The Latest: Dutch leader shakes hands after saying not to

BEIJING (AP) — The Latest on the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the globe (all times local):

4:45 p.m.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on citizens of the Netherlands to stop shaking hands to prevent spreading the new coronavirus and then — oops! — shook hands with the head of the infectious diseases department of the national public health institute.

“From this moment on, we stop shaking hands,” Rutte said at a news conference following a crisis meeting of government ministers Monday night to discuss the virus, which has killed three people and infected 321 in the country.

“You can do a foot kiss, bump elbows, whatever you want,” he said. “I see all kinds of great variations on shaking hands emerging at schools, but from today we stop shaking hands.”

As he wrapped up the news conference, he shook hands with Jaap van Dissel of the public health institute, who quickly pointed out the prime minister’s error.

“Sorry, sorry, we can’t do that anymore! Do it again!” Rutte said as he bumped elbows with van Dissel.


4:30 p.m.

The Czech Republic is banning all public events with more than 100 people and is closing schools in response to the new coronavirus outbreak in Europe.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the measures include cultural and sports events, concerts, exhibitions and trade fairs, religious services and other public gatherings.

The sessions of Parliament are not affected.

Starting Wednesday, all elementary and secondary or high schools be closed.

“We want to prevent what happened in Italy,” Babis said.

“We understand it’s not a pleasant decision for the public,” he added. “I hope they’ll understand it.”

The Czech Republic has 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19.


4 p.m.

The Italian government is assuring its citizens that supermarkets will remain open and stocked after panic buying erupted after broad anti-virus measures were announced nationwide, sparking overnight runs on 24-hour markets.

Shoppers lined up overnight outside a Rome Carrefour to stock up after the government extended restrictions on movement from hard-hit northern Italy to the rest of the country. Some shoppers wore masks as they waited with their carts to be allowed into the store a few at a time.

Premier Giuseppe Conte’s office issued a clarifying statement after he signed the new decree late Monday, stressing that movement outside homes for “normal necessities” such as grocery shopping will be allowed, as well as for work or health reasons.

The statement said runs on supermarkets were contrary to the intent of the new decree which aims to prevent Italians from congregating. The government assured citizens that markets would be regularly supplied.


3:30 p.m.

Pope Francis is urging priests to courageously go out to visit those sick from the coronavirus, even though Italy has imposed a nationwide lockdown to limit movement and prevent the virus’ spread.

The Vatican on Tuesday livestreamed Francis’ morning Mass, which he celebrated alone in the chapel of the Vatican hotel where he lives. The celebration came hours after the Italian government extended restrictions on movement from virus-hit northern Italy to the rest of the country in a bid to slow the epidemic. Exceptions include for work or health reasons, or for “necessities,” such as grocery shopping.

In his homily, Francis prayed for the sick and the doctors and nurses who are caring for them. He said: “Let us pray to the Lord also for our priests, that they may have the courage to go out and go to the sick people bringing the strength of God’s word and the Eucharist and accompany the health workers and volunteers in this work that they are doing.”

The Vatican, a walled city-state in the heart of Rome, is respecting the Italian lockdown and has imposed restrictions on movement and contact among personnel. One person inside Vatican City has tested positive and five people who came into contact with that person are under precautionary quarantine.


3 p.m.

Authorities in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of ethnically split Cyprus on Tuesday reported the first virus case in the region, a 65-year-old German tourist who arrived on Sunday and developed a high fever.

The hotel where she and the group of 30 tourists she traveled with has been quarantined.

The Cypriot government on Monday announced the country’s first two cases. They include the head of the cardiology unit at the country’s largest state hospital in the capital, Nicosia. The unit has been placed under quarantine while staff are being tested. All hospital visits and admissions have been suspended for 48 hours.


2 p.m.

Mongolia says its first coronavirus case is a French energy worker who didn’t follow instructions to isolate himself.

Authorities say the 56-year-old man works for an exploration company affiliated with the French energy company Areva.

He arrived on March 2 from Moscow and was instructed to isolate himself in himself in his hotel. Instead, authorities say, he visited several restaurants and met with colleagues at his company’s office before traveling by train to the East Gobi region where he worked.

All incoming and outgoing traffic to the capital Ulaanbaatar was closed from Tuesday to March 17. Authorities are working to identify more than 500 people who may have contact with the patient.

Mongolia closed its border with China weeks ago because of the virus outbreak there, and flights to Beijing and Seoul have been canceled. The northern border with Russia remains open and flights to Moscow and Berlin are continuing.


1:30 p.m.

The European Central Bank says a staff member has the new coronavirus.

The ECB said in a statement late Monday that about 100 colleagues who worked near the infected staff member have been told to work from home as a precaution.

The Frankfurt-based central bank says it is also “undertaking a deep clean of potentially affected office spaces.”


A cruise ship barred from Thailand and Malaysia due to coronavirus fears has returned to Singapore a week after it set sail from the city-state.

Passengers wheeling luggage off the Costa Fortuna were ushered to waiting coaches and ferried away Tuesday morning. Most were not wearing masks. Some passengers told reporters at the scene everything was great and that everyone aboard the ship was fine.

No cases of infection with the new virus has been confirmed in the ship. Singapore authorities previously said doctors would check people before they disembarked.

The ship was refused docking in Thailand because it carried 64 Italians and that country has been the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak. Malaysia also turned away the ship.

Singapore allowed the ship to dock because it had been scheduled and all passengers on board had been screened before the ship sailed.

The virus is a concern on cruise ships after hundreds became infected on a ship that was under quarantine at a Japanese port last month. A ship that docked in California on Monday let off its passengers to face quarantines at U.S. facilities or in their home countries. Twenty-one people on that ship are infected.


South Korea’s professional baseball league has postponed its season to sometime during mid-April due to the coronavirus.

The Korea Baseball Organization said Tuesday it still hopes to maintain a 144-game regular-season schedule but will consider banning spectators from some games when risks of infections are high.

South Korea’s professional basketball league has halted its regular season since Feb. 29, while the soccer league has postponed the start of its new season.

The Japanese baseball league season was postponed earlier after playing preseason games without spectators.

The season was to open on March 20. It might start some time in April.


The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at and

Categories: International News