The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.
“We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday.
“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”
The coronavirus, which emerged in China in December, has spread around the world, halting industry, bringing flights to a standstill, closing schools and forcing the postponement of sporting events and concerts. Even the Tokyo Summer Olympics are in question.
A pandemic is an epidemic on a far greater geographic scale that affects a much large number of people.
Before the WHO’s comments, Britain and Italy announced multi-billion-dollar war chests to fight the disease and the United States said it was considering new steps.
The Bank of England joined many other countries in cutting interest rates, by half a percentage point, and announced support for bank lending.
The United States, where the S&P 500 stock index was down almost 4%, said its steps could include tax relief, to combat the virus that could put hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said up to 70% of the population was likely to be infected as the virus spreads around the world in the absence of a cure.
“When the virus is out there, the population has no immunity and no therapy exists, then 60 to 70% of the population will be infected,” she told a news conference in Berlin.
A rebound in stocks ran out of steam on Wednesday despite the Bank of England move. Money markets are fully pricing in a further 10 basis-point cut by the European Central Bank when it meets on Thursday.
As of Tuesday’s close, $8.1 trillion in value has been erased from global stock markets in the recent rout.
More than 119,100 people have been infected by the coronavirus across the world and 4,298 have died, the vast majority in China, according to a Reuters tally. Italy has had 10,149 cases and 631 deaths. Iran has had 9,000 cases and 354 deaths. The United States has 975 cases and 30 deaths.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — When the new coronavirus surfaced at Saint Raphael Academy after a school group returned from a trip to Italy, officials decided to close the Rhode Island Catholic high school for two weeks.
Instead of cancelling classes, the school in Pawtucket instituted “virtual days” where students are expected to work from home, check for assignments through an online portal and occasionally chat with teachers.
A few miles away, a public charter school also closed after a teacher who attended the same Italy trip awaited test results. But at Achievement First, the two days off were treated like snow days — no special assignments and no expectation that kids keep up their schoolwork.
As more schools across the United States close their doors because of the coronavirus, they are confronted with a dilemma in weighing whether to shut down and move classes online, which could leave behind the many students who don’t have computers, home internet access or parents with flexible work schedules. As the closures accelerate, children at some schools, like Saint Raphael, will be able to continue some form of learning, while children at schools with fewer technological or other resources, may simply miss out.MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
The deep technological and wealth gap that exists nationwide between poor and affluent students has made the coronavirus outbreak even more challenging for school officials, who are wrestling with not only health and safety decisions but also questions about the ethics of school closures.
These deliberations have been playing out in schools all around the country during the outbreak, from urban districts in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles to rural ones in Nebraska and Pennsylvania.
“If we shut down for a week or two weeks, and some of the kids can do it but some can’t, what do you do?” said Edward Albert, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. “There are some places that don’t even have phone service.”
Although widespread closures are a new development in the United States, they are already a reality in nations that have been hit harder by the virus. The United Nations’ education agency, UNESCO, says nearly 300 million children in 22 countries on three continents were being affected by school closures last week. In response, it has begun supporting online learning programs.
In hard-hit Washington, education officials recommended against schools moving instruction online unless they can ensure equal access for all students, including those with disabilities or without internet access. The state’s education agency advised schools that it would make more sense to cancel school and make up classes at the end of the year.
“We are putting out a word of caution about the equity lens,” said Rhett Nelson, director of alternative learning at the state’s education department. “We want to discourage practices that disproportionately impact certain populations, especially those that are more at risk.”
Schools also have to consider whether closures are actually beneficial to public health. Very few cases have been found in children and teenagers, and experts caution schools to think about factors such as harms to children’s education and absenteeism among health care workers whose kids have to stay home.
“There’s not strong evidence that closing schools will have a meaningful public health benefit,” said Jennifer Nuzzo of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
In Los Angeles, teachers are raising concerns about an emergency plan to move classes online. So far, it’s unclear how the district would reach students whose families can’t afford laptops or internet service, said Alex Orozco, of the district’s teachers union. New York officials say they’re considering closings only as a last resort, citing concerns that it would disrupt daily life for thousands of families.
Some districts plan to distribute Wi-Fi hotspots to students without internet access, and others say they will provide computers to every student. Public schools in Miami say they’re readying more than 200,000 laptops ready to go home in case classes move online.
In the Northshore School District near Seattle, which shifted its classes online as of Monday, officials are loaning computers and hotspots to students who need them. They’re also providing to-go meals to address concerns about children who get free lunch going hungry.
Dozens of U.S. schools have announced closures of one or two days to disinfect schools, and some are shutting down for longer. Public schools in Scarsdale, New York, are canceling classes through March 18 with no plans to move online after a school worker tested positive. The 64,000-student Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento, California, closed through Friday after a district family was placed on quarantine.
The closures have proved to be a boon for some online schools and tech companies that help schools teach online. Many say they’re seeing increased demand for services, while some are offering to help schools for free. Among them is Google, which is giving schools free access to larger video conferences.
The Leyden High School District near Chicago has been offering “E-Learning Days” for four years when bad weather arrives. All students are given tablets, and they can get free Wi-Fi hotspots if needed. But the practice is normally used only a day at a time, and Superintendent Nick Polyak questions whether it could be sustained for longer stretches.
“We could do something really high-quality for a week. If it’s a month, I don’t know that we could,” Polyak said. “Not every student can just log on to a computer and participate. What do we do with our English language students? What to do with cafeteria workers and bus drivers? Do they just lose pay?”
Similar concerns have led some schools to plan for outright closures rather than virtual classes. An hour outside Lincoln, Nebraska, officials at Johnson-Brock Public School say they aren’t considering online options because internet accessibility is too spotty in their rural community. Instead, the district of 250 students would plan to close and make up days later.
Some other schools are planning for low-tech options, like packets of work that could be sent home every week. Even schools equipped with technology are considering that option for younger students who don’t use online learning software.
At the charter school in Providence, Achievement First closed for cleaning while it awaited a teacher’s coronavirus test results. She ended up testing negative and the school reopened after just two days.
Soraida Morales’ three children attend the school. She still had to go to work at her pharmacy job, but was able to depend on her parents for childcare while she worked. They are also fortunate to have a laptop at home, a luxury that many families in the district don’t have. The school serves a large number of English language learners, and the vast majority are considered economically disadvantaged.
Holly Taylor Coolman has two sophomores at the Pawtucket Catholic school shut down for two weeks. She and her husband are both college professors and have the flexibility to stay home with them and their 4th grader, a decision they made so they would not put anyone else at risk. She jokes that her family is in “quaranteen” as she keeps her kids on a strict schedule to keep up with coursework online.
She also recognizes that her family is fortunate to have the flexibility they do, and she wonders about what other families will do who don’t have the same kind of privilege.
“There’s this much bigger question about how are kids faring right now, who don’t have two parents at home or don’t have any parent at home,” she said.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Scientists raced to find a treatment, crews scrubbed everything from money to buses, and quarantines were enforced Wednesday from a beachfront resort in the Atlantic to an uninhabited island in the Pacific as the world fought the spread of a new virus.
In Europe, where Germany, France and Spain were among the places with a growing caseload, an expanding cluster of more than 200 cases in northern Italy was eyed as a source for transmissions. In the Middle East, where cases increased in Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq, blame was directed toward Iran. In Asia, where the crisis originated late last year in China, threats continued to emerge around the region, with South Korea battling a mass outbreak centered in the 2.5 million-person city of Daegu.
Though the virus pushed into countries both rich and poor, its arrival in places with little ability to detect, respond and contain it brought concern it could run rampant there and spread easily elsewhere.
“We’re going to be trying to slow down the spread so that our hospitals are not overwhelmed in one big gulp, one big hit,” said Ian Mackay, who studies viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Around the world, as Christians marked the start of the holy season of Lent with Ash Wednesday, worshipers found churches closed and rituals changed by virus fears. Even in St. Peter’s Square, many of those gathered for Pope Francis’ weekly audience wore face masks and clergy appeared to refrain from embracing the pontiff or kissing his ring.
Services in Singapore were broadcast online to keep people from crowded sanctuaries where germs could spread, bishops in South Korea shuttered churches for what they said was the first time in the Catholic Church’s 236-year history there, and in Malaysia and the Philippines, ashes were sprinkled on the heads of those marking the start of Lent instead of using a damp thumb to trace a cross of ashes.
“We would like to be cautious so that the coronavirus will not spread,” said the Rev. Victorino Cueto, rector of the National Shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila in the Philippines.
Major gatherings were eyed warily, with organizers scrambling to respond in the face of the epidemic. Looming largest of all are the Olympic games, whose opening ceremonies are scheduled for July 24 in Tokyo. A member of the International Olympic Committee, Richard Pound, sounded alarms a day earlier, saying the virus could force a cancellation of the games. The Japanese government, in turn, gave mixed signals, insisting they would go forward yet urging that sports events now be curtailed.Full Coverage: Virus Outbreak
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for major sports and cultural events in the coming two weeks to be canceled or postponed to stem further infections. Meanwhile, the top government spokesman said Olympics preparations would proceed and the games would go on as planned.
Among the other crowded places that had officials worried: Military bases.
The South Korean military announced additional infections among its troops, with 20 cases on its bases and some 9,570 people in isolation. The U.S. military, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, confirmed the first infection of an American soldier, a 23-year-old man based at Camp Carroll near Daegu, a day after Americans said a military spouse also had contracted the illness. Bowling alleys, movie theaters and a golf course on four American bases in the country were closed.
“This is a setback, it’s true, there’s no getting around that. But it’s not the end of the war,” Col. Edward Ballanco, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Daegu told troops in a video message. “We are very well equipped to fight this thing off.”
Italy recorded 52 new infections on Wednesday and Greece became the newest country to see a case of the virus. South Korea announced 284 new cases, largely in Daegu, bringing its total to 1,261. China, still the epicenter of the crisis even as new outposts caught the world’s attention, reported 406 new cases and 52 more deaths. The country has a total of 78,604 cases of the virus and 2,715 fatalities.
China said Wednesday that those sickened by the virus included 555 prisoners who officials said likely became infected by guards using the same bus station as a nearby pulmonary hospital. In a twist, China is now heavily regulating arrivals from abroad, with authorities placing South Koreans under monitoring, state broadcaster CCTV reported, after five people on a flight showed signs of fever.
Indonesia said it evacuated 188 crew members from the World Dream cruise ship and planned to take them to remote Sebaru Island. The workers were released from quarantine in Hong Kong after finding no infections, but authorities mandated an additional observation period.
And on the opposite side of the world, the MSC Meraviglia was denied permission to land in Grand Cayman, where it was due to arrive Wednesday, following a decision by Jamaica to refuse it entry. The cruise line expressed frustration with the moves, which came after it reported one crew member from the Philippines was sick with common seasonal flu.
It brought reminders of the MS Westerdam, which was repeatedly denied entry to Asian ports before Cambodia welcomed its passengers.
MSC Cruises said the Meraviglia was sailing onward to Mexico.
Sedensky reported from Bangkok. Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Joeal Calupitan in Manila, Philippines; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Stephen Wade and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo; Nicole Winfield in Vatican City; Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
Testing trials of a potential COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine are expected to start in about six weeks, coming ahead of schedule, according to a top U.S. health official.
“We are on time at least and maybe even a little bit better,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told reporters on Tuesday. However, he cautioned about potential “further glitches.”
The National Institutes of Health has been working with Moderna, a biotechnology company, to produce a vaccine that uses the current strain of the coronavirus.
U.S. health officials are fast-tracking development on a coronavirus vaccine, Fauci suggested.
“The gene has been expressed in the platform, in this case, a messenger RNA. The material has been produced, it’s been put into mice. It’s immunogenic,” he said. “It’s now getting ready to go through the regulatory issues of getting it to go.”
Fauci noted that it’s possible the virus might be seasonal and said this vaccine may not solve any problems in the coming months. However, it would be “an important tool” in the future, Fauci said.
On Monday, Moderna confirmed that its vaccine, mRNA-1273, was sent to the NIAID, and the vaccination trial will start with 20 to 25 healthy subjects by the end of April, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. That would mark a three-month period between the design of the vaccine and testing, with the first results becoming available by around July.
“It is possible it’s going to work, but we have to wait and see,” Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel told the news outlet.
An antiviral drug that was designed to treat Ebola patients, remdesivir, is now being subject to a clinical trial, said the NIAID on Tuesday, adding that testing has begun on patients who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship currently being housed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“This is the first clinical trial in the United States to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19,” the agency said. Remdesivir, produced by Gilead Sciences Inc., has been tested on virus patients in China starting in early February, according to U.S. and Chinese officials.
Noting that the clinical trial is being conducted on a voluntary basis, the NIAID stated that participants have to have COVID-19 lung infection and “evidence of lung involvement,” and individuals who have mild, cold-like symptoms won’t be included in the study.
Earlier in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said schools and businesses will have to take preparatory measures if the coronavirus turns into a U.S. epidemic, while stressing that Americans should stay alert.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, with the agency, said in a conference call.
World Health Organization said the drugmaker’s antiviral remdesivir may be effective against the coronavirus.
The comments, which were reported by CNBC, came in a press conference at which the organization lauded the Chinese government for the measures it took to stem the spread of the virus. When identifying any drugs that could potentially combat the disease, WHO named the drug from Gilead Sciences.
Remdesivir is an investigational antiviral that hasn’t yet been approved anywhere globally for any use.
However, Gilead Sciences has been working with global health officials in responding to the coronavirus outbreak and officials have been experimenting with remdesivir. Numerous health organizations have participated in the trials including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Allergies and Infection Diseases, Department of Defense, the China CDC and the World Health Organization.
Working with health authorities in China, Gilead Sciences has initiated two clinical trials of coronavirus.
One of the studies is evaluating remdesivir in patients with confirmed disease who have developed more severe clinical complications like a requirement for supplemental oxygen. The other study is evaluating the drug in coronavirus patients who have been hospitalized but are not displaying significant manifestations of the disease.
The drug is available to patients through compassionate use requests that must be submitted by the patient’s treating physician.
Gilead Sciences shares were rising 4.8% to $73.05 in trading on Monday.