The virus that causes Covid-19 has infected over 135,000 people in 127 countries across four continents. Here are the latest updates for March 13, 2020:

A Servpro cleaning crew member dons his first layer of gloves before entering Life Care Center of Kirkland, a long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases, in Kirkland, Washington, US March 13, 2020.
A Servpro cleaning crew member dons his first layer of gloves before entering Life Care Center of Kirkland, a long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases, in Kirkland, Washington, US March 13, 2020. (Reuters)

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he is declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, as Washington struggles with providing Americans with relief and officials race to slow the spread of the outbreak.

Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency.” 

He said the emergency would open up nearly $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak. 

Trump also waived interest on federally held student loans and he moved to prop up energy markets, by directing the Department of Energy to buy oil to fill the strategic petroleum reserve “'right up to the top.”

Trump said he was also giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients.

He also announced a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities, as his administration has come under fire for being too slow in making the test available. The partnership will include drive-thru testing in some locations and an online portal to screen those seeking to get tested.

Still, Trump said that officials don't want people taking the test unless they have certain symptoms. “It's totally unnecessary," Trump said. He added, "This will pass.”

Trump once again told the press conference "I don't have any of the symptoms" and "we don't want people without symptoms to go and do the test."

But later, he claimed "I didn't say I wasn't going to be tested."

He would "most likely" be tested "fairly soon," he said.

Death toll in Italy jumps by 25 percent

The death toll from coronavirus in Italy has jumped in the last 24 hours by 250 to 1,266, a rise of 25 percent and the largest increase in absolute terms since the start of the outbreak, the Civil Protection Agency said on Friday.

The total number of cases in the European country hardest hit by the virus rose to 17,660 from a previous 15,113, an increase of some 17 percent.

The agency said that of those originally infected by the outbreak that first came to light in northern regions on February 21, some 1,439 had fully recovered compared to 1,258 the day before.

The number of patients in intensive care rose to 1,328 against a previous 1,153. 

Europe is epicentre of coronavirus pandemic - WHO

Europe has now become the epicentre of a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed 5,000 lives around the world, "a tragic milestone", the World Health Organization said on Friday.

More than 132,000 cases of the virus have been reported in 123 countries since it emerged in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference.

"Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of world combined apart from China," he said in Geneva.

Tedros announced that WHO was launching a coronavirus solidarity response plan. This would to allow people and organisations to contribute to help fund masks, gloves, gowns and goggles for heath workers, as well as diagnostic kits and investment in research and development, including for vaccines.

Social distancing is a "tried and tested method" to slow the spread of a virus but "not a panacea" that will stop transmission, WHO's top emergency expert Dr. Mike Ryan said.

Scotland announces first death

Scotland announced its first death of a patient with coronavirus, an elderly patient with underlying health conditions, Scotland's chief medical officer said on Friday.

"The patient, who was being treated by Lothian Health Board was an older person who had underlying health conditions," Catherine Calderwood, chief medical officer for Scotland, said in a statement.

Turkey confirms fifth coronavirus case

Turkey confirmed three more coronavirus cases on Friday, raising the tally to five.

"After our first two cases, we confirmed three new cases who came into contact with them and were from the same family. All five cases are directly related," said Health Minister Fahrettin Koca in a news conference in the capital Ankara.

Two of the patients have difficulty breathing, Koca added.

Turkey will halt flights with nine European countries, including France, Germany and Spain, the transport minister said.

Spain to enter state of emergency

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Friday said a special cabinet meeting would on Saturday formally declare a state of emergency to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The state of emergency will allow authorities to confine infected people and ration goods in a steep increase in Spain's response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

EU to launch $41B coronavirus investment initiative

The European Union will launch a $41 billion investment initiative as part of a package of measures to cushion the bloc's economies from the impact of coronavirus, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Other steps the EU's executive will take include giving member states flexibility on budget deficits and state aid, von der Leyen told a news conference, in a move meant to grant full spending flexibility to Italy, the European country so far most affected by the crisis.

Venezuela confirms coronavirus cases

Venezuela confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus amid concerns that the economically struggling South American nation is unprepared to confront a pandemic that has proven challenging for even the world's wealthiest nations.

Millions of Venezuelans are unable to frequently wash their hands due to lack of running water that has resulted from the decay of public services under the administration of President Nicolas Maduro.

Hospitals have lost huge numbers of medical professionals and are so dilapidated that, in some, staff use paint buckets as improvised toilets and reuse surgical gloves for lack of supplies.

Pakistan limits flights, shuts borders and schools

Pakistan shut all its schools and land borders on Friday and decided to limit international flights and discourage large gatherings to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The measures were announced by ministers after a meeting of the national security council chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by civilian and military leaders.

"It has been decided that all borders will remain closed for 15 days," Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the local ARY and Dunya TV networks.

Ethiopia confirms its first case of coronavirus

Ethiopia has confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus, the country's public health institute told Reuters on Friday.

Takele Uma Banti, the mayor of the capital Addis Ababa, tweeted that a Japanese citizen was the person affected.

"We should avoid meetings and hand contacts," the mayor wrote on Twitter. 

Moldova to suspend flights to European countries

Moldova will suspend all flights to European destinations from Sunday for two weeks to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Ion Chicu told reporters at a briefing.

There are six confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the eastern European country, with no deaths recorded.

Iran reports 85 new deaths

Iran announced the novel coronavirus has claimed another 85 lives, the highest single-day death toll in one of the world's worst-affected countries.

"Sadly, 85 people infected with the Covid-19 disease have died in the past 24 hours," bringing to 514 the overall number of deaths in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

"Across the country, at least 1,289 infected people have been added to the list of confirmed patients," said Jahanpour.

"The total number of patients has therefore reached 11,364 cases," he said, adding Tehran province had the most new infections.

Spain orders first mandatory lockdown

Spain has ordered its first mandatory lockdown, confining over 60,000 people to four towns as infections for the new coronavirus increase sharply.

The rise is straining health services and putting more pressure on the government to act faster to fight the pandemic.

The country had more than 3,800 cases by Friday morning and at least 84 deaths. The Spanish capital, Madrid, has nearly 2,000 cases alone, many linked to nursing homes.

The government has closed museums and sports centres, sent home nearly 10 million students, asked people to work remotely and limited crowds at public events in high-risk areas.

Religious services curbed across Jerusalem

Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem said services would continue to be held in the Holy Land but moved to limit indoor gatherings after the Israeli Health Ministry said they should not exceed 100 people.

At the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can pray, authorities will limit entrance to an enclosed area and set up tents that accommodate up to 100 people. But the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the site, said there would be no restrictions on worship in the main plaza as it constitutes a “wide, open space.”

Kazakhstan confirms first three coronavirus cases

Three Kazakh citizens have tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from Germany or Italy, Healthcare Minister Yelzhan Birtanov said, the first cases of the disease in the Central Asian country.

He said at a briefing that two patients were staying in a specialised hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan's biggest city, where they arrived separately on March 9 and March 12. The third person arrived in Nur Sultan, the Kazakh capital, from Italy.

The ministry is working to quarantine people who arrived on the same regular flights as two of the infected people, he said, while all passengers and crew from the third flight — which was not a regular one — have already been quarantined.

Kazakhstan has already preemptively moved to shut down schools, colleges and universities from next week and cancel all public events.

Belarus has 27 cases

Belarus has recorded 27 people infected with coronavirus, six more than a day before, the Health Ministry said at a televised briefing on Friday.

Belarus has reported no deaths so far.

French schools shut for next two weeks 'at least'

Educational establishments in France will be shut for the next two weeks "at least," due to the coronavirus, a minister said, describing the move as part of a nationwide "applying of the brakes" to halt the spread of Covid-2019.

"The schools will be closed for as short a time as possible," Health Minister Olivier Veran told Europe 1 Radio.

"What we want is a massive applying of the brakes nationwide. The schools will be closed for as long is needed. It will be at least 15 days."

Australian minister who met Ivanka Trump says he has virus

A senior Australian politician tested positive for the new coronavirus and was quarantined in hospital on Friday, days after returning from Washington where he met Ivanka Trump and US Attorney General William Barr.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was in the United States last week for a meeting with members of the FiveEyes intelligence alliance — Australia, the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand — that included Barr.

He also met with US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka on March 6, according to a photo posted by the Australian embassy in Washington, which shows the pair standing close together.

It is not yet known when Dutton contracted the virus.

Australia has more than 120 cases of infection with the virus that causes Covid-19. It is mild to moderate for most people but can be severe in older adults and those with existing health problems.

Kenya confirms first case

Kenya has banned all major public events after confirming its first case of the new coronavirus, in a woman who had returned to Kenya from the United States, the health minister said on Friday.

Mutahi Kagwe told a news conference the government had suspended all public gatherings, sporting events, open-air religious meetings and "all events that are of a huge public nature."

He said schools would remain open but all inter-school events would be suspended.

Kagwe said the woman with the virus had been diagnosed on the night of March 12, after travelling home via London on March 5.

Turkey confirms second case

A second patient has been diagnosed with coronavirus in Turkey, the country's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday after Ankara announced a series of measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Koca tweeted that the second patient, whose test results came on Thursday evening, was from the circle of people close to the first patient diagnosed on Wednesday.

Japan approves emergency powers to tackle outbreak

Japan's Parliament on Friday approved a bill giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emergency powers that will let him close schools, halt large gatherings and requisition medical supplies as Japan tries to slow the coronavirus outbreak.

The bill, which amends a 2012 law drawn up after a flu epidemic in 2009, was approved by upper house lawmakers after the lower house passed the legislation on Thursday. 

Abe has requested schools to close and organisers of events to cancel large gatherings but so far has not had the power to make them comply.

A map showing countries affected by the new coronavirus.
A map showing countries affected by the new coronavirus. (TRTWorld)

New Roche coronavirus test wins emergency US approval

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency authorisation for a faster coronavirus test made by Swiss diagnostics maker Roche, a move aimed at boosting screening capacity to help contain the growing epidemic.

The new tests provide results in 3.5 hours and can produce up to 4,128 results daily, the Basel-based company said on Friday, a boost to tests the company has offered until now.

The FDA's Emergency Use Authorisation clears the tests to be deployed in the United States and markets accepting the CE mark showing they conform to European standards.

US testing was hampered by flawed kits distributed by the federal government in February, which gave some false results. That set the country back in containing an outbreak that has infected more than 122,000 people worldwide and more than 1,660 in the United States.

Dubai World Cup to be held without spectators

Dubai announced it would hold a major horse race without spectators later this month in response to the new coronavirus.

The Dubai World Cup, planned for March 28, is the world's richest purse for horse racing, with a $12 million prize last year. 

Dubai’s crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum, separately announced a $400 million stimulus plan for the city-state whose real-estate market and tourism industry have been hard-hit by the virus.

Formula One season in turmoil

Formula One's season was thrown into turmoil with the Australian Grand Prix cancelled just hours before cars were due to hit the track amid fears that more races will be called off as the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll.

The decision follows April's Chinese Grand Prix being postponed and with the second race of the year in Bahrain due to be held without spectators, leaving huge question marks over the rest of the calendar.

"We will in the coming days be looking at races that are more imminent like Bahrain and Vietnam," F1 chief Chase Carey said in Melbourne. And we will have further announcements and decisions on how we navigate the short-term elements of our schedule. We know there are issues there."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies