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Coronavirus live blog: Vaccine trial starts Monday; CDC recommends no events with 50 or more

Globally the coronavirus pandemic has infected 150,000 people and killed over 5,700. For most, the disease causes mild symptoms. For some, it can be severe.

WASHINGTON — Key updates

  • President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and the Coronavirus Task Force held press conference updating the nation about the virus.
  • The Federal Reserve took emergency action and slashed its benchmark interest rate by a full percentage point to nearly zero.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs to close. New York City's mayor says he'll order similar restrictions and the state's governor says more ICU beds are needed.
  • Cruise lines have suspended service for 30 days to battle the virus.
  • Hoboken, New Jersey, imposed a tight curfew to battle the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Travelers entering the U.S. over the weekend faced hours-long lines at immigration checkpoints in airports because of screenings for coronavirus. 
  • The White House is considering U.S. travel restrictions to contain the coronavirus outbreak. 
  • The United Kingdom is likely to introduce a proposal asking those over 70 to reportedly stay home for up to four months, according to British media. 
  • Worldwide, countries are imposing travel restrictions, and restrictions on movement to try and contain the coronavirus pandemic.

New York City to limit all bars, restaurants to take-out and deliveries

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he will limit all bars and restaurants to take-out and deliveries in attempt to slow the coronavirus.

He says he will sign an executive order to implement the restrictions, which will also close nightclubs, movie theaters and concert venues. It'll go into effect Tuesday at 9 a.m.

"This is not a decision I make lightly. These places are part of the heart and soul of our city. They are part of what it means to be a New Yorker. But our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality," de Blasio tweeted.

United to cut flight capacity

CHICAGO (AP) — United Airlines says it will cut flight capacity by half in April and May, expects the cuts to extend to summer travel.

Michael Jordan, Hornets supporting part-time workers

Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and the Hornets players have partnered to establish a fund to provide financial assistance to the team’s part-time employees adversely affected by the loss of games and events due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Payments from the fund will assist more than 500 part-time staff.

The fund will impact employees who serve in various capacities during games and events, including ushers, ticket takers, box office attendants, entertainers, public safety officers, retail staff, guest services personnel, technical operations and others.

The part-time staff for the Hornets will be compensated through the end of the scheduled NBA season on April 13. There also will be assistance for part-time employees working Spectrum Center concerts and Greensboro Swarm part-time staff through the end of March.

White House acts to protect President Trump

The White House is putting in place new measures to protect President Donald Trump and his staff during the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting Monday, the White House will take the temperature of anyone entering the complex, from visitors to members of the press corps. The new measures expand on screenings the White House began on Saturday for anyone who will get close to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Members of the press corps are also taking steps, independent of the White House, to limit their own exposure to the coronavirus.

REI retail stores closes until March 27

As the COVID-19 outbreak spreads, the recreational equipment company announced it will close all of its retail stores from March 16 until March 27.

The 162 stores nationwide will close.

"I believe that is the right thing for our community," Eric Artz President & CEO of REI Co-op said. "In fact, I believe it is our duty—to do all we can to help keep one another safe in this unprecedented moment."

The company said all employees will be paid during the temporary closure, and all online orders will have free shipping.

Government virus testing plan prioritizes medical staff, elderly

The federal government's effort to ramp up testing for the coronavirus will initially prioritize health care workers and the elderly.

Trump administration officials on Sunday described a targeted, government-driven effort to screen for the virus in the most vulnerable Americans and those able to treat them. Officials said federal emergency and health workers would partner with states to set up community centers capable of testing 2,000 to 4,000 people per day.

The details come amid growing frustration about lack of access to testing and concerns the virus is spreading undetected.

Democratic Debate: Sanders, Biden clash on best response to coronavirus

For the first time, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders went head-to-head during a Democratic presidential campaign on Sunday. The first main topic: COVID-19.

Both addressed how they'd respond to the new virus. It's the first debate between just the two Democratic presidential contenders and the first since the U.S. dramatically increased its response to the virus.

RELATED: Democratic debate: Biden, Sanders call for more testing to combat coronavirus pandemic

Sanders says if he were president he would make sure no one has to pay for coronavirus testing or treatment. Biden later said he also believes no one should have to pay.

Biden says every state needs to have at least 10 drive-thru testing locations and that the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency need to be making plans to set up additional hospital beds.

Credit: AP
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, wipes their faces with tissues as they wait to participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

CDC: Events with 50 people or more should postpone

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday new large events and mass gathering guidelines surrounding the new coronavirus.

The federal agency said it recommends for the next eight weeks organizers cancel or postpone in-person events that involve 50 people or more throughout the United States. It said this includes conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, etc. However, the new guideline does not include schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses.

The CDC said events can continue only if they can protect vulnerable populations, practice hand hygiene and follow through with social distancing.  

Government official: Vaccine trial starts Monday

A clinical trial evaluating a vaccine designed to protect against the new coronavirus will begin Monday. A government official says the first participant in the trial will receive the experimental vaccine that day. 

The National Institutes of Health is funding the trial that is taking place at a Kaiser Permanente research facility in Washington state. Public health officials say it will take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine. 

RELATED: NIH employee tests positive for coronavirus

Stock futures sink after rate cut, new virus restrictions

Stock markets are set for another week of turbulent trading as U.S. index futures fell sharply after the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates and more companies and governments took action over the weekend to shut down European and American society.

Futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 5%, triggering a halt in trading. The price of oil fell while gold gained.

Stocks are coming off a dizzying week that saw the Dow twice fall by more than 2,000 points and also record it's biggest point gain every _ 1,985 points on Friday. Europe markets suffered some of their biggest declines ever.

Trump: Relax, don't hoard groceries; Fed slashes rates

The White House held a press conference with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and the Coronavirus Task Force on Sunday evening.

Trump started by congratulating the Federal Reserve for taking emergency action by slashing its benchmark interest rate by a full percentage point to nearly zero. Feds also announced it would purchase more Treasury securities to encourage lending to try to offset the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

He also told Americans "there's no need to horde" supplies, as more states, cities announce restrictions to contain the virus.

RELATED: Fed slashes rates to near zero, eases bank lending rules

The president continued his speech thanking Google for a new coronavirus tool. The company has partnered with the government to develop a website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources nationwide.

The new tool is expected to include best practices on prevention, links to authoritative information from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, and helpful tips and tools from Google for individuals, teachers and businesses. 

Trump’s Sunday message comes as many supermarket shelves across the country have been picked bare, with people stockpiling supplies like canned goods and toilet paper.

RELATED: President Trump urges public to 'relax' and stop hoarding

Trump said at a White House briefing that stores are working to keep up with demand but added “there's no need for anyone in the country to hoard” essentials.

"You don't have to buy so much. Take it easy. Just relax.” he said. "It all will pass,” he said, adding: "Can you buy a little bit less, please.”

Trump held a call earlier Sunday with the officials from the nation’s leading grocery stores. He said he was told the stores are stocking up even more than they would around Christmas time.

Pence urged Americans to only buy the groceries they need for the week ahead. Meanwhile, one of the nation's most senior public health officials has called on the nation to act with more urgency to safeguard their health.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning and said people in the U.S. "should be prepared that they're going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing." As the U.S. has now surpassed 2,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, members of the health community are urging strong measures now. Dr. Fauci said, "I would prefer as much as we possibly could ... I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for over-reacting."

Two more briefings by the Coronavirus Task Force are expected to be held on Monday.

Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate at 8 p.m. Eastern is likely to be dominated by the mounting coronavirus crisis. 

Just two candidates are left in the Democratic race: former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. They'll debate in a television studio in Washington without an in-person audience. The debate was moved from Arizona because of concerns about cross-country travel. 

California governor calls for closure of all bars, wineries

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday called for all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs to close in the nation's most populous state and urged seniors and people with chronic conditions to isolate themselves at home in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

RELATED: California Gov. Newsom calls for closure of all bars, wineries

The state also will reduce current occupancy in restaurants by half to keep people farther away from each other, Newsom said at a news conference. It comes as the Illinois governor shut down all bars and restaurants and officials elsewhere said they were considering similar restrictions.

Newsom issued guidance last week to cancel or postpone gatherings large and small that have roiled California's economy, which is the fifth-largest in the world.

Schools have closed, sports games have been called off and theme parks like Disneyland have shut down.

New York City to close schools Monday to fight coronavirus

New York City is closing the nation's largest public school system, sending over 1.1 million children home in hopes of curbing the spread of coronavirus.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that schools will close Monday through at least April 20 and possibly for the school year. The decision follows a growing number of school closures in communities and entire states around the country and mounting pressure in New York from residents, City Council members and others.

The shutdown affects the city's nearly 1,900 public schools. Many private schools already have closed. 

Fed takes emergency steps to slash rates and ease bank rules

The Federal Reserve took emergency action Sunday and slashed its benchmark interest rate by a full percentage point to nearly zero and announced it would purchase more Treasury securities to encourage lending to try to offset the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The central bank said the effects of the outbreak will weigh on economic activity in the near term and pose risks to the economic outlook. The central bank said it will keep rates at nearly zero until it feels confident the economy has weathered recent events.

The Fed also said it will purchase $500 billion of Treasury securities and $200 billion of mortgage-backed securities to smooth over market disruptions that have made it hard for banks and large investors to sell Treasuries.

The disruptions bumped up the yield on the 10-year Treasury last week, an unusual move that threatens to push borrowing costs for mortgages and credit cards higher. The Fed also said it has dropped its requirements that banks hold cash reserves in another move to encourage lending.

NCAA says no brackets for canceled tournaments

NCAA vice president of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt says brackets won’t be created for the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments that were canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Gavit says he made the decision and it was supported by basketball committees.

“There is not an authentic way to produce tournament fields and brackets at this point without speculating,” Gavitt said Sunday, the day the men's NCAA Tournament field had been scheduled to be announced. “And, that isn’t fair to the teams that would be positively or negatively impacted by manufacturing March Madness. More importantly, in light of this global health crisis, I believe we need to keep college basketball in perspective.” 

RELATED: NCAA says no brackets for canceled tournaments

Yankees minor leaguer has virus, 1st MLB-affiliated player

A minor leaguer for the New York Yankees has tested positive for the coronavirus, making him the first known player affiliated with Major League Baseball to contract COVID-19. The Yankees didn’t identify the player.

The team said the player had spent his entire time at the minor league complex in Tampa, Florida, and hadn't been over at the main stadium and facilities used by the major leaguers.

In the wake of the outbreak, Major League Baseball and the union had given players the option to stay at the site of their spring camp, return to their offseason home or go to the club's home city.

RELATED: MLB suspends spring training, opening day pushed back

Lush temporarily closes all 258 stores amid COVID-19 concerns

In a letter on Sunday, Lush announced it will be temporarily closing all of its stores nationwide and in Canada. The cosmetics retailer said it will close all stores from March 16 to 29.

The owners said their online business still will remain up and running, for the time being, so that customers can still access products like soaps.

"With the reduced capacity across the business, our digital orders may take extra time to reach you and we appreciate your understanding and patience with our teams during this transition," the letter by Lush owners Karen and Mark Wolverton said.

 Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas postponed

The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards, which were scheduled to air CBS  Sunday, April 5 from Las Vegas is postponed and will be rescheduled. It's expected to air, still on CBS, in September.

The date and time of the award show hasn't been announced.

The organization said on Sunday that the health and safety of our artists, fans, industry, staff and partners is our number one priority.

“The ACM Awards is a tentpole event for our Country Music industry, and the Academy of Country Music and dick clark productions went to great lengths to find a safe solution for the show to go on so that we can honor our artist community. This decision involved many partners, stakeholders and the industry who we have been in constant conversations with over the past several days as the situation has developed. We look forward to identifying a future date that we can celebrate with our Country community safely,” said Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy of Country Music.

Refunds will be issued for tickets purchased for the ACM Awards and ACM Party for a Cause events, including ACM Lifting Lives Topgolf Tee-Off and ACM Beach Bash.

New York Governor Cuomo says the state needs more ICU beds

In a tweet Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said "it is only a matter of time before ICU beds are full" in New York. Cuomo said, "we need more ICU beds and we need the federal gov’t to help us meet this urgent need." 

Movie ticket sales plunge in North America

Ticket sales plunged to their lowest levels in at least 20 years at North American movie theaters, as the coronavirus pandemic led to one of Hollywood's worst weekend's ever at the box office.

Studio estimates Sunday show receipts totaled about $56 million in U.S. and Canada theaters.

According to data firm Comscore, box office revenues haven't been that low since September 2000. At that time, $54.5 million in tickets were sold on a quiet weekend.

More people went to the movies the weekend after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, in 2001.

RELATED: A Quiet Place 2 release delayed over coronavirus concerns

RELATED: 'No Time to Die' release delayed amid coronavirus outbreak

Disney's latest release from Pixar, “Onward,” remained the top film at the box office, with $10.5 million in its second weekend. The Christian romance “I Still Believe,” from Lionsgate, brought in $9.5 million. Sony's comic-book adaptation “Bloodshot,” with Vin Diesel, grossed an estimated $9.3 million.

All of those totals were notably below expectations.

New Jersey city imposes curfew during coronavirus outbreak

Just across the Hudson River from New York City, a New Jersey city is imposing a curfew on residents amid the virus outbreak.

Hoboken residents must stay in their homes from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning Monday, a daily curfew that's among the first and most far-reaching such measures taken in the U.S.

Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla announced Saturday night that exceptions will be made for emergencies and people required to work.

He also said bars and restaurants can only offer takeout and delivery services. Bars that don't serve food will shut down altogether Sunday.

New Jersey has seen 69 virus cases statewide and two virus-related deaths.

Nike joins other companies making similar moves. Those include Patagonia, Apple, Warby Parker, Urban Outfitters, Glossier and Allbirds who are shutting U.S. stores according to reports. Walmart and Lululemon are limiting store hours.  

Travelers returning to the U.S. from Europe were greeted with hours long waits

Required medical screenings at airports faced crowds of travelers waiting in immigration lines.

President Trump tweeted Sunday in response saying, "We are doing very precise Medical Screenings at our airports. Pardon the interruptions and delays, we are moving as quickly as possible." 

While American citizens, green card holders and some others are allowed to return to the U.S. amid new European travel restrictions, they're being funneled to 13 U.S. airports where they're subject to health screenings and quarantine orders.

Acting Secretary Chad Wolf says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is trying to add additional screening capacity and work with airlines to expedite the process. In tweets posted early Sunday morning, he said it takes about a minute per screening.

Videos and photos posted to social media showed packed, winding lines of returning travelers. On Twitter, airports like Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago O'Hare acknowledged the delays and asked for patience.

British media are reporting that the UK could propose those over 70 self quarantine for up to four months

British media, including The Independent, ITV and the British Press Association, are saying that one government proposal, reportedly expected to be introduced this month, could ask people over the age of 70 to stay home for up to four months. Under the proposal, those over 70 will be "instructed" to keep under strict isolation in their home or in a care facility for four months in a "wartime-style mobilization effort."

Nike to close all US stores, and some international locations

CNBC reports that the sportswear brand Nike has announced it will be closing its U.S. brick and mortar locations along with other international stores while governments try and flatten the curve on the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the report, locations across the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe will shutter starting Monday March 27. The report cites a company spokesperson who confirmed that workers should still be paid in full during store closings. 

In a statement to TEGNA Nike said:

"The well-being of our teammates and consumers is our top priority so we have decided to close our stores in multiple countries around the world including in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand to limit the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). These closures will go into effect from Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 27. Customers can continue to shop on Nike.com and on our Nike apps. 

We are taking additional steps in other Nike-managed facilities, including the option to work from home, staggered work schedules, social distancing and additional safety and cleaning steps to help protect and support our teammates. 

Our Nike-owned stores in South Korea, Japan, most of China and in many other countries are currently open and will continue their normal operations."

Nike joins joins other retailers making similar moves including Patagonia, Apple, Warby Parker, Urban Outfitters, Glossier and Allbirds. 

Walmart and Lululemon are limiting store hours.

Cruise lines are suspending service

Earlier President Trump said on Twitter that "Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC" have agreed to suspend their outbound cruises for 30 days. Carnival said in a statement that it will be interrupting operations writing, 

"We are sorry to share the news that Carnival Cruise Line is temporarily pausing service, effective with sailings departing Saturday, March 14 through April 09, 2020 across its fleet of North America based ships. We will resume service on April 10, 2020.

Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Harry Sommer issued a statement Friday saying, "Given the current health environment, I'd like to share an important update about Norwegian Cruise Line’s response to COVID-19. With the virus impacting communities around the globe, we have decided after collaboration with federal officials to voluntarily suspend cruise voyages across our fleet, effective immediately. This action is in effect for voyages with embarkation dates from March 13 to April 11, 2020. We will plan to recommence and operate with embarkations beginning April 12, 2020." 

Australia's prime minister says all travelers arriving in the country will have to self-isolate for 14 days 

It's part of the country's effort to try and stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

The measures will begin from midnight Monday Australian east coast time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement Sunday after a phone hookup with the leaders of Australian states and territories leaders under a new national cabinet meeting.

Morrison told reporters in Sydney that the measures are indefinite and will be reviewed periodically.

Morrison also banned all cruise ships from docking in Australian ports for at least 30 days.

The measures are similar to what New Zealand announced on Saturday.


New Zealand cruise passengers not allowed off the vessel after three onboard are tested

In New Zealand, passengers aboard a cruise ship in the South Island tourist town of Akaroa are not being allowed off the vessel while three passengers are tested for the new coronavirus. 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said Sunday that one of the passengers on the Golden Princess is being treated as a suspected case because that person has developed symptoms of the disease and is a close contact of another person who has been confirmed as having contracted COVID-19. 

Bloomfield says they should get the test results on Monday, and that officials are considering their response should the case be confirmed. 

He says one lesson from observing problems with the virus spreading on other cruise ships is to avoid leaving everybody on board. Bloomfield didn't elaborate on what form any response might take. 

The news came just one day after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country was banning cruise ships from entering its waters as it took a more aggressive approach to COVID-19. The Golden Princess was already in New Zealand at the time Ardern made her announcement. 

The cruise ship departed from Melbourne, Australia. An Akaroa cruise schedule indicates the ship was expected to have about 2,600 passengers and 1,100 crew.

Austria is limiting movement nationwide

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told the Austria Press Agency Sunday that there should be only three reasons for people to leave home: essential work, essential purchases such as food, and helping other people.

He said that people will be able to go out "only alone or with the people with whom (they) live in their apartment.

Kurz's comments came shortly after the governor of Tyrol province had announced a lockdown for his Alpine region.

Austria, a country of some 8 million people, has confirmed 800 infections with the new coronavirus.

Norway will close its airports and harbors Monday

Prime Minister Erna Solberg told Norwegian addressed the media and by midday Sunday, Norway had confirmed 1,133 cases of the virus.

Uzbekistan announced that international air and highway connections will be cut beginning Monday

All mass events, including observations of the holiday of Nowruz, are canceled.

Kazakhstan has declared a state of emergency

The country has closed the borders to all forms of transport and closed shopping malls, theaters and other places of mass gatherings.

Austria's Tyrol province is ordering a lockdown to fight the coronavirus

The lockdown was initially set for a one-week period.

The provincial governor, Guenther Platter, announced Sunday that people will be allowed to leave their homes only for reasons such as buying food and medicine, visiting the doctor, getting cash or walking the dog.

Tyrol, an Alpine region that is popular with skiers, borders northern Italy and is one of the worst-hit areas of Austria, which already has largely shut down public life.

The lockdown measures mirror those already taken by Italy and Spain.

Austria has confirmed 758 cases of the new coronavirus and one death. 

People in predominantly Catholic Poland, especially the elderly, have been advised to follow Sunday Mass on TV or on the radio

The move is an effort to try and avoid being in crowds amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Churches remain open, but no more than 50 people can attend an indoors Mass at a time, to prevent the spread of the virus.

State and private TV stations and news portals were streaming live services early Sunday from some Warsaw churches. The seminary church could be seen empty during the service.

Poland has 111 confirmed coronavirus infections. Three patients have died and thirteen have recovered.

Singapore has announced new travel restrictions

The country's government said that all travelers arriving from Southeast Asian countries, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom or with a travel history to these countries within 14 days upon arrival will have to self-isolate under new efforts to battle the coronavirus.

The health ministry said the measure, starting Sunday, will also apply to Singapore residents. Southeast Asian visitors will also be required to submit information on their health for approval before their travel, it said.

The city-state, which has recorded 212 virus cases, has already banned visitors from China, Iran, Italy, France, Germany, South Korea and Spain. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong however, said the new measure will not apply to sea and land crossings with Malaysia due to high inter-dependency between the neighbors.

Sri Lanka has closed all of its national parks, zoos and botanical gardens

It's part of the country's measures to combat the spreading of the coronavirus.

The Indian Ocean island nation's government says that the country's 26 national wildlife parks, two zoos and two botanical gardens will be closed for visitors for two weeks starting Sunday.

Sri Lanka has confirmed 11 cases of the coronavirus.

The Republic of Congo reports its first case of the coronavirus

The African nation is home to the World Health Organization's regional Africa headquarters, where it has reported its first case of the coronavirus.

The government said late Saturday that a duel French and Republic of Congo citizen returned from Paris on an Ethiopian Airlines flight on March 1. After recently showing symptoms, they alerted authorities. The government asked that others on that flight come forward.

The new case means 25 of Africa's 54 countries now have cases of the virus. 

Turkey has set up quarantine locations for more than 10,300 people

Those people were returning from pilgrimages to Islam's holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The Youth and Sport Ministry said Sunday that beds had been made available in university dormitories in the capital, Ankara, and the central Anatolian city of Konya for those returning from Umrah, a pilgrimage that can be made at any time of the year. Returnees will be quarantined for 14 days in an effort to combat the coronavirus.

Universities have been closed for three weeks due to the virus outbreak. Turkey's latest case, its sixth, was a returning pilgrim.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has asked people to work, study and worship from home

Its part of the country's efforts to reduce the risk of being infected with the coronavirus.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has confirmed 117 cases, with five deaths.

Widodo said at a news conference Sunday that his country faces an especially challenging fight against the coronavirus due to its unique geography. The sprawling archipelago nation comprises over 17,000 islands and is home to more than 260 million people.

South Korea's president has declared southeastern parts of the country hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak as "special disasters zones"

It's a designation that makes residents there eligible for emergency relief, tax benefits and other state financial support.

President Moon Jae-in's office says he on Sunday approved a proposal by his prime minister to declare the Daegu city and some areas in the southeastern Gyeongsang province as such disaster zones.

It's the first time for South Korea to declare any area a special disaster zone due to an infectious disease. Past disaster zone designations were declared for areas stricken by typhoons, floods and other national disasters.

South Korea has so far reported 8,162 coronavirus cases, about 88% of them in the southeastern region. More than 830 people have recovered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.