Italy has reported 1,420 deaths since Friday, a grim figure that suggests the pandemic is breaking through the government's various containment and social distancing measures. Here's what's happening on March 21.

A lone pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past the New York Stock Exchange as Covid-19 concerns empty a typically bustling downtown area, Saturday, March 21, 2020, in New York
A lone pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past the New York Stock Exchange as Covid-19 concerns empty a typically bustling downtown area, Saturday, March 21, 2020, in New York (AP)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Italy's Conte orders shutdown of non-essential companies

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered all non-essential companies and factories to close nationwide to stem a coronavirus pandemic that has killed 4,825 people in the country in a month.

"The decision taken by the government is to close down all productive activity throughout the territory that is not strictly necessary, crucial, indispensable, to guarantee us essential goods and services," Conte said in a late-night TV address.

US FDA approves first rapid coronavirus test

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid coronavirus diagnostic test, with a detection time of about 45 minutes, the test's developer, California-based molecular diagnostics company Cepheid, said.

Cepheid said in a statement it had received an emergency use authorisation from the FDA for the test, which will be used primarily in hospitals and emergency rooms. The company plans to begin shipping it to hospitals next week, it said.

The FDA confirmed its approval in a separate statement.

It said the company intends to roll out the availability of its testing by March 30.

Britain steps up response

The British government is heightening its response to the new coronavirus, telling up to 1.5 million sick and vulnerable people to stay home and avoid contact with others for at least 12 weeks.

The government says people with certain health conditions – including recipients of organ transplants, people with cystic fibrosis, patients with blood or bone marrow cancer and some people on immune-suppressing drugs – should “shield themselves” from the spreading pandemic by living in isolation.

Special deliveries of groceries and medicine will be arranged by an alliance of public agencies, the military, food retailers and volunteers.

Greek Cyprus records first death

The eastern Mediterranean island nation of Greek-administered Cyprus has recorded its first death as a result of the coronavirus.

The health ministry says the man, whose age was not given, had been suffering from long-term liver, kidney and heart ailments. The ministry says the patient appears to have contracted the virus from another carrier at a hospital where he was being treated for liver disease.

Uganda confirms first case

Uganda confirmed its first coronavirus case, the health minister said.

"The ministry would like to inform the general public that Uganda has confirmed her first case of coronavirus disease Covid-19," Ruth Jane Aceng said in comments broadcast on national television.

Aceng said the patient is a 36 year old Ugandan male who arrived in Uganda from Dubai aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight on Saturday morning.

Turkey's confirmed cases up to 947

Turkey's coronavirus death toll rose by 12 to 21 while the number of confirmed cases rose 277 to 947, the health minister said.

A total of 2,953 tests were conducted in the previous 24 hours, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Italy reports almost 800 new virus deaths, new daily record

Italy on Saturday reported 793 new coronavirus deaths, a one-day record that saw its toll shoot up to 4,825 — 38.3 percent of the world's total.

The number of Covid-19 infections rose by 6,557 to 53,578, another record.

The total number of fatalities in the northern Lombardy regions around Milan surpassed 3,000. It accounts for nearly two-thirds of Italy's fatalities.

French coronavirus death toll rises by 112 

France has recorded 112 coronavirus deaths in a day, taking its total to 562, the health ministry said on Saturday.

There have been 14,459 confirmed cases, the ministry said ina statement.

It said 1,525 people were in severe condition out of the6,172 who were currently in hospital. Half the severe cases were people aged under 60.

Turkey restrains older citizens from leaving homes

Turkish citizens who are older than 65-year-old and suffering from chronic illnesses will be restricted from leaving their homes amid coronavirus measures, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

"As of midnight today, the citizens aged 65 and over and also people who suffer from chronic illnesses are restricted to go out of their homes and to walk in open areas such as parks, gardens," the ministry said in a statement.

Coronavirus death toll in England up 53 to 220

A further 53 people have died in England after testing positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths to 220, the National Health Service said on Saturday.

The patients who died were aged between 41 and 94 and all had underlying health conditions. 

Guatemala orders eight-day curfew to fight coronavirus

Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei on Saturday ordered an eight-day curfew starting Sunday as part of measures aimed at containing the coronavirus, which has infected 17 people in the Central American nation. 

Nearly 5,000 new infections in a day in Spain

Spain has recorded almost 5,000 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours as it climbed into third place in the global ranking of infections behind China and Italy.

Health authorities said Saturday that virus infections have reached 24,926, up from 19,980 the day before. Total deaths were 1,326, up from 1,002 on Friday. 

Over 1,600 patients are in intensive care units that authorities admit are at their limits. Madrid is the hardest-hit region with almost 9,000 infections.

Spain is approaching one week of tight restrictions on free movement and the closure of most shops as hospitals and nursing homes buckle under the burden of the virus outbreak.

But authorities admit that they expect infections to continue to rise before the measures can hopefully reverse the trend.

Finland confirms its first coronavirus death

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare confirmed on Saturday the country's first coronavirus death, saying that an elderly patient in the capital had died.

"Finland's first coronavirus death is very unfortunate, but not surprising," it said.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country amounted to 521 on Saturday, the health authority added.

Switzerland says coronavirus infections rise to 6,100

Switzerland on Saturday reported 6,100 coronavirus infections, some 25 percent more than a day earlier, and 56 deaths, the Swiss health ministry said, as hospitals in the canton of Ticino that borders hard-hit Italy were under intense pressure.

"The situation in Ticino is very tense," said Daniel Koch, head of the Federal Office of Health's communicable diseases division. The latest tally nationwide is up more than 1,200cases in a day, while the deaths were up 13 from Friday.

The Swiss military took delivery of 50 additional ventilators and deployed them in Ticino on Friday, amid a global race by countries to add more potentially life-saving breathing devices needed by critically ill patients to give them a fighting chance of survival.

Portugal's death toll from coronavirus doubles to 12

The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in Portugal doubled overnight to 12, the country's national health authority DGS said on Saturday.

The number of confirmed cases rose to 1,280 from 1,059 the previous day, it said, adding that 35 people were in intensive care. Portugal declared a state of emergency to stem the spread of the virus on Wednesday. 

Jordan goes on virus lockdown as Iran's death toll mounts

Air raid sirens echoed across Jordan's capital on Saturday to mark the start of a three-day curfew, the latest mass lockdown in the Middle East aimed at containing the coronavirus, which has claimed another 123 lives in Iran, home to the region's worst outbreak.

In one of the strictest measures yet, Jordan has ordered all shops to close and all people to stay off the streets until at least Tuesday, when it plans to announce specific times for shopping.

Anyone caught violating the curfew faces up to one year in prison.

Georgian PM asks president to declare one-month emergency

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on Saturday he had asked the country's president to declare an emergency situation due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Gakharia said the measure, which is due to be approved by parliament after the president's approval, would be introduced for one month.

Georgia reported 47 cases of coronavirus as of Saturday. One patient recovered.

Iran reports 123 more virus deaths, toll rises to 1,556

Iran has announced another 123 deaths from the new coronavirus, bringing its overall toll to 1,556 amid 20,610 confirmed cases. 

The Health Ministry announced the latest figures Saturday. Iran is struggling to combat the worst outbreak in the Middle East and has faced widespread criticism for its slow response.

Pakistan suspends all international flights

Pakistan has suspended all international flights until April 4 to contain Covid-19,  the country's Civil Aviation Authority said on Saturday.

Hong Kong postpones university entrance exams

Hong Kong said on Saturday it would postpone university entrance exams until April 24 as the city tries to contain a surge in coronavirus cases as people return from overseas infected with the disease.

The government said it would make civil servants work from home and urged employers to be flexible with work from home arrangements. 

Schools would remain closed until further notice, it added.

Hong Kong has 273 confirmed cases of coronavirus, which has killed four people in the city.

Mauritius reports first death from coronavirus

Mauritius has confirmed its first death from the coronavirus, while the number of confirmed cases has risen, a health ministry official said on Saturday.

"Mauritius has registered its first death linked to Covid-19. Actually some 13 patients have been tested Covid-19 positive. Their state of health is stable and they are being treated in isolation," Kavish Pultoo, adviser on information matters at the Ministry of Health, told Reuters.

German coronavirus cases rise by 2,705 to 16,662

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has risen by 2,705 within a day to reach 16,662, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Saturday.

It said a total of 47 people had died after testing positive, an increase of 16 from a tally of 31 published on Friday.

Vietnam to suspend all inbound flights

Vietnam will suspend all inbound international flights to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country, the government said in a statement on Saturday.

"(Vietnam) will suspend all the flights carrying foreign passengers to minimise the number of people coming to the country," Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in the statement, without giving a time frame.

Vietnam's coronavirus cases rose to 92 as of Saturday, with no death, according to the Ministry of Health.

Rouhani expects restrictions to ease within 3 weeks

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak in the country, including travel restrictions, will apply for only two to three weeks as he expects the crisis to ease by then.

Iran "has to do everything necessary to return economic production to normal", he said in comments broadcast on state TV.  He also accused "counter-revolutionaries" of plotting to shut down economic production.

Iran is one of the countries most affected by the pandemic outside of China, with more than 1,400 deaths so far and nearly 20,0000 confirmed infections.

Philippines confirms 45 new cases

The Philippines' health ministry reported 45 more confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing Saturday's tally to 77.

With the latest addition, confirmed cases in the Philippines' totalled 307. It announced 32 new cases earlier in the day and the 19th death related to the coronavirus.

The government has placed more than half of the country's population under strict home quarantine to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Turkey announces new steps to fight pandemic

Turkey on Saturday beefed up measures to stem the spread of coronavirus in the country, including new steps for hotels, restaurants, dormitories and nursing homes.

Hotels and other accommodation facilities must now get detailed information on where their guests recently travelled to and their future travel plans, said the Health Ministry.

This information could be critical in handling possible future cases, the ministry said. 

In restaurants, to reduce the risk of infection, tables must be set at least one metre apart, it added.

If nursing home and elderly care centre residents show symptoms consistent with coronavirus, all the residents will be closely monitored, it said.

Sydney closes Bondi Beach

Authorities closed Sydney's Bondi Beach Saturday after huge crowds flocked to the popular sunbathing spot despite a government ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The temporary measure comes after photos of mostly young beachgoers packed on the famous sands were widely shared online, drawing howls of protest in the media and from officials.

Non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people have been barred as officials seek to stem the spread of the virus. Australia has nearly 1,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Kyrgyzstan considers state of emergency

Kyrgyzstan's security council recommended Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziyev on Saturday to declare a state of emergency from March 22 due to the coronavirus outbreak, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov's office said in a statement.

Philippines announces 19th death

The Philippines' health ministry on Saturday reported a 19th death related to coronavirus and said the number of confirmed cases had risen to 262 from 230 a day before.

The government has placed more than half of the country's population under strict home quarantine to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Jordan blows sirens for start of nationwide curfew

Jordan blew sirens at the start of a nationwide curfew on Saturday, limiting the mobility of its 10 million citizens indefinitely to combat the spread of coronavirus, witnesses and officials said.

Anyone violating the curfew, which severely restricts movement beyond emergencies and essential services, would be jailed for up to a year, the army said.

The curfew is in place until further notice.

Thailand reports 89 new coronavirus cases

Thailand reported its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections on Saturday, with 89 new cases taking the national tally to 411.

Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a Public Health Ministry spokesman, said the new cases were linked to earlier infections from a boxing match, an entertainment complex and a religious gathering in neighbouring Malaysia.

Of those infected, 366 are currently being treated, while 44 have recovered.

Singapore reports first deaths

Singapore reported two coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday of people with underlying health conditions, marking the first fatalities in the city-state's widely praised battle against the infection.

The health ministry said a 75-year-old Singaporean woman and a 64-year-old Indonesian man died on Saturday morning.

Singapore has confirmed 385 cases of the infection and had so far managed to avoid any fatalities since the outbreak began in the city-state in late January.

Colombia to hold 19-day quarantine

Colombia will enter a nationwide quarantine from Tuesday night, President Ivan Duque said late on Friday, the most drastic measure implemented so far by the South American country as it seeks to prevent the spread of the fast-moving coronavirus.

The quarantine will last for 19 days. 

The capital Bogota began holding a 4-day quarantine drill on Friday. 

The country has 158 confirmed cases of the virus.

Syria bans entry for many foreigners

Syria, already shattered by nine years of war, has banned entry for foreigners arriving from many countries hit by the coronavirus as part of widening measures to combat the epidemic.

Although the government says it has yet to document any infections, Syria is seen at high risk.

South Korea reports 147 new cases, total 8,799

South Korea reported 147 new coronavirus infections, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new cases bring the country's total to 8,799.

The newly reported cases rose back up to above 100, from the 87 recorded on Friday, although South Korea has been experiencing a downward trend in new cases from the peak of 909 cases reported on February 29. 

China sees zero local coronavirus cases for third day

Mainland China reported zero locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus for a third day running, while the daily log of infections involving travellers arriving from other countries continued to rise.

Mainland China had 41 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Friday, the country's National Health Commission said, all imported from abroad. That brought the total number of imported cases to 269.

High in the charts was Beijing, with 14 new imported cases. Shanghai and six provinces also identified such cases.

That brought the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China to 81,008, the health authority said in a statement on Saturday.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China reached 3,255 as of the end of Friday, up by seven from the previous day and all from the central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak in China.

New Zealand's Ardern keeps schools open, urges limits on movement

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged people to cut non-essential internal travel and asked older residents to stay at home to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 50 people in the island nation.

The 39-year-old leader said in a televised address that she will keep schools open for now, in a similar policy employed in neighbouring Australia.

Announcing a new alert system, Ardern said New Zealand was at level two, where the virus is contained but the risks are growing as there are more cases. She urged those aged over 70 to stay home as much as possible.

Confirmed cases in Mexico rise to more than 200

Mexico's health ministry said that confirmed coronavirus cases in the country now total 203, up by nearly a quarter from the previous day's tally of 164. 

Cuba to bar foreign visitors

Cuba will bar foreign visitors from entering the country for a month starting Tuesday in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Caribbean island nation, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said.

The country will continue to allow Cubans and foreign residents entry, although they will have to go into quarantine for 14 days at a sanitary institution upon arrival, he told a televised roundtable. Foreign visitors will be able to return home and commerce will be allowed.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies