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WHO director says virus testing is top priority

Last Updated Mar 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm PST

A female federal police officer puts on a breathing mask at the border crossing to Switzerland before an inspection in Weil am Rhein, Monday, march 16, 2020. In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Germany will introduce comprehensive controls and entry bans at its borders with Switzerland. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Patrick Seeger/dpa via AP)

COVID-19 outbreak is the 'defining global health crisis of our time': Ghebreyesus

European Union member countries 'show solidarity'

Moscow bans gatherings of more than 50 people

The head of the World Health Organization says social distancing and other measures to limit contact between people can help fight the spread of the coronavirus, but testing people who might have the disease is its No. 1 priority.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the COVID-19 outbreak is the “defining global health crisis of our time” and will “be a test of our resolve.”

“We have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response” to determine who is sick, he said.

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” he said. “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”

State of emergency in Romania

Meanwhile, Romania has declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus epidemic.

President Klaus Iohannis said Monday that the declaration would apply across the whole country for 30 days.

Iohannis said schools would be closed, with classes to be held online or on TV.

He also said the price of essential supplies, including food, medicine, and public utilities such as electricity, heat and water may not be allowed to exceed their average price of the past three months.

Courts will hear only urgent cases, procurement rules will be simplified in health care to speed up the purchase of medicines and equipment, and employees and their families in economic sectors affected by the epidemic will receive special benefits.

Iohannis said that the measures were “temporary, but they are needed now, to prevent a much greater evil in the future.”

EU member countries ‘show solidarity’

Aid group Doctors Without Borders is also calling on European Union member countries to show solidarity by ensuring essential medical supplies such as face masks are channeled to where they are most critically needed.

The group, known by its French acronym MSF, said shortages of personal protective equipment are increasingly commonplace in Italy, the country with the second-biggest number of cases in the world.

MSF says the shortage is leaving healthcare workers on the frontline exposed. It said nearly 1,700 healthcare workers have been infected in Italy.

Dr. Claudia Lodesani, the MSF president in Italy, said: “Even in high-level European hospitals, we see health workers are overwhelmed, coping with up to 80 ambulances per day.”

Some doctors are forced to wear the same face mask for 12 hours, she said.

The head of the MSF COVID-19 task force in Brussels, Brice de le Vingne, was quoted as saying: “Today it is Italy that urgently needs supplies of medical equipment to protect healthcare workers, but in a few weeks, it may also be the case elsewhere.”

Moscow bans gatherings of more than 50 people

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has tightened public health measures in the Russian capital, banning gatherings of more than 50 people until April 10.

Sobyanin also expanded the list of countries that travelers from are subject to mandatory quarantines upon arrival. It now includes all European countries along with the United States, Britain and Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbors Ukraine and Belarus.

He also ordered Moscow schools closed starting from Saturday.

The mayor also asked elderly people to stay home.

The Russian government reported Monday that the country has 93 infections, up 30 from a day earlier. Of all contagions, 86 people were infected abroad and seven got the new coronavirus locally.

India restricts entry of travelers

Authorities in India say travelers from the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and and the United Kingdom will not be allowed to enter.

They said Monday that passengers coming from the UAE, Oman and Kuwait will be subject to mandatory two-week quarantines upon arriving in India.

The restrictions will be in place from March 18 and will be in place till March 31, when they’ll be reviewed.

The Indian government has also advised its states to put in place measures to promote social distancing, such as closing schools, museums and swimming pools. It urged the private sector organizations to allow people to work from home, wherever possible while asking them to avoid non-essential travel.

So far, India has confirmed 114 cases, with 2 deaths.

First case of coronavirus in Somalia

Somalia has confirmed its first coronavirus case, an alarming development in the Horn of Africa nation with one of the continent’s weakest health systems after nearly three decades of conflict.

Health Minister Fawziya Abikar said the virus was confirmed in a Somali national who recently arrived from abroad.

Somalia’s government quickly announced that international flights to the country are no longer allowed.

Large parts of Somalia remain under the control of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which has been hostile to aid groups and often carries out deadly attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.

The insecurity will hurt efforts to contain the virus.