Iran’s coronavirus death toll tops 1,500; Bondi Beach closed as distancing rules ignored

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  • Global cases: At least 234,073, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization
  • Global deaths: At least 9,840, according to the latest figures from the WHO 

All times below are in Beijing time.

8.45 pm: Europe approves France’s $323 billion aid package

The European Commission has approved France’s 300 million euros ($323 billion) aid plan as it attempts to stem the economic impact of the fast-spreading coronavirus. The money is designed to help businesses with liquidity issues across the country.

“We are working around the clock with Member States to enable them to take swift, effective and targeted action to support the European economy at this difficult time, while preserving the Single Market,” Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said in a statement Saturday. “Because we need the Single Market to weather this crisis and bounce back strongly afterwards.”

France has over 12,600 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 450 people have died from the virus. It is the seventh-worst affected country in the world.

7.43 pm: Confirmed cases in Spain nears 25,000 as number of deaths jumps 30%

The Spanish health ministry said Saturday that 1,326 people had now died from the coronavirus in the country, a rise of 324 — or more than 30% — on the day before.

The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 24,926, up from 19,980.

It comes after Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the president of the region of Madrid, said Friday that the majority of people in Spain’s capital city will get the coronavirus. Speaking to state radio Thursday, she said eight out of 10 people in the city would contract COVID-19.

Spain is second only to Italy for coronavirus-related cases and deaths in Europe, which has become the epicenter of the outbreak. The WHO has advised all countries to adopt a mix of interventions based on an analysis of the local situation and context, with containment as a major pillar. — Bishop and Meredith

7.05 pm: Australia closes Bondi Beach after ‘unacceptable’ number of people ignore the rules

Australia’s Bondi Beach has been closed after people ignored the government’s social distancing rules and flocked to its world-famous shores.

Greg Hunt, the country’s health minister, said the number of people on the beach was “unacceptable,” as the New South Wales police closed the beach to the public. Hunt said, “where something like this is happening, the local council must step in.”

“We are all in this together … If you are breaking those rules, you are putting not just yourselves, but other Australians at risk. The message is: be our best selves,” Hunt told reporters Saturday.

Australians have been advised to avoid large gatherings, although its social distancing measures are more lax than in many other countries, and schools remain open.

The number of people who have coronavirus in the country now stands at 1,081, according to Hunt, and seven people have died. — Bishop

People sunbathe on Bondi Beach ahead of its closure in Sydney on March 21, 2020.

Peter Parks | Getty

6.21 pm: Iran’s death toll tops 1,500 as confirmed cases in the country continue to rise

The number of people who have died from the coronavirus in Iran has reached 1,556 — a rise of more than 100, a health ministry spokesman said on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Speaking on state TV, Kianoush Jahanpour said the total number of confirmed cases was now at 20,610.

Iran has the fifth-highest number of cases of the virus in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. It comes behind China, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that the country had to “do everything necessary to return economic production to normal,” Reuters reported. Rouhani said that social distancing measures would likely be lifted in two-to-three weeks. — Bishop

4:05 pm: Thailand to shutter malls as cases spike

Thailand announced it will close malls in its capital Bangkok for 22 days, from Mar. 22 to Apr. 12, as cases spiked, according to a Reuters report.

It reported 89 new cases on Saturday, its largest daily increase, to a total of 411 infections. The government urged people not to panic buy goods, saying that supermarkets, pharmacies will stay open. Restaurants will also be open for delivery orders, the report said. — Weizhen Tan

3:00 pm: South Korea advises public facilities to close, citizens to avoid socializing

South Korea strongly recommended all religious, sports and entertainment places to shut down for 15 days. It also advised its citizens to avoid socializing and travelling for that period, its prime minister announced in a televised address, according to a Reuters report.

If those facilities do not adhere to that guidance, authorities will order crowds to disperse, the report said. New cases in South Korea jumped by 147, as of Saturday morning, and it reported eight more deaths. That brings the country’s total to 8,799 confirmed cases. — Weizhen Tan

2:40 pm: Starbucks to shut most cafes in US and Canada

Starbucks said it will close most company-operated cafes across North America for two weeks, and service will be limited to drive-throughs, in helping to slow the spread of the virus, according to a Reuters report.

Cafes in or near hospitals and health care centers will be exempted from closing, it said. — Weizhen Tan

1:50 pm: Australia shuts down Sydney’s Bondi Beach after hordes flock there, ignoring ‘social distancing’ orders

Thousands of people flocked to Sydney’s Bondi Beach in recent days despite orders of “social distancing” by the government.

That prompted Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt to call such behavior “unacceptable,” as authorities closed the beach, according to Reuters.

Infections across the country has soared, with its health ministry reporting a jump of 165 new cases in the previous day, to a total of 874 cases. — Weizhen Tan

1:05 pm: Colombia to hold 19-day quarantine

A 19-day nationwide quarantine in Colombia will kick in from Tuesday night, its president Ivan Duque said, according to Reuters. The South American country has 158 confirmed cases so far, but no deaths. — Weizhen Tan

12:00 pm: Singapore reports first two deaths

Singapore reported its first two confirmed deaths related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The city-state’s health ministry said the two patients who died were a 75-year-old woman, and a 64-year-old man.

The female patient had pre-existing conditions including heart disease, while the male patient had been hospitalized in Indonesia for pneumonia, and also had a history of heart disease, according to the health ministry.

Singapore has been lauded globally for its approach in managing the outbreak. In February, the World Health Organization said that it was “very impressed” with the way the city-state has tackled the outbreak. — Weizhen Tan

11:20 am: United Airlines to slash its international schedule by 95%

United Airlines said its would cut its international schedule by 95% for April because of travel restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic, said a Reuters report. It also says it will temporarily suspend all flights to Canada effective April 1. — Weizhen Tan

10:35 am: Italy locks down further after deaths spike by 627 in one day

The number of deaths in Italy spiked by 627 in a single day — the highest daily increase recorded globally — prompting the country to impose further restrictions. On Thursday, Italy overtook China to be the world’s deadliest hotspot. As of Mar. 20, total fatalities was 4,032.

A worker carries out sanitation operations for the Coronavirus emergency in Piazza dei Miracoli near to the Tower of Pisa in a deserted town on March 17, 2020 in Pisa, Italy.

Laura Lezza | Getty Images

The mayor of the most badly affected city, Bergamo in Lombardy, said the true number of fatalities in his area was four times higher than what was officially reported, Reuters said.

Italy’s health ministry said that new restrictions include closure of all parks, and people can only exercise around their residences. Authorities were frustrated that people were still out and about despite appeals for them to stay indoors, according to reports. — Weizhen Tan

10:00 am: US senators express concern on coronavirus safety at Amazon warehouses

Four senators sent a letter to Amazon urging the company to better protect warehouse workers during the coronavirus outbreak. 

“Any failure of Amazon to keep its workers safe does not just put their employees at risk, it puts the entire country at risk,” the senators wrote in the letter. “Americans who are taking every precaution…might risk getting infected with COVID-19 because of Amazon’s decision to prioritize efficiency and profits over the safety and well-being of its workforce.” 

The letter said workers risked poor performance ratings if they took sufficient time to wash their hands after coughing or sneezing on the job, according to Reuters. It noted that the virus could survive up to 24 hours on cardboard such as Amazon packaging. — Annie Palmer, Weizhen Tan

9:20 am: South Korea reports 147 new cases, 8 more deaths

New cases in South Korea jumped by 147, as of Saturday morning, and it reported eight more deaths.

That brings the country’s total to 8,799 confirmed cases, and 102 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Daily new infections in the country have generally been on a downward trend over the past week, with 87 new cases on Friday, but the numbers reported on Saturday brings the number of new cases back above 100. — Weizhen Tan

8:00 am: China reports 41 cases, 7 more deaths

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said there were 41 new cases, and seven more deaths as of Mar. 20. That brought the country’s total to 81,008 confirmed cases, and 3255 deaths.

There were no new cases in Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, but all the additional deaths were in the province. 

China said all of the new cases were imported, meaning people who traveled from overseas. The NHC said that brings China’s total number of imported cases to 269.

The rise in imported cases come as students flock home from campuses in the U.S. and Europe, according to reports, sparking fears of a second wave of infections. — Weizhen Tan

All times below are in Eastern time.

8 pm: Washington governor asked Trump to declare ‘major disaster’ in state

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee sent a 74-page letter to President Donald Trump requesting that he declare a federal major disaster in the state to unlock additional federal assistance, including unemployment assistance and basic food benefits. “The state urgently requires additional supplemental federal emergency assistance in order to save lives, protect public health and safety, and limit further spread of the disease,” Inslee said. —Salvador Rodriguez

7:31 pm: GM to lend its auto factories to support production of ventilators in coronavirus fight

General Motors on Friday announced it will lend its auto factories to support Ventec Life Systems’ production of ventilators in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are working closely with Ventec to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products to support our country’s fight again the COVID-19 pandemic,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis.” —Salvador Rodriguez

6:49 pm: ‪Member of Vice President Pence’s staff tests positive for COVID-19

A member of Vice President Mike Pence’s office tested positive for the new coronavirus COVID-19, according to Katie Miller, the vice president’s press secretary.

“Neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence had close contact with the individual,” Miller said. “Further contact tracing is being conducted in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

The office was notified of the positive test Friday evening, according to a statement. —Chris Eudaily

Read CNBC’s coverage from the U.S. overnight: Member of Vice President Pence’s office tests positive, US virus cases now total more than 17,000

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