Coronavirus live updates: 627 die in a single day in Italy

Largest daily jump in Italy’s death toll, as WHO warns the world’s youth they are not invincible against COVID-19.

Medical personnel at work in the intensive care unit of the hospital of Brescia, Italy, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Italy has become the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, surpassing Chin

The death toll from the new coronavirus has surpassed 5,000 in Europe – the new epicentre of the pandemic – as Italy, Germany and Spain reported a steep rise in infections.

Italy announced 627 more deaths on Friday, the biggest day-to-day increase in the country’s four-week epidemic, a day after surpassing China’s death toll. The total number of deaths in Italy reached 4,032. 

More than 209,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus globally and more than 8,700 have died, according to the World Health Organization. 

At least 87,000 have recovered from COVID-19, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University in the United States. JHU’s global death toll has surpassed 10,000. 

Here are all the latest updates:

Click here to read Saturday, March 21 updates

Friday, March 20:

20:23 GMT – Turkey’s death toll rises, 670 confirmed cases

The death toll in Turkey due to the coronavirus rose to nine, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

The number of confirmed cases increased to 670 from 359 on Thursday.

Koca said 3,656 tests had been conducted in the past 24 hours, 311 of which came back positive.

20:11 GMT – Israel reports first fatality from coronavirus

Israel reported its first death from the coronavirus, an 88-year-old man who also suffered from previous illnesses.

The health ministry said in a statement the man had been brought to the hospital about a week ago in serious condition.

Israel has so far reported 705 cases of coronavirus, the large majority with mild symptoms. About 10 patients are in serious condition and 15 have recovered completely.

19:38 GMT – India’s Tamil Nadu shuts borders over virus fear

The Indian state of Tamil Nadu took the rare step of closing its borders with several neighbouring states because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tamil Nadu government shut the borders with Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh states, which have reported a growing number of coronavirus cases.

A government statement said the measure would last until at least March 31 and that only “essential goods” and government buses would be allowed across the border.

Coronavirus: ‘Invisible enemy’ takes a toll on health workers

19:25 GMT – Zimbabwe announces 1st coronavirus case

Zimbabwe has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus as the pandemic reaches a health system that has nearly collapsed amid an economic crisis.

The southern African nation’s health minister said the infected man lives in Victoria Falls, one of the most visited tourist destinations in Africa.

“This is the first case of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe. The patient is a 38-year-old Caucasian man … who had travelled to Manchester in the UK on the 7th of March and returned to his home in Victoria Falls on the 15th of March via South Africa,” Health Minister Obadiah Moyo said on state television ZTV.

19:24 GMT – Italy closes all parks and public gardens

Italy’s health ministry approved new measures to limit people’s movements in an effort to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe.

From Saturday, parks and public gardens will be shut down and people will be allowed to take exercise only around their homes, a directive seen by Reuters News Agency said.

The Palazzo Marino building is seen iluminated with the colours of the Italian flag as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Milan
The Palazzo Marino building is seen illuminated with the colours of the Italian flag in Milan, Italy [Daniele Mascolo,Reuters]

Games and recreational activities in the open air will also be prohibited.

“We must do even more to contain the contagion,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement.

18:38 GMT – France reports 78 more coronavirus deaths

French health authorities reported 78 new deaths from coronavirus, taking the total to 450 or an increase of 21 percent.

During a news conference, health agency director Jerome Salomon said the number of cases had risen to 12,612, up from 10,995 on Thursday, a rise of 15 percent in 24 hours.

18:30 GMT – Muted Nowruz in Afghanistan over coronavirus

Sultan Agha Shrine in Herat
The Sultan Agha shrine in Herat is a major place for public gatherings during Nowruz [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera] 

Every year on Nowruz, one of the most important festivals in Afghanistan, residents in Herat and other cities organise picnics or gather in large numbers around the city’s landmark sites to celebrate the day with their families and friends.

However, Nowruz this year was unusually quiet in Herat due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the city’s popular sites seeing no festivities and even the green areas on the outskirts remaining deserted.

Read the full story

18:11 GMT – Poland shuts schools until Easter

Poland’s government has declared a state of epidemic threat and will cancel school classes until Easter, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

“We are today introducing a state of epidemic … which gives us new prerogatives but also gives us new responsibilities. We have decided to cancel lessons until Easter. It is a difficult but important decision.”

Poland had cancelled classes for students earlier this month and shut its borders to foreigners in an effort to curtail the spread of the virus. Poland currently has 411 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and five deaths.

18:00 GMT – Coronavirus travel bans hit South Asia migrant workers

Remittances are a crucial lifeline for families in Nepal and other countries in the region, including Bangladesh and India, which currently has more than 30 million people in jobs overseas, according to the International Labour Organization.

But travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, which has infected more than 245,000 people globally and killed more than 10,000, threaten to leave millions of South Asian migrant labourers without work.

Migrant workers, mostly from Bangladesh, queue to collect free masks and get their temperatures taken in Singapore
Migrant workers, mostly from Bangladesh, queue to collect free masks and get their temperatures taken in Singapore [File: Feline Lim/Reuters]

Read more here

17:52 GMT – Ukraine declares state of emergency in capital Kyiv

Ukraine’s government declared a state of emergency in Kyiv and two more out of the country’s 25 regions due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Ukraine, which reported 26 coronavirus cases and three deaths, had previously declared a state of emergency in two other regions with coronavirus patients.

17:41 GMT – WHO chief to youth: ‘You are not invincible’

The head of the World Health Organization has warned young people they are “not invincible” against the coronavirus pandemic, and said their self-restraint could save the lives of older people.

“Today, I have a message for young people: you are not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks, or even kill you,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual press conference in Geneva.

“Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.” 

17:30 GMT – Bulgaria military allowed to use force amid curbs

Bulgaria’s parliament has voted after a heated debate to allow the military to help curb the movement of people amid the coronavirus outbreak, with a mandate to use force if necessary.

The armed forces will be mobilised to assist civilian authorities, with the authorisation to stop vehicles and people until the police arrive. 

Read more here

Is total lockdown the cure for the coronavirus?

17:16 GMT – UK PM Johnson tells cafes, pubs, restaurants to close 

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson told cafes, pubs and restaurants across the country to close on Friday night and to stay shut indefinitely to help slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are telling cafes, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow,” Johnson told reporters in Downing Street. “Though to be clear, they can continue to provide takeout services.

“Some people may of course be tempted to go out tonight, and I say to those people, ‘please don’t,'” Johnson said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference addressing the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak, at Downing Street in London, Britain March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Johnson holds a news conference addressing the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, at Downing Street in London [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]

17:12 GMT – Italy coronavirus deaths surge by 627 in a day

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has leapt by 627 to 4,032, officials said, marking the largest daily rise since the contagion emerged a month ago.

The total number of cases in Italy rose to 47,021 from a previous 41,035, an increase of 14.6 percent, the Civil Protection Department said.

17:00 GMT – Dow Jones drops below 20,000

United States stock markets turned negative in afternoon trading on Wall Street, putting all three major US indexes on track for their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

Goldman Sachs says the US economy could contract 24 percent between April and June, and unemployment could peak at nine percent over coronavirus. 

Read more here

16:11 GMT – US and Mexico to restrict ‘non-essential’ border travel

The US and Mexico have agreed to restrict non-essential travel over their shared border, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, placing limitations on one of the world’s busiest borders.

The restrictions will be reviewed after 30 days, Pompeo said at a White House news briefing.

US President Donald Trump also announced that he would invoke a health-focused statute to block migrants from either border from entering the country illegally, saying illegal immigration “threatens to create a perfect storm”. 

15:45 GMT – Non-essential businesses ordered shut in New York

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered all non-essential businesses to be closed, calling non-essential members of the workforce to stay home by an executive order expected later in the day.

Only essential businesses will be functioning, including pharmacies and grocery stores.

“This is the most drastic action we can take,” Cuomo said at news briefing. “Remain indoors, go outside for solitary exercise.” 

15:25 GMT – Tunisian president orders general lockdown

Tunisian President Kais Saied ordered a general lockdown, restricting public movement to counter the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking in a televised broadcast, Saied said he was asking the majority of people to stay at home and stopping movement between Tunisian cities. So far, 39 cases have been confirmed in the Tunisia, with one death.

Coronavirus precautions in Tunisia
A view of empty Avenue Habib Bourguiba after a daily curfew as part of precautions against coronavirus in Tunis, Tunisia [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu]

15:20 GMT – Brazil’s Senate approves state of emergency 

Brazil’s Senate approved a presidential decree declaring a national emergency over the coronavirus epidemic, allowing the government to waive fiscal targets and free up budget resources to fight the virus that has killed seven and infected 621 in the country.

The decree passed the lower house on Wednesday. The senators voted remotely on Friday under new social distancing procedures adopted after two of them tested positive for coronavirus, including National Congress of Brazil President Davi Alcolumbre.

15:00 GMT – New US-Mexico travel restrictions expected

United States officials are expected to announce new restrictions on the southern border with Mexico as they try to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan is expected to look much like restrictions already announced on all-but-essential travel and trade between the US and Canada.

“We’re looking at both our northern and our southern border,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters at the White House, explaining that the restrictions were aimed at “eliminating non-essential travel across that border.”

14:45 GMT – Will a US airline bailout come with serious strings attached?

In the United States, carriers are looking to the federal government for immediate assistance to help cushion the blow that the pandemic has delivered to the industry.

The White House is proposing a $50bn bailout in the form of secured loans.  

But many are questioning why – after an 11-year economic expansion – US carriers are not in a better financial position to weather the coronavirus storm. Read more here

14:30 GMT – US stocks open higher for second day, but week looks bleak

A flood of cheap money from central banks and signs of momentum behind a second, larger economic rescue package in Washington to help cushion the economic blow from coronavirus helped propel United States stock markets to their second straight plus side open.

Read more here

Wall Street March 20
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, US on March 20, 2020 [Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

14:15 GMT – Saudi Arabia to borrow more to cover coronavirus response

Saudi Arabia will tap debt markets more than previously planned to help finance $32bn in economic measures to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the kingdom’s finance minister said on Friday.

Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan said in a news conference broadcast on state television that King Salman had approved raising the debt ceiling to 50 percent of gross domestic product, from 30 percent, but that borrowing this year would not exceed 100 billion riyals ($26.61bn). 

14:00 GMT – Vulnerable communities struggle amid pandemic

As Italy’s north struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus, fears are growing in the south for thousands of migrant workers, mostly from Africa, who pick fruit and vegetables for a pittance and live in overcrowded tent camps and shantytowns.

In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, despite calls for social distancing and quarantining, residents of poorer areas of the city continue to go outside, interacting with others and working to support their families.

Meanwhile, for most people living in crowded refugee camps on the Greek islands, following the measures recommended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection is just not possible. Read more here

Places of worship across world shut down over coronavirus

13:30 GMT – Jordan announces curfew to combat coronavirus

Jordan will impose a curfew early on Saturday to prevent people from moving except for emergencies to combat coronavirus, the government said.

The curfew across the country would start from 7am local time (05:00 GMT) on Saturday until further notice said Amjad Al Adailah, government spokesman.

King Abdullah had enacted an emergency decree last Tuesday that gives the government sweeping powers invoked in times of war and calamities to enforce an army imposed curfew and other measures.

13:15 GMT – Pakistan’s PM urges Iran sanctions to be lifted

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for the lifting of “unjust” US-led sanctions on neighbouring Iran, so Tehran can better deal with the novel coronavirus crisis.

“I would stress and insist to the international community to lift the sanctions on Iran,” Khan said at a news conference in the capital, Islamabad.

“It is very unjust they are dealing with such a large outbreak on one side, and on the other they are facing international sanctions.”

More than 19,000 cases have been reported in Iran with 1,433 deaths. 

13:11 GMT – Dutch coronavirus cases at almost 3,000

Dutch health authorities confirmed 534 new cases of coronavirus and 30 new deaths, bringing the total in the Netherlands to 2,994 cases and 106 deaths.

The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said in a daily update that the ages of those that have died range from 63 to 95 years. In all, 643 patients have been admitted to hospital. 

13:10 GMT – Italian army to enforce lockdown in worst-hit region

The president of Lombardy said the government had agreed to deploy the army in his region to enforce the lockdown against the coronavirus epidemic, which is not slowing down.

“(The request to use the army) has been accepted … and 114 soldiers will be on the ground throughout Lombardy … it is still too little, but it is positive,” Attilio Fontana told a news conference.

Lombardy has also asked the government to further tighten the restrictions already in place, which include the closure of all non-essential commercial activities and a ban on public gatherings.

This photo provided by Italian news agency Ansa on March 19, 2020 shows Italian army trucks parked outside the Monumental cemetery of Bergamo, Lombardy [AFP]

13:10 GMT – Malaysia reports third coronavirus death

A 58-year-old man has died in Malaysia from COVID-19, bringing the country’s total number of deaths from coronavirus infection to three.

The case is linked to an Islamic gathering near Kuala Lumpur that was attended by 16,000 people, the health ministry said.

Here is list of all the countries with confirmed cases.

13:00 GMT

Hello. This is Saba Aziz in Doha taking over from my colleague Farah Najjar. Here’s a quick recap of the day’s developments.

An increasing number of cases were reported in Europe, particularly Spain, Belgium and Germany.

Saudi Arabia banned prayers at its two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, while thousands of Indonesians refused to offer prayers at home despite government orders. 

In Russia, scientists have begun testing prototypes of potential vaccines against the new coronavirus on animals.

12:30 GMT – Social distancing in Bangladesh a tough task

For people in one of the densest countries on the Earth, social distancing is a difficult task, especially while commuting in crowded public transport or living in cheek-by-jowl urban slums.

Read more here.

12:09 GMT – War-torn Syria takes new steps against coronavirus 

Syria has banned entry for foreigners arriving from many countries hit by the coronavirus as part of widening measures to combat the epidemic.

Although the government says it has yet to document any infections, Syria is seen at high risk from the virus.

“We have vulnerable populations in camps, refugees, slum areas at the outskirts of large urban centres,” the WHO’s Syria representative, Nima Saeed Abid, told Reuters news agency.

Coronavirus precautions in Idlib
People are being informed as a preventive measure against the coronavirus as Idlib Health Directorate and Civil Defense Crews along with local charities carry out disinfection works at Qasr Ibn Wardan tent city in Idlib, Syria [Muhammed Said/Anadolu]

11:35 GMT – Wuhan records second day with no new cases

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus at the heart of the global pandemic was first detected, has recorded a second consecutive day with no new confirmed or suspected cases.

Nationwide, a total of 39 confirmed cases and 31 suspected cases were recorded on Friday, the health ministry said, all of them brought from overseas.

Three more deaths were also registered, bringing China’s total to 3,248, a figure surpassed on Thursday by Italy as the highest in a single nation.

11:32 GMT – Singapore reports 40 new cases

Singapore reported 40 new coronavirus cases, mainly imported infections from the United Kingdom, and advised further social distancing measures in its fight against the pandemic.

Its tally of cases stands at 385, with no deaths.

The health ministry said all gatherings of 250 people or more must be cancelled. Among other measures, it asked employers to facilitate working from home and stagger working hours to reduce contact between staff.

11:15 GMT – Spain’s coronavirus death toll surpasses 1,000

Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic soared to 1,002 from 767, the country’s health emergencies chief Fernando Simon said.

The number of registered cases in the country rose to 19,980 on Friday from 17,147 on Thursday, Simon said. 

10:40 GMT – Belgium passes 2,000 cases, deaths mount

The number of coronavirus cases recorded in Belgium surged past 2,000, while the number of deaths attributed to the COVID-19 disease jumped by 16 to a total of 37.

According to the country’s national crisis centre, 462 new confirmed cases of the virus have been reported, bringing the total to 2,257 in a country of 11.4 million people.

10:45 GMT – Iran announces more deaths

Iran announced 149 more deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the total to 1,433 amid nearly 20,000 confirmed cases in the sanctions-hit country.

Members of firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease, as they disinfect the streets, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in Tehran
Members of firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease, as they disinfect the streets in Tehran, Iran [Reuters]

10:33 GMT – Indonesians refusing to offer prayers at home

Health authorities want people to stay at home to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But one of the world’s most populous countries is struggling as religious events continue across the country. Indonesia’s president has urged people to stay home and pray but many are not listening.

In the video below, Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington reports on thousands of Muslims travelling to South Sulawesi for a mass gathering despite the cancellation of the event. 

10:19 GMT – For Kibera dwellers, quarantine not an option

Residents of Nairobi’s vast informal settlement prepare for potential coronavirus outbreak.

Read more here.

09:51 GMT – Malaysia reports 130 new cases

Malaysia reported 130 new cases of coronavirus infection, sending the cumulative total to 1,030, as it grapples with the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia. 

Of the new cases, 48 are linked to an Islamic gathering last month near the capital, Kuala Lumpur, that attracted 16,000 participants. More than 670 infections in Southeast Asia have been linked to the gathering in Malaysia.

Malaysia Under Lockdown As The Coronavirus Continue To Spread
A man travels in an almost empty train in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia [Rahman Roslan/Getty Images]

09:49 GMT – South Africa’s cases rise to 202

South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen by 52 to 202, with the first cases recorded in the Free State province.

The virus has multiplied in Africa slower than in Asia or Europe, but the number of cases has started to rise more rapidly in South Africa in recent days. 

09:47 GMT – Cape Verde reports first case 

Cape Verde confirmed its first coronavirus case, the government said in a statement.

The patient is a 62-year-old British citizen who entered the country on March 9 and began showing symptoms on March 16, the statement added. 

09:37 GMT – Germany cases surge overnight

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said the number of cases of COVID-19 rose by 2,958 overnight to 13,957. 

The number of deaths rose by 11 to a total of 31 so far.

09:32 GMT – Macron: We are at start of crisis 

France is only at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis and is in a race to curb its progress, President Emmanuel Macron said.

“We are at the start of this crisis. We have taken exceptional measures to absorb this first wave, but we’ve started a race against the virus,” Macron said at the start of a crisis meeting at the Interior Ministry.

“We must react a great deal and reorganise ourselves at every moment. We need to anticipate.” 

09:29 GMT – Number of cases in Taiwan surges again

The number of coronavirus cases in Taiwan jumped, with 27 new infections, taking the total to 135.

A second death has also been reported. The person was in their 80s with underlying health conditions including diabetes and renal problems, the government said.

Taiwan won global plaudits for its efforts to contain the spread of the virus, but has begun reporting daily rises in cases among people returning from other countries, especially in Europe.

09:24 GMT – Indonesia confirms 60 new cases, more deaths

Indonesia has confirmed 60 new coronavirus infections and 32 deaths, taking the total number of cases to 369, according to a health ministry official. 

09:22 GMT – Hong Kong sees 48 new cases

Hong Kong said it had recorded 48 new cases of coronavirus, a one-day record, as the city hunkers down to deal with a flood of people returning from overseas who are infected.

The number brings the total of confirmed cases in Hong Kong to 256.

Of the confirmed new cases, 36 had overseas travel records, the government said. 

08:33 GMT – Philippines reports new cases, one death 

The health ministry in the Philippines has reported 13 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of positive cases in the country to 230. 

The ministry also announced one death linked to the virus, bringing the total number of deaths recorded in the Philippines to 18 so far.

08:26 – India’s Maharashtra state to close shops, offices

India’s western state of Maharashtra has decided to close all shops and offices except those providing essential services in India’s financial capital Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur until March 31, the chief minister of the state said.

08:25 – Japan PM asks to compile steps for school reopening urgently

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued instructions at a coronavirus taskforce meeting to compile concrete steps urgently to reopen schools as the new school year in Japan starts in April, Jiji news agency reported.

Abe last month asked Japan’s entire school system, from elementary to high schools, to close until spring break late in March to help contain the outbreak. 

08:10 GMT – UK hopes newly made ventilators will be ready next week

Britain said its scramble to produce thousands of ventilators to fight the coronavirus outbreak was achieving results as top companies have already produced a prototype which should be ready for use in hospitals by the end of next week. 

“More than half a dozen companies have already made one in prototype, to check with us that we are happy with the quality,” Matt Hancock, the health minister, told the BBC. 

The UK has recorded 3,269 positive cases so far. 

07:49 GMT – Saudi Arabia bans prayers at holy mosques 

Saudi Arabia has suspended the holding of daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayers inside and outside the walls of the two mosques in Mecca and Medina to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The kingdom recorded 36 new infections on Thursday, bringing its total to 274 with no deaths so far. 

Read more here

07:29 GMT – How to socially distance during the coronavirus pandemic

What is the difference between social distancing and self-isolation? 

Click here to find out. 

07:20 GMT – Russia starts testing coronavirus vaccine prototypes on animals 

Russian scientists have begun testing prototypes of potential vaccines against the new coronavirus on animals in a laboratory in Siberia, Russia’s consumer health regulator said.

Scientists in the Vector State Virology and Biotechnology Centre in the city of Novosibirsk have developed vaccine prototypes based on six different technological platforms and began tests on Monday to try to work out how effective they are and in what doses they could be administered, the regulator said.

CureVac coronavirus vaccine development
Scientists in Russia expect it will be possible to start rolling out a vaccine in the last three months of 2020 [Andreas Gebert/Reuters]

Scientists around the world have warned that the development of a vaccine is a lengthy and complex process that might only yield something for broader use in the next 12-18 months.

However, the Russian regulator said it could be possible to start rolling out a vaccine in the last three months of 2020. 

07:17 GMT – YouTube to reduce streaming quality in Europe 

YouTube said it will reduce its streaming quality in the European Union to avoid straining the internet as thousands of Europeans, constrained by the coronavirus outbreak, switch to teleworking and watch videos at home. 

YouTube is the second company after Netflix to act after EU industry chief Thierry Breton urged streaming platforms to cut the quality of their videos to prevent internet gridlock.

“We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” the company said in a statement.

Europe’s telecoms providers from Vodafone to Deutsche Telekom have reported a spike in data traffic in recent days, forcing Breton to issue his pre-emptive call before the internet breaks down.

07:12 GMT – First medical aid shipments trickle into North Korea

The first shipments of international medical aid are due to arrive at North Korea’s borders this week, but strict border controls could mean the stream of supplies remains a trickle. 

Some aid organisations had to get emergency sanction exemptions from the UN to clear the way for the shipments and are now navigating North Korea’s border controls imposed in a bid to shut out the virus.

North Korea has not reported any cases of the coronavirus.

07:06 GMT – Sri Lanka postpones general elections

The island nation of Sri Lanka said it would delay parliamentary elections, initially slated for April 25.

It also banned all incoming flights for two weeks on Wednesday and imposed a curfew on some areas. So far, there have been 59 cases of the virus in Sri Lanka. 

Coronavirus pandemic: Sri Lanka schools close for five weeks

07:01 GMT – Roads in Kashmir sealed off, impacting millions

Dozens of people in India-administered Kashmir say they had been prevented from leaving their neighbourhoods by police and paramilitary units.

Srinagar’s senior superintendent of police, Haseeb Mughal, told Reuters News Agency that road blockades across the valley had been imposed to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“I had to take my mother to hospital in Srinagar but the police closed the road,” said Mohammed Ayub, from the nearby town of Budgam. 

“I am waiting here for the last two hours. I can’t even go home now as the road is blocked due to a traffic jam.”

Muslim-majority Kashmir has been relatively unaffected by the virus, reporting its first case on Wednesday. 

06:55 GMT – Pakistan reports third death, urges people to practise social distancing

A 77-year-old patient in the southern city of Karachi died from the secondary transmission of the virus, provincial health minister Azra Pechucho has announced. 

The patient was a cancer survivor and had suffered from hypertension and diabetes. They had no history of recent travel to any country with a coronavirus outbreak, and had not been in contact with anyone who had travelled to such a country.

Military officers stand near parked ambulances at the premises of the Expo Center, after government declared it a mass isolation center and field hospital following an outbreak of the coronavirus
Military officers stand near parked ambulances at the premises of the Expo Center in Karachi after the government declared it a mass isolation centre and field hospital [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Friday’s death brings the total number of deaths in Pakistan due to COVID-19 to three. 

“We have now reached the point of community circulation,” said Pechucho in a video statement.

“This means there is hidden circulation of the virus in the community. This is why we need to be very careful. Please take care, of yourself, your family and your loved ones, take care of everyone and practise social distancing.” 

06:27 GMT – Turkey postpones all major events until end of April

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree postponing all events related to science, culture and art.

The decree said all meetings and activities, indoors or outdoors, would be postponed until the end of April.

Hello, this is Farah Najjar taking over from my colleague Ted Regencia.

05:55 GMT – Vanuatu reports first suspected case of coronavirus

The South Pacific Ocean nation of Vanuatu announced on Friday its first suspected case of coronavirus.

The person is in quarantine and samples have been collected for testing, according to the country’s health ministry. Testing options for the country have been limited by a reduction of international flights.

The country’s National Emergency Operations Centre has assumed control of the coronavirus response operation.

05:15 GMT – Australia steps up social distancing regulations

Australia has ratcheted up its social distancing regulations to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, demanding indoor venues provide at least four square metres (43 square feet) of space per person.

The space constraint announced on Friday follows a ban on Wednesday of non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, including weddings and restaurants.

Gatherings considered essential include schools, supermarkets and workplaces which are exempt.

Australia has also tightened regulations on travel to and from remote indigenous communities in a bid to spare them from the outbreak.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan soldiers in protective gear spray disinfectants at a railway station in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press]

04:50 GMT – Sri Lankan government imposes curfew

The Sri Lankan government on Friday imposed a 2 1/2 day curfew across the whole island in a bid to contain the spreading of the coronavirus.

The curfew will be in effect from Friday  6pm until 6am on Monday. The number of positive cases has risen to 59.

04:25 GMT – US governors ask Pentagon for clarification on National Guard authorisation

A group of governors in the United States has asked the defence secretary, Mark Esper, to clarify the federal government’s plan for activating the National Guard as part of the containment action against the coronavirus disease.

In a letter to Esper, Council of Governors representatives Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Hawaii Governor David Ige, said activating the National Guard should be done in consultation with the heads of all 50 states in the US.

The governors expressed concern that in times of emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the state powers over the National Guard could be taken from them.

03:50 GMT – Olympic flame lands in Japan as doubts grow over Tokyo Games

The Olympic flame arrived in Japan from Greece on Friday in a scaled-down ceremony at an airbase in northern Japan.

The flame, carried in a special canister, touched down amid growing doubts as to whether the Tokyo Games can open as scheduled on July 24 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Organisers and the International Olympic Committee say it will, but postponement or cancellation is viewed increasingly as a possible option.

Japan - Coronavirus
Three-time Olympic gold medallists Tadahiro Nomura, left, and Saori Yoshida carry the Olympic flame during the Flame Arrival Ceremony at Japan Air Self-Defense Force base north of Tokyo on Friday [Eugene Hoshiko/AP]

03:35 GMT – Iran pleads for lifting of US sanctions amid deadly outbreak

Iran’s Mission to the United Nations is urging the international community to call on the United States to lift sanctions against the country immediately so it can import medicine and medical equipment desperately needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran is one of the world’s hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic. Nine out of 10 cases in the Middle East come from the Islamic republic, and fears remain that it may be under-reporting its cases.

Iran’s UN Mission said in a statement that “while the US is trying to curb the virus internally, it is helping the spread of virus externally by undermining the professional capabilities of certain affected countries who try to combat its pandemic,” the mission said.

As of Thursday, the official number of infections in Iran has reached more than 18,000 with 1,284 deaths.

Iran - coronavirus
As of Thursday, the official number of infections in Iran has reached more than 18,000 with 1,284 deaths [Stringer/AFP]

03:10 GMT – North Korea releases thousands from quarantine 

North Korea says it released thousands of people from quarantine, including all but three foreigners, while maintaining a tough campaign to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the country, according to the Associated Press.

North Korea has not publicly confirmed a single case of the coronavirus, but state media has described anti-virus efforts as a matter of “national existence”.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday said more than 4,000 people were released in the provinces of North and South Pyongan and Kangwon after health officials confirmed they no longer had symptoms.

When combining the numbers from previous state media reports, it is presumed that the North has so far released around 8,000 people from quarantine.

02:30 GMT – California issues ‘stay home’ order; US death toll hits 200

The US state of California has issued a statewide ‘stay at home” order for its 40 million residents and Washington warned Americans to return home or stay abroad indefinitely, with the number of coronavirus deaths in the country hitting 200.

Governor Gavin Newsom said modelling has shown that 56 percent of California residents were expected to contract COVID-19 over the next eight weeks, requiring nearly 20,000 more hospital beds than the state could currently provide

He said Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, would likely be “disproportionately impacted” by the pandemic in the coming weeks.

As of Thursday night, there were more than 13,000 coronavirus cases reported in the US.

Spring Break US
Despite the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the US, thousands of young people congregated in the southern state of Florida for the annual spring break [Chris O’Meara/AP]

02:30 GMT – Mexico, US discuss travel restrictions

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Minister says he has held talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about travel restrictions at the border “that won’t paralyse economic activity, and leave the border open to commerce and workers”, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Marcelo Ebrard said he would provide more details on the discussion later on Friday.

Pompeo wrote on social media that he and Ebrard “have been working closely on travel restrictions that balance protecting our citizens from further transmission of #COVID19. Together, we can reduce public health risks and prioritize essential cross-border commerce and trade.”

Im Yu-mi, fan of K-pop boy band BTS, takes a selfie at a cafe decorated with photos and merchandise of them, in Seoul, South Korea
The concern is growing about a steady rise in coronavirus cases in the Seoul metropolitan areas, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live [Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

01:45 GMT – South Korea reports 87 new cases and three more deaths

South Korea has reported 87 new cases of the novel coronavirus and three more deaths, bringing its totals to 8,652 cases and 94 deaths.

The Associated Press news agency quoted South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday as saying that 316,600 people have so far been tested for the virus and 2,230 have been released from hospitals.

While infections have slowed in the worst-hit city of Daegu, there is also growing concern about a steady rise in cases in the Seoul metropolitan areas, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.

01:25 GMT – China reports record new coronavirus cases from abroad

China’s coronavirus infections from abroad hit a new daily record while infected travellers reached an unprecedented number of Chinese provinces, pressuring authorities to hold the bar high on already tough customs rules and public-health protocols.

Mainland China had 39 new confirmed cases on Thursday, the country’s National Health Commission said on Friday, all of which were imported cases. There were no locally transmitted cases for a second day.

Of the new imported infections, 14 were in Guangdong, eight in Shanghai and six in Beijing, the health authority said in a statement on Friday.

As of Thursday, there were 228 imported infections in China.

China coronavirus
Mainland China had 39 new confirmed cases on Thursday, the country’s National Health Commission said on Friday [Aly Song/Mediawires via Reuters]

01:18 GMT- Philippines bans entries of all foreigners

The Philippines is indefinitely banning the entry of foreigners after the government declared a state of calamity and public health emergency amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it was temporarily suspending visa issuances in all its foreign posts, effective immediately.

The drastic move exempts foreign government and international organisation officials and their dependents, as well as foreign spouses and children of Filipino citizens, the department said.

Philippines -
Foreigners line up at the departure area of Manila’s international airport on Wednesday [Joeal Calupitan/AP]

00:23 GMT- Australian banks announce $57bn loan relief package for businesses

Australian banks on Friday said they would defer loan repayments for six months for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus in a 100 billion Australian dollars ($57.34bn) relief package, Reuters news agency reported.

Depending on customer take-up, this could help put as much as A$8bn ($4.6bn) back into the coffers of small businesses, Australia Banking Association chief Anna Bligh said.

“These are extraordinary times,” she told reporters, adding Australia’s banking system was among the strongest and the most stable in the world.

There were more than 700 confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia as of Thursday. 

Travelers are seen at Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney
Travellers are seen at Kingsford Smith International Airport on Wednesday amid the coronavirus outbreak in Australia [Loren Elliott/Reuters]

00:01 GMT Friday – Fears for tourism in Bali amid coronavirus pandemic

Indonesia will suspend its visa-on-arrival policy for a month from Friday to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus in the archipelago, effectively shutting the country’s tourism.

For the resort island of Bali, where more than three-quarters of the economy is linked to tourism, the de-facto border closure could prove catastrophic for the population of 4.2 million people.

Read the full story here.

23:55 GMT Thursday – US court declines to release immigration detainees

A federal judge in the US has declined to order the release of immigration detainees who may be especially vulnerable to the new coronavirus because they are old or have underlying health conditions, according to the Associated Press news agency.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project sought the release of nine detainees at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Northwest detention centre in Tacoma in the state of Washington.

US District Judge James L Robart said he was aware of the gravity and rapidly evolving nature of the COVID-19 crisis, but that there was no evidence of an outbreak at the privately-run jail or that the agency’s precautions were inadequate.

20:00 GMT – Potential treatment touted by Trump already in shortage

Supply of a malaria treatment that has been tried with some success against the new coronavirus is in short supply as demand surges amid the fast-spreading outbreak, according to independent pharmacies and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).

The ASHP, which maintains a list of drugs in shortage independent of the US Food and Drug Administration’s list, plans to add the generic malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to its list of shortages later on Thursday, according to Erin Fox, senior director of drug information at the University of Utah Health, who maintains the shortages list for the ASHP.

The FDA could not be immediately reached for comment, but hydroxychloroquine is not currently on its list of drugs in shortage.

President Donald Trump on Thursday called on US health regulators to expedite potential therapies aimed at treating COVID-19 for which there is no approved treatments or vaccines.

19:55 GMT – US sick leave aid leaves millions of workers in the cold

It is usually standing room only at O’Duffy’s Pub on St Patrick’s Day, as patrons clad in green pack into the bar to share a drink or two and plenty of food. But this year, owner Jamie Kavanaugh and one of his bartenders sat alone on the holiday that commemorates Ireland’s patron saint. Like restaurants across the country, Kavanaugh’s Kalamazoo, Michigan, bar is now only allowed to serve takeaway food as part of social distancing rules meant to curb the coronavirus pandemic. 

“People are usually celebrating, smiling, toasting one another, sharing hugs and smiles. Instead, the pub is empty,” Kavanaugh told Al Jazeera. “People that came in for takeout didn’t even want to come in the door, and they’re afraid to use the pen to sign.” 

Read more here.

I am Ted Regencia in Kuala Lumpur with Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the unfolding coronavirus pandemic.

For all the updates from yesterday (March 19), please click here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies