The Latest: Japan setting up task force to discuss measures
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Japan setting up task force to discuss coronavirus measures, emergency responses
— Western Australia wants residents on cruise ship to isolate on resort island
— Alaska Airlines to reduce flights by 70%, cut pay to its CEO and president to zero
— South Korea has 104 new coronavirus cases, 5 more deaths
TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is setting up a special task force to discuss coronavirus measures and emergency responses as the government now considers the spread of the COVID-19 virus rampant in the country, officials said Thursday.
The meeting is backed by a special law enacted earlier this month to allow Abe to declare a state of emergency.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said ministers in Abe’s Cabinet accepted the latest assessment submitted by a government-commissioned experts’ panel that the coronavirus outbreak in Japan is feared to have been widespread in the country.
Nationwide, Japan had 93 new cases on Wednesday, including 41 in Tokyo alone. The number has doubled from past few weeks, amid a rise of untraceable infections in Tokyo, Osaka and other cities, while a growing number of cases were brought in from abroad, Kato said.
A sharp increase prompted alarmed Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to hold an emergency news conference Wednesday to ask Tokyo residents to work from home as much as possible and stay home during the coming weekend, suggesting a possible so-called “lockdown” if the infection turns “explosive.”
Japan as of Wednesday has 2,003 confirmed cases, including 712 from a cruise ship, with 55 deaths.
CANBERRA, Australia — The Western Australia state government says it only wants to isolate its own residents on a resort island for 14 days and wants hundreds of other Australians and foreigners aboard a cruise ship due to dock soon to fly home.
State Premier Mark McGowan said Thursday that dealing with three cruise ships hoping to dock at the port town of Fremantle is “extremely complicated.”
The Vasco da Gama has been asked to delay its arrival at Fremantle from Friday to Monday to allow time to prepare Rottnest Island, a 24-kilometer (15-mile) ferry journey away, as a quarantine center for the 200 Western Australians aboard.
McGowan says he wants the other 1,300 passengers and crew — including 600 Australians — to remain on board until they can fly directly home. The state government is dealing with other governments to arrange that.
No cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed on the Vasco da Gama, but seven COVID-19 cases have been confirmed on another cruise ship off the Australian west coast, Artania. A third ship, Magnifica, is anchored off the west coast and has not reported illness. Magnifica left Fremantle on Tuesday, but has since been told by the United Arab Emirates that it can’t dock in Dubai.
The Artania and Magnifica have almost 3,000 passengers and crew on board but no Australians.
“No one will be disembarking at Fremantle unless a passenger is in a life-threatening emergency,” McGowan said.
McGowan wants any medical cases that must come ashore to be taken to an Australian military base.
SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines will reduce flights by 70% in April and May and cut pay to its CEO and president to zero through September to conserve cash amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The Seattle-based airline said Wednesday that like other airlines they are seeing demand for flights drop by more than 80% and flight schedules for June and beyond will be based on demand.
“These actions are unprecedented, but these are truly unprecedented times,” Alaska CEO Brad Tilden said in a news release.
Additionally, Alaska plans to slash pay by 50% to the president of Horizon Air, and cut it by 20 to 30% for other executives. The company board also will not take their pay. The company has worked with the White House, The Treasury Department, and Congress on a $50 billion aid package for passenger airlines, Tilden said.
“As we more fully understand the impact of these provisions, we will add to our plans to manage through this change,” he said.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 104 new cases of the coronavirus and five more deaths, bringing its totals to 9,241 infections and 131 deaths.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention said Thursday that 30 of the new cases were linked to recent arrivals.
Health authorities have been scrambling to prevent the virus from re-entering as an increasing number of South Koreans return from Europe and the United States amid broadening outbreaks and suspended school years.
From Friday, the country will enforce 14-day quarantines on South Korean nationals and foreigners with long-term stay visas arriving from the United States. Similar measures have already been applied to passengers arriving from Europe.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun on Thursday ordered officials to employ a “no-tolerance” policy on those who disobey quarantines, saying that South Korean nationals would be sued and foreigners would be expelled.
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad — Trinidad & Tobago is reporting its first death from the coronavirus.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said late Wednesday that the patient was an elderly man with a pre-existing medical condition.
The twin-island nation of 1.4 million people has more than 50 confirmed cases. The oil- and gas-rich nation shuttered its borders earlier this week and has refused entry to everyone, including Trinidadians now stuck abroad.
MADRID — Spain’s Parliament has voted in favor of the government’s request to extend the state of emergency by two weeks that has allowed it to apply a national lockdown in hopes of stemming its coronavirus outbreak.
The parliamentary endorsement will allow the government to extend the strict stay-at-home rules and business closings for a full month. The government declared a state of emergency on March 14. It will now last until April 11.
Spain’s government solicited the two-week extension after deaths and infections from the COVID-19 virus have skyrocketed in recent days. Spain 47,600 total cases. Its 3,434 deaths only trail Italy’s death toll as the hardest-hit countries in the world.
The parliament met with fewer than 50 of its 350 members in the chamber, with the rest voting from home to reduce the risk of contagion.
BEIJING — China’s National Health Commission on Thursday reported 67 new COVID-19 cases, all of which it says were imported infections in recent arrivals from abroad.
Once again, there were no new cases reported in Wuhan, the central Chinese provincial capital where the coronavirus emerged in December.
After a months-long lockdown, Wuhan residents are allowed out of the city but cannot leave Hubei province until April 8. China has started lifting the last of the controls that confined tens of millions of people to their homes.
As outbreaks escalate in the United States and Europe, China’s ruling Communist Party has declared victory over the epidemic and is relaxing restrictions to revive the economy.
WASHINGTON — District of Columbia health officials announced 48 new positive infections from the coronavirus, including a 2-month-old boy, bringing the total up to 231.
Officials also announced Washington’s third death from the virus, a 75-year-old woman.
Officials in Washington have long predicted that infection numbers would spike as testing became more available. Mayor Muriel 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. Police have blocked off dozens of streets, bridges and traffic circles to prevent crowds coming to see Washington’s signature blooming cherry blossom trees.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. Marine has become the first person stationed at the Pentagon to test positive for coronavirus.
The Marine has been in isolation at home since March 13, when a member of his immediate family began to show symptoms. The Pentagon said his workspace has been cleaned and a contact investigation is underway.
Two other defense workers who had visited the Pentagon have tested positive, but they were not assigned to the building.
DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is issuing a statewide stay-at-home order in an attempt to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
Polis said he is taking this “extreme measure,” effective Thursday until April 11 because restrictions taken to date haven’t done enough to reduce the spread of the virus. People should only leave home when they absolutely must, he said, for grocery shopping, to seek medical care or to care for dependents. Polis’ order comes after six Colorado counties issued stay-at-home orders affecting nearly 3 million people.
More than 1,086 people in Colorado have tested positive for the virus and at least 20 people have died.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has halted for 60 days the movement of US troops and Defense Department civilians overseas as a further measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The stoppage is expected to affect about 90,000 troops scheduled to deploy abroad or to return from abroad over the next two months. Some exceptions are allowed, and the order by Defense Secretary Mark Esper will not stop the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as called for in last month’s deal with the Taliban.
WASHINGTON — The White House says New York residents who have left the metro area in recent days should self-isolate for 14 days, clarifying guidance announced Tuesday which had applied to anyone who had visited New York recently.
Dr. Deborah Birx issued the new guidance Wednesday from the White House press briefing room, saying it applied to “residents of the metro area that may have gone to second homes or other places to reside.”
She says: “We’ve asked all of them to carefully monitor their temperatures and self-isolate from the communities where they went just to ensure their own health and the health of their communities.”
The New York metro area is now the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., accounting for more than 50% of all new infections reported in recent days.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is welcoming calls by some groups for an immediate ceasefire to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, and says he sees “a clear conscience emerging” that it’s time to concentrate on the war against COVID-19.
He pointed to communist guerrillas in the Philippines announcing a ceasefire from Thursday to April 15 in response to his appeal, and said he was encouraged to see a truce in Libya between the warring parties “holding with difficulties.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric also noted the humanitarian truce called for by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the country’s northeast to deal with the virus. The group was allied with the United States in the fight against Islamic State extremists.
Guterres said at a humanitarian briefing Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority and Israel have also been able to work together on COVID-19, “even if we know the extreme division that exists politically between the two.”
He said U.N. envoys around the world are talking to warring parties about ceasefires and he expressed hope that “it will be possible in Yemen and Syria to make serious progress” to end fighting and tackle the coronavirus.
HELSINKI — The Finnish government says it will block the movement of citizens into and out of a key southern region that includes the Nordic nation’s capital, Helsinki, to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus to other areas.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin said late Wednesday the measure concerns the Uusimaa region including Helsinki and affects the daily lives of some 1.7 million people, nearly a third of Finland’s population.
The government made the decision as the “risk of substantial spreading of the infection from the Uusimaa region to rest of Finland is high” through non-necessary travelling, said Krista Kiuru, the social affairs minister.
Police are set to enforce the new regulation, which is set to begin March 27 and end April 19. It will cease all non-necessary human traffic to and from Uusimaa, the region that has been hit worst by the virus.
Nationwide, Finland has so far confirmed 880 cases of COVID-19 and three deaths.