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Passengers wearing protective gear, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus, stand in the arrivals area at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai in March 18, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: European border crossings were choked on Wednesday after countries put into place strict controls to check the spread of coronavirus which has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000.

More than 82,000 people have recovered from the virus, the new figures by Johns Hopkins University said.

European leaders have closed borders to nonessential traffic, while leaving many open to cross-border workers and trucks carrying critical goods like food and medicine. That has led to massive backups of travellers and trucks alike, AP reported.

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A security guard checks on Chinese passengers covered with plastic bags at the departure level of Manila’s International Airport, Philippines on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The Philippine government lifted a 72-hour deadline for thousands of foreign travelers to leave the country’s main northern region which has been placed under quarantine due to the growing number of coronavirus infections, officials said. Image Credit: AP

Italy warns of harsher measures

The governor of the Italian region of Lombardy, hardest-hit by coronavirus infections, is warning citizens that if they don’t stay in their homes as they should, he’ll ask the central government for even stricter measures. Italian authorities say too many people are violating last week’s national decree, which allows people to leave homes to go to workplaces, buy food or other necessities or for brief strolls outside to walk dogs or get exercise, AP reported. Of hundreds of thousands of people stopped by police for checks, tens of thousands have received a summons for going out without valid reasons. As of Tuesday, Lombardy had slightly more than half of Italy’s 31,506 virus cases and 1,640 of Italy’s 2,503 deaths. Italy is the second hardest-hit nation after China in the pandemic.

US toll crosses 100

In the US, the death toll crossed 100, and officials urged older Americans and those with health problems to stay home. They also recommended all gatherings be capped at 10 people. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that residents should be prepared for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order within days. A shelter-in-place order in the San Francisco Bay Area, requiring most residents to leave their homes only for food, medicine or exercise for three weeks, is the most sweeping lockdown in the US.

Canada announces Can$27 billion coronavirus aid package

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Can$27 billion in direct aid Wednesday to help workers and businesses cope with the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said tax payments worth an estimated Can$55 billion could be deferred until August.

Italian is first coronavirus death in Cuba

Cuba recorded its first death from the new coronavirus on Wednesday when a 61-year-old Italian tourist died as the island nation's confirmed cases rose to 10, the public health ministry said.

The tourist entered Cuba, which unlike many countries in Latin America has not closed its borders, on March 9 and had been in a critical state since Sunday night.

Johnson says announcement on UK school closures imminent

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would be taking decisions imminently on the possible closure of schools, with some forced to partially or fully close due to the spread of coronavirus, Reuters reported.

Scotland will close its schools from Friday and the government in Edinburgh said there is no guarantee they will reopen before the summer. Wales has decided to follow suit.

In England, head-teachers have been forced to make unilateral decisions about closing as they struggle to cope amid rising staff and student absences. This comes amid confusion about why schools are advised to stay open when the government has stepped up advice to curb social contact to try to slow the spread of the virus.

Southeast Asia cases surge

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Volunteers use disinfectant to clean Wat Traimit temple in Bangkok on March 18, 2020, amid concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak across the world. Wat Traimit is the home of 5.5 tons of pure gold Buddha statues and attracts thousands of tourists each day. Image Credit: AFP

Coronavirus infections surged across Southeast Asia on Wednesday with Indonesia’s death toll jumping from five to 19 and Malaysia warning of “a tsunami” of cases if people did not follow new restrictions on movement. The number of cases across the region has risen more than 10-fold this month to at least 1,900, driven in part by hundreds of infections stemming from a mass Muslim gathering in Malaysia just over two weeks ago, agencies reported. “We beg you to stay at home and protect yourself and your family. Please,” Malaysia’s health ministry posted on Twitter. Indonesia only announced its first two cases of the virus on March 2 despite widespread suspicions that a lack of testing concealed a bigger problem. Its death toll jumped to the highest in the region on Wednesday, while the Philippines also recorded a rise of three fatalities to 17. Indonesia recorded its biggest daily jump in confirmed infections, by 55 to 227 cases.

British supermarkets impose limits as panic buying spreads

Britain’s biggest supermarkets, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, imposed limits on purchases of pasta, toilet roll and long life milk on Wednesday after alarmed shoppers stripped shelves bare to hoard for possible isolation in the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has faced criticism for acting too cautiously, said on Tuesday there was no reason to stockpile and that food supplies were safe. But in supermarkets across the land, shoppers were spooked. Aisle after aisle was left empty with just ice cream and chocolate Easter eggs remaining at many major stores. Huge queues snaked around some supermarkets on Wednesday.

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A very quiet Westminster Bridge, London Wednesday March 18, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Image Credit: AP

Brazil closes border to Venezuelans as coronavirus outbreak worsens

Brazil on Wednesday closed its border to Venezuelans for an initial 15 days, citing strains on the public health system from a worsening coronavirus outbreak and what its president described as Venezuela’s inability to respond to the epidemic, Reuters reported. The move does not apply to trucks shipping goods or cross-border humanitarian aid previously authorised by health officials. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced the measure on Tuesday amid mounting criticism of how he has handled the coronavirus crisis. Brazil this week reported its first fatality from COVID-19

Plan to return illegals to Mexico

President Donald Trump’s administration was considering a plan to immediately return to Mexico all people who cross America’s southern border illegally, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the plan hasn’t been finalized.

The coronavirus is present in every US state after West Virginia reported an infection. In far-flung Hawaii, the governor encouraged travelers to postpone their island vacations for at least the next 30 days, while the governor of Nevada ordered a monthlong closure of the state’s casinos.

Increasingly worried about the economic fallout of the global shutdown, the US, Britain and the Netherlands announced rescue packages totaling hundreds of billions of dollars, while longtime International Monetary Fund critic Venezuela asked the institution for a $5 billion loan.

Spaniards in lockdown bang pots in protest against former king

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A woman wearing a face mask as a protective measure, talks with soldiers deployed at Atocha railway station in Madrid to fight against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, on March 18, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Spaniards in lockdown came out on balconies on Wednesday to bang pots and pans demanding that former King Juan Carlos donate millions he reportedly received from abroad to the Spanish health system currently struggling to combat the coronavirus. People in central Madrid, summoned by a call on social media, appeared on balconies and on roof terraces to bang metal pans. Spaniards have been confined to their homes since Saturday for all but essential outings to stem the spread of the virus in the second worst-hit country in Europe. King Felipe said on Sunday he had renounced his inheritance from his father, former King Juan Carlos, and stripped the ex-monarch of his palace allowance.

Kosovo PM sacks interior minister over coronavirus

Kosovo’s prime minister sacked his interior minister amid disagreements over whether the country should declare a state of emergency to halt the spread of coronavirus, a move that may bring down the government less than two months after it was formed. Late on Tuesday, President Hashim Thaci proposed that parliament declare a state of emergency. Prime Minister Albin Kurti said such a drastic measure wasn’t necessary. Interior Minister Agim Veliu publicly opposed the prime minister and said that his party would support the president. “In these circumstances I am obliged to act and I have decided to dismiss the interior minister Veliu,” Kurti said in a press statement. Kosovo has registered 19 people infected by the coronavirus since last Friday

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Sri Lankan police women wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus take part in a rehearsal parade in Colombo on March 18, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Merkel to give first ever TV address as German infections soar

Chancellor Angela Merkel will for the first time deliver a televised address Wednesday to German citizens on the escalating coronavirus crisis, a government spokesman said. The German leader is expected to urge the public to heed government recommendations to stay at home, after Europe’s biggest economy announced sweeping new measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, AFP repored. The chancellor will not announce “new measures” in the evening address, which will be broadcast by Germany’s two major broadcasters ARD and ZDF, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. “It will be about what now has to be done in Germany in order to slow the spread of the virus and how each individual should play their part in that,” he said.

On Monday, the government and federal states announced drastic new restrictions to public life, including the closure of all non-essential shops and a ban on religious gatherings.

- with inputs from agencies