Jacinda Ardern's toughest virus travel restrictions

 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking the world's toughest border security measures to stop the coronavirus from spreading, after she declared all international arrivals - including returning Kiwis - must self-isolate for a fortnight as the country locks down to ward off the spread of coronavirus.

Ms Ardern announced the measure on Saturday after an emergency meeting of cabinet.

"We do not take these decisions lightly," she said.

"New Zealand will have the widest-ranging and toughest border restrictions of anyone in the world." Ms Ardern said the measure applied to people, and not goods, though gave an exemption to people arriving from the Pacific - a region largely devoid of the virus.

The decisions will take effect as of midnight NZDT on Sunday. New Zealand has just six cases of the disease to date, and none that have been transmitted through the community.

Ms Ardern also announced cruise ships would not be allowed to dock in New Zealand until June.

The decision will be reviewed in 16 days.

To illustrate her point, she used a graphic that has gone viral around the world which explains how we can reduce the spread of the virus.

The graphic, titled 'Flatten the curve' explains the need for social distancing measures as confusion about the seriousness of the virus grows.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern displays a graph during a press conference in Auckland, New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern displays a graph during a press conference in Auckland, New Zealand.

Earlier on Saturday, the government announced the cancellation of a national remembrance service in honour of the Christchurch mosque attacks, which took place on March 15 last year.

The immediate status of NRL season faces fresh fears following the New Zealand government's decision to force all international arrivals to self-quarantine for a fortnight beginning midnight on Sunday (NZT).

The development has prompted the Warriors, who are currently in NSW facing Newcastle in their season-opener, to hold emergency talks with NRL officials at 5pm on Saturday afternoon (AEDT).

"Cameron George (CEO) says the club is awaiting more details about travel restrictions just announced by the Government in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic," the Warriors said in a statement on Saturday.

Australia's one-day international series against New Zealand has also been abandoned after the New Zealanders had to rush home due to coronavirus precautions.

The New Zealand government announced Saturday that all incoming passengers would be subject to a 14-day quarantine, from midnight Sunday.

"A consequence of this is that we need to get our team back to New Zealand before the restriction is imposed, meaning it will not be able to participate in the two remaining Chappell-Hadlee fixtures," a New Zealand Cricket spokesman said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern displays a graph during a press conference in Auckland, New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern displays a graph during a press conference in Auckland, New Zealand.

Australia won the first match on Friday at the Sydney Cricket Ground by 71 runs, with no spectators in the stadium. The second match was set for Sunday, also at the SCG, and the third next Friday in Hobart.

The teams were scheduled to play three Twenty20s against each other in New Zealand, starting from March 24, but those have also been called off. "NZC believes both these series can be replayed in their entirety at a later and more appropriate date," the spokesman said. "NZC understands and supports the government's position. This is a time of unprecedented risk and peril, and the personal health and well-being of our players is paramount."

WE'VE BEEN TESTED, WHY NOT SCOMO?

A well known Queensland lawyer Deb Kilroy has revealed she and her friend were on the same plane as Peter Dutton and have had tests for coronavirus. She took to Twitter asking why she's also had to be quarantined, unlike others including the Prime Minister, who are not being tested at all.

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES SUSPENDS OPERATIONS

The nation's biggest cruise ship company has announced it will suspend operations across Australian-based ships for at least a month in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Carnival Cruise Line on Saturday announced it would suspend operations across Australian-based ships until at least April 13.

Two ships currently at sea will continue their voyages before returning to Sydney as scheduled.

TRUMP HITS OUT AT CHINA OVER VIRUS

Donald Trump has hit out at China, amid strange new claims about the coronavirus.

Trump, who faces testing for the virus himself, hit out at China assertions COVID-19 was introduced to the communist state by their superpower rivals.

After he declared a national state of emergency, promising up to US$50 billion ($A78 billion) to fight coronavirus, Mr Trump indicated he would "most likely" be tested soon after he was exposed to an aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who has since tested positive.

Mr Bolsonaro has tested negative.

Meanwhile America's first daughter Ivanka Trump has not gone into isolation and or been tested after her exposure to Australia's corona virus-infected Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton.

 

Peter Dutton met with Ivanka Trump in The White House last week. Picture: AP/The White House
Peter Dutton met with Ivanka Trump in The White House last week. Picture: AP/The White House

Ms Trump met Mr Dutton last week in Washington at a child exploitation summit, along with Attorney-General William Barr and other White House staff.

The White House said Ms Trump was working from home and was not planning to go into self-isolation, which is the recommended action from those exposed to someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19.

Ms Trump on Friday worked from home and was following instructions from the White House Medical Unit, according to a spokesman.

"The White House is aware that Mr Dutton tested positive for COVID-19," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

"He was asymptomatic during the interaction. Exposures from the case were assessed and the White House Medical Unit confirmed, in accordance with CDC guidance, that Ivanka is exhibiting no symptoms and does not need to self-quarantine.

"She worked from home today out of an abundance of caution until guidance was given."

Meanwhile, Mr Barr "felt great and wasn't showing any symptoms," according to the Justice Department.

Overnight the World Health Organisation said the death toll from the virus had reached 5000.

As of 6.30am on Saturday, there were 197 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 3 deaths, in Australia, according to the Chief Medical Officer.

CHINESE 'CONSPIRACY' SLAMMED

The United States on Saturday summoned China's ambassador after a senior official in Beijing tweeted the "ridiculous" suggestion that the US military started the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Department said.

David Stilwell, the top US diplomat for Asia, issued a "stern representation" to Ambassador Cui Tiankai a day after foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted the conspiracy theory.

"China is seeking to deflect criticism for its role in starting a global pandemic and not telling the world," a State Department official said.

"Spreading conspiracy theories is dangerous and ridiculous. We wanted to put the government on notice we won't tolerate it, for the good of the Chinese people and the world," the official said.

Zhao, in tweets in both Mandarin and English that gained wide traction on Chinese social media, a day earlier suggested that "patient zero" in the global pandemic may have come from the United States and not the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, where cases were first reported in late 2019.

"It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation," tweeted Zhao, who is known for his provocative statements on social media.

His comment came as President Donald Trump's administration, which has faced increasing criticism over its own coronavirus response, has increasingly highlighted the illness's foreign origins, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dubbing it the "Wuhan virus." Cui, in contrast to Zhao, is known for his diplomatic approach. A day before he was summoned, Cui tweeted that China hoped to work closely with the United States to fight COVID-19 for "a more prosperous shared future." Scientists widely believe that the pandemic started in a market in Wuhan that sold exotic animals for human consumption.

Trump, speaking to reporters to announce a state of emergency over the pandemic, also dismissed the Chinese conspiracy theory when asked about it.

"They know where it came from. We all know where it came from," said Trump, who also voiced confidence that the row would not affect a first-phase deal to resolve a trade war.

AUSTRALIA IS 'FLATTENING' THE VIRUS

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said on Saturday new preventive measures should mean the virus won't advance like it has in other countries.

"We do not want to see rapid increases like we have in some parts of the world," he said.

"That's why we're moving early. It's very hard to predict. An infection could take some months to go through the community. If it develops in a number of parts (of the country) it could last for quite a number of weeks.

"At the moment we are just focusing on containing and flattening it."

Professor Murphy said restrictions, including stopping public transport and closing schools would continue to be assessed.

"There is no magic number," he said.

"It might depend on how focal it is, what part of the city, whether you do measures in one part of the city, so we would look at the circumstances as they arise."

NATIONAL EMERGENCY DECLARED, WALL STREET BOOMS

That news came as Mr Trump announced extraordinary measure in an attempt to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

"To unleash the full power of the federal government, today I am officially declaring a national emergency," Mr Trump said at the White House on Friday afternoon, local time.

"Two very big words.

"This measure will save countless lives."

Mr Trump said the US had made "tremendous progress" and "we will overcome the threat of the virus", as he promised to vastly increase and accelerate testing capacity in partnership with private companies.

The US government has faced mounting criticism in recent days about a lack of testing and delays in results, after early fumbles by its Centre for Diseases Control in the rollout of testing.

"We want to make sure that those who need a test, can get a test very safely and conveniently," he said.

"But we don't want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn't be doing it. We don't want everyone running out and taking it ... only if you have certain symptoms."

The improved funding would bolster the country's medical response.

"I am urging every state to set up emergency operation centres effective immediately," he said.

He was also "asking every hospital in this country to activate its emergency preparedness plans".

"This will pass through, and we are going to be even stronger for it," he said.

Mr Trump said the US had made "tremendous progress" and "we will overcome the threat of the virus", as he promised to vastly increase and accelerate testing capacity in partnership with private companies.

He said the next eight weeks "are critical" in tackling the spread of the deadly virus.

"We can learn and we will turn a corner on this virus."

The US government has faced mounting criticism in recent days about a lack of testing and delays in results, after early fumbles by its Centre for Diseases Control in the rollout of testing.

"We want to make sure that those who need a test, can get a test very safely and conveniently," he said.

"But we don't want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn't be doing it. We don't want everyone running out and taking it … only if you have certain symptoms."

The improved funding would bolster the country's medical response.

"I am urging every state to set up emergency operation centres effective immediately," he said.

He was also "asking every hospital in this country to activate its emergency preparedness plans to meet the needs of Americans everywhere.

"We'll remove or eliminate every obstacle necessary to deliver our people the care that they need and that they're entitled to. No resource will be spared, nothing whatsoever.

"This will pass through, and we are going to be even stronger for it," he said.

Meanwhile, Wall Street ended a brutal week with US stocks recording the biggest one-day jump since 2008 after US President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency and unlocked $US50 billion ($A78 billion) towards the fight.

A day after the worst share market slide since the Black Monday crash of 1987, US markets surged almost 10 per cent at the closing bell.

The US markets tracked about 4 per cent higher for most of the day's trade until Mr Trump's announcement more than doubled the enthusiasm of investors.

NEW RELIEF PACKAGE ANNOUNCED

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would pass a coronavirus relief package that included: free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured, two weeks of guaranteed paid sick leave, as well as increased family leave, increased support for unemployment benefits, works to strengthen programs that provide school lunches for students who rely on them and a bump in Medicaid funding.

It came as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton tested positive to coronavirus in a shock development that will cause chaos for Australia's leadership.

Peter Dutton met with Ivanka Trump in The White House last week. Picture: AP/The White House
Peter Dutton met with Ivanka Trump in The White House last week. Picture: AP/The White House

 

Mr Dutton, 48, woke up this morning "with a temperature and sore throat" and got tested.

"I immediately contacted the Queensland Department of Health and was subsequently tested for COVID-19. I was advised by Queensland Health this afternoon that the test had returned positive," he said in a statement.

"It is the policy of Queensland Health that anyone who tests positive is to be admitted into hospital and I have complied with their advice."

"I feel fine and will provide an update in due course."

Mr Dutton had just returned from a trip to the United States.

He had held meetings with his Five Eyes intelligence counterparts in Washington on protecting kids online from exploitation and abuse.

It is presumed that Mr Dutton picked up the virus during the US trip, in which he met Ivanka Trump and many senior members of the Trump White House.

News Corp Australia has approached the White House to ask if Mr Dutton's exposure means Ivanka Trump, Attorney-General William Barr and others with whom Mr Dutton interacted last week will be tested.

His result has prompted concern that other members of the government and parliament might also have the virus.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said Mr Dutton has been isolated according to the policies of Queensland Health.

"Queensland Health will undertake the appropriate contact tracing," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Mr Dutton attended Tuesday's meeting of the Federal Cabinet in person and Thursday's meeting of the National Security Committee via video link.

"In advice provided to the Prime Minister this evening, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer has reiterated that only people who had close contact with the Minister in the preceding 24 hours before he became symptomatic need to self-isolate.

"That does not include the Prime Minister or any other members of the Cabinet."

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION CALLS FOR DONATIONS

The World Health Organization has established a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in an effort to raise much-needed money to combat coronavirus.

The WHO writes that the fund will enable them to send essential supplies to frontline health workers, boost laboratory capacity through training and equipment, provide vital information to communities, and fast-track the discovery of vaccines, diagnostics and treatment.

 

On Friday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Europe is now the "epicentre" of the pandemic, with more cases now being reported in Europe than in China at the height of its epidemic.

Google and Facebook are among the companies to have already contributed to the fund.

There is not a public tally yet of how much has been raised.

MIXED REPORTS ABOUT BOLSONARO'S CORONAVIRUS TEST

Brazil's media reported that its president, Jair Bolsonaro, has tested positive for coronavirus. However, those reports were disputed by the Brazilian President on his Facebook page.

"Don't believe the fake news media! they're the ones who need you!" he wrote.

 

Mr Bolsonaro's press secretary, Fabio Wajngarten, does however have the coronavirus following their trip to the US.

Mr Bolsonaro dined with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night and videos and photos, including some on Mr Wajngarten's own Instagram account, showed the press secretary, Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Trump all in proximity.

"I'm not concerned," Mr Trump told reporters on Thursday.

Mr Bolsonaro has downplayed the crisis, saying "other flus kill more than this" and has also called concern over coronavirus "oversized".

MORE EVENTS CANCELLED, VENUES CLOSE

The Louvre museum in Paris said it would close from 1700 GMT until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.

 

A man walks near the entrance of the Louvre Museum. Picture: AP
A man walks near the entrance of the Louvre Museum. Picture: AP

The Eiffel Tower will also close tonight until further notice.

The French government has moved to ban public gatherings of more than 100 people in order to stop the spread of the epidemic.

The Boston Marathon, scheduled for April 20, has been postponed until September 14 because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Until Friday, not even the Great Depression or ferocious storms had interrupted the 124-year-old race, a bucket list quest for runners worldwide. About a third of this year's field were from outside the US.

Runners pass supporters during the Boston Marathon. Picture: AP
Runners pass supporters during the Boston Marathon. Picture: AP

In recent days, the Rome Marathon was cancelled, the Paris Marathon was postponed from April 5 to Oct. 18 and the Barcelona Marathon was postponed from March 15 to Oct. 25, all over concerns around COVID-19.

The 40th London Marathon was due to take place on April 26 but it has now been announced that it has been postponed until October 4.

The English Premier League has finally bowed to pressure and announced they are suspending the season for three weeks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes with the football world in crisis as Uefa also announced all Champions League and Europa League matches scheduled for next week have been postponed.

 

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea star Callum Hudson-Odoi have tested positive for the deadly bug.

Today Everton, West Ham and Bournemouth joined Chelsea, Arsenal, Leicester and Watford in putting their squads into self-isolation.

Meanwhile Japan is dismissing calls to delay the Tokyo Olympics.

In a phone call with US President Donald Trump on Friday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Japan is planning to press on with the Olympics and Paralympics as planned despite Mr Trump's one-year postponement suggestion.

Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan and New Mexico have become the first US states to shut all K-12 schools over coronavirus concerns.

Washington may be next with Gov. Jay Inslee telling school districts across the state to prepare to close, while some large school districts have already shut.

Wales has announced that all non-essential hospital procedures will be cancelled to hand the demand from the coronavirus.

PM BACKFLIPS ON NRL PLANS AFTER BAN ON MASS EVENTS

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will not be going to the opening round of the NRL this weekend.

Just hours after insisting he would be at the "footy" this weekend before a ban on mass events with crowds larger than 500 people comes into effect on Monday, Mr Morrison backed out.

A spokesman said the decision was made after "further consideration and the potential for the Prime Minister's attendance to be misrepresented".

"The Prime Minister has chosen not to attend the match this weekend," the spokesman said.

"The Prime Minister believes this would avoid any unnecessary confusion about his attendance."

The spokesman said Mr Morrison did not want to create "any unnecessary alarm" as a result of announcing the ban on large events.

"The Prime Minister today said he would be attending the Sharks' first NRL match because he wanted to make it very clear that the medical advice from the experts about mass gatherings of more than 500 people was not taking immediate effect," the spokesman said.

"The PM made the point the advice was being introduced after the weekend so the medical experts could finalise their arrangements and that there was no serious immediate health risk to Australians attending such events over the weekend."

The move comes after Chief Health Officer Professor Brendan Murphy urged the extraordinary action to combat the coronavirus crisis at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Sydney today.

 

 

 

But Mr Morrison said it does not apply to schools or universities.

"It does not mean people getting on public transport or going to airports or things of that nature," he said.

"These events that we are seeking to advise against and restrict our four non-essential, organised gatherings of persons of 500 or more.

"There will be many issues to work through between now and Monday as we get the precise advice about the implementation of that advice to Australians around the country."

Health authorities are continuing to work through the best social distancing strategies.

But contrary to this, Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone has advised people not to wait until Monday to cease attending mass events.

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He said "every day we delay in acting on the necessary need to reduce and cancel attendance we will see a significant increase," he said.

"My advice to Australian is as follows, clearly if you have any respiratory symptoms you should not be going out into any mass gatherings this weekend or at any stage from now.," he said.

"Number two I would advise … patients in the community to make a decision and consider whether they should attend and rather than waiting for Monday make the necessary steps now," he said.

Australia's Department of Defence has created a task force for the military's response to the coronavirus.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, the deputy director of the Australian Signals Directorate, is leading the task force, a Defence spokesman has confirmed to AAP.

The nation's leaders have also agreed to form a "national cabinet" - including the Prime Minister, state premiers and chief ministers - to meet weekly and co-ordinate their response to the crisis.

The advice to cancel non-essential mass gatherings is expected to be reviewed daily, but at this stage an end date for the extraordinary measure has not been set.

Empty stands at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, which was cancelled in the wake of coronavirus. The government has been advised to ban mass gatherings over 500 people. Picture: AAP
Empty stands at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, which was cancelled in the wake of coronavirus. The government has been advised to ban mass gatherings over 500 people. Picture: AAP

It will be considered by the new national cabinet, which will hold its first meeting on Sunday.

Mr Morrison said the government's plan was designed to slow the spread of the virus, which had been successful so far, putting Australia in a better position than other countries.

"But we've always known that the number of cases would rise," he said.

Mr Morrison said the advice from Monday was part of a stepped response.

But he said he was still intending on going to his NRL team's game where the Cronulla Sharks are set to play the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday afternoon.

"We are not of great concern right now in terms of where those gatherings might be today, but in the weeks ahead, this will change," he said.

"The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved Sharks, it might be the last game I get to go to for a long time. That's fine."

It follows the decision to cancel the Grand Prix in Melbourne after Victoria's first recorded case of community transmission of the virus.

 

Team members pack up in the garage of Australian F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo at Albert Park – where the 2020 Australian Grand Prix was to be held. Picture: AAP
Team members pack up in the garage of Australian F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo at Albert Park – where the 2020 Australian Grand Prix was to be held. Picture: AAP

 

EVENTS AXED, AUDIENCES BANNED

The AFL is actively investigating pushing its season into mid-October as the league sensationally banned all fans from its Round 1 fixtures.

Crowds will be banned from Australia's one-day cricket series against New Zealand with the series to be played behind closed doors because of coronavirus.

Cricket Australia took the drastic step on Friday, just hours before the series opener at the SCG.

Another match is due for the SCG on Sunday, before another game in front of an empty stadium at Blundstone Arena in Hobart next Friday.

A women's tour of South Africa for next week has also been suspended, making it the first major international cricket series affected since the outbreak of the virus.

Australian Mens ODI player Aaron Finch (centre) during a training session at the SCG. Picture: AAP
Australian Mens ODI player Aaron Finch (centre) during a training session at the SCG. Picture: AAP

In Queensland, the CMC Rocks QLD team have called off the annual festival in Willowbank, next week.

"As a result of the Australian Government's announcement this afternoon, holding the festival is now infeasible and as such, the March festival cannot proceed as planned," festival organisers posted.

"Ticketholders are advised to hold onto their tickets; we're working to reschedule to October. Anyone who is unable to attend the new dates will be entitled to a full refund."

Meanwhile, the Wine Machine festival will go ahead in the Hunter Valley this weekend, according to a statement from organisers this evening.

But the remainder dates have now been shifted to later in the year with the Swan Valley show on October 17, Canberra on October 24 and Yarra Valley on October 31.

The tickets to these events will be honoured for the rescheduled October dates.

All ticket holders have been notified of the postponement by email with further details and instructions.

And Scottish music legend Midge Ure has posted his assurance his remaining Australian shows will go ahead but advised fans to keep on eye on his social media accounts for last minute changes.

Q&A will go ahead without a live audience.
Q&A will go ahead without a live audience.

ABC boss David Anderson has suspended live audiences for any broadcast and for all locations, from Monday, a staff memo confirms.

That includes flagship news affairs panel program Q&A that the Herald Sun revealed was considering the move ahead of Monday's school special.

Producers of next Monday's episode about the increasing threat of coronavirus will have to work out how to get audience questions to the panellists without them physically being present.

Tours of ABC facilities, including school tours and public tours of ABC sites, including Ultimo, have also been suspended until further notice, amid the rolling changes forced by coronavirus fears.

Non-essential visitors and meetings at ABC facilities have been postponed until further notice, while all non-essential domestic travel will be cancelled. This follows management's earlier directive to cancel any overseas travel.

No cases of COVID-19 have been identified within the ABC.

 

GRAND PRIX CANCELLED

The Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled due to the coronavirus, officials have confirmed.

"At 9am today the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) was advised by Formula One of their intention to cancel all Formula 1 activity at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix," an AGPC statement said.

"In light of this decision and updated advice this morning from the Chief Health Officer of the Victorian Government's Department of Human and Health Services, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation confirms the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix is cancelled immediately."

AGPC and F1 officials will hold a press conference on the announcement at 1130 AEDT but support categories at Albert Park also look set to be called off.

Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, arrives at the track for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. Picture: AP
Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, arrives at the track for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. Picture: AP

The F1 season opener was under a cloud after McLaren pulled out of the Grand Prix when a team member tested positive to the virus on Thursday.

Eight team members across numerous F1 outfits had been assessed and tested while in Melbourne.

A ninth person - who is not a member of an F1 team - is also being tested.

"Last night a member of the McLaren Racing team tested positive for the COVID-19 virus," the AGPC said.

"A further seven individuals returned negative results, confirming that they do not have the COVID-19 virus.

"Additionally, a ninth individual has been assessed and tested for the COVID-19 virus, with the results of this test pending.

"This individual is not associated with any Formula 1 team, the FIA or associated suppliers.

"Our first priority is the safety of everyone including attendees, our personnel, all event partners and members of the local community."

AGPC officials said further information regarding ticket refunds would be "communicated in due course".

 

 

 

 

DISNEY, BROADWAY SHUT AS TRUMP URGES CALM

The lights went out on Broadway, Disneyland shut its doors, every major sports league was suspended and entire states closed their school systems as the full threat of the coronavirus hit home across the United States on Friday.

The impact was felt at the very top, with US President Donald Trump revealed to have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 sufferer and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau placing himself into isolation after his wife tested positive.

 

Mr Trump, who has not yet been tested for the virus, said he understood that Americans were worried as Wall St sunk to its lowest point since the 1987 crash.

"It will end," said Mr Trump of the crisis. "People have to remain calm."

And of the millions of people changing their plans, he said: "I think it's fine if they want to do it. I don't think it's an over-reaction. But I wouldn't be generally inclined to do it. I really wouldn't be."

The White House has been accused of fumbling the rollout of tests, with current US testing at among the worst rates in the developed world.

The Centre for Diseases Control said it had analysed about 11,700 tests, many of them repeated on the same patients, compared to 20,000 being done each day in South Korea.

The top US infectious disease admitted the testing hadn't met expectations and said conditions would soon improve.

"The system is not really geared to what we need right now," said Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

"That is a failing. It is a failing, let's admit it."

 

Sleeping Beauty's Castle in the background at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. Disneyland says it's closing its California parks starting Saturday over coronavirus concerns. Picture: AP
Sleeping Beauty's Castle in the background at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. Disneyland says it's closing its California parks starting Saturday over coronavirus concerns. Picture: AP

 

And both Democratic presidential candidates slammed the federal response, with Bernie Sanders indicating the death toll could be higher than that of US servicemen in WWII.

Frontrunner Joe Biden said: "This administration has left us woefully unprepared for the exact crisis we now face."

Friday was by far the day that hit Americans hardest in the unfolding crisis, as the warnings about how every aspect of their lives could change became a reality.

Thousands of students won't be at school for at least three weeks in broad swathes of the nation ranging from Ohio and San Francisco to Connecticut.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency but said he was unlikely to close the city's schools because many low income families relied on them to feed their children.

And a ban on gatherings of over 500 people in the state of New York shut down the famed theatre district of Broadway

"You don't want to shut down society, because that's massively disruptive - to the economy, to life, etc, but your main concern here is the public health crisis, and it's balancing the two," said Governor Andrew Cuomo of the shutdown, which also closed the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Minskoff Theatre is shuttered in New York, near Times Square after Broadway theatres closed following New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's banning of gatherings of more than 500 people. Picture: AP
The Minskoff Theatre is shuttered in New York, near Times Square after Broadway theatres closed following New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's banning of gatherings of more than 500 people. Picture: AP

Disneyland announced it would shut its parks in Florida and California, while the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball suspended competition, putting billions of dollars of revenue and thousands of jobs at risk.

The NCAA March Madness college basketball competition, second only on the sport calendar to the Super Bowl, was cancelled.

"This is bigger than a sport or championship," said Kansas University coach Bill Self.

As for the contact with Mr Trump, even though he was photographed with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's communications director, Fábio Wajngarten, who has since tested positive, the White House tried to downplay the risk.

"Both the President and Vice President had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

 

 

 

 

CORONAVIRUS CLAIMS MORE THAN 1000 LIVES IN ITALY

Italy's coronavirus death toll has surged past 1000 despite the country being in severe lockdown for days now.

The country lost another 189 people in the past 24 hours, causing Italy's death toll to jump 23 per cent to 1016, the Civil Protection Agency confirmed Friday.

Italy's 60 million people have been in lockdown since March 9 with the country closing all of its shops - expect for pharmacies grocery stores.

Despite that, the country still saw a huge jump in its confirmed cases on Friday, with 15,113 infections, a rise of 2,651 in 24 hours. It was also the biggest daily rise since Italy was first hit by the virus on February 21.

Europe continues to be brought to its knees by the virus with countries across the continent cancelling gatherings and sporting matches and closing schools, universities and childcare centres.

A man wearing a mask walks in Codogno, Italy. The northern Italian town recorded Italy’s first coronavirus infection. Picture: AP
A man wearing a mask walks in Codogno, Italy. The northern Italian town recorded Italy’s first coronavirus infection. Picture: AP

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared it "the worst public health crisis in a generation".

"It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time," he told reporters, early Friday (AEDT).

The UK government asked anyone with a mild cough or temperature to stay at home for a week as the country's confirmed cases surged to 590 people with the virus killing 10 people.

But the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance instead warned the actual number of people infected could be as high as 10,000 as testing struggles to keep up with the spread.

"Currently we are on a trajectory that looks as though it is about four weeks or so behind Italy and some other countries in Europe," he said.

"There are currently 590 cases that have been identified in the UK and there are more than 20 patients on intensive care units.

"If you calculate what that really means, it's much more likely that we've got somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 people infected at the moment."

 

France's Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron announced the drastic measure of closing all schools and universities from Monday following the country's 2284 cases and 48 deaths.

Further north, Norway's King Harald V and Queen Sonja are in self-quarantine for two weeks after visiting Jordan on a state visit.

Norwegian Air temporarily laid off half its staff until the end of May after the budget airline was forced to cancel 4000 flights.

The Scandinavian country was put in lockdown on Thursday by Prime Minister Erna Solberg as Norwegian authorities grappled with its huge number of cases.

Australia's Smart Traveller website has not updated its warning for Norway yet, despite the country's PM warning anyone arriving there would be quarantined for two weeks.

 

The spread of the virus in Norway has been one of the fastest in Europe, with more than 700 confirmed cases and no deaths.

The high number has been attributed to the country's efficiency in testing its population of 5.3 million people, meaning there is actual data on how many have it.

In Spain, the country's King Felipe VI and his wife Queen Letizia were also tested for coronavirus after the government's equality minister Irene Montero contracted the virus.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain jumped to 3004 early Friday (AEDT), an increase of 800 people in 24 hours. The virus has also killed 86 people.

More than 131,000 people have contracted the virus across 116 countries and territories with China still being the worst hit.

 

 

 

VIRGIN FLIGHTS CUT, WORKER HAS VIRUS

Virgin Australia will slash capacity on domestic and international routes, with the airline also confirming one of its cabin crew has coronavirus.

CEO Paul Scurrah said the woman fell ill after returning from overseas.

She's now in isolation and passengers who came into contact with her are being traced but Mr Scurrah wouldn't reveal which flight or flights are of concern.

He refused to answer when asked if the worker had been on a Gold Coast to Sydney flight.

"We are not confirming the flight this cabin crew was on," he said, but added everyone who may be at risk was being tracked down.

The airline has also revealed it will cut capacity on some routes as travel dries up amid the outbreak.

"The group is taking action to reduce capacity in the international markets it operates in and reduce domestic capacity in line with weakened demand," the airline said in a statement on Friday.

 

Virgin Australia Airlines has a crew member with the virus. Picture: AP
Virgin Australia Airlines has a crew member with the virus. Picture: AP

 

Across the group, domestic capacity will be cut by five per cent in the second half of the financial year ending June.

It will also reducing international capacity by eight per cent. Daily services between Brisbane and Tokyo's Haneda will be cut to three times per week from 29 March until 3 May.

Daily services from Sydney to Los Angeles will drop to five times per week from early May to early June.

Trans-Tasman services will also be cut further.

Fridays international changes follow the group's recent withdrawal from Hong Kong services.

 

 

 

 

AUSSIES IN ASPEN VIRUS OUTBREAK

Meantime, nine Australians who were travelling in Aspen tested positive for the coronavirus.

The tourists are all aged in their 50s, 60s and 70s and have been placed in isolation in their hotels.

They were travelling with a 21-year-old Australian woman who tested positive for the coronavirus.

They are in isolation in their hotels in the ski town after exhibiting symptoms.

Pitkin County public health confirmed test results for one more person who was also in the group of Australians is pending.

The tests are considered presumptive positives because they haven't been confirmed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"These visitors are currently in quarantine," said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County public health director.

 

"(State public health department) staff, in conjunction with Pitkin County Public Health, are monitoring people who may have been exposed. … We hope that these folks recover quickly and there is no additional spread in Pitkin County."

"They have been extremely cooperative and gracious under difficult circumstances," Aspen Snowmass Communications Vice President Jeff Hanle said.

"We hope that they all have a quick and complete recovery."

Ms Koenemann said a further three Australians refused to take a coronavirus test.

"They did not give reasons why they didn't want to be tested," Koenemann told the Denver Post.

The Little Nell, one of Aspen's most exclusive hotels, confirmed it had two guests in isolation with coronavirus online.

"The couple is sharing a guest room and have been self-isolating since Sunday, March 8," the statement said.


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