Emergency declared in California as cruise ship delayed off shore

Here's the latest on the coronavirus outbreak.
Image: The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco
The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco on Feb. 11, 2020.Scott Strazzante / AP file

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California has declared an emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, as tests continue Thursday on board a Princess cruise ship that has been linked to two cases of the illness in the state.

The first death in California related to coronavirus was confirmed Wednesday, while another fatality in Washington brought that state's death toll to 10.

Congressional leaders have agreed on an $8 billion emergency funding package to help fight the coronavirus that is headed to the House.

The virus is now spreading more rapidly outside China, where the epidemic started, with mainland China recording just 119 new confirmed cases while hundreds of cases were reported globally.

South Korea alone recorded an additional 516 cases of coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the total to 5,328 confirmed cases, the largest outbreak outside of mainland China.

Governments around the world are introducing a range of measures to stop the spread of the disease. In Italy, where there have been more than 2,000 cases, all schools and colleges are shut for 10 days.

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Hong Kong finds coronavirus in pet dog samples

Hong Kong authorities said on Friday they quarantined a pet dog of a coronavirus patient after its nasal and oral samples tested "weak positive" for the virus, though they added they did not yet have evidence that it can be transmitted to pets.

The dog did not have any symptoms.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said it will conduct further tests to confirm if the dog had been infected with the virus or if the samples were only the result of environmental contamination.

"At present, the AFCD does not have evidence that pet animals can be infected ... or can be a source of infection to people," it said in a statement.

The dog will be put under quarantine for two weeks.

The World Health Organisation website says so far there has been no evidence that companion pets can be infected with the coronavirus.

WHO says coronavirus outbreak 'getting bigger' after Nigeria reports first case

Coronavirus outbreak is "getting bigger," the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday after Nigeria confirmed sub-Saharan Africa's first case, reiterating its warning that the virus could reach most "if not all countries."

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva news briefing that it was looking into reports of some people getting re-infected, which would include reviewing how were tests taken, adding: "But in general a person who had coronavirus infection would be immune at least for a while."

Coronavirus crash wipes $5 trillion off world stocks

Coronavirus panic sent world share markets crashing again on Friday, compounding their worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis and bringing the wipeout in value terms to $5 trillion.

The rout showed no signs of slowing as Europe's main markets slumped 2-3 percent early on and the ongoing dive for safety sent yields on U.S. government bonds, seen as probably the securest asset in the world, to fresh record lows.

Hopes that the epidemic that started in China would be over in months, and that economic activity would quickly return to normal have been shattered this week as the number of international cases have spiraled.

Bets are now that the Federal Reserve will cut U.S. interest rates as soon as next month and other major central banks will follow to try and nurse economies through the troubles and stave off a global recession.

Read the full story here.

Tokyo Disneyland theme parks closed

The two Disney-branded theme parks in Tokyo are to close for two weeks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, the operator said on Friday. 

"Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea have decided to proceed with an extraordinary closure from Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, through Sunday, Mar. 15," the operator said in a statement posted to its Japanese website. "The reopening date is scheduled for March 16 (Monday), but we will contact closely with the relevant administrative organs and will inform you again."

BTS calls off South Korean concerts because of outbreak

SEOUL, South Korea — K-pop superstar group BTS has canceled a series of planned concerts in Seoul in April over concerns about a soaring viral outbreak in South Korea, its management agency announced Friday.

“We regret to announce that the BTS MAP OF THE SOUL TOUR ... has been cancelled," the Seoul-based Big Hit Entertainment said in a statement.

It said the COVID-19 "outbreak has made it impossible at this time to predict the scale of the outbreak during the dates of the concert in April.”

The seven-member boy band was scheduled to perform April 11-12 and April 18-19 at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. The concerts would have involved a number of global production companies and a large number of foreigners among its expert crew, with more than 200,000 concertgoers expected, according to the agency.

South Korean media described the concerts as the inaugural Seoul leg of BTS's new world tour.

“We must take into consideration the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of guests as well as our artists and the dire impact a last-minute cancellation may have on guests from overseas, production companies and staff,” the agency said.

It said it has determined it is "unavoidable that the concert must be cancelled without further delay.”

The agency said its decision was also meant to support the South Korean government’s push to restrict massive public events.

The coronavirus that causes the new illness has infected more than 2,000 people and killed 13 others in South Korea in the largest outbreak outside mainland China.

BTS has a large international following and was the first K-pop act to debut atop the Billboard Album chart in 2018 with “Love Yourself: Tear.”

The latest coronavirus numbers

As of now: 83,000-plus confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,857 deaths reported. There are now more than 40 countries with confirmed cases, up from 30 a week ago.

Of the new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, 327 were reported in mainland China and 969 were reported in the rest of the world. Also in the last 24 hours, 3,622 people in mainland China recovered from the virus, according to China's National Health Commission.

CDC investigating reported delay in COVID-19 test for California patient

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday it is concerned about reports that there was a delay caused by the federal agency in testing a California coronavirus patient who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, in what may be the first case of community spread in the United States.

The CDC says it is investigating carefully, but a preliminary review of its records indicates the first time the centers were informed of the case was Sunday, and samples were ordered for testing that same day. 

Two top officials with UC Davis Health said in a memo to staff Wednesday that after the patient was transferred to its Sacramento medical center on Feb. 19, "our team asked public health officials if this case could be COVID-19. We requested COVID-19 testing by the CDC."

"Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process," the memo stated. It said the CDC ordered testing for the patient on Sunday and on Wednesday the positive test was confirmed.

The case could be the first person-to-person transmission among the general public in the United States involving a person not believed to have been exposed to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected person.

The "CDC is concerned about reports that testing for COVID-19 for the California patient announced on February 26 was delayed as a result of CDC," CDC press officer Richard Quartarone said Thursday in an email.

"We are investigating this carefully, however, a preliminary review of CDC records indicates that CDC was first informed about this case on Sunday, February 23," Quartarone said.

He said that the federal agency requested samples that day from the patient in order to test for COVID-19 and that samples were sent via courier on Monday and received Tuesday. "Test results were confirmed and communicated on Wednesday, February 26," Quartarone said.

A spokesman for UC Davis Health said no information would be released beyond Wednesday's memo. 

Quartarone also said that under CDC guidelines, testing is allowed for patients who do not meet the specific criteria for testing if clinical suspicion of COVID-19 is high. He said that the situation is "rapidly evolving" and that CDC guidance is being regularly reviewed and updated. 

Outbreak spread sparks fears for American travelers

Some Americans thinking about vacations this spring and summer are reconsidering their travel plans as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread around the world.

More than 81,000 cases have been reported in at least 40 countries, leaving some travelers concerned as the virus continues to spread.

Summer Mutz, 23, of new Jersey and been looking forward to a dream trip to Europe, where she would see the sights in Rome, Vienna and Paris.

"It’s hard and I have a feeling I’m going to end up going because I’ve been dreaming of getting to Europe for years, and now I’m torn," she said. "Coronavirus is a big, scary thing. Right now it’s fear versus dreams."

After going back and forth on whether to cancel, she recently decided she would save her European vacation for another time when things were less uncertain.

Read more on how coronavirus is affecting travelers and the travel industry.

The new coronavirus hasn't mutated much — what does that tell scientists?

Scientists working to contain the spread of the new coronavirus have noticed something curious about the newly identified pathogen — it hasn't mutated much.

Genetic analyses have shown that the coronavirus has not undergone many significant changes since it first emerged in China in December, according to Timothy Sheahan, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

It's an important detail because that stability suggests why the new coronavirus is effective at moving from person to person.

“Viruses are into efficiency, and if you have a virus that spills over into the human population and isn’t that good at replicating in a person or human-to-human transmission, it may just die out,” he said.