TOP OF THE HOUR: — White House projects between 100,000 and 240,000 U.S. deaths. — China reports 36 new COVID-19 cases, all but 1 from abroad. — Churchgoers flock to hear Louisiana pastor despite virus ban.
— Trump says following social-distancing guidelines a “matter of life and death.”
China’s National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 36 new COVID-19 cases, one day after announcing that asymptomatic cases will now be included in the official count.
The commission said all but one of the new cases was imported from abroad, while seven more deaths from the disease had been reported over the previous 24 hours. The commission did not say if any of the new cases were asymptomatic but on Tuesday reported that, of a total of 1,541 asymptomatic cases now being isolated and monitored for symptoms, 205 had come from overseas.
The move to disclose the number of asymptomatic cases comes amid scrutiny of China’s reported figures, which previously only included people who exhibited symptoms. While the proportion of people who have contracted the virus but remain asymptomatic is currently unknown, scientists say these “carriers” can still pass COVID-19 onto others who do end up getting sick.
As China’s domestic outbreak has largely abated, some questioned whether the country’s failure to count asymptomatic cases would lead to a resurgence of infections. China, where the virus was first detected in December, has recorded a total of 81,554 cases of COVID-19 and 3,312 deaths from the disease.
Buses and cars filled a church parking lot as worshipers flocked to hear a Louisiana pastor who is facing misdemeanor charges for holding services despite a ban on gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A few protesters turned out Tuesday evening, too, including a man shouting through a bullhorn against the gathering at the Life Tabernacle Church. Another demonstrator held up a sign reading: “God don't like stupid."
Afterward, as people began leaving the church, some chatted outside the front doors and many appeared to not be adhering to social distancing recommendations to remain at least six feet apart. Hugs and handshakes were shared freely as people said their goodbyes and departed.
Hours earlier, Pastor Tony Spell was issued a summons for holding services previously at the church in violation of the governor's order banning gatherings.
The District of Columbia has announced nine new COVID-19 infections among first responders.
The first day of “high-volume testing” for first responders revealed five new coronavirus cases among the fire department and EMS, bringing the total to 19. Four new cases were revealed for the Metropolitan Police Department, for a total of 13.
Hundreds of police officers, firefighters and EMS members remain quarantined. Washington has identified 504 positive cases, with nine deaths. Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued a stay-home order for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents. Neighboring Maryland and Virginia have done the same.
Australia’s biggest newspaper publisher has announced it will suspend printing 60 suburban and regional papers due to the toll the new coronavirus is taking on advertising revenue.
News Corp. said Wednesday it is making local newspapers across the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia digital-only for a while beginning next week. The change is not permanent.
News Corp. Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said the decision was necessary because of a rapid decline in advertising. The COVID-19 outbreak has brought a surge in new subscriptions to News Corp.’s online publications.
The journalists’ union — Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance — has called on the Australian government to provide financial help to several rural newspapers that have already stopped printing because of the lack of advertising.
Japan's post office says deliveries will stop to more than 150 nations beginning Thursday as flights carrying mail get canceled because of the growing coronavirus pandemic.
Mail will continue to the U.S., France, Australia, Hong Kong and a handful of other places, although delivery may be delayed, Japan Post said. Mail from Japan to China had already ceased last month.
The U.N. Security Council is urging Afghanistan’s warring parties to heed the U.N. secretary-general’s call for an immediate cease-fire to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the country.
The council issued a statement Tuesday after a closed briefing by U.N. deputy special representative Ingrid Hayden who said the country “appears to be reaching a defining moment” — whether its feuding leaders can join together “to engage in meaningful talks with the Taliban to achieve a sustainable peace.”
“The choice is made stark by the all-encompassing threat of COVID-19, which poses grave dangers to the health of Afghanistan’s population and, potentially, to the stability of its institutions,” she said in remarks sent to U.N. correspondents.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and political opponent Abdullah Abdullah have been locked in a power struggle since last September’s election, and both declared themselves president and held parallel inauguration ceremonies in early March. The discord has prompted the Trump administration to say it would cut $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan if the two can't work out their differences.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea has confirmed 101 new cases of the coronavirus, the majority of them in the populous Seoul metropolitan area, where there’s alarm over a steady rise in infections linked to arrivals from abroad.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control on Wednesday said the country's caseload was now at 9,887. More than 5,560 people have been released from treatment, while 165 virus patients have died.
South Korea started to enforce two-week quarantines Wednesday on all passengers arriving from abroad as it scrambles to slow infections imported from abroad amid widening outbreaks in Europe, North America and beyond.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said he was particularly worried about young South Korean students returning from overseas and warned that officials will employ a no-tolerance policy for those who fail to stay at home.
Under the country’s recently strengthened laws on infectious diseases, South Korean nationals can face up to a year in prison or be fined as much as $8,200 if they break quarantine orders. Foreigners can be expelled.
Cuban authorities say they are canceling the island’s trademark May Day parade because of the new coronavirus and tightening air and sea travel restrictions that already bar the arrival of tourists.
State media said Tuesday night that exceptions in travel restrictions that allow residents of Cuba to return to the island could be eliminated, although they did not provide details.
The May Day parade often draws hundreds of thousands of mostly state workers to the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.
Cuba has also barred travel in and out of a town in western Cuba that is suspected to have a large number of infected people.
Cuba has 186 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and six patients who have died.
The Virginia Department of Corrections says three offenders have tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first confirmed cases among inmates in a state correctional facility.
The inmates are incarcerated at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland, the department said in a statement. Three employees and one contractor have also tested positive, the department said.
All corrections facilities "are operating on modified lockdown in order to minimize contact between groups of offenders from different buildings,” the statement said. It did not provide information about the condition of any of the inmates or workers.
Jails and prisons throughout the country have struggled with the question of how to protect inmates from the highly transmissible virus. Defense lawyers and some prosecutors have advocated releasing inmates, when possible, to reduce risk of transmission.
President Donald Trump says he will speak to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about the fate of two cruise ships carrying passengers sick with the coronavirus that are hoping to offload passengers in the state.
DeSantis has said the state’s health care resources are already stretched too thin to take on ships' coronavirus caseload.
But Trump says: “They're dying on the ship,” adding, “I'm going to do what's right. Not only for us, but for humanity.”
Holland America’s Zaandam and Rotterdam ships are set to arrive later this week and at least two people on board need emergency attention.
The White House is projecting 100,000 to 240,000 people in the U.S. will die from the coronavirus pandemic if social distancing measures continue to be followed.
The projections were presented during a White House briefing Tuesday. They suggest that, if no social distancing measures had been put in place across the country, between 1.5 million and 2.2 million people would have died.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is helping to lead the U.S. effort, says, "As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it.” But he says he hopes it won’t soar so high.
President Donald Trump is formally releasing his 30-day guidelines for battling the coronavirus, saying compliance with the recommendations is a "matter of life and death."
At Tuesday's White House briefing on the pandemic, Trump said, "Every citizen is being called upon to make sacrifices."
The guidelines are similar to the administration's earlier advice that aimed to slow the spread of the virus in two weeks. The president, however, recently announced that he was going to extend the guidelines for another 30 days, giving up his hope to reopen the national economy by Easter.
Trump said: "This is going to be a very painful, very very painful two weeks."
The guidelines call for continued social distancing, staying at home if sick and calling your doctor. People are also urged to refrain from going to restaurants and bars, to utilize delivery and takeout food options and to protect the elderly, although young people are at risk, too.
RENO, Nev. — Gov. Steve Sisolak has issued a new travel advisory urging self-quarantines for visitors and residents returning to Nevada.
The move comes as Nevada's coronavirus death toll reached 26 on Tuesday — nearly double what it was three days ago. Statewide deaths have quadrupled the past week. Cases have more than tripled from 300 a week ago to more than 1,100.
The governor's new advisory urges visitors and Nevadans returning from travel to self-quarantine for 14 days to help contain the spread of the virus. With some exceptions for essential workers, he says they should not visit public places or come into contact with anyone outside their household.
WASHINGTON — The State Department says two of its locally employed staffers at U.S. embassies in southeast Asia and Africa have died from the new coronavirus.
The department said Tuesday that one employee worked in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the other in Kinshasa, Congo.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said earlier Tuesday that one U.S. diplomat had died of the virus, but the department said it was not aware of any deaths among American staff at any of its 220 embassies and consulates overseas.
On Monday, State Department health officials said they were tracking 105 confirmed cases of the coronavirus among the agency’s global workforce of about 75,000. Of those confirmed cases, 75 are overseas and 30 are at State Department offices in the United States in nine cities.
MOSCOW — An international media freedom watchdog says the autocratic ex-Soviet nation of Turkmenistan has banned the media from using the word “coronavirus.”
Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday the word also has been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces. The gas-rich Central Asian nation that neighbors Iran so far has reported no cases of the new coronavirus. Iran has reported more than 44,000 cases.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said people wearing face masks or talking about the coronavirus are liable to be arrested by plainclothes police. Ranked last in the group's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most closed countries.
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ruled the country since 2006 through an all-encompassing personality cult that styles him as Turkmenistan’s “arkadaq,” or protector.
LONDON — A 13-year-old boy from south London with no apparent underlying health conditions has died after testing positive for the new coronavirus. He is believed to be the youngest person in the U.K. to have died after contracting the COVID-19 disease.
Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab died early Monday. He had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, a day after he was admitted to King's College Hospital with coronavirus-related symptoms, his family said.
A spokesman for King's College Hospital said: “Sadly, a 13-year old boy who tested positive for COVID-19 has passed away, and our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this time.”
Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, said it “is the case very sadly that young people can still be affected” from coronavirus.
TORONTO — Canada's largest city has announced it is canceling all city-led and permitted events through June 30 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said Tuesday that the events being canceled include Pride Toronto in late June.
Mayoral spokesman Don Peat said the cancellation applies to events that get city permits like parades and festivals and does not include sporting events like Blue Jays, Raptors and Maple Leafs games. Professional sports in North America are on hold because of the pandemic but there is some hope by leagues that play could resume before June 30.
Tory said the health and safety of residents has to be the priority and said physical distancing is critical. He added that it is in line with the province's ban of gatherings of more than five people.
The decision to cancel was made in consultation with Toronto's Medical Officer of Health.
Toronto has at least 628 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including eight deaths.
NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana pastor charged with six misdemeanors for holding church services in violation of a ban put in place to control the coronavirus said Tuesday that he would continue to ignore the ban because God told him to.
Pastor Tony Spell was issued a summons Tuesday for holding services at the Life Tabernacle church in the city of Central in violation of an order from Gov. John Bel Edwards prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore.
Each violation carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine, Moore said.
“The whole situation just puts everyone at risk,” Moore said. “We ask everyone to abide by the governor's order.”
Spell, reached by telephone Tuesday, confirmed he was read his rights and fingerprinted — but the summons wasn't deterring him. Another service was scheduled Tuesday night that he said was expected to draw hundreds.
“We’re still here and still assembling and having church,” Spell said. Asked why he was defying the governor’s orders, he said, “Because the Lord told us to.”
WASHINGTON — A senior military general says the Pentagon has not yet delivered any of the 2,000 ventilators it offered to the Department of Health and Human Services two weeks ago because HHS has asked it to wait while the agency determines where the devices should go.
Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck, the Pentagon's top logistics official, said in an interview with a small group of reporters Tuesday that the military arranged for an initial batch of 1,000 ventilators to be delivered, but HHS asked it to wait.
Tuck also told reporters that of the 5 million respirator masks the Defense Department offered to provide to HHS as personal protective equipment for health care workers and others, about 1.5 million have been sent. He said another 500,000 are due to be shipped this week. The rest will be delivered when HHS asks for them, he added.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Fifty-four more Louisianans have died from the new coronavirus, bringing the state's death toll to 239, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
Increased testing shows more than 5,200 people have confirmed infections, according to the figures, up more than 1,200. That's the largest single-day spike in the number of new virus cases Louisiana has seen since its first infection was reported March 9.
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