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Self-isolation, lockdowns and curfews: the world reacts to coronavirus


Elderly people in the UK will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months and the US is considering curfews and lockdowns, as nations introduce more stringent control measures as coronavirus cases and deaths rise across the globe.

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The virus has so infected 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800 – but nearly 74,000 people have already recovered from it.

New travel restrictions and border closures have reverberated across Europe and beyond, as daily life increasingly ground to a halt to try to keep people apart and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Elderly people in the UK will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday it was a “very big ask”, but it was a measure which was for their own “self-protection”.

In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Hancock said the steps were “very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country”.

The gearing up of the government’s efforts comes as the UK’s Covid-19 death toll rose on Saturday from 11 to 21, while the number of people testing positive for the disease passed the 1000 mark.

Hancock said people aged over 70 would be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate in order to protect them from the virus.

Asked if that was in the government’s plan, he said: “That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so, because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it’s for their own self-protection.”

Pressed on when the measure will be introduced, he said: “Certainly in the coming weeks, absolutely.”

“The measures that we’re taking, the measures that we’re looking at taking, are very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country in order to tackle this virus,” he said.

Muslim authorities announced that the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City would be closed indefinitely, and the Vatican said next month’s Holy Week services would not be open to the public.

The number of new coronavirus cases surged in hard-hit Italy to nearly 25,000, and it recorded 368 more deaths to bring its overall toll to 1809.

Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 724, with 113 new deaths in the past 24 hours, an Iranian health official has tweeted, adding that some 13,938 people have been infected across the country.

“In the past 24 hours, 1209 new cases have been confirmed … with 113 deaths in the past 24 hours, the death toll has reached 724,” Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran’s health minister, tweeted.

Spain awoke to the first day of a country-wide quarantine and, in the Philippines, soldiers and police sealed off the densely populated capital of Manila from most domestic travellers.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced plans to limit movement, following Italy and Spain in barring people from leaving their homes except for essential errands or work.

People should go out “only alone or with the people who live in their apartment,” said Austria’s Kurz, whose country has 800 infections.

The Netherlands has ordered all schools, day-care centres, restaurants and bars to shut down until April 6, with the new restrictions covering the country’s marijuana-selling “coffee shops” and sex clubs.

Health officials said eight more people died of the virus, bringing the Dutch death toll to 20.

Elsewhere, Morocco suspended all international flights and Turkey set aside quarantine beds for more than 10,000 people returning from Islam’s holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The German capital of Berlin closed bars, cinemas and other facilities on Saturday evening, after the country’s toll reached nearly 3800 cases and eight deaths.

France, which has 4500 infections and 91 deaths, has closed all ski resorts for the season, but went ahead on Sunday with country-wide elections to choose mayors and other local leaders despite a crackdown on gatherings.

The government ordered unprecedented sanitary measures, with election organisers having to keep a one-metre gap between people and provide soap or hydro-alcoholic gel and disinfectant wipes for voting machines. Voters were told to bring their own pens.

The Irish government says all pubs in the country should close until at least the end of the month to curb the spread of coronavirus after videos of singing in packed Dublin venues sparked anger on social media.

The move comes just two days before the country’s national day, St Patrick’s Day, which traditionally sees bars across the country packed from early in the day.

The annual parade celebrating the day had already been cancelled.

Ireland has had 129 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two deaths.

Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris, described the images of packed pubs as an insult to medical workers.

A number of pubs had announced voluntary closures, but on Sunday afternoon the government moved after a meeting with pub owners, and called on “all public houses and bars (including hotel bars) to close from this evening until at least March 29”.

Publicans reported “real difficulty in implementing … guidelines on social distancing … as pubs are specifically designed to promote social interaction in a situation where alcohol reduces personal inhibitions,” the statement said.

It called on people not to organise private parties for the same reason.

Morocco suspended all international flights and Turkey set aside quarantine beds for more than 10,000 people returning from Islam’s holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

Malaysia has reported 190 new cases of coronavirus, most linked to a religious event at a mosque that was attended by more than 10,000 people from several countries.

The new cases bring the total number of infections in the country to 428, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The ministry said all event participants and their close contacts will be placed under mandatory quarantine for 14 days.

Malaysian health authorities have said around 16,000 people attended the religious gathering held at a mosque near Kuala Lumpur between February 27 and March 1.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the country was facing a “second wave” of infections, and warned of an impact on economic growth.

In neighbouring Brunei, 38 of a total 40 cases had been linked to the religious gathering as of Saturday.

Singapore has also reported some cases linked to the same event.

Lebanon has announced a sweeping shutdown that includes the closure of its airport, most public institutions and private companies.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said Lebanon’s borders, ports, and airport would shut from March 18-29 and people were obliged to remain at home except for matters of “extreme necessity”.

Speaking after an emergency cabinet session to agree the measures, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the steps would “no doubt” impact an already crisis-hit economy, but “lives and health are more precious”.

Work has been suspended at nearly all private companies, with narrow exceptions for food industries and services.

In the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says he would like to see aggressive measures such as a 14-day national shutdown.

“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci said.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he’s considering a statewide curfew to help prevent the spread of the virus and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said a lockdown in the country’s largest city couldn’t be ruled out.

Travellers returning to the US after the Trump administration imposed a wide-ranging ban on people entering from Europe faced hours-long waits for required medical screenings.

US Vice President Mike Pence has promised that Americans will have access in the days ahead to more than 2,000 laboratories capable of processing coronavirus tests.

The Trump administration has faced criticism in recent weeks for what has been seen as a slow gearing up of testing for the coronavirus.

With limited testing available, US officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 62 deaths, and large segments of daily activities have been upended across the country.

President Trump called on Americans to stop hoarding groceries and other supplies, while a senior public health official called on the nation to act with more urgency to safeguard their health.

Trump assured Americans, after speaking with leading grocery chain executives, that grocers would remain open and that the supply chain remained healthy.

“You don’t have to buy so much,” Trump said at a news conference. “Take it easy. Just relax.”

The US Federal Reserve has taken emergency action to help the economy by slashing its benchmark interest rate to near zero, and saying it would buy $700 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds.

The Fed’s surprise announcement signalled its concern that the viral outbreak will depress economic growth in the coming months and that it’s prepared to do whatever it can counter the risks.

It said it would keep its key rate at a range between zero and 0.25 per cent until it feels confident that the economy can survive what’s become a sudden near-shutdown of economic activity in the United States.

-with AAP

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