Italy’s coronavirus death toll surges past 2,500 – Live updates

WHO urges governments to do more as virus infects more than 184,000 people and has killed at least 7,500 worldwide.

A patient in a biocontainment unit is carried on a stretcher from an ambulance arrived at the Columbus Covid 2 Hospital in Rome, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) [The Associated Press]

Italy reported 345 new coronavirus deaths in the country over the last 24 hours taking its total death toll to 2,503 – an increase of 16 percent.

The total number of cases in Italy rose to 31,506 from a previous 27,980, up 12.6 percent – the slowest rate of increase since the contagion came to light on February 21. Italy is the European country hardest hit by coronavirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the coronavirus pandemic as the”defining global health crisis of our time”, and urged countries to test all suspected cases of COVID-19.

Globally, the virus has infected 184,976 people and killed just over 7,500, according to the WHO. Almost 80,000 people have recovered from the infection, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Here are the latest updates:

Tuesday, March 17

21:31 GMT – Turkey reports first death

Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca confirmed the country’s first death from the coronavirus, an 89-year-old patient.

Koca also told reporters that 51 new cases had been diagnosed, bringing the number of confirmed infections to 98.

21:27 GMT – Gambia reports first coronavirus case

Gambia’s health ministry reported its first case of coronavirus, a 20-year-old woman who had recently returned from the United Kingdom.

20:53 GMT – Former Chelsea player leaves Turkish club over virus outbreak

Former Chelsea and Nigerian football player, John Obi Mikel, and his Turkish club Trabzonspor, have parted ways, after Mike refused to play in Turkey’s Super Lig amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The 32-year-old player’s contract was revoked after he posted on Instagram that he was no longer comfortable to play for Trabzonspor until the Covid-19 outbreak was over.

“There is more to life than football,” Mikel posted on Instagram.

“I do not feel comfortable and don’t want to play football in this situation,” he added.

“Everyone should be home with their families and loved ones in this critical time. [The] season should be cancelled as the world is facing such turbulent times.”

20:38 GMT – Four NBA players from Brooklyn Nets test positive for coronavirus – ESPN

Four players on the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for COVID-19, ESPN reported, less than a week after the global coronavirus outbreak prompted the suspension of the NBA season.

Three of the players were asymptomatic while one was showing symptoms of the rapidly spreading virus, the network reported, days after the Utah Jazz reported that two of their players had also tested positive.

20:31 GMT – Bolsonaro slams virus ‘hysteria’ as Brazil confirms first death

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro condemned what he called “hysteria” over the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, as South America mos populous nation confirmed its first death, while Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro declared a state of emergency.

Flying in the face of mounting global alarm over the pandemic, the far-right president lashed out at containment measures he said would hurt the economy.

“People are acting like it’s the end of the world,” he said in an interview with Radio Tupi.

20:16 GMT – Outrage as Trump calls coronavirus ‘Chinese Virus’

US President Donald Trump has been criticised for repeatedly referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus”, with critics saying he is “fueling bigotry” and putting Asian-American communities at risk. 

The president’s new labelling of the virus came as China and the US traded blame over the origins of the virus, ignoring World Health Organization (WHO) warnings not to link the pathogen, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of December, to a particular area or community to avoid discrimination or stigmatisation.

Read more here.

trump coronavirus
Trump’s most recent comments drew quick rebuke from Beijing [Evan Vucci/AP]

20:06 GMT – EURO 2020 football tournament postponed amid coronavirus outbreak

Football’s Euro2020 Championship will be postponed for a year, in a widely expected move amid the spread of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

“Postponed until 11/6- 11/7 2021. Will get back to you after the meeting,” Swedish FA chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson said in a message to Reuters during a UEFA videoconference call.

Read more here.

20:01 GMT – No bet: European countries halt trading on failing shares

France, Italy, Spain and Belgium on Tuesday banned so-called “short selling” – essentially betting that a stock will lose value – in order to shield some of Europe’s biggest companies from a selloff triggered by the coronavirus.

The move temporarily halts bets on falling shares at scores of companies, from the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, to Spanish bank Santander and airline Air France-KLM.

Read more here.

How countries across Europe are dealing with coronavirus

19:59 GMT – Tunisian police break up ram fight that broke coronavirus crowd rules

Tunisian police used tear gas to disperse dozens of youths at a traditional ram fight as it broke coronavirus rules against crowds, the local Mosaique FM radio reported.

Ram fighting is a popular pastime in North Africa and the strongest animals with the most beautiful horns are highly prized for the powerful butts they deliver to opponents.

Authorities barred large gatherings of people and the attendance of 40 young men to watch the ram fight at Sousse prompted the police to step in. That led to a confrontation and the police used tear gas.

19:53 GMT – Egypt revokes British journalist’s credentials over virus report

Egypt revoked the press credentials of a journalist for The Guardian and censured The New York Times Cairo bureau chief on Tuesday over “bad faith” reporting on the country’s coronavirus cases.

“The correspondents’ rush to promote incorrect data does not justify them relying on an unpublished… and scientifically unrecognised study,” the State Information Service (SIS) said in a statement.

“It shows their intentional bad faith to harm Egyptian interests,” said the SIS, which is responsible for foreign media accreditation.

19:50 GMT – Bounce back: US stocks vault higher on Trump stimulus plans

United States stock markets bounced higher, then fell, then trended higher again in a choppy session following Monday’s historic selloff that saw the major indexes post their worst session since the 1987 crash.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average vaulted more than 300 points at the opening bell, having lost nearly 3,000 points on Monday – its worst one-day point drop ever.

Read more here.

19:43 GMT – 1 million respirator masks immediately for coronavirus: US Pentagon

The US military will make available up to 5 million respirator masks and protective equipment, including 1 million immediately, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

Esper said in a news conference the Pentagon would also be prepared to distribute up to 2,000 deployable ventilators. He added that the U.S. military’s laboratories would additionally be made available to start carrying out coronavirus tests for civilians, increasing US testing.

US tries to lure German firm working on virus vaccine: Report

19:36 GMT – UN suspends resettlement travel for refugees over virus

The United Nations said Tuesday it would suspend resettlement travel for refugees over fears they could become stranded as countries drastically reduce entries over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN agencies for refugees and for migration jointly announced that they were taking steps to temporarily suspend departures by people already living as refugees who had been approved to be resettled in third countries.

“As countries drastically reduce entry into their territories owing to the COVID-19 global health crisis, and restrictions around international air travel are introduced, travel arrangements for resettling refugees are currently subject to severe disruptions,” the UNHCR and IOM said in a statement.

Can coronavirus be contained in conflict zones?

19:32 GMT – Proposed economic relief could put $1 trillion into U.S. economy: treasury secretary

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin estimated that the economic measures President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed to deal with the effects of the coronavirus crisis would pump $1 trillion into the US economy.

“We have put a proposal on the table that would inject $1 trillion into the economy,” he said after meeting with Republican senators.

19:24 GMT – French Open postponed due to coronavirus pandemic

The French Open tennis tournament has been postponed by four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, becoming the latest sporting event to be affected by the worldwide outbreak. 

The first Grand Slam, one of four major tennis events of the year, to be hit by COVID-19 was initially scheduled to be played in Paris from May 24 to June 7.

Read more here.

19:19 GMT – Pakistan can’t afford to shutter cities to prevent virus: PM Imran Khan

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.

In Pakistan, home to megacities such as Karachi with millions of people living in close proximity, Khan said such a move was considered early on but officials feared it would devastate the country’s fragile economy.

“The Pakistan situation is not the same as that of the US or Europe … 25 percent of our population is living in grave poverty”, Khan said in a televised address to the nation.

“If we shutdown the cities – people are already facing difficult circumstances – we will save them from corona at one end, but they will die from hunger on other side,” he added.

Pakistan has however closed cricket stadiums, schools, colleges and universities, Khan noted. The South Asian nation is considered vulnerable to the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus: Pakistani family hands out masks in Hong Kong

19:15 GMT – EU imposes entry ban for 30 days: Merkel

The European Union will impose an entry ban on travellers from outside the bloc for 30 days to battle the spread of the coronavirus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Member states “agreed to impose an entry ban” into the bloc, with only nationals of EFTA countries and Britain exempt from the restriction, said Merkel, adding that the bloc was taking “coordinated action to bring back stranded travellers”.

19:12 GMT – Rolling Stones postpone tour amid coronavirus fears

The Rolling Stones are postponing their spring and summer tour because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The band announced that the No Filter tour, which had been planned to start in San Diego on May 8, will be rescheduled.

The Stones were set to visit some North American cities they haven’t played in years, including Cleveland, St. Louis, Austin, Texas, Louisville, Kentucky, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tampa, Florida.

Theirs is the latest and biggest of many tours to be postponed in recent days. On Monday, Elton John and the Foo Fighters delayed their tours.

19:10 GMT – ‘Slippery slope’: Israel draws flak over coronavirus surveillance

Israel‘s government has begun deploying cellphone-monitoring technology against the coronavirus pandemic, drawing criticism from the opposition and a rights group who called it a “dangerous precedent”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s cabinet approved the emergency regulations – which came into effect on Tuesday – that will enable the Shin Bet internal security service to tap into cellular data to retrace the movements of people infected by the virus responsible for the disease, COVID-19. 

Read more here.

18:51 GMT – Qatar closes all shops except for grocery stores and pharmacies

Qatar closed all shops except for food stores and pharmacies over fears of coronavirus spread, the Qatar high committee for crisis management said, in a press conference aired on state TV.

The Gulf nation also closed part of the Industrial Area for 14 days, with salaries being paid for employees working in the closed part, the committee added.

Qatar Corona [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
 Qatar has reported 438 cases of the coronavirus to date [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

18:37 GMT – British-Iranian aid worker temporarily released from Iran jail

Jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been temporarily released in Iran for two weeks, her husband said.

“Unfortunately, Nazanin will be exceptionally required to wear an ankle tag during the furlough, which her parents have now hired from the authorities,” Richard Ratcliffe said.

“Nazanin’s movements will be restricted to 300m from her parents’ home,” he added.

Hard-hit Iran frees more prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak

18:20 GMT – Most populous province in Canada bans gathering of 50 plus people

Canada’s most populous province Ontario banned gatherings of more than 50 people and ordered the closure of bars and restaurants. The province accounts for nearly half of confirmed cases.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed C$300 million to boost the province’s healthcare system, including to buy more protective gear and ventilators.

Canada’s six largest banks will temporarily limit operating hours and cut the number of operating branches as part of new coordinated measures to support social distancing to curb the outbreak, the Canadian Bankers Association said.

17:50 GMT – Trump administration wants to send cheques to Americans now

United States President Donald Trump announced a plan on Tuesday to send money to Americans immediately to ease the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic and said military-style hospitals will likely be deployed to virus hot zones to care for patients.

Scrambling to get a grip on an unpredictable virus that has disrupted Americans in all walks of life, Trump predicted the economic challenge will be tough short term but that the economy will eventually rebound. 

Read more here.

17:21 GMT – Italy reports 345 new coronavirus deaths; death toll to 2,503

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in Italy spiked in the last 24 hours by 345 to 2,503, an increase of 16 percent, the Civil Protection Agency said.

The total number of cases in Italy, the European country hardest hit by the virus, rose to 31,506 from a previous 27,980, up 12.6 percent, the slowest rate of increase since the contagion came to light on February 21.

Italy will rush 10,000 student doctors into service, scrapping their final exams, in an effort to help the struggling health service cope with the coronavirus onslaught.

Coronavirus: Italians under lockdown sing from balconies

17:18 GMT – Don’t call 911 for toilet paper, asks Oregon police

Police in the northwestern US state of Oregon have urged citizens worried about the coronavirus pandemic not to call 911 if they run out of toilet paper.

The novel coronavirus has prompted panic buying across much of the US and overseas, with items including hand sanitizer, mineral water and toilet paper frequently disappearing from supermarket shelves.

“It’s hard to believe that we even have to post this. Do not call 9-1-1 just because you ran out of toilet paper,” wrote the Newport, Oregon police department on Facebook. “You will survive without our assistance.”

The light-hearted post did not specify how many calls police had received via the emergency number over toilet paper, but did suggest a number of alternatives – including using department store catalog pages, sponges and even corn cobs.

Coronavirus: Sudanese passengers stage 16-hr sit-in on plane

17:00 GMT – Journalists travelling with Putin ordered to undergo mandatory coronavirus testing

Journalists travelling with Russian President Vladimir Putin on an official trip this week must undergo mandatory coronavirus testing to prove they do not have the disease, the Kremlin said.

Announcing its latest move to try to protect Putin’s health, a presidential administration official confirmed the new condition ahead of an official trip to Crimea on Wednesday.

Russia has reported 114 coronavirus cases so far, fewer than many European countries.

16:31 GMT – Putin says Russia virus situation ‘under control’

President Vladimir Putin said the coronavirus situation was “under control” in Russia and outbreaks of infection had been contained.

Russia reported 114 cases of coronavirus, up from 93 on Monday, with no fatalities.

The country is closing its borders to foreigners from Wednesday, and cultural and sports events have been suspended.

“We were able to contain mass penetration and spread” of the pandemic, the Russian president said in a cabinet meeting.

16:21 GMT – IOC committed to Tokyo 2020 Games, no need for “drastic decisions”

The International Olympic Committee does not plan any “drastic” decisions about the Tokyo 2020 Games, saying it remains fully committed to the event being staged in four months’ time despite the global spread of the coronavirus.

Following discussions with international sports federations the IOC said changes would need to be made to the qualifiers due to the impact of the virus, but it still plans to go ahead with the July 24-August 9 Olympics.

“The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage,” it said in a statement.

16:01 GMT – Israel deploys cyber-monitoring against coronavirus, tells people not to leave home

The Israeli government began deploying cellphone-monitoring technology against the coronavirus on, and issued directives urging people not to leave home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved emergency regulations that will enable the Shin Bet internal security service to tap into cellular data to retrace the movements of people infected by the virus.

The data, customarily used for anti-terrorism, will be used by the Health Ministry to locate and alert those who have been in their vicinity, the government said.

Containing spread of coronavirus

15:46 GMT – Robbers grab 100,000 surgical masks at gunpoint as Ukraine enters shutdown

Shops, restaurants and transport were shutdown in Ukraine after the country tightened restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus, while police arrested five people suspected of trying to rob 100,000 surgical masks at gunpoint in Kiev.

The country has seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far, including one death. The government has encouraged people to stay at home wherever possible except to buy food and medicine, but has stopped short of introducing curfews.

15:24 GMT – Pakistan confirmed cases now stand at 213

Pakistan has confirmed 213 coronavirus cases, with the majority (149) of the people being those who spent 14 days in quarantine at the Taftan quarantine camp on the Pakistan-Iran border, and were re-tested after returning to their home districts, according to government statistics.

There have so far been no deaths due to the coronavirus in Pakistan. Earlier today, the death of a patient in Lahore was reported by local media as being due to the virus, but the provincial chief minister Usman Buzdar announced the patient’s test for COVID19 was negative.

Coronavirus: Inside Pakistan’s Taftan quarantine camp


15:20 GMT – Argentina tries to protect older people from COVID-19

Silvia Romero inched backwards with her shopping cart on a muted Buenos Aires street, maintaining a spatial buffer of about a metre around her.

It was 8:30 Monday morning and the 68-year-old cook was out earlier than usual to avoid crowds and beat the run on goods that has gripped the city.

Read more here.

15:12 GMT – US stocks try to rebound from Monday’s historic losses

United States stock markets bounced higher on Tuesday and quickly fell prey to volatility after all three major US indexes experienced their worst percentage drops since the 1987 crash.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average vaulted more than 300 points at the opening bell, having lost nearly 3,000 points on Monday – its worst one-day point drop ever. But volatility quickly took hold, sending the index up 600 points, then plunging into negative territory.

Read more here.

15:00 GMT – UK confirmed coronavirus cases rise 26% to 1,950 in past 24 hours

British cases of coronavirus rose 26 percent to 1,950 from 1,543 the day before, the health ministry said.

Britain reported its first confirmed coronavirus case on January 31. There have so far been 56 reported deaths.

“As of 9am on 17 March 2020, 50,442 people have been tested in the UK, of which 48,492 were confirmed negative and 1,950 were confirmed as positive,” the government said.

14:40 GMT – WHO calls for ‘boldest actions’ from all European countries over virus

The WHO office for Europe said there is a need for bold measures in all European countries, calling the continent the”epicentre” of the new coronavirus pandemic.

“Every country, with no exceptions, needs to take their boldest actions to stop or slow down the virus threat,” Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe, told a press conference.

14:20 GMT – Iran warns virus could kill ‘millions’ in Islamic Republic

Iran issued its most dire warning yet about the coronavirus ravaging the country, suggesting “millions” could die in the Islamic Republic fails to take the necessary precautions.

A state television journalist, who also is a medical doctor, gave the warning hours after hardline Shia-Muslim faithful pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines that had just been closed over fears of the virus.

Iran’s supreme leader issued a religious ruling prohibiting “unnecessary” travel in the country.

Read more here

14:15 GMT – At least 37 suspected COVID-19 patients flee Afghan hospital

At least 37 patients thought to be suffering from COVID-19 fled from a hospital in Afghanistan’s western Herat province, a health ministry spokesperson said.

The people in question were in isolation because of the virus. They escaped the hospital with the help of their relatives after beating up staff members at the medical centre, ministry spokesman Wahidullah
Mayar said.

13:50 GMT – Pakistan’s Imran Khan calls for lifting of sanctions against Iran, suggests debt-write off

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for the lifting of sanctions against Iran amid the coronavirus outbreak, and said the international community would have to think of a “debt-write off” for “vulnerable” nations like his.

“I think the world community has to think of some sort of a debt-write off for countries like us [Pakistan] which are very vulnerable,” he told Bloomberg News.

“I actually fear for what is happening in Iran too, beacuase the sanctions have already, you know, impoverished Iran. So that should be a classic example of a place where at least now sanctions should be lifted, because they are in a terrible state right now,” Khan added.

13:14 GMT – Brussels not dropping Green Deal despite virus

The European Commission insisted it would continue working on its green growth initiative despite at least one leader urging them to drop it while the bloc battles coronavirus outbreak.

The “European Green Deal” is the flagship climate and economic policy of commission chief Ursula von der Leyen’s mandate, but it has already run into fire from some coal-hungry member states.

On Monday, populist Czech premier Andrej Babis said “Europe should forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead”. However, a European Commission spokeswoman, Vivian Loonela, told reporters that, while Brussels is following the epidemic “hour by hour” the Green Deal is still a parallel priority.

How countries across Europe are dealing with coronavirus

I’m Usaid Siddiqui taking over from my colleague Mersiha Gadzo.

12:55 GMT – Brussels Airlines suspends flights until April 19

Belgium’s Brussels airlines, a Lufthansa subsidiary, will suspend all flights as of Saturday until April 19 over coronavirus, the company said in a statement.

Social Distancing infographic

12:43 GMT – Philippines reports two more deaths

The Philippines’ health ministry reported two more deaths due to the coronavirus, bringing the total to 14.

11:55 GMT – Bahraini government condemned for failing to repatriate nationals stuck in Iran

A Bahrain human rights organisation has condemned the government over its”failure” to repatriate Bahraini nationals stuck in Iran.

In a statement the US-based Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) called on authorities to act quickly, noting that five of the 1,135 Bahrainis currently stranded in the city of Mashhad, Iran’s second most populous city, have died.

“ADHRB condemns Bahrain authorities’ neglect of its citizens stranded in Iran and raises concern about the possibility of an increase in fatalities unless citizens are evacuated and sent back home,” the statement read.

11:40 GMT – China approves vaccine for clinical trials: state media

China has authorised clinical trials on its first vaccine developed to combat the new coronavirus, according to a report in the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily.

The researchers are led by Chen Wei, of China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, it said.

In this undated frame from video provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a scientist returns a novel coronavirus vaccine sample to a freezer in Bethesda, Md. The
A scientist returns a novel coronavirus vaccine sample to a freezer [NIAID via AP]

11:30 GMT – Vietnam to quarantine all US, European, ASEAN arrivals

Vietnam will introduce mandatory quarantine for all visitors from the US, Europe and ASEAN countries, the government said.

It will also suspend the issue of new visas for all foreign nationals.

Vietnam has confirmed 61 coronavirus infections including a surge from overseas, with no deaths.

10:50 GMT – Iran’s death toll climbs to 988

According to an Iranian health official, there were 135 new deaths due to the coronavirus, raising the total death toll to 988.

10:48 GMT – Spain’s death toll rises to 491, cases surpass 10,000

Spain’s tally of coronavirus cases surpassed 10,000 and the number of fatalities rose to 491, said Fernando Simon, the head of the country’s health emergency center.

He said the number of cases rose to 11,178 in one day up from a previous tally of 9,161 cases on Monday.

epa08298513 Members of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) work during desinfection works at the International Airport in Malaga, Spain, 16 March 2020. Spain has seen nearly 8,000 people infected and al
Members of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) work during desinfection works at the International Airport in Malaga, Spain [Jorge Zapata/EPA]

10:46 GMT – Lufthansa preparing ‘air bridge’ to supply Germany

Germany’s largest airline, Lufthansa, is working with the government to prepare an”air bridge” to ensure that necessary goods would continue to arrive in Germany during the coronavirus epidemic, the airline’s boss said

Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr told Bild newspaper that the airline was preparing to deploy its 747 and Lufthansa Cargo fleets to that end, and was working on revised crew schedules to ensure adequate staffing.

10:40 GMT – Libya closes borders to protect weak health sector

Libya has not reported any cases of coronavirus, despite being surrounded by affected countries.

That is good news because the health sector in the capital, Tripoli, is already struggling after months of attacks by forces loyal to the renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.

It is hoped the country’s isolation may help to reduce the coronavirus threat.

Libya closes borders to protect weak health sector from COVID-19

10:30 GMT – Borders close in Latin America as coronavirus cases rise

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced all borders will close on Wednesday to give tourists time to leave. Chile has the highest number of confirmed cases per capita in South America.

Venezuela and Peru have also ordered all citizens to stay home in mandatory isolation to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

At least 155 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Latin America, prompting several countries to close their borders.

Borders close in Latin America as coronavirus cases rise

10:20 GMT – Malaysia records first death

Malaysia reported its first death from coronavirus: a 60-year-old pastor.

The state of Sarawak said 193 close contacts of the victim were in home quarantine.

The country has reported 553 coronavirus cases, the highest number in Southeast Asia.

10:10 GMT – Sri Lanka bans all incoming flights for two weeks

Sri Lanka banned all incoming flights for two weeks, a government spokesperson said.

Flights already in the air will be allowed to land and passengers to disembark, said Mohan Samaranayake, a spokesperson for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

09:20 GMT – France could nationalise big companies: Finance minister

The French government is prepared to use all means to support big companies suffering amid financial market turmoil, including nationalisation if necessary, the finance minister said.

“I won’t hesitate to use all means available to protect big French companies,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on a conference call with journalists.

“That can be done by recapitalisation, that can be done by taking a stake, I can even use the term nationalisation if necessary,” Le Maire added.

how can you protect yourself graphic

08:44 GMT – Philippines confirms another 45 cases

According to the Philippines’ health ministry, another 45 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to 187.

08:33 GMT – Australian researchers say immune response to coronavirus mapped

As scientists scramble to develop a vaccine, researchers at Australia‘s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said they had taken an important step in understanding the virus by mapping the immune responses from one of country’s first coronavirus patients.

By examining the blood results from an unidentified woman in her 40s, they discovered that people’s immune systems respond to coronavirus in the same way it typically fights the flu.

Read more here.

08:20 GMT – Volkswagen Group to suspend production

Volkswagen, the world’s largest carmaker, said it is preparing to close its factories to curb the spread of the coronavirus and warned that 2020 will be a difficult year.

“Given the present significant deterioration in the sales situation and the heightened uncertainty regarding parts supplies to our plants, production is to be suspended in the near future at factories operated by Group brands,” Chief Executive Herbert Diess said.

Severity of cases graphic

08:15 GMT – Global travel expected to fall 10.5 percent this year

International travel is expected to fall by as much as 10.5 percent this year, the worst drop on record, as the rapid spread of coronavirus continues to disrupt the tourism and leisure sectors, according to industry consultancy Tourism Economics.

The latest estimate is a big downgrade from two weeks ago, when the consultancy was using the 2003 SARS outbreak as its benchmark and estimated travel rates would fall by 1.5 percent.

08:12 GMT – Total cases in Pakistan rises to 189

Five more cases of coronavirus were detected in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, raising the country’s total number of cases to 189.

All five people had recently travelled back to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia, Meeran Yousuf, a spokesperson for the provincial health minister, told Al Jazeera.

08:11 GMT – Pakistan postpones semi-finals and final of PSL cricket tournament

Pakistan’s cricket board postponed the semi-finals and final of the Pakistan Super League T20 cricket tournament, scheduled to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday, to an unspecified date.

The PSL tournament, which involved dozens of international cricket stars, was played entirely on Pakistani soil for the first time in its five-year history this season.

Global Travel
An airline passenger passes by a flight information board at San Francisco International Airport. [David J. Phillip/AP]

08:10 GMT – Iran temporarily frees 85,000 prisoners

Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, a spokesman for its judiciary said, in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

“Some 50 percent of those released are security-related prisoners … Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,” Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

07:47 GMT – German minister expects crisis to last until end of May

Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier told broadcaster RTL that he expected the coronavirus crisis to last until the end of May.

“I expect we’ll have to deal with the consequences for the whole month of April and the whole month of May,” he said, adding there would be a”considerable number of new infections” during that time.

“So I wouldn’t advise anyone to bank on this being over in eight days,” Altmaier said.

Customers stand in front of empty grocery shelves in a big supermarket in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Monday, March 16, 2020. Some food stores see an unprecedented stockpiling brought on by the coronaviru
Empty grocery shelves are seen in a supermarket in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. [Martin Meissner/AP]

07:44 GMT – Airbus to suspend production in France and Spain

Airbus is stopping production and assembly activities at its plants in France and Spain for the next four days, the planemaker said.

The move appears to mark the most serious across-the-board disruption in Airbus production since a strike at then British partner BAE Systems in 1989.

07:35 GMT – Shanghai extends quarantine to UK, seven other European countries

Travellers who have visited the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria in the past 14 days will be subject to a 14-day quarantine on arrival in Shanghai, a city official said.

The city already requires a 14-day quarantine for travellers who have recently visited France, Spain, Germany, the US, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

07:30 GMT – War-ravaged Afghanistan battles a new threat

With 22 verified cases so far, Afghanistan is still among the countries with a relatively low rate of coronavirus cases. However, the outbreak of the illness comes at a particularly trying time for the country.

The recent rise in positive cases – six new cases across three provinces in a 48-hour span – has taken some attention from a continuing election dispute that saw the top two finishers each hold an inauguration ceremony last week.

Read more here.

Coronavirus in Afghanistan
Dr Najmussama Shefajo, an obstetrician-gynaecologist in Kabul, warns her pregnant patients to be cautious but not to over-worry. [Roya Heydari/Al Jazeera]

07:20 GMT – India’s iconic Taj Mahal closed

India closed the iconic Taj Mahal – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – to visitors from Tuesday, the tourism ministry said on Monday.

“All ticketed monuments and all other museums have been directed to be closed until March 31,” Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel tweeted late on Monday.

Read more here.

The Mughal-era monument is the most visited in India with more than 7 million tourists visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site last year. [Pawan Sharma/AFP]

07:08 GMT – Coronavirus vaccine test opens in the US

US researchers gave the first shot to the first person in a test of an experimental coronavirus vaccine on Monday – as a worldwide hunt for protection escalates as the pandemic surges.

Read more here.

Coronavirus vaccine test opens as US volunteer gets first shot

07:00 GMT – Swiss official warns of hospital collapse

Swiss hospitals could collapse if the new coronavirus keeps spreading rapidly, a top health official warned, urging his compatriots to respect the government’s emergency measures to curb the epidemic.

“The virus is among us, now we have do our utmost that it does not spread further. Too many are infected and if this goes on hospitals will collapse,” Daniel Koch, head of infectious diseases at the federal health agency, told SRF radio.

I’m Mersiha Gadzo in Doha taking over from my colleague  Kate Mayberry  in Kuala Lumpur.

05:00 GMT – Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson leave hospital for quarantine – People magazine

Hollywood actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have been discharged from hospital in the Australian state of Queensland five days after they were admitted with the coronavirus, People magazine reported.

The couple, both 63, are in quarantine in a rented Gold Coast home.

Hanks was one of the first celebrities to announce he had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Several actors, sports stars and politicians have contracted it since.

04:20 GMT – Thailand reports 30 new cases

Thailand has reported 30 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total to 177. Eleven of the 30 cases are linked to a boxing ring.

04:00 GMT – China’s Xi tells Italy’s Conte more help coming

More medical experts and supplies are on their way to Italy, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte in a call on Monday evening.

Xi noted that the coronavirus was a”severe” test of both countries and that China acknowledged Italy’s”urgent concerns” about the spread of the Illness, the State Council Information Office said.

Italy is the worst-affected country outside China and the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe.  

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China is sending more medical experts and supplies to Italy. [File: Cheng Tingting/Xinhua via AP Photo]

03:20 GMT – Philippine Airlines cancels all domestic flights with immediate effect

Philippine Airlines has cancelled all domestic flights with immediate effect as a result of a strict quarantine imposed across the island of Luzon.

Its last international flights will be completed by midnight on March 20, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

03:15 GMT – Cambodia coronavirus cases double to 24

Cambodia has confirmed another 12 cases of the coronavirus, the Health Ministry said.

There are now 24 known cases in the country.

03:10 GMT – Wuhan imposes central quarantine on overseas returnees

Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated late last year, says it will require all those who return to the city from overseas to spend 14 days in central quarantine at their own expense.

The city’s epidemic control team made the announcement on its website on Tuesday.

02:40 GMT – Ohio to delay primary despite court ruling

Ohio will postpone a primary planned for Tuesday, despite a judge’s refusal to shut the election down, because of the public health emergency caused by the threat of the coronavirus, Governor Mike DeWine said on Twitter.

“Under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans,” DeWine wrote.”They mustn’t be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights.”

02:35 GMT – Brazil’s Foreign Trade Secretary confirmed to have virus

Brazilian Foreign Trade Secretary Marcos Troyjo, who was part of the Brazilian delegation that recently visited Florida, has tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said in a statement on Monday.

Troyjo, who is Brazil’s deputy economy minister, was in Miami for meetings but did not attend a dinner hosted by US President Donald Trump for Brazilian government leaders nine days ago. He is showing no symptoms and is working from his home in strict isolation, the statement said.

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A tourist wearing a protective face mask poses during a visit to the statue of Christ the Redeemer after reports of coronavirus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

02:25 GMT – Hong Kong to quarantine all arrivals from Thursday

Hong Kong will quarantine for 14 days all people entering the city starting from midnight on Thursday, chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

Lam also said it was highly unlikely schools would resume operations on April 20, as the government advised citizens to avoid all non-essential travel.

01:55 GMT – Trump refers to ‘Chinese virus’ as he stresses support for US businesses

US President Trump referred to COVID-19 as the”Chinese Virus” in a tweet promising support for American businesses, as his administration put pressure on the Senate to pass a multibillion-dollar coronavirus aid package.

The Senate is grappling over an economic stimulus bill, the second such measure, which was passed by the Democratic-run House of Representatives on Saturday. Previously, Congress passed and Trump signed an $8.3bn package to battle the coronavirus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters the Senate was”anxious” to get the latest House-passed bill, and he hoped senators would”pass it” once it arrived.

Eric Ueland, the White House legislative liaison, said congressional action on the next coronavirus stimulus package needed to be fast and unimpeded by the potential price tag.

01:50 GMT – South Korea reports fewer than 100 new cases for third day 

South Korea has just given its latest updates – reporting 84 new coronavirus cases, the third day in a row that the country has had fewer than 100 new infections.

The new numbers are well below a February 29 peak of 909, and bring the country’s total infections to 8,320, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

The death toll rose by two to 81, the KCDC added.

A further 264 patients have been released after recovering, bringing the total to 1,401, it added.

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Medical workers in protective gear start their shift at a hospital in Daegu, the centre of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak [Yonhap via EPA]

01:40 GMT – Inmates break out of Brazil jails before suspension of day-release programme

Hundreds of prisoners broke out of four Brazilian jails on Monday, the day before the suspension of a day-release programme because of the coronavirus outbreak, Sao Paulo state prison authorities and local media reported.

The Sao Paulo state prison authority said it could not say how many inmates had escaped as it was”still tallying the exact number of fugitives”. Local media reported that as many as 1,000 had fled from four jails – Mongagua, Tremembe, Porto Feliz and Mirandopolis.

The Sao Paulo state prison authority said”acts of insubordination” had taken place at the jails.

The suspension was necessary, it added, because 34,000 prisoners would be returning to jail and”would have a high potential to install and propagate the coronavirus in a vulnerable population, generating health risks for servers and custodians”. It said law enforcement was”taking care of the situation”.

01:10 GMT – Iceland’s widespread testing of general population

Iceland is undertaking widespread testing of the general population with a higher proportion of its 364,000 people being tested for COVID-19 than anywhere else in the world.

Some 3,787 individuals have been tested, which translates to 10,405 per million, compared with 5,333 in South Korea, 8,410 in Bahrain and 2,281 in Italy, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The authorities have identified 218 cases since the first case on 28 February, with three people in hospital. There have been no deaths.

Tests show about half the cases are among people who visited the European Alps.

“There are strong indications that our efforts to contain the spread of the virus have been effective,” Chief Epidemiologist T horolfur Gudnason said.”About half of the diagnosed cases are from individuals who had been quarantined. Our focus is to protect those most vulnerable … while trying to ensure that the overall spread of the virus remains slow. We are optimistic that the combined efforts to test a large part of the population will provide insights that can contribute to the world’s response to this pandemic.”

Iceland is working with deCode Genetics on virus testing and expects to test 1,100 people a day.

Its measures to tackle the virus also include contact-tracing, social distancing, public efforts to increase awareness on hand hygiene and voluntary self-quarantine measures. About 1,700 people are currently in self-isolation.

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The WHO is calling on countries to step up testing for COVID-19 [Kelly Barnes AAP Image via Reuters]

01:05 GMT – Venezuela to impose nationwide quarantine

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will implement a nationwide quarantine after 16 new cases were detected on Monday.

“It is necessary, it is indispensable, it is the response,” Maduro said in an address on state television.

The country began a quarantine in a handful of states, which Maduro said had been successful. The total number of cases in Venezuela currently stands at 33.

Maduro added that the country would be receiving shipments of medicine from Cuba and protective gear and”thousands” of test kits from China. He also said the government would be announcing benefits for citizens, without providing details.

The collapse of oil prices in the past week – due to a drop in demand related to coronavirus as well as a price war between top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia – threatens to aggravate the six-year recession in Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy.

00:10 GMT – Colombia to close all borders until May 30

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque has just announced the country will close all its borders – from March 17 until May 30 – in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

00:00 GMT – Imported cases push up China numbers

China’s aggressive containment strategies are keeping domestic transmission in check, but it continues to report new imported cases.

Mainland China had 21 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Monday, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday, up from 16 a day earlier. The central province of Hubei reported one new case, while there were 20 new imported cases.

The total number of confirmed cases in China now stands at 80,881, with 3,226 dead.

The country recorded 13 deaths on Monday, 12 of them in Hubei. Of those, 11 were in the provincial capital of Wuhan where the virus first emerged late last year.

You can read all the latest updates from yesterday (March 16) here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies