WHAT’S HAPPENING? Virus forges on, as world hunts solutions

WHAT’S HAPPENING? Virus forges on, as world hunts solutions

The world is scrambling to get on top of the new coronavirus outbreak that has spread from its epicenter in China to most corners of the planet

One by one, more and more countries are reporting cases of the new coronavirus. Governments and doctors on the front lines are scrambling for solutions and everyday life around the globe is being disrupted in a manner that’s not been seen in recent times.

The spread of the virus is having an impact all round the world. Here are some of the latest developments:

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HUNTING FOR PATIENT ZERO

From California to Italy and beyond, more cases are popping up with no clear origin. These are people who did not travel abroad, or were not linked to another known case. Health authorities in all these places are working hard to find the original source, or “patient zero,” using what’s called contact tracing, or finding all the people the patients were in contact with them. In a highly mobile world, that’s increasingly difficult.

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STAY AWAY, FOREIGN PILGRIMS

Saudi Arabia has responded to the fears by banning foreign pilgrims from visiting Islam’s holiest shrines. That will change the face of this year’s annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and disrupt plans for millions of faithful from around the world who come to the kingdom to pray together. The decision illustrates how tense the situation is across the Gulf region and the wider Middle East as a whole largely as a result of the spike in deaths and infections in Iran. Iran has now seen more virus deaths than anywhere except China, where it first emerged at the end of 2019.

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JAPAN SKIPS SCHOOL

Japan, too, is increasingly worried, and made a decision Thursday that’s sure to have its 12.8 million schoolchildren secretly celebrating. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he wants all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide to remain closed until spring holidays in late March. Japan now has more than 900 cases, including hundreds from a quarantined cruise ship. France, Germany, Monaco and other countries near Italy are telling parents to keep their kids home from school if they’ve been anywhere near the growing number of zones worldwide hit by virus outbreaks. One reason for the school warnings: growing concern about the rise in the number of untraceable cases of the virus.

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BEEFING UP BORDERS

Germany has a new way of trying to retroactively track down everyone who may have been exposed to an infected person. It’s introducing new landing cards for people arriving from countries most hit by the virus. That’s among measures around the world by authorities trying to keep the virus from spreading in their own countries. Pakistan halted flights to and from neighboring Iran. Prague suspended flights from South Korea. Cyprus is adding more police and health workers at crossing points between the internationally recognized state in the south and a self-declared Turkish Cypriot state in the north. But EU officials insisted that the virus doesn’t stop at borders, saying that if a case is identified at the border, it’s probably too late and the spread is likely anyway.

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TRUMP’S INTERVENTION

U.S. President Donald Trump is under fire for the government’s response to the crisis — he’s voiced his unhappiness at how concerns over the virus’ spread has hit the stock market hard. But given how acute the concerns are, Trump has sought to defend his administration’s record as the number of cases in the U.S. are expected to pick up. He has put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coordinating the efforts. But that hasn’t made everyone happy, nor has it calmed the mood. Health officials stressed that schools, businesses and individuals need to get ready.

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CHINA’S GROWING CONFIDENCE

Now that there are more cases being reported outside China than inside, Chinese authorities are eager to shed the virus stigma and questions about its early handling of the epidemic. President Xi Jinping said Thursday: “We have the confidence, the ability and the certainty to win this war against the epidemic.” And famed Chinese respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan predicted China’s outbreak should be “basically under control” by the end of April. He credited strong measures taken by the government and the work of medical workers for helping curb the spread.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak.

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