March 19 coronavirus news

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4:05 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

South Africa makes it illegal to spread false information about the coronavirus

A woman looks at the few items left in the fresh meat and poultry fridges in a Johannesburg supermarket, Wednesday, March 18, amid panic-buying due to the coronavirus outbreak.
A woman looks at the few items left in the fresh meat and poultry fridges in a Johannesburg supermarket, Wednesday, March 18, amid panic-buying due to the coronavirus outbreak. Denis Farrell/AP

In South Africa, spreading false information about the coronavirus is now a crime, punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine, or both.

The move is one of several new measures announced by the government late Wednesday, in an effort to halt the spread of the virus and curb misleading rumors on social media.

Other measures include legally enforcing testing, treatment and quarantine or isolation of suspected cases.

Earlier this week, a family in Gauteng province refused to be isolated after testing positive and had to be brought in by police after a court order. 

Visits to prisons have been suspended, and gatherings of more than 100 people are now prohibited by law. Gatherings of more than 50 people will also be banned if alcohol is present.

South Africa has 116 cases of the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University -- most of them imported from overseas.

 

3:52 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

This is what it looks like in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic

New York City is nearly unrecognizable as the coronavirus pandemic has driven crowds from the streets.

Ridership on the city's subway system was down 3.7 million on Tuesday, compared with the same day last year.

A conductor waits for customers to embark a train at Grand Central Terminal on Tuesday.
A conductor waits for customers to embark a train at Grand Central Terminal on Tuesday. Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP

Times Square, normally teeming with vehicle and foot traffic, was lit up as ever but nearly uninhabited Monday as bars and restaurants became take-out only and public spaces like theaters and gyms shuttered.

A woman walks through a lightly trafficked Times Square in New York on Monday.
A woman walks through a lightly trafficked Times Square in New York on Monday. Credit: Seth Wenig/Getty

Rockefeller Center, like other entertainment spots, was captured in an unfamiliar light Wednesday as it was closed, with no skaters and no onlookers to fill it.

The ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center is empty as it sits closed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center is empty as it sits closed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Victor J. Blue/Getty Images

The city's hotels were less than 49% full last week, according to data released Wednesday, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a mandatory ban on businesses that would allow no more than 50% of the workforce to report for work outside their home. As a result, coming and going in the city has dwindled.

Nearly 10 million Californian residents are under "shelter in place" orders -- meaning they are required to stay home, except for essential needs like buying groceries or picking up medication.

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers to prepare for the possibility of a similar order, though the final decision rests with Cuomo.

3:41 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

The UAE is banning incoming travelers and residency visa holders

 

A trader arrives at the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, March 12.
A trader arrives at the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, March 12. Kamran Jebreili/AP

The United Arab Emirates is extending its travel ban to deny entry to residency visa holders, according to state news agency WAM.

The new restrictions go into effect today. 

Earlier this week, the UAE also suspended issuing all tourist visas and most work permits.

UAE nationals in the country are also temporarily banned from traveling abroad. 

The UAE has 114 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization and additional sources. 

3:42 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

Fiji has its first coronavirus case. That's a big problem for the Pacific -- and New Zealand

On Thursday, Fiji's Prime Minister confirmed the country has its first coronavirus case.

That came as Samoa -- another Pacific island nation -- announced it had a suspected case. According to the Ministry of Health’s news release, it could be days before the case can be confirmed. 

Other island nations have also reported cases, including French Polynesia, and the US territory Guam. 

This is bad news for Pacific Island nations, which are some of the most remote and aid-dependent in the world

Last year’s measles outbreak in Samoa shows how easily disease can spread among its population of 200,000 -- and suggests the country would be ill-equipped to cope with the coronavirus.

During the measles outbreak, Samoa declared a state of emergency. Government offices and schools closed, and children were banned from public gatherings. But it wasn’t enough to prevent more than 80 deaths -- a devastating number for such a small population. 

Pacific Islands have taken strict measures. Samoa now requires all arrivals -- including residents -- to undergo a medical examination within three days before arrival. 

The way New Zealand has responded also shows how concerned it is for its much smaller neighbors. On Saturday, New Zealand announced that almost everyone entering the country needs to self-isolate for two weeks. At the time, the country’s leader Jacinda Ardern described the measure as the strictest in the world. 

Of course, the rule was aimed at limiting the spread in New Zealand. But it was also put in place to look out for Pacific Islands. 

Although people coming from the Pacific would be allowed to avoid the self-isolation rule, anyone traveling to the Pacific would need to meet strict new exit rules, including a health assessment. Anyone who had traveled outside New Zealand in the past 14 days wouldn’t be allowed to go to the Pacific.

On Thursday, Ardern announced new measures, closing off the country's border to almost all non-New Zealanders -- including those coming from the Pacific. But again, protection of the Pacific was part of the plan.

“It remains the case that the protection of the Pacific from Covid-19 is a major concern for the New Zealand government and these measures support that," Ardern said. 
“A small number of exemptions to the new measures can be sought for humanitarian reasons, essential health workers and citizens of Samoa and Tonga who need to travel to New Zealand for essential reasons.  

New Zealand is a gateway to the Pacific. It’s one of the few countries with flights to the Pacific Islands. It also has a large Pacific Island community, some of whom regularly travel to the islands.

As one of the biggest aid donors to the Pacific, New Zealand would likely need to step in and help in the event of a coronavirus crisis -- just as it did during the measles outbreak.

3:14 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

Here's a look at what's happening in Asia

A Filipino policeman checks his own temperature at a quarantine checkpoint on Wednesday in Marikina, Metro Manila.
A Filipino policeman checks his own temperature at a quarantine checkpoint on Wednesday in Marikina, Metro Manila. Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

A pivotal moment in China: Mainland China reported no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the first time since the the pandemic began. The country recorded 34 new cases of coronavirus yesterday -- all imported from overseas.

Wuhan restrictions: The Chinese city at ground zero of the pandemic will need to see 14 consecutive days of no new cases before travel restrictions can be lifted, a top Chinese health expert said.

Hubei lockdown eases: Months of lockdowns and travel restrictions affecting hundreds of millions of citizens are slowly easing. Inter-provincial travel, which had previously been shut down entirely, is gradually resuming. People from other provinces are now allowed into Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

South Korea measures: The country with the biggest outbreak outside of China in Asia reported seven more deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total there to 91. South Korea has at least 8,565 cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and additional sources. The government is supplying 50 trillion won ($38.8 billion) in emergency funding to support small business.

South and Southeast Asia: Countries in South and Southeast Asia must “urgently scale-up aggressive measures” and widespread testing to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further, said WHO officials. Bangladesh reported its first coronavirus death on Wednesday -- it has 14 cases in total. Thailand is now demanding health certificates from all travelers. The Philippines has been placed under a state of calamity for six months and at least half of the country is on lockdown, while Malaysia is under a nationwide movement restriction order.

Second surge: Places like mainland China and Hong Kong are bracing for a potential second wave of infections, as people return from overseas, bringing the virus with them.

Asia markets fall: Asian stocks and US futures sank Thursday despite a slew of steps unveiled to cushion the economic blow caused by the coronavirus. The Korean Exchange briefly suspended trading in Seoul after markets there plummeted. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was last down 4%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 4.5%, while China's Shanghai Composite was last down 2.3%. 

3:05 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

Celebrities join the #SafeHands hand washing challenge

Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is the latest celebrity to join the "Safe Hands Challenge."

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off the challenge on Tuesday, tweeting a video of himself washing his hands thoroughly and explaining the proper ways to do it.

He then challenged a host of celebrities -- Padukone being one. She posted a hand-washing video in response, and tweeted, "Covid-19 surely is an uphill health and public safety task, but all of us are in this fight together!"

She then called on star athletes Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Virat Kohli to post their own hand-washing videos.

Other celebrities who have joined the challenge include "Pose" star and fashion icon Billy Porter, rapper G Herbo, and F1 driver Romain Grosjean.

Take a look:

2:56 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

South Korea is providing $38.8 billion in emergency funds for small businesses

South Korean finance minister Hong Nam-ki attends the 5th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 5, 2019.
South Korean finance minister Hong Nam-ki attends the 5th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 5, 2019. Vladimir Astapkovich/Sputnik via AP

South Korea today announced an emergency economic aid package of $38.8 billion (50 trillion Korean won) for small businesses slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“(We) will prepare a national financial crisis response program worth a total of 50 trillion won for the financial stability of people’s livelihoods," said the country's finance minister Hong Nam-ki.

“The financial stabilization package program for the people’s livelihood will be first, strengthening financial support for small businesses, small business owners and self-employed people; second, easing financial burdens on vulnerable social groups; and finally third, will be a stabilizer of the financial market, such as stocks and bonds.”

At an emergency economic meeting today, President Moon Jae-in said the emergency package was "an unprecedented, comprehensive measure in scale and content.” 

The package will provide emergency management funds and loan guarantees for small business owners, which will "allow (these owners) to get loans quickly and easily at low interest rates," Moon said.

“All financial sectors will postpone loan interest payments of small businesses and small business owners.”

2:46 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

The London Underground will close a number of stations to slow the spread of coronavirus

Commuters in a London Underground station on Wednesday.
Commuters in a London Underground station on Wednesday. Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Dozens of stations on the London Underground will be closed starting Thursday, as part of the effort to slow the coronavirus pandemic, Transport for London announced in a statement on Wednesday.

“Up to 40 London Underground stations that do not interchange with other lines will be closed until further notice. Anyone who needs to make essential journeys should check www.tfl.gov.uk for live travel updates before they travel,” the statement read.

The closures come after the government's advice this week to stop non-essential social contact and unnecessary travel.

"The Mayor of London and Transport for London are urging all other customers to follow the Government's advice and not make anything but essential journeys,” said the statement.

Public transport falls globally: It's not just in London -- New York City's MTA subway has seen a sharp fall in travelers this week as people stay home and self-quarantine.

On Tuesday, 1.79 million people rode the subway. The same date last year, that number was close to 5.57 million, said the MTA in a tweet on Wednesday.

“3.7 million of you chose not to ride with us yesterday because you want to #flattenthecurve. “We miss you, but for now, we’ll say: thank you for not riding with us. You’re keeping NYC safer," the MTA said.

2:36 a.m. ET, March 19, 2020

Seven family members in New Jersey were infected. Three are now dead, New York Times reports

Seven members of a New Jersey family contracted the coronavirus, and three of them have now died, according to the New York Times.

Grace Fusco, 73, died Wednesday without knowing that two of her eldest children also died before her, the Times reported.

CNN was directed to a representative of the family for comment but have not heard back.

A relative confirmed four other children who have the coronavirus remain hospitalized, with three in critical condition, according to the report.

Fusco’s eldest daughter, Rita Fusco-Jackson of Freehold, New Jersey, died Friday. Sometime after that, the family learned Fusco had the coronavirus. Fusco’s eldest son, Carmine Fusco of Bath, Pennsylvania, died before his mother on Wednesday. 

A Tuesday night family dinner more than a week ago appears to the be the source of this coronavirus cluster, the Times reported.

The first person in New Jersey to die with the coronavirus attended that family gathering.

Grace Fusco has 11 children and 27 grandchildren, according to the report.