Live updates: Americans told to brace for 200,000 deaths as world leaders push crisis response further
By Adam Taylor, Teo Armus and Jennifer Hassan
March 31, 2020 at 2:55 a.m. CDT
Months into the novel coronavirus outbreak, world leaders are pushing their responses to the pandemic to the brink, with hospital ships arriving in New York City, an unprecedented state of emergency declared in Hungary, and Japan telling its citizens to avoid a third of the world.
The confirmed number of cases worldwide continued to grow on Tuesday, nearing 800,000. In the United States, now the epicenter of the crisis, there were more than 160,000 cases, almost double those announced by China, where the outbreak began. The U.S. death toll neared 3,000, similar to the number killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
President Trump urged Americans to brace for a significant lockdown as the death toll soared, with the White House’s coronavirus coordinator warning that the pandemic could kill as many as 200,000 Americans.
“The economy is No. 2 on my list" behind saving lives, Trump said at a briefing on Monday evening, shifting from previous remarks about keeping businesses open.
Here are some significant developments:
Daily U.S. deaths due to the coronavirus exceeded 500 for the first time on Monday, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, told NBC News that the United States could suffer 200,000 deaths even “if we do things together well, almost perfectly.”
The FDA has approved a Trump administration plan to distribute millions of doses of anti-malarial drugs to U.S. hospitals, despite a lack of proof that the drugs work against the coronavirus.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering altering official guidance to encourage people to wear masks in public.
The easing of restrictions in China is helping its factories to rebound, data showed Tuesday, though a rocky recovery lies ahead as global consumer demand slumps.
Japan, which last week announced it would delay the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, warned against travel to some 73 countries, more than a third of the world, including the United States.
Saudi Arabia quarantines select neighborhoods in holy city of Mecca
DUBAI — Saudi Arabia is putting several neighborhoods in the revered city of Mecca, home to Islam’s holiest site and focus of an annual pilgrimage, into 24-hour lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus, authorities announced Monday night.
The entire country already has a nighttime curfew, which is extended to the midafternoon in several cities. But under the new measure, people will not be allowed to leave these Mecca neighborhoods for 24 hours until further notice “when it is confirmed that there are no cases that require dealing with.” Those living in the area will only be allowed to leave their homes from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. for urgent needs, defined as “health care and groceries.”
Saudi Arabia announced on Monday 154 new cases, including 40 in Mecca, bringing its total to 1,453. There have been eight fatalities reported.
Mecca is home to the Great Mosque surrounding the Kabba, the cube-shaped structure that all Muslims pray toward and must visit at least once in their lives if possible. With the onset of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia closed the doors to the mosque and suspended the umrah, or year-around pilgrimage to Mecca.
The annual hajj, the main pilgrimage, is set to take place in late July and there has been no word about its suspension.
Saudi King Salman, meanwhile, has said that all citizens and residents — even those in violation of their visas — will receive medical care for covid-19 related issues free of charge.
By Paul Schemm
Real estate agents are still selling during pandemic
Rob Wittman is astonished that in a time of social distancing, real estate agents are holding open houses, allowing inspections and closing sales.
“It’s just bothering me — the cavalierness of the agents around me,” said Wittman, a real estate agent who planned to open his own brokerage, NextHome Reach, in early March but instead is sheltering in place because of the coronavirus outbreak. “There are too many [real estate agents] to count bragging about touring houses, their lame protective gear, or their prowess for sales during this crisis.”
Normally, spring is the busiest time of the year for the housing market, with buyers coming out in droves.
Now, as nonessential businesses are shuttering to wait out the pandemic, some real estate professionals are carrying on as usual — albeit with masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. Agents were holding open houses until they were prohibited by local officials.
Home appraisers and inspectors are donning masks and gloves. Settlement companies are putting buyers and sellers in separate conference rooms and opening a new box of pens for each client who comes to a closing.
Vietnam orders lockdown, bans gatherings of more than two
Facing a rise in coronavirus cases, most of them imported, Vietnam’s government on Tuesday imposed strict social distancing measures that will last for 15 days, banning gatherings of more than two.
Across the country, people will be restricted from leaving their homes other than to buy food or medicine, or to work in essential businesses and factories. People must also keep a six foot distance from each other when outside. The measures will kick in on April 1.
Vietnam has already closed its borders to all foreign arrivals — including those of Vietnamese origin but who hold foreign passports — and suspended international flights into the country.
The socialist-run country is adamant that it must keep coronavirus cases in the country, now at 204, under 1,000, and has been working hard to limit the number of clusters and instances of community transmissions.
Vietnam has also quarantined tens of thousands of people in facilities run by the army to reduce the spread.
By Shibani Mahtani
South Korea opens schools online after delays amid virus concerns
SEOUL — In virus-hit South Korea, students will go back to school online after a month-long delay in the start of the new semester due to infection concerns.
The schools were due to open on April 6 after three postponements since early March. More than 6 million students across the country have been affected by the school closures.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Tuesday schools are still not ready to be opened as new infections continue to emerge.
“We have mobilized all our resources to bring down the infection risks, but still haven’t reached the level where children can go to school safely,” he said at a governmental meeting in Seoul.
South Korea has recently been seeing a downward trend in infections although small outbreaks continue to emerge. The daily count of new infections has been hovering around 100 for the past several weeks.
“It is hard to postpone the start of the school year and make students miss out on their right to education,” said Chung. He said schools will begin the new semester online starting April 9. “It requires a lot of preparation. Every student needs to be guaranteed access to equipment and an Internet connection,” he said.
Earlier this month, South Korea’s national Educational Broadcasting System started live broadcasts of more than 400 classes for students of all 12 grades from elementary to high school.
“In terms of production scale, 150 crew members will specially produce 472 classes in 10 studios and broadcast them in real time,” EBS said at the time in a statement.
The ministry also said that the schedule of the highly competitive college entrance exam will be pushed back by two weeks. The national exam held annually in November has been rescheduled to early December, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said.
By Min Joo Kim
Trump embraces extended shutdown over reopening economy, as furloughs, fatalities increase
President Trump shared a video online featuring praise of his coronavirus response on March 27. But many of the quotes in the video were missing context. (Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)
As the number of coronavirus fatalities soars in the United States and health experts warn that no area will be spared by the outbreak, President Donald Trump is steeling the nation for an extended shutdown through the end of April.
It’s a stark shift in tone for Trump, who is now embracing the death toll projections that he once downplayed. After his task force showed him data predicting the coronavirus could cause between 100,000 and 200,000 fatalities nationally, he agreed “right away” to extend social distancing guidelines.
“Well, it’s so bad for the economy, but the economy is No. 2 on my list,” Trump said on Monday. “First, I want to save a lot of lives.”
Monday was the first day that the U.S. death toll grew by more than 500, according to data compiled by The Washington Post, with almost half of those fatalities in New York. As of early Tuesday, more than 160,500 cases had been reported across the country.
Trump said the United States has administered more than 1 million tests, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said authorities are testing 100,000 samples a day.
Cuomo: 'There is no American who is immune to this virus'
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) emphasized the importance of a national response to coronavirus at a news conference on March 30. (The Washington Post)
In New York, where more than 1,000 people have died, the state’s known death rate is around 1 percent, health officials said. But the actual rate may be lower, because priority is being given to those who are exhibiting clear symptoms or have compromised health.
Even after Congress passed an unprecedented economic relief package last week, Monday brought fresh evidence of economic pain due to the virus: Macy’s, Kohl’s and Gap said they would furlough tens of thousands of workers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that lawmakers are considering new bills focused on infrastructure, protections for front-line workers and funding for the District of Columbia, which was treated as a territory — not as a state, as it usually is in similar pieces of legislation.
And the Justice Department is investigating the possibility that at least one member of Congress, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), sought to protect his investments from the economic downturn sparked by the outbreak. As Burr received frequent briefings on the threat, he sold 33 stocks estimated to be worth between $628,033 and $1.7 million.
By Teo Armus
Chinese factories bounce back as restrictions ease, but rocky recovery lies ahead
Employees work on a battery-production line at a factory in Huaibei, Anhui province, on Monday. (Str/Afp Via Getty Images)
China’s manufacturing sector is recovering as restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus are gradually lifted, according to official data released Tuesday.
The country’s official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index, a survey of firms to gauge sector sentiment month-to-month, jumped to 52 out of 100 in March, up from a record-low 35.7 in February, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. A reading above 50 signals an expansion, while a figure below that level implies a contraction.
While the figure was above the 45 level that analysts had forecast, the tentative rebound in China comes just as consumer demand slumps in Western countries that import large quantities of Chinese goods.
Having declared the pandemic largely contained at home, China has moved to restore normal life. The country was the original epicenter of the crisis, but it has since been surpassed in number of cases by the United States, Italy and Spain.
Still, there is widespread skepticism about China’s accounting of the crisis. On Monday, China’s government indicated it would begin releasing data on asymptomatic patients with the novel coronavirus, who had previously been excluded from Chinese figures, in a move that appeared to respond to international and domestic criticism.
While China has publicly broadcast its success in fighting the outbreak, international public health experts have warned that the fight against the coronavirus needs to continue.
“Let me be clear. The epidemic is far from over in Asia and the Pacific. This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard,” Takeshi Kasai, regional director for the Western Pacific at the World Health Organization, told a briefing Tuesday.
The World Bank estimates that the pandemic will cause economic growth to slow significantly in China and its neighbors this year. In the worst-case scenario, growth in China would stall at 0.1 percent, the bank said in a report released Monday.
By Adam Taylor
Dubai locks down historic center for ‘intensified sterilization procecures’
A general view shows the Abra Station in front of the Deira Spice Souk in Dubai on March 16. (Satish Kumar/Reuters)
DUBAI — Dubai, the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday tightened its lockdown for one of the oldest parts of the city for the next two weeks to battle the spreading coronavirus.
The Al Ras area, home to a gold market and spice market, is densely populated, largely with residents from South Asia, and has some of the more traditional buildings in a city otherwise known for glitzy malls and towering skyscrapers.
“Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announces increased restrictions on movement in Al Ras area of Dubai for two weeks effective from Tuesday to facilitate intensified sterilization procedures,” read a tweet from the government.
Further messages said the three main roads leading into the neighborhood would be blocked and three metro stations would be shuttered, while everyone except residents of the area would be barred from entering.
“Teams from the Dubai Health Authority will provide all essential supplies to the residents of the area during the two-week period,” read another announcement, suggesting no one would be allowed to leave to purchase food.
Since Thursday, the wealthy Gulf emirate has been locking down nearly all movement at night to conduct deep cleaning operations of public transportation and streets, with police in patrol vehicles ordering residents to stay home and helicopters buzzing overhead. The new measures focused on the Al Ras neighborhood, however, signal an escalation, raising worries about the spread of the pandemic.
The UAE has reported 611 cases, three-quarters of them in the past week. Five fatalities have been announced.
The organizers of Dubai’s Expo 2020 World’s Fair also said Monday it supported the one-year postponement of the six-month event set to begin in October.
“Many countries have been significantly impacted by covid-19 and they have expressed a need to postpone Expo’s opening by one year, to enable them to overcome this challenge,” tweeted organizers.
By Paul Schemm
Both public health and politics played a role in Trump’s coronavirus decision
In announcing that the country would remain shut down through April because of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump and his advisers pointed to factors ranging from grim computer models showing millions of potential deaths to the unsettling sight of body bags lined up outside a Queens hospital.
But for Trump, political considerations also played a meaningful role, according to three people familiar with the discussions, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share candid discussions.
Aides and advisers say the president was heavily influenced by briefings from scientific and public health officials, as well as by the stark reality of the virus, including projections of greater deaths depending on what measures the government takes.
But Trump campaign officials and political allies had also briefed the president in recent days about their fears of reopening the economy too soon, arguing that a spike in deaths could be even more politically damaging in November than the current economic downturn, according to two of the people familiar with the discussions. Campaign officials declined to comment.
Read more here.
By Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb
New Zealand government model suggested ‘worst case’ would see two-thirds of country sick, nearly 30,000 dead
New Zealand’s government publicly released a series of declassified reports on Tuesday that attempted to model the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The scenarios, drafted in February and March for New Zealand’s health ministry, offered a glimpse of what motivated government policy in response to the pandemic. So far, New Zealand has 647 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and just one death.
Under one worst-case scenario, produced by Nick Wilson of the University of Otago Wellington, the outbreak would peak in July and leave roughly two-thirds of the country, 3.32 million people, sick. Under this model, Wilson writes, “27,600 would be expected to die."
That figure would be roughly 0.6 percent of New Zealand’s total population, making it considerably higher then warnings from U.S. officials about the potential for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States.
“This death toll would far exceed the death toll for NZ from World War One (18,000 deaths) and from the 1918 influenza pandemic (9,000 deaths),” Wilson wrote.
At a meeting of New Zealand’s Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday, John Ombler, head of the government response to the outbreak, said that New Zealand had been lucky that the virus reached it late as it could watch how other countries handled their own outbreak.
“We have been able to learn from what they have done in order to move quickly,” Ombler said, according to Radio New Zealand. “The whole point is to stop person-to-person spread.”
New Zealand is currently under a nationwide lockdown that will last for four weeks. Separately on Tuesday, the country extended a state of emergency for another week.
By Adam Taylor
Analysis: Coronavirus kills its first democracy
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban replies to an oppositional lawmaker during a question and answer session of the Parliament in Budapest on Monday. (Zoltan Mathe/AP)
You could say that Hungary was already “immunocompromised.” A decade under the nation’s illiberal nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has corroded the state’s checks and balances, cowed the judiciary, enfeebled civil society and the free press, and reconfigured electoral politics to the advantage of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party. So, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Budapest’s ailing democracy proved all too vulnerable.
On Monday, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gave Orban sweeping emergency powers for an indefinite period of time. Parliament is closed, future elections were called off, existing laws can be suspended and the prime minister is now entitled to rule by decree. Opposition lawmakers had tried to set a time limit on the legislation but failed. Orban’s commanding two-thirds parliamentary majority made his new powers a fait accompli.
The measures were invoked as part of the government’s response to the global pandemic. Hungary had reported close to 450 cases as of Monday evening, and Orban has already cast the threat of the virus in politically convenient terms, labeling it a menace carried by unwelcome foreign migrants and yet more justification for his aggressive efforts to police the country’s borders. “Changing our lives is now unavoidable,” Orban told lawmakers last week when justifying the proposed bill.
Orban’s many detractors elsewhere in Europe see this gambit as a potential pathway to dictatorship.
By Ishaan Tharoor
Japan likely to bar visitors from U.S. as it battles sharp rise in coronavirus cases
People walk along a street at night in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. (Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)
TOKYO — Japan is likely to bar foreign visitors from the United States, as it expands travel bans that already encompass visitors from Europe, China, South Korea and Iran, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday.
The number of confirmed cases rose by 94 to 1,987 on Monday, with the cumulative total later topping 2,000 on Tuesday as more test results came in, according to a tally by the Reuters news agency. That puts Japan in 31st place globally in terms of numbers of confirmed cases, although experts believe it may be significantly underestimating its tally due to restrictions on eligibility for tests.
With infections also surging in the capital in recent days, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike warned in a news conference on Monday night that the city stands at a crossroads. She again appealed for people to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.
“We want young people to stay away from karaoke parlors and live-music venues, and we want older people to refrain from visiting bars and nightclubs,” she said, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
But pressure is growing for the government to take much stronger action, by declaring a state of emergency, and enforcing a lockdown.
“I personally feel it’s time [Japan] makes the declaration, and devises measures based on that,“ said Satoshi Kamayachi, an executive board member of the Japan Medical Association who also serves on a government coronavirus expert panel, according to Kyodo News.
Meanwhile, the government announced that the country’s prime minister and deputy prime minister will avoid attending the same meeting as a precaution against coronavirus infection, Reuters reported.
By Simon Denyer
Coronavirus pandemic could kill as many as 200,000 in U.S., White House warns
The White House’s coronavirus coordinator on Monday warned that the pandemic could kill as many as 200,000 Americans in even a best-case scenario as state officials intensified their stay-at-home directives — further erasing any hope that the country would have a speedy recovery from the global health crisis.
As deaths across the world from covid-19 climbed above 37,000 and those in the United States rose to more than 2,900, federal and state officials offered grim warnings that the country should expect things to get worse before they get better.
Deborah Birx, the coronavirus coordinator, told NBC News that the United States could record 200,000 deaths even “if we do things together well, almost perfectly.” President Trump, who a day earlier announced that officials would extend their guidance to Americans to practice social distancing through the end of April, said the move was necessary to prevent catastrophe: He now expects that virus-related deaths will not peak for an additional two weeks.