(U.S. CDC)

(U.S. CDC)

World Health Organization declares COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic

More than 100,000 people have been infected

Expressing alarm both about mounting infections and slow government responses, the World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic but also said it’s not too late for countries to act.

By reversing course and using the charged word “pandemic” that it had previously shied away from, the U.N. health agency appeared to want to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops.

“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief.

“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” he said. “We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”

The WHO added that Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the battle against the virus that started in China.

“They’re suffering but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief.

Italy weighed imposing even tighter restrictions on daily life and announced billions in financial relief Wednesday to cushion economic shocks from the coronavirus, its latest efforts to adjust to the fast-evolving health crisis that silenced the usually bustling heart of the Catholic faith, St. Peter’s Square.

In Iran, by far the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, the senior vice-president and two other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Iran reported another jump in deaths, by 62 to 354 — behind only China and Italy.

READ MORE: Novel coronavirus outbreak affecting Canadians’ March break travel plans

READ MORE: Trudeau promises $1 billion for COVID-19 research, resilience

In Italy, Premier Giuseppe Conte said he would consider requests from Lombardy, Italy’s hardest-hit region, to toughen the already extraordinary anti-virus lockdown that was extended nationwide Tuesday. Lombardy wants to shut down nonessential businesses and reduce public transportation.

These additional measures would be on top of travel and social restrictions that imposed an eerie hush on cities and towns across the country from Tuesday. Police enforced rules that customers stay 1 metre (3 feet) apart and ensured that businesses closed by 6 p.m.

Milan shopkeeper Claudia Sabbatini said she favoured stricter measures. Rather than run the risk of customers possibly infecting each other in her children’s clothing store, she decided to close it.

“I cannot have people standing at a distance. Children must try on the clothes. We have to know if they will fit,’’ she said.

Conte said fighting Italy’s more than 10,000 infections — the biggest outbreak outside of China — must not come at the expense of civil liberties. His caution suggested that Italy is unlikely to adopt the draconian quarantine measures that helped China push down new infections from thousands per day to a trickle now and allowed its manufacturers to restart production lines.

China’s new worry is that the coronavirus could re-enter from abroad. Beijing’s city government announced that all overseas visitors will be quarantined for 14 days. Of 24 new cases that China reported Wednesday, five arrived from Italy and one from the United States. China has had over 81,000 virus infections and over 3,000 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,300 have died.

But the vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

In the Mideast, the vast majority of the nearly 10,000 cases are in Iran or involve people who travelled there. Iran announced another increase in cases Wednesday to 9,000. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency said they include Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, who had not been seen in photos of recent top-level meetings. Fars said Iran’s ministers for cultural heritage, handcrafts and tourism, and for industry, mines and business were also infected.

READ MORE: B.C. officials confirm 7 new COVID-19 cases, including two health care workers

READ MORE: Think before you buy or sell stocks amid COVID-19 market turmoil, B.C. professor urges

Cases in Qatar jumped from 24 to 262. Kuwait announced a two-week shutdown of the country.

For the global economy, virus repercussions were profound, with increasing concerns of wealth- and job-wrecking recessions. U.S. stocks sank again in early trading Wednesday, wiping out most of a huge rally from a day earlier as Wall Street continues to reel from worries about the coronavirus.

The Wall Street plunge followed a steep decline by markets across Asia, where governments there and elsewhere have announced billions of dollars in stimulus funds, including packages revealed in Japan on Tuesday and Australia on Wednesday.

Italy’s government announced Wednesday it was earmarking 25 billion euros (nearly $28 billion) to boost anti-virus efforts and soften economic blows, including delaying tax and mortgage payments by families and businesses.

Britain’s government announced a 30 billion-pound ($39 billion) economic stimulus package and the Bank of England slashed its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25%.

Normal life was increasingly being upended.

With police barring access to St. Peter’s Square, emptying it of tens of thousands of people who usually come on Wednesdays for the weekly papal address, Pope Francis instead live-streamed prayers from the privacy of his Vatican library.

In France, the government’s weekly Cabinet meeting was moved to a bigger room so President Emmanuel Macron and his ministers could sit at least 1 metre (more than 3 feet) apart.

Athletes who usually thrive on crowds grew increasingly wary of them. Spanish soccer club Getafe said it wouldn’t travel to Italy to play Inter Milan, preferring to forfeit their Europa League match rather than risk infections.

Olympic champion skier Mikaela Shiffrin said she would be limiting contact with fans and fellow competitors, tweeting that “this means no selfies, autographs, hugs, high fives, handshakes or kiss greetings.”

In the U.S., the caseload passed 1,000, and outbreaks on both sides of the country stirred alarm.

Former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are vying to take on President Donald Trump in the presidential election, abruptly cancelled rallies Tuesday and left open the possibility that future campaign events could be impacted, too. Trump’s campaign insisted it would proceed as normal, although Vice-President Mike Pence conceded future rallies would be evaluated “on a day to day basis.”

In Europe, deaths soared among Italy’s aging population. Authorities said Italy has suffered 631 deaths, with an increase of 168 fatalities recorded Tuesday. In Spain, the number of cases surged past the 2,000-mark on Wednesday. Belgium, Bulgaria, Sweden, Albania and Ireland all announced their first virus-related deaths.

“If you want to be blunt, Europe is the new China,” said Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also sounding the alarm at a Congressional hearing in Washington was Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” he said.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that if the virus is not halted by vaccines and cures, up to 70% of the country’s 83 million people could ultimately become infected, citing estimates that epidemiologists have been putting forward for several weeks. Germany has some 1,300 confirmed infection. Merkel’s comments fit a pattern of government officials using sobering warnings to try to get people to protect themselves, most notably by washing their hands and not gathering in large numbers.

Dozens of cases have been tied to a conference in Boston, and leaders in multiple states were announcing curbs on large events. Colleges emptied their classrooms as they moved to online instruction and uncertainty surrounded the upcoming opening of the major league baseball season and college basketball’s championships. Even the famed buffets of Las Vegas were affected, with some of the Strip’s biggest being closed as a precaution.

“It’s terrifying,” said Silvana Gomez, a student at Harvard University, where undergraduates were told to leave campus by Sunday. “I’m definitely very scared right now about what the next couple days, the next couple weeks look like.”

___

Barry reported from Soave, Italy; Leicester reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Maria Cheng in London; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Sylvie Corbet in Paris; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Pan Pylas in London; LLazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; Joe McDonald and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Tales Azzoni in Madrid and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

___

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.

___

Nicole Winfield, Colleen Barry And John Leicester, The Associated Press

The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

An SUV sits where it crashed through the front window of the 2:18 Run store in Fairfield Plaza, after the driver appeared to lose control on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Phil Nicholls)
Driver crashes through front window of Victoria running store in Fairfield

Phil Nicholls of 2:18 Run said crash sounded like an earthquake at first

Processed sewage is still being deposited at the Hartland landfill rather than sent as biosolids to a Richmond cement plant. (Black Press Media file photo)
Biosolids at Hartland still being placed on landfill in Saanich

Richmond cement plant up and running, but CRD end product not suitable for purpose

Seismic upgrading and expansion work at Victoria High School is about a year behind due to pandemic-related factors, the Greater Victoria School District announced. (Photo by Cole Descoteau)
Victoria High School seismic work, expansion a year behind schedule

Greater Victoria School District now targeting September 2023 for reopening of historic school

Elk Lake Drive area resident Michael Blayney protests a proposed multi-building development for his Royal Oak neighbourhood, outside Saanich municipal hall on Monday (June 14). (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Demonstrators protest 11-storey development on Elk Lake Drive in Saanich

Saanich locals gather at municipal hall to protest development, public hearing goes Tuesday

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is calling on Transport Canada to rescind its ban to Feb. 28, 2022 on cruise ship stops in Canada, to allow planning to begin in advance of a reopening of the cruise industry next year.
Greater Victoria Harbour Authority seeks end to federal ban on cruise ship stops in Canada

Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO hopes cruises will resume by 2022

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

Most Read