The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
– Britain falls short of promised testing rate.
– South Korea isolates hospital patients after 9-year-old girl tests positive.
– Experts say virus could kill up to 240,000 Americans.
LONDON – The British government is under fire for failing to keep its promise to increase the number of tests performed for COVID-19.
The U.K. has restricted testing to hospitalized patients, leaving many people with milder symptoms unsure whether they have had the new coronavirus. Many scientists have urged wider testing to allow medics who are negative to remain at work, and to better understand how the virus spreads.
That has happened in Germany, which has the capacity to do 500,000 tests a week.
The U.K. initially performed about 5,000 tests a day, but the government promised to increase that number to 10,000 by the end of last week. The target has not been met, with just over 8,000 tests performed Monday, the last day for which figures are available.
Officials have blamed a shortage of the chemicals needed to perform the tests.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said Wednesday that the number of tests should hit 15,000 a day â€œwithin a couple of daysâ€ and rise to 25,000 a day by mid-April. He conceded, â€œWe do need to go further and we need to do that faster.”
He told ITV that â€œit isn’t easy to procure the tests in a global pandemic because there is a great deal of demand.â€
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean health officials say 43 patients have been placed under isolation in one of the biggest hospitals in the capital of Seoul after a hospitalized 9-year-old girl tested positive for the coronavirus.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Koreaâ€™s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday said around 50 medical staff who worked at the Asan Medical Centerâ€™s pediatric department will be quarantined at their homes although they tested negative.
Jeong and Seoul City officials say the girl was tested for the virus after doctors found she had previously been treated for a headache at another hospital in Euijeongbu, near Seoul, where a dozen patients and medical staff have been infected with COVID-19.
Officials didnâ€™t release specific details about the girlâ€™s conditions.
South Koreaâ€™s nationwide caseload has slowed from early March when it reported around 500 new infections a day, but the country has struggled to stem infections at hospitals, psychiatric wards, nursing homes and other live-in facilities.
Hundreds of patients and medical staff have been infected in hospitals in the worst-hit city of Daegu, where more than 6,700 of the countryâ€™s 9,887 infections have been reported.
PARIS – France is evacuating on Wednesday 36 patients infected with the coronavirus from the Paris region onboard two medicalized high-speed TGV trains.
The patients, all treated in intensive care units, are being transferred to several hospitals in Britany, as western France is less impacted by the epidemic.
The operation aims at relieving hospitals in the Paris region, hardly hit by the coronavirus that has claimed more than 3,500 lives in France.
The country has already operated several transports of patients by train, helicopter, military aircraft and onboard a Navy ship. Some patients from eastern France have also been transferred to hospitals in neighboring Germany, Luxemburg and Switzerland.
France has increased its capacity of 5,000 ICU beds before the crisis to 8,000 now and is aiming at getting 14,000 ICU beds in the coming weeks, according to health authorities.
In the Paris region alone, the number of ICU beds has risen from 1,200 to 2,000 now, with almost the same number of patients needing intensive care.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakiaâ€™s plant that belongs to Koreaâ€™s carmaker Kia says it is planning to renew production as planned on April 6.
Kia halted its production lines located near the northwestern city of Zilina on March 21 amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.
It says that workers are coming back to work â€œunder strict preventive measures.â€ The plant creates some 3,800 jobs.
Slovakia has 363 cases of COVID-19, according to the government figures available on Wednesday morning.
Across the border in the Czech Republic, Kiaâ€™s affiliate Hyundai said on Wednesday it extended the closure of its Czech plant by one week until April 14.
In another Slovak neighbor, Hungary, Suzuki announced that it is extending its plant’s closure by two weeks, until April 17. Earlier, Hungary’s Mercedes-Benz plant also extended its factory’s closure, until April 21.
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey has sent a planeload of masks, hazmat suits, goggles and disinfectants to Italy and Spain to help the countries combat the new coronavirus outbreak.
State-run Anadolu Agency said a military cargo plane carrying the medical equipment took off from an air base near Ankara on Wednesday.
The equipment was produced by military-owned factories and sewing workshops.
The items were being sent in crates displaying – in Italian and Spanish – the words of 13th century Sufi Poet Jalaluddin Rumi: “There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness.”
The report did not say how many masks and other equipment were dispatched.
LONDON – Britainâ€™s largest banks are scrapping dividend payments amid pressure to secure cash for businesses struggling with the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Bank of Englandâ€™s Prudential Regulation Authority requested the suspension of all plans to return money to shareholders. All outstanding dividend payments from last year will also be cancelled.
Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest are among the banks accepting the move.
The PRA says the decisions â€œare a sensible precautionary step given the unique role that banks need to play in supporting the wider economy through a period of economic disruption, alongside the extraordinary measures being taken by the authorities.â€™â€™
The authority also expects bonuses to be cancelled for senior staff members.
The move may offer a moment of redemption for the big banks, many of whom suffered reputational damage following the 2008 financial crisis.
Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Alison Rose says the institution is â€œfocused on ensuring we support our customers and help them to navigate the immediate and longer-term challenges they are facing as a result of COVID-19.”
SINGAPORE – Singapore will introduce a new bill aimed at offering temporary relief to businesses and individuals who cannot fulfill contractual obligations, such as rent payments and scheduled events, because of COVID-19.
The bill, which will be introduced in parliament next week and will be in place for at least six months, will prevent contracting parties from taking legal action such as forfeiting a deposit placed for a wedding that will be postponed, or terminating leases on commercial property for rent that has gone unpaid.
For individuals, the minimum amount of debt before filing for bankruptcy has been raised from S$15,000 to S$60,000. The threshold for companies to apply for insolvency has also been raised tenfold to S$100,000.
The relief measures come as Singapore has imposed further stringent social distancing rules on its residents. Gatherings have been limited to 10 persons or fewer, and people in Singapore who intentionally do not abide by the 1-meter (3-foot) social-distancing rule in a public place could be fined and jailed.
As of March 31, Singapore has a total of 926 cases of COVID-19 cases, and has since had three deaths.
MOSCOW – Russia has sent a planeload of medical aid to the United States amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.
A military aircraft loaded with medical equipment and masks took off from Moscow early on Wednesday morning, according to the Defense Ministry.
Footage from the Russian Defense Ministry showed boxes of equipment inside an Antonov An-124 Ruslan aircraft at Moscowâ€™s Chkalovsky Airbase.
The delivery follows a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, when the two leaders discussed cooperation in the fight against the new coronavirus. A Kremlin statement said the call took place at Washington’s initiative.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Trump accepted Russia’s aid “with gratitude.”
“Offering aid to the American colleagues, the president (Vladimir Putin) is assuming that when American production of medical equipment and materials picks up speed, they will be able to reciprocate if necessary,” Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
NEW YORK – As the number of coronavirus deaths continues to surge in the United States, officials are warning the disease could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, even if people continue to stay home and limit their contact with others.
Experts made the prediction at a Tuesday media briefing with President Donald Trump. But they said they hope the figure won’t soar that high if everyone does their part to prevent the virus from spreading.
â€œI want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,â€ said Trump, who also extended social distancing guidelines until April 30. â€œWe’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.â€
The U.S. recorded a big daily jump of 26,000 new cases, bringing the total to more than 189,000. The death toll leaped to over 4,000, including more than 1,000 in New York City.
NEW DELHI – Police in New Delhi have filed a criminal case against clerics of an Islamic religious sect for organizing a gathering last month in violation of COVID-19 safety measures such as social distancing.
Police said Wednesday they will question Maulana Saad and others of Tablighi Jamaat who have also been booked under Indiaâ€™s Epidemic Disease Act that restricts religious gatherings. They could be punished with six months in prison.
New Delhi state Health Minister Saytendra Jain told reporters the sectâ€™s headquarters in the Indian capital has been sealed off from outsiders after police evacuated more than 1,500 people believed to have been exposed to the new coronavirus during the religious gathering.
Jain told reporters that paramedics have admitted 441 Muslim worshipers to hospitals in the Indian capital and more than 1,100 have been quarantined for testing. He said that of the capitalâ€™s 97 new coronavirus cases, 24 are traced to the religious gathering.
India has 1,238 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including 35 deaths.
A 21-day nationwide lockdown that began March 24 has resulted in the suspension of train and airline service and effectively kept 1.3 billion Indians home for all but essential trips to places like markets or pharmacies.
The religious sect said in a statement Tuesday that due to the sudden cancellation of rail services across the country a large group of visitors who had to depart by way of railways got stuck on the groupâ€™s premises. It said it had stopped the religious discourse on March 22, two days before the countrywide lockdown began.
KAMPALA, Uganda – Several members of a well-known children’s choir are among the growing number of coronavirus cases in Uganda.
President Yoweri Museveni late Tuesday announced that members of the Watoto Children’s Choir had been in quarantine after traveling abroad. The 11 people affected make up one-fourth of the East African nation’s 44 virus cases. Nearly all of Africa’s 54 countries now have the virus.
LOS ANGELES – A Southern California nursing home has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with more than 50 residents infected – a troubling development amid cautious optimism that cases in the state may peak more slowly than expected.
Cedar Mountain Post Acute Rehabilitation in Yucaipa has been told to assume that all its patients have the COVID-19 virus, San Bernardino County Department of Public Health Director Trudy Raymundo said. As of Tuesday, 51 residents and six staff members had tested positive. Two patients have died, including an 82-year-old woman who had existing health problems.
The nursing home east of Los Angeles isn’t accepting new residents and the facility has been closed to visitors under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s two-week-old stay-at-home order, Raymundo said.
The announcement came as Newsom said extraordinary efforts to keep people home have bought the time needed to prepare for an expected peak surge of coronavirus cases in coming weeks.
Newsom said the slower-than-forecast increase in cases means the peak is now likely to occur in May, though he was reluctant to say whether that means the impact on the state won’t be nearly as dire as initially feared.
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