The Latest: US Pandemic Readiness Office Favorably Discussed
The Latest on the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the globe:
The director of the U.S. government health agency that deals with infectious diseases says he’d welcome the restoration of a White House National Security Council office that dealt with pandemic preparedness.
Dr. Anthony Fauci directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Lawmakers asked him at a House Oversight hearing on Wednesday if the dismantling of the National Security Council office had been a mistake.
Fauci responded that he wouldn’t necessarily characterize that as a mistake. But he added: : “We worked very well with that office, and it would be nice if that office were still there.”
Congressional Democrats accuse the Trump administration of dismantling the pandemic preparedness office and are pushing legislation to set up such an office again.
Belgium’s health ministry has announced the country’s first three deaths related to the novel coronavirus and Albania and Bulgaria each had their first deaths.
In Belgium, a 90-year-old woman and two men aged 73 and 86 with the virus have died.
The ministry said 314 cases of COVID-19, which broke out in China late last year, have now been confirmed in Belgium but it predicts that more cases could soon emerge, saying hospitals are seeing more and more people with respiratory infections.
Health authorities in Bulgaria say the country’s first virus victim was a 66-year-old woman who had a pre-existing health condition, while Albanian authorities reported the death of a 73-year-old-woman with complications from other diseases.
Honduras, meanwhile confirmed its first two coronavirus cases. One was a 42-year-old pregnant woman who traveled from Spain to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. She was asymptomatic and is hospitalized in stable condition. The other case is a 37-year-old woman who had traveled from Switzerland.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told a U.S. House committee that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is going to get worse.
CDC Director Robert Redfield reports that U.S. virus deaths now up to 31 and confirmed cases are over 1,000.
Fauci told the the House Oversight and Reform Committee in Washington on Wednesday that “I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now.”
He says how much worse it gets depends on two things: the ability of U.S. authorities to curtail the influx of travelers who may be bringing the disease into the country and the ability of states and communities to contain local outbreaks in this country.
Asked if the worst is yet to come, Fauci said: “Yes, it is.”
Redfield is testifying Wednesday morning before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Related Story: Newsom Warns of More Restrictions to Stop VirusWith new deaths reported and the number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases exceeding 1,000, U.S. lawmakers and health officials have set up containment zones and quarantine areas and sought to limit contact with those who might be infected.
Governors and other leaders are scrambling to slow the spread of the virus, banning large gatherings, enforcing quarantines and calling National Guard troops in to help.
U.S. health officials are now telling doctors and nurses that surgical masks are OK to wear when treating patients who may be sick from the new coronavirus — a decision made in reaction to shortages of more protective respirator masks. The CDC decision was prompted by reports of dwindling supplies of respirators.
U.S. European Command has announced that the rest of an Arctic military exercise called Exercise Cold Response 20, with about 15,000 service members from 10 countries including the United States, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The exercises began March 2 and were to continue until March 18. The The command Wednesday said in a statement that the decision was “being made in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of all participants and local population.”
The command added “health of our force continues to be a top priority and we are committed to maintaining mission readiness.”
Canada is announcing $1 billion ($730 million) in funding to help health-care workers cope with the increasing number of new cases and to help Canadian workers who are forced to isolate themselves.
The money will help buy masks and other supplies for health-care workers as well as funding research for a vaccine.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is also loosening restrictions on employment insurance payments for people who are off work due to illness by waiving the waiting period for benefits. Trudeau says Canada has been fortunate so far. Canada had 93 confirmed cases and one death as of Wednesday morning.
Hungary has declared a nationwide state of emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus and banned the entry of people arriving from Italy, China, South Korea and Iran.
University classes have been suspended since there are many foreign students attending. Classes at schools will continue for now as children seem to be among those least affected by the virus. Events cannot be held for more than 100 people indoors and for over 500 people outdoors.
So far, Hungary has 13 cases of the coronavirus, several of them Iranian students recently returned from their homeland.
Swiss customs authorities have shut down nine border crossings with Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak, to channel border traffic through seven other sites.
The move announced Wednesday follows a decision by Italian authorities to continue to allow cross-border traffic with Switzerland despite adopting strong quarantine measures across Italy. Neighbors Austria and Slovenia have barred travelers from Italy without a medical certificate.
Swiss customs officials are advising tourists from Italy to refrain from traveling to Switzerland by rail or road “insofar as possible.”
Italy has been hardest hit in Europe, with over 10,100 cases and 631 deaths. The country’s virus death rate nationwide has been reported to be 5% because Italy has the world’s oldest population after Japan and the virus has been affecting the elderly and the sick the most.
The U.S. military says some passengers from a cruise ship that carried at least 21 people infected by the coronavirus have arrived at an air base in Georgia and will now begin a 14-day quarantine.
The passengers arrived early Wednesday at the base in Cobb County, just northwest of Atlanta, Dobbins Air Reserve Base said in a statement.
Base officials didn’t specify the number of patients now on base, but they’ve said previously they were planning for dozens.
The passengers are from the Grand Princess, which had to circle at sea for days before being allowed to disembark in Oakland, California.
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Britain’s Treasury chief has announced a 30 billion-pound ($39 billion) package of measures designed to help the economy as it struggles in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
Rishi Sunak, who has only been Chancellor of the Exchequer for less than a month, said Britain’s Conservative government would do “whatever it takes” to shore up the economy through what he said will be a “temporary disruption.”
The Bank of England issued an emergency rate cut earlier Wednesday, slashing its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25%. Britain has 373 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six deaths.
Sunak said the government will provide whatever resources the National Health Service needs to get through the outbreak, which he said could affect one-in-five workers.
He said the government’s statutory sick pay will apply to anyone who has to self-isolate, even without showing any symptoms, and it will be payable from the first day of illness.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear that Germany doesn’t intend to close its borders in the light of Europe’s coronavirus epidemic, arguing that it makes more sense for people arriving from badly hit regions to quarantine themselves at home.
Germany had some 1,300 infections as of Wednesday but, so far, only three deaths — a low rate that experts have put down to rapid testing as the outbreak unfolded.
Merkel said at a rare, hastily convened news conference Wednesday in Berlin that it’s important for European leaders to discuss “what are good and effective measures and what aren’t.”
She said “we in Germany, in any case, are of the opinion that border closures are not an appropriate response to the challenge.”
Austria and Slovenia to Italy’s north and Malta to the south have largely closed their borders with Italy.
Merkel is citing expert estimates that up to 70% of the population could be infected by the new coronavirus as she insists on the necessity of measures to slow its spread.
Germany had confirmed some 1,300 infections as of Wednesday, with two deaths. The government has recommended the cancellation of all events with more than 1,000 people, among other things.
Merkel noted at a news conference in Berlin: “You have to understand that if the virus is there, and the population has no immunity yet to this virus, there are no vaccines and no therapy so far, a high percentage – experts say 60 to 70% — of the population will be infected.”
She said the priority is to slow the spread of the disease “so all the measures we are taking are of the greatest significance because they are giving us time – it does matter what we do, it is not in vain.”
Spain’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 2,000, with roughly half of them in the Madrid region, where two-thirds of the country’s virus deaths have occurred.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 2,002 cases nationally, up by 363 from the previous day. Deaths reached 47, up by 11 from Tuesday.
Fernando Simón, director of Spain’s health emergency center, said Wednesday that Madrid’s fatalities are high because much of the contagion there is taking place in nursing homes. The COVID-19 virus is particularly hard on the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Madrid and two regions in northern Spain are closing schools and universities for two weeks to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Long queues have formed at Madrid area supermarkets amid signs of panic buying.
Beijing’s city government says all passengers arriving in the city from overseas, regardless of their points of departure, are now be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
The order, which goes into immediate effect Wednesday, is part of stepped-up measures to prevent the virus that was first detected in China from re-entering the country.
The move was announced by the deputy head of the city’s Communist Party committee’s organization department, Zhang Qiang, at an emergency meeting on the virus. It reverses a previous order that only required quarantine for those arriving from countries with a large number of cases, including South Korea and Japan.
Chinese health ministry spokesman Mi Feng told reporters Wednesday that domestic control efforts remained effective but the rapid spread of the virus abroad was “introducing uncertainties.”
Of the 24 new virus cases reported by China on Wednesday, five had arrived from Italy and one from the United States. China has had over 81,000 virus infections and over 3,000 deaths.
The Italian government announced Wednesday it is earmarking 25 billion euros (nearly $28 billion) to confront the coronavirus with the first spending commitments by the end of week.
Economic Minister Roberto Gualtieri said a decree expected by Friday will outline spending of about 12 billion euros ($13.4 billion). That will include measures to support health services and the civil protection agency and to support the labor market.
The measures aim to ensure that no one loses work due to broad government restrictions on movement, to provide liquidity to support families and businesses and to allow delays in payments such as taxes and mortgages. He declined to specify exactly what measures would be included in the first decree.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said the European Union has indicated a willingness to contribute resources, which could ease the fiscal burden on Italy and keep down its deficit.
The coronavirus is starting to slow industrial production in Italy and has forced a major cruise line limit port calls in Italy.
The Costa Crociere cruise line, based in the Italian city of Genoa, said it will only stop in Italian ports to allow guests to disembark and return home — calling off any excursions or new embarkations through April 3.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced Wednesday that it would temporarily close its four Italian plants in the coming days to fully sanitize work and production spaces and to adequately space production lines. Production will resume Monday at lower volumes.
It previously temporarily halted production of the 500L in Serbia after China’s lockdown blocked delivery of some parts. A Fiat Chrysler spokesman said the new temporary closures are strictly related to efforts to contain the virus.
Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in his private library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures and barred the general public from St. Peter’s Square and took precautions to limit the spread of infections in the tiny city-state.
Francis sent out special prayers for prisoners, the sick and hospital personnel caring for them, delivering his weekly catechism lesson via livestream rather than in person. He was surrounded by a handful of priest translators who took turns delivering his comments in a variety of languages, making sure to sit a meter (yard) apart.
Usually the pope’s weekly Wednesday audience is a boisterous affair that fills St. Peter’s or the Vatican auditorium with tens of thousands of people. But for this week’s audience, the first of Italy’s nationwide lockdown, the square was empty and police barred access to St. Peter’s Basilica to anyone but individuals seeking to pray.
The Vatican representative to East Timor said a visit by Pope Francis has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Monsignor Marco Sprizzi of the Apostolic Nunciature told reporters in Dili that Francis had previously indicated his willingness to visit East Timor later this year. But Sprizzi cited concerns about large crowds, saying “because he did not want his people affected by the coronavirus, he canceled his visit.”
The Vatican had never confirmed Francis would visit Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea later this year. The only foreign travel it has confirmed this year, a May 31 daytrip to Malta, likely will be called off given Malta on Tuesday barred all air traffic to and from Italy.
Scores of passengers and crew aboard a river cruise boat are being held under quarantine in eastern Cambodia after a British passenger tested positive for the coronavirus.
The vessel belonging to Viking River Cruises is under police guard as it remains moored on the Mekong River outside the town of Kampong Cham.
Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng on Wednesday visited the Kampong Cham provincial hospital, where the 65-year-old woman from the United Kingdom is being held for observation and treatment. The woman is Cambodia’s third confirmed case.
Mam Bunheng said late Tuesday that the remaining 63 passengers and crew aboard would be tested and quarantined for 14 days.
Indonesia says a foreigner has become its first fatality from COVID-19.
Achmad Yurianto, the government spokesman on efforts to contain the coronavirus, said Wednesday the 53-year-old woman had diabetes and lung disease and had contracted the virus abroad. Yurianto did not reveal the patient’s nationality and said her husband will be repatriated soon.
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