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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12:59 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Dow erases all its gains since Trump took office

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

The Trump stock rally, which at its peak a month ago was robust and seemingly unending, has completely evaporated.

The Dow briefly fell more than 1,500 points on Tuesday, bringing the index below 19,732 points. That was the Dow's closing level on January 19, 2017, the day before Trump took office.

The S&P 500 is still above its Trump inauguration level, but it is moving closer to wiping out all of Trump's stock market gains as well. The index, which is the broadest measure of Wall Street, was down 6.3% in the early afternoon on Tuesday.

Global equities have been hit hard by the worries about the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, which has by now infected more than 7,000 people in the United States.

Economists predict recessions for both individual countries and the world economy this year as the pandemic dealt both a supply and demand shock to commerce. That said, expectations for a sharp rebound for the economy and the stock market towards the second half of the year are high.

1:03 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Trump on ventilator shortage: "Nobody ever thought of these numbers"

From CNN's Betsy Klein and Kaitlan Collins

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump was pressed Wednesday by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on the ventilator shortage at the nation’s hospitals.

“Hospitals are still supposed to have ventilators too, and when we have thousands of ventilators, it sounds like a lot. But this is a very unforeseen thing, nobody ever thought of these numbers. Nobody saw numbers like this even with regard to testing, normally we wouldn’t be doing testing and they decided to do it. Very, very hard to ramp up. Now we’re getting highly sophisticated tests and it’s going very well,” he said. 

Asked why it took so long if the US knew it needed more ventilators, he said, “Well we knew – it depends, it depends on how it goes, worst case, absolutely, best case, not at all. So we’re going to have to see where it goes. But we are ordering thousands and thousands of ventilators and they’re complex. These are complex machines.”

Trump asked Vice President Mike Pence how many ventilators the US has.

“We have a specific number of ventilators in the stockpile. It’s in excess of 10,000. And you just heard the announcement from the Department of Defense, they’ll be adding several more thousand to that,” he said, adding that that number doesn’t count all of the ventilators that exist in the marketplace and in healthcare facilities around the country. 

Pence went on to praise the “tremendous spirit” among industry leaders who are “ready to step in and add to that volume.

Hear what was said:

1:04 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Italy's sport minister says government will consider banning all outdoor sports activities

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

Italian Sport Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said Wednesday that if people will not stay at home, in compliance with the coronavirus emergency measures, the government will be forced to "ban outdoor sports activities."

"I believe that in the next few hours it will be necessary to consider the possibility of a complete ban also on outdoor activities," Spadafora said.

He added that the general consensus was to stay at home but "if people will not follow it, we will be forced to place an absolute ban," Spadafora said.

Spadafora made the announcement on Italian State television RAI 1.  

The "Cure Italy" (Cura Italia) decree passed this week by the government and "suspended all tax obligations until 30 May for all sports federations and sports activities" and "suspended the rents of all those structures owned by the State and municipalities where sports activities are held," according to the decree. 

Spadafora also indicated that Seria A soccer league will possibly resume on May 3. 

"This is what we hope for. We will evaluate whether with open or closed doors, this will depend on the situation," Spadafora said.  

1:05 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Egypt arrests novelist Ahdaf Soueif over coronavirus protest

From CNN’s Sarah El Sirgany in Abu Dhabi

Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures/AP/FILE
Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures/AP/FILE

Police arrested renowned Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif and three prominent activists who sounded the alarm about the spread of novel coronavirus in Egypt’s overcrowded prisons in a demonstration in Cairo on Wednesday.

The four women held banners and red balloons outside the prime minister’s office demanding authorities take serious action to secure prisoners.

“Egyptian prisons in usual circumstance are clusters for diseases. Cells are overcrowded and with poor ventilation. Sunlight doesn’t reach most cells. Skin, respiratory and bone diseases are common in prisons due to humidity and lack of mobility,” Mona Seif, whose brother and prominent Alaa Abdel Fattah is in prison, said in a Facebook live broadcasting the protest.

“If these are the usual circumstances in prisons holding tens of thousands of activists, imagine what it would be like these days when the government is trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” she added.

Fifteen minutes into the broadcast, police grabbed the phone and interrupted the transmission.

None of the women have been reachable since then. Lawyer Khaled Ali said the women, including Soueif's sister Laila and American University in Cairo professor Rabab Al-Mahdy, were in Qasr El-Nile Police station in central Cairo. 

The health and lives of thousands of prisoners in Egypt could be “at severe risk,” a group of United Nations independent experts concluded in a report last November. A number of prisoners, including Egypt’s former president Mohammed Morsi, died in incarnation.

Human Rights Watch recommended that Egypt, along with governments in other affected countries, release unfairly detained prisoners in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19.  

12:54 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Trump sees country on wartime footing, calls himself a "wartime president"

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

 Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
 Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump says he sees the country on wartime footing and himself as a "wartime president" amid a raging coronavirus crisis.

"I do," Trump said when asked if he sees the country at war with the disease. "I'm looking at it that way."

"I view it — in a sense as a wartime president," Trump said after announcing he was invoking the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law allowing the government to mandate production of equipment.

"I mean, that's what we're fighting. I mean, it's a very tough situation here," he went on. "You have to do things. You have to close parts of an economy that six weeks ago were the best they've ever been. We had the best economy we've ever had. And then one day you have to close it down in order to defeat this enemy, and, but we're doing it and we're doing it well."

Trump praised the nation's citizens for their response.

"The American people have been incredible — for the most part," he said.

12:56 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Trump claims calling coronavirus the "China virus" is not racist

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Trump was pressed Wednesday on why he is calling coronavirus the “Chinese Virus,” amid instances of bigotry against Asian-Americans.

He did not indicate that he will stop calling it that, and claimed that he is using the term because China tried to blame the virus on US soldiers.

“Cause it comes from China. It’s not racist at all, no, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. I want to be accurate,” Trump said.

Pressed again, he said, “I have great love for all of the people from our country, but as you know China tried to say at one point… that it was caused by American soldiers. That can’t happen, it’s not gonna happen, not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.”

See the exchange:

12:55 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

Trump says he doesn't agree with his Treasury Secretary that US could reach 20% unemployment

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump said Wednesday he doesn’t agree with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s comments to Republican senators that US unemployment could reach Great Depression levels of 20%.

“I don’t agree with that – that’s an absolute total worst case scenario,” he conceded.

But, he added, “We’re nowhere near it.”

12:49 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

World Health Organization calls on countries to keep “isolating, testing"

From CNN Health’s Jacqueline Howard

The World Health Organization is continuing to call on countries to isolate, test and treat suspected cases of novel coronavirus as the pandemic sweeps the world. 

“WHO continues to recommend that isolating, testing and treating every suspected case, and tracing every contact, must be the backbone of the response in every country,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

Tedros added: “This is the best hope of preventing widespread community transmission. Many countries are listening to our call and finding solutions to increase their ability to implement the full package of measures that have turned the tide in several countries.”

12:43 p.m. ET, March 18, 2020

US Defense Secretary says military will provide up to 5 million masks for health care services

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Department of Defense will make available up to five million N95 masks and other personal protective equipment from US strategic reserves, he said, noting that “the first one million masks will be available immediately.” 

He said they are also prepared to distribute “up to 2,000 operational deployable ventilators for use as needed” to the Department of Health and Human Services. Esper announced these steps on ventilators and masks on Tuesday.  

He added: “We’ve certified our 16th lab to help with processing tests from across the country.” Yesterday, this number was 14. 

Esper said the USS Mercy and Comfort Navy hospital ships are being prepared to deploy.

“We have also alerted a variety of field and expeditionary hospitals to be ready to deployed as needed, based on direction from the commander in chief,” he said.

“The US military remains ready and capable at defending the country and our interests abroad,” Esper said.

He said his department is “leaning forward” in its response, noting that the Department has issued international and domestic travel restrictions to all DOD personnel and families.