March 26 coronavirus news

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1:16 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

Japan sets up virus task force as cases spike

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, arrives to speak to journalists in front of the prime minister's residence in Tokyo, Tuesday, March 24.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, arrives to speak to journalists in front of the prime minister's residence in Tokyo, Tuesday, March 24. Charly Triballeau/Pool Photo via AP

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered a government task force be set up in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of cases in the country spiked today. 

The establishment of a task force is a requirement to declaring a state of emergency -- though Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said today that the country was not yet at the point of declaring one. 

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told media after the meeting that the government feared the number of new coronavirus cases was on the rise, with spikes in cases in big cities and from inbound travelers.

Wednesday saw the highest single-day jump in cases so far, with 98 new cases.

1:06 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

77 people are showing symptoms on a cruise ship headed for Florida 

Holland America Line
Holland America Line

A total of 77 people aboard Holland America's cruise ship "Zaandam" are reporting flu-like symptoms, according to a news release on the cruise line’s website. 

The 77 people consist of 30 passengers and 47 crew members.

“Since it is flu season, and Covid-19 testing is not available on board, it is difficult to determine the cause of these elevated cases at this time,” the release said.

The Zaandam left Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, before the cruise operator announced it would be suspending global cruise operations for a month.

The voyage was scheduled to end in San Antonio, Chile, last Saturday. According to the release, no one has been off the ship since March 14 in Puenta Arena, Chile, where guests were initially told they could disembark for flights but were not permitted to.  

All ports along the Zaandam’s route are now closed to cruise ships. 

A second ship is bringing help: Holland America has deployed a second ship to bring extra supplies, staff, coronavirus test kits and other support to the Zandaam.

The support ship left Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on Sunday and will meet with the Zandaam on Thursday night.  

Passengers isolated on board: Passenger Maureen Foran, 75, says she has had no face-to-face contact with anyone, family or crew, since the ship imposed a quarantine onboard. 

“We are forbidden to leave our rooms,” Foran told CNN. “I am thankful for a window but I am getting claustrophobic.”
12:55 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

California's cases are doubling every few days. Officials warn San Francisco could reach New York levels

Los Angeles residents are administered with a test for the coronavirus while in their vehicles inside the Crenshaw Christian Center in South Los Angeles Wednesday, March 25.
Los Angeles residents are administered with a test for the coronavirus while in their vehicles inside the Crenshaw Christian Center in South Los Angeles Wednesday, March 25. Damian Dovarganes/AP

The number of coronavirus cases in California is doubling every three to four days, the state's top health official said.

“We originally thought that it would be doubling every six to seven days and we see cases doubling every three to four days,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the secretary of California's Health and Human Services Agency, said at a news conference Wednesday. "We’re watching that trend very, very closely.” 

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered most of the state's nearly 40 million residents to stay at home to stop the virus from spreading further. However, public health experts say that it may take up to two weeks to see the results of such travel restrictions, as the virus' incubation period ranges from one to 14 days.

Ghaly said authorities in California are anticipating a surge of cases and patients in a week or two. 

A stark warning for San Francisco: Meanwhile, San Francisco Mayor London Breed warned Wednesday that if residents don't heed orders to stay at home, the California city could see a surge in coronavirus cases.

“If people who are out on the streets continue to congregate with one another, continue to interact with one another, which increases the spread of this virus, we will not have enough beds, enough ICU units, enough ventilators to support the people that we know are going to need them,” Breed said.

The mayor estimated San Francisco would need at least 1,500 more ventilators and 5,000 extra hospital beds to meet a larger surge of patients.

"It is plausible that despite all these efforts we could have a scenario similar to the one that is playing out in New York this very day," said San Francisco Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax. "If that happens our capacity, our surge capacity will be far exceeded." 
12:45 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

Test for Tokyo as governor urges people to stay at home over the weekend

Groups gather to celebrate the beginning of the cherry blossom season with traditional "hanami" parties on March 20, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
Groups gather to celebrate the beginning of the cherry blossom season with traditional "hanami" parties on March 20, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike urged residents in the city to avoid making "non-essential outings" this weekend as the city reported an increase in its number of novel coronavirus cases.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Koike said Tokyo is now at a "critical moment" to stop the infection rate from spiking. She asked event organizers to refrain from holding large gatherings and urged Tokyo residents to work from home as much as possible and avoid social meetings and crowded places until April 12.

Koike’s latest remarks will be a test for the city of over 9 million people, which has been reluctant to impose a lockdown on its residents. While other countries have been quick to enforce restrictions on their citizens to contain the spread of the coronavirus, in Japan it’s largely been business as usual. 

Remote working kicks in: Some Japanese companies have adopted the practice of encouraging their employees to work from home to prevent exposing them to the virus on congested public transport and offices, but many still commute to work. 

Precautions urged: On March 19, a central government expert panel called on organizers of large-scale events to exercise caution, including canceling plans, to prevent the spread of the virus. But despite such warnings, over the weekend, many still ventured out to view the cherry blossoms in Tokyo’s parks and public areas. 

Biggest single-day jump: As of Wednesday evening local time, Tokyo reported 41 new cases of novel coronavirus, according to Koike. Japan reported 98 new cases and two more deaths on Wednesday, marking the country's largest single-day jump in new infections since the outbreak began.

12:36 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

China saw 67 new imported coronavirus cases yesterday, but no new locally transmitted ones

China’s National Health Commission reported 67 new imported cases of the novel coronavirus yesterday.

That brings the total number of imported cases to 541 in mainland China.

China appears to have passed the worst of the pandemic. Nearly all new cases inside the country have been imported in recent days -- no new locally transmitted cases were reported yesterday -- and hard-hit Hubei province has begun lifting some of the stringent measures put in place to stop the virus from spreading.

Total numbers: By the end of Wednesday in mainland China, the country had confirmed 81,285 coronavirus cases and 3,287 deaths. More than 74,000 have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

12:25 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

The US reported 233 coronavirus deaths today, making it the deadliest day so far

The United States has now reported at least 65,273 cases of the novel coronavirus and 938 deaths, according to CNN's tally.

The national total includes cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as all repatriated cases from overseas.

Today was the deadliest day of the pandemic in the US so far -- there were at least 233 new deaths reported Wednesday nationwide.

12:15 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

It's just past midday in Beijing and midnight in New York. Here's what you need to know

A single rider waits on a train platform at the Archives station in Washington on Wednesday.
A single rider waits on a train platform at the Archives station in Washington on Wednesday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Stimulus bill passes Senate: The United States Senate voted 96 to 0 to pass a $2 trillion economic relief package meant to kick-start a moribund economy that's been dragged down by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the stringent measures put in place to stop the virus' spread.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which plans to vote on it on Friday, leaders in that chamber said. If approved, the stimulus would be one of the most expensive pieces of legislation ever enacted by the US government.

The Senate shot down an amendment from Republican Sen. Ben Sasse that would have capped unemployment benefits at 100% of the wages workers received while employed. It was expected to fail. Proponents said the bill in its current form incentivized people not to work, while opponents of the amendment like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said it was wrong to fixate on minor perks for working-class Americans while providing millions of dollars worth of bailouts to big corporations.

Deadliest day in US: While senators worked to get the stimulus past a major hurdle, medical workers faced one of the toughest days we've seen during the pandemic. More than 230 people in the US died of coronavirus on Wednesday, according to CNN's tally, the most fatalities the country has seen in a single day so far during the pandemic.

To date, at least 65,273 coronavirus patients have been identified in the US. At least 938 have died.

Spain's death toll passes China's: The situation in Spain is even more grave -- the total number of infections there is inching closer to 50,000, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. At over 3,600 fatalities, the number of coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country has surpassed those in China. Only Italy has reported more deaths.

The Spanish government has voted to extend the country's state of emergency in order to slow the pandemic within its borders.

Spikes in Japan and New Zealand: Authorities in both countries saw their highest daily jumps in cases Wednesday, with Japan identifying 98 patients and New Zealand 73.

New Zealand's alert level has been raised to Level 4 -- its highest -- which significantly restricts residents' movement. Tokyo faces a major test this weekend, as its governor has asked people in the megalopolis to stay home to avoid contracting or spreading the virus.

12:06 a.m. ET, March 26, 2020

Pakistan's prime minister is under increasing pressure to impose a lockdown

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, March 16.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, March 16. B.K. Bangash/AP

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has consistently rejected calls for a nationwide lockdown, claiming that an all-out closure of businesses would affect the “25% of the population that lives below the poverty line,” the country's daily wage earners who Khan said would lose their incomes in a heartbeat. 

But for all intents and purposes, a lockdown is what seems to be in place in Pakistan:

  • All international and domestic flights have been suspended
  • Trains are not running
  • Highway journeys between provinces are banned

Military steps in: While Khan’s government deals with growing criticism for not shutting down the country soon enough, the hugely popular military has been lauded for stepping in and announcing measures including the suspension of public transport and timed closure of gas stations. Troops have been deployed in all major cities to enforce these measures. 

Rising caseload: According to figures released by the country's Ministry of Health, the number of patients diagnosed with coronavirus in Pakistan crossed 1,000 yesterday. Ten days ago that number was at 53. At least seven people are also confirmed dead. All major phone networks have changed their call tunes to messages asking people to wash their hands and state TV has messages in regional languages explaining the importance of social distancing.

Mosques stay open: One of the largest clusters of the virus sprung up in the outskirts of the capital Islamabad, where a large congregation of preachers met, disregarding the government’s requests for three or more people not to gather in a public space. 

Medical equipment lacking: Public health specialist Dr. Arshad Altaf told CNN that there are roughly fewer than 3,000 ventilators available in the country, and while China has provided aid worth $4 million to Pakistan, alongside medical face masks and ventilators, this is still not enough to deal with the exponential growth of the virus. Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, which is connected to the military, has taken over the reins in dealing with the crisis and Altaf welcomed the move. “There has to be a multi-pronged effort, the government cannot deal with this alone,” he said. 

11:57 p.m. ET, March 25, 2020

The US Senate has passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill in response to the coronavirus pandemic

Senate TV
Senate TV

The Senate has just approved a historic, $2 trillion stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with a final vote of 96 to zero in favor of the bill. 

Why this matters: The legislation represents the largest emergency aid package in US history and the most significant legislative action taken to address the rapidly intensifying coronavirus crisis, which is overwhelming hospitals and grinding much of the economy to a halt.

What comes next: The package will next go to the House for a vote. The House will convene Friday morning to consider the bill, and the plan is to pass the bill by voice vote. President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign the measure. 

What's in the bill: Key elements of the proposal are $250 billion set aside for direct payments to individuals and families, $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

The bill would also provide a major amount of funding for hard-hit hospitals -- $130 billion -- and $150 billion for state and local governments that are cash-strapped due to their response to coronavirus.

It also has a provision that would block Trump and his family, as well as other top government officials and members of Congress, from getting loans or investments from Treasury programs in the stimulus, according to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's office.