Italy orders businesses to close, tightening its lockdown.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy on Wednesday ordered almost all businesses nationwide to close as infections and deaths from the new coronavirus continued to soar, two days after he announced stringent travel restrictions.
Pharmacies, grocery stores, banks and public transit will be allowed to operate, but any other commercial enterprise that is not vital — restaurants, bars, most stores, cafes, beauty salons — must close to limit the contagion, Mr. Conte said in an evening address to the nation.
Italy had already imposed controls unlike anything seen in a modern democracy, banning public gatherings and telling a nation of 60 million people to halt travel except for work or emergencies. But in Italy and across Europe, the epidemic has spread at a speed that has left countries scrambling to come up with containment plans.
Mr. Conte did not say when the new order would go into effect, but many businesses had already closed, either based on their own judgments or in expectation of a government decree.
“If the numbers keep going up, which is not at all improbable,” Mr. Conte said, it would mean not that new measures were needed, but that Italians shock stick to those already imposed. “We must be lucid, measured, rigorous, responsible.”
The benefits of Italy’s sacrifice will not be seen for weeks, he warned.
Italy reported more than 2,300 new cases on Wednesday, driving its total to more than 12,000, with 827 deaths — the second-worst outbreak in the world, after China. Italy has more than half the cases in Europe.
Across Europe, the number of confirmed infections jumped by almost a quarter from Tuesday to Wednesday, reaching more than 22,000.
France, with almost 2,300 infections, and Spain, with almost 2,200, each reported an increase of about 500 from Tuesday. Germany had about 1,600.
Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland each have more than 400 confirmed infections. Denmark and Belgium have both reported more than 300 cases.
Even the island nation of Iceland has not escaped, with more than 80 infections in a population of about 364,000, one of the highest number of cases per capita worldwide.
Stocks plunge in the absence of clear plans from world leaders.
Financial markets tumbled again Wednesday as policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic appeared unwilling or unable to mount an aggressive response to the economic threat posed by the virus.
The S&P 500 fell nearly 5 percent on Wednesday, erasing its gains on Tuesday. The index is now down 19 percent from its high on Feb. 19.
“If the Trump administration and Congress can’t get it together quickly and put together a sizable and responsible package, then a recession seems like a real possibility here,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.
The economic damage from the global pandemic is only beginning to emerge from disruptions in supply chains, travel and entertainment, worsened by a price war in the oil industry.
President Trump said that he planned to make a formal statement to the nation, from the Oval Office, at 9 p.m. Eastern time.
In Europe, major indexes in Frankfurt, London and Paris fell, giving up early gains that had come after the Bank of England said it would cut interest rates to help British businesses. Shares in Asia also fell.
Britain’s government promised nearly $39 billion in stimulus to its economy, including about $6.5 billion for the country’s frayed National Health Service and other public bodies. The government’s crisis committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss social distancing strategies for tackling the virus, which could mean more people working from home, school closures and restrictions on large-scale gatherings.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel announced about $2.8 billion in spending to counter the economic fallout. Israel has imposed a mandatory 14-day isolation of anyone entering the country, abruptly choking off tourism.
This is a global pandemic, the W.H.O. says.
The spread of the coronavirus across more than 100 countries now qualifies as a global pandemic, World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday, confirming what many epidemiologists have been saying for weeks.
Until now, the W.H.O. had avoided using the term, for fear that people would think the outbreak was unstoppable and countries would give up on trying to contain it.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the W.H.O., said at a news conference in Geneva.
“We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough,” he added. “All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”
There is evidence on six continents of sustained transmission of the virus, which has infected more than 120,000 people and killed more than 4,300. The pandemic designation is largely symbolic, but public health officials know that the public will hear in the word elements of danger and risk.
According to the W.H.O., an epidemic is defined as a regional outbreak of an illness that spreads unexpectedly. In 2010, it defined a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease” that affects large numbers of people. The C.D.C. says it is “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”
The last pandemic declared by the W.H.O. was in 2009, for a new strain of H1N1 influenza.
Washington, Kentucky, New York and other states move toward stronger measures.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said a ban on large events was imminent. In San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors were set to play this week in an empty arena. And in Washington State, Gov. Jay Inslee said on Wednesday that people should no longer sit shoulder-to-shoulder in local bars — in the era of coronavirus, he said, such socializing has become “just totally unacceptable.”
Governments around the country were rapidly embarking on new containment efforts on Wednesday as the number of known U.S. cases of coronavirus infection rose to more than 1,200, a day after jumping by more than one-third. People in 40 states and the District of Columbia have now tested positive for the virus, and there have been at least 31 related deaths.
Nowhere have the moves become more drastic and more urgent than in the Seattle area, where the state banned public gatherings of 250 people or more in three counties. Within hours, several local school districts with a combined enrollment of about 100,000 students said they would close for at least two weeks; a Patti Smith concert was postponed; and churches began making plans to cancel their Sunday services.
In San Francisco, where Mayor London N. Breed announced a ban on large group events of more than 1,000 people, the San Francisco Giants announced that their exhibition game against the Oakland Athletics scheduled for May 24 would not take place at Oracle Park. Ohio’s governor said he would impose a similar ban after new evidence concluded that the virus was spreading through community transmission in the state.
“People are going to say, ‘Oh my God, really, you’re doing that?’” Governor DeWine told reporters. “You’re going to look back on it in a week and say, ‘That wasn’t a difficult decision.’”
At the forefront of the nation’s outbreak, Washington State has accounted for 24 of the nation’s 32 coronavirus deaths. Much of that toll has come from a single nursing home that has become a dire illustration of how deadly coronavirus can be if it reaches vulnerable populations.
In New York, the state and city universities and colleges, with about 700,000 students in all, will shift primarily to online classes starting on March 19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday. Many other colleges have canceled in-person classes, and some have told students not to return after their spring breaks.
“It is going to get worse,” a leading American scientist says.
A top federal health official gave lawmakers a stark warning on Wednesday that the coronavirus would continue to spread in the United States, and said that fans should be barred from big gatherings like National Basketball Association games.
“The bottom line: It is going to get worse,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight Committee.
“We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” he added. “If that means not having any people in the audience as the N.B.A. plays, so be it.”
Dr. Fauci sought to rebut the claim — repeated often by President Trump — that the coronavirus was no worse than the flu.
“People always say, ‘Well, the flu does this, the flu does that.’ The flu has a mortality of 0.1 percent. This has a mortality of 10 times that,” Dr. Fauci said.
The committee hearing quickly devolved into a partisan fight over the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, with Democrats ripping into top health officials and Republicans defending President Trump. The tone was sharp in part because two members of the committee — Representatives Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who was recently named acting White House chief of staff, and Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona — were in self-quarantine after possible contact with a person infected by the virus at a conservative political conference.
Labs see new supply shortages as testing demand soars.
A supply shortage is looming that could keep laboratories around the United States from meeting the ballooning demand for coronavirus testing.
For weeks, doctors and labs have complained that there weren’t nearly enough test kits to take samples from all the patients who showed signs of infection. That shortfall is easing after a botched rollout, but is not over.
Laboratories warn that they are running low on supplies used to extract viral RNA from nasal swabs — supplies that are not included in the kits.
Some lab directors have also had trouble getting the virus samples needed to validate their tests. And many are worried about a possible shortage of reagents, the chemicals used in the tests.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that labs could test one swab per patient, rather than two, cutting the chemical demand in half.
Qiagen, a major manufacturer of the RNA extraction kits, said in a statement this week that t it was increasing production in sites in Germany, Spain and Maryland.
The C.D.C. and the Food and Drug Administration have said they are aware of potential shortages and are monitoring supplies, but it is not clear what they might do to address the problems.
The N.C.A.A. bars fans from March Madness.
The grandest annual exhibition in U.S. college sports — the N.C.A.A. men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — will be played with “only essential staff and limited family attendance,” the organization announced on Wednesday.
“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how Covid-19 is progressing in the United States,” Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, said in a statement.
The move will allow the games to go on for the benefit of television audiences, but in a dramatically different playing atmosphere that is certain to change the tenor of the tournaments.
On Tuesday, the Ivy League canceled its basketball tournaments, and the Big West and Mid-American Conferences both closed their tournaments to the public.
This season’s N.C.A.A. men’s tournament was scheduled to take place in 14 cities, including Atlanta, Indianapolis, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Omaha and Spokane, Wash. The women’s tournament, was more complicated, because the venues for its first- and second-round games are not set until the top 16 seeds are selected.
Common questions about the coronavirus, and how to prepare.
The Times is answering some of the most common questions that readers are asking about how they can prepare for the coronavirus, how they can boost their immune systems and how they should react to the market. (Don’t, probably.)
More senior Iranian leaders are infected.
The coronavirus scourge has reached deeper into Iran’s hierarchy, the Fars News Agency reported Wednesday. First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and at least two other Cabinet ministers are infected, the agency said; so is the chief accountant for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.
Mr. Jahangiri is the most senior official to be sickened so far in the country with the biggest outbreak in the Middle East. Fars said he is in quarantine, and other news services said he had not attended Cabinet sessions in the last few days.
Mr. Khamenei’s chief accountant, Mohamad Javad Irvani, who works in the supreme leader’s office, is in quarantine as well, Fars said. He would be the first person in Mr. Khamenei’s tight circle of aides known to be infected.
Two other Cabinet members, Ali Asghar Mounes, minister of tourism and cultural craft, and Reza Rahmani, minister of industries, have also been infected, Iranian news media reported on Wednesday.
The first Cabinet minister known to have been infected was Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy for women’s affairs and the highest-ranking woman in the government. Her case was officially acknowledged a few weeks ago, after she had been shown sitting just a few yards from Mr. Rouhani during a Cabinet meeting.
The health authorities in Iran reported 63 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the highest single-day tally since the country acknowledged the first fatalities three weeks ago, bringing the official total to 354. The authorities also reported 958 new cases, bringing the official total of infections to 9,000.
Germany warns of worse to come.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday said that the coronavirus was likely to infect about two-thirds of the German population.
But her top medical adviser, Dr. Lothar Weiler, who appeared with her, added that, “we don’t know how fast that will happen.” One of the country’s top virologists recently said that it could take a year or two, or even longer, for that many people to become infected.
At a news conference, Ms. Merkel said: “Given a virus for which there is no immunity and no immunization, we have to understand that many people will be infected. The consensus among experts is that 60 to 70 percent of the population will be infected.”
The heart of her message was that Germans should take precautions to ensure that the health system can handle the high number of people who could fall seriously ill. She urged people to stay at home as much as possible.
“How we respond matters,” Ms. Merkel said. “We are playing for time.”
“We are at the start of a development that we cannot yet see the end of,” she told reporters in her first public appearance to address the epidemic, which has already infected more than 1,600 people in Germany. “But we as a country will do whatever is necessary to do, working within the European bloc.”
That readiness includes flexibility on spending, especially to help the small and midsize enterprises that are losing business, she said.
“We won’t ask every day, ‘What does this mean for our deficit?’” said Ms. Merkel.
Major events, including all large cultural performances in Berlin, Munich and elsewhere, have either been canceled or will take place without spectators.
With 60 cases, India closes its borders.
The Indian government acted to close the country’s borders on Wednesday, suspending virtually all visas to enter the country until April 15.
It is one of the strongest measures on international travel that any government has taken. This week, Israel said it would require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days. On Wednesday, Guatemala said it would bar Europeans and citizens of China, Iran and North and South Korea beginning on Thursday.
Russia’s coronavirus crisis center said the country would suspend most of the regular flights to Italy, Germany, Spain and France. Flights from Moscow to Rome, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris will continue, but only from one terminal of the city’s main Sheremetyevo airport, which is also handling China flights. Starting Friday, tourist visas will no longer be issued to Italian nationals.
The decision in India came as the number of the country’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 60.
Under the new rules, visas for tourists and business travelers are suspended until April 15. In addition, more than 3 million foreigners of Indian descent who hold a special lifetime visa cannot enter the country until April 15.
The new rules do not apply to diplomats, people who work for international organizations like the United Nations, and foreign workers with existing employment visas.
The country also announced mandatory 14-day quarantines for all incoming travelers, including Indian citizens, who arrive from China, Italy, Iran, Korea, France, Spain and Germany.
The government discouraged Indians from nonessential travel abroad, warning that they might be subject to quarantine on re-entry.
Delays in testing set back the U.S. coronavirus response.
In late January, the first confirmed American case of coronavirus had been reported in the Seattle area. Had the man infected anyone else? Was the virus already spreading?
Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert in Seattle, had a way to monitor the region. As part of a research project into the flu, she and a team of researchers had been collecting nasal swabs for months from residents experiencing symptoms.
Repurposing the samples for coronavirus testing required the support of state and federal officials — who, interviews and emails show, would not give it. Weeks crawled by and outbreaks emerged outside of China.
By Feb. 25, Dr. Chu and her colleagues began performing tests without government approval. What came back confirmed the worst: a teenager with no recent travel history was infected.
In fact, officials would later discover that the virus had already contributed to the deaths of two people. It would kill 20 more in the Seattle region over the following days.
The failure to tap into the flu study was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more testing during the early days of the outbreak.
Even now, after weeks of mounting frustration with federal agencies over flawed test kits and burdensome rules, states are struggling to test widely for the coronavirus. The continued delays have made it impossible for officials to get a true picture of the scale of the growing outbreak.
Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle, Rick Gladstone, Farnaz Fassihi, Elisabetta Povoledo, Steven Erlanger, Alissa J. Rubin, Andrew Kramer, Joanna Berendt, Annie Karni, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Vindu Goel, Kirk Semple, Iliana Magra, Elian Peltier, Jason Horowitz, Emma Bubola, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Ivan Nechepurenko, Jorge Arangure, Elaine Yu, Amy Qin, Alan Rappeport, Emily Cochrane, Sheri Fink, Mike Baker, Monika Pronczuk, Joanna Berendt, Benjamin Novak, Benjamin Mueller, Melissa Eddy, Roni Caryn Rabin, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Andrew Keh, Isabel Kershner and Katie Thomas.