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This article titled “Sanders pressured to exit in push for unity against twin threats: virus and Trump” was written by David Smith in Washington, for The Guardian on Wednesday 18th March 2020 04.11 UTC
For more than three years it seemed impossible to millions of Americans that anything could be more important than voting for an alternative to Donald Trump.
Yet right now the US president is no longer seen as the most pressing threat to national security. The coronavirus crisis has temporarily turned the US presidential election into a sideshow.
It was Senator Bernie Sanders who compared it in scale to “a major war” and suggested it may result in more casualties than the US military suffered against Germany and Japan in the second world war.
Now Sanders, who suffered another drubbing in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, is facing calls to make a gesture worthy of wartime and call it quits for the national good. “#DropOutBernie” is trending on Twitter.
By throwing his weight behind Biden, the argument goes, he would in effect be doing a Clement Attlee – the Labour leader who agreed to serve under his rival, Conservative Winston Churchill, in Britain’s coalition government when Sanders was born in 1941.
Such a gesture would ease fears over the primary elections themselves being a public health risk – rallies are off and Ohio postponed its vote at the last minute – and enable Biden to focus on the twin priorities of the coronavirus and Trump.
Sanders “would do public health and the party he has twice aspired to lead a big favor by acknowledging reality and leaving the race now”, David Byler, a data analyst and political columnist, wrote in the Washington Post.
“By officially making former vice-president Joe Biden the presumptive nominee, Sanders would free Democrats to make more rational decisions about how and when to hold their contests, and could free voters from making an impossible choice between casting their ballots and safeguarding their health.”
Supporters of this view point to simple maths. After the results of Tuesday night, Biden is more than 300 delegates ahead of Sanders, a virtually unassailable lead. Having never won a state in his first two runs for president, 77-year-old Biden is now racking them up. The virus only strengthens his case as the restorer of order and experience in a White House currently run chaotically by a TV star.
On Tuesday, as expected, Biden gained nearly two-thirds of the vote in the vital swing state of Florida, where Sanders’ recent comments in praise of the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro’s literacy programme played badly. He also hammered the senator in Illinois by a bigger margin than Hillary Clinton managed in 2016, winning every county but one, and claimed Arizona to boot.
It has been a stunning turnaround since the dark days of Iowa and New Hampshire and is now all over bar the shouting.
The former vice-president evidently believes so. In remarks on Tuesday night that again lacked an audience for safety reasons, he said: “Senator Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision – from the need to provide affordable healthcare for all Americans to reducing income inequality to taking on climate change.”
He added: “And let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you. I know what is at stake. And I know what we have to do.”
Biden has already begun courting progressive voters by backing a version of Sanders’ plan to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for many students and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to overhaul the consumer bankruptcy system.
Yet there are still reasons to believe that Sanders will refuse to wave the white flag. He kept going last Sunday for a head-to-head debate without an audience in a TV studio in Washington. On Tuesday, even as the grim results trickled in, he released his “coronavirus crisis principles” that “include at least trillion in funding to mobilize on a scale not seen since the New Deal and World War II to prevent deaths, job losses, and economic ruin”.
And no one in the Democratic party has forgotten Sanders’ tenacity/obstinacy – take your pick – in 2016 when he refused to surrender against Clinton. Back then, there was always the possibility that an FBI investigation into her poor email hygiene could scuttle her candidacy. There is no such shadow hanging over Biden.
A Sanders concession would not be simple, however. Some of his supporters never made peace with Clinton and would naturally reject Democratic National Committee pressure to wind up the election prematurely. Some are deeply sceptical of Biden as yet another centrist incrementalist who represents the past rather than the future. They will argue that not even the coronavirus should postpone the revolution.
Two dozen other candidates have come and gone, realising when it was the right moment to leave the stage. Now all eyes are on Sanders, with many entreating him to take his final bow from presidential politics.
The 78-year-old launched his first long-shot campaign at a hastily arranged press conference on a patch of grass known as the Senate swamp on Capitol Hill five years ago next month. He attracted only a small group of reporters; none could have guessed what a movement he would build.
It will be a movement in search of a new leader. And it is a movement whose support the Democratic party needs to beat Trump. The current president offers plenty of negative reasons to vote in November. Now Biden must offer enough positive ones.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
This article titled “Covid-19 outbreak like a nuclear explosion, says archbishop of Canterbury – as it happened” was written by Alison Rourke (now); Kevin Rawlinson ,Damien Gayle, and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 19th March 2020 00.35 UTC
Reuters is reporting that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will pardon 10,000 prisoners including political ones in honour of the Iranian new year on Friday, state TV reported.
“Those who will be pardoned will not return to jail … almost half of those security-related prisoners will be pardoned as well,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told state TV on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Esmaili said Iran had temporarily freed about 85,000 people from jail, including political prisoners, in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
“A large number of prisoners who have been temporarily freed do not need to return to jail after the leader’s pardon,” Esmaili said.
“The unprecedented point is that the pardon also includes the security-related prisoners with less than five-year jail sentences,” Esmaili said.
Esmaili did not say whether it would include British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released on Tuesday for two weeks.
It’s also not clear if British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert would be pardoned. On Wednesday it was reported that she was not among the 85,000 prisoners temporarily released from Iranian jails.
Updated at 12.06am GMT
Here’s a summary of the latest news:
The Sushi fast food chain, YO! Sushi, has revealed that 54 of its restaurants will permanently close at the end of service on Wednesday.
In an email sent to employees seen by the Guardian, the company said that the decision had come “in light of the escalating uncertainty of Covid-19” and followed “some very difficult decisions”.
“Regrettably, we have had to take this action as it is clearly in the interests of public health to do so and there is nothing more important than that, in particular our responsibilities to the elderly and vulnerable,” the email said.
It currently unclear which restaurants will be included, but at least one branch in London is set to shut.
One employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “This is a lot to come to terms with. A week ago we were all talking about the future and what we can do with the restaurant, now we’re shut. It’s so much to process in such a short space of time.”
YO! Sushi has almost 100 restaurants operating across 8 countries, 70 of which are located in the UK.
Updated at 11.29pm GMT
The Australian stock market has risen slightly in opening trade even though US markets again tumbled by between 5% and 6% overnight.
At about 10.15am the benchmark ASX200 index was up about 1.45%.
Before trade opened, Australian flagship carrier Qantas announced it was suspending all international flights from the end of the month and would be standing down two thirds of its 30,000-strong workforce without pay.
Qantas stock fell 4.35% in early trade.
Other companies also flooded the market with coronavirus-related bad news, with at least half a dozen withdrawing previous profit forecasts and others reporting slower sales.
Still in the US and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its figures for Thursday 18 March. They are as follows:
A US congressman, Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican of Florida, has tested positive for coronavirus, he said in a statement. “I’m feeling much better,” he said. “However, it’s important that everyone take this seriously.”
Tasmania is going into quarantine to prevent mainland Australians from spreading the virus.
It is the first time border controls have been introduced between Australian states, and a particularly extreme measure in a state whose economy relies heavily on tourism.
The Tasmanian premier, Peter Gutwein, told reporters in Hobart on Thursday that from midnight on Friday (AEDT), all arrivals to Tasmania — including Tasmanians returning home — will have to go into a 14-day mandatory self-isolation.
The only exception is for essential services, like health workers. The penalty for breaching this mandatory self-isolation is a fine of up to AUD,800 (£8,366) or six months jail. Gutwein said:
I think it is an extra layer of protection on Tasmanians. This will be, in Tasmania, the strongest border measures in the country in terms of the states and territories…
But I want to make it clear as well: any Tasmanian can still come home. If they come home after midnight on Friday, they will need to go into a two-week quarantine.
This is an extension of the rules on quarantine for people returning to Australia from overseas, which have applied nationally since Monday.
Updated at 11.14pm GMT
The Costa Rican health ministry has announced the country’s first death from Covid-19.
An 87-year-old man who was in intensive care in Alajuela, Costa Rica’s second largest city, died at 4:15pm (CST) on Wednesday.
The country’s president, Carlos Alvarado, expressed solidarity with the man’s family and urged Costa Ricans to react to the government’s social distancing advice.
The death comes as the Central American country announced its largest day-to-day rise in cases: up 19 to 69 on Wednesday.
Updated at 11.23pm GMT
Mauritius has confirmed its first three cases of coronavirus, the island nation’s government has said.
It concerns three Mauritian nationals who have travelled back to Mauritius recently aged 21, 25 and 59 years, respectively. Two have worked on cruise ships and one is from the United Kingdom.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence is to double the size of the military’s civil contingency unit to create a 20,000-strong Covid support force, my colleagues Haroon Siddique and Robert Booth write.
The country’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, announced that an additional 10,000 troops are to be added to the 10,000 routinely held at higher readiness in case of a civil emergency – and reservists could also be called up.
Updated at 11.29pm GMT
We reported earlier that the United Arab Emirates was suspending issuing all types of work permits. Now the state news agency, WAM, reports it is suspend entry of valid residence visa holders who are still abroad.
The measure is reportedly due to come into effect at noon on Thursday (GST) and will be in place for two weeks.
Angela Hartnett’s Michelin-starred Murano restaurant in Mayfair, in central London, is the latest ‘fine-dining’ casualty of the coronavirus outbreak.
Chef and owner Hartnett has announced its closure in an email to customers:
We are sorry to say that with a heavy heart we will be closing our restaurant following a last service tonight. A huge thank you to our teams and suppliers for their personal support; they are amazing, and we will be back stronger together. We look forward to welcoming then, with more pasta than you could possibly eat…
The upmarket department store Harrods has announced reduced opening hours and closed all its restaurants to protect its customers and its 5,000 staff. Restaurants that are staying open – with few customers – are offering takeaway services.
Jace Tyrrell, the chief executive of New West End Company that represents 600-plus retailers and businesses across London’s West End, said:
As we collectively face down the challenge of Covid-19, tough decisions need to be taken to prioritise the safety of staff and customers.
Over the coming days, we expect to see more businesses take pragmatic decisions to reduce opening hours and temporarily close their doors to provide long–term protection for employees and balance sheets.
The pandemic is like a nuclear explosion – bringing a huge initial impact and a fallout that will last for years and shape the nation’s future in unforeseeable ways, the archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
Speaking at Westminster, Justin Welby welcomed the “war budget commitment” made by the government to shore up the struggling economy.
But the top Anglican cleric stressed the need for the “enormous and unprecedented” financial support to benefit the entire country and not just the big cities.
The crisis through which we are passing will change this nation in deep and unpredictable ways.
Like a nuclear explosion, the initial impact is colossal but the fallout last for years and will shape us in ways we can’t even begin to predict at the moment.
We will overcome the virus. Small groups all over the country are showing fresh signs of community spirit and collaboration. It is from those small groups through to the large scale government measures that things will change.
But, during a crisis, keeping the long term direction is as important as tackling the short term problem. The enormous package package of short-terms measures is by its very size sufficient to raise hope and for that it is welcome. 15% of GDP is a war budget commitment.
The obvious question is how will it be distributed. How will it be used in a way that’s effective. If we are to put confidence as the aim and people at the centre, the distribution, the impact must be both swift enough and imaginative enough to maintain confidence right across the economy, not only in the big cities with their own self-sustaining economy, but in the myriad of towns and smaller communities across the country.
For many of these there has been decline for many years. Covid-19 may well be the last straw for some.
Updated at 10.48pm GMT
Employees of Air Canada, the country’s largest airline, have said the company is not doing enough to inform customers and staff of their exposure to passengers infected with Covid-19.
And, as more flight attendants test positive for the coronavirus, there are growing fears in the company ranks that the risk to flight attendants is higher than previously acknowledged.
Why are UK schools closing now and what does it mean for parents? My colleague Sally Weale has the answers to those and other questions:
Air Canada is gradually suspending the majority of its international and US trans-border flights by 31 March in response to the pandemic, Reuters reports.
The company says it intends to continue serving all provinces and territories of Canada, but will reduce its domestic network to 40 airports from 62 in April.
Most UK freelancers working in the creative industries are afraid they will not be able to pay their bills because of the work they have lost due to coronavirus, a study suggests.
A survey of 5,600 people by the broadcasting union Bectu found almost half had already lost money because of the outbreak.
Almost 500 said they had lost more than £5,000 each, while estimates for future loss of earnings were difficult because of the uncertainty about the length of potential disruption. More than 100 of those surveyed feared they were facing losing more than £40,000.
The union’s head, Philippa Childs, said:
Bectu can’t emphasise enough how urgently we need the government to act. This survey started just after the Budget announcement. We have since had another update from the chancellor but still nothing for freelancers, the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts.
Having announced that UK schools will remain open to supervise children of “key workers,” questions remain over who will qualify.
Some obvious candidates have been mentioned by the government, principally NHS workers, but the potential list is very long. Paul Tarn, the chief executive of the Delta Academies Trust that runs 50 schools, says the government needs to make clear who will be included:
We at Delta have been on the frontline of this crisis and have been proud to keep our schools open to care for and feed children – and we will continue to do so as we rise to this unprecedented challenge with a comprehensive offer of support.
However, we hope the government or local authorities will issue emergency childcare certificates to those who will qualify as key workers under the new definition.
This would help schools by not placing them in the position of having to rule on whether a parent and their child qualifies for the care.
Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, has similar concerns:
Ensuring schools can stay open for children with parents on the front line fighting the pandemic is necessary. But this must apply to all workers with jobs in essential and emergency services, from hospital cleaners and porters, to 111 call handlers and social care staff.
In Ireland, the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, has praised the “extraordinary” observance of social distancing steps.
In relation to the social distancing measures that have been put place, I think we have seen an extraordinary level of compliance on the part of the public. The public are listening and behaving responsibly.
The senior medic said it was too early to tell what impact it was having on the number of cases diagnosed, but he said a clearer picture should emerge in the coming weeks.
He acknowledged that potential public fatigue with the measures could become a challenge if they continue for an extended period.
Dr Holohan particularly urged young people to think of their older relatives and the impact the virus could have on them when observing the restrictions on their daily lives. He said the projection of 15,000 diagnoses in Ireland by the end of the month was in an “unmitigated” situation.
In other words, if the disease continues to spread through the population with no impactive measures, like social distancing measures, that’s the kind of growth trajectory we’d expect.
So we’d be hopeful that what we will actually observe will be a lower number of cases on the basis that we have seen some success as a result of our social distancing measures.
Updated at 9.57pm GMT
Slovenia plans to introduce quarantine from Friday to slow down the spread of the virus, its interior minister Ales Hojs has told national television.
He said people will still be able to go to work, pharmacies or food shops but all socialising in open spaces will be prohibited. The country has so far confirmed 286 coronavirus cases, of which one person died while six are in intensive care.
The medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is preparing to set up activities in and around Paris to help detect and manage Covid-19 cases among the most vulnerable populations, it has said.
The organisation is more commonly associated with responding to medical emergencies in war zones. Its deputy operations director, Pierre Mendiharat, said:
In the context of the coronavirus epidemic, we are particularly concerned about the fate of people in precarious situations. If nothing is done to detect and isolate cases, the virus risks spreading among these groups particularly quickly.
Our response in France is very similar to initiatives MSF has already launched in other countries such as Italy, for example, and those which our teams may develop in the coming weeks.
Bloomberg is reporting that Tesla, which has thus far resisted an order from the local authorities to close down its US assembly plant in the interest of public health, is now preparing to reduce staffing by about 75%.
Egypt has reported 14 new coronavirus cases, its health ministry has said, bringing the total number of confirmed cases up to 210. The country has so far reported six coronavirus-related deaths.
Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre has reported 74 new confirmed cases of Covid-19. The cases, which are made up of 29 females and 45 males, bring the total number of coronavirus cases in Ireland to 366.
Another senior Brazilian political figure has tested positive.
Davi Alcolumbre, the head of the country’s Senate, is without severe symptoms, but feels a little sick and is in quarantine at home, his office has said, adding that an initial test was negative, but a second one was positive.
The United Arab Emirates is suspending issuing all types of work permits, starting on Thursday and until further notice, the state news agency (WAM) reports. The decision excludes internal transportation permits and employment permits for Expo 2020, WAM adds.
The British ambassador to Spain has corrected an earlier statement, saying now that the Spanish government has not given formal orders for hotels and short-stay accommodation in the country to shut their doors.
Nearly 600 people have died in Spain in recent weeks and cases of coronavirus have surged to 13,716, leaving the country battling an epidemic that ranks among the worst in Europe.
In an earlier video, Elliott said the Spanish government had ordered the closure of hotels over the next seven days.
A Spanish government source said that, while the closure of hotels was included in the emergency measures imposed on Saturday, there is no firm date by which they must shut their doors. Hotels are not accepting any new reservations but continue to attend to guests who are already on the premises, the source added.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it expected hotels, short-stay campsites and caravan parks in Spain to close “in the coming days.” The measures are not expected to apply to long-term accommodation, it added.
Staying in the UK – the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has written to the prime minister with three demands:
The former Manchester United footballer, Gary Neville, has said the 176 beds in his two hotels will be handed over to medical staff who need to isolate themselves from their families for free from Friday.
The businesses will be closed to the public, though staff will continue to operate the hotels for the health workers. And Neville promised that no employee would be made redundant or asked to take unpaid leave.
US and Canadian leaders have stressed the importance of keeping trade flowing, even as they announce travel restrictions to combat the pandemic
The White House has said Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau held talks on the need for “close cooperation on efforts to combat the virus, including the agreement to reduce movement across the United States-Canada border to essential travel only”.
President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau agreed it was important to preserve supply chains and trade, regardless of travel restrictions.
Oxfam is closing its 600 high street shops from Saturday, it has announced. The charity said the decision was made to “protect the health of its staff, volunteers and customers”, adding its online store would remain open. Its deputy trading director, Anne Webb, said:
It is with a heavy heart that we have decided to shut our shops until the danger of the coronavirus has eased.
But it’s absolutely the right thing to do as the safety of our staff, volunteers and shoppers comes first. Some of our volunteers are elderly, and especially vulnerable to the infection, and we are acutely conscious of our responsibilities towards them.
A second person – a 61-year-old man – has died in Turkey, the country’s health minister has announced. Fahrettin Koca said the number of confirmed cases has nearly doubled to 191 from 98 a day earlier.
The London Underground’s 24-hour weekend night Tube service is closing with immediate effect.
The move will help restrict non-essential travel to bars and restaurants, as the prime minister contemplates a crackdown. It also comes among increased staff anger at the risk of working on Tube lines at night to serve passengers ignoring public health advice to avoid gatherings.
The service operates on Friday and Saturday nights on the Northern, Central and Victoria lines, as well as parts of the London Overground. The Waterloo and City line will also be suspended from Thursday night in response to declining demand and staff availability.
Another Brazilian minister has tested positive for Covid-19, the country’s president Jair Bolsonaro has announced.
The energy minister, Admiral Bento Albuquerque, is the second government minister to contract the virus. The institutional security minster General Augusto Heleno’s first test was positive, while the press secretary Fabio Wajngarten has also become infected.
On Wednesday, Bolsonaro hosted a press conference on the pandemic flanked by nine ministers and top officials – all wearing masks which they removed when talking.
He attacked the media, called Tuesday’s home-based, pan-bashing protests against him “an expression of democracy” and defended defying medical advice to mingle with demonstrators last Sunday.
As “leader of Brazilian nation, I have to be at the front together with my people,” said Bolsonaro, a former army captain.
But he did little to assuage fears the pandemic could overwhelm Brazil’s health service when he said it “is unable to accept a considerable quantity” of people sick with Covid-19. Brazilian states have reported 393 confirmed cases. The defence minister, General Fernando Azevedo e Silva, said:
This is a war, against an invisible, ferocious and unwavering enemy. Brazilians can depend on the armed forces.
The health minister, Luiz Mandetta, warned of “tough days” ahead, explaining that reducing the challenge ahead from the size of Mount Everest to a more scaleable Brazilian mountain demanded the cooperation of the population.
Costa Rica has recorded its largest single day rise in confirmed cases, spiking from 50 on Tuesday to 69 on Wednesday. The ages of known Covid-19 patients range from 8 years old to 87 in the Central American country.
In an emotional message, the country’s health minister Daniel Salas pleaded with Costa Ricans to stay away from public spaces and take the government’s social distancing policies seriously.
You who are listening and hearing this message: please, react. React. Don’t go to public places … This is not something minor, we’re talking about people’s lives.
Updated at 8.28pm GMT
The UK’s transport secretary has met with airline representatives to try to work out how to get stranded citizens home amid a host of border closures around the world.
Grant Shapps also said the Department for Transport and the Treasury are working on a plan to support the struggling industry. Tim Alderslade, the chief executive Airlines UK, has said:
The promise from government to step in with a bespoke package of support for aviation to get us through the coming months is therefore very welcome and we are currently working with ministers to go through the detail of what this might entail and hope an announcement will be made in the coming days.
In the meantime, we are working round the clock to bring home passengers stranded overseas and will continue with these efforts. And we do urge passengers to check their airline’s website and where there are options to come home take them as soon as they can.
People are being reminded to get some exercise despite the UK government’s call for the country to be largely put into lockdown.
The chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty said it was important that both children and adults still take exercise while in social isolation.
Being outside in the park is a very good thing to do and taking exercise is always a good thing to do – the thing we are trying to avoid is people meeting up unnecessarily or having unnecessary social contact.
Going to the park, yes. Crowding together with lots of people for a long time, that is the kind of thing we would rather people did not do.
Asked if it was safe for a few people to kick a ball about, Prof
If it is in the open air and people are keeping their distance, then we would certainly want people to continue to enjoy themselves.
He said the UK was in for the “long haul” in terms of social distancing measures.
We’ve described it as a marathon not a sprint and we do have to be able to do things over many weeks to months if we are going to seriously get on top of this epidemic that is heading our way.
The head of a major children’s charity has stressed the importance of school time to keeping children safe after the government announced vulnerable children would be exempt from its schools closure plan.
Anna Edmundson, the head of policy and public affairs at the children’s charity NSPCC, said:
The government has clearly acknowledged the need to keep children safe from abuse and neglect during this national health emergency.
Teachers act as the eyes and ears for the community and have a vital role in ensuring children receive the right protection. Therefore, it is encouraging that the most vulnerable young people will continue to go to school to find safety and support.
But the process needs to be carried out with care and sensitivity to avoid children feeling as though they are being singled out. It is also important to recognise that this is not black and white as there will be children that are vulnerable to abuse but fall outside this process.
At the NSPCC, we will be looking closely at the detail of the plans and we look forward to discussing how they will work in practice with the government.
Updated at 8.09pm GMT
Baltic states have deployed ships, a train and a plane to repatriate hundreds of citizens stuck at the border between Germany and Poland after Warsaw banned foreign nationals over the coronavirus, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reports.
A ship from Germany docked at the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda Wednesday, hours after a train arrived in the central city of Kaunas, said Aldona Griniene; a spokeswoman for the nation’s transport ministry.
Vilnius also sent a military transport plane to airlift dozens of people from Germany who were unable to cross into Poland earlier this week. More ships are scheduled in the coming days, AFP reports.
The Queen carried out her weekly audience with the prime minister on the phone. Boris Johnson was due to have a face-to-face meeting with the monarch at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday. The Palace confirmed the audience took place by telephone.
Zuckerberg also defended Facebook’s position on coronavirus misinformation, saying he didn’t view the site’s clampdown as an attack on free speech – but that it didn’t mean the site should take the same tack about political misinformation.
Even in the most free expression-friendly jurisdictions like the US, you’ve long had the precedent that you don’t let people yell ‘fire’ in a crowded room, and I think that’s similar to people spreading dangerous misinformation in a situation like this.
Facebook is crucial in times of social distancing, Zuckerberg argued, noting that he himself was now working from home and limiting contact with others.
We want to make sure we can do our part to alleviate loneliness and help people come together.
To that end, the company is going to roll out a feature designed to encourage the sort of grassroots organising that the site has already seen.
We’ve had a community help feature that we’ve rolled out in other disasters in the past, like if there’s a hurricane. We’ve never had to do it at a scale that we’re talking about doing here – for everyone basically across the whole community at the same time. But we’re going to move forward with that in the next few days as well.
Facebook is launching a new coronavirus “information centre” at the top of every newsfeed and every Instagram feed, its chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said.
As with current warnings on the social network, the centre will be filled with information from national health services. But it will also have articles videos and posts aimed at encouraging social distancing and preventing the spread of the virus.
It launches tomorrow in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the US. Zuckerberg said:
We’ve been co-ordinating with governments across the world to ask what sort of messages we should be putting out, and the consensus right now is social distancing.
So a big part of this will be about showing content from public health experts, celebrities, visual journalists, and so on, that will be encouraging the right behaviour on this.
The United States is suspending all routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services as of Wednesday in most countries worldwide due to the pandemic, a State Department spokeswoman has said.
She did not clarify which or how many countries are halting services, but said US missions abroad will continue to provide emergency visa services “as resources allow” – and that the services to US citizens will remain available. Missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, the spokeswoman said, without giving a date.
Meanwhile, in New York, the governor has announced new controls:
Two more people have died in Brazil, the Sao Paulo state health authority has announced. That brings the death toll in the country to three. The two people were 65 and 80 years old, the Sao Paulo Health Secretariat said.
And the country’s health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, said more restrictive measures may be needed, as he acknowledged that the number of cases in Brazil was worse than the official tally of 291 suggested because a significant number have not yet been counted.
In the UK, the shadow foreign minister Lloyd Russell-Moyle has announced he’s tested positive.
In a Facebook post, the Labour MP for Kemptown and Peacehaven said he received the test results this afternoon – after six days of waiting.
I’ve just been informed by my doctor that I have tested positive to Covid-19. I felt symptoms last Wednesday, immediately self-isolated and called 111. I had a home visit and was tested on Thursday, this was the last day of community testing.
I received the result this afternoon after six days of waiting. If we are serious about the WHO advice of ‘Test, Test, Test’ then we need to do better than this.
Windsor Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh are to all close their doors to visitors.
The Royal Collection Trust announced the tourist attractions would shut temporarily from Saturday. Royal Collection shops will also close as a precaution because of the pandemic. Refunds will be issued to those who have pre-booked tickets, the trust said.
Updated at 7.09pm GMT
In the UK, manufacturers of hand sanitisers and gels are to have their applications for the alcohol needed for production fast-tracked, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has said.
Demand for such products has increased sharply since the outbreak; leading to some shortages. But current rules mean any manufacturer wanting to make the products must put in applications for using denatured alcohol, like ethanol, which takes 45 working days. HMRC has said it will pushing them through in five days instead.
Updated at 7.06pm GMT
As many as 24,000 former healthcare workers have contacted the Irish health service to offer their help after the country’s government issued a call to arms.
Retired doctors, nurses, therapists and university students with sufficient skills to register with the health service have been calling in, Reuters reports.
The health minister, Simon Harris, has promised there will be no financial limits to the recruitment programme and no constraint on the numbers to be hired, telling prospective candidates: “Your country needs you.”
In the UK, education authorities are trying to work out how to live up to the prime minister’s promise that qualifications will be delivered despite end-of-year exams being cancelled.
Clare Marchant, the chief executive of the university admissions service Ucas, has said:
We will be working through the implications of today’s announcements for students, teachers, universities and colleges over the coming days, which was one of the scenarios we were planning for.
Flexibility within the admission process will be enhanced and extended to deal with the coronavirus outbreak and the announcement that there will be no exams this year.
We are confident that our team and systems are ready to adapt throughout the spring and summer.
We will continue to work closely with colleagues across the education sector including Ofqual, the Department for Education, the Scottish government, Office for Students and Universities UK.
As soon as any changes are confirmed, students will be emailed to explain how this might affect them, so it’s important they keep their email address up to date in Track.
We will also communicate further and extend support to all of customers during these challenging times.
Germany is expanding entry restrictions to include flights from Italy, Spain, Austria, France, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland, the interior ministry has said.
The new entry restrictions also apply to sea transport from Denmark, according to an interior ministry spokesman.
Reuters is reporting that two World Bank Group employees in Washington DC have been diagnosed with Covid-19. It cited a memo to workers from the World Bank Group’s president, David Malpass.
According to the report, Malpass said the diagnoses marked the first cases at the World Bank and its sister organisations, but further cases could be diagnosed in the coming days and weeks.
Both the Bank and the International Monetary Fund have advised their headquarters staff and contractors to work from home after an employee of the latter was diagnosed with Covid-19.
Norway will spend all that’s needed to protect jobs and companies during the coronavirus outbreak, its prime minister Erna Solberg has said.
We’re willing to do whatever it takes, and together with parliament spend the money that is necessary to secure people’s jobs and safeguard Norwegian companies, big as well as small.
Pakistan has confirmed its first deaths from coronavirus as the total number of infected patients in the country climbed to 260. The first death was reported in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where so far 19 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.
Updated at 6.46pm GMT
The virus is spreading rapidly in France, Prof Jérôme Salomon, director of the French health authority, has said.
There are 9,134 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in France, and there have been 264 deaths – an increase of 89 in the last 24 hours. Of those infected, 2,626 are in hospital; 931 of them in intensive care, half of whom are under 60 years old.
There are still lots of people in the streets with masks and we can understand their worry … but it is completely useless for those in the the streets. Only health workers and their patients need to wear masks. There is not sense in others wearing masks.
Everyone who has masks for different reasons, if you have a stock of masks that you are not using please given them to health clinics, hospitals or even your local pharmacy who will pass them on to health workers.
Salomon thanked the Chinese authorities who had given France one million masks.
France has carried out 4,000 tests today (42,000 since the beginning of the epidemic).
The fine for ignoring the order to stay at home was raised to €135 (£126.11) on Wednesday and those fined were told it would rise to €375 if not paid within seven days.
In and around Paris, the police and gendarmes reported they had stopped 10,000 people and verified if they had the necessary documents allowing them to be out.
The French health minister, Olivier Véran, said most people come into contact with around 50 people per day in normal circumstances. He called on everyone to reduce this to five people.
The prime minister, Edouard Philippe, said the government was to introduce a “health state of emergency”. The legal move would allow the government to “adapt our legal rules in a very temporary manner to take into account the particular situation caused by the epidemic”, Philippe said.
Angela Merkel has called the pandemic “the biggest challenge since World War Two” as she appealed to German citizens to help protect each other from the virus by restricting their social interactions.
In her first televised address to the nation in 14 years as chancellor – outside her annual New Year’s address – Merkel warned that all state-run attempts to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus would prove futile unless individuals changed their personal behaviour.
“This is serious, so take it seriously,” the German chancellor said in pre-recorded remarks that will go out on German television just before tonight’s main news programmes.
Since German reunification, no, since the Second World War there has been no challenge to our country that will require us to act in mutual solidarity.
Merkel said her government was focused on the main goal of “slowing down the spread of the virus, to stretch it out over months and thus win time”, which could be used to research a vaccine and avoid overwhelming the German health service.
Earlier in the day, state and federal leaders announced their intention to double the country’s number of intensive respiratory care beds. Germany currently has around 25,000 intensive care beds with respiratory capacity.
Greek health authorities have announced there are now 418 confirmed cases in the country; an increase of 31 over the last 24 hours. Of that number, 79 are hospitalised – with 13 in critical condition, Prof Sotiris Tsiodras, the health ministry’s Covid-19 spokesman told reporters.
Those afflicted had an average age of around 70 years, he said, adding that people should continue to stay in doors.
“All of us must consider ourselves as carriers of the virus.” But, sounding a note of optimism, the infectious disease expert said doctors, worldwide, were now focused on finding a cure and the results of research and clinical tests in China, where a new drug had been tried out on 340 patients from Wuhan and Shenzhen, were “encouraging.”
The deputy minister of civil protection, Nikos Hardalias, who is coordinating government efforts to combat the disease and was also attending the briefing, said a blanket ban on groups of more than 10 people would be brought into effect tomorrow, in what has become the latest emergency measure to curb the spread of the novel virus in Greece.
A fine of €1,000 (£934.72) will be meted out to anyone caught violating the new law, he said.
While the centre right government has resisted imposing a curfew, Hardalias insisted that movement should be strictly limited. People could leave their homes to go to work, see a doctor, get provisions wherever delivery wasn’t possible, or go to a bank, post office or petrol station.
They could also go out for exercise in small groups but only if they kept a strict kept a distance from one another. Pets could also be taken out.
Israel’s government has announced it will deny entry to any person who is neither a citizen or living in the country, shutting off the state almost entirely.
Tourists and visitors were previously allowed to enter if they could prove they had a suitable place to self-isolate for 14 days, such as an apartment. As of Wednesday, according to the Population and Immigration Authority, that exception will no longer apply.
Beginning today, the entrance of foreigners will not be allowed into Israel, even if they can prove they could remain in quarantine.
The country, where there are around 430 confirmed cases, has taken stringent measures to contain the spread, including shutting down all schools, cafes and malls. On Tuesday, the government approved a controversial measure to track people suspected or confirmed to have been infected by monitoring their phones.
Ireland’s banks are to grant a three-month payment pause to mortgage holders impacted by coronavirus.
The decision followed a week of pressure from the Irish government which told banks to show compassion and bail out the public just as taxpayers helped the country’s lenders during the financial crash in 2010.
People struggling to pay their mortgage – a likelihood given hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk – are being told to contact their bank to discuss options.
The finance minister, Paschal Donohue, made the announcement after meeting the five chief executives of retail banks and the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland.
He said the banks also agreed to defer loan repayments for business, extend credit guarantees and raise the maximum that can be spent on contactless cards to €50 (£46.78).
That’s it from me, Damien Gayle, for the day. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Kevin Rawlinson.
Singapore reported 47 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, of which 33 were imported from overseas, taking the total in the country 313, Channel News Asia reports.
Thirty of the new cases were found in returning Singapore residents, who included citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders.
Singapore authorities have been starkly critical of the approach taken by other countries, particularly the UK, Switzerland and Japan, in tackling the virus. Soon after it was first detected in China, the city state took strenuous measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Nineteen of the new cases had a travel history to Europe, while six had bee in north America.
So far the country has had 117 recoveries from the virus, while 196 remain in hospital – 15 in a critical condition in intensive care.
Greek health authorities have announced there are now 418 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, an increase of 31 over the last 24 hours. Of that number 79 are hospitalised with 13 in critical condition, professor Sotiris Tsiodras, the health ministry’s Covid-19 spokesman told reporters.
Those afflicted had an an average age of around 70 years he said, adding that people should continue to stay in doors.
All of us must consider ourselves as carriers of the virus.
But sounding a note of optimism, the infectious disease expert said doctors, world-wide, were now focused on finding a cure and the results of research and clinical tests in China, where a new drug had been tried out on 340 patients from Wuhan and Shenzhen, were “encouraging.”
The deputy minister of civil protection Nikos Hardalias, who is coordinating government efforts to combat the disease and was also attending the briefing, said as of tomorrow a blanket ban on groups of more than ten people would be brought into effect, in what has become the latest emergency measure to curb the spread of the novel virus in Greece.
A fine of 1,000 euro will be meted out to anyone caught violating the new law, he said. While the centre right government has resisted imposing a curfew, Hardalias insisted that movement should be strictly limited.
People could leave their homes to go to work, see a doctor, get provisions wherever delivery wasn’t possible or go to a bank and petrol station. They could also go out for exercise in small groups but only if they kept a strict kept a distance from one another.
Pets could also be taken out.
The coronavirus death toll in Italy has increased by 475, the highest number so far recorded any country in a single day, according to the latest figures from the Civil Protection Agency.
In total the death toll from the virus in the country, the worst affected in Europe by the outbreak, has now reached 2,978 – an increase of 19%, Reuters reported.
The total number of cases in Italy, the European country hardest hit by the virus, rose to 35,713 from a previous 31,506, up 13.35%
Of those originally infected, 4,025 had fully recovered compared to 2,941 the day before. Some 2,257 people were in intensive care against a previous 2,060.
Updated at 5.50pm GMT
Up to 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) has warned.
The ILO said that in the worst case scenario, Covid-19 could cause more unemployment than the global economic crisis of 2008.
Its most optimistic assessment of the impact of the outbreak was that 5.3m jobs would be lost. In the bleakest scenario that would rise to 24.7m job losses.
The crisis would also increase the number of working people in poverty by between 8.8 million and 35 million, in the best and worst scenarios respectively.
The ILO called for urgent measures at a national and global level to minimise the level of unemployment caused by the virus. It said this must be based on protecting workers’ rights, stimulating the economy and employment, and supporting jobs and incomes.
Updated at 5.38pm GMT
Boris Johnson has announced that UK schools will close, after days of pressure and the announcement of the closure of schools in Wales and Scotland earlier today.
The prime minister said there is a need to apply further pressure on the upward curve of the disease. He refused to say how long he thought closures would last.
Updated at 5.53pm GMT
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is about to begin his daily address to the nation on the latest developments in his government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Our UK live blog will be covering the briefing in detail.
Donald Trump, the United States president, has announced that he will invoke a federal provision that allows the government to marshal the private sector in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reports.
Trump, now describing himself as a wartime president, said he would sign the Defense Production Act “in case we need it” as the government bolsters resources for an expected surge in cases of the virus.
The Defense Production Act gives the president powers to direct domestic industrial production to provide essential materials and goods needed in a national security crisis.
It allows the president to require businesses and corporations to prioritise and accept contracts for required materials and services. It also allows the president to provide incentives for the domestic industrial base to expand the production and supply of critical materials and goods, according to a March 2 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Trump also said he will expand the nation’s testing capacity and deploy a Navy hospital ship to New York City, which is rapidly becoming the centre of a pandemic that has rattled the U.S. economy and rewritten the rules of American society.
A second ship will be deployed to the West Coast.
Cuba has come to the rescue of a British cruise ship rejected by port officials across the Caribbean for weeks, allowing more than 1,000 people on board ashore, including five confirmed to be infected with coronavirus.
The Associated Press reports that the Braemar arrived in the port of Mariel early on Wednesday morning, with medical workers in protective gear taking passengers from the ship to Jose Marti international airport.
Sailing the Caribbean since late February, the Braemar had already been turned away by the Dominican Republic, Barbados and the Bahamas. Cuba said it is allowing the passengers to transit as an act of humanitarian solidarity.
Ramón Castillo, head of the company of pilots of ports of the Republic of Cuba, told a press conference:
We were asked to carry out a humanitarian, safe and fast operation; Based on these three premises, the plan that we are fulfilling this morning was designed.
Operations are carried out safely by personnel with proven competence and their qualifications as established by international regulations
Most of the 682 passengers were expected to arrive in London on Thursday morning on planes chartered by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, while those with the coronavirus or flu-like symptoms were being flown to a British military base on a separate plane.
It comes as Cuba announced its first death from the coronavirus, a 61-year-old Italian tourist who was one of 10 confirmed cases on the island.
If you are following the latest coronavirus updates and you want to watch the World Health Organisation press conference hit ‘play’ on the player at the top of the blog to see the live feed.
The World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is telling Africa “to prepare for the worst and prepare today” as he holds a press conference on the latest developments on the global coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus death toll in the UK has reached 104 after NHS England said a further 32 people had died in England after testing positive.
This brings the total number of confirmed reported deaths in England to 99. The patients were aged between 59 and 94 years old and had underlying health conditions.
Follow the UK coronavirus liveblog for more details:
The president of Portugal has declared a state of emergency over the spread of Covid-19, subject to approval by the country’s parliament.
The country has 642 confirmed cases of Covid-19 so far, and two patients have died, according to a Reuters tally. The number of cases has risen by 194 since Monday.
The Portuguese victims of the virus include the president of the board of directors of Santander Portugal, António Vieira Monteiro, who was hospitalised after returning from a holiday in Italy.
Two of his children have also been diagnosed with Covid-19.
The first victim, Mário Veríssimo, an 80-year-old former masseur, died on Monday.
Here’s the latest public service announcement from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says he will now start to publish daily videos on exercises that older people can do at home to stay fit.
Uruguay has reported 50 cases of coronavirus, a disproportionately large amount for this small South American nation of under 3.5 million inhabitants. (Argentina, next door, with a population of 45 million, has only 79 reported cases).
Doctors are talking of an “explosive growth” in numbers, say local press reports, after the first four cases were reported only last Friday.
About 20 of the cases have been traced back to a single socialite from the capital city of Montevideo who went to a 500-guest wedding the same night after she returned from Spain on 7 March.
The woman in question, Carmela Hontou, who has been diagnosed with the virus, has been giving interviews defending her assistance and adding that she also had lunch with her 84-year-old mother upon arrival and went to a lunch the next day “where there were also a lot of people.”
Asked by a reporter if she didn’t consider it unwise to mingle in large crowds, given her situation, Hontou answered: “That’s ridiculous, plus, do you know how many people came in that plane?”
Audio WhatsApp messages by friends of the woman and other wedding guests have circulated widely in Uruguay, expressing disbelief and anger at her attitude. The authorities have also intervened in the case of Hontou’s two sons, after security guards at her building reported to the authorities Tuesday that they have been allegedly visiting their mother and then going about their business as usual in Montevideo.
Uruguay is awaiting the delivery of 20,000 test kits to deal with the situation, say press reports. Although some private clinics have kits, the government clinic that centralizes results is reportedly working with a five-day delay before confirming cases.
The only nation with legal marijuana in Latin America, and with legal abortion, apart from Cuba, has not yet imposed a nationwide quarantine, although the SMU Uruguayan doctor’s union has asked the government for this and other drastic measures to contain the spread.
Uruguay has meanwhile suspended classes for two weeks, closed shopping malls and ordered the suspension of flights from the US starting Wednesday and from Europe starting Friday.
Updated at 4.21pm GMT
In Lombardy 319 people coronavirus patients have died in a single day, two sources with access to the data have told Reuters.
The sources said the number of new cases in the region, which includes Italy’s financial capital Milan, had increased by almost 1,500, with the tally of confirmed cases rising above 17,700.
The latest national death toll figures are due to be released later in the day. On Tuesday, the country-wide tally stood at 2,503.
Jesse McKinley, Albany bureau chief for the NY Times, is live tweeting New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily coronavirus address to the state.
Nepal is to close its borders completely to anyone – even its own nationals – arriving in the country from Europe, west Asia, the gulf states and other countries badly hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.
The ban will come into effect from midnight on Friday and remain in place until 15 April, according to the Kathmandu Post. Movement to and from China, however, remains open.
Rajan Pokhrel, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said:
The decision means that all Nepalis who are currently outside the country have to enter Nepal by Friday midnight. As the Indian government has banned the entry and exit of all passengers from its airports, we didn’t deem it necessary to ban passenger movement to India.
Updated at 3.41pm GMT
Sri Lanka is closing all international airports to arriving passenger flights, the US state department has reported on Twitter.
Updated at 3.34pm GMT
Sebastian Piñera, the president of Chile, has declared a 90-day state of emergency to curb the spread of Coronavirus in the country.
While specific details are yet to be announced, these measures could see the restriction of transport and the prohibition of public gatherings. The military is authorised to uphold these regulations when required.
This is the second state of emergency that Piñera has applied in under 6 months. In October, the President called for an 8-day state of emergency to repress protests over rising costs of living. The unrest has continued for over five months — over a hundred were seen marching in Santiago’s Plaza Italia as recently as Monday. Such demonstrations are now expected to come to an abrupt halt over Covid-19 concerns.
While many in the country understand the necessity to ensure public wellbeing, there is great distrust in Piñera, who has a 12% approval rating. Over 30 have been killed and thousands have suffered injuries caused by the state’s harsh repression on protesters — it is a troubling time to see the government assume greater power.
Responding to protesters’ demands, Piñera established a vote to change the country’s referendum last November. Originally set for the end of April, it is likely the referendum will be postponed.
There are currently 238 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Chile, with 0 deaths.
Updated at 3.32pm GMT
The wedding of Princess Beatrice, the Queen’s granddaughter, has been postponed until next year because of the Covid-19 outbreak, Sun executive editor Dan Wootton reports on Twitter.
Parisians who fled the French capital before the national lockdown are finding the welcome to second or family homes in the countryside less than warm after locals accused them of spreading the coronavirus.
Trains leaving Paris for the countryside were packed on Tuesday morning, hours before the government’s order to stay at home unless absolutely necessary or face €135 fines came into effect at midday.
In places, however, the Parisian arrivals were met with a frosty reception.
Graffiti on a fence at Cap Ferret near Arcachon in south-west France set the tone with “Parigo home virus?”. Parigo is French slang for Parisians.
Updated at 3.26pm GMT
Nigeria has issued a travel ban on citizens from 13 countries, as authorities confirmed five new cases bringing the total in the west Africa country to eight.
The government said on Twitter it “is restricting entry into the country for travellers from… China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, US, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Switzerland.
“These are all countries with over 1,000 cases domestically.”
Updated at 3.26pm GMT
Hello, it’s Damien Gayle taking over on the world news live blog for the next couple of hours. Please send any tips and news from your part of the world to email@example.com, or via my Twitter profile, @damiengayle.
The daughters of loving father and grandfather Leonard Gibson, 78, who died yesterday after testing positive for Covi-19 have thanked the hospital staff who cared for their dad during his time at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield.
Gibson, who lived in sheltered accommodation in Oughtibridge, near Sheffield, had the lung disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and had finished a course of antibiotics after feeling unwell for a few days.
When his illness continued, he was admitted to the Northern General Hospital on Saturday where he was tested for COVID-19 and the result was positive. Despite staff doing all they could to care for ther 78-year-old, he passed away yesterday.
Lisa Broughton and Michelle Lenton, Leonard’s daughters, described their dad as “kind, loving, generous, crazy and fun loving – a jolly Irish man who made everyone smile”.
We are very grateful to all the Northern General Hospital staff that helped our Dad during this difficult time, they dealt with us sensitively and efficiently and we felt constantly reassured by their kind words. We have nothing but praise for the NHS and our dad’s treatment, especially the kindness that everyone showed us. They really went the extra mile for dad and our family. For example when we could not be there in person, we rang lots of times to see how he was. Even though they were probably very busy, every member of staff took time to talk to us in detail but more importantly they made sure dad knew each time that we had phoned and that we had said we loved him. A small thing but so important to us at that time.
The pair also urged everyone to take the advice being given by Public Health England and the Government seriously and in particular to “take time to make sure those people who may be alone or more vulnerable are able to manage over the next few months.“
At a time like this, community spirit, kindness and vigilance are more important than ever to make sure we get through this outbreak. Everyone should listen to the advice we are being given and take this seriously.
Ryanair has announced it will ground “most if not all” flights after next Tuesday, write the Guardian’s UK transport correspondent Gwyn Topham.
The airline currently expects to run a “very small number of flights for essential connectivity”, mainly between the UK and Ireland. More than 80% of flights still scheduled until then will be grounded immediately. It said call centres were overloaded and asked customers not to call, and await email instructions. It may operate some “rescue flights” from the EU, it said, where possible.
A trade union representing gig economy workers has called on Deliveroo, the food delivery service, to reform its Covid-19 hardship fund, which they say only pays out to workers with a sick note, writes my colleague Damien Gayle in London.
Even as food delivery services become increasingly crucial for households in self-isolation over suspected coronavirus infections, there are fears that the gig economy riders who staff them may be continuing to ride while themselves sick or face destitution.
Deliveroo’s fund, announced last week, was supposed to offer riders a safety net in case they had to self-isolate over suspected infection with coronavirus.
However, a spokesperson for the IWGB said that riders who were calling up to report that they were suffering from symptoms were having their delivery accounts deactivated, then told they could not access emergency funds unless they were able to provide a sick note.
NHS guidelines state that people who display symptoms of the disease should not go to their GP, and the NHS 111 helpline cannot provide sick notes, making them impossible to obtain for suspected Covid-19 infections in most cases.
It is understood that riders working for other gig economy services are being left in the same position. Alex Marshall, chair of the IWGB Couriers and Logistics branch, said:
“Deliveroo and other so-called gig economy employers have to stop blocking their workers’ access to these funds and immediately introduce full contractual sick pay, without pre-conditions.
“Increasingly, these workers are being expected to play a huge role in feeding people during this time of crisis, so it is time for their employers and the government to give them the basic rights we expect in any decent and just society.”
The Guardian has contacted Deliveroo for comment.
False information on coronavirus has been circulating WhatsApp groups, targeting school and parent groups, writes my colleague Elena Morresi.
Originally circulating in Italy, it claimed to come from a nurse in Milan, in the US from Stanford University, in the UK from an “internal email for staff in St George’s Hospital.”
Here are a number of claims fact-checked:
Covid’19 “hates heat and dies if it is exposed to temperatures greater than 80°F (27°C) Therefore hot drinks such as infusions, broths or simply hot water should be consumed abundantly during the day (…) the Sun’s UV rays kill the virus.”
Soap and water or antibacterial gels used correctly are the only proven method to remove the virus from your hands and surfaces.
“The Coronavirus has a large size (diameter of 400-500 nanometres) so face masks can stop it, no special face masks are needed in daily life.”
Covid-19 is around 120 – 160 nanometres. No mask guarantees complete protection.
“If an infected person sneezes near us, stay 10 feet (3.3 metres) away to allow the virus fall to the ground.”
Social distancing will slow the spread, however a sneeze travels around 150 km/h and can stay in the air for some time – there is no precise 3-metre rule.
“When the virus is on hard surfaces, it survives about 12 hours.”
It is not yet known how long Covid-19 survives on surfaces. Some coronaviruses can remain active outside a host for days.
“You can gargle with disinfectant solutions (…) that eliminate or minimize the amount of virus that can enter the throat.”
Covid-19 is a respiratory virus, mouthwash cannot protect against infection.
Concerned Guardian reader Clare Finnigan has pointed out this sad and worrying news in the UK, where a food bank has taken the “difficult decision” to close.
Trump has spoken about the key role played by Ireland in the pharmaceutical world as the world searches for coronavirus vaccines and treatments, adding that the US was “looking to bring a lot more back home,” writes my colleague Ben Quinn.
As reported by RTE news, 50% of ventilators used in acute hospitals worldwide are made in Ireland, according to IDA Ireland, the agency responsible for the attraction and retention of inward foreign direct investment into Ireland
British tourists stranded in the Egyptian resort town of Hurghada are complaining that airline operator Easyjet has cancelled flights, not allowing them to return before Egypt shuts down international and domestic flights on Thursday noon.
The British Ambassador to Egypt, Sir Geoffrey Adams, said the embassy is working to respond to the issue:
Egypt now has 196 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including six deaths according to the country’s Ministry of Health.
Jean Jabbour, director of the World Health Organization in Cairo announced that Egypt has tested 3015 people. He was speaking at a digital press conference earlier today to discuss the spread of COVID-19 in the Middle East.
Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, director of the WHO for the Eastern Meditarranean region said that 18,019 cases have been reported in 18 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region, including 1010 deaths from 7 countries.
Let me here also stress the difference between under-reporting, and underestimation of confirmed cases. There has been much coverage in the media that some countries are not revealing the true numbers of reported cases. As you all know, the nature of this virus affects people differently – the majority of people experience mild cases and do not seek medical care, while other have more severe cases and seek medical care. As a result, it is almost entirely the severe cases that are captured in disease surveillance systems. But it is probable that in all the countries in the world, there are many mild cases that are not identified. As a result, we can say that there may be an underestimation of the cases – this is an issue for almost all countries, even those with developed health systems.
Nigeria has announced that it is restricting entry into the country for travellers from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, U.S, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Switzerland. On Wednesday the government confirmed the country had 8 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
There are concerns in some of the remotest parts of the world about the lack of coronavirus testing facilities.
In Greenland in the far north, and the Falklands in the far south, samples from patients suspected of contracting the virus, have to be flown thousands of miles away for confirmation.
Anders Madsen, a nurse from Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, emailed the Guardian on Monday to confirm the island’s first case. But in his latest update he pointed out that Greenland is still waiting for the test results from nine other patients to be analysed in Denmark which controls the island. Meanwhile, all schools in Greenland have been closed in line with Danish policy, he said.
All flights internally and to and from Greenland will be grounded for 14 days starting at midnight on Friday. The fact that local flights within Greenland will be grounded is rather significant because no two towns in Greenland are connected by road. The only way to get to a different settlement is via boat or plane.
Madsen’s comments on Monday, prompted another reader from the Falkland Islands to report similar concerns.
The reader, who did not want to be named, said:
All samples need to be flown to the UK on one of the twice weekly MOD flights. We have been told test results will take five to ten days. People have contacted the hospital, but for the most part they are still advising that testing is not necessary unless you have travelled. We do not know if the virus is here. I believe we have one person in self isolation who felt unwell after travelling from the UK, but again that has not officially been confirmed.
The reader said there was also alarm on the Falklands about the limited hospital capacity if coronavirus does hit. They said:
A key concern is the ability of the hospital to cope. In total the island’s hospital has 29 beds, seven of which are used for long term care for the elderly already. There are two intensive care beds. Usually if anyone needs critical or specialist care they are flown out to South America or the UK, which is clearly not going to be an option with coronavirus cases. The government raised the possibility that even regular emergency cases might not be accepted by our partners countries if their health systems are already overwhelmed.
Many of our medical staff are here on short term contracts, recruited from the UK (or occasionally other countries, we have had several doctors from Canada lately) to work for for 3 to 6 months at a time. Falkland Islanders are concerned what will happen when contracts end and if we will be able to replace those who leave.
The other key concern has been tourists coming in. Cruise ship tourists regularly outnumbering the population during the peak season. The season is coming to an end, which should help reduce exposure, but as of today there are still several ships heading here that were reportedly turned away from Punta Arenas.
Falkland Islanders are strong, resilient people, but it does feel like the Falkland Island government has been caught unaware by the current outbreak. Updates are few and far between and the current policy to follow the UK’s lead feels problematic given our geographic location and resources.
Update: Madsen writes:
A second person with Covid-19 in Nuuk has been confirmed. As of 16:00 this afternoon local time the shopping center “Nuuk Center” will close, along with will bars, cafés, restaurants and gyms. Establishments are allowed to offer take-away food. Grocery stores are allowed to remain open.
No one is allowed to leave Nuuk by any mode of transport (snow mobile, boat, plane, etc). This effectively places the whole town in isolation from the rest of Greenland.
Updated at 4.11pm GMT
Interesting story in the New Yorker with relevance to the current pandemic:
A major animal disease research centre is set to move from an island off the US East Coast to Kansas, the American breadbasket, where a lab accident could destroy the billion-a-year beef industry, journalist Elizabeth Eaves writes.
While high-containment laboratories are crucial to advancing our understanding of new diseases like the novel coronavirus, the number of these labs in the United States has been growing with no central planning or oversight.
There are at least 276, a Government Accountability Office report found in 2017, but the actual number is higher and no one knows for sure what it is.
Every new lab carries with it some risk, as a history of lab breaches demonstrates. For example, a leak from Britain’s Pirbright Institute, a world-renowned high-containment research facility, caused a foot-and-mouth outbreak among livestock in 2007. In the United States, both the Centers for Disease Control and the US Army have accidentally sent live anthrax between labs, unwittingly exposing workers.
The new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, as it’s called, is being built for .25 billion—about three times original projections—and will begin opening its doors in 2021.
A shutdown of the United States-Canada border, barring all
non-essential travel, is likely to be met with strong approval in
Canada, as health officials grapple with a surge in coronavirus cases
originating in the United States, writes my colleague Leyland Cecco in Toronto.
When prime minister Justin Trudeau previously announced the closure of Canada’s border to international travellers earlier this week, he made a large exception: American citizens could still travel north.
But a growing number of coronavirus cases has likely shifted the government’s calculations in recent days.
“We have 32 new [cases] in the last 24 hours,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said Monday. “And a significant number of those were exposed [to the virus] in the United States.”
British Columbia’s health minister has been the most vocal of critic of Americans still having permission to travel into Canada. The westernmost province has been hit hard in recent days by a surge in cases, many of which are suspected of have originated in northern Washington state, one of the deadliest locations in the country for the virus.
“It’s our strong view and it’s our strong message that visitors from the United States not come to British Columbia,” said minister Adrian Dix at a press conference Tuesday night, as health officials announced a surge in cases- and three more deaths. “Don’t come. Because at this moment that is the wrong thing to do.”
Updated at 2.01pm GMT
US president Donald Trump has just tweeted that the US-Canada border will be closed to “non-essential traffic”. Trump insists: “trade will not be affected”.
More details in our US-focused liveblog:
Updated at 1.55pm GMT
Annual advertising industry jamboree the Cannes Lions festival has been postponed until October. A statement on the festival’s website says:
As always, the health, safety and wellbeing of our community is our priority. The decision was made following productive talks with our valued partners and customers and following consultation with public health officials, the City of Cannes and the French Authorities.
We have worked with the City of Cannes to make sure that the move from June to October is a smooth transition for everyone. If you are an existing Cannes Lions customer, all passes, sponsorship arrangements and bookings will roll over and remain valid.
Updated at 3.08pm GMT
Even the most ghastly events normally have some minor, beneficial upside and now, alongside improved global air quality and the abolition of the BBC Question Time audience, we can add PMQs to the list of things made better by coronavirus. The tone was always going to serious and sombre given the nature of the crisis facing the country. (Every single question was about coronavirus, by my count.) But the effect of holding it in a near-empty chamber also made a difference because there was no cheering or barracking. Boris Johnson had no noise cushion to help him through. It meant that what he said mattered more.
Johnson was pressed repeatedly, especially by Jeremy Corbyn, by Ian Blackford and most effectively of all by Chris Byrant, on what he was doing to help workers who will lose out from coronavirus and he was on slightly shaky ground. Ministers insist they will announce a package of employment support measures very soon, and Johnson repeatedly insisted that people should not lose out for doing the right thing (ie, for staying at home, even if they feel well) and he repeatedly said that he was willing to do whatever it took. To some extent, that still sounded more like a slogan than a strategy.
But PMQs should also been an opportunity for the prime minister to listen, as well as to communicate, and one would imagine than Johnson would have left the chamber more persuaded than ever about the need for some mass government intervention to protect workers. If Felicity Buchan, a Kensington Tory with a background in banking, is saying that the government does not need to worry about borrowing any more (see 12.29pm), then it is hard to see what is restraining No 10.
Johnson has a proper announcement to make during the session. In response to a question from Corbyn, he confirmed that the government would legislate to protect renters from eviction during the coronavirus crisis. He told MPs:
I can indeed confirm that we will be bringing forward legislation to protect private renters from eviction, that is one thing we will do, but it is also important as we legislate that we do not simply pass on the problem, so we’ll also be taking steps to protect other actors in the economy.
Johnson also announced that coronavirus testing was being ramped up to 25,000 tests a day. And, although he did not reveal what the government’s employment support measures would involve, his answers on this were intriguing. He did not dismiss out of hand the temporary universal basis income idea floated by Blackford, or Bryant’s call for a handout in the form of a summer version of the winter fuel payment.
Johnson was also interesting on the subject of schools. He told MPs:
The house should expect further decisions to be taken imminently on schools and how to make sure we square the circle both of making sure we stop the spread of the disease but also making sure we relieve, as much as we can, pressure on our NHS.
That sounded very much like a hint that the government will announce a partial closure of schools, with some provision being kept open – perhaps for children of key workers, or perhaps with schools in childminding rather than education mode? – to minimise the impact on the NHS.
British tourists in Spain who are looking to return to the UK should make travel arrangements as soon as possible, the British ambassador to Spain has said, as all hotels in the country have been ordered to close down within a week, writes my colleague Ashifa Kassam in Madrid.
“Our advice is now that British tourists in Spain who wish to return home should make travel plans to do so as soon as possible,” Hugh Elliott said in a video posted online on Tuesday evening.
He continued: “The government has ordered the closure of hotels over the next seven days in order to reduce risks to health.” As hotels begin shuttering, some tourists will be asked to move hotels, he noted.
The embassy is in close contact with Spanish authorities, who have made it clear that “no one will be left without accommodation,” said Elliott. He urged tourists and residents in Spain to check the government’s site for up-to-date travel advice.
The ambassador’s advice comes after the Spanish government said this week that it had not ruled out closing the country’s airspace.
Nearly 600 people have died in Spain in recent weeks and cases of coronavirus have surged to 13,716, leaving the country battling an epidemic that ranks among the worst in Europe.
As pressure builds on the country’s healthcare system, Spanish authorities said they were considering turning now-vacant hotels into makeshift hospitals. The first such transformation, described by local media as a “medicalised hotel,” is expected to begin operating this week, after a four-star hotel in central Madrid offered up its 361 rooms to authorities.
Elliott also reminded British tourists and residents to continue to comply with Spain’s near-total lockdown, amid videos making the rounds on social media that show some tourists flaunting the new rules. Earlier in the week, as the measures went into effect, Spanish media published a video showing holidaymakers wandering leisurely through Benidorm. “It’s a flu that we just all need to get over,” one tourist told news agency Atlas. “Have a beer,” he added, waving around the open beer can he was carrying.
Updated at 1.53pm GMT
The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest has become the latest high profile cultural event to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with the annual songwriting competition delayed until 2021. Due to be held in Rotterdam on 16 May, the event will now take place 12 months later in the same venue.
Full story here:
Also, if you need cheering up (and frankly, who doesn’t right now), give the Icelandic entry a watch. As our very own Jay Rayner states: “if this hadn’t won there would be no justice”.
There’s even a petition to give it to Iceland, by default.
Breaking: Nicola Sturgeon announces schools and nurseries in Scotland will close to pupils at the end of the week.
The first minister said there will be further announcements to support low income students on free school meals as well as students who have exams.
Sturgeon added that people should not assume schools and nurseries will reopen after the Easter break. She cannot promise it will reopen before summer holidays.
She said: “It will not be easy, but together we will get through this.”
A person has died from coronavirus in Burkina Faso, the first known death from the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, writes the Guardian’s international correspondent Michael Safi.
The country, where security has been deteriorating for months due to attacks by armed groups including some linked to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, has emerged as a hotspot in Africa, with 27 confirmed cases and at least 200 more people suspected of having the disease.
South Africa has the most cases in the region with 116 as of this morning, a 31% jump on yesterday’s figures.
The Burkina Faso government has closed schools and universities and banned public gatherings but is said to be enforcing the laws in a piecemeal way, raising fears the infection could spread
The wearing of masks has been made compulsory in Prague, by order of local authorities.
The measure, which comes into effect today from 6pm local time, comes after authorities had said that masks would also be required in all indoor spaces such as shops and offices. A fine of up to 20,000 CZ has been set.
In Denmark, a simple but seemingly effective step is being employed in at least one retailer
Facebook has banned the sale of medical masks on its Marketplace platform, but the Guardian has found evidence of how users are selling them in closed groups to get around the ban.
We found at least five groups, some of which have thousands of members, where people posted offers to buy and sell masks. Some of these groups appear to be targeted specifically at UK users and have members whose Facebook location is in the UK.
It is not clear what price the masks are selling for as vendors mostly appear to be arranging sales via Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp. The groups also show posts offering hand sanitiser and thermometers for sale.
As the pandemic worsens there is a serious global shortage of medical masks. Facebook announced it would ban users selling masks on its Marketplace or placing ads featuring masks, in an attempt to stop price gouging.
Amazon and Ebay have also restricted the sale of masks, though earlier this week the Guardian found other household items selling at hugely inflated prices on Ebay.
Facebook has been contacted for comment.
A general ban on group gatherings will be announced within the day in Greece.
Speaking to Alpha TV earlier, the government spokesman, Stelios Petsas, who is self-isolating as his wife has contracted coronavirus, signalled a cap of ten was likely to be placed on groups meeting in public spaces such as parks and squares.
“Today we will take another step and proceed with a ban on gatherings above a certain number … unfortunately, and I say this with regret, the recommendation that we should all stay at home while upheld by a large part of the population is still not followed by all, and that is very dangerous.”
When put to him that experts were saying it was good to be out in the sun, Petsas clarified it wasn’t “a problem” for one or two people to take a stroll “and on the contrary helps them psychologically and helps them deal with this period of self-isolation.”
But what had been witnessed in recent days of people converging on the beach and in public spaces in cities nationwide was unacceptable, he told the channel.
The government has repeatedly said that those caught flouting regulations will be punished.
Greece was among the first EU states to prohibit mass public events but has yet to announce a full lockdown that would include a curfew on the streets. Petsas that “at this point” it was not considering one.
With cafes and eateries closed, young Greeks, in particular, have taken to hanging out in squares and the few green spaces that exist in central Athens.
Sites around the capital’s world-renowned antiquities have become popular – even if they, too, are closed. So far, Greek health authorities have announced 387 confirmed cases of coronavirus. There have been five reported deaths as a result of covid-19.
Updated at 12.58pm GMT
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has said the coronavirus outbreak was hitting Turkey just as it was recovering from a 2018 lira crisis but that there would be “big opportunities” if it could bring the outbreak under control in the coming weeks.
Turkey confirmed its first death related to the coronavirus on Tuesday and a doubling of its confirmed cases in one day to 98 after it ramped up measures to combat the spread of the virus.
“It is not easy to keep all the wheels of the economy turning while battling coronavirus,” Reuters reported Erdogan as saying at the start of a meeting he was chairing with ministers, bankers and business leaders to discuss dealing with the pandemic.
“If we can manage these few weeks well and inform the nation well and keep the virus under control, we anticipate a good outlook, better than we had hoped,” he said.
“We can see that greater opportunities await us when we get out of this period with success.”
Dutch plans to press ahead with a controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy against the coronavirus outbreak continued to face criticism today as parliamentarians debated an approach which the Netherlands appears to be alone in pursuing.
In a speech to the nation on Monday, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said that the Netherlands would aim to develop immunity to coronavirus among its population by allowing large numbers to contract the illness at a controlled pace
“Those who have had the virus are usually immune afterwards. Just like in the old days with measles. The larger the group that is immune, the less chance that the virus will jump to vulnerable elderly people and people with poor health. With group immunity you build, as it were, a protective wall around them,” said Rutte.
The debate by members of the Dutch House of Representatives can be viewed live here on the Netherlands public broadcaster, NOS.
But while Rutte insisted on Tuesday that the strategy of his country – which has banned public gatherings and taken other measures – differed little from that of other states some Dutch people have been left to wonder if had become “the guineapigs of Europe.”
The British government announced last week that it would be banning mass gatherings after prime minister Boris Johnson’s cautious approach to the coronavirus outbreak was overtaken by care homes, sporting bodies and others. That came after the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, had last week defended its initial approach to coronavirus, saying it was aimed at creating a “herd immunity.”
Amid a continued debate in the Netherlands, some insisted that the strategy of ‘herd immunity’ was a side effect rather than the main goal, which was to mirror that of other states in attempting to use social distancing and other measures to ‘flatten the curve’ of the likely peak of the outbreak.
A Dutch microbiologist, Marc Bonten of UMC Utrecht, told De Telegraaf newspaper that even countries opting for a total lockdown would have to work on building group immunity.
But critics including the London-based economist Jerome Roos pointed to what they estimated the resulting death rate would be, as well as arguing that countries going for ‘herd immunity’ would make it impossible for the countries trying to completely stamp out the virus through collective quarantines
Roos told the Guardian that the Dutch approach does not mimic the one Boris Johnson’s government in the UK just backtracked on – adding that there was a lot of “epidemic suppression” going on in the Netherlands already with school closures and other developments – so it didn’t make a lot of sense for Rutte to invoke the concept of herd immunity in his address to the nation.
This is Ben Quinn picking up the blog now from Lexy Topping as she takes a break.
Updated at 12.54pm GMT
Updated at 12.16pm GMT
Iran reported its single biggest jump in deaths from the new coronavirus on Wednesday, saying that another 147 had died in a nearly 15% spike that raises the death toll to 1,135 people nationwide, the Associated Press reports:
It marks the biggest 24-hour rise in deaths since officials first acknowledged cases of the virus in Iran in mid-February.
The rise in deaths comes as the number of cases continues to grow each day, with some 17,361 people having been infection nationwide, according to a briefing Wednesday by Irans deputy health minister, Alireza Raisi.
The outbreak has cast a shadow over the Persian New Year, Nowruz, a normally joyous holiday that begins on Friday. Health officials have urged the public to avoid travel and crowded places. But many seem to be ignoring the warnings, raising the risk of further outbreaks.
The number of coronavirus cases around the world has tipped over the 200,000 mark, according to the John Hopkins University global dashboard.
Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, has asked the country’s agriculture ministry to draft a directive to stop illegal trading and consumption of wildlife over fears it spreads disease.
Here is an extract:
The directive, seen as a victory for animal rights organisations, will lead to a clamping down on street-side markets dotted across the country, increase prosecutions of online traders and ideally put pressure on thousands of farms with known links to illegal wildlife trading.
Vitenam’s move to ban the wildlife trade follows similar moves by the Chinese government, after the new coronavirus pandemic appeared to have emerged from a wet market in Wuhan.
Read the full report here:
Updated at 11.23am GMT
EasyJet has put all its flights for autumn and next winter on sale early – for a flat fare of £29.99 – even during Christmas and school holiday peaks, writes the Guardian’s transport correspondent, Gwyn Topham.
The airline said the move will give more scope to passengers who had booked flights for the next couple of months to find alternatives, without any charges to change existing bookings (or to rebook should the crisis persist).
The extraordinary step could provide particularly good deals for people booking in the next week for peak season – and perhaps a glimmer of optimism for some normality ahead.
EasyJet will hope it generates some revenues and forward bookings at a time when demand has vanished and airlines await details of the chancellor’s promised package of help, with the industry warning that most airlines worldwide could go bankrupt by the end of May.
Updated at 11.28am GMT
Glastonbury’s 50th anniversary celebrations will not go ahead this year in the UK, after organisers announced they would be cancelling because of coronavirus fears.
Tickets bought for this year’s festival will be valid for next year, organisers said.
Earlier this month despite coronavirus worries, the festival announced a wave of more than 90 artists including headliner Kendrick Lamar.
The festival was scheduled to take place 24-28 June at Worthy Farm, Somerset. It was due to take place during the likely peak of the outbreak in the UK, according to information announced by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific advised.
Updated at 11.01am GMT
Burkina Faso has announced its first death from coronavirus, which is also the first known fatality in sub-Saharan Africa, according to AFP Africa.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has defended his government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Associated Press reports.
The Iranian government has faced widespread criticism that officials acted too slowly and may have even covered up initial cases before infections rapidly spread across the country.
Iran has been the hardest hit country in the region, with nearly 1,000 dead and roughly 90% of the over 18,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the Middle East. Its leadership announced Tuesday that millions could die in the Islamic Republic if people keep traveling and ignore health guidance.
In a speech to his Cabinet, Rouhani said the government was straightforward” with the nation, saying it announced the outbreak as soon as it learned about it on Feb. 19. “We spoke to people in a honest way. We had no delay, he added.
The government has come under heavy criticism for what has been seen as a slow and inadequate response. For weeks, government officials implored clerics to shut down crowded holy shrines to stymie the spread of the virus. The government finally closed the shrines this week.
“It was difficult of course to shut down mosques and holy sites, but we did it. It was a religious duty to do it”, Rouhani said.
The outbreak has cast a shadow over the Persian New Year, Nowruz, a normally joyous holiday that begins on Friday. Health officials have urged the public to avoid travel and crowded places. But many seem to be ignoring the warnings, raising the risk of further outbreaks.
Some food markets in the capital, Tehran, were still packed on Wednesday, and highways were crowded with traffic as families traveled between cities. Iran also announced it would close mosques for communal Friday prayers for a third consecutive week. Other Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have also cancelled Friday prayers in mosques.
Bangladesh has reported its first death from coronavirus while 14 patients are infected with the disease across the country, according to officials.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora told reporters at a press briefing in Dhaka today, tbs news reported.
“The elderly victim was suffering from many old age complications and came into contact with a returnee from abroad,” she added.
Flora also said four new coronavirus patients, including one female and three male, were indentified in the country in the last 24 hours.
Updated at 12.08pm GMT
Estonia and Latvia have pledged to send ships to bring home hundreds of their citizens stranded on the German-Polish border, after Poland closed its borders last week to prevent the spread of coronavirus, writes my colleague Jennifer Rankin in Brussels.
Citing official sources, Reuters said the countries were organising cruise ships and ferries to bring their citizens home via Baltic ports later on Wednesday and next week. The Lithuanian government estimates that 420 vehicles with Lithuanian number plates were stuck at the German-Polish border on Monday.
Under EU law, countries are allowed to introduce border controls during emergency situations, but are obliged to allow their own citizens to enter and citizens of other EU countries to pass through on their way home.
Following talks with 27 EU leaders via video link on Tuesday, the head of the European commission Ursula von der Leyen said it was “absolutely crucial that we unblock the situation, because we know that too many people are stranded within the European Union”.
As lorries queue at the EU’s internal borders, prompting concern about the supply of food and medical goods, von der Leyen also urged states to follow new guidelines to ensure the swift flow of supplies.
The flow of goods has to be swift. We need these goods for the functioning of the internal market.
She was speaking after EU leaders approved a ban on non-EU citizens coming into the union. EU member states will now have to enforce the 30-day ban, which includes exemptions for British nationals, EU citizens and family members returning home, healthcare workers and researchers, diplomats and people transporting goods.
Two UN agencies have announced that refugees will no longer be resettled to homes in safe countries, as the world battles the Covid-19 crisis, writes my colleague Jennifer Rankin in Brussels.
In a joint statement, the UN refugee agency (the UNHCR) and the UN migration agency (the IOM), said refugee resettlement would be suspended as “a temporary measure that will be in place only for as long as it remains essential”.
As more countries have introduced travel restrictions and frozen refugee resettlement programmes, the two agencies had little choice. They also raised concern that international travel could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.
In 2019, the UNHCR helped more than 63,600 refugees find a life in a new country, including people who had fled Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Somalia. In the previous year, the IOM helped nearly 95,000 people find a new home, whether through a resettlement programme to a safe country, or some other humanitarian scheme.
The decision comes after rights groups warned that refugees and migrants – especially unaccompanied minors – need urgent help. The charities are deeply concerned about the fate of 36,000 asylum seekers on five Greek islands, who are sheltering in squalid, overcrowded camps, often lacking electricity, heating and hot water.
Updated at 10.26am GMT
Belgium is the latest country to go into lockdown, with citizens asked to stay at home and limit contact to their closest family, writes Jennifer Rankin.
From noon local time (CET), all non-essential shops and open-air markets will close and people will be expected to work at home.
Employers who require staff to be on site but cannot ensure social distancing face fines and even closure.
The measures are similar to those adopted by France24 hours earlier, but looser. People will be able to visit supermarkets, pharmacies, medical professionals, banks, post offices and bookshops.
Supermarkets must limit the number of customers to one per 10 square metres, meaning people are likely to have to queue outside, where they must also observe social distancing by standing well apart.
Going out for a walk or a run, or riding a bike is allowed, “even encouraged”, the authorities say, as long as people observe a distance of one and a half metres from anyone who is not a member of their household.
The restrictions, which are unprecedented in peacetime, were agreed on Tuesday night by Belgium’s national security council, which includes the prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, deputy prime ministers, other senior politicians and the security services.
Wilmès, appointed by the king on Monday to form a permanent government, after 15 months of caretaker administrations, said social distancing did not have to mean no social contact, stressing the role technology could play to keep people together.
These decisions were not taken lightly and were taken because we are obliged to by the evolving situation. Success in our struggle against Covid-19 is inextricably linked to the efforts of each person.
Belgium has had 1,085 cases of Covid-19 and 10 people have died, according to the latest figures in Belgian media.
Updated at 9.42am GMT
This blog will retain a global focus. For news relating more specifically to the UK please do also keep an eye on our UK coronavirus liveblog.
Updated at 9.39am GMT
Sune Engel Rasmussen, Middle East corespondent for the Wall Street Journal and formerly of this parish, has tweeted the results of a study from Iran’s Sharif University, which reveal:
Rasmussen has also reported on Iran’s worshippers attempting to break into holy shrines and mosques, defying Iranian leaders who are trying to bar access to religious sites because of coronavirus.
Updated at 9.39am GMT
Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach, has won praise for a national address on Tuesday night that made grim predictions and called for sacrifice, responsibility and solidarity, writes Rory Carroll.
In a rare interruption to television schedules, the premier appeared on screens at 9pm in a sombre and at times emotional speech that struck Churchillian notes in saying many will die and the economy will reel in coming weeks and months.
“This is the calm before the storm, before the surge. And when it comes, and it will come, never will so many ask so much of so few.”
Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care, University of Oxford, has written a thread giving an insight into the round-the-clock work going on to tackle coronavirus among scientists at the moment.
In these unprecedented times, we need strong, rapid links between summarising existing evidence, identifying specific knowledge gaps, and setting up the infrastructure for new research. Traditionally, this takes years. It’s now taking days. Sorry if we’re all a bit grumpy :-).
Updated at 8.57am GMT
The Central Epidemic Command Center in Taiwan has announced 23 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, bringing the total in the country to 100 since the outbreak began.
Taiwan will bar all foreign nationals from entering Taiwan from Thursday. All Taiwanese citizens and foreign nationals with the necessary documentation who arrive in Taiwan from overseas will be required to be quarantined at home for 14 days, Chen said.
People in Taiwan who have been in or transited through Europe, Turkey, Egypt or Dubai between March 5 and 14 will be required to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days, effective immediately.
Readers in Taiwan can follow the Focus Taiwan website for live updates.
A baby has tested positive for Covid-19 at the James Paget University hospital in Gorleston in Norfolk, the trust has said.
Two other positive cases have been identified at the hospital and all three were already being treated in isolation.
A hospital spokesman said: “An extensive ‘contact tracing’ exercise is now under way by Public Health England to trace anyone who might have had close (face-to-face) contact.
“Close contacts will be given health advice about symptoms and what to do if they become unwell in the 14 days after they had contact with the confirmed case.”
Updated at 8.28am GMT
Prof Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London, one of the lead authors on a paper that predicted about 250,000 people could die if the UK did not switch tactics, has said he has symptoms of Covid-19.
Updated at 8.29am GMT
The number of coronavirus cases has risen in France to 7,730, which is 1,097 more than the previous 24 hours, writes my colleague Kim Willsher.
“There have been 175 deaths, an increase of 27 in a day. Jérôme Salomon, director of the French health authority, said 7% of those infected were under 70 years old. Of the sick, 699 are in intensive care, but 5,000 patients have recovered or are being treated at home. There are 2,575 patients still in hospital, but more than 600 people have been successfully treated and allowed to go home in the last 24 hours alone.
The French PM, Édouard Philippe, spoke on television last night: he warned the government was drawing up the necessary regulations to increase fines for those found breaking the national “confinement” from €38 to €135. This has now been published in the Official Journal so is in now in force. “Stay at home”, he told French citizens.
In the south of France, the influx of Parisians trying to escape to second homes has led to anger in certain places. There is a picture in the Sud Ouest newspaper of a large tag at Cap Ferrat reading: “Paris go home virus”, with the paper reporting that locals are annoyed that many Parisians have arrived from the capital, possibly with the virus.
Updated at 8.34am GMT
The Qantas Group has announced it is slashing international capacity by 90% and domestic capacity by 60% until the end of May, according to the website Airline.net.
The cuts will be phased in from the end of this month with routes to be affected announced within the next few days. The move will mean 150 aircraft will be grounded, including most of the wide-body fleet.
Updated at 8.25am GMT
Rebecca Smithers writes:
Meanwhile, the British government’s new rules on ‘social distancing’ are now starting to have a huge impact on the high street, in addition to large-scale restaurant and pub closures.
The coffee chain Pret a Manger (which has 530 branches in the UK) has just announced that it is switching to a takeaway-only format from today, which means customers cannot sit inside to eat their purchases. It said that deliveries will continue through Deliveroo, “but the key priority is to try to reduce points of contact in shops and to miniimse the time it takes for people to get the food they need and leave safely and quickly”. Surplus food will continue to be donated to the homeless at the end of the day. And to help frontline healthworkers helping to fight coronavirus, it is offering free hot drinks and a 50% discount on all other purchases to NHS workers.
The department store Selfridges will close its four physical stores in London, Birmingham and Manchester from 7pm this evening, after initially saying it would shorten opening hours.
It tweeted that it had made the decision “with a heavy heart” but would continue online deliveries through Selfridges.com. It is understood that at least three members of staff have tested positive for coronavirus in its London flagship store on Oxford Street.
Updated at 8.16am GMT
The National Trust in the UK has said it is aiming to open as many of its gardens and parks throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland so give people a space to “refresh and relax” during this period of social distancing.
This is Lexy Topping taking over the global coronavirus live blog in the UK office. Thanks to my colleague Helen Sullivan for her efforts.
If you are aware of news stories from around the globe that you think we should cover on the liveblog, please get in touch. I’m on firstname.lastname@example.org and @lexytopping on Twitter.
Updated at 7.52am GMT
That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for now. My colleague Alexandra Topping will be taking over today’s live coronavirus pandemic coverage.
Updated at 7.53am GMT
As the coronavirus spreads across America, many workers are being directed to work from home but staff at Amazon and Whole Foods are being squeezed to keep up with increasing demand caused by Americans stockpiling food and household products.
Amazon is the US’s largest online retailer and it also owns Whole Foods, the largest natural foods grocer in the US, and fifth largest overall in the world.
Workers say the hectic pace of work amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is devastating for their physical and mental health as they try and keep up with massive new demand. They also have to deal with their own worries and problems coping with the pandemic.
Updated at 7.55am GMT
Pakistan’s prime minister has urged calm after its tally of coronavirus cases rose to 245, while Sri Lanka sealed itself off and shut its stock market on Wednesday, fuelling fears that South Asian countries are struggling to stem the pandemic.
The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Indian subcontinent rose overnight to 482 as authorities across the region imposed travel restrictions to block the fast- fast-spreading disease that has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 8,000 people.
There are fears that inadequate health facilities will be overwhelmed in many parts of the poor, crowded region.
Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan, in a late Tuesday address to the nation, urged citizens to remain calm and not rush to get tested.
“Even the U.S. doesn’t have the resources to test everyone who comes,” he said. “Only those with intense symptoms should go to hospital.”
“There is no need to worry. We will fight this as a nation. And God-willing, we will win this war,” Khan said.
US clothing retailer Gap Inc and luxury department store operator Neiman Marcus will close their stores for two weeks, joining other retailers in a vast effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Gap will temporarily shut all Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Janie and Jack and Intermix stores across North America, starting 19 March, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
In a separate release, Neiman Marcus said it would shut all Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Last Call stores in the United States, effective immediately.
Both retailers said they will keep their websites operating for shoppers and provide pay and benefits to store associates affected by the closures during the two-week period.
Numerous retailers including Tiffany & Co, Macy’s Inc, L Brands Inc, Ralph Lauren and American Eagle Outfitters announced temporary store closures on Tuesday, joining Nike Inc and Nordstrom Inc, which made similar announcements in recent days.
The United States has seen a sharp increase in virus cases, with more than 6,469 infected and at least 109 deaths, as of Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday suspended work in most of the private sector for 15 days and directed businesses to implement work-from-home policies to stop the spread of the coronavirus that has infected 171 people in the kingdom.
The human resource ministry directed businesses in the largest Arab economy to close their main offices, reduce staff levels at secondary locations, and take measures to limit contact between workers and monitor them for symptoms of infection.
It outlined exceptions for companies providing vital food and health services as well as utility services for government agencies. Pregnant women, workers over 55 and those with severe pre-existing conditions must be given 14 days additional leave.
The move is the latest in a series of drastic measures by Saudi authorities to combat the outbreak, including closing mosques, schools, restaurants, coffee shops and malls as well as halting international flights and cancelling the Umrah pilgrimage.
More than 1,000 infections and one death have been reported in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council – many linked to travel to neighbouring Iran, which is an epicentre for the outbreak in the Middle East.
The latest now on the Japanese drug deemed “effective” on Covid-19 patients:
Medical authorities in China have said a drug used in Japan to treat new strains of influenza appeared to be effective in coronavirus patients, Japanese media said on Wednesday.
Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, said favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, had produced encouraging outcomes in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 patients.
“It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” Zhang told reporters on Tuesday.
Patients who were given the medicine in Shenzhen turned negative for the virus after a median of four days after becoming positive, compared to a median of 11 days for those who were not treated with the drug, public broadcaster NHK said.
In addition, X-rays confirmed improvements in lung condition in about 91% of the patients who were treated with favipiravir, compared to 62% or those without the drug.
Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, which developed the drug – also known as Avigan – in 2014, has declined to comment on the claims.
Doctors in Japan are using the same drug in clinical studies on coronavirus patients with mild to moderate symptoms, hoping it will prevent the virus from multiplying in patients.
But a Japanese health ministry source suggested the drug was not as effective in people with more severe symptoms. “We’ve given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn’t seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied,” the source told the Mainichi Shimbun.
Updated at 7.05am GMT
In South Korea, dozens of sick and elderly hospital patients have tested positive for coronavirus, the BBC reports. We’ll have more on this soon.
Here now is today’s latest coronavirus pandemic news, at a glance:
Updated at 7.28am GMT
In Australia, we are getting some more details on how faith communities will manage the government ban on gatherings of more than 100 people.
New Zealand police have been enlisted to check up on people in self-isolation after some tourists refused to comply with mandatory measures.
Twenty cases of the coronavirus have now been recorded in New Zealand, all of them originating from overseas arrivals into the country.
Jacinda Ardern’s government has imposed strict self-quarantine measures on all arrivals into the country, including New Zealanders, and also asked anyone arriving before the announcement to abide by the same guidelines.
However, some travellers have refused to comply, and at least two tourists have been detained and may be deported.
The ministry of health has asked police to assist with the enforcement and this week officers conducted 50 “compliance visits on a random sample group of travellers”.
In a statement police said the visits involve officers “sighting” those in self-isolation and asking them a series of questions about their wellbeing.
Most people were taking the self-isolation requests seriously, police said.
Travellers across the world are scrambling to find flights home as governments urged their citizens to return and some nations announced the imminent closure of airports and borders.
As coronavirus cases near 200,000 globally, a growing number of countries have imposed lockdowns and barred entry to foreigners. As a result, passengers around the world are navigating rapidly changing travel advice, high fares and cancelled flights.
There have been 7,944 deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
On Tuesday, the Australian government advised citizens to return home as soon as possible by commercial means, warning that overseas travel was becoming “more complex and difficult” as countries impose travel restrictions.
Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates have issued similar blanket advice.
In the UK, the foreign office has continued to issue a flurry of updated guidance for specific countries, warning against all but essential travel to a vast number of countries across Europe, as well as elsewhere. On Tuesday evening, it announced that it was withdrawing some staff from its embassy in Myanmar and told British citizen to leave the country if they were able to do so, adding: “This is due to potential pressures on medical facilities and the risk of air routes out of Myanmar being cancelled.”
South Africa has confirmed that the number of Covid-19 cases in the country has risen by 23 to 85, the health ministry said late on Tuesday night.
Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said there have been eight cases of local transmission.
South Korea said on Wednesday it would inject more dollars into its banking system to ensure businesses have enough funding, amid concerns about the deepening global economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The finance ministry and the Bank of Korea announced moves that are expected to beef up dollar supply in the market by USbn to bn, as the coronavirus causes chaos in global financial markets and a scramble for US dollars, Reuters reports.
Authorities will raise a cap on foreign currency forward positions for local banks to 50% of their equity capital from the current 40% starting on Thursday. For foreign banks, the ceiling will be relaxed to 250% from 200%.
South Korean policymakers have unveiled a string of measures in recent days, including an emergency interest rate cut and an extra 11.7 trillion won (.43bn) budget, in a bid to reduce pressure on Asia’s fourth-largest economy and keep its financial system operating normally.
Though the number of new virus cases is declining domestically, they continue to soar internationally, raising fears of a global recession.
For more than three years it seemed impossible to millions of Americans that anything could be more important than voting for an alternative to Donald Trump.
Yet right now the US president is no longer seen as the most pressing threat to national security. The coronavirus crisis has temporarily turned the US presidential election into a sideshow.
It was Senator Bernie Sanders who compared it in scale to “a major war” and suggested it may result in more casualties than the US military suffered against Germany and Japan in the second world war.
Now Sanders, who suffered another drubbing in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, is facing calls to make a gesture worthy of wartime and call it quits for the national good. “#DropOutBernie”is trending on Twitter.
Updated at 6.15am GMT
Katharine Murphy, Guardian Australia’s political editor here:
There needs to be an overt caveat placed on all political commentary at the moment. Given how rapidly events are changing, and given we are all enduring circumstances well outside any recent frame of reference, we can only snapshot particular moments in time.
Let me be clear. It is dumb, and counterproductive for people like me, the first draft of history people, to bloviate, or grandstand, or speculate, or have righteous feelings, or make wild predictions at a time when people are overwhelmed and deeply anxious. It’s best to report forensically, and share what can be known.
So from where I stand, at the appropriate social distancing ratio from Scott Morrison – this much can be known about the prime minister’s performance on the morning of 18 March.
The prime minister got the tone right. The prime minister accurately and soberly projected the fight Australia and the world is currently in.
Updated at 6.15am GMT
The Australian market plunged more than 6.4% on Wednesday, wiping out gains it made on Tuesday.
After a rollercoaster ride this week the benchmark ASX200 index is now back where it was in early April 2016.
Since coronavirus selling gripped the market on 21 February it has shed 30% of its value.
Today it also dropped below the psychologically important 5,000 mark, closing the day at 4,953.2.
The former market darling Afterpay lost a third of its value on Wednesday, with stock that was changing hands for more than just a few weeks ago worth just .07 at the close of trade today.
The fintech, Wednesday’s biggest loser, is heavily exposed to the coronavirus-ravaged retail sector and some analysts question its financial model.
Almost every sector lost ground today, with only utilities rising.
Tom Hanks says he feels the blahs but has no fever as he and wife Rita Wilson remain in isolation in an Australian residence after being discharged from a hospital following their coronavirus diagnosis.
The actor posted a picture of a “Corona” typewriter on Instagram with the caption:
Hey folks. Good News: One week after testing Positive, in self-isolation, the symptoms are much the same. No fever but the blahs. Folding the laundry and doing the dishes leads to a nap on the couch. Bad news: My wife @ritawilson has won 6 straight hands of Gin Rummy and leads by 201 points. But I have learned not to spread my Vegemite so thick. I travelled here with a typewriter, one I used to love. We are all in this together. Flatten the curve. Hanx
The couple arrived in Australia in late January on the Gold Coast, where an Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann was to be shot. Hanks plays Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The film, slated for release in October 2021, has suspended production, Warner Brothers said.
Updated at 6.14am GMT
In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue, which last year saw almost two million visitors, closed at day-end Tuesday and won’t reopen for at least a week.
To contain the virus spread, Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute on Tuesday ordered the closure of all national parks it oversees, including the one that’s home to the Christ.
It was the latest in a series of escalating measures being taken in response to the outbreak in the city.
On Monday, firemen began blaring recordings that urge beachgoers to stay home. On Tuesday, Rio’s Governor Wilson Witzel decreed a state of emergency. They did the same Tuesday, though it was hardly a beach day.
Among other things, Witzel’s decree recommended that restaurants and bars limit themselves to 30% capacity for 15 days, that boats and buses halve their passenger loads, that shopping malls close and people avoid beaches and public pools.
The decree also suspended classes and all other activities and events that entail gatherings.
This is just a reminder that you can send any tips, cheerier news, or stories you think I may have missed to me on Twitter @helenrsullivan.
Updated at 6.13am GMT
In Argentina, angry employees at a Buenos Aires shopping mall starting banging objects and chanting “Go home! Go home!” at shoppers who defied government self-isolation measures on Tuesday:
Taiwan authorities have said non-residents will be banned from entering the country from midnight tonight.
The restrictions exclude diplomats and holders of alien resident certificates.
Anyone entering will still be put under a 14-day home quarantine.
Taiwan, which has been lauded for its response to the virus so far with just 77 confirmed cases, has now begun to address concerns of a second wave of infections brought in by travellers. All new cases in the last two days were imported.
Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also said Taiwan will increase cooperation efforts with the US, including research and production of vaccines.
The US will provide Taiwan materials for 300,000 protective suits while Taiwan will supply weekly exports of 100,000 masks once it has enough for itself. The country has increased production of masks to 11m per week, after banning their export in January.
“This symbolises the close relationship between Taiwan and the United States, and are for the joint efforts to combat the disease. We hope to join hands to contribute to international society,” Wu said.
In case you are just joining us:
Earlier today, the World Health Organization has called for “aggressive” action in south-east Asia to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus, warning Tuesday that some countries were heading towards community transmission of the deadly disease. Infections soared across the region in recent weeks, forcing several countries to introduce drastic measures ranging from closing their borders to foreign arrivals and imposing nighttime curfews to closing schools and cancelling sports events.
Global infections are nearing 200,000. Currently, they stand at 198,006, according to Johns Hopkins University.
There have been 7,948 coronavirus-related deaths.
Updated at 6.11am GMT
Thailand has reported a spike in cases, with its total rising by 35 to 212.
Most the cases had overseas connections, Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, the director-general of the disease control department, told a news conference in Bangkok on Wednesday. However, some had become infected at a crowded boxing match, he said, while 12 came into contact with recorded patients, Suwannachai said.
Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British-Australian academic jailed in Iran for 18 months, is not among the prisoners released to ease the threat posed by the virus in the country’s penal system.
Hopes that she might be granted at least some temporary freedom rose when it emerged that 85,000 inmates were being allowed out. One of them is the Anglo-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Our reporter, Ben Doherty, has the full story:
Kyrgyzstan in central Asia has confirmed its first coronavirus cases with three citizens testing positive after arriving from Saudi Arabia, according to the health ministry, Reuters reports.
It comes a day after the mountainous country closed its borders to all foreigners.
Kyrgyzstan borders China, where the outbreak first began in December, and two of its neighbours, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, also confirmed their first cases this month. All three countries, along with Tajikistan, have moved to ban or limit public events and suspended Friday prayers at mosques.
Staying with financial matters, we’re in for another extremely volatile day on world stock markets if the current situation in Asia Pacific is anything to go by.
The ASX200 in Sydney has taken yet another battering today, shedding nearly 5% with around an hour to go before the close. It’s a bit better in Japan (perhaps helped by Fujifilm) where the market is up 0.7%. Then we’re up in Shanghai but down in Hong Kong and Seoul.
But more significantly, the US futures market is pointing to another bad day on Wall Street despite Tuesday’s mini rally on Wall Street and on Europe’s beleaguered bourses.
The Dow Jones is set to open down 4% later on and the S&P is showing a drop of nearly 5%.
These are massive falls.
The problem, as identified by most market professionals, is that the US Federal Reserve can splurge all the money it wants but it can’t make a vaccine and the only thing that is going to reverse the downward trend of the markets is a flattening of the global – but especially US – infection rates.
Trihn Nguyen, Asia economist at Naxitis bank in Hong Kong, puts it very pithily:
Three limitations to the Fed: a) can’t cure the virus b) limited to supply of $$ & we still got credit squeeze & so more help on the operational side vs blanket rates; c) burned most of the wood when GDP was positive.
I love that last comment. Winter’s coming and the woodpile has gone.
This is Martin Farrer taking over the blog for a short time while Helen has a much-deserved break.
We’re keen to inject a bit of optimism into the blog when possible and there is some in a Reuters story about how shares in Fujifilm have jumpped 15% after a Chinese official said the Japanese company’s Avigan anti-flu drug appeared to help coronavirus patients recover.
Fujifilm is obviously best known for its camera equipment but one of its subsidiaries makes a drug called Avigan, which is also known as Favipiravir. The drug was approved for use in Japan in 2014.
Reuters says that Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday that Favipiravir has been effective, with no obvious side-effects, in helping coronavirus patients recover,
A Fujifilm spokeswoman said the company had no comment on the Chinese government’s announcement. Fujifilm manufactures Avigan only on receiving orders from the Japanese government and has no sales target for the drug, she said.
Fujifilm shares closed the morning up 14.7% at 5,207 yen, having briefly hit their daily limit high of 5,238 yen.
The pet dog in Hong Kong which grabbed attention after it tested positive for Covid-19 has died after returning home to its owner.
The dog was taken into quarantine in February when its owner was diagnosed with Covid-19.
It returned a “weak positive” result over the course of several tests. Hong Kong radio reported this morning that the dog had finally tested negative and was allowed to go home on Saturday. However the owner told officials on Monday that it had died.
Authorities did not say how the dog had died and the owner refused permission for an autopsy.
The dog never showed symptoms or appeared ill, and a blood test showed it had no antibodies.
Health authorities repeatedly said there was no evidence the dog could pass the disease on to a human, and they urged people to continue to care for their pets. Because the dog showed weak positive results from swabs of its nasal cavity, the concern was that the cavity was likely a contaminated surface.
Updated at 6.15am GMT
More now on the casinos and other businesses closing in Las Vegas:
The Democratic governor Steve Sisolak order Tuesday night – a monthlong closure of casinos and other non-essential businesses like bars, movie theaters and gyms – follows similar moves by more than 10 other governors as states scramble to mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Sisolak’s order gave thousands of businesses a little more than two days prepare. The governor’s order follows an order the mayor of Reno issued Monday night.
In US election news – and some context for that alarming potential unemployment figure given by US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin earlier:
“This Democratic race isn’t pining for the fjords. It is no more. It has ceased to be. Its metabolic processes are now history. This is an ex-presidential contest.
The only reason the news networks could not call the Florida primary as soon as the votes piled up for Joe Biden was because the state’s panhandle voters were still at the polls. Once those polls closed, the obvious was made official: it was a blowout for Biden.
The last time we heard from Bernie Sanders after losing big in the last round of primaries, he said he wanted to debate the former vice-president head-to-head, one-on-one, to press his case directly and finally.
The only topic the American people want to debate is the coronavirus pandemic and the severe recession that looks like the certain outcome of this quasi-national quarantine. Trump’s treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, told Republican senators on Tuesday that unemployment could hit 20% if they didn’t push through a huge economic stimulus as soon as possible.
To put that into context, unemployment peaked at 10% after the financial collapse of 2008. It hit 24.9% in the Great Depression in 1933.
Updated at 6.17am GMT
What’s quarantine without a fun way to pass the time? As pandemic-induced social distancing pushes more and more people to the solitude of the home, self-isolators have started coming up with ways to entertain themselves, their neighbours and strangers around the world through social media.
In Australia, popular children’s show Bluey more than doubled its viewership between Monday and Tuesday, as more parents and kids spend time at home, Crikey news reports.
Updated at 6.17am GMT
In the US, Nevada governor Steve Sisolak has announced the closure of all non-essential services.
That includes Las Vegas casinos, restaurants and bars.
Updated at 3.15am GMT
In Australia, Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies has issued a public statement “suspending all public church gatherings until further notice”.
The decision has been taken in light of the Australian government’s ban public gatherings of 100 or more people.
“We are encouraging all our churches to consider providing their services online or by other communication methods,” he added.
A little more on those China figures now. Mainland China reported just one new domestic case in the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday – and a dozen more infections imported from overseas.
For the second consecutive day there was only one more fresh infection in Wuhan.
New cases in Hubei province have now been in the single digits for the past seven days.
In recent days, there has been an easing of restrictions in some parts of the province, with China saying it has “basically curbed” the spread of the virus.
An average of 20,000 people are flying into China every day, according to the government, and 10 Chinese provinces and municipalities are imposing mandatory quarantines on those arriving from abroad.
Beijing requires almost all international arrivals to go into 14-day quarantine in designated hotels in the capital.
Guatemala announced Tuesday that it was suspending incoming flights carrying immigrants and asylum seekers sent by the United States, citing concerns over the global coronavirus pandemic.
The measure covered two flights of Guatemalan deportees scheduled for the day, as well as indefinitely suspending flights carrying people from other Central American nations who were being sent to Guatemala under an asylum cooperation agreement with the United States that is part of Washingtons broader crackdown on immigration at the US-Mexico border.
The British foreign office has advised its citizens in Myanmar to leave the country if they are able to do so. “This is due to potential pressures on medical facilities and the risk of air routes out of Myanmar being cancelled,” the foreign office said in its updated travel guidance.
Some staff and their dependents in the British Embassy are being withdrawn. Core staff will remain to continue critical work including consular assistance.
“The worldwide coronavirus outbreak is expected to put significant pressure on Myanmar’s medical facilities. They may not be able to offer routine care,” UK travel guidance warns.
Myanmar has no confirmed cases of coronavirus, despite sharing a border with China.
A spokesperson for Myanmar’s government recently claimed that people’s “lifestyle and diet” protected them from the disease.
Thousands of foreign travellers need to leave the northern Philippines by Friday or they will be stranded in the region, which has been placed under quarantine because of a growing number of coronavirus infections, officials said Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared an enhanced community quarantine on the main island of Luzon that requires millions of people to stay mostly at home and restricts land, air and sea travel to fight the Covid-19 disease.
The drastic moves announced by Duterte on Monday night, which include the suspension of mass transport, caught many by surprise and sparked traffic jams and confusion in many areas.
Hundreds of taxis were stopped by police along metropolitan Manilas main EDSA highway for violating the transport ban and made to wait for hours in long rows on the sidelines. Many drivers said they were unaware of the ban and were eventually allowed to leave without fines.
The Philippines has reported 187 cases of infections, according to the Department of Health, which confirmed Tuesday that one of its officials was among those infected.
Fourteen people have died, the highest toll in Southeast Asia.
Transport Undersecretary Raul del Rosario said foreign tourists and travelers can opt to leave Luzon, where Manila is located, within 72 hours to avoid being stranded, because all flights from the region will be suspended.
When the deadline arrives, they will have no option because all flights, domestic and international, will be canceled, del Rosario told a news conference.
Many passengers jammed Manilas main airport Tuesday.
Some airlines have already canceled flights, complicating the problems of outbound travellers.
More on Australia’s latest steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which were announced Thursday morning.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison told Australians to “stop hoarding” as he announced sweeping new measures to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, including a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, a global do-not-travel order, and strict new rules for visiting aged care homes.
In a massive step-up of the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the prime minister announced that a national cabinet of state and federal leaders had agreed on Tuesday night to an indefinite new ban on indoor groups of 100 people or more, with exemptions for schools, public transport, universities, prisons, courts, supermarkets and worksites.
The new measure, to be effective immediately, comes after a ban on mass gatherings of more than 500 people was put in place on Monday, prompting the widespread cancellation of sporting and cultural events.
While declaring a national human biosecurity emergency under the Biosecurity Act on Tuesday morning, Morrison ruled out an Italian-style national lockdown and urged calm, taking aim at those panic buying, saying it was “un-Australian” and unnecessary.
“Stop hoarding,” he said. “I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it. It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis.
Florida, Illinois and Arizona held primaries on Tuesday despite the coronavirus outbreak – and there were predictable glitches.
Voters faced confusion, a shortage of poll workers, and shifting or closed polling stations on Tuesday in Florida, Illinois and Arizona – the three key states that still held their primaries despite concerns over coronavirus and pressures to delay the elections.
The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have hit back at China in separate statements following the large-scale expulsion of US journalists, accusing Beijing of having a cold war mindset and carrying out an “unprecedented attack on freedom of the press”.
The New York Times’s executive editor said the move to force out foreign reporters was “especially irresponsible” during the coronavirus pandemic.
UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has just emailed its customers announcing rations. The company wrote in an email seen by the Guardian:
“From tomorrow, Wednesday 18th March, customers will be able to buy a maximum of three of any grocery product and a maximum of two on the most popular products including toilet paper, soap and UHT milk. We have enough food coming into the system, but are limiting sales so that it stays on shelves for longer and can be bought by a larger numbers of customers.”
The chain has already closed its cafes as well as meat, fish and pizza service counters to free up its staff and delivery network for essentials.
Updated at 6.18am GMT
Hong Kong reported 10 new cases on Tuesday, equalling its highest daily record from February. Half were imported cases.
While the region is widely recognised as one of a few countries to have had success in keeping the infection rate low, authorities are very concerned about a second wave. It has issued an outbound travel red alert for everywhere in the world other than Macau, Taiwan, and mainland China.
From Thursday all international arrivals must undergo mandatory quarantine at home for 14 days, and the announcement sparked a rush of people – particularly students – to come home.
Two students who flew back from London on London and a 24-year-old who was working in Denmark declared on arrival that they felt unwell. They were taken to hospital immediately, where they tested positive for the virus.
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Hong Kong centre for health protection urged students not to come back from overseas if they are already feeling sick.
“Those who have symptoms should seek medical advice in the local health authority instead of going back to Hong Kong because this may pose risks to other people who are travelling on the flight,” Chuang said.
“For those without symptoms, it depends on their situation. If they are advised by their school, or their parents want them to come back to Hong Kong, I think they can. But they have to take good personal environmental hygiene measures, especially during their stay in the airport as well as on the flight.”
Joe Biden has won both the Florida and Illinois primaries, building on a remarkable surge as he barrels toward the Democratic presidential nomination at a time when the nation is gripped by concern about the new coronavirus.
Arizona polls indicate Biden has an advantage there as well.
Biden celebrated his primary victories in Florida and Illinois, saying his campaign had had a “very good night” and moved closer to securing the nomination.
The former vice president then made a pitch for unity, directly addressing the supporters of Bernie Sanders and asserting it was time to “put politics aside.”
Biden said he and Sanders shared a “common vision” to provide Americans with affordable health care and reduce income inequality in the country.
Biden commended the “remarkable passion and tenacity” of Sanders’ supporters, asserting they had “shifted the fundamental conversation in this country.”
“I hear you,” Biden told his opponent’s supporters. “I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do.”
The message was clearly meant to unify Democratic voters as Biden looks ahead to his likely general-election race against Trump.
Bernie Sanders started speaking before the polls closed Tuesday and didn’t mention the election results, instead sticking to policy while addressing supporters via livestream. During the coronavirus outbreak, he said, We must make sure everyone who has a job right now receives the pay checks they need.”
Donald Trump has officially secured the Republican presidential nomination after winning the Florida and Illinois primaries tonight.
New York City may soon compel most people to stay in their homes except in emergencies or when shopping for essentials, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday, an order already imposed by San Francisco to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Any decision to issue the “shelter-in-place” order is likely to be made in the next 48 hours, but even if imposed, it would likely still allow more than 8 million residents to make necessary trips out to buy food or medicine, the mayor said as the number of confirmed cases in the city rose to 814.
City officials acknowledged on Tuesday they still did not have all the medical resources they were seeking and that they had been receiving protective equipment from the federal government that was past its expiry date.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he did not think sheltering in place would be effective. “I don’t think you can really do a policy like that just in one part of the state. So I don’t think it works,” he told CNN.
“As a matter of fact, I’m going so far that I don’t even think you can do a statewide policy,” Cuomo said.
The city has already asked New Yorkers to stay home when they can and has closed schools and limited bars and restaurants to takeout or delivery.
But if there is still not enough compliance, the city may soon enforce new rules restricting people to their homes unless they can prove they have a good reason to stay outside, Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell said in an interview.
Google has been accused by two US senators of seeking to exploit consumers fear over Covid-19 for profit following allegations that the company is targeting “predatory” and “price-gouging” ads for scarce goods, including protective masks and hand sanitiser, to vulnerable users.
Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal, two Democratic senators, have called on the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to address what they called Google’s “pattern of misbehaviour”.
In a letter to both the DOJ and FTC, the senators said the ads were being sold by Google even though they contradict the company’s own policy against capitalising on “sensitive events”.
Google said on 10 March that it would ban the ads, but media reports since then indicate that the ads have continued to appear, especially in news articles associated with the pandemic.
South Korea reported 93 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing its total infections to 8,413, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The daily tally is slightly up from 84 recorded on Tuesday but marked the fourth day in a row that the country has reported fewer than 100 new infections.
Mainland China had 13 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the country’s National Health Commission said, down from 21 cases a day earlier.
Of the 13 new cases, all but one were imported. The total number of important cases is now 155.
That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,894, the health authority said in a statement on Wednesday.
The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 3,237 as of the end of Tuesday, up by 11 from the previous day. All new deaths were in Hubei province. Only one of these was outside the capital city of Wuhan.
The World Health Organization called for “aggressive” action in south-east Asia to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus, warning Tuesday that some countries were heading towards community transmission of the deadly disease.
Infections have soared across the region in recent weeks, forcing several countries to introduce drastic measures ranging from closing their borders to foreign arrivals and imposing nighttime curfews to closing schools and cancelling sports events.
There are concerns that weaker public health care systems in many or the region’s countries will be unable to cope with a major outbreak.
“We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO’s regional director.
“We clearly need to do more, and urgently.”
Malaysia has the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia with 673 cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Many of the country’s infections have been linked to a global Islamic event held last month and attended by almost 20,000 people.
On Monday, the prime minister announced a ban on Malaysians travelling overseas.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has told the country that hoarding is ‘unAustralian’:
A few days ago Morrison had a similar message for the country, saying he hoped Australians would not “lose our sense of Australianness in all of this”.
California governor Gavin Newsom warned Tuesday that most schools will likely remain closed for the rest of the school year because of coronavirus.
The school year in California typically runs from the end of August to the beginning of June.
Currently, about 6.1 million students are out of school, as 98.8% of the state’s schools have shut down to curb the spread of coronavirus.
“I would plan and assume it is unlikely that many of these schools, few if any, will open before the summer break,” Newsom said in a news conference.
As of Monday night, there were 472 positive cases in California, and 11 deaths.
Newsom said the state has released publicly the detailed guidelines to homeschool curricula, as well as put an emphasis on online learning. “We want to make sure that learning is still occurring, he said.
“We will get back to the life we have lived,” he said. “I get asked every day if this is the new normal. This is a moment in time.”
Updated at 6.18am GMT
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Republican senators on Tuesday that failure to act on a proposed coronavirus rescue package could lead to US unemployment as high as 20% and lasting economic damage, a person familiar with the closed-door meeting said.
Mnuchin met with senators to persuade them to pass a US trillion stimulus package that would send cash to Americans within two weeks and backstop airlines and other companies.
Updated at 3.30am GMT
Eight new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in New Zealand today, all from people recently arrived from overseas. The total number of coronavirus in New Zealand is now 20.
“We expected more cases,” director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.
Bloomfield urged those who had arrived from overseas before the Monday self-isolation measures came into force to “voluntarily self-isolate” to protect the community.
150 “close contacts” of a student from Logan Park High School in Dunedin will be tested for the virus, after the student positive after catching it from a family member. The high school is closed for the rest of the week. No other schools have been asked to close in New Zealand, and the ministry of education is urging parents to continue sending their children to school.
Meanwhile police have been undertaking self-isolation compliance visits, dropping in on a random sample group of travellers who arrived into New Zealand after the new self-isolation requirements came into effect on Monday.
In a statement police said the ministry of health had requested police conduct the visits to check on the “compliance and welfare” of 50 individuals.
The visits involved police “visually sighting” those in self-isolation, and asking them questions about their well-being.
Police said they were “pleased with the high level of compliance with most people taking the isolation seriously”.
Economists at ratings agency S&P say the much-feared worldwide recession has arrived and they now estimate global GDP will grow 1%-1.5% in 2020 with the risk that it could sink even lower.
The economic impact of coronavirus on China was much greater than initially thought, chief economist Paul Gruenwald said in a note on Wednesday, and the increasingly severe lockdown in Europe and the US will continue to crush demand.
“The initial data from China suggests that its economy was hit far harder than projected, though a tentative stabilisation has begun,” said Gruenwald. “Europe and the U.S. are following a similar path, as increasing restrictions on person-to-person contacts presage a demand collapse that will take activity sharply lower in the second quarter before a recovery begins later in the year.”
The S&P team have also been looking at Asia-Pacific and predict that growth in the region will more than halve to less than 3%. That’s according to an article S&P Global Ratings published today, titled “Asia-Pacific Recession Guaranteed.”
“An enormous first-quarter shock in China, shutdowns across the U.S. and Europe, and local virus transmission guarantees a deep recession across Asia-Pacific,” said Shaun Roache, the chief Asia-Pacific economist.
“By recession, we mean at least two quarters of well below-trend growth sufficient to trigger rising unemployment.
“Our estimate of permanent income losses is likely to at least double to more than US0 billion,” said Roache. “For credit markets, a key question is how these losses are distributed across sovereigns, firms, banks, and households.”
China is gradually recovering from an enormous economic blow early in 2020. February data confirm a huge shock to activity in the first quarter. Investment accounts for about 45% of China’s economy–and fixed asset investment in January and February combined plunged by almost 25% compared with a year ago. Over the same period, industrial production and retail sales fell by 14% and 21%.
“These are unprecedented numbers,” said Mr. Roache. “This not only confirms a hard hit to China’s growth but indicates that the authorities are not smoothing the data.”
Updated at 6.19am GMT
Police in Puyallup, Washington have asked criminals to stop committing crimes in light of the coronavirus epidemic.
The Puyallup Police Department posted on Facebook:
“Due to local cases of #Covid-19, PPD is asking all criminal activities and nefarious behavior to cease. We appreciate your anticipated cooperation in halting crime & thank all the criminals in advance. We will certainly let you know when you can resume your normal criminal behavior. Until then…. #washyourhands & #behaveyourself”
The US death toll has passed 100, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The total number of coronavirus-related deaths stands at 108. The number of infections across the country, where the virus has now reached every state, is 6,423, making it the eighth-highest globally.
West Virginia became the last of the 50 US states to report a positive case of new coronavirus on Tuesday, meaning the pandemic has now touched every part of the world’s richest and most powerful nation.
Watch as Ireand’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, delivers stark warnings and calls for unity in the wake of the coronavirus crisis:
Speaking on St Patrick’s Day, Varadkar called for citizens to isolate, for pubs and restaurants to close and social gatherings to be cancelled. Varadkar also said the most vulnerable would be looked after, insisting banks, government and utilities were there to help.
Coronavirus is now in every US state, more European and other countries are in lockdown and urging citizens to return home and the Australian government has warned of a possible six months of isolation measures.
Around the world, people are trying to return to their home countries or coming to terms with being stuck where they are for the time being. Stay with us for the latest developments.
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