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A few pedestrians walk near the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, on Wednesday. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government is ready to spend as much as 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) on stimulus measures to shield the economy from Europe's worst outbreak of the coronavirus. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday urged world governments to urgently scale up their response to the novel coronavirus if they are to stand a chance of stemming the disease's spread.

"Today's declaration of a pandemic is a call to action — for everyone, everywhere," the secretary general said in a statement.

"We can still change the course of this pandemic — but that means addressing inaction," he said. "I call on every government to step up and scale up their efforts — now."

The World Health Organization labeled the outbreak as a pandemic on Wednesday.

"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction," Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," he told a news conference.

US President Donald Trump is set to address the nation on coronavirus at 9pm Wednesday (5am Thursday UAE).

Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in late December 2019, more than 124,101 cases have been recorded in 113 countries and territories, killing 4,566 people, according to an AFP tally compiled at around 5pm GMT (9pm UAE) on Wednesday based on official sources.

Italy to shut all stores bar pharmacies and food shops

Italy will ramp up spending to soften the blow from coronavirus and could restrict movement further to slow its spread, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday, as the death toll jumped by 196 in 24 hours to 827.

It was the highest daily increase in absolute terms registered anywhere in the world since the virus emerged in China at the end of last year. Confirmed cases across Italy rose to 12,462 from a previous 10,149.

Conte said Wednesday that Italy would shut all stores except for pharmacies and food shops to curb the spread.

"All shops will be closed except for basic necessities, such as pharmacies and food stores," Conte said in a national television address broadcast hours after Italy saw its death toll climb to 827 in just over two weeks.

"Bars, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and canteen services will close. Home delivery is allowed."

Italy has recorded nearly 60 percent of all coronavirus cases outside China.

Italy has announced billions in financial relief to cushion economic shocks from the coronavirus, while mulling tighter restrictions on daily life. Conte said he will consider requests to toughen Italy’s already extraordinary anti-virus lockdown that was extended nationwide Tuesday.

Italy’s government announced it is setting aside 25 billion euros (nearly $28 billion) to boost anti-virus efforts and soften economic blows, including delaying tax and mortgage payments by families and businesses.

Police barred access to St Peter’s Square, emptying it of tens of thousands of people who usually come on Wednesdays for the weekly papal address. Pope Francis instead live-streamed prayers from the privacy of his Vatican library.

Italian police were on Wednesday hunting for 11 prisoners who escaped in the aftermath of jail riots sparked by fears over coronavirus, as authorities began to test inmates and distribute face masks. Those still on the run were part of a group of 72 inmates who escaped on Monday from a prison in Foggia, located near Italy’s southeastern coast, the justice ministry said.

China fresh casesat new low

The number of fresh infections at the epicentre of China's coronavirus epidemic dropped to a new low on Thursday but the country imported more cases from abroad.

Another 11 people died, the lowest daily increase since late January, bringing the toll in China to 3,169 deaths, according to the National Health Commission.

There were only eight new cases in Wuhan, the city where the virus first emerged in December before growing into a national crisis and a pandemic.

It is the first time that new cases in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, have fallen to single-digits since figures started to be reported in January.

Beijing’s city government announced that all overseas visitors will be quarantined for 14 days. Of 24 new cases that China reported Wednesday, five arrived from Italy and one from the United States, AP reported.

Some vital industries in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic, were told they can resume work on Wednesday, a day after President Xi Jinping visited there for the first time since the outbreak began.

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A woman walks near a row of horse-drawn carriages in Seville on March 11, 2020 after Spain banned all air traffic from Italy, closed schools and blocked fans from football matches due to the coronavirus outbreak. Image Credit: AFP

US cases cross 1,000

US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday the United States will suspend all travel from Europe to the United States for 30 days starting on Friday in order to fight the coronavirus.

"To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight," Trump said in an address to the nation.

Trump also urged Congress to pass tax relief measures as the economy reels from the coronavirus outbreak that has shuttered businesses and sent Wall Street plunging.

"I am calling on Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. Hopefully they will consider this very strongly," Trump said.

With cases in the US now topping 1,000 and the number of deaths climbing to 31, lawmakers and health officials set up containment zones and sought to limit contact with those who might be infected. Dozens of cases were being tied to a conference in Boston, and leaders in multiple states were announcing curbs on large events.

New York’s governor said National Guard troops would scrub public places and deliver food to a suburb where infections have spiked.

New York and Washington are struggling to make testing for the virus widely available, with local officials estimating it could take weeks more to reach peak testing capacity.

UK death toll rises to 8, with 456 cases

The British government was expected Thursday to implement the second phase of its plan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak but rejected calls for parliament to be suspended after an MP tested positive.

The government has so far not moved out of the first "contain" stage of its four-tier plan, revealed on March 3, which focuses on detecting early cases and preventing the disease "taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible."

But with eight deaths and 456 cases now recorded, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce the country is moving to the second "delay" phase when he chairs another special emergency planning meeting on Thursday, his spokesman said Wednesday.

This stage is designed to slow the spread, and if it does take hold, "lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from the winter season," according to the official documentation.

Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP and junior health minister, revealed late Tuesday that she had been diagnosed with the virus.

Europe deaths soar

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A 'ninot', a gigantic structure made of cardboard portraying current events, wearing a protective mask is displayed in Valencia on March 13, 2020 after the Fallas festival was cancelled over the coronavirus outbreak. Image Credit: AFP

In Europe, deaths soared among Italy’s aging population. In Spain, the number of cases surged past the 2,000-mark on Wednesday. Ukraine joined more than a dozen other countries in closing all schools, kindergartens and universities.

Belgium has recorded its first three deaths from the coronavirus strain, and four staff at the European Commission have taken sick, officials said.

The health ministry said the first fatalities were a 73-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman who had been in Brussels hospitals and 86-year-old man from a care home in the district of Sint-Genesius-Rode, south of the capital.

Sweden reported its first death from the new coronavirus on Wednesday with an elderly patient dying in intensive care at a hospital in the Stockholm region.

Sweden has around 460 confirmed cases of the virus, the first of which was identified at the end of January.

Two-thirds of Germans may get coronavirus, Merkel says

Germany will spend what it takes to tackle the coronavirus which is likely to infect up to 70 per cent of the population in Europe’s largest economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday. “We will do what we need to get through this. And then at the end we will look at what that means for our budget,” she told reporters, seeming to distance herself from Germany’s policy of no new borrowing. Though conceding she did not know how the crisis would develop, Merkel said the risk was huge, Reuters reported.

South Korea reports 114 new cases, 6 new deaths

South Korea reported 114 new cases of the coronavirus, as well as six more deaths from the illness, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

The new cases bring the country's total to 7,869, with 66 deaths, as health officials seek to track down and contain a number of new clusters of infections, including at a call centre in the capital city of Seoul.

Ivory Coast confirms first case

Ivory Coast has confirmed its first case of coronavirus, a 45-year-old Ivorian man who had recently travelled to Italy, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

Ivory Coast, Francophone West Africa’s largest economy, is the eighth country in sub-Saharan Africa to report a confirmed case after Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Democratic Republic of Congo, Reuters reported.

South Africa announced six new cases of the virus on Wednesday, bringing its total to 13, the most in sub-Saharan Africa. North African countries have also recorded nearly 100 cases. The patient in Ivory Coast is in stable condition in hospital in the commercial capital Abidjan, the health ministry said in a statement.

Senegal case confirmed ahead of religious gathering

A novel coronavirus case has been confirmed in the central Senegalese city of Touba, the country's health ministry said Wednesday, ahead of a large religious gathering planned there later this month.

A Senegalese national who normally lives in Italy visited a doctor in Touba on March 10 - a day after exhibiting symptoms - becoming the West African state's fifth confirmed case.

Thailand restricts visitor visas

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A woman buys hand sanitizers at a market in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday. Indonesia recorded its first death from coronavirus in the case of a 53 year-old foreign woman who had existing health problems when she was admitted to a hospital, a health ministry official said Wednesday. Image Credit: AP

Thailand will temporarily suspend issuing visas on arrival to visitors from 19 countries and territories, including China, to contain the spread of the coronavirus, its interior minister said on Wednesday.

“People from any country who want to come will need to apply for a visa with our embassies,” Minister of Interior Anupong Paochinda said.

“Thai embassies everywhere will ensure that no sick people will travel to Thailand.”

Visa on Arrival (VoA) will be suspended for nationals of all 19 countries and territories previously eligible, including Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Malta, Mexico, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, and Vanuatu, according to a list provided to reporters by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Australia embarks on huge spending plan

Australia on Thursday unveiled a massive US$11 billion spending plan designed to curb the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and avert the country's first recession in 29 years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the nearly Aus$18 billion package - equivalent to just under one percent of GDP - which will primarily support businesses.

"This plan is about keeping Australians in jobs. This plan is about keeping a business in business," said Morrison. "This plan is about ensuring the Australian economy bounces back stronger on the other side of this."

Latin America steps up measures

Latin American countries stepped up measures to slow the advance of the coronavirus Wednesday, announcing a slew of restrictions on travelers from the worst-affected countries and shutting down major sports events.

Argentina, Colombia and Peru announced that travelers from China, Italy, Spain and France would be isolated on arrival.

Argentina was the first country in Latin America to register a coronavirus-related death on Saturday, with Panama announcing another on Tuesday.

The continent still has only around 150 registered cases and two deaths.

Cuba confirms first cases

Cuba confirmed its first cases of the new coronavirus on Wednesday, while its textile industry has been drafted to fabricate masks and the government also urges citizens to make their own, amid a cash crunch and dwindling supplies worldwide.

Cuba's state news broadcaster said four Italian tourists who were staying at a hostel in the southern town of Trinidad after arriving at Havana airport on Monday had presented respiratory symptoms and were taken to a hospital on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the hospital confirmed that three of the tourists had tested positive for the coronavirus, the broadcaster said. Authorities were tracking down those who had come into contact with the three and was checking up on them.

UN Security Council scales back schedule

The UN Security Council will scale back its schedule for March as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic, China said Wednesday.

China, which holds the March presidency of the Security Council and is also the epicenter of the virus, wants to ensure "we will be in a better position to protect ourselves," said its ambassador, Zhang Jun.

While no Security Council sessions will be canceled, China has advised a "scaling down of the meetings" including reducing delegation sizes, Zhang told reporters.

Informal consultations within the powerful 15-member body may also be shifted to a larger room so "that we have more space and less people," he said.

The United Nations has pushed back major gatherings outside of the Security Council.

On Wednesday it indefinitely delayed a March 23-April 3 meeting on marine biodiversity as well as an April 13-24 forum on indigenous issues.

It already postponed a March annual meeting on the status of women that would have brought 12,000 people to New York.

No cases of COVID-19 have been reported within the 3,000-strong UN Secretariat, said the world body's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

The United Nations has halted tours and much of the staff has been asked to work remotely, Dujarric said.