Virus disrupts US schools, sports, late-night television

The Golden State Warriors will play in an empty arena after San Francisco banned non-essential events. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: Coronavirus spurred more disruptions to US daily life on Wednesday as the largest public school district in Washington state announced a two-week closure, and the governor banned public gatherings of more than 250 people in the Seattle region.

The greater Seattle area is the epicentre of the deadliest, and one of the largest, clusters of coronavirus infections in the United States, accounting for the bulk of at least 32 people killed by the highly contagious respiratory illness, also known as Covid-19.

The outbreak took a major toll on US sports as the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Wednesday that its wildly popular “March Madness” basketball tournament games will be played in arenas without fans.

The Golden State Warriors of the NBA likewise said it will play home games in empty stadiums after San Francisco on Wednesday banned non-essential social events of 1,000 people or more.

Even late-night television is taking a hit, with at least two shows produced in New York City – NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” – planning to begin taping without a live studio audience for the first time, Hollywood trade publication Variety reported.

The federal government appeared likely to take action to discourage Americans from visiting Europe and a top health official warned that the US outbreak will grow worse.

Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told a congressional hearing that the outbreak was headed on an upward trajectory.

“We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are now,” Fauci told the House of Representatives Oversight Committee.

President Donald Trump, who has publicly downplayed the risks from coronavirus in recent weeks, said he would address economics and healthcare aspects of the outbreak in remarks from the White House at abound 9pm EDT.

“I am fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Stocks plunge again

Wall Street stocks plunged due to uncertainties surrounding coronavirus, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average confirming a bear market for the first time in over a decade.

The market concern was compounded by a Reuters report that the White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified.

Sources familiar with the matter said the White House was considering issuing advisories against Americans’ visiting Europe as well as potential new restrictions on travellers from some European nations entering the country.

In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee prohibited gatherings of over 250 people in three Seattle-area counties and said he may soon close all schools as the state suffered the deadliest outbreak in the United States.

Seattle Public Schools announced a cancellation of all classes and other activities, including childcare and athletics, for at least two weeks starting on Thursday in a measure designed to “disrupt widespread infection” by the coronavirus.

The closure, idling some 53,000 students, is believed to mark the first US big-city school district to halt instruction due to the coronavirus.

Washington state has documented more than 281 coronavirus cases, including 24 deaths, most of them concentrated in the Seattle area around a long-term care facility in the suburb of Kirkland.

The number of infections nationwide has climbed steadily, with cases identified in nearly three-quarters of US states.

More than 1,100 cases and 32 deaths have been reported overall, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The World Health Organization described the coronavirus, which emerged late last year in China and causes a respiratory illness that can be fatal, as a pandemic on Wednesday for the first time.

Stimulus measures

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was looking into steps that could put hundreds of billions of dollars into the US economy to shield it from a slowdown brought on by the disruption from coronavirus.

The White House is examining payroll tax relief measures, loan guarantees, reimbursing workers for lost pay, aid to small and mid-sized businesses and support for airlines, hotels and other travel businesses, Mnuchin said.

“Whatever we do, kind of in the next 48 hours, that’s just the first step. And I think there’s big bipartisan support,” Mnuchin told a House committee.

Social and public routines have seen widespread disruptions for weeks, with concerts and conferences cancelled and universities closing their campuses as they shift to online instruction.

Public gatherings have been suspended in a coronavirus “hot zone” in New Rochelle, a New York City suburb.

Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were reassessing how to campaign in the face of the spreading outbreak.