Coronavirus Live Updates: W.H.O. Declares Pandemic as Number of Infected Countries Grows

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MARCH 11, 2020

Disinfection work near the Rialto Bridge in Venice on Wednesday. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy the development of a roughly $28 billion plan to confront the coronavirus emergency.

This is a global pandemic, the W.H.O. says.

The spread of the coronavirus across more than 100 countries now qualifies as a global pandemic, World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday, confirming what many epidemiologists have been saying for weeks.

Until now, the W.H.O. had avoided using the term to describe the epidemic leapfrogging across the world, for fear of giving the impression that it was unstoppable and countries would give up on trying to contain it. The organization had said earlier in the outbreak that it no longer officially declared when an epidemic reaches pandemic proportions, preferring instead to declare global public health emergencies.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the W.H.O., said at a news conference in Geneva.

“We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough,” he added. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”

But now there is evidence on six continents of sustained transmission of the virus, which has infected more than 120,000 people and killed more than 4,300, and by most scientific measures the spread qualifies as a pandemic. The designation itself is largely symbolic, but public health officials know that the public will hear in the word elements of danger and risk.

According to the W.H.O., an epidemic is defined as a regional outbreak of an illness that spreads unexpectedly. In 2010, it defined a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease” that affects large numbers of people. The C.D.C. says it is “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”

The W.H.O. had not declared a pandemic since 2009, when it gave that designation to a new strain of H1N1 influenza.

“It is going to get worse,” a leading American scientist says.

A top federal health official gave lawmakers a stark warning on Wednesday that the coronavirus would continue to spread in the United States, and said that fans should be barred from big gatherings like National Basketball Association games.

“The bottom line: It is going to get worse,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight Committee.

“We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” he added. “If that means not having any people in the audience as the N.B.A. plays, so be it.”

The committee hearing quickly devolved into a partisan fight over the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, with Democrats ripping into top health officials and Republicans defending President Trump.

The meeting began with a jarring announcement from the chairwoman, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York. She said the hearing would end early, before noon, because the witnesses had been summoned to the White House for an emergency health meeting.

But White House officials said their meeting was routine.

Governments step up fiscal interventions as the virus threatens economies.

The effort to stem the economic fallout of the coronavirus took on new urgency around the world on Wednesday as ever more sweeping restrictions on the free movement of people threatened to upend daily life in more than 100 countries dealing with the public health crisis.

The Trump administration is considering extending the tax filing deadline from all Americans beyond April 15, while lawmakers are discussing a stimulus package. Democratic lawmakers are drafting their own relief plan.

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled on Wednesday and the volatile trading across global markets signaled that investors remained concerned about how governments would deal with the economic consequences of coronavirus.

Britain’s government promised on Wednesday nearly $39 billion in stimulus to its economy as its new chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, outlined plans to boost public spending and bury the austerity politics of the last decade. Among the pledges he made was about $9 billion to support the self-employed, businesses and vulnerable people and about $6.5 billion for Britain’s frayed National Health Service and other public bodies.

“We are doing everything we can to keep this country and our people healthy and financially secure,” Mr. Sunak told Parliament adding “we will get through this together.”

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy announced that his government was developing a plan to spend about $28 billion to confront the coronavirus emergency. Italy is the hardest hit country outside of China. But China’s new cases have dwindled, while Italy’s are escalating.

“We will do everything necessary,” Mr. Conte said at a news conference.

The plan is expected to include broader unemployment benefits and tax relief for companies, as well as the possibility of parents taking time off work or receiving a “babysitter voucher.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel announced about $2.8 billion spending to counter the economic fallout. Israel has imposed a mandatory 14-day isolation of anyone entering the country, abruptly choking off tourism.

Germany warns that the worst is yet to come.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that the coronavirus was likely to infect about two-thirds of the German population.

“Given a virus for which there is no immunity and no immunization, we have to understand that many people will be infected. The consensus among experts is that 60 to 70 percent of the population will be infected,” she said.

In her first public appearance to address the epidemic, which has already infected more than 1,200 people in Germany, Ms. Merkel said that her government was following the advice of medical experts. She urged citizens to do the same.

“We are at the start of a development that we cannot yet see the end of,” Ms. Merkel told reporters. “But we as a country will do whatever is necessary to do, working within the European bloc.”

That readiness includes flexibility on spending, to help especially the small and midsize enterprises that are losing business, she said.

“This is an exceptional situation, and we will do whatever is needed,” Ms. Merkel said. “We won’t ask every day, ‘What does this mean for our deficit?’”

The chancellor urged Germans to accept that it was important to stay home whenever possible and take precautions to ensure that the health system would be able to withstand the high number of people who could fall seriously ill.

Major events, including all large cultural performances in Berlin, Munich and elsewhere, such as many soccer games, have either been canceled or will take place without spectators. “How we respond matters,” Ms. Merkel said. “We are playing for time.”

Stocks drop again, as investors wait for Trump to act.

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled on Wednesday, as topsy-turvy trading across global markets signaled continued investor concern about how governments would deal with the coronavirus fallout.

In Europe, major indexes in Frankfurt, London and Paris fell, giving up early gains that had come after the Bank of England said it would cut interest rates to help British businesses. Shares in Asia also fell.

Investors are vacillating between the threat that the coronavirus poses to the global economy and the hopes that governments will unveil a series of measures to help businesses.

President Trump has signaled that he will consider ways to stimulate the economy. Options include cutting payroll taxes and extending the American tax filing deadline past April 15. But so far, the White House has yet to announce any specific measures, and most experts say a payroll tax cut is not an effective way to combat the problems facing the economy.

The S&P 500 fell more than 2 percent in early trading on Wednesday. Stocks tumbled nearly 8 percent on Monday, and rose nearly 5 percent on Tuesday.

Other markets signaled persistent investor jitters. Futures for gold, a traditional haven, edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond fell, another indicator of investor nervousness.

Oil prices fell after the Saudi Arabian state oil company said for the second time this week that it would expand production capacity. The announcement signaled no let up in Saudi Arabia’s clash with Russia over supplies, which sent crude prices crashing this week.

As virus races across Europe, nations step up restrictions.

The speed of the coronavirus spread across Europe has left countries scrambling to come up with a coordinated containment plan.

At the end of February, European nations other than Italy had reported just a few dozen cases. Now, Italy has more than 12,460 cases, jumping more than 2,000 in a day. France, Germany and Spain have well over 1,000 cases each.

Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland each have at least 400 confirmed infections. Denmark and Belgium have both reported more than 250 cases, and Sweden has more than 350. Belgium reported its first death on Wednesday.

Even the island nation of Iceland has not escaped, with 81 infections in a population of about 364,000, one of the highest number of cases per capita worldwide.

Italy, with more than 800 deaths linked to the virus and more than 6,800 people hospitalized, has imposed strict travel limits across the entire country and banned public gatherings.

Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister, said Italy’s sacrifices would serve the entire continent.

“Today, the red zone is Italy,” he said, but if containment measures fail, “the red zone will be Europe.”

Some of the countries with the fewest cases are taking the most drastic actions.

Greece and Ukraine announced this week the closing of all schools, universities, and kindergartens. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government declared a “state of emergency” on Tuesday, granting his administration special powers to address the coronavirus outbreak, including closing universities and theaters.

Poland, which on Wednesday had 25 confirmed cases, will also shut down theaters, museums and art galleries for two weeks starting Friday.

Denmark has suspended naturalization ceremonies because a handshake is officially required for their completion.

In an unusual three-hour teleconference on Tuesday night, the European Council, which comprises the heads of government of the European Union states, decided to set up a $28 billion investment fund and to relax rules governing airlines.

But the leaders failed to overcome disagreements among bloc members about sharing medical equipment like face masks and respirators, given that health issues are the responsibility of national governments.

After the meeting, President Emmanuel Macron of France said: “What we are living is a true world crisis.”

Delays in testing set back the U.S. coronavirus response.

In late January, the first confirmed American case of coronavirus had been reported in the Seattle area. Had the man infected anyone else? Was the virus already spreading?

Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert in Seattle, had a way to monitor the region. As part of a research project into the flu, she and a team of researchers had been collecting nasal swabs for months from residents experiencing symptoms.

To repurpose the samples for coronavirus testing, they would need the support of state and federal officials. But officials repeatedly rejected her idea, interviews and emails show, as weeks crawled by and outbreaks emerged outside of China.

By Feb. 25, Dr. Chu and her colleagues could not wait any longer. They began performing tests without government approval. What came back confirmed the worst: a teenager with no recent travel history was infected.

In fact, officials would later discover through testing, the virus had already contributed to the deaths of two people. It would kill 20 more in the Seattle region over the following days.

Federal and state officials said the flu study could not be repurposed because Dr. Chu’s lab did not have explicit permission from research subjects; the lab was also not certified for clinical work. While acknowledging the ethical questions, Dr. Chu and others argued there should be more flexibility in an emergency.

The failure to tap into the flu study was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more testing during the early days of the outbreak.

Even now, after weeks of mounting frustration with federal agencies over flawed test kits and burdensome rules, states are struggling to test widely for the coronavirus. The continued delays have made it impossible for officials to get a true picture of the scale of the growing outbreak.

Common questions about the coronavirus, and other ways to prepare.

The Times is answering some of the most common questions that readers are asking about how they can prepare for the coronavirus, how they can boost their immune systems and how they should react to the market. (Don’t, probably.)

The U.S. caseload has surpassed 1,000.

As the United States scrambled to understand the scope of the escalating public health crisis, the number of known U.S. cases of coronavirus infection jumped by more than one-third on Tuesday, passing 1,000.

As of early Wednesday, people in 37 states and Washington, D.C., had tested positive for the virus. There were at least 31 related deaths.

Officials around the country took increasingly drastic measures to try to slow the virus’s spread. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State planned to announce on Wednesday a prohibition on community gatherings of 250 or more people in the Seattle area, according to a person involved in the discussions.

Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky urged churches to cancel worship services this weekend, a significant measure in a deeply religious state.

“I know that’s a big step,” Mr. Beshear said. “I know that some won’t agree with it.”

New York plans to shut down schools and other gathering places in a suburban town with one of the country’s biggest case clusters.

In California, second only to Washington State in the number of cases, passengers continued to disembark from the Grand Princess, a cruise ship on which about two dozen people had tested positive for the virus. As of Tuesday evening, about 1,406 people had been able to leave the ship, going into a mandatory two-week quarantine.

And across the country, more colleges canceled in-person classes, including Michigan State University and Georgetown University. Some told students not to return after their spring breaks.

Among the newly announced cases are those of three Transportation Security Administration agents who work at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

The I.R.S. could extend the tax payment deadline past April 15.

The Treasury Department is considering delaying tax payments beyond the April 15 deadline, according to a person familiar with the plans, as taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service brace for economic disruption from the spread of the coronavirus.

Treasury and White House officials have been discussing the idea of extending the tax deadline over the past week as the administration considers measures to relieve financial pressure on individuals and businesses struggling with fallout from a virus that has closed schools, kept workers at home and disrupted supply chains.

The I.R.S. could extend the tax payment deadline or waive penalties and interest for late payments.

The plan, which was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, came as Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee wrote to Charles Rettig, the I.R.S. commissioner, to ask for an update on the effect of the outbreak on tax filing season and for an evaluation of whether the agency needed to re-evaluate the traditional April 15 deadline.

On Monday, as stock markets plunged, President Trump said the administration would consider economic stimulus options, including a payroll tax cut and other relief. Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said on Tuesday that the administration could use executive authority to help individuals and businesses, noting that “we have leverage on tax deferral.”

Delaying tax day would also ease logistical problems that the I.R.S. could face if more government workers were forced to work remotely. The tax collection agency has service centers across the country that require staff to have face-to-face contact with the general public.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast confirm first cases.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, still recovering from a major Ebola outbreak, reported its first case of the coronavirus on Tuesday evening, officials announced. Ivory Coast did the same on Wednesday.

While cases of the coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa have been limited so far — the World Health Organization reported fewer than 20 cases in the region as of Wednesday, with the largest cluster in South Africa — global health officials worry about the impact a potential outbreak could have on the already stretched health care systems in many nations.

Eteni Longondo, the Congolese health minister, announced in a televised address to the nation that a 52-year-old national who had been in France had tested positive for the virus after arriving in the capital, Kinshasa, last week.

“We are working at tracing and identifying all the people who have had contact with the patient,” Dr. Longondo said, and urged citizens not to panic.

The country just last week announced that its final Ebola patient from an outbreak that began in August 2018 had been released from the hospital, and was preparing to declare itself Ebola-free in the coming weeks. Health officials warned that continued vigilance will be needed to ensure the virus does not re-emerge.

Ivory Coast’s first patient is a 45-year-old Ivorian man who had recently traveled to Italy, Reuters reported, citing the country’s health ministry.

Increasingly isolated, Iraq cancels Friday Prayer.

Iraq announced Wednesday the cancellation of Friday Prayer for a second week, as did Lebanon, while travel restrictions were stepped up across the Middle East.

Any doubt about the religious justification of such a decision was laid to rest by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq, a Shiite leader, who posted his views on his website.

“Whenever and wherever such gatherings are prohibited in order to mitigate the outbreak of the virus, then you must adhere to those instructions,” he said.

Iraq has 71 confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far and seven deaths, but with a major outbreak in neighboring Iran, there are fears that the illness could spread rapidly.

In larger mosques, Friday Prayer can bring several thousands of people together in a small space.

Sunni Muslims in Iraq have received mixed messages about the precautions to take, with some of their religious leaders still urging people to participate in Friday Prayer. But the Sunni Endowment Office — a government body that administers religious sites and real estate in Iraq — has encouraged people to avoid the services and in some provinces has suspended them. In neighboring Iran, Friday Prayer has been canceled for the past two weeks.

Syria on Wednesday joined the list of countries to have closed land borders with Iraq, following Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey. People in Iraq can now only leave the country by air, and even those options are dwindling.

Japanese officials walk back comments on possible Olympics delay.

Organizers of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo on Wednesday sought to dispel confusion over whether the Games would proceed, after a member of the local organizing committee said he would recommend a postponement because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The chairman of the organizing committee, Yoshihiro Mori, held a news conference to reiterate the position of local organizers and the International Olympic Committee that the Games remain on track for late July.

“I think there is an impact,” he said. “But now, experts are discussing the response to it and the W.H.O. will present its basic thoughts soon. Unless there is any such proposal to change the plan, it is a matter of course for us, the organizing committee, to proceed with the games as planned.”

At his side was Haruyuki Takahashi, the member of the local committee who had caused a stir by telling The Wall Street Journal that a delay of one or two years would be the most prudent option if the Olympics could not go on as planned this July. He apologized for his comments.

The Japanese Olympic minister, Seiko Hashimoto, said in Parliament that it was “impossible” that the Games would be delayed.

But later in the day, adding to the confusion, Kyodo News released an interview with Mr. Takahashi in which he stated that he would propose a delay at the next committee meeting in April. Those comments were apparently made before his public apology.


Courtesy/Source: NY Times

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