Italy closes schools nationwide to combat virus

Published: Mar. 4, 2020 at 1:48 PM EST
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The Latest on the virus outbreak (all times local):

1:50 a.m.

Italy has ordered schools to close nationwide through March 15 in a bid to contain the coronavirus, saying the prudent suspension was taken after a careful analysis of how the epidemic was spreading.

Civil protection officials said Wednesday a total of 3,089 people have tested positive in Italy and 107 of them had died - the largest number of deaths outside of China.

Education Minister Lucia Azzolina announced the school suspensions, which start Thursday, saying she hoped schools would be able to continue with lessons via distance learning.

Italy has seen its virus caseload explode since the first homegrown positive test was registered in northern Lombardy on Feb. 19.

Italy had earlier closed schools in the hard-hit regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.


1:35 a.m.

A U.S. health official says six new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Los Angeles County, where there was one previously.

Each case confirmed Tuesday night was due to a known exposure and not the result of community transmission, according to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health. She spoke at a press conference on Wednesday.

She says one person has been hospitalized and five others were in self-quarantine at home.

The county's first case was in January, a person who lived in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. She says that person is no longer infectious.


1:15 a.m.

A U.N. agency estimates that a shortage of industrial parts from China caused by the coronavirus outbreak has set off a “ripple effect” that caused exports from other countries around the world to drop $47 billion last month.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development says figures from Chinese businesses suggest an annualized 2% decline in output in China. That has led to shrinking supplies for automotive, chemicals, communications and other industries in many countries, in turn reducing their export capacity.

The agency says Wednesday that the preliminary figures show industries outside of China that rely on components, parts and other inputs from the country aren't able to export goods as much as they had before the virus erupted. The outbreak began late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, shutting down factories and quarantining workers at home.

The drop in Chinese output results in a “ripple effect throughout the global economy” that rises "to the tune of a $50 billion fall in exports across the world,” said said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of the UNCTAD international trade and commodities division.

Exports from the European Union alone made up about one-third of that, or nearly $15.6 billion. Exports of the United States were second, at nearly $5.8 billion, and Japan was third at almost $5.2 billion.


12 midnight

The International Air Transport Association says the virus outbreak hit passenger flight demand in January, slowing monthly growth to its lowest level since April 2010, when a volcano erupted in Iceland, causing massive airspace closures and days of travel chaos in Europe.

The group says year-on-year growth in December 2019 was 4.6%. In January 2020, growth in passenger traffic was only up 2.4% compared to a year ago.

IATA, which represents some 290 airlines making up most of the world's air traffic, said that figures for January this year would only represent the "tip of the iceberg" as China only began imposing major travel restrictions toward the end of the month. Domestic air traffic in China fell 6.8% in January, year-on-year, as a result of the coronavirus restrictions.


11 p.m.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that the wife, two children and a neighbor of a New York lawyer who is hospitalized in critical condition with COVID-19 have also tested positive for the disease. That increases the number of confirmed cases in the state to six.

Yeshiva University, where one of the children is a student, said it's canceling classes at the upper Manhattan campus where he is enrolled.

The positive test results for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 came one day after Cuomo announced that the student's father had become the second coronavirus case in New York state. The family has been quarantined at home in suburban Westchester County. The neighbor is also self-quarantined at home.


10:25 p.m.

As Britain braces for a much wider spread of the new coronavirus, some government officials and lawmakers are worried not just about the nation’s health, but about their own.

Hundreds of lawmakers drawn from across the U.K. work alongside thousands of staff in the crowded, crumbling Parliament complex in London.

While most people who contract the virus experience mild symptoms and recover quickly, the risk rises with age. The average age of lawmakers in the House of Commons is 50 and in Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, it is 70.

On Wednesday, Scottish lawmaker Carol Monaghan asked in Parliament whether lawmakers might be able to work remotely, using electronic voting and conference calls, to help stop the spread of the virus. Britain currently has 85 confirmed coronavirus cases, but the government says that number is likely to rise dramatically.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson replied his government would “say a little bit more in the next couple of days about what we're going to do to delay the advance of coronavirus in Parliament and at other large gatherings."


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at and


9:55 p.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging Israelis to stop shaking hands in light of growing concerns over the new coronavirus and suggests instead they adopt the Indian greeting of “namaste" instead.

At a press conference Wednesday announcing new steps to deal with the virus, Netanyahu pressed his hands together in a prayer position and bowed when he made his suggestion, stressing the need for personal hygiene.

He also added additional European countries to a list of destinations from which returning Israelis would need to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Meanwhile, Israel’s chief rabbi is urging observant Jews to refrain from kissing “mezuzot”, a small item encasing a prayer scroll posted by Jews on doorposts. Observant Jews typically touch the item and then kiss their hands when walking through a doorway. Chief Rabbi David Lau made the call in a letter Wednesday.


8:50 p.m.

Israeli health authorities have ordered everyone from a regional high school and dozens of soccer fans into home quarantine after their possible exposure to a teenage boy who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry said it closed Brenner High School and told all students, teachers and staff members to quarantine at home until March 11. Some 1,000 students, including the boy, attend the school in central Israel.

The ministry also instructed dozens of people who sat in the vicinity of the boy at a Feb. 24 soccer game in Tel Avid to isolate themselves at home until March 8.

The boy apparently became infected while working at a toy store whose owner tested positive for the virus after returning from Italy.

Israel has confirmed 15 coronavirus cases in all and ordered several thousand people into home quarantine after possible exposure.


8:25 p.m.

Italian media say the Italian government has ordered schools nationwide to close for the next two weeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but the country's education minister says a final decision on the closure not yet been confirmed.

State-run RAI, the ANSA and LaPresse news agencies reported Wednesday that Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte had agreed on the closure during a cabinet meeting. But Education Minister Lucia Azzolina told reporters that nothing is final yet.

Italy has seen its virus caseload explode since the first positive test was registered in northern Lombardy on Feb. 19. Since then, more than 2,500 people in Italy have tested positive, and 79 have died. Italy is the epicenter of Europe's outbreak.

In the early days of the outbreak, officials closed schools in Lombardy and Veneto, the two hardest-hit regions. Over the weekend, they closed schools in Emilia Romagna.

8:20 p.m.

The Baltic nation of Lithuania has cancelled most of the indoor events planned for the 30th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union because of the coronavirus.

The speaker of the Lithuanian parliament said Wednesday authorities decided to call off the events since many of the people expected to attend the events are elderly and at higher risk of infection.

Parliament speaker Viktoras Pranckietis says most foreign leaders also cancelled scheduled trips to attend the anniversary events in Lithuania. He didn't name names, but invitations had been sent to lawmakers in Ukraine, Poland and neighboring Baltic states Latvia and Estonia.

There will be several events in downtown Vilnius, including a flag-raising on Independence Square on March 11 and an evening concert.

Lithuania so far only has reported one virus case.


7:30 p.m.

The Louvre Museum in France is open again after employees worried about catching the coronavirus agreed to return to work.

The Paris museum where Leonardo da Vinci's iconic painting hangs had been closed since Sunday while employees fearing infection stayed off the job.

But Louvre staff members voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to resume work and the Louvre opened its doors in the afternoon.

Management presented a raft of new anti-virus measures to try to coax employees back to work. Among them: wider distributions of disinfectant gels and more frequent staff rotations so employees have time to wash their hands.


6:30 p.m.

The London Book Fair has been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The fair, which usually draws more than 25,000 writers, agents and publishers to one of the international publishing industry’s biggest gatherings, had been due to take place at London’s Olympia conference venue March 10-12.

Organizer Reed Exhibitions said Wednesday that it had decided “with reluctance” to cancel the event.

The decision came after several major publishers, including HarperCollins and Penguin Random House, pulled out of the fair because of the disease, citing the risk to staff.

Also Wednesday, organizers announced that Asia’s biggest casino industry trade show has been postponed because of the virus.

Global Gaming Expo Asia, originally scheduled to be held on May 19-21 in Macao, will be held at the end of July.

More than 13,000 people attended last year’s expo, jointly organized by the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions.


6 p.m.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the social network is stepping up its efforts to combat virus-related misinformation by giving the World Health Organization free advertising.

Zuckerberg said in a post on his Facebook account that the company is working with national health ministries and global organizations like the World Health Orgnization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF to get out timely and accurate information on the virus.

Zuckerberg said Facebook will also give “support and millions more in ad credits” to other unspecified organizations.

Facebook has previously taken other measures to fight virus hoaxes and misinformation, including removing false claims and conspiracy theories and showing users a pop-up directing them to the World Health Orgnization or their local health authority for the latest information.


5:50 p.m.

A Beijing-based intensive care doctor now working in Wuhan – the city at the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak – says designated hospitals in the city are seeing an increasing number of empty beds after a large number of virus patients were discharged.

Du Bin added, however, that there’s always the possibility of another spike in new cases.

Du said Wednesday that a major cause of deaths in younger patients may have been the prolonged application of certain high-dosage treatments that ended up causing more harm than good.

Cao Bin, a doctor specializing in respiratory research who is also currently in Wuhan, told reporters, “The war is not over.”

Cao said Chinese researchers have led initial clinical trials of two antiviral drugs and will soon share the results of the trials with the World Health Organization.


5:20 p.m.

Germany has joined several other countries in banning the export of medical equipment such as respiratory masks, gloves and protective suits in most cases.

Germany, like other nations, has faced a shortage of such equipment as concerns over the widening coronavirus outbreak have mounted. In Germany itself, 240 infections have been confirmed so far.

Germany’s interior ministry said Wednesday that exemptions from the export ban will be allowed only under strict conditions, such as for “concerted international aid actions.”

Russia's government on Wednesday banned the export of masks, respirators and other protective gear along with anti-virus medicines until June 1. It also noted that the ban doesn’t cover humanitarian aid.

The Ministry for Industry and Trade said the move is intended to prevent an “artificial deficit” of protective goods, which are being increasingly sold abroad as global demand has soared.

The Czech government also said it is banning exports of respirators and will start regulating their sale at home, saying it needs them for health workers and others. The Czech Republic has five confirmed cases of the new virus.


4:30 p.m.

The Louvre did not open as scheduled on Wednesday, and several hundred people who lined up outside were greeted by a sign saying, “Due to exceptional circumstances, the museum will open later.”

The world's most visited museum has been closed since Sunday because of workers' worries about the potential spread of the new virus.

Management laid out a series of new measures to prevent contamination, trying to coax the staffers back to work.

The proposed steps include the wider distribution of disinfectant gels and more frequent rotations so staff can wash their hands.

Most of the Paris landmark's 9.6 million visitors last year came from other countries, and the museum that houses the Mona Lisa and other treasures welcomes tens of thousands of people every day.


4:15 p.m.

The European Central Bank says it's restricting all nonessential travel by members of its executive board and employees through April 20 as a precautionary measure amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

The central bank for the 19-nation eurozone said Wednesday that visits to its Frankfurt headquarters and its public visitor center are being suspended for the same period. It is postponing or cancelling conferences that were due to be held at the bank – but says that news conferences after regular policy-setting meetings of its governing council are unaffected, and that the next one will go ahead March 12 as planned.

The ECB stressed that the move was a precaution and there have been no recorded cases yet of bank employees being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.


3:30 p.m.

India says its number of confirmed coronavirus cases has jumped to 28, up from just five.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan says an earlier COVID-19 patient who had traveled to Italy led to the confirmation of six other infections. Another cluster of cases that emerged centered around a large group of Italian tourists who had entered India on Feb. 21.

India also announced Wednesday that it has imposed universal screening of all passengers on international flights.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported 435 new cases, pushing its total to 5,621 - the second-highest total after China.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

3/4/2020 12:54:20 PM (GMT -5:00)