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Virus outbreak aboard US aircraft carrier as deaths pass 40,000


Dozens of sailors aboard a US navy aircraft carrier have contracted coronavirus, prompting calls to isolate most of the 5000-strong crew ashore and take the nuclear warship out of action.


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The captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, now docked at Guam, has told US navy leaders that the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating aboard his ship and that removing all but 10 per cent of the crew is a “necessary risk” in order to limit infections.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors,” captain Brett Crozier in a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

A US navy official said Crozier alerted commanders on Sunday evening of the continuing challenges in isolating the virus.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Crozier wants more isolated housing for the crew and that navy leadership is reviewing options to ensure the health and safety of the crew.

The carrier, like other navy ships, is vulnerable to infectious disease spread given its close quarters.

US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral John Aquilino told reporters on Tuesday that the Navy is working to get as many sailors as possible on shore, while still maintaining a core crew to monitor the nuclear reactors and keep the ship running.

He said the pace may not be as fast as the commander would like, but it will be done on a rotation, with sailors staying on shore in isolation for 14 days, then returning to the ship virus-free so that others can go ashore.

Asked about efforts to isolate sailors on shore, he said the Navy is doing what it can with facilities that are available. Officials are working with the government of Guam to try to get hotel rooms that will allow for greater isolation, Aquilino said.

Aquilino would not discuss exact numbers or timelines, but agreed with Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s assertion that about 1,000 sailors have been taken off the ship so far. He added that no sailors are currently hospitalised.

It comes as the number of infections worldwide passed 800,000, with more than 40,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Italy, which has been under lockdown since February 20, reported 837 more deaths overnight, taking its tally to a world-leading 12,428.

With the country’s health care system buckling under the pressure, an intensive care field hospital, built in just 10 days, was opened at the Milan fairgrounds.

Italy’s total infections, including recoveries and deaths, reached 105,792, a 4.0-per-cent increase from Monday.

But the country’s emergency co-ordinator, Domenico Arcuri, acknowledged that officials don’t have a handle on how many people outside of hospitals are contracting the virus and how many are dying at home or in nursing homes.

Spain reported more than 840 new deaths, pushing the death toll above 8000 and forcing Madrid to open a second temporary morgue after an ice rink pressed into service last week became overwhelmed.

Dozens of hotels across Spain have been turned into recovery rooms for patients in less-serious condition, and authorities are building field hospitals in sports centres, libraries and exhibition halls.

A 12-year-old girl became the youngest person to die in Belgium, though it was not disclosed whether she suffered from any underlying condition.

The US death toll from coronavirus climbed past 3500 to eclipse China’s official toll, with 1550 of those in New York.

A Navy hospital ship with 1000 beds that docked in New York on Monday was expected to begin accepting non-coronavirus patients on Tuesday.

In Florida, the Holland America cruise line pleaded with state officials to let two ships dock and carry off the sick and the dead.

But Governor Ron Santis said: “We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources.”

Dozens on one of the ships have reported flu-like symptoms and four people have died.

Britain reported its highest daily jump of 381 deaths from the coronavirus, taking its total to nearly 1800.

The 27-per-cent rise in deaths on Tuesday was partly due to the inclusion of a few dozen deaths outside hospitals that were not previously included in Britain’s COVID-19 data, according to the government.

The total number of confirmed infections rose to 25,150 from 143,000 people tested, but government health experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of people are probably infected.

UK Health authorities have tested an average of about 7500 people each day over the past week, falling short of the government’s target of at least 10,000 tests.

France plans to quickly ramp up domestic production of face masks and respirators, with President Emmanuel Macron saying the country needed at least 40 million face masks per week and that current domestic production and stocks were insufficient.

The country’s factories would boost output and by the end of April they should be able to produce 15 million face masks per week, he said.

Macron also said that France has put together a consortium to build more ventilators.

Indonesian has declared a public health emergency, with confirmed cases rising from none in early March to 1528, with 136 deaths.

Indonesia suspended all foreign arrivals on Tuesday after a study showed more than 140,000 people in the country could die of the virus without tougher action

In Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan is under growing pressure to impose a lockdown but insists that Turkey should “keep wheels turning” in the economy and that people continue going to work.

Ankara has stopped all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes, suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures to counter the outbreak.

The authorities have not, however, ordered people to stay at home, even as the number of cases in Turkey has risen sharply. On Monday these reached 10,827, less than three weeks since Turkey registered its first case.

The death toll jumped to 168, drawing fresh calls for tighter measures.

With Turkey emerging from a recession triggered by a 2018 currency crisis, Erdogan aims to avoid endangering the recovery by enforcing a stay-at-home order that would halt economic activity and has called instead for voluntary self-isolation.

China on Tuesday reported just one new death from the coronavirus and 48 new cases, claiming that all new infections came from overseas.

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for the Western Pacific, cautioned, however, that the risk in Asia and the Pacific “will not go away as long as the pandemic continues”.

“This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard,” Kasai said. “We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation.”

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