funeral in the nearby Basque Country.
The government of the Czech Republic has also declared a state of emergency, restricting the opening hours of restaurants and cafes, closing gyms and sports facilities, and requiring people returning from high risk countries to quarantine themselvs.
According to a report in Prague Morning, the rules will permit restaurants and cafes to open only between 6am and 8pm, while refreshments at shopping centres will be banned altogether.
Those organising weddings have been asked to keep their guest lists to a maximum of 30 people, while funerals may be attended to 100 people. According to prime minister Andrej Babis:
“We are also banning theatre, music, film and other performances, sports, cultural, religious, community, dancing, traditional events and other meetings.”
The Czech government will also require people returning from all high-risk countries to quarantine themselves, widening a requirement so far only applied to those returning from Italy, foreign minister Tomas Petricek said on Twitter on Friday.
The list includes Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and the US, Prague Morning reported.
Bulgaria has become the latest European country to declare a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis, Reuters reports.
The country’s parliament voted unanimously on to declare the state of emergency until 13 April after the number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 23.
It will allow for travel bans to and from countries with large coronavirus outbreaks, the closing of schools and universities, and permit police to intervene when imposed isolation of infected people is not observed.
The government also plans a revision of the 2020 state budget to allocate more funds to support the healthcare system, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told deputies.
London Tube driver tests positive for coronavirus
In news that will be worrying for those of us who travel on the Tube to work every morning, a London Underground driver has tested positive for coronavirus, sources told PA.
Earlier this week we reported that Transport for London had stepped up cleaning protocols across its Tube and bus networks.
The Portuguese government has put the country on a “state of alert” and ordered the closure of schools and universities as the number of cases reached 78, Sam Jones, the Guardian’s Madrid correspondent reports.
It said the move was intended to ensure that “civil protection and security forces” were ready to react to the situation “promptly”.
The government said the opening hours of shopping centres would be limited to avoid overcrowding and that the number of customers in bars and restaurants would be limited.
It added: “This is a fight for our survival and for the protection of Portuguese lives.”
The country’s football league was also suspended.
Irish authorities are reportedly trying to identify 10,000 beds around Ireland as a contingency for coronavirus, Rory Carroll reports from Dublin.
The Health Service Executive is attempting to source beds in hospitals, hotels, military barracks, student accommodation and other sites for a possible surge in cases, according to RTE.
The National Public Health Emergency Team said the delay phase measures announced on Thursday – such as closing schools and universities and banning big public gatherings – may slow infections so that 200 people a week catch the virus over five weeks instead of 500 people a week catching the virus over two weeks. The goal is to give health services and society time to handle the pandemic.
Simon Harris, the health minister, on Friday said environmental health workers would meet people returning from Spain and Italy. He asked such people to not go to work and curb social interactions for two weeks. “It is not quite self-isolate, but to restrict their movements.”
Ireland has 70 confirmed cases. Northern Ireland has 20.
Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first minister, said the region would close schools at some point.
Premier League and British football set for coronavirus shutdown
The Premier League are expected to convene at 10.30am to determine what happens next.
This is an unprecedented time but all 20 clubs will need to come to an unanimous decision for any action to be taken and government officials are also being kept in the loop.
The EFL board are likely to follow action taken by the Premier League, who at 9.30pm on Thursday said all of this weekend’s games would “go ahead as scheduled” before, an hour later, releasing a statement confirming Friday morning’s emergency meeting.
In terms of press conferences, Jürgen Klopp’s has been canned, as has Frank Lampard’s. Steve Bruce and Eddie Howe, however, are scheduled to speak as planned imminently.
Read more on our football live blog:
Egypt has reported its first Covid-19 death of an Egyptian citizen, hundreds of miles away from Luxor, the city at the centre of outbreaks of the virus, Ruth Michaelson reports from Cairo.
According to state media and the Egyptian ministry of health, a 60-year-old woman in the Nile Delta town of Mansoura “was administered a PCR test and tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday evening,” after arriving at a local chest hospital with acute pneumonia.
Mansoura is 465 miles away from the ancient city of Luxor, where increasing numbers of tourists have reported infection after departure.
The woman was transferred to quarantine and died Thursday night. It is unclear why her positive test result for COVID-19 was only added to official infection rates following her death. The Egyptian Ministry of Health subsequently reported 80 total infections since mid-February, including 20 they say have since recovered and left hospital.
The death of the woman in Mansoura is the second death in Egypt, the most populous country in the Middle East. A German tourist transferred from Luxor to a hospital in the resort town Hurghada died last Sunday from the virus.
The outbreak in Mansoura shows that the virus is spreading inside Egypt. “The 13 new coronavirus cases include six who showed no symptoms and had contracted the virus after coming into contact with people who previously tested positive,” said government-owned outlet Al-Ahram.
Egypt’s health ministry continued to update the number of official cases, but has not regularly named the location of infections. The country’s minister for education announced earlier this week that schools were banned from trips in the governorates of Luxor, Aswan and Hurghada due to outbreaks of the virus.
The ministry also announced that a school in the central district of Zamalek would close and parents and teachers self-isolate for a fortnight “as a precautionary measure, after a parent of one of the school students was in contact with a foreigner who tested positive for coronavirus.”
As the disease shows signs of spreading, some in Cairo attempted to retain a sense of business as usual even as Egypt was battered by a freak storm forcing many to stay indoors. Certain bars and clubs in Cairo announced they would test patrons temperatures on entry.
School classes in Belgium have been suspended from Monday, as the the country’s national security council implemented a number of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Other measures include the closure of all restaurants and bars by midnight and the cancellation of all recreational, cultural and sporting events while restaurants, bars, cafés and nightclubs are ordered to shut at midnight until 3 April.
Pharmacies and grocery shops will remain open as normal, while other shops must close at weekends, Eurativ.com reports.
The health minister of Kazakhstan has announced that two Kazakh citizens have tested positive for coronavirus the first cases of the disease in the Central Asian country, after returning to the country from Germany.
The patients are staying in a specialised hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, Reuters reports him as saying.
The British clinical psychologist Simon Baron Cohen has revealed on Twitter that he has advised all staff in his laboratory to work from home.
Baron Cohen, who is professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, included a link in his tweet to a Medium article that claimed that just one day’s delay to implementing social distancing measures could increase the spread of coronavirus by up to 40%.
Could the US president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, be infected with coronavirus? She was pictured last week standing next to Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton, whose diagnosis was revealed today.
The UK government’s chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s agenda setting news programme Today to defend the measures announced last night by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to combat the spread of Covid-19 in the UK.
Many people had criticised the measures, which appeared comparatively relaxed compared to those taken by other countries, even in Europe, as too little, too late. But Vallance said that the government’s reasoning was “based on which interventions are going to have the biggest effect.”
He said the government’s plan was to reduce the peak of the epidemic, “pull it down and broaden it,” which he said everyone agreed was the best approach.
The government wanted to encourage “herd immunity” among the population, Vallance said, suggesting that it would be worse to suppress the disease completely then for it to return in the autumn
If you suppress something very hard, when you release those measures it bounces back at the wrong time so our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not to suppress it completely. So because most people get a mild illness, to build up some degree of herd immunity as well, so that more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same we protect those who are most vulnerable.
British cabinet minister tests negative
The UK cabinet minister who went into self-isolation earlier this week has tested negative.
Anne Marie Trevelyan, the secretary of state for international development, said she would nevertheless self-isolate for seven days.
First coronavirus case confirmed in east Africa
All major public events have been banned in Kenya after it confirmed the first case of coronavirus in east Africa.
The patient is a woman who had returned to the country from the United States via the UK.
Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe told reporters on Friday morning
I want to inform you that the Ministry of Health has confirmed the first coronavirus case in Kenya.
The case is a Kenyan citizen who travelled back to Nairobi, returning from the United States of America via London, United Kingdom, on March 5, 2020.
Kagwe told a news conference the government had suspended all public gatherings, sporting events, open-air religious meetings and “all events that are of a huge public nature”, Reuters reported. He also warned traders that “This is not the time to make abnormal profits by charging abnormal prices”.
All rugby fixtures in France have been suspended.
In the UK, a student at the University of Hertfordshire who has tested positive for coronavirus was a resident of campus student halls, the Guardian has been told.
A reader, the parent of another student, has written in to say that students are fearful because the university has said it will not close. Deep cleaning is taking place at the infected student’s flat, the Guardian was told.
According to a statement on the university website:
A student studying at the University of Hertfordshire has tested positive for Covid-19. We are working closely with the NHS and Public Health England to support the affected student, who is being looked after at home.
We want to reassure our students, their parents and our staff that the health, safety and security of our community is always our highest priority. The risk of the virus being passed on to other people on campus is low, we continue to follow PHE and government advice and the university is continuing to operate as normal. As a precaution, we have cleaned the affected areas in accordance with Public Health England advice.
Here is a video of the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison’s announcement that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people are to be suspended from Monday.
Nepal has announced that visa-on-arrival has been suspended for all visitors to the country and that all foreign arrivals entering the country from tomorrow must stay in self-quarantine for 14 days.
Here is the official announcement on the Nepali department for immigration website.
Turkey has announced its second coronavirus patient, the day after the government implemented a number of new measure to try to stem the spread of the virus.
The health minister, Fahrettin Koca, wrote on Twitter that the second patient, whose test results came on Thursday evening, was from the circle of people close to the first patient diagnosed on Wednesday.
It comes after the presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin announced that Turkish schools will be closed for one week and universities for three weeks from 16 March, and all sports events will be played without spectators until the end of April.
At a news conference following a meeting of ministers at the presidential palace, Kalin also said that President Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign visits and programmes will be postponed for some time due to the spread of the virus, according to Reuters.
Kalin said primary, middle and secondary schools would initially be closed for one week and after that students will receive remote online teaching from 23 March.
Turkey was the last of the world’s major economies to report an outbreak, though all its neighbours except war-ravaged Syria had reported cases.
Spanish-language Twitter feeds have been reporting that Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has tested positive for coronavirus, Dom Phillips reports from Rio de Janeiro.
It comes after Bolsonaro’s press secretary was found to have the disease following a trip to the US, but the reports are being denied as fake news and none of Brazil’s main media sites have confirmed them.
Bolsonaro has taken a test, however, according to local media, and the results will be ready on Friday. His son Eduardo Bolsonaro, a congressman who was also on the trip, tweeted that his father “is not exhibiting any signs of the disease”.
On Thursday, the Brazilian government confirmed media reports that Bolsonaro’s press secretary, Fabio Wajngarten, tested positive following the US trip he was also on, along with ministers, congressmen and the first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, as well as Eduardo Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro dined with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night and videos and photos, including some on Wajngarten’s own Instagram account, showed the press secretary, Bolsonaro and Trump all in close proximity. “I’m not concerned,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.
The Intercept has reported that aside from Wajngarten, three other members of the delegation have also reported feeling flu-like symptoms and been tested, quoting an anonymous source. It did not name the three others.
Meanwhile conservative Brazilians planning pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations across Brazil that are attacking Congress on Sunday have begun sharing images of people wearing masks – but are insisting the protests, which Bolsonaro himself endorsed, will go ahead. Bolsonaro has cancelled an interview for the launch of CNN Brasil due to air the same day, the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper site reported.
Yesterday we reported that a number of UK universities, including the LSE and the Manchester Metropolitan university, had decided to move classes online to combat the spread of coronavirus. But it appears students across the country have called on their universities to do the same.
Many other universities across the world have already decided to close their doors and continue semesters remotely, or even to postpone teaching altogether.
Change.org says it is hosting more than 40 petitions relating to university measures across the UK, with most calling for teaching to move online. Kajal Odedra, the UK executive director of Change.org, said:
Hundreds of people around the UK are turning to Change.org to start petitions around coronavirus and how this global health issue is affecting their community.
Coronavirus-related petitions are the biggest trend on Change.org right now and we expect more petitions to be started over the coming days as people wrestle to get the information they need to prepare for the virus.
This is Damien Gayle in London taking control of the liveblog now, as the sun moves across the world from Asia towards Europe, the Middle East and Africa. As ever, I will be posting updates from the Guardian’s network of correspondents across the world, as well as the most-important updates from the news wires and social media.
If you have any news that you think we should be reporting on the live blog, please do get in touch. You can reach me on email at email@example.com or via my Twitter profile, @damiengayle. With the huge interest in the coronavirus story, I won’t be able to reply to all messages, but I’ll do my best to look at all of them.
That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan. I’ll be handing over to my colleague Damien Gayle who will be bringing you the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic for the next while.
For those of you just waking up, below is our latest coronavirus At a Glance summary piece, as well as the very fresh and more in-depth wrap of the key developments over the last few hours.
The latest blog summary is here.
The Australian home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, has confirmed via Twitter that he has coronavirus.
“This morning I woke up with a temperature and sore throat. I immediately contacted the Queensland Department of Health and was subsequently tested for Covid-19. I was advised by Queensland Health this afternoon that the test had returned positive,” he wrote.
Dutton has been admitted to hospital, per Queensland health’s general advice.
Earlier today, Dutton did not attend his usual Today Show interview. Host Allison Langdon said it was “a stomach bug”.
As stated in his release today, Dutton said he woke up with the symptoms this morning and got the test back this afternoon.
Universities and colleges across the US are halting teaching, moving lessons online, and even asking students to move out of campus accommodation in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Dozens of institutions – including UCLA, NYU, Yale and Princeton – are cancelling in-person lessons in favour of online teaching. Harvard and Amherst have gone as far as to ask their students to move out, disrupting the lives of thousands of students in the process.
First Covid-19 case happened in November, China govt records show
The first case of someone suffering from Covid-19 can be traced back to 17 November, according to media reports on unpublished Chinese government data.
The report, in the South China Morning Post, said Chinese authorities had identified at least 266 people who contracted the virus last year and who came under medical surveillance, and the earliest case was 17 November – weeks before authorities announced the emergence of the new virus.
The Chinese government was widely criticised over attempts to cover up the outbreak in the early weeks, including crackdowns on doctors who tried to warn colleagues about a new Sars-like virus which was emerging in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province.
Singaporeans have been advised by the country’s health ministry to defer all non-essential travel to Italy, France, Spain and Germany.
China’s city of Yichang in central Hubei province will loosen travel curbs adopted to rein in a coronavirus outbreak, allowing people to move in and out, the government said on Friday, in a statement on its website.
It will also allow the return of people from outside the province, employing a “health code” monitoring system that makes use of mobile telephone.
Nepal closes Mount Everest
Nepal has closed all of its Himalayan peaks including Mount Everest this climbing season because of fears of the coronavirus outbreak, a government minister said on Friday, Reuters reports.
Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains including Mount Everest, gets more than four million dollars in permit fees for the world’s highest peak and other mountains every year.
Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai said expeditions to all peaks in the March-May spring season had been suspended.
“Climbing this season has been closed,” Bhattarai told Reuters.
“It is as a precaution for that,” he added, when asked it its was because of the coronavirus.
Nepal has confirmed just one case of the coronavirus - a student studying in China on a trip home - out of 450 people tested.
The suspension of expeditions in Nepal will affect hundreds of foreign climbers now preparing for the spring season, a window of relatively good weather between the end of the bitterly cold winter and the rainy season, which begins in June.
Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,850 metres (29,035 feet), is on the border between Nepal and the Chinese region of Tibet. China announced the closure of its side of the mountain on Thursday.
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the food service industry to review its policies.
This brushing off of illness is common in many places within the food service and restaurant industry and has been for many years. But with the recent coronavirus outbreak, being sick is no longer something people can shrug off given the illness’ ability to spread rapidly and efficiently.
The culture around sick leave in the food service industry is that it is nearly nonexistent. The CDC says that 15% of food workers have paid sick leave. That means a bulk of people in the industry are part of the 32 million American workers who are without paid sick leave.
Poor sick leave policies are an “industry standard” in food service, particularly fast food, said Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Center. The US does not have a federal sick leave policy, with 12 states and Washington DC having paid sick leave laws.
A nurse on the frontline of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak has described the experience as “war-like”.
Doctors and nurses are working around the clock as the country tries to halt the spread of a virus that has so far claimed over 1000 Italian lives.
Among the dead was a 59-year-old doctor and close friend of Roberta Re, a nurse at Piacenza hospital in Emilia-Romagna, the region with the second highest number of cases.
“It’s an experience I would compare to a world war,” Re told the Guardian. “But it’s a war that isn’t fightable with traditional arms – as we don’t yet know who the enemy is and so it’s difficult to fight. The only weapon we do have to avoid things getting even worse is to stay at home and to respect the rules, to do what they did in China, as this is paying off.”
Coronavirus latest: at a glance
A summary of the latest developments in the global coronavirus outbreak, below:
Today’s Covid-19 news so far has included the effects of the virus on sports stars, politicians, religious ceremonies, New York City, the Nikkei and the United Nations – as the number of deaths worldwide approached 5,000.
Here is what has been going on:
- A female diplomat from the Philippines mission to the United Nations tested positive for coronavirus. She is the first known case at the world body’s New York headquarters.
- New York state banned all gatherings with 500 or more people as New York City declared a state of emergency.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suspended all of its worship services globally because of the spread of the coronavirus.
- The Vatican closed all Catholic churches across Rome to stem the spread of the virus.
- Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, tested positive for coronavirus. Justin Trudeau in self-isolation.
- Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for coronavirus, becoming the first confirmed infection among Premier League players.
- The Australian share market closed 4.4% up after falling almost 7% on opening.
- India registered its first coronavirus death: a 76-year-old man in Karnataka who had fallen sick on returning to India on 29 February after a pilgrimage to Mecca.
- Japan again insisted that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead this summer, hours after Donald Trump added to speculation that the coronavirus pandemic could force them to be postponed or cancelled.
- Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort announced they would close through the end of the month, starting at the close of business Sunday.
- Ghana and Gabon confirmed their first cases, becoming the ninth and tenth countries in sub-Saharan Africa to register positive cases.
- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised against non-essential travel, and, from Monday, gatherings over 500 people. He said he would be attending a football match this weekend. The advice did not extend to schools and universities.
- The Australian Grand Prix was cancelled, after a member of the McLaren Racing Team tested positive for Covid-19.
A second person has tested positive for coronavirus in Turkey, the country’s health ministry has said.
In Vietnam, there is also a risk of British nationals being turned away from, or asked to leave, hotels in Vietnam, the British Embassy in Hanoi said in a statement on Twitter.
“You are at risk of being put into quarantine or instructed to self-isolate for 14 days even after you have arrived in Vietnam if you either develop flu-like symptoms, or it is suspected you have been in contact with some who has tested for coronavirus. There are also increased restrictions on British nationals wishing to visit Vietnam.
“From 12 March, Vietnam has suspended its visa waiver programme for British nationals. There are reports that e-visas have also been suspended and the Vietnamese embassy in London will not be processing visa applications until further notice.
“The Vietnamese embassy in London say that it is possible to get a visa, but there is uncertainty around the replacement process and timeline for such applications.”
The statement added that British citizens are “strongly advised” to familiarise themselves with these risks before travelling.
So far, 10 British citizens are among those who have tested positive for the virus.
Key attractions across Hanoi, as well as the ancient town of Hoi An, in central Vietnam, have closed, while several areas in Quang Ninh province, including Ha Long Bay, a Unesco world heritage site, and Bai Tu Long Bay, have also stopped receiving visitors.
A total of 44 cases have so far been confirmed across the country.
The British embassy in Hanoi has warned UK travellers of a risk that they will be placed in “safe but basic” quarantine centres and turned away from hotels if they travel to Vietnam, where a cluster of cases has been linked to a flight from London.
Tens of tourists believed to have been exposed to the virus on board a flight that arrived in Hanoi on 2 March have been placed in isolation. Meanwhile, a growing number of Vietnam’s most popular holiday attractions have closed their doors to tourists.
The country appeared to have contained the virus after recording no new cases for 22 days. But over the past week, 28 new infections have been confirmed.
The British embassy in Hanoi said on Friday that there is “a high risk for British nationals of being put into 14 days of quarantine, either on arrival or during your trip to Vietnam, regardless of your route.
It added: Vietnamese quarantine centres are safe but basic, not guaranteed to meet Public Health England’s standards.”
JP Morgan is calling a global recession.
They have ‘dramatically’ revised their forecasts for two main reasons, they said in a note:
- A sudden stop. The breadth of “social distancing” is increasing at a dramatic pace. Italy is now in total lockdown and the US as well as other countries are suspending flights from a wide range of nations. A broad range of public events has been canceled for the coming weeks.
- Markets spasm. Financial conditions are tightening sharply as perceptions of credit quality across a wide range of asset classes deteriorates and market liquidity dries up. Credit spreads and market measures of corporate and sovereign default risk have widened markedly.
The bank says:
We now see a 1H20 contraction in GDP that is both significant and spreads across nearly all of the global, we believe that our forecast represents an event best characterised as a recession.
Australian market closes 4.4% up for the day
The Australian market has finished up 4.4% for the day, after being down as much as 8% during the day.
That’s a range of more than 12 percentage points, representing an extraordinary rollercoaster ride of a day.
Earlier, the Reserve Bank made a dramatic intervention in the markets in a bid to stop a credit crunch, pumping AU$8.8bn (US$5.3) in short-term funding into the banks.
It did this by agreeing to buy assets such as portfolios of loans from the banks for cash, and then sell them back the same assets later on.
While the late rally erased losses experienced on Thursday, when the market dived 7.4%, the damage inflicted since coronavirus selling began on 20 February still means all gains since the start of last year have been wiped out.
India registers first coronavirus death
India has registered its first coronavirus death: a 76-year-old man in Karnataka who had fallen sick on returning to India on 29 February after a pilgrimage to Mecca. He died on Tuesday and was later confirmed to have tested positive. Officials are tracing all the people he came into contact with.
As the number of cases rose to 73, the Delhi government ordered the closure of all schools, colleges, and cinemas till 31 March and made it mandatory for shopping malls, government offices and public spaces to be disinfected every day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has told all ministers not to travel abroad.
With the Indian Premier League – a hugely popular cricket tournament – starting on 29 March, the government has advised against going ahead with it but left the decision to the organisers.
Google confirmed today that one of its employees in Bengaluru is infected. The man had recently returned from Greece.
On Thursday, the Indian stock market saw the worst crash since 2008, crashing by 2,919 points.
Japan again insists Tokyo Olympics will go ahead
Japan has again insisted that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead this summer, hours after Donald Trump added to speculation that the coronavirus pandemic could force them to be postponed or cancelled.
The country’s Olympics minister, Seiko Hashimoto, said Tokyo 2020 organisers would continue to plan for a “safe and secure” Games, due to open on 24 July.
Trump had caused consternation among Japanese officials when he told suggested on Thursday that postponing the Olympics for a year was preferable to holding events in empty venues.
Trump told reporters in the White House that he “just can’t see having no people there”.
“Maybe they postpone it for a year... if that’s possible,” he said, adding that he preferred that idea to “having empty stadiums all over the place. I think if you cancel it, make it a year later that’s a better alternative than doing it with no crowd.”
Trump and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, discussed the coronavirus and Olympic preparations in a phone call on Friday morning, but did not raise the issue of cancelation or postponement, according to a Japanese government account of the call.
Trump later appeared more upbeat about the Olympics’ prospects, tweeting that he had told Abe “that the just completed Olympic venue is magnificent. He has done an incredible job, one that will make him very proud. Good things will happen for Japan and their great Prime Minister. Lots of options!”
Despite the massive disruption the outbreak has caused to sporting competitions around the world, Japanese officials have spent several days trying to quash speculation that the Games could become the sports world’s biggest victim of the virus.
Preparations for the Olympic Games continued on Thursday, although on a much smaller scale than usual, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The traditional lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia, Greece, was held without spectators present, and with only a small number of delegations, officials and journalists in attendance.
After the Greek actress, Xanthi Georgiou, ignited the flame using the sun’s rays and a parabolic mirror at the Temple of Hera, the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said the Games’ organisers were committed to the “success” of the games, despite “difficult circumstances”.
Bach added: “We’re strengthened in this commitment by the many authorities and sports organisations around the world who are taking so many significant measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.”
New Zealand’s opposition leader Simon Bridges has tweeted his approval of the announcement by Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison in the last hour that from Monday all non-essential mass gatherings will be banned. He has urged his country’s government, led by Jacinda Ardern, to do the same.
New Zealand has five confirmed cases of Covid-19 and two probable cases. The country has not had any new cases in five days.
Singapore will deny from Monday entry or transit to visitors who have been in Italy, France, Spain or Germany in the last 14 days, as part of measures to control the fast-spreading coronavirus, the health ministry said on Friday.
The southeast Asian travel hub, which also advised against non-essential travel to the four countries, will immediately halt docking by cruise ships, it added.
Singapore has a similar ban in place for travellers from Iran, South Korea and China, where the virus first surfaced late last year.
RNZ reports a further two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in French Polynesia, a day after the territory announced its first confirmed case, which was the first confirmed case in the Pacific Islands.
President Edouard Fritch announced yesterday that French Polynesian politician Maina Sage had been confirmed with the virus after returning from Paris on 7 March. Sage was resting at home in self-isolation in Tahiti. She is French Polynesia’s representative in the French National Assembly (French Polynesia being an overseas French collectivity).
During her time in Paris, Sage served on a National Assembly commission with France’s culture minister Franck Riester, who has also been confined in France after contracting Covid-19.
Today, RNZ reports that two more cases have been confirmed – one of whom was a person close to Sage and the other was a Swiss tourist who fell ill on the atoll of Fakarava. He has been flown to Tahiti.
There has been widespread fear across the Pacific region about the coronavirus outbreak. An epidemic of measles across the Pacific last year highlighted the potential for transmission of infectious diseases, adding to existing burdens on public health systems from non-communicable diseases.
Here’s our report from yesterday:
In short, the position of Australia’s Scott Morrison is, as he has just said: “People can go about their normal essential business they do each day.”
They should however avoid gatherings over 500 people – excluding schools and university lectures – from Monday, and reconsider non-essential travel.
Morrison also says Parliament will continue as normal.
Australia’s New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian says, “It’s safe to go to school. When it’s not, we will shut down that particular school and work with the school community to reopen at the appropriate time.”
Australian PM Scott Morrison is asked:
So you are willingly going to a game this weekend which from Monday - a mass gathering, which you recommend people don’t attend. How is that responsible?
I think you misunderstand the point of what we’re doing on Monday. These are stepped responses. We are not of great concern right now in terms of where those gatherings might be today, but in the weeks ahead, this will change. This is a matter of scaling our response. The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved Sharks, it might be the last game I get to go to for a long time.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, “I do have still plans to go to the football on Saturday. This is an arrangement we are putting in place for next week as a precaution. This is an early-stage action that we are undertaking to make sure we get ahead of this. I would be going on on Saturday because I had previously planned to, and these are measures we are putting on from next week, and there are further measures that will come in over time, I would expect.”
Australia’s Scott Morrison said that by advising against mass gatherings he was acting on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee. That committee will also be the principal advisory body to the new national cabinet.
The cabinet will be made up of COAG members — premiers and chief ministers. They will also establish a national coordinating mechanism to ensure the response is consistent across jurisdictions.
The members of that cabinet is who you see before you here today, and we will be working very closely together to ensure there is a consistency of response, that there is a coordination of response. We simply say to the Australian people that we will manage this carefully in your interests.
What we are announcing today is just another step. It is precautionary. It is getting ahead of this to ensure that we can minimise the impact on your health and we can ensure with confidence the ability for people to be accessing the health services that they and their families will need.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, is speaking now.
“We are not suggesting people should interrupt their normal daily work. It’s just avoiding those particular circumstances where transmission can be accelerated,” he says.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government now advises Australians to reconsider non-essential travel.
I also want to say that we have also decided through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that we know advise all Australians to reconsider your need to travel overseas at this time, regardless of your destination, age or health - if your travel is not essential, consider carefully whether now is the right time.
It is “Level-Three” travel advice he says.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison says the government will be advising against “nonessential, organised gatherings of persons of 500 or more.”
“That of course does not include schools. It does not include university lectures. It does not mean people getting on public transport or going to airports or things of that nature.”
In Australia now, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is speaking at a COAG meeting:
The goal here is very straightforward -that’s why we’ve been going about it in a very careful way. There’s been an abundance of caution in our approach - it is simply to slow the rate of transmission of the coronavirus within Australia. That is done through the containment mechanisms that have been already put in place, in New South Wales, Victoria or anywhere else. The containment processes of self-isolation, identifying and tracing of contacts, all of these measures worked to successfully slow the rate of transmission of this virus.
The government will be moving to a position from Monday where they advise against mass public gatherings of 500 people or more. But this does NOT include schools and universities, says Morrison.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is speaking now from a Council of Australian Governments meeting after it was reported that the government has been advised mass gatherings should be cancelled.
Government leaders met in Parramatta on Friday for the COAG meeting, where chief health officers told them urgent social distancing measures were necessary to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the course of today a number of things became very clear based on the advice received from the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee, which is is the health officers, Chief Medical Officers of each state and territory and the officer from the Commonwealth.
There was growing evidence, as we were receiving, particularly over the course of the day, of greater community transmission of the coronavirus throughout Australia.
There was has also been as a result of the, what occurred in the United States and across Europe, the disruption of some international supply chain - matters that deal with some medical equipment which we now will be addressing over the course of the next few days. These issues are not constrained toAustralia. They are impacting around the world and they are matters that now need to be addressed here in Australia, like they are in many other countries. As a result of the advice which was pulled together today by the professionals, what we resolved is to form a National Cabinet to deal with the [coronavirus spread throughout Australia]
The Australian market has come roaring back in afternoon trade to be less than 2% down for the day.
It’s not entirely clear what’s caused the dramatic turnaround, but the most likely answer is that the Reserve Bank has pumped $8.2bn into short-term bank funding this morning.
The AFR reports that the funding package was designed to head off a looming credit squeeze caused by market panic over the coronavirus crisis and US president Donald Trump’s cack-handed response to it.
Benchmark index the ASX200 fell as much as 8% on Friday but by 3pm was surging upwards to be just 1.78% below Thursday’s closing price.
South Korea reported more recoveries from the coronavirus than new infections on Friday for the first time since the country’s first patient was confirmed on 20 January, raising hopes that Asia’s biggest epidemic outside China may be slowing.
The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said 110 new cases had been confirmed on Thursday - compared to 114 a day earlier - taking the total to 7,979. But 177 fully recovered patients were released the same day, it added.
Officials said the number of new infections in Daegu, the southern city at the centre of the outbreak, and the neighbouring province of North Gyeongsang had declined “dramatically”, but there were concerns over a spike in cases at a call centre in Seoul, where 102 people have tested positive, and a government office in the administrative capital Sejong.
Daegu and North Gyeongsang account for about 90% of cases in South Korea, with 60% of infections linked to the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious sect with 210,000 followers.
Despite the encouraging news, the country’s prime minister, Chung-Sye-kyun, who is leading efforts to contain the outbreak in Daegu, warned against complacency.
“The battle against the coronavirus has now become a global fight going far beyond Daegu,” he said.
The 110 cases detected Thursday, and reported by the KCDC on Friday, was the lowest number of daily infections in more than two weeks, and well below the 500-600 daily increases reported early this month. One death was confirmed on Thursday, bringing the country’s total to 67.
Sixty-one of the latest cases were from Daegu, while 17 and 13 were in Sejong and Seoul, respectively.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has just tweeted about his wife Sophie’s confirmed case of Covid-19:
Here is the official (2015) guidance video from the World Health Organization on how to wash those hands of yours.
The WHO says:
“Hand hygiene, either with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand rub, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading infections to others. Indeed, hand hygiene is an easy, inexpensive, and effective mean to prevent the spread of germs and keep everyone healthy.”
More official WHO tips here.
The last of Apple’s 42 stores in China reopened Friday, as the country slowly goes back to work following weeks of quarantine that forced the closure of businesses, AFP reports.
The firm announced on February 1 that it would shut all its stores, corporate offices and contact centres across the mainland as the epidemic rapidly spread.
Apple’s stores have gradually been reopening over the past few days and a spokeswoman for the company told AFP the remaining few would throw their doors open Friday.
The company’s website shows its stores now have “special operating hours”.
As we report the latest coronavirus news today, please send me any tips or relevant news on Twitter @helenrsullivan.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is due to speak speak shortly, following reports that the government has been advised mass gatherings should be cancelled. We’re also hoping for an update on the economy, following a 6% drop on the ASX200.
The Guardian is tracking global infections below:
Australia’s Central Coast has confirmed its first coronavirus case, the ABC reports:
In Australia, Queensland state health says there are now 35 cases in the state, as of Friday 13 March.
The statement does not say how many cases are new but out understanding is that this means there are eight new cases, up from 27 yesterday.
The statement says:
Currently, all cases are in South-East Queensland, excluding one individual in Kingaroy and one individual in Rockhampton.
Contact tracing is underway for all new cases, in addition to the previously confirmed cases. We will notify the community if any other public health alerts are required.
Queensland Health is urging anyone who has been overseas in the last 14 days and has a fever or any respiratory symptoms to see a doctor immediately.
Australian government told mass gatherings should be cancelled
In Australia, expert health advice reportedly given to the prime minister and state premiers says all gatherings of more than 500 people across Australia should be cancelled immediately to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Government leaders met in Parramatta on Friday for a Council of Australian Governments meeting, where chief health officers told them urgent social distancing measures were necessary to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The advice is unconfirmed, but, if correct, would appear to mandate the closure of schools and universities, as well as sporting events and concerts.
The Guardian has contacted government authorities seeking their response.
As the Catholic and Mormon churches close services over coronavirus fears, a Catholic church in Hong Kong has started streaming its mass to worshipers online. Similar arrangements have been made in Singapore and elsewhere at various churches, temples and mosques.
With an iPad on a small tripod, Father Thomas Law of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in downtown Hong Kong is broadcasting mass to worshippers to their homes via online streaming as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reports.
The church was formerly packed during daily morning mass and on Sundays, but the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has suspended mass and liturgies since Feb. 15 in line with government health guidelines promoting social distancing.
Many churches in Hong Kong have taken their services online due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in the Chinese-ruled city, which has reported 130 cases and three deaths.
These are the most recent figures from China, where we are expecting detail soon on new infections and the number of infections that are from Wuhan, specifically.
Mainland China reported eight new cases of the virus on March 12, continuing a decline after 15 new cases on March 11th.
There were seven new deaths.
In the US, Barack Obama has tweeted about the coronavirus:
US president Donald Trump also took to Twitter to share a helpful update:
Metro Manila, home to 12 million people, is preparing for a lockdown that will be imposed from Sunday in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
All schools will be closed, mass gatherings suspended, and many public sector workers told to stay home, following a spike in cases in the Philippines.
President Rodrigo Duterte has also imposed a ban on domestic land and sea travels to and from Manila, which will begin on 15 March and last 30 days.
The number of cases in the country has risen from 10 on Sunday to 52 by Thursday evening, and there is concern about the virus spreading rapidly through cramped slum areas.
Metro Manila, also known as the National Capital Region, includes 16 cities, including Manila.
On Thursday, Duterte was tested for the virus, though he has not experienced symptoms. Five people in the country have now died after becoming infected.
Here is what we know so far about Callum Hudson-Odoi’s coronavirus diagnosis and the implications for Chelsea and the Premier League.
Chelsea’s full squad have gone into self-isolation after winger Hudson-Odoi tested positive to the coronavirus, the club said in a statement.
Hudson-Odoi displayed cold symptoms on Monday morning and has stayed away from the club since then. His test result was returned on Thursday night.
The club said despite testing positive, the 19-year-old was “doing well and looking forward to returning to the training ground as soon as it is possible”.
The Blues have also closed two buildings at their training facility.
PA media reports Chelsea are scheduled to play at Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon but the match looks unlikely to proceed.
The remainder of the Premier League season, in fact, is in doubt with the League to hold a meeting on Friday to determine a course of action in response to the coronavirus.
Tom Hanks has tweeted a photograph of himself and Rita Wilson, after the pair confirmed yesterday that they had tested positive for coronavirus.
In the image Hanks writes:
“Hello folks. Rita Wilson and I want to thank everyone here Down Under who are taking such good care of us. We have Covid-19 and are in isolation so we do not spread it to anyone else. There are those for whom it could lead to a very serious illness. We are taking it one day at a time... Remember, despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball. Hanx.”
The baseball line is from his 1992 film A League of Their Own:
More on Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s positive coronavirus diagnosis now from the Guardian’s Leyland Cecco.
The wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has tested positive for Covid-19 following a trip to the United Kingdom.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau announced Thursday evening that she had tested positive for the coronavirus and plans to remain in isolation for the next two weeks. Her symptoms have been described as mild.
“Although I’m experiencing uncomfortable symptoms of the virus, I will be back on my feet soon,” she said in a statement. “Being in quarantine at home is nothing compared to other Canadian families who might be going through this and for those facing more serious health concerns.”
The prime minister remains “in good health with no symptoms” according to his office, but will work in remotely for the next two weeks. He plans to address Canadians on Friday.
First Premier League player infected
Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi has tested positive for coronavirus, the club reports. We understand that Hudson-Odoi is first Premier League player to be infected.
The club wrote on its website:
Chelsea men’s team player Callum Hudson-Odoi had a positive test result for Coronavirus returned this evening. Chelsea personnel who had recent close contact with the player in the men’s team building will now self-isolate in line with Government health guidelines. These will include initially the full men’s team squad, coaching staff and a number of backroom staff.
It is expected that those who did not have close contact with Callum will return to work in the coming days. In the meantime, the men’s team building, one of several separate buildings at our training ground, will remain closed. The rest of our training facility, Stamford Bridge and our other facilities are operating as normal.
While most major sporting events have been canceled, mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are continuing their 1,000-mile march west across Alaska, AP reports.
Officials with the world’s most famous sled dog race announced Thursday they have postponed post-race events in response to the new coronavirus.
The Iditarod has postponed both the awards banquet set for 22 March and the meet the mushers event set for 21 March, both in Nome, where the winner is expected some time next week.
Ghana and Gabon confirm first cases
Gabon and Ghana confirmed their first cases of coronavirus on Thursday, becoming the ninth and tenth countries in sub-Saharan Africa to register positive cases.
The region has so far been less badly hit by coronavirus than Europe or China. Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Democratic Republic of Congo have also registered cases.
In a statement, Gabon’s government said its case was a 27-year-old Gabonese man who had returned from France on 8 March.
Ghana’s health ministry said its two cases were people who had returned recently from Norway and Turkey.
“These are imported cases of Covid-19. Both patients are currently being kept in isolation and are stable,” the ministry said in a statement.
Sub-Saharan Africa did not confirm its first coronavirus infection until Feb. 28 in Nigeria, but experts warn that rising cases could test already fragile health systems.
Justin Trudeau’s wife tests positive for coronavirus
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie has tested positive for coronavirus, AP reports. This story is breaking. We will have further details soon.
We reported earlier that Prime Minister Trudeau was self-isolating after his wife returned from a visit to the UK with flu-like symptoms, including a fever.
South Korea reported 110 new coronavirus cases on Friday, taking the country’s total infections to 7,979, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The latest numbers are in line with a downward trend in new cases, slightly down from the 114 recorded on Thursday.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris to close
Theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort will be closing through the end of the month, starting at the close of business Sunday, the Walt Disney Company announced.
The company said in a statement Thursday that the decision was made “in an abundance of caution” to protect guests and employees amid the global outbreak of the new coronavirus. The decision came hours after the announcement of the planned closure of Disneyland in California, AP reports.
Additionally, Disney Cruise Line will suspend all new departures beginning Saturday and continuing through the end of the month, the statement said. The Walt Disney Company will pay its cast members during that closure period, according to the release.
The hotels at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris will remain open, along with the shops and restaurants at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and Disney Village at Disneyland Paris, according to the news release.
How Taiwan is containing coronavirus – despite diplomatic isolation by China
Using phone tracking to enforce mandatory quarantine is one example of how Taiwan has managed to contain the spread of coronavirus, with just 48 confirmed cases of infection to date, including one death, reports Michelle Yun from Taipei.
That’s despite the island located just 130km (80 miles) from mainland China, the centre of the virus outbreak which has reported more than 80,000 cases and 3,000 deaths.
First coronavirus case confirmed at United Nations headquarters
A female diplomat from the Philippines mission to the United Nations tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday, according to a note sent to UN missions, making the woman the first known case at the world body’s New York headquarters.
“As of today, the Philippine Mission is in lockdown, and all personnel are instructed to self-quarantine and to seek medical attention should they develop the symptoms. We are assuming that all of us have been infected,” wrote Philippines acting UN Ambassador Kira Azucena in a message seen by Reuters.
According the online UN directory of diplomatic staff, there are about 12 diplomats at the Filipino mission, which is on 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. The sick diplomat represented the Philippines in the UN General Assembly’s legal affairs committees. Azucena said the diplomat was last at UN headquarters on Monday for about half an hour when she was asymptomatic.
She came down with flu-like symptoms on Tuesday and visited her doctor. “She got the call today that she tested positive for Covid-19,” Azucena wrote on Thursday.
The United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.
The 193-member world body began implementing coronavirus prevention measures at its Manhattan headquarters this week.
A two-week conference on women’s rights was cut to one day, several other planned large conferences canceled, most smaller meetings cut, UN missions asked to limit the number of diplomats they send to meetings, and at least half the several thousand UN staff who normally work in the building will be working from home by next week.
From Hong Kong, we have an update on the pet Pomeranian which tested positive for Covid-19 last week: blood tests have returned a negative result.
The dog was taken into quarantine after its owner was diagnosed with the illness.
Successive tests on samples taken from its nose and mouth showed a “weak positive” result in the dog, leading health experts to declare it was likely a case of human-to-animal transmission. Other epidemiologists were more circumspect, and said blood tests were needed first, to see if it had any virus antibodies in its system. Blood tests taken on 3 March returned yesterday showed there was no measurable antibodies in the dog.
“The negative serological test result does not suggest that the dog is not infected with the virus,” the Hong Kong government said.
“It is known in some asymptomatic or mild cases of human infections with other types of coronavirus that antibodies may not always develop. It is also not uncommon to have a negative result in the earlier stages of infection as it often takes 14 days or more for measurable levels of antibodies to be detected. “
Gene sequencing of the virus detected on the dog and in its owner showed them to be very similar, suggesting the virus did likely spread from the person to the animal.
“There currently is no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of Covid-19,” the department added.”
“Pet owners should not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets.”
Japan’s Nikkei down 10%
Asian markets opened in freefall on Friday, extending a global rout that saw bourses experience their worst day in decades on fears of a recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei index nosedived more than seven percent shortly after the open, with markets around the region plummeting after a historically bad trading day in the US and Europe. The Nikkei average extended its fall and is currently down 10%.
New Zealand’s benchmark NZX 50 slumped 7.9 percent. Trading was briefly halted on South Korea’s stock exchange when the benchmark KOSPI index fell 6.8 percent.
The falls came after dramatic scenes on other global markets, with the Dow losing 10 percent, or around 2,350 points, to 21,200.62, in its worst session since 1987.
London also had its worst day since the 1987 crash and Frankfurt its blackest day since 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell.
Paris suffered its worst one-day loss ever.
Analysts said President Donald Trump’s announcement of a ban on travel to the US from Europe deeply rattled investors, and measures intended to shore up business and markets were proving insufficient, AFP reports.
In Australia, travel agency Flight Centre will close 100 stores.
AAP reports that Flight Centre has also scrapped its earnings guidance due to the coronavirus outbreak. The company said on Friday that the stores will close before June 30, and sales staff will transfer to other stores, as part of moves to slash costs.
Flight Centre shares were down by 17 per cent at $16.26 by 1148 AEDT and have lost 60 per cent of their value since February 20 amid a wider market sell-off.
Australian stock market dives more than 7% again
The Australian market has dived more than 7% for the second day in a row as coronavirus panic grips traders.
At 12.20pm the benchmark ASX200 index was down 7.5%.
Trading remains volatile but so far today the market is plumbing depths not seen since early 2016, wiping out almost three years of gains.
Catholic churches across Rome shut due to virus
The Vatican on Thursday closed all Catholic churches across Rome to stem the spread of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 1,000 people across Italy, AFP reports.
The papal vicar for Rome said the churches would reopen when a broader Italian government crackdown on public gatherings expires on April 3.
“The faithful are consequently exempt from their obligation to fulfil the festive precept,” a statement from Cardinal Angelo De Donatis said.
The Vatican had spent days resisting having to take the drastic measure of shuttering places of worship in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
It closed its museums and even the Saint Paul Basilica - parts of its soaring dome designed by Michelangelo - to tourists as the death toll continued to mount.
The Vatican also banned mass across the country and called off all weddings and funerals.
But the churches themselves stayed open as long as the faithful followed government regulations and remained a metre (three feet) apart while inside.
It was not immediately clear when Rome’s churches had last been forced to close en masse.
The Nazis and Italian Fascists kept Pope Pius XII confined to the Vatican during World War II. But at least some Rome churches kept their doors open during the war.
In an address to the nation on Thursday night, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has called for nationwide demonstrations in support of his far-right government that have been widely seen as anti-Congress to be postponed because of the coronavirus crisis - which has already infected his press secretary. Brazil has 77 confirmed cases.
“The spontaneous and legitimate movements scheduled for March 15 attend the nation’s interest,” Bolsonaro said. “However faced with recent facts they need to be rethought. Our health and our families must be preserved. The moment is unity, serenity and good sense.” Earlier, Bolsonaro suggested postponing the events during a Facebook Live with his health minster Luiz Henrique Mandetta, during which both wore masks. Organisers have decided to cancel the events, local media reported.
In New Zealand, Auckland mayor Phil Goff has cancelled the Pasifika festival this weekend due to coronavirus. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, home to more than one million people.
Goff said at least 40,000 people were expected to attend the festival from all around the Pacific region and the risk of spreading the virus to the Islands was too high.
Last year the annual festival was also cancelled as the security threat was raised, coming just days after the March 15 Christchurch terror attacks.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to make further announcements on travel restrictions today, after taking advice overnight.
New Zealand has five confirmed cases of the virus, and more than 9000 people at home in self-isolation.
A number of New Zealand politicians including finance minister Grant Robertson and speaker Trevor Mallard have cancelled upcoming overseas trips due to the virus, saying they will conduct their meetings via skype instead.
Latest global figures
The number of coronavirus infections globally now stands at 128,343, according to Johns Hopkins University. The virus has claimed the lives of 4,720 people since virus was first detected in China.
Now for the latest from China, where a senior Chinese medical adviser said on Thursday that the global coronavirus pandemic could be over by June if countries mobilise to fight it.
China declared the peak had passed there as new cases in Hubei fell to single digits for the first time on Thursday.
“Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission. “The increase of new cases is falling.”
Zhong Nanshan, the government’s senior medical adviser, told reporters that as long as countries take the outbreak seriously and are prepared to take firm measures, it could be over worldwide in a matter of months.
“My advice is calling for all countries to follow WHO instructions and intervene on a national scale,” he said. “If all countries could get mobilised, it could be over by June.”
Speaking to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, President Xi Jinping similarly expressed confidence, state television reported.
“My estimate of June is based on scenarios that all countries take positive measures.”
The Fijian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting that production on Survivor’s 41st season has been postponed over coronavirus concerns. Production of the show, which will be filmed in Fiji, has been postponed to mid-May.
This is your friendly reminder to wash your hands often and thoroughly. If you’re looking for a new song to take you through the motions, here is Gloria Gaynor with a hand-washing rendition of I Will Survive:
Virgin Australia is also reducing its international and domestic routes in response to lowered demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Virgin Australia has confirmed that a cabin crew member has tested positive for coronavirus. The airline company is not confirming the flight or route today.
Earlier today, American Airlines announced that a pilot had tested positive. American Airlines Group Inc said on Thursday a pilot based out of Dallas-Fort Worth tested positive for Covid-19.
“American’s Chief Medical Officer and leaders from our pilots’ office have been in touch with the pilot,” the company said in a statement.
Argentina is going into virtual shutdown with the announced suspension of the arrival of all flights from the US, EU, UK, China, South Korea, Japan and Iran for the next 30 days. The measure goes into force starting tomorrow Friday. It’s not clear yet what will happen with flights already on their way to Argentina today arriving Friday.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Argentina jumped Thursday from 21 to 31, authorities announced. For the first time three of these cases were locally contracted, as opposed to all the cases until now, which involved persons arriving from abroad, mostly from Italy.
There has been one death so far, a 64-year-old man arriving from France.
Argentina is also cancelling all concerts and sports events, among them Argentina’s Lollapalooza where Gun’s N Roses, Travis Scott, The Strokes, Gwen Stefani and Lana del Rey were scheduled to perform. Sports matches will be permitted as long as they are played without public present
Mormon church cancels worship services
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is suspending all of its worship services globally because of the spread of the new coronavirus.
The decision was made hours after Utah’s governor recommended limiting group gatherings in the state to no more than 100 people for at least two weeks.
The Utah-based faith sent a letter Thursday to members informing them of a decision that also calls on a temporary suspension of all church activities until further notice.
The move comes a day after the faith announced it would hold a major conference in early April without attendees.
It is first time since a 1957 flu epidemic that the religion has taken the step of barring church members from attending in person.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he is temporarily halting his trademark rallies as his campaign bows to the coronavirus outbreak that is rapidly reshaping the nation’s political landscape.
The rallies have long been Trump’s most potent political weapon: They energize the candidate, give him a powerful platform from which to attack his adversaries and allow his team to collect a treasure trove of voter data.
The two leading Democratic contenders, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, canceled their scheduled rallies earlier this week.
New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman has just reported that US President Donald Trump’s campaign staff have been told to work remotely while a “deep cleaning and sanitation” of campaign offices takes place.
While you are securing your home for a period of social distancing or home isolation behind a wall of toilet paper, spare a thought for those who do not have the option of a safe place to hibernate.
Australian homeless advocacy organisations have called for more temporary housing to be made available in preparation for widespread community transmission of Covid-19.
Here’s Kate Colvin, from Victoria’s Council to Homeless Person’s:
People with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly who contract Covid-19 are particularly vulnerable to experiencing severe symptoms. People who are experiencing homelessness are more likely to have poor health due to exposure to extreme heat and cold and living in substandard accommodation, which is poorly ventilated or damp.
Having limited finances also makes it hard for people to access healthcare and medication to manage chronic underlying illnesses.
Read Jack Banister’s full report on this issue:
As we report the latest coronavirus news today, please send me any tips, relevant news or well wishes for Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, who confirmed on Thursday that they have tested positive for Covid-19, on Twitter @helenrsullivan. My DMs are open.
Here is New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio speaking earlier about the decision to declare a state of emergency in the city.
Princess Cruises, the operator of two ocean liners that were quarantined after they became hotbeds for coronavirus infections, said on Thursday it would suspend voyages of all its 18 ships for two months.
The suspension upends an industry already struggling with cancellations following the outbreak, and comes after Finland’s Viking Line temporarily paused operations of its river ships and ocean liners around the world, Reuters reports.
“Never ... in the 20 years I have served in this company, have we been tested in ways we have been tested over the past 40 days,” Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, said on the operator’s official YouTube channel, addressing the decision to suspend operations. “This is perhaps the most difficult decision in our history.”
Shares of parent Carnival Corp, which have already lost over half their value since the start of the year, tumbled a further 18%. Rivals Royal Caribbean Corp and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings were also down.
Australian stock market down almost 7% on opening
The Australian market tumbled almost 7% on opening, setting it up for a second day running of heavy losses due to the coronavirus crisis.
Blue chip stocks tumbled as they began trading shortly after 10am, with shares in big miners BHP and Rio, both of which fell overnight in London, where they are also listed, tumbling 6.8% and 4.55% respectively.
Australia’s biggest bank, CBA, fell 4.33% while rival ANZ was down 7.17% and NAB, which cancelled a capital raising last night due to the volatile market, plunged 8.11%.
The Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled after a member of the McLaren team tested positive for coronavirus.
Here is everything we know so far:
Confusion engulfed the season-opening Australian Grand Prix hours before the cars were due on track before the race was eventually cancelled amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus.
“Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for Covid-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, the FIA and Formula 1 convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening,” a joint statement from FIA, Formula 1 and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation read.
“Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead. The FIA and Formula 1, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix is cancelled.”
On Thursday night, McLaren withdrew after one of its team members returned a positive test for Covid-19, casting a huge shadow over the viability of the weekend’s racing at Albert Park.
New York City declares state of emergency
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio declared a state of emergency Thursday in the city, saying he anticipated that New York could see as many as 1,000 cases next week. He said that the emergency order allows for the city to take certain actions, but that none of them had been activated, including closing down public transportation, AP reports.
New York City officials moved swiftly Thursday to address a false text message spreading on social media claiming that the police department was planning to put containment actions in place this weekend to address the spread of the coronavirus, including a shutdown of Metro-North rail lines and limited subway service.
De Blasio called the claims “wrong” and “off base” during an afternoon news conference discussing the decision to declare the state of emergency. He speculated the information leaked from scenario planning and said it was not from plans being put in place.
De Blasio said a total shutdown would be unrealistic for a variety of reasons, including that it would make it impossible for people like health care workers to get around.
Later he tweeted, “NO, there is NO TRUTH to rumors about Manhattan being quarantined. Whoever is spreading this misinformation, PLEASE STOP NOW!”
The New York Police Department responded to the message tweeting from NYPD News:
Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan confirmed to The Associated Press that there were no plans to suspend railroad service.
The state of New York has reported more than 320 cases of the virus, 95 of them in New York City.
New York bans all gatherings of 500 people or more
New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that New York would ban all gatherings with 500 or more people to battle the coronavirus.
The cancellations Thursday rolled in like clockwork as act after act announced changes to their touring schedules. Among them were the Who, Cher, Blake Shelton, Dan + Shay and Billie Eilish, who was set to play New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Broadway theatres announced that they would close immediately and remain dark through April 12.
Hello and welcome to today’s coronavirus live blog. The effect of the virus on major sporting events continues today, as Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta tests positive for Covid-19 and the Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled. Markets are expected to suffer further blows after a disastrous day on Thursday.
- The Australian market fell almost 7% on opening, setting it up for a second day running of heavy losses due to the coronavirus crisis.
- The Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled. A member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for Covid-19.
- Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta has tested positive for coronavirus. In a statement the club said Arsenal employees who have had recent close contact with Arteta will now self isolate.
- 121 people at Italy’s Juventus F.C. are self isolating after footballer Daniele Rugani tested positive for the virus.
- There is heightened concern at the White House after a picture emerged of a top Brazilian government aide, who has tested positive for coronavirus, standing right next to Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago last weekend.
- French President Emmanuel Macron described the coronavirus outbreak as “the most serious health crisis France had faced in a century”. This was the first time he has addressed the French on the outbreak.
- UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that many families “are going to lose loved ones before their time”, as he indicated a shift in the government’s approach to coronavirus from “contain” to “delay”.
- The EU condemned Donald Trump’s unilateral ban on travel from 26 European countries. The presidents of the European commission and European council defended Europe’s record in managing the pandemic and sharply criticised the White House for its failure to consult its allies.
- President Trump’s handling of the virus outbreak was also criticised by top federal health official Dr Anthony Fauci who described the US’s lacklustre approach to coronavirus testing “a failing”.
- Markets continued to plummet today as the US and UK stock exchanges suffered their worst performance since Black Monday in 2008. In London, the FTSE 100 index of leading shares suffered its second worst day ever.
- The Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau revealed he is self-isolating after his wife returned from a visit to the UK with flu-like symptoms, including a fever.
- Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, announced the closure of all schools, colleges and childcare facilities from tomorrow. Belgium, Malta, Denmark, Norway and Lithuania introduced similar measures.
- Every member of the Spanish cabinet is being tested for coronavirus after the country’s equality minister, Irene Montero, became the latest politician to test positive for the virus.
- Disturbing satellite images of mass graves in Iran suggest the scale of the outbreak there is worse than authorities are admitting.