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Coronavirus: Italy passes 10,000 infections as clusters spur worry in U.S.


The latest:

Expanding clusters of the new coronavirus were eyed warily Wednesday as the outbreak upended daily life and reshaped everything from the presidential race in the United States to Pope Francis’s travel.

In the U.S., the caseload passed 1,000, and outbreaks on both sides of the country were stirring alarm, while in Europe, an increasingly locked-down Italy counted more than 10,000 infections and recorded soaring deaths among its aging population.

“Right now, the epicentre — the new China — is Europe,” said Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rome’s usual boisterous hum was reduced to a whisper as Italy’s 62 million people were told to mostly stay home. Though shops, cafes and restaurants remained open, police around the country were enforcing rules that customers stay one metre apart and certain businesses shutter by 6 p.m.

Authorities said 631 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy, with an increase of 168 fatalities recorded Tuesday. The health crisis was dealing a serious blow to the country’s economy — the third-largest of the 19 countries using the euro — and threatened instability worldwide.

Markets across Asia dropped Wednesday despite Wall Street’s gains a day earlier. Investors seemed encouraged by promises by U.S. President Donald Trump of a relief package to cushion economic pain from the outbreak. Governments around Asia and elsewhere have also announced billions of dollars in stimulus funds, including packages revealed in Japan on Tuesday and Australia on Wednesday.

“Investors are still worried that those fiscal stimulus packages may not be able to contain the virus outbreak as well as to mitigate the impact on the economy,” said Louis Wong of Philip Capital Management.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 119,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,200 have died.

The virus has disrupted travel, closed schools and halted manufacturing in places around the globe. Here’s a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and some of the hard-hit regions around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada

British Columbia reported seven new cases of COVID-19 and two are linked to community transmission, while neighbouring Washington state continues to see a rapid spread of coronavirus. 1:49

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to offer details around a planned federal support package for people and businesses facing “immediate pressures” from the coronavirus and the disruption it’s causing in the economy.

The Public Agency of Canada, which has been continually assessing the risk from the outbreak, says that the risk to the general population in Canada is low, but notes “this could change rapidly.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, notes that some people face an increased risk.

As of early Wednesday morning, Canada has reported 97 cases of COVID-19, including:

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

In the U.S., dozens of cases were being tied to a conference in Boston, and leaders in multiple states were announcing curbs on large events. Colleges around the country emptied their classrooms as they moved to online instruction and uncertainty surrounded the upcoming opening of the Major League Baseball season and college basketball’s championships. Even the famed buffets of Las Vegas were affected, with some of the Strip’s biggest being closed in a precautionary measure.

“It’s terrifying,” said Silvana Gomez, a student at Harvard University, where undergraduates were told to leave campus by Sunday. “I’m definitely very scared right now about what the next couple days, the next couple weeks look like.”

New York’s governor said National Guard troops would scrub public places and deliver food to a suburb where infections have spiked. In Washington state, where a Seattle-area nursing home was the centre of an outbreak, officials said the virus had spread to at least 10 other long-term care facilities. In California, thousands of restless passengers remained stuck aboard a cruise ship, waiting for their turn to disembark to begin quarantines.

Two men vying to take on Trump in the U.S. presidential election abruptly cancelled rallies Tuesday and left open the possibility that future campaign events could be impacted, too. Trump’s campaign insisted it would proceed as normal, though Vice-President Mike Pence conceded future rallies would be evaluated “on a day to day basis.”

Here’s what’s happening in Italy and Europe

Italy’s lockdown measures to try to beat the coronavirus are reducing its economic output by around 10 per cent to 15 per cent, Lorenzo Codogno, a former Italian Treasury chief economist, said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unexpectedly expanded the so-called red zone to the entire country on Monday night, introducing the most severe controls on a Western nation since the Second World War and raising fears for the future, especially among small businesses.

As of Tuesday, France, Spain and Germany have more than 1,000 cases each. 

Here’s what’s happening in Iran and the Middle East

Iran’s death toll jumped on Tuesday to 291 and infections rose to more than 8,000. The UN called on Iran to free all prisoners temporarily, a day after Iran’s judiciary chief said it had temporarily freed about 70,000.

A civil defence worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant in Baghdad’s main market as a precaution against the novel coronavirus on Tuesday. (Hadi Mizban/The Associated Press)

Bahrain’s health ministry said on Wednesday 77 new coronavirus cases had been recorded among citizens evacuated from Iran by plane on Tuesday. The new cases brought the total number of coronavirus cases recorded by Bahraini health authorities to date to 189, 30 of whom have recovered. No deaths have been recorded.

All Gulf Arab states have recorded infections but no deaths.

Here’s what’s happening in China

In China, where the novel virus first cropped up, officials said they’d counted only 24 new cases on Wednesday. In a reversal of positions, China is seeing new cases brought in from overseas.

In Beijing, the capital, all the new cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday came from outside the country, five from Italy and one from the United States. “The epidemic situation is at a low level and the prevention and control are continuously going well,” said Mi Feng, spokesperson for the National Health Commission.

Here’s what’s happening in South Korea and Japan

The other major outbreak site in Asia, South Korea, continued to report improving numbers, too, with 242 new cases announced Wednesday. Still, a cluster of infections connected to a call centre in one of the busiest areas of that country’s capital was raising alarms.

More than half of South Korea’s 51 million people live in the Seoul metropolitan area.

So far, 93 people have tested positive among the call centre’s employees and their families, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said Wednesday in a briefing broadcast over YouTube. The number could grow as tests are being done on more than 550 co-workers who worked on other floors of the Korea Building in Seoul’s Guro district.

Health workers in white protective suits scrambled to sanitize the nearby Sindorim subway station, which is used by more than 404,000 commuters per day, according to Seoul Metro.

While most of the infected workers live in Seoul, some of them commute from nearby cities such as Incheon and Bucheon, raising concern about a broader spread through public transit.

Call centre workers may be vulnerable because they work long hours in crowded and confined spaces, said Yoon Tae-ho, an official from South Korea’s health ministry.

Jung Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it would be difficult to track infections if they spread to buses and subways. She said it’s “most critical” that public transit operators vigorously sanitize handles, bars and anything passengers frequently touch with the threat of local transmissions growing.

Park said Seoul is investigating the working conditions of more than 400 call centres in the city and will push employers to allow more employees to work from home. The mayor said authorities were responding actively to prevent the cluster from intensifying like South Korea’s earlier clusters around the southeastern city of Daegu.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in some other areas as COVID-19 spreads

  • India ramped up travel restrictions and closed a border with neighbouring Myanmar to counter the coronavirus outbreak, as countries across South Asia reported a rise in cases on Wednesday.

  • In Afghanistan, the number of confirmed cases rose to seven from four, the country’s health ministry said.

  • Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa hit by the epidemic to seven.

  • Indonesia says a foreigner has become its first fatality from COVID-19. Achmad Yurianto, the government spokesperson on efforts to contain the coronavirus, said Wednesday the 53-year-old woman had diabetes and lung disease and had contracted the virus abroad.





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