California issues ‘stay home’ order; U.S. death toll hits 200

By Dan Whitcomb and David Shepardson

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – California issued an unprecedented statewide “stay at home” order on Thursday for its 40 million residents and Washington warned Americans to return home or stay abroad indefinitely, as the number of coronavirus deaths in the country hit 200.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s directive, effective immediately, marks the largest and most sweeping government clampdown yet in the worsening public health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, which he predicted could infect more than half the state within eight weeks.

As authorities ramped up measures to keep the virus from spreading, Washington could announce restrictions on travel across the U.S.-Mexico border as soon as Friday, limiting crossings to essential travel, two officials briefed on the matter said. That would follow a similar measure on Wednesday closing the border with Canada.

The fast-spreading respiratory illness has shattered most patterns of American life: shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and sharply curtailing travel.

The U.S. State Department told citizens that if they travel internationally, “your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.”

STIMULUS PACKAGE

With the economy swooning, Senate Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion economic stimulus plan to provide funds directly to businesses and the American public. President Donald Trump has been eagerly calling for that package.

It would be Congress’ third emergency coronavirus bill following a $105 billion-plus plan covering free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending, and an $8.3 billion measure to combat the spread of the highly contagious pathogen and develop vaccines.

The plunging stock market and surging U.S. death toll has caused Trump to sharply change his tone on the disease this week, demanding urgent action after spending weeks downplaying the risks.

Over 13,000 people across the United States have been diagnosed with the illness called COVID-19 and 200 have died, with the largest numbers so far in Washington state, New York and California.

Newsom said his ‘stay at home’ order was essential as modelling showed 56% of California’s 40 million people would contract the virus in the next eight weeks, and require nearly 20,000 more hospital beds than the state could provide.

“We are confident the people of California will abide by it, they will meet this moment,” Newsom, a first-term Democrat told a news briefing from the state capital in Sacramento.

Los Angeles, as the nation’s second-largest city, would likely be “disproportionately impacted” in the coming weeks, he said.

Two Los Angeles Lakers players have the coronavirus, the NBA franchise said on Thursday, after four players from the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for the disease a day earlier.

The virus has taken the greatest toll in Washington state, which reported eight more deaths on Thursday, bringing the toll there to 74.

Hospitals across the country say they face shortages of medical gear, with doctors in Seattle reduced to making their own face masks out of sheets of plastic.

“We’re days away from running out of the equipment we need,” said Melissa Tizon, Associate Vice President of Providence St. Joseph Health, which runs 51 hospitals across five western states. “We’re expecting more shipments later on but until then we’ve got to improvise.”

TEST DELAYS

With the United States slow to roll out mass testing for the virus that has infected more than 244,000 people worldwide, officials fear the number of known cases of the respiratory illness that can lead to pneumonia lags far behind reality.

There are no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, but several options are being tested.

New York City, where many young people last weekend packed local bars and restaurants, has been eerily deserted after nightfall.

“It’s a skater’s dream,” said Dyanna Hernandez, 20, who had joined a dozen friends in Manhattan’s Union Square to enjoy the freedom of what she called a “ghost city” after three days stuck at home. “I can’t really be quarantined.”

The epidemic, which has killed over 10,000 globally so far, has drawn comparisons with traumatic periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged by the most since 2012 to a 2-1/2-year high last week, as companies in the services sector laid off workers with businesses shutting down due to the pandemic.

Katie Vetere, 32, general manager of One 53, a small restaurant near Princeton, New Jersey, applied for benefits for the first time in her life after the restaurant was forced to shut down when state authorities banned table service.

Vetere expects her benefits to be less than half her regular weekly paycheck.

“I go from ‘I’m sad’ to ‘I’m scared’ to ‘I’m angry,'” she said. “Do I consider my job lost? I don’t know.”

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Jeff Mason in Washington, Laila Kearney, Jonathan Allen, Gabriella Borter and Leela de Kretser in New York, Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by James Oliphant and Bill Tarrant; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis & Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S. urges Americans to avoid all overseas travel due to the coronavirus

By David Shepardson and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday raised its travel alert to the highest for the entire world, urging Americans not to go overseas while calling those abroad to return to the United States immediately due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

“In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period,” the U.S. State Department said in its advisory.

It also asked Americans to have a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. government.

“If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe,” the advisory said.

Politico first reported the news ahead of the announcement.

The move comes a day after the State Department said it was suspending all routine visa services as of Wednesday in most countries worldwide due to the virus, a move that will potentially impact hundreds of thousands of people.

The coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, has now infected over 236,000 people and killed more than 9,700, an epidemic that has stunned the world and drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu.

Normal life has come to a standstill pretty much across the globe with schools shut down, flights and industries halted, sports and arts events postponed and people are advised or at times forced by their governments to remain indoors to prevent the spread.

Earlier U.S. President Donald Trump had declined to confirm the plan. “We haven’t had the meeting yet,” Trump told reporters at a news conference at the White House.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Humeyra Pamuk, Jeff Mason, Alexandra Alper and Ted Hesson; Writing by Susan Heavey and Humeyra Pamuk, Editing by Franklin Paul, Bill Berkrot and Marguerita Choy)

Trump urges U.S. to halt most social activity in virus fight, warns of recession

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump urged Americans on Monday to halt most social activities for 15 days and not congregate in groups larger than 10 people in a newly aggressive effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

Announcing new guidelines from his coronavirus task force, the president said people should avoid discretionary travel and not go to bars, restaurants, food courts or gyms.

As stocks tumbled, Trump warned that a recession was possible, a development that could affect his chances of re-election in November. The Republican president said he was focused on addressing the health crisis and that the economy would get better once that was in line.

The task force implored young people to follow the new guidelines even though they were at lesser risk of suffering if they contract the virus. Older people, especially those with underlying health problems, are at the greatest risk if they develop the respiratory disease.

“We’ve made the decision to further toughen the guidelines and blunt the infection now,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’d much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it.”

Reporters staggered their seating, sitting in every other seat in the White House briefing room, to follow social distancing measures.

Trump said the worst of the virus could be over by July, August or later. He called it an invisible enemy.

“With several weeks of focused action, we can turn the corner and turn it quickly,” he said.

The president has taken criticism for playing down the seriousness of the virus in the early days of its U.S. spread. On Monday, when asked, he gave himself a good grade for his response.

Trump said a nationwide curfew was not under consideration at this point.

Normally a cheerleader for the U.S. economy, he acknowledged the possibility of a recession while brushing off another dramatic decline on stock markets as investors worried about the virus.

“The market will take care of itself,” Trump said, adding it would be very strong once the virus was handled. The president has long considered soaring stock markets to be a sign of his administration’s success.

Trump said the administration had talked regularly about domestic travel restrictions but hoped not to have to put such measures in place.

He said he thought it would still be possible for G7 leaders to meet at the Camp David retreat in Maryland in June. Trump upset European countries, which make up a large part of the G7, by instituting travel restrictions from European countries without consulting with them first.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Timothy Ahmann, Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Coronavirus travel: national advice not all of a piece

LONDON (Reuters) – Should travelers avoid parts of the world near coronavirus hotspots? Or go – but then tread carefully? The official advice they receive may depend on whether they live in Amsterdam, Helsinki, Madrid or Lagos.

As the new coronavirus spreads from China, travel guidelines being issued by governments across the world all express notes of growing caution. But they contain subtle differences on where to avoid, how to behave and what to do after a trip.

With few exceptions, the prevailing advice of national authorities is to avoid Hubei province – epicenter of an outbreak that has now infected 80,000 people worldwide – and to reduce Chinese travel to the bare minimum.

Once inside China, Swiss travelers for example are urged by their government to avoid large gatherings and “cough or sneeze into a tissue, or use the crook of your arm”. France tells its nationals not to eat raw meat or visit animal markets.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry also urges against contact with animals in China and suggests making sure that you stay at least one meter away from the next person.

For travelers to Italy – the country most badly hit by the virus in Europe – the Dutch government recommends that its citizens avoid areas already locked down by local authorities and only travel to parts of the wider Lombardy region around the closed-off towns if necessary. The Finnish Foreign Ministry advice on Italy is simply to “take special care”.

Differences also emerge in the advice to travelers on their return from an affected area.

Germany’s main authority for infectious diseases tells those returning with symptoms from outbreak regions in Italy to see a doctor and call prior to their visit. But France asks such people not to visit the doctor but to call emergency services.

Britain urges its nationals to “self-isolate” at home if they have been to the areas quarantined by Italy whether or not they have symptoms. The Danish Health Authority currently stipulates no routine quarantine or isolation of people who have traveled to China or other places hit by the outbreak.

Countries outside Europe take different stances. Turkey advises against all but essential travel to China but has not yet issued travel advice on Italy.

Nigeria has a voluntary two-week self-quarantine in place for all passengers arriving from China or any country with “a major outbreak”. Guidance for returning air passengers says “try to avoid” going out but wear a mask if you do.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; compiled by Mark John; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Pilots, flight attendants demand flights to China stop as virus fear mounts worldwide

By Tracy Rucinski and Laurence Frost

CHICAGO/PARIS (Reuters) – Pilots and flight attendants are demanding airlines stop flights to China as health officials declare a global emergency over the rapidly spreading coronavirus, with American Airlines’ pilots filing a lawsuit seeking an immediate halt.

China has reported nearly 10,000 cases and 213 deaths, but the virus has spread to 18 countries, mostly, presumably, by airline passengers.

The United States has advised its citizens not to travel to China, raising its warning to the same level as those for Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. airlines, which have been reducing flights to China this week, were reassessing flying plans as a result, according to people familiar with the matter.

It is possible the White House could opt to take further action to bar flights to China in coming days, but officials stressed that no decision has been made.

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American Airlines pilots, cited “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus” in a lawsuit filed in Texas, where the airline is based.

American said it was taking precautions against the virus but had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. On Wednesday, it announced flight cancellations from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai, but is continuing flights from Dallas.

APA President Eric Ferguson urged pilots assigned to U.S.-China flights to decline the assignment. In a statement, the American Airlines’ flight attendants union said they supported the pilots’ lawsuit and called on the company and the U.S. government to “err on the side of caution and halt all flights to and from China.”

Pilots at United Airlines, the largest U.S. airline to China, concerned for their safety will be allowed to drop their trip without pay, according to a Wednesday memo from their union to members.

United announced on Thursday another 332 U.S.-China flight cancellations between February and March 28, though it will continue operating round trip flights from San Francisco to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The American Airlines pilot lawsuit came as an increasing number of airlines stopped their flights to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic.

Other major carriers have kept flying to China, but protective masks and shorter layovers designed to reduce exposure have done little to reassure crews.

‘COUNTDOWN’

A U.S. flight attendant who recently landed from one major Chinese city said a big concern is catching the virus and spreading it to families, or getting quarantined while on a layover.”I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until I went there,” she said on condition of anonymity, describing general paranoia on the return flight, with every passenger wearing a mask.

“Now I feel like I’m on a 14-day countdown.”

Thai Airways is hosing its cabins with disinfectant spray between China flights and allowing crew to wear masks and gloves.

Delta Air Lines is operating fewer flights and offering food deliveries so crew can stay in their hotels. The carrier is also allowing pilots to drop China trips without pay, a memo from its union to members said.

Korean Air Lines Co Ltd and Singapore Airlines are sending additional crew to fly each plane straight back, avoiding overnight stays.

The South Korean carrier also said it was loading protective suits for flight attendants who might need to take care of suspected coronavirus cases in the air.

Airlines in Asia are seeing a big drop in bookings along with forced cancellations because of the coronavirus outbreak, the head of aircraft lessor Avolon Holdings Ltd said, adding the impact could last for some months.

The outbreak poses the biggest epidemic threat to the airline industry since the 2003 SARS crisis, which led to a 45% plunge in passenger demand in Asia at its peak in April of that year, analysts said.

Fitch Ratings said airlines with more moderate exposure to China and the Asia-Pacific region were likely to be able to re-deploy capacity to alternative routes to mitigate the effect on traffic, but that could increase competition on those routes and reduce airfares.

Air France, which maintained China flights throughout the SARS epidemic, suspended its Beijing and Shanghai flights on Thursday after cabin crews demanded an immediate halt.

“When the staff see that other airlines have stopped flying there, their reaction is ‘Why are we still going?’,” said Flore Arrighi, president of UNAC, one of the airline’s four main flight attendants’ unions.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski, Laurence Frost and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal, Aradhana Aravindan, John Geddie and Anshuman Daga in Singapore, Chayut Setboonsarng and Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok, Caroline Pailliez in Paris, Josephine Mason in London, Jamie Freed in Sydney and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Writing by Jamie Freed and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lisa Shumaker)

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter
By Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Thursday locked down two cities at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600, as health authorities around the world took action to prevent a global pandemic.

Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.

The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended on Thursday morning and people were told not to leave. Hours later, neighboring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced a similar lockdown.

“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in Beijing, told Reuters.

Other cities were also taking steps to restrict movement and contact. Nearby Ezhou shut its train stations. The capital Beijing canceled major public events, including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said.

Airports worldwide were screening passengers arriving from China.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

Preliminary research suggested it was passed on to humans from snakes, but government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

WHO MEETING

The WHO has said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.

If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade. A WHO news conference is expected some time after 1800 GMT.

Chinese authorities gave no new details on the numbers of virus infections but it has been reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Of eight known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, while Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have reported one each.

Authorities had confirmed 571 cases and 17 deaths by the end of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said. Earlier, it said another 393 suspected cases had been reported.

In a report on Wednesday, Imperial College London said it estimated a total of 4,000 cases of the coronavirus in Wuhan alone as of Jan. 18, an infection rate based on the number of cases reported in China and elsewhere.

Wuhan shut down all urban transport networks and suspended outgoing flights from 10 a.m. (0200 GMT). Domestic media said some airlines were operating after the deadline, however.

Wuhan’s Hankou rail station was nearly deserted, with gates blocked, state broadcasts showed. The government urged citizens not to leave the city.

State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closing down, which would effectively cut off road exits. Guards were patrolling highways, one resident told Reuters.

As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged into hospitals for checks and scrambled for supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.

Authorities in Huanggang ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and internet cafes to close.

FACE MASKS

In contrast with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s Communist Party government has provided regular updates to avoid panic ahead of the holidays.

During a visit to Wuhan, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said authorities needed to be open about the virus and efforts to contain it, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Some experts believe the new virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.

“The early evidence at this stage would suggest it’s not as severe,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told reporters.

Despite China’s response, world shares fell on Thursday, led by the biggest tumble in Chinese stocks in more than eight months, as concern mounted about the outbreak. China’s yuan fell to a two-week low. [MKTS/GLOB]

The economic impact of such outbreaks are hard to quantify but a 2006 estimate by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) calculated that SARS shaved just over 1 percentage point off the GDP of China in 2003.

InterContinental Hotels and Hyatt are allowing guests to change or cancel stays at most Chinese hotels.

A general view shows the monitors of thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the security check inside the airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks and avoiding shopping centers.

The release of seven movies over the Lunar New Year has been postponed. The holiday is the high season for distributors and cinemas attract huge crowds.

Airports globally, including in Britain, stepped up screening of passengers from China and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the further global spread of the virus was likely.

“All the fatalities have so far been contained to mainland China, however, this is a rapidly developing situation and the number of deaths and the number of cases is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far and I expect them to rise further,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the British parliament.

(Reporting by Yawen Chen, Se Young Lee, Sophie Yu and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Sam Shen and Engen Tham in Shanghai, Ben Blanchard in Taiwan, Alison Lui and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

Storms snarl U.S. Thanksgiving travel, stranding cars and planes

Storms snarl U.S. Thanksgiving travel, stranding cars and planes
By Jane Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Two winter storms blasted the United States on Wednesday, stranding motorists and causing thousands of flight delays as Americans jammed highways and airports to visit family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Scores of vehicles got stuck on Interstate 5 after a “bomb cyclone” – a supercharged winter storm caused by a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure – dumped up to four feet (1.2 meters) of snow in mountainous areas of the Pacific Northwest.

“We’ve been white knuckling it for the last four hours and sliding around the road,” said Lisa Chadwick after she stopped in Bend, Oregon, driving north from San Francisco. She had snowchains for her two-wheel drive car, but did not know how to put them on.

The U.S. Midwest was also hit hard by a storm that clobbered Denver on Tuesday, with airports in Minneapolis and Chicago suffering hundreds of delays and cancellations.

The storms hit on one of the busiest travel days of the year, with a near-record 55 million Americans set to journey at least 50 miles (80 km) for Thanksgiving on Thursday, according to the American Automobile Association.

After parts of Colorado got up to 30 inches (75 cm) of snow on Tuesday, Minneapolis was expected to get as much as 12 inches as the system slid east, said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

The storm, which is packing high winds, will move across upper Michigan and upstate New York toward central Maine, which could get 6 to 10 inches of snow, the Weather Service forecast.

“LOTS OF HONKING”

On the West Coast, heavy rain threatened flash floods from San Diego to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles International Airport told domestic passengers to arrive three hours early as it expected 238,000 passengers and 113,000 vehicles on Wednesday.

“There has been definitely lots of honking, lots of near accidents that I’ve seen, for sure,” Daniel Julien, a 24-year-old paralegal from Pasadena, said after making it to the airport.

A silver lining was that rain doused the Cave Fire in Santa Barbara County, which charred 7 square miles (1,810 hectares) of brush and woodlands. But it brought evacuation warnings to thousands of residents in Santa Barbara suburbs for possible mudslides on fire-charred hills.

Across the country, 4,083 flights were delayed, and 148 were canceled into or out of the United States by 6.30 p.m. ET, with Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport tallying the most, according to FlightAware.com.

“There are apocalyptic storms all over the country and 50mph winds! Why would things not be the worst. Anyway pray 4 me,” said a Twitter user going by the name of Abigail H., who was leaving O’Hare on Wednesday.

The East Coast was largely unscathed, but wind gusts of up to 40 mph (64 km) forecast for Thursday morning threatened to sideline the Macy’s New York City Thanksgiving parade’s 16 giant balloons for safety reasons. Organizers have said they will make the decision on Thursday whether to go ahead.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Andrew Hay in Taos and Jane Ross in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio and Sonya Hepinstall)

Two powerful storms thrash U.S. as millions head to Thanksgiving celebrations

Two powerful storms thrash U.S. as millions head to Thanksgiving celebrations
(Reuters) – Two major winter storms thrashing the western two-thirds of the United States on Wednesday appear set to disrupt the travel plans of millions of Americans headed to Thanksgiving Day destinations on jam-packed highways and airplanes.

The first storm front was moving across the upper Midwest, where it was forecast to clobber parts of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota with almost a foot of snow (30 cm) and wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph), making travel difficult if not impossible, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

It also warned of possible winds of up to 60 mph (95 kph) and rainstorms across a wide swath of the central U.S. from western Texas up through Missouri and into Ohio on Wednesday, as millions will hit the roads and board airplanes for the holiday.

The treacherous weather jeopardized travel plans for some of the 55 million Americans expected to fly or drive at least 50 miles (80 km) from their homes for Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, according to the American Automobile Association.

“It’s a real bummer,” said Ally Lytle, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, who will be unable to make 400-mile (645-km) road trip home to Jackson Hole after the storm swept through the area on Tuesday.

The storm had already closed highways across the region and canceled and delayed hundreds of flights in and out of Denver on Tuesday.

Wind gusts of more than 40 mph (65 kph) on the East Coast on Thursday may also ground the giant balloons featured during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, the weather service said in an advisory.

“Look, I know this weather means people won’t get to see their families, might be stranded in airports, etc, and all of that is awful,” said Susan Arendt on Twitter. “But I’ll be really sad if the wind means no balloons in the Macy’s parade.”

The second storm was rapidly intensifying as it pushed toward Oregon and northern California, where damaging winds, coastal flooding and heavy mountain snows of up to 4 feet (120 cm) were forecast, the NWS said.

The front was also expected to dump heavy rain, threatening flash floods across southern California, from San Diego to Los Angeles, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Japan, South Korea agree on need for dialogue to resolve feud on wartime labor and Fukushima

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono pose for photo ahead of the ninth trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting among China, South Korea and Japan at Gubei Town in Beijing, China, 21 August 2019. Wu Hong/Pool via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin and Ami Miyazaki

TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) – Japan and South Korea on Wednesday agreed on the need for dialogue to resolve a feud over compensating Korean wartime workers that has spilled into trade and put a deep chill on ties between Washington’s two biggest Asian allies.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, speaking after talks with South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, said both sides shared that view over the dispute, which is a bitter legacy of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

“In that sense, I want to firmly make progress towards resolving (this matter),” Kono said outside the Chinese capital of Beijing, in comments carried live on Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

“I think the fact that we … were able to talk in this difficult situation could lead to big progress towards resolving this problem,” Kono said. “I want to stay in close touch and continue to talk.”

A South Korean official said both sides reiterated their positions but the meeting was meaningful in restoring diplomatic dialogue and reaffirming the need to keep talking, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.

Relations soured after the South Korean Supreme Court ordered some Japanese firms to compensate Korean wartime workers last October, a move strongly condemned by Tokyo, which says the matter was resolved by a 1965 treaty normalizing ties.

The feud has spilled over into trade, after Japan tightened export controls on materials vital to South Korean chipmakers and then dropped Seoul from a list of countries eligible for fast-track exports, prompting South Korea to take a similar step towards Japan.

The number of South Korean tourists visiting Japan fell last month to its lowest in nearly a year, amid a far-reaching boycott of Japanese products and services, from cars to beer and tours.

Kang again urged that Japan’s tightened controls be eased, and relayed concerns about media reports and international environmental groups’ claims that Japan plans to release contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, Yonhap said.

Kono also said Japan wanted Seoul and Tokyo to maintain a military intelligence-sharing pact that could expire if South Korea decides not to roll it over this week.

“This is an important framework for the United States, Japan and South Korea and … should be maintained,” Kono said, adding that he had discussed the intelligence pact with Kang.

Though Kang declined to comment after the meeting whether South Korea would renew the deal, Kim Sang-jo, policy chief of President Moon Jae-in, said on Wednesday that Seoul would continue consideration “until the last minute”.

Kono urged both China and South Korea to scrap their import curbs on produce from areas around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster site, where three reactors suffered melt downs after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Seoul said on Wednesday it would double radiation testing of some Japanese food imports, for fear of contamination from the Fukushima plant.

An official of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said Japanese food products were safe and increased radiation testing was unnecessary.

(Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Travel snarled, power outages as storm bears down on U.S. Northeast

A woman walks during rain while the New York skyline and the One World Trade Center are seen from Exchange Place in New Jersey, U.S., March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The second winter storm within a week crept into New York and surrounding states on Wednesday, with forecasters predicting intensifying snowfall that could snarl the evening commute as thousands remained without power from the last nor’easter.

Between 4 and 12 inches (10 and 30 cm) of snow were forecast for New York City and the surrounding suburbs in New Jersey and Connecticut through to Thursday morning, with wind gusts creating “near-whiteout conditions” for commuters, the National Weather Service said on Wednesday.

The storm will spread with varying degrees of intensity across the Northeast, from western Pennsylvania up into New England, and officials took precautions.

New York’s three major airlines reported a total of 1,431 canceled flights on Wednesday morning, about 40 percent of their normally scheduled flights.

All schools were closed in Philadelphia while schools across the region canceled classes or shortened the school day ahead of the storm, local news media reported. Schools stayed open in New York City.

This week’s storm was not forecast to have the hurricane-strength winds whipped up at times by the storm last week, but forecasters say strong gusts of 60 miles per hour (96.56 km per hour) and accumulated snow will still be enough to knock down more power lines.

Last week’s storm brought major coastal flooding to Massachusetts, killed at least nine people and knocked out power to about 2.4 million homes and businesses in the Northeast.

Some 100,000 homes and businesses in the region remained without power on Wednesday. A nor’easter is an East Coast storm in which winds blow from the northeast.

The governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania declared states of emergency, giving them access to support from the U.S. government if needed.

The Amtrak passenger train service canceled some Wednesday trains between Washington and Boston, as well as some services in Pennsylvania, New York state and other parts of the Northeast.

The storm got off to an uncertain start in New York City, where the air was damp, and the odd stray snowflake could be spotted, but many early commuters saw no reason to unfurl the umbrellas stashed under their arms.

“I was expecting more than this,” Michelle Boone, 50, said as she waited for a bus to get to her job at a Manhattan homeless shelter. “I’m happy it’s not doing what they said it was going do. This evening could be different, though.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; additional reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York and Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)