The Latest: Europe is new epicenter of coronavirus pandemic

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The Latest on the world’s coronavirus pandemic:

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.

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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.

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that a 67-year-old man is the state’s first death from coronavirus. The man tested positive for the virus March 7 and had “underlying medical conditions.” ___

Greece has announced a 15-day shutdown of courts, theatres, cinemas, gyms, cultural centers and nightclubs, as cases of the new virus climbed to 117 on Thursday. Officials say 34 infected people have been hospitalized and three are in intensive care. One person died earlier Thursday – Greece’s first death from the new virus.

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Mountain climbing expedition operators on Mount Everest says Chinese mountaineering officials will not allow spring climbs from their side of the world’s highest mountain due to fears of coronavirus.

On the other side of the mountain in Nepal, operators say cancellations for the popular spring climbing season have been pouring in, despite the mountain being open for business.

As the virus is coming under control in China, officials there are taking steps to prevent new infections coming from abroad, including by putting overseas travelers arriving in Beijing into 14-day quarantines.

China has seen nearly 81,000 infections but some 61,000 of them have already recovered. Over 3,000 virus victims have died in China, the world’s hardest-hit nation.

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President Donald Trump sought to assure the markets mid-day Thursday as he took questions from reporters while meeting with Ireland’s prime minister. The president often takes credit for market gains in the last three years, though the bull market that ended this week began in early 2009.

“You have to remember the stock market, as an example, is still much higher than when I got here,” Trump said. “It’s taken a big hit, but it’s going to all bounce back and it’s going to bounce back very big at the right time.”

Trump decision to ban travel from most European countries for 30 days has rattled markets around the world and sent stocks plummeting.

Trumps says “I don’t want people dying and that’s why I made these decisions. Whether it affects the stock market or not, very important, but it’s not important compared to life and death.”

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is self-isolating at home after wife has exhibited flu-like symptoms.

Trudeau’s office said Sophie Grégoire Trudeau returned from a speaking engagement in the United Kingdom and began began exhibiting mild flu-like symptoms including a low fever late Wednesday night. She is being tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting results.

The statement said “Out of an abundance of caution, the prime minister is opting to self-isolate and work from home until receiving Sophie’s results.”

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The Southeastern Conference has cancelled the remainder of its 2020 men’s college basketball tournament in Nashville after holding two games the first day. It marks the first time since 1978 that it hasn’t held a tournament.

The SEC tweeted its cancellation a little more than an hour before Alabama was to face Tennessee in the first of four second-round games at Bridgestone Arena. It comes less than a day after the conference announced that spectators would be banned.

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said religious leaders have agreed to cancel weddings, baptisms, funeral services and other ceremonies in the coming weeks to help prevent spread of the new coronavirus.

Kurz said Thursday the measures were part of efforts to enforcing “social distancing” that also includes closing middle schools and high schools beginning Monday and postpone local elections March 22 in the state of Styria. Burials are still allowed.

He added that further measures would be announced Friday. Austria has 302 confirmed cases.

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The Philippine president has suspended domestic travel to and from the Manila area for a month and authorized sweeping quarantines in the region to fight the new coronavirus.

President Rodrigo Duterte also banned large gatherings in the capital, suspended most government work and extended the suspension of classes by a month in new restrictions announced Thursday in a nationwide TV address.

He warned that violators and officials who refuse to enforce the restrictions would face possible imprisonment. But he insisted “this is not martial law.”

Health officials in the Asian nation have confirmed 52 infections and two deaths.

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Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council says all mosques in the city state will close beginning Friday for at least five days for disinfection.

It says all activities, religious classes and lectures will also be halted for two weeks. The council says the move is intended to minimize the spread of the virus after two men, out of 90 Singaporeans who attended a recent mass religious gathering in Kuala Lumpur, were diagnosed with the virus.

With the suspension of obligatory Friday prayers for Muslim males at mosques, it said sermons will be carried online. Malaysian authorities say 10,000 people, half of them foreigners, participated in the four-day religious event in late February at a mosque in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.

Malaysia has reported 149 infections.

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Azerbaijan is reporting its first death of a patient infected with coronavirus, a woman who had recently returned from Iran who had underlying health issues.

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Hospitals in Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region, already overwhelmed trying to care for the increasing number of sick people in limited intensive care units, are overflowing with the dead.

Lombardy’s top health care official, Giulio Gallera, said at the request of the hospitals, the region had simplified the bureaucracy needed to process death certificates and bury the dead, which in Lombardy alone had reached 617 by late Wednesday.

Italian officials have halted both weddings and funerals for a month in their efforts to control Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. The country has nearly 12,500 infections and has seen 827 deaths overall.

Worldwide, 126,000 people have been infected with the new coronavirus, 68,000 have recovered and 4,600 have died.

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Borders are re-emerging in Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Czech government declared a state of emergency Thursday due to coronavirus and was renewing border checks at its borders with Austria and Germany.

People will be banned from crossing in at any other place.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said people from 13 risk countries that include not only China, South Korea and Iran but also EU nations such as Italy, Spain, France, Austria and Germany as well Britain will not be allowed to enter the Czech Republic.

In addition, Czech citizens are not allowed to travel to those countries. Exceptions include truck drivers, train workers and pilots.

Also, starting Friday, all public gatherings of more than 30 people will be banned.

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Congress is shutting the Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the new coronavirus.

The House and Senate sergeants at arms said that the closure will begin at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday. Only lawmakers, aides, journalists and official visitors will be allowed into the buildings. The statement says officials are acting “out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public.”

Politicians in Europe, Iran and China have contracted the virus and several U.S. lawmakers have already self-quarantined due to exposure. The virus has infected over 126,000 people worldwide and killed over 4.600 but over 68,000 victims have already recovered.

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World markets are enduring violent swings amid uncertainty about how badly the outbreak will hit the economy.

An early plunge of 7% on Wall Street triggered a trading halt as a sell-off slamming global markets continued.

The Dow Jones industrials dropped more than 1,600 points, or 7%, the S&P 500 fell a similar amount. Trading resumes after 15 minutes.

The rout came after President Donald Trump imposed a travel ban on most of Europe and offered few new measures to contain the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Benchmarks in Europe fell more than 7% even after the European Central Bank announced more stimulus measures.

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Princess Cruises has announced, due to the new coronavirus, it will voluntarily pause global operations of its 18 cruise ships for 60 days, affecting trips departing March 12 to May 10.

Cruise ships have been particularly hard hit amid the new pandemic and have been turned away by dozens of ports and countries. The Diamond Princess cruise ship, which Japanese officials held in a flawed quarantine operation, infected hundreds of passengers and crew.

Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, says “by taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us.”

Passengers now on a Princess cruise that will end in the next five days will continue to sail as expected through the end of the itinerary. Current voyages that extend beyond March 17 will be ended at the most convenient location for guests.

Under normal operations, it serves more than 50,000 passengers a day.

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Britain, which is exempt from the U.S. travel ban on most European nations, has not taken the stringent measures seen in other European countries, such as closing schools or banning large events.

The U.K. has 456 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and eight deaths. But the centerpiece of official British advice so far is that people should wash their hands often in warm, soapy water.

On Thursday, Britain’s Conservative government is expected to announce that it is moving from attempting to contain the virus to delaying its spread. That is likely to bring wider measures, including a recommendation that people with flu-like symptoms stay home for a week. But there are so far no plans for travel bans or large-scale closures of schools or other institutions.

In Ireland — which is also excluded from the U.S. travel ban — 43 cases have been confirmed and one person has died.

U.S. President Donald Trump has golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.

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Iran has asked for an emergency $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to combat the outbreak of the novel coronavirus there, which has killed more than 360 people and infected some 9,000 nationwide.

Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati said Thursday he made the request last week in a letter to IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.

Iran’s economy has been battered by U.S. sanctions, which have choked Tehran’s ability to export oil widely. The virus outbreak prompted all of Iran’s neighbors to shutter their borders and nations have cut travel links with Iran, including shipping in some cases, affecting imports, as well.

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Ireland is closing all schools and cultural institutions until March 29, in a major escalation of its response to the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced the measures would take effect at 6 p.m. Thursday. He said the closure applies to schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions. All indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events with more than 500 are also canceled.

Speaking during a trip to Washington, Varadkar said people should work from home as much as possible.

He said “acting together as one nation we can save many lies.”

So far 43 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Ireland and one person has died. Ireland, along with Britain, is excluded from a 30-day U.S. ban on travellers form continental Europe.

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The European Union has slammed the new anti-virus travel ban announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, lashing out at the “unilateral” decision.

In a joint statement, EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that the coronavirus pandemic is a “global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

Trump’s new restrictions apply only to most foreign citizens who have been in Europe’s passport-free travel zone at any point within 14 days prior to their arrival to the United States.

The so-called “Schengen” area comprises 26 countries including EU members France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria and Belgium, where the EU has its headquarters, but also others like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

Trump said the monthlong restriction on travel would begin late Friday. He accused Europe of not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus” and claimed that U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.

Von der Leyen and Michel dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the EU has not done enough.

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The U.S. Army has decided to reduce the number of troops taking part in massive war games that have been planned across Europe over the next six months due to the new coronavirus.

The Defender-Europe 2020 exercises were set to involve some 20,000 American personnel, the biggest deployment of U.S. troops to Europe in the last 25 years.

No details on numbers were provided.

In all, around 37,000 soldiers from 18 countries, not all of whom are members of the NATO military alliance, had been expected to take part. Some troops and equipment have already deployed.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu looks on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday March 11, 2020. Canada is announcing $1 billion ($730 million) in funding to help health-care workers cope with the increasing number of new cases of coronavirus and to help Canadian workers who are forced to isolate themselves. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
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