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Workers in protective gear operate a drive through COVID-19 mobile testing centre on March 13, 2020 in New Rochelle, New York. The center serves all parts of Westchester County and will test up to 200 people today, growing to up to 500 people per day in the coming days. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Leaders around the world appealed for solidarity on Friday to battle the threat from a microscopic foe threatening lives and ruining the economy. Tens of millions of students stayed home on Friday on three continents as schools, playgrounds, restaurants and offices shut down to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Leaders vowed to protect not just the sick, but those sacrificing their livelihoods and education for the greater good.

Spain declares state of emergency over coronavirus

Spain will be in a state of emergency for the next 15 days to better combat the coronavirus, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday, in a dramatic increase to the policy response that will allow authorities to confine people and ration goods, Reuters reported. The state of emergency, which Sanchez said will formally be decided by a cabinet meeting on Saturday, will give the government power to take wide-ranging measures including temporarily occupying factories or any other premises except private homes. He did not spell out what specific measures the government will take.

Spain has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe after Italy. The current Spanish tally stands at 4,209, up by about 1,000 cases from Thursday and seven times as much as on Sunday. About 120 people have died.

35 per cent jump in UK positive cases

The number of people in the UK testing positive for the new coronavirus jumped 35 per cent over the past day as criticism over the government’s approach to the outbreak escalated. The British government said 798 people had tested positive for the COVID-19 disease by Friday, up from 590 the day before. Ten people have now died. In total, 32,771 people have been tested.

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people have tested positive for coronavirus in Britain

The Conservative government’s strategy to contain the outbreak has come under criticism for not yet ordering the mass closure of schools, banning large events or introducing “social distancing’’ measures that have been adopted elsewhere in Europe.

Instead, Britons have been urged to wash hands frequently and asked to stay at home for a week if they have a new persistent cough or signs of a fever.

Dutch ban flights

The Dutch government is banning passenger flights into the country from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea in its latest measure aimed at reining in the spread of the coronavirus, AP reported. The government announced the decision Friday, a day after calling a halt to any gatherings of more than 100 people - decision that forced the closure of universities, museums and theatres.

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Image Credit: Graphic News

Trump names testing chief

The Trump administration on Friday named a testing “czar” at the Department of Health and Human Services after numerous complaints about the shortage of coronavirus tests in the US. Separately, the FDA posted on Twitter that labs having problems getting supplies for collecting patient samples for testing should call the agency’s toll-free information hotline.

US cities are taking more intensive steps to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. By Monday, more than 1 million of Georgia’s 1.8 million public school students will have been kept home by 50 or more school districts statewide, including every large district in metro Atlanta. Public schools in Washington DC were closed beginning Monday until April 1 affecting some 47,000 students. Fairfax County, Virginia also closed schools on Friday, affecting 180,000 students.

The mayor of Dallas, Texas, has declared a local disaster and the city is banning large gatherings.

Canada House of Commons shuts down

Canada’s House of Commons voted Friday to shut down for at least five weeks to help ensure lawmakers do not contribute to the spread of for new coronavirus. The moves comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife tested positive. The prime minister himself has been in self-imposed quarantine.

Trudeau says his government will recommend that Canadians avoid travel outside the country except for essential purposes.

Australian PM advises against big gatherings amid virus outbreak

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday urged people not to gather in groups of more than 500 from Monday, but said he would still go to a weekend rugby game, as officials warned millions of residents would contract coronavirus within months. Australia has recorded 156 infections and three deaths from the flu-like respiratory disease, figures that authorities expect to increase rapidly in the coming weeks, Reuters reported. Morrison said his government will advise against non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, though this does not include schools, airports or public transport.

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Two women look for pasta on nearly empty shelves of a supermarket in Antwerp, Belgium, Friday, March 13, 2020. Belgium announced sweeping measures on Thursday, including the closure of all schools, restaurants and bars as well as cancelling sporting and cultural events, in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Image Credit: AP

Queen cancels public events

Buckingham Palace says Queen Elizabeth II is cancelling some public events “as a sensible precaution” during the coronavirus outbreak, AP reported. The palace says two planned visits by the 93-year-old monarch in London and northwest England have been postponed on medical and government advice. The queen will continue to hold audiences at Buckingham Palace. Royal officials said the queen’s son Prince Charles and his wife Camilla have postponed a trip planned for next week to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus and Jordan because of the pandemic.

Italy welcomes Chinese medical team

Italy has welcomed a team of Chinese medical experts and 31 tons of ventilators, protective masks and other medical equipment. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and the head of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Francesco Rocca, were on hand Friday to welcome the Chinese delegation at Red Cross headquarters in Rome. Di Maio, the only one not wearing a protective mask, said Italy is now reaping the benefits of its solidarity with China. Italy is the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe, registering more than 15,000 infections and 1,000 dead.

Austria quarantines hard-hit areas

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced dramatic measures to try and stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the Alpine nation, including quarantining two hard-hit areas of Tirol, AP reported. Kurz told reporters in Vienna that the towns of St. Anton am Arlberg and the Paznauntal area would be isolated for 14 days, but added residents and tourists now there will be well taken care of.

China offers help on research

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the UN that his nation wants to conduct joint research on drugs and vaccines and offer “as much assistance as it can” to countries where the novel coronavirus is spreading. State media reported Friday that Xi told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by phone that economic and daily life are gradually returning to normal in China thanks to “arduous endeavours” at prevention and control. China, where the virus was first discovered, recorded just eight new infections on Friday.

- with inputs from agencies