10 p.m. world COVID-19 update: Asian markets gain; US set to pass $2.2 trillion package

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

These items, assembled from Associated Press files, were posted by Black Press Media at 10 p.m., Thursday, March 26.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • Stock markets surge in Asia during early trading
  • Congress set to pass $2.2 trillion U.S. package
  • Washington state governor: “We just gotta pound it”
  • U.S. leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 85,000.
  • Trump to attend departure of hospital ship bound for New York.
  • Second U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea tests positive.
  • Patient who was first known case of community-acquired coronavirus in U.S. recovering.

Congress expected to approve $2.2 trillion relief package

WASHINGTON — With rare bipartisanship and speed, Washington is about to deliver massive, unprecedented legislation to speed help to individuals and businesses as the coronavirus pandemic takes a devastating toll on the U.S. economy and health care system.

The House is set to pass the sprawling, $2.2 trillion measure Friday morning after an extraordinary 96-0 Senate vote late Wednesday. President Donald Trump marveled at the unanimity Thursday and is eager to sign the package into law.

The relief can hardly come soon enough. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday the economy “may well be in recession” already and the government reported a shocking 3.3 million burst of weekly jobless claims, more than four times the previous record. The U.S. death toll has surpassed 1,000 from the virus.

It is unlikely to be the end of the federal response. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that issues like more generous food stamp payments, aid to state and local governments, and family leave may be revisited in subsequent legislation.

“There’s so many things we didn’t get in … that we need to,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

Asian markets in early trading follow Wall Street’s gain

BANGKOK — Shares advanced on Friday in Asia after Wall Street logged a third straight day of gains with the approaching congressional approval of a massive coronavirus relief bill.

Tokyo and Seoul jumped 1.2% and Shanghai added 0.6%, while stocks fell in Australia.

Wall Street appeared to shrug off miserable news on unemployment as the S&P 500 rose 6.2%, bringing its three-day rally to 17.6%. The Dow industrials have risen an even steeper 21.3% since Monday.

Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, easily shattering the prior record set in 1982, as layoffs and business shutdowns sweep across the country.

Analysts said the market shot higher Thursday because the bad news on unemployment was expected. The gains earlier this week came as Capitol Hill and the Federal Reserve promised an astonishing amount of aid for the economy and markets, hoping to support them as the outbreak causes more businesses to shut down by the day.

“There is no sugar coating these numbers — they are bad,” said Jamie Cox, managing partner for Harris Financial Group. “Markets have had several days to digest what everyone knew was coming therefore, the market response to these numbers may differ than what people might expect.”

Despite the big gains, the S&P 500 remains 22% below its February high and analysts expect more dire economic headlines, and market turbulence, in the days ahead.

$7,000 US fines in Singapore for not social distancing

SINGAPORE — Singapore has begun penalizing people who refused to adhere to social distancing in the latest bid to curb the virus.

Beginning Friday, anyone found standing in a queue, or sitting, less than a meter (3.3 feet) from another person in a public place can be jailed up to six months or fined up to 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,000), or both.

The penalties also apply to malls, places of worship, funeral homes and some 55 attractions including museums that can stay open but must not allow groups of more than 10 people.

Singapore, which has 683 cases, has taken proactive steps to slow the spread of the virus, short of a lockdown. It has banned all tourists and shut entertainment venues such as bars and cinemas. The safe distancing regulations, which do not apply to Parliament or court proceedings, will be in place until April 30.

Washington state may extend stay-at-home order, governor says “We gotta pound it.”

Washington state appears to be achieving some “very modest improvement” in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, but the state has not “turned the corner” and its stay-at-home order may need to be maintained beyond two weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

In a live televised news conference, Inslee said Washington recently has been able to slightly slow the “rate of increase” for cases of the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus. “The good news is our system is not overwhelmed today,” he said. Yet the overall caseload is still rising and hospital capacity remains a serious concern, particularly with respect to intensive-care beds, Inslee stressed.

“We are only in the first two weeks” of the stay-at-home order that Inslee issued Monday, he noted. “This order may need to be extended, and the reason is we simply cannot allow this virus to be slowed and then spring back upon us. We’ve gotta pound it and we’ve gotta pound it until it’s done,” he said.

The governor added, “This is a pause that will allow us to evaluate the progress we are making and then determine next steps … We shouldn’t be within 10,000 miles of champagne corks on this.”

Inslee has told nonessential businesses to close and people to stay at home except for select activities such as grocery shopping. He earlier closed schools, restaurants and bars and banned large gatherings. All the measures are intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 by keeping people away from each other.

U.S. soldier stationed near Seoul tests positive

SEOUL, South Korea — A U.S. soldier stationed at a camp near Seoul has tested positive for the coronavirus, making her the second case among U.S. servicemembers in South Korea.

U.S. Forces Korea said Friday the unidentified soldier last reported for work and visited various locations at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek on Thursday.

USFK says she is currently in isolation in a Camp Humphreys barracks designated to house COVID-19 patients. It says officials are actively tracing her contacts.

She was the 11th USFK-related individual to be confirmed with the virus, a group that also includes dependents and contractors.

40 tons of donated medical supplies — from Chinese investors — arrive in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s flag carrier Garuda’s Boeing 777 has returned from China early Friday carrying 40 tons of health supplies which will be distributed immediately across the country where new COVID-19 patients have surged in the past week.

Jodi Mahardi, the maritime and investment co-ordinating ministry’s spokesman, says the supplies included personal protective equipment and rapid test kits and masks.

They were donations from several Chinese investors in Indonesia to help the country in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak which could overwhelm the government’s health care system, as 78 people have died in the past three weeks and nearly 900 others tested positive.

The Indonesian government has planned to distribute about a half million test kits across the archipelago nation, home for nearly 270 million.

North Korea has about 2,282 people in quarantine

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says about 2,280 citizens and two foreigners remain under coronavirus quarantine after authorities released thousands of people in past weeks who were confirmed to have no symptoms.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday said the country will maintain an alert status as the virus continues to spread across the world and prepare to extend its anti-virus efforts over longer periods.

North Korea has not publicly confirmed a single case of the COVID-19 illness, but state media has described anti-virus efforts as a matter of “national existence.”

It has banned foreign tourists, shut down nearly all cross-border traffic with China, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.

The North had initially placed 380 foreigners under quarantine. The North earlier this month arranged a special government flight to fly out dozens of diplomats to Vladivostok, Russia.

California: The first person in the U.S. to get virus through community transmission is discharged

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Northern California doctors said Thursday that a critically ill patient who was the nation’s first known case of community-acquired coronavirus infection is now recovering at home.

The woman first sought treatment last month at NorthBay VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville, a city of more than 100,000 people about 59 miles (95 kilometres) from San Francisco. She was then transported on a ventilator to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

She is believed to be the first person in the U.S. to contract the highly contagious coronavirus without travelling internationally or being in close contact with anyone who had it.

UC Davis Health said in a statement that “The patient has since been discharged and is recovering at home.”

China: Just 55 new coronavirus cases, virtually all from overseas arrivals

BEIJING — China’s National Health Commission on Friday reported 55 new COVID-19 cases, including 54 it says are imported infections in recent arrivals from overseas.

Once again, there were no new cases reported in Wuhan, the central Chinese provincial capital where the coronavirus emerged in December.

As the number of China’s reported domestic COVID-19 cases has dwindled, it has had to contend with infected people coming into the country from abroad. These individuals have recently accounted for the majority of China’s new cases.

The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced late Thursday that all foreign nationals — including residence permit-holders — will be barred from entering China starting this Saturday. All visa-free transit policies will also be temporarily suspended.

Diplomatic workers will be exempt, while foreign nationals coming to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs” can still apply for visas, the ministry said in a statement.

Death toll in Washington DC rises to three

WASHINGTON — Washington DC has announced 36 new positive infections from the coronavirus, bringing the total to 267, including three deaths.

Officials here have long predicted that the infection numbers would spike as testing became more available. Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a state of emergency, shuttered all schools and ordered all non-essential businesses to close. White House and Capitol tours have been cancelled and the National Zoo, Smithsonian museum network and Kennedy Center have closed.

U.S.: Two counties in Midwest see a rapid increase in cases

WASHINGTON — The White House coronavirus response co-ordinator says the task force is concerned about certain counties in the Midwest that appear to be seeing a rapid increase in cases.

Dr. Deborah Birx listed two counties: Wayne County in Michigan and Cook County in Illinois.

She said at Thursday’s White House briefing that the task force is not only looking at where the cases are today, but where they will be in the future so the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be alerted to where the next hotspots will be.

Birx says the two counties both are in urban areas or in communities that serve an urban area. Chicago is the seat of Cook County, which is one of the most populous counties in the United States. Wayne County is outside Detroit.

Louisiana: Strike team to tend to new emergency field hospitals

BATON ROUGE, La. — Amid the outbreak’s climbing trajectory in Louisiana, the state received news Thursday that President Donald Trump agreed to create two, 250-bed federal field hospitals in the state.

The federal government will provide a 60-person “strike team” of health care workers to staff the sites, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

The White House also was sending a CDC epidemiology team to help with the state’s response to “clusters” of coronavirus cases identified at six nursing homes.

U.S. leads world in number of confirmed cases

NEW YORK — The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to a running count by Johns Hopkins University, the number of people infected in the U.S. topped 82,000 on Thursday. That’s just ahead of the 81,000 cases in China and 80,000 in Italy.

Italy has the most confirmed deaths of any country with more than 8,000. More than 1,000 people have died in the U.S.

U.S. president to see off 1,000-bed hospital ship headed to New York

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he will travel to Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday to see off a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship that will relieve the pressure on New York hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients.

Trump says he told New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo the ship will arrive in New York Harbor on Monday.

Trump said in a White House press conference that he’ll “kiss it goodbye” and that the ship is “loaded up to the top” with medical supplies.

The announcement of the USNS Comfort’s planned deployment comes 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 overrunning emergency rooms.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York had climbed to 3,800 this week, including close to 900 in intensive care, with the peak of the outbreak weeks away.

The critical question remains whether the severe “social distancing” restrictions recently enacted by New York will help the state avoid a worst-case scenario of overwhelmed hospitals.

Texas slaps quarantine orders on New Orleans travellers

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is imposing quarantine orders on New Orleans travellers as the city rapidly becomes a major concern of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued the restriction Thursday while also requiring that airline passengers coming from the New York area similarly self-isolate for two weeks. Governors in Florida and Maryland earlier this week also required people coming from New York to quarantine, but not New Orleans.

Louisiana state health officials say the number of coronavirus cases Thursday surpassed 2,300, along with 86 related deaths. New Orleans was gearing up for a possible overflow at area hospitals, with plans to treat as many as 3,000 patients at the city’s convention centre.

Abbott said travellers arriving from New Orleans or the New York area would be required to submit a form listing where they will quarantine. He said Texas state troopers will conduct checks and that anyone caught in violation risks jail time.

U.N. Security Council calls on Libya to stop fighting, allow urgent humanitarian aid

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council is expressing concern at the possible impact of the coronavirus pandemic in war-torn Libya and is calling on the warring parties to stop fighting “urgently” and allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid throughout the country.

The council said in a statement after closed video discussions and a briefing Thursday by the acting U.N. special representative that it was concerned at “the significant escalation of hostilities on the ground in Libya.”

It called on all U.N. member states to comply with an arms embargo and reaffirmed “the importance of the United Nations’ central role in facilitating a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned inclusive political process.”

A weak U.N.-recognized administration that holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country’s west is backed by Turkey and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy as well as local militias. A rival government in the east that supports self-styled Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose forces launched an offensive to capture the capital last April, is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as France and Russia.

Fear of the new coronavirus is widespread in Libya. Authorities tracked down and quarantined dozens of people who had come into contact with the country’s first confirmed case, a 73-year-old man who entered from neighbouring Tunisia on March 5 after travelling to Saudi Arabia. Health officials said Wednesday he was in stable condition.

40 million gloves held by U.S. customs to be released

ISELIN, N.J. — More than 40 million medical-grade gloves that have been held at U.S. customs warehouses since last fall are going to be delivered to health care facilities.

Ansell, a company with a corporate hub in Iselin, New Jersey, said it had resolved a dispute over whether the gloves had been manufactured using forced labour in Malaysia.

“The release of this supply to health care facilities across the United States will be an immediate benefit to workers in dire need of proper PPE supplies,” spokesman Tom Paolella said Thursday in an email.

The company credited U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey with helping resolve the dispute. Smith, a Republican who has been active in combating human trafficking and exploitation, became involved recently.

“Ansell makes a very credible case that they moved quickly to ensure that their supply chain was not complicit with forced labour and that problems raised by the U.S. government have been remedied,” Smith spokesman Jeff Sagnip said.

U.K.: Royalty joins in national support for health care workers

LONDON — Across the United Kingdom, people took to their windows and front porches to applaud everyone in the National Health Service for their work in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The Clap For Carers initiative, which took place at 8 p.m. Thursday, echoed expressions of support elsewhere, notably Italy, which has seen the most deaths related to the COVID-19 disease.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his next-door neighbour, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, joined in.

In a video posted on his Twitter page, Johnson thanked NHS staff and said the government would support them “in any way that we can.” Sunak then said: “Whatever you need, that’s what you’re going to get.”

In an Instagram post, Kensington Palace showed the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, applauding. Their grandfather, Prince Charles, is in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. His symptoms are said to be mild.

And “Star Wars” actor John Boyega tweeted that hearing his neighbours express their support for the NHS was “beautiful.”

The number of people in Britain who have died after testing positive for COVID-19 stands at 578, according to the latest government figures.

9 new deaths in Los Angeles County

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has 421 new positive cases of the coronavirus and nine new deaths, recording its largest single-day jump in both numbers.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the health department, said Thursday the increases are primarily attributed to the ramping up of testing countywide.

Ferrer says the total number of residents who have tested positive since the outbreak began is 1,216. There have been 559 new cases over the past 48 hours.

Twenty-one people have died.

Officials say they are preparing the Los Angeles Convention Center to receive coronavirus patients for quarantining or post-hospitalization treatment — but not acute care.

They did not release a timeline for staffing the convention centre, one of the largest in the nation with 720,000 square feet (67,000 square meters) of exhibition space.

China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria and Venezuela urge sanctions to be lifted

UNITED NATIONS — Eight countries under unilateral sanctions urged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to request the immediate and complete lifting of these measures to enable the nations to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint letter obtained by The Associated Press, the ambassadors from China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria and Venezuela urged the U.N. chief to “reject the politicization of such a pandemic.”

The ambassadors, who said they were under instructions from their foreign ministers, did not name any countries responsible for what they called “illegal, coercive measures of economic pressure.” But the United States has imposed sanctions on all of the nations except China and the European Union has imposed sanctions on all but Cuba.

In a speech to the Group of 20 major industrialized nations on Thursday, secretary-general Guterres appealed “for the waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.”

The ambassadors said their governments have “the political and moral will” to gear up to fight the pandemic, but they said “this is a hard — if not impossible — deed” for countries facing sanctions.

The eight countries said efforts to combat COVID-19 are hindered by “the destructive impact” of sanctions nationally “plus their extraterritorial implications, together with the phenomena of over-compliance and the fear for ‘secondary sanctions,”’ which impede governments from regularly accessing the international financial system or trading freely to procure medical equipment and supplies including testing kits for the virus.

———

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s president has appeared in full military uniform for the first time since the end of apartheid and urged troops to be a “force of kindness” as they enforce a lockdown that begins Friday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier told police to show compassion as South Africans are “terrified right now.”

The country is nearing 1,000 coronavirus cases, the most in Africa, and the three-week lockdown is one of the strictest in the world. Alcohol sales are banned, as well as running and dog-walking.

South Africa’s racist system of apartheid ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president.

France: Virus death toll rises 27 per cent in one day.

PARIS — France’s virus death toll is continuing to climb fast, increasing 27% in one day Thursday to 1,696 victims, including a 16-year-old.

The overall number of confirmed cases grew 15% over the previous day to more than 29,000, according to national health agency chief Jerome Salomon.

But he acknowledged that the real number is much higher because France is only testing people with severe symptoms. He said doctors estimate another 42,000 people who have sought medical advice for milder symptoms recently also have the virus.

Salomon did not provide details about the 16-year-old who died, citing medical privacy. He noted that thousands of people with the virus in France have recovered, and expressed hope that confinement measures would start bringing deaths down soon.

France has reported the fifth-highest number of deaths from the virus of any country. France’s government has come under criticism for its limited number of tests, and for waiting until last week to impose nationwide confinement measures even as the virus spread rapidly in neighbouring Italy and Spain.

Louisiana cases jump by more than 500 Thursday

BATON ROUGE, La. — The number of known coronavirus cases in Louisiana jumped by more than 500 Thursday, surpassing 2,300, with 86 deaths, the state health department said.

A 17-year-old was among the latest deaths, the first in the state of someone under 18.

The higher infection numbers reflect the increase in testing. In Thursday’s figures, the number tested rose nearly 6600, to 18,000.

Coronavirus has now been found in 53 of 64 parishes, although Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he believes it’s present in every parish, even as statewide mandates banning crowds and closing businesses continue.

“We won’t see the impact of the distancing and the closing of schools and people staying home for a couple of weeks. … We are not near the peak of this yet,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease expert and chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

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