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WHO declares COVID-19 disease to be a pandemic

The coronavirus crisis continues to unfold across the globe as the World Health Organization uses the word for the first time.
Image: Slovakia
A worker wearing protective clothes disinfects the inside of a public bus in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Wednesday.Vladimir Simicek / AFP - Getty Images

For the first time, the World Health Organization called the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic. Meanwhile, the United States now has more than 1,000 people infected with the coronavirus — but testing in the country is still ramping up, meaning that number could continue to climb.

WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease for which most people do not have immunity.

On Wednesday, the governor of New York questioned the number of people who have been tested for the virus in the U.S.

“When they do the retrospective on this one, they are going to say, 'Why did it take the Unites States so long to bring up the testing capacity?'” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on "TODAY." On Tuesday, Cuomo announced that he was implementing a "containment area" around a one-mile radius in the city of New Rochelle, home to one of the largest clusters of coronavirus cases in the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that more than 8,500 specimens have been tested for the coronavirus across the U.S. Because multiple specimens are required from each individual, the number of actual patients who have been tested is likely far lower.

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Lufthansa cancels 23,000 flights due to 'exceptional circumstances'

German air carrier Lufthansa announced Wednesday it will have to cancel a total of 23,000 short-, medium- and long-haul flights due to "exceptional circumstances" caused by the spread of the coronavirus.

The airline published a reduced flight schedule for the period from March 29 to April 24, with adjustments mainly affecting routes in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

It said further cancellations are expected in coming weeks.

Airlines have been hit hard by the growing coronavirus epidemic, with many having to cancel or cut back flights as demand for flying falls amid fears of a possible pandemic. 

Coronavirus casts shadow over tsunami, Fukushima disaster anniversary ceremonies

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, observes a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. (1:46 a.m. ET) — the moment nine years ago that a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off Japan's coast, triggering a devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster. During the ceremony in the prime minister's offices in Tokyo, officials sat in chairs placed a few feet apart in effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.Yoshitaka Sugawara / AP
Japanese monks pray for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster during a memorial service on the coast in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture.AFP - Getty Images

Flight diverted after passengers caused disruption in response to sneezes

Growing public concern about the coronavirus is beginning to manifest in problematic ways. 

A United Airlines flight was diverted Sunday after several passengers became disruptive because they were seated next to someone they thought was sick. 

The flight, scheduled to go from Colorado ski country to Newark, New Jersey, landed in Denver. Denver police said three people were upset about sick person on their flight.

The diversion adds to other examples of people acting out due to fear of coronavirus, including numerous instances of racism directed at Asian people.

New York biotech company works on antibody treatment for coronavirus

As the new coronavirus continues to envelop much of the globe, a lab outside New York City is racing to find a antibody treatment that could temporarily protect from the illness — or even treat it.

The biotech company Regeneron is in early development of a treatment that could guard against catching the coronavirus for several months using antibodies from mice that have been genetically modified with immune systems to mimic those of humans.

The process involves exposing the mice to a "pseudo coronavirus" — the virus without its ability to replicate — which was created by Regeneron scientists who hope the mice will then develop the right transferable antibodies to fight the virus in humans.

"We are optimistic, because we've done this approach to treat many human diseases," CEO Leonard Schleifer said.

Read the full story here. 

Here are details of House Democrats' bill to provide coronovirus relief

House Democrats are expected to vote on an economic funding package to help people affected by the coronavirus on Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday.

The bill, which has not been released yet, is geared toward helping people who will be most affected economically and does not include the president’s top priority, a payroll tax cut, according to several congressional sources.

The measure's provisions, which could shift before the details of the bill are released, include paid sick days for those who are quarantined and who contracted the virus — proposals the Democrats have publicly prioritized. The bill would provide workers with seven days of paid sick leave and provide an additional 14 days for workers during a public health crisis.

In addition, the measure includes an extension of unemployment insurance, expanded food stamps and food for children who receive free and reduced lunch at school but are out of school because of school closures. 

It’s unclear if the White House would sign off on any of the provisions. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Tuesday to start negotiations. Pelosi also met with her committee chairs Monday night to start hashing out the details.

Other factors that could result in changes to the proposal include a Congressional Budget Office estimate on its cost.

Gov. Cuomo questions low rate of coronavirus testing in U.S.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo questioned on Wednesday why so few people have been tested for coronavirus in the U.S.

“When they do the retrospective on this one, they are going to say, 'Why did it take the Unites States so long to bring up the testing capacity?'” said the governor on TODAY. “China did something like 200,000 tests per day. South Korea did about 15,000 tests per day. The United States has only done about 5,000 tests to date.”

On Tuesday, Cuomo announced that he was implementing a "containment area" around a one-mile radius in the city of New Rochelle, a New York City suburb that is home to the largest cluster of cases in the country. 

Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located, had 108 cases of the virus on Tuesday. New York state has 173 cases. Cuomo also urged the federal government to "just take the handcuffs off me and let New York State do what New York State can do."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that more than 8,500 specimens have been tested for the coronavirus across the U.S. Because multiple specimens are required from each individual, the number of actual patients who have been tested is likely far lower.

 

Bank of England announces emergency interest rate cut over coronavirus

The Bank of England slashed its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25 percent on Wednesday, in an emergency response to the “economic shock" of the coronavirus outbreak.

"The Bank of England's role is to help UK businesses and households manage through an economic shock that could prove large and sharp but should be temporary," Bank of England governor Mark Carney said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The cut takes the main rate to the record low that it stood at in the aftermath of Britain's vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union.

The cut follows similar reductions from the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada. The European Central Bank is also expected to announce a package of stimulus measures on Thursday.

 

German chancellor: Up to 70 percent of people will get the coronavirus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel leads the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Markus Schreiber / AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that up to 70 percent of the population is likely to be infected with the coronavirus.

In a briefing with reporters in Berlin, Merkel said since there is currently no cure, the focus has to be on slowing the virus' spread.

"When the virus is here and the population has no immunity, no immunizations exist and no therapy possibilities, then a high percentage - experts say, 60 to 70 percent - of the population will be infected," she said. "The course of action has to be focused on not overburdening the health system, but the possibilities of the health system that have to be used to slow the spread of the virus."

Germany has recorded 1,296 coronavirus cases so far. It confirmed its first two deaths Wednesday. 

It's official: Don't shake hands, World Health Organization says

You can greet people with a wave, a nod or a bow — just don't make it a handshake. 

That's the advice the World Health Organization (WHO) issued Wednesday as it reiterated that respiratory viruses like the new coronavirus can be passed by shaking hands and touching one's eyes, nose and mouth.

While alternative greetings have been gaining popularity as the coronavirus spreads around the world, it's the first time WHO has advised to avoid handshakes.

U.K. lawmaker and health minister tests positive for coronavirus

British lawmaker, junior health minister and former nurse Nadine Dorries has tested positive for coronavirus, she announced on Tuesday.

“It’s been pretty rubbish but I hope I’m over the worst of it now,” tweeted Dorries, a Conservative lawmaker in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government. 

“More worried about my 84yo mum who is staying with me and began with the cough today,” she added.

Dorries, who is now self-isolating, said in a statement that Public Health England has started “detailed contact tracing.”

There are currently 373 people in the U.K. diagnosed with coronavirus and six people have died.

The Times newspaper reported that Dorries met hundreds of people in Parliament in the past week and attended a reception with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. NBC News was not able to confirm this reporting.