COVID-19: Govts ramp up new restrictions around the world

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  • Johnson urges citizens to avoid office, pubs, travelling
  • Queen Elizabeth to scale back duties before Easter
  • China’s Wuhan, former epicentre, reports one case
  • Facebook announces $100b aid for small businesses
  • All non-essential travels to EU to be banned
  • Italy’s cases up to 31,506, 2,500 deaths


THE battle to contain the coronavirus reached new urgency on Tuesday, as more governments locked down borders and ordered new closures and restrictions.

The shift in the battle lines was made clear by tallies showing cases outside China have surpassed those inside it and Spain now has the fourth-most cases in the world. The central Chinese city that was the former epicenter where the viral illness was first detected in December was down to just one new case yesterday.

The latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures list 173,000 infections globally and 7,000 deaths.

A surge of patients in Madrid’s hospitals also fueled worries across Europe of what lies ahead.

“There is no easy or quick way out of this extremely difficult situation,” said Prime Minister of The Netherlands Mark Rutte in the first televised speech by a Dutch premier since 1973.

Countries from Canada to Switzerland, Russia and Malaysia and European countries announced sharp new restrictions on the movement of people across their borders.

Only China, Italy and Iran have more infections than Spain, where the number increased by roughly 20%, to 9,191 and fatalities rose to 309, according to the Spanish Health Ministry. It switched to a new reporting system, so the actual number may be higher.

China’s Wuhan, former epicentre, reports one new case

The central Chinese city that was the former epicenter, where the viral illness was first detected in December was down to just one new case yesterday.

As the pandemic expanded its reach, China and South Korea were trying to hold their hard-fought gains. China is quarantining new arrivals, who in recent days have accounted for an increasing number of cases, and South Korea starting Thursday will increase screenings of all travelers arriving from overseas.

China on Tuesday reported 21 new cases of the virus, 20 of them imported. Just one new case was confirmed in Wuhan, the Hubei provincial capital where the illness was first detected in late December. The update raised China’s totals to 80,881 cases and 3,226 deaths.

China this week relaxed travel restrictions in Hubei, sending thousands of workers back to long-shuttered factories.

Italy’s cases up to 31,506, with over 2,500 deaths

Italy’s national tally of cases of novel coronavirus contagion has increased to 31,506, with 2,503 deaths, the Civil Protection Agency says in its daily bulletin on Tuesday.

Compared to Monday, the death toll has risen by 16 per cent, while total cases are up by 12.6 per cent, down from daily increase rates of 17-21 per cent recorded last week.

The fatality rate, particularly high in Italy, is almost 8 per cent.

The number of patients in intensive care a closely watched figure given the shortage of hospital beds in frontline regions rose by about 11 per cent, to 2,060, including 879 in Lombardy.

Lombardy, which surrounds Milan, is the region worst hit by the outbreak, with 16,220 cases and 1,640 deaths.

In Lazio, the region that includes Rome, cases increased by 16 per cent to 607.

Johnson to citizens: avoid office, pubs, travelling

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said everyone in the UK should avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others to curb coronavirus – as the country’s death toll hit 55.

Johnson said people should work from home where possible as part of a range of stringent new measures.

Pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions should consider the advice “particularly important”, he said.

People in at-risk groups will be asked within days to stay home for 12 weeks.

More than 1,500 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK – but the actual number of cases is estimated to be between 35,000 and 50,000.

All “unnecessary” visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease

People should only use the NHS “where we really need to” – and can reduce the burden on workers by getting advice on the NHS website where possible

Queen to scale back duties

The Queen is to cancel her annual garden parties and begin her Easter break earlier than planned because of the coronavirus outbreak, Buckingham Palace says.

The 93-year-old monarch will carry out a number of small scale duties at the palace in the next few days, including meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

But she will then leave for Windsor Castle tomorrow – a week earlier than scheduled – and will remain there beyond the Easter period, the palace said.

Brexit talks delayed due to coronavirus

The latest set of Brexit talks will be delayed due to coronavirus. A UK government spokesperson has said: “We will not formally be convening negotiating work strands tomorrow in the way we did in the previous round.”

They said both sides were “fully committed” to the negotiations and were considering “alternative ways to continue discussions, including looking at the possibility of video conferencing or conference calls, and exploring flexibility in the structure for the coming weeks.

The transition period – during which the UK remains in both the EU customs union and single market – ends on 31 December 2020.

All non-essential travel to EU to be banned among other measures

The European Commission is planning to ban all non-essential travel to the European Union after more countries within the bloc closed their borders to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would ask leaders to implement the measures yesterday.

“The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” she said.

Meanwhile, tough new measures in France restricting movement from the home are came into effect yesterday.

They were alluded to in French President Emmanuel Macron’s televised address to his nation on Monday. He said “all trips between non-European countries and EU countries will be suspended”.

Ms von der Leyen said that long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats would be exempt as well as cross-border and healthcare workers and people transporting goods.

The measures would be in place for at least 30 days.

Some 26 states are part of the Schengen agreement, which allows people to move freely between EU countries without border checks, but several countries have unilaterally closed borders in recent days in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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This prompted the commission to propose that the bloc act in a more unified fashion and restrict entry to the union as a whole, on the urging of Macron.

Facebook announces $100b aid plan for small businesses

Facebook is rolling out a plan to give 100 billion dollars in aid, through loans and ad credits, to small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak, it announced in a blog post yesterday.

“The programme aims to reach up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries where we operate.

“We’ll share more details as they become available,’’ the social media giant said, adding that it would begin taking applications in the coming weeks.

Report said part of Facebook’s business model is becoming a site that helps smaller businesses connect to customers.