March 21 coronavirus news

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11:28 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

In strategic shift, doctors in America's two largest cities are told to skip some coronavirus testing

From CNN's Wes Bruer, Evan Simko-Bednarski, Arman Azad and Matthew Hilk

A doctor examines a man for a COVID-19 test inside a testing tent at St. Barnabas Hospital in New York City on March 20.
A doctor examines a man for a COVID-19 test inside a testing tent at St. Barnabas Hospital in New York City on March 20. Misha Friedman/Getty Images

Health officials in New York City and Los Angeles County are signaling a change in local strategy when it comes to coronavirus testing, recommending that doctors avoid testing patients except in cases where a test result would significantly change the course of treatment.

A news release from the Los Angeles Department of Public Health this week advised doctors not to test those experiencing only mild respiratory symptoms unless “a diagnostic result will change clinical management or inform public health response.”

The recommendation reflects a "shifting from a strategy of case containment to slowing disease transmission and averting excess morbidity and mortality," according to the statement.

The guidance said coronavirus testing at L.A. County public health labs will prioritized those with symptoms, health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, paramedics and other high-risk situations. Others are encouraged to simply stay at home.

At about the same time, the New York City Department of Health directed all healthcare facilities to immediately stop testing non-hospitalized patients for Covid-19. 

“At this point in the pandemic, demand for unnecessary testing is contributing to the rapidly diminishing supply of PPE and leading to a decreasing supply of swabs and viral transport media used to collect diagnostic specimens for Covid-19 testing,” a statement read. “Testing may play a more significant role after the pandemic has peaked.” 

Some context: The strategy shift essentially codifies the reality health departments have been living with for weeks; a shortage of tests and protective equipment amid rising demand and case numbers.

It also puts into practice advice from many of America’s top medical experts, including CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, that a positive test result is not required to treat the symptoms.

Naturally, limiting testing in America's two largest population centers would also likely lead to widespread under-counting of total cases.

10:39 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

United Kingdom urges shoppers to stop panic buying

From CNN's Simon Cullen

People wait in line at a Costco in Glasgow, Scotland, before it opens on March 21.
People wait in line at a Costco in Glasgow, Scotland, before it opens on March 21. Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom government is urging shoppers to act responsibly amid panic buying sparked by the coronavirus outbreak.

At the daily press briefing held at Downing Street, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, appealed for shoppers to think of others.

“Buying more than you need means that others may be left without. And it is making life more difficult for those frontline workers… who are working so hard in such difficult circumstances,” Eustice said.

“There is more than enough food to go round,” Eustice said, adding that the supply chain is able to step up to meet demand.

Many supermarket shelves have been left empty in recent days. 

National Medical Director of the National Health Service (NHS) Stephen Powis says the panic buying has left some health workers unable to get food at the end of a long work shift.

“Frankly, we should all be ashamed that that has to happen,” he said, referring to a critical care nurse who posted a tearful video on social media when she was unable to buy food.

“These are the very people that we will all need," Powis added.

10:15 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

Mar-a-Lago is closed because of coronavirus

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Mar-a-Lago in 2019.
Mar-a-Lago in 2019. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President Trump's Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mar-a-Lago members were informed late Friday night, a member said.

More context: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday ordered all beaches in Palm Beach County to close, although it was unclear if that applies to private beaches and whether there will be an update Saturday reflecting that information.

DeSantis issued an executive order on Friday directing all beaches, movie theaters, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, gymnasiums and fitness studios to close in Palm Beach County and neighboring Broward County.

9:48 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

Egypt announces the closure of all mosques for 2 weeks

From CNN's Raja Razek in Atlanta

A few people walk in the vicinity of the closed al-Hussein mosque in Cairo on March 20.
A few people walk in the vicinity of the closed al-Hussein mosque in Cairo on March 20. Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images

Egypt announced the closure of all mosques for two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Endowment on Saturday.

The Ministry also decided to stop group prayers "based on the scientific opinion of the Egyptian Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and other health organizations in various countries of the world that confirm the severe danger of gatherings in the transmission of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and the threat this poses to the life of human beings."

9:10 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

Here's why the US is behind in coronavirus testing

From CNN's Scott Bronstein, Curt Devine and Drew Griffin

A health worker administers a test to a motorist in Stamford, Connecticut, on March 20.
A health worker administers a test to a motorist in Stamford, Connecticut, on March 20. John Moore/Getty Images

As the US has lagged behind other advanced nations in testing for the coronavirus, former government officials and public health experts point to a series of policy and procedural decisions that they say hindered the nation's response to the pandemic.

South Korea had run more than 300,000 tests as of Friday, and while there is no official count of tests done in the United States, Dr. Deborah Birx, part of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, implied about 170,000 people have been tested so far. The US population is more than six times that of South Korea.

For weeks public and private labs have raced to boost their testing capacity, but people across the country, even some with underlying health conditions, have told CNN this week that they have not been able to get tested.

Asked Friday whether the US can currently meet demand for tests, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "We are not there yet."

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's first test didn't work

Some context: In January, shortly after Chinese authorities identified a novel coronavirus as the cause of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, the World Health Organization published a protocol with instructions for any country to manufacture tests for the virus

Rather than using that protocol, the CDC developed its own test. A World Health Organization spokesperson said this week that the WHO didn't offer tests to the CDC because the US agency typically has the capacity to manufacture them itself.

8:30 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

Portugal death toll doubles to 12

From CNN's Simon Cullen in London

The number of coronavirus-related deaths in Portugal doubled to 12 in the past 24 hours, the country’s Directorate-General for Health announced Saturday.

There have also been a further 260 confirmed cases, taking the total to 1,280. 

Portugal declared a state of emergency over coronavirus Wednesday, scheduled to last 15 days.

The decision gives the government more powers to restrict rights, access funds and set minimum public services, among others.

However Prime Minister Antonio Costa said "democracy won't be suspended."

The country was a dictatorship for decades before democracy was restored in 1974.

8:20 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

Spain death toll jumps to 1,326

From Ingrid Formanek and Claudia Dominguez

A military member disinfects Nuevos Ministerios subway station in Madrid on March 20.
A military member disinfects Nuevos Ministerios subway station in Madrid on March 20. Manu Fernandez/AP

Spain has reported a further 324 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,326, said the health ministry.

There has been a 25% jump in the number of overall cases in Spain, according to figures released Saturday. The new total is 24,926.

On Friday the government announced an extra 50,000 medical workers would be deployed to tackle the outbreak.

Minister of Health Salvador Illa said the thousands of new staff include resident doctors, senior year medical and nursing students, and 14,000 recently retired doctors and nurses. The measures aim to "reinforce the public health system and fight and contain the Covid-19," the minister said.

A 210 million-euro aid package which aims to help regional governments "prepare for a fast response in urgent cases" was also announced.

 The allocation of funds depends on the number of people affected in each region, the government said.

Illa also announced that a package of quick coronavirus tests should arrive "in the next few days" to allow testing of the "most vulnerable groups" and those at home "with light symptoms."

8:05 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

Angola confirms first coronavirus cases

From Duarte Mendonca in London

Angola’s Health Minister Silvia Lutucuta has confirmed two patients tested positive for coronavirus, the first cases in the country.

In a press conference, Lutucuta said the test results were confirmed in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“We would like to say that these two patients have been through Lisbon in Portugal and arrived on flights on the 17th and 18th,” she said.

“It’s important to mention that they are both men, aged between 36 and 38 years old, residing in Luanda and both are under supervision in our facilities.”

Lutucuta says it’s important that people continue to remain calm and follow the advice of authorities.

8:05 a.m. ET, March 21, 2020

Pakistan bans incoming international flights

From CNN's Sophia Saifi

All international flights to and from Pakistan will be suspended until April 4, according to an official statement Saturday.

The measures are designed to combat the spread of coronavirus and will apply to passenger, charter and private flights, announced Moeed Yousuf, special assistant to the prime minister on national security.

Pakistan has confirmed 533 cases of novel coronavirus, according to data compiled by the country’s national disaster management authority.