Italy’s virus deaths surge past China’s
Italy's death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed China's for the first time as the country scrambles to contain the bug.
The total number of cases in the country rose to 41,035 on Thursday, which includes 5322 new cases. The total number of deaths in Italy reached 3405 - compared to China's total of 3242.
Meanwhile, elderly Australians onboard a cruise ship set to dock in Italy fear they will be refused treatment if they test positive for coronavirus in the disease-ravaged country.
It is understood there are many older Australians onboard the Costa Victoria, which the operator Costa Cruises has confirmed is set to sail into port in Venice on March 28 - when passengers will be "advised" to leave the ship.
The development comes as Italy surpassed China for the most number of deaths related to COVID-19.
Relatives of Aussie families on-board the Costa Victoria are growing increasingly worried as the ship sets sail for an emergency stop in the European nation where nearly 30,000 coronavirus cases have been recorded - and nearly 3000 deaths.
Sydney woman Lauren Petrovic said on Facebook that her mother-in-law Susan Morgan was among as many as 240 older Australians on board who were terrified for their wellbeing in one of the most disastrously overrun COVID-19 nations.
"Italy is ground zero right now for coronavirus and Susan and most of the other passengers are over 65 and will have no right to medical assistance if they fall ill," Ms Petrovic said.
"This obviously is a death sentence if they are to be let off here without assistance or any avenue to safely come home to Australia. They will be potentially left to die."
Gold Coast woman Joanne Martin-Blakey is on the ship with her husband Iain to celebrate her 50th birthday. She said on Facebook:
"We are now stuck on this ship (Costa Victoria) until we reach Italy. What country is going to accept us after being in Italy? Emirates have cancelled our return flight back from Venice and offered no alternative.
"Australia is about to close its borders and we can't get home and we have no knowledge of what will happen to us when we get to Italy. We are being forced into the epicentre of covid-19, and we are all healthy on this ship but are now being put at risk."
Despite the fears, Costa Cruises has confirmed it will be advising passengers to leave the ship in Venice.
"The itinerary of Costa Victoria was modified given the pandemic alert issued by the World Health Organisation which brought local authorities to apply restrictions for the disembarkation of our guests compromising their cruise experience onboard," Costa Cruises said in a statement.
"Most likely, despite all the efforts made to readjust the program, the only viable itinerary for Costa Victoria at present is to perform technical calls whenever it will be allowed and go straight to the designated port of disembarkation Venice on March, 28th.
"Given the existing worldwide limitations to transportation due to governments introducing restrictions in an effort to contain the health emergency on their territory, Costa is advising its Guests onboard that disembarking in Venice on March 28th is the most suitable solution."
The cruise ship has been turned away from several ports in Israel, Jordan, Greece, the UAE, Croatia and the Maldives.
Corina Maplesden from the Central Coast tweeted: "There are 250 of us Aussies on Costa Victoria with no information and nothing from the captain other than we're being sent to Venice on 28th March. Most have heard nothing from our travel agents either. Everyone is calm but concerned."
Among the Australians on board are Sunshine Coast women Alana Hitch, 74, and Jean Gross, 78, who are working frantically to try and make flight arrangements home once the vessel reaches Italy..
It is currently sailing through the Suez Canal in Egypt en route to the Mediterranean Sea.
Mrs Hitch's daughter Rachael said it was a nervous wait for all Australians on-board.
"I know the Costa Victoria is an Italian ship but dumping elderly Australian passengers in Venice seems like pure madness," she told the Courier-Mail.
Many people from around the wolrd took to Twitter to express their concern about the ship's decision to disembark in Venice.
@Zhope10 there are 250 of us Aussies on Costa Victoria with no information and nothing from the captain other than we’re being sent to Venice on 28th March. Most have heard nothing from our travel agents either. Everyone is calm but concerned.— Corina Maplesden (@CorinaMaplesden) March 18, 2020
Hi Kerry my parents are on the Costa Victoria too. We just found out that they are going to be dropped off in Venice at the end of the month to fly back home!! I can’t understand why Costa is doing this!??— Urvashi (@Ulss_4eva) March 19, 2020
@UKinItaly @CostaCruises @foreignoffice @ukhomeoffice @Neil_Palomba my parents and 20 other British citizens are stranded on costa Victoria cruise. They are threatening them to Venice. Italy is on lock down. Please arrange for them to be repatriated back!!! PLEASE HELP!!!— Shorty (@shortyticks) March 18, 2020
@costavictoria https://t.co/IQRd8nwkmV they are preserving their customer health & wellbeing as priority however are deciding to take British citizens straight to Venice to disembark. ludicrous given the corona virus state in Italy& flights have ceased #no response from CEO— shilna (@shilna71536876) March 17, 2020
The ship is one of 35 around the globe with Aussies stranded by new hard line travel restrictions introduced in the wake of the coronavirus.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said assistance was being offered to Aussies caught up in the crisis.
"DFAT has offered consular support to those Australians, if required," a spokesperson said.
Australians requiring urgent consular assistance are able to call DFAT's Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 153 from Australia or +61 6261 3305 from overseas.
ITALIAN DEATH TOLL OVERTAKES CHINA'S AS VIRUS SPREADS
Italy, with a population of 60 million, recorded at least 3,405 deaths, or roughly 150 more than in China - a country with a population over 20 times larger.
Italy reached the bleak milestone the same day that Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new infections, a sign that the communist country's draconian lockdowns were a powerful method to stop the virus' spread.
On Thursday, a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticized Italians' failure to properly quarantine themselves and take the national lockdown seriously.
THERE'S HOPE: CHINA REPORTS NO NEW COVID-19 CASES
Last month, Wuhan was overwhelmed with thousands of new cases of coronavirus each day, but in a dramatic development that underscores just how much the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe and the United States, Chinese authorities said that the city and its surrounding province had no new cases to report.
The news offers a rare glimmer of hope for the rest of the world as it battles the virus, and perhaps a lesson in the strict measures needed to halt its spread.
Wuhan was where the outbreak first took hold and thousands once lay sick or dying in hurriedly constructed hospitals.
But Chinese authorities said on Thursday that all 34 new cases recorded over the previous day had been imported from abroad.
"Today we have seen the dawn after so many days of hard effort," said Jiao Yahui, a senior inspector of the national health commission.
US TESTING A RANGE OF TREATMENTS, SAYS TRUMP
US President Donald Trump announced that a range of potential treatments for the deadly coronavirus were being tested by the Food and Drug Administration.
"Today I want to share with you exciting progress that the FDA is making with the private sector as we slash red tape like nobody has ever done it before," the president said.
"So we slashed red tape to develop vaccines and therapies as fast as it can possibly be done, long before anybody else was even thinking about doing this.
"As we race to develop a vaccine, we're also pursuing antiviral therapies, and that's what we're really going to be talking to you about today. To me that's even more important. A vaccine, by its nature, you have to have long tests because you have to make sure what goes into somebody's body is not going to do destruction, do bad things, so you need long tests."
But therapeutic drugs, he asserted, were more important.
He said the US would also look to other countries to find out "what works best.
"If treatments are known to be safe in Europe, Japan and other nations are effective to protect the health and safety of american people. Nothing will stand in our way as we pursue any avenue to find what best works against this horrible virus."
The president also touted the possible benefits of an existing drug called Hydroxychloroquine that is used to treat malaria and acute arthritis.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said it was important to give Americans hope - but not false hope.
But he also sounded an optimistic but cautionary note on the drug's potential effectiveness as a treatment for the virus.
"We need to make sure the new treatments will get the right drug to the right patients at the right dosage at the right time. FDA's responsibility to the American people is to ensure that products are safe and effective. We are continuing to do that," Hahn said.
But the FDA chief also said that a vaccine for the drug would likely take at least 12 months.
AUSTRALIA IMPOSES TRAVEL BAN
It comes as Scott Morrison announced a travel ban will be placed on all non-Australian residents to stop them travelling here from 9pm Friday.
The prime minister said traffic from overseas had already reduced significantly, but that it was essential to further lock down the country.
Australian citizens will still be allowed to return home and will be subject to a 14-day isolation period when they arrive.
Mr Morrison said Qantas was working with the federal government to ensure flights were available for Australians who needed to get home "as soon as possible".
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also closed her country's borders.
New Zealand's travel ban comes into effect Thursday 11.59pm (local time).
The federal government is also developing a super-sized and streamlined dole payment to support tens of thousands of Australians expected to lose their jobs during the crisis.
The $574.50 fortnightly payment will be significantly topped up in an unprecedented cash splash to help families survive the next six months.
In other developments:
The Reserve Bank slashed interest rates to a record low 0.25 per cent, freeing up $90 billion for the banks to loan to small businesses;
Further measures are being considered to strengthen the lockdown on non-essential gatherings, likely forcing cafes and bars to turn away customers in order to prevent them becoming too crowded; and
The federal government is contemplating extraordinary rationing measures to stop hoarding of food and supplies.
Mr Morrison said on Thursday the government was planning to "build a bridge" to get workers and businesses through.
"The government is stepping up where it can to try and cushion that impact as much as we responsibly can," he said.
News Corp understands existing dole requirements, such as applying for jobs and attending relevant training, could be stripped back for workers laid off.
Mr Morrison said the Newstart payment - known as the JobSeeker payment from Friday - was currently calculated to encourage people back into employment.
"We understand that certainly over the next six months, that is a very different-looking economy, and when the facts change and the circumstances change, you need to adjust your packages to reflect that," he said.
"We're looking at those issues around income support, we're looking at issues around people's obligations."
It comes as the emergency National Cabinet meets on Friday to bolster social distancing rules, considering medical advice to limit indoor venues to one person per 4sq m. A cafe covering 60sq m would only be allowed 15 customers at a time.
UK POLICE TO 'ARREST SICK PEOPLE'
New laws will give UK health workers and police the power to detain people for up to 24 hours and force them to be tested for Covid-19.
The sweeping laws give them to power to order them not to attend work or to stay in isolation, or ban them from travelling.
And they will face a A$2000 fine if they don't comply.
The laws will allow for more phone and video hearings in court so the justice system can keep going.
Officials will be able to suspend all plane and ship arrivals at airports or ports or there aren't enough staff to maintain border security.
Morgues could be expanded and inquests stripped back in order to try and deal with extra deaths.
It also enacts pension changes so retired doctors and nurses can come back into the NHS easily without their retirement cash suffering.
RESTRICTIONS ON CHILDREN'S PANADOL
Children's paracetamol will be sold behind pharmacy counters and asthma medication Ventolin limited to one purchase per person to stop coronavirus hoarding.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly announced the new restrictions after people unnecessarily stockpiled the crucial medications in a panicked response to the pandemic.
"Please do not buy more than you need for anything, whether that's food and particularly medicines," he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
It comes as health experts urged people to get the flu vaccine to reduce pressure on the hospital system during the COVID-19 pandemic but some pharmacies have already run out.
There have already been a total of 17,038 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza in Australia this year.
News Corp's health reporter tried to get a flu vaccine at a local pharmacy and was told they had already run out.
They asked her to provide her details so they could book an appointment for when new stocks arrived.
Professor Kelly said the medication restrictions were not being put into place because there were genuine shortages, instead because people were stripping shelves unnecessarily.
"Please do not buy more than you need for anything, whether that's food and particularly medicines," he said.
"We have a very good system of knowing about medicine shortages in Australia and in fact it is incumbent on all medicine suppliers that they must tell us if there is a shortage now or shortly into the future. We have not had that from any suppliers."
He moved to reassure all Australians that the country was well stocked and stock levels were being monitored.
Meanwhile, the peak body representing companies manufacturing and distributing over the counter medicines like ibuprofen say they are aware of no scientific evidence over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen van affect the healthcare outcomes of COVID-19 patients.
France and the UK are urging patients to use paracetamol to reduce fever instead of ibuprofen because of emerging evidence ibuprofen as well as COVID-19 can raise a patient's blood pressure.
"Based on all available information, Consumer Healthcare Products (CHP) Australia is not aware of any scientific evidence supporting claims made in recent days suggesting that the use of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, could affect the health outcomes of COVID-19 patients," it said.
Individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 should follow the advice provided by their healthcare professional, the body said.
WA VIRUS COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION CONFIRMED
Coronavirus cases in Western Australia have surged by 17 and the source of infection for most is unknown, with the health minister saying it's clear community transmission is now occurring.
It is WA's biggest one-day spike and brings the total to 52.
Health Minister Roger Cook said it was not known where 12 of the new cases were contracted.
"We are now starting to see the emergence of community-based transmission of the virus," Mr Cook told reporters on Thursday.
"We always knew that this would happen and we're prepared, but it is now obviously appropriate for us to respond by elevating plans the Department of Health has."
Two of the new cases are healthcare workers.
NT SET TO CLOSE BORDERS TO STOP VIRUS
The Northern Territory's leader is look at tightening borders in an unprecedented move to keep the coronavirus at bay for as long as possible.
The NT has been mostly free of the COVID-19 global pandemic with no known community transmission and just one reported case involving a Sydney man who contracted it elsewhere and is recovering.
However the virus will inevitably hit the Territory and it was "very optimistic" to think that nobody had it yet, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said on Thursday.
Mr Gunner described the potential move as "securing" and not closing the borders, with freight free to pass.
Such a move would be for a period of months.
"I think the best way to describe it would be: I can't build a wall, maybe I'll put in a gate, which helps picture what we are able to do at that state border," he told reporters.
"My understanding is I can't stop freedom of movement, we can simply control movement.
"So the things we ask of someone at international borders on landing who are asked to do certain things, we might be in a position to do similar things at our state borders, we are getting clarity around that."
The Combined Aboriginal Organisations of Alice Springs on Thursday called for the NT to become a Special Control Area for COVID-19, severely restricting entry to prevent deaths.
There are worries about COVID-19 having disastrous effects on remote indigenous communities, whose populations are more vulnerable because of worse health and disadvantage.
TASMANIAN BORDER CRACKDOWN
All non-essential travellers arriving in Tasmania will be forced to quarantine for two weeks under coronavirus border measures dubbed the toughest in the country.
Premier Peter Gutwein declared a state of emergency for the Apple Isle on Thursday.
"We are going to introduce the toughest border measures in the country. Only essential travellers will be allowed into Tasmania without going into quarantine," he told reporters.
The measures come into effect from midnight on Friday but won't apply to health care workers, emergency workers, defence personnel, air and ship crew, specialists, and essential freight personnel.
"We know that for some it will create disruption, but our aim is to ensure that we protect the health, wellbeing and safety of Tasmanians," Mr Gutwein said.
All passengers will be screened on arrival and must demonstrate they meet the essential traveller criteria.
If they are deemed non-essential, they will be directed to quarantine at their stated place of address.
People who breach quarantine could be fined up to $16,800.
Three new virus cases were confirmed on Wednesday night, taking the state total to 10, although there has been no evidence of local transmission.
AUSSIES IN LONDON DESPERATE TO DASH HOME
Frantic Australians are packing up and leaving London, with the Australian High Commission flooded with calls for advice.
More than 1200 concerned Australians have phoned seeking information about how to get home as airlines cancel 90 per cent of their international flights.
Many have lost their jobs in bars and restaurants because of the UK Government's request for people to stay at home and stop contact with people.
The UK saw its biggest daily leap in cases early Thursday morning, with 2626 people now suffering coronavirus - a jump of 676 cases. The death toll stands at 104.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the drastic call to shut all schools in the UK by the end of the week, which will spark debate about the policy in Australia.
"Looking at the curve of the disease, we think now that we must apply further downward pressure on that upward curve by closing the schools," Mr Johnson said.
"For many parents this will be frustrating and it will make it harder for them to go out to work."
Private schools and nurseries have also been asked to close, the PM said.
Despite the nuisance, Mr Johnson reminded parents not to leave children with grandparents or older relatives
"I know that's going to be difficult … but I want to thank the whole country for the efforts people are making to comply," he said.
The UK has not yet locked down the country, but London is likely to be first with more extreme measures, including the possible closure of some Tube lines.
France has police patrolling the streets to keep people inside, Spain has closed all hotels from Tuesday next week and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it was the biggest crisis since World War Two.
"The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Since German unification, no, since the Second World War, there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such a degree of common and united action," she said.
Italy's death toll had an extra 475 deaths in a day, almost hitting 3000.
George Brandis, Australia's High Commissioner to the UK, has been manning the phones to help out stranded Australians with travel advice.
"With the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the world is experiencing an unprecedented public health challenge," he said.
"All of us are anxious about the implications of coronavirus.
"As Australians abroad, we know that distance from home is felt most acutely during times of uncertainty. Throughout this emergency, Australia House will continue to help Australians here in the United Kingdom. You are not alone and together we will come through this."
The Aussies in London Facebook page, which has more than 50,000 members, has become a going home notice board.
Rooms were going across London, with others posting advertisements for "moving home" sales.
Flights from London to Melbourne one way next week on Qantas were filling fast, with the cheapest seats already sold out.
Some fares were now almost $A2000 for the one way ticket, however many parents have been offering to help out with the costs of getting their adult children back home.
Matt Allen posted: "Unfortunately, because we're musos, all the work is cancelled here and we're heading back home!
"Anyone interested in a great deal on a Nord & Amp? £1000 for the lot!."
It comes amid reports of further lockdowns expected across London, with people fearing they will get stuck if they do not get on a flight before the weekend.
Some airlines were knocking people back despite them having valid tickets.
"Heads up: just been turned away at Heathrow. They are no longer transiting through to international destinations. Must be an incredibly recent decision," Lachlan Wells posted.
The Australian Government this week urged Australians abroad to come home, as the world struggles to cope with the outbreak.
Iran's outbreak remains a major concern with more than 17,000 reported cases and 1135 deaths on Thursday.
South Korea has more than 8400 recorded infections, but only 84 deaths, which was lower than the UK death toll from only a quarter of the reported cases.
The Asian country's outbreak peaked on February 29, when 909 cases were reported.
Switzerland has more than 3000 cases but only 20 deaths, with all stores shut except for supermarkets and pharmacies until April 19.
The Netherlands cancelled Eurovision, which was due to be held in Rotterdam in May, as it grapples with the outbreak that has so far claimed 58 lives there.
In the UK the Glastonbury music festival was cancelled despite selling more than 200,000 tickets for its 50th anniversary concert, which last year was headlined by Kylie Minogue.
The Queen had a telephone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instead of her weekly face-to-face meeting, before leaving Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle.
Prince William posted a video message urging people to come together, while his cousin Princess Beatrice was considering postponing her May 29 wedding to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi.
The nuptials had already been under a cloud because of her father Prince Andrew's friendship with dead paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
TRUMP INVOKES WARTIME MEASURE
US President Donald Trump doubled down on his criticism of China's handling of the coronavirus as authorities warned the threat to young people is bigger than many realise.
As the US and Canada closed their border to all but essential travel, Mr Trump invoked a "wartime" measure that gives the federal government the power to marshal the private sector for assistance.
The Defence Production Act would help increase medical supplies, Mr Trump said, amid fears the nation faces a critical lack of intensive care beds, ventilators and protective equipment to cope with the disease's predicted peak in about 45 days.
It came as the infectious diseases specialist heading the White House effort said increased testing would see a "huge spike" of diagnoses in the next four to five days and that they would potentially include more young people than expected.
"There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill, and very seriously ill, in the ICU," said Dr Deborah Birx at the White House.
Mr Trump on Thursday dispatched two naval hospital ships to New York and a West Coast location to be determined, to offer more beds to US hot spots.
He also again referred to COVID-19 as the "Chinese Virus" with which America was fighting a war, while insisting he wasn't being racist.
"Because it comes from China," Mr Trump said, when asked why he kept using the term.
"That's why. I want to be accurate."
Mr Trump also said China had accused US soldiers of spreading the virus, and that they "tried to say at one point, maybe they stopped saying now, that it was caused by American soldiers".
"That can't happen. It's not going to happen. Not as long as I'm president," Mr Trump said.
"It comes from China.
"It's not racist at all. No, not at all."
Relations between China and the US have deteriorated amid the virus fallout, with Beijing expelling all American journalists this week.
Dr Birx warned that early messaging that the young would likely not fall ill may have overly-minimised their risk, which could be "disastrous".
"We think part of this may be that people heeded the early data coming out of China and coming out of South Korea about the elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions were at particular risk," Dr Birx said.
"It may have been that the millennial generation, our largest generation, our future generation, that will carry us through for the next multiple decades - there may be a disproportional number of infections among that group," she said.
"And so, even if it's a rare occurrence, it may be seen more frequently in that group and be evident now."
Dr Birx repeated her warning for young Americans, many of whom are out of school and work, to stop treating the outbreak as a "snow day", due to a false sense of security.
Originally published as Italy's virus deaths surge past China's