March 20 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Joshua Berlinger, Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Steve George and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 9:27 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020
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10:07 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Northern Italy sends patients to other regions of the country as hospital ICUs reach capacity

From Sharon Braithwaite in Rome and Pierre Bairin in Paris


A northern Italian city has been hit so hard by coronavirus that it is now sending patients who need intensive care to other parts of the country, a doctor in the city of Bergamo told CNN Friday.

“Bergamo is sending ICU patients to other regions because we ran out (of space),” Dr. Stefano Magnone, a hospital doctor in Bergamo, said. 

Magnone said that also the ICU in the hospitals in the province of Brescia are full.

“Around 50 patients were sent out of Lombardy to other regions, mainly in the south,” Magnone said. 

Brescia is the second worst affected province, according to the Italian Civil Protection Department. 

“We're waiting for the field hospital” to be built, Magnone said.

Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori announced on Thursday evening that a new field hospital will be built inside the fairground and exhibition facility in the city.

“It will be organized by the National Alpini Association but managed by the doctors that are on their way,” the mayor said. 

The new field hospital “will bring relief to our hospitals. It is the first real response received by the national institutions, so let me thank them,” he said.

“The regional affairs minister Francesco Boccia talked about 100 doctors (to be sent) in Lombardy and the Italian Prime Minister talked about sending 300 doctors to the worst affected areas,” Gori said. “Italy has finally noticed the suffering of Bergamo and our province. But we need even more doctors."

The region especially needs infectious disease experts, respiratory physicians and anesthesiologists, the mayor said. 

9:57 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Head of United Nations' World Food Programme tests positive for coronavirus

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

David Beasley, head of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), has Covid-19, according to a statement released on Thursday.

Beasley said in a written statement that he is now working with his WFP team to trace back anyone he may have been in close contact with during the time he was unaware of the infection. 

"We have already started the process of reaching out to alert each and every one of them so that they are made aware that there is a risk that they too may be infected with the virus," Beasley, a former governor of South Carolina, said in the statement. 

Beasley aded: "I began feeling unwell this past weekend after returning to my home in the United States from an official visit to Canada and I took an early decision to go into self-quarantine, five days ago. So far, my symptoms have been relatively light, and I am in good spirits. I am lucky to be close to my family and I have access to excellent medical support."

9:45 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Trump's former top economic adviser is returning to the White House

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Kevin Hassett
Kevin Hassett Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/FILE

Kevin Hassett is returning to the White House to advise President Trump through the severe economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, the former official told CNN’s Poppy Harlow.

Trump asked Hassett, a CNN commentator, to rejoin the administration just as the economic outlook has darkened significantly in recent days.

Hassett told CNN on Thursday the widespread shutdowns caused by the health crisis could spark a repeat of the Great Depression. 

"We're going to have to either have a Great Depression, or figure out a way to send people back to work even though that's risky," Hassett said. "Because at some point, we can't not have an economy, right?"

Some background: Hassett left the Trump administration in June 2019 after nearly two years as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. 

During his second stint in the White House, Hassett is expected to advise the President on economic matters and have an office in the West Wing. 

9:39 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

US stocks open higher

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

US stocks kicked the day off in the green on Friday, adding onto the prior session’s gains.

Here's how things look:

  • The Dow opened 0.8%, or 150 points, higher.
  • The S&P 500 rose 1%.
  • The Nasdaq Composite opened up 1.5%.

Even so, all three benchmarks are on track for another terrible weekly performance, with the Dow on track for its worst week since 2008.

9:43 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Health minister: Italy is "facing the most difficult moment that history has ever put before us"

From CNN's Valentina DiDonato in Rome

Italy is “facing the most difficult moment” that history has ever put before it, the country’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Friday during an address in front of the FNOMCeO (National Federation of the order of doctors, surgeons and orthodontists) committee. 

“A new and terrible enemy is entering our lives and radically changing everything,” Speranza warned. “Every day I insist that adequate personal protective equipment can reach each of you. I speak with the federation daily, I know this is a big problem."

Speranza added: “There are still difficult days ahead of us, but together, united, I am convinced that we will make it."

9:39 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Japan’s prime minister calls for schools to reopen

From Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, speaks during a meeting on the coronavirus crisis on March 20, in Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, speaks during a meeting on the coronavirus crisis on March 20, in Tokyo. Kyodo News via Getty Images

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for schools to reopen during a meeting with government officials on Covid-19 on Friday.

Abe said “for the schools closed temporarily at the government request, I ask the ministry of education to draw up specific guidelines to resume the schools at the begging of the new year."

Abe called for primary and secondary schools to close on Feb. 27 through the end of March. The school year in Japan generally begins in April.

On Thursday, a public health expert board held an assessment meeting and relaxed recommended restrictions as the country has avoided an exponential growth in cases. The group still cautioned that the situation could change.  

Abe also suggested the country could revisit larger scale events saying "the expert board requested to stay vigilant for the organizers of large scale events. when the organizers make a judgment on holding such events, please refer the examples of infection prevention suggested by the board and have enough caution to prevent the infection."

9:17 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

The Olympic flame has arrived in Japan. And crowds were there to greet it.

Olympic representatives attend the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Torch Arrival Ceremony in Matsushima, Miyagi, on Friday.
Olympic representatives attend the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Torch Arrival Ceremony in Matsushima, Miyagi, on Friday. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

A sea of people wearing face masks gathered to watch the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's Blue Impulse aerobatics team in Japan's Higashimatsushima on Friday as part of the ceremony commemorating the Olympic flame's arrival from Greece.

The flame arrived in a scaled-down ceremony and will now make its way to Tokyo from Fukushima.

The president of the International Olympic Committee has said the games will not be canceled but added that the games may possibly be postponed.

Games in question: Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board member Kaori Yamaguchi is calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed because athletes are unable to prepare adequately, she told the Nikkei newspaper.

Yamaguchi, who won a Judo bronze medal at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, said she plans to raise this point at a JOC Board Meeting scheduled for March 27.

"The Olympics should not be held in a situation people in the world can’t enjoy," Yamaguchi said.

People watch the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's Blue Impulse aerobatics team in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi, on March 20, where the Olympic flame arrived from Greece.
People watch the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's Blue Impulse aerobatics team in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi, on March 20, where the Olympic flame arrived from Greece. Kyodo News/Getty Images
9:16 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Spike in unemployment filings overwhelms state systems

From CNN's Tami Luhby and Kelly Mena

Newly unemployed Americans are racing to file for jobless benefits as the coronavirus pandemic forces many businesses to reduce staff or shutter their doors, at least temporarily.

The swift, steep jump after years of low unemployment has strained some states' ability to keep up, forcing them to add representatives to their call centers, extend hours and bolster their online capacity as they await a $1 billion infusion approved by Congress.

The crush also comes as some states have temporarily expanded eligibility and waived one-week waiting periods so people affected by the pandemic can tap into unemployment benefits more quickly.

Around the country: In Illinois, the Department of Employment Security has been deluged in the last couple of days as more residents file for claims amid coronavirus emergency orders — such as Gov. J.B. Pritzker's mandate closing restaurants and bars except for delivery. Between Monday and Wednesday, the agency received over 64,000 unemployment benefit claims, more than ten times the 6,074 claims filed during the same time period in 2019.

New York State's Department of Labor website is currently averaging 250,000 logins per day — a 400% increase over the normal average, according to Deanna Cohen, a department spokeswoman. The hotline is also ringing off the hook, with more than 75,000 calls a day, compared to an average of 10,000 calls normally.

By noon on Thursday, the department website had 206,080 logins and 159,000 calls.

To handle the onslaught in Ohio, the state Department of Job and Family Services has extended its call center's weekday hours and added availability on Saturdays to answer questions and process claims from those who can't file online. New filings skyrocketed from 3,900 the first four days of last week to 111,000 the same period this week, according the agency.

9:10 a.m. ET, March 20, 2020

US-led training effort in Iraq has been suspended due to coronavirus

From CNN's Barbara Starr

The US-led training effort aimed at combating ISIS has been suspended due to COVID-19, according to a defense official. 

“To prevent potential spread of COVID-19, Iraqi Security Forces and coalition forces have stopped all training. That has led to the repositioning of some training forces for force protection and operational continuity; some trainers will depart Iraq in the coming days and weeks,” a US defense official told CNN.

The official added that the US-led coalition “remains committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS and if the situation allows training will resume“

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting the US military in places like Iraq and Afghanistan as measures to prevent its spread have caused the US to limit its activities including operations to help counter ISIS.