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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Vermont announces first 2 deaths

Vermont officials on Thursday announced the state’s first two deaths among residents who have been infected with the new coronavirus.

Both were older than 80.

One was a Windsor County man who had been hospitalized at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, and the other was a woman who was a resident of the Burlington Health and Rehab long-term care facility in Burlington, the state health department said.

Vermont has had 22 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19, as of Thursday afternoon according to the health department.

China exonerates doctor reprimanded for warning of virus

BEIJING — China has taken the highly unusual move of exonerating a doctor who was reprimanded for warning about the coronavirus outbreak and later died of the disease.

The official China News Service late Tuesday said police in the epicenter city of Wuhan had revoked its admonishment of Dr. Li Wenliang that had included a threat of arrest and issued a “solemn apology” to his family.

It said two police officers had been issued “disciplinary punishments” for the original handling of the matter, without giving further details.

In death, Li became the face of simmering anger at the ruling Communist Party’s controls over information and complaints that officials lie about or hide disease outbreaks, industrial accidents, natural disasters and financial frauds, while punishing whistleblowers and independent journalists.

The 33-year-old ophthalmologist died in early February at Wuhan Central Hospital, where he worked and likely contracted the virus while treating patients in the early days of the outbreak.

After seeing thousands of new cases daily at the peak of the city’s outbreak a month ago, Wuhan on Friday had its second consecutive day with no new confirmed or suspected cases.

AOC calls on Senate Intel chair Richard Burr to resign for stock selloff ahead of pandemic

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling on Republican Sen. Richard Burr to resign after reports Thursday that the powerful Intelligence Committee chairman had privately warned well-connected donors of the dire impacts of the coronavirus pandemic last month while selling off up to $1.6 million of his own stocks.

As Intel chair, Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter, the North Carolina Republican "got private briefings about Coronavirus weeks ago. Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine. THEN he sold off $1.6 million in stock before the fall. He needs to resign."

The freshman New York congresswoman was referring to two separate reports about Burr's activities in February. 

ProPublica reported that Burr, who co-wrote an op-ed for Fox News in early February saying "the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus," sold off the stock around mid-February, about a week before the market started to drop because of coronavirus concerns.

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California issues statewide stay-at-home order

The governor of California on Thursday evening issued a statewide stay at home order to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The order is effective Thursday night and asks residents to leave their homes only when necessary.

Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement came less than an hour after officials in Los Angeles County ordered people to stay home except for essential needs or jobs for indoor shopping malls and non-essential retail to close.

San Francisco and surrounding counties had previously issued orders to stay at home as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. 

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State Department employee in DC tests positive

The State Department confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in Washington, DC., in a letter sent to affected employees Thursday.

The employee who tested positive works in the consular bureau, which is housed separately from the main State Department building in Washington and the department was notified of the result Wednesday.

Employees were told the employee was known to be on certain floors in the consular building and those spaces would have a "deliberate and professional disinfection," Thursday, according to the letter. Those areas are expected to be safe for re-occupation on Friday.

Staff who frequently work in those areas are being asked to self-quarantine pending interviews with medical professionals about any possible contacts.

The State Department on Thursday also raised the global travel advisory Thursday to Level 4: Do Not Travel, citing the coronavirus pandemic. The advisory warns that Americans should consider returning to the U.S. immediately through whatever commercial means are available.

Trump planning new restrictions on U.S.-Mexico travel

President Donald Trump is planning to place new limits on travel between the U.S. and Mexico, similar to those put in place earlier this week with Canada, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The move was first reported by Reuters.

Mexico has nearly 100 cases of the coronavirus compared to more than 13,000 in the U.S.

Trump announced Wednesday that the U.S. and Canada had agreed to close their border to all “nonessential traffic," excluding trade, because of the spread of the coronavirus.

L.A. County announces 'safer at home' order

Los Angeles County officials on Thursday announced stricter guidelines for one of the most populated regions in the country. All residents are urged to stay home except for essential needs.

The "safer at home" order requires that all indoor malls, shopping centers, playgrounds and non-essential retail businesses close. It also prohibits gathering in enclosed spaces of more than 10 people at a time.

The directive goes into effect Thursday at midnight and will remain through April 19. Residents can leave their homes to visit grocery stores, pharmacies or doctors or for outdoor exercise. Food delivery and pick-up will remain available.

"This is not a request. This is an order," L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

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Pence chief of staff has no update on coronavirus virus test site

The chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said that he did not have a status update about a coronavirus website promised by the president last week.

“I don’t have an update right now, sorry,” Marc Short said.

President Donald Trump on Friday said that Google had 1,700 engineers working on a site that would “be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past, to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location.”

The testing website has launched, but it is not yet close to what was promised.

A company called Verily, which is Google’s sister company under the corporate umbrella of Alphabet, on Sunday deployed a site that asks about symptoms and points people to testing locations in two San Francisco Bay Area counties. On Thursday afternoon, the site included a note saying, "We are working to rapidly expand testing in every way that we can; please check back soon as we add more testing sites and may expand eligibility criteria." 

“Verily launched a pilot website late Sunday to counties in the Bay Area, and is working with authorities to scale this effort further," a Google spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

“With local and national guidance evolving rapidly, Google will continue working with relevant agencies and authorities to roll out a website later this week that will surface authoritative information for people in the U.S., including on screening and testing," the statement said.

Trump in late February put Pence in charge of the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.