Germany virus
A German police officer, wearing a face mask, stops a driver at the border crossing between Austria and Germany, near the German village of Oberaudorf, as Germany imposes border controls with five countries in a virus fightback, on March 16, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Restaurants, theatres, cinemas and schools were shut in New York, Germany edged closer to a lockdown and Spain became the fourth most virus-infected country in the world on Monday as nations went all out to combat the coronavirus pandemic. One prime minister even said it was alright for children to be scared at what was happening around them. “Many children think it is scary,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference, at her office, dedicated to answering children’s questions about the pandemic. “It is okay to be scared when so many things happen at the same time.”

COVID-19 pandemic 'defining global health crisis of our time': WHO

The global COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 6,500 lives, is the defining health crisis of our time, the head of the World Health Organization said Monday.

"This is the defining global health crisis of our time," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in a virtual news conference Monday, adding that "Crises like this tend to bring out the best and worst of humanity."

Spain crosses South Korea numbers

Spain has become the fourth most virus-infected country in the world, surpassing South Korea with a sharp curve of contagion, and closing its borders is a “real possibility” being considered, AP reported. Coronavirus cases in Spain rose by roughly 1,000 cases in 24 hours to 9,191 on Monday, and the number of fatalities reached 309. Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said a total lockdown could be the next step, after deploying the army to the streets and to clean train stations, ordering 46 million to stay at home and taking over control of private hospitals. Portugal and Spain have already agreed to halt tourism across their 1,200km shared border.

Germany edges closer to lockdown with church, shop closures

Germany plans to close shops, limit restaurants’ opening hours and ban church services in further efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus threatening Europe’s biggest economy, its largest selling newspaper Bild reported on Monday. If confirmed, the moves would bring Germany a step nearer to a state of total lockdown like that in force in Italy and Spain, where most people are confined to their homes, and wreak further economic disruption.

Coronavirus graphic
Image Credit: Graphic News

US states plea for coordinated national response

US states pleaded with the Trump administration on Monday to coordinate a national response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying patchwork measures enacted by state and local authorities were insufficient to confront the coast-to-coast emergency. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, called for bold federal action involving the US military and the Army Corps of Engineers. The US death toll from the outbreak rose to 65 over the weekend, prompting fears US hospitals will soon be overrun similar to medical centres in Italy.

Virus brings France to a standstill, Macron mulls further measures

Many streets in French cities were desolate Monday as schools, cafes and a range of businesses were shuttered on government orders, as President Emmanuel Macron weighed additional measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, AFP reported.

While many people worked from home, others thronged supermarkets to stock up on essentials in case of a prolonged lockdown. France has shuttered non-essential businesses in a bid to curb the spread of the virus that had infected more than 5,000 in the country by Sunday and killed 127 - a jump of 900 cases and 36 deaths in 24 hours. More than 400 people are in hospital in serious condition, causing fears of hospitals being overrun. The country is also limiting long-distance train and plane travel and some domestic public transport.

Anger mounts over UK government’s decision to keep schools open

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a backlash on Monday over his decision to keep schools open, with angry parents keeping their children at home and complaining that other countries were doing more to stop the spread of coronavirus. Britain has reported 1,372 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 35 deaths, fewer than in Italy, Spain and France, where schools have been shut, though the British numbers are expected to rise. Johnson’s spokesman said the scientific advice was that school closures were not a step the government should be taking at this time, but a growing number of parents are refusing to send their children to school.

EU executive warns against border closures as way to curb coronavirus

European Union countries must take care not to damage food and medicine supply lines as they slap on border restrictions in the drive to curb the spread of coronavirus, the EU’s executive arm said on Monday. EU countries have tightened frontier controls across the normally open-border Schengen zone which includes most member states as well as non-members Switzerland and Norway. “The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the challenge of protecting the health of the population whilst avoiding disruptions to the free movement of persons, and the delivery of goods and essential services across Europe,” the European Commission said in a note to the 27 member states.

Biggest daily jump for Netherlands

The Netherlands has recorded its biggest daily jump in the number of coronavirus infections, with 278 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours, AP reported. The new cases reported Monday brought the country’s total to 1,413. The Dutch public health institute said four more people also died of COVID-19, bringing the national death toll to 24. The government on Sunday ordered all schools, bars, restaurants and sports clubs closed until April 6.

Indonesia virus
A health worker (R) sprays disinfectant as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in a tourist area in Sanur on Indonesia's resort island of Bali on March 16, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Geneva bans gatherings of more than five

The Swiss government on Monday declared a state of emergency lasting until April 19 in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

"A strong reaction is needed across the country. And we need it now," Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga told a press conference.

The Swiss city of Geneva is banning all gatherings of more than five people. Geneva social affairs department spokesman Henri Della Casa said the measure was about “common sense” and not “splitting up families” with more than five members. The ban is one of a panoply of orders from the Geneva regional government set to take effect on Monday evening. The regional government also is ordering the closure of all restaurants, bars, and retail shops aside from grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations, and the halting of all sporting events and religious services.

Greece imposes quarantine on all entries

Greece is imposing a compulsory 14-day quarantine on anyone entering the country and extending shop closures to fight the spread of the coronavirus. So far, all restaurants, bars and cafes have already shut down, except for deliveries and take-aways, AP reported. Deputy government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said the expanded closures as of Wednesday would not affect supermarkets, pharmacies, banks or gas stations. Peloni also said people were required to maintain a two-meter distance from each other in supermarket queues and to avoid cash payments by using credit or debit cards,

Hungary closes borders to foreigners

Hungary’s prime minister said the country is closing its borders to foreigners and only citizens will be allowed in. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Monday in Parliament that international coordination about the border closures is underway. Orban also said all bars, restaurants and shops will have to close daily at 3pm, with only food stores, pharmacies and drug stores allowed to stay open longer. Cinemas, cultural institutions and nightclubs will also be closed, while sporting events can still be held if organizers assume responsibility, but only without spectators.

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China relaxing travel restrictions

China is relaxing travel restrictions in the hardest-hit virus province of Hubei, sending thousands of workers back to jobs at factories desperate to get production going again. The official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that cities just outside the epicentre of Wuhan were chartering buses to send back to work residents who had returned home for the Lunar New Year in late January. The move comes as Chinese officials say the outbreak that spread from Wuhan starting in December has mostly run its course domestically, while they remain vigilant against imported cases.

South Africa to revoke visas

South Africa will revoke nearly 10,000 visas issued this year to people from China and Iran, and visas will now be required for other high-risk countries that had been visa-free, including Italy and the United States. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said a lockdown might be necessary if tough new measures announced Sunday, including travel restrictions and school closings, don’t work. He warned of a high risk of internal virus transmission with “the problem of inequality in our society.”

Australia supermarkets start ‘elderly hour’ to counter panic-buying

An Australian supermarket chain will start opening its doors exclusively to customers over 60-years-old for one hour a day as part of an effort to ease the burden of panic-buying on the most vulnerable, AFP reported. “Woolworths Supermarkets will be opening exclusively for the elderly and those with a disability to shop from 7am to 8am,” the company said in a statement Monday. The measure is expected to come into effect on Tuesday and run for the rest of the week, when the policy will be reviewed and potentially extended. A run of coronavirus panic-buying has gripped Australia and several other countries, emptying shelves of basic goods, despite pleas by authorities to stop.

Bulgarians applaud front-line medics from balconies to show support

Thousands of Bulgarians came out onto their balconies on Sunday night to applaud doctors and nurses at the front line of the coronavirus crisis in a sign of unity and support. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov announced on Sunday that all medics involved in treating coronavirus patients will receive a bonus of 1,000 levs ($566) per month, Reuters reported. Bulgaria’s confirmed cases more than doubled to 52 over the past few days with a nine-year-old child from Britain becoming the latest confirmed coronavirus infection on Monday. Two people have died from the infection. The country has declared a state of emergency until April 13, closing schools and banning mass gatherings.

Thailand to shut 'entertainment places' to fight virus

Thailand will shut venues that attract large crowds, like "entertainment places", sports arenas and schools in a bid to halt the spread of the deadly new coronavirus, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha announced Monday.

The measures could threaten bars, cock-fighting and boxing arenas, and clubs - dealing a potentially massive blow to Bangkok's famed nightlife.

They come as Thailand announced 33 new cases of the new coronavirus - the largest single one-day jump - bringing the total number of infections in the country to 147, including one death.

Portugal confirms first death from coronavirus: health ministry

Portugal has registered its first death from the COVID-19 illness caused by coronavirus, Health Minister Marta Temido said on Monday.

The patient was an 80-year-old man who was hospitalised in Lisbon a few days ago was already suffering from other illnesses, the minister said.

- with inputs from agencies