Rome: Almost 300 million students worldwide faced weeks at home on Thursday with Italy the latest country to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus, as the IMF urged an all-out global offensive against the epidemic.
More than 95,000 people have been infected and over 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached some 80 countries and territories.
Bosnia confirmed its first two cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday - a middle-aged man who recently visited Italy and his child, while a 74-year-old woman suffering from the new coronavirus has died in Switzerland.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared an emergency following the state’s first coronavirus fatality - raising the US death toll to 11 - and a cruise ship was kept offshore after passengers and crew members developed symptoms. Separately, the federal government said it was going to buy 500 million respirators to stockpile for use by healthcare professionals. Lawmakers in Congress agreed to provide more than $8 billion to fight the rapidly spreading disease. Earlier, health officials in nearby Washington state said a 10th person had died there.
The vast majority of global deaths and infections are in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, prompting the country to quarantine entire cities, temporarily shut factories and close schools indefinitely.
As the virus has spread, other countries have also implemented extraordinary measures, with Unesco saying that 13 countries have closed schools, affecting 290.5 million children, while nine others have implemented localised closures.
Speed of disruption ‘unparalleled’
While temporary school closures during crises are not new, Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay said, “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.”
Italy on Wednesday ordered schools and universities shut until March 15, ramping up its response as the national death toll rose to 107, the deadliest outbreak outside China.
South Korea - the country with the largest number of cases outside China with nearly 6,000 - has postponed the start of the next term until March 23.
In Japan, nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be cancelled through March and spring break, slated for late March through early April.
Some 120 schools closed in France this week.
The German health minister said the outbreak was now a “global pandemic” - a term the World Health Organisation has stopped short of using - meaning the virus is spreading in several regions through local transmission.
Thousands of people were stranded on the Grand Princess off the California coast Wednesday as officials delayed its return to carry out tests on people on board.
A 71-year-old man who had been aboard the same ship during its previous voyage to Mexico died after contracting Covid-19.
The vessel belongs to Princess Cruises, the same company which operated a coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month on which more than 700 people on board tested positive, with six dying from the disease.
Infections are now rising faster abroad than they are in China, where 31 more deaths and 139 new cases were reported on Thursday. China’s death toll now stands at 3,012, with over 80,000 infections.
Beijing is now concerned about importing cases, with 20 infections brought from abroad so far, including Italy and Iran - prompting the capital to require people arriving from hard-hit countries to go into self-quarantine.
From western Europe to eastern Asia, supermarket and pharmacy shelves have been stripped of supplies in recent weeks, including masks, toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
Stock markets have rumbled over fears of recession, but Asian shares extended gains on Thursday after a surge on Wall Street buoyed by global stimulus measures.
The IMF said it was making $50 billion in aid available for low-income and emerging-market countries to fight the epidemic, which it sees as a “serious threat” that would slow global growth to below last year’s 2.9 percent.
The outbreak in Italy has swelled despite tough measures, including quarantining 11 towns with 50,000 people. New measures include a month-long nationwide ban on fan attendance at sports events, and advising people to avoid greetings like kissing on the cheek or shaking hands. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Italy could tackle the outbreak as long as it remained contained.
Australian man tasered in toilet paper scrap
A fight over toilet roll ended with a man being tasered, Australian police said Thursday, as coronavirus concerns drive panic buying. Police were called to a store in the New South Wales town of Tamworth, about four hours drive north of Sydney, after the man allegedly lashed out and attacked another customer and a worker. Over 50 people have been confirmed to have the virus in Australia so far with the latest cases including an eight-month-old baby in Adelaide.
Coronavirus fears have triggered runs on several products, including hand sanitisers and face masks, with images of shoppers stacking trolleys with toilet rolls spreading on social media.
A fiery truck crash in Brisbane on Wednesday night further fuelled concerns after it was revealed it to be carrying loo roll.
But supermarkets and manufacturers urged calm, reassuring customers that deliveries were increasing to compensate for the demand.
Australia on Thursday banned the arrival of foreigners from South Korea, tightening its border controls in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus as it recorded its second death from the illness. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also extended existing bans on foreigners arriving from mainland China and Iran and said there would be tougher screening processes for people arriving from Italy.
Mona Lisa smiles again
The Louvre Museum in Paris has reopened after managers promised measures to ease workers’ fears about catching the virus from visitors who come from around the world. The measures include distributing more disinfectant gels and giving staff more time to wash their hands. Additionally, staff will only need to stand at the entrance to the room where Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is displayed, rather than inside. The museum will also stop accepting cash payments because of worries banknotes could harbour the virus
Japan to quarantine visitors from China, South Korea
Japan plans to quarantine people coming from China and South Korea for two weeks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, the Yomiuri daily reported on Thursday. The newspaper said that everyone coming from the two countries will be quarantined at medical or other facilities and the government will ask Chinese and Korean tourists to refrain from visiting Japan and will suspend their visas.
Singapore sends Turkish Airlines flight home empty
A Turkish Airlines aircraft was flown back to Istanbul without any passengers on board on Thursday on orders from authorities in Singapore after a passenger who had arrived on the same plane on Tuesday tested positive for coronavirus. The infected passenger was not Turkish and transited through Istanbul en route to Singapore from another location, a Turkish aviation official told Reuters, adding there were 143 passengers aboard the flight, as well as three pilots and 10 crew members. Singapore’s aviation regulator said that the pilots and crew of flight TK54 that had arrived on Tuesday were on the return flight to Istanbul, where they would be placed in quarantine. The aviation official said the crew tested negative for the virus in Singapore.
S.Korea declares new ‘special care zone’
South Korea declared a “special care zone” on Thursday around a second city hit hard by the coronavirus and the US military confirmed two new cases among relatives of its troops in the country, as it battles the biggest epidemic outside China, Reuters reported.
Australia became the latest country to impose travel restrictions on South Koreans, with almost 100 nations now limiting arrivals from the East Asian country which reported 438 new coronavirus cases on Thursday for a total of 5,766. The South Korean government declared a “special care zone” around Gyeongsan, a city of about 275,000 people 250km southeast of Seoul, promising extra resources such as face masks and warning against travel there.
- with inputs from agencies