TOP OF THE HOUR: — Nearly 14,000 US citizens stranded abroad because of virus want help returning home — All non-essential businesses to close in Ontario, Canada's largest province — Spanish troops find elderly abandoned in retirement homes
A senior State Department official says roughly 13,500 American citizens stranded abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic are seeking help in returning to the United States.
The official said Monday that thousands more Americans are expected to return on department arranged flights in the coming weeks, about 1,500 of whom are booked on flights over the next several days. The official said the repatriations are being done with a combination of military flights, chartered passenger planes and commercial airlines where airports are still open. The official said the Department of Homeland Security has also offered to bring Americans home on planes that it uses to return deportees to mainly Central American nations.
The official says that since late January the department has helped to evacuate more than 5,000 Americans from 17 countries, including early repatriation efforts for 800 people from China and more than 300 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Some 1,200 from were transported from Morocco last week, the official said.
The official urges Americans abroad seeking help to enroll in the department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, at https://step.state.gov/ to get alerts from embassies. The official says the department had over the weekend doubled the capacity of the server that handles STEP enrollments to address complaints that the system was not working well. The department has also set up call lines for Americans needing assistance: 888-407-4747 (toll free) or (202) 501-4444.
A second official says fewer than 30 State Department employees at 220 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic facilities have thus far tested positive for the virus and that the number of U.S.-based employees is in the single digits, with clusters of one or two testing positive at offices in Washington, Boston, Houston, Seattle and Quantico, Virginia. The State Department employs some 75,000 people worldwide. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the matter by name.
Canada's most populous province is ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the order will be effective at midnight Tuesday and will be in place for at least 14 days.
Ford says he will release the list of businesses that will be allowed to stay open, but food will remain on store shelves and people will still have access to pharmacies.
Spain’s defense minister says troops helping fight the coronavirus outbreak have come across elderly people apparently abandoned in their retirement homes.
Defense Minister Margarita Robles says some of those found were dead.
She tells Spain’s Telecinco says they were “completely left to fend for themselves, or even dead, in their beds.”
She did not say how many the soldiers encountered, nor where.
She said authorities will use the full force of the law to punish those responsible.
Spain reported 4,517 new infections of the coronavirus Monday, bringing the overall number since the beginning of the outbreak to 33,089. It has 2,182 fatalities.
ROME — Italy's day-to-day increases of new cases of COVID
19 have dropped considerably compared to figures from a day earlier.
According to data released on Monday by Italy's Civil Protection agency, new cases rose from a day earlier by 4,789 cases.
That's nearly 700 fewer new cases that were reported in the day's previous day-to-day increases. Italy has been anxious to see daily new case loads drop as it health system struggles to keep up with the world's largest outbreak after China.
Day-to-day increase in deaths also were fewer than the day before: 602 compared to 651 reported by authorities on Sunday.
Health authorities have said it will need a few more days to see if a positive trend holds, including in northern Lombardy region, which is the nation's worst stricken region.
The latest numbers come nearly two weeks into a national lock-down in a desperate bid to contain Europe's largest outbreak.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday issued a statewide stay-at-home order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with exemptions for certain workers, outdoor exercise and essential trips to places like the grocery.
Whitmer warned of dire results akin to those seen in Italy if people do not follow her order. She said more than 1 million Michigan residents could need a hospital bed if the virus is not controlled.
She added the state only has “about 25,000 acute beds.”
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's health minister says the country will begin the mass production of respirators for domestic use and to export to countries in need.
Fahrettin Koca said the government will also employ 32,000 more health workers across Turkey to fight the virus. A number of health personnel had contracted the virus, Koca said, adding that the exact figure would be released at a later date.
The minister also said that Turkey has imported and started using a drug from China that was effective in treating coronavirus patients there.
The virus has claimed the lives of 30 people in Turkey while at least 1,236 people have been confirmed as COVID-19 positive. Koca said some of those infected have recovered, but would not provide numbers.
The Transportation Security Administration is reporting that 24 screening officers at 10 airports around the country have now tested positive for the coronavirus.
It also says an additional five employees who have limited interaction with travelers have also tested positive. Those numbers from Monday are up from just seven employees a week earlier.
Hardest hit is New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport where five screening officers have tested positive.
TSA says security lanes remain open there are fewer passenger than have ever been counted by the agency at U.S. airports.
In addition to both New York City airports, officers have tested positive at airports in Newark, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida; Atlanta; Cleveland; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and San Jose, California.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico has announced a record $777 million financial package to help alleviate the economic impact of the coronavirus in the U.S. territory.
The package is the biggest so far compared to any U.S. state.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez said Monday there will be a 90-day moratorium for mortgages as well as car, personal and commercial loans. She also announced a flurry of bonuses including ones ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 for nurses, police and other emergency workers.
The announcement comes amid a 13-year recession on an island that is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and a string of recent strong earthquakes that together caused billions of dollars in losses.
SEATTLE_— Boeing is suspending operations at its Seattle area facilities due to the spread of the coronavirus in the area.
Operations would be reduced beginning Wednesday and production would be suspended for a two weeks.
"This necessary step protects our employees and the communities where they work and live," said Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun.
The aerospace ginat employs more than 60,000 people in Washington state.
BRUSSELS — European Union finance ministers agreed Monday to activate an “escape clause” in the rules underpinning the euro single currency to give countries the budgetary flexibility they need to protect their economies from the ravages of the coronavirus.
The ministers insist that they remain committed to the rules, known as the Stability and Growth Pact, but that the escape clause allows them to take measures “departing from the budgetary requirements” so they can more effectively tackle the economic consequences of coronavirus.
It would allow EU countries to support their health and civil protection systems with steps such as further discretionary stimulus and coordinated actions.
Increasingly worried about the economic fallout of the global shutdown, EU member nations and Britain have announced major rescue packages worth billions of euros.
The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, has also temporarily eased state aid rules so countries can help sectors at risk. (edited)
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday ordered state residents to remain home for two weeks starting Wednesday.
Exceptions are allowed for workers in essential industries or to go outside for groceries and medicine.
Holcomb's order mirrors orders in adjacent states and runs until April 6 but could be extended if needed. It directs the state's 6.8 million residents to stay at home.
Holcomb said that the next two weeks “are critical if we are to slow the spread of COVID-19."
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at the Pentagon he has put five military field hospitals, with equipment and medical personnel, on "prepare-to-deploy" orders and expects two of them to go to Seattle and New York this week.
Esper told reporters that he has spoken to as many as 10 governors in recent days who are all requesting military field hospitals. He said FEMA is making final decisions on what locations are top priorities. Esper said he sees the military field units as stopgap measures that can be deployed to cities for a few weeks at a time until the communities can get gyms, hotel rooms and other facilities transformed into additional hospital space.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Monday for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.N. chief said: “It is time to put armed conflict on lock down and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
Guterres said people caught in armed conflicts, which are raging around the world, are among the most vulnerable and “are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.”
He told reporters from U.N. headquarters in New York that it’s time to silence guns, stop artillery, end airstrikes and create corridors for life-saving aid.
“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world,” the secretary-general said.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s prime minister said the new Slovak government is planning to increase testing for the coronavirus
Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Monday that the number of tests should reach 3,000 a day “as soon as possible.”
Until now, the country was averaging about 300 tests daily. It's one possible reason the country has only 186 reported cases of COVID-19.
The four-party coalition government led by Matovic’ populist center-right Ordinary People group was sworn in on Saturday after it won February's parliamentary election.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says the coronavirus outbreak is accelerating but insists "we can change the trajectory of this pandemic."
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that COVID-19 has now been reported in nearly every country in the world.
He said it 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases; 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases.
Tedros said he would speak with heads of state and government from the G20 countries, saying he would ask them to help increase production, avoid export bans, and ensure fair distribution of "lifesaving tools" that are facing a growing shortage.
He noted measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus may be exacerbating shortages of essential protective gear and the materials.
GRAND TURK, Turks and Caicos Islands — The Turks and Caicos Islands has confirmed its first case of COVID-19.
Health officials said Monday the patient had no recent travel history but offered no other details.
The island was one of only a handful in the Caribbean that had not reported any coronavirus cases.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece has registered two more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total to 17.
Authorities say they registered 71 new cases Monday, compared to 94 Sunday, bringing the country’s total to 695 cases.
Out of those infected, 114 people are hospitalized, 35 of whom in intensive care. Another 29 have been discharged.
TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says "enough is enough. Go home and stay home."
Trudeau says staying at home is a duty and the government will enforce it if necessary.
Trudeau says he would rather not enforce it but says those who are not doing their part are putting at risk everyone else including the eventual recovery of the economy and the well being of millions of Canadians.
He says images of people out enjoying the sunshine in large groups is “extremely concerning.”
Trudeau also says the decision by the Canadian Olympic Committee to not send athletes to the Tokyo Olympics unless they're postponed for a year is clearly the right decision.
He also says Canada has won approval to send more planes to bring Canadians home from Peru, Morocco, Spain, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Trudeau made the comments outside his residence while in self isolation after his wife tested positive for the virus.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman says the German leader has tested negative for the coronavirus.
Spokesman Steffen Seibert told news agency dpa on Monday that “further tests will be conducted in the coming days.”
Merkel went into quarantine at home on Sunday evening after being informed that a doctor who had administered a vaccine to her had tested positive for the coronavirus.
NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein is one of two inmates at a New York state prison facility that tested positive for the coronavirus.
The head of the state correctional officers union said Monday that Weinstein was diagnosed and quarantined just days after being transferred to Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York.
Michael Powers is president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. He says five officers and two supervisors at Wende were also placed in isolation because of possible exposure to the virus.
The 68-year-old former film producer is serving a 23-year sentence for rape and sexual assault. He was previously locked up at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex, which has had a spate of coronavirus cases.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's education minister issued an apology after an animated film shown to children on the first day of online schooling featured the execution of a former prime minister.
The animated film depicting Adnan Menderes' execution by hanging caused an uproar on Twitter. The film was broadcast on state TV a week after schools closed over the coronavirus outbreak.
Education Minister Ziya Selcuk took to Twitter to acknowledge that the hanging scene was not suitable for children and expressed sadness that Monday's first day of remote schooling was marred by the film.
Menderes was hanged following a military coup in 1960.
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