Dubai: Governments around the world tightened curbs on free movement on Tuesday as the World Health Organisation urged Europe to take the “boldest” actions possible to try to halt or slow the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking after an online meeting of health ministry representatives from across the region, Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said he was “very pleased” to see Britain stepping up its recommendations for social distancing, and urged all countries to work together and learn from each other.
“Europe is the epicentre of the first pandemic of coronavirus and every country, with no exceptions, needs to take their boldest actions to stop or slow the virus spread,” Kluge said during an online news briefing for media.
Britain toughened its approach to the outbreak on Monday with moves to close down social life in the world’s fifth largest economy and advice to those over 70 with underlying health problems that they should self-isolate.
Italy, Spain, France, Germany and others have imposed severe lockdowns.
Italy rushes to promote new doctors to relieve coronavirus crisis
Italy will rush 10,000 student doctors into service, scrapping their final exams, in an effort to help the struggling health service cope with the coronavirus onslaught, Reuters reported.
Some 2,158 people have died of the disease in Italy since the outbreak came to light on February 21, while the total number of confirmed cases has surged to 27,980, making Italy the worst-hit country outside of China. The crisis has pushed hospitals to breaking point at the epicentre of the contagion in northern Italy and left other regions scrambling to strengthen their own health networks as the number of infected rises nationwide.
France under lockdown as coronavirus crisis deepens
France went under lockdown on Tuesday as President Emmanuel Macron toughened measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. France’s 67 million people are allowed out of their homes only to buy groceries, go to work or seek medical care after Macron announced strict border controls and restrictions on movement late on Monday, Reuters reported. More than 100,000 police officers are being deployed nationwide to enforce the restrictions, which are unprecedented in France during peacetime. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said anyone unable to justify their journey, even pedestrians, on a printed ministry document would be fined. France’s death toll from the coronavirus has reached 148 and a total of 6,600 people have been confirmed infected. Hours before the lockdown took effect, Parisians rushed to train stations or took to the roads to escape the French capital.
Spain turns back cars from land borders as coronavirus death toll nears 500
Spain set up police checks at its land borders with France and Portugal on Tuesday and turned back foreigners attempting to enter. The government reported 182 new fatalities overnight, bringing the total number to 491 and making Spain the country with the world’s fastest-rising death toll after Italy. The number of infected topped 10,000 for the first time to 11,178. Spain shut its land borders on Monday to all but Spaniards, permanent residents and trans-border workers. Trade in goods is not affected.
Chile and Peru close borders, Latam grounds flights over pandemic
Chile and Peru announced a total closure of their borders on Monday while Latin America’s largest airline said it was reducing operations by 70 per cent as the region scrambled to stem the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic. Latin America has registered more than 800 cases and seven deaths, after the Dominican Republic became the latest nation to report a fatality, AFP reported. “We’ve decided to close all our country’s terrestrial, maritime and aerial borders for the transit of foreigners,” said Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera. The announcement came as Chile revealed on Monday its number of coronavirus cases had more than doubled since Sunday to 155. Peru followed suit soon afterwards with President Martin Vizcarra announcing a two-week border closure from midnight, while Colombia announced it would close its borders until May 30.
Singapore acts to calm supply fears as Malaysia bans travel
Singapore’s government moved to assure residents it won’t run out of food or basic necessities, after neighboring Malaysia said it would halt travel abroad.
The city-state’s residents “may have to make some adjustments to our choices in the short term,” however the country has “sufficient food supplies for all Singaporeans as long as all of us buy responsibly,” Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post.
Later in the day, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a separate Facebook post Malaysia has assured Singapore that the flow of goods and cargo, including food supplies, between both countries will continue. Both countries appointed senior ministers to coordinate responses to the coronavirus outbreak, Lee said. The comments came after Malaysia banned residents from traveling overseas and instituted a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those returning home in a bid to limit the coronavirus outbreak. Some 300,000 people a day cross by land between Malaysia and Singapore, supplying the wealthy city-state with food, supplies and workers.
Britain advises against non-essential travel globally
The UK advised its nationals against non-essential travel worldwide for the next 30 days as it ramped up its efforts against coronavirus. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he will work with shipping companies to keep trade routes open.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public to avoid contact with other people and to reduce unnecessary journeys. The U.K. has faced criticism for not copying the more robust restrictions in other European countries.
Mnuchin to ask US Congress for $850 billion package
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to seek a phase-three stimulus package of $850 billion or more from Congress on Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the plan. Mnuchin told House Republicans on a conference call Monday that it was needed to add more liquidity in the markets.
Senate Republicans are now considering the second stage of stimulus in response to the coronavirus outbreak and are expected to pass the House package of virus-related economic measures. The Senate could take up the House-passed bill as soon as Tuesday, when Mnuchin is planning to be back on Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans during their weekly lunch.
Brazil’s biggest city declares emergency
Sao Paulo mayor Bruno Covas declared a state of emergency and imposed measures to reduce the circulation of people in the city. Also, hundreds of inmates escaped from at least four prisons in the state of Sao Paulo after local officials cancelled their temporary exits because of fears they could bring the new coronavirus back with them upon their return. Sao Paulo state’s penitentiary administration secretariat said in a statement Monday night that 174 inmates have already been recaptured. Brazilian media said more than 1,000 inmates could be on the loose.
Thailand enacts shutdowns
Thailand’s government has enacted a raft of measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including postponing the country’s biggest annual holiday and shutting down schools. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s Cabinet approved the measures at a meeting where all attendees practiced social distancing by wearing face masks and sitting 1 meter apart, as recommended by health experts.
The plan to postpone Songkran - an annual three-day holiday in mid-April marking the traditional Thai New Year - is one of a series of measures aimed at discouraging the gathering and movement of large numbers of people. Millions of Thais normally travel from Bangkok and other cities where they work to their hometowns to celebrate Songkran. The holiday will be rescheduled at a later date to be decided. Government-run educational institutions through university level will be closed for two weeks starting Wednesday, initially in Bangkok and adjoining suburban provinces.
Indonesia adds restrictions on foreign travellers
Indonesia is bracing for a significant increase in coronavirus cases as it widens efforts to locate and test victims, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said on Tuesday. “There will be quite a significant increase in the number of patients because we’re actively tracing,” he said. Yurianto made the prediction as he revealed there were 38 new coronavirus cases in the past two days in Indonesia, bringing the total number of infections to 172, with five recorded deaths, Reuters reported. Most of the new cases were found in Jakarta, but they were also detected in East Java, Central Java and Riau Island provinces, he said. Previous cases had been found in Bali, Borneo and Sulawesi islands.
- with inputs from agencies