Comprehensive COVID-19 world update as of Monday afternoon, March 23

4,200 prisoners release, 1,000 new hospital beds for New York

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 372,000 people and killed over 16,000. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 100,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

This world update was posted at 2:30 p.m., Monday, March 23.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • Sudanese government releasing over 4,200 prisoners to stem virus tide
  • Democrats exploring options if virus prevents nominating convention in Milwaukee

Rats complicate coronavirus fight in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Another complication as New Orleans fights the spread of coronavirus: rats and mice abandoning their hiding places in walls and rafters of now-shuttered businesses. They venture out to look for trash to munch on.

Claudia Riegel, the city’s pest control director, says workers in protective clothing are placing poisonous bait in storm drains and setting out traps for rodents on the city’s famed Bourbon Street.

Hospital ship heads for Los Angeles

SAN DIEGO — A U.S. Navy hospital ship set sail from San Diego and planned to spend a few days at sea getting its newly formed medical team used to working together before arriving in Los Angeles to help the city free up its hospital beds.

USS Mercy commanding officer Capt. John R. Rotruck says the ship has 1,000 beds and will begin taking patients who do not have coronavirus from area hospitals a day after it docks in Los Angeles. The ship will have 1,128 active-duty medical personnel on board, 58 reservists and nine of its 12 operating rooms will be ready to perform surgeries.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom had called on President Donald Trump to send the ship to the Port of Los Angeles because of the growing number of cases in the state.

For now, Navy officials say the ship will remain in the area as long as it’s needed. It could be sent on to other cities on the West Coast.

The USS Comfort hospital ship is preparing to go to New York, where the governor has been pressing for medical help.

Texas and Ohio ban abortions during coronavirus crisis

AUSTIN, Texas — The governor and attorney general of Texas are moving to ban most abortions in the state during the coronavirus outbreak, declaring they don’t qualify as essential surgeries.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday that the order issued over the weekend by Gov. Greg Abbott barred “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

Failure to comply with the order can result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time, Paxton said.

“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers,” Paxton said. “Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”

The issue also has flared in Ohio, where abortion clinics received letters Friday from Republican Attorney General Dave Yost ordering them to cease all “non-essential” surgical abortions. Yost wrote that the procedures violate a March 17 order issued by the state health director.

However, representatives of Ohio clinics said that they were in compliance with the health director’s order and planned to continue providing abortions.

Amid the moves by Ohio and Texas, a coalition of anti-abortion groups urged its allies across the nation to ask governors to ban most abortions on the grounds they were not essential.

Sudan to release 4,200 prisoners

CAIRO — Sudan’s transitional authorities say they are releasing over 4,200 prisoners as part of government measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

SUNA, the official news agency, says the first group went free Monday from a prison in Om Dorman, the twin city of the capital Khartoum. It said the rest would be released in the coming days.

Sudan announced a nightly curfew across the country starting Tuesday to stem the spread of coronavirus. Sudan has two cases, including a fatality.

Democrats ponder what to do about nomination convention

MILWAUKEE — Democratic National Committee officials are exploring contingencies in case the coronavirus outbreak makes a routine presidential nominating convention impossible.

Statements from convention planners don’t explicitly outline the possibility of a virtual convention. But their acknowledgement underscores the unknowns the party faces amid the pandemic and stay-at-home orders across the county.

The convention is scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee. It would attract about 4,000 delegates and tens of thousands of activists, Democratic donors and media.

Hundreds of people meet returning missionaries

SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney and Utah state leaders are criticizing a large gathering of family and friends who converged at Salt Lake City’s airport to welcome home missionaries even though people are supposed to be keep their distance to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Photos and videos show hundreds of people gathered Sunday inside the airport’s parking lot to greet 900 missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints returning from the Philippines. Many people stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus among the missionaries who were serving. Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff declined to comment on the criticism.

New York: Officials race to prepare 1,000 new hospital beds

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo promises 1,000 temporary hospital beds will be set up inside a Manhattan convention centre as officials race to prepare for an overwhelming number of coronavirus patients.

Cuomo says the pandemic is “is going to get much worse before it gets better.”

The number of positive coronavirus cases in New York state has surged to over 20,000, with more than half the cases in New York City. The city has emerged as a worldwide hotspot for the outbreak, with more than 12,000 known cases.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city plans to reserve thousands of hotel rooms for people with mild cases of the coronavirus and others unable to return to their homes while awaiting test results.

Lightfoot says the city has partnered with five hotels and will have 1,000 rooms available by Tuesday. Chicago officials describe the plan as a proactive measure to keep hospital beds available for people with severe symptoms.

Illinois officials have reported 1,285 cases as of Monday and 12 deaths that’s up from 1,049 cases and nine deaths a day earlier.

Cyprus: “Disobedient, ill-discipline, reckless”

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus has stepped up restrictions on the movement of all citizens in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus with a nationwide three-week ban on all unnecessary trips outside the home.

President Nicos Anastasiades says that a “disobedient, ill-disciplined and reckless” minority of people who continue to flout existing restrictions are potentially putting lives at risk. He warned in a televised address that the measure is necessary to head off the unchecked spread of the new virus that could lead to the collapse of the health system.

Anastasiades ordered all citizens to remain indoors unless they have to go to work, pick up food and other essential supplies, visit the doctor or a pharmacy, go to the bank or help others in need. The order remains in effect until April 13.

Anastasiades says all citizens who must be outside have to carry their I.D. card or passport and those who don’t conform could face criminal charges and an on-the-spot fine of 150 euros ($161).

Cyprus has 116 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death.

Florida governor avoids state lock down

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to avoid imposing a statewide lock down, saying he still believes targeting the counties hardest hit by the coronavirus for the most extreme measures is the preferable path.

DeSantis says about a third of Florida’s 67 counties have no confirmed cases and another third have few, so he doesn’t yet see the need to impose a near shutdown on their businesses that have been imposed in large, heavily infected counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

DeSantis has ordered statewide closures of bars and gyms and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery and some counties have gone farther, closing not only nonessential businesses but also beaches, marinas and parks.

DeSantis says he doesn’t want to cause unnecessary financial hardship or create unintended consequences such as people fleeing the state and spreading the disease.

Over 1,100 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Florida and 13 have died.

France: 186 deaths in 24 hours

PARIS — France’s health minister says authorities reported 186 new deaths from coronavirus in 24 hours, taking the total to 860 in the country that is experiencing Europe’s third-worst coronavirus-linked death toll.

Olivier Veran says France has 19,856 infected people, accounting for about a 20% rise in just one day.

He says 2,082 people are in intensive care with the virus across the country.

Netherlands: Mayors now have emergency powers

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government has tightened its measures aimed at reining in the spread of the coronavirus, including banning all gatherings until June 1.

Local mayors have been given emergency powers to shut down locations where people gather and fine people breaching the orders.

The move came after thousands of people headed to beaches and forests around the country over the weekend, openly flouting the government’s appeal to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between one another.

Announcing the new measures, Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus slammed the behaviour as “sloppy, laconic and anti-social.”

Before the latest measures, the government had banned gatherings of 100 people or more until April 6.

The Dutch public health institute says 34 people died of the effects of the virus in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll in the outbreak to 213. Another 545 people tested positive, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 4,749.

13,500 Americans stranded abroad ask for government help to get home

WASHINGTON — A senior State Department official says roughly 13,500 American citizens stranded abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic are seeking help in returning to the United States.

The official said Monday that thousands more Americans are expected to return on department arranged flights in the coming weeks, about 1,500 of whom are booked on flights over the next several days. The official said the repatriations are being done with a combination of military flights, chartered passenger planes and commercial airlines where airports are still open. The official said the Department of Homeland Security has also offered to bring Americans home on planes that it uses to return deportees to mainly Central American nations.

The official says that since late January the department has helped to evacuate more than 5,000 Americans from 17 countries, including early repatriation efforts for 800 people from China and more than 300 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Some 1,200 from were transported from Morocco last week, the official said.

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