The Latest: US health officials back Trump Europe travel ban
The Latest on the world’s coronavirus pandemic:
Top U.S. health officials are defending President Donald Trump’s new travel restrictions on Europe.
Under questioning Thursday at a House hearing, NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said the travel restrictions were a response to the changing nature of the pandemic. Fauci has served six presidents and is considered the country’s pre-eminent infectious disease expert, while Redfield is a Trump political appointee.
Fauci told the House Oversight and Reform committee that 70% of new infections in the pandemic are coming from Europe.
He says “it was pretty compelling that we needed to turn off the source from that region.” Fauci said he would be supportive of additional travel restrictions “if the dynamics of the outbreak mandate that.”
Redfield agreed with that assessment.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has suspended flights to Europe and Colombia for a month, citing concerns for the new coronavirus.
Maduro added in a national broadcast that the illness has not yet been detected in Venezuela, despite it being confirmed in each bordering country, including Colombia, Brazil and Guyana.
Venezuela’s health services are in a state of collapse after years of economic deterioration and political paralysis.
Italy, the center of Europe’s coronavirus pandemic, has hit the milestone of 1,000 deaths since it saw its first cases in mid-February.
Italy’s positive cases continued their upward trend Thursday, registering 15,113 confirmed cases and the death toll hit 1,016.
More than half of those who are in intensive care in Italy are located in hard-hit Lombardy provice, which on Thursday reported 605 ICU patients in a region with only 610 ICU beds.
Hospitals in Lombardy are are overflowing with the dead. Lombardy’s top health care official, Giulio Gallera, said at the request of the hospitals, the region had simplified the bureaucracy needed to process death certificates and bury the dead.
The European stocks index has ended the day with its biggest loss on record.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index, which measures major stocks across the region, fell 11.5% on Thursday, its worst day on record. It eclipsed the 8.5% drop during the 1987 stock market crash.
Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 10.9%, its worst loss since 1987. Germany’s DAX plunged 12.2%, which is more than it lost after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. France’s CAC 40 12.3% and Italy’s FTSE MIB a massive 16.9%.
Investors worried about a U.S. travel ban that covers much of Europe and could presage tougher government limits on business activity in order to clamp down on the virus outbreak.
Some analysts also noted how European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde underscored how it was mainly up to governments, not central banks, to help the economy through the disruption of the outbreak.
Austria reported its first COVID-19 fatality in a 69-year-old man who fell ill after a trip to Italy.
Vienna’s Kaiser-Franz-Josef Hospital said the patient died of “multiple organ failure,” appeared to have recovered from the virus but suffered irreparable damage as a result of infection, according to public broadcaster ORF.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City says it is closing all three of its locations in the city starting Friday as a precautionary measure in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak.
The museum, popular with art lovers and tourists, said it would remain closed indefinitely and its buildings will undergo a deep cleaning. Met President Daniel Weiss said there were no confirmed cases tied to the museum.
The communications chief for Brazil’s president has tested positive for the new coronavirus just days after flying with his boss to Florida where he also met U.S. President Donald Trump.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s communications director Fábio Wajngarten tested positive and Bolsonaro’s office says measures are being taken to protect the president’s health.
Wajngarten joined Bolsonaro on a three-day trip to the U.S.. On Saturday, he was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and posted a photo of himself posing beside Trump. A video from the event also showed him standing directly behind both presidents as they spoke to the crowd.
Wajngarten initially denied a report on Wednesday that he had been tested for the virus, saying on his social media account that his health was fine. He is now in self-quarantine at home, according to the statement.
Officials on both sides of the Atlantic say Europe is the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
CDC Director Robert Redfield told U.S. lawmakers in House hearing that “within the world now, over 70% of new cases are linked to Europe. … Europe is the new China.”
The head of the Danish Health Authority, Soeren Brostroem, said Thursday that “ the epidemic has gotten a new epicenter, and that is Europe.”
He told reporters that “if one looks at day-by-day developments, Europe has the greatest growth now. And it is not just Italy, but also a number of other countries in Europe that have had a worrying development.”
The European Center for Disease says the continent has more than 22,000 cases of the new coronavirus and 943 deaths.
CDC Director Robert Redfield says his agency is working to make sure that uninsured Americans can get tested for coronavirus if it’s medically needed.
About 28 million Americans are uninsured. Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, pressed Redfield on their predicament Thursday at a congressional hearing. Porter says the Health and Human Services department has the legal authority to pay for health costs.
After going back and forth with the congresswoman, Redfield said he agreed. He says “those individuals who are in the shadows can get the health care that they need during the time of us responding to this crisis,” he said.
Community health centers are a go-to source of primary medical for uninsured people, and in many states Medicaid will extend emergency coverage to people who qualify.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that a 67-year-old man is the state’s first death from coronavirus. The man tested positive for the virus March 7 and had “underlying medical conditions.”
Mountain climbing expedition operators on Mount Everest says Chinese mountaineering officials will not allow spring climbs from their side of the world’s highest mountain due to fears of coronavirus.
On the other side of the mountain in Nepal, operators say cancellations for the popular spring climbing season have been pouring in, despite the mountain being open for business.
As the virus is coming under control in China, officials there are taking steps to prevent new infections coming from abroad, including by putting overseas travelers arriving in Beijing into 14-day quarantines.
China has seen nearly 81,000 infections but some 61,000 of them have already recovered. Over 3,000 virus victims have died in China, the world’s hardest-hit nation.
President Donald Trump sought to assure the markets mid-day Thursday as he took questions from reporters while meeting with Ireland’s prime minister. The president often takes credit for market gains in the last three years, though the bull market that ended this week began in early 2009.
“You have to remember the stock market, as an example, is still much higher than when I got here,” Trump said. “It’s taken a big hit, but it’s going to all bounce back and it’s going to bounce back very big at the right time.”
Trump decision to ban travel from most European countries for 30 days has rattled markets around the world and sent stocks plummeting.
Trumps says “I don’t want people dying and that’s why I made these decisions. Whether it affects the stock market or not, very important, but it’s not important compared to life and death.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is self-isolating at home after wife has exhibited flu-like symptoms.
Trudeau’s office said Sophie Grégoire Trudeau returned from a speaking engagement in the United Kingdom and began began exhibiting mild flu-like symptoms including a low fever late Wednesday night. She is being tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting results.
The statement said “Out of an abundance of caution, the prime minister is opting to self-isolate and work from home until receiving Sophie’s results.”
The Southeastern Conference has cancelled the remainder of its 2020 men’s college basketball tournament in Nashville after holding two games the first day. It marks the first time since 1978 that it hasn’t held a tournament.
The SEC tweeted its cancellation a little more than an hour before Alabama was to face Tennessee in the first of four second-round games at Bridgestone Arena. It comes less than a day after the conference announced that spectators would be banned.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said religious leaders have agreed to cancel weddings, baptisms, funeral services and other ceremonies in the coming weeks to help prevent spread of the new coronavirus.
Kurz said Thursday the measures were part of efforts to enforcing “social distancing” that also includes closing middle schools and high schools beginning Monday and postpone local elections March 22 in the state of Styria. Burials are still allowed.
He added that further measures would be announced Friday. Austria has 302 confirmed cases.
Worldwide, 126,000 people have been infected with the new coronavirus, 68,000 have recovered and 4,600 have died.
Borders are re-emerging in Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Czech government declared a state of emergency Thursday due to coronavirus and was renewing border checks at its borders with Austria and Germany.
People will be banned from crossing in at any other place.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis said people from 13 risk countries that include not only China, South Korea and Iran but also EU nations such as Italy, Spain, France, Austria and Germany as well Britain will not be allowed to enter the Czech Republic.
In addition, Czech citizens are not allowed to travel to those countries. Exceptions include truck drivers, train workers and pilots.
Also, starting Friday, all public gatherings of more than 30 people will be banned.
Congress is shutting the Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the new coronavirus.
The House and Senate sergeants at arms said that the closure will begin at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday. Only lawmakers, aides, journalists and official visitors will be allowed into the buildings. The statement says officials are acting “out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public.”
Politicians in Europe, Iran and China have contracted the virus and several U.S. lawmakers have already self-quarantined due to exposure. The virus has infected over 126,000 people worldwide and killed over 4.600 but over 68,000 victims have already recovered.
World markets are enduring violent swings amid uncertainty about how badly the outbreak will hit the economy.
An early plunge of 7% on Wall Street triggered a trading halt as a sell-off slamming global markets continued.
The Dow Jones industrials dropped more than 1,600 points, or 7%, the S&P 500 fell a similar amount. Trading resumes after 15 minutes.
The rout came after President Donald Trump imposed a travel ban on most of Europe and offered few new measures to contain the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Benchmarks in Europe fell more than 7% even after the European Central Bank announced more stimulus measures.
Princess Cruises has announced, due to the new coronavirus, it will voluntarily pause global operations of its 18 cruise ships for 60 days, affecting trips departing March 12 to May 10.
Cruise ships have been particularly hard hit amid the new pandemic and have been turned away by dozens of ports and countries. The Diamond Princess cruise ship, which Japanese officials held in a flawed quarantine operation, infected hundreds of passengers and crew.
Passengers on a Princess cruise that will end in the next five days will continue to sail as expected. Current voyages that extend beyond March 17 will end at the most convenient location for guests.
Under normal operations, the company handles more than 50,000 passengers a day.
Britain, which is exempt from the U.S. travel ban on most European nations, has not taken the stringent measures seen in other European countries, such as closing schools or banning large events.
The U.K. has 456 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and eight deaths. But the centerpiece of official British advice so far is that people should wash their hands often in warm, soapy water.
On Thursday, Britain’s Conservative government is expected to announce that it is moving from attempting to contain the virus to delaying its spread. That is likely to bring wider measures, including a recommendation that people with flu-like symptoms stay home for a week. But there are so far no plans for travel bans or large-scale closures of schools or other institutions.
In Ireland — which is also excluded from the U.S. travel ban — 43 cases have been confirmed and one person has died.
U.S. President Donald Trump has golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.
Iran has asked for an emergency $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to combat the outbreak of the novel coronavirus there, which has killed more than 360 people and infected some 9,000 nationwide.
Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati said Thursday he made the request last week in a letter to IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.
Iran’s economy has been battered by U.S. sanctions, which have choked Tehran’s ability to export oil widely. The virus outbreak prompted all of Iran’s neighbors to shutter their borders and nations have cut travel links with Iran, including shipping in some cases, affecting imports, as well.
Ireland is closing all schools and cultural institutions until March 29, in a major escalation of its response to the new coronavirus.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced the measures would take effect at 6 p.m. Thursday. He said the closure applies to schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions. All indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events with more than 500 are also canceled.
Speaking during a trip to Washington, Varadkar said people should work from home as much as possible.
He said “acting together as one nation we can save many lies.”
So far 43 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Ireland and one person has died. Ireland, along with Britain, is excluded from a 30-day U.S. ban on travellers form continental Europe.
The European Union has slammed the new anti-virus travel ban announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, lashing out at the “unilateral” decision.
In a joint statement, EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that the coronavirus pandemic is a “global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”
Trump’s new restrictions apply only to most foreign citizens who have been in Europe’s passport-free travel zone at any point within 14 days prior to their arrival to the United States.
The so-called “Schengen” area comprises 26 countries including EU members France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria and Belgium, where the EU has its headquarters, but also others like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
Trump said the monthlong restriction on travel would begin late Friday. He accused Europe of not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus” and claimed that U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.
Von der Leyen and Michel dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the EU has not done enough.
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