The Latest: Homeland Security closes facility after illness

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South Korean soldiers wearing protective gears walk to spray disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. China’s coronavirus caseload continued to wane Tuesday even as the epidemic took a firmer hold beyond Asia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

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BEIJING (AP) — The Latest on the virus outbreak (all times local):

2:20 a.m.

Acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says the agency closed a facility in King County, Washington state, because an employee became ill after visiting a family member at the LifeCare Center in Kirkland.

Wolf told Congress that employees of the DHS facility were told to work from home and the office will remain closed for 14 days. All employees have been directed to “self-quarantine” during that time.

Wolf praised the employee for not going to work after becoming ill and said the office was being closed “out of an abundance of caution.”

He did not specify the type of DHS facility or say how many employees work there as he spoke Tuesday to the House Homeland Security Committee. The agency did not immediately provide further details.

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1:35 a.m.

Italian officials say the number of deaths of coronavirus patients in Italy has risen sharply in a 24-hour period to 79 overall, the most so far outside of China.

According to the national Civil Protection Agency, since a briefing Monday, 45 additional deaths were reported. Officials say nearly all the deaths have occurred in elderly people or patients with serious chronic health problems such as kidney failure, heart disease or cancer.

Officials said Tuesday that the number of virus cases in Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s COVID-19 outbreak, rose by nearly 500 to 2,502 cases. Most of the cases and deaths have occurred in Italy’s northern region of Lombardy, which the U.S. government has advised Americans to avoid.

Authorities say 229 patients, or roughly 10% of Italy’s positive cases, are in intensive care.

The outbreak, first detected late last year in central China, has infected 90,000 people worldwide and killed some 3,100 of them.

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This item has been corrected to reflect that the number of cases has risen sharply, but has not doubled.

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1 a.m. Wednesday

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wants the world to stop hoarding masks, gloves and other protective equipment.

The head of the U.N. health agency says Tuesday that he’s concerned that the new coronavirus is disrupting worldwide supplies of protective equipment, including masks, that are vitally needed to protect the health workers fighting the COVID-19 epidemic.

He says “we are concerned that countries’ abilities to respond are being compromised by the severe and increasing disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment, caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse.”

He says “shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients.”

He says there is limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns and aprons, adding that “we can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers.”

His comments came just hours after French President Emmanuel Macron said his government is requisitioning all current and future stocks of protective masks.

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10:50 p.m.

France’s president says the government is requisitioning all current and future stocks of protective masks.

In a tweet, President Emmanuel Macron said the masks would be distributed to health workers and people in France who have been sickened by the coronavirus outbreak spreading through the country.

The government on Tuesday reported a total of 204 cases, up 13 from the previous day, and a total of four deaths. The latest was a 92-year-old man in Brittany, where there has been a cluster of COVID-19 illnesses and thousands of children are being kept home from school.

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10:30 p.m.

About 100 health workers are under isolation in northern Spain and at least 120 others are being closely watched by authorities after at least five doctors and nurses were infected with the new virus in hospitals.

The Basque region health minister, Nekane Murga, says authorities in the northern region are also speeding up procedures to hire new doctors to make it up for possible shortages of health professionals in coming months.

A virus cluster in the city of Vitoria is one of two local infection sources being closely watched by authorities. The other is in a town near Madrid where cases have been linked to the activities of a religious group.

Authorities said Tuesday that Spain has 149 virus cases, 35 more than the previous day.

Spain’s health emergency coordination center says most of the infections have been traced to overseas travel, mainly to Italy. Spain has had no deaths linked to the outbreak.

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10 p.m.

A French official is threatening to issue a decree controlling prices of face masks and disinfectant gels used to protect against the virus outbreak if an investigation shows they are being sold at unfairly high prices.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire also urged the public on Tuesday to avoid “precautionary shopping” in supermarkets. Some store shelves, notably in the Oise region north of Paris — the center of a virus cluster in France — are empty of staples.

He said he has asked the office of consumer affairs and fraud prevention to investigate prices for masks and alcohol gels. If widespread abuses are uncovered, he said he “will not hesitate” to make high prices unlawful.

France has reported 191 cases of the virus, including three on French Caribbean islands, and three deaths.

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8 p.m.

Italy’s Lombardy region, the center of the European virus outbreak, is getting around its limited capacity to put patients in isolated intensive care units by using strap-on masks that provide continuous breathing assistance.

Lombardy’s top health official, Giulio Gallera, says the masks, called CPAPs, which stand for continuous positive airway pressure, can be used in any hospital ward outfitted for respiratory assistance, freeing up ICU units for critical patients who really need them.

Lombardy has been hardest hit in Italy, with 1,254 of Italy’s 2,036 positive cases. Some 127 people are in intensive care in a region that currently can only provide 140 isolated ICUs for virus patients.

The strain on Lombardy’s health system has forced authorities to seek to bring doctors out of retirement, accelerate graduation dates for nursing students, and incorporate doctors and hospital beds from the private sector to ease the strain on public hospitals.

Schools in the region have been closed for more than a week, and school outings have been canceled nationwide.

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6:30 p.m.

France’s education minister says the country has closed about 120 schools and may shut more. For now, around 35,000 students are affected, primarily in Brittany and a region north of Paris with clusters of the new virus.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told LCI television on Tuesday it was probable that more schools will close and confirmed that he had ordered a freeze on all school trips.

France has reported 191 cases of the virus, including three on French Caribbean islands, and three deaths.

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6 p.m.

Outgoing Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned that the economic impact of the new virus “could prove large but will ultimately be temporary.”

Addressing lawmakers in Parliament, Carney said the central bank will take “all necessary steps” to help businesses and households manage the economic shock from the outbreak. A number of forecasters have slashed their projections for global growth this year as a result of the virus.

Carney said the bank is “monitoring the situation closely” and that he is close contact with Andrew Bailey, who will succeed him as governor on March 16.

Carney is to join central bankers and finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrial nations in a conference call Tuesday. Expectations that the G-7 will announce a coordinated package of stimulus measures have helped stock markets rebound strongly this week.

European stock markets surged Tuesday following a bumper session on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 5.1%.

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5 p.m.

The Middle East’s largest airline, Emirates, says it has reduced or grounded flights due to the new virus and as a result has asked employees to take paid and even unpaid leave for up to a month at a time. Emirates operates out of Dubai, the world’s busiest airport for international transit.

Chief Operating Officer Adel Al-Redha said Emirates has adjusted its schedules and capacity to meet the change in passenger demand. The airline has canceled flights to all cities in China except Beijing. The virus began in China and has infected tens of thousands there. Emirates also has suspended all flights to Iran, where the virus has infected 1,500 people and killed dozens.

“While we have seen some slowdown in certain markets there has been high demand in other areas,” Al-Redha said. “We have been tested before and Emirates will come out stronger.”

The world’s largest airline trade association, IATA, says Mideast carriers have already lost around $100 million in revenue due to a drop in ticket sales because of the virus.

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4:20 p.m.

South Korea is reporting 851 new cases, its largest daily increase in new infections, largely in and around the southeastern city of Daegu, where many cases are clustered around a local church. The country’s death toll rose to 28. In all, 5,186 in South Korea have tested positive for the virus.

Drive-through virus testing centers have began operating in Seoul, with workers dressed head-to-toe in white protective suits leaning into cars with mouth swabs, a move meant to limit contact with possible carriers of the illness. Troops were also dispatched across the city to spray streets with disinfectants.

President Moon Jae-in called the outbreak “a grave situation” and said his government will push to inject more than 30 trillion won ($25 billion) to fund clinics, aid for small businesses and other measures related to the virus. It requires parliamentary approval.

“The entire country has entered a war against an infectious disease,” he said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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