March 18 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Helen Regan, Steve George, Angela Dewan and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 9:37 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020
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1:52 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

World Health Organization official hits back at Trump for his use of the term "Chinese virus"

From CNN’s Amanda Watts and Jacqueline Howard

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization health emergencies programme
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization health emergencies programme World Health Organization

When asked about President Trump’s continued use of the term “Chinese virus” when referring to the novel coronavirus, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization health emergencies programme, said WHO has been clear since the beginning of the outbreak, “Viruses know no borders and they don’t care your ethnicity or the color of your skin or how much money you have in the bank.”

Trump's latest use of the phrase happened Wednesday during a White House press briefing on the coronavirus.

“It’s really important that we be careful in the language we use,” Ryan said. "There are many different origins … the pandemic of influenza in 2009 originated in North America and we don’t call it the ‘North American flu,’ so it’s very important that we have the same approach when it comes to other viruses." 

“This is a time for solidarity, this is a time for facts, this is a time to move forward together,” Ryan said, adding, “there is no blame in this.” 

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, World Health Organization infectious disease epidemiologist, said we’ve seen overwhelming international solidarity during this pandemic.

“We see this through donations – whether it’s through [personal protective equipment] or I’ve seen children drawing pictures for health care workers – every single one of those acts of kindness is an act of international unity and we’d like to see more of that," Van Kerkhove said.

“These are very tough times. And in many countries this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. But this will be temporary, we will get through this and we will get though it together,” Van Kerkhove added.

2:09 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Italy announces biggest single-day jump in new coronavirus cases

From CNN’s Nicola Ruotolo in Rome

Italy has announced the biggest single-day jump in new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to the latest figures issued by Italy’s Civil Protection Agency.

The number of coronavirus cases increased by 4,207 in 24 hours. The total number of cases now stands at 35,713 as of Wednesday.

The number of coronavirus deaths increased 475 in 24 hours. The total number of cases now stands 2,978 as of Wednesday.



1:45 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Northern Ireland schools to close starting Monday

From Peter Taggart in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s schools will close starting Monday and will potentially remain closed until the summer holidays, First Minister Arlene Foster said Wednesday.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom but has local control of some policy areas.


2:08 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

UK's Boris Johnson on school closures: "For many parents, these steps will be frustrating"

From CNN's Tara John in London

PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images
PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images

Schools across the UK will close from Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced Wednesday.

They are expected to shut at the end of the school day on Friday, and remain closed until further notice.

The closures will affect students of all ages, except for the children of key workers -- including NHS staff, police and delivery drivers – and vulnerable children.

We therefore need schools to make provisions for the children of these key workers … and they also need to look after the most vulnerable children,” Johnson said during his daily coronavirus press conference.

“For many parents, these steps will be frustrating," Johnson conceded. "That’s why we are now working on further measures… to keep our economy going."

1:42 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Big 3 automakers to temporarily close all US plants due to the coronavirus outbreak

From CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich

Workers assemble cars at the newly renovated Ford's Assembly Plant in Chicago, June 24, 2019.
Workers assemble cars at the newly renovated Ford's Assembly Plant in Chicago, June 24, 2019. Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

America’s top automakers including Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors, will temporarily close all US plants due to the coronavirus outbreak, according a source familiar with the discussion. 

Vice President of communications at Ford Mark Truby tweeted on Wednesday that Ford will temporarily suspend production following Thursday evening shifts.

1:35 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

UK coronavirus death toll rises to 104

From Livvy Doherty and Sarah Dean in London

The United Kingdom coronavirus death toll has risen to 104 – in what is the biggest daily jump in deaths so far, according to National Health Service England.

On Wednesday, an additional 32 people, who tested positive for coronavirus, have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in England to 99.

In Scotland, three people with coronavirus have died; in Wales, two people died from the disease. These deaths bring the UK total to 104.

Across the UK, the total number of coronavirus cases is now 2,626.

1:35 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Internal Delta memo: Airline to "hit the pause button" on some operations

From CNN's Greg Wallace and Kylie Atwood

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/FILE
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/FILE

Delta needs to “essentially hit the ‘pause button’” on some of its operations, CEO Ed Bastian told employees in a memo Wednesday, making further major cuts to its operations that include parking more than half of its aircraft. 

The company’s cuts include cutting back 70% of its capacity, further pay cuts for executives and company leadership, as well as paring back its operations in airports around the country – including its major hub in Atlanta.  

“With fewer customers flying, we need less space in airports,” Bastian wrote. “Among other initiatives, we will temporarily consolidate airport facilities in Atlanta and other locations as necessary and close the majority of our Delta Sky Clubs until demand recovers.”

“We are reducing our active fleet size by parking at least half of our fleet – more than 600 aircraft,” he wrote, as well as retiring older planes. 

He also said “roughly 10,000” employees have volunteered to take leaves of absence. 

Bastian did not announce any layoffs, but he did not count out the possibility.

“I know everyone is concerned about the security of your jobs and pay. Given the uncertainty about the duration of this crisis, we are not yet at a point to make any decisions," Bastian wrote.

Some context: Bastian's message followed a telephone call he and executives at other US airlines held with President Trump to discuss the state of the industry and its request for billions of dollars of government financial assistance.  

Bastian said the discussions have been "constructive."


1:32 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

UK will close all schools starting Friday

From CNN's Richard Greene and Sarah Dean

The United Kingdom's Education Secretary has announced that all schools have been closed until further notice starting Friday.

After UK schools close on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most students, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his daily coronavirus news conference Wednesday.

The students who will be allowed to go to school will be the children of key workers, whose parents still need to go to work.

“For many parents these steps will be frustrating… that’s why we are now working on further measures… to keep our economy going,” Johnson said.

He warned children should not be left with older relatives who may fall into the vulnerable groups.

1:19 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

First cases of coronavirus in the federal prison system identified

From CNN's David Shortell

Two federal Bureau of Prisons employees have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Sue Allison, an agency spokesperson.

The tests came back in the past 24 hours and represent the first known cases of the virus in the federal prison system, according to the BOP. No inmates have yet tested positive. 

One staffer worked at a medium security prison in Berlin, New Hampshire. The other worked at an administrative facility in Grand Prairie, Texas, according to Allison. Their identities and positions were not provided. 

The BOP has notified local health officials and is doing a risk assessment internally to determine who might have been exposed to the infected workers, Allison said.