World COVID-19 12 p.m. update: WHO chief urges aggressive action

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

Black Press Media posted these files from the Associated Press at 12:30 p.m., Thursday, March 26.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • WHO director says aggressive action must happen now.
  • With more than 6,000 new infections in Italy, worldwide total exceeds 500,000.
  • China temporarily bars all foreign nationals.
  • Russian military medical teams deploy to northern Italy
  • Massive new income program unveiled in Britain.

Canada tries to persuade the U.S. to not deploy troops to border

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government has been in discussions with the White House about persuading the U.S. not to put troops on its border with Canada amid the pandemic.

Trudeau noted Canada and the United States have the longest un-militarized border in the world and it is very much in their mutual interests for it to remain that way. He says it has benefited both economies tremendously.

Volkswagen extends shut for for more days, preparing for eventual production restart

FRANKFURT, Germany — Volkswagen says it is extending the shutdown of its German car, truck and parts plants for another four days until April 9.

At the same time, the company said it is working “a comprehensive package of measures” to restart production when that becomes possible.

The company said it would use its experience from China, where its plants have resumed production “and the market seems to be gradually returning to normal.” The company said it had no cases of coronavirus among its employees in China.

Sri Lanka: Leave cancelled for law enforcement officers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s police chief on Thursday ordered the cancellation of leave for all police officers for two weeks, the latest measure intended to enhance the fight against the coronavirus in the island nation.

There have been 102 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka.

Leave will be cancelled for police officers until April 10.

Police have already set up about 600 special roadblocks across the country to prevent nonessential travels. The government is urging people to stay home to prevent the disease being spread.

A nationwide curfew has been in effect since March 20 and the government has banned nonessential travel between Sri Lanka’s 25 districts. The Indian Ocean island nation is divided into 25 districts for administrative purposes.

Police are strictly enforcing the curfew. During the last six days, police have arrested 3,296 people and seized 794 vehicles for violations.

WHO chief urges aggressive action

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization has warned G20 leaders that “without aggressive action in all countries, millions could die” from the new coronavirus outbreak.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a video message to the leaders of the world’s top powers, said “only time will tell” what the full economic, political and social fallout will be.

“But we know that the price we end up paying depends on the choices we make now,” Tedros said. “This is a global crisis that demands a global response.”

He noted “sacrifices” made by some countries including “drastic social and economic restrictions” like shutting schools and businesses and urging people to stay home.

“These measures will take some of the heat out of the epidemic, but they will not extinguish it,” he said. “We must do more.”

Tedros called for training and deployment of health workers to test, isolate and treat cases — and trace their contacts. He decried a global shortage of personal protective equipment that endangers front-line responders. He urged countries to boost output of such items, and lift export bans and boost distribution of them.

“The actions we take now will have consequences for decades to come,” he said. “We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear us apart — if we let it.”

Germany accepts virus patients from France and Italy

BERLIN — Germany’s central state of Hesse says it is taking in 14 patients from Italy and France who are seriously ill with the new coronavirus.

Authorities said Thursday that 10 patients from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and four from Grand-Est in France would be transferred to Hesse.

At least five of Germany’s 16 states have made similar offers, with some already taking in patients.

Hesse’s governor, Volker Bouffier, said that “in the crisis we stand together.” He said the patients would be distributed across several hospitals in the state of about 6.2 million.

Germany’s foreign ministry tweeted that the country has so far offered to take in 47 patients from Italy. The number of patients from France wasn’t provided.

Germany has confirmed more than 43,000 cases of COVID-19 but so far just 239 deaths, a far lower rate than most European countries.

Experts said Thursday that the country has prepared a large number of specialist hospital beds for what is expected to be a continued rise in the number of patients requiring intensive treatment.

Britain: New massive income support program unveiled

LONDON — The British government has unveiled another massive income support scheme, this time for 5 million or so self-employed people, many of whom face financial ruin from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will replicate the one he announced last week for those workers that firms retained rather than lay off.

At a virtual press briefings, Sunak said the government will pay self-employed people, who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus outbreak, a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the past three years, up to 2,500 pounds ($2,975) per month.

He said the scheme will cover 95% of Britain’s self-employed and will only be open to those who make the majority of their income from self-employment so only the “genuinely self-employed” benefit.

He said the scheme, which will be open for at least three months, should be in a position to start handing over the grants by the start of June.

“The scheme I have announced today is fair. It is targeted at those who need it the most and crucially, it is deliverable,” he said.

Ukraine plans to shut down borders

KYIV, Ukraine — The president of Ukraine says the country’s borders will be entirely closed by the end of Friday.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the closure includes Ukrainian citizens abroad. He charged diplomats with taking responsibility for Ukrainians outside the country.

“Today we don’t have time to wait. We faced a difficult choice between citizens who are still abroad and the security of 40 million citizens within the country,” Zelenskiy said.

Ukraine has recorded 156 cases of novel coronavirus infection and five deaths.

Florida: More cruise ship workers hospitalized

MIAMI — Miami-area hospitals say they are treating crew members from two Costa Cruise ships, the Magica and Favolosa.

The ships remain offshore, but about a dozen sick crew members were sent Thursday to Jackson Health, the University of Miami and Baptist Health.

The hospitals said in a joint statement that “while we are all committed to preserving resources for our own residents, an international community like Miami would never turn our backs on people aboard ships at our shores.”

Carnival Corp., which owns the cruise line, says the ships are empty except for crew members. They both were last in port at the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, the Magica on March 17 and the Favolosa on Saturday, according to vesselfinder.com.

The cruise line says about 30 crew members have shown flu-like symptoms, but only about a dozen have been evacuated so far. The Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and local agencies are working to get the sick crew members to shore.

Airline leaves sets open to ensure physical distance

FRANKFURT, Germany — German airline Lufthansa and its budget arm Eurowings are leaving neighbouring seats empty on all flights from and within Germany as a means of ensuring physical distance.

The distancing measure takes effect on Friday, the airline said in a statement Thursday.

Passengers will board at terminal gates and not by bus whenever possible. The airline said the distancing measure would not apply to flights to Germany in order to help as many German residents as possible get home.

Distancing measures have already been implemented at check-in and during on-board service.

Italy: 6,153 more coronavirus infections; 80,539 in total

ROME — Italy has reported 6,153 new coronavirus infections, pushing the global total over half a million, based on a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Italy now has 80,539 cases, almost as many as China. Italy’s Civil Protection Agency reported 662 deaths on Thursday, bringing the country’s death toll to 8,165, which is the highest in the world.

Russian military deploys medical teams to northern Italy

MOSCOW — The Russian military said its personnel have deployed to Bergamo in northern Italy on to help local clinics treat coronavirus patients.

Russian Maj. Gen. Sergei Kikot said the Russian military personnel is split in eight teams, each having doctors, nurses and support workers.

Kikot leads the group of Russian military medics sent to Italy earlier this week on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orders to help fight the epidemic. At Italian authorities’ request, they will be sent to sanitariums for the elderly patients in Bergamo to assist the local medical staff.

The Russian group also has disinfection equipment.

U.S. aircraft carrier diverted to Guam so 5,000 crew can get tested

WASHINGTON — The Navy says an outbreak of COVID-19 infections aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific has forced it to divert to Guam so that all 5,000 aboard will undergo testing.

The acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, told reporters that the carrier remains “operationally capable.” Even so, other officials said the number of infected sailors has risen sharply, from three reported initially to “dozens” as of Thursday.

Modly said the carrier, which is the first U.S. Navy ship to have a reported outbreak while at sea, had about 800 COVID-19 test kits aboard and more were being delivered. He said the initially reported cases were sailors with relatively mild symptoms.

The Navy said earlier this week that the Theodore Roosevelt’s most recent port call was in Vietnam.

EU calls for urgent, co-ordinated international action

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are calling for urgent and “massive” co-ordinated international action to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

Following a videoconference with G20 leaders, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel said in a joint statement that “fast, massive and co-ordinated global action is necessary on the health and economic fronts to save lives and avoid a further economic crisis.”

Michel and von der Leyen thanked G20 leaders for the solidarity shown to Europe. They stressed that the EU is determined to assist countries vulnerable to the crisis outside the 27-member bloc, “especially in Africa.”

The duo also insisted it’s crucial to keep trade flows and supply chains open in the economic response to the crisis in order “to maintain our ability to manufacture and provide the necessary protective and medical equipment.”

The EU also asked G20 members “to assist each other in repatriating citizens stranded abroad who wish to return home.”

Many foreign nationals barred from entering China

BEIJING — China is temporarily barring all foreign nationals from entry as it seeks to curb the number of imported COVID-19 cases.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that foreign nationals with residence permits will be prevented from entering the country starting on Saturday. All visa-free transit policies also will be temporarily suspended.

Diplomatic workers will be exempt, while foreign nationals coming to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs” can still apply for visas, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries,” the statement said.

As the number of China’s reported domestic COVID-19 cases has dwindled, it has had to contend with imported infections from recent overseas arrivals. These individuals have accounted for the majority of China’s new cases for more than a week.

Black Press Media posted the Associated Press files below at 5:30 a.m., Thursday, March 26.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • China pushes back against “Wuhan virus” label.
  • U.S. jobless claims soar
  • Infections worldwide surge to 500,000
  • In Europe, coronavirus expanding fastest in Spain

U.S. jobless rate could exceed that of the Great Depression

WASHINGTON — Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is doing to the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.

The pace of layoffs is sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theatres, gyms, and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.

As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13% by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%.

The economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. And the economy was growing steadily if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever — a contraction that could reach 30%.

Italy and U.S. poised to surpass China in infections

MADRID — The number of coronavirus infections was set to top a half-million worldwide on Thursday as both Italy and the United States appeared poised to surpass China, where the pandemic began, and Spain’s death toll climbed to more than 4,000. Health care systems in Europe and New York buckled under the strain.

Faced with the spread of the pandemic, the U.S. Senate passed a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care facilities. Millions of Americans hoped the measure, which is expected to be voted on in the House on Friday, would give them a lifeline as they lost jobs, income and child care due to lockdowns, travel restrictions and business closures.

At least 2.8 billion people are under severe travel restrictions. But the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, scolded world leaders for wasting precious time in the fight against the virus that has already killed more than 22,000 people and infected over 480,000, thrown millions out of work and ravaged the world economy.

“The time to act was actually more than a month ago or two months ago,” he said Wednesday. “We squandered the first window of opportunity. … This is a second opportunity, which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus.”

Political battle rages between U.S. president, New York Governor

In the United States, where virus deaths passed 1,050 and 70,000 people were infected, a political battle raged between those demanding urgent action for a long siege against the pandemic, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and President Donald Trump.

Trump has expressed hope churches could return to normal by Easter on April 12, and grumbled that “our country wasn’t built to be shut down” — apparently concerned that the outbreak’s devastating effects on financial markets and employment will harm his re-election chances. Democrats say Trump is prioritizing the economy over the health and safety of Americans.

“I’d like to say, let’s get back to work next Friday,” said Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. “That’d be wonderful. But it can’t be arbitrary.”

New York has emerged as a global virus hotspot and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says infections are doubling nearly every few days. The city’s convention centre is being turned into a temporary hospital and the state has hit 280 deaths, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

Brazil: Governors defy president’s order to reopen businesses and schools

In Brazil, the country’s governors are defying President Jair Bolsonaro over his call to reopen schools and businesses, dismissing his argument that the “cure” of widespread shutdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus is worse than the disease.

Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld virus mitigation plans that had been challenged by Bolsonaro. As of Thursday, the country had more than 2,550 cases and 59 deaths.

Spain leads Europe in infection rate

Spain has become the country in Europe where the outbreak is spreading the fastest. On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported reported 8,578 new infections and 655 deaths, bringing the total cases to 56,188 and more than 4,000 fatalities — second only to Italy’s death toll of 7,503.

“We are collapsing,” said Lidia Perera, a nurse at Madrid’s Hospital de la Paz. “We need more workers.”

Watching patients die alone is “killing all of us inside,” she said.

“Physically this is extremely complicated, but psychologically it is appalling,” said colleague Patricia Nunez, a nurse who is recovering from being infected herself.

In Italy, doctors and nurses begged the government to provide more masks, gloves and goggles and urged the public to understand how important onerous social distancing measures really are. Scientists say stopping just one person from getting the virus means scores of others will not become infected down the road.

“Please don’t leave us alone. Help us help you,” Dr. Francesca De Gennaro, who heads a small medical clinic in Italy’s hard-hit Bergamo region, wrote in an open letter.

EU leaders hold third summit

European Union leaders were holding their third summit in three weeks on the virus to manage the havoc it is wreaking on their 27 economies. As the number of deaths in Europe soared past 12,000, Spain prolonged a state of emergency that will allow it to impose broader lockdowns while French President Emmanuel Macron launched “Operation Resilience,” a military-backed response to combat the pandemic.

France began evacuating infected citizens from the northeastern hotspot of Alsace using a special high-speed train that its health minister called a “first in Europe.” About 20 patients were being taken from Strasbourg to hospitals in the Pays-de-la-Loire and other regions.

Britain: Dyson engineers work to produce 10,000 ventilators

LONDON —Britain’s government has ordered 10,000 ventilators to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.

Billionaire inventor James Dyson told his staff in an email that a team of engineers had been working on a design for the last 10 days since receiving a request for help from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Dyson says the device draws on technology used in the company’s air purifier ranges and is powered by a digital motor.

The device was created in partnership with Cambridge-based science engineering firm TTP and still must face regulatory approval.

Britain wants to increase the availability of ventilators from 8,000 to 30,000

So far, more than 115,000 people have recovered from the virus, and health care experts say the key to fighting it is to “flatten the curve” — slow the spread of the outbreak so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with seriously ill patients all at once. Slowing the rate of infections will also cut the eventual death rate.

Iraqis struggle with curfew

BAGHDAD— Iraq has extended a government-imposed curfew for another two weeks, prohibiting large gatherings and non-essential businesses to stem the spread of the coronavirus, according to a cabinet statement.

It is the second extension since the first curfew was imposed on March 17.

Iraqis have struggled to adhere to the curfew, prompting senior Iraqi officials and prominent religious figures to call for the public to stay at home and avoid congregating in crowds.

At least 29 people have died of coronavirus in Iraq amid 346 confirmed cases, according to the Health Ministry.

China: Don’t call it the “Wuhan virus”

BEIJING — China is strongly pushing back on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence on referring to the deadly novel coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic as the “Wuhan virus” after the city in China where it was first detected.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that it was an effort to “stigmatize China and discredit China’s efforts in an attempt to divert attention and shift responsibilities.”

“He has a very sinister motive,” Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.

Geng also defended China’s efforts at tackling the virus and denied it was seeking to place responsibility for the outbreak elsewhere. China has been accused of trying to squelch information about the outbreak during its early stages, and some of its diplomats have openly suggested that the virus may have been brought to China from the United States.

Pompeo’s call for the virus to be identified by name as the “Wuhan virus” at a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized countries resulted in their opting against releasing a group statement.

The World Health Organization and others have cautioned against giving the virus a geographic name because of its global nature, and even President Donald Trump has steered away from those terms as critics have said they foster discriminatory sentiments and behaviour against Asians and Asian Americans.

France develops high-speed hospital train to evacuate citizens

PARIS — France has begun evacuating its citizens infected with the coronavirus from the Alsace epicenter onboard a special medicalized high-speed train.

France’s health minister said that the TGV train-cum-hospital is a “first in Europe.”

Around 20 patients are being evacuated from Strasbourg to hospitals in the Pays-de-la-Loire and other regions Thursday morning, thanks to the medical locomotive.

It consists of five cars, each one kitted out with medical material and attended by an anesthesiologist-resuscitator, an intern, a nurse anesthetist and three nurses.

The train has been employed to relieve the French region worst hit by the coronavirus that has already claimed over 1,300 lives in France — almost half of whom have died in the Grand Est region’s hospitals.

Russia: Defence ministry promises 15 medical centres

MOSCOW — Russia’s Defence Ministry promised to build 16 medical centres for treating infectious diseases by mid-May amid the growing coronavirus outbreak in the country. The centres will be spread across a range of Russian regions, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a government meeting Thursday.

“We need to ensure the fastest construction of these centres in order for our military medicine to be ready to deal with the (coronavirus) infection,” Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said.

Russia has ramped up measures to prevent the new virus from spreading further as its caseload grew at an increasing pace. Earlier on Thursday, the government announced halting all international flights except for those bringing Russian nationals home from abroad. On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin declared next week a holiday, during which only essential businesses – such as grocery shops, pharmacies and banks – will operate.

Russian authorities reported 840 cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, with 182 new cases registered since the day before.

Moscow shutters malls, bars and restaurants for nine days

MOSCOW — Moscow officials on Thursday ordered to close restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping malls and some parks in the city for nine days starting from Saturday.

The move, aimed at keeping people at home amid the coronavirus outbreak, comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared next week a holiday, during which only essential businesses — such as pharmacies, grocery stores and banks — will continue to operate.

The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has been growing rapidly this week. Russian authorities reported 840 cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, with 182 new cases registered since the day before.

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin that the situation is “serious.” Russia’s comparatively low caseload could reflect insufficient screening rather than the actual scale of the epidemic, he said, and urged Putin to ramp up testing all across the country.

Sweden: Surge in deaths may change lax approach

STOCKHOLM — Sweden saw a surge in the number of deaths that could change the Scandinavian’s rather lax approach keeping primary and elementary schools, restaurants and bars open and even encouraging people to go out and enjoy the spring sun.

Health officials have within the past 24 hours seen an increase of 18 deaths since Wednesday, bringing the total to 62 deaths in the country of 10 million that has had 2,510 people tested positive of which 176 are in intensive care.

The head of Stockholm’s health service Bjorn Eriksson said “the storm is over us,” hours after Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden told a news conference that the situation was “stable.”

In neighbouring Denmark, the government allegedly was planning to further tighten the law so that smaller groups — less than 10 — can be banned.

And in Finland, the government says it will in an exceptional move block the movement of citizens into and out of a key southern region that includes the Nordic nation’s capital, Helsinki, to prevent the spreading of coronavirus to other areas. The Uusimaa region includes Helsinki and affects the daily lives of some 1.7 million people, nearly a third of Finland’s population.

Malaysian royalty under quarantine

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s king and queen are under quarantine after seven palace staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

The palace said Thursday that seven staff were hospitalized Tuesday and health authorities were trying to identify the source of the transmission. It said King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and his wife Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah were tested for the virus, but both were negative. It said the royal couple decided to observe a 14-day self-quarantine from Wednesday, with deep cleansing to be carried out in the palace.

Malaysia, which has 21 deaths and the highest total of cases in Southeast Asia at 1,796, has extended its lockdown by another two weeks to April 14.

Russia: Almost all international flights cancelled

MOSCOW — Russian government officials announced the halting of all international flights starting from Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

An exception will be made for flights bringing Russians home from abroad, according to a statement published Thursday on the cabinet’s website.

Earlier this month, Russian authorities limited its air traffic to regular flights to world capitals and charter flights.

The new measure comes as the number of coronavirus cases in Russia rapidly grows. On Wednesday, the government reported a total of 658 cases, with 163 new cases registered since the previous day. That is a significantly bigger daily increase than in previous weeks, when the number of cases was growing by several dozens a day.

South Korea to proved “unlimited” amount of money to banks and financial institutions

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s central bank says it will temporarily provide an “unlimited” amount of money to eligible banks and other financial institutions for three months through repurchase agreements as it tries to calm financial markets rattled by the global coronavirus crisis.

The Bank of Korea on Thursday said the measure was unprecedented but didn’t provide an estimate on how much money would be supplied to financial markets through the short-term borrowings.

The bank last week executed an emergency rate cut of 0.5 percentage points to help ease the economic fallout from the coronavirus, which brought its policy rate to an all-time low of 0.75%.

Some experts say it’s unclear whether traditional financial tools to boost money supplies would be effective now when the global pandemic has damaged both supply and demand, decimating industrial hubs in China and Italy and forcing millions to stay at home under tightened quarantines.

The Associated Press

Coronavirus

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