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Coronavirus live updates: Taiwan confirms first death

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Excited passengers disembark from the MS Westerdam, which is now docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The cruise ship arrived in Cambodia on February 14, 2020 after being stranded for two weeks

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images

This is a live blog. Please check back for updates.

All times below are in U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

China’s National Health Commission reported that there were 2,009 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 142 additional deaths as of Feb. 15. The total number of cases in mainland China has reached 68,500, and the total deaths has reached 1,665, according the latest statistics from the commission on Sunday.

6:21 am: Taiwan confirms death of man with no known history of travel to China

Taiwan said a man in his 60s with a history of hepatitis B and diabetes has died of the virus. It’s the first death on the island. The man died Saturday after nearly two weeks in a hospital, but does not have a known history of traveling to China.

Health officials are investigating how he became infected. Taiwan has 20 confirmed cases of the virus.

3:40 am: American from cruise ship tests positive for second time in Malaysia

An 83-year-old American woman who was previously aboard the MS Westerdam cruise ship in Cambodia last week has tested positive for the virus a second time since flying back to Malaysia, officials there said on Sunday. She was one of 2,257 passengers and crew onboard at sea for nearly 14 days, and the first to test positive for the virus.

Officials said that more than 140 of the passengers on the ship traveled through Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport, and all but eight traveled on to destinations in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

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Sweden coronavirus approach is very different from the rest of Europe

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People dine in a restaurant on March 27, 2020 in Stockholm during the the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND

While the rest of Europe imposes severe restrictions on public life and closes borders and businesses, Sweden is taking a more relaxed approach to the coronavirus outbreak.

Unlike its immediate neighbors Denmark, Finland and Norway Sweden has not closed its borders or its schools. Neither has it closed non-essential businesses or banned gatherings of more than two people, like the U.K. and Germany.

Sweden’s response to the outbreak is being overseen largely by the country’s Public Health Agency. It has taken a conspicuously different approach to the coronavirus from its international peers, trusting the public to adopt voluntary, softer measures to delay the spread of the virus.

This apparently laissez-faire approach has attracted criticism both from within Sweden, from a group of epidemiologists, as well from other countries which are locking down public life to curb the outbreak.

The Public Health Agency’s lead epidemiologist, and a key figure in Sweden’s national response to the coronavirus, is Anders Tegnell. He told CNBC that although his country’s strategy to tackle the virus was different, the aim was the same.

“My view is that basically all European countries are trying to do the same thing — we’re trying to slow down the spread as much as possible to keep healthcare and society working … and we have shown some different methods to slow down the spread,” he told CNBC Monday.

“Sweden has gone mostly for voluntary measures because that’s how we’re used to working,” Tegnell added. “And we have a long tradition that it works rather well.”

He said the agency had explained to the population why social distancing was needed, “and so far, it’s been working reasonably well.”

Sweden has 3,700 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has recorded 110 deaths, the latest data from the Public Health Agency shows.

In contrast, Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak, has almost 100,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths, the latest data showed Sunday. Meanwhile Spain, the second worst-hit country in Europe, has close to 80,000 confirmed cases and 6,500 deaths. The U.K., considered to be around two weeks behind Italy in terms of the outbreak, has recorded almost 20,000 cases and 1,228 deaths from the virus. 

“The incline (in infection and death rates) in Sweden is less steep than in many countries and that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve,” Tegnell said, adding that opinion polls showed the Swedish public were overall in favor of the agency’s approach.

Tegnell didn’t rule out more stringent measures in Sweden, however, telling CNBC that if there was a sharp increase in cases, the government and Public Health Agency would have a “big discussion on what other measures we can take.” 

This weekend, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that isolating Stockholm could happen if the outbreak worsens, but that such measures are not currently being discussed. He had previously insisted that successfully combating the spread of the virus was largely dependent on individual behavior.

Life carries on

Sweden has not completely diverged from the rest of Europe. In a similar way to its neighbors, Sweden’s government has advocated working from home if at all possible, avoiding non-essential travel and the elderly are advised to avoid social contact. Of course, advice to wash hands regularly has also been promoted.

Restaurants, bars, cafés and nightclubs have been told to offer seated table service only. And as of Sunday, gatherings of more than 50 people are banned (the country had initially suspended gatherings of more than 500 people). It has also closed universities and colleges, but schools with students under 16 years old remain open.

As such, compared to elsewhere in Europe, life in Sweden feels eerily normal, Stockholm residents say.

“Being both an expat and an educator at a secondary school in Stockholm, I feel conflicted,” Erik, a teacher at school in Stockholm, told CNBC Sunday.

“I still need to go into work, on a crowded bus, to teach my students who are advised to keep coming into school. We are all set up for distant learning, but secondary schools are not closing any time soon,” he said.

He added that some colleagues were brushing off concerns about coronavirus saying, “It’s just the flu, I’m more worried about the start of the pollen season,” and he also referred to the “great trust” Swedes have in their public institutions.

People walk at Strandvagen in Stockholm on March 28, 2020, during the the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. – Sweden, which has stayed open for business with a softer approach to curbing the COVID-19 spread than most of Europe, on March 27, 2020 limited gatherings to 50 people, down from 500.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND

Tom, an Englishman who works in construction in Stockholm, said he was impressed that the country remained so calm.

“Besides the obvious social media influences, I think if they would have enforced harsher initiatives like other countries there would have been more panic,” he said.

“People have been good in accommodating small changes in their lives to help stop the spread, and have been very helpful to each other … To be honest, Sweden has behaved exactly as I would have expected the Swedes to behave.” 

Stockholm residents acknowledged that there has been a decline in activity in the city, and yet social life continues.

“On Friday evening, when I went on my way home, I saw loads of groups of both young and middle-aged people hanging out on one of the central squares in Stockholm. It amazed me,” Erik said.

“Whether the Swedish strategy is based on science, reluctance to limit people’s freedom, or on trust that citizens will do what is needed, is not clear to me, at all.”

Tide turning?

Restrictions or not, Sweden’s economy won’t escape unscathed from the crisis. Last week, Swedbank forecast that the economy would contract 4% in 2020.

“The downturn in the Swedish economy is broader and faster than during the financial crisis. Unemployment will reach 10% already by summer, despite unprecedented fiscal stimulus,” Swedbank said in its report released last Wednesday.

“Most sectors in the Swedish economy are bleeding. In the services sector, several companies are completely without demand, abandoned as cautious households have gone home. Manufacturing is struggling with broken supply chains and falling demand.” 

The Swedish government has said that its aim is to limit the spread of infection in the country and the impact on critical services, and it has introduced some measures to limit the economic impact of the virus.

Last week, it announced an aid package for small- and medium-sized enterprises, saying it will guarantee 70% of new loans banks provide to companies that are experiencing financial difficulty due to the virus. It also temporarily reduced social security contributions and introduced company rent support

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Italy coronavirus deaths above 10000, Conte warns against EU anger

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CREMONA, ITALY – MARCH 29: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A male nurse is getting the handover from the head nurse at Cremona Hospital on March 29, 2020 in Cremona, Italy.

Marco Mantovani

The coronavirus outbreak isn’t showing any major signs of easing in Italy, where the death toll surpassed 10,000 over the weekend. 

Italy has been the worst-hit country by the pandemic so far in Europe, with the highest number of deaths and cases among its 60 million citizens. The country has grappled with the outbreak since its first cases emerged in late February, imposing a nation-wide lockdown in early March. 

“We are in the most acute phase,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the newspaper El Pais Sunday. 

There have been 97,689 confirmed cases in total, which includes 13,030 recoveries and 10,779 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Italian government, released Sunday evening. 

“Experts are still cautious, but it is reasonable to think that we are near the peak,” Conte added. 

However, there are growing fears in the southern part of Italy that there could be a surge in cases in the coming days. The outbreak in the country has so far been most concentrated in its industrial northern heartland.

LIVORNO, ITALY – MARCH 29: A pizza chef prepares pizza while wearing a protective mask in his pizzeria which is closed to the public on March 29, 2020 in Livorno, Italy. In Italy the pizzerias are closed, but home delivery is allowed.

Laura Lezza

Vincenzo de Luca, governor of the southern region of Campania, warned last week in a letter to the government that “there is the real possibility that there will be a tragedy in the south.” In general, southern parts of the country are less developed and are likely to face bigger challenges when responding to the virus.

The first cases of Covid-19 emerged in the north of Italy. However, when the first lockdown measures were introduced, they only applied to that area, which meant that many Italians returned to their home regions in the south, potentially spreading the virus across the country.

Daily increases fall in Spain

Meanwhile, in Spain, authorities are being cautiously optimistic about the outbreak, having noticed a reduction in the number of new cases over the weekend.

Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, told reporters on Sunday that “one needs to be careful about the latest figures,” but pointed out that there was a 13% rise in new cases on Saturday, followed by a 9% rise in new cases the following day.

Spain has reported a total of 78,797 confirmed cases, of which 14,709 have recovered from the illness and 6,528 have died, according to the numbers released by the Spanish government on Sunday.

The European challenge

The coronavirus outbreak is shaking the politics of the European Union (EU) by resurfacing old divisions between the 27 member states. 

Italy and Spain, the countries with the highest cases and deaths from the virus, have asked for more European support as the outbreak has brought their economies to a halt.

However, certain EU nations are reluctant to take unprecedented steps in helping these nations because of the risk of jeopardizing public opinion in their home countries.

“If the EU does not live up to its vocation and its role in this historical situation, will citizens have more confidence in it or will they permanently lose it?,” Italy’s Conte asked during the interview with El Pais.

He added that the risk of a higher anti-EU sentiment was “obvious” as a result. “Nationalist instincts, in Italy, but also in Spain and elsewhere, will be much stronger if Europe is not up to the task,” he said. 

Italy, Spain, France and six other EU countries believe that countries sharing the euro as a currency should issue common debt. This instrument would be used to mitigate the economic impact of the virus across all of the impacted nations. 

However, a six-hour call among EU heads of state ended Thursday with no major outcome, with the Netherlands and Germany blocking prospects of joint European issuance.

The idea of so-called “corona bonds” is not supported by the fiscally conservative nations in the north of Europe. Overall, they do not want to be linked with highly indebted nations.

“Within Europe, and really the world at large, it ought to be everyone’s business how each country deals with the crisis because we won’t return to the free movement of people, goods and services across the EU until this health crisis is under control in all member countries,” Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit, said in a note Sunday.

“Therefore, it seems reasonable to me that the cost of testing, building prevention measures and treatment is shared across Europe,” he added.

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UK and US lockdown could go on for months

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A near-deserted Regent Street in London, England, on March 26, 2020. According to the latest daily figures a total of 578 people have so far died across the UK after testing positive for the covid-19 coronavirus.

David Cliff | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The lockdown in the U.K. to stop the coronavirus outbreak could last for up to six months, government officials warned Sunday, as the U.S. and other European nations also announced prolonged restrictions on public life.

Speaking at the U.K.’s daily press conference on the latest coronavirus news, the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer said a lockdown could last, in some form, for months.

“Over time, probably over the next six months, we will have a three week review,” Jenny Harries said, “We will see where we’re going.”

“We need to keep that lid on and then gradually we will be able to hopefully adjust some of the social-distancing measures and gradually get us all back to normal. So I think three weeks for review, two or three months to see whether we’ve really squashed it. But about three to six months ideally, and lots of uncertainty in that, but then to see at which point we can actually get back to normal.”

Harries said that if the measures were extended then it’s not to say that the U.K. “would be in complete lockdown for six months,” but she added that it was also plausible that the measures could be extended beyond that six-month mark.

The U.K. is entering its second week of national lockdown, while other European countries have endured longer restrictions amid rising death tolls. Italy and Spain are the worst hit countries; in Italy, the total number of confirmed cases is nearing 100,000 (the death toll as of Sunday was 10,779 people) while in Spain there are just over 80,000 confirmed cases and 6,803 deaths.

The number of confirmed cases in the U.K. rose to 19,784 on Sunday, with the death toll standing at 1,228, as of Saturday.

The U.K. is thought to be several weeks behind Italy in terms of infections, although it is hoping that lockdown measures can stop the spread of the outbreak and limit a hit on the country’s overstretched health service. Brits are currently advised not to leave their homes unless they need to buy food, or for exercise once a day.

It was confirmed last week that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have both contracted the virus; Johnson insisted he would remain in charge of coordinating government while self-isolating at his official residence in Downing Street. The country’s chief medical officer also said he was experiencing symptoms of the virus last week.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump extended the national social distancing guidelines to April 30, rowing back from previous remarks that he wanted the country to reopen for business by Easter.

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory has been won,” Trump said at an evening press briefing after suggesting that the coronavirus death rate would likely peak in two weeks.

Germany, with over 62,000 confirmed cases, has said it won’t lift restrictions on public life until April 20 and Italy, which was due to review its own lockdown measures on April 3, has said these could be extended until July 31. Spain extended its state of emergency, and accompanying restrictions, to April 11

The U.K. government is to send a letter to Britain’s 30 million households, warning them the situation around coronavirus will get worse before it improves. It’s still to be seen whether restrictive measures imposed on the country are effective in stalling the spread of the disease.

“We actually anticipate our numbers will get worse over the next week, possibly two, and then we are looking to see whether we have managed to push that curve down and we start to see a decline,” Harries noted Sunday.

The government, and health service, could get a boost from an unlikely source in the coming weeks after Mercedes’ Formula One (F1) team worked with clinicians and engineers from London’s University College London, and its next door hospital, to fast-track the building of a breathing aid that delivers oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator, the BBC reported.  The device can help keep people with the coronavirus from having to go into intensive care wards, thus easing pressure on the health service.

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