15th March 2020 – United Kingdom – 1,372 (+232) Cases ¦ 35 (+14) Deaths


More stories added soon.

21:29 Central banks partner over US dollar liquidity swaps

In another move to steady the global economy, the US Federal Reserve said it has signed an agreement with the central banks of Canada, Japan, Switzerland, the UK and the European Central Bank.

Under the deal, the banks have agreed to lower the price of standing US dollar liquidity swap arrangements by 25 basis points. This means the new rate will be equivalent to the US dollar overnight index swap (OIS) rate plus 25 basis points.

A currency swap line is an agreement allowing two central banks to exchange their native currencies. They are typically used to fund market interventions, preserve financial stability and protect national economies from the impact of market tensions.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, said the new agreement “will help economies to bridge the disruption from an economic shock that could prove sharp and large, but should be temporary.”

21:16 US Federal Reserve slashes interest rates

The US Federal Reserve has made its second emergency cut to interest rates in less than two weeks.

In a statement, the central bank said it would lower the benchmark borrowing rate to a range of 0-0.25%.

It has pledged to keep it at this level “until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events.”

21:06 Israel approves phone monitoring to track virus

Israel’s government has approved the use of anti-terrorism tracking technology in the fight against coronavirus.

Under the measure, Israel’s security service Shin Bet will be able to track the movements of those whose have tested positive for virus, and discover the identities of anyone who may have come into contact with them. The monitoring will include phone data.

In a tweet, Transport Minister Betzalel Smotrich insisted the move wouldn’t lead to “a Big Brother state”.

Plans to introduce wide-scale cyber-tracking were criticised earlier this week by Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing Meretz party. Mr Horowitz said the “intrusive measures” would be “a harsh blow to privacy and basic liberty”.

20:27 Ohio to close bars and restaurants

Ohio has become the first US state to order to the closure of all bars and restaurants, except for home deliveries and collections.

In a tweet, state Governor Mike DeWine said the order would come into effect from 2100 local time (0100 GMT).

19:50 Czech government introduces harshest restrictions in decades

From midnight on Sunday, the Czech Republic will effectively seal its borders in an effort contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Czechs are being encouraged to return home immediately. Those who find themselves stranded outside the country’s borders after midnight will still be allowed to return home, although those arriving from 15 ‘high-risk’ countries will have to undergo quarantine. But once home they – along with virtually every Czech citizen – will not be allowed to leave the country for the duration of the 30-day state of emergency.

It’s the most draconian restrictions introduced by a Czech government in the country’s 27 years as an independent state.

Jan Hamacek, Czech Minister of the Interior, told the BBC it is “the only effective way” to combat the outbreak.

Most Czechs appear broadly sympathetic to the measures for perilous days, although there are voices of dissent.

Petr Kutilek, a local politician for the Green Party, said he believed the government had not given a proper explanation of why such extreme limits were being imposed.

“They also raise doubts that [the government] is in fact covering up for failures in providing health care professionals and other frontline responders with respirators and other vital equipment,” he added.

For most Czechs, free movement is one of the hallowed four freedoms of EU membership. People seem ready to relinquish that right. At least for 30 days.

19:25 Virus cases spike in France

France has joined Italy and Spain in recording a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Oliver Veran told news outlet France 2 that around 5,400 cases have been reported around the country, nearly 1,000 more than Saturday.

The number of virus-related deaths has also risen from 91 to 120 during the last 24 hours.

18:59 Curfew in Iraqi capital

Iraqi officials have imposed a curfew in the nation’s capital, Baghdad, as they attempt to control the spread of coronavirus.

There are currently 110 confirmed cases of the virus in Iraq.

The state news agency announced that the curfew would be in effect from 17 to 24 March, Reuters news agency reports.

Iraqi officials had earlier banned domestic travel from today until 25 March, except for emergencies, trade and those commuting for work.

18:41 South Africa closes borders to ‘high-risk’ countries

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the nation’s borders will be closed to all foreign nationals from “high-risk” countries: Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and China.

He said the travel ban would come in effect on 18 March.

“Any person who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa,” the president said. “South African citizens returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to testing and self-isolation or quarantine on return to South Africa.”

He also said additional screenings would begin at airports, government travel would be limited, and gatherings of more than 100 people were now prohibited. Schools will also close from 18 March until after the Easter weekend.

South Africa has the second-highest number of cases on the continent – 61, according to AFP news agency.

Most infected individuals had recently travelled to Europe.

18:31 Could the US see domestic travel restrictions?

During a briefing on Saturday, the White House suggested domestic travel restrictions could be next.

But the US infectious diseases chief Dr Anthony Fauci told ABC News on Sunday the move has “not been seriously discussed”.

“I don’t see that right now in the immediate future,” Dr Fauci said. “But remember, we are very open minded about whatever it takes to preserve the health of the American public.”

There are currently over 2,900 confirmed cases in the US, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. There have been 57 deaths so far.

Dr Fauci said he was confident that currently, the government was doing everything it can to control the outbreak.

“You’ve got to be almost overreacting a bit to keep up with it,” he said, adding that people “need to understand that things will get worse before they get better”.

18:25 EU to pool members’ health resources

The European Union has announced a series of measures to pool resources among its 27 members in order to help to fight coronavirus and protect national health services across the Continent.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, said the aim was to ramp up the production of protective equipment like masks and suits, and to prevent it being exported outside of the bloc without authorisation from EU governments.

Under the measures, equipment would be shared across EU members instead of each country making it for their own use.

17:59 Irish government asks pubs to close

Ireland’s government has called for the closure of all pubs and bars in the country from this evening “until at least 29 March”.

In a statement, it also called on members of the public to refrain from organising or goiing to parties “in private houses or other venues which would put other people’s health at risk”.

17:54 Puerto Rico issues curfew

The US territory of Puerto Rico has implemented an island-wide curfew to try to prevent the virus spreading.

“We must take forceful measures like those being taken in other countries,” Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced said in a Spanish-language address on Sunday.

There are exemptions from the curfew for people who have authorisation to work.

The curfew, which begins today, is in force from 21:00 to 05:00 and will last until 30 March. Businesses, except pharmacies and health services, grocery stores, banks and gas stations are also expected to partially close, local media report.

Puerto Rico has three confirmed Covid-19 cases.

17:22 Italy coronavirus deaths hit new record

Italy has reported 368 more coronavirus deaths, a new one-day record.

Lombardy – the country’s worst affected region – accounted for 252 of the total.

Nationwide the total death toll is more than 1,800.

17:06 Netherlands to close schools

Dutch Health Minister Bruno Bruins has announced that schools and crèches around the country will be closed from Monday until 6 April.

Bars, sports clubs, sex shops and coffee shops will also be shut from tonight.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to address the nation tomorrow.

The Dutch health ministry has reported 176 new cases during the last 24 hours, along with eight virus-related deaths. The total number of infections around the country now stands at 1,135.

17:25 Nick Hancock On The Andrew Marr Show