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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

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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Australian grocery chain limits purchase of toilet paper

Empty shelves in a Woolworths supermarket in Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday. Chris Putnam / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Australian grocery chain Woolworths is limiting customers to four packs of toilet paper amid “panic buying” by shoppers concerned by the coronavirus outbreak.

The company said in a statement Wednesday that the limit, which also applies to online shoppers, was to ensure every customer had access to the products.

“It will help shore up stock levels as suppliers ramp up local production and deliveries in response to higher than usual demand,” the company said.

The vast majority of the products remain available for their customers as normal, it added.

The outbreak has led to shoppers emptying out shelves in their local grocery stores and pharmacies around the world as the fear of product and medicine shortages continues to spread.

Anxiety in Milan region as death toll in Italy approaches 100

A woman wearing a protective mask crosses Piazza Duomo on a bicycle in Milan on March 2, 2020.Miguel Medina / AFP - Getty Images

The death toll passed fifty in Italy Monday, most of the fatalities in the Milan region. By Tuesday it was 79, a fifty per cent increase in one day, with 27 new deaths. There’ve been several big spikes in the number of infections.

But today, the fear is mild, just like 80 percent of the infections that arise from the virus. Most people I see in the city centre are not wearing masks. I have seen two groups of Asian tourists, every one of whom was wearing a mask.

Milan is about to learn whether the measures its regional government has taken so far have been effective. Eleven towns, most of them just south of the city, have been quarantined for almost two weeks, with not one of the 50,000 inhabitants allowed in or out.

Most clubs and bars have been closed. In cafés, customers are supposed to sit at tables and maintain a distance between one another.

Later this week triage tents will be set up outside prisons in Milan and the wider region. More tents will be set up outside every hospital here.

The warm spring and summer temperatures, which experts believe will help to kill off the virus, can’t come soon enough.

First coronavirus death recorded in Iraq

Health officials in Iraq have confirmed the country's first coronavirus death. 

A 70-year-old man from Sulaymaniyah, in the country's east, died from the virus, spokesman for Kurdistan Regional Government's Health Directorate, Mohammed Qader Khushnaw, told NBC News on Wednesday. 

It is not confirmed if the man returned from Iran or was infected in Iraq, he added. 

This brings total number of confirmed cases in Iraq to 33. 

Prince William discusses coronavirus fears on Dublin trip

Japan still preparing for Olympics as planned

Japan is preparing to host the Tokyo Summer Olympics as planned, the government’s top spokesman said on Wednesday, amid speculation the Games could be postponed because of the coronavirus threat.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made the commitment at a regular news conference.

Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto had said on Tuesday that Tokyo’s contract with the International Olympic Committee “could be interpreted as allowing a postponement” until the end of the year, although she reiterated that the government remained committed to the Games starting on July 24.

Long lines to buy face masks in South Korea

People stand in a long queue to buy face masks at a post office after a shortage of masks amid the rise in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Daegu, South Korea on Wednesday.Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

WHO issues warning over shortage of protective equipment

A mannequin in protective suit is displayed as people buy masks and hand sanitizers at a market in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. IDita Alangkara / AP

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a shortage of personal protective equipment that's endangering health workers fighting the COVID-19 outbreak worldwide. 

WHO officials said on Tuesday there was "severe and mounting disruption" to the global supply of personal protective equipment, caused by rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse, which is putting lives at risk.

It said shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other front-line workers "dangerously ill-equipped" to care for COVID-19 patients, due to limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons.

Since the start of the outbreak, WHO said prices have surged, with surgical masks seeing a sixfold increase.

Meanwhile, N95 respirators that protect from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face have trebled and gowns have doubled, WHO added. 

Based on WHO modelling, an estimated 89 million medical masks are required for the COVID-19 response each month along with 76 million of examination gloves and 1.6 million safety goggles.

It has called on industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40 percent to meet the rising global demand. 

Iran temporarily releases 54,000 prisoners to prevent spread of COVID-19

A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison on June 13, 2006.Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters file

Iran has temporarily released thousands of prisoners as it faces a growing outbreak of coronavirus that has already claimed 77 lives in the country, sickening more than 2,300.  

Gholamhossein Esmaili, the judiciary spokesman, announced in a weekly press conference Tuesday that 54,000 prisoners have been temporarily released to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Iranian prisons.

On Tuesday, the lawyer for an American held in Iran said that his client was at “serious risk” of contracting the coronavirus after another inmate held near his cell tested positive for the illness.

California's Placer County announces second presumptive case

Officials in Placer County in Northern California on Tuesday reported a second case of COVID-19 and declared a local health emergency, which is intended to ensure it has enough resources.

The patient is presumptively positive, meaning it was through a local test but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tests will need to confirm it, Placer County Public Health said in a statement.

The patient is an older adult who is critically ill and exposure likely occurred during international travel on a Princess cruise ship that left San Francisco for Mexico in February, the department said. The patient is in isolation and close contacts are being quarantined and monitored.

Placer County also said the same cruise is associated with another presumptive positive case reported Monday in Sonoma County, also in Northern California. Monday's Sonoma County statement did not name the cruise ship but said it went from San Francisco to Mexico.

Princess Cruises did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday. It said Monday in responding to the Sonoma County report that its chief medical officer contacted officials in Sonoma County for more information but it was not known whether there was an exposure risk to people who sailed on board its ship. The Sonoma County patient is said to be stable.

South Korea's president cancels overseas trip to deal with COVID-19 outbreak

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will not travel as planned to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey in mid-March in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak in his country, presidential spokesperson Kang Min Suk in a text briefing.

Most of the cases of COVID-19 are in mainland China, but South Korea has one of the largest outbreaks outside  that country with more than 5,000 cases and 32 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

"We have decided not to go ahead with the overseas trips as was in the planning in order to respond to COVID-19 with full attention and strength amid concern that the outbreak can spread throughout the whole nation," the presidential spokesman said.

Moon has said that "the whole country has entered a war against the infectious disease," and that South Korea has been strengthening its prevention strategy and identifying confirmed cases quickly.

Shoppers looking for sanitizing supplies, groceries greeted with empty shelves

Empty shelves that once held soap at a Target store in San Rafael, California, on Monday, March 2, 2020.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

People stocking up on sanitizing supplies, paper products and groceries have cleared some stores' shelves, consumers around the country have discovered. 

Hand sanitizer, wipes, cleaning supplies and other products have been wiped out by people fearing quarantine and prolonged illness from the coronavirus.