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Coronavirus updates: Americans warned not to travel, Italy death toll surpasses China's

Here are the latest updates from around the world.
Image: A woman walks through the nearly empty Times Square subway station in New York on Thursday.
A woman walks through the nearly empty Times Square subway station in New York on Thursday.Lucas Jackson / Reuters

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The U.S. State Department on Thursday warned Americans to no longer travel abroad, and urged those already abroad to return, for fear they may become stranded as other countries increasingly lock down in the coronavirus pandemic.

Italy has surpassed China in total deaths connected to the coronavirus, with the country reporting 3,405 fatalities as of Thursday afternoon Eastern Time.

For the first time since the global coronavirus outbreak began, China has reported no new domestic cases of the illness.

Only eight deaths were reported for Wednesday, all of which occurred in Hubei province, which includes the city of Wuhan where the pandemic started. Globally, the number of coronavirus cases has topped 200,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Efforts to contain the spread of the virus in the U.S. and Europe have brought life in many major cities to a standstill, and governments are launching a variety of aid packages meant to alleviate the worst of the economic impact.

Markets were calmer on Thursday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing slightly up by around 200 points.

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Minnesota classifies grocery store workers as emergency personnel

Minnesota has classified grocery store workers as emergency personnel, allowing them to access free child care provided by the state.

As people continue to practice social distancing and restaurants and bars remain closed, grocery store workers have essentially become first responders to the crisis, making sure everybody stays fed.

For this reason, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz added store clerks, stockers, food preparation personnel, cleaning staff and deli staff at grocery stores to the list of "Emergency Tier 2" workers, according to an executive order dated for Tuesday. Workers with school-age children are now entitled to free-care provided by school districts.

In a Wednesday tweet, the Minnesota Grocers Association thanked the governor, saying it will allow workers to keep doing their job.

Vermont's governor said on Wednesday he will take the same measure.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tests positive

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday, saying he was "in good spirits."

Last week, Britain and the E.U. agreed to cancel face-to-face trade negotiations planned for this week in London due to the outbreak.

Cuomo: Fear and panic is a 'worse problem' than the coronavirus right now

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the fear and panic in the U.S. right now is a “worse problem” than the coronavirus. 

“We know what we have to do on the virus. It's going to be hard, it's going to be disruptive but we know what we have to do there. The fear and the panic can actually get out of control more than the virus can,” he said in an interview on “TODAY” with Savannah Guthrie.

While he warned against increasing fear and panic, Cuomo said, “This is a war, Savannah. We have to treat it like a war.”

Asked about public figures having easier access to tests when they don’t present symptoms as people who have symptoms, Cuomo said, “That should not happen.”

Christmas lights ‘spread happiness’ during pandemic

It may be March but some people are turning their holiday lights back on to help spread some cheer during the coronavirus outbreak.

Rob Makowsky posted a photograph of his lit-up house on twitter, noting that he “figured the world could use a bit more brightness.”

Others have taken similar actions to “spread happiness” during the outbreak. One Delaware man noted that the effort was easy — he hadn't yet taken his lights and decorations down.

Amazon closes NYC warehouse after employee diagnosed with coronavirus

Amazon closed one of its facilities in New York City after a worker there was diagnosed with coronavirus, a spokesperson for the company told NBC News. 

Employees at the Queens warehouse were sent home with full pay, and "we are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine," the spokesperson said. It is unclear when Amazon plans to reopen the site, in Woodside.

The Queens worker is the first known U.S. Amazon employee to be diagnosed with the virus, according to CNBC. Amazon confirmed on Monday that at least five workers at warehouses in Spain and Italy had tested positive. 

Australia and New Zealand close borders to foreigners

The Qantas check in area stood empty at Sydney International Airport on Thursday.Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images

Both New Zealand and Australia closed their borders to all foreigners starting Friday, as they stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a press conference that citizens and permanent residents can still return, but their options are running out as many commercial airlines are cancelling flights.

“I’m not willing to tolerate risk at our borders,” Ardern told the media conference. New Zealand so far has 28 cases of coronavirus, but no deaths.

The announcement came shortly after neighboring Australia announced the same measure. Australia has recorded around 600 confirmed coronavirus cases and six deaths as of Thursday — a relatively small number compared to other countries. However, officials are growing increasingly concerned about the prospect of an exponential rise in cases.

Biden and Sanders campaigns 'in regular contact' to discuss coronavirus

Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign said late Wednesday that it's been in touch with Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign since last week and have been exchanging ideas about how the U.S. should respond to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Biden's deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told NBC News that they've been in "regular contact at a senior level," talking about how the outbreak is affecting their campaigns and how to adjust their activities in the 2020 presidential race. 

Bedingfield said the two campaigns have their differences, but they are collaborating to promote the health and safety of their staff. Sanders returned to Vermont late Wednesday after being in Washington Wednesday to vote for the coronavirus aid bill.

Olympic flame handed over to Japan for 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo

A performer stands next to the Olympic flame in Athens, Greece during the Olympic flame handover ceremony on Thursday. The flame will travel to Japan ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images

European Central Bank announces $810 billion emergency plan

The European Central Bank announced a 750 billion euro, or $810 billion, plan late Wednesday to calm markets and help the economy in the "euro area" — the monetary union of 19 of the 27 European Union member states.

The central bank said it would use the fund, named the "Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program," to buy government debt and well as private sector securities before the end of 2020. 

The announcement comes as markets and local economies around the world are increasingly unstable, and confirmed coronavirus case numbers are rising significantly across Europe and the U.K.

Italy to extend lockdown as death toll surges

Italy will remain under lockdown beyond the deadline that was due to expire in early April, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Thursday.

In comments to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Conte said measures taken to close schools and universities, as well as restrictions on movement would have to be prolonged past the previously set date of April 3.

“We have to use our common sense, and act with the greatest caution. Sanctions for those who do not respect the rules will be strictly implemented,” he said.

Under current measures, Italy's 60 million people are only allowed to travel for work, medical reasons or emergencies. Currently the worst hit country in Europe, Italy reported a surge in deaths and the toll now stands at 2,978. The country reported 475 deaths in 24 hours on Wednesday, its largest single day increase since the pandemic began.