The Latest: Virus threat prompts cancellation of SXSW

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The Latest on the virus outbreak (all times local to Seoul):

7:10 a.m.

Austin city officials have canceled the South by Southwest arts and technology festival.

Mayor Steve Adler announced a local disaster as a precaution because of the threat of the novel coronavirus, effectively cancelling the annual event.

The announcement comes days after several high-profile companies, including Netflix, tech news outlet Mashable, video-based social media platform TikTok and U.S. chip maker Intel, pulled out of the festival.

More than 50,000 people had signed a petition seeking to get the festival cancelled.

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has climbed to 14, with all but one victim in Washington state, while the number of infections swelled to over 200 scattered across at least 18 states, including at least six cases in the Houston area.


6:30 a.m.

Austria is suspending direct flights to Milan and Bologna in neighboring Italy, as well as South Korea and Iran.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Friday announcement follows an earlier decision by Slovakia to cancel all flights between the central European nation and Italy.

Italy has recorded nearly 800 more people infected with the coronavirus in the last 24 hours with another 49 deaths in the pandemic. That brings the total number of infected people in Italy to 4,636, and a total of 197 deaths.

Kurz says Austria will also establish “spot health checks” at border crossings with Italy and that the measures will be reviewed after two weeks.

Austria has confirmed 63 cases.

Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini says the ban on direct flights to Italy comes into effect on Monday. His nation confirmed its first case of the new virus Friday. Pellegrini says the son of the 52-year old infected man recently returned from Venice, Italy.


5:10 a.m.

Authorities in France and Spain are reinforcing efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus among vulnerable populations.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Friday that all nurseries and schools will shut down for two weeks in France’s two most affected regions: Oise, just north of Paris, and Haut-Rhin along the German border.

Authorities have issued a ban on all gatherings except those “essential to social and democratic life” in those areas, and the most fragile people are advised to stay home. Health Minister Olivier Veran says people across the whole French territory are advised not to visit the elderly.

In Madrid, authorities said Friday that they are closing more than 200 day-dare centers for elderly people for at least a month. The decision follows the death of a 76-year-old man of COVID-19 after he had visited a center in the Spanish city.


4:30 a.m.

Is a ban on handshake lines after sporting events a step too far in the fight to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus?

Perhaps, according to University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, whose team will open play Saturday in the American Athletic Conference tournament.

Auriemma said Friday that if handshakes are not allowed because it is too dangerous to touch each other, then they might as well not play at all.

The Hall-of-Famer says he understands the need for caution, but that basketball is a contact sport.

He says, “there’s a lot of bodily fluids flying around for two hours,” and that he doesn’t “think shaking hands is going to be the game-changer there at the end of the game.”

3:20 a.m.

The United Nations’ top climate change official says her agency won’t hold any physical meetings at its headquarters in Germany or elsewhere until the end of April due to the spread of the new coronavirus.

Patricia Espinosa is the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Espinosa said Friday that the decision by the climate change secretariat comes in response to the outbreak and “the evolving situation in Germany,” where more than 500 cases have now been confirmed. The highest concentration of cases is in the state where the secretariat’s Bonn headquarters is located.

Espinosa notes “increasing challenges” posed by travel restrictions and quarantine measures imposed on travelers. She says some upcoming meetings would have required a quorum that would be affected by attendees last-minute cancellations.

She says her office is working on alternatives, such as virtual meetings or postponement.


3:05 a.m

German airline Lufthansa says it is reducing its capacity in the coming weeks by as much as 50% of pre-coronavirus outbreak levels.

Lufthansa and its subsidiaries, including Austrian Airlines and Swiss, already have cut or reduced flights to several destinations in recent weeks.

The new coronavirus has hit the aviation industry hard, with many connections to China initially being cut. Those cutbacks have deepened as the virus has spread in Europe and elsewhere, prompting a fall in demand and new travel restrictions in some countries.

Lufthansa says it has suffered “drastic declines in bookings and numerous flight cancellations” and that the upcoming cuts should “reduce the financial consequences of the slump in demand.”

The company says it’s considering whether to suspend service of its 14 Airbus A380 superjumbo jets and that it’s in talks with unions and others on how to avoid dismissals.


2:45 a.m.

The United Nations’ climate change agency has postponed a regional conference that was to be held in Uganda in April because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Africa Climate Week was scheduled April 20-24 in Kampala. The U.N. climate change secretariat said Friday that the meeting will be held at a later, undetermined date.

It says Uganda will still host the meeting, which is intended as a forum to share ways for governments to implement the Paris Agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in Africa.

The U.N. agency notes that Uganda’s health ministry has issued guidance to place people arriving from countries most affected by the virus outbreak to be held in quarantine at government hospitals if they display symptoms. They are placed in self-isolation for 14 days if they don’t display symptoms.

2:35 a.m.

A federation of labor unions is calling on the U.S. government to issue emergency regulations outlining an employer’s responsibilities to protect workers from infectious diseases.

Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president, says many employers are woefully unprepared for dealing with the new coronavirus and future infectious disease outbreaks. He says the Obama administration tried to establish enforceable standards to protect workers from infection but that work has ground to a halt under President Donald Trump.

The AFL-CIO submitted a petition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday asking it to set an emergency temporary standard for employers to follow.

The petition says current efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus are largely voluntary, allowing employers to ignore or selectively follow federal guidelines.

It says workers “have the right to consistent levels of protection” in all workplaces where occupational exposure to the coronavirus can be expected.


2:15 a.m.

Sri Lankans are protesting the government’s decision to convert a leprosy hospital on the outskirts of the capital Colombo into a quarantine center, saying it could pose a threat to their lives.

Army troops are in the process of refurbishing the Leprosy Hospital at Wattala, about 8 kilometers from Colombo.

More than one hundred people protested at the site Friday, saying it’s unsafe to establish a quarantine facility in such a densely populated area.

Private television channel Derena showed demonstrators blocking a main road, shouting slogans and displaying banners reading “Don’t bring Corona to our village” and “Save our children.”

Sri Lanka’s government says the center will be used to quarantine Sri Lankans arriving from Italy, South Korea and Iran for 14 days.


1:30 a.m.

The White House says it’s considering providing federal support for certain industries hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Larry Kudlow, director of the president’s National Economic Council, tells reporters at the White House on Friday that the administration is not looking at a “massive” federal relief plan. Rather, it would be “timely and targeted and micro.”

President Donald Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion measure to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak, but Kudlow notes that money was directed at the public health system. Certain industries focused on travel and tourism have been hard hit. The International Air Transport Association says the virus outbreak that began in China late last year could cost airlines as much as $113 billion in lost revenue.

Kudlow says “we may have to go back to Congress for additional appropriations. That’s may. We don’t know yet.”

Kudlow did not have a timeline for when a relief package could be developed. He says an across-the-board relief package is unnecessary because he claimed the hit is a temporary one.


1:15 a.m.

At the White House, President Donald Trump has signed a $8.3 billion bill to fight the coronavirus that has rocked financial markets, interrupted travel and killed nearly 3,400 people worldwide.

Trump’s trip to the Centers for Disease Control, which was scuttled because of unfounded fears that someone there had contracted the virus, was back on for later Friday, giving the president another chance to calm growing alarm about the spread of the virus in America.

Trump also said he spoke to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and people are being tested Friday on a cruise ship stuck off the coast of California due to virus fears.

So far, 14 people have died in the United States from the virus, most at a nursing home in Washington state, but Trump says U.S. authorities are on top of the situation.

Trump says “we have very low numbers compared to major countries throughout the world. Our numbers are lower than just about anybody.”


12:05 a.m. Saturday

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it looks like the U.K. will face a “substantial period of disruption” from the new coronavirus outbreak and the government plans to put aid for affected businesses in the national budget.

The number of people in Britain infected with the virus increased to 163, the government reported Friday. A woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions who died Thursday became the country’s first casualty of the COVID-19 disease.

After visiting a laboratory of a company that is involved in efforts to develop a rapid method for diagnosing virus infections, Johnson said a vaccine or rapid test would be “life-changing and life-saving.”

“If we can get a test kit, of the kind they are producing here in the next few months, in a realistic timetable …. If we can get a vaccine as well, then humanity is going to push back the legions of disease,” he said.


11:30 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited a retirement home in Paris —which has 94 residents, the oldest aged 107— in a move to reassure both the elderly and health workers about France’s readiness to combat the spread of the virus.

Macron said France will likely move to the highest level of epidemic alert “in the coming days” as the new coronavirus keeps spreading. French Health authorities on Friday reported 577 confirmed cases of the virus, including nine deaths. The virus is known to affect the elderly and the sick more than other groups of people.

Macron says “the priority of the nation is to protect our elderly people. We must do it with responsibility, common sense and measures of discipline, and without any panic.”

Macron announced earlier this week that his government was requisitioning all current and future stocks of protective masks in order to ensure their distribution to virus patients and health workers.


10 p.m.

The Dutch public health institute has reported the Netherlands’ first coronavirus death, while Serbia and Slovakia confirmed their first cases of the virus.

An 86-year-old man died in a hospital in Rotterdam. It is not known where he contracted the virus. The Netherlands currently has 82 known infections.

The 43-year-old man now infected in Serbia had visited Budapest, the Hungarian capital. The 52-year-old man hospitalized in Slovakia didn’t travel abroad but his son had returned recently from Venice. Italy, with 148 virus deaths and over 3,800 infections, is the epicenter of Europe’s virus outbreak.

Elsewhere, Germany’s confirmed virus cases topped 530 and the government-run Robert Koch Institute announced it has added Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region to the list of “risk areas” where community transmission of the virus is suspected. The German-speaking region in northern Italy is popular with German tourists.

Virus cases rose to 423 in France, 345 in Spain and 109 in Belgium.


9:35 p.m.

Thailand has denied entry to passengers and crew of a cruise ship that arrived at the popular Andaman Sea resort island of Phuket.

Phuket Immigration Police Chief Col. Narong Chanaphaikul said his office would not allow the more than 2,000 people on board the Costa Fortuna to disembark because some passengers are from Italy. That is a country which Thai health authorities have officially designated a dangerous communicable disease area, along with South Korea, China, Macao, Hong Kong and Iran.

Thai authorities can prohibit the entry of anyone traveling from a designated dangerous disease area or require them to undergo physical exams or be quarantined.

Narong said even though there were no known cases of COVID-19 abroad the ship, it would be impractical to check or quarantine such a large number of passengers for a one-day stop.

Thailand last month denied docking privileges to the cruise ship Westerdam after it had already been turned away at several other Asian and Pacific locations. The passengers were finally allowed off at the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville, and returned home by air.


8 p.m.

People arriving in Thailand from six countries and territories will have to submit daily reports on their health as a measure against the spread of the new virus.

Thailand’s Public Health Ministry announced the new regulation Friday after officially designating South Korea, China, Macao, Hong Kong, Italy and Iran as “dangerous communicable disease areas.”

Dr. Thanarak Plipat, deputy director of the Bureau of Epidemiology under the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Disease Control, said officials can order people to be placed under quarantine if they are suspected of having the virus.

Both Thai citizens and foreigners who visited those areas must produce daily reports on their health and their whereabouts for 14 days, with officials collecting the information either online or by phone.

The government has been reluctant to impose broad restrictions on travelers. Thailand’s tourism industry is huge, both in terms of revenue and people employed, and visitors from China — where the virus outbreak began — comprise the greatest share of arrivals. Hotels and other tourism-related businesses have reported sharp losses.


7:55 p.m.

The U.N. human rights chief is calling on governments and businesses to help alleviate the effect of lockdowns, quarantines and other measures aimed to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says measures to fight the virus should comply with human rights standards, and says efforts should be made to “protect the most vulnerable and neglected people in society.”

Bachelet’s office said school closures like those instituted in some countries could force parents to stay home from work, “a measure that is likely to disproportionately affect women.” It said workers who “self-isolate” could face lost pay or jobs, and pointed to the impact on trade — which could trickle down to employees.

Bachelet said in Friday’s statement that governments should be alert to “unintended consequences of their actions,” while businesses should respond “with flexibility to the impact on their employees.”

Bachelet said “human dignity and rights need to be front and center in that effort, not an afterthought.”


7:45 p.m.

A Vatican spokesman has confirmed the first case of coronavirus at the city-state, as did officials in the African nation of Cameroon.

Vatican Spokesman Matteo Bruni said Friday that non-emergency medical services at the Vatican have been closed so they can be sanitized following the positive test on Thursday.

More details on the identity of the person testing positive were not made available.

Vatican medical services are also available to staff and family members of people working at the Vatican.

The pope, meanwhile, is recovering from a cold, and the Vatican has said that he has no other pathologies.

Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health said its first patient is a 58-year-old French citizen who arrived in the Central African country on Feb. 24. The ministry said Friday that surveillance has been put in place, and the patient is in solitary confinement in a hospital.


2:30 p.m.

Japan has canceled a memorial for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Crown Prince Akishino and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been scheduled to speak at the event next Wednesday. The government memorial in past years was broadcast live to towns worst-hit by the disaster, but the local events were being canceled or trimmed back as well.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday the cancellation was unavoidable because Japan “must take all possible steps to stop the further spread of the virus in the country.” Japan has urged schools to close nationwide and limited large gatherings of people among its containment measures.

Japan has more than 1,000 cases of infection, including about 700 from a cruise ship.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of Japan’s northeastern coast, killed 18,000 people and caused reactor meltdowns at a damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture.


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Categories: International News