Coronavirus update: WHO warns US could become epicentre, Italy deaths rise again, India in ‘total lockdown’
The World Health Organisation has warned the US could become the new coronavirus epicentre, Italy’s death toll is climbing again, and most Virgin and all TigerAir flights have been suspended immediately.
This story is being updated regularly throughout the day. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Wednesday’s key moments
More than 1,000 cases now recorded in NSW
Health authorities in NSW have confirmed 211 new coronavirus infections, taking the state’s total to 1,029.
It’s the largest number of new COVID-19 infections over a 24-hour period recorded in the state to date.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said most of the people in NSW with coronavirus had been infected overseas.
“That tells us to an extent that we are maintaining some control over the virus,” she said, adding that she strongly backed the additional measures announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison last night.
Yesterday, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia topped 2,000, including eight deaths — seven in NSW and one in WA.
WHO warns US could become epicentre, but Trump wants country back to normal by Easter
US President Donald Trump spoke about his response to the coronavirus pandemic from a White House garden.
The World Health Organisation says the United States could become the global epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
But during a Fox News virtual town hall, US President Donald Trump said the country “wants to be back at work”.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said.
Easter Sunday is just over two weeks away, April 12.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full,” Mr Trump said in a subsequent interview. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country.”
Infections in the US have reached nearly 50,000, with more than 600 deaths — more than 100 of them on Monday.
Public health experts have warned Mr Trump’s plan would be a mistake.
Government guidelines currently say Americans should not gather in groups larger than 10, and should avoid dining out in restaurants or bars.
But hard-hit states including New York and California have gone further and enacted their own home-lockdown orders.
‘If you can stay at home, you must stay at home’
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has warned further shutdown measures are imminent.
He said the list of restrictions announced last night was “stage two” of the coronavirus response, but warned “there will be a stage three” in the state.
Mr Andrews also outlined Victorians’ current responsibilities, saying, “If you can stay at home, you must stay at home.”
“You should not be having friends over for a dinner party, you should not be out shopping if you don’t need it,” he said.
He said lives were at stake.
“People won’t just be queuing for Centrelink payments, they will be queuing for heart and lung machines and ventilators and intensive care beds. You cannot queue for intensive care,” he said.
Victoria’s confirmed coronavirus cases have jumped by 55 to 466.
Another 743 people die in Italy, country accounts for a third of all deaths worldwide
Italy has recorded its second-worst daily coronavirus death toll, with another 743 people dying from COVID-19.
Hopes that the epidemic in the world’s worst-hit country was easing after lower numbers in the previous two days have been dashed.
The latest figures show that 6,820 people have died from the infection in barely a month, meaning Italy accounts for a third of all deaths worldwide.
The total number of confirmed cases hit 69,176 on Tuesday, but Italy is only testing people with severe symptoms.
The head of the Civil Protection Agency said the true number of infected people was probably 10 times higher.
Australian public life more restricted
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last night announced further restrictions on businesses, public gatherings and overseas travel in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
From midnight Wednesday, these activities and businesses will no longer be allowed to continue operating:
- Amusement parks and arcades
- Indoor and outdoor play centres
- Community and recreation centres, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre, spin facilities, saunas, wellness centres
- Swimming pools
- Galleries, museums, national institutions, historic sites, libraries, community centres
- Auction houses
- Real estate auctions and open house inspections
- In-store beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours, spa and massage parlours (excluding health-related services, like physiotherapy)
- Food courts within shopping centres will only be able to sell takeaway. Shopping centres themselves will remain open
Mr Morrison also addressed limitations on other activities:
- Hairdressers and barber shops can continue, but they must limit the time a customer is in the premise to no more than 30 minutes
- Personal training and boot camps are limited to a maximum of 10 people
- Weddings can continue, but only with the couple, the celebrant, and witnesses — totalling a maximum of five people
- Funerals are limited to a maximum of 10 people
- Outdoor and indoor food markets will be addressed by individual states and territories
The Prime Minister also said Australians would be banned from travelling overseas, with some exceptions made for aid workers and for compassionate, employment and other essential travel.
He also said the advice on schools had not changed and it was safe to send children to school.
On a broader note, Mr Morrison said people should not go out and “participate more broadly in the community, unless you’re shopping for basics or there are medical needs or you’re providing care and support to an individual at another place”.
Most Virgin and all TigerAir flights suspended immediately
Virgin Airways is reducing its domestic capacity by 90 per cent and suspending all TigerAir flights immediately, according to a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange.
The company will stand down 8,000 of its 10,000 staff until at least the end of May.
“There has never been a travel environment in Australia as restricted as the one we see today, and the extraordinary steps we’ve taken have been in response to the federal and state government’s latest travel advice,” CEO Paul Scurrah said.
Virgin had already grounded its entire international fleet.
The cuts to domestic flights come as states move to shut their borders to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Tokyo 2020’ to be held in 2021
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has put an end to mounting speculation over the fate of this year’s Tokyo Olympics by asking officials to postpone it by a year.
He said the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Thomas Bach agreed with him 100 per cent.
“The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held at the latest by the Summer of 2021 — and [Mr Bach] agreed with that,” Mr Abe said.
“As a symbol of mankind’s victory over coronavirus, we will host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in their complete form.”
Tokyo’s Governor Yuriko Koike said the Games would still be branded the 2020 Olympics, even though they would be held in 2021.
India goes into total lockdown for 21 days
Indians won’t be allowed out of their homes for 21 days from midnight on Tuesday (local time).
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered a 21-day lockdown of the world’s second most populous country of more than 1.3 billion people.
Health researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the coronavirus by mid-May, prompting the Government to shut down all air and train travel, businesses and schools.
As part of the measures, nobody will be allowed to leave their homes for the next three weeks beginning midnight Tuesday.
“The only way to save ourselves from coronavirus is if we don’t leave our homes, whatever happens, we stay at home,” Mr Modi said.
He called the order a “total lockdown” and did not address whether any service providers would be exempt, but said that “all steps have been taken by central and state government to ensure supply of essential items.”
It was not clear what this would mean for about 300 million Indians who, according to official data, live below the poverty line.
India has reported 482 cases of the coronavirus, while nine people have died from the COVID-19 disease it causes.
There have been 40 recoveries, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Madrid’s hospitals on the ‘verge of collapse’
The Spanish Health Ministry reported around 6,600 new cases and 500 deaths overnight in Europe’s worst-hit country after Italy.
Health emergency chief Fernando Simon attributed the nearly 14 per cent infection rate among medical staff to limited availability of protective equipment and several early clusters of the virus occurring in hospitals.
A nursing union said Madrid’s hospitals were on “the verge of collapse” and needed urgent support, while a doctors’ union said it had filed a lawsuit demanding protective equipment within 24 hours.
Prosecutors in Catalonia have opened an investigation into two nursing homes, the prosecutor general’s office said, after at least 13 residents died of the virus at a home in Capellades and nine more at a home in Olesa de Montserrat.
Military units dispatched to help care homes comply with sanitary regulations disinfected 179 facilities on Monday and planned to clean another 96 on Tuesday.
The state prosecutor launched a separate investigation after the army found unattended bodies at some homes.
London turns exhibition centre into huge sick bay
London’s huge ExCel exhibition centre will be converted into a 4,000-bed temporary hospital to try and combat the expected flood of coronavirus patients in the UK.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new Nightingale hospital would open next week and consist of two wards housing up to 2,000 people each, and be staffed by National Health Service (NHS) staff and military medical personnel.
@NicholasDole: UK Govt preparing to open emergency #COVID19 hospital at the ExCel exhibition centre in London. “NHS Nightingale Hospital” will have 2 wards with 2000 beds each. Staffed by NHS and military. Open next week.
“The NHS Nightingale hospital will comprise two wards each of 2,000 people,” Mr Hancock said.
“With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians, we will make sure that we have the capacity that we need so that everyone can get the support they need.”
Mr Hancock said the country was also looking for up to 250,000 volunteers to help out the NHS and vulnerable people during the crisis.
Volunteers in good health will be asked to help with shopping for groceries, delivering medicines from pharmacies and phoning vulnerable people isolating at home to check on them.
“If you are well and able to do so safely, I would urge you to sign up today to help the most vulnerable people in our communities as an NHS Volunteer Responder,” Mr Hancock said.
The UK’s death toll from coronavirus stands at 422, with over 8,000 people infected by the virus from the 90,000 people tested.
Texas, Ohio postpone ‘unnecessary’ abortions
The US states of Texas and Ohio have ordered abortions be postponed as non-essential procedures to free up resources to fight coronavirus.
Officials in the two states, which already have severe restrictions on abortions, said postponing elective procedures would allow beds and staff to be focused on coronavirus cases.
Vice-President Mike Pence, who heads the nation’s coronavirus task force, asked the nation’s hospitals last week to cease elective surgeries to free up capacity and staff, amid dire shortages of masks and gloves.
Texas officials said the measure would apply to abortions that were not necessary to save the mother’s life or health.
“No-one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement.
Ohio’s Attorney General told facilities to stop performing abortions that require personal protective equipment, such as gowns and masks, according to documents obtained by local media.
Austria plans to test 15,000 a day
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says he will massively expand coronavirus testing in coming days to locate and isolate infected people and avoid an Italian-like overload of its health system.
The Alpine republic with a population of 8.8 million has tested around 28,400 people so far with nearly 4,900 cases and 28 deaths confirmed.
It was one of the first European countries to put severe restrictions on movement and close shops and schools in response to the developments in neighbouring Italy and a strong increase in coronavirus infections in its western regions.
In coming weeks, Austria plans to test up to 15,000 people per day, the Chancellor said.
He referred to brand new tests that are comparably cheap but take longer than laboratory tests used up until now.
Lessons from other countries showed that it was crucial to remain disciplined and to make use of “big data”.
Austria’s Red Cross is promoting a so-called “Stop Corona” app, which enables a user to digitally store who he meets and when. If a person shows symptoms of COVID-19, these contact persons can be notified.
Austria’s mobile carrier A1 Telekom Austria is already sharing results from a motion analysis application that visualizes the movement flows of groups of people with the health authority.