CDC recommends no gatherings of 50 or more for 8 weeks due to coronavirus

(AP) - The coronavirus is moving closer to shutting down American life. Officials and businesses on Sunday took forceful measures to halt the virus’s spread.

A man wears a face mask as he visits the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Saturday, March 14, 2020. (Source: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more in US be canceled or postponed over next eight weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus is curtailing many elements of American life.

Theme parks closed, Florida beaches shooed away spring breakers and governors in Ohio and Illinois ordered bars and restaurants shuttered. New York City limited eateries to handling takeout and delivery orders.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday night he would order all bars, restaurants, entertainment and recreation facilities to temporarily close in the state with by far the most deaths in the U.S. from the disease.

In a statement Inslee said the ban, to be issued via emergency proclamation Monday, wouldn’t apply to grocery stores and pharmacies and that restaurants could continue take-out and delivery services.

No time frame was given on how long the restrictions will last.

The death toll in the United States climbed to 61, while infections neared 3,000.

The federal government’s effort to ramp up testing for the coronavirus will initially prioritize health care workers and the elderly.

Trump administration officials on Sunday described a targeted, government-driven effort to screen for the virus in the most vulnerable Americans and those able to treat them.

Officials said federal emergency and health workers would partner with states to set up community centers capable of testing 2,000 to 4,000 people per day.

The details come amid growing frustration about lack of access to testing and concerns the virus is spreading undetected.

President Donald Trump is calling on Americans to cease hoarding groceries and other supplies amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Trump says he has spoken with leading grocery store executives and that the food supply chain remains healthy.

Speaking at the same White House news conference Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence urged Americans to only buy the groceries they need for the week ahead. He says the federal government will release updated guidance on Monday concerning restaurants, bars and other establishments.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert says he’d like to see aggressive measures such as a 14-day national shutdown that would require Americans to hunker down more to help slow spread of the coronavirus.

Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci says travel restrictions within the United States probably won’t be needed anytime soon.

He says in a series of television interviews that the U.S. should do as much as “we possibly could" even if officials are criticized for overreacting.

When asked about a 14-day national shutdown, Fauci said Americans should be prepared to “hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

The White House is putting in place new measures to protect Trump and his staff during the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting Monday, the White House will take the temperature of anyone entering the complex, from visitors to members of the press corps.

The new measures expand on screenings the White House began on Saturday for anyone who will get close to Trump and Pence.

Members of the press corps are also taking steps, independent of the White House, to limit their own exposure to the coronavirus.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, announced Sunday night on Twitter that he has tested negative for the virus. He’s been in self-quarantine after potentially coming into contact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s spokesperson, Fabio Wajngarten, who did test positive for the virus.

Spain awoke to the first day of a nationwide quarantine. Spanish officials said deaths from the coronavirus had more than doubled in a day to 288, and infections neared 8,000.

Americans returning home faced chaos at airports as overwhelmed border agents tried to screen arriving passengers.

Public worship was curtailed as Muslim authorities announced that the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City would be closed indefinitely, and the Vatican said next month’s Holy Week services would not be open to the public.

Austria’s chancellor limited his citizens’ movement nationwide, following Italy and Spain. Europe is currently the main front line of the fight against COVID-19.

The world’s coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800. At least 57 people have died from the virus in the U.S., while the nationwide number of infected neared 3,000.

The disease for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms but for some, especially the elderly or people with underlying health conditions, it can cause more severe illness. Nearly 74,000 people have recovered from it so far, mostly in China.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, reacting to announcement of a curfew in neighboring Hoboken, New Jersey, says that a lockdown in the nation's largest city couldn't be ruled out.

“Every option is on the table in a crisis," the Democrat said Sunday on CNN.

Also in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the Army Corps of Engineers should be mobilized by equipping facilities like military bases or college dorms to serve as temporary medical centers.

In an opinion piece Sunday in The New York Times, Cuomo called on President Donald Trump to authorize states to expand testing capabilities, set federal standards for shutting down commerce and schools, and mobilize the military to bolster medical treatment capabilities.

He wrote that “states cannot build more hospitals, acquire ventilators or modify facilities quickly enough,” adding they need the expertise and equipment of the Army Corps.

Trump announced Saturday that the U.S. will extend a travel ban to Britain and Ireland, and more cities in the country put in place curbs on gatherings of more than a few hundred people.

Hours later, the administration said Trump tested negative for COVID-19. He was tested after having multiple direct and indirect contacts with people who have since tested positive for the virus.

Weary travelers returning to the U.S. amid the travel restrictions were greeted by long lines and hourslong waits for required medical screenings at airports.

While American citizens, green card holders and some others are allowed to return to the U.S. amid new European travel restrictions, they’re being funneled to 13 U.S. airports where they’re subject to screenings and quarantine orders.

Amid criticism over the long waits and the crowds that flout calls for “social distancing,” the acting secretary says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is trying to add additional screening capacity and work with airlines to expedite the process.

California health officials issued new guidance Saturday urging theaters to keep attendance under 250 people and ask strangers to sit six feet apart. A similar guidance for gambling venues led the operator of the state’s largest card rooms to shut starting Saturday.

California has about 250 confirmed cases and recorded its sixth death Friday.

Virus-era voting: France holds local elections despite fears

French voters are queuing in polling stations across the country to choose all of their mayors and other local leaders. But others have chosen not to go amid concerns over the new coronavirus and a crackdown on public gatherings.

The government ordered unprecedented sanitary measures at polling stations. Voters are supposed to stand far apart and bring their own pens to sign.

Election organizers are supposed to regularly clean shared equipment and provide copious hand sanitizer.

But the rules were applied unevenly at voting stations and the virus sharply reduced turnout Sunday.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided against delaying the elections amid concerns that would be undemocratic.

Iran reports 113 new coronavirus deaths as concerns mount

Iran is battling one of the worst outbreaks outside China as the Health Ministry reported 113 more deaths, bringing the country’s death toll to 724 amid 13,938 confirmed cases.

The real number of infections could be even higher, as questions have been raised about the government’s transparency.

Meanwhile, Iran’s official leading the response to the coronavirus outbreak acknowledged the pandemic could overwhelm health facilities in the country, which is under severe U.S. sanctions.

In east Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, was closing indefinitely due to concerns over the coronavirus, with prayers continuing to be held on the sprawling esplanade outside.

Cirque du Soleil closes Las Vegas shows because of virus

Cirque du Soleil, creator of many of the most popular shows in Las Vegas, says that it is temporarily suspending its productions in the city as well as around the world because of the new coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, the company says it made the decision based on public health authorities calling for people to limit their social interactions to stop the spread of the virus.

The shows that will be cancelled effective Sunday are "Ö" at the Bellagio, “KA” at MGM Grand, “The Beatles LOVE” at the Mirage, “Mystere” at Treasure Island, “Zumanity” at New York-New Yoek and “Michael Jackson ONE” at Mandalay Bay.

Vail, Alterra close 49 ski resorts in North America amid virus outbreak

As ski resorts across the United States grappled with how to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus without having to close, industry giants Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company decided Saturday they would shutter 49 of North America’s most well-known resorts.

Vail Resorts said it would shut down its 34 resorts for at least one week before reassessing while Alterra is closing its 15 until further notice.

Other resorts that remain open are closing enclosed gondolas or aerial trams while others are encouraging skiers to ride lifts with only people they know as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Mexico holds big music festival despite coronavirus concerns

Mexico City has gone ahead with the two-day Vive Latino — one of the most important music festivals in the country.

Although some acts backed out, tens of thousands of music fans flocked to Saturday’s opening of the festival, which still expected Guns N’ Roses, Carlos Vives and Zoe to be among its headliners.

Concerns about the new COVID-19 illness were evident, though. At the entrance, the usual security checks for such events had a new filter: Each person entering is checked for fever and a strong smell of antibacterial gel permeates in the air.

South Korea designates hard-hit areas as ‘special disaster zones’

South Korea’s president has declared southeastern parts of the country hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak as “special disaster zones,” a designation that makes residents there eligible for emergency relief, tax benefits and other state financial support.

President Moon Jae-in’s office says he on Sunday approved a proposal by his prime minister to declare the Daegu city and some areas in the southeastern Gyeongsang province as such disaster zones.

It’s the first time for South Korea to declare any area a special disaster zone due to an infectious disease. Past disaster zone designations were declared for areas stricken by typhoons, floods and other national disasters.

South Korea has so far reported 8,162 coronavirus cases, about 88% of them in the southeastern region. More than 830 people have recovered.

UAE pledges $27B in stimulus as Mideast works to slow virus

The central bank of the United Arab Emirates, home to the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai, has announced a $27 billion stimulus package to deal with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The money will go toward supporting the country’s banks, and regulatory limits on loans will be eased.

Nations across the Middle East have pledged to stimulate their economies as they weather the global pandemic, which has led to widespread school closures, the cancellation of sporting and other events, as well as sweeping lockdowns in some hard-hit areas.

In Israel, the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges was postponed for two months. He was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday to face charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in connection to a series of scandals.

But following the emergency health measures the government enacted restricting the gathering of people in public places, the court announced that it was pushing back the hearing until May 24.

Netanyahu is accused of receiving expensive gifts from wealthy friends and offering to exchange favors with powerful media moguls. He denies the charges.

Republic of Congo reports 1st coronavirus case

The Republic of Congo, which is home to the World Health Organization’s regional Africa headquarters, has reported its first case of the coronavirus.

The government said late Saturday that a duel French and Republic of Congo citizen returned from Paris on an Ethiopian Airlines flight on March 1. After recently showing symptoms, they alerted authorities.

The government asked that others on that flight come forward.

The new case means 25 of Africa’s 54 countries now have cases of the virus.

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