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Live updates: U.S. will suspend all travel from U.K. and Ireland; France closing all non-essential businesses


March 16, 2020

Spain announced a nationwide lockdown as France moved to close all nonessential businesses - including cafes, restaurants and movie theaters - in the latest testament to the coronavirus pandemic's profound impact on daily life around the globe.

The United States will be banning travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland beginning Monday at midnight, Vice President Pence announced Saturday afternoon, bringing the total number travel-restricted countries in Europe to 28.

Here are some other significant developments:

President Trump told reporters he was tested for the novel coronavirus Friday night, but did not reveal the results.

The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee also got tested after reporting symptoms and is self-quarantining.

Middle Eastern countries are closing their doors to outsiders and enforcing measures aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus, after deaths were reported across the region.

President Trump said the administration was considering domestic travel restrictions for some hot spots.

New York Archdiocese halts mass as houses of worship across the country suspend services.

Spain announced an additional 1,500 cases, emerging as a new hot spot with 5,753 cases nationwide, the second highest in Europe.

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4:27 PM: Spain announces nationwide lockdown as coronavirus cases surge

The Spanish government announced a nationwide lockdown on Saturday, ordering the country's 47 million people to stay in their homes as coronavirus cases surge.

Residents will only be able to leave to buy essential goods, go to work, medical appointments or to banks, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told the nation in a televised address on Saturday. The restrictions will remain in place for an initial 15 day-period but could be extended.

Closures of bars, restaurants and hotels, already in place in certain regions, were extended to the entire country.

"We have only one objective which is to defeat the coronavirus," he said. "We are all on the same team."

By: Loveday Morris

4:25 PM: Israel bans gatherings of more than 10 people, will track suspected cases electronically

JERUSALEM - Israel significantly tightened restrictions on social activity in the country Saturday, barring gatherings of more than 10 people, closing the few preschools and kindergartens that remained open and all but ending "leisure activities" for an indefinite time.

Restaurants, movie theaters and other gathering places are to close, although "essential" business such as supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and gas stations are to remain open. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on television as families ended their Sabbath, said the country was determined to take every measure to slow the spread of coronavirus.

"We are fighting a war against an invisible enemy. We can defeat the virus, but it requires a new life routine," Netanyahu said.

A key component of the expanding response, he said, would be to electronically track those known to have come in contact with someone infected with the virus, using the kind of cellphone and credit card monitoring Israel is known to employ with terrorism suspects.

Privacy authorities in the country opposed the measure, but Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, responding soon after Netanyahu's address, said they were legal given Israel's current state of emergency, according to the English daily Ha'aretz.

Israel had already shut down schools and universities until at least the middle of April and all but closed its borders. Anyone entering the country must immediately self-quarantine for two weeks. The country has reported 193 cases of coronavirus infection, with no deaths. The adjacent West Bank has reported 38 cases.

Netanyahu said more restrictions are likely in coming days.

By: Steve Hendrix

3:58 PM: UAE suspends much of hospitality and tourism industry

The United Arab Emirates is known globally for its glitzy airport, extravagant malls and conferences, lucrative business dealings and high-end art, sports and fashion shows. But much of the tourism and hospitality industry that helps drive the natural gas-rich Persian Gulf state is shutting down, the government announced Saturday, as it rushed to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

Across the UAE, major tourism and cultural sites - such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum and Ferrari World theme park - will shut from March 15 to 31, Reuters reported.

Dubai, the capital of the UAE and a regional business and transit hub, announced Saturday the cancellation of all events for the rest of March and urged hotels to temporarily suspend hosting wedding celebrations, which are generally large affairs. The UAE has yet to cancel all international flights and the country's leading airliners, Emirates and Etihad, are continuing to fly to Beijing, albeit with extra screenings of passengers. On Saturday, however, the UAE Civil Aviation Authority increased restrictions, and said it would stop flights to Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey beginning March 17, on top of a previous ban on Iran, the epicenter of the region's coronavirus outbreak.

Nearby Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, in contrast, have suspended all international flights.

The UAE's official news agency, WAM, reported Saturday that as of March 17 immigration authorities would also temporarily stop issuing visas to foreigners, except for diplomats. The country will honor already issued visas, Reuters reported.

Like countries worldwide, the UAE has sought to strike a balance between protecting its economy and business activities and taking actions to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. The state's central bank on Saturday announced a $27 billion economic plan to counteract economic losses incurred by the outbreak.

By: Miriam Berger

3:38 PM: France announces closure of all nonessential businesses amid coronavirus outbreak

PARIS - French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced the closure of all nonessential business, starting at midnight Saturday, in the latest effort to curb spiraling numbers of coronavirus infections.

Banks, supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and newsstands will remain open, Philippe said. But the French government was requiring the immediate closure of all restaurants, cafes and movie theaters - a major step in a country where the cafe terrace and cinema are staples of social life.

"We must absolutely limit our movements," Philippe said, noting that the government had no choice but to impose these restrictions after too many people appeared to be ignoring earlier advice from President Emmanuel Macron about social distancing and staying home.

Although the French government has now shuttered all nonessential business, the first round of France's municipal elections will still go ahead on Sunday, Philippe confirmed.

Like its European neighbors, namely Italy and Spain, France has struggled to contain the coronavirus outbreak on its own soil. As of Saturday, the number of total cases confirmed in the country had skyrocketed to roughly 4,500 - doubling in 72 hours.

At present, 91 people in France have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to figures released Saturday by Jérome Salomon, a senior official at the Health Ministry.

By: James McAuley

3:38 PM: Iraqis protest incoming flights from Iran; Baghdad considers curfew

BEIRUT - A small group of protesters gathered at an airport in central Iraq's Najaf, accusing officials of allowing flights to and from Iran - the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East - and demanding that the airport be shut down.

The small protest wasn't the first time people in Iraq have demanded the country close its doors to its neighbor, which has confirmed 611 deaths and over 12,000 cases of patients. Protesters had gathered at the same airport weeks ago.

"We assured them that all our flights now are taking Iranians out and bringing Iraqis in only," said a senior official from the airport, on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. "We are not bringing Iranians, because they are banned."

Hussam al-Kaabi, a member of the crisis cell in Najaf, said the protesters "retreated because it started to rain, and there are still demands to shut down the whole airport."

Iraq, which shares a long border with Iran, has had nine deaths and 110 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and has been the subject of flight suspensions by many other countries in the Middle East. On Saturday, the health director for a district in Baghdad said, "If the outbreak of the coronavirus escalates in the coming hours, we may resort to a curfew in Baghdad and the announcement of a maximum-alert status."

The Iraqi capital is already rattled after rockets hit a base housing U.S. troops on Saturday, wounding three American and two Iraqi troops. The attack on U.S. troops was the second this week, after a barrage of rockets hit Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad, on Wednesday, killing two American troops and a British service member. The U.S. military launched strikes Friday on targets associated with Kataib Hezbollah, the Iranian-linked militia that Washington blamed for those deaths.

Salim reported from Baghdad.

By: Sarah Dadouch and Mustafa Salim

3:22 PM: New York Archdiocese halts Mass as houses of worship across the country suspend services

The Archdiocese of New York announced Saturday afternoon it was canceling all Masses beginning March 14 amid Lent, one the most significant holy seasons for Catholics. The decision comes a day after the Archdiocese advised parishioners to use their best judgment on whether to attend services during the coronavirus outbreak that has caused more than 500 cases in the state.

Before Saturday's announcement, the Archdiocese noted the church has always exempted from Mass attendance those with "serious medical issues" or during times of emergency.

Across the United States - and the world - houses of worship are balancing their role as places for fellowship and spiritual support with heeding public health directives that include social distancing and government orders to halt all mass gatherings.

From Manila to Rome to Mecca, religious authorities have closed down or restricted access to churches, mosques, synagogues and other crowded religious sites where the virus can spread. A now-shut messianic church in South Korea, for example, helped spark the country's epidemic. The Russian Greek Orthodox Church, however, said Saturday that it would not stop holding services, even if the coronavirus outbreak there worsened, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

"I'll tell you for sure that we will neither close the churches nor cancel the services," Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, told a Russian news channel, according to Interfax.

The Greek Orthodox Church has also refused to stop a Holy Communion ritual in which worshipers sip from the same spoon, the Guardian reported.

Iran has also come under criticism for not closing down revered shrines and mosques in the holy city of Qom, the epicenter of the country – and now wider region's – outbreak.

In the U.S., where churches, temples and mosques are halting services, the change is both socially and spiritually disrupting.

"It really is a sense of deprivation," Sarah Bartel told The Washington Post.

The 42-year-old lives with her husband and five children outside Seattle, where the Catholic archbishop on Wednesday became the first in the country to suspend all public Masses. Bartel usually attends Mass three times a week. Not to have that sacramental contact with God on a weekly or daily basis, especially during Lent, is a deep loss, she said.

"We believe that Jesus' life, death and resurrection are in the mystery of the Mass - it's at the heart of our lives."

By: Kim Bellware, Miriam Berger and Michelle Boorstein

3:01 PM: RNC chairwoman who spent time at Mar-a-Lago got tested for coronavirus after showing symptoms

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was tested Friday night for the coronavirus after experiencing a fever and flu-like symptoms, the party's spokesman said in a statement.

McDaniel was at Mar-a-Lago for some of last weekend with Trump, Pence and other Republican officials, where it is now known at least two people who were later confirmed to have contracted the virus were present.

"As she awaits the results, out of an abundance of caution, we are contacting everyone the Chairwoman remembers coming into contact with in recent days," said RNC communications director Michael Ahrens. "Upon the advice of doctors, she and her family are self-quarantining at their home."

By: Colby Itkowitz

2:45 PM: Top U.S. medical official says coronavirus cases have not reached their peak

The United States has yet to reach its peak in the number of coronavirus cases, a top medical official said Saturday.

During a White House news conference following a coronavirus task force meeting, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health, said the United States currently has about 2,226 coronavirus cases and 50 deaths.

Although China has seen the number of cases per day drastically decrease, he said U.S. cases would continue to increase before there would be a notable decline.

"We have not reached our peak," Fauci said. "We will see more suffering and death, predominantly among the vulnerables in our society."

Sign up for our daily Coronavirus Updates newsletter to track the outbreak. All stories linked within the newsletter are free to access.

By: Yasmeen Abutaleb

2:43 PM: Restrictions increased in Middle East to curb coronavirus spread

BEIRUT - Middle Eastern countries are closing their doors to outsiders and enforcing measures aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus, after deaths were reported across the region.

Saudi Arabia suspended all international flights for two weeks starting Sunday, state news agency SPA said, citing an Interior Ministry official.

Neighboring United Arab Emirates is suspending all flights to and from Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, starting Tuesday. The UAE's Dubai airport is one of the busiest in the world. The country also temporarily suspended issuance of all visas starting March 17, with exceptions made for diplomatic passport holders, state news agency WAM said.

In war-torn Yemen, the Iranian-allied Houthis, who are fighting against a Saudi-led coalition, announced the closure of Sanaa Airport for two weeks, blocking United Nations and nongovernmental-organization flights, the Houthis' Sabaa news agency said on Saturday. Houthi-controlled Yemen is the recipient of the world's largest humanitarian aid operation.

Further north, Jordan announced the closure of schools and universities for two weeks, suspended flights with several countries and stopped all public activities, including prayers in mosques, and discouraged private gatherings.

On Friday, Syria also announced the closure of schools and universities, for three weeks - but the same announcement denied that Syria has any coronavirus cases. Syria shares a border with Iraq, which has had nine deaths, and has witnessed a large influx of Iranians in recent years. Iran has been the epicenter of the virus in the region, with over 12,000 cases confirmed and 611 deaths.

Syria's other neighbor, Lebanon, has had 93 people test positively and three deaths from the virus. It has suspended and limited flights and border movement with many countries, including Iran, the United Kingdom and Syria. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs have been shut down across the usually vibrant country. Its parliament is set to hold an emergency session on Sunday.

By: Sarah Dadouch

2:24 PM: Trump criticizes Federal Reserve response, says he has right to fire Powell

President Trump launched a fresh barrage of criticism of the Federal Reserve and its chairman on Saturday, saying the central bank has been slow to react to the coronavirus outbreak and asserting that he can fire or demote Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell.

"I hope the Federal Reserve will finally get on board and do what they should do," Trump said during a news conference about the federal response to the public health crisis.

"They should be much more proactive," as Trump said other countries' central banks are doing, a theme he has struck repeatedly as the economic effects of the virus spread around the world.

Trump added later that he is "not happy" with the Fed and with Powell's management.

"I think they're following, not leading, and we should be leading," Trump said.

The Fed took the emergency step earlier this month of cutting its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point, an attempt to limit the economic and financial fallout from the coronavirus.

The U.S. central bank has not made a cut like this since late 2008, shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The Fed also began buying additional government debt.

Asked whether he is ready to fire Powell or remove him from the chairmanship, Trump said he does not plan to do so now.

"I think I have the right to do that, or the right to remove him as chairman. He is, he has so far made a lot of bad decisions in my opinion."

Later Trump added that he could "take him and put him in a regular position and put somebody else in charge."

Trump has departed from the long presidential practice of declining to comment on or attempt to influence the decisions of the independent Fed. "We could refinance our debt very easily at a much lower rate," Trump said. "We have some tremendous opportunities right now, but Jerome Powell is not making it easy."

By: Anne Gearan

2:19 PM: Airliners flying to Spain turned around midflight

As Spain emerged Saturday as Europe's latest coronavirus hot spot, several airliners en route there from England turned around midflight, the BBC reported.

At least five flights charted by the low-cost British carrier Jet2 were caught up in a sudden frenzy Saturday after Spain signaled that it was preparing for a two-week state of emergency, the flight-tracker Flight Radar 24 reported.

Spanish authorities have ordered bars and restaurants to close, as well as put some regions of the country on effective lockdown. The government is considering even more far-reaching measures.

"We know these local measures will have a significant impact on our customers' holidays, which is why we have taken this decision," a Jet2 spokesperson told the BBC. "This is a fast-moving and complex situation and we are reviewing our program as a matter of urgency, so that we can fly customers back to the U.K."

Spain reported around 1,500 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

Sign up for our daily Coronavirus Updates newsletter to track the outbreak. All stories linked within the newsletter are free to access.

By: Miriam Berger

2:02 PM: U.S. expands travel restrictions to U.K. and Ireland

Vice President Pence on Saturday announced the expansion of U.S. travel restrictions on Europe to include the United Kingdom and Ireland. The latest restrictions will go into effect Monday at midnight, Pence said during a news conference. The ban will not affect U.S. citizens and legal residents, who will be allowed to return home.

Late Wednesday night President Trump announced that travelers coming from most European countries would be barred. The directive specifically only restricted travel from Europe's Schengen Area, which includes 26 countries but not the U.K. or Ireland. Those restrictions went into effect Friday.

European leaders reacted angrily to the travel ban, saying they were not consulted before Trump's announcement. Other critics questioned the effectiveness of such bans at this point in the outbreak's trajectory.

Trump's announcement exacerbated concerns in financial markets over a global recession, triggering a sell-off of stocks on Thursday. Stocks rallied Friday after Trump announced additional measures, including declaring a national emergency.

Trump said on Saturday that he was also considering some domestic travel restrictions.

"If you don't have to travel I wouldn't do it," he said during a news conference. The president and his campaign have called off several planned appearances and events in the past week.

Additional travel restrictions would likely further hit the airline industry, which is already facing enormous losses because of the impact of the coronavirus. Lobbyists for the industry have expressed concerns to congressional and administration aides about the potentially crippling impact shutting down domestic travel would have on their business.

White House officials are considering offering low-interest loans or tax deferrals to the airline industry to help them survive the downturn, but it is not clear if these measures would provide enough support for many of these firms.

The latest U.S. travel ban comes as the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout Europe and countries there restrict movement across the European Union's traditionally open borders.

By: Miriam Berger and Jeff Stein

1:24 PM: Trump says he's been tested for coronavirus, does not have results yet

President Trump has been tested for the coronavirus, but said he didn't know when he'd have the results.

But Trump said he had just had his temperature taken and joked that he'd compare his result with the press in the room – the reporters would not have been allowed in if they'd had an elevated temperature.

As Trump was leaving the briefing room, the reporters asked him what his temperature was.

Trump turned back and said, "Totally normal."

Trump's announcement that he'd been tested came as a surprise after days of his reluctance to do so. Over night the White House even released a letter from the president's doctor saying that he didn't need to be tested despite his close contact with two infected individuals.

Later, Pence said he had not been tested and would be speaking to the White House physician's office immediately after the briefing about whether he should. He added that he would be "more than happy" to do so.

By: Colby Itkowitz

12:23 PM: Trump is breaking every rule in the CDC's 450-page playbook for health crisis

Amid an outbreak where vaccines, drug treatments and even sufficient testing don't yet exist, communication that is delivered early, accurately and credibly is the strongest medicine in the government's arsenal.

But the Trump administration's zigzagging, defensive, inconsistent messages about the novel coronavirus continued Friday, breaking almost every rule in the book and eroding the most powerful weapon officials possess: Public trust.

Read more here.

By: Carolyn Y. Johnson and William Wan

12:20 PM: White House to check temperature of anyone who interacts with Trump, Pence; doctor says president doesn't need test


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