The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the nation and world.

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

Once again, no new cases were 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. Those people 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.

Feds concerned about virus spikes near Chicago, Detroit

WASHINGTON — The White House coronavirus response coordinator 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.

U.S. leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 82,000

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.

Read the story here.

Mexican state to set up quarantine shelter for deported migrants

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican border state of Chihuahua said Thursday it will set up a shelter to house deported migrants for a two-week quarantine.

The state said the shelter would be set up in “the next few days” to house migrants returned to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

The state government says an average of 65 migrants are deported through Ciudad Juarez every day, for a total of about 5,200 so far this year.

The quarantine move is part of a series of measures announced Thursday to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The United States has over 82,000 cases, while Mexico has 475, though testing is far less frequent in Mexico.

U.N. calls for stop to hostilities in Libya

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 neighboring Tunisia on March 5 after traveling to Saudi Arabia. Health officials said Wednesday he was in stable condition.

More than 40 million gloves to be released from warehouses

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 labor 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 labor and that problems raised by the U.S. government have been remedied,” Smith spokesman Jeff Sagnip said.

U.K. gives health-care workers standing ovation

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 neighbor, 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 neighbors 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.

Eight countries ask for immediate lifting of sanctions to fight virus

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.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s husband released from hospital

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Thursday that her husband, John Bessler, had been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Klobuchar announced earlier this week that Bessler, a law professor, had COVID-19 and had needed hospitalization for pneumonia and low oxygen.

In a statement, Klobuchar thanked “those who cared for him and for all front line health care workers.”

Klobuchar, a Democrat, was among the candidates seeking the party’s nomination for president before she dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden.

France’s death toll jumps 27% in a 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 neighboring Italy and Spain.

Canada tells U.S. not to put troops at border during pandemic

TORONTO — Canada has told the U.S. it is strongly opposed to a Trump administration proposal to put troops at the U.S.-Canada border amid the pandemic and said if it goes ahead it would damage relations between the two longtime allies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government has been in discussions with the White House about convincing the U.S. not to do it.

“Canada and the United States have the longest un-militarized border in the world and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way,” Trudeau said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, told Pentagon reporters during a news conference that the Army has not gotten any directive to go to the border.

Few people cross into the border into the U.S. from Canada illegally. And COVID-19 cases are surging more in the U.S. than in Canada.

Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said they have told the Trump administration there is no justification for troops at the border.

Freeland said the specifics of what the U.S. is proposing is a question for American officials to answer and declined to say what the Trump administration is contemplating.

She said they are “very directly and very forcefully” expressing the view that “this is an entirely unnecessary step” that Canada would “view as damaging to the relationship.”

Read more here about Canada’s response to a Trump proposal to put troops at the border.

U.S. Olympic committee requested $200 million from stimulus funds

As desperate pleas from lobbyists for restaurants, hotels, airlines and other major industries that employ tens of millions of Americans inundated congressional offices last weekend, a request for a $200 million chunk of the coronavirus relief package came from a sports organization that has proudly operated for decades without federal support: the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“I know you guys are swamped . . . I am just circling back,” wrote Desiree Filippone, a USOPC manager who oversees lobbying efforts, in an email sent to several Senate staffers on Saturday and later provided to The Washington Post.

According to USOPC estimates, Filippone wrote, more than $50 million was needed to help America’s top aspiring Olympic athletes deal with income lost due to coronavirus-related postponements and cancellations. The other $150 million the USOPC wanted, Filippone explained, would go to more than 50 national governing bodies – commonly referred to as NGBs – the nonprofits that oversee each Olympic sport in the U.S.

“Financial relief is needed to sustain American athletes,” Filippone wrote. “Thank you for your consideration.”

The Senate ultimately ignored the request, leaving the USOPC out of the $2.2 trillion package awaiting House approval on Thursday. Filippone, when reached by phone this week, declined to comment. In a statement, USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland defended the $200 million request and said none of the money would have gone to support operations or payroll for the USOPC, formerly known as the USOC, whose revenue stream should be mostly stable provided the postponed Summer Games in Tokyo eventually happen in 2021, and aren’t canceled outright.

Read the full story here.

U.S. aircraft carrier has ‘dozens’ sick with virus

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transits the Arabian Gulf in 2015. U.S. Navy

WASHINGTON — The Navy says an outbreak of COVID-19 infections aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific has forced it to divert to Guam so that all 5,000 aboard will undergo testing.

The acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, told reporters that the carrier remains “operationally capable.” Even so, other officials said the number of infected sailors has risen sharply, from three reported initially to “dozens” as of Thursday.

Modly said the carrier, which is the first U.S. Navy ship to have a reported outbreak while at sea, had about 800 COVID-19 test kits aboard and more were being delivered. He said the initially reported cases were sailors with relatively mild symptoms.

The Navy said earlier this week that the Theodore Roosevelt’s most recent port call was in Vietnam.

Read the full story here.

Colorado’s 5.7 million residents told stay at home

DENVER — A statewide stay-at-home order is in effect in Colorado to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday he was taking the “extreme measure” because the restrictions taken to date haven’t been enough to reduce the spread of the virus. Polis says if people don’t follow the order there will be a much worse economic disaster with greater disruption for a longer time.

Starting Thursday, the state’s 5.7 million people should only leave home for grocery shopping, medical care, exercise or taking care of a vulnerable person. It’s in effect until April 11.

El Al suspends flights to and from Israel

JERUSALEM — Israeli airline El Al says it is suspending all flights to and from Israel beginning at midnight.

The suspension will last until April 4.

A statement from the company says it made the decision because of a sharp decline in demand and to protect passengers and crew from infection.

Like other airlines, El Al has faced a crisis following the spread of the coronavirus and is seeking government assistance.

The company, which had previously suspended flights from certain countries with outbreaks, has already laid off a chunk of its workforce.

Germany now can administer 500,000 coronavirus tests a week

BERLIN — Germany has increased its ability to test for the new coronavirus to 500,000 a week.

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch disease control center, says the number of tests being conducted in the country was likely the highest worldwide, both in absolute numbers and per capita.

Christian Drosten, a leading virologist at Berlin’s Charite hospital, says about 6-7% of tests come back positive.

So far, there have been 39,500 cases in Germany and 222 deaths.

Lawsuits in France claim government inaction on coronavirus

PARIS — Six lawsuits have been filed in France accusing the government of not acting quickly enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus.


French President Emmanuel Macron announcing sweeping measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, saying people haven’t complied with earlier public health measures and “we are at war” on March 16 France Televisions via Associated Press

A judicial official told The Associated Press on Thursday the suits were filed by individuals or groups seeking the prosecution of government ministers for manslaughter, putting people in danger or failing to help people in danger.

More than 1,300 people have died from the virus in France. More than 25,000 cases have been confirmed.

One case was filed by a 46-year-old man from the Paris region who contracted the virus, his lawyer told France-Info radio. It accuses the government of “stalling” as the virus spread around the world.

France imposed nationwide confinement measures last week, nearly two months after the first cases appeared in the country.

The lawsuits were filed with a special court for prosecuting government ministers. It will decide whether to take the cases.

In drastic step, Italy shuts most factories to halt virus

Soave, Italy  — Italy has become the first western developed nation to idle most of its industry to halt the spread of the coronavirus, in a potential cautionary tale for other governments, such as the Trump administration, that are resisting such drastic measures.

After more than two weeks of a nationwide lockdown, the Italian government decided to expand the mandatory closure of nonessential commercial activities to heavy industry in the eurozone’s third-largest economy, a major exporter of machinery, textiles and other goods.


A technician works on a partially completed new Ferrari in Maranello, Italy in 2013. Associated Press

The move by Italy, which is leading the globe in virus deaths, is more in line with draconian measures taken by China than with declarations coming out of other democratic partners, who are at least a week or two behind Italy’s rate of virus infections.

The industrial closures put in stark contrast concerns over protecting lives in a country with an especially vulnerable aging population against fears of hurting an economy that already was on the brink of recession.

The industrial lobby Confindustria estimates a cost of 70 billion to 100 billion euros ($77 billion-$110 billion) of national wealth a month if 70% of companies are closed, as anticipated. Though some big companies had already suspended activities, thousands of smaller manufacturers had continued after adopting new safety regulations, and will now shut down.

“We are entering a war economy,’’ said Confindustria President Vincenzo Boccia.

Economists grow dizzy speculating on the possible economic drag in a country that never fully recovered from back-to-back recessions the last two decades. UniCredit bank’s chief economist, Erik Nielson, expects the economy to shrink by a staggering 5% to 15% this year – and that assumes a recovery toward the end of 2020 and takes into account a 25 billion-euro aid package and 350 billion euros in credit lines. The Italian Treasury has put the virus hit at 5% to 7% of GDP in 2020.

‘’The economic consequences of the suspensions risks to be unsurmountable, because the continuity of companies is being interrupted for a substantially undetermined period,’’ Il Sole 24 Ore, the respected business daily of the Confindustria lobby, wrote Thursday.

The government decree mandates the industrial shutdown for one week, but as with the rest of the harsh containment measures they are likely to be extended depending on the pace of contagion.

Fauci: ‘You don’t make the timeline. The virus makes the timeline.

As the number of novel coronavirus cases continues to increase nationwide, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has a message for Americans wondering when their lives can start going back to normal.

“You’ve got to be realistic and you’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline,” Fauci told CNN host Chris Cuomo in an interview Wednesday night. “The virus makes the timeline.”

Fauci’s reality check amid a pandemic came after President Trump and some conservative allies suggested that it may be time to end social distancing in favor of getting people back to work and restarting the economy. Trump said during a Fox News town hall this week that he would “love to have the country opened up and raring to go” by Easter — a move that would defy advice from public health experts who say that current guidelines might need to remain in effect for months to prevent the outbreak from worsening.

Neither Fauci nor Cuomo mentioned Trump by name Wednesday as they talked about efforts to contain and mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus.

Japan to impose entry bans from Europe

TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened a coronavirus task force meeting, instructing all 47 prefectural leaders to plan contingency measures to fight the virus in response to assessments that the coronavirus is now rampant in the country.

The task force is backed by a special law passed this month that allows Abe to declare a state of emergency, though top officials say such a declaration is not planned immediately.

The task force meeting Thursday comes a day after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike asked the 1.3 million residents in the Japanese capital to stay home this weekend, citing a spike of new cases, including those that cannot be traced. She added a lockdown of Tokyo is a possibility if the infections become explosive as in Europe and the U.S.

Abe says Japan will impose entry bans to 21 European countries and Iran and suspend visas from entrants from those countries until the end of April. He says similar measures for China and South Korea are also extended through end of next month.

Tokyo on Thursday had 47 cases, a record single-day increase surpassing 41 from the day before. Japan has about 2,000 cases, including 259 in Tokyo.

Spain second only to U.S. in number of new coronavirus cases

MADRID — Spain has become the country in Europe where the coronavirus outbreak is expanding fastest. It’s second only to the United States in the number of new cases reported.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported 8,578 new infections and 655 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total infections to 56,188 and more than 4,000 fatalities.

Italy’s initial steep rise in confirmed cases has started to level off more than two weeks into a nationwide lockdown. On Wednesday, the country reported 5,210 new cases and 683 deaths.

The outbreak is straining Spain’s health care system, with medical staff struggling to treat the infected amid a shortage of protective gear and enough ventilator machines and other medical equipment.

One out of 10 of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities have been recorded in nursing homes.

Mexican protesters block border crossing, demand more screenings on traffic from U.S.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has already limited traffic on the heavily-traveled U.S.-Mexico border, as officials banned any “nonessential” travel and effectively cut off many border towns.

But according to a few residents of the Mexican state of Sonora, that’s still not enough to protect them from their virus-stricken neighbor to the north: Arizona.

On Wednesday afternoon, a small group of protesters blocked a port of entry that connects Nogales, Ariz., with its Mexican sister city of the same name.

Demonstrators in Sonora used their vehicles to block off the two southbound lanes, according to video taken by local media, expressing worries that travelers from the U.S. could bring new cases of the global pandemic into Mexico.

While the virus still appears to be relatively limited in Mexico, the United States is now among the three countries with the most cases worldwide. Arizona has reported at least six deaths and more than 400 infections, including at least one in every county on the border, according to the Arizona Republic.

“There are no health screenings by the federal government to deal with this pandemic,” Jose Luis Hernandez, one of the protesters, told the Republic. “That’s why we’re here in Nogales.”

While Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is finally heeding calls to contain the pandemic, the group Sonorans for Health and Life is demanding more.

They want a temporary ban on visits for minor medical procedures, even for the Mexicans who live on the U.S. side and regularly cross the border for school and work, as well as ramped-up health screenings for everyone who crosses south, whether they are traveling by car, walking on pedestrian bridges, or being sent back by U.S. officials.

European stocks fall amid fears of global recession despite stimulus deal

Tumultuous European stocks fell Thursday as markets opened, despite gains in previous days and the momentum of a $2 trillion stimulus package approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday night.

Global investors remain worried about a global recession and a rise in U.S. jobless claims as the coronavirus that’s disrupted the world’s supply and demand flows now shuts down much of the United States.

Thursday morning Europe’s STOXX 600 index fell around 2 percent and London’s FTSE 100 index down around 3 percent Thursday.

Trading on Asian market shares was mixed on Thursday.

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