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China reports no new local COVID-19 cases; WHO warns of global acceleration

By
Darryl Coote & Don Jacobson
A group of Chinese film students, not wearing face masks, visit a tourist area as the threat of the deadly coronavirus fades in Beijing on Sunday. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
A group of Chinese film students, not wearing face masks, visit a tourist area as the threat of the deadly coronavirus fades in Beijing on Sunday. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 23 (UPI) -- China reported no new local infections of COVID-19 in the original epicenter of Hubei province for a fifth consecutive day Monday as the World Health Organization warned its spread was accelerating elsewhere.

Chinese health officials said Hubei reported no new cases of confirmed or suspected infections and nine deaths on Sunday. The area has sustained 67,800 cases and more than 3,100 deaths since the crisis began.

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Overall in the country, the National Health Commission reported 39 new infections over the previous 24 hours and nine deaths, increasing its totals to 81,093 infections and 3,270 deaths to the disease.

Although China continued to report a slowdown, the coronavirus is stepping up its spread in other parts of the world, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his daily briefing from Geneva, Switzerland.

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"The pandemic is accelerating," he said. "It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases. You can see how the virus is accelerating."

A running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University showed more than 362,000 confirmed cases worldwide as of early Monday afternoon, with more than 15,400 deaths and nearly 100,500 recoveries.

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But Ghebreyesus said the world was not a "prisoner to statistics" or "helpless bystanders."

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"We can change the trajectory of this pandemic," he said, but only if every developed nation goes on the offensive in a coordinated manner by increasing testing and tracing and quarantining every suspected contact.

Because some nations are struggling more than others to do so, Ghebreyesus called on the G-20 group of developed nations to work "as one" in a coordinated international effort to provide much-needed medical equipment on a global basis.

"This week I will be asking the G-20 nations to work together to increase production, avoid export bans and ensure equity of distribution on the basis of need," he said.

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Meanwhile, New Zealand, Australia, India and the United Arab Emirates instituted strict measures Monday to combat the growing pandemic.

Australia/New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that in 48 hours the country will go under lockdown for a month in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The archipelago nation reported 36 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, the majority of them connected with travelers. However, doctors have been unable to track down how two of the new patients contracted the virus, suggesting it is now spreading among the community.

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Ardern said in response the country has raised its COVID-19 alert system implemented on Saturday to Level 3 -- Restrict. In 48 hours, it will rise to Level 4 -- Eliminate, placing the most significant restrictions on its public in modern history.

"If community transmission takes off in New Zealand, the number of cases will double every five days," she said in a televised address. "If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated, and thousands of New Zealanders will die."

In the next two days, all non-essential businesses must close, all events and gatherings must be canceled and schools must shut their doors to all but the children of essential workers.

The announcement came as pubs, clubs, gyms, indoor sporting venues, cinemas, casinos and other such places of congregation closed midday Monday in Australia.

The new measures are to be re-evaluated on a monthly basis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office said in a release, but "Australians should expect these measures to be in place for at least six months."

Schools will remain open until the end of the current term with commitments to reopen at the end of the break, subject to the advice of health officials, it said.

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Morrison told lawmakers Monday that it will be a test for all Australians.

"The more Australians work together, the more we share the sacrifice and the burden, the more we do the right thing, the more lives and the more livelihoods we'll save," he said. "And when the virus passes -- and it will -- we will be stronger on the other side."

Hong Kong

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday afternoon announced that the semi-autonomous region would prohibit all foreign tourist arrivals.

The ban will last 14 days, she said, explaining that it is in force for all non-Hong Kong residents, and those coming from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan will be subjected to a 14-day compulsory quarantine.

She also said the government plans to legislate an amendment to prohibit the some 8,600 bars and restaurants with liquor licenses from selling alcohol to prevent social transmission of the virus.

India

In India, a curfew that went into effect on Sunday has been extended until March 31, affecting 75 districts, including the capital New Delhi, where only essential services will operate, according to the official Press Information Bureau of India.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Monday that he has asked state governments to enforce the lockdown.

"Many people are still not taking the lockdown seriously," he said in a tweet. "Please, save yourself, save your family, follow the instructions seriously."

Modi heralded Sunday's dawn-to-dusk curfew as having shown that they were capable of beating the coronavirus while urging people to remain in their homes.

United Arab Emirates

In the UAE, the government on Monday ordered its residents to stay home. It also ordered the suspension of all inbound and outbound passenger flights and for commercial centers, shopping malls and markets to close for at least two weeks.

The government warned that its law on communicable diseases, which includes jail time and fines, will be enforced, the official Emirates News Agency reported.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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