The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 287,000 people and killed more than 11,900. 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 89,800 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
—Italy’s coronavirus deaths, cases continue to rise.
—U.S. approves first rapid coronavirus test.
—More than 220,000 screened at U.S. airports.
—British residents urged to avoid panic buying.
ROME — Italy’s grim tally of coronavirus cases and deaths has continued to soar, with officials announcing new day-to-day highs: 793 dead and 6,557 cases.
The country, the heart of western Europe’s rampaging outbreak, now counts 53,578 known cases. More than 60 percent of the latest deaths occurred in the northern region of Lombardy, whose hospitals have been reeling under a staggering case load that has left intensive care beds hard to find and respirators in dire supply. The new increases come nearly two weeks into a national lock-down in a desperate bid to contain the spread of the virus.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid coronavirus test, which produces results in about 45 minutes.
An FDA spokeswoman confirmed the approval after an announcement from Cepheid, a Silicon Valley molecular diagnostics company.
It can take at least a few days to get results from current coronavirus tests, which typically are sent in batches to reference labs, said Dr. David Persing, the company’s chief medical and technology officer.
“What’s really needed is a test that can rapidly determine status of infection on site when patients are being seen,” he said on a company video.
Cepheid said it will begin shipping its tests next week.
CLEVELAND — Officials are taking steps to reduce jail populations in Ohio’s most populous counties as they work to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Those efforts in the past week have been most notable at the Cuyahoga County jail in Cleveland, where the population fell from nearly 2,000 inmates last week to just under 1,300 on Friday. Officers are being told to issue citations for nonviolent crimes.
In Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, the jail population recently fell to just over 1,000 inmates from around 1,600 inmates on Monday. In Franklin County, which includes Columbus, officials said Saturday the jail population has been reduced to about 1,600 inmates, down from 1,900 on Monday.
Ohio in recent weeks has gained attention for its proactive steps to stem the spread of the virus.
NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York is scouring the globe for desperately needed medical supplies and scouting field hospital locations in New York City and its suburbs as confirmed coronavirus cases soar above 10,000 statewide.
Cuomo says the goal is to quickly boost the state’s hospital capacity from around 50,000 beds to 75,000. The state has already hospitalized 1,600 people. The governor says the state will see if Manhattan’s Javits Center could house 1,000 beds.
The state also will immediately conduct trials of an experimental treatment. Cuomo says the Food and Drug Administration is sending 10,000 doses.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed the state’s first death due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Officials say a Ramsey County resident in their 80s died on Thursday.
Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm says the death underscores the importance of protecting the most vulnerable residents in the state, especially those over 65 and those with underlying health conditions.
WASHINGTON — A Transportation Security Administration officer at the airport on St. Thomas in U.S. Virgin Islands has tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The TSA says the officer who works at the Cyril E. King International Airport is quarantined at home.
TSA reports that a total of 19 officers at eight U.S. airports have now tested positive since Feb. 21.
The other airports are in New York City; Newark, New Jersey; Atlanta; Cleveland; Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and San Jose, California.
TSA also reports the lowest number of airport travelers in the history of an organization that has been around since November 2001. On Friday, the agency counted just under 600,000 outbound passengers. That’s down from 2.5 million at the same point in 2019.
TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government is working with airlines and foreign governments to bring Canadians home but says they will not be able to bring back everyone.
Trudeau says the government is offering to lend up to $5,000 Canadian (US$3,480) in assistance for flights or for unexpected costs for extended time outside of the country. Canada chartered a plane for Morocco this weekend and expects to have planes for Peru and Spain soon.
Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne says many countries have closed their borders or airports and it will be impossible to return for some. Champagne says Canadian snowbirds living in the U.S. should come home now and the border will remain open for them. Canada and the U.S. have closed the border for all nonessential travel but returning citizens can get through.
WASHINGTON — Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says more than 220,000 Americans have been screened at airports when returning to the United States from countries impacted by the coronavirus. However, Wolf’s comments on the show “Fox and Friends” called into question the rigor of the screening process.
Americans returning from virus-affected regions have been routed to one of 13 major airports. Many have posted on social media of long waits and crowded conditions with hundreds of people crammed together for hours in packed lines. Some also noted that medical personnel didn’t check to see if they had a fever before letting them into the country.
Wolf acknowledged medical personnel in some cases are simply looking at individuals to weed out those who seem obviously ill.
LONDON — The British government says panic-buying of groceries because of the coronavirus pandemic is leaving front-line medics unable to get the food supplies they need.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister George Eustice says “buying more than you need may mean that others are left without.”
With Britons told to stay mostly at home and restaurants closed to slow the spread of the virus, some supermarkets are having runs on daily of staples including rice, pasta, fruit and vegetables.
Eustice urged restraint, saying “there is more than enough food to go around.” The government has loosened the limit on deliver drivers’ hours and lifted nighttime delivery curfews so stores can restock more quickly.
TAMPA, Fla. — A Navy sailor assigned to United States Central Command headquarters in Florida has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban made the announcement. Urban says the sailor returned to the U.S. from overseas travel on March 15 and went into precautionary quarantine at his home. He didn’t stop at CENTCOM or at Macdill Air Force base, where the command is located in Tampa.
The sailor started developing symptoms on Wednesday, called ahead to Macdill health officials, and was met outside the base by doctors. Officials say his test returned positive on Friday.
ROME — Italy’s health minister is pleading with people to follow the rules. Minister Roberto Speranza is concerned that too many citizens are flouting lock-down restrictions imposed nearly two weeks ago to contain Italy’s relentless increase in coronavirus cases.
Speranza called for a “great alliance” between citizens and institutions, saying “what counts more is the behavior of every individual.” He warned that until the virus is defeated, Italy’s economy – nearly stagnant for years before the outbreak – won’t get going again.
After local officials clamored for days for stronger measures, Speranza on Friday night ordered the closures of all parks and playgrounds and forbade people to travel to weekend homes from Friday through Monday.
Giuseppe Sala is the mayor of Milan, the capital of Lombardy and Italy’s hardest-stricken region. He tried to rally Milan’s 1.4 million citizens, tweeting “by now, we have understood, this is a marathon, not a sprint.”
People currently can go to work, food shop or exercise near their homes. Sala says he’s consulting with other mayors and the regional governor about imposing their own additional measures if the national government won’t.
The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Germany rose above 20,000, with 70 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Germany’s official Robert Koch Institute listed 16,662 case and 47 deaths, but officials have acknowledged that their count lags behind figures provided by regional health authorities.
Some German states, such as Bavaria, have stepped up measures to contain the outbreak by further restricting the reasons people can leave their homes. That’s prompted some criticism about stricter curfew measures.
ISTANBUL — Turkey is suspending flights to 46 more countries, the transport ministry announced, bringing the number of banned flights to 68 countries.
The interior ministry banned picnics and barbecues, expanding measures that included the closure of cafes, bars, schools and communal prayers. The official Anadolu news agency says restaurants would have to set up tables one meter (3 feet) apart. The agency also reported send-off gatherings for new soldiers would temporarily be banned.
At least 670 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine people have died.
LONDON — The London tourist sites were eerily empty on Saturday, a day after the government ordered the closure of all bars, restaurants, movie theaters and other places where people congregate. Pigeons outnumbered people in the usually bustling Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.
Parks filled with people strolling and jogging on a cool, sunny spring day, and business continued at the outdoor Portobello Road market — though produce-sellers and some shoppers wore masks and gloves.
There were long lines outside some supermarkets. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is meeting with supermarket executives over the weekend about how to keep the shelves filled.
JOHANNESBURG — A few African heads of state have defied coronavirus-related travel restrictions to attend Namibian President Hage Geingob’s inauguration.
Angola closed its air, land and sea borders this week, but Namibian media showed President Joao Lourenco at Saturday’s ceremony. Also in attendance was President Mokgweetsi Masisi of neighboring Botswana, which this week suspended international travel by all government employees.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was there. He announced a national disaster even before his country confirmed its first virus case on Friday.
Confirmed cases in Africa have totaled more than 1,000.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Cyprus police spokesman says authorities have turned away a boat carrying around 100 migrants, citing government directives banning the entry of foreign nationals to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Christos Andreou told state-run Cyprus News Agency on Saturday that police patrol vessels approached the boat as it was nearing the country’s southeastern coast late Friday and told passengers that they couldn’t disembark because of the ban. Andreou said the passengers, who were offered food, water and fuel, initially refused to change course, but eventually sailed away.
The spokesman said the chief of police has ordered stepped-up patrols around Cyprus’ coastline as well as along the 120-mile-long United Nations-controlled buffer zone that separates a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north from the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south.
Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot police said a boat carrying 175 Syrians that included 69 minors and 30 women landed on the shores of the Karpas peninsula in the pre-dawn hours Saturday. They were taken to a sports hall for a medical check-up. The Cypriot government accuses Turkey of channeling migrants to Cyprus, especially through the north.
MADRID — Spain has recorded almost 5,000 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours as it climbed into third place in the global ranking of infections behind China and Italy.
Health authorities said Saturday that virus infections have reached 24,926, up from 19,980 the day before. Total deaths were 1,326, up from 1,002 on Friday. Over 1,600 patients are in intensive care units that authorities admit are at their limits. Madrid is the hardest hit region with almost 9,000 infections.
Spain is approaching one week of tight restrictions on free movement and the closure of most shops as hospitals and nursing homes buckle under the burden of the virus outbreak. But authorities admit that they expect infections to continue to rise before the measures can hopefully reverse the trend.
MOSCOW — A deputy mayor of the Russian capital says workers are laboring around-the-clock to build a center that can treat hundreds of coronavirus victims, and that completion is expected within a month.
Placards in the style of Soviet propaganda posters have been placed at the site, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside Moscow’s center, exhorting builders to work at maximum speed; one shows Mayor Sergei Sobyanin pointing at the viewer and the slogan “Builders — Minutes count!”
Deputy Mayor Andrei Bochkarev said Saturday that the new facility will be able to accommodate up to 500 patients. Russia so far has recorded 253 cases of coronavirus infection.
BERLIN — Germany’s southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg is opening its hospitals to patients from the neighboring region of eastern France that’s struggling with a surge of infections with the new coronavirus.
A spokesman for the state’s health ministry confirmed a report Saturday by the daily Schwaebische Zeitung that governor Winfried Kretschmann has offered assistance to France amid a growing shortage of ICU beds there.
Markus Jox said authorities have asked all hospital in Baden-Wuerttemberg with free capacity to take in French patients requiring ventilators.
Jox said that while the state’s own capacity is limited and there are already some bottlenecks, “we will naturally try to help our French neighbors.”
LONDON — Britain lags behind Italy, Spain and France in the spread of the new coronavirus, but already the country’s overstretched health system is creaking.
The U.K.’s state-funded National Health Service has about 4,000 critical-care beds and some 5,000 ventilators, and officials say that’s far fewer than will be needed as the number of cases spikes in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, a London hospital temporarily declared a “critical incident,” meaning it could take no more critically ill patients. Unpublished NHS figures seen by The Guardian say the number of confirmed of suspected COVID-19 patients in intensive care in south London rose from seven on March 6 to 93 on March 17.
Engineering firms and automakers are stepping in to manufacture ventilators, and the government says it is shipping large supplies of protective equipment to hospitals. But some medics say they do not have confidence that they will receive the equipment they need to treat patients and keep themselves safe.