Italy reports 475 new coronavirus deaths in a day – Live updates

Death toll in Europe’s hardest-hit nation surges again with the biggest daily jump since the contagion came to light.

Medical personnel wearing protective face masks is seen inside the Spedali Civili hospital in Brescia, Italy March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo
Medical personnel wearing protective face masks is seen inside the Spedali Civili hospital in Brescia, Italy March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo [Reuters]

Hard-hit Italy reported an additional 475 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, and France imposed a draconian lockdown unseen during peacetime. In the United States, the virus has now spread to all 50 states.

The coronavirus has now infected more than 200,000 people and killed more than 8,000 globally, with over 83,000 people having recovered from the infection, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for more “aggressive” action to curb coronavirus in Southeast Asia after the European Union, now at the epicentre of the pandemic, moved to seal off its borders.

Here are all the latest updates:

Wednesday, March 18

20:58 GMT – Second coronavirus death in Turkey confirmed

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed its second death from coronavirus.

“We have lost a 61-year-old male patient. I wish Allah’s mercy upon him,” said the country’s Health Minister Dr Fahrettin Koca in a tweet.

Meanwhile, 93 new cases were confirmed, raising the tally to 191 in the country, Koca said.

The confirmation of the second death comes after Koca said on Tuesday that an 89-year-old man had died – the first fatality from the virus in Turkey.

20:50 GMT – Trump invokes act to marshal private sector against virus

Managing dual health and economic crises, President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he would invoke a federal provision that allows the United States government to marshal the private sector in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, appearing in the White House briefing room for the third day in a row, 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.

Read more here.

20:40 GMT – Iran’s supreme leader to pardon 10,000 prisoners, political ones too

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.

20:27 GMT – Oil prices plummet 24 percent on recession fears

Oil prices had another jaw-dropping skid Wednesday, sending the price of US crude oil below $21 a barrel for the first time since 2002.

Benchmark US oil lost $6.58, or 24.4 percent, to settle at $20.37 a barrel. Brent, the international standard, dropped $2.85, or 13.4 percent, to close at $24.88.

Investors are betting that demand for oil will be down sharply as factories close and as people have put off holidays and business trips in order to stay home and minimise the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Read more here.

20:18 GMT – Rising number of medical staff infected with coronavirus in Italy

As coronavirus cases jump and deaths surge in Italy, new figures show an “enormous” level of contagion among the country’s medical personnel.

At least 2,629 health workers have been infected by coronavirus since the onset of the outbreak in February, representing more than 8 percent of total cases, according to a report published on Wednesday by Gruppo Italiano per la Medicina Basata sulle Evidenze or GIMBE – Italy’s Group for Evidence-based Medicine.

Read more here.

Medical workers in protective suits transfer a coronavirus patient from the intensive care unit of the Gemelli Hospital to the Columbus Covid Hospital, which has been assigned as one of the new corona
Many who tend to coronavirus patients are still only using surgical face masks with no proper protective filters to shield them from contagion [Reuters]

19:57 GMT – Dutch minister for medical care collapses during coronavirus debate

The Dutch Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins collapsed briefly during a debate in parliament on the coronavirus because of what he called exhaustion from weeks of intense work.

Bruins, 56, fell behind the speaker’s lectern while taking questions and was helped up by fellow ministers.

He took a sip of water and was seen leaving the room unassisted.

19:43 – Bernie Sanders calls for lifting US sanctions against Iran amid pandemic

US Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has called for the lifting of US sanctions against Iran as the Middle East nation struggles with the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran has over 17,000 coronavirus cases and 1,135 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

19:36 GMT – WHO chief calls COVID-19 ‘enemy against humanity’

The chief of the World Health Organization said the new coronavirus was an “enemy against humanity”, as the number of people infected in the pandemic soared past 200,000.

“This coronavirus is presenting us with an unprecedented threat,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in a virtual news conference, stressing that it was “an unprecedented opportunity to come together as one against a common enemy: an enemy against humanity.”

19:21 GMT – EU calls on streaming platforms to ease pressure on internet capacity

European Union Industry Chief Thierry Breton called on streaming platforms to take measures to prevent internet congestion caused by thousands of people teleworking due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Streaming platforms, telecom operators and users, we all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the Internet during the battle against the virus propagation,” Breton said in a statement.

19:11 GMT – First virus death in Sub-Saharan Africa as WHO warns ‘prepare for worst’

Sub-Saharan Africa recorded its first coronavirus death, a high-ranking politician in Burkina Faso, as the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) urged the continent to “prepare for the worst”.

“Africa should wake up,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva, pointing out that “in other countries, we have seen how the virus actually accelerates after a certain tipping point”.

Africa has lagged behind the global curve for coronavirus infections and deaths, but in the past few days has seen a significant rise in cases.

19:06 GMT – Indian ‘Corona’ shop gains selfie fame amid virus pandemic

A clothing store named “Corona” in a small town in India has become a hotspot for selfies as the deadly new coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world.

The shop owner, who gave his name as Pareed, said people were flocking to his store in the southern state of Kerala, many take photos in front of the outdoor sign and ask him questions about the name.

19:02 GMT – Medical facilities will ‘soon’ be unable to help new cases: Lombardy governor

Lombardy President Attilio Fontana said medical facilities will “soon” be unable to help new coronavirus cases, urging Italians to stay at home, Italy’s local media outlet ANSA reported.

“Unfortunately the numbers of the contagion are not falling, they continue to be high,” Fontana said.

“We will soon be unable to give a response to those who fall ill”. Stay at home: if you don’t understand that we’ll have to be more aggressive,” he added.

18:58 GMT – Merkel calls coronavirus ‘biggest challenge since WWII’

Germany is facing its biggest challenge “since the Second World War” in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a television address urging citizens to heed sweeping confinement measures.

In her dramatic appeal, Merkel urged everyone to play a part in slowing down a virus that has raced across the globe and triggered unprecedented peace-time lockdowns.

“The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity,” she said.

18:55 GMT – Germany expands entry restrictions to flights from several EU countries

Germany expanded entry restrictions to include flights from Italy, Spain, Austria, France, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland, the interior ministry said on Wednesday as authorities are racing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

 An interior ministry spokesman said the new entry restrictions also apply to sea transport from Denmark.

18:53 GMT – Bosnia minister calls for confining migrants due to virus

Bosnia’s security minister called for confining migrants to tents surround by barbed wire to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, as the pandemic throws up new obstacles for refugees trying to reach a locked-down Europe.

While Bosnia has only detected some 40 infections of COVID-19 so far, authorities are fearful of a major outbreak that could cripple the country’s healthcare systems.

 2019 REFUGEE YEAR IN REVIEW - Bosnia camps

18:46 GMT – France reports 89 new coronavirus deaths in last 24 hours: official

The coronavirus outbreak has caused 89 new deaths across France over the last 24 hours bringing the total death toll in the country to 264, a top French health official said.

“We have an epidemic that is rapidly becoming more serious,” Jerome Salomon told reporters, adding that France now had 9,134 confirmed cases, 3,626 of whom were in hospital.

18:42 GMT – Zara owner offers to make scrubs for Spain’s coronavirus-stretched hospitals

Zara retail store owner Inditex may soon be stitching hospital scrubs, helping its home country Spain fight the coronavirus epidemic, the company said.

Inditex, which earlier said the epidemic had shut nearly half its stores around the world, said it was studying converting part of its textile manufacturing capacity in Spain to produce hospital gowns.

18:37 GMT – US nursing homes warn of looming shortage of masks and gowns

Many nursing homes risk running out of protective masks and gowns by next week because of the coronavirus, and at least one facility already had to resort to using plastic garbage bags to make gowns, an industry group warned.

“We really need to take drastic action to conserve masks and gowns going forward,” said Dr David Gifford, chief medical officer at the American Health Care Association, one of the main trade groups representing the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes.

Containing spread of coronavirus

18:25 GMT – Portugal moves to declare state of emergency to fight coronavirus

Portugal is to declare a nationwide 15-day state of emergency to fight the spread of coronavirus, which will make it easier for the government to reduce people’s movements.

Parliament will later vote on a draft decree calling for a state of emergency that allows for some constitutional rights and freedoms to be suspended, such as the freedom of movement and the right to protest.

17:49 GMT – First two coronavirus deaths confirmed in Pakistan

Pakistan State Minister of Health Zafar Mirza confirmed the first coronavirus death in the South Asian country, in the city of Mardan in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. 

The patient was a 50-year-old man who had recently returned from Saudi Arabia.

A second patient was pronounced dead in the province, in the city of Peshawar, KP Minister Taimur Jhagra posted in a tweet. The patient was a 36-year-old man from Hangu, KP.

17:40 GMT – Peruvian president announces nighttime curfew as coronavirus spreads

Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra announced an immediate restriction on overnight movement across the country in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Vizcarra said Peruvians should remain in their homes between 8pm local time (01:00 GMT) and 5am local time (10:00 GMT).

The number infected by the coronavirus in the country rose to 145, from 117 reported on Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Health.

17:20 GMT – Italy reports 475 new coronavirus deaths; toll reaches 2,978

The death toll from the outbreak of coronavirus in Italy surged in the last 24 hours by 475 to 2,978, an increase of 19 percent. It was the biggest jump in numerical terms since the contagion came to light last month.

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 percent, the Civil Protection Agency said.

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.

17:15 GMT – WHO chief says COVID-19 ‘enemy against humanity’

The head of the World Health Organization said the new coronavirus was an “enemy against humanity” as the number of people infected in the pandemic soared past 200,000.

“This coronavirus is presenting us with an unprecedented threat,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in a virtual news conference, stressing it was “an unprecedented opportunity to come together as one against a common enemy: an enemy against humanity.”

17:08 GMT – Donald Trump likens himself to a ‘wartime president’

The US leader said he saw himself as a “wartime president” as the United States further stepped up its emergency efforts to battle the coronavirus outbreak.”I view (myself) as a, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean, that’s what we’re fighting.

I mean, it’s a very tough situation here,” he told reporters at the White House.

17:00 GMT – US worried coronavirus could hit young adults

Younger people in France and Italy are falling seriously ill from coronavirus, a worrying development that suggests young adults are more susceptible to becoming sick than earlier thought, a White House official said.

“There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about young people getting very seriously ill,” White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx said at a White House briefing.

“It may have been that the millennial generation – our largest generation, our future generation that will carry us through for the next multiple decades – there may be a disproportional number of infections among that group,” she said. 

16:41 GMT – Turkish plane not allowed to fly to Khartoum

Sudanese passengers on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Khartoum scheduled for Tuesday were transferred to a hotel after the flight was grounded amid the Sudanese government’s decision to close its borders over the coronavirus fears. 

In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, Turkish officials said they discussed with the Sudanese government to make an exception for the aircraft and allow it in. But the Sudanese government refused.

“Upon reports that there were passengers who do not want to get off the plane, Turkish officials contacted the Sudan Consulate General. Following these talks, the passengers still refused to get off the plane,” the statement said.

“The next day around 09:00 GMT, the passengers agreed to evacuate the plane and transfer to a hotel …  free of charge.”

Claims by some social media accounts linked to Saudi Arabia that said Sudanese passengers were beaten or assaulted were untrue, the statement said.

16:33 GMT – Pharma giant Bayer to donate potential virus drug to US

The German pharmaceutical company Bayer is expected to make a large donation to the United States government of a drug that has shown some potential in helping patients suffering from the new coronavirus, according to a senior Health and Human Services official and another source who has direct knowledge, media outlet Axios reported.

16:13 GMT – Sanders to ‘assess’ campaign after Biden sweeps latest primaries, coronavirus fears

Leftist Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders was reviewing the future of his campaign for the White House Wednesday after Democratic rival Joe Biden soundly defeated him in the latest primaries and took a strong lead toward winning the Democratic presidential nomination.

With the global coronavirus epidemic forcing more states to postpone primaries and both candidates to halt public rallies and turn to virtual campaigning, former frontrunner Sanders was under pressure to bow out of the race and let Biden focus on the November election fight against President Donald Trump.

“The next primary contest is at least three weeks away,” said Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir in a statement.

15:59 GMT – Information on Mideast cases “insufficiently” shared: WHO

“The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that information on the coronavirus cases in the Middle East is “insufficiently communicated by countries to WHO.”

In a virtual press conference, the WHO warned against the lack of information saying it ” won’t be able to control this disease,” without full access to data.

15:43 GMT – No evidence ibuprofen worsens coronavirus: EU drugs watchdog

The European Union‘s healthcare regulator has said there currently is no evidence which links anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen with the worsening of  COVID-19 , the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said, on Wednesday, that it was monitoring the situation, adding that patients and healthcare professionals should consider all treatment options including paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs to treat fever or pain in patients with COVID-19.

Read more here.

15:33 GMT – Canada announces Can$82 bln coronavirus aid package

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Can$27 billion in direct aid Wednesday to help workers and businesses cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said tax payments worth an estimated Can$55 billion could also be deferred until August. The combined amount equals 3 percent of this G7 nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“This wide-ranging support will help ensure Canadians can pay for rent and groceries, and help businesses continue to pay their employees and their bills during this time of uncertainty,” said a statement.

15:22 GMT – Virus fears grip Wall Street again, Dow falls over 1,000 points

Uncertainty is gaining the upper hand on Wall Street again, with stocks opening sharply lower as coronavirus fears continue to inject unprecedented volatility into the market. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 1,000 points at the opening bell on Wall Street or 4 percent. The index continued to head downwards to dip below 20,000.

Read more here.

15:19 GMT – Turkey to close borders with Greece, Bulgaria: report

Turkey will close its rail and land border with Bulgaria and Greece from midnight over the new coronavirus outbreak, after Ankara opened the gates for refugees heading to Europe.

“The land and rail border gates will be closed to exits and entries from 2100 GMT today (Wednesday)” as ordered by a circular issued by the interior ministry, the private Dogan news agency reported.

Coronavirus: How’s life under lockdown?

15:00 GMT – Coronavirus outbreak could destroy up to 25 million jobs: UN

The coronavirus pandemic could trigger a global economic crisis and destroy up to 25 million jobs around the world if governments do not act fast to shield workers from the impact, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said.

“However, if we see an internationally coordinated policy response, as happened in the global financial crisis of 2008/9, then the impact on global unemployment could be significantly lower,” ILO said.

The organisation called for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures to protect workers in the workplace, stimulate the economy and support jobs and incomes.

14:40 GMT – UAE bans citizens from travelling abroad over coronavirus

The United Arab Emirates said it had banned its citizens from travelling abroad until further notice over coronavirus fears, the state news agency WAM reported.

13:56 GMT – Pound dives to more than 3-decade lows as selloff intensifies

The British pound plunged to its lowest levels in more than three decades barring a flash crash in October 2016 as concerns about the economic impact of the coronavirus overshadowed any stimulus efforts by policymakers so far.

While the British currency has been under selling pressure since last week after it hit a two-month high above $1.31, the selloff accelerated on Wednesday as traders dumped positions across the board.

13:47 GMT – US-Canada border to close to nonessential travel: Trump

The United States and Canada border will close to nonessential traffic, US President Donald Trump tweeted, saying details on the move would be announced later but that it would not affect trade between the two countries.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!” Trump wrote.

13:37 GMT – Dow takes another tumble

Wall Street’s main indexes tumbled once again at the open on Wednesday as growing signs of coronavirus damage to corporate America overshadowed optimism about sweeping official moves to protect the economy.

The Dow fell 1,100 points, or 5.4%, at the open to 20,188.69, while the broad-based S&P 500 slumped 4.9 percent to 2,404.96, and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index tumbled 4.5 percent to 7,003.31, 

The broad-based S&P 500 slumped 4.9 percent to 2,404.96, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index tumbled 4.5 percent to 7, the opening bell.

13:20 GMT – Coronavirus doom means boom for pasta makers

It may be all doom and gloom as the coronavirus outbreak completely upends the world we knew but pasta makers may never have had it so good as panic-stricken shoppers stock up on a basic food to survive the crisis.

Scenes of mayhem in supermarkets around the world typically hone in on pasta shelves stripped bare in a matter of minutes, sending manufacturers into overdrive to try and keep up with demand.

“We are now 90 percent up in our sales over the past three weeks and more recently, up more than 100 percent,” Xavier Riescher, head of France’s top agri-food company the Panzani group, told AFP news agency.

Riescher, who is also head of the French pasta makers industry association, said his factories normally did not operate over the weekend – but that has all changed now and they are on the go night and day.

This is Usaid Siddiqui taking over from my colleague Mersiha Gadzo.

12:36 GMT – Decisions on UK schools to be taken ‘imminently’: PM Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government will take further decisions “imminently” on the possible closure of schools.

The pressure is mounting on the government to formally shut schools as many across the UK struggle to stay open, with some forced to partially or fully close due to rising staff and student absences due to the virus.

Johnson also said the UK is stepping up testing for coronavirus to 25,000 a day.

Britain's PM Johnson speaks in Parliament in London
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said pressure on the National Health Service needs to be relieved [Reuters]

12:30 GMT – Austria to prove 38 billion euro aid package

Austria will help with up to 38 billion euros ($42bn) to secure jobs and make sure coronavirus hit companies remain liquid, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

“With the clear goal, no matter what it takes, we try to support the people in our country,” said Kurz.

Austria will also provide another nine billion euros in guarantees and warranties, 15 billion euros in emergency aid and 10 billion euros in tax deferrals, he said.

12:00 GMT – No evidence ibuprofen worsens COVID-19: EU drugs agency

The European Union’s healthcare regulator said there currently is no evidence which links anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen with the worsening of COVID-19.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was monitoring the situation and said patients and healthcare professionals should consider all treatment options including paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs to treat fever or pain in patients with COVID-19.

11:20 GMT – Al Jazeera urges Egypt to release jailed reporter

Al Jazeera has called on the Egyptian government to release Mahmoud Hussein, an Al Jazeera journalist held in Egypt for more than three years, citing deep concerns about his health amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Read more here.

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein has been held in Egypt for more than 1,200 days [Al Jazeera]

11:05 GMT – Infections could reach 10 million if Germans do not act: Official

Germany could be dealing with 10 million coronavirus infections in the coming months if its citizens do not adhere to measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, the country’s top disease control official said.

“We have an exponential development in the epidemic,” Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, said in Berlin.

He appealed to Germany’s 80 million people to limit contact with others.   

11:00 GMT – Iran reports spike in deaths

Iran reported 147 more deaths from the coronavirus, its single biggest jump.

The 15 percent spike raised the death toll to 1,135 people nationwide.

The rise in deaths comes as the number of infections continues to grow each day, with some 17,361 people infected, according to Iran’s deputy health minister, Alireza Raisi.

Bank employees wear protective face masks and clothes, following the outbreak of coronavirus, during the work in Tehran, Iran March 17, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS ATTENTI
Bank employees wear protective face masks and clothes at work in Tehran [Ali Khara /WANA via Reuters]

10:40 GMT – Coronavirus can survive on some surfaces for days: Study

The coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, a day on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Read more about it here.

10:30 GMT – Indonesia reports 55 new cases, biggest daily rise

Indonesia announced 55 new coronavirus cases, taking the total to 227, marking the biggest daily rise in positive cases.

Achmad Yurianto, a health ministry official, also told a news conference that the number of deaths from the disease rose to 19, with deaths recorded in seven different provinces, while 11 patients had recovered.

Airbus cleaning - reuters
Cleaning staff wearing protective mask disinfect a seat screen of an Emirates Airbus A380 in Dubai [Reuters]

10:15 GMT – Pakistan PM: ‘Cannot afford’ to shut down cities

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has called upon his countrymen “not to panic” amid a spike in coronavirus cases in the country, warning that the spread of COVID-19 was inevitable and that Pakistan could not afford the economic cost of shutting down its cities.

Read more here.

10:07 GMT – 276 Indians abroad have tested positive to date: Minister

A total of 276 Indians abroad have tested positive for coronavirus to date, an Indian government minister said.

The vast majority, 255, tested positive in Iran, with others in the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Hong Kong, India’s minister of state for external affairs, said in a written reply to a question in Parliament.

09:15 GMT – In Pictures: How Qatar is coping with the pandemic

With more than 400 confirmed cases, Qatar has implemented a series of measures to help contain the outbreak.

View our photo essay here.

Qatar Corona [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
On Sunday, Qatar announced a financial package that will provide incentives amounting to 75 billion Qatari riyals ($23bn) [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

09:05 GMT – Malta to stop all incoming flights from Saturday

Malta will stop all incoming passenger flights on Saturday and allow only cargo, humanitarian and repatriation flights to land to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Mediterranean island, which depends heavily on tourism, has reported 38 cases, of which 32 were people who had caught the disease abroad.

08:57 GMT – Qatar Airways lays off ‘around 200 staff’

Qatar Airways laid off about 200 employees, all Filipino nationals based in Qatar, according to the Philippine labour secretary.

Silvestre Bello told Reuters news agency they were unexpectedly laid off by the airline.

08:50 GMT – Philippines confirms 15 new cases

The Philippines’ health ministry confirmed 15 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases to 202.

08:45 GMT – Nigerian footballer Obi Mikel quits Turkish club

Former Chelsea footballer John Obi Mikel has parted ways with his Turkish Super Lig club Trabzonspor after he refused to play due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The player’s two-year contract was cancelled on Tuesday following his social media post confirming he was not comfortable playing until the coronavirus outbreak was over.

Read more here.

John Obi Mikel of Trabzonspor AS during the Turkish Spor Toto Super Lig match between Trabzonspor AS and Besiktas AS at the Senol Gunes stadium on September 29, 2019 in Trabzon, Turkey(Photo by VI Ima
In an Instagram post, Mikel called for the cancellation of the league, saying ‘there is more to life than football’ [Getty Images]

08:40 GMT – Some US embassies to suspend routine visa services

A number of US embassies worldwide will suspend routine visa services, the US embassy in South Korea said.

The suspension will affect visa services at embassies in countries with a US State Department travel advisory level of 2, 3, or 4, the statement said.

According to the US State Department website, as of Wednesday, the list included nearly 100 countries.

08:23 GMT – France hopes for slowdown in eight to 12 days

France could hope to see the number of coronavirus infections to slow down in about eight to 12 days following the government’s decision to lock down the country, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

“We will intervene where necessary to make sure people respect the confinement. When I look outside my window, I see that gradually people are getting the message,” Veran told LCI TV.

08:15 GMT – India’s poor testing rate may mask coronavirus cases

Indian authorities have said they will not expand coronavirus testing, as most affected nations are doing, despite criticism that limited testing could leave COVID-19 cases undetected in the world’s second-most populous country.

The WHO has urged countries to test as widely as possible to curb the pandemic, but India has only been testing those who have travelled from affected countries or come in contact with a confirmed case and shown symptoms after two weeks of quarantine.

Read more here.

Indians waiting at a train station wear protective masks as a precaution against a new virus outbreak in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild o
Indians waiting at a railway station wear protective masks in Mumbai, India [Rajanish Kakade/AP]

08:07 GMT – Poland to receive gear, tests from China

Poland will receive thousands of test kits and other protective items, such as masks, goggles and shoe covers, from China to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

China will send 20,000 masks, 5,000 protective suits, 5,000 medical goggles, 10,000 single-use medical gloves and 10,000 shoe covers to Poland, the statement said.

07:40 GMT – Moldova reports first death

Moldova reported its first death from coronavirus, the country’s health ministry said.

The Eastern European country of 3.5 million has confirmed 30 cases of coronavirus so far.

epa08294434 Customs officers wear protective masks as they control the  cars of passengers arriving at the Leuseni Custom, Moldova, 14 March 2020. Moldova closes some border crossings with Romania aft
Customs officers check cars of passengers arriving at the Leuseni Custom, Moldova [Dumitru Doru/EPA]

07:11 GMT – Malaysia shuts border with Singapore

Malaysia shut its borders with Singapore, beginning a 14-day partial lockdown after coronavirus infections in the country spiked to the highest in Southeast Asia.

Malaysia now has 673 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Vehicles form a long queue to enter Woodlands checkpoint in Singapore on March 17, 2020 from across the causeway of the southern Malaysian state of Johor. - Malaysia will ban its citizens from travell
Vehicles form a long queue to enter a checkpoint in Singapore from across the causeway of the southern Malaysian state of Johor [Catherine LAI/ AFP]

07:07 GMT – South African airlines SA Express suspends operations

South African state-owned airline SA Express said it would suspend operations from Wednesday until further notice because of recent developments including the impact from the coronavirus pandemic.

SA Express entered a form of bankruptcy protection earlier this year and flies to domestic and regional destinations.

06:55 GMT – South Africa’s confirmed cases rise to 116

South Africa’s health ministry reported that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen by 31 since Tuesday to 116.

As government rolls out drastic measures, South Africans have begun to come to terms with life amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about it here.


This is Mersiha Gadzo in Doha taking over from my colleague Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.

05:30 GMT – Canada and US to partially close borders: Globe and Mail

Canada and the US will announce a deal to partially close their borders on Wednesday, the Globe and Mail reported, citing sources.

The agreement will close the borders to non-essential travel but allow the transfer of medical supplies, food and other goods, the report said, citing an unnamed official.

Canada closed its borders to all foreign nationals except US citizens and permanent residents on Monday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is under quarantine after his wife Sophie tested positive for the virus, earlier urged people to stay at home and restrict contact with others.

04:30 GMT – Vietnam confirms second case linked to Malaysia mosque event

Vietnam has confirmed an additional case of coronavirus linked to an event at a mosque in Malaysia that attracted more than 16,000 people.

Social Distancing infographic

The latest known patient, a 36-year-old man, returned to Vietnam on March 4 on VietJet flight VJ826 from Kuala Lumpur, the health ministry said.

Vietnam now has 67 cases of coronavirus.

04:25 GMT – WHO calls on Southeast Asia to take “aggressive” action on virus

The WHO has called on Southeast Asia to take “aggressive” action to combat the coronavirus, warning that some countries were heading towards community transmission, which could overwhelm already weak public healthcare systems.

“We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO’s regional director.

“More clusters of virus transmission are being confirmed. While this is an indication of an alert and effective surveillance, it also puts the spotlight on the need for more aggressive and whole of society efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” she said.

03:25 GMT – New Zealand confirms new cases, all from overseas

New Zealand has confirmed eight new cases, all related to people who had recently travelled overseas, the health ministry said in a news conference on Wednesday.

This takes the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 20.

New Zealand implemented tough border restrictions on Saturday, asking everyone arriving in the country to self-isolate, and has banned big public gatherings.

03:15 GMT – Hong Kong to order all international arrivals into quarantine

Hong Kong will start issuing orders for 14-day compulsory quarantine to all people arriving in Hong Kong from overseas, regardless of whether they are Hong Kong residents.

The measure comes into effect on March 19.

03:10 GMT – Colombia turns to mass home isolation for the elderly

Colombia will enforce mass home isolation for the elderly, President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday.

The measure will come into effect on Friday.

The United Kingdom has also been considering whether to ask the elderly, who are more at risk, to stay at home.

03:05 GMT – Brazil seeking state of emergency to tackle virus

Brazil will seek authorisation for a state of emergency to allow it to scrap fiscal targets and free up funds to combat the coronavirus crisis, the government said on Tuesday, as President Jair Bolsonaro announced his second COVID-19 test was negative.

In a statement from the presidency, the government said it will ask Congress to authorise emergency measures until December 31.

Brazil reported the country’s first confirmed death from the outbreak on Tuesday.

“In view of … the need to increase public spending to protect the health and jobs of Brazilians and the prospect of falling revenues, the Federal Government will request the National Congress to recognize the state of emergency,” the statement from the president’s office said.

02:55 GMT – ‘Human biosecurity emergency’: Australia PM

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared a “human biosecurity emergency”, giving the government the power to close off cities or regions, impose curfews and order people to quarantine if seen as necessary to contain the spread of the virus.

Official travel advice, as we reported earlier, has been raised to an unprecedented “Level 4: Do not travel” to any country in the world. Any non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people have also been banned.

“Life is changing in Australia,” Morrison said during a televised news conference. “Life is going to continue to change, as we deal with the global coronavirus. This is a once-in-a-hundred-year-type event.”

Australia has recorded approximately 425 coronavirus infections and five deaths.

02:35 GMT – The body fights back: Australian researchers track immune system response

Researchers at Australia’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity have mapped the immune system response of one of the first people to get COVID-19 in Australia, to find out more about the way in which the body fights the infection.

They took samples from an otherwise healthy woman in her 40s who had been diagnosed with a mild-to-moderate case of the disease, to track her body’s response over time.

“Three days after the patient was admitted, we saw large populations of several immune cells … often a sign of recovery during seasonal influenza infection, so we predicted that the patient would recover in three days, which is what happened,” said University of Melbourne Research Fellow Oanh Nguyen.

“We showed that … in an otherwise healthy person, a robust immune response across different cell types was associated with clinical recovery, similar to what we see in influenza,” added Katherine Kedzierska, a professor at the University of Melbourne.

The paper has been published in NatureMedicine, a medical journal.

02:05 GMT – Contact tracing, self-isolation crucial: Diamond Princess report

Researchers from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo have released a preliminary investigation into the coronavirus outbreak on board the Diamond Princess.

The cruise ship, with 3,700 passengers and crew, was quarantined off the port of Yokohama for a month from February 3 after a passenger who got off in Hong Kong was confirmed with COVID-19.

The report focuses on the 20 cases confirmed among the crew, finding that transmission from passengers to staff had started before the ship was put into quarantine. Most of those who got the infection worked in food service for the crew and also passed it on to those who shared their cabin.

The report’s authors said the findings indicated the need for “swift” investigation as soon as a COVID-19 case is detected in a place where large groups of people gather and the importance of self-isolation for close contacts. 

Diamond Princess
The Diamond Princess was quarantined at a port in Yokohama for a month [File: Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo]

01:50 GMT – South Korea reports 93 new cases

South Korea has given an update on its numbers, with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying there were 93 new cases on Wednesday, bringing total infections to 8,413.

While slightly higher than the 84 recorded on Tuesday, this is still the fourth day in a row that the country has reported fewer than 100 new infections.

01:43 GMT – China reports 13 new cases and 11 deaths

China’s National Health Commission has released its latest data on the outbreak there – 13 new confirmed cases were reported on Tuesday, down from 21 cases the day before.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China to 80,894, the health authority said in a statement.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 3,237 as of the end of Tuesday after 11 people died the previous day.

Those deaths were all in the central province of Hubei, with the provincial capital Wuhan accounting for 10 of the fatalities. 

The number of imported cases of the virus in mainland China reached 155 as of Tuesday, up 12 from a day earlier.

00:50 GMT – Australia advises citizens not to travel

Australia has urged its citizens not to travel, given the risks from the coronavirus as it spreads around the world and heightened border controls that are forcing airlines to cancel flights.

It urged anyone already outside the country to return.

“There may be a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 overseas. You may come in contact with more people than usual, including during long-haul flights and in crowded airports,” the government said in upgrading the advice. “Healthcare systems in some countries may come under strain and may not be as well-equipped as Australia’s or have the capacity to support foreigners.”

I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur with Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

For all the updates from yesterday (March 17) please click here

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies