TOP OF THE HOUR: — WHO warns COVID-19 epidemics “far from over” in Asia and Pacific. — South Korea sending special flights to evacuate citizens from Italy. — Japan extends travel warnings to 49 countries, including U.S. and Britain.
— Opera star Placido Domingo resting at home after catching coronavirus.
The World Health Organization warns that while attention has shifted to epicenters in Western Europe and North America, COVID-19 epidemics are “far from over” in Asia and the Pacific.
Urging governments at all levels in the region to stay engaged in efforts to combat the virus, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr. Takeshi Kasai says, “This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard. We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation.”
He said the WHO realizes there is no one-size-fits-all approach but there are common tactics. “Those are: finding, isolating and testing case early, tracing and quarantining contact quickly, and putting in place multiple public health interventions to place physical distance between people to slow and stop transmission.”
Takeshi also cautioned that countries still need to prepare for large-scale community transmission.
“We need to be clear that even with all of these measures, the risk will not go away as long as the pandemic continues. Rather, these measures can buy us valuable time to prepare,” he said.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea says it will send two special flights to evacuate more than 500 citizens and their families from Italy, which is coping with a devastating coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 11,000 people.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip on Tuesday said all evacuees arriving on Wednesday and Thursday will be tested and quarantined for two weeks at designated facilities if even one of them is found to have the virus.
South Korea has been strengthening border controls to prevent the virus from re-entering the country amid broadening outbreaks in Europe, North America and beyond. The country will enforce two-week quarantines on all arrivals from abroad starting Wednesday.
South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 518 of the country’s 9,786 coronavirus infections have been linked to arrivals from abroad, with most of the cases detected over the past three weeks.
A third Australian state has temporarily banned the sale of guns and ammunition to recreational and sporting shooters as sales surge due to the new coronavirus.
Victoria’s move on Tuesday followed similar restrictions in Queensland and Western Australia state last week.
Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville says federal and state leaders had agreed to curb gun sales at a meeting to coordinate government responses to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Neville says she is concerned that applications to buy guns in Victoria have more than doubled in a week from 1,000 to 2,200 last week.
Professional shooters, security guards and farmers will continue to have access to new firearms and ammunition.
Japan has extended its highest travel warnings to 49 countries, including the United States, Canada and Britain, as well as all of China and South Korea.
The country is urging Japanese citizens not to visit places where coronavirus infections are escalating, the foreign ministry said in a statement Tuesday. The ministry also said returnees and visitors from those nations will be tested for the virus at airports when they arrive and requested to self-quarantine at home or designated facilities for 14 days.
The number of confirmed cases among people arriving at Tokyo’s international airports has surged recently, officials said, citing them as the main sources of infections in Japan.
Japan now has about 2,700 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including 712 from a cruise ship, with 67 deaths.
Opera star Placido Domingo says he is resting at home after catching the new coronavirus.
The tenor said in a statement Monday that he feels fine.
He was reportedly hospitalized in Mexico after publicly acknowledging on March 22 that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and said he was going into isolation.
Domingo, who has longstanding ties to Mexico, had suffered from a fever and a cough.
Domingo wrote that “from the very first symptom I was, as usual, under medical supervision, given my age and my comorbidity.”
“My thoughts right now are with those who suffer and with all those who are generously working to save lives,” he said. "I thank everyone for your affection and once again I recommend everyone to stay safe at home. See you soon.”
The 79-year-old opera singer's illness comes after his own glittering career had recently been stained by sexual misconduct revelations.
Mexico's government has broadened its shutdown of “non-essential activities” to the private sector and prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.
The one-month emergency measures will be in effect from March 30 to April 30. Mexico had previously stopped non-essential government services and banned mass gatherings.
The move came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Mexico reached 1,094, with 28 deaths.
Health Undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell said Monday that Mexicans would be urged to stay off the streets for one month, but announced no sanctions for not doing so. Mexico will ask older people at greater risk to stay home, even if they work in so-called essential sectors like health care or law enforcement.
López-Gatell said traffic in recent days appears to have fallen by about 60%, but added that more was needed.
The measures appeared to be largely voluntary and did not appear to prohibit the street markets that remain active in Mexico.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korean children will start the new school year at home beginning next week as schools prepare to move classes online in the face of the coronavirus threat.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Tuesday said authorities were finalizing plans to begin online classes at some schools on April 9 before expanding further.
He also said the country will have to reschedule college admission processes to ease disruption for high-school seniors.
He didn’t give an estimate on how long the unprecedented remote learning would last.
South Korea had postponed the beginning of the new school year at kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools three times amid the spread of the virus. The previous plan was to open on April 6, which was five weeks later than usual.
Chung says officials decided to keep schools shut because it would be difficult to ensure the safety of children when "not a small number of new patients are emerging every day.”
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted four resolutions, with its 15 members voting by email for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Members voted Monday to keep troops in Sudan’s restive Darfur region until the end of May and maintain the U.N. political mission in Somalia until June 30. They extended the mandate of the U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea until April 30, 2021, and stressed the importance of supporting the U.N.’s far-flung peacekeeping operations.
The U.N.’s most powerful body has been meeting by video conference because of COVID-19, which has hit New York City, where the U.N. has its headquarters, exceedingly hard. The last council meeting at U.N. headquarters was on March 12.
China on Tuesday reported just one new death from the coronavirus and 48 new cases, all brought from overseas.
The epicenter of Wuhan and surrounding province of Hubei again reported no new domestic cases, bringing the city closer to being re-opened to the rest of the province and, eventually, the country.
China has recorded 81,518 cases since the virus was first detected in Wuhan in December, and 3,305 deaths. A total of 76,052 virus patients have been released, and 2,161 remain in care.
The District of Columbia has announced 94 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total to 495, with nine deaths.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government, in coordination with neighboring governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and Ralph Northam of Virginia, issued a stay-at-home order Monday for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents. Bowser has declared a state of emergency, shuttered all schools and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.
White House and Capitol tours have been cancelled and the National Zoo, Smithsonian museum network and Kennedy Center have closed.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says a New Jersey Army National Guardsman is the first U.S. service member to pass away because of the new coronavirus.
The guardsman died on Saturday, according to the Pentagon. The person had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been hospitalized since March 21.
“This is a stinging loss for our military community,” Esper says in a release, “and our condolences go out to his family, friends, civilian co-workers and the entire National Guard community. The news of this loss strengthens our resolve to work ever more closely with our interagency partners to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has a message for Americans — watch what you flush.
“Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging all Americans to only flush toilet paper," the agency says in a statement.
Americans are using far more disinfecting wipes in the coronavirus outbreak, the EPA noted, but disposing of them improperly threatens plumbing, sewer and septic systems.
EPA news statements on aspects of the pandemic shutting down economies and societies around the globe have been limited and include addressing the effectiveness of disinfectants.
The EPA says it’s critical that the nation have “fully operational wastewater services” to contain the virus and protect against other health risks.
President Donald Trump says America will be sending surplus equipment to European nations to help them combat the new coronavirus.
Trump says as U.S. companies ramp up production of ventilators, the U.S. will be able to send excess ventilators to Italy, France, Spain and other hard-hit countries when possible.
Trump, speaking at a coronavirus briefing in the White House Rose Garden, says he spoke with the Italian prime minister on Monday and that the U.S. will be sending about $100 million in medical and hospital items to Italy.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the U.S. has tested more than 1 million samples for the coronavirus — a number he says exceeds that of any other country.
It wasn’t clear if that figure represented actual patients or samples processed. With a population of over 330 million, 1 million patients tested would represent about one-third of one percent of all Americans.
By comparison, South Korea has tested roughly twice as many people as a percentage of its population.
Public health experts have estimated the U.S. should be testing between 100,000 and 150,000 patients daily to track and contain the virus.
Azar said the U.S. is testing “nearly 100,000 samples per day."
The new coronavirus is even having an impact on Colombia’s armed conflict.
One of the nation’s last guerrilla groups — the National Liberation Army — has announced a unilateral ceasefire beginning April 1.
The rebel group says in a statement it will cease hostilities “as a humanitarian gesture with the Colombian people, who are suffering from the devastation of the coronavirus.”
The United Nations secretary general had urged a ceasefire and welcomed the news.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards says he will extend Louisiana's stay-at-home order through the end of April as the number of Louisiana deaths from the COVID-19 disease jumped significantly overnight.
Louisiana's health department reported 185 residents have died from the disease caused by the virus, an increase of 34 from a day earlier. Edwards has said Louisiana has the second-highest COVID-19 death rate per capita among states, and he has warned the New Orleans region is running low on ventilators the hardest-hit patients need.
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she wants the House to be ready as soon as it returns to approve a fourth bill boosting the economy and strengthening the response to the virus.
Pelosi, D-Calif., and two House committee chairmen told reporters they want the package to improve broadband and water infrastructure, bolster hospitals and state and local governments and extend direct payments to Americans. They said it should also strengthen safety requirements for first responders and medical workers and broaden workers' leave for caring for relatives.
The House left Washington on Friday after approving the $2.2 trillion economic relief bill that President Donald Trump has signed, and plans to return as soon as April 20.
TORONTO — A Canadian nursing home has seen seven COVID-19 deaths and at least 24 staff members infected.
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit says the outbreak at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario is believed to be the largest in the province.
The health unit says 10 other staff members are awaiting test results, and another person in the community has died in a case linked to the nursing home.
Public health officials and researchers say social distancing appears to be helping slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Seattle area, where many of the first U.S. deaths occurred.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, the public health officer for Seattle and King County, says a new analysis by the Bellevue-based Institute of Disease Modeling provides a powerful indication that the region needs to double-down on the policies it’s already adopted.
In two papers released Monday, the Institute for Disease Modeling acknowledged that much remains unknown about rates of infection, but based on available data and a variety of assumptions, its computer models suggest that a measure of transmission — an estimate of how many people are infected by each person who is already infected — has fallen.
TORONTO — Air Canada will temporarily lay off more than 15,000 unionized workers beginning this week as the airline struggles with fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The layoffs will continue through April and May amid drastically reduced flight capacity from the Montreal-based airline. Canada's largest airline says the two-month furloughs will affect about one-third of management and administrative and support staff, including head office employees, in addition to the front-line workers.
The carrier is also cutting between 85% and 90% of its flights, canceling most of its international and U.S. routes in response to the global shutdown. Earlier this month Air Canada's flight attendant union said 5,149 cabin crew would be temporarily laid off.
SEATTLE — At least 12 workers and four patients at Washington state's largest psychiatric hospital have tested positive for the new coronavirus and one patient has died from the disease, officials said.
The 85-year-old Western State Hospital patient tested positive on March 21 and died last Thursday, the Washington Department of Health and Human Services told The Associated Press. The other patient who tested positive has since fully recovered, the agency said. Western state workers have been critical of the administration's handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
TAMPA, Fla. — Florida officials have arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives say he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
According to jail records, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities in Hernando County, where he lives. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. Bail was set at $500, according to the jail's website, and he was released after posting bond.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. humanitarian chief is warning that the 10 cases of COVID-19 and one death confirmed in Syria are just “the tip of the iceberg” and judging from other countries “a devastating impact” can be expected on vulnerable communities.
Mark Lowcock told the U.N. Security Council that “all efforts to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19 are impeded by Syria’s fragile health system,” noting only around half of the country’s hospitals and primary health care facilities were fully functional at the end of 2019.
He said efforts to prevent and combat the virus are also are impeded by high levels of population movement, challenges to obtaining critical supplies including protective equipment and ventilators, and difficulties of isolating in crowded camps for the displaced with “low levels of sanitation services.”
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has ordered an additional 8,000 ventilators, with delivery of the first 1,400 by early May. The $84.4 million order was placed with several suppliers under existing Defense Logistics Agency contracts.
A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, identified the four suppliers as Zoll, Combat Medical, Hamilton Medical, and VyAire. Andrews said delivery locations will be prioritized by FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services. These are in addition to the 2,000 ventilators that the Pentagon previously said it would make available to FEMA from Defense Department stockpiles.
WASHINGTON — New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat who attended Friday’s House session to pass a $2 trillion rescue package, says Monday in a statement that she has a presumed coronavirus infection.
Velázquez, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, stood within feet of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic and Republican leaders at a signing ceremony after the bill was passed.
Velázquez, 67, says in the statement that she began to feel ill Sunday morning and spoke to the Capitol’s attending physician by phone. She says she was diagnosed with a presumed infection but has mild symptoms and is isolating at home, as the doctor recommended.
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