CDC warns Americans to prepare for coronavirus outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control is warning Americans to prepare for the possibility of a severe disruption of their lives as a result of a coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said Tuesday that at this point, community spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. is “not so much of a question of if” but rather “a question of when,” The New York Times reports.

Messonnier also told Americans they should “prepare for the expectation that this might be bad,” saying schools may need to use “internet-based teleschooling,” business may need to use “video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options,” and communities might have to “modify, postpone or cancel mass gatherings,” CNBC reports.

“Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and everyday people to begin preparing,” she said. “…I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.” Messonnier also explained that she has told her family that they “ought to be preparing for significant disruption to our lives.”

Health officials also briefed members of Congress about the coronavirus threat on Tuesday, after which Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said per The Washington Post lawmakers were warned there’s a “very strong chance of an extremely serious outbreak of the coronavirus here in the United States.” More than 50 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. Meanwhile, President Trump has downplayed the threat, saying on Tuesday, “I think that whole situation will start working out.”

A new report from scientists in London estimating that “two thirds of COVID-19 cases exported from mainland China may be undetected.”

“We compared the average monthly number of passengers traveling from Wuhan to major international destinations with the number of COVID-19 cases that have been detected overseas,” said Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling at Imperial College London. “Our findings confirm similar analyses carried out by other groups.”

Dr. Natsuko Imai, who helped compile the report, added: “We are starting to see more cases reported from countries and regions outside mainland China with no known travel history or link to Wuhan City.’’

And “it is highly likely that some of these undetected cases will have started chains of transmission within the countries they entered,” said Neil Ferguson, another scientist on the study.

Before we go, the story of the four-star hotel at Tenerife, a Spanish island where an Italian doctor and his wife who both tested positive for COVID-19, appears to have captured the imagination of the international press.

According to the BBC, the couple were staying at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel on the island, which is the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands. The doctor tested positive Monday, and his wife the following day. They’ve been placed in isolation at the University Hospital Nuestra Senora de Candelaria.

But in their wake, an entire hotel with more than 100 guests has been put under quarantine.

Residents have been told to wait in their rooms as health officials test everyone in the building.

*  *  *

Update (1145ET): US CDC says COVID-19 epidemic is rapidly evolving and expanding, warning that a vaccine could be ready in a year, and Americans should prepare for possible spreads in communities.

“Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, and schools to begin preparing to respond to coronavirus.”

Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said: “As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.”

Additionally, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says at Senate panel hearing that the U.S. doesn’t have enough stockpiles of masks and ventilators to fight the coronavirus and that’s one reason the Trump administration is seeking $2.5b in funding.

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About 30m so-called N95 respirator masks are stockpiled but as many as 300m are needed for healthcare workers.

Update (1001ET)A case of the novel corona virus has been confirmed for the first time in Switzerland. The federal government announced on Tuesday. One person was tested positive for the virus, said those responsible.

Italian officials stated that the first patient was “obviously infected in Italy,” and will consider further measures if they think “uncontrolled transmission” of the virus is occurring.

*  *  *

Update (0950ET): Spanish authorities have confirmed the fourth case of coronavirus in Catalonia, according to La Vanguardia.

Jordan has banned flights arriving from Italy, becoming the first country in the region to guard against travelers from Europe’s third-largest economy.

* * *

Update (0900ET): Iran’s MP Mahmoud Sadeghi said he had tested positive for the coronavirius, telling supporters: “I don’t have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world”.

CBS has confirmed that it was an Italian doctor visiting the Spanish isle of Tenerife who prompted all guests at his hotel to be confined to their rooms on Tuesday. The country has now confirmed nearly 60 cases on Tuesday.

In the UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, airlines have suspended flights to and from Iran for at least a week, cutting the country’s 80 million people off from thousands of flights.

Unsurprisingly, the Dems were quick to slam the White House’s $2.5 billion spending plan that was sent lawmakers on Monday to address the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Democrats said the request fell far short of what’s needed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the president’s request “long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency” in a statement released Monday. She added that the House would propose a “strong, strategic” funding package of its own to address the public health crisis.

Because nothing solves a public health crisis like a political stalemate.

For those who have been watching, CNBC has been talking up a storm about the drugmaker Moderna, which delivered its first experimental coronavirus vaccine for testing, with the clinical trial slated to start in April. The WSJ is supposedly one reason why market’s are clinging to optimism on Tuesday.

The CDC’s Dr. Fauci praised the development, said “nothing has ever gone that fast.”

“Going into a Phase One trial within three months of getting the sequence is unquestionably the world indoor record. Nothing has ever gone that fast,” Dr. Fauci said.

As Jim Cramer won’t stop repeating Tuesday morning, the advances are “really remarkable.”

Finally, Austrian health officials have confirmed that at least one of the likely coronavirus patients isolated Tuesday was an Italian living in the country.

This comes after Italian authorities reported the first coronavirus case in the country’s south: a tourist visiting Sicily who had traveled from Bergamo, an Italian city in the Lombardy region.

* * *

Update (0825ET): Bahrain has banned its citizens from traveling to Iran as it reports 9 new cases of coronavirus, raising the total cases in the tiny island kingdom to 17 in the span of 24 hours.

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Update (0800ET): With his reputation under fire and his popularity slipping, PM Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday that he’s confident that the measures his government has put in place will contain the contagion in the coming days.

This comes after the PM admitted that a hospital in Lombardy inadvertently helped spread the virus by not adhering to certain health-care protocols. The PM has blamed the hospital for the outbreak in the north, raising questions about whether “the European nation is capable of containing the outbreak,” according to CNN. To put things in perspective, Italy now has 3x the number of cases in Hong Kong.

“That certainly contributed to the spread,” Conte said, without naming the institution concerned. The infection has been centered around the town of Codogno, around 35 miles south of Milan.

“Obviously we cannot predict the progress of the virus. It is clear that there has been an outbreak and it has spread from there,” Conte told reporters, referring to the hospital.

A team of health experts from the World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control arrived in Italy on Monday to assist local authorities while some 100,000 remain under an effective quarantine.

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Over in India, Trump added to his earlier comments by saying a vaccine is “very close”, even though the most generous estimates claim we need another year.

Market experts cited a WSJ report on a possible vaccine as helping market sentiment, though even that report made clear that human tests of the drug are not due until the end of April and results not until July or August.

Update (0650ET): It’s not even 7 am in the US, and it looks like a new outbreak is beginning in Central Europe.

Local news agencies report that Croatia has confirmed its first case, while the Austrian Province of Tyrol has confirmed two cases.

In South Korea, meanwhile, officials have just confirmed the 11th coronavirus-linked death, a Mongolian man in his mid-30s who had a preexisting liver condition.

Over in India, where President Trump is in the middle of an important state visit with the newly reelected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the president struck an optimistic tone once again claiming that the virus will be a “short-term” problem that won’t have a lasting impact on the global economy.

“I think it’s a problem that’s going to go away,” he said.

Trump also reportedly told a group of executives gathered in India that the US has “essentially closed the borders” (well, not really) and that “we’re fortunate so far and we think it’s going to remain that way,” according to CNN.

Meanwhile, SK officials announced they’re aiming to test more than 200,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the “cult-like” church at the center of the outbreak in SK.

* * *

Last night, a post written by Paul Joseph Watson highlighted commentary from a Harvard epidemiology professor (we realize we’ve heard from pretty much the whole department at this point in the crisis, but bear with us for a moment) who believes that, at some point, ‘we will all get the coronavirus’.

Well, up to 70% of us, but you get the idea: The notion that this outbreak is far from over is finally starting to sink in. Stocks are struggling to erase yesterday’s losses, with US futures pointing to an open in the green after the biggest drop in two years. More corporations trashing their guidance, and more research offering a glimpse of the faltering Chinese economy (offering a hint that all the crematoriums are keeping air pollution levels elevated even as coal consumption and travel plunge) have seemingly trampled all over the market’s Fed-ensured optimism.

And across Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, headlines tied to the outbreak hit at a similarly non-stop pace on Tuesday.

With so much news, where to start?

In China, data out of the Transport Ministry revealed that barely one-third of China’s workforce has returned to work, despite state-inspired threats. CNN reported Tuesday that only 30% of small businesses in China have returned to work. The problem? Travel disruption has left millions of migrant workers stranded. There’s also the question of schools: Some cities, including Shanghai, are offering students the option of completing their studies online after March 2.

China’s rapidly advancing tech sector has responded to the crisis by unleashing a wide range of technologies outfitted for specific tasks, including ferrying supplies to medical workers, fitting drones with thermal cameras and leveraging computer-processing power to aid the search for a vaccine.

In a televised interview, one health official said it might take 28 days to safely say an area is free of coronavirus, while another official insisted that “low risk” areas should “resume normal activity” on Tuesday. The government is dividing the country outside Hubei and Beijing into three ‘risk’ tranches, and will mandate that those in the lowest tranche get back to work, school or whatever they were doing before the virus hit.

Investors are clearly concerned that, instead of the ‘v’-shaped recovery promised by the IMF, the economic bounce-back from the coronavirus might be closer to a “u”-shape. On top of that, as cases proliferate in South Korea, Italy and the US, pundits are beginning to worry that the rest of the world is where China was two months ago – in other words

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Throughout the day, South Korea confirmed 144 more cases, bringing the country-wide total to 977, the highest number outside China.

As the Korean government warns that foreigners shouldn’t travel there, Korean Air Lines and Asiana Airlines, to South Korean airlines, said they would halt flights to Daegu until next month, leaving the door open to a longer shutdown.

On Tuesday afternoon, South Korean President Moon Jae-in traveled to Daegu, the city where more than half of the country’s cases have been detected, and advised its residents to stay indoors but pledged to avoid the draconian restrictions Chinese authorities implemented in Wuhan.

Outbreak-related news in Seoul took on a more morbid tone Tuesday following reports in the local press that a civil servant from the Ministry of Justice’s Emergency Safety Planning Office jumped off a bridge in Seoul at around 5 am local time Tuesday.

The official was one of several individuals charged with overseeing the government’s response to the virus. As cases soar and hysteria mounts, we suspect this news won’t exactly help quiet the public’s nerves.

A Singaporean government minister warned that the city-state could impose sweeping travel restrictions targeting South Korea if the outbreak gets worse.

Minutes ago, Italian authorities confirmed another 8 coronavirus cases, 54 of which have been confirmed on Tuesday, bringing the total to 283. 

More than 100,000 Italians in 10 villages are under lockdown in the ‘red zone’ in northern Italy, where the military has been deployed and people have been told to stay inside. Fears about the virus spreading throughout the region were validated yesterday when Spain reported a third case, an Italian traveler. On Tuesday, Reuters reports that Spanish authorities have closed the Tenerife Hotel on the Canary Islands and are testing all of its occupants.

Most of the cases have been recorded in Lombardy (200+), while Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont, Bolzano, Trentino and Rome have all confirmed at least one case. The UK government warned that any British travelers in northern Italy should self-isolate, according to the Washington Post.

In Japan, the “J League”, Japan’s professional soccer league, has announced that it will postpone all games until at least March 15, saying in a statement that it’s “fully committed” to stopping the spread of the coronavirus. The decision followed a government recommendation to cancel all public events and gatherings.

Embracing a markedly different approach from Beijing, Japan has announced a new policy on Tuesday designed to focus medical care on the most serious cases, while urging people with mild symptoms to treat themselves at home.

According to the FT, the new strategy of containment announced by a panel overseeing the virus response acknowledged that simply testing everyone potentially exposed to the more than 100 cases outside the ‘Diamond Princess’ would overwhelm its health-care system.

It is radically different approach from that adopted by China,

Though it hasn’t announced new cases in a day or so, Japan has confirmed 840 cases of novel coronavirus so far, with nearly 700 of them linked to the ‘Diamond Princess’ cruise ship.

Iran’s ‘official’ death toll climbed to 14 on Tuesday, with 61 cases confirmed so far. Despite a wave of border closures that left Iran virtually isolated by its neighbors, more cases have started to bleed across the border: Iraqi health ministry officials have confirmed four coronavirus cases in Kirkuk, all of whom are members of a family. He previously looked unwell during a press conference.

Even more embarrassing for the Iranians than having a local lawmaker expose the horrifyingly real death tollon Tuesday, the government confirmed that a Deputy Health Minister had been sickened by the virus.

We suspect we’ll be hearing more bad news from the Middle East as the full scope of the Iranian outbreak becomes more clear.

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