UK health minister diagnosed with virus

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    BRITISH junior health minister Nadine Dorries has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating, she said on Tuesday.

    Dorries said she took “all the advised precautions” as soon as she was told of her diagnosis.

    “Public Health England has started detailed contact tracing and the department and my parliamentary office are closely following their advice,” she said in a statement issued through the UK’s health department.

    The Times reported that Dorries met hundreds of people in Parliament in the past week and attended a reception with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

    Britain’s health minister, Matt Hancock, tweeted that he was “really sorry” to hear of Dorries’ diagnosis. “She has done the right thing by self isolating at home,” he said.
    Earlier on Tuesday, the death toll in the United Kingdom from the coronavirus outbreak rose to six, British health officials said.

    The health ministry also said the number of people who had tested positive for the virus had risen to 373 from 319.

    S. KOREA CASES JUMP

    SEOUL. – South Korea reported a jump in new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, reversing 11 days of slowing infections, as authorities tested hundreds of staff at a Seoul call centre where the disease broke out this week.

    Another 242 new cases were reported, compared with 35 a day earlier, bringing the total to 7,755 in Asia’s worst outbreak outside mainland China, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The official death toll rose by four to 63.

    The daily tally of new cases in South Korea peaked at 909 on Feb. 29, as authorities tested about 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the centre of the nation’s epidemic.

    The infection rate had slowed in recent days, raising hopes that South Korea might be bringing the virus under control.

    But new clusters at the call center in the capital Seoul, and among teachers and students of a dance school with classes around the country, have kept authorities on high alert for a fresh spike in infections.

    “The mass infections at the call centre could be the beginning of a fresh tide that leads to a widespread regional outbreak,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told a briefing.

    At least 90 cases confirmed this week, including 62 in Seoul, were linked directly to the call centre located near a public transportation hub connecting Seoul with Incheon and other major cities, the KCDC said.

    ITALY RAMPS UP SPENDING

    ROME. – Italy will ramp up spending to help the economy cope with the impact of the coronavirus and might impose further restrictions on movement to slow the spread of the disease, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday.

    Italy is the worst-affected country in the world after China, with some 631 deaths and 10,149 confirmed cases since the contagion came to light in the wealthy northern region of Lombardy on Feb. 21.

    After an initial lockdown in the north failed to halt the spread, the government on Monday banned all non-essential travel and public gatherings throughout Italy until April 3, halted all sports events and extended a shutdown on schools.

    Acknowledging the escalating crisis, Conte told reporters the government would put aside 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) to help mitigate the impact on the economy. Only a week ago, he estimated it would need just 7.5 billion euros.

    “It won’t all be used immediately, but certainly it will be there to use to cope with all the difficulties of this emergency,” Conte told reporters after cabinet signed off on the higher sum.

    The extra spending means Italy’s 2020 budget deficit looks certain to climb above 3% of national output, a ceiling set by European Union rules.

    BELGIUM HAS FIRST DEATH

    BRUSSELS. – Belgian authorities held a cruise ship with over 3,000 people on board in the port of Zeebrugge on Wednesday over suspected cases of the coronavirus after the country’s first death from the disease.

    Carl Decaluwe, governor of West Flanders province, told Reuters he had banned anyone from leaving the ship because of two passengers who had been in contact with an infected person and were now in quarantine.

    Doctors needed first to assess whether it was safe to let the passengers disembark, he said.

    The Italian-flagged ship Aidamar, with some 2,500 passengers and 640 crew, had reached Zeebrugge early on Wednesday.

    The liner, owned by Carnival Corp, runs a seven-day cruise taking in Hamburg, Southampton, Le Havre, Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, with mostly German passengers.
    Elsewhere in the country, a 90-year-old Belgian woman became the country’s first coronavirus fatality.

    Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced the death on Twitter, a day after her caretaker government ordered reinforced measures to stem the spread of the virus, including a ban on indoor events with more than 1,000 people.

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