ROME — Sweeping travel bans cascaded around the globe Thursday, walling off countries and even entire continents, keeping people inside their homes, and slowing the engines of commerce to stem the coronavirus pandemic. Markets collapsed with the growing realization that there would be no fast end to the uncertainty.
After weeks downplaying the impact of the virus, President Donald Trump’s announcement of strict rules barring most Europeans from entry came as a shock across the Atlantic. Within hours, even the European Union’s passport-free travel came into question, with guards in places that had been without borders for more than a decade and airports shut down.
The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Robert Redfield, noted that the vast majority of new cases of the COVID-19 illness are linked to Europe, which he called “the new China.”
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, acknowledged that the United States was lagging other countries in testing for the virus to learn how widespread it really is.
“It is a failing, let’s admit it,” he told lawmakers.
The European Union quickly slammed Trump’s “unilateral” decision, declaring the virus a “global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”
The virus detected three months ago in China has produced crippling outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, ignited global financial panic and in the last week has seen dizzying developments erupt by the hour. European soccer leagues, American basketball tournaments, school terms for millions of students, weddings, baptisms, funerals, nightlife — all fell by the wayside with a swiftness that was becoming increasingly difficult to grasp.
The illness edged closer to the world’s power centers: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he was self-isolating at home because his wife showed flu-like symptoms after her return from Britain, while the Brazilian president’s communications director tested positive just days after traveling to meet with Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
500 remain on California cruise ship
California Gov. Gavin Newsom says nearly 500 passengers remain aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland, California. He hopes they will all be off the ship by the end of Thursday.
In addition to the 21 people who previously tested positive while aboard the ship, Newsom says at least two more people have tested positive after leaving.
Newsom expects the number to climb as more people are tested.
Two of three Summerlin family members have been transported to Miramar Naval Air Station in Southern California. Plans were to have them taken to Nevada, per an arrangement Gov. Steve Sisolak’s staff worked out with federal officials. There were nearly 50 Nevadans on the ship who were to come to Nevada and isolate at home if they were not showing symptoms.
He says the refusal by Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to take non-Texan U.S. citizens “has not helped our logistics to be candid with you.”
Newsom says that bases in California and Georgia have welcomed other stranded Americans.
The ship was carrying about 3,500 passengers and crew when it docked earlier this week in Oakland.
NY bans 500+ events
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state will ban all gatherings with 500 or more people in an effort to contain the virus.
Cuomo says the ban will start for most places on 5 p.m. Friday. Broadway theaters will be affected earlier and plan to close through April 12.
Cuomo said Thursday that venues of under 500 people can only be filled to half their capacity.
The move comes after several major cultural institutions in New York City including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall announced they would temporarily close.
Chinese doctors headed to Italy
A Chinese medical team and surplus ventilators, protective masks and other equipment are heading to Italy in a remarkable exchange of medical knowhow and material from the source of the coronavirus outbreak to its current epicenter.
The Italian Red Cross says a plane bringing a nine-person Chinese team of experts and nine cargo pallets of medical equipment would land late Thursday in Rome.
The team includes Chinese ICU specialists, pediatricians and nurses who helped manage the crisis in China.
Italian officials say they are eager to learn from the Chinese experience, particularly clinical data and experimental drug regimens.
With 15,113 positive cases Thursday and 1,016 dead, Italy’s fatality rate is running at 6.7%, far higher than other countries. Italy has the second oldest population in the world after Japan.
UK’s Johnson foresees more deaths
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the coronavirus pandemic “the worst public health crisis for a generation” and said “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
Johnson called Thursday for Britons to unite behind efforts to slow the spread of the epidemic, saying “the most dangerous period is not now but some weeks away.”
Britain has 590 confirmed cases of the virus and 10 deaths, but Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the actual number of infected people could be up to 10,000.
Wild 24-hour period
Developments in just one 24-hour period include an official designation of “pandemic” from the World Health Organization, the dramatic halt to much travel between the United States and 26 European countries, and infections being announced in rapid-fire pace by Hollywood celebrities, sports stars and political leaders as well as ordinary people on cruise ships. In Italy’s Lombardy region, the virus’ European epicenter, hospitals were overwhelmed with both the sick and the dead.
“It’s similar to what you might think of as an infectious disease equivalent of a major earthquake that’s going to shake us for weeks and weeks,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin a top public health official for the Seattle area, which has one of the biggest U.S. coronavirus outbreaks.
European, Asian and U.S. markets plunged again Thursday on the uncertainty. An early fall of 7% on Wall Street triggered a trading halt amid the global sell-off. The European Central Bank deployed new stimulus measures, buying up 120 billion euros ($132 billion) in bonds, but avoided cutting interest rates.
“There’s a real feeling that we don’t know where this ends,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network.
More than 127,000 people in more than 110 countries have been infected. The vast majority are in just four countries: China and South Korea — where new cases are declining —and Iran and Italy, where they are not. The spread has slowed so much in China that the government sent a medical crew to Italy and offered surplus supplies to Iran and other countries in need.
More than 4,700 people have died worldwide.
Europe the new epicenter
Officials on both sides of the Atlantic say Europe is the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
CDC Director Robert Redfield told U.S. lawmakers in House hearing that “within the world now, over 70% of new cases are linked to Europe. … Europe is the new China.”
The head of the Danish Health Authority, Soeren Brostroem, said Thursday that ” the epidemic has gotten a new epicenter, and that is Europe.”
He told reporters that “if one looks at day-by-day developments, Europe has the greatest growth now. And it is not just Italy, but also a number of other countries in Europe that have had a worrying development.”
The European Center for Disease says the continent has more than 22,000 cases of the new coronavirus and 943 deaths.
CDC head seeking testing for uninsured
CDC Director Robert Redfield says his agency is working to make sure that uninsured Americans can get tested for coronavirus if it’s medically needed.
About 28 million Americans are uninsured. Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, pressed Redfield on their predicament Thursday at a congressional hearing. Porter says the Health and Human Services department has the legal authority to pay for health costs.
After going back and forth with the congresswoman, Redfield said he agreed. He says “those individuals who are in the shadows can get the health care that they need during the time of us responding to this crisis,” he said.
Community health centers are a go-to source of primary medical for uninsured people, and in many states Medicaid will extend emergency coverage to people who qualify.
Measures to protect elderly
Around the world, nursing homes emptied of visitors to protect the elderly, who are especially vulnerable to the virus.
In California, the governor advised officials to cancel any gatherings of more than 250 people, as well as any smaller meetings where people must be closer than 6 feet (2 meters) — a description that includes everything from dinner parties to political rallies. Congress shut the U.S. Capitol and House and Senate office buildings to the public until April 1, and the White House canceled tours.
In Italy, new restrictions closed restaurants, cafes and retail shops Thursday after the prime minister imposed a nationwide lockdown on personal movement. Grocery stores, pharmacies and outdoor markets were allowed to operate, as were newspaper stands.
Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania Algeria and Slovakia joined the growing list of countries shutting down their school systems, and Europe’s most successful soccer team, Real Madrid, put all its players into quarantine after one tested positive. The Czech government said it would reimpose border checks and bar entry to people from 13 risk countries, including Britain and several in the European Union. Slovakia closed its international airports and ground transport hubs.
Research: Virus can live in air several hours
Research published Wednesday found that the coronavirus can live in the air for several hours, and for as long as two to three days on some surfaces.
Among those newly testing positive are double Oscar winner Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson in Australia; Juventus defender Daniele Rugani in Italy; Iran’s senior vice president and two other Cabinet ministers; and Spain’s equality minister.
In Greece, where the Olympic torch for the 2020 Tokyo Games was lit behind closed doors, there was an urgent call from the government for more doctors and nurses.