Approximately 70 people are reportedly trapped in the collapsed hotel in the city of Quanzhou. The number of cases from the new coronavirus has topped 100,000 worldwide as official Chinese data showed a significant hit to the country’s exports after the outbreak caused massive disruptions to business operations and economic activity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) called the spread of the virus “deeply concerning” as a wave of countries reported on Saturday their first cases of the COVID-19 disease, which has now killed nearly 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 across 92 nations and territories. In South Korea, authorities reported hundreds of new cases of infections on Saturday, bringing the total above 7,000, while the United States was battling to contain an outbreak on the Grand Princess cruise ship where 21 people have tested positive for the virus.
Here are all the latest updates.
Saturday, March 7
17:30 GMT – Number of coronavirus deaths and cases rise in Italy
The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy slowed down, but the total number of cases in the country leapt by over 1,200, the Civil Protection Agency said. Deaths due to the infectious virus were up 36 to 233, the head of the agency, Angelo Borrelli, said in a news conference. They were up 49 on Friday, in the biggest rise since the outbreak of the illness in Italy. The total number of cases in the country was up to 5,883 compared to 4,636 announced on Friday, showing that contagion shows no sign of slowing down.
16:36 GMT – Coronavirus spreads in French parliament
A second member of France’s National Assembly has been taken to hospital after contracting coronavirus and five other lawmakers are being tested for the illness, the lower house’s presidency said in a statement. The Assembly did not name the two legislators who have caught the disease but local media in the eastern region of Alsace have reported that the first of the two MPs is Jean-Luc Reitzer, who represents one of the departments most affected by the outbreak and is currently under intensive care. The second one is a woman, according to the statement by the parliament.
15:46 GMT – Number of coronavirus cases in Germany jumps to 684
The number of coronavirus patients in Germany jumped to 684, with concern growing at the economic impact of the spreading epidemic on one of the world’s most trade-dependent economies. The number of patients recorded by the Robert Koch Institute had risen by 45, with large clusters in the west and south, where one initial outbreak centred on a car supplier with a unit in Wuhan, where the infection was first detected. The total is more than 10 times larger than it was a week ago. There were 66 cases in February 29.
15:30 GMT – Scores trapped as hotel used for quarantine collapses in China
Approximately 70 people were trapped in a collapsed hotel in the city of Quanzhou, in southeastern Fujian province, the city government said on its website. The collapsed hotel is used for coronavirus quarantine, according to the official People’s Daily. Twenty-three people were rescued, the city government said.
GMT 14:34 – Number of UK coronavirus cases rises to 206
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom has risen to 206, a rise of 43, British health officials said. So far in Britain, two patients who had confirmed positive for the virus have died, the health ministry and the Public Health England agency said.
12:45 GMT – Pope to deliver Sunday prayer by livestream
Pope Francis has cancelled his main public appearances to avoid crowds gathering to see him and will stream them on the internet from inside the Vatican because of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. The Vatican said the pope would not address crowds from a window overlooking St Peter’s Square and would not hold his general audience there either on Wednesday.
They will be held without general public participation from inside the Vatican. The 83-year-old pope cancelled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy, but the Vatican has said he is suffering only from a cold that is “without symptoms related to other pathologies”.
12:30 GMT – ‘I ain’t playing’ with no fans: NBA player
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said he will not take to the court if the NBA bars fans from attending games to limit the spread of the coronavirus. American media reported that the NBA had sent a memo to teams detailing the need for contingency plans in case it becomes necessary to play games with only essential staff present. “Play games without the fans? No, that’s impossible. I ain’t playing,” James told reporters after the Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 113-103 on Friday to clinch a playoff berth. “That’s who I play for. I play for my team-mates, I play for the fans, that’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena and there are no fans in there, I ain’t playing. They can do what they want to do,” added the 35-year-old James, who is widely regarded as one of the best basketball players of all time.
12:15 GMT – Leader of Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party tests positive
Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party, is the latest person to have tested positive for coronavirus in Europe’s hardest-hit country. “I have coronavirus too,” Zingaretti said in a video posted on Facebook, adding he was in self-isolation at home. The 54-year-old said he was well, adding that all the people he had been interacting with in recent days were being contacted for tests. “No panic,” the leftish leader added. “I’ll give the good example following doctors’ instruction by working from home. I’m fighting for each of us and for the whole country,” he said. With 4,636 registered cases, Italy is behind only China, South Korea and Iran in terms of the number of infected people.
11:45 GMT – Second case in South Africa
South Africa has found a second case of the new coronavirus, according to the health ministry. The latest patient is a 39-year-old woman from the northern province of Gauteng who was in contact with the country’s first case from KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal province of the south. She was part of a group that travelled to Italy, according to a statement by the ministry, which assured that the whereabouts of the other members of the group have been found and that they have all been tested. Authorities are currently waiting for the results.
11:20 GMT – First Cambodian tests positive
Cambodia has confirmed its second case of coronavirus: a 38-year-old man who had direct contact with a Japanese visitor who later tested positive for the virus. Health ministry spokesman Or Vandin told reporters that the Japanese man had left Cambodia from Siem Reap, close to the ancient Angkor Wat temple, one of the region’s top tourist attractions. Cambodia had earlier reported a virus infection in a Chinese man. He recovered and went home.
11:00 GMT – First case in Malta
A 12-year-old Italian girl becomes Malta’s first case of coronavirus. The girl, who lives in the Mediterranean island, is currently receiving treatment in the infectious diseases unit of the state hospital, said Health Minister Chris Fearne. She returned in late February from the northern Italian region of Trentino, passing through Italy’s capital Rome with her parents and sister. The family self-quarantined as instructed, but the girl started to experience symptoms. She was tested on Friday and results came back positive on Saturday morning.
10:45 GMT – Iran death toll jumps to 145
Over the past 24 hours, Iran has registered 21 more deaths due to the coronavirus, bringing the total to 145. A health ministry official also said the people testing positive for the virus had risen to 5,823.
10:31 GMT – Vietnam records new cases
Following a swift response by authorities in Vietnam, where the first 16 people who tested positive for the coronavirus fully recovered, the country has now registered two more cases. The Ministry of Health confirmed on Saturday that a 27-year-old patient who had been to the South Korean city of Daegu, returned to Vietnam on a Vietject flight on Wednesday and was quarantined upon his landing. On Friday, authorities reported the country’s first case in three weeks after a woman, 26, returned to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, from Europe. Police are now in the process of verifying the 201 passengers and 16 crew members on board the 26-year-old woman’s flight. All the streets in the area where the woman lives have been closed and disinfected.
09:38 GMT – Maldivian islands locked down
Three islands in the Maldives have been locked down after several foreign nationals were feared to have contracted the new coronavirus, according to health officials. Two tourists from Italy were staying on Kuredu resort, an island off the capital, Male, and were due to be shifted to a quarantine facility for treatment. Summer Island in Kaafu Atoll was also placed in lockdown after two French tourists showed symptoms. Thinadhoo island was also in lockdown after it became known that an Italian tourist who stayed there tested positive after returning home. A doctor working on the island has also shown symptoms of the virus and was transferred to a quarantine facility. Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Friday decided to ban all passengers from Italy as well as those who travelled to the European country within the past 14 days.
08:53 GMT – Iranian MP dies: Tasnim
Fatemeh Rahbar, who was recently re-elected as a member of Iran’s parliament, has died from the new coronavirus, according to Tasnim news agency. The semi-official news agency said Rahbar, 55, had spent two days in a coma in a hospital in the capital, Tehran.
08:23 GMT – South Korea reports 274 new cases
The total number of people infected in South Korea has risen to 7,041, as the country confirmed 274 more cases. The announcement came hours after South Korean authorities reported 483 new cases of infections.
08:11 GMT – Philippines confirms community transmission
The health ministry of the Philippines said it had confirmed its first case of community transmission for the new coronavirus, prompting officials to call on the president to declare a public health emergency to contain its spread. The case involves a 62-year-old male Filipino who had not travelled abroad recently. His 59-year-old wife has also been infected, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the country to six, the health ministry said, adding that both are being treated at a government hospital. The health ministry declared a code red alert which calls on medical professionals to be prepared to report for duty and recommended that President Rodrigo Duterte declare a public health emergency to help with the procurement of critical supplies as well as with quarantine measures. “This is a pre-emptive call to ensure that national and local governments and public and private healthcare providers can prepare for possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque told reporters.
07:56 GMT – Qatar reports 12th case
Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health announced the country’s 12th case: a Qatari citizen who returned from Iran recently who was subjected to quarantine upon his arrival.
The patient is in stable condition, the ministry said in a statement, adding that the infected person “has not had contact with community members since his arrival”.
“The risk of outbreaks of the disease in the wider community in Qatar is still low,” the statement noted.
07:34 GMT – China trade takes major hit
China’s exports fell by double digits in the first two months of the year as anti-virus controls closed factories, while imports sank by a smaller margin. Overseas shipments tumbled 17.2 percent from a year earlier to $292.4bn, a sharp reverse from December’s 7.8 percent rise, customs data showed. Imports declined 4 percent to $299.5bn, down from the previous month’s 16.3 percent gain. Trade was poised for a boost after Beijing and Washington removed punitive tariffs on some of each other’s goods in a trade truce signed in January. But that was offset by Chinese anti-virus controls that shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy in late January. Exports to the US plunged 27.7 percent in January and February to $43bn, worsening from December’s 12.5 percent decline. Imports of US goods crept up 2.5 percent to $17.6bn, but China still recorded a $25.4bn trade surplus with the US. China’s global trade balance fell to a $7.1bn deficit for the first two months of the year.
07:15 GMT – US tourist is Costa Rica’s first coronavirus case
A US tourist on a trip to Costa Rica has tested positive for the coronavirus, the first confirmed case in Central America, the country’s health minister announced. The 49-year-old woman had contracted the virus before entering the country on March 1, Health Minister Daniel Salas said, according to the AFP news agency. The woman is currently “in strict isolation” in a hotel in the capital San Jose with her husband, who Salas said had contact with people in New York who had tested positive for the virus. “The man has not manifested symptoms. The lady has, but they are very mild flu symptoms, diarrhoea and abdominal pain,” the minister told a news conference hosted jointly with President Carlos Alvarado.
04:00 GMT – Two dead in Florida
Florida health officials announced that two people who tested positive for the new coronavirus have died. The Florida Department of Health said the patients were in their 70s and had travelled overseas. One was a man with underlying health issues in Santa Rosa County, in Florida’s Panhandle, according to the statement. It added that the second death was that of an elderly person in Lee County, in the Fort Myers area. The statement did not indicate where the two had travelled. As of Friday, Florida authorities said seven people in the state have tested positive for coronavirus.
02:54 GMT – US raises travel alert levels for Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan
The US State Department has raised its alert level for travel to Azerbaijan, warning Americans to reconsider travel there due to a coronavirus outbreak and response measures implemented by the country’s government. The State Department also raised its alert level for travel to Turkmenistan due to travel restrictions and quarantine procedures instituted in response to the virus. Neither country has reported many cases but both border Iran, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus. The State Department slapped a travel advisory warning on Iran last month, urging Americans not to travel to the country.
02:25 GMT – S Korea confirms 483 new coronavirus cases
South Korea on Saturday reported 483 additional coronavirus cases from late on Friday, taking the national tally to 6,767, Yonhap news agency quoted the Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (KCDC) as saying. The death toll also rose to 46 from 44, Kwon Jun-wook, the KCDC deputy director, told a briefing. Most of the cases of infections were traced from a religious sect in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people.
01:38 GMT – 2 US health screeners at LAX positive for coronavirus
Two federal health screeners at Los Angeles International Airport have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to an email sent to their colleagues late on Friday, Reuters reported on Saturday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employees were conducting a secondary screening of passengers arriving from overseas, including from China, and have been directed to self-quarantine until March 17, the email said. “At this time, we cannot confirm where these two screeners were exposed,” said the email, which was sent by a senior CDC official. “Let us keep our colleagues in our thoughts during this period.”
00:56 GMT – Two AIPAC conference attendees test positive for coronavirus
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group, also known as AIPAC, reported late on Friday that two attendees of its recent conference in Washington, DC, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The group earlier this week hosted a conference attended by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
00:22 GMT – China reports 28 new deaths, 99 new confirmed cases
China’s National Health Commission reported on Saturday at least 28 new coronavirus deaths as of the end of Friday, taking the nationwide death toll to 3,070. The government also reported 99 new confirmed cases on March 6, down from 143 the previous day, with a total of 80,651 cases nationwide. Most of the new cases and deaths were from Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak in China. Meanwhile, on Friday, China’s health agency reported that at least 53,726 people have been discharged from hospitals after recovery.
23:17 GMT Friday – G20 pledges monetary actions in coronavirus response
G20 finance ministers and central bank governors on Friday pledged to take “appropriate” fiscal and monetary measures in responding to the coronavirus outbreak and to protect economic growth against shocks, according to Reuters.
In a joint statement issued by G20 chair Saudi Arabia, the ministers, who met in Riyadh last month, said they welcomed measures and plans already put forward by countries to support economic activity.
“We are ready to take further actions, including fiscal and monetary measures, as appropriate, to aid in the response to the virus, support the economy during this phase and maintain the resilience of the financial system,” the group said.
22:13 GMT – Second coronavirus death confirmed in England
A second patient in England who tested positive for coronavirus has died, the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty confirmed. The patient was being treated at Milton Keynes University Hospital and had underlying health conditions.
22:05 GMT – South by Southwest cancelled
The city of Austin in the US has cancelled the March dates for SXSW, or South by Southwest, and SXSW EDU. “We are devastated to share this news with you. ‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation,” organisers said. The event, held in Texas, is one of the world’s biggest international music festivals and showcases talent from dozens of countries, styles and traditions. In 2019, more than 400,000 people attended the festival.
Taiwan reins in spread of coronavirus as other countries stumble
Experts say ‘hard and bitter’ lessons in dealing with SARS helped Taiwan quickly respond to deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Taipei, Taiwan – With some 850,000 Taiwanese living and working in China, Taiwan could have been one of the hardest hit when the coronavirus outbreak emerged in late December in Wuhan, a central Chinese city of 11 million people and the epicentre of the outbreak. The timing would prove devastating for China and the rest of the world, as the outbreak began to accelerate around Lunar New Year, a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel abroad or return home to see their families. But Taiwan, an island democracy with a population roughly the size of Australia, has kept cases at a minimum of 45 and one death, even as infection rates in China have topped 80,000 and the virus has mushroomed in places like South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy. Taiwan’s success so far in handling the infection has largely been due to its action in the early stage of the contagion, according to experts, even when the virus was still poorly understood and its transmission rate still unclear. It also relied on historic experience rather than waiting for cues from the World Health Organization, which continues to deny Taiwan observer status for political reasons.
“Taiwan was hard hit by SARS and with that hard and bitter lesson Taiwan came very prepared,” said Chunhuei Chi, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. After the SARS epidemic, Taiwan established a central command centre for epidemics the following year, keeping it a few steps ahead of other places in Asia before coronavirus hit, Chi said. The command centre made it easier for medical authorities to gather data, redistribute resources, investigate potential cases and follow up on their contact history, while they also were able to quickly isolate patients found to be carrying the virus. Learning from SARS, Taiwan also quickly conducted health checks on passengers from Wuhan in early January, well before it was understood that the virus could pass between humans.
By the first week of February, Taiwan began rationing surgical masks and restricting the entry of passengers with a travel history in China, while requiring a 14-day quarantine for those who travelled to Macau and Hong Kong. Hand sanitiser and fever checks became customary in many public buildings, while the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies issued daily mobile phone alerts about the latest cases and information on the places they had visited. Jason Wang, the director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention at Stanford University, said the Taiwanese government “was really super alert” in its response.
“When it became clear it was going to become a big issue they started to do more. They were prepared.” Experts said Taiwan’s success is comparable to Singapore’s, where coronavirus cases top 100, although early action has also kept it from spreading further despite its high-risk status as a major Asian transit hub, and strong trade ties with China and Hong Kong. Learning from SARS, Singapore also took early action in imposing health checks before closing its borders in late January to most travellers from China, as well as imposing heavy fines on anyone found violating self-quarantine orders, and shuttering schools and universities. Both Taiwan and Singapore also offered large stimulus packages as the economy has lagged from the coronavirus and a loss of tourism from China. In an article published in The News Lens, Roy Ngerng wrote that Taiwan’s handling of the crisis was even “better than Singapore”.
‘Others slow to act’
While Taiwan and Singapore’s leadership acted swiftly, other countries hit by the virus were either slower to act, or to be open to the public about possible risks. “My impression is – [although] I’m at some distance – that the political leadership [in Singapore and Taiwan] took this queue and advice from the ministry of health from the scientists and the clinicians. I think that’s a very good formula,” said William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University. He said places like the US have been slow to act. Taiwan’s actions contrast sharply with China’s, where decisive action came only after the outbreak had already spread widely. Japan and South Korea were also criticised for their response. Infections in both countries have now reached 1,045 and 6,767 respectively, as of Saturday. Both countries saw a spike from a large group of people on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan’s Yokohama, and South Korea’s Shincheonji Church of Jesus megachurch in February.
Virus still spreading
Critics say Japan’s Shinzo Abe may have been slow to respond as he was also preoccupied with preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in July and the now-delayed visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in April. South Korea’s Moon Jae-in has also come under scrutiny as he downplayed the threat of coronavirus, saying that the worst appeared to be over in mid-February shortly before cases began to skyrocket. As the coronavirus continues to spread east and west, many other countries are finding themselves unprepared to deal with the kind of large-scale epidemic that has not been seen for decades.
In Iran, political infighting and restricted access to information have been cited by experts as reasons why cases have now reached 4,744, with at least 124 deaths, after the virus reportedly first broke out in the holy city of Qom. Narimon Safavi, an Iranian-American entrepreneur and frequent commentator on Iran, said powerful conservative clerics prevented government health authorities from quarantining the city, or halting travel there, including from China. Top leaders and regime insiders have also continued to travel to Qom, an important political and religious centre, Safavi said, spreading the virus even among the Iranian elite, including Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei.
Dilemma in Europe
In Italy, authorities were forced to scramble as the coronavirus spread rapidly across its northern towns. There were at least 4,646 cases and 197 deaths in Italy as of Saturday. Europe’s Schengen Treaty, however, presents several challenges to EU health authorities, as it guarantees the free movement of people, according to Claire Standley, an assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security. Matthew Kavanagh, also a global health expert at Georgetown University, added that many world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, have repeated the mistakes of their Asian counterparts.
“We had an opportunity to really robustly get out there instead of focusing on the likelihood there was an outbreak in the US. Instead, Trump focused on a policy that was purely containment – keeping it out of the US through travel bans and quarantine,” Kavanagh said. Delayed action from the US and much of Europe means that effective but laborious options that were available to Taiwan and Singapore, such as isolating anyone in contact with the virus, are no longer available as it is already spreading through community infection. The US Congress’s emergency $8.3bn coronavirus fund will have to go to initiatives such as rapid testing to assess how far the virus has already spread, public information campaigns, and offsetting economic losses as large scale gatherings and events are cancelled.
‘Community spread is happening’
“At this point in China, in Italy, in South Korea and in the US, we are moving into a place where community spread is happening, which means you can’t quarantine all the people, you can’t stop things through a travel ban,” Kavanagh said. As new challenges from the coronavirus continue to emerge and community infections take root, political leaders who have struggled to act quickly to contain the virus could face more trouble ahead.
In South Korea, more than 1.5 million people have signed a petition calling for Moon to resign, while Japan’s Abe continues to fall in the polls, dropping eight points to 41 percent approval in February, according to Kyodo News Agency. US President Trump, who has faced several concurrent political scandals, could also face more serious questions about his handling of the crisis, threatening his bid for a second term in November. Commentators say even Iran’s seemingly impenetrable leadership is under fire, while China’s all-powerful Communist Party has also been forced to allow some public criticism for its initial mishandling of the outbreak. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who was re-elected by a landslide in January, may find that even as the island remains isolated from the World Health Organization, it may emerge as one of coronavirus’s few victors. (SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS)