Coronavirus updates: New York City to freeze bodies of COVID-19 victims

By MORGAN WINSOR and ELLA TORRES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A global pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 178,000 people worldwide.

Over 2.5 million people across the globe have been 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. 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.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected nation, with more than 825,000 diagnosed cases and at least 45,075 deaths.

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

10:05 a.m.: 759 new deaths reported in UK

There were 759 new daily deaths reported in the United Kingdom, bringing the country’s total fatalities to at least 18,100, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

An additional 4,451 people also tested positive, according to the department.

In total, at least 133,495 people have tested positive out of the 411,192 people who have been tested in the country.

9:34 a.m.: New York City to freeze bodies instead of temporary burials

New York City will freeze the bodies of COVID-19 victims rather than burying them on Hart Island, the city’s potter field that has long been used as a burial ground for unclaimed bodies.

The temporary measure to freeze bodies is meant to lessen the burden on hospitals and funeral homes, which are running out of space due to the high number of deaths in the city, according to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Freezing the bodies means there will be no temporary burials on Hart Island and allows families more time to make funeral arrangements. However, bodies that cannot be identified or claimed by next of kin will still be buried on Hart Island.

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner, with assistance from Air Force Mortuary Affairs, will transfer bodies from five temporary morgues and 200 refrigerated trailers that are now parked outside five dozen hospitals around the city to freezer trucks that will be placed in Brooklyn.

9:30 a.m.: Rail industry suffers huge cost

Rail volumes are at 10-year low because of the lack of overseas imports, with the coronavirus pandemic expected to cost the railroads $9 billion in lost freight, according to a record from FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center reviewed by ABC News.

8:36 a.m.: Netherlands, France plan to reopen primary schools next month

Primary schools are set to reopen next month in both France and the Netherlands, as several European countries announce plans to ease their coronavirus-related lockdowns.

French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer presented the details of the plan with a parliamentary commission on Tuesday, explaining that children would return to school in staggered groups, with no more than 15 students allowed in each classroom.

Primary school students aged from 5 to 11 would be the first to go back on May 12, one day after France’s nationwide lockdown is set to end. Older children in selected years at secondary schools and high school would return the following week, according to Blanquer.

The plan is for all students to be back in school by May 25, he said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also confirmed Tuesday that primary schools and day cares would reopen in the Netherlands on May 11, followed by high schools in early June.

7:40 a.m.: Germany, UK approve human trials for COVID-19 vaccines

Scientists in both Germany and the United Kingdom will soon begin clinical trials using human volunteers in the race for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

Germany’s federal institute for vaccines and biomedical drugs announced Wednesday that it has approved its first human clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. The potential vaccine is being developed by German firm BioNTech and is an RNA vaccine.

In the first phase of the clinical trial, 200 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55 will receive one or more variants of the vaccine candidate, according to a press release from the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Germany.

“Trials of vaccine candidates in humans are an important milestone on the road to safe and efficacious vaccines against COVID-19 for the population in Germany and internationally,” the institute said.

The clinical trial is only the fourth worldwide in which a preventive vaccine candidate targeting COVID-19 is tested in humans.

Meanwhile, the first human trials for a COVID-19 vaccine begin in the United Kingdom on Thursday. The potential vaccine is being developed by researchers at the University of Oxford.

6:28 a.m.: Eight babies test positive for COVID-19 at Japanese children’s home

At least eight babies at a Tokyo care home for infants have contracted the novel coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.

After a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on April 16, tests were subsequently conducted on all infants at the facility in Japan’s capital, which is run by Saiseikai Central Hospital. Eight of those tests returned positive results, according to a statement from the hospital.

The infected children have been hospitalized as staff continue to monitor the health of those who tested negative. The facility has been disinfected and strict infection control measures have been put in place, the hospital said.

Staff members who have shown symptoms have already been sent home, though the hospital didn’t specify how many.

The children’s care home is a separate building from the main hospital, which will continue inpatient and outpatient treatment as usual.

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expanded a state of emergency, which was initially limited to Tokyo and six other prefectures, to all of Japan as the virus continues to spread. The country has recorded more than 11,500 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and at least 281 deaths, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

5:50 a.m.: Singapore surpasses 10,000 cases

Singapore now has more than 10,000 diagnosed cases of the novel coronavirus.

The island city-state’s health ministry on Wednesday confirmed another 1,016 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 as of 12 p.m. local time, bringing the total number to 10,141.

The vast majority of the new cases are work permit holders who live in dormitories for foreign workers. Just 15 of those newly diagnosed are Singaporean nations or permanent residents, according to the health ministry.

5:21 a.m.: Man who claimed to have COVID-19 jailed for spitting at London police

A 21-year-old man in London was sentenced to six months behind bars for domestic assault and spitting at officers while claiming he was infected with the novel coronavirus, U.K. police said Wednesday.

The man was arrested in East London on Monday on suspicion of domestic assault on a woman and criminal damage to her property. The suspect also told authorities that he had COVID-19 and, while being put into a police van, he spat at two officers. He was further charged for assault on emergency workers, according to a statement from London’s Metropolitan Police Service.

While in custody, police said the man told them he did not have COVID-19 nor any related symptoms. He appeared in custody at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday where he pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to prison.

“I hope he spends his period in prison to reflect on his behavior, and that his prison sentence sends a message to others who are willing to commit domestic offenses and to target police officers whose job it is to protect Londoners,” police inspector Alexis Manley said in a statement Wednesday.

3:30 a.m.: California officials find earliest known US deaths from virus

California officials have confirmed what are now the earliest known deaths from the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Santa Clara County announced late Tuesday that new autopsy results show two individuals who died at home on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 were positive for COVID-19. The individuals were not tested for the virus because they died when very limited testing was available only through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a statement from the county in Northern California.

“Testing criteria set by the CDC at the time restricted testing to only individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms,” Santa Clara County said in a statement.

The United States previously recorded its first official fatality from COVID-19 on Feb. 28 — an individual in Washington state’s King County.

However, health officials later discovered that two people at a Seattle-area nursing home had also died from the disease on Feb. 26.

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