March 15 coronavirus news

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8:30 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Magical Realism in times of Covid-19? Nicaragua fights virus fears with massive public rallies 

From CNN Español’s Daniel Silva in Miami and CNN’s Radina Gigova in Atlanta 

Supporters of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega take part in a demonstration called 'Love in times of COVID-19', in Managua on March 14, 2020.
Supporters of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega take part in a demonstration called 'Love in times of COVID-19', in Managua on March 14, 2020. Photo: INTI OCON/AFP via Getty Images

While countries around the globe continue implementing unprecedented measures and ban large public gatherings to halt the spread of coronavirus, the government of Nicaragua has done just the opposite as part of its response to the pandemic.  

In order to support those affected by the virus, Nicaragua’s government has organized massive public rallies across the country under the slogan "Love Walk in the Time of Covid-19," resembling the title of the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera.” 

Hundreds of people took part in the rally in the capital Managua on Saturday and in rallies held simultaneously in other cities across the nation. 

As of Saturday, Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health has not reported any positive cases. The ministry said “epidemiological surveillance” has been implemented at airports and borders, and 19 hospitals have been equipped specifically to treat patients experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. 

Contrary to other countries in the region, Nicaragua has not yet established mandatory quarantine for people coming from countries affected by the pandemic, or restrictions on the movement of people entering the country. 

Supporters of President Daniel Ortega's government and state workers marched with red and black flags of the ruling FSLN party and carried posters with health tips for proper hand washing. 

Nicaragua’s First Lady Rosario Murillo said:

We are going to walk with the strength of faith and hope throughout the country, in permanent prayer and solidarity with all the people, families and brothers and sisters in the world, affected by the coronavirus.”

In a joint statement, opposition groups Alianza Civica and Unidad Nacional Azúl y Blanco expressed their strong rejection to this kind of mobilization, because of the health risks for participants. 

The opposition statement said:

We call on the regime not to call for public marches or crowds, which is one of the main ways of contagion. Forcing public workers and their families to march is an act of irresponsibility and certainly exposes them to danger."
6:22 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Mexico asks citizens to avoid non-essential travel, creates “National Distance Healing Holiday”

From CNN Español’s Daniel Silva in Miami and CNN’s Radina Gigova in Atlanta 

The Mexican government is urging citizens to avoid non-essential international travel and is reminding Mexicans abroad and those planning to travel in the near future to keep in mind each country’s restrictive coronavirus measures.  

Health measures are in force at airports, ports and border crossings across Mexico.
Health measures are in force at airports, ports and border crossings across Mexico. Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Mexico will keep its consulates and embassies abroad open to provide assistance to nationals who need it, according to a joint statement by the Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs issued on Saturday. 

Mexican authorities also warned that any traveler who experiences symptoms should contact the health teams that carry out control work at all points of entry to Mexico. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has agreed to hold a “National Distance Healing Holiday” from March 23 to April 19 to promote basic prevention measures, such as temporarily suspending non-essential public activities, rescheduling of mass gatherings and increasing protection and care for the elderly.

5:13 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Taiwan reports six new cases, raising total to 59

Taiwan reported six new coronavirus cases today, raising the island's total to 59.

The new cases are:

  • A man in his 30s who traveled to Thailand from February 28 to March 1, and to Japan from March 5 to 8. He developed symptoms on Wednesday.
  • A man in his 50s who traveled to Egypt from March 3 to 12, and started feeling fatigue and had sore muscles on March 12.
  • A man in his 40s and a woman in her 70s who went on a tour to Turkey on March 4 to 13. The man developed symptoms on March 8, and the woman on Friday.
  • A woman in her 20s who was on an exchange trip in Spain. She recorded symptoms on Thursday.
  • A man under 20 years old who traveled to Greece with his family in January and returned to Taiwan on March 5. He developed a sore throat on Thursday.

One person has died in Taiwan from the virus and 20 patients there have been discharged from hospital.

5:05 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

The UAE suspends travel visas and announces $27 billion economic stimulus plan

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi

Empty sunbeds at the normally-crowded Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai on Thursday.
Empty sunbeds at the normally-crowded Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai on Thursday. Credit: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

The United Arab Emirates has suspended travel visas and cultural activities, and will launch a a $27 billion economic stimulus plan, authorities announced Saturday.

Flights from four countries will be suspended starting Tuesday: Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.

Tourist attractions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, such as theme parks, public beaches, and cultural spots, will be closed until the end of March.

Dubai had more than 13 million tourists in 2019, according to government statistics.

Stimulus package: The UAE’s central bank said that $27 billion (100 billion UAE Dirhams) will be rolled out to help curb the coronavirus effects, half of which will be in zero-cost loans to banks.

The UAE currently has 85 coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organization.

4:41 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trial is postponed over coronavirus fears

From CNN's Michael Schwartz and Oren Liebermann

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 3.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 3. Credit: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trial, which was scheduled to start on Tuesday, has been delayed until the end of May due to coronavirus emergency measures.

In response to the outbreak, with has infected 100 people in Israel, the Justice Minister has declared a state of emergency in Israel's court system.

Netanyahu's trial is now set to begin on May 24, said the Justice Ministry today.

Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust, making him the first sitting prime minister in Israel's history to be indicted.

The state of emergency in the court system restricts activity to only the most essential functions, the Justice Minister said in a statement, such as urgent petitions to the High Court.

4:16 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

There are now more than 152,000 coronavirus cases globally

The number of global coronavirus cases has passed 152,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are now 152,428 cases worldwide and 5,393 deaths. Cases have been reported in 141 countries and territories.

China remains the hardest-hit country, with 81,048 cases -- but the number of new infections there is falling to just a dozen or so every day.

Italy is the next hardest hit. It now has 21,157 cases -- after seeing a huge spike of 3,000 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Iran is third, with more than 12,700 cases -- it has recorded about 1,000 new cases since yesterday.

4:05 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

If you're just joining us, here's the latest

Here are the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic since our last catch-up:

  • China lifts travel restrictions: Highways are reopening, quarantine stations are being removed, and employees are returning to work, now that the country has largely contained its outbreak.
  • US officials grow frustrated: Local and state governments are expressing frustration with the federal government's handling of the crisis. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker tweeted at Trump that "the federal government needs to get its s@#t together," after arriving passengers at Chicago's O'Hare airport had to wait hours to get through customs.
  • New airline measures: The aviation industry has been hit hard, with declining passenger demand and global travel restrictions. American Airlines is cutting 75% of its international, long-haul flights, and Korean Air is using its grounded passenger planes for cargo transport.
  • South Korea: New cases continue to drop this week, making officials cautiously hopeful. The city of Daegu and its surrounding North Gyeongsang Province were declared "special disaster zones" today, however, to allow the federal government to provide more assistance in emergency measures and recovery.
  • Closures in Rwanda: The east African country is closing all schools and places of worship, just a day after confirming its first case.
  • And also in the Vatican: The Vatican is closing Easter masses and Holy Week celebrations to the public, as well as museums and public spaces including Saint Peter Square.
4:08 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

The Vatican will hold Easter events without the public amid coronavirus concerns

From Valentina di Donato and Delia Gallagher in Rome

A police officer standing guard at the Vatican's Saint Peter's Square and its main basilica on Wednesday.
A police officer standing guard at the Vatican's Saint Peter's Square and its main basilica on Wednesday. Credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

The public will not be able to attend the Vatican's Easter masses and public Holy Week events due to coronavirus concerns, said the Vatican in a statement today.

Holy Week events include Thursday’s traditional washing of the feet, Friday’s “Way of the Cross” at the Colosseum, and Easter Sunday masses on April 12.

The cancellations also affect Palm Sunday events on April 5.

Pope Francis has extended his live-streamed Wednesday audiences and Sunday Angelus until April 12. 

Closures in the Vatican: Earlier this week, the Vatican also closed Saint Peter Square and Saint Peter Basilica to tourists, and announced that museums would be closed until early April.

The Vatican has one confirmed case of the coronavirus.

3:36 a.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Cats and dogs abandoned at the start of the outbreak are now starving

From CNN's Allen Kim

A member of Vshine tends to a pet cat that was left behind during the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
A member of Vshine tends to a pet cat that was left behind during the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Vshine

The pandemic has infected more than 100,000 people around the globe -- but it's not just humans impacted.

Many animals in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus is believed to have originated, have died or are at risk of dying after residents evacuated their homes in the wake of the lockdown, animal advocates have said.

Wendy Higgins, director of international media at Humane Society International, told CNN that dogs and cats have been left behind in apartments -- not just in Wuhan, but in cities such as Beijing, too.

"Estimates are impossible, but we do know that in Wuhan, for example, animal activists have assisted with animals in upwards of 1,000 apartments. So, the numbers nationwide will be significant," she said.

The pets are at risk of starvation. Residents who were forced to leave their pets behind typically left enough food and water to last them for a few days, thinking they would be able to return soon, some animal advocates told CNN.

But nearly a month after they evacuated, many residents have not returned home.

There may be tens of thousands of dogs and cats left behind in Hubei Province, said Vshine Animal Protection Association, a China-based animal welfare and environmental organization which partners with Humane Society International.

Vshine has received at least 400 calls from residents in the city of Dalian alone, asking for employees to check in on their pets.

Read the full story here.