TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Tunisia proposes UN Security Council resolution for global cease-fire
— Mexico cautions against travel to and from United States
— Quebec premier says nearly a quarter of seniors homes affected by COVID-19
— Singapore has fourth death from COVID-19 as total cases top 1,000
— Philippine president vows to forcibly ensure order during lockdown
— State Department: planeload of medical supplies from Russia were purchased
— Trump: Canada, England to evacuate passengers from cruise ships near Florida
UNITED NATIONS — Tunisia has proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would call the coronavirus pandemic “a threat to humanity and to international peace and security” and call for an immediate global humanitarian cease-fire to respond to “the unprecedented threat posed by COVID-19.”
The U.N.’s most powerful body has not addressed the pandemic sweeping the globe, but Dominican Republic Ambassador Jose Singer, the current council president, said Wednesday he expects members to meet on COVID-10 “for sure next week, or before.” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to brief the council at the request of Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, diplomats said.
The draft resolution, which diplomats said has support from the 10 non-permanent council members, stresses the importance of “urgent international action to curb the impact of COVID-19.” It underscores “that combating this pandemic requires greater international cooperation and solidarity, and a coordinated, comprehensive and global international response under the leadership of the United Nations.”
The Security Council has twice previously addressed public health emergencies, first the HIV/AIDS pandemic and second the swiftly spreading Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 which it called a threat to international peace and security.
The U.N. General Assembly is expected to decide by Thursday evening whether to adopt either, both, or neither of two rival resolutions on COVID-19. One resolution, which has more than 135 co-sponsors, supports the World Health Organization and calls for “intensified international cooperation" to defeat the pandemic. The other, sponsored by Russia with support from four countries, also recognizes WHO's leading role, but it says unilateral sanctions must not be applied without U.N. Security Council approval.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico usually welcomes migrants living in the United States back with open arms, in part because the money they send home supports the economy. But the Mexican government is now urging them not to come home due to the risk of spreading the new coronavirus.
The Foreign Relations Department said in a statement Wednesday that permanent residents abroad, especially those in the United States, should “avoid all types of international travel, including to Mexico.”
The statement continued, “we urge all those Mexicans with permanent residence in the United States who want to reunite with their families, to temporarily suspend all non-essential trips to our country.” The department also urged Mexicans to avoid travel to the United States.
Mexico currently has 1,378 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 37 deaths. The United States has over 215,000 cases and over 5,100 deaths.
MONTREAL — Quebec's premier says almost a quarter of Quebec seniors' homes have at least one COVID 19 case.
Premier Francois Legault says 519 of the Canadian province's roughly 2200 seniors homes and long-term care facilities have reported cases. He is urging Quebecers to refrain from visiting elderly people who are highly susceptible to the virus. He calls it a matter of life and death.
Legault says the government is offering to pay for hotels for workers who want to limit their contacts outside of work.
Singapore has had its fourth death from COVID-19 as the country crosses 1,000 cases.
The patient, a 68-year-old Indonesian man, died of complications from the disease and had a history of diabetes and hypertension.
Singapore has seen an increase in the number of imported cases and community transmission of COVID-19.
BEIJING — China's southern technology powerhouse of Shenzhen has issued the most sweeping ban yet on the breeding and consumption of wild animals in an effort to prevent a future outbreak such as the global coronavirus pandemic.
The virus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, has been traced to a food market in the city that sold wild animals such as pangolins and civet cats, along as more conventional fare such as chicken and fish.
The consumption of wild animals is considered even more popular in the south where Shenzhen is located. That is where the 2002-2003 global SARS outbreak was believed to have first been spread by people who consumed or worked with wild animals in areas around Shenzhen and who may originally have caught it from wild bats.
Shenzhen's regulations permanently ban the trade in and consumption of wild animals, a step beyond the temporary ban issued by the central government at the start of the current virus outbreak. Along with snakes, lizards and other wild animals, it also bans the consumption of dog and cat meat that have long been a local specialty, citing humanitarian reasons.
Households pets have not been found to spread the coronavirus.
The ban allows for fines beginning at 150,000 yuan ($21,400) and rising considerably depending on the value of the animals seized. It continues to permit the farming of wild animals for medicinal purposes, which has been criticized as cruel and unsanitary, although consumption of such animals for food is banned.
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president has threatened to order law enforcers to shoot troublemakers and stop a massive food and cash aid if people resort to riots and defy a lockdown imposed on millions to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
President Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised speech Wednesday night that he also would ask the police to punish people who attack doctors and health workers with toxic chemicals by dousing the offenders with the potentially lethal substance or force them to drink it. Troublemakers will starve in jails, he warned.
Duterte, who has been condemned for his brutal anti-drugs crackdown that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead, issued the warnings hours after police broke up a rally by slum dwellers pleading for food aid and arrested 21 of them in suburban Quezon city.
“My orders are for the police, the military and the villages, in case there’s trouble and there’s an occasion where they fight and your life is threatened, shoot them dead,” Duterte said, adding that the viral outbreak “is getting worse.”
Amid delays and widespread complaints in the distribution of promised cash and food packs, Duterte said he was transferring that responsibility from politicians to a department led by an ex-general and warned he would be harsh to those who would steal the aid.
The Philippines has reported 2,311 cases of the COVID-19 illness, including 96 deaths, and expects infections to soar after more test kits arrived and laboratories were opened.
WASHINGTON — The State Department says a planeload of medical supplies sent from Russia to the United States on Wednesday was purchased under an agreement between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that the supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment, were not a gift.
“Both countries have provided humanitarian assistance to each other in times of crisis in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future,” she said. “This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us.”
Ortagus did not say how much the U.S. paid for the supplies, which were handed over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in New York after the Russian cargo plane carrying them landed at John F. Kennedy international airport. She said the U.S. would continue to assist other countries in dealing with coronavirus pandemic “but we cannot do it alone.”
Earlier Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to Washington said the delivery reflected the need to pool global efforts to counter the COVID-19 virus despite political differences. Ambassador Anatoly Antonov rejected claims that Russia was seeking political gain by providing the supplies as “cynical and immoral,” adding that Russian military medical experts there were risking their lives on daily basis.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said arrangements had been made with the Canadian and British governments to evacuate many of the passengers on two cruise ships set to soon dock in Florida.
Trump added that officials in states overwhelmed by coronavirus infections are reluctant to have the passengers immediately return to their communities.
“It's a tough situation you know,” Trump said. “You can understand you have people that are sick on the ships and states don't want to take (them). They have enough problems right now. They don't want to take them. But we have to from a humane standpoint. We don't have a choice. I don't want to do that but we have to. People are dying.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is acknowledging that the federal stockpile is nearly depleted of personal protective equipment used by doctors and nurses to protect themselves from the new coronavirus.
"It is,” Trump told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday, “because we're sending it directly to hospitals.”
Concerns about the stockpile levels were first reported by the Washington Post on Wednesday.
Trump has said that the stockpile has almost 10,000 ventilators but that the administration has been keeping close hold on them so they can be deployed quickly to states that need them. But he said the administration had agreed to ship out 1,000 ventilators.
He says, “we have to have the flexibility of moving the ventilators to where the virus is going.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he is “thinking about” enacting new restrictions on domestic flights as coronavirus cases continue to spike across the country.
Trump told reporters at a White House briefing Wednesday that “we're certainly looking at it."
He says, “we’re getting into a position now where we want to do that, we have to do that ... and we may have some recommendations.”
Flights continue across the U.S., including between coronavirus hotspots such as New York and Detroit, though the number of passengers had plummeted.
Trump says he’s worried, however, about the impact on already-struggling airlines, saying that, once you do that, “you really are clamping down” on “an industry that is desperately needed.”
Also, Trump says his administration is “looking very seriously” at building two additional Navy hospital ships of the kind that have been deployed to New York and Los Angeles to help ease the burden on local hospitals.
Trump says the idea is to either build two “brand new” hospital ships or convert an existing large ship to serve as a floating hospital. He offered no timeline or estimated cost.
Building two new ships likely would take many months, if not years, suggesting Trump could be aiming to expand this capacity for future health crises.
The USNS Mercy in Los Angeles and the USNS Comfort in New York are each equipped with about 1,000 beds and large medical staffs. Their mission is to handle trauma cases, rather than COVID-19 patients.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says the global economy could shrink by almost 1 percent this year because of the coronavirus pandemic instead of growing at a projected 2.5 percent.
A new report from the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs on Wednesday warned that world output could contract even further from this year’s 0.9 percent forecast if restrictions on economic activities extend to the third quarter of the year, and if fiscal responses fail to support income and consumer spending.
The report said the negative effects of current economic restrictions in richer developed nations will soon spill over into developing countries which will see lower trade and investment.
The severity of the economic impact — whether a moderate or deep recession — will largely depend on the duration of restrictions on the movement of people and economic activities in major economies, and the size and impact of fiscal responses, it said.
U.N. Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin said: “Urgent and bold policy measures are needed, not only to contain the pandemic and save lives, but also to protect the most vulnerable in our societies from economic ruin and to sustain economic growth and financial stability.”
NEW YORK — New York City is enlisting its recently retired police commissioner as a coronavirus supply czar to ensure hospitals on the front lines of the fight have sufficient equipment.
James O’Neill, who left the New York Police Department in November, is taking the role on a voluntary basis and will remain a senior vice president and global security chief at credit card giant Visa Inc.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said O’Neill will develop a system of checks to ensure supplies such as protective masks, gowns and gloves and vital pieces of equipment such as ventilators are where they need to be. New York City accounts for most of the state's COVID-19 deaths, which doubled in 72 hours to more than 1,900.
O’Neill was with the police department for 36 years, the last three as commissioner. In that role, he led a move away from controversial policies, guided its response to terrorist attacks and oversaw continuing drops in crime.
ATHENS, Greece — The Orthodox Church of Greece says this month’s Easter Week and Easter Sunday services will be held behind closed doors, with only a few priests allowed in and no members of the general public, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Orthodox Easter is the most popular date on Greece’s religious calendar, with large crowds flocking to Easter Week -- which falls this year on April 12-19 -- services daily, attending candle-lit mourning processions on Easter Friday and often rowdy celebrations for the Resurrection at midnight on Easter Saturday.
The Church of Greece on Wednesday urged the faithful to pray at home, in an act of "sacrifice." The government has already warned Greeks that traditional Easter Sunday festivities, that include open-air family feasts with mass roasting of lambs, will not be allowed this year.
WASHINGTON — U.S. military officials say they are sending another 540 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help the Department of Homeland Security bolster efforts to keep COVID-19-infected migrants from crossing the border.
Gen. Terrance O'Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for the defense of the United States, told reporters Wednesday that the extra troops would help “seal off” the flow of coronavirus. Mexico has far fewer reported cases of the virus than does the U.S.
Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who commands land forces under O'Shaughnessy, says the extra troops will be deployed “very soon.”
The U.S. already has about 2,700 active-duty troops and about 2,500 members of the National Guard on the border.
A 7-week-old baby who died at a hospital in the Hartford area had the coronavirus, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday. The cause of death is unknown.
The unidentified child was unresponsive when taken to the hospital and later died. The infant tested positive during a postmortem exam for the virus that causes COVID-19, said Josh Geballe, the governor's chief operating officer.
A spokesman for Lamont said officials did not know whether the infant had underlying medical conditions.
"That baby was less than 7 weeks old. And just a reminder that nobody is safe with this virus,” Lamont said at a news conference after touring a temporary hospital set up at Southern Connecticut State University.
Children have made up a small fraction of coronavirus cases worldwide. A letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Chinese researchers last month month reported the death of a 10-month-old with COVID-19. The infant had a bowel blockage and organ failure and died four weeks after being hospitalized.
Separate research published in the journal Pediatrics traced 2,100 infected children in China and noted one death, a 14-year old. The study found less than 6% of children were seriously ill.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Wednesday that he is ordering people statewide to stay at home to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The order will take effect at 5 p.m. Friday and last until 8 a.m. April 20. The Republican governor said: "This will not be easy for anyone, but we believe it is the right course of action.”
Reeves was not the only Southern governor to reverse course Wednesday. Two of his Republican counterparts who had repeatedly resisted statewide stay-home orders — Ron DeSantis of Florida and Brian Kemp of Georgia — also issued the mandate.
Mississippi has surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and has more than 20 deaths, according to numbers released Wednesday.
LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statewide directive telling Nevadans to stay at home, with an exception for essential trips.
The Democratic governor had already asked Nevada residents two weeks ago to stay home and ordered a closure of casinos and non-essential businesses, but on Wednesday he decided to formalize his request that Nevadans stay home with a written order.
Unlike the orders issued by some other governors, Sisolak’s directive does not include a penalty for those who violate it.
The governor’s order doesn’t apply to the homeless or people making essential trips such as to get groceries, receive health care or receive goods or services from businesses that have been allowed to stay open, such as pharmacies, hardware stores and restaurants that offer take-out only.
All Pennsylvania residents must stay home as much as possible to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday as he dramatically expanded the footprint of the quarantine to include the entire state.
The Democratic governor added 34 counties to his existing stay-at-home order, meaning that residents of all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties are now asked to stay put unless they have a legitimate reason to go out.
The expanded order will take effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday and last through at least April 30.
LONDON — The United Nations’ international climate summit is being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The British government says the meeting, due to take place in Glasgow in November, will now be held in 2021. The date has yet to be decided.
The government said in a statement that “in light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible.”
Glasgow’s SEC Arena, which had been due to hold the event, has been named as the site of a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients.
THE VILLAGES, Fla. — Golf will go on in one of the largest retirement communities in the nation, though other activities will be curtailed amid concerns the coronavirus is starting to take hold there.
County officials in central Florida issued a stay-at-home advisory for The Villages on Tuesday that recommends residents remain at their houses except to get groceries, seek medical attention, work, care for another person or exercise outdoors.
Golf was specifically noted as permissible in the order’s exercise category. The Villages has dozens of golf courses.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday after weeks of resisting the move.
Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold said the statewide order didn't change anything in regards to golf.
GORDONSVILLE, Va. — Vice President Mike Pence says Americans will have enough food and supplies to get through the coronavirus pandemic.
Pence said America’s food supply is “very strong” on Wednesday as he toured a Virginia distribution center for Walmart, the world’s largest retailer.
Shelves at grocery and other stores across the U.S. were picked clean of toilet paper and other essentials at the onset of the pandemic.
Pence toured a chilly warehouse for perishable goods ranging from potatoes to bananas. He had removed his suit jacket and sported a Walmart associate’s badge that said “Mike.”
The vice president told a Walmart truck driver that he and all drivers are considered “critical infrastructure.”
Pence used the intercom to tell all employees they’re on the “front lines” of the pandemic. He thanked them for doing a “great job” and for “keeping food on the table for the American people.”
WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence says the White House’s models for the coronavirus outbreak show the country on a trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy.
Speaking to CNN, Pence says, “We think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States at this point."
Pence was referencing the prediction models unveiled by the White House on Tuesday that project 100,000 to 240,000 U.S. deaths in the coronavirus pandemic. Those figures assume that the country maintains rigorous social-distancing practices for the duration of the public health crisis.
Italy’s health system was stretched beyond capacity weeks ago leading to soaring death tolls. U.S. governors and local officials have warned their states need urgent federal help to avoid a similar fate.
ROME — Premier Giuseppe Conte has extended Italy’s nationwide lockdown and industrial shutdown for another 10 days until April 13, arguing that the coronavirus emergency is far from over even if the rate of new infections is starting to slow.
Conte said Wednesday that if Italy were to ease its restrictions now, before the virus is fully under control, “all our efforts would be in vain and we would pay a high price — psychologically, economically and socially — because we’d be forced to start over.”
Italy went into nationwide lockdown on March 10, after a preliminary quarantine of a dozen small towns in northern Italy failed to stop the virus’ spread. Last week, Italy became the first western developed nation to idle all but essential industry, adding to a production shutdown that industrial lobby Confindustria forecasts will result in a 6% drop in GDP that could provoke a depression.
On Wednesday, Conte signed a new decree extending the shutdown until at least April 13. Conte said he knew it was asking a lot of Italians in particular to refrain from Easter celebrations April 12 but assured them that the government was already at work gaming out how Italy can begin slowly reopening once infections show a sustained decline.
He said the next phase would be living with the virus amid some activity and working toward a final phase of economic reconstruction.
Italy has seen a leveling off in the exponential growth of virus infections this week, registering 4,782 confirmed new infections for a total of 110,574. Italy’s death toll remains the highest in the world at 13,155.
PARIS — France has registered a record number of 509 hospital deaths from the coronavirus in 24 hours, the chief of the health service said Wednesday.
That brings the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in hospitals since March 1 to 4,032, Jerome Salomon said at a daily news conference. Those deaths do not include people who died outside a hospital setting.
A raft of deaths over the past month in homes for the aged, those considered the most vulnerable to the virus, has raised a stir.
On Wednesday, it was revealed that 19 people had died since March 20 in a home named The Riviera in the town of Mougins on the Cote d’Azur.
Salomon said he hopes to provide on Thursday a count of the number of people who have died in institutions for the aged. In eastern France, the hardest hit region in France, 411 out of 620 homes for the aged have cases of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe last week ordered those in special homes confined to their rooms after an earlier ban on family visits.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president on Wednesday likened the coronavirus pandemic with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as he urged citizens to stay home.
A reactor exploded at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in then-Soviet Ukraine in 1986, spewing radiation across vast territories in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe. Soviet authorities initially tried to hide the explosion from the public and many people remained unaware of the radiation hazard for several days.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address that “no one was afraid because the radiation is invisible — just as the coronavirus.” He chastised Ukrainians from flouting government calls to stay home, saying “I’m asking you all to grow up.”
Ukraine so far has registered 669 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.
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