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The coronavirus disease that was first diagnosed in China's Hubei province has now spread to at least 47 countries and every continent except Antarctica. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international health emergency. President Trump sought to play down the threat from coronavirus and announced Vice President Mike Pence would be his point person to coordinate government efforts to prevent a widespread outbreak. As Trump spoke, a new milestone in the novel coronavirus outbreak was reported, in a possible example of community spread: A person was diagnosed with the virus in Northern California who had not traveled to any of the affected regions of the world, nor had known contact with anyone else who did.
We speak with Laurie Garrett, former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer. She is the author of several books, including "Ebola: Story of an Outbreak," "The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance" and "Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The coronavirus disease that was first diagnosed in China's Hubei province has now spread to at least 47 countries and every continent except Antarctica. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international health emergency. Nearly 3,000 people have died so far. More than 81,000 have now been infected with the virus, that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. To contain the spread of the coronavirus in Japan, where the number of cases has reached 200, today the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for schools to close.
PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE: [translated] I request all elementary, middle and high schools and special needs schools to be temporarily closed from March 2nd until spring vacation.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Japan says the 2020 Summer Olympics are still scheduled to take place in the capital Tokyo. In South Korea, the number of coronavirus cases has passed 1,700, making it the largest outbreak outside of China. At least one U.S. soldier stationed at a base in the area has tested positive for the virus, and the U.S. and South Korea have called off joint military exercises. This comes as the government of Iran says at least 245 people have been infected and 26 have died, but experts say the toll is likely much higher. Meanwhile, officials in Kuwait reported 43 new cases, and Saudi Arabia has taken the unprecedented step of barring Muslim pilgrims from entering the country to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Here in the United States, President Trump downplayed the threat from coronavirus and announced Vice President Mike Pence would be his point person to coordinate government efforts to prevent a widespread outbreak.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low. We have the greatest experts in the world, really in the world, right here. " We're ready to adapt, and we're ready to do whatever we have to, as the disease spreads, if it spreads.
AMY GOODMAN: As Trump spoke at his White House news conference, a new milestone in the coronavirus outbreak was reported. In a possible example of community spread, a person was diagnosed with the virus in Northern California who had not traveled to any of the affected regions of the world, nor had known contact with anyone else who did. Officials say they don't know how the person was exposed and have begun tracing the person's contacts in order to determine how they got sick. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, quote, "Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!" President Trump tweeted, misspelling the word "coronavirus."
This is Democratic Congressmember Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts questioning Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar Wednesday.
REP. JOE KENNEDY: Mr. Secretary, I don't want to panic over this, either. The stock market's crashing. He's trying to stop a stock market. He's not trying he's outright contradicting everything that you all have just said. Outright contradiction.