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The Latest: Vatican working to control spread of new virus
Health & Environment By: The Bullet Wire March 5th, 2020 11:00 am
BANGKOK (AP) — The Latest on the virus outbreak (all times local):
The Vatican says it is working with Italian authorities to coordinate measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the tiny city state, where Pope Francis is recovering from a cold.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni declined to elaborate on possible measures. It seems likely that the Vatican will suspend Francis’ weekly general audiences, given the Italian ban on large public gatherings and recommendations that people stay separated by 1 meter. Several upcoming Vatican conferences have been canceled or postponed.
One Vatican official has been placed under protective quarantine in France after a priest from the French church in Rome tested positive for the virus when he arrived there. The official, who isn’t sick, lives in the same church.
Bruni says the 83-year-old pope continues his “positive recovery” from the cold that forced him to cancel several official audiences and miss a weeklong spiritual retreat.
Colombian President Iván Duque has been tested for the new coronavirus after participating in a conference in Washington attended by several people who may have been exposed to the illness.
Colombia’s Ministry of Health announced Thursday that Duque’s coronavirus test came back negative.
Officials say they considered the president’s potential exposure to the virus at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee event “low risk,” but decided to test him as a precaution.
According to AIPAC, a group of conference attendees from New York may have had contact with someone diagnosed with the coronavirus before attending and are now on a “self-quarantine list.”
The organization states that more than 18,000 people attend the event.
Colombia currently has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
The number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in New York state has doubled overnight, from 11 to 22.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the figures Thursday. The newly diagnosed cases include two hospitalized patients in New York City and a hospitalized man in Long Island’s Nassau County.
The other positive tests were in people with mild symptoms — or none at all — in Westchester County, where a cluster of cases emerged earlier in the week. One of the previously diagnosed patients from Westchester County has been hospitalized.
Overall, the U.S. has 11 deaths among the over 3,300 people worldwide who have died from the new coronavirus.
A patient with an underlying health condition in southeast England has died after testing positive for the new coronavirus, the first person in the UK to succumb to the disease.
The person, who was not identified, is among the 115 people in the U.K. who have tested positive for the new virus. Switzerland also reported its first virus death on Thursday.
Italy has by far the highest number of dead in Europe at 148 people. France has reported six deaths.
England’s chief medical officer said Thursday that U.K. authorities have largely shifted from efforts to contain the new coronavirus to now attempting to delay its spread. Chris Whitty said there’s evidence the virus is being passed from person to person in the U.K.
He said Britain’s official response had gone from “mainly contain with some delay” to “mainly delay.”
The head of the World Health Organization says nations cannot stop their battle against the coronavirus that is sweeping across the globe.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking in Geneva on Thursday, told reporters: “This is not a drill. This is not the time for giving up. This is not a time of for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”
He added that “countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans.”
He said “the worst thing that can happen to any country or even to any individual is giving up. So WHO is saying don’t give up. Don’t surrender.”
U.S. health officials, meanwhile, said Thursday said they expect a far lower death rate for the virus than WHO’s current estimate of 3.4% — saying that it does not account for mild cases that go uncounted. Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir, citing a model that included mild cases, said the U.S. could expect a death rate somewhere between 0.1% — like seasonal flu — and 1%.
A U.S. envoy says the United States has offered humanitarian assistance to Iran to help them deal with their coronavirus outbreak but “the regime rejected the offer.”
U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, spoke Thursday at a news conference in Paris. Iran has reported 107 virus deaths, same as Italy, the two hardest-hit nations outside of China.
In an interview later, Hook says “we asked the regime to identify what their needs are” but Iran did not respond. He said the offer would stand.
Hook also said the U.S. has asked Iran to release all Americans from its prisons “on medical furloughs” over fears the coronavirus may be infesting the country’s prisons. He said five Americans are being held in Iran. He added that Washington was working through Switzerland on this and could not provide more details.
Hook attributed the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Iran to “the government’s mismanagement.”
A school district north of Seattle with 22,000 students will close for up to two weeks because of coronavirus concerns.
All 26 schools in the Northshore School District will be closed for up to two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect vulnerable staff members, the district’s superintendent said in a letter to parents. The district is largely in Bothell, Washington, 20 miles north of Seattle.
There have been at least 39 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Seattle area. Ten people have died.
Northshore School District superintendent Michelle Reid said school officials will consult with health authorities on further recommendations.
The district had closed a high school for two days last week over concerns about coronavirus exposure. Reid said about 20% of students had been absent recently as parents decided to self-quarantine students at home.
South Africa has announced its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus.
Health Minister Zwele Mkhize said a 38-year-old man had returned this week from Italy with his wife and other travelers. He fell ill at his home in the KwaZulu-Natal province Tuesday and was tested. A health team is now getting in touch with all the people he had contact with.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will speak to the nation later Thursday about the health challenge posed by the virus.
South Africa is the first country in southern Africa and the third in sub-Saharan Africa to register a case of the new coronavirus. To date, seven countries in Africa have recorded cases: Algeria, Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia and South Africa.
Italy has placed temporary restrictions on visiting relatives in nursing homes and is urging the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.
The Italian government, which closed schools nationwide to try to contain the coronavirus, has opened a campaign to urge ordinary Italians to do their part to limit infections given that Italy’s elderly population risks overwhelming the public health system with virus cases.
Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, has the world’s oldest population after Japan. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 virus. The 107 people who have died so far in Italy are all elderly, sick with other complications or both.
In a decree that takes effect Thursday, the government is limiting access to the elderly in nursing homes to prevent possible contagion.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte justified the extraordinary measure of closing schools and universities nationwide until March 15 by warning that there might not be enough intensive care units to treat patients if the virus continues its “exponential” spread.
Facebook says it’s temporarily closing an office in Seattle after a worker was diagnosed with the new virus.
“A contractor based in our Stadium East office has been diagnosed with the COVID-19,” the company said. “We’ve notified our employees and are following the advice of public health officials to prioritize everyone’s health and safety.”
Facebook said the last time the worker came to the office was on Feb. 21, so it will shut the office until March 9, when the incubation period ends. The company is following guidance from local authorities and encouraging Seattle staff to work from home until March 31.
An Amazon employee at the e-commerce giant’s Seattle office also reportedly tested positive for the virus this week.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan will impose a 14-day quarantine on all visitors from China and South Korea before they are allowed an entry permit.
They will be sent to a government facility for the quarantine and will not be allowed to use public transportation, Abe said Thursday as officials stepped up their efforts against the spread of the virus.
Japan has more than 1,050 confirmed cases, including 706 from a quarantined cruise ship, as transmission inside Japan has accelerated. Abe said the current week or two is a crucial time for Japan to get the outbreak under control as his government faces pressure to contain the virus ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Authorities in Switzerland say a 74-year-old woman infected with the new virus has died, the first confirmed death in the country.
The Federal Office of Public Health said Thursday that the death was reported by authorities in the western canton of Vaud. The woman had been hospitalized since Tuesday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 58 infections had been confirmed in Switzerland.
Sri Lankan health authorities say they have decided to quarantine all Sri Lankan passengers arriving from Italy, South Korea and Iran for 14 days.
They will be quarantined at a center to be set up at a state-run hospital formerly used to treat leprosy patients on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo. Soldiers are now converting the hospital into a quarantine center.
Sri Lanka officially eliminated leprosy in 1995 and the facility was used for the country’s 16 remaining patients, who will now be transferred to another hospital.
More than 104,000 Sri Lankans reside in Italy, with more than 60% in the Lombardy region that has been hit hard by the virus. More than 20,000 Sri Lankans reside in South Korea.
The virus outbreak couldn’t have come at a worse time for millions of Hindus who are preparing to celebrate Holi, the festival in which people smear each others’ faces with colorful powder.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Hindu nationalist leaders said they won’t attend any celebrations on March 10 because of the coronavirus outbreak and are advising people to exercise restraint.
Modi tweeted that he would not celebrate Holi as experts have advised that mass gatherings should be reduced.
Community leaders are canceling street celebrations as well as large gatherings of people in condominiums.
Across India and Nepal and in countries with Indian migrants, Hindus celebrate Holi, the joyous festival of color, smearing one another with red and yellow powders and spraying each other with squirt guns. Water-filled balloons are also used to color each other.
China says a visit by its president, Xi Jinping, to Japan has been called off because both countries are focusing on combating the virus outbreak.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian says the two sides will be in close communication about a new time for the visit.
“The two countries both agree that President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan must take place under the most appropriate timing, environment and atmosphere, and must be a complete success,” Zhao said at a daily news briefing on Thursday.
The visit had been expected in April.
China has striven to improve ties with Japan as both come under U.S. tariffs meant to punish them for their trade practices. However, mutual suspicion runs high on both sides, driven in China primarily by memories of Japan’s brutal occupation of parts of the country last century and China’s claim to islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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