The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 170 countries, infected more than 205,000 people worldwide. More than 81,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

A municipality worker sprays disinfectant over a tram to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease in central Istanbul, Turkey, March 18, 2020.
A municipality worker sprays disinfectant over a tram to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease in central Istanbul, Turkey, March 18, 2020. (Reuters)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Second death reported in Turkey

Turkey announced late on Wednesday a second death related to the coronavirus, a 61-year-old man, and said that the number of confirmed cases had nearly doubled to 191 from 98 a day earlier.

"The test results today show that measures are very necessary. There are 93 new diagnosed case for which treatment has begun," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca wrote on Twitter. 

The number of cases had similarly doubled the previous day. 

Emergency $100B relief bill clears US Congress

The US Senate easily passed a $100 billion emergency package on Wednesday to help American workers hit hard financially by the coronavirus crisis.

The measure, which earlier cleared the House of Representatives and now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature, would provide for free coronavirus testing, sick pay and paid family leave, and bolster unemployment insurance for millions of Americans.

The bill is the second emergency congressional aid package passed this month, and comes as lawmakers negotiate a new, mammoth federal stimulus package with the Trump administration that could reach $1.3 trillion, and would include emergency checks to Americans.

US suspends visa services worldwide 

The US is suspending all routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services as of Wednesday in most countries worldwide due to coronavirus outbreak, a spokeswoman for the State Department said.

The spokeswoman did not mention which or how many countries are halting services. 

She said US missions abroad will continue to provide emergency visa services "as resources allow," and that the services to US citizens will remain available.

Missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, the spokeswoman said, without giving a date.

France reports huge spike in deaths, raising total to 264

French health authorities reported 89 new deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, taking the total to 264 or an increase of almost 51 percent, a much more marked rise than recently seen as the country was in its second day of a lockdown aimed at containing the outbreak.

During a press conference, health agency director Jerome Salomon added the number of cases had risen to 9,134, up from 7,730 on Tuesday, which is a rise of 18 percent in 24 hours.

Salomon said 931 people were in a serious condition, needing life support.

Peru president declares nighttime curfew over virus

Peru President Martin Vizcarra on Wednesday ordered a nighttime curfew to combat the new coronavirus pandemic as the South American country's positive cases rose to 145.

"We're decreeing mandatory confinement from today, from eight at night to five in the morning," Vizcarra said in a news conference.

Merkel calls coronavirus 'biggest challenge since WWII'

Germany is facing its biggest challenge "since the Second World War" in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a television address urging citizens to heed sweeping confinement measures.

In her dramatic appeal, Merkel urged everyone to play a part in slowing down a virus that has raced across the globe and triggered unprecedented peace-time lockdowns.

"The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity," she said.

Italy reports highest one-day toll with 475 new deaths

Italy on Wednesday reported 475 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest one-day official toll of any nation since the first case was detected in China late last year.

Total deaths in Italy have reached 2,978, more than half of all the cases recorded outside China, while the number of infections reached 35,713.

The previous record high of 368 deaths was also recorded in Italy, on Sunday.

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases in UK rises to 2,626 

The number of people who have tested positive in the United Kingdom for coronavirus has increased to 2,626, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

The figure was an increase of 676 or 35 percent from Tuesday. So far, Britain has reported 71 deaths from the virus. 

Switzerland ramps up emergency measures as cases rise above 2,200, with 18 deaths

More than 2,200 people had been infected in the country as of Monday, and 18 are reported to have died of the disease.

The federal government held a press conference in the capital Bern under President Simonetta Sommaruga, who said that new measures taken in some cantons would come into effect nationally at midnight.

"We need a strong reaction across the country, and we need it now.

It is the only way to surmount this crisis," Sommaruga, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency for 2020, told reporters.

New death raises Iraq's fatalities to 12

One new death from coronavirus was reported in Iraq’s southern Basra province, bringing the total fatalities in the country to 12, the Iraqi Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the ministry said that 10 new cases were registered, raising the total number of the coronavirus cases to 164.

Over the past 24 hours, the ministry noted, it conducted tests for 105 suspected cases, among them, 10 tested positive, including five in the capital Baghdad.

As precautionary measures due to the coronavirus, most of Iraq's governorates decided to close their borders, including Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, while some governorates also decided to impose a lockdown.

Saudi calls for 'virtual' G20 summit over coronavirus

Saudi Arabia has called for a 'virtual' summit of leaders from the Group of 20 major economies next week to address the coronavirus pandemic, a statement said on Wednesday.

"The Saudi G20 presidency is communicating with G20 countries to convene an extraordinary virtual G20 leaders' summit next week to advance a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications," the statement said.

South Africa announces 'total ban' on cruise ships

South Africa's Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Wednesday that the country had imposed a "total ban" on cruise ships from March 18 because of risks associated with the coronavirus outbreak.

"No passenger vessels will be allowed in our ports. In essence, there is a total ban on cruise ships," Mbalula told a news conference, adding that the ban would not affect cargo ships arriving in South African ports.

US closing Canada border to 'non-essential' traffic, but not trade

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced the closure of the US-Canada border, though underlining that trade will not be impacted.

The shutdown builds on Trump's barring of visitors from most of Europe, China and other parts of the world hit by the coronavirus.

"We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!" Trump tweeted.

Eurovision song contest cancelled due to coronavirus

The Eurovision song contest will not take place this year in Rotterdam, Netherlands due to the global coronavirus outbreak, organisers said on Wednesday.

"It is with deep regret that we have to announce the cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 in Rotterdam," they said in a statement. "It is impossible to continue with the live event as planned."

UAE bans citizens from travelling abroad over coronavirus fears

The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it had banned its citizens from travelling abroad until further notice over coronavirus fears, the state news agency WAM reported. 

Global fatalities cross 8,000

The world has lost at least 8,007 lives to the coronavirus, according to John Hopkins University and other case trackers.

As countries across the world scramble to impose social distancing, test more people and track those who are infected or crossed paths with a potential carrier, the number of active or current cases has risen to more than 108,000. 

Almost 82,810 people have recovered from the coronavirus disease since the global health community started tracking what is now a pandemic.

In Spain, death toll nears 600, cases continue to surge

At least 598 people have lost their lives in Spain due to Covid-19 and another 13,716 have been confirmed to have the virus, according to data released by the Spanish Health Ministry on Wednesday.

The country reported over 100 deaths and 2,500 new confirmed cases in one day, while another 774 are in intensive care units (ICUs).

“At the moment, there are some ICUs that are overwhelmed, but most in the country are still functioning normally,” said Fernando Simon, head of Spain’s emergency services.

Since last Sunday, the country has only been testing either those with acute respiratory infection who need to be hospitalised or essential workers, meaning the recently confirmed cases are serious. Simon said the country hopes to increase testing in the coming days.

Spain is the fourth-worst affected country in the world by the pandemic and has been in lockdown since last Saturday evening.

More than 850M students worldwide not at school: UNESCO

After the new coronavirus disease Covid-19 was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, children, adults, old people are advised to self-quarantine and practice social distancing to avoid further infections.

Scores of governments decided to close down schools, colleges and educational institutions one after the other across the globe. 

More than 850 million young people, or nearly half the world's student population, are barred from their school and university grounds because of the coronavirus pandemic, UNESCO said on Wednesday.

Calling it an "unprecedented challenge" for education, UNESCO said schools had been closed in 102 countries, with partial closures in 11 more — and there would be more closures.

Iran reports the largest spike in coronavirus as 147 more die

Iran reported its single biggest jump in deaths from the new coronavirus on Wednesday as another 147 people died, raising the country's overall death toll to 1,135.

The nearly 15 percent spike in deaths — amid a total of 17,361 confirmed cases in Iran — marks the biggest 24-hour rise in fatalities since officials first acknowledged cases of the virus in Iran in mid-February.

Still, even as the number of cases continues to grow each day, food markets were still packed with shoppers on Wednesday and highways were crowded with traffic as families travelled between cities ahead of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on Friday.

Iran's deputy health minister, Alireza Raisi, urged the public to avoid travel and crowded places. In a statement on state TV, Raisi told Iranians the coming period represented two “golden weeks” to try to curb the virus from spreading further.

Southeast Asia must be 'aggressive' on coronavirus – WHO

The World Health Organization called for "aggressive" action in Southeast Asia to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Infections have soared across the region in recent weeks, forcing several countries to introduce drastic measures.

"We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO's regional director.

"More clusters of virus transmission are being confirmed. While this is an indication of an alert and effective surveillance, it also puts the spotlight on the need for more aggressive and whole of society efforts to prevent further spread of Covid-19," she said.

"We clearly need to do more, and urgently."

First day of Malaysia virus movement restriction

Malaysia's capital Kuala Lampur was deserted after authorities shut down shopping malls and restaurants to help combat the coronavirus.

Only essential services such as food stores and gas stations are still allowed to operate. All public gatherings have been banned. 

Malaysians are still allowed to leave their homes, but they can't travel abroad.

The restrictions came after the number of coronavirus cases rose sharply to 673.

Pakistan sees massive spike in 48 hours 

Pakistan's tally of confirmed Covid-19 cases reached 246.

The spike during the past two days was largely due to errors made in the testing and quarantine of travellers who recently returned from Iran via a land border crossing.

Pakistan cannot afford to implement the type of large-scale urban lockdowns the West is undertaking as it tries to slow the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Imran Khan said while urging calm.

Sri Lanka stops flights

Sri Lanka, which has confirmed 43 coronavirus cases, said it is banning all incoming flights for two weeks to combat the spread of the virus.

Officials also implemented price controls on lentils and sardines to ensure that no price gouging.

Sri Lanka also said its stock market would remain shut for the rest of the week as it attempts to minimise interactions and curb the disease.

Egypt strips Guardian press credentials over virus report

Egypt has stripped press credentials of a Guardian journalist over a report that the country is facing many more cases of coronavirus than officially reported.

Egypt has reported 196 cases to date. The Guardian article based on University of Toronto research which estimates the number of those infected is more than 19,000.

The New York Times also came under fire from by Egyptian officials after one of its journalists tweeted the same numbers before deleting it.

Kyrgyzstan confirms first 3 coronavirus cases

Kyrgyzstan has reported its first three cases of the new coronavirus.

Kyrgyz health officials said that the three men diagnosed with the virus returned from Saudi Arabia recently.

The infected men, along with 90 people who arrived in Kyrgyzstan on the same flight, are in isolation.

Prior to having any confirmed cases of the virus, the government had already taken measures to prevent the disease from spreading in the country.

Israel braces for first fatalities

Israel braced for its first fatalities as the number of coronavirus cases spiked by 25 percent.

Israel's health ministry said 90 more people had tested positive for the new coronavirus, bringing the country's overall number to 427, a day after authorities issued a new series of guidelines that put Israelis in near-shutdown mode.

There have been no fatalities so far but with 15 patients in moderate to serious conditions and the number of those infected exponentially rising in recent days.

Cases on the rise in South Africa

South Africa's health ministry confirmed that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country has risen by 31 since Tuesday to 116.

The newly confirmed infections included several cases of local transmission.

Russia shuts down all schools for three weeks

Russian authorities are closing all of the country's schools for three weeks starting next Monday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Russian education officials said it would be an extended spring break with the opportunity to continue studies remotely.

Russia has so far reported 114 confirmed cases of the new virus. 

The country's government has taken vast measures to prevent the disease from spreading, including closing the borders to foreigners starting from Wednesday and ordering coronavirus testing for everyone who returned from European countries in the last 14 days.

Tokyo Olympic gymnastic test cancelled

Tokyo Olympic organisers said a test event in gymnastics set for April 4-5 has been cancelled.

Organisers say the Japan Gymnastics Association called off the Artistic Gymnastics All-Around World Cup, which was also being organised by FIG, the world governing body of the sport.

Tokyo 2020 officials say they will attempt to carry out an “operational test” on the same date. It is unclear if athletes will be included.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Tokyo organisers and the IOC have repeatedly said the Olympics will open as scheduled on July 24. 

Mainland China reports 13 new cases

Mainland China had 13 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the country's National Health Commission said on Wednesday, down from 21 cases a day earlier.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 80,894, the health authority said in a statement.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China had reached 3,237 as of the end of Tuesday, up by 11 from the previous day.

In the central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak in China, there were 11 new deaths, with the provincial capital of Wuhan accounting for 10 of the fatalities.

US coronavirus deaths cross 100

The death toll in the US from the new coronavirus passed the 100 mark after Washington state reported six new fatalities, bringing the country's total to 103.

Washington leads the nation in deaths, with 54. Thirty of those deaths were connected with a nursing home in a Seattle suburb.

New York on Tuesday reported more confirmed cases than Washington state for the first time. New York has topped 1,300 cases, while Washington was just over 1,000.

Australia orders citizens not to travel abroad

Australia told its citizens on Wednesday to halt all overseas travel in an unprecedented move designed to choke off the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced what he called an "indefinite ban" on foreign travel at a press conference, saying, "If we slow the spread, we do save lives."

"Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction," he said.

Australian officials have reported 454 cases of coronavirus in the country. 

Saudi Arabia halts work in new measures

Saudi Arabia suspended work in private sectors except health and food services for 15 days, state news agency reported early on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia has reported 171 cases of coronavirus so far and has taken measures to limit the spread of the pathogen, including closing mosques for daily prayers and announcing an extraordinary virtual G20 leaders summit next week.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies