China is swiftly building a hospital dedicated to treating patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities home to millions of people during the country's most important holiday.
On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least eight cities with a total of about 25 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and seven of its neighbors in central China's Hubei province: Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhijiang, Jingmen and Xiantao.
The Wuhan government said Friday it was building a designated hospital with space for 1,000 beds in the style of a facility that Beijing constructed during the SARS epidemic. The hospital will be erected on a 25,000 square-meter lot and is slated for completion Feb. 3, municipal authorities said.
Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation. Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.
Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were canceled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. The Forbidden City, a major tourist destination in Beijing, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.
The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said Friday morning. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei.
The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.
Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.
The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city, but scattered cases have occurred beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday, and cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.
Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.
The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.
Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China's Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people's liberties.
The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.
The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak late last month were connected to a seafood market, and experts suspect transmission began from wild animals sold there. The market is closed for investigation.
Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.
One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.
Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations.
Democratic House prosecutors made an expansive case Thursday at Donald Trump's impeachment trial that he abused power like no other president in history, swept up by a "completely bogus" Ukraine theory pushed by attorney Rudy Giuliani.
On Friday, the Democrats will press their final day of arguments before skeptical Republican senators, focusing on the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress' investigation.
As the audience of Senate jurors sat through another long day, and night, the prosecutors outlined the charge. They argued that Trump abused power for his own personal political benefit ahead of the 2020 election, even as the nation's top FBI and national security officials were publicly warning off the theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election.
"That's what Donald Trump wanted investigated or announced — this completely bogus Kremlin-pushed conspiracy theory," said Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who is leading the prosecution, during Thursday's session.
At the close of the evening Schiff made an emotional plea to senators to consider what was at stake as Trump is accused of seeking Ukrainian probes of political foe Joe Biden and Biden's son while holding back congressionally approved military aid as leverage.
"Right matters," he said, quoting Army officer Lt. Col. Alex Vindman who had testified in the House. "Otherwise we are lost."
The president is facing trial in the Senate after the House impeached him last month, accusing Trump of abusing his office by asking Ukraine for the investigations while withholding the aid from a U.S. ally at war with bordering Russia. The second article of impeachment accuses him of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.
Republicans, growing tired of the long hours of proceedings, have defended Trump's actions as appropriate and cast the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken him in the midst of his reelection campaign. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and acquittal is considered likely.
The Democrats' challenge is clear as they try to convince not just fidgety senators but an American public divided over the Republican president in an election year.
With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, Democrats argued on Thursday that Trump's motives were apparent.
"No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections," Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the senators. He said the nation's founders would be shocked. "The president's conduct is wrong. It is illegal. It is dangerous."
Democrats scoffed at Trump's claim he had good reasons for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden or other political foes.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas, herself a former judge, aid there is "no evidence, nothing, nada" to suggest that Biden did anything improper in dealings with Ukraine.
Trump, with Giuliani, pursued investigations of Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on a Ukrainian gas company's board, and sought the probe of debunked theories of what nation was guilty of interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
On dual tracks, Democrats prosecuted their case while answering in advance the arguments expected from the president's attorneys in the days ahead.
At one point, they showed video of a younger Lindsey Graham, then a South Carolina congressman and now a GOP senator allied with Trump, arguing during Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment that no crime was needed for impeaching a president. Trump's defense team is now arguing that the impeachment articles against him are invalid because they do not allege he committed a specific crime.
The president's defenders' turn will come Saturday.
"We will be putting on a vigorous defense of both facts, rebutting what they said," and the Constitution, said attorney Jay Sekulow.
Ahead of the day's proceedings, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said the Democrats were putting forward "admirable presentations." But he said, "There's just not much new here."
During the dinner break, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said it seemed like "Groundhog Day in the Senate."
The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, acknowledged that many senators "really don't want to be here."
But Schumer said Schiff has been outlining a compelling case that many Republicans are hearing it for only the first time. He contended they can't help but be "glued" to his testimony.
Once reluctant to take on impeachment during an election year, Democrats are now marching toward a decision by the Senate that the American public also will judge.
Trump blasted the proceedings in a Thursday tweet, declaring them the "Most unfair & corrupt hearing in Congressional history!"
After the House prosecutors finish, the president's lawyers will have as long as 24 hours. It's unclear how much time they will actually take, but Trump's team is not expected to finish Saturday, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity. The Senate is expected to take only Sunday off and push into next week.
After that senators will face the question of whether they do, or do not, want to call witnesses to testify.
Senators were permitted Thursday to review supplemental testimony submitted by an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams, who was among those who had concerns about Trump's actions. Democrats said the testimony, which is classified, bolsters their impeachment case. A lawyer for Williams declined to comment.
Holding the room's attention has been difficult for the Democrats, but senators seemed to pay closer mind to Schiff's testimony that grew dramatic.
Most senators, even Republicans, sat at their desks throughout the afternoon session, as the rules stipulate, and not as many of them were yawning or standing to stretch as during the previous long nights.
To help senators pass the time, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, passed out lunch favors of fidget spinners, stress balls and other toys.
Democrats thanked the senators for their time and patience, acknowledging the repetition of some of their presentations.
The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. Four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed the public slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, said they didn't know enough to have an opinion.
One issue with wide agreement: Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses at the trial. About 7 in 10 said so, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, according to the poll.
The strategy of more witnesses, though, seemed all but settled. Republicans rejected Democratic efforts to get Trump aides including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to testify in back-to-back votes earlier this week.
Senators were likely to repeat that rejection next week.
The Philippine president has renewed a threat to terminate an accord that allows American forces to train in the country unless Washington restored a visa of a political ally linked to human rights violations.
President Rodrigo Duterte said in an expletives-laced speech Thursday night that he would give notice to the U.S. terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement, known by its acronym VFA, if the reported cancellation of the entry visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa was not corrected.
"I'm warning you ... if you won't do the correction on this, I will terminate the ... Visiting Forces Agreement. I'll end that son of a bitch," Duterte said in televised remarks in central Leyte province.
The security accord, which took effect in 1999, provides the legal cover for American troops to enter the Philippines for joint training with Filipino troops.
A separate defense pact subsequently signed by the treaty allies in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allowed the extended stay of U.S. forces and authorized them to build and maintain barracks and other facilities in designated Philippine military camps.
There was no immediate reaction from U.S. officials. The Philippines' Department of Justice said Friday it would study how the agreement's abrogation could be done.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the Supreme Court should soon respond to a petition asking whether the Senate's consent is needed before the executive department can terminate a bilateral agreement or a treaty that senators had ratified. The Philippine Senate ratified the VFA after lengthy debates.
Duterte first threatened to abrogate the VFA in late 2016 after a U.S. aid agency put on hold funds for anti-poverty projects in the Philippines. The 74-year-old leader, who has been harshly critical of U.S. policies while often praising China and Russia, has walked back on his public threats before.
Despite Duterte's critical stance, U.S.-Philippine defense ties have remained robust and joint military exercises even increased in numbers last year.
Aside from threatening to take down the VFA, Duterte said without elaborating that he would ban some U.S. senators from entering the Philippines. He apparently was referring to American senators who sought to ban unspecified Philippine officials from entering the U.S. for playing a role in the continued detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima, a vocal critic of Duterte's deadly campaign against illegal drugs.
The U.S. has not released any list of Philippine officials who would be banned from entering. Duterte, who has publicly accused de Lima of receiving money from drug traffickers and called for her detention, has been invited by President Donald Trump to attend a meeting for Southeast Asian heads of state in March.
Dela Rosa had enforced Duterte's anti-drug crackdown as head of the national police starting in June 2016, when the president took office. The crackdown has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead, alarming U.N. human rights advocates and Western governments, including the U.S.
It also prompted critics to file complaints against Duterte for mass murder before the International Criminal Court. An ICC prosecutor has been examining the complaints.
The three American firefighters who were killed when the aerial water tanker they were in crashed while battling wildfires in Australia have been identified by their employer.
The men who died Thursday in the crash of the C-130 Hercules were Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, of Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43, of Navarre, Florida, Canada-based Coulson Aviation said in a statement.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the deaths in the state's Snowy Monaro region, which came as Australia grapples with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.
In its statement, Coulson said McBeth "was a highly qualified and respected C-130 pilot with many years fighting fire, both in the military and with Coulson Aviation."
McBeth, who is survived by his wife and three children, also served with the Montana and Wyoming National Guard, the company said.
Hudson "graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and spent the next twenty years serving in the United States Marine Corp in a number of positions including C-130 pilot," Coulson said. He is survived by his wife.
DeMorgan served in the U.S. Air Force with 18 years as a flight engineer on the C-130, the company said. He had had more than 4,000 hours as a flight engineer with nearly 2,000 hours in combat,
"Rick's passion was always flying and his children," Coulson said. He is survived by two children, his parents and his sister.
Coulson said in a statement that one of its Lockheed large air tankers was lost after it left Richmond in New South Wales with retardant for a firebombing mission. It said the accident was "extensive" but had few other details.
"The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it's crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash," Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had conveyed Australia's condolences to U.S. Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr.
"Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their own homes, an embodiment of the deep friendship between our two countries," she said in a statement.
Payne added: "Thank you to these three, and to all the brave firefighters from Australia and around the world. Your service and contribution are extraordinary. We are ever grateful."
Berejiklian said a state memorial service will be held in Sydney on Feb. 23 for the American firefighters and three Australian volunteer firefighters who have died during this wildfire season.
"We will pay tribute to the brave firefighters who lost their own lives protecting the lives and properties of others," she said.
"I know that many members of the public, the RFS (Rural FireService), and emergency services personnel will want to come together as families and communities work their way through this unbelievable loss."
The tragedy brings the death toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September. The fires have also destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.4 million hectares (25.7 million acres), an area bigger than the U.S. state of Indiana.
Coulson grounded other firefighting aircraft as a precaution pending investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria state. The four-propeller Hercules drops more than 15,000 liters (4,000 gallons) of fire retardant in a single pass.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the national air crash investigator, and state police will investigate the crash site, which firefighters described as an active fire ground.
"There is no indication at this stage of what's caused the accident," Fitzsimmons said.
Berejiklian said there were more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel in the field, and five fires were being described at an "emergency warning" level — the most dangerous on a three-tier scale — across the state and on the fringes of the national capital Canberra.
Also Thursday, Canberra Airport closed temporarily because of nearby wildfires, and residents south of the city were told to seek shelter. The airport reopened after several hours with Qantas operating limited services, but Virgin and Singapore Airlines canceled flights for the rest of the day.
The blaze started Wednesday, but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in Canberra to deteriorate. A second fire near the airport that started on Thursday morning is at a "watch and act" level — the middle of the three tiers.
Residents in some Canberra suburbs were advised to seek shelter and others to leave immediately.
"The defense force is both assisting to a degree and looking to whether that needs to be reinforced," Chief of Defense Angus Campbell told reporters.
"I have people who are both involved as persons who need to be moved from areas and office buildings that are potentially in danger, and also those persons who are part of the (Operation) Bushfire Assist effort," he said.
Shares were mostly higher in quiet trading on Friday in Asia as China began a week-long Lunar New Year festival that is being overshadowed by the outbreak of a new virus that has killed 25 people and sickened more than 800.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose less than 0.1% to 23,811.54 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng gained 0.2% to 27,949.64. Australia's S&P ASX/200 picked up 0.2% to 7,100.30 and the Sensex in India also rose 0.2%, to 41,473.97.
Markets were closed in Shanghai and the rest of mainland China, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan.
As authorities confirmed more cases of the new virus first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, investors continued to monitor developments in the international effort to keep it from spreading further and potentially harming the global economy.
The World Health Organization decided Thursday against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. Such a declaration could increase resources for battling the outbreak but also result in trade and travel restrictions and other economic damage.
Fears that the coronavirus could spread have weighed on global markets this week, driving up demand for U.S. government bonds and safe-play stocks.
Market "traders are weighing the anticipated China growth fallout against the backdrop of the current global growth recovery. While the calculus is not coming up roses, it's far from a state of global market panic," Stephen Innes of AxiCorp said in a commentary.
"Still, if risk aversion starts to spread beyond China's borders and starts to affect more than the usual suspect's luxury, travel, and tourism, then we will likely see a more significant dive in the broader global indices," he said.
Major U.S. stock indexes closed mostly higher Thursday, as gains in technology and industrial companies offset declines elsewhere in the market.
The S&P 500 notched a small gain for the second straight day, climbing 0.1% to 3,325.54, while a modest pickup nudged the Nasdaq composite to an all-time high of 9,402.48, up 0.2%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.1% lower to 29,160.09, its third straight day of losses as the benchmark was weighed down by a steep drop in shares of Travelers Cos.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks rose less than 0.1%, to 1,685.01.
Traders also had their eye on a mixed batch of company earnings reports, including encouraging quarterly results from American Airlines and Citrix Systems, and disappointing report cards from Travelers and Raymond James Financial.
"Today was driven a bit by earnings, but also by the coronavirus fears," said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade. "Asian markets had a really tough night and that was our lead-in, that put a bit of extra pressure on the market coming in."
Excluding the Nasdaq, the major U.S. stock indexes are on track to end the week with a loss.
Bond prices rose, pulling the yield on the 10-year Treasury lower to 1.73% from 1.77% late Wednesday.
Benchmark crude oil gained 14 cents to $55.73 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.15 to settle at $55.59 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, picked up 18 cents to $62.22 per barrel. It dropped $1.17 to close at $62.04 a barrel overnight.
Gold fell back, losing $4.30 to $1,561.10. Silver shed 3 cents to $17.80 per ounce and copper fell 4 cents to $2.73 per pound.
The dollar rose to 109.52 Japanese yen from 109.49 yen on Thursday. The euro weakened to $1.1053 from $1.1056.