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Empty tables are pictured outside a restaurant at St Mark's Square, which is usually full of tourists, after Italy's government adopted a decree with emergency new measures to contain the coronavirus, in Venice, Italy, on Thursday. Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: The unrelenting spread of the coronavirus brought ballooning infections, economic fallout and sweeping containment measures from around the world on Thursday. “Countries should be preparing for sustained community transmission,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, leader of the World Health Organization, said of the two-month-old virus outbreak. “Our message to all countries is: This is not a one-way street. We can push this virus back. Your actions now will determine the course of the outbreak in your country.”

China has been issuing daily reports of new infections that are drastically down from their highs, factories there are gradually reopening and there is a growing sense that normalcy might not be that far off, AP reported. But countries elsewhere are seeing escalating cases and a host of cancellations, closures, travel bans and supply shortages.

South Africa confirmed its first coronavirus case yesterday after a 38-year-old man who travelled to Italy tested positive, while a 74-year-old woman in western Switzerland died after contracting the virus.

New cases in Greece

Greek health officials on Thursday reported 21 new coronavirus infections among a group that had recently travelled to Israel and Egypt by bus, raising the country’s total to 31. “It was a closed group of people who were on a bus for several days,” Sotiris Tsiodras of the national public health organisation (EODY) told a news conference, adding that they had returned to Greece on February 27. The group had been on a Holy Land trip to Israel and Egypt, EODY said.

Two among the group - an elderly man and his wife - had already tested positive as Greece’s ninth and tenth case respectively.

The 66-year-old man has acute pneumonia and is in stable condition, EODY said in an earlier statement.

Amazon, Facebook ask Seattle employees to work from home

Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc on Thursday joined Microsoft Corp in recommending employees in the Seattle area to work from home after several people in the region were infected with the coronavirus. Seattle in Washington state has been most affected by the virus in the United States. Ten people have died out of 39 cases of infections through community transmission of the virus. Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle, recommended employees in the area to work from home through the end of the month, after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday. Facebook said on Thursday a contractor at its Seattle office was diagnosed with the coronavirus and that it would shut the location until March 9.

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California emergency

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared an emergency following the state’s first coronavirus fatality - raising the US death toll to 11 - and a cruise ship was kept offshore after passengers and crew members developed symptoms. Separately, the federal government said it was going to buy 500 million respirators to stockpile for use by healthcare professionals. Lawmakers in Congress agreed to provide more than $8 billion to fight the rapidly spreading disease.

Departing cruise line passengers wait to pass through the thermal screening system before immigration control at the Singapore Cruise Centre in Singapore, on Thursday. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dutch brace for return of 900 students from Italian Alps

The Netherlands, anxious to protect the public from coronavirus, is scrambling to put together a plan for the imminent return of around 900 students from a ski trip in northern Italy, at the heart of Europe’s worst outbreak of the disease, Reuters reported.

The trip to the Italian Alps by the group, mostly in their early 20s, has stoked fears of a wider spread of the virus in the Netherlands, where the number of confirmed corona cases jumped from 38 to 82 on Thursday.

“We are working very hard to prepare for all different scenarios,” local health authorities spokeswoman Hanneke Mensink said.

Italy restrictions on nursing homes

Italy has placed temporary restrictions on visiting relatives in nursing homes and is urging the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary, AP reports said.

The Italian government, which closed schools nationwide to try to contain the coronavirus, has opened a campaign to urge ordinary Italians to do their part to limit infections given that Italy’s elderly population risks overwhelming the public health system with virus cases.

Italy, the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe, has the world’s oldest population after Japan. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 virus. The 107 people who have died so far in Italy are all elderly, sick with other complications or both.

N.Korea’s Kim sends ‘get well soon’ wishes for South’s coronavirus battle

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a letter expressing hope for South Korea to overcome a coronavirus outbreak, President Moon Jae-in’s office said on Thursday. The two sides’ exchanges have ground nearly to a halt after the North closed borders and temporarily shut a joint liaison office in a border city to avert an outbreak, while the South added 438 infections on Thursday to swell its tally to 5,766, Reuters said.

“Chairman Kim wished to console our citizens who are fighting the coronavirus,” Yoon Do-han, Moon’s senior press secretary, told reporters. “He said he believes we will win, and hoped the health of southern compatriots will be protected.” Moon responded with a letter of thanks, Yoon added.

Masked tourists take picture next to the Joconde by Leonardo da Vinci, seen at left, at the Louvre Museum in Paris, on Thursday. Image Credit: AP

China infections

Infections are now rising faster abroad than they are in China, where 31 more deaths and 139 new cases were reported on Thursday. China’s death toll now stands at 3,012, with over 80,000 infections.

Beijing is now concerned about importing cases, with 20 infections brought from abroad so far, including Italy and Iran - prompting the capital to require people arriving from hard-hit countries to go into self-quarantine.


From western Europe to eastern Asia, supermarket and pharmacy shelves have been stripped of supplies in recent weeks, including masks, toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

Stock markets have rumbled over fears of recession, but Asian shares extended gains on Thursday after a surge on Wall Street buoyed by global stimulus measures.

The IMF said it was making $50 billion in aid available for low-income and emerging-market countries to fight the epidemic, which it sees as a “serious threat” that would slow global growth to below last year’s 2.9 percent.

No kissing

The outbreak in Italy has swelled despite tough measures, including quarantining 11 towns with 50,000 people. New measures include a month-long nationwide ban on fan attendance at sports events, and advising people to avoid greetings like kissing on the cheek or shaking hands. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Italy could tackle the outbreak as long as it remained contained.

Australian man tasered in toilet paper scrap

A fight over toilet roll ended with a man being tasered, Australian police said Thursday, as coronavirus concerns drive panic buying. Police were called to a store in the New South Wales town of Tamworth, about four hours drive north of Sydney, after the man allegedly lashed out and attacked another customer and a worker. Over 50 people have been confirmed to have the virus in Australia so far with the latest cases including an eight-month-old baby in Adelaide.

Coronavirus fears have triggered runs on several products, including hand sanitisers and face masks, with images of shoppers stacking trolleys with toilet rolls spreading on social media.

A fiery truck crash in Brisbane on Wednesday night further fuelled concerns after it was revealed it to be carrying loo roll.

Mona Lisa smiles again

The Louvre Museum in Paris has reopened after managers promised measures to ease workers’ fears about catching the virus from visitors who come from around the world. The measures include distributing more disinfectant gels and giving staff more time to wash their hands. Additionally, staff will only need to stand at the entrance to the room where Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is displayed, rather than inside. The museum will also stop accepting cash payments because of worries banknotes could harbour the virus

Japan to quarantine visitors from China, South Korea: Yomiuri

Japan plans to quarantine people coming from China and South Korea for two weeks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, the Yomiuri daily reported on Thursday. The newspaper said that everyone coming from the two countries will be quarantined at medical or other facilities and the government will ask Chinese and Korean tourists to refrain from visiting Japan and will suspend their visas.

Singapore sends Turkish Airlines flight home empty

A Turkish Airlines aircraft was flown back to Istanbul without any passengers on board on Thursday on orders from authorities in Singapore after a passenger who had arrived on the same plane on Tuesday tested positive for coronavirus. The infected passenger was not Turkish and transited through Istanbul en route to Singapore from another location, a Turkish aviation official told Reuters, adding there were 143 passengers aboard the flight, as well as three pilots and 10 crew members. Singapore’s aviation regulator said that the pilots and crew of flight TK54 that had arrived on Tuesday were on the return flight to Istanbul, where they would be placed in quarantine. The aviation official said the crew tested negative for the virus in Singapore.

S.Korea declares new ‘special care zone’

South Korea declared a “special care zone” on Thursday around a second city hit hard by the coronavirus and the US military confirmed two new cases among relatives of its troops in the country, as it battles the biggest epidemic outside China, Reuters reported.

Australia became the latest country to impose travel restrictions on South Koreans, with almost 100 nations now limiting arrivals from the East Asian country which reported 438 new coronavirus cases on Thursday for a total of 5,766. The South Korean government declared a “special care zone” around Gyeongsan, a city of about 275,000 people 250km southeast of Seoul, promising extra resources such as face masks and warning against travel there.

- With inputs from agencies