Vatican reports 1st coronavirus case; death toll in US reaches 12

/ 05:10 AM March 07, 2020

VIRUS IN THE HOLY SEE A few pedestrians, including a man wearing a medical mask, pass by St. Peter’s Square on Friday, when the Vatican reported its first coronavirus case. Beyond the citystate, Italy has the biggest outbreak in Europe, with 3,296 cases and 148 deaths. —AP

VATICAN CITY—The Vatican on Friday reported its first coronavirus case, saying it had suspended outpatient services at its health clinic after a patient tested positive for COVID-19.

Spokesperson Matteo Bruni said the clinic inside the tiny city state of 0.44 square kilometers—which has some 1,000 residents—will be deep cleaned, while the emergency room will remain open.


He said the discovery was made on Thursday, adding that the Vatican had informed Italian health authorities and was getting in touch with all those who had passed through the clinic, as per protocol.

The clinic is used by priests, residents and employees—including those now retired—as well as their relatives.


Italy, which has the biggest outbreak in Europe, has ordered schools and universities shut until March 15, and on Thursday reported a sharp rise in deaths, bringing the total to 148.

Not seen in public

Earlier on Thursday, the Vatican said changes in Pope Francis’ schedule are already being considered “to avoid the dissemination” of the virus.

Bruni did not say whether the outgoing 83-year-old pope would be temporarily kept away from crowds or whether he would stop shaking hands with visitors.

Pope Francis has not been seen in public since announcing, during his traditional Sunday prayer before crowds on St. Peter’s Square, that he was skipping an annual spiritual refuge south of Rome because of a cold.

He had been seen coughing and sniffing since last Wednesday, but an Italian newspaper reported that he has tested negative for the new coronavirus, which the Vatican declined to comment on.

The Argentine-born pontiff has enjoyed a life of good health despite losing part of a lung as a young man.

Religions affected

But he has cut down his schedule and spent most of his time at his St. Martha’s guest house in the Vatican.


Other religions have also been affected by the spread of the new coronavirus. Tourists have been barred from Bethlehem, and Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site in Mecca to sterilize it.

World health officials have warned that countries are not taking the crisis seriously enough, as outbreaks surged across Europe and in the United States where medical workers sounded warnings over a “disturbing” lack of hospital preparedness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday of a “long list” of countries that were not showing “the level of political commitment” needed to “match the level of the threat we all face.”

“This is not a drill,” the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. “This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor.”

Tedros called on the heads of government to take charge of the response and “coordinate all sectors,” rather than leave the situation to their health ministries.

What is needed, he said, is “aggressive preparedness.”

In the United States, the largest nursing union said a survey of thousands of nurses at hospitals showed “truly disturbing” results.

“They show that a large percentage of our nation’s hospitals are unprepared to safely handle COVID-19,” said Jane Thomason, a hygiene specialist with the union.

Nurses are working without necessary personal protective equipment and lack education and training for handling the disease, said National Nurses United director Bonnie Castillo.

Trump disputes WHO

More than 180 people are infected in the United States as the number of cases surged in the country’s northwest, and the death toll has reached 12.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health, estimated the death rate at “somewhere between 0.1 percent and 1 percent” closer to the seasonal flu due to a high number of unreported cases.

President Donald Trump, however, has played down the risk, saying the WHO’s conclusion of a 3.4-percent mortality rate was “false.”

On Thursday the US Congress passed an emergency $8.3-billion spending bill to combat the virus.

A cruise ship was held offshore in California to test some 3,500 passengers and crew if they showed symptoms of the disease—echoing a harrowing episode in Japan several weeks ago that saw hundreds infected on a luxury liner.

Health officials sounded the alarm after two passengers who had been on board during a previous voyage between San Francisco and Mexico later fell ill and one of them died.

The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises. The company also operated the Diamond Princess, the virus-stricken ship held off Japan last month where more than 700 people tested positive and six died.

Imported cases

Cases in China have gradually fallen as tens of millions of people remain under strict quarantine to contain the virus.

But fresh infections rose for a second consecutive day on Friday, with 143 new cases, and 30 more deaths.

China’s death toll now stands at 3,042 with over 80,500 infections.

Beijing faces a new concern with the number of cases imported from abroad rising to 36.

But cases are increasing faster in other countries, such as South Korea, the world’s second largest hot spot after China.

France also reported a steep jump in cases, bringing its total to 423 with seven deaths, as President Emmanuel Macron warned the country was heading toward an “inevitable” epidemic. Cases also soared in Greece and Iran.

The epidemic has wreaked havoc on international business, tourism, sports events and schools, with almost 300 million students sent home worldwide.

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