Italy’s shock coronavirus death toll, S. Korea’s cases rebound, Australia and NZ ban non-residents

People wear masks on a train on the first day of the Lunar New Year of the Rat in Hong Kong on January 25, 2020, as a preventative measure following a coronavirus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

ROME, Mar 19, 2020, SCMP. Italy on Wednesday reported 475 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest one-day official toll of any nation, as Donald Trump ordered sweeping new action against the pandemic and declared himself a war president, South China Morning Post reported.

China early Thursday reported no new domestic cases of the coronavirus for the first time since it started recording them in January, but recorded a spike in infections imported from abroad.

With the number of global coronavirus infections shooting past 208,000, governments announced new containment measures and Trump signed an emergency relief package. But markets took another beating as they braced for grim weeks ahead.

As Trump announced the deployment of military hospital ships, German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a dramatic appeal to citizens.

“Not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity,” Merkel said in a television address.

The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, constituted an “unprecedented threat”.

More than 8,700 people have died around the world with fatalities in Europe now topping those in Asia, where the outbreak was first detected in December in China.

In China, there were 34 cases that were brought in from abroad, the biggest daily increase in two weeks, the National Health Commission said early Thursday.

It also reported eight new deaths on the mainland, bringing the total to 3,245. Official figures reported 80,928 infections, 70,420 have recovered.

Australia and New Zealand on Thursday unveiled unprecedented bans on any non-residents arriving into the countries, ratcheting up efforts to seal each off from transborder coronavirus infections.

Australia’s ban would start from 9pm Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced. New Zealand’s border will close to foreigners from midnight Thursday. Citizens and permanent residents can still return, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“We will no tolerate risk at our borders,” Ardern said at a news conference, adding that borders will remain open for freight and cargo and urged people not to panic-shop.

Australia’s biggest airline Qantas has said it would halt all international flights and suspend 20,000 staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand’s government has also advised citizens not to travel overseas and said those offshore should consider coming home immediately.

South Korea’s cases rebound

South Korea posted a jump in new coronavirus cases on Thursday, reversing days of slowing infections after a new outbreak emerged in a nursing home in the hardest-hit city of Daegu.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 152 new cases, taking the national tally to 8,565. The country had recorded fewer than 100 new infections for four days in a row until Wednesday.

Among the new cases, 97 are from Daegu, southeast of Seoul, where the KCDC said at least 74 patients at a nursing home have tested positive for the virus this week.

The KCDC did not specify now many of the new cases were linked to the nursing home directly. The fresh outbreak has prompted Daegu officials to launch extensive checks on all other nursing homes involving more than 33,000 people.

Trump invokes emergency powers

Confronting twin health and economic crises, US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday he will invoke emergency powers to marshal critical medical supplies against a coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm hospitals and other treatment centres.

Describing himself as a “wartime president” as virus cases surged and the markets fell, Trump took a series of extraordinary steps to steady a battered nation, its day-to-day life fundamentally altered.
Most immediately, Trump said he would employ the Defence Production Act as needed, giving the government more power to steer production by private companies and try to overcome shortages in masks, ventilators and other supplies.

Trump also said he will expand the nation’s testing capacity and deploy a US Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming an epicentre of the pandemic, and another such ship to the West Coast.

The US Senate approved a emergency coronavirus aid bill on Wednesday, which was then signed into law by Trump.

Among its sweeping provisions, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act assures paid leave for those diagnosed with or caring for someone affected by Covid-19, free testing for all, including the uninsured, and bolstered food assistance programmes.

Two US lawmakers meanwhile became the first members of Congress to announce to test positive. They are Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Ben McAdams of Utah.

Trump angers Beijing with ‘Chinese virus’ tweet

US markets saw a late rally, but still closed down sharply, with the S&P 500 dropping 5.18 per cent on the day, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was lower by 6.3 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq shed 4.7 per cent.

During the day, the Dow dropped far enough to have erased all the gains of the era of President Donald Trump, but the late rally put the index just above that line at the close.

Brent crude also sharply declined, by about 9 per cent, to US$26 a barrel.

Days of declines this week are setting up the chance this week could be the worst for markets since 2008.

Japan’s Aso calls Tokyo Olympics ‘cursed’

Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso referred to the 2020 Olympics as “cursed” amid mounting speculation the Games may need to be postponed or cancelled.

The remarks made at a parliamentary panel by the gaffe-prone politician could spark criticism from athletes and people preparing for the Games this summer.

Aso pointed out that extraordinary circumstances seem to overshadow the Olympics in 40-year intervals dating back to 1940, when the expansion of war between Japan and China forced the abandoning of the planned Summer Games in Tokyo and Winter Games in Sapporo.

In 1980, the Moscow Olympics were boycotted by many Western countries as well as Japan, in protest against the invasion by the then-Soviet Union into Afghanistan the previous year, Aso said.

The Olympics are scheduled to run from July 24 to August 9, and the Paralympics, August 25 to September 6. Ticket-holders are anxiously awaiting word on whether the Games will go ahead as planned.

Indonesia stops large Muslim event

A rally of Muslim pilgrims that is drawing thousands of people to Indonesia has been stopped amid fears that it could help spread the new coronavirus, an official said.

For days, authorities had been trying to persuade Ijtima Asia, part of the global Tablighi Jama’at movement of evangelical Muslims, to halt the event at Gowa near the city of Makassar in South Sulawesi province after a similar event in Malaysia led to hundreds of infections.

More than 8,500 people from across Indonesia, Asia and the Middle East had converged on the town.
The death toll from Covid-19 in Indonesia stood at 19 as of Wednesday, with the total number of cases at 227, according to the country’s health ministry.

Vietnam’s capital asks people to stay home

Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, has advised its residents to self-isolate at home until at least the end of March, after the country recorded the biggest daily increase of the coronavirus.

Weeks after declaring the recovery of all 16 of its coronavirus sufferers, Vietnam has confirmed 76 cases of the virus, ten of which emerged on Wednesday. Schools and entertainment venues have been closed in the capital, but the Hanoi People’s Committee said it was bracing for a wave of new infections.

“The outbreak in Hanoi will surge in the upcoming days as thousands of Vietnamese are set to flock home in droves to flee pandemic,” Hanoi’s chairman Nguyen Duc Chung said.

Authorities also advised residents to limit large gatherings and refrain from using public transport.

Early drug trials yield mixed results

Drug trials on coronavirus patients in China yielded mixed results, with an HIV pill showing little benefit and a flu medication made by Fujifilm Holdings Corp resulting in faster clearance of the virus.

The combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, marketed by AbbVie as Kaletra, didn’t improve the condition of Covid-19 patients or prevent them from dying more than standard care in a randomised, controlled trial of 199 patients. The research was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A separate study of 80 patients receiving Fujifilm’s favipiravir, or Avigan, found it helped clear the virus from patients a week earlier than the HIV medicine and was associated with improved chest symptoms shown on CT scans.

Another antiviral, Gilead Science’s experimental drug remdesivir, is also undergoing clinical trials in China.

Young people are falling seriously ill

New evidence from Europe and the US suggests that younger adults aren’t as impervious to the novel coronavirus that’s circulating worldwide as originally thought.

Despite initial data from China that showed elderly people and those with other health conditions were most vulnerable, young people – from twenty-somethings to those in their early forties – are falling seriously ill. Many require intensive care, according to reports from Italy and France. The risk is particularly dire for those with ailments that haven’t yet been diagnosed.

Britain closes schools, London faces lockdown

Britain announced it would be closing schools in the coming days to stem the spread of coronavirus, as the death toll topped 100 and Londoners braced for tougher measures to tackle the outbreak.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had held off following the lead of other European countries in shutting schools because of the impact it would have on the workforce. But as the outbreak spreads and the death toll reached 104, up from 71 in a day, he said schools would be closed indefinitely later this week.

“After schools shut their gates from Friday afternoon, they will remain closed,” he said at his daily press briefing, without providing a date for their reopening.

Further measures intended to stop the virus spreading quickly across the country could include restricting the movement of people in London, though such steps are not likely before Friday at the earliest, one official said.

Bono dedicates new song to caregivers

Bono is harnessing his emotions amid the coronavirus, writing and releasing a stirring new song he’s calling “Let Your Love Be Known.”

The song is the U2 frontman’s first release in three years, and is dedicated to “doctors, nurses, carers on the front line. It’s you we’re singing to,” Bono wrote on a St Patrick’s Day Instagram post featuring the tune.

Wearing purple sunglasses with the sun streaming in the window behind him, Bono played the piano and sang the tune, which he said he had written “about an hour ago”. He called it a “postcard from bubblin’ Dublin”.

Portugal declares state of emergency

Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Wednesday declared a state of emergency – for the first time since the country became a democracy in 1974 – in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two-week state of emergency – which was approved by the parliament prior to the president’s announcement – is the second highest level of emergency for the country.

The government in the capital city Lisbon will be able to significantly restrict the rights of citizens, the media, businesses and organisations.

As of Wednesday, Portugal had reported 642 cases of infection and two deaths.

Bolsonaro unfazed as virus hits government

Two cabinet ministers and the head of the Brazilian Senate said they had tested positive for new coronavirus, but President Jair Bolsonaro again warned against what he called “hysteria” surrounding the pandemic.

The far-right president, whose casual response to the crisis has triggered outrage among his critics, also became a target for online mockery for what some said was his egregious misuse of a face mask during a news conference.

Bolsonaro repeatedly removed his mask, let it dangle by a strap from his ear and at one point even got it stuck over his eyes – a route for transmitting the virus – leading one Twitter user to label the video: “How not to use a face mask”

China sends masks, medical supplies to France

China has sent medical supplies to France to help health workers dealing with patients infected by the coronavirus and in need of masks and other protective material.

The Chinese Embassy in France tweeted on Wednesday that a batch of supplies has arrived. The supplies include face masks, medical gloves and protective suits. “United we will vanquish,” the tweet concluded.

China has sent supplies to Italy, the hardest hit among European countries, and to Spain. France took early action to help China, sending 17 tonnes of similar supplies in mid-February to Wuhan, where the Covid-19 was first detected.

The outbreak caused 89 new deaths across France over 24 hours bringing the death toll in the country to 264, the top French health official said on Wednesday. France has 9,134 confirmed cases, 3,626 of whom were in hospital.

Canada announces US$56.4 billion stimulus package

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday his government is deferring tax payments until August, providing a wage subsidy for small businesses and pausing student loan payments as part of a stimulus package to limit economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

Trudeau said that Ottawa is focused on ensuring Canadians have the money they need to support their families, buy groceries and pay the rent. Up to C$82 billion (US$56.4 billion) is being spent. The money is about 3 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product.

Trudeau made the announcement outside his residence, where he is self-isolating after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for the virus after returning from a trip to London. Trudeau said she was fine, but experiencing flu-like symptoms and headaches. He said he and his three children were not showing symptoms.

Panic buying in Fiji as first virus case confirmed

Fiji confirmed its first coronavirus case Thursday, sparking panic buying in major centres on the Pacific island nation.

The announcement followed rampant speculation across the country of 930,000 that the global pandemic had arrived on its shores.

Authorities believe the man is a flight attendant who recently returned from the United States.

Pacific nations are particularly vulnerable to viral outbreaks because of their geographic isolation and under-resourced health infrastructure.

The are eight cases confirmed in Guam, one in French Polynesia and Samoa announcing its first suspected case on Wednesday.

Dutch health minister faints

The Dutch health minister fainted during a parliamentary debate about the government’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus.

Minister Bruno Bruins was on his feet speaking Wednesday evening when he slumped to the floor and had to be helped to stand up again by a Cabinet colleague, Social Affairs Minister Wouter Koolmees.

Bruins, who has been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus, later tweeted that he felt faint due to exhaustion after “intensive weeks” of work.

“I’m going home to rest this evening so that I can get back to work again tomorrow to tackle the (hashtag)coronavirus as well as possible,” Bruins tweeted.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Kyodo, DPA and Reuters

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