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World walls off as leaders warn viral pandemic will worsen

By PTI Updated: Mar 12, 2020 9:45 pm

Rome, March 12 (PTI/AP): Sweeping travel bans accelerated across the globe on Thursday, walling regions apart, keeping people inside their homes and slowing the engines of commerce in an effort to stem the viral pandemic unfolding around the world.

President Donald Trump, who had downplayed the virus for weeks, suddenly struck a different tone, delivering a sombre Oval Office address announcing strict rules on travel from much of Europe to begin this weekend. The State Department followed with an extraordinary warning to Americans to reconsider travel abroad as well.

The European Union quickly slammed Trump’s “unilateral” decision, declaring that the coronavirus pandemic is a “global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

The virus detected three months ago in China has produced crippling outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Mideast, ignited global financial panic and in the last week has seen dizzying developments that are erupting by the hour.

Those include an official designation of pandemic from the World Health Organisation, a dramatic halt to much travel between the United States and 26 European countries, and infections being announced in rapid-fire pace by Hollywood stars, sports luminaries and political leaders as well as ordinary folks on cruise ships. All of this is coming against a backdrop of crashing world economies that left not only Wall Street investors but people from all walks of life hurting.

It’s similar to what you might think of as an infectious disease equivalent of a major earthquake that’s going to shake us for weeks and weeks,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin a top public health official for the Seattle area, which has one of the biggest US coronavirus outbreaks.

Around the world, nursing homes emptied of visitors to protect the elderly, who are especially vulnerable to the new virus.

More than 126,000 people in more than 110 countries have been infected by the new 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.

In California, the governor advised cancelling any gatherings of more than 250 people, as well as any smaller meetings where people must be closer than 6 feet (2 meters).

In Italy, the center of Europe’s epidemic, new restrictions closed restaurants, cafes and retail shops Thursday after the prime minister imposed a nationwide lockdown on personal movement earlier in the week. Grocery stores, pharmacies and outdoor markets were allowed to operate, as were newspaper kiosks.

Rosanna Farina, whose family has run a newspaper kiosk in Rome’s historic centre since the 19th century, was torn on whether it was worth staying open.

So few people are out and about. People are terrorized,” she said, wearing a scarf around her face. I’d rather be home. I’m worried, even if I’m keeping a distance. Even remote Mount Everest closed for business. Chinese mountaineering officials cancelled spring climbs from their side of the mountain, while on the other side in Nepal, operators say cancellations were pouring in.

Across the US, where cases now number more than 1,300, a sense of urgency was pervasive.

As the pandemic grips Europe and the U.S., it continues to ebb in China, where the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in December. It reported a record low of just 15 new cases Thursday. So far more than three-fourths of China’s patients have recovered.

Most people infected by the new virus have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, though symptoms can be severe, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. Recovery for mild cases takes about two weeks, while more severe illness may take three to six weeks, WHO says.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her nation that, over time, two-thirds of the country could become infected since people do not have immunity to COVID-19.

We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action, said WHO’s leader, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear. Double Oscar winner Tom Hanks said he and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive. Australian officials say the couple are in a Queensland hospital and their close contacts need to self-quarantine.

In Italy, soccer club Juventus said defender Daniele Rugani tested positive. In Iran, the senior vice president and two other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19. In Spain, the equality minister was diagnosed and her husband, a deputy prime minister, was in quarantine.

Coronavirus cases to single-digit in Wuhan, China reports rise in ‘imported cases’

The coronavirus cases continue to drop sharply in China which has reported 11 new fatalities, taking the death toll to 3,169, while in the worst-hit Wuhan, the confirmed cases for the first time dropped to single-digit with eight new infections, amid a surge in “imported COVID-19 cases” in the country.

China’s National Health Commission, (NHC) said on Thursday it received reports of 15 new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus and 11 deaths on the Chinese mainland on Wednesday.

However, there is a surge in the total number of “imported COVID-19 cases” (people arriving from abroad) which rose to 85 on Wednesday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, a total of 80,793 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 had been reported on the mainland, and 3,169 people had died of the disease.

Among the new deaths, 10 were in Hubei Province and its capital Wuhan and one in Shaanxi province, it said.

In Hubei province and Wuhan, where over 50 million people are still under lockdown, the coronavirus cases, for the first time, dropped to a single digit. Wuhan reported eight cases on Wednesday, it said.

The latest report by the local health commission brought the total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the hard-hit province to 67,781.

By PTI Updated: Mar 12, 2020 9:45:37 pm