/Iran frees 85,000 prisoners over coronavirus fears: Live updates

Iran frees 85,000 prisoners over coronavirus fears: Live updates

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the coronavirus pandemic as the “defining global health crisis of our time”, and urged countries to test all suspected cases of COVID-19.

The United States and countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East have closed schools, entertainment venues and all but essential services. 


Globally, the virus has infected more than 168,000 people and killed at least 6,610, according to the WHO. Almost 80,000 people have recovered from the infection, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

I’m Mersiha Gadzo in Doha taking over from my colleague Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.

Here are the latest updates:

Tuesday, March 17

09:20 GMT – France could nationalise big companies: Finance minister

The French government is prepared to use all means to support big companies suffering amid financial market turmoil, including nationalisation if necessary, the finance minister said.

“I won’t hesitate to use all means available to protect big French companies,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on a conference call with journalists.

“That can be done by recapitalisation, that can be done by taking a stake, I can even use the term nationalisation if necessary,” Le Maire added.

08:44 GMT – Philippines confirms another 45 cases

According to the Philippines’ health ministry, another 45 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to 187.

08:33 GMT – Australian researchers say immune response to coronavirus mapped

As scientists scramble to develop a vaccine, researchers at Australia‘s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said they had taken an important step in understanding the virus by mapping the immune responses from one of country’s first coronavirus patients.

By examining the blood results from an unidentified woman in her 40s, they discovered that people’s immune systems respond to coronavirus in the same way it typically fights the flu.

Read more here.

08:20 GMT – Volkswagen Group to suspend production

Volkswagen, the world’s largest carmaker, said it is preparing to close its factories to curb the spread of the coronavirus and warned that 2020 will be a difficult year.

“Given the present significant deterioration in the sales situation and the heightened uncertainty regarding parts supplies to our plants, production is to be suspended in the near future at factories operated by Group brands,” Chief Executive Herbert Diess said.

Severity of cases graphic

08:15 GMT – Global travel expected to fall 10.5 percent this year

International travel is expected to fall by as much as 10.5 percent this year, the worst drop on record, as the rapid spread of coronavirus continues to disrupt the tourism and leisure sectors, according to industry consultancy Tourism Economics.

The latest estimate is a big downgrade from two weeks ago, when the consultancy was using the 2003 SARS outbreak as its benchmark and estimated travel rates would fall by 1.5 percent.

08:12 GMT – Total cases in Pakistan rises to 189

Five more cases of coronavirus were detected in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, raising the country’s total number of cases to 189.

All five people had recently travelled back to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia, Meeran Yousuf, a spokesperson for the provincial health minister, told Al Jazeera.

08:11 GMT – Pakistan postpones semi-finals and final of PSL cricket tournament

Pakistan’s cricket board postponed the semi-finals and final of the Pakistan Super League T20 cricket tournament, scheduled to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday, to an unspecified date.

The PSL tournament, which involved dozens of international cricket stars, was played entirely on Pakistani soil for the first time in its five-year history this season.

Global Travel

An airline passenger passes by a flight information board at San Francisco International Airport. [David J. Phillip/AP]

08:10 GMT – Iran temporarily frees 85,000 prisoners

Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, a spokesman for its judiciary said, in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

“Some 50 percent of those released are security-related prisoners … Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,” Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

07:47 GMT – German minister expects crisis to last until end of May

Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier told broadcaster RTL that he expected the coronavirus crisis to last until the end of May.

“I expect we’ll have to deal with the consequences for the whole month of April and the whole month of May,” he said, adding there would be a “considerable number of new infections” during that time.

“So I wouldn’t advise anyone to bank on this being over in eight days,” Altmaier said.

Customers stand in front of empty grocery shelves in a big supermarket in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Monday, March 16, 2020. Some food stores see an unprecedented stockpiling brought on by the coronaviru

Empty grocery shelves are seen in a supermarket in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. [Martin Meissner/AP]

07:44 GMT – Airbus to suspend production in France and Spain

Airbus is stopping production and assembly activities at its plants in France and Spain for the next four days, the planemaker said.

The move appears to mark the most serious across-the-board disruption in Airbus production since a strike at then British partner BAE Systems in 1989.

07:35 GMT – Shanghai extends quarantine to UK, seven other European countries

Travellers who have visited the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria in the past 14 days will be subject to a 14-day quarantine on arrival in Shanghai, a city official said.

The city already requires a 14-day quarantine for travellers who have recently visited France, Spain, Germany, the US, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

07:30 GMT – War-ravaged Afghanistan battles a new threat

With 22 verified cases so far, Afghanistan is still among the countries with a relatively low rate of coronavirus cases. However, the outbreak of the illness comes at a particularly trying time for the country.

The recent rise in positive cases – six new cases across three provinces in a 48-hour span – has taken some attention from a continuing election dispute that saw the top two finishers each hold an inauguration ceremony last week.

Read more here.

Coronavirus in Afghanistan

Dr Najmussama Shefajo, an obstetrician-gynaecologist in Kabul, warns her pregnant patients to be cautious but not to over-worry. [Roya Heydari/Al Jazeera]

07:20 GMT – India’s iconic Taj Mahal closed

India closed the iconic Taj Mahal – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – to visitors from Tuesday, the tourism ministry said on Monday.

“All ticketed monuments and all other museums have been directed to be closed until March 31,” Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel tweeted late on Monday.

Read more here.


The Mughal-era monument is the most visited in India with more than 7 million tourists visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site last year. [Pawan Sharma/AFP]

07:08 GMT – Coronavirus vaccine test opens in the US

US researchers gave the first shot to the first person in a test of an experimental coronavirus vaccine on Monday – as a worldwide hunt for protection escalates as the pandemic surges.

Read more here.

Coronavirus vaccine test opens as US volunteer gets first shot

07:00 GMT – Swiss official warns of hospital collapse

Swiss hospitals could collapse if the new coronavirus keeps spreading rapidly, a top health official warned, urging his compatriots to respect the government’s emergency measures to curb the epidemic.

“The virus is among us, now we have do our utmost that it does not spread further. Too many are infected and if this goes on hospitals will collapse,” Daniel Koch, head of infectious diseases at the federal health agency, told SRF radio.

05:00 GMT – Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson leave hospital for quarantine – People magazine

Hollywood actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have been discharged from hospital in the Australian state of Queensland five days after they were admitted with the coronavirus, People magazine reported.

The couple, both 63, are in quarantine in a rented Gold Coast home.

Hanks was one of the first celebrities to announce he had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Several actors, sports stars and politicians have contracted it since.

04:20 GMT – Thailand reports 30 new cases

Thailand has reported 30 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total to 177. Eleven of the 30 cases are linked to a boxing ring.

04:00 GMT – China’s Xi tells Italy’s Conte more help coming

More medical experts and supplies are on their way to Italy, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte in a call on Monday evening.

Xi noted that the coronavirus was a “severe” test of both countries and that China acknowledged Italy’s “urgent concerns” about the spread of the Illness, the State Council Information Office said.

Italy is the worst-affected country outside China and the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe.  

China Italy

China is sending more medical experts and supplies to Italy. [File: Cheng Tingting/Xinhua via AP Photo]

03:20 GMT – Philippine Airlines cancels all domestic flights with immediate effect

Philippine Airlines has cancelled all domestic flights with immediate effect as a result of a strict quarantine imposed across the island of Luzon.

Its last international flights will be completed by midnight on March 20, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

03:15 GMT – Cambodia coronavirus cases double to 24

Cambodia has confirmed another 12 cases of the coronavirus, the Health Ministry said.

There are now 24 known cases in the country.

03:10 GMT – Wuhan imposes central quarantine on overseas returnees

Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated late last year, says it will require all those who return to the city from overseas to spend 14 days in central quarantine at their own expense.

The city’s epidemic control team made the announcement on its website on Tuesday.

02:40 GMT – Ohio to delay primary despite court ruling

Ohio will postpone a primary planned for Tuesday, despite a judge’s refusal to shut the election down, because of the public health emergency caused by the threat of the coronavirus, Governor Mike DeWine said on Twitter.

“Under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans,” DeWine wrote. “They mustn’t be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights.”

02:35 GMT – Brazil’s Foreign Trade Secretary confirmed to have virus

Brazilian Foreign Trade Secretary Marcos Troyjo, who was part of the Brazilian delegation that recently visited Florida, has tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said in a statement on Monday.

Troyjo, who is Brazil’s deputy economy minister, was in Miami for meetings but did not attend a dinner hosted by US President Donald Trump for Brazilian government leaders nine days ago. He is showing no symptoms and is working from his home in strict isolation, the statement said.

Rio - coronavirus

A tourist wearing a protective face mask poses during a visit to the statue of Christ the Redeemer after reports of coronavirus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

02:25 GMT – Hong Kong to quarantine all arrivals from Thursday

Hong Kong will quarantine for 14 days all people entering the city starting from midnight on Thursday, chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

Lam also said it was highly unlikely schools would resume operations on April 20, as the government advised citizens to avoid all non-essential travel.

01:55 GMT – Trump refers to ‘Chinese virus’ as he stresses support for US businesses

US President Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” in a tweet promising support for American businesses, as his administration put pressure on the Senate to pass a multibillion-dollar coronavirus aid package.

The Senate is grappling over an economic stimulus bill, the second such measure, which was passed by the Democratic-run House of Representatives on Saturday. Previously, Congress passed and Trump signed an $8.3bn package to battle the coronavirus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters the Senate was “anxious” to get the latest House-passed bill, and he hoped senators would “pass it” once it arrived.

Eric Ueland, the White House legislative liaison, said congressional action on the next coronavirus stimulus package needed to be fast and unimpeded by the potential price tag.

01:50 GMT – South Korea reports fewer than 100 new cases for third day 

South Korea has just given its latest updates – reporting 84 new coronavirus cases, the third day in a row that the country has had fewer than 100 new infections.

The new numbers are well below a February 29 peak of 909, and bring the country’s total infections to 8,320, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

The death toll rose by two to 81, the KCDC added.

A further 264 patients have been released after recovering, bringing the total to 1,401, it added.

South Korea

Medical workers in protective gear start their shift at a hospital in Daegu, the centre of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak [Yonhap via EPA]

01:40 GMT – Inmates break out of Brazil jails before suspension of day-release programme

Hundreds of prisoners broke out of four Brazilian jails on Monday, the day before the suspension of a day-release programme because of the coronavirus outbreak, Sao Paulo state prison authorities and local media reported.

The Sao Paulo state prison authority said it could not say how many inmates had escaped as it was “still tallying the exact number of fugitives”. Local media reported that as many as 1,000 had fled from four jails – Mongagua, Tremembe, Porto Feliz and Mirandopolis.

The Sao Paulo state prison authority said “acts of insubordination” had taken place at the jails.

The suspension was necessary, it added, because 34,000 prisoners would be returning to jail and “would have a high potential to install and propagate the coronavirus in a vulnerable population, generating health risks for servers and custodians”. It said law enforcement was “taking care of the situation”.

01:10 GMT – Iceland’s widespread testing of general population

Iceland is undertaking widespread testing of the general population with a higher proportion of its 364,000 people being tested for COVID-19 than anywhere else in the world.

Some 3,787 individuals have been tested, which translates to 10,405 per million, compared with 5,333 in South Korea, 8,410 in Bahrain and 2,281 in Italy, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The authorities have identified 218 cases since the first case on 28 February, with three people in hospital. There have been no deaths.

Tests show about half the cases are among people who visited the European Alps.

“There are strong indications that our efforts to contain the spread of the virus have been effective,” Chief Epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason said. “About half of the diagnosed cases are from individuals who had been quarantined. Our focus is to protect those most vulnerable … while trying to ensure that the overall spread of the virus remains slow. We are optimistic that the combined efforts to test a large part of the population will provide insights that can contribute to the world’s response to this pandemic.”

Iceland is working with deCode Genetics on virus testing and expects to test 1,100 people a day.

Its measures to tackle the virus also include contact-tracing, social distancing, public efforts to increase awareness on hand hygiene and voluntary self-quarantine measures. About 1,700 people are currently in self-isolation.

Australia coronavirus

The WHO is calling on countries to step up testing for COVID-19 [Kelly Barnes AAP Image via Reuters]

01:05 GMT – Venezuela to impose nationwide quarantine

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will implement a nationwide quarantine after 16 new cases were detected on Monday.

“It is necessary, it is indispensable, it is the response,” Maduro said in an address on state television.

The country began a quarantine in a handful of states, which Maduro said had been successful. The total number of cases in Venezuela currently stands at 33.

Maduro added that the country would be receiving shipments of medicine from Cuba and protective gear and “thousands” of test kits from China. He also said the government would be announcing benefits for citizens, without providing details.

The collapse of oil prices in the past week – due to a drop in demand related to coronavirus as well as a price war between top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia – threatens to aggravate the six-year recession in Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy.

00:10 GMT – Colombia to close all borders until May 30

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque has just announced the country will close all its borders – from March 17 until May 30 – in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

00:00 GMT – Imported cases push up China numbers

China’s aggressive containment strategies are keeping domestic transmission in check, but it continues to report new imported cases.

Mainland China had 21 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Monday, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday, up from 16 a day earlier. The central province of Hubei reported one new case, while there were 20 new imported cases.

The total number of confirmed cases in China now stands at 80,881, with 3,226 dead.

The country recorded 13 deaths on Monday, 12 of them in Hubei. Of those, 11 were in the provincial capital of Wuhan where the virus first emerged late last year.

You can read all the latest updates from yesterday (March 16) here.

Original Source