Coronavirus live updates: US may investigate WHO’s handling of pandemic, official says

(NEW YORK) — A global pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed at least 12,911 people in the United States.

The United States is among the worst affected countries, with nearly 400,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Worldwide, more than 1.4 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and over 82,000 of them have died since the virus emerged in China in December. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.

Italy has, by far, the world’s highest death toll — over 17,100.

Here’s how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

8:20 a.m.: Spain announces plan to gradually ease lockdown measures

Spain reported Wednesday another uptick in infections and fatalities from the novel coronavirus.

The Spanish Ministry of Health recorded 757 new deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide total to 14,555 — a nearly 5.5% jump. There were also 6,180 new diagnosed cases, bringing the national tally to 146,690 — a 4.4% increase.

But that hasn’t stopped the Spanish government from announcing plans to gradually lift the lockdown measures across the country. Spain’s finance minister and government spokesperson, Maria Jesus Montero, said at a press conference Tuesday night that “citizens will be able to get back to their normal life” starting April 26.

On March 14, Spain formally declared a state of emergency and issued stay-at-home orders to combat the country’s virus outbreak.
A group of experts are drawing up clear guidance for the ease of restrictions, which will be made readily accessible to the public and communicated by government officials.

7:18 a.m.: US may investigate WHO’s handling of pandemic, official says

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, indicated Wednesday that the United States would investigate the World Health Organization’s handling of the pandemic before deciding whether to withhold its funding to the United Nations’ health agency.

“We’ve done that before with previous outbreaks and previous issues that have occurred at WHO,” Birx told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview on Good Morning America.

During a press briefing Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump blamed the WHO for getting “every aspect” of the novel coronavirus pandemic wrong and threatened to freeze American funding.

The Geneva-based international body started sounding the alarm over the outbreak in China in mid-January and then designated it a global health emergency on Jan. 30. On March 11, the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic after the virus had spread to every continent except Antartica.

“In the history of the United States and the World Health Organization, we have had times when we’ve done really in-depth analysis of what has happened. When the president said he was holding funds, he didn’t say he was restricting and keeping funds permanently away, but instead said, let’s investigate what happened,” Birx said. “I think that the president wants to complete an investigation of what happened during this current outbreak.”

“Believe me, they already have their continuation funds from last year,” she added. “So this is a year-by-year commitment to the WHO, this is our required commitment. There’s also voluntary commitments that we’ve made to the WHO through history, including over the last couple of years for HIV, malaria, TB, so a whole series of diseases.”

The United States is, by far, the single largest financial contributor to the WHO.

Birx said the White House coronavirus task force is currently concerned about the metro areas of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. potentially becoming the next hotspots of the country’s outbreak.

“All of our previous areas seem to be steady at least,” she added. ” And then certainly we’re looking very carefully at California and Washington [state] to really understand how they’ve been able as a community of Americans to mitigate so well.”

Birx said they hope to roll out an antibody test “within the next 10 or 14 days” that can detect how many Americans have already had the virus but were asymptomatic.

“This makes a very big difference in really understanding who can go back to work and how they can go back to work,” she said. “So all of those pieces need to come together over the next couple of weeks.”

3 a.m.: China lifts lockdown in city where pandemic began

Chinese authorities have lifted a months-long lockdown on Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus pandemic began.

The very first cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in Wuhan back in December. The city of 11 million people went on lockdown on Jan. 23 in an effort to control the spread of the virus, the first in the world to do so.

The bulk of the Chinese mainland’s nearly 82,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 3,300 deaths have been reported in Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province. However, the strict travel restrictions in the city have been gradually eased in recent weeks as the number of new infections continuously declined.

The final restrictions on outbound travel were lifted Wednesday. Thousands of people streamed out of the city via car, train and plane.

China’s National Health Commission on Wednesday reported no new cases in Wuhan nor the greater Hubei province, though questions have been raised over the accuracy of China’s figures.
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