The Latest: WHO director warns ‘millions could die’
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— WHO director says “millions could die” without aggressive action.
— With more than 6,000 new infections in Italy, worldwide total exceeds 500,000.
— China temporarily bars all foreign nationals.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization has warned G20 leaders that “without aggressive action in all countries, millions could die” from the new coronavirus outbreak.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a video message to the leaders of the world’s top powers, said “only time will tell” what the full economic, political and social fallout will be.
“But we know that the price we end up paying depends on the choices we make now,” Tedros said. “This is a global crisis that demands a global response.”
He noted “sacrifices” made by some countries including “drastic social and economic restrictions” like shutting schools and businesses and urging people to stay home.
“These measures will take some of the heat out of the epidemic, but they will not extinguish it,” he said. “We must do more.”
Tedros called for training and deployment of health workers to test, isolate and treat cases — and trace their contacts. He decried a global shortage of personal protective equipment that endangers front-line responders. He urged countries to boost output of such items, and lift export bans and boost distribution of them.
“The actions we take now will have consequences for decades to come,” he said. “We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear us apart — if we let it.”
BERLIN — Germany’s central state of Hesse says it is taking in 14 patients from Italy and France who are seriously ill with the new coronavirus.
Authorities said Thursday that 10 patients from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and four from Grand-Est in France would be transferred to Hesse.
At least five of Germany’s 16 states have made similar offers, with some already taking in patients.
Hesse’s governor, Volker Bouffier, said that “in the crisis we stand together.” He said the patients would be distributed across several hospitals in the state of about 6.2 million.
Germany’s foreign ministry tweeted that the country has so far offered to take in 47 patients from Italy. The number of patients from France wasn’t provided.
Germany has confirmed more than 43,000 cases of COVID-19 but so far just 239 deaths, a far lower rate than most European countries.
Experts said Thursday that the country has prepared a large number of specialist hospital beds for what is expected to be a continued rise in the number of patients requiring intensive treatment.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is planning a virtual commemoration of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., 52 years after he was killed in the Tennessee city.
The museum will produce a digital broadcast on April 4 featuring segments from past ceremonies, with remarks from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. James Lawson, friends and colleagues of the late civil rights leader. A choir performance, an excerpt of his famed speech “The Mountaintop” and a moment of silence also are planned.
King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.
LONDON — The British government has unveiled another massive income support scheme, this time for 5 million or so self-employed people, many of whom face financial ruin from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.
Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will replicate the one he announced last week for those workers that firms retained rather than lay off.
At a virtual press briefings, Sunak said the government will pay self-employed people, who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus outbreak, a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the past three years, up to 2,500 pounds ($2,975) per month.
He said the scheme will cover 95% of Britain’s self-employed and will only be open to those who make the majority of their income from self-employment so only the “genuinely self-employed” benefit.
He said the scheme, which will be open for at least three months, should be in a position to start handing over the grants by the start of June.
“The scheme I have announced today is fair. It is targeted at those who need it the most and crucially, it is deliverable,” he said.
KYIV, Ukraine — The president of Ukraine says the country’s borders will be entirely closed by the end of Friday.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the closure includes Ukrainian citizens abroad. He charged diplomats with taking responsibility for Ukrainians outside the country.
“Today we don’t have time to wait. We faced a difficult choice between citizens who are still abroad and the security of 40 million citizens within the country,” Zelenskiy said.
Ukraine has recorded 156 cases of novel coronavirus infection and five deaths.
MIAMI — Miami-area hospitals say they are treating crew members from two Costa Cruise ships, the Magica and Favolosa.
The ships remain offshore, but about a dozen sick crew members were sent Thursday to Jackson Health, the University of Miami and Baptist Health.
The hospitals said in a joint statement that “while we are all committed to preserving resources for our own residents, an international community like Miami would never turn our backs on people aboard ships at our shores.”
Carnival Corp., which owns the cruise line, says the ships are empty except for crew members. They both were last in port at the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, the Magica on March 17 and the Favolosa on Saturday, according to vesselfinder.com.
The cruise line says about 30 crew members have shown flu-like symptoms, but only about a dozen have been evacuated so far. The Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and local agencies are working to get the sick crew members to shore.
FRANKFURT, Germany — German airline Lufthansa and its budget arm Eurowings are leaving neighboring seats empty on all flights from and within Germany as a means of ensuring physical distance.
The distancing measure takes effect on Friday, the airline said in a statement Thursday.
Passengers will board at terminal gates and not by bus whenever possible. The airline said the distancing measure would not apply to flights to Germany in order to help as many German residents as possible get home.
Distancing measures have already been implemented at check-in and during on-board service.
ROME — Italy has reported 6,153 new coronavirus infections, pushing the global total over half a million, based on a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Italy now has 80,539 cases, almost as many as China. Italy’s Civil Protection Agency reported 662 deaths on Thursday, bringing the country’s death toll to 8,165, which is the highest in the world.
MOSCOW — The Russian military said its personnel have deployed to Bergamo in northern Italy on to help local clinics treat coronavirus patients.
Russian Maj. Gen. Sergei Kikot said the Russian military personnel is split in eight teams, each having doctors, nurses and support workers.
Kikot leads the group of Russian military medics sent to Italy earlier this week on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orders to help fight the epidemic. At Italian authorities’ request, they will be sent to sanitariums for the elderly patients in Bergamo to assist the local medical staff.
The Russian group also has disinfection equipment.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian lawmakers on Thursday voted to shut down Parliament because of fears over the spread of the coronavirus. The Balkan country is in a state of emergency until April 13 and until then, sittings will only be convened when emergency laws are adopted.
The ruling parties said the temporary shutdown was a preventive measure to protect lawmakers who are sitting too close together in the chamber. The government’s advice for social distancing requires everyone to stay at least 2 meters (7 feet) away from each other to limit contact.
But opposition lawmakers voiced fears that the move could jeopardize democracy and open doors for dictatorship.
Bulgaria has confirmed at least 264 cases and three deaths from the coronavirus. Of those infected with COVID-19, eight people have recovered.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s top health official has resigned, the second to do so in less than two weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Interim Health Secretary Concepción Quiñones stepped down on Thursday. She was appointed after former Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez resigned earlier this month after the governor and others complained about how the department was handling COVID-19 cases.
A new health secretary has not been announced for the U.S. territory, which has reported two coronavirus deaths and more than 60 confirmed cases.
WASHINGTON — The Navy says an outbreak of COVID-19 infections aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific has forced it to divert to Guam so that all 5,000 aboard will undergo testing.
The acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, told reporters that the carrier remains “operationally capable.” Even so, other officials said the number of infected sailors has risen sharply, from three reported initially to “dozens” as of Thursday.
Modly said the carrier, which is the first U.S. Navy ship to have a reported outbreak while at sea, had about 800 COVID-19 test kits aboard and more were being delivered. He said the initially reported cases were sailors with relatively mild symptoms.
The Navy said earlier this week that the Theodore Roosevelt’s most recent port call was in Vietnam.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s coronavirus cases are closing in on 1,000 as the total number of cases across Africa have risen above 3,000.
On the eve of a three-week lockdown, the South African government said Thursday it has 927 cases, the most of any African country. Its brief statement did not mention any deaths.
Forty-six of Africa’s 54 countries now have the virus. At least 73 deaths have been reported across the continent, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government has been in discussions with the White House about persuading the U.S. not to put troops on its border with Canada amid the pandemic.
Trudeau noted Canada and the United States have the longest un-militarized border in the world and it is very much in their mutual interests for it to remain that way. He says it has benefited both economies tremendously.
BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are calling for urgent and “massive” coordinated international action to stop the coronavirus pandemic.
Following a videoconference with G20 leaders, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel said in a joint statement that “fast, massive and coordinated global action is necessary on the health and economic fronts to save lives and avoid a further economic crisis.”
Michel and von der Leyen thanked G20 leaders for the solidarity shown to Europe. They stressed that the EU is determined to assist countries vulnerable to the crisis outside the 27-member bloc, “especially in Africa.”
The duo also insisted it’s crucial to keep trade flows and supply chains open in the economic response to the crisis in order “to maintain our ability to manufacture and provide the necessary protective and medical equipment.”
The EU also asked G20 members “to assist each other in repatriating citizens stranded abroad who wish to return home.”
RABAT, Morocco — Hundreds of tourists who were traveling in Morocco in motorhomes have found themselves stranded in a parking lot near a Tangier highway that authorities turned into a makeshift quarantine center.
The mostly British tourists were told they were no longer allowed to wait at the Moroccan side of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.
They were there in the hope of being allowed entry into Spain. Ceuta is just over 20 kilometers across the sea from Gibraltar, which is British.
Moroccan authorities are in the process of equipping the parking lot with electricity and essential accommodation. The tourists fear they may have to stay there for months. The British embassy declined to comment.
ATHENS, Greece — A group of lawyers has appealed to Greece’s highest court against the ban on services in churches and places of worship across the country, imposed last week to fight the coronavirus spread.
In a legal action made public Thursday, the four lawyers claim the temporary prohibition is unconstitutional and illegal.
The measure was taken March 16 and applies through March 30. The appeal is set to be heard May 5.
Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church had initially hesitated to take substantial measures to address the epidemic, and refused to stop the Communion sacrament in which the faithful sip from a common spoon. People are still allowed to visit churches to pray, so long as they keep a 6-foot distance from each other.
BEIJING — China is temporarily barring all foreign nationals from entry as it seeks to curb the number of imported COVID-19 cases.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that foreign nationals with residence permits will be prevented from entering the country starting on Saturday. All visa-free transit policies also will be temporarily suspended.
Diplomatic workers will be exempt, while foreign nationals coming to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs” can still apply for visas, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries,” the statement said.
As the number of China’s reported domestic COVID-19 cases has dwindled, it has had to contend with imported infections from recent overseas arrivals. These individuals have accounted for the majority of China’s new cases for more than a week.
LOS ANGELES — The FBI has arrested a Southern California man who officials say falsely claimed to have developed a cure for the coronavirus.
The U.S. Justice Department says in a statement that Keith Lawrence Middlebrook told his 2.4 million Instagram followers that his company would return hundreds of millions of dollars in profit and solicited investments in the company to market the medication.
The statement says Middlebrook claimed he had developed pills to prevent COVID-19 infections and a drug to cure those suffering from the virus.
There are no known cures or vaccinations for the coronavirus. It wasn’t known if Middlebrook has an attorney who could comment.
DENVER — A statewide stay-at-home order is in effect in Colorado to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday he was taking the “extreme measure” because the restrictions taken to date haven’t been enough to reduce the spread of the virus. Polis says if people don’t follow the order there will be a much worse economic disaster with greater disruption for a longer time.
Starting Thursday, the state’s 5.7 million people should only leave home for grocery shopping, medical care, exercise or taking care of a vulnerable person. It’s in effect until April 11.
JERUSALEM — Israeli airline El Al says it is suspending all flights to and from Israel beginning at midnight.
The suspension will last until April 4.
A statement from the company says it made the decision because of a sharp decline in demand and to protect passengers and crew from infection.
Like other airlines, El Al has faced a crisis following the spread of the coronavirus and is seeking government assistance.
The company, which had previously suspended flights from certain countries with outbreaks, has already laid off a chunk of its workforce.
WARSAW, Poland — The chief rabbi of Poland says the Jewish community in Warsaw is saying kaddish, or a reciting special prayer for the dead, for communities in the United States, Israel and elsewhere in Europe as synagogues in most places can no longer holds services because of the coronavirus.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, originally from New York, told The Associated Press on Thursday the historic Nozyk Synagogue in the Polish capital is still holding prayers services. A minyan, or a gathering of at least 10 adult males, is required for kaddish to be said under Jewish law.
He says requests for prayers for departed loved ones have come in from New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere in the United States, as well Canada, the U.K. and Israel.
Schudrich says the prayers offer “some consolation at a difficult time” for the mourners. Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community before the Holocaust.