Latest on the coronavirus: WHO urges world to ‘test,’ deaths pass 7,000
A passenger in protective suit returns from London, amid the outbreak of coronavirus, at Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong, China, on March 17, 2020. (REUTERS Photo)
The World Health Organization called on all countries on March 16 to ramp up their testing programs as the best way to slow the advance of the coronavirus pandemic, and also urged companies to boost production of vital equipment to overcome acute shortages.
"We have a simple message to all countries - test, test, test," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva, calling the pandemic "the defining global health crisis of our time".
"All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded."
Without testing, cases cannot be isolated and the chain of infection will not be broken, he said.
The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms but most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or people with existing health problems. More than 79,000 people have recovered from it so far, mostly in China.
Deaths and infections
- There have now been more cases and more deaths outside mainland China than inside, with 180,000 cases worldwide and over 7,000 deaths.
- Mainland China had 21 new confirmed cases on March 16, the National Health Commission said, up from 16 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 20 involved infected travelers from abroad. Beijing Capital International Airport has cordoned off a special zone for all international flights, with all disembarking passengers required to submit to health checks.
- South Korea reported 84 new coronavirus cases on March 17, marking a third day in a row that the county has reported fewer than 100 new infections. The country said on March 17 it plans to tighten border checks for all arrivals from overseas to prevent new cases.
- Mongolia has reported three new coronavirus cases among citizens repatriated by specially chartered planes from South Korea and Germany.
- Hong Kong will quarantine for 14 days all people entering the city starting midnight on March 19 to prevent an "explosion" of coronavirus cases around the world.
- The Japanese government will ask all travelers from Europe, including its own citizens, to quarantine themselves for two weeks on arrival, TV Asahi reported on March 17. The government also will begin refusing entry of foreign nationals who have been in certain areas of Spain, Italy and Switzerland, as well as all of Ireland, the report said.
- Australia is considering tougher restrictions on public gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus as the Sydney Opera House closed its doors, national airline Qantas slashed its international flight capacity and courts suspended hearings. Compared to other countries, Australia has so far experienced relatively low exposure to the coronavirus, with around 400 cases and five deaths.
- The Philippines' health ministry on March 17 reported 45 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the country's total to 187, all but three of those in the past 11 days. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on March 16 ordered a community quarantine covering more than half of the 107 million population to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 12 people there.
- The White House released a series of sweeping guidelines that for the next 15 days will temporarily rewrite the norms of American society. U.S. President Donald Trump urged all older Americans to stay home and everyone to avoid crowds and eating out at restaurants.
- The U.S. Congress is rushing to develop a sweeping economic lifeline for American households and businesses. Democrats said at least $750 billion would be needed.
- Health officials report that six more people have died of the new coronavirus in Washington state, bringing the death toll there to 48.
- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the entire nation to stay home under a quarantine aimed at cutting off the spread of the new coronavirus. Venezuela announced its first two cases on March 13. Three days later, Maduro now says the number has risen to 33.
- Officials in Argentina have confirmed that its chief diplomat in Caracas is among the newly diagnosed cases. The streets of Caracas under the first day of the initial quarantine were deserted and most businesses were closed.
- Mexico's health ministry said on March 16 that confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the country have risen to 82 from 53 a day earlier.
- Brazil approved steps aimed at maintaining the flow of credit in the economy and expanding banks' lending capacity.
- Peru's government deployed masked military personnel to block major roads in Lima.
- In Italy, there were 368 new deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak on March 15, easily the biggest daily toll recorded in any country, including China. However, the virus may be slowing in Italy's worst-hit region, Lombardy.
- Italy on March 16 adopted an emergency decree worth 25 billion euros ($28 billion) to support an already weak economy battered by the worst outbreak of coronavirus in Europe.
- French President Emmanuel Macron on March 16 ordered stringent restrictions on people's movement to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and said the army would be drafted in to help move the sick to hospitals. In France the virus has killed 148 people and infected more than 6,600.
- Stock market regulators in the two European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, Italy and Spain, on March 16 imposed bans on short-selling.
- Spain on March 17 confirmed nearly 2,000 new cases of COVID-19, sending the total spiraling past 11,000, with 491 deaths, the health ministry said. Over the past 24 hours, the number of people infected rose by 1,987, hiking the overall total to 11,178, the ministry's emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said, while indicating the number of people who had recovered stood at 1,098
- China has sent a flight to Milan, Italy to pick up citizens and overseas students, state-run CCTV reported on March 16.
- The Czech Republic sealed off several towns on March 16 and banned people from moving around except for work, shopping and some limited activities until March 24.
- Ireland expects the number of cases to increase to around 15,000 by the end of the month from 169, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on March 16.
- Germany is ready to take on new debt if necessary to cushion the impact of the coronavirus on Europe's largest economy, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on March 16.
- Sweden launched on March 16 a crisis package worth more than $30.94 billion.
- Finland's government will pass emergency legislation on March 17 to close all schools and universities from March 18.
- Ukraine's capital Kiev announced the closure of bars, restaurants, cafes and shopping malls from March 17.
Middle East and Africa
- Iran announced on March 17 another 135 deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the overall toll to 988 in one of the world's worst-hit countries. The total number of confirmed cases to 16,169 as of March 17 noon, according to the health ministry's spokesperson.
- Bahrain reported the Arab Gulf's first death from the coronavirus on March 16 and Saudi Arabia urged its citizens to stay at home. Dozens of Bahrain's reported 227 cases were among citizens evacuated from Iran last week.
- Qatar, where most of the population is made up of expatriates, reported 38 new cases including three Qataris who had been in Europe. This took Qatar's tally to 439 and the total number of infections in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to 1,042.
- Egypt reported on March 16 two more deaths because of coronavirus, bringing the total of coronavirus related deaths in the country to four.
- The United States is unlikely to ease sanctions on Iran despite an appeal from China that it do so because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Tunisia will suspend international flights and close its land border, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said.
- Beirut's usually congested streets were largely free of cars and pedestrians stayed away from its seafront as government measures to curb the spread of coronavirus took effect with varying degrees of success.
- Kenyan authorities raided a shop on March 16 that was allegedly selling fake coronavirus testing kits, as the WHO confirmed at least 327 cases on the continent.
- Some $2.69 trillion in market value was wiped from the SP 500 on March 16 as it suffered its third-largest daily percentage decline on record. Over the past 18 days, the benchmark index has lost $8.28 trillion.
- The European Union will go through a recession this year due to the impact of the coronavirus, EU internal market Commissioner Thierry Breton said on March 16.
- As Boeing and other U.S. aviation companies angle for billions in assistance, airlines and airport operators globally are suspending dividends, selling airplanes and flying cargo on passenger jets amid plunging demand caused by the pandemic.
- Australia's central bank reiterated it stood ready to ease policy further in the face of the 'unprecedented' spread of the coronavirus, adding to speculation of aggressive stimulus this week to counter the widening economic fallout of the pandemic.
- Malaysia has postponed a three-day meeting of finance and central bank officials from APEC countries that was scheduled to start on March 17 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
- The spreading coronavirus is threatening project schedules in the booming U.S. solar industry following a year in which the sector topped natural gas as the nation's top new power source, according to a report published on March 17.
- The Philippine Stock Exchange closed indefinitely on March 17 while currency and bond trading were suspended, the first market shutdowns worldwide in response to the cvirus.
- Carmakers including Fiat Chrysler, Peugeot and Volkswagen cut production at European plants on March 16 as they grappled with the coronavirus crisis and diving demand.
Sports and other events
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on March 17 that Group of Seven leaders had agreed to support a "complete" Olympics, but dodged questions about whether any of the leaders had brought up the possibility of postponement.
- The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games flame handover in Athens next week will be performed in an empty stadium, Greece's Olympic Committee said on March 15.
- UEFA will announce on March 17 that it will postpone its Euro 2020 Championships in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the Financial Times reported on March 16.
- China tentatively plans to reschedule its annual parliament gathering to late April or early May, sources told Reuters.
- Pope Francis' Holy Week and Easter services will be held without the public attending.
- The Kentucky Derby, the first jewel in North American horse racing's Triple Crown, will be postponed to September from May due to the coronavirus.