Tuesday, September 29, 2020

First coronavirus deaths confirmed in U.S., Australia and Thailand; health officials probe possible outbreak at Washington nursing home

Mar 01. 2020
Health officials confirm first coronavirus death in Thailand on  Sunday/ NationPhotoby Korphuk Phromrekha
Health officials confirm first coronavirus death in Thailand on Sunday/ NationPhotoby Korphuk Phromrekha
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By The Washington Post · Paul Schemm, Rick Noack, Katie Mettler, Alex Horton, Meryl Kornfield, Derek Hawkins ·NATIONAL, WORLD, HEALTH 

The United States, Australia and Thailand each reported their first coronavirus-related deaths over the weekend, all in the span of about 12 hours, as the virus continued its rapid spread around the globe.

Covid-19 has now killed patients on four continents, with the global death toll climbing toward 3,000. Countries are tightening travel restrictions, canceling public events and urging people to take health precautions.

In Washington state, health officials said Saturday that a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions died at a hospital in Kirkland after testing positive for covid-19. The patient had no recent travel history or contact with people known to be infected, suggesting he may have been infected through person-to-person transmission, officials said. It was not immediately clear when he was admitted, when his symptoms first appeared or how long it took health officials to test him.

Officials in the Seattle area announced two cases related to a possible outbreak at a long-term nursing home, where people are considered to be especially vulnerable to infection. One patient is a female health care worker in her 40s who was in satisfactory condition, according to state health officials. The other, a female resident in her 70s, is in serious condition.

Jeffrey S. Duchin, the chief health officer for Seattle and King County, identified the nursing home as Life Care Center in Kirkland, and said he would not be surprised to find additional cases at the facility as an investigation continued. Of Life Care's more than 108 residents and roughly 180 staffers, Duchin said 27 residents and 25 staff members have shown coronavirus symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was sending a team of experts to Washington to support its investigation.

Earlier Saturday, the Trump administration outlined new travel restrictions affecting Iran, Italy and South Korea in response to the outbreak, and President Donald Trump said he was considering further restrictions across the southern border.

As cases mounted, the White House scrambled to gain control of a response defined by bureaucratic infighting, confusion and misinformation. "It's complete chaos," one senior administration official said.

The Food and Drug Administration expanded coronavirus testing by speeding up hospitals' abilities to test, though some worried the changes fell short in reducing logistical burdens.

Misinformation about the disease is proving hard to contain. Roughly 2 million tweets peddled conspiracy theories about the coronavirus over the three-week period when the outbreak began to spread outside China, according to an unreleased report from an arm of the State Department.

In an early morning tweet Sunday, Trump said that people traveling from "high risk countries" will be screened for covid-19 both before they board their flight and once they land in the United States.

The CDC has issued Level 3 warnings and encouraged Americans to avoid nonessential travel to South Korea, Italy, China and Iran.

The announcement appears to be another change in travel protocol surrounding the novel virus outbreak, which is expanding in the U.S. by the day. At a news conference Saturday where Trump spoke on the nation's first coronavirus death, the president announced other new travel restrictions.

They included an extension to the existing travel ban on Iran, which now applies to any foreign nationals who has been in that country over the past 14 days. Trump raised the warning level for travel to Italy and South Korea, recommending Americans not travel to regions where outbreaks are concentrated. Trump said he is also considering restrictions across the southern U.S. border, though Mexico's Foreign Ministry later pointed out the country has fewer coronavirus cases than the United States.

Appearing on CNN early Sunday, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized Trump and the administration's response to the coronavirus, saying officials had "pretended this didn't exist" and put schools at risk.

"We pushed very hard to get the Trump administration, you know, back in January and February to do something as opposed to pretending that this was not real," she told host Christi Paul.

Weingarten further took shots at the administration over budget and staffing cuts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying the White House should be guided by science.

"There are still - I mean, I know that the president basically got rid of all the pandemic experts in the White House - but there are still scientists at the CDC who really understand and know what they're doing," the union head said. "There are scientists around the country who know what they're doing."

The union has been working directly with officials on the cases in California and Oregon related to schools. Every school should have a plan in place for emergent cases, she said.

The director general of the World Health Organization urged Sunday for global markets to calm down in the face of fears of the spreading coronavirus, while admitting that countries should prepare for a pandemic.

Speaking from a humanitarian forum in Saudi Arabia, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told CNBC that global markets "should calm down and try to see the reality." He urged everyone to not be irrational and to deal with facts.

"Based on the facts on the ground, containment is possible," Tedros said, reiterating that "panic and fear" were the real enemies. The past week registered some of the worst global stock market results since the 2008 financial crisis, including a 12 percent drop in the Dow Jones industrial average.

Tedros has repeatedly praised China's response to the virus and initially backed its assessment that the virus was under control - before it eventually spread to 60 countries and infected about 85,000 people.

The WHO chief has increasingly been striking a sober note about the spread of the virus, warning that developing nations, especially those in Africa with underdeveloped health sectors, could be badly hit. "The window of opportunity for containing it is narrowing. So we need to be preparing side by side for a pandemic," he said.

Nike shuttered its enormous campus in Beaverton, Oregon, over the weekend after confirmation of presumptive coronavirus in Washington County.

"While we have no information indicating any exposure to Nike employees, out of an abundance of caution, we are conducting a deep cleaning of campus," Nike said in a statement, according to local media. "All (world headquarter) buildings and facilities, including fitness centers, will be closed over the weekend."

An employee of Forest Hills Elementary School in nearby Lake Oswego tested positive for coronavirus, which precipitated the decision by Nike, the company said.

The weekend closure is significant given the size and use of Nike's world headquarters, which operates like a small town for its 12,000 employees. Staffers traverse miles of running trails, eat at restaurants and use child development centers on-site.

It is unclear whether other companies on the West Coast will follow suit and shut down to rid their facilities of virus remnants. Forest Hills Elementary will reopen Wednesday after an in-depth scrubbing.

The first presumptive positive case of coronavirus in Rhode Island was announced by the state's Department of Health on Sunday.

The person is in their 40s and had traveled to Italy in mid-February, according to a statement sent to The Washington Post. The patient is being treated in a hospital.

The person had limited travel in Rhode Island since returning from Italy and had not returned to work since being abroad, according to the health department.

Other people who were in direct contact with the patient are quarantined and self-monitoring for symptoms for 14 days. Since the person's symptoms first emerged, his or her family had been self-quarantined.

Presumptive positive cases must still be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Rhode Island said that "might change in the coming days," the statement said.

Rhode Island had expedited the final steps of implementation to run the test that identified this case, the state's public health officials said.

"We fully anticipated having a first case of COVID-19," Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott said in a statement. "We are not seeing widespread community transmission in Rhode Island, and the general level of risk for Rhode Islanders is still low. However, everyone in Rhode Island has a role to play in helping us prevent the spread of viruses, just like the flu."

Governments across Europe were pushing ahead with plans to contain or slow down the spread of the coronavirus on Sunday, with British Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer both refusing to rule out more extreme measures.

Hancock told the BBC that no measures were "off the table."

Among discussed measures, said Hancock, were road closures or a plea to recently-retired nurses and doctors to return to work.

Putting entire cities with large outbreaks under lockdown, said Hancock, would pose "a huge economic and social downside," but he added that "we don't take anything off the table at this stage."

Germany's interior minister similarly indicated that lockdowns could be considered, even though they "would be the last resort," according to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

France on Saturday banned all public interior gatherings with over 5,000 individuals as well as some outside events, forcing the cancellation of numerous upcoming conferences and races, including a half marathon that was supposed to take place in Paris on Sunday.

As staff at the Louvre museum assembled for a coronavirus response meeting in Paris on Sunday, the museum temporarily shut its doors to visitors. It was expected to reopen later on, Reuters reported.

Iran announced another spike in coronavirus infections on Sunday with a total of 978 cases in the country, up from just under 600, and a rise in deaths to 54.

Iran has experienced one of the most rapid growths in the covid-19 disease, with no confirmed cases just 10 days ago and now by far most in the entire Middle East. The number of cases have been jumping by hundreds a day - including even the deputy health minister.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the cases were mostly concentrated in the city of Tehran and the holy city of Qom, a pilgrimage center, where it was first discovered.

Authorities are struggling to contain the rapid spread of the virus and have ordered all hospitals to admit virus patients and have expanded the number of facilities to carry out testing - which could also be behind the discovery of hundreds of new cases. There have also been efforts to disinfect and fumigate public places.

Iran's foundation for veterans asked those suffering from the long term effects of exposure to chemical weapons to stay at home. Many Iranians were exposed to poisoned gas during the war with Iraq during the 1980s, which resulted in long-term health conditions.

While rarely fatal, the coronavirus is especially dangerous to the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Cases from Iran have now been traced to several nearby countries, including Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and Oman, prompting several countries to halt flights.

As the number of coronavirus cases in Germany surged on Sunday, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz suggested the possibility of an economic stimulus package "in case the situation demands it."

Authorities confirmed 117 cases on Sunday, up from 53 on Friday morning. Most cases were reported in North Rhine-Westphalia, the country's most populous federal state.

Speaking to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Scholz, who is also German vice chancellor, said the country was well prepared for the economic fallout of a wider outbreak, even as analysts warned it could slash growth significantly.

The European Union's biggest economy is still recovering from a number of recent setbacks, including a weakening economic outlook partially due to Trump's trade disputes with China and other countries that hit the export-dependent German economy.

Sunday's suggestion of a stimulus package in Germany came as a top Italian official vowed billions of dollars to help country's embattled economy, even though it remained unclear how or when that funding would become available.

German officials have said they believe the virus is likely to become an epidemic in the country. There are still far less confirmed cases in Germany than in virus-stricken Italy, where the case tally has crossed the 1,000 threshold. But Germany now has more cases than other major European nations, including France, where more than 100 infections were confirmed Sunday, and Spain with over 70 cases.

German authorities hope new measures could slow down the spreading of the virus.

A major travel trade show in Berlin, ITB, which was set to begin next week, was abruptly canceled. Airlines are now required to report the health status of all travelers from South Korea, Japan, Italy, China and Iran. Some companies have asked their employees to work from home until further notice.

The extent of China's industrial shutdown in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak is clearly visible from the sky, with NASA and European Space Agency satellites showing pollution almost completely disappearing over China this month.

The images, comparing the periods of Jan. 1-20 and Feb. 10-25, show an astonishing drop in concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities.

Businesses were already closing down ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which officially began Jan. 24, when Chinese authorities began shutting down cities - starting with Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak - on Jan. 23.

The reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution was first apparent near Wuhan, but soon spread across the country with the lockdowns.

"This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

The drop was much faster and much more enduring than during other periods of slowdown, like the 2008 economic recession and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Liu said.

While lower emissions are expected during the holiday, when most businesses close for at least a week, it usually returns soon after. This year, it has not.

"This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer," she said. "I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize spread of the virus."

A massively scaled-back Tokyo marathon was held on Sunday on often empty streets, with spectators discouraged, viewing stands dismantled and only a few hundred elite runners allowed to take part.

Meanwhile, Japan's spring sumo tournament in the western city of Osaka will be held in an empty area, the event's organizers announced on Sunday. The Japan Sumo Association had been considering canceling the event outright but decided instead to go ahead without spectators, Japanese media reported.

The news underlines the sort of dilemmas that the International Olympic Committee may ultimately have to face over the Summer Games in Tokyo if the virus continues to spread.

Japan's soccer and rugby leagues have postponed games in March, while two preseason baseball games involving the Yomiuri Giants were played in an empty Tokyo Dome this weekend, after the government asked organizers of mass events to postpone, cancel or scale them back.

Japan has confirmed 242 cases of the new coronavirus, including 14 people who were evacuated from China, but not including more than 700 cases among passengers and crew of the Diamond Princess. In all, 11 people have died, and 56 are in serious condition, according to a tally by public broadcaster NHK.

Ethiopia's Birhanu Legese won the Tokyo Marathon for the second year in a row.

Members of a religious sect linked to a coronavirus cluster in South Korea visited the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than half of South Korea's 3,526 coronavirus cases are linked to a branch of Shincheonji Church of Jesus in southern city of Daegu. After authorities identified the church as a hotbed of the coronavirus, Christian churches and Buddhist temples across the country called off meetings and held services online.

KCDC Vice Director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing on Sunday that members of the church visited Wuhan in January. Kwon said it was unclear how many members traveled to Wuhan and the role of the trip in the outbreak at the South Korean church.

South China Morning Post, citing unnamed sources, reported last weekend that members of the church held meetings in Wuhan until December. Shincheonji said in a statement last month that its branch in Wuhan had been closed several years ago.

South Korean health authorities rolled out a plan to test more than 200,000 members of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, formally known as the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.

The church said on Sunday that its leader Lee Man-hee will be tested for the virus. Lee, who founded the church in 1984, is equated with second coming of Jesus by his followers.

The United Arab Emirates closed all children's nurseries for two weeks starting Sunday as part of a raft of new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus in this Middle East travel hub.

In a news conference on Saturday, Minister of Health Abdul Rahman Al Owais said there were now 21 cases of the virus in the country, including two Italian team members with the UAE Tour who came into contact with 612 people, all of whom are being tested. So far five of those infected with the virus have fully recovered.

The UAE tour has been canceled and 181 students involved in the biking event are being quarantined at home for 14 days.

The minister also said that two aircraft are being readied to evacuate UAE nationals from the Iranian capital of Tehran and the resort island of Qeshm. There have been an explosion of the virus in Iran, just across the Persian Gulf from the UAE, with more than 40 deaths out of nearly 600 cases.

The Education Ministry has also ordered all private schools to cancel field trips and any competitions or festivals involving multiple schools. There are currently no confirmed cases of the virus in the school system.

A fake tweet purporting to be from the education department saying all schools were closed Sunday was vigorously denied and condemned by the government. Reports of a case in a residential compound in the capital Abu Dhabi were also denied.

UAE, which is a travel hub and home to two major international airlines, Emirates and Ettihad, was the first Middle Eastern country to report cases of the virus - a tourist from China.

A 35-year-old Thai man has died of causes related to the coronavirus, becoming Thailand's first fatality in the outbreak, the country's health officials said Sunday.

The man, a retail worker, contracted dengue fever and the coronavirus at the same time and had been hospitalized for weeks, Thai health officials said at a briefing, according to Bloomberg.

He tested negative in mid-February, but "the damage was already done to his body," said Tawee Chotpitayasunondh, adviser to the Department of Disease Control.

Thailand had more than 40 confirmed covid-19 cases as of Sunday.

Armenian authorities Sunday announced the first case of coronavirus in the former Soviet country.

The patient is a 29-year-old Armenian man who Friday returned from Iran with this wife, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan posted on Facebook.

Cases in other former Soviet countries close to Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan, have also discovered cases in recent days related to the Iranian outbreak of the illness.



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