The Latest: Russia orders preparation for virus patients

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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 425,000 people and killed over 18,000. 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 109,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

– Provincial governors in Russia ordered to prepare for virus patients.

– Palestinian Authority tells workers to return from Israel.

– Albania declares state of natural calamity.

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MOSCOW – Russia’s prime minister ordered provincial governors Wednesday to move more quickly to ready hospital beds for coronavirus patients as the outbreak has spread across the vast country.

The government reported 658 cases of the new coronavirus in Russia, up from 495 a day before. That marked a significantly bigger daily increase compared to previous day when the number of infections increased by several dozens.

The warning to governors came a day after the mayor of Moscow told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Russian regions weren’t acting energetically enough to prepare for the outbreak. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warned that the low number of cases in Russia compared to Europe could be explained by insufficient screening and called for quicker action to brace up for the worst.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova reported that 112,000 people are currently in self-isolation being monitored for coronavirus after return from abroad. Earlier this month, the government has requested all those who returned from the countries plagued by the outbreak to self-quarantine for two weeks.

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RAMALLAH, West Bank – Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are expected to return to the occupied West Bank from Israel following orders from the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh late Tuesday ordered the workers to return and go into 14-day quarantine, the latest in a series of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

He says those disregarding the orders will face unspecified legal consequences.

Israel has reported more than 2,000 cases and five deaths. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, has reported 58 cases.

Israel had allowed 65,000 Palestinian workers to remain in the country during the crisis, but many are expected to return as Israel tightens its own restrictions. Most work in construction, agriculture and manufacturing.

Working in Israel pays much better than in the West Bank, where decades of Israeli military rule has hindered economic development.

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TIRANA, Albania – Albania has declared the natural calamity emergency because of the virus.

The government late Tuesday issued the decision at the official gazette saying that the rights are limited “to the level considered necessary to protect the citizens’ health.” That means that all public gatherings, including demonstrations and strikes are prohibited.

The government authorities have increased rights, including entering people’s homes to check for virus cases. People are also obliged to report virus symptoms or cases.

That situation is to continue for an unspecified time “during the period of infection.”

As of Tuesday, Albania had 5 deaths and 123 cases.

The country is in a lockdown with all border crossing routes shut, but one flight to Turkey. Schools, cafes, restaurants, gyms and shops are closed, except those offering food items and medicine. Only a limited number of public and private employees can work during an eight-hour time a day while all people may only get out to buy food and medicine.

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LONDON – Britain’s Parliament is set to shut down for at least four weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers have continued to attend — though in smaller numbers – despite the spread of COVID-19, which has reached 8,077 confirmed cases and 422 deaths in the U.K. Visitors have been banned from the Parliament buildings and some staff have been working from home.

With Britons now ordered to stay home and all but essential shops shut, Parliament is expected to shut down once lawmakers have approved an emergency law on Wednesday giving the government more powers to fight the coronavirus.

Lawmakers will vote on a motion suspending Parliament until April 21. They had previously been due to take an Easter break from April 1-20.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said “Parliament has to lead by example, follow the guidelines wherever it can, and ensure that we protect the staff that work in Parliament as well.”

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JOHANNESBURG – Coronavirus cases across Africa are now above 2,400, and South Africa has more cases than any other African nation with 709. The continent’s most developed country enters lockdown first thing Friday.

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BERLIN – Germany’s parliament is meeting to approve an enormous package drawn up by the government to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Lawmakers were to vote Wednesday on a series of measures that will allow the government to offer aid totaling more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion).

As a precaution, members of parliament were spaced widely apart in Berlin’s Reichstag building for the session.

The government is breaking with six years of balanced budgets to borrow what Finance Minister Olaf Scholz called the “gigantic sum” of 156 billion euros to finance the packages and cover an expected shortfall in tax revenue. Parliament’s approval is needed to loosen legal limits on running up debt.

Scholz, who is Germany’s vice chancellor, presented the package in place of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after a doctor who gave her a vaccination tested positive for the coronavirus.

Scholz said that “we as the German government are doing everything necessary and everything possible to cushion the economic and social consequences of managing the crisis.”

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka police on Wednesday warned of strict legal action against the people who violate a countrywide curfew.

In a statement, police said those who violate the curfew will be immediately arrested, even without a warrant, and legal action will be taken against them. The statement did not elaborate on the possible punishment.

Within the last 24 hours, police have arrested 420 people who violated the curfew and seized 97 vehicles.

The government has imposed the curfew since Friday (March 20), as the Indian Ocean island nation has been struggling to contain the spreading of the virus. The number of positive cases has now jumped to 101.

Since Friday, police have detained 2,682 persons for violating the curfew and detained 786 vehicles, police said.

Police urged people to stay at home during the curfew, except those who engage in essential services such as health and supply of essential commodities.

The government has asked the pharmacies to be kept open during the curfew and allow people to use their prescription as a curfew pass.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea says it plans to provide coronavirus testing materials to the United States in response to President Donald Trump’s request for help.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country is willing to send chemical reagents used to extract genetic material during COVID-19 tests, but at a level that doesn’t affect its own testing capacity.

She didn’t provide a detailed estimate on the size of supplies that could be shipped to the United States.

The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier said Trump during a telephone conversation between the leaders asked whether South Korea could send medical equipment and supplies to help the United States cope with its outbreaks.

South Korea is pushing an aggressive test-and-quarantine program that some experts say possibly contributed to its lower death toll in comparison with mainland China and hard-hit European nations.

As of Wednesday, South Korea had tested around 358,000 people while reporting 9,137 infections and 126 deaths.

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WASHINGTON – The White House and Senate leaders of both U.S. political parties have struck an agreement on a sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight. The agreement comes after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure and still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.

The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

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NEW DELHI – The world’s largest democracy went under the world’s biggest lockdown Wednesday, with India’s 1.3 billion people ordered to stay home in a bid to stop the coronavirus pandemic from spreading and overwhelming its fragile health care system as it has done elsewhere.

The unprecedented move came as infections surged in Europe, New York scrambled to set up thousands of new hospital beds, and organizers delayed this summer’s Tokyo Olympics until next year. Financial markets continued their wild swings, with Wall Street posting its best day since 1933 as U.S. Congress and the White House neared a nearly $2 trillion aid deal.

In India, everything but essential services like supermarkets were shuttered. Normally bustling railway stations in New Delhi were deserted and streets that just hours before were jumbled with honking cars were eerily silent with just a trickle of pedestrians.

“Delhi looks like a ghost town,” said Nishank Gupta, a lawyer. “I have never seen the city so quiet before.”

India has about 450 cases of the virus, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that if he didn’t take action now it could set the country back decades.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia has announced it will extend its national lockdown by another two weeks until April 14.

This will lead to a shutdown of a month for Malaysia, which reported another 172 new coronavirus cases Wednesday to bring its total to 1,796, the highest in Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Muhyiddini Yassin said total cases had surged from just 673 a week ago when the lockdown began, while total deaths had increased to 17. He said the uptrend would continue for some time before new cases began to decline, requiring the government to extend the Movement Control Order that is due to expire March 31.

Muhyiddin urged Malaysians to “stay calm and don’t panic,” as he assured them there would be adequate food supply.

“I know you feel burdened but I don’t have a choice,” he said, adding that he would announce a new economic stimulus program on Friday. Schools and non-essential businesses have been closed. Malaysians cannot travel abroad or drive to other states, but can leave home to buy food or seek treatment.

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BANGKOK – A Thai charity is livestreaming its elephant herd bathing in a river to give viewers a respite from the deluge of unnerving news about the COVID-19 crisis.

John Roberts of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation says he was thinking about how many people are cooped up at home with little to do. Then he had an idea: “Let’s bring some elephants into people’s lives, maybe we can cheer them up.”

Wednesday’s Facebook Live broadcast showed the sun rising behind four elephants grazing and dust-bathing rather than splashing in the river, while Roberts kept up a relaxed, folksy commentary.

The foundation, located on Thailand’s border with Myanmar, rescues elephants from the streets of Thai cities and gives them and their handlers a natural environment in which to live and roam. It also funds research into elephant behavior. It currently hosts 21 animals.

Roberts says they will keep up the twice-daily online broadcast at https://www.facebook.com/GTAEF.helpingelephants for as long as the global crisis lasts.

Medical workers escort a woman, suspected of having the coronavirus infection, to get out from an ambulance to the hospital for coronavirus patients in Kommunarka, outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, with Russia only reporting a few hundred virus cases. The highly contagious COVID-19 coronavirus can cause mild symptoms, but for some it can cause severe illness including pneumonia.(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
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