US broadens COVID-19 travel ban; Spain goes on lockdown

At a media briefing today following a meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, federal officials added the United Kingdom and Ireland to a travel ban, and President Trump signaled that the administration is considering domestic travel restrictions.

On the international COVID-19 front, Spain today became the second European country to go on lockdown, as cases in Italy surged even higher, putting the global total over the 150,000 mark.

US relief to include sick pay, free testing

Earlier-announced travel restrictions for much of Europe—which is now the pandemic epicenter—went into effect today. The newly announced measures for the United Kingdom and Ireland begin on Mar 16 and do not apply to US citizens and permanent residents, though they will be directed to 1 of 13 airports with enhanced screening procedures.

At the briefing today, Trump said that, based on questions yesterday, he was tested for COVID-19 last night, with results due in a day or two. Late yesterday, Trump's doctor released a memo saying the president didn't need to be tested, because his interactions with two known cases, both linked to events at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend, were considered low risk.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan coronavirus relief package last night, which the Senate will consider when it reconvenes on Mar 16. At today's briefing and on Twitter, Trump voiced support for the bill, which included paid sick leave and free testing for COVID-19.

According to the Associated Press, the bill includes $1 billion to test uninsured people and boosts Medicare matching funds to state Medicaid programs by 6.2%. The temporary sick leave benefit applies to employers who have fewer than 500 workers and is in effect until January 2021, with employers reimbursed through a refundable tax credit. Also, the bill includes $1.3 billion in emergency food aid, which allows states to provide food stamps to make up for lost school lunch support when children are kept home from school.

Yesterday, Trump announced a national emergency to free up new powers to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, and today new details emerged about the Google-based system to streamline symptom assessment and testing. Verily, a healthcare software company, said it is spearheading the development of the web tool with help from Google employees, Reuters reported. A company spokeswoman said the tool is in the early development stages and will pilot in the San Francisco area, with hopes that the effort will be gradually expanded.

States announce new measures

As of this afternoon, the US COVID-19 cases had climbed to 2,660, according to the Johns Hopkins University online tracker, up from 1,875 at about the same time yesterday. The tracker also shows that the global total is at 155,923 cases. All states except West Virginia have now reported cases, and Puerto Rico has now announced its first three cases.

Numbers rose in several states and cities today. New York state reported 103 new cases today, raising its total to 524; 311 are from New York City and 172 are from Westchester County. Also, New York reported its first death, that of an 82-year-old woman with emphysema.

Los Angeles County reported 11 new cases, 2 from unidentified exposure sources and 3 pending further investigation, raising its total to 53. In its latest update, Washington state reported a total of 642 cases, 40 of them fatal. Of those, 387 cases and 35 deaths are in King County, which includes Seattle. Of Washington's total, 221 are new.

In other developments, states continued to announce new measures to curb the spread of the virus. For example, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers announced the temporary closure of all the state's public and private schools, and in Georgia, which now has 66 cases, Governor Brian Kemp announced a state of emergency. And the Catholic Archdioceses of Boston, New York, and Washingtion, DC, have canceled Masses until further notice.

Spain goes on lockdown; Italy tops 20,000 cases

Spain's government today announced a lockdown for the whole country, which begins on Mar 16, affecting 46 million, El Pais reported today. The order, slated to last 15 days, allows people to leave their homes to buy food and medicine, to work, and to care for minors, the elderly, and other vulnerable people.

Behind Italy, which is also on lockdown, Spain has the second most cases in Europe and now has 6,391 cases and 195 deaths, according to RTVE, the country's public broadcasting network. The country's main hot spots are Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque country, and Andalusia.

Meanwhile, France, stopping short of a lockdown, announced sweeping new measures today, temporarily shuttering all public places except for food stores, pharmacies, and gas stations, and urging people to stay indoors as much as possible, France 24 reported. The country has now reported nearly 4,500 cases, 91 of them fatal.

Elsewhere, Italy's health ministry today reported 3,497 more cases and 175 more deaths, raising its respective totals to 21,157 cases, 1,441 of them fatal. Germany now has 3,795 cases and 8 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Robert Koch Institute.

In the United Kingdom, a group of 229 scientists wrote a letter to the government, urging it to take tougher measures to control the spread of the virus, the BBC reported, noting that UK officials were hesitant to take strong steps too early over worries about public frustrations. The scientists are pressing for more social distancing measures, but some government health officials have said the existing approach factors in some herd immunity benefits. Reuters reported today that the government will ban mass gatherings next week.

The UK today said its total has grown by 343 new cases and 10 more deaths, for a total of 1,140 cases, 21 of the fatal.

Iran and Asia developments

In Iran, which has the third most cases globally, behind China and Italy, the health ministry today reported 1,365 more infections and 97 more deaths, pushing its overall totals to 12,729 cases and 611 deaths.

South Korea today reported 106 more cases, plus 5 more deaths, raising its totals to 8,086 cases and 72 deaths, according to the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific:

  • Japan today reported 57 new cases, including asymptomatic pathogen carriers, for a total of 777 cases, which includes 78 asymptomatic cases. One more death was reported, putting the fatality count at 22. The newest cases were reported in 13 prefectures.
  • Singapore has 12 more cases, only 1 of them not linked to earlier cases, raising the country's total to 212.
  • Malaysia reported 41 more cases today, most linked to a religious event in Kuala Lumpur that drew about 10,000 people from several countries. The country now has 238 cases.
  • China today reported only 11 new cases—7 from Hubei province and 4 imported cases—and 13 more deaths, according to the National Health Commission.

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