The Latest: Princess Cruises Halts Operations and More
NEW YORK (AP) – The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic:
Princess Cruises has announced, due to the new coronavirus, it will voluntarily pause global operations of its 18 cruise ships for 60 days, affecting trips departing March 12 to May 10.
Cruise ships have been particularly hard hit amid the new pandemic and have been turned away by dozens of ports and countries. The Diamond Princess cruise ship, which Japanese officials held in a flawed quarantine operation, infected hundreds of passengers and crew.
Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, says “by taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us.”
Passengers now on a Princess cruise that will end in the next five days will continue to sail as expected through the end of the itinerary. Current voyages that extend beyond March 17 will be ended at the most convenient location for guests.
Under normal operations, it serves more than 50,000 passengers a day.
Britain, which is exempt from the U.S. travel ban on most European nations, has not taken the stringent measures seen in other European countries, such as closing schools or banning large events.
The U.K. has 456 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and eight deaths. But the centerpiece of official British advice so far is that people should wash their hands often in warm, soapy water.
On Thursday, Britain’s Conservative government is expected to announce that it is moving from attempting to contain the virus to delaying its spread. That is likely to bring wider measures, including a recommendation that people with flu-like symptoms stay home for a week. But there are so far no plans for travel bans or large-scale closures of schools or other institutions.
In Ireland — which is also excluded from the U.S. travel ban — 43 cases have been confirmed and one person has died.
U.S. President Donald Trump has golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.
Iran has asked for an emergency $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to combat the outbreak of the novel coronavirus there, which has killed more than 360 people and infected some 9,000 nationwide.
Iran’s Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati said Thursday he made the request last week in a letter to IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.
Iran’s economy has been battered by U.S. sanctions, which have choked Tehran’s ability to export oil widely. The virus outbreak prompted all of Iran’s neighbors to shutter their borders and nations have cut travel links with Iran, including shipping in some cases, affecting imports, as well.
Greek authorities say a ferry with 341 passengers and 77 crew on board is being held in port on the Greek island of Lemnos after a crew member presented symptoms similar to those of the new coronavirus.
The Merchant Marine Ministry said the ship had set sail in late Wednesday from the northern Greek port town of Kavala, where the crew member was removed from the ship and taken to a local hospital. He is being tested. The 127 people who had disembarked in Lemnos have been contacted by authorities and told to self-isolate at home until the results of the crew member’s test are in.
Lemnos was the first of the ferry’s 10 scheduled stops between Kavala and Greece’s main port of Piraeus, near Athens.
Greece has 98 confirmed virus cases and one death, a 66-year-old man who died Thursday.
Ireland is closing all schools and cultural institutions until March 29, in a major escalation of its response to the new coronavirus.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced the measures would take effect at 6 p.m. Thursday. He said the closure applies to schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions. All indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events with more than 500 are also canceled.
Speaking during a trip to Washington, Varadkar said people should work from home as much as possible.
He said the measures would mean major disruptions but “acting together as one nation we can save many lies.”
So far 43 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Ireland and one person has died. Ireland, along with Britain, is excluded from a 30-day U.S. ban on travellers form continental Europe
Real Madrid says its soccer and basketball teams have been put into quarantine after a basketball player for the club tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Spanish club says the soccer team was also affected because it shares training facilities with the basketball team.
The decision by the club came moments before the Spanish league said the next two rounds of Spain’s first- and second-division matches are being suspended due to fears of the coronavirus outbreak.
The European Union has slammed the new anti-virus travel ban announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, lashing out at the “unilateral” decision.
In a joint statement, EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that the coronavirus pandemic is a “global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to improve a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” they said.
Given Italy’s nationwide travel lockdown and other measures taken by all the bloc’s 27 members, Von der Leyen and Michel dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the EU has not done enough in fighting the disease.
They say the EU “is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus.”
Japan’s lower house of parliament has endorsed a legislation that will allow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The legislation, a revision to add the coronavirus to an existing law enacted for earlier influenza outbreaks, is a controversial one that opponents say could severely limit civil rights, including the right to gather.
The bill, passed Thursday by the lower house, is expected to be enacted as early as Saturday after an expected approval by the upper house Friday.
Government officials say there are no immediate plans to declare state of emergency, but if declared, Abe can issue compulsory nationwide school closures and confiscate private property to build hospitals in case there’s a shortage of beds for severely affected patients. Japan has 645 cases of the virus, not counting cruise ship passengers and crew.
The European Union says it will assess President Donald Trump’s decision to restrict travel from Europe to the United States amid deep concern over the move’s economic impact, with markets already heavily hit by the new virus.
“We will assess the situation today. Economic disruption must be avoided,” European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs summits of EU presidents and prime ministers, said in a tweet Thursday.
Michel underlined that “Europe is taking all necessary measures to contain the spread” of the virus.
Trump said all European travel would be cut off, but Homeland Security officials later clarified that the new restrictions apply only to most foreign nationals who have been in Europe’s passport-free travel zone at any point within 14 days prior to their arrival to the United States.
The so-called “Schengen” area comprises 26 countries including EU members France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria and Belgium, where the EU has its headquarters, but also others like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
Trump said the monthlong restriction on travel would begin late Friday. He accused Europe of not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus” and claimed that U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.
The U.S. Army has decided to reduce the number of troops taking part in massive war games that have been planned across Europe over the next six months due to the new coronavirus.
The Defender-Europe 2020 exercises were set to involve some 20,000 American personnel, the biggest deployment of U.S. troops to Europe in the last 25 years.
But U.S. Army Europe said in a statement that “in light of the current coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants.” No details on numbers were provided.
In all, around 37,000 soldiers from 18 countries, not all of whom are members of the NATO military alliance, had been expected to take part. Some troops and equipment have already deployed.
“The health protection of our force, and that of our Allies and partners, is a top concern,” the statement said.
Denmark, which has 514 confirmed cases of the virus, on Thursday entered a virtual lockdown.
All schools — public and private — and daycare facilities will be closed from Monday, but many students are staying home already. Schools offered to take care of children but said there would be little teaching.
All public servants who do not perform critical functions have been ordered to stay home for the next two weeks. Hospitals and nursing homes have been urged to impose tighter restrictions on visits. All indoor cultural institutions, libraries and leisure facilities are closed.
The restrictions are to continue for two weeks.
Minutes after this was announced late Wednesday by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, people rushed to supermarkets to buy toilet paper and other necessities.
Two of the Danish virus cases are in serious condition and 10 people were hospitalized.
Two more passengers on board a river cruise boat in eastern Cambodia have tested positive for the new virus.
The Cambodian Health Ministry said a 73-year-old man and his 69-year-old wife who are both from the United Kingdom have been infected. They were on the same boat where another passenger from the United Kingdom tested positive two days ago
The remaining passengers who are awaiting their test results are being transferred from the cruise boat to a hotel in Kampong Cham for continued quarantine.
The luxury cruise with 64 passengers and crew originated in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City and visited the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, before arriving at Kampong Cham.
Cambodia now has a total of five confirmed cases.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that state public health officials have issued an updated policy on gatherings to protect public health and slow the spread of the new virus.
State public health experts have determined that gatherings should be postponed or canceled across the state until at least the end of March. Non-essential gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people, while smaller events can proceed only if the organizers can implement social distancing of 6 feet (2 meters) per person.
Gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness from the virus should be limited to no more than 10 people, while also following social distancing guidelines.