More than 18,500 people have died from Covid-19 globally, according to the Johns Hopkins pandemic tracker.

A medical worker in a protective suit treats patients suffering with coronavirus disease in an intensive care unit at the Casalpalocco hospital, in Rome, Italy on March 24, 2020.
A medical worker in a protective suit treats patients suffering with coronavirus disease in an intensive care unit at the Casalpalocco hospital, in Rome, Italy on March 24, 2020. (Reuters)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Italy new virus infections drop to lowest point in crisis

Italy on Tuesday received more reassuring evidence that its coronavirus infection rate was slowing thanks to a painful lockdown that other nations are starting to apply at great economic cost.

Health officials across the ravaged Mediterranean country are poring over every new piece of data to see whether two weeks of bans and closures have made a dent in the crisis.

The harshest restrictions are theoretically due to expire on Wednesday evening — although the government is all but certain to extend them in some form for weeks or even months.

Italy's 743 new deaths broke two days of successive declines that had taken the number down to 601 on Monday.

It set a world record of 793 fatalities on Saturday.

But officially registered new infections rose just eight percent — the same as Monday and the lowest level since Italy registered its first death on February 21.

France coronavirus death toll jumps 240 to 1,100

The coronavirus has killed another 240 people in France, the top French health official said on Tuesday, bringing the death toll in the country from the pandemic to 1,100.

Jerome Salomon told reporters that 22,300 people had tested positive for the virus in France, with a total of 10,176 hospitalised of whom 2,516 people are in intensive care.

Officials believe that the published number of those infected largely underestimates the real figure, as only those showing severe symptoms are usually tested.

Turkey's coronavirus death toll climbs to 44

Turkey confirmed seven more deaths from coronavirus late Tuesday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 44.

A total of 3,952 coronavirus tests have been conducted in the last 24 hours on people suspected of contracting the virus, and 343 tested positive, bringing the tally of infections to 1,872, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

While most victims of the virus worldwide have been the elderly, health officials fear they may have contracted it from the young carriers who may be asymptomatic.

Out of more than 409,000 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 18,200, while nearly 106,500 have recovered.

German hospitals welcome first Italian coronavirus patients

German hospitals with spare capacity on Tuesday welcomed their first coronavirus patients from Italy, where an overwhelmed health-care system has seen the pandemic kill more people than in any other country.

Ahead of an expected larger wave of home-grown infections that German authorities are preparing for, a first group of six Italian patients arrived at Leipzig airport in the eastern state of Saxony on Tuesday morning.

The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia also announced plans to take 10 Italian patients over coming days.

"We need solidarity across borders in Europe," said state premier Armin Laschet. "We want to preserve the European spirit."

Germany has 27,000 confirmed coronavirus cases but only 114 deaths, and is using the time before the expected surge to strengthen its intensive-care capacity.

The government is offering hospitals huge state subsidies to help accelerate plans to double that capacity, currently at around 28,000 beds.

Trump says US virus testing 'better' than South Korea's

President Donald Trump looked to compare US testing for the Covid-19 virus with what is being done in South Korea Tuesday, insisting the US tests "are better."

Speaking at a Fox News town hall on the coronavirus outbreak from the White House Rose Garden, Trump said, the US "has done more tests in eight days than South Korea has done in eight weeks, and our tests are better, they're highly sophisticated."

South Korea's coronavirus response has been marked by an emphasis on widespread testing that has earned global praise.

As of the middle of the day Tuesday, the US had nearly 50,000 cases of Covid-19, compared to around 9,000 for South Korea, according to the Johns Hopkins pandemic tracker.

While the United States is a much bigger country than South Korea, with a population of about 330 million compared to around 50 million, the two countries are also at different stages in their outbreaks.

Daily case counts continue to rapidly rise in the US, where the coronavirus struck later on. In South Korea, the curve is levelling off.

Mexico calls to suspend all work transit

Mexico entered a second phase in its battle to curb the new coronavirus on Tuesday.

Deputy Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said work that requires people to travel between home and work sites, or be in public spaces, must stop to keep the number of new infections manageable.

Authorities did not say if the measure would be enforced or whether there would be penalties.

President Lopez Obrador said he would sign a decree that senior citizens be allowed to stay at home from their jobs on paid leave.

Some Mexicans have criticised the government for not implementing stricter controls earlier and some local governments have imposed tougher restrictions, including curfews.

Mexico had 367 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, including five that investigators have not been able to link to imported cases.

India to go under total virus lockdown - PM Modi

India's 1.3 billion people will go under "total lockdown" from 1830 GMT (midnight) on Tuesday for 21 days to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.

"From 12 midnight today, the entire country will be in lockdown, total lockdown," Modi said in a national TV address to the world's second most-populous nation.

"To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family ... every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown."

Indian health officials have reported 469 actives cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 10 deaths.

Tokyo Olympics postponed

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to no later than the summer of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the International Olympic Committee announced on Tuesday.

The Games were scheduled for July 24-August 9, but after telephone discussions between IOC President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a historic joint decision was taken to delay the Olympics — the first time that has been done in peacetime.

In a joint statement, the pair said that based on current World Health Organization information, the Tokyo Games "must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community."

The Olympics, which has experienced boycotts, terrorist attacks and protests, but has been held every four years since 1948, is the highest-profile event affected by the virus that has killed thousands and closed sports competitions worldwide.

Egypt declares two-week curfew

Egypt has declared a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am for two weeks from Wednesday to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and those who violate the measure will be penalised under emergency laws, the prime minister said.

Flights, which were suspended at Egyptian airports on March 19, will remain grounded for the first two weeks of April, the state information minister said.

A closure of schools and universities will also be extended to mid-April, while cafes, sports clubs and gyms will be shut for the next two weeks and restaurants will be restricted to home delivery only.

Shops other than food stores and pharmacies will be required to close from 5 pm, two hours earlier than previously, as well as at weekends.

Those who do not respect the new rules face fines of up to $255 (4,000 Egyptian pounds) or prison, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said in a televised press briefing.

Egypt has confirmed 366 cases of coronavirus, including 19 deaths. Most early cases were linked to a cruise ship on the Nile from which a large group of foreigners tested positive, dealing an early blow to the country's crucial tourism sector.

Vatican employees balk at lack of full shutdown amid virus

The Vatican is under pressure to let more employees work from home as several of its offices remain open two weeks after the Italian government ordered people to stay home and shut down all non-essential businesses in an urgent attempt to contain the coronavirus.

Vatican employees in three different offices expressed alarm on Tuesday that superiors adopted different policies about working from home. 

Members of two religious orders in Rome already tested positive for the virus. Nationwide, more than 50 priests with the virus have died, most of them elderly and from the hard-hit northern Lombardy region, the Italian bishops' conference said.

Saudi reports first coronavirus death

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported its first death from the new coronavirus as the total number of infections spiked to 767, according to the Health Ministry.

An Afghan resident in the western city of Medina died from the virus, the ministry said, while reporting 205 new infections — the biggest jump in the kingdom in a single day.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Gulf, began implementing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew on Monday to limit the spread of the deadly Covid-19.

The Arab world's biggest economy has also closed down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the virus.

UAE closes malls, shopping centres, restaurants

The famed shopping malls of the United Arab Emirates were deserted on Tuesday after the government ordered shopping centres to close for two weeks in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Restaurants have also been shut down for table service, although they can still offer food delivery.

The UAE's move affects some of world's biggest malls and indoor mall attractions in the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and wholesale food suppliers are exempt from the ban.

The country has reported 198 cases of infection so far, and two deaths.

UN calls for Syria ceasefire to tackle virus threat

The United Nations top envoy for Syria on Tuesday called for a nationwide ceasefire to allow for a better response to the threat of the novel coronavirus.

The government in Damascus has so far only reported one case of Covid-19 but fears are high that the virus could spread rapidly among the war-battered country's most vulnerable communities.

"Syrians are acutely vulnerable to Covid-19. Healthcare facilities have been destroyed or are degraded," Geir Pedersen said. "There is a shortage of key medical equipment and health professionals."

The aid community has warned that Syria, where around a million people have been displaced by conflict in the northwest since December alone, is particularly vulnerable.

US could become next coronavirus epicentre - WHO

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the US could become the global epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters there had been a “very large acceleration” in infections in the US.

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the United States, and of those, 40 percent were in the United States.

As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, Harris said, “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential.”

Some US state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying that having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

Spain virus death toll rises by 514 to 2,696

Another 514 people have died in Spain over the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 2,696, as the number of infections surged towards 40,000, the government said.

The number of people who have tested positive rose by nearly 20 percent to 39,673, the health ministry said, while the death toll represented an increase of 23.5 percent over the figures from Monday.

Iran death toll close to 2,000 – health ministry

Iran's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak increased by 122 during the past 24 hours to 1,934, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.

The total number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by 1,762 in the past 24 hours, to 24,811, he added on state TV.

South Africa's cases leap again as 3-week lockdown looms

South Africa's coronavirus cases leapt again, to 554, the most of any country in Africa, as its 57 million people rushed to prepare for an unprecedented lockdown that begins Thursday.

Across Africa, 43 of its 54 countries now have cases, with the total at 1,788. Thirteen countries have reported 58 deaths. 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night announced the 21-day lockdown. Rwanda and Tunisia earlier announced lockdowns.

Determined shoppers made their last runs for supplies as authorities tried to reassure the public that food would not run out.

Philippine Congress approves national emergency declaration

The Philippine Congress approved a bill declaring a national emergency and authorising the president to launch a massive aid programme for 18 million families and tap private hospitals and ships in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

President Rodrigo Duterte can reapportion the executive department's budget under the legislation, which will also punish people disobeying quarantine orders and spreading “false information” about the outbreak, legislators said. The state of national emergency will last for three months but can be extended by Congress.

Thailand decrees state of emergency to control coronavirus

Thailand's government announced it will declare an emergency to take stricter measures to control the coronavirus outbreak that has infected hundreds of people in the country.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his cabinet agreed to put a one-month state of emergency into effect on Thursday.

The move will give the government enforcement powers not normally available to it.

In a brief televised address, Prayuth urged the public to remain calm and warned people against the improper use of social media and hoarding, saying there would now be stricter enforcement against violators.

Philippine reports 90 new coronavirus infections, two deaths

The Philippine health ministry reported 90 new coronavirus infections, the single largest daily increase of confirmed cases in the country, bringing the total to 552.

It also reported two new deaths, among 35 in the country so far, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a regular news conference.

First two cases reported in Laos

Laos recorded its first two coronavirus cases, a news report on Thai state-owned media MCOT said citing the Laos Health Ministry.

The two cases include a 28-year-old male hotel worker and a 36-year-old female tour guide, both in the capital Vientiane, a news report said.

The two patients have travelled abroad and work closely with foreigners. They are currently being treated at a hospital, the news report said. 

Coronavirus cases on the rise in Pakistan

The number of novel coronavirus cases in Pakistan reportedly rose to above 900, while the death toll stood at six, according to local media outlets.

The Pakistani army earlier said it would help to impose nationwide restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus following a request from the government.

Pakistan Prime Minsiter Imran Khan had earlier objected to the restrictions while all provinces announced lockdowns on their own initiative.

Germany's Covid-19 cases rise to 27,436 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has risen by 4,764 within a day to reach to 27,436, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said.

It said a total of 114 people had died, an increase of 28 from 86 published on Monday.

Three new deaths in Thailand

Thailand has recorded 106 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths, a health official said.

The country now has 827 cases and four fatalities since the outbreak began.

The three deaths were patients who had other health complications, including a 70-year-old man who had tuberculosis, a 45-year-old man who had diabetes and a 79-year-old man who had health problems, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a Public Health Ministry spokesman.

Since the start of the outbreak, 57 patients have recovered and gone home, while 766 are still being treated in hospitals.

Mideast, Central Asia countries ask IMF for virus support

A dozen countries in the Middle East and Central Asia have asked the International Monetary Fund for financial support in dealing with the coronavirus.

The Kyrgyz Republic is likely to receive the first emergency disbursement, the fund said.

Governments should spare no expense to help their health systems and strengthen social safety nets despite already squeezed budgets, Jihad Azour, director of the fund's Middle East and Central Asia Department, wrote in an IMF blog.

He said central banks should be ready to provide liquidity to banks particularly to support lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, while conventional fiscal measures to support the economy – such as spending on infrastructure – could be considered once the crisis begins to dissipate.

Kyrgyzstan moves to lock down major cities

Kyrgyzstan declared a state of emergency on in its three biggest cities, including the capital, Bishkek, a move that will allow authorities to lock them down to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In addition to the cities of Bishkek, Osh and Jalal-Abad, local emergencies were also declared in three provincial districts, which will open the way for measures from banning layoffs to imposing curfews.

The Central Asian nation bordering China has reported 16 cases of coronavirus infections so far. 

Australia PM warns of harsh penalties  

Australia's New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, will use harsh penalties to enforce self-isolation, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, as the coronavirus pandemic was at a "critical stage".

"We need to make sure everybody who's in self-isolation stays in self-isolation. We are ramping up our compliance," she told reporters. 

"There are harsh penalties and we'll enforce that. We have to take this seriously."

The number of Covid-19 cases in NSW jumped by 149 overnight to 818. 

The total number of cases across Australia has surpassed 1,700, up from less than 100 at the start of March.

Berejiklian did not specify how the self-isolation rules would be enforced.

"I don't want to be another example of a jurisdiction that didn't do what it needed to do at the right time," she said.

Cuba to quarantine tourists over virus fears

Cuba will quarantine foreign tourists from Tuesday to guard against the spread of the new coronavirus, the communist country's Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said on Monday.

"All tourists still in hotels will be placed in quarantine ... they cannot leave the hotel" until they find a flight home, he said on state TV, adding that there were 32,500 holidaymakers from overseas on the Caribbean island on Monday.

Japan in talks with IOC to postpone Tokyo Olympics

Japan's government is negotiating with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the Tokyo Olympic Games by a maximum one year, the Sankei newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold talks over the phone with IOC President Thomas Bach later on Tuesday, the paper said, citing a senior Japanese government official.

Myanmar announces first two cases of coronavirus

Myanmar confirmed its first two cases of the novel coronavirus late on Monday.

The Ministry of Health and Sports issued a press release saying two Myanmar men had tested positive for the virus and were hospitalised.

They include a 26-year-old man who had recently travelled to the UK and was hospitalised in Yangon on Saturday and a 36-year-old man who recently traveled to the US and was hospitalised Monday in Chin state.

US clinical trials of possible coronavirus treatments soon

President Donald Trump on Monday said a clinical trial for possible treatment of the deadly coronavirus will begin in New York soon, reiterating his belief that a combination of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin could beat back the global pandemic.

"Clinical trials in New York will begin on existing drugs that may prove effective against the virus," Trump said. 

"We have 10,000 units going and it will be distributed tomorrow."

Turkey adopts new measures 

Turkey adopted new measures Tuesday on shopping and transportation in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Interior Ministry issued a notice saying all public transport vehicles will be allowed to carry only half their capacity, while all grocery stores will only provide service between 0600GMT and 1800GMT (0900 and 2100 local time).

Notably, only a certain number of people will be allowed to shop at one time depending on the size of the store.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies