Coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic, the highest level classification the World Health Organisation can give, on Wednesday as the number of cases and deaths from the virus continued to rise around the world.

The news came as the Foreign Office urged British citizens to leave Italy as soon as possible amid the country’s outbreak and the number of UK cases surged to more than 450.

Elsewhere, Angela Merkel has cited experts as saying Covid-19 could infect up to 70 per cent of the German population, and police in coronavirus-plagued Italy are forcing people to keep apart in cafes as cases there surpassed 10,000.

US travel restrictions

The White House is to discuss imposing new travel restrictions on European countries at a meeting on Wednesday, sources have told Reuters.

Mike Pence was to meet later at the White House with members of the coronavirus task force, which has been deliberating on a wide variety of related issues, including further travel restrictions.

Doctor ‘sacked’

A doctor in India says she was sacked for raising the alarm over a patient returning from Qatar with flu symptoms who refused to undergo testing for coronavirus, writes Adam Withnall.

Dr Shinu Syamalan said the private hospital where she worked in Kerala terminated her contract over her whistleblowing, on the basis that it would be bad for business if people thought a Covid-19 patient had attended the practice.

India suspends tourist visas

India’s government has said it will suspend all tourist visas for a month to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country.

“All existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment, project visas, stand suspended till 15 April 2020,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

The measure will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 13 March.

Here is the moment when WHO officially declared a pandemic over coronavirus

‘Learn from us’

UK authorities must learn from the actions Italy’s government has taken in response to the coronavirus, a British teacher in the country has said.

Iain Sachdev, 37, is the principal of the International School of Monza, which was shut down last month amid the Covid-19 outbreak in northern Italy.

Despite the closure, he and his teachers rallied to ensure the 270 students could continue lessons online within two days.

“We got all the team connected first thing on Monday morning, got our act together, did some very quick technical work and brainstorming about how we were all going to do this,” Mr Sachdev told the PA news agency.

“Then on the Tuesday morning we had the school fully up and running virtually.”

For younger students the school has set up “daily check-ins”, offering “suggested learning activities” for children to do with their families, with teachers available throughout the day for guidance and support.

As the period of closure continues – the school will be shut down for at least six weeks – Mr Sachdev said staff have also been focusing on the wellbeing of students and teachers, helping them to build routines and work on accepting the situation they are in.

The Independent has previously reported on the difficulties teachers and students are facing with enforced home-learning. Read more below:

Here are some more details from WHO on its pandemic statement…

At a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Dr Tedros said:

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus.

“It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”

He added that the WHO had “never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus” and called once again for governments to take “urgent and aggressive actions” against the virus.

Source: EPA

Racist mockery

A photo of a Dutch students donning Chinese traditional costumes and conical hats while posing with a sign which read ‘Corona Time’ posted on social media has sparked fierce backlash from east Asians, writes Kate Ng.

Nineteen students were pictured dressed in  men and women’s traditional outfits, and two in panda costumes. One girl in the second row can be seen pulling at the corner of her eyes, a gesture seen as derogatory and mocking to many people of east Asian descent.

BREAKING: Coronavirus is a pandemic, WHO says

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially declared that coronavirus is a pandemic.

“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of #COVID19 outside China has increased 13-fold and the number of affected countries has tripled,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said on Wednesday.

“There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.”

He added: “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of #COVID19 cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.

“We have therefore made the assessment that #COVID19 can be characterised as a pandemic”

You can read more on this breaking story below:

Ivory Coast registers case

Ivorian authorities have confirmed the country’s first Covid-19 case in a 45-year-old citizen who had travelled from Italy. The man is stable in hospital in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s health ministry said.

G7 meeting to be held by video conference

A meeting of G7 foreign ministers, scheduled to take place in Pittsburgh later this month, will be held by video conference as a precaution due to coronavirus, the US State Department has said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the United States has decided to host the upcoming G7 ministerial virtually by video teleconference instead of gathering in Pittsburgh, 24-25 March,” Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson, said.

The news came as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 987 cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, up by 291 from the previous count, and a total of 29 deaths from the outbreak.

Self-isolating? Indy culture desk has some ideas

The legendary film critic Roger Ebert called film “the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts”. Cinema offers us complete immersion in another reality, taking us on an almost out-of-body experience into someone else’s life and experience, writes Helen O’Hara and Patrick Smith.

For many of us at the moment, with the realities of coronavirus becoming increasingly harsh and lonely, an out-of-body experience is exactly what is needed. Particularly if you’re self-isolating for weeks on end.

No deep clean for Downing Street after health minister tests positive

Downing Street has not received a deep clean after health minister Nadine Dorries visited the building before she tested positive for coronavirus, a No 10 spokesperson has said.

“No 10 is following Public Health England advice and that [a deep clean] hasn’t happened at No 10,” the prime minister’s spokesperson said.

“Contact tracing is urgently taking place in relation to Nadine Dorries and PHE will tell anyone if they need to take any action

“The view is the degree of contact with the majority of the attendees at that reception will have had will most likely have been small.”

Source: iStock

US vote

US House majority leader Steny Hoyer has said members of congress will vote on coronavirus legislation tomorrow.

Democrats who control the chamber will consider unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, and family and medical leave in the bill.

The payroll tax cut suggested by Donald Trump was a “non-starter” and would not be included, Mr Hoyer added.

NBA games should be played without crowd, US health official says

A top US health official has said National Basketball Association (NBA) games should be played without a crowd due to the fast-moving spread of coronavirus.

Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday he believed any event with large crowds would increase the risk of the virus spreading.

“We would recommend that there not be large crowds, if that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it,” Mr Fauci said.

“But as a public health official, anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.”

Fries, no (hand)shake

A drive-through coronavirus testing facility has opened in Wolverhampton. Here’s the video:

Johnson to meet tech companies over coronavirus

Boris Johnson has invited major tech companies including Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple to Downing Street to discuss efforts to tackle the coronavirus, No 10 has said.

The prime minister will meet with companies to discuss tracing the Covid-19 outbreak and tackling disinformation about the virus on Wednesday evening.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, will also be present at the meeting, with NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.

“Technology companies have been invited to Downing Street for a meeting this evening on ensuring the public has access to reliable information on coronavirus,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said.

“They will talk about things like how to help inform the public around coronavirus and talk about things like modelling the spread of the disease, tracking its spread.

“This is about acknowledging that there’s a wide variety of expertise available in the tech world and sitting down and seeing if there’s any way we can work together for the mutual benefit of the public.”

Source: EPA

World’s biggest gaming conference cancelled

E3, the world’s biggest gaming conference, has been confirmed as the latest event to be cancelled due to coronavirus.

The event’s organisers, Entertainment Software Association (ESA), said they made the decision to protect the “health and safety” of the gaming industry.

“Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation,” ESA said in a statement.

“We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters.”

Our reporter, Andrew Griffin, has the full story below:


Saudi Arabia‘s state oil company has apologised after a worker was dressed up as a human hand gel dispenser amid the global coronavirus outbreak, writes Zoe Tidman.

Images shared on social media show people taking hand sanitiser from a box which a man is standing inside.

EU loan home

European firms hit by coronavirus may be able to access huge loans backed by the EU and large banks, according to a report.

Reuters cited people familiar with the matter as saying the scheme was due to be signed off within days.

The plan, which is under discussion and has not been finalised, would revolve around the European Investment Bank (EIB), a powerful institution backed primarily by Germany, Italy and France as well as the other 24 EU members.

One option under consideration would see the EIB team up with some of Europe’s biggest banks to jointly provide hundreds of millions of euros of affordable loans, the people said. Discussions with those banks are now under way.

To solve the risk of default rebounding on the EIB, which could damage its credit rating, the project could draw on the EU bloc’s joint budget to cover potential losses if, for example, a hotel taking the loan ultimately went under.

Barclays office closed

A Barclays employee at the bank’s Canary Wharf office has tested positive for Covid-19, forcing it to close and deep clean the site. The person has been in self-isolation since Monday, the company said.