Governments stepped up enforcement of measures to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his health secretary tested positive for the virus and the number of people infected world-wide climbed above half a million.
Mr. Johnson, 55, went into isolation after experiencing mild symptoms of illness and will continue to lead Britain’s response to the pandemic, officials said Friday. Hours later, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, 41, said on Twitter that he too had tested positive for the virus and was isolated at home with mild symptoms.
Officials in Brazil, Iran and several other countries have also been infected, highlighting the risks to national leaders as they meet face-to-face in emergency sessions to plot ways to curb the contagion.
World-wide there were more than 550,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and nearly 25,000 deaths from Covid-19, the pneumonialike illness caused by the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Global numbers and fatalities have more than doubled in the past week, led by jumps in the U.S., Italy and Spain. More than 127,000 people have recovered from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins.
They include its estimate of 753 recoveries in the U.S., where infections passed 86,000 and outnumbering the 81,897 cases in mainland China, which first reported an outbreak of the severe respiratory disease in December.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump spoke by phone on Friday Beijing time. Following the call, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet.”
The Latest on the Coronavirus
- Johns Hopkins: Global virus infections top 537,000; death toll rises above 24,000
- U.S. infections near 86,000
- More than 122,000 people have recovered from the virus world-wide
- House leaders scramble for a quorum to pass $2 trillion rescue package
- China reports 55 new cases of infection Thursday; all but one were among people who had recently been abroad
- New Zealand reports 85 new cases, bringing total to 368; Australia’s 62 new cases bring its total to 555
“China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”
China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Mr. Xi told Mr. Trump that the two countries “must unite to fight the virus,” with bilateral relations at a crucial juncture. The call took place after the governments traded barbs over who was responsible for the widening spread of the coronavirus.
The diagnoses of Messrs. Johnson and Hancock raise concern that other senior U.K. officials could have been exposed to the virus, potentially amplifying the disruption the country faces.
In the past month Mr. Johnson’s government has advocated a strategy of “herd immunity”—avoiding stringent clampdowns on the British population. The government was forced to ditch this strategy last week when research by Imperial College showed that the country’s National Health Service would be overwhelmed. Britain has reported 11,816 cases of coronavirus and 580 deaths.
Across the world, governments have closed schools, shut down nonessential services, told people to work from home and avoid going out unless necessary. Travelers arriving in many countries have also been subject to quarantines that require them to remain confined in their homes, hotel rooms or government centers for 14 days.
Some people who ignored the isolation and quarantine measures have been arrested, fined or even charged with offenses.
Chinese authorities on Thursday said they indicted 18 people for defying its contagious-disease control measures and had arrested an additional 14.
One of those charged was a man who left Wuhan shortly before the Jan. 23 lockdown of the central Chinese city and traveled to Beijing, according to a Beijing prosecutor’s website. It said the man concealed the fact that he had arrived from Wuhan and visited supermarkets and pharmacies in the country’s capital. His mother contracted the virus from him, it added.
China’s tough approach to movement and social distancing has helped the country bring down infection rates significantly from the thousands of cases it reported daily in February. Chinese health authorities reported 55 new cases for Thursday; all but one were among people who were recently abroad. The country said a day earlier that it will close its borders to nearly all foreigners and drastically reduce international flights.
In Singapore, where a second wave of coronavirus infections has brought the nation’s total case count to 683, authorities said people can be fined up to about $7,000 and jailed for up to six months if they don’t comply with safe-distancing rules that went into effect Friday.
Police in New Zealand and Australia have arrested or fined people who have flouted isolation rules. They include the owner and three employees of a massage parlor in Sydney that had remained open. The four were fined a total of almost $5,000.
New Zealand reported 85 new cases Friday bringing its total coronavirus infections to 368, including nine probable cases. Australia’s 367 new cases brought its total to 3,166.
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In Iraq, security forces have detained 2,434 people and fined 21,266 to date for violating a curfew imposed on Baghdad on March 17, according to the authorities responsible for coordinating security in the capital.
Hong Kong’s secretary for security, John Lee, said 77 people had been caught violating mandatory self-quarantine, about 40 of them reported to authorities by family members and other citizens.
The island’s chief executive, Carrie Lam announced new restrictions on social activities Friday—and stiff penalties for violators. Restaurants must remain at least half empty starting Sunday, with diners required to wear masks inside while not eating or drinking, Mrs. Lam said. The government will prohibit the gathering of more than four people in public places, while mandating the closure of fitness centers, amusement game centers and cinemas for at least two weeks. Those violating the restaurant rules could be fined up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars ($6,450) and up to six months in jail.
South Africa reported its first deaths from the virus on Friday as the total number of confirmed cases rose above 1,000. The country, Africa’s most developed economy, which has seen infections jump sixfold in a week, was on Friday adjusting to its first day of a three-week lockdown. Police and the army were on the streets to enforce the measures, including the ban on nonessential movement and outright bans on alcohol and cigarettes. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that “extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions in our country.”
Measures taken to contain the spread of the new coronavirus could lower economic activity in the U.S. and other developed countries by a quarter, and lower annual output by 6% if they are sustained for three months, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Friday.
To cushion the fallout in India, the country’s central bank cut its key lending rate Friday to 4.4% from 5.15%, a record low. The South Asian nation was in the third day of a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.
In Italy, morale among businesses and consumers plummeted this month, the country’s statistics agency reported Friday in its first gauge of the pandemic’s impact on the eurozone’s third largest economy. The agency, Istat, said its measure of consumer confidence slumped to 101 from 110.9 in February, while business confidence was down to 81.7 from 97.8, the lowest level since 2011.
The surveys were largely completed in early March, before the most restrictive measures imposed under the government’s lockdown to try to curb the contagion, which has spread to more than 82,000 people in the country. Italy has reported 8,215 deaths from Covid-19, more than any other country.
France’s statistics agency reported a more modest decline in consumer confidence as workers became more fearful of losing their jobs.
In Russia, where workers in nonessential sectors have been urged to stay at home starting next week, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin defended government measures to contain the virus but warned they would be effective only if Russians heed them. Russia has reported 1,036 coronavirus infections and three deaths as a result of the illness.
German authorities are being urged by a government-commissioned panel of scientists to massively expand testing for the coronavirus, following the example of Asian nations such as South Korea. The panel’s study recommends 200,000 tests a day to identify and isolate people who are infected, including those who have no symptoms but are able to spread the disease, a government spokesman said Friday. Germany now conducts 300,000 to 500,000 tests a week.
The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung earlier reported on the study. It also recommends the use of mobile-phone data to track people who have been in contact with those known to be infected. Mobile-phone tracking, a method criticized by some privacy advocates, has been credited by authorities in South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan with helping to contain the virus.
Note: Data begins when Johns Hopkins and WHO began publishing daily global case numbers. China first reported a pneumonia cluster in Wuhan in early December 2019.
Corrections & Amplifications
Australia reported 367 new coronavirus cases Friday, bringing the country’s total to 3,166. An earlier version of this article incorrectly cited numbers for only a part of the country. (March 27, 2020)
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