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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

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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ESPN turns to alternative sports — including marble racing

ESPN is turning to fringe sports in an effort to replace some of the thrills and spills of its usual sports programming.

The network said that this Sunday its ESPN2 channel would become "ESPN8: The Ocho," a reference to the fictional channel from the movie "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story."

The TV line-up includes a range of unusual sports competitions including marble runs, cherry pit spitting, sign spinning, the Stupid Robot Fighting League and the questionably titled Death Diving Championship of 2019.

Here’s a list of other little known sporting competitions coming to ESPN’s airwaves on Sunday. 

E.U. asks Netflix to limit high-definition streaming

Many people in Europe are working from home and staying in at night, and that means more internet-based video conferencing and streaming.

In an effort to make sure everything functions properly, E.U. Commissioner Thierry Breton has asked Netflix to limit high-definition streaming. 

Photo: Medical experts wait to screen foreign visitors at Moscow airport

Image: Moscow
Russian medical experts wait to check passengers arriving from foreign countries Thursday at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow. Pavel Golovkin / AP

400 foreigners stranded in Panama after festival

Image: A health worker checks the temperature of an attendee of the Tribal Gathering festival rock in Cuango, Colon province, Panama
A health worker checks the temperature of an attendee of the Tribal Gathering festival rock in Cuango, Colon province, Panama on Wednesday.Luis Acosta / AFP - Getty Images

Between 400 and 500 people are stranded in Panama after a “tribal” festival and music event ended with many of them being quarantined at the concert site near the Caribbean beach of Playa Chiquita, an organizer said.

James Baker of Manchester, England, told the Associated Press that those attending the festival included people from countries around the world, including Spain, Canada, the U.S., Denmark, France, Britain, and Hungary.

Authorities in Panama have required that those seeking to leave prove they had been in Panama for at least 14 days. While many attendees have been able to leave, Baker said many of the remaining festivalgoers and staff would need help getting back to their home countries due to flight and transport cancellations. He told the AP that "the mood is generally good" and the group had tents, medial support and food for about a month.

Markets calm amid silent opening bell ahead of switch to all-electronic trading

Markets were calmer on Thursday, just two days before the New York Stock Exchange closes its main trading floor and converts to all-electronic trading due to safety concerns about coronavirus.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down by around 200 points, with the S&P and Nasdaq down by just under 1 percent each.

Newly released data that showed a significant spike in unemployment levels put some pressure on stocks on Thursday, with 281,000 people filing claims, far higher than last week's 211,000.

Read the full story here.

Pelosi demands Trump authorize production of critical supplies to fight coronavirus

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., implored President Donald Trump on Thursday to use his authorities to force the mass production of critical supplies that the U.S. is lacking in the fight against the coronavirus.

“The president must immediately use the powers of the Defense Production Act to mass-produce and coordinate distribution of these critical supplies before the need worsens and the shortages become even more dire,” Pelosi said in a statement issued from her district in San Francisco.

Pelosi’s statement comes after Trump tweeted Wednesday evening that he signed the Defense Production Act so that he could use it in a "worst case scenario."

Read the full story here.

Cruise ship docks in France with more than 200 Americans on board

The Costa Luminosa cruise ship with more than 200 Americans on board docked on Wednesday evening in Marseille, France, after it was barred from docking in the Canary Island as three passengers diagnosed with COVID-19 disembarked earlier in the trip.

A health inspection has been underway since last night and is still being carried out aboard the Miami-based Carnival Corporation ship, port authorities said. Health officials will make the decision if any non-French passengers can disembark the ship today, or if it will continue to its final destination in Genoa, Italy.

French authorities said that an American plane is on standby to repatriate them to the U.S. French passengers will be taken by health officials in Marseille and immediately put into quarantine.

Queen Elizabeth leaves Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle

Image: Britain's Queen Elizabeth leaves Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle to socially distance herself amid the coronavirus pandemic, London,
Britain's Queen Elizabeth leaves Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle to socially distance herself amid the coronavirus pandemic, London, Thursday, March 19, 2020.Aaron Chown / AP

Harley-Davidson suspends production

Iconic motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson announced Wednesday that it has temporarily suspended U.S. production. 

“We recognize the unprecedented nature of this global crisis. In order to best support our employees and following the social distancing guidance issued by public health authorities, we are temporarily suspending the majority of production at our U.S. manufacturing facilities,” said Jochen Zeitz, acting CEO and president, Harley-Davidson, in a press release.

U.S auto manufacturers have partially shut down factories as the coronavirus outbreak pushes people to limit social contact but also hampers economic activity.

London to essentially close underground as mayor says city is in crisis

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Thursday that the coronavirus crisis in the country's capital was nowhere near its peak.

In a streamed speech, Khan said the outbreak was the biggest crisis the city had faced "since the Second World War,” noting 41 deaths in London so far. He also said "the normal rules of the game are gone" when asked about flexibility with the government budget.

Image: The deserted area around the Winston Churchill statue in Westminster
The deserted area around the Winston Churchill statue in Westminster as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues in London on Thursday.Hannah McKay / Reuters

This came after Transport for London introduced new reduction measures across London's underground in an attempt to contain the spread, urging only essential journeys.

The U.K. will also close all schools starting Friday until further notice. Britain had initially been as one of the few European countries enforcing only minor daily-life restrictions relating to the virus.

'I felt like I had a belt around my chest': Rep. Ben McAdams shares details after testing positive for coronavirus

Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, said Thursday that it feels like "worst cold I've ever had" and that any members of Congress who had close contact with him since Friday should be concerned.

“What I've been told by the House physician is that anyone who had close contact with me from Friday onward should be should be concerned and should probably take precautions,” McAdams said in an interview on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

McAdams said there aren’t a lot of members who would be in that category, but the “few members that I had contact with in that period probably should be quarantined.”

Read the full story here.

Conan O'Brien's show to return via iPhone

Newlyweds dance alone after coronavirus restrictions limit wedding plans

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

Image: The Qantas check in at an empty Sydney International Airport on Thursday.
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

Image: A performer in Athens at the Olympic flame handover ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
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.

Up to 20,000 U.K. military personnel to go on standby

The U.K.’s Ministry of Defense will double the size of the military’s civil contingency unit to create a 20,000-strong “COVID Support Force,” the defense secretary announced on Wednesday.

An additional 10,000 troops will be added to the already 10,000 held at "higher readiness" in case of a civil emergency, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said. Reserves are also on standby to support public services.

The U.K. will also close schools until further notice starting Friday, and new measures were introduced Thursday across London's transport network in an attempt to contain the spread.

"People should not be traveling, by any means, unless they really, really have to," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. There were more than 2,600 confirmed cases in the U.K. as of Thursday.

San Francisco, ordered to shelter in place, faces uneasy life in lockdown

San Francisco’s tourism industry has ground to a halt and some restaurants closed as residents wondered about the future amid orders to “shelter in place.” 

"Everything is out of our control," Trish Tracey said in her shuttered restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District. She does not know when it will reopen.

San Francisco and surrounding counties are days into the restrictions, which involve millions of people being told to stay home and stay put except for essential needs such as shopping for groceries, getting medications, caring for others and exercising.

San Francisco is an early test of what the rest of the U.S. may see in the coming days as mayors and governors curtail daily life to try to slow the spread of the virus.

Read the full story here.

Las Vegas airport tower closed after controller tests positive

The air traffic control tower at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport has been temporarily closed after a controller tested presumptively positive for the coronavirus, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said.

The Las Vegas Terminal Radar Approach Control assumed control of the airspace and the airport remains open, but operations will continue at a reduced rate until the situation is resolved. 

The air traffic controller tested presumptively positive for the virus, which causes the illness COVID-19, on Wednesday. Presumptively positive is a term often used when a local test comes back positive but before that result is confirmed by the CDC.

The presumptive positive at McCarran comes a day after the air traffic control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport was closed after several technicians tested positive. That airport remained open but at reduced operations.

Critical care nurse: Lack of supplies causing 'fear and insecurity'

Playboy, citing coronavirus, says next issue last for print this year

Playboy magazine says that due to supply challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic, its spring issue will be the last to hit newsstands this year.

"Last week, as the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic to content production and the supply chain became clearer and clearer, we were forced to accelerate a conversation we've been having internally: the question of how to transform our U.S. print product to better suit what consumers want today,” Playboy Enterprises CEO Ben Kohn said in an open letter posted online Wednesday.

The Spring 2020 Issue, which is set to hit newsstands this week, will be its last printed publication for the year in the United States, Kohn wrote.

Kohn said the company will move to a “digital-first publishing schedule" for all of its content. It will publish print materials next year but those were described as new forms like "special editions, partnerships with the most provocative creators, timely collections and much more."