Below are news updates from March 4. Click here for March 5 updates.
Chinese Media Spread Fake News About US Coronavirus Outbreak
Some Chinese media outlets also spread outright falsehoods—including a claim that the virus originated in the United States.
Louvre Reopens After Being Shut Over Virus Fears
The Louvre Museum is open again after management eased workers’ fears about catching the coronavirus.
Louvre Museum employees who had stayed off the job since Sunday for fear of infection voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to resume work, allowing the world’s most- visited museum open its doors again in the afternoon.
Italy Shuts Down All Schools Over Coronavirus Outbreak
Italy’s government announced it will close all schools and universities across the country to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus after thousands have cases have been reported in more than a week.
All schools are slated to be closed starting Thursday, March 5, and will be shut down until Saturday, March 15, according to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Education Minister Lucia Azzolina. The move will affect about 8 million students in the country.
“I hope pupils can return to school as soon as possible… my commitment is to ensure that the essential public service, albeit from a distance, is provided to all our students,” Azzolina said in a news conference.
US Lawmakers Strike Deal for $8.3 Billion
Lawmakers on Wednesday came to an agreement on more than $8 billion in emergency COVID-19 coronavirus funding.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) announced the move and funding in a press release, explaining that it’s not a political matter—but a public safety concern.
“This should not be about politics; this is about doing our job to protect the American people from a potential pandemic,” said Shelby in a statement. “We worked together to craft an aggressive and comprehensive response that provides the resources the experts say they need to combat this crisis. I thank my colleagues for their cooperation and appreciate President Trump’s eagerness to sign this legislation and get the funding out the door without delay.”
The emergency funding package was clinched as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials have reported well over 100 cases of the new virus in the country. Nine deaths have been reported in Washington state, as officials there struggle to contain an outbreak mainly centered at a nursing home in King County.
Another death was confirmed in the state Wednesday, as was one in California.
Coronavirus Has Spread to Nearly All Iran Provinces: President
Coronavirus has spread to almost all of Iran’s provinces but the country will get through the outbreak with a “minimum” number of deaths, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday.
“This disease is a widespread disease,” he said during a Cabinet meeting, according to the official presidency website.
“It has reached almost all our provinces and in one sense it’s a global disease.”
The health ministry said on Tuesday that 92 people had died so far from coronavirus, one of the highest death tolls outside China where the epidemic originated late last year. It said 2,922 people had been infected with the disease.
Among those infected is first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, the IranWire news site reported, citing an “informed source.” There was no immediate confirmation from officials.
Several Iranian officials have come down with coronavirus and one senior official died from an infection on Monday.
The Islamic Republic has canceled Friday prayers in all provincial capitals this week because of the coronavirus outbreak, state television reported on Wednesday.
Rouhani said Iran would get through the outbreak with a minimum number of deaths and in the shortest period of time thanks to the skills of its doctors and nurses.
NY Governor: Sick People Should Stay Home
New Yorkers should stay home if they feel unwell, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on Wednesday announcing four new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the state.
The wife, son, daughter, and neighbor of a Westchester man who works in Manhattan tested positive for COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, Cuomo said.
The new cases highlight the need for people who are feeling ill to stay home, the governor said.
“If you started to have some symptoms, rather than saying, ‘Ah, you know, I’m going to go to work anyway,’ don’t go into work and stay home,” Cuomo said in Albany.
People who stay at home due to not feeling well are referred to as being in self-quarantine.
“If you’re not feeling well, or if you have symptoms … or if you had close contact with an individual who you know tested positive, err on the side of caution. Stay home,” Cuomo told New Yorkers.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot this week asked New Yorkers to “come together as a city to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
“If you have symptoms like cough, fever, or shortness of breath, call your health care provider,” she said in a statement.
Supply for Hand Sanitizers Keeping Up With Demand
Amid concerns over the new coronavirus outbreak, many Americans are buying and stocking up on hand sanitizers, leaving some store shelves bare. Many “temporarily out of stock” notices appear on a quick search for hand sanitizers at Target and CVS websites.
GOJO Industries, a manufacturing company known for its Purell hand sanitizers, is keeping up with the increased demand. Samantha Williams, GOJO’s Corporate Communications Senior Director, wrote in an email to The Epoch Times: “We have a surge preparedness team that runs in the background all the time, who have been fully activated and are coordinating our response to the increase in demand.”
Williams also wrote GOJO maintains “flexible production capacity and extra inventory” able to meet increases in demand.
With the high demand for hand sanitizers and recent news headlines on the topic, it may seem like there is a shortage. But that’s not the case according to Alex Brown, spokesperson for Walgreens. “We’re currently maintaining supplies of hand sanitizers,” said Brown to The Epoch Times. “[We’ll] continue to work with our supplier partners to best meet the needs of our customers.”
Brown also clarified that Walgreens has never stated that “there was going to be a shortage of hand sanitizers,” referring to a claim from a CNN article.
LA County Declares Emergency
A local and public state of emergency was declared in Los Angeles County, which is home to more than 10 million people, after several cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus were discovered in the county.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Health made the declaration on Wednesday morning.
“I have just signed a proclamation declaring the existence of a local emergency. I want to reiterate that this is not a response rooted in panic,” Kathryn Barger, chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said during a press conference in announcing the new measure.
County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said the emergency was declared “to allow us to further draw down resources from both the federal and state level of government.”
But Solis also cautioned against the spreading of rumors and misinformation about COVID-19, which emerged late last year in mainland China and prompted what critics have described as harsh measures to curb the virus spread there.
“The last thing we want is more fear in our community,” Solis said during the press conference. “Fear will not drive our responses to save lives.”
Patient Ignored Isolation Order
A hospital employee who was confirmed as New Hampshire’s first COVID-19 coronavirus patient ignored a self-isolation order from the federal government—going to a college business event instead, according to health officials.
The worker was told to isolate themselves at home after they showed symptoms of the novel coronavirus after returning home from Italy, where an outbreak has led to thousands of infections and deaths.
But the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said the first patient “attended an invitation-only private event” on Friday, Feb. 28. State officials are attempting to notify people who may have had close contact with the patient and have told them to undergo the recommended 14-day isolation.
The agency made the announcement after a second person tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire. Both patients are considered presumptively positive while the health department awaits test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
New Cases Confirmed in New York
The wife, son, daughter, and neighbor of the New York man who was the state’s first case of coronavirus spread in the community have tested positive for the new virus, officials said on Wednesday.
There are now six confirmed cases in New York.
The new cases include a male student at Yeshiva University in New York City, prompting the closure of one of the college’s campuses. The man’s daughter attends SAR Acadamy and High School in the Bronx borough of the city. That school was closed on Tuesday when the man’s case was first announced.
Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck and Westchester Torah Academy in White Plains, two schools in Westchester, closed as precautions due to possible exposure to the confirmed cases.
The family of the man, who is in serious condition at a Manhattan hospital, were isolated at home while testing was done.
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Italy Take Drastic Measures
Saudi Arabia banned citizens from performing the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca, Italy weighed up closing schools nationwide, and Iran canceled Friday prayers for a second week as nations scrambled Wednesday to control the coronavirus outbreak.
From religion to sports, countries were taking drastic and increasingly visible measures to curb the new coronavirus that first emerged in China and is spreading through Europe, the Mideast, and the Americas.
In the United States, frustration mounted over U.S. officials’ delays and missteps in testing people for the virus.
Deaths spiked in Iran and Italy, which along with South Korea account for 80 percent of the new virus cases outside China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In all, more than 94,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, with more than 3,200 deaths.
“People are afraid and uncertain. Fear is a natural human response to any threat,” said WHO’s leader, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But as we get more data, we are understanding this virus and the disease it causes more and more.”
WHO said about 3.4 percent of people infected with the COVID-19 virus globally have died, making it more fatal than the common flu. The figure was a bit of a surprise, since a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine assessing data from more than 30 Chinese provinces estimated the death rate was 1.4 percent.
Death rates in outbreaks are likely to skew higher early on as health officials focus on finding severe and fatal cases, missing most milder cases. WHO says the majority of people with the new coronavirus experience only mild symptoms, but the risks rise with the age of the patient and for those with any underlying health conditions.
In Daegu, the South Korean city at the center of that country’s outbreak, a shortage of hospital space meant about 2,300 patients were being cared for in other facilities while they awaited a hospital bed. Attending a meeting on quarantine strategies in Daegu, Prime Minister Chung Se-Kyun sought to assure his country, saying “We can absolutely overcome this situation. … We will win the war against COVID-19.”
South Korea reported 435 new infections Wednesday, far smaller than its high of 851 a day earlier. A total of 5,621 people in South Korea have contracted the virus and 32 have died.
Iran reported 92 deaths among its 2,922 confirmed cases, the most of any country outside of China. Among the ill are members of the government, and the country canceled Friday prayers for the second week in a row.
“The virus has no wings to fly,” noted Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. “We are the ones who transfer it to each other.”
In Israel, religious practice also faced new disruption: The country’s chief rabbi urged observant Jews to refrain from kissing mezuzot, small items encasing a prayer scroll posted by Jews on doorposts. Observant Jews typically touch the item and then kiss their hands when walking through a doorway. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also urged people to adopt the Indian greeting of “namaste,” with hands together, rather than a handshake.
The virus has spread beyond clusters throughout Germany and France, prompting officials to tell soccer players to simply disperse—without shaking hands—after lining up. Referees and coaches will no longer shake hands either.
Cases in South Korea Top 5,600
South Korea has reported hundreds of new cases of novel coronavirus on March 4, taking the total number of infected to 5,621.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 516 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the national total to 5,328. Health officials subsequently identified 293 additional cases as of 4 p.m. local time on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there have now been at least 33 deaths in connection to the virus, after a 67-year-old woman who had no underlying illness died on Wednesday.
Among all the infection cases in South Korea, 41 people have fully recovered and been discharged from the hospital.
Germany Reports 44 New Cases
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased to 240 on Wednesday, up from 196 on Tuesday afternoon, the Robert Koch Institute said.
Fifteen of Germany‘s 16 federal states have now reported cases of the novel coronavirus, with the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia being most affected, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
Germany has not reported a fatal case of the virus, which emerged in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan in December and is quickly spreading around the world.
Chinese Teacher Loses License Over ‘Inappropriate Remarks’
A Chinese primary school teacher spent 10 days in detention and had his teaching license revoked for spreading “inappropriate remarks” relating to the coronavirus outbreak.
Song Junhong, 48, is a primary school teacher in Wudang, a district in the southern province of Guizhou.
On Feb. 3, he wrote in a chat group on WeChat, one of the largest Chinese social media platforms, that he can’t trust the coronavirus death numbers reported by Chinese authorities.
Funeral homes in Wuhan, the outbreak epicenter, are running 24 hours non stop to cremate bodies, he wrote in one message, adding, “I don’t dare to imagine the death toll.”
Lithuania Cancels Indoor Independence Events
The Baltic nation of Lithuania has canceled most of the indoor events planned for the 30th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union because of the coronavirus.
The speaker of the Lithuanian parliament said Wednesday authorities decided to call off the events since many of the people expected to attend the events are elderly and at higher risk of infection.
Parliament speaker Viktoras Pranckietis says most foreign leaders also canceled scheduled trips to attend the anniversary events in Lithuania. He didn’t name names, but invitations had been sent to lawmakers in Ukraine, Poland, and neighboring Baltic states Latvia and Estonia.
There will be several events in downtown Vilnius, including a flag-raising on Independence Square on March 11 and an evening concert.
Lithuania so far only has reported one virus case.
Also on Wednesday, the Louvre Museum in France re-opened after closing for several days.
Japan Coronavirus Cases Hit 1,000 Mark as Tokyo Insists Olympics on Track
Japan’s confirmed coronavirus infections rose above 1,000 on Wednesday, most from a quarantined cruise liner, as Olympics organizers dismissed speculation that the Tokyo Summer Games could be canceled.
Twenty-three new infections had been reported by Wednesday night, from Yamaguchi prefecture in the west to Hokkaido in the north, underlining the virus’s spread across the country and raising questions about whether the Games, due to start in late July, can go ahead.
The virus is spreading worldwide, with South Korea, Europe, and Iran hit hard, and several countries have reported their first confirmed cases, taking the total to some 80 nations hit with the flu-like illness that can lead to pneumonia.
The new cases in Japan pushed the total over 1,000, according to Reuters calculations—706 are from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, quarantined for weeks off Yokohama.
Twelve people have died in Japan, with six from the cruise ship, the health ministry said.
The president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics said the option of canceling the Games was not on the table, responding to deepening speculation of a delay or cancelation.
“I am totally not considering this,” Yoshiro Mori told reporters at a briefing when asked about a possible cancellation.
Asked when the organizers could decide on changes to the Olympics, Mori, a former prime minister, said: “I’m not God, so I don’t know.”
Seattle Immigration Office Shuts Down
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that they will close their office on Wednesday after it was discovered that an employee “started exhibiting flu-like symptoms.”
Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli wrote on Twitter that the employee had visited nursing homes in Kirkland four days ago; the homes had been dealing with several COVID-19 cases.
Cuccinelli said the employee was probably exposed to the coronavirus on Feb. 22 and became ill on Feb. 26.
“The office closure is effective immediately & employees are being directed to telework if they are able. There are also ICE, CBP, and FPS employees at the same facility, and all of them have received the same instructions.”
He added that the employee visited the nursing homes before knowing the patients there had contracted the virus.
“When the employee began feeling ill, the employee followed procedure and stayed at home.”
“DHS takes the safety and health of our employees and applicants seriously. We’re following CDC’s guidelines & encourage all employees and applicants to stay home if they are feeling ill or exhibiting any flu-like symptoms.”
Amazon Employee in Seattle Tests Positive
An Amazon employee in Seattle has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to an internal email viewed by The Epoch Times.
The infected employee, who is based in the company’s Brazil office at Ninth Avenue and Republican Street in South Lake Union, went home “feeling unwell” on Feb. 25 and has not returned to the office building since, the email circulated to Amazon employees said.
The March 3 message stated that Amazon had now received confirmation that the employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
The Epoch Times reached out to an Amazon spokesperson who confirmed the news. “We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” they said.
The company said in its internal email that it had notified all employees who had been working in close contact—defined as being closer than six feet over a prolonged period of time—with the infected employee.
“The risk of transmission for employees who were not in close contact with this individual is assessed to be low,” the email said.
A source has told The Epoch Times that the employee is not involved with the company’s delivery operations.
Amazon advised its employees who are experiencing symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus to remain at home and seek medical attention. It added that it is continuing with “enhanced deep cleaning and sanitization in the office.”
The news comes as two Amazon employees in Milan were quarantined after testing positive for the virus.
‘Rising Demand, Hoarding, Misuse:’ WHO Warns of Shortage in Protective Gear
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday warned of a global shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) that leaves doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who work on the frontline vulnerable to infection.
In a statement, the organization said that the reason for the shortage is a rise in demand, as well as hoarding and misuse of supplies.
“We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers,” it said.
WHO reported that supplies take months to deliver and are sent to the highest bidder.
“Prices of surgical masks have increased six-fold, N95 respirators have more than tripled, and gowns cost twice as much.”
Although nearly half a million units of PPE have been sent to 27 countries already, supplies are rapidly depleting.
“WHO estimates that each month, 89 million medical masks will be required for the COVID-19 response; 76 million examination gloves, and 1.6 million goggles,” the statement read.
WHO estimated that the production of PPE supplies needs to increase by at least 40 percent to meet the increased demand.
“Once again, this is a question of solidarity. This cannot be solved by WHO alone, or one industry alone. It requires all of us working together to ensure all countries can protect the people who protect the rest of us,” WHO said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Tuesday in an emergency move to try to prevent a global recession and the World Bank announced $12 billion to help countries fight the coronavirus, which has taken a heavy toll on air travel, tourism, and other industries, threatening global economic growth prospects.
The virus continued to spread in South Korea, Japan, Europe, Iran, and the United States, and several countries reported their first confirmed cases, taking the total to some 80 nations hit with the flu-like illness that can lead to pneumonia.
Despite the Fed’s attempt to stem the economic fallout from the coronavirus, U.S. stock indexes closed down about 3 percent, safe-haven gold rose 3 percent, with some analysts and investors questioning whether the rate cut will be enough if the virus continues to spread.
U.S. lawmakers are considering signing off on as much as $9 billion in government funding to support efforts to contain local spread of the virus.
Iran Temporarily Releases Over 54,000 Inmates to Prevent Virus Spread
An Iranian official made a statement on March 3 saying that more than 54,000 inmates have been temporarily freed from prison to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Only inmates that have tested negative have been released while those who have lengthy sentences and considered to be a public danger were not released. Other prisoners had to pay their bail to be released.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection sharply rose from 1,501 on March 2 to 2,336 on March 3.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, convicted of espionage charges, was believed to have contracted the coronavirus while in prison, according to Free Nazanin, a Facebook page created by her husband.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 37, was at the airport in Iran on April 3, 2016, ready to return to the UK when she was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, according to her family.
The 37-year-old maintains her innocence and was reportedly visiting her family in Iran to celebrate the new year, the BBC reported.
For updates from March 3, click here.
Frank Fang, Zachary Stieber, Eva Fu, Jack Phillips, Meiling Lee, Isabel Van Brugen, the Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.