US President Donald Trump, center, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 outbreak, at the White House in Washington DC, on Feb 26, 2020. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)
WASHINGTON/PARIS/LONDON/HELSINKI/BRUSSELS/COPENHAGEN/VILNIUS/NEW YORK/MEXICO CITY/TALLINN/MILAN - US President Donald Trump told Americans on Wednesday that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low,” and placed Vice-President Mike Pence in charge of the US response to the looming global health crisis.
At a White House briefing with his coronavirus task force, Trump defended his administration’s response to the crisis and said public health officials were “ready, willing and able” to move quickly if the virus spreads.
The risk to the American people remains very low ... Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.
Donald Trump, US president
Trump made his comments as public health officials warned Americans to prepare for more coronavirus cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of the possibility of a community spread of the coronavirus in the country as it confirmed an infection in California in someone who had not traveled outside the United States or been exposed to a person known to have the virus, a first for the country.
How the person was infected was not known. It brought the total number of cases in the United States to 15, according to the CDC.
New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo said the city would set aside about US$40 million for a potential outbreak of COVID-19. Mayor Bill de Blasio said there were no confirmed cases in the city but de Blasio announced plans to provide up to 1,200 hospital beds if needed. He also called on the government to help the city obtain 300,000 extra protective masks.
ALSO READ: Brazil confirms Latin America's first infection as Italy reels
At the White House, Trump said he was not ready to institute new travel restrictions for countries such as South Korea and Italy that are dealing with outbreaks - although he could not rule it out. The State Department raised its travel alert level for South Korea and urged Americans to reconsider going there.
The CDC confirmed an infection in California in someone who had not traveled outside the US or been exposed to a person known to have the virus, a first for the country
“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said, flanked by Pence and public health officials.
He said the spread of the virus in the United States was not “inevitable” and then went on to say: “It probably will, it possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.”
READ MORE: US kicks off clinical trial of antiviral chemical to treat COVID-19
CDC data show there are 60 cases confirmed in the United States, including 45 cases of individuals who were evacuated from either Wuhan or the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a statement that the Trump administration “has mounted an opaque and chaotic response to this outbreak.”
Nancy Pelosi said the House would put forward a “funding package with transparency and accountability that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis”
She said the House would put forward a “funding package with transparency and accountability that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis.”
Trump is seeking US$2.5 billion from Congress to boost the government’s virus response, an amount Democrats said falls far short of what is needed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for US$8.5 billion to prepare.
US stock markets fell for the fifth consecutive day Wednesday on investors’ alarm about the respiratory disease spreading.
Trump told reporters at the White House that fears of the coronavirus had hurt the stock markets. But he also blamed the Democratic presidential candidates for spooking investors.
Earlier in the day, Trump accused two cable TV news channels, CNN and MSNBC, of presenting the danger from the virus in as bad a light as possible and upsetting financial markets.
30 tourists quarantined in France
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called the coronavirus outbreak a “crisis, an epidemic that is on the way”.
Macron made the remarks during a visit to Paris’ Hopital Salpetriere, a hospital, that has been treating coronavirus patients, accompanied by French Health Minister Olivier Veran.
The visit comes a day after the Regional Health Agency of Bourgogne-Franche-Comte said that a group of 30 tourists have been put under quarantine over suspected COVID-19 infection in eastern France after one of them was found dead overnight.
The tourists, staying at an Ibis hotel in Beaune, are put under quarantine at the hotel after a group member from Hong Kong was found dead on Tuesday night
The tourists, staying at an Ibis hotel in Beaune, capital of the Burgundy wines in eastern France, are put under quarantine at the hotel after a group member, who was from Hong Kong, was found dead on Tuesday night with no previous "warning symptoms" of the novel coronavirus infection.
Other hotel guests, who had no contact with the group, were allowed to leave, according to the statement.
ALSO READ: Italy reports virus case in Sicily, Tenerife hotel on lockdown
The total number of confirmed cases in France reached 18 on Wednesday. Of the patients, 12 were discharged from hospital after recovery and four are still being treated in hospital.
Denmark, Estonia report 1 case each
Denmark has confirmed its first coronavirus infection in a man who recently returned from a ski holiday in the Lombardy region in northern Italy, the Danish Health Authority said on Thursday, adding that the man has been put in isolation in his own home.
The Danish Health Authority said a man who recently returned from holiday in northern Italy's Lombardy region was confirmed to be infected
ALSO READ: 3 new coronavirus cases reported in northern Italy
The case will not change the country’s current risk assessment, published on Tuesday, which finds a low risk of a country-wide epidemic, the Danish Health Authority said, but added it expected more cases of infection in Denmark.
Meanwhile, Estonian health authorities said Thursday the country has confirmed its first case involving a man who returned from Iran.
“We are talking about a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen of Estonia,” Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ETV. “According to my information, he is a citizen of Iran.”
“The person has been isolated,” Kiik told the broadcaster, adding that the person arrived in Estonia on Wednesday night, traveling on a bus from Riga in Latvia.
Lombardy governor's aide infected
The governor of the region of Lombardy, at the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, has placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff came down with COVID-19.
“For now I don’t have any type of infection so I can continue to work ... but for two weeks I will try to live in a sort of self-isolation,” Governor Attilio Fontana said on Facebook.
Two more people have died in Italy from coronavirus, bringing the death toll from the worst outbreak of the disease yet seen in Europe to 14, the Civil Protection agency said in a statement on Thursday.
The agency chief, Angelo Borrelli, had earlier told reporters that officials were still seeking confirmation that coronavirus was responsible for the latest two deaths. The number of confirmed cases has risen to 528 from some 420 announced on Wednesday, the vast majority in northern Italy.
Lithuania declares state of emergency
The Lithuanian authorities declared on Wednesday a state of emergency in the country over the possible spread of the novel coronavirus.
The state of emergency would allow better coordinated and preventative actions, organized work of state institutions as well as the use of medical reserves, said Lithuanina Deputy Minister of Health Algirdas Seselgis
"The state of emergency has been declared exclusively for prevention purposes," Deputy Minister of Health Algirdas Seselgis was quoted by local media as saying at a government meeting.
The state of emergency would allow better coordinated and preventative actions, organized work of state institutions as well as the use of medical reserves, said Seselgis, urging people to keep themselves posted about the official information on the epidemic although cases of the new virus have not been diagnosed in the country.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said Wednesday that the country needs to prepare for the situation and urged the public not to be panic.
Finland is prepared to tackle the situation of the coronavirus and will take all scenarios and take things seriously, said Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Wednesday afternoon.
Finland on Wednesday reported the country's second case, which is also the first case of a Finnish national infected with the virus.
"Preparations have been made since January, especially in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), but also in other ministries," Marin said.
Finland reported Wednesday its first case of Finnish national infected with the novel coronavirus. The patient is a working-age Finnish woman, who had been infected while visiting Milan, Northern Italy, and is now treated in hospital in Meilahti, Helsinki.
This is the second confirmed case in Finland. In late January, a Chinese female tourist tested positive for the virus in northern Finland's Lapland and was later discharged from the hospital.
Marin also announced there will be a parliamentary debate on the virus situation on Thursday, which will be aired live on national television.
UK reports 2 more cases
Two more cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the United Kingdom, bringing the total number of cases to 15, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said on Thursday.
“The virus was passed on in Italy and Tenerife and the patients have been transferred to specialist NHS infection centers in Royal Liverpool Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital, London,” a statement reads.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday the country has a "clear four-part plan" to respond to the outbreak of COVID-19.
"We have a clear four part plan to respond to the outbreak of this disease: contain, delay, research and mitigate," British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, adding that the government was now in the first stage
"We have a clear four part plan to respond to the outbreak of this disease: contain, delay, research and mitigate," Hancock was quoted as saying in a statement.
The government is currently in the "contain" phase but has plans in place should a pandemic take hold and warned people not to overreact, Hancock said, urging schools to stay open.
READ MORE: WHO report offers hope despite fears over virus
He added that a supported isolation facility has been established at Heathrow airport to cater for international passengers who are tested.
The European Union's (EU) Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the bloc was working to coordinate public health care response among its member states to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Also on Wednesday, Romania, Norway and Georgia on Wednesday confirmed the first case of coronavirus, respectively.
Cruise ship allowed to dock in Mexico
The cruise ship MSC Meraviglia with more than 6,000 people aboard was given permission on Wednesday to dock in Mexico after passengers were denied entry in two Caribbean ports due to fears, later disproven, that a crew member was infected with the coronavirus.
Jamaica and Grand Cayman had earlier barred passengers of the ship from disembarking on fears that one crew member, who has since been diagnosed with common seasonal flu, might have been infected with the coronavirus.
HONG KONG NEWS