The Latest: Israel using surveillance to fight coronavirus

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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 214,000 people and killed more than 8,700. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 82,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

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Israel’s Health Ministry says it has used controversial surveillance technology for the first time in its fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The ministry said it had sent text messages to around 400 individuals whom it had determined were in contact with coronavirus carriers.

Early this week, the Israeli Cabinet authorized the Shin Bet security agency to use its phone-surveillance technology to identify people who had come into contact with people infected with coronavirus. The technology previously had been used to track Palestinian militants.

The government says the tactic is strictly supervised and meant to save lives. But opposition lawmakers and civil rights advocates say it is a violation of privacy.

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The Dutch health care minister has fainted during a parliamentary debate about the government’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus.

Minister Bruno Bruins was on his feet speaking Wednesday evening when he slumped to the floor and had to be helped to stand up again by a Cabinet colleague, Social Affairs Minister Wouter Koolmees.

Bruins, who has been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus, later tweeted that he felt faint due to exhaustion after “intensive weeks” of work.

“I’m going home to rest this evening so that I can get back to work again tomorrow to tackle the (hashtag)coronavirus as well as possible,” Bruins tweeted.

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The Illinois Department of Public Health has announced 128 new cases of COVID-19 across the state.

An additional 20 individuals at the long-term care facility in DuPage County experiencing an outbreak have tested positive, bringing the total to 42 (30 residents and 12 staff).

Currently, IDPH is reporting 288 cases in 17 counties in Illinois. Cases have occurred in ages 9 to 91.

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U.S. President Donald Trump says he plans to invoke extraordinary powers to immediately turn back to Mexico anyone who crosses the border illegally.

The president says at a White House briefing that he will announce the measure “very soon,” probably later Wednesday.

Trump says he isn’t planning a full shutdown of the U.S. border with Mexico but that the powers he will invoke to respond to a health emergency give him “great latitude.”

Asked about new restrictions on the Canadian border, the president says he only wants to allow travel that is deemed essential, such as movement related to the medical industry, the military or certain industries.

He says some people go back and forth for leisure pursuits, such as going to restaurants, and he wants to end that kind of travel on a temporary basis.

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Guatemala has airlifted 87 of its citizens who were trapped in Costa Rica and Colombia after it closed its borders to commercial traffic.

The foreign ministry says all had their temperature taken and will have to home quarantine back home to avoid potentially spreading

Also Wednesday, President Alejandro Giammattei asked lawmakers for a $1 billion budget package to stimulate the Central American nation’s economy.

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says the state will open a temporary 250-bed hospital by Friday on the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem.

Oregon purchased the pop-up hospital several years ago for a crisis situation such as this, she said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Oregon officials are working to identify 1,000 temporary beds around the state and patients in hospitals who do not have the new coronavirus, and who are in recovery from other illnesses and procedures, will start to be moved to those beds, Brown said.

The state has contracted with a private company for 20,000 test kits and the first batch of 5,000 should arrive soon, said Brown’s chief-of-staff, Nic Blosser. The tests will first be used on frontline healthcare workers, first responders and those living in community-style nursing homes.

Brown did not directly address whether or not she would order a shelter-in-place order for the Portland metropolitan area similar to the one underway in San Francisco.

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Poland’s biggest laboratory that is testing for coronavirus infections says it has suspended activity after one of its scientific employees tested positive for the virus. The employee was not involved in the diagnostic process.

The head of the PZH laboratory in Warsaw, Grzegorz Juszczyk said in a statement Wednesday that people who recently had contact with the employee are being submitted to a quarantine and are waiting for the results of their own tests.

Juszczyk said that three other laboratories in Warsaw are ensuring continuous testing, and there are other laboratories elsewhere in the country. The PZH laboratory will resume work as soon as possible, he said.

A nation of 38 million, Poland has confirmed 287 cases of infection with coronavirus. Five of the patients have died.

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Portugal’s president is set to declare a state of emergency, granting authorities exceptional powers to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

The measure allows the government to place temporary limits on civil liberties, such as freedom of movement and the right to protest, and grants it special powers, including requisitioning private property.

The government can also fix prices and stipulate what goods are manufactured. The armed forces can be deployed to enforce the measures.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was due to announce the move in a nationally televised address Wednesday evening. The government and parliament have given their blessing.

Portugal on Wednesday reported a total of 642 cases, 194 higher than the previous day, and two deaths.

The country has close ties with its neighbor Spain, which is one of the countries most affected by the outbreak.

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The U.S. Transportation Security Administration reports a ninth case of an airport security screening officer testing positive for the new coronavirus.

The ageny said Tuesday that a checked baggage screener at Newark-Liberty International Airport in New Jersey is the most recent. The officer’s last shift was Saturday.

The other officers who previously tested positive worked at airports in San Jose, California; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in Florida; Cleveland and Atlanta.

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Conservative Republican legislators in Kansas are moving to limit Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s power to address the coronavirus pandemic after she closed the state’s K-12 schools for the rest of the spring semester.

Conservatives said Wednesday that Kelly’s action was an overreaction. Kansas has at least 18 confirmed coronavirus cases and one COVID-19-related death. Most infected people recover but some can develop serious problems.

They included language from GOP conservatives in a resolution that would extend a state of emergency declared by Kelly last week to prevent her from invoking a state law giving the governor broad powers to act to “promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population.”

And at the urging of conservative Republican Sen. Dennis Pyle, of Hiawatha, senators added a provision to prohibit Kelly from confiscating guns.

The House must consider the language, but some Republicans there also grumbled about Kelly’s order to close schools

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Britain is closing all its primary and secondary schools because of the new coronavirus, one of the last countries in Europe to do so.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson says schools across England will close after Friday until further notice.

The governments of Scotland and Wales have already announced that schools there will close Friday, and schools in Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said closing schools is of “limited value” in slowing the spread of the virus but that now is the right time to do it.

He said there would be measures to ensure that health care workers and other key staff who are parents can still go to work.

The U.N. cultural organization, UNESCO, says that as of late Tuesday, over 850 million children and youth – roughly half of the world’s student population – has to stay away from schools and universities because of the pandemic.

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Casinos throughout Nevada were closed Wednesday, along with other nonessential businesses, following under an order from Gov. Steve Sisolak. He urged residents to stay home to help curtail the spread of the new coronavirus.

The last time casinos closed in Las Vegas was for John F. Kennedy’s funeral on Nov. 25, 1963. Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he believes this is the first time all Nevada casinos have been closed statewide.

On the Las Vegas Strip, vehicle traffic was busy as usual despite gambling having halted at midnight, but pedestrians were scarce. Large orange barricades were placed in front of driveways to the Wynn and Encore casinos, while gates blocked walkways and padlocks and entrances to a nearby shopping mall had been chained and padlocked. Across the street, a chain link fence had been placed in front of the Circus Circus resort.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel says not since World War II has the country faced a challenge like the current outbreak of the coronavirus.

Merkel on Wednesday night made her first direct TV address to the nation in over 14 years in power, other than her annual New Year’s speech. She called on every person in Germany to help protect those who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Let me tell you: This is serious. Take it seriously too,” Merkel said in her speech that was to be aired on several public and private TV stations starting at 19:15 local time (1818 GMT). An embargoed copy of her speech was given to news agencies for earlier release.

Merkel, who is a physicist by training, said that while researchers were working under high pressure to develop a vaccine and medication to treat the new respiratory illness, currently, the slowdown of virus was the only to deal with it.

“Germany has an excellent health system, perhaps one of the best in the world,” she said. “But our hospitals, too, would be completely overwhelmed if too many patients would be delivered in too short a time.”

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China has sent medical supplies to France to help health workers dealing with patients infected by the coronavirus and in need of masks and other protective material.

The Chinese Embassy in France tweeted on Wednesday that a batch of supplies has arrived. The supplies include face masks, medical gloves and protective suits. “United we will vanquish,” the tweet concluded.

China has sent supplies to Italy, the hardest hit among European countries, and to Spain. France took early action to help China, sending 17 tons of similar supplies in mid-February to Wuhan, where the COVID-19 was first detected. What French officials called a “solidarity” shipment has taken some criticism recently in France, where masks are available with difficulty for the general population.

French authorities ordered citizens into confinement this week in an effort to control the virus. As of Tuesday, France registered 7,730 positive cases and 175 deaths.

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Hungary’s prime minister has announced a series of measures meant to protect jobs and ease the effects of the coronavirus epidemic on the country’s economy.

Viktor Orban said Wednesday that employers’ payroll taxes would be eliminated until June 30 in sectors already hard hit by the crisis, including tourism, hotels, entertainment, sports and taxi services. Payroll taxes for employees in those sectors also will be cut significantly.

Orban also announced that all existing personal and company loans will be exempt from making principal and interest payments until the end of the year, while interest rates on new consumption loans will be capped .

Labor laws will be loosened so “employers and employees can more easily reach agreements,” Orban said.

Hungary has 58 confirmed cases of people infected with the new virus, with only one death linked so far to COVID-19, a 75-year-old man who was being treated for pneumonia.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a 100 billion Turkish lira (US $15.4 billion) relief package in a bid to mitigate the blow from the new coronavirus outbreak.

The “Economic Stability Shield” package announced Wednesday includes delaying debt payments, assisting businesses by deferring tax and social security payments and increasing the lowest pensions.

Erdogan also urged citizens to adhere to government guidance and to stay at home saying: “we can limit the period of home isolation to three weeks if everyone complies to the measures with sensibility.”

Turkey has reported one COVID-19 death and 98 confirmed infections.

The country has suspended flights from 20 countries, closed schools and universities and shut down bars, night clubs, cafes, cinemas and gyms among other measures to contain the virus’ spread.

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Barring a miracle, Italy will surpass China in the number of coronavirus deaths in just one more day.

On Wednesday, Italy saw a record new high in the numbers of infections and deaths reported, adding more than 4,200 new cases for a total of 35,713 infections. Another 475 people died, bringing Italy’s death toll to 2,978.

China, where the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged late last year, has seen 3,241 deaths, most in the hard-hit central province of Hubei.

Italy has an older population than China’s, but only has 60 million people to China’s 1.4 billion people. Medical experts say the new virus is killing people over 65 at a much higher rate than other age groups.

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A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship will deploy to New York City to relieve pressure on hospitals treating people with COVID-19.

The ship would accept non-coronavirus patients. The news came Wednesday as New York City-area hospitals are clearing out beds, setting up new spaces to triage patients and urging people with mild symptoms to consult health professionals by phone or video chat instead of flooding emergency rooms.

Those moves come in anticipation of a huge spike in coronavirus patients. Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that demand for hospital beds could soon outstrip capacity by tens of thousands as the outbreak surges. Virus cases in the state topped 2,300 Wednesday, with at least 20 deaths.

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Florida now has 314 people testing positive for COVID-19 and six deaths.

Its theme parks and bars and nightclubs and many beaches are closed. An exception Wednesday was Clearwater Beach near Tampa, which was open and packed beneath clear, sunny skies.

Most groups there did seem to be sitting at least six feet (2 meters) apart from other clusters of people, but Sarah Kelley, a St. Louis grocery store section manager, agreed that visiting the beach with her two teenage sons may not have been the best idea.

“It is a great festering Petri dish,” she said.

Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. mirror what’s been reported in other countries, with about 4 out of 5 deaths occurring in people 65 and older and no deaths in kids, according to a new federal report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the findings on Wednesday, in a look at more than 4,200 U.S. cases reported from Feb. 12 to March 16. Officials had limited information, with data on the ages of about 2,500 of them.

Drawing from available information, researchers found about a third of the reported cases were in people 65 and older, but retirement-age Americans made up the bulk of people who suffered severe illness.

More than half of coronavirus patients admitted to hospital intensive care units were 65 and older, the CDC reported. No one 19 or under was admitted to an ICU, the CDC said.

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Iceland is aiming to test a higher proportion of its population for the new coronavirus than any other nation in an attempt to find out more about how the COVID-19 disease spreads.

The North Atlantic nation, population 360,000, has 250 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with three hospitalizations and no deaths.

Reykjavik-based biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics has set up a testing facility capable of gathering 1,000 samples a day and hopes to test 14,000 people — about 4% of Iceland’s population.

The company said of 3,700 people tested so far, 0.8% had the virus despite showing little or no symptoms of being ill.

Iceland has quarantined 2,500 people because of possible exposure to the virus. They have been tested and about 10% were found to be infected.

Stefánsson said the difference in infection rates between the general population and those in quarantine showed the effectiveness of government’s efforts.

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Vice President Mike Pence has called on hospitals to delay all elective procedures across the country to help ensure medical capacity is focused on stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

Hospital systems in hard-hit areas, including New York and Washington state, have already begun postponing elective surgeries as they anticipate a need for more hospital beds for people diagnosed with the virus.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would sign an executive order to postpone all elective surgeries at New York City hospitals so doctors and nurses can focus on treating patients infected with the virus.

Pence said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma will soon be issue federal guidance on elective procedures.

President Donald Trump says he’ll invoke the Defense Production Act to marshal the private sector in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump also says the Department Housing and Urban Development is providing immediate relief to renters and homeowners by suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April.

More than two dozen Senate Democrats have been urging Trump to invoke the Korean War-era law to increase production of needed masks, ventilators and respirators. Use of the law will also help expand hospital capacity to combat the coronavirus.

Trump announced at a White House briefing Wednesday that he will sign the papers to invoke the act later in the day. The U.S. has had 116 virus-related deaths and over 7,300 infections.

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In an unprecedented move during peacetime, the French army has started evacuating critical coronavirus patients from eastern France, the country’s worst hit region by the pandemic.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said six patients were being transferred Wednesday on an Airbus military plane in order to ease the pressure on the local hospitals of Mulhouse and Colmar. They were being moved to military hospitals in southern France. The transfer is expected to be the first of several.

In an address Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that a makeshift army hospital will be constructed shortly in eastern France. It will house around 30 intensive care beds.

France is Europe’s third worst-hit country in terms of fatalities from COVID-19. Health authorities report at least 7,730 confirmed cases, including 175 who have died.

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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.

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

A woman wears a face mask as she walks her dog at a park in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Israel braced for its first fatalities as the number of coronavirus cases spiked by 25% on Wednesday. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
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