February 26 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes and Rachel Bowman, CNN

Updated 9:23 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020
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9:48 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Here's how coronavirus could affect tensions in the Middle East

Analysis from CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi in Beirut 

People wear protective masks outside the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon, where a coronavirus patient is being treated on February 21.
People wear protective masks outside the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon, where a coronavirus patient is being treated on February 21. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Coronavirus’s spread through the Middle East could add another layer of woes to a region already plagued by problems. 

In the Levant, the virus could take root in one of the refugee camps that speckle the landscape. The camps are densely populated and already suffer from poor living conditions, scant medical attention and decaying infrastructure.  

Economic crises in countries like Lebanon, where the health sector has already warned that it is on the brink of collapse, or Syria, could mean that millions are defenseless in the face of pathogen.  

In Iran, the outbreak is the worst in the region, and it has intensified the country’s isolation. Viewed as a regional breeding ground for the virus, Iran is being sealed off from its neighbors, further crippling an economy already buckling under US sanctions. 

The country’s rift from the rest of the region is becoming more pronounced. Land borders with neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan have been closed. Numerous flights to Iranian cities have been suspended. 

The country’s officials are seething. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the virus could be used as a “weapon” in “propaganda” by “Iran’s enemies.” The Iranian leader has refused to quarantine cities in a bid, he said, not to further stifle the economy. 

Symbolically, the country’s deputy health minister, Iran Harirchi, tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday — just 24 hours after a press briefing where he tried to downplay the threat of the virus.

This image made from video shows the head of Iran's counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi, left, wiping his face during a press briefing with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, in Tehran, Iran, on Monday. Harirchi, has tested positive for the virus himself, authorities announced on Tuesday, amid concerns the outbreak may be far wider than officially acknowledged.
This image made from video shows the head of Iran's counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi, left, wiping his face during a press briefing with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, in Tehran, Iran, on Monday. Harirchi, has tested positive for the virus himself, authorities announced on Tuesday, amid concerns the outbreak may be far wider than officially acknowledged. Credit: APTN via AP

Rich Arab Gulf countries – such as the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait — that have confirmed cases of novel coronavirus may have the wherewithal to stem the tide of the sickness. But most countries in the region are running on fumes. 

Between trying to keep the virus at bay, and stemming the economic toll brought on by panic about its spread, they are between a rock and a hard place. They see that even the advanced countries of Europe have failed to outrace the virus. So they live on a prayer that the coronavirus tidal wave veers in another direction. 

9:46 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

The Pope's Ash Wednesday mass will go on as planned

From CNN's Delia Gallagher

Pope Francis greets people in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday.
Pope Francis greets people in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday. Credit: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

The Pope's Ash Wednesday mass in Rome will go on as planned today without any "particular measures" against coronavirus, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni tells CNN.

The mass at the church of Santa Sabina will include the usual tradition of handshaking and embracing as a sign of peace.

Attendees can use the water at the back of church to bless themselves upon entering.

Ash Wednesday is one of the most important religious days for Catholics after Christmas and Easter. It signifies the beginning of Lent, a period of six weeks before Easter when many Christians fast, abstain from meat and make a personal Lenten sacrifice to prepare themselves for Easter. 

On Ash Wednesday Pope Francis participates in a solemn procession, together with Cardinals, bishops and monks, from the Benedictine Church of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine Hill in Rome to the nearby Dominican church of Santa Sabina, where he celebrates mass for Ash Wednesday and places ashes, in the sign of the cross on the heads of the faithful. 

People wear face masks as they wait for Pope Francis' arrival in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday.
People wear face masks as they wait for Pope Francis' arrival in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday. Credit: Alessandra Tarantino/AP
9:18 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Some people close to the center of Italy's outbreak aren't concerned

From CNN's Ben Wedeman

The closer you get to northern Italy’s “red zones”— where inhabitants are barred from leaving and others entering — the less concerned the residents seem to be. 

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Secugnago, a village in Lombardy about a 5-minute drive from the police road block barring entry into the red zone.

“We just had a few bottles of white wine and some risotto,” a man said with a laugh as he got on his bicycle in the main square.

Half the shops and cafes in Secugnago are closed because, locals say, their owners live inside the red zone. The rest seem to be operating as usual — although one grocery store has posted a sign outside asking customers to enter only three at a time, wear face masks and shop as quickly as possible. 

But few people in Secugnago are actually wearing masks: A man named Daniele is out on a stroll with his wife and young children. Daniele is a technician for a company that installs home alarms, and under normal circumstances would be at work on a Wednesday morning. 

“Look around,” he says. “At the closer shops and businesses. We will pay a much higher economic price than the Coronavirus itself.”

9:05 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Trump will have a coronavirus news conference today

President Trump has announced he will hold a news conference at the White House about coronavirus at 6 p.m. ET.

Here's what he tweeted moments ago:

8:54 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Democrat will request $8.5 billion in coronavirus funding for the US

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Phil Mattingly

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC on February 13.
Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference in Washington, DC on February 13. Credit: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is preparing a detailed Senate Democrat request for emergency coronavirus funding totaling $8.5 billion, a senior senate Democratic aide tells CNN.

Schumer’s request is expected to be finalized this morning and sent to appropriators.

This is, of course, far more than the $2.5 billion requested by the Trump administration. 

12:27 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

A hotel on a Spanish resort island is on partial lockdown, but guests are confused about protocols

From Aleesha Khaliq

A psychologist talks to a group of workers on Tuesday outside the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife, Spain, where hundreds of people were confined after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus.
A psychologist talks to a group of workers on Tuesday outside the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife, Spain, where hundreds of people were confined after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with a suspected case of coronavirus. Credit: Desiree Martin/AFP/Getty Images

Guests at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace on the Spanish resort island of Tenerife are confused over the situation at the hotel, which was partially put on lockdown yesterday as an Italian man at the hotel tested positive for the coronavirus overnight.

Spain's Health Ministry emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said that four people in Tenerife — an Italian couple and two others traveling with them — have now tested positive for the virus, and another four in other parts of the country had been infected.

Simon said Spain was changing the contagion risk from low to moderate. The change in risk comes as a cluster of cases in northern Italy spreads to several European nations.

Guest Silke Bal said that people in the hotel were calm but confused about where in the hotel they were allowed to go. She said she saw towel collection services re-open by the swimming pool.

Some guests had breakfast delivered to their rooms by staff wearing masks and gloves, Bal said. “We could get coffee at the restaurant, but we had to put our mouth masks on,” she told CNN.

Bal said she expected to go home on Saturday but that she couldn't get a clear answer from the hotel. Staff appear to know as little as the guests, she said.

8:07 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Armenia closes Iranian border over contagion fears

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

The Armenian government says it has closed its border with Iran, as several coronavirus cases spreading through the Middle East appear to have links with one Iranian province.

Armenia shares a 43-kilometer (27-mile) border with Iran, and has not yet reported any coronavirus cases.

Armenian government spokesperson Armen Khachatryan told CNN the border had been effectively shut since Monday and will be in effect for two weeks, but that some vehicles would be excepted.

“Of course, there will be some exceptions. No restrictions will be imposed on cargo transportations. Drivers shall be subject to special control, and a special procedure shall be applicable for the traffic of goods and commodities. There will be no restrictions on the repatriation of citizens on either side, that is, they can freely return to their homeland," he said, adding that some air traffic restrictions would also apply.

"During the next two weeks we will keep in close touch with Iran’s official representatives in order to have a more comprehensive idea of the situation, after which we will jointly decide what to do next.”

8:24 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Greece confirms first case as Italy struggles to contain viral outbreak

 From CNNs Chris Liakos

Greece has confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus, a 38-year-old woman in Thessaloniki.

The woman, currently being treated in hospital, recently returned from an affected area in northern Italy and is in good condition, a health ministry spokeswoman told CNN. Authorities are checking whom she has been in contact with.

Northern Italy has become the European epicenter of the virus, with more than 320 cases and 12 deaths. Cases in Greece, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland and France have been linked to the Italian cluster.

Read more here.

6:35 a.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Markets drop for third day on coronavirus fears

From CNN's Charles Riley

A pedestrian passes a board displaying share prices of Asian stock markets in Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday.
A pedestrian passes a board displaying share prices of Asian stock markets in Tokyo, Japan on Wednesday. Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

The shock from the novel coronavirus has rocked global markets for a third consecutive day.

The spread of the virus could cost China, the world's second biggest economy, tens of billions of dollars in lost growth this quarter alone. Major outbreaks in Japan, South Korea and Italy underscore the risk posed to other big economies from the coronavirus.

Investors are concerned about how the coronavirus is weighing on consumer demand, manufacturing supply chains and major economies around the world.

Here's what markets are doing today:

European markets were sharply lower in early trading on Wednesday as corporate profit warnings added to fears about the economic impact of the outbreak.

Germany's DAX dropped as much as 3% before recovering some losses, while the CAC 40 shed 1.2% in Paris and the FTSE 100 dipped 1.1% in London.

Losses were less dramatic in Asia, where Japan's Nikkei 225 dropped 0.8%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gave up 0.7% and the Shanghai Composite lost 0.8%.

The declines follow a terrible day in the United States, where the Dow finished 879 points, or about 3.2% lower. The index has now lost more than 2,000 points in total over the past four trading days.

Read more here: