Coronavirus Live Updates: Japan to Shutter All Schools in Effort to Contain Virus


From the Austrian Alps to an island off the coast of Africa. From an evangelical church in South Korea to a holy Shiite city in Iran. Governments and health workers around the world scrambled to contain the rapidly spreading new coronavirus, as the number of new cases outside China for the first time exceeded those inside the country at the heart of the epidemic.

More than 81,000 people have been infected with the virus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19, and new cases have been documented in at least 47 countries and on every continent but Antarctica. So far, nearly 3,000 people have died, the vast majority of them in a single Chinese province, Hubei.

  • In Europe, France, Spain and Germany reported increases in cases, likely tied to an outbreak in Italy’s Lombardy region, where more than 400 people have been infected. Cases were reported for the first time on Thursday in Estonia and Denmark.

  • In the Middle East, a dangerous cluster in Iran, where more than 240 people had been infected, spread across the region to Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia halted visits to the holiest sites in Islam, in the cities of Mecca and Medina.

  • In Asia, the authorities in China were slowly lifting citywide lockdowns that had ensnared more than 700 million people, as a major outbreak tied to a megachurch in South Korea ballooned on Thursday to 1,766, an increase of 505 from the previous day. And Japan said it would close all schools through March.

  • South America recorded its first case, a 61-year-old man in Brazil. And a person in California who had not been exposed to anyone known to be infected tested positive for the virus.

As fears spread to the United States, President Trump named Vice President Mike Pence his point person to coordinate the government’s response, expressing confidence that the United States would prevent a widespread domestic outbreak.

“We’re very, very ready for this,” Mr. Trump said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday asked all of Japan’s schools to close for a month to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. The country is the second, after China, to shutter schools nationwide over the epidemic.

Speaking before a coronavirus task force meeting on Thursday, Mr. Abe said he was “putting a priority on children’s health and safety” and trying to pre-empt a widespread outbreak that could result “from gatherings of many children and teachers for a long time on a daily basis.”

The number of coronavirus cases has steadily risen in Japan, reaching 186, including four deaths. There have also been more than 700 cases and four deaths from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.

Mr. Abe said schools should remain closed through spring break. The Japanese school year ends in March, and the new year usually starts at the beginning of April.

He specifically requested that all elementary, middle and high schools close. He did not mention universities or day-care centers.

The move toward a countrywide shutdown follows a decision on Wednesday by the Education Board of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, to close more than 1,600 schools in the prefecture until at least March 4. Hokkaido has had 54 confirmed cases and two deaths from the virus.

Hours before Mr. Abe spoke, the mayor of Osaka said he had requested that schools in the city, Japan’s third largest, be closed until March 13.

The fast-growing coronavirus outbreak touched South Korea’s military alliance with the United States on Thursday, as the two countries announced that they would postpone their joint spring military exercise.

The decision came as South Korea reported 505 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total number to 1,766, the largest outbreak outside of China. Most of the patients were from Daegu, a city in southeastern South Korea, and in nearby towns.

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      The World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world is not ready for a major outbreak.
READ  Samsung Galaxy S20+ vs iPhone 11 Pro Camera Shootout: Which Phone Gives You Better Photos?

On Wednesday, the United States military reported the first case of a soldier being infected. The soldier was stationed at a base near Daegu.

Both South Korea and the United States said their annual spring combined training, originally scheduled to take place next month, would be postponed “until further notice.”

South Korea has placed itself on the highest possible alert to deal with the outbreak, suspending nonessential military training and placing more than 9,500 troops under quarantine. It has also barred most of its enlisted soldiers from taking leave.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, unwilling to wait for global health authorities to declare the coronavirus a pandemic, said on Thursday that the country is enacting an emergency response plan as if it were one.

“We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us,” he said. “And as a result, as a government we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”

The steps outlined on Thursday include extending a ban through March 7 on foreigners who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days. There have been 22 confirmed cases of the virus in Australia, with no deaths.

Mr. Morrison said Australians should continue to attend mass gatherings, play on the street and eat at restaurants.

“You can do all of these things because Australia has acted quickly, Australia has gotten ahead of it at this point of time,” he said. “But to stay ahead of it, we need to now elevate our response to this next phase.”

Stocks fell in Europe and Asia on Thursday amid further signs of the coronavirus’s spread around the world and after the United States tried to reassure the public that it is ready to deal with the problem.

Stocks in Japan fell more than 2 percent, leading a broad drop in Asia, while markets in Europe opened sharply lower. Futures markets predicted Wall Street would open lower too, continuing a weeklong slump.

Most of the region fell by less. The Kospi index in South Korea fell 1 percent, while stocks in Taiwan fell by 1.2 percent. Shares in Hong Kong were up 0.3 percent near the end of the Chinese territory’s trading day.

Shares in China bucked the trend, with Shanghai rising 0.1 percent. Regulators and government-controlled investors often step in to help the country’s stock market in troubled times.

READ  Apple's Not-So-Secret Test For Your New iPhone SE 2

Oil prices also fell, while the price of gold rose, signaling continued nervousness among global investors.

The outbreak has taken a toll on global companies. On Thursday Anheuser-Busch InBev joined the chorus, as the brewer forecast a steep drop in quarterly profit.

In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 index, Germany’s DAX and the CAC 40 index in Paris opened about 2 percent lower.

The drug maker Gilead Sciences is expanding its clinical trials of the antiviral drug remdesivir as a possible coronavirus treatment into several countries, mainly in Asia.

Two new clinical trials starting in March will involve about 1,000 patients who are severely or moderately ill from the virus, to try to determine which patients would be helped most, Gilead said.

The drug is experimental and has not been approved yet to treat any disease. It is already being tested in Wuhan, China, the center of the epidemic, and on patients who are being treated in Nebraska.

“We are looking for ways we can help the world prepare as well as possible for what appears to be a pandemic at this point,” Dr. Diana Brainard, Gilead’s senior vice president for H.I.V. and emerging viruses, said in an interview.

In the last month, Gilead’s stock has risen 17 percent, to $74.70 at the close of markets Wednesday from $68.80 in late January.

The Times is beginning a coronavirus newsletter, an informed guide to the outbreak with the latest developments from our reporting and expert advice about prevention and treatment.

Every day at 6 p.m. Eastern (7 a.m. in Hong Kong), we’ll tell you exactly what you need to know about this far-reaching and fast-moving story.

Sign up here.

A person in California who was not exposed to anyone known to be infected with the coronavirus, and who had not traveled to countries where it is circulating, has tested positive for the infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday night. It may be the first instance of community transmission in the United States.

“The case was detected through the U.S. public health system and picked up by astute clinicians,” a C.D.C. statement said.

It brought the number of cases in the United States to 60, including the 45 cases among Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak — and the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was overwhelmed by the virus after it docked in Japan.

The new case, in which the source of infection is unknown, is cause for concern, experts said.

“That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there, and we have already started some low-grade transmission,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

Fourteen percent of patients discharged in China’s populous Guangdong Province later tested positive for the coronavirus during follow-up examinations, according to the provincial authorities. The finding has led some experts to question the accuracy of the tests that have been used to diagnose patients.

It is unclear if these patients are contagious, said Song Tie, a Guangdong health official, during a news conference. But he said that in the city of Guangzhou, for instance, 13 patients had tested positive again after being discharged, but none of their 104 close contacts showed signs of infection.

Several other regions, including Hainan Province in the south and the city of Chengdu in southwestern China, have said they found patients who tested positive even after being cleared.

Some of the lockdown tactics used to stop the spread of the virus in China went too far, a top Chinese security official said on Wednesday.

Du Hangwei, the vice minister of public security, said at a news conference that some members of China’s security forces had practiced “excessive enforcement, simplistic enforcement, and crude enforcement” of quarantines and other containment measures.

It was a rare admission by a Chinese official of excessive force in response to the outbreak.

China has implemented residential lockdowns of varying strictness on at least 760 million people, or more than half the country’s population, according to a New York Times analysis of government announcements in provinces and major cities.

Some episodes of seemingly overzealous enforcement have caused outrage. Videos of local officials in Henan tying up pedestrians who were not wearing face masks went viral on social media. In Chongqing, officials paraded four residents through the streets, shaming them for gathering to play mahjong at home.

“The relentless management triggered people’s panic and anxiety,” Mr. Du said.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday temporarily barred Muslim pilgrims from entering the country to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as it tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a stark illustration of the fear the epidemic has stirred.

The Saudi royal family derives much of its stature in the Islamic world from its status as guardians of the holy sites, and it very rarely closes them off. The Saudi response contrasts with that of Iran, which has kept its pilgrimage sites open, despite a significant coronavirus outbreak there, and evidence that people who visited Iran have spread the virus to many other countries.

Each year, millions of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca, or Umrah, which can take place at any time of year; the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to make at least once, takes place in a specific part of the lunar year, which this year falls in midsummer.

Many Muslims also visit the mosque in Medina that was established by the prophet Mohammed.

The government is “suspending entry into the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily,” the government-run Saudi Press Agency said.

With just under five months before the opening of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo on July 24, organizers in Japan and at the International Olympic Committee say they are confident the Games will go on.

At a news briefing on Wednesday, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said that preparations for the Games were proceeding “as planned,” adding that the Olympic torch would begin its journey to Japan in March as scheduled.

The I.O.C. has also declined to entertain the possibility that the Games might not take place as planned.

But sporting events in Japan and elsewhere are already being canceled, as governments try to discourage large gatherings in major cities. In preparing for the Olympics, Japan had focused on the prevention of measles and rubella, sexually transmitted diseases and food poisoning.

A new disease, like the coronavirus, was not central to its calculations.

“I’ve never seen an Olympic organizing committee asked, ‘Are you prepared for a global pandemic?’” said Terrence Burns, a veteran Olympics consultant.

Reporting and research was contributed by Russell Goldman, Carlos Tejada, Choe Sang-Hun, Zoe Mou, Daniel Victor, Roni Caryn Rabin, Denise Grady, David Yaffe-Bellany, Ed Shanahan, Andrew Keh and Ben Dooley.



READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here