Dubai: France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people, Australia ordered self-isolation of arriving foreigners and other countries extended entry bans as the world sought to contain the spreading coronavirus. Spain said deaths from the coronavirus have more than doubled in a day to 288, infections near 8,000. And in Italy, 368 new deaths were recorded.
Panic buying in Australia, the United States and Britain saw leaders appeal for calm over the virus that has infected over 156,000 people globally and killed more than 5,800.
Several countries imposed bans on mass gathering, shuttered sporting, cultural and religious events, while medical experts urged people to practice “social distancing” to curb the spread.
Austria’s chancellor urged people to self-isolate and announced bans on gatherings of more than five people and further limits on who can enter the country.
All of Pope Francis’ Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending, the Vatican said on Sunday, in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.
The services, four days of major events from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, usually draw tens of thousands of people to sites in Rome and in the Vatican.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said from midnight Sunday international travellers arriving in the country would need to isolate themselves for 14 days, and foreign cruise ships would be banned for 30 days, given a rise in imported cases.
Australia’s latest restrictions mirror those announced by neighbouring New Zealand on Saturday.
Travel bans, airline cutbacks
Donald Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, his doctor said on Saturday, as the US president extended his country’s travel ban to Britain and Ireland.
Last week, Trump had met a Brazilian delegation in which at least one member has since been tested positive.
Travel restrictions and bans, and a plunge in global air travel, saw further airline cutbacks, with American Airlines Inc planning to cut 75 per cent of international flights through May 6 and ground nearly all its widebody fleet.
China tightened checks on international travellers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row.
Anyone arriving to Beijing from abroad will be transferred directly to a central quarantine facility for 14 days for observation starting March 16, a city government official said.
Germany will close its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland from Monday morning due to the coronavirus crisis, a government source told AFP on Sunday, confirming a report in German media.
The popular tabloid Bild had reported that the closures would take effect at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) on Monday, and claimed that goods and cross-border commuters would be exempt.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer met with state premiers from affected German regions on Sunday to agree the closures, the newspaper claimed.
The politicians aimed not only to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but also to curtail cross-border panic-buying, the report added.
Seehofer is set to hold a press conference on the decision later Sunday.
Paris, meanwhile, said the decision had been taken in coordination with the French government.
Yet the French interior ministry also insisted that the border would not be fully closed.
"We are going to limit border crossings to the strict minimum, while allowing people and merchandise to go through. It's not a closure," a ministry source told AFP.
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the closure from Wednesday of South Africa's borders to all foreign nationals from countries highly impacted by the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
"We are imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and China as from 18 March 2020," Ramaphosa said.
China, where the epidemic began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.
China has reported 80,984 cases and 3,203 deaths. The country imposed draconian containment policies from January, locking down several major cities.
Spain put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown on Saturday as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the epidemic in Europe’s second worst-affected country after Italy. In Italy, 368 coronavirus deaths were reported on Sunday.
Streets in Madrid and Barcelona were deserted on Sunday. All major newspapers carried a front-page wrapper emblazoned with a government-promoted slogan: “Together we’ll stop this virus.” Spain has had 193 deaths from the virus and 6,250 cases so far, public broadcaster TVE said on Sunday.
France will shut shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from Sunday with its 67 million people were told to stay home after confirmed infections doubled in 72 hours.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government had no other option after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected.
“We must absolutely limit our movements,” he said.
However, French local elections went ahead.
“I am going to vote and keep living my life no matter what.
"I am not scared of the virus,” said a 60-year-old voter, who asked to be identified only as Martine, at a Paris polling station.
Britain is preparing to ban mass gatherings and could isolate people aged over 70 for up to four months as part of plans to tackle coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
Argentina banned entry to non-residents who have been to any country highly affected by coronavirus in the last 14 days, while Colombia said it would expel four Europeans for violating compulsory quarantine protocols, hours after closing its border with Venezuela.
Starting Sunday, South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to stricter border checks, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran which have had major outbreaks.
Visitors from those countries now need to download an app to report whether they have symptoms. South Korea has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers using cell phone and satellite technology.
The Dutch government on Sunday ordered the closing of all schools, bars, restaurants and cafes.
"From tomorrow, March 16 until April 6, the coming three weeks, schools and day care centres will be closed except for those children whose parents are in vital jobs," Education Minister Arie Slob said.