The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the nation and world.

NEW YORK — Worldwide, the death toll climbed past 21,000, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the U.S. rose to 1,041 as of late Wednesday, with nearly 70,000 infections.

Spanish parliament extends state of emergency two weeks

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 has 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.

Death toll in U.S. reaches 1,041

China reports 67 new cases, all in recent arrivals from abroad

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 monthslong 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.

District of Columbia reports 48 new infections

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 nonessential businesses to close.

White House and Capitol tours have been canceled 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.

U.S. Marine first person stationed at Pentagon to test positive

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.

U.S. jobless claims expected to shatter record

U.S. Department of Labor figures to be released Thursday are expected to shatter the record for the greatest number of new unemployment claims filed in a single week. There are more suddenly jobless Americans than during the Great Recession, and more than in the aftermath of major natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods.

Restaurants, hotels, airlines, automakers and entertainment venues all have been hit hard as cities, states and entire countries have ordered the closure of nonessential businesses and directed residents to remain at home. The goal is to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Virus precautions have affected the worldwide economy. Companies in Europe are laying off workers at the fastest pace since the global financial crisis in 2009, according to surveys of business managers.

Official labor statistics for Europe are not yet out, but companies have been announcing tens of thousands of job cuts, both permanent and temporary. The rise in joblessness may not be as sharp as in the U.S., however, because it is harder to fire workers in Europe, where many governments are supporting companies financially to keep workers on partially paid leave.

Some economists project that the U.S. could see around 3 million new unemployment insurance claims when figures are released for the week of March 15-21. That would be around 12 times as many as the previous week.

Ready the full story here.

Over 400,000 people heed Britain’s call for volunteers

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says more than 400,000 people have responded within a day to the government’s call for volunteers to help support the country’s most vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.

On Monday the government called for a quarter of a million healthy people to sign up as “volunteer responders.” Johnson said 405,000 had already volunteered.

The National Health Service said the volunteers would start next week helping the 1.5 million people in Britain who have been asked to stay home and avoid contact with others for 12 weeks because they have underlying health conditions that increase their risk from the virus.

Johnson said they will perform tasks including delivering medicines, driving people home from medical appointments and making phone calls to check on people.

Johnson said “thank you on behalf of the entire country” to all those who have volunteered.

 

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A billboard on an apartment building in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, before the country of 57 million people, will go into a nationwide lockdown for 21 days. Associated PressNardus Engelbrecht

South Africa bans dog-walking during lockdown

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s police minister says dog-walking is banned during the country’s three-week lockdown that begins Friday to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Bheki Cele also said people can’t go running, contradicting the health minister’s comments earlier in the day.

And Cele warned South Africans to essentially stay sober for 21 days, emphasizing that alcohol sales are prohibited.

The military and police will patrol to regulate movement, and all ports of entry are now closed. South Africa has the most COVID-19 cases in Africa with more than 700.

Italy reports 683 more deaths but number of cases levels off

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Medical staff of the Intensive Care Unit of the Casalpalocco COVID-19 Clinic in the outskirts of Rome tend to patients on Wednesday. Associated Press/Domenico Stinellis

ROME — Italy has added 683 more dead and 5,210 infections to its coronavirus toll, but its initial steep rise in cases has continued to level off two weeks into a nationwide lockdown.

The new figures brought the number of infections to 74,386 and placed Italy on track to overtake China in the next day or two in having the most reported cases in the world. Italy last week reported more dead than China and on Wednesday registered a total of 7,503 dead with the virus, confirming its place as the European epicenter of the pandemic.

Dr. Massimo Galli of Milan’s Sacco Hospital said that the infections being verified in these days result from before many of the containment measures went into effect March 11. He told SKY TG24 that in his estimation the restrictions won’t be lifted any time soon.

“This is hard, but the numbers and facts say it,” Galli said.

His team at the Sacco Hospital has determined that the virus has been circulating in Italy since Jan. 25-26, and that it took almost a month for it to become recognized, around Feb. 20-21. That puts Italy as of March 3 at the same place Wuhan, China was on Jan. 25, he said, noting that China is only coming out of tight restrictions now, two months later.

Canada requires returning travelers to isolate

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the coronavirus situation from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

TORONTO — Canada announced Wednesday it is imposing mandatory self-isolation for those returning to the country under the Quarantine Act.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Twitter that the government is making it mandatory to better protect Canada’s most vulnerable.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the requirement will begin at midnight Wednesday and last for 14 days.

Cuomo: 3,800 hospitalized in New York, 285 dead

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state has climbed to 3,800, with close to 900 in intensive care.

New York officials are keeping a close eye on already-stressed hospitals as the number of cases is projected to rise for perhaps three more weeks.

Cuomo said Wednesday that as many as 140,000 hospital beds may be needed in a state with 53,000. The state has more than 30,000 confirmed cases and 285 deaths. The nation-high figures are driven mostly by New York City.

Read the full story on the situation in New York state here.

Aetna waives payments for virus-related hospital stays

One of the nation’s biggest health insures is waiving patient payments for hospital stays tied to the coronavirus.

CVS Health’s insurer Aetna said Wednesday that many of its customers will not have to make co-payments or other forms of cost sharing if they wind up admitted to a hospital in the insurer’s provider network.

The move could save those patients thousands of dollars, depending on their coverage and how much health care they’ve used so far this year.

The waiver lasts through June 1. It applies to the insurer’s 3.6 million customers who have individual insurance or get their coverage through a fully-insured plan offered by a small business. Big employers that offer Aetna coverage also can chose to waive those payments, a spokesman for the insurer said.

Many insurers have waived patient costs for testing or doctor visits and telemedicine to encourage people to get help with coronavirus symptoms. But Aetna, which covers nearly 23 million people, is the first major insurer to extend a payment waiver to the bills many patients will fear most if they become sick.

Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus

LONDON — Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The prince’s Clarence House office says the 71-year-old is showing mild symptoms of COVID-19 and is self-isolating at a royal estate in Scotland.

It says his wife Camilla has tested negative.

The palace says Charles “has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.”

‘A bullet train’: Virus peak may come soon, swamp hospitals

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, saying the infection rate in New York is accelerating and the state could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.

Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3,000 intensive care unit beds statewide.

The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days. While officials once projected the peak in New York would come in early May, they now say it could come in two to three weeks.

“We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own,” he said during a briefing at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

New York officials have been racing to essentially double their hospital capacity to up to 110,000 beds. Cuomo now said there could be a peak need of 140,000 beds.

There were more than 25,000 positive cases in New York state and at least 210 deaths, according to state figures. Most of the cases and deaths have been in New York City, an emerging worldwide hotspot in the outbreak.

New York officials are planning to add at least 1,000 temporary hospital beds at the Javits Center for non-COVID-19 patients and thousands of beds elsewhere. But Cuomo said “they’re nowhere near” the number that will be needed. The state also faces shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for medical workers.

New York has 7,000 ventilators and Cuomo says the city needs 20,000 of them in a matter of weeks. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said 4,000 ventilators were coming from the federal government in the next two days, with half going to the city. He did not provide details.

Cuomo and de Blasio each sought more federal help, and Cuomo on Tuesday called for a national push to send ventilators to New York now, saying the equipment could then be redeployed to different areas once the peak passes in New York.

“I will take personal responsibility for transporting the 20,000 ventilators anywhere in this country that they want, once we are passed our apex,” Cuomo said. “But don’t leave them sitting in a stockpile.”

Russia orders preparation for virus patients

MOSCOW — Russia’s prime minister ordered provincial governors Wednesday to move more quickly to ready hospital beds for coronavirus patients as the outbreak has spread across the vast country.

The government reported 658 cases of the new coronavirus in Russia, up from 495 a day before. That marked a significantly bigger daily increase compared to previous day when the number of infections increased by several dozens.

The warning to governors came a day after the mayor of Moscow told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Russian regions weren’t acting energetically enough to prepare for the outbreak. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warned that the low number of cases in Russia compared to Europe could be explained by insufficient screening and called for quicker action to brace up for the worst.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova reported that 112,000 people are currently in self-isolation being monitored for coronavirus after return from abroad. Earlier this month, the government has requested all those who returned from the countries plagued by the outbreak to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Lawmakers agree on $2 trillion stimulus

WASHINGTON — The White House and Senate leaders of both U.S. political parties have struck an agreement on a sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight. The agreement comes after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure and still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.

The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

You can read more on this story here.

Markets surge on U.S. stimulus news

BANGKOK — Japan’s Nikkei 225 surged 8% and other world markets also jumped Wednesday after Congress and the White House reached a deal to inject nearly $2 trillion of aid into an economy ravaged by the coronavirus.

The advances followed the best day since 1933 for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which rocketed 11.4% higher on Tuesday.

Tokyo logged its biggest daily gain since 2008. Share prices there were lifted also by the decision to postpone the 2020 Olympics to July 2021 in view of the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought travel almost to a standstill and is leaving many millions of people ordered to stay home to help contain the outbreaks.

The postponement alleviated fears the event might be cancelled altogether.

U.S. futures turned higher after U.S. lawmakers said they had bridged their differences over the stimulus package. The future for the Dow rose 3% to 21,221.00 and the contract for the S&P 500 picked up 1.7% to 2,479.70.

The gains this week have been a respite from a brutal month of nearly nonstop selling. But with cases of the virus still climbing, investors are leery of saying markets have hit bottom. Rallies nearly as big as this have punctuated the last few weeks, none lasting more than a day.

The breakthrough on the sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid American workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak was an expected but welcome boost to sentiment.

The deal was announced shortly after midnight and follows days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure. It still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language, but would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

“Given the enormity of the package, it will most certainly be well initially well-received as it should be sufficient to avoid buttress ‘Main Street’ from falling into worst-case, depression type scenarios, especially with the Fed prepared to monetize all the US government’s debt,” Stephen Innes of AxiCorp. said in a commentary.

Pressure was on Congress to act after the Federal Reserve has done nearly all it can to sustain markets.

Overnight, the Dow closed at 20,704.91, while the more closely followed S&P 500 index, which is vital for most 401(k) accounts, leaped 9.4% to 2,447.33. The Nasdaq composite jumped 8.1%, to 7,417.86.

Ultimately, investors say they need to see the number of new infections peak before markets can find a floor. The increasing spread is forcing companies to park airplanes, shut hotels and close restaurants to dine-in customers.

Earlier share rebounds have quickly evaporated. Since stocks began selling off on Feb. 20, the S&P 500 has had six days where it’s risen, and all but one of them were big gains of more than 4%. Afterward, stocks fell an average of 5% the next day.

Palestinian workers return to West Bank for quarantine

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are expected to return to the occupied West Bank from Israel following orders from the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh late Tuesday ordered the workers to return and go into 14-day quarantine, the latest in a series of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

He says those disregarding the orders will face unspecified legal consequences.

Israel has reported more than 2,000 cases and five deaths. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, has reported 58 cases.

Israel had allowed 65,000 Palestinian workers to remain in the country during the crisis, but many are expected to return as Israel tightens its own restrictions. Most work in construction, agriculture and manufacturing.

Working in Israel pays much better than in the West Bank, where decades of Israeli military rule has hindered economic development.

Albania declares national emergency

TIRANA, Albania – Albania has declared the natural calamity emergency because of the virus.

The government late Tuesday issued the decision at the official gazette saying that the rights are limited “to the level considered necessary to protect the citizens’ health.” That means that all public gatherings, including demonstrations and strikes are prohibited.

The government authorities have increased rights, including entering people’s homes to check for virus cases. People are also obliged to report virus symptoms or cases.

That situation is to continue for an unspecified time “during the period of infection.”

As of Tuesday, Albania had 5 deaths and 123 cases.

The country is in a lockdown with all border crossing routes shut, but one flight to Turkey. Schools, cafes, restaurants, gyms and shops are closed, except those offering food items and medicine. Only a limited number of public and private employees can work during an eight-hour time a day while all people may only get out to buy food and medicine.

British Parliament closes down for at least a month

LONDON — Britain’s Parliament is set to shut down for at least four weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers have continued to attend — though in smaller numbers — despite the spread of COVID-19, which has reached 8,077 confirmed cases and 422 deaths in the U.K. Visitors have been banned from the Parliament buildings and some staff have been working from home.

With Britons now ordered to stay home and all but essential shops shut, Parliament is expected to shut down once lawmakers have approved an emergency law on Wednesday giving the government more powers to fight the coronavirus.

Lawmakers will vote on a motion suspending Parliament until April 21. They had previously been due to take an Easter break from April 1-20.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said “Parliament has to lead by example, follow the guidelines wherever it can, and ensure that we protect the staff that work in Parliament as well.”

Cases across Africa top 2,400

JOHANNESBURG — Coronavirus cases across Africa are now above 2,400, and South Africa has more cases than any other African nation with 709. The continent’s most developed country enters lockdown first thing Friday.

German government meeting to approve stimulus package

BERLIN — Germany’s parliament is meeting to approve an enormous package drawn up by the government to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Lawmakers were to vote Wednesday on a series of measures that will allow the government to offer aid totaling more than $1.1 trillion.

As a precaution, members of parliament were spaced widely apart in Berlin’s Reichstag building for the session.

The government is breaking with six years of balanced budgets to borrow what Finance Minister Olaf Scholz called the “gigantic sum” of 156 billion euros to finance the packages and cover an expected shortfall in tax revenue. Parliament’s approval is needed to loosen legal limits on running up debt.

Scholz, who is Germany’s vice chancellor, presented the package in place of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after a doctor who gave her a vaccination tested positive for the coronavirus.

Scholz said that “we as the German government are doing everything necessary and everything possible to cushion the economic and social consequences of managing the crisis.”

South Korea will send U.S. testing materials

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it plans to provide coronavirus testing materials to the United States in response to President Donald Trump’s request for help.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country is willing to send chemical reagents used to extract genetic material during COVID-19 tests, but at a level that doesn’t affect its own testing capacity.

She didn’t provide a detailed estimate on the size of supplies that could be shipped to the United States.

The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier said Trump during a telephone conversation between the leaders asked whether South Korea could send medical equipment and supplies to help the United States cope with its outbreaks.

South Korea is pushing an aggressive test-and-quarantine program that some experts say possibly contributed to its lower death toll in comparison with mainland China and hard-hit European nations.

As of Wednesday, South Korea had tested around 358,000 people while reporting 9,137 infections and 126 deaths.

 


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