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Homeland Security

US Likely to Become 'Coronavirus Epicenter,' WHO Says

By VOA News March 24, 2020

The World Health Organization said Tuesday the United States could soon become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said at a news conference in Geneva an acceleration of new cases in the U.S. is behind the organization's assessment.

"We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential," Harris said. "We cannot say that is the case yet, but it does have that potential."

Harris said the U.S. has "a very large outbreak and an outbreak that is increasing in intensity, a statement confirmed by WHO statistics, which indicate there are more than 42,000 infections in the U.S. Some experts say that the actual number is much higher.

Harris said 85% of new cases worldwide over the past 24 hours were confirmed in the U.S. and Europe. Forty-percent of those new cases were in the U.S., she said.

About one-third of the U.S. population is under stay-at-home orders issued by state governors. The latest was the governor of Hawaii telling people to not go out except for essential trips, while the governor of the western state of Washington tightened an existing order to include closing non-essential businesses.

Italy death toll declines

Italy, which has suffered the deadliest consequences of the novel coronavirus outbreak, reported Tuesday a third consecutive day in which its daily deaths and new infections declined, from nearly 800 deaths Saturday to 601 on Monday.

Italy has reported more than 6,000 deaths and has the second highest overall number of cases. Officials put the entire country on lockdown two weeks ago in hopes of stopping the spread of the virus that has reached nearly every country on the planet.

South Korea, which once held the position of being one of the hardest-hit nations, showed its own continued progress, reporting Tuesday a daily rise in new cases of 76. That was its 13th consecutive day below 100.

Meanwhile China continues to report its own improvements with just four locally transmitted cases in its latest figures Tuesday.

Officials said healthy people in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, will be able to leave the province after two months of lockdown. The provincial capital, Wuhan, will see the same relief in early April.

But worries persist about a comeback for the virus in China, the place it was first detected in late December, due to cases among people who arrive from elsewhere in the world. China reported 74 such cases Tuesday.

Those fears have prompted governments all over the world to institute travel restrictions.

Beginning Tuesday, Cuba is barring all tourists from entering the country. Those already there will go into mandatory quarantine, while Cuban citizens will not be able to leave the island.

Lockdowns in Africa, South Asia

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week, nationwide lockdown will begin Thursday as the country's case count rose to 554.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a three-week lockdown throughout the country, after previously restricting movements and suspending nonessential services. There are 510 cases and 10 deaths in India.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday criminalizing the stockpiling of personal protective equipment that medical personnel need to stay safe while treating coronavirus patients.

With the national and global response to the outbreak taking an economic toll, U.S. political leaders are trying to finalize an agreement on a massive economic rescue package. They expressed confidence they can reach a deal on Tuesday.

Olympics delayed

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the delay of the 2020 Olympics to no later than the summer of 2021 after holding talks by telephone Tuesday with Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

The delay moved closer to reality on Sunday when the Canadian Olympic Committee said it was withdrawing from the games, and Australia's committee members informed its athletes they could not adequately train for the summer games after coronavirus control restrictions were imposed.

WHO reported the largest daily increase in new infections on Monday, with more than 40,000. Harris said new records will likely be set daily until containment measures begin to slow the spread of COVID-19.

WHO reported there were 334,981 cases and 14,652 deaths worldwide as of Monday.

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