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Medical staff check passengers' temperature upon their arrival at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Callao, west of Lima, on a late flight from Spain on March 11, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: More countries around the world imposed sweeping travel bans on Thursday, hoping that keeping people inside their homes would help stem the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 126,000 people in over 110 countries have been infected by the virus. The vast majority are in just four countries: China and South Korea - where new cases are declining - and Iran and Italy, where they are not. More than 4,600 people have died worldwide.

US Vice-President Mike Pence said the country is preparing for thousands of new coronavirus cases and will ask Americans returning from abroad to go into “self-quarantine” for 14 days as part of the effort to contain the outbreak. In a round of television interviews, Pence defended the Trump administration’s strategy to stop the spread of Covid-19 respiratory illness, including a clampdown on travellers coming into the country.

“We know there will be more infections in the days ahead.

The European Union on Thursday criticised Trump’s decision to impose the ban, which goes into effect on Friday, saying it was not consulted before he announced it in a Wednesday night address to the nation.

Although US citizens and permanent residents are not included in the travel ban, Pence said they would be screened for the coronavirus and asked to go into quarantine for two weeks after returning home.

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National Guard troops give food to residents of New Rochelle, New York at New Rochelle High School on March 12, 2020. The National Guard will help clean surfaces and deliver food in the one-mile radius “containment area” around a point near a synagogue connected to some existing cases of what appears to be the nation’s biggest cluster of cases of the coronavirus, Covid-19. Image Credit: AFP

“Americans coming home will be funnelled through 13 different airports, they’ll be screened, and then we’re going to ask every single American and legal resident returning to the United States to self-quarantine for 14 days,” Pence told CNN.

Pandemic ‘could be over by June’: Chinese adviser

The global coronavirus pandemic could be over by June if countries mobilise to fight it, a senior Chinese medical adviser said on Thursday, as China declared the peak had passed there and new cases in Hubei fell to single digits for the first time.

“Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission. “The increase of new cases is falling.” Zhong Nanshan, the government’s senior medical adviser, told reporters that as long as countries take the outbreak seriously and are prepared to take firm measures, it could be over worldwide in a matter of months, Reuters reported.

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A medical staff member disinfects equipments at a ward used to be an isolation ward for patients infected by the Covid-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on March 12, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

“My advice is calling for all countries to follow WHO instructions and intervene on a national scale,” he said. “If all countries could get mobilised, it could be over by June.”

In all, 15 new cases were recorded in mainland China on Wednesday, down from 24 the day before.

Spain government tested as minister infected, cases touch 3,000

Spain’s government underwent coronavirus testing Thursday after a minister tested positive and was quarantined with her partner, deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias, and cases soared close to 3,000, AFP reported. The surge in infections brought the total to 2,968 cases in Spain up from 2,140 on Wednesday evening, with deaths leaping to 84 from 48 within the same time frame.

All of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s upcoming appointments would be conducted by video conference.

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Image Credit: Graphic News

Ireland to shut schools and universities over coronavirus

Ireland will shut schools, universities and childcare facilities until March 29 and restrict mass gathering to slow the spread of the coronavirus, acting Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday. Ireland’s chief medical officer said the government had turned to measures to try to delay the spread, rather than simply contain it. Ireland confirmed its first death of a patient diagnosed with the coronavirus on Wednesday as the number of confirmed cases of the virus rose to 43 from 34 a day earlier. 

Senate staffer has coronavirus, US Capitol halts tours

A Senate staffer has tested positive for coronavirus, the first known case on Capitol Hill, as the US Congress took the rare step Thursday of closing its doors to all visitors. The staff member who tested positive for Covid-19 works in the Washington DC office of Senator Maria Cantwell of the state of Washington, the early epicenter of the US outbreak, AFP reported.

“The individual has been in isolation since starting to have symptoms,” Cantwell’s office said in a statement, adding that the lawmaker’s US Capitol office has been closed “for deep cleaning and staff will be teleworking.”

Meanwhile the Capitol, a landmark building that sees as many as five million visitors per year, and congressional office buildings were being closed to everyone except members of Congress, staff and journalists.

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A view of the near empty departure area at London's Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 departure, on Thursday. Image Credit: AP

Czechs shut borders to travellers from 15 countries

The Czech Republic will close its borders to travellers crossing from Germany and Austria and also ban the entry of foreigners coming from other risky countries to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Thursday. Czechs will also be barred from travelling to those countries, and to and from and other countries deemed risky, effective from Saturday. The full list includes other EU members Italy, Sweden, Norway, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Denmark, and also Britain, Switzerland, China, Korea and Iran. International public transport vehicles with more than nine seats will also be banned from crossing borders. Under a state of emergency declared for 30 days, the Prague government also banned international passenger transport, but kept freight business open.

Dutch ban public events over coronavirus

The Netherlands banned events of more than 100 people on Thursday in response to the coronavirus epidemic and told people with respiratory symptoms to stay home, AFP reported. The most far-reaching measures yet in the Netherlands came as the number of new coronavirus infections rose 22 per cent from a day earlier to 614. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said people who could work at home should do so and companies should rotate staff to reduce a further spread of infections.

However, he said schools will remain open for now. The measures will remain in place at least until March 31.

Disneyland Paris halts shows, limits queues over coronavirus

Disneyland Paris said Thursday that it had halted outdoor shows and shortened queues for its rides to comply with French government limits on mass gatherings to curtail the country’s coronavirus outbreak. The amusement park, which has some 15 million visitors each year, also said it was temporarily waiving fees for changing or cancelling reservations for its Disney hotels.