March 23 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, James Griffiths, Adam Renton, Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Updated 9:46 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020
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3:04 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

State Department official: More than 13,000 US citizens abroad are seeking help to get home

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Tourists from the United States wait outside the closed Jorge Chavez International Airport,i n Callao Peru, for a member of the U.S. Embassy to escort them to a flight that will fly them back to the U.S. on Friday, March 20.
Tourists from the United States wait outside the closed Jorge Chavez International Airport,i n Callao Peru, for a member of the U.S. Embassy to escort them to a flight that will fly them back to the U.S. on Friday, March 20. Martin Mejia/AP

The State Department is tracking approximately 13,500 US citizens abroad who are seeking assistance in being repatriated, a senior State Department official said Monday.

The official said the State Department is examining a variety of means to get those citizens home, saying that “no option is foreclosed out.” They said the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs is working with private charters to get them into places to help with repatriation efforts.

“We are using some cases — and I expect this will be happening in expanded fashion as we go out from here – we’re using what's called the K Fund. It's a special fund authorized by Congress to allow us to meet unexpected emergencies,” they said on a call with reporters. “We have organized a number of flights already on the K Fund, K-Fund charters.”

“We're looking at 16 or so flights in the next five days. And we've got additionally about 1,600 passengers, over 1,600 passengers identified for those flights with room for more,” they said. 

They said that in addition to the K-Fund charters, they are using DOD backhauls in some cases.

“We're also working with the Department of Homeland Security. They're flying planes into Central America, and they are prepared to bring folks back on those aircraft. So it's a variety of different US government aircraft,” they said.

The official said they are prioritizing space on the flights for those with vulnerabilities, such as age and medical conditions.

“If we have somebody who is 70 years old with an underlying condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, that person is going to get a higher priority on one of those flights, than the hale and hearty 20 year old,” they said.

That official said about 5,700 people had been brought back, and “the great majority of those were coming back through State Department chartered aircraft.�� They cited the 800+ brought back from Wuhan in late January, the 300+ from Yokohama and “approximately 1200 came out of Morocco last week.” They said they “had other people come out of Central America recently.”

3:02 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

Sky Airline temporarily suspends operations in Chile

From Florencia Trucco and Jackie Castillo in Atlanta

A Sky Airline Airbus 320 is seen on the taxiway at Santiago Arturo Merino Benítez airport in Santiago, Chile, on Sunday, March, 22.
A Sky Airline Airbus 320 is seen on the taxiway at Santiago Arturo Merino Benítez airport in Santiago, Chile, on Sunday, March, 22. Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Sky Airline announced the temporary suspension of its regular operations in Chile on Monday, according to the company's statement.

The suspension will be in effect from March 25 through April 30.

Sky CEO Holger Paulmann said the restriction is necessary to overcome the most difficult weeks of the coronavirus and for the protection of workers and passengers alike.

The Chilean airline also said despite the disruption of operations, passengers will be able to purchase tickets for future flights.

2:49 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

5 Chicago hotels will house coronavirus patients

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

The city of Chicago has partnered with five hotels to house some quarantined people and isolated coronavirus patients, as well as others who need assistance.

This establishes a capacity of more than 1,000 patients by Tuesday and likely 2,000 by the end of the week, thereby relieving the burden on Chicago hospitals and allowing them to focus their critical beds on those patients that need acute care.

Hotel operations staff will be properly trained for this situation and will not directly interact with quarantined guests — that will be the responsibility of public health employees, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference on Monday.

Lightfoot said she plans on working up an agreement with Metro South Medical Center in Blue Island, Illinois, to utilize its currently vacant hospital facility, which will open up an additional 200 rooms that will become available starting this Thursday.

The mayor said Chicago created its plan based on what worked in other countries to respond to immediate medical needs where it is necessary to isolate and quarantine individuals who are at risk to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Three Chicago YMCA locations and other city-wide organizations are "stepping up to support individuals experiencing homelessness" by opening up their doors to the at risk homeless community in Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot said. The mayor pointed out that the homeless population are particularly at risk due to the social distancing required to best combat the spread of coronavirus and as a result Chicago shelters are facing new challenges related to space and capacity. 

2:44 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

Canada is reporting a significant spike in coronavirus cases

From CNN’s Paula Newton

Canada reported a significant increase in Covid-19 cases, especially in its largest provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

Most recent data collected from each province indicates at least 2,000 cases with 23 deaths. On Monday alone, new cases spiked by nearly a third. 

Canadian officials say they have now tested more than 100,000 people and will be able to test as many as 10,000 people per day.

Ontario and Quebec tightened business and travel restrictions with an order for all nonessential businesses to close by Tuesday.

“We must slow community spread through relenting social distancing. A key reason we want to delay and flatten the epidemic curve is to buy time for research and innovation to occur,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer during a news conference Monday.

2:42 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

Netherlands bans all public gatherings until June 1

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

The Dutch Justice Minister announced Monday that the government will ban all public gatherings in the Netherlands until June 1, removing the previous limit of 100 people and extending previously announced measures. 

Ferdinand Grapperhaus, Minister of Justice and Security, also said that the government is empowering mayors to fine people or businesses who disregard the rules.

“If we want to control the coronavirus, we have no other choice,” Grapperhaus said at a news conference.

He said that there would be an exception for some funerals and church weddings, and young children would still be able to play together outside. 

“We are going to make it possible as part of the emergency ordinance for mayors to determine that hefty fines be applied for violating the rules that we are establishing, for example for stores that do not adhere to the door policy, but also for people that do not stay a meter and half apart and form groups," Grapperhaus said.

“And I can assure you that these are hefty fines for the Netherlands and by Dutch standards.”

2:39 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

Virginia will close schools for the rest of the academic year

From CNN's Stephanie Gallman

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that he will close schools in the state for the rest of the academic year. 

3:31 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

US vice president: FEMA is "the hub" for coronavirus efforts

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

Vice President Mike Pence speaks as he leads a video teleconference with governors about the coronavirus during a trip to FEMA on Monday, March 23, in Washington.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks as he leads a video teleconference with governors about the coronavirus during a trip to FEMA on Monday, March 23, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

Vice President Mike Pence told the nation's governors today that Federal Emergency Management Agency "is now the hub of all our efforts” when it comes to helping the states combat coronavirus.

Pence said the effort to fight coronavirus should be “locally executed, state managed and federally supported.”

Pence, who is at FEMA headquarters leading a teleconference with the governors, said he hopes the actions taken by President Trump to activate the National Guard in three states, deploy field hospitals and deploy more personal protective equipment, “gives each of you confidence that we are going to do whatever it takes to make sure that our states and your courageous local health officials have the support that you need to meet this moment.” 

Pence said that Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the vice president's coronavirus task force, would be discussing new breakthroughs on data so states can better focus their resources to the point of the need, and also how states can expand the capacity of ventilators going forward. 

2:35 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

South Africa will go under lockdown for 3 weeks over coronavirus

From CNN's Max Ramsay in London

South Africa will enforce a three-week lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, the country's President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address Monday. 

The lockdown will start at midnight on March 26 and end at midnight on April 16, Ramaphosa said.

During this time, "all South Africans will have to stay at home," Ramaphosa said. People who are exempted from the order include emergency and security services and those involved in critical services like food production and banking.

"Individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes except under strict circumstances," the President said, including to seek medical care and buy food.

He said the lockdown "is necessary to disrupt the chain of transmission" and that it would "save lives of hundreds of thousands of our people."

Defense forces will be deployed to support police to ensure the measures are followed, Ramaphosa added.


2:30 p.m. ET, March 23, 2020

Hospitals across Oklahoma have 9 days worth of personal protective equipment

From CNN’s Maria Cartaya

Hospitals in Oklahoma have 9.3 days worth on average of personal protective equipment on hand to treat patients and potential coronavirus patients, according to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's office.  

The Governor’s Solution Task Force has a heat map that labels hospitals in three categories based on their available supply, Stitt’s chief of communications Charlie Hannema told CNN.

The task force has also established a tiered system to ensure highest priority sites are supplemented to maintain adequate inventory.