The Latest: Italy welcomes Chinese virus experts, equipment

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The Latest on the world’s coronavirus pandemic:

Italy has welcomed a team of Chinese medical experts and 31 tons of ventilators, protective masks and other medical equipment as its fight against coronavirus turns a nation that usually donates aid into one that receives it.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and the head of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Francesco Rocca, were on hand Friday to welcome the Chinese delegation at Red Cross headquarters in Rome. Di Maio, the only one not wearing a protective mask, said Italy is now reaping the benefits of its solidarity with China, where the virus that is now a worldwide pandemic broke out late last year.

Italy is the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, registering more than 15,000 infections and 1,000 dead. Italy has imposed a nationwide lockdown, with stores and restaurants closed and restrictions on individual movement. But the restrictions still pale in comparison to the severe lockdown China imposed in Wuhan.

The Italian public health system in the north is at near capacity, with 400-500 people a day requiring hospitalization in Lombardy alone.

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced dramatic measures to try and stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the Alpine nation, including quarantining two hard-hit areas of Tirol.

Kurz told reporters in Vienna that the towns of St. Anton am Arlberg and the Paznauntal area would be isolated for 14 days, but added residents and tourists now there will be well taken care of.

In addition, retail businesses are being asked to close as of Monday, outside of those providing essential services such as supermarkets, gas stations, banks, post offices and pharmacies. Bars and cafes will only be allowed to stay open until 3 p.m. starting Monday. Office workers are being asked to work remotely from home if possible.

“Starting Monday, we need to reduce our public lives to a minimum,” Kurz said.

Austria has 422 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and one death.

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Germany’s finance minister has taken a swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump over his decision to close American borders to travelers from Europe.

Olaf Scholz, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor said Friday “that was a grotesque performance we experienced from the American president.”

Scholz says “instead of tending to the problems of his country, and to a virus that knows no borders, he thinks that he can fight it with people who have a different citizenship than American.”

“But this is a virus, if I may say so, and it actually shows that solidarity is the only way that we can move forward as human beings,” he said.

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The Trump administration is awarding $1.3 million in federal money to two companies trying to develop rapid COVID-19 tests that could detect whether a person tests positive for the new coronavirus within an hour.

The Department of Health and Human Services says Friday it is awarding $679,000 to DiaSorin Molecular, of Cypress, California, and $598,000 to QIAGEN LLC of Germantown, Maryland, to accelerate development of the tests.

The agency says DiaSorin could potentially be ready within six weeks for consideration by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the QIAGEN test could be ready within 12 weeks for EUA consideration by the FDA.

The Trump administration has been criticized for its lack of testing for the virus, compared to other nations around the world

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U.S. cities are taking more intensive steps to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

The mayor of Dallas, Texas, has declared a local disaster and the city is banning large gatherings as infections continue to grow.

Dallas County announced five more cases, including one being investigated as community-spread. The Texas state capital of Austin saw its first two virus cases on Friday.

Public schools in Washington D.C. were closed beginning Monday until April 1 affecting some 47,000 students. Fairfax County, Virginia also closed schools on Friday, affecting 180,000 students and will evaluate whether to stay closed after a meeting on Monday.

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The British government is advising against all but essential travel to the Spanish regions of Madrid, La Rioja and the municipalities of La Bastida, Vitoria and Miranda de Ebro due to the new coronavirus.

With 3,864 infections and 90 deaths, Spain is quickly becoming a new hotspot for the virus in Europe. Madrid, the capital, has been especially hard hit.

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Sri Lanka civil aviation authorities on Friday imposed a two-week travel ban on passengers from seven European countries: France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden.

The ban will be effective until March 29. Separately on Friday, authority imposed a two-week travel ban on passengers from South Korea, Italy and Iran. This will be effective until March 28.

The authority is asking all airlines not to board any passengers from those countries or who visited those countries in the last 14 days.

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France is promising to compensate the virus-related salary losses for “99%” of workers, as travel bans, school closures and other measures take a heavy toll on the economy.

It’s part of tens of billions of euros the government says it will stump up as French financial markets plunge and companies curb activity to try to stem the spread of the virus.

“Nobody with a job will lose a cent,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

France is also banning all gatherings of more than 100 people now that the virus has infected more than 2,800 people in the country and is spreading fast.

On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron ordered all schools closed and asked companies to allow workers to stay home. France is going ahead with nationwide local elections on Sunday but is ordering special measures to keep people at a safe distance.

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The government of Romania, including all ministers, as well as the leadership of the ruling National Liberal Party and all its senators, have been asked to self-isolate because of the coronavirus.

Friday’s decision comes after a governing party senator, who took part in high-level meetings, was confirmed to be infected.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban told reporters during a news conference that he will be quarantined in a state-owned villa and the government will still continue to carry out its duties.

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The Germany government is pledging at least 460 billion euros ($513 billion) in guarantees to cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Germany’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier, said there was no limit to the amount the government was willing to use to support everyone from individuals, such as taxi drivers, to large companies, to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from causing permanent harm to the economy.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the 2008 financial crisis offered lessons for the current situation. “We will use all means at our disposal,” he said Friday at a joint press conference with Altmaier.

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Greece’s Olympic committee says it is suspending the rest of its torch relay for the Olympic Flame due to the “unexpectedly large crowd” that gathered to watch despite repeated requests for the public to stay away.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee said Friday a large crowd had gathered to watch the flame for the Tokyo Olympics pass through the southern Greek town of Sparta. The flame was lit Thursday at the birthplace of the ancient games in Ancient Olympia, in a pared-down ceremony due to the coronavirus.

The handover of the Olympic Flame to the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee will go ahead as scheduled on March 19 in Athens.

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Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan has announced a lockdown of the Indonesian capital’s entertainment sites and tourist destinations, including museums, the national monument, the beach Dreamland Park Center, the city zoo, bars and clubs.

The measures will go for two weeks effective Saturday to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

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Czech citizens coming home from 15 countries that are considered risky due to the virus outbreak will have to stay under quarantine for two weeks.

The announcement Friday by the Czech Republic’s government listed the following countries: China, Iran, Korea, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Britain.

Foreigners from those countries are barred from traveling to the Czech Republic and Czechs are not allowed to travel to those countries. Those measures become effective Friday midnight when the country renews border checks with Austria and Germany. The Czech Republic has 117 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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Spain’s has ordered its first mandatory lockdown, confining over 60,000 people to four towns as infections for the new coronavirus increase sharply.

The rise is straining health services and putting more pressure on the government to act faster to fight the pandemic.

The country had more than 3,800 cases by Friday morning and at least 84 deaths. The Spanish capital, Madrid, has nearly 2,000 cases alone, many linked to nursing homes.

The government has closed museums and sports centers, sent home nearly 10 million students, asked people to work remotely and limited crowds at public events in high risk areas. But questions are rising whether the measures are enough.

Madrid’s vice president said Friday that the region is in dire need of medical supplies.

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Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is in isolation at a hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus. He returned to Australia on Sunday from Washington, D.C., where he met U.S. Attorney-General William Barr and President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, last week.

Dutton also attended a conference with other representatives of the Five Eyes intelligence network, which includes the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Dutton said Friday he was in isolation in a hospital after confirmation he has the virus.

Australia has more than 120 confirmed cases.

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Thailand’s health minister has ignited controversy by warning about the possible spread of the coronavirus from vacationing Europeans who wear dirty clothes and don’t shower.

Tweets posted Thursday night by the account linked to Anutin Charnvirakul lashed out at Western visitors for not wearing face masks to protect against the virus, and warned his fellow Thais that they should be more careful in dealing with Westerners than with Asians.

Thailand’s government has come under criticism for confusing and inconsistent handling of the health crisis.

The tweets, along with the entire account, disappeared from Twitter by Friday afternoon.

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German states are beginning to close down schools as a precautionary measure to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

The southern state of Bavaria, western state of Saarland and city-state of Berlin all announced school closures Friday, and others were expected later.

Bavarian Gov. Markus Soeder also said the state is implementing strict restrictions on visits to hospitals, retirement homes and other facilities where people may be particularly vulnerable.

He says he’s convinced Germany will weather the crisis, but that the success of government efforts would depend greatly upon “social cohesion” from citizens.

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South Korea plans to limit the amount of information it releases about coronavirus patients amid criticism that the details currently shared reveal too much personal information and exacerbate panic.

The director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jung Eun-kyeong, said Friday her agency is drafting a new guideline for local governments to prevent them from releasing details that are unnecessary for quarantine and prevention work.

South Korean health authorities have been actively using personal information – including immigration, public transportation, credit card and smartphone GPS data – to track patients and their contacts.

Details about the places that patients visited before testing positive are posted online and shared through smartphone alerts to others.

South Korea’s Human Rights Commission on Monday raised concerns about the release of the data, saying patients were being exposed to “criticism, ridicule and hate.”

Some people have used the information to identify the patients and have publicly condemned them.

A survey by Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Public Health found that many people were more afraid of being stigmatized as a virus patient than of catching the virus itself.

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Norway has reported its first death from the coronavirus. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said “an elderly person” died Thursday in Oslo, without elaborating.

Protectively, King Harald V, members of the royal family and some government members have been put in quarantine because they had traveled abroad in recent weeks.

Denmark’s popular Queen Margrethe has canceled all events around her 80th birthday on April 16.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the U.N. that his nation wants to conduct joint research on drugs and vaccines and offer “as much assistance as it can” to countries where the novel coronavirus is spreading.

State media reported Friday that Xi told U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by phone that economic and daily life are gradually returning to normal in China thanks to “arduous endeavors” at prevention and control.

He was also quoted as saying that the Chinese people’s “hard work has won precious time for and made important contributions to other countries’ epidemic prevention and control.”

China, where the virus was first discovered, recorded just eight new infections on Friday.

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The Indonesian government is overseeing a campaign to clean 10,000 mosques around the country as part of its bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The cleaning campaign kicked off Friday at Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta and was witnessed by President Joko Widodo and other officials.

Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi called on worshippers at mosques to avoid any form of physical contact.

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Singapore has tightened measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus including expanding border controls, banning cruise ships and limiting mass gatherings.

From Sunday, travelers from Italy, Spain, France and Germany will not be allowed to enter the Southeast Asian city-state. Singapore earlier banned those from South Korea, Iran and China.

The Health Ministry said Friday that travelers who showed symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19 will now have to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days.

With immediate effect, it said Singapore will also cease port calls for all cruise vessels.

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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.

School children returning from a trip walk to change buses on a closed off road after being allowed to enter Igualada, Spain, Friday, March 13, 2020. Over 60,000 people awoke Friday in four towns near Barcelona confined to their homes and with police blocking roads. The order by regional authorities in Catalonia is Spain’s first mandatory lockdown as COVID-19 coronavirus infections increase sharply, putting a strain on health services and pressure on the government for more action. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)
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