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2 members of U.S. Congress test positive, New York City cases double

Here are the latest updates from around the world.
Image: People walk in Times Square as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Manhattan, New York City
People walk in Times Square as the coronavirus disease outbreak continues in New York City on March 18, 2020.Andrew Kelly / Reuters

The number of coronavirus cases globally topped 200,000 Wednesday, as people in the United States and in countries across the world adjusted to life under lockdowns and isolation.

The concern about the economic consequences of the pandemic spurred another widespread decline in stock prices, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing down over 1,300 points on Wednesday. Many major stock indexes around the world were down more than 4 percent.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are currently more than 201,000 confirmed cases and 8,000 deaths related to the coronavirus around the world.

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995d ago / 4:06 PM UTC

Idris Elba on backlash over wife being with him during coronavirus reveal

Idris Elba addressed critics who said his wife, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, should not have been with him as he announced in a video message that he tested positive for coronavirus

"Sabrina wanted to be by my side. As much as we talked about her not coming to where I am, she did and wanted to," he said in two videos on his Twitter account. "And I would do the same for her."

Elba, who said he does not have symptoms, said that he and his wife assumed that because he has coronavirus, it was possible she already had it too. Dhowre Elba was tested for the virus on Tuesday, he said. 

995d ago / 4:02 PM UTC

995d ago / 3:57 PM UTC

IKEA will temporarily close all U.S. stores

The furniture company IKEA will temporarily close all 50 of its U.S. store locations beginning Wednesday as a precautionary measure due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures,” IKEA Retail U.S. president Javier Quiñones said in a statement.

The company told NBC News that workers will receive pay for the hours they were scheduled to work. The store's customers can still shop online and use the company’s home delivery (or store pick-up) in select locations.

995d ago / 3:56 PM UTC

Irish PM warns of 'calm before the storm, before the surge'

Ireland's prime minister, Leo Varadkar, issued a stark warning as he prepared his country for the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“This is the calm before the storm, before the surge and when it comes and it will come, never will so many ask so much of so few,” he said in a TV address on a St. Patrick’s Day he described as being like no other.

Acknowledged the "huge stress" that the containment measures were causing people on top of the fear of the virus, Varadkar also praised health care workers fighting the epidemic on the front lines in Ireland, where 292 cases have been confirmed.  

"Not all super heroes wear capes, some wear scrubs and gowns," he said. 

995d ago / 3:50 PM UTC

Chicago's voting struggles illustrate the challenges of coronavirus

Chicago voters were turned away for hours at dozens of polling locations that opened without voting machines, adequate cleaning supplies or enough poll workers — acutely illustrating the strain of voting under the threat of coronavirus exposure and mandates for social distancing and disinfecting surfaces. 

The delays were driven by a shortage of poll workers and the need to move polling equipment to new locations, Noah Praetz, a former director of elections at Cook County, told NBC News, adding that "probably 60 percent of necessary poll workers” handled things. 

After 200 polling locations were changed, about 50 precincts didn’t have enough supplies to open, James P. Allen, a spokesman for the city's elections board, told reporters. Locations struggled to find enough workers and went through a large number of replacement judges, he said. By Monday, the number of resignations from judges had risen to “a torrent, a tsunami of calls,” Chicago Board of Elections Chair Marisel Hernandez said.

At the end of the day, turnout was slightly over 30 percent in the city in what were “extremely challenging conditions,“ the city’s elections board reported — a steep drop from over 50 percent turnout in 2016 and only a few percentage points above the city’s record-low presidential primary turnout in 2012.

Efforts to push alternate means to in-person voting like early voting and voting by mail appeared successful Tuesday, with nearly 600,000 early votes cast and nearly 300,000 ballots sent by mail across the state, compared to about 423,000 early votes and 162,000 mail-in ballots in the 2016 primary, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

995d ago / 3:49 PM UTC

Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort headed to New York harbor

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said President Donald Trump has agreed to dispatch a floating hospital called the USNS Comfort to help with the coronavirus crisis.

The Navy ship, which Cuomo said has 1,000 beds and operating rooms, will be berthed in New York harbor.

“This is literally a floating hospital,” Cuomo said. “The president said he will dispatch that immediately.”

995d ago / 3:29 PM UTC
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995d ago / 3:25 PM UTC

Coronavirus checks cause huge traffic jams on German-Polish border

995d ago / 3:20 PM UTC

Belgium becomes latest European country to enter lockdown

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Belgium became the fourth European nation to enter into a nationwide lockdown on Wednesday, joining Italy, France and Spain in imposing drastic measures to limit transmission of the coronavirus. 

The country's government asked people to stay home and avoid as much contact as possible under the measures which are in place until at least Apr. 5. Companies have also been asked to ensure that everyone who works from home if they can. 

People making essential trips for food and medicine will be exempt and the government said outdoor exercise will be allowed and even recommended. Mass gatherings will also be banned.    

Non-essential shops and businesses will remain closed, with the exception of supermarkets, pharmacies and pet food shops, the government said, 

995d ago / 3:20 PM UTC

State unemployment websites crash as applications surge

Image: Unemployment
People wait in line for help with unemployment benefits at the One-Stop Career Center, on March 17, 2020, in Las Vegas.John Locher / AP

U.S. workers who have suddenly found themselves without a paycheck because of the growing coronavirus pandemic are now dealing with another frustration — state unemployment websites crashing under the weight of high traffic.

From Oregon to New York and Washington, D.C., public officials and social media users have highlighted the problem as many Americans are thrown out of work by the mass closure of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses.

Read the full story here

995d ago / 3:18 PM UTC

The scene in the Philippines

Image: Travelers wearing raincoats, plastic covers and masks wait for a flight at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines, on March 18, 2020.
Travelers wearing raincoats, plastic covers and masks wait for a flight at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines, on Wednesday. The Philippine government shut down Luzon, the country's largest and most populous island, to slow the spread of coronavirus.Ezra Acayan / Getty Images
995d ago / 2:47 PM UTC

American students stranded abroad struggle to get home

American students struggling to get out of Morocco were among the many travelers stranded abroad on Wednesday as airlines continue to ground flights and countries close their borders to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Genevieve Serna, 20, found herself boarding a flight to London after a three-hour wait but even after making it to the U.K. her ordeal might not be over, as it remains unclear whether a transatlantic flight will be available.

"We are living in this constant state of chaos and uncertainty and every time we get our hopes up, we're disappointed," she said.

Read the full story here 

995d ago / 2:43 PM UTC

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that the Senate will vote Wednesday on the emergency coronavirus House bill.

“I will vote to pass their bill," McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. "This is the time for urgent, bipartisan action, and in this case, I do not believe we should let perfection be the enemy of something that would help even a subset of workers.”

Although the exact timing of the vote remains unclear, the bill is expected to pass. Read more here.

995d ago / 2:42 PM UTC

#GetMePPE: Frontline health care workers plead for basic protective equipment

Hundreds of health care workers are turning to social media to plead for basic protective equipment like masks, gowns and hand sanitizer. 

“Personal protective equipment (PPE) helps healthcare workers avoid spreading disease and stay healthy to take care of all of you,” tweeted Esther Choo, an emergency physician who first encouraged healthcare workers to share photos of the gear they need stay safe.

Registered nurses and doctors across the country have responded to her post, flooding Twitter with photos and sounding the alarm over the lack of protective gear available to them as they stand on the front lines of the coronavirus emergency.

Some health care workers worry the gear they are currently using may not be adequate to protect them: “Do these masks work? Not sure. Do they work if you re-use? Probably not. Do I wish I had a gown? Yes. Should I have been wearing eye protection last week? Yes” shared one primary care physician in Portland, Oregon along with a photo.

995d ago / 2:38 PM UTC

White House postpones Spain state visit

WASHINGTON — The White House is postponing an upcoming state visit by Spain's King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The visit, including a lavish, black-tie state dinner hosted by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, had been announced for April 21.

995d ago / 2:36 PM UTC

Eurovision 2020 song contest canceled

The Eurovision song contest, one of the world's largest television events, will not take place this year due to the global coronavirus outbreak, organizers said Wednesday.

It had expected to draw up to 200 million viewers and a live audience of tens of thousands for the final on May 16.

Held annually since 1956, the contest features live musical numbers from each participating country, which are then voted on by their rivals in a complex system beloved by fans.

More than 50 countries have competed in recent editions, reaching beyond European borders to Israel and Australia. 

995d ago / 2:32 PM UTC

Hospitals facing surge are preparing for life-or-death decisions

Photo illustration of hospital scenes and the coronavirus.
Joan Wong for NBC News / Getty Images

Amid growing fears that the United States could face a shortage of ventilators for coronavirus patients, state officials and hospitals are quietly preparing to make excruciating decisions about how they would ration lifesaving care.

The plans may not be necessary, as officials are scrambling to secure more ventilators, which can make the difference between life and death for coronavirus patients in critical condition who are struggling to breathe. Social distancing and other mitigation efforts to slow the virus' spread could prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. But hospitals are already huddling with state health officials to hammer out their policies to determine which coronavirus patients would get ventilators if they run short — essentially deciding whose lives to save first.

Read the full story here.

995d ago / 2:24 PM UTC

U.S. and Canada agree to close border to 'nonessential traffic,' Trump says

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States is temporarily closing its northern border with Canada to all “non-essential traffic" due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In the announcement on Twitter, Trump indicated that it was agreed upon by Canada, as well.

Trump indicated in his announcement that it will not affect trade between the two countries but did not offer any additional details.

Click here for the full story.

995d ago / 2:18 PM UTC

Venice canal waters run clearer as Italy remains in lockdown

Image: Clearer waters in a Venice canal on Tuesday as a result of no motorboat traffic.
A Venice canal runs clearer than usual after motorboat traffic stopped during Italy's coronavirus lockdown. Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images
995d ago / 1:57 PM UTC

U2's Bono dedicates song to 'doctors, nurses, carers on the front line'

995d ago / 1:53 PM UTC

Medical staff wear protective suits in Moscow airport

Image:  Medical staff wearing protective suits ride down an escalator at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport
Medical staff wearing protective suits ride down an escalator at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport on Wednesday as the number of confirmed cases inside the country reached 147. Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP - Getty Images
995d ago / 1:46 PM UTC

NYC mayor calls for military help

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for military assistance Wednesday morning as the city grapples with the coronavirus crisis.

"The military has extraordinary medical capacity," de Blasio said on the "TODAY" show. "It's needed in places like New York right now."

He also said that any decision to impose a "shelter in place" order on the city could only be made in agreement with the state. But he added that the idea should be "considered seriously starting today."

995d ago / 1:44 PM UTC

Dow sinks by 1,300 points at opening bell, despite trillion-dollar economic stimulus plans

Wall Street remained in the red on Wednesday, continuing a grim week that has seen all three major indices sink despite a series of drastic economic measures intended to address the growing fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened with a loss of around 1,300 points, or 6 percent, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq down by around 5 percent each.

The losses come after the White House announced on Tuesday that it is seeking a $1 trillion fiscal stimulus package that would help small businesses and certain industry sectors and put cash directly in the hands of Americans.

While that temporarily boosted market morale, it has so far not been enough to stop a massive market sell-off. 

Read the full story here. 

995d ago / 1:37 PM UTC

Albania reports 2nd coronavirus death

Albania reported its second death from COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The 66-year-old patient, who died at a hospital, suffered from underlying diseases including cardiac problems and pulmonary edema, authorities said. 

Albania also reported that to date it has confirmed 59 cases of coronavirus infection out of 665 tested.

995d ago / 1:13 PM UTC

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995d ago / 12:55 PM UTC

995d ago / 12:18 PM UTC

Britain's 50th annual Glastonbury Festival cancelled

995d ago / 12:17 PM UTC

Savannah Guthrie anchors TODAY from her home in 'abundance of caution'

Savannah Guthrie joined much of the country in working from home on Wednesday.

She co-anchored "TODAY" from her basement for precautionary reasons after feeling a little under the weather.

"Here's what happened: I wasn't feeling my best, a little sore throat, some sniffles, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but we are in different times, aren't we?" she said on-air. "So in an abundance of caution, and also to really model the vigilance the CDC is asking of all of us right now, we followed the advice of NBC's medical team."

Savannah joins Al Roker and Craig Melvin in working from home out of an abundance of caution in the wake of the news that a staffer for the 3rd hour of "TODAY" tested positive for coronavirus this week.

Read full story here

995d ago / 12:15 PM UTC

995d ago / 12:00 PM UTC

Pope encourages 'small gestures of attention' amid coronavirus crisis

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Image: Pope Francis walks in a deserted Rome to pray at two shrines for the end of the coronavirus pandemic, in Rome
Pope Francis walks in a deserted Rome to pray at two shrines for the end of the coronavirus pandemic, in Rome, Italy on Sunday. Vatican Media / Reuters

Pope Francis urged Italians to commit “gestures of affection” Wednesday as millions have been forced to stay inside their homes as part of a nationwide lockdown that has entered its second week. 

“We must rediscover the concreteness of little things, small gestures of attention we can offer those close to us, our family, our friends,” the Pope told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. 

"These gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion, are minimal and tend to be lost in the anonymity of everyday life, but they are nonetheless decisive, important,” he added.

The pope walked Rome’s empty streets on Sunday to pray for the epidemic to end at two churches, as the Vatican said his Easter services will be held without the public for the first time.

Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe, has more than 31,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus. More than 2,500 people have died, the highest number of deaths outside mainland China.

995d ago / 11:52 AM UTC

Trump administration warns of 20 percent unemployment rate

WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials warned Senate Republicans Tuesday that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. could cause the unemployment rate to reach 20 percent, according to two sources familiar with the discussion.

The warning came during a closed-door lunch on Capitol Hill in which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin presented a White House stimulus plan that could cost at least $1 trillion. The prediction was first reported by Bloomberg News.

Read full story here.

995d ago / 11:46 AM UTC

Number of global coronavirus cases tops 200,000

The number of global coronavirus cases topped 200,000 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The number of cases worldwide now stands at 201,634, with more than 8,000 deaths recorded. 

Meanwhile, the number of new cases in mainland China has slowed, with just 13 new confirmed infections on Tuesday, 12 of which were imported. Chinese officials are now focusing on stopping the virus from coming back into the country from abroad. 

The World Health Organization's differ slightly, and stand at 179,111 confirmed cases and 7,426 deaths globally, the organization said a report released Tuesday

The WHO called earlier this week on all countries to ramp up their testing programs as the best way to slow down the advance of the virus. 

995d ago / 10:40 AM UTC

Pop stars hold online concerts for fans forced inside by coronavirus

A slew of musicians turned to Instagram on Tuesday to entertain their fans, many of whom are in isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

John Legend was joined by wife Chrissy Teigen for a live online concert on his Instagram page to raise awareness about how to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Country star Keith Urban performed his own half-hour concert on Instagram, accompanied by his wife, actress Nicole Kidman. During the concert, Urban said he was due to perform live on Tuesday, but coronavirus interrupted those plans, so he chose to play for his 2.3 million fans online instead. 

Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin also hosted a 20-minute livestream on Instagram and took song requests from fans. Martin said his band members were stuck in different countries because of border closures so they couldn't perform together. 

995d ago / 10:03 AM UTC

Italy further tightens restrictions on residents leaving home

As Italy enters its second week of nationwide quarantine, the government is imposing even stricter restrictions on daily life.

For those needing to go out, police have issued a new self-declaration form that requires residents to declare who they are, where they are going and for what reason. 

Italians will also have to declare that they did not test positive for the coronavirus and are not currently observing a 14-day quarantine.

According to Italy’s Interior Ministry, more than a million people and 415,000 shops have been checked by the police since March 11.

More than 35,000 people have been fined, with 7,000 people receiving fines on Tuesday alone. 

995d ago / 9:33 AM UTC

Saudi Arabia to convene virtual G-20 summit on coronavirus

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Saudi Arabia will convene an extraordinary G-20 summit next week amid the growing coronvirus pandemic.

The summit, which will take place virtually, will focus on coordinating a response to COVID-19 and its human and economic effects.

Image: A delivery man rides to deliver food, as restaurants closed, following the outbreak of coronavirus in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
A delivery man rides to deliver food, as restaurants closed, following the outbreak of coronavirus in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. Ahmed Yosri / Reuters

Saudi Arabia, which chairs the Group of 20 major economies, said the group's leaders will put forward a coordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy. 

Saudi Arabian officials said Tuesday that mosques would no longer be open for the customary five daily prayers or for Friday congregations as the number of cases in the country reached 118.

995d ago / 9:12 AM UTC

WHO: 'Aggressive measures' against coronavirus needed in Southeast Asia

Image: Volunteers use disinfectant to clean Wat Traimit temple in Bangkok on March 18, 2020, amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus.
Volunteers use disinfectant to clean Wat Traimit temple in Bangkok, Thailand on Wednesday amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.Mladen Antonov / AFP - Getty Images

The World Health Organization is asking countries in Southeast Asia to scale up their coronavirus response and take "aggressive measures" to combat the virus as the number of confirmed cases in the region has reached nearly 500.

“The situation is evolving rapidly," said the WHO's Southeast Asia Regional Director, Poonam Khetrapal Singh. "We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people."

Eight of the 11 countries in the region have confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, according to the WHO.

So far, Thailand has the most cases at 177, with Indonesia close behind with 134 and India with 125. Cases have also been confirmed in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

These numbers are increasing quickly, the WHO warned, and some countries are clearly heading towards community transmission of COVID-19.

995d ago / 8:52 AM UTC

Olympics make no sense if athletes can't come, Japan's deputy PM says

Even if Japan can contain the coronavirus outbreak, this summer's Olympic Games “would not make sense” if other countries cannot send their athletes, Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said Wednesday.

“As the prime minister said, it’s desirable to hold the Olympics in an environment where everyone feels safe and happy. But that’s not something Japan alone can decide,” said Aso in Parliament. 

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it does not plan any “drastic” decisions about the Games, saying it remains fully committed to the event being staged in four months despite the global spread of the coronavirus.

995d ago / 5:57 AM UTC

Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue closes

Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue closed at day-end Tuesday and won’t reopen for at least a week after Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute ordered the closure of all national parks it oversees, including the one home to the statue.

The move is designed to help contain the spread of the coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. The 125-foot-tall statue last year saw almost 2 million visitors.

Image:
Tourists pose for photos in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue during a foggy day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, March 17, 2020.Silvia Izquierdo / AP
995d ago / 5:38 AM UTC

Gun and ammunition sales rise amid coronavirus fears

995d ago / 4:24 AM UTC

Coronavirus starts to take a major toll on automakers

Most white-collar auto industry employees by Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are working from home this week, but Detroit’s Big 3 have formed a task force with the United Auto Workers Union to see if there’s a way also to protect hourly workers from the coronavirus without shutting down their U.S. parts and assembly lines.

With schools closed, major sports leagues suspending their seasons, large gatherings being canceled and the travel industry in freefall, automotive analysts are downgrading their 2020 sales forecasts. Morgan Stanley now anticipates U.S. demand for new cars will plunge to 15.5 million, down from last year’s 17.1 million vehicles.

There are a few, faint bright spots. 

Read the full story here.

995d ago / 3:41 AM UTC

As more Washington state deaths reported, Inslee OKs $200M coronavirus response

SEATTLE — As the death toll from COVID-19 in Washington state reached 54, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure drawing $200 million from the state’s emergency “rainy day” fund for the state’s coronavirus response.

Inslee said the funding bill “is really about protecting what we hold most dear, our lives and the lives of our loved ones.” The measure has $175 million going to the public health system and the remainder to a dedicated unemployment fund for coronavirus impacts. The bill contains an emergency clause and takes effect immediately.

The new spending comes as King County reported three more people have died, bringing its total to 46. Clark County health officials announced their first fatal cases, a husband and wife in their 80s, while Snohomish County said a fifth person has died. One person died in Grant County.

Washington has the highest number of deaths in the U.S., with most being associated with a nursing home in Kirkland. By Tuesday, the number of positive cases topped 1,000.

995d ago / 3:31 AM UTC

NYC mayor: 'Torrent' of new coronavirus cases coming, military aid may be needed

995d ago / 2:29 AM UTC

Visitation limits can't stop man's face-to-face chats with elderly father

Image: Charlie Johnson, Bernard Johnson
Charlie Johnson, left, visits with his father, Bernard Johnson, through the window of his assisted living facility in Anoka, MN on Sunday, March 15.Sandy Hamilton

A photo of a Minnesota man visiting with his father through the window at an assisted living facility illustrates the lengths some are going to in order to see their loved ones as nursing homes and assisted living facilities implement tougher restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

When Charlie Johnson found out that Whispering Pines, the center where father Bernard Johnson, 88, lives, was going into lockdown, he figured he would speak to him by phone every day.

"I said, 'You know actually, that’s good. I'm glad that they're doing that,'" Johnson told NBC News. 

But he quickly realized that talking by phone was not enough -- he needed to see his dad. So, he set up a chair Sunday outside his father's window. The two spoke by phone while maintaining a version of their usual face-to-face visits, something Charlie Johnson said would keep up for as long as the lockdown lasts. 

"They just had a normal conversation, like the window wasn’t even in between them," said Sandy Hamilton, the Whispering Pines employee who took the photo, which has more than 800,000 shares on Facebook.