Coronavirus Updates: First Death in U.S. Confirmed In Seattle Area

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Saturday that it was authorizing American laboratories to develop their own coronavirus tests, which should significantly increase the country’s testing capacity.

The effect could be rapid. About 80 labs and private companies have applied for emergency approval for tests they have already created. If they have submitted evidence that the tests work, the labs and companies will be able to use them immediately, rather than wait for the F.D.A. to complete reviews and issue approvals.

“This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation,” the F.D.A.’s commissioner, Stephen M. Hahn, said in a statement.

Experts have been frustrated with the limited availability of coronavirus tests in the U.S., which until now could only be provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Broader testing will enable more rapid detection and isolation of people who have the coronavirus to help contain the spread of disease.

Troubling new signs of how the coronavirus is spreading in the United States and United Kingdom have emerged, as cases not explained by overseas travel or contact with a person known to be infected were reported in California, Oregon and Washington State, as well as England.

Officials from the three western states announced that their testing had found new cases: a high school student from Washington State; an employee of a school in Oregon, near Portland; and a woman in Santa Clara County, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley.

In Britain, the health authorities were investigating the country’s first known case of local transmission. The patient was believed to be a man from Surrey, in southeastern England, who had not traveled abroad recently, according to the BBC.

The patient was being treated at a specialist center in Central London, Professor Whitty said. Three further cases were confirmed on Saturday, he said, two recently returned from Italy and one recently returned from Asia.

The latest diagnoses raised the number of coronavirus cases in Britain to 23, with 18 in England and one each in Northern Ireland and Wales.

The announcement came after a man who was infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan became the first Briton to die from coronavirus.

In the United States, 65 cases of the virus have been reported, but until this week, all of them could be explained by overseas travel or contact with someone who had been ill. The three new cases on Friday, and a case earlier in the week, in California, were the first in the United States in which the cause was mysterious and unknown — a sign, experts warned, that the virus might now be spreading in this country.

“If we were worried yesterday, we are even more worried today,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Now we have to ask: How widely, really widely, is this virus out there?”

As word emerged of the unexplained cases, local officials scrambled to trace everyone who had come in contact with those who were ill. California health officials said they were increasing testing. And in Washington State, officials suggested that people needed to prepare for the possibility of schools closing and businesses keeping workers home.

“We’re going to be increasingly recommending that people try and avoid crowds and close contact with other people,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, said. “We may get to a point where we want to recommend canceling large public gatherings — social events, sporting events, entertainment — until we get over a hump of what might be a large outbreak.”

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the globe passed 85,000 on Saturday, according to a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University that draws on data from four sources, including the World Health Organization.

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak.

Of the more than 85,400 cases recorded, more than 79,000 were in mainland China.

Qatar confirmed its first case of the virus on Saturday, its health ministry said, bringing the number of countries where the virus has been detected to at least 57. The country’s health ministry said in a statement that the patient was a 36-year-old Qatari citizen who had been in quarantine since recently returning from Iran.

Iran, which has been at the center of the virus’s spread in the region, confirmed an additional 205 cases on Saturday, bringing its official total to 593. It also confirmed a further nine deaths from the virus, bringing the official death toll in the country to 43.

France will ban gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces and all gatherings in Oise, its region most affected by the coronavirus, the country’s health minister said on Saturday, as he reported a further 16 confirmed cases of the virus.

Also on Saturday, Mr. Kim, North Korea’s leader, convened the Politburo of his ruling party to order an all-out campaign to prevent an outbreak, state media reported. The North has not reported any coronavirus cases, but there has been concern that it could be hiding an outbreak.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said that officials had discussed “measures to deter the influx and spread of the infectious disease in a scientific, pre-emptive and lockdown way.”

North Korea has already closed its 930-mile border with China, where the coronavirus emerged, and its border with Russia, as well as suspending all flights and trains to and from China and asking all foreign diplomats not to leave their compounds. But the Chinese border, which runs along a shallow river, has long been porous for smugglers.

The state media report Saturday also said that Mr. Kim had fired one of his top aides, Ri Man-gon, and another official for corruption, but it was unclear whether the dismissals were connected to the antivirus campaign.

Officials from the civil aviation administrator and China Development Bank will take over the responsibility of managing the company’s risk, HNA said on Saturday. The group would be led by Gu Gang, who is chairman of Hainan Development Holdings Co., the investment unit of the government of Hainan.

HNA also said that it would add two more seats to its board, including Mr. Gu, who would become executive chairman. Ren Qinghua, another official and director of the Administrative Committee of Yangpu Economic Development, would join the board and be made co-chief executive officer alongside Adam Tan, the current top executive.

In Europe, the Britain’s FTSE 100 fell more than 3 percent and the Dax in Germany fell more than 4 percent. In Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Japan closed down 3.7 percent, the KOSPI in South Korea dropped 3.3 percent and the Shanghai Composite in China dropped 3.7 percent.

Reporting and research were contributed by Peter Eavis, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Choe Sang-Hun, Thomas Fuller, Sheri Fink, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Raphael Minder, Amy Qin, Sui-Lee Wee, Vivian Wang, Katie Rogers, Apoorva Mandavilli, Peter Robins, Norimitsu Onishi, Motoko Rich and Makiko Inoue.

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