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"We are at war": France locks down as pandemic surges


French President Emmanuel Macron has put the country on a wartime footing as he ordered stringent restrictions on people’s movement for at least two weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with deaths increasing across the globe and countries confirming first cases.

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In a sombre address to the nation, the president said that from midday on Tuesday people should stay at home and only go out for essential activities.

Anyone flouting the restrictions would be punished.

“I know what I am asking of you is unprecedented but circumstances demand it. We are at war,” Macron said on Monday.

Macron also says the army will be drafted in to help move the sick to hospitals.

France had already shut down restaurants and bars, closed schools and put ski resorts off limits, but Macron said measures unprecedented in peacetime were needed as the number of infected people doubled every three days, and deaths spiralled higher.

Coronavirus infections and fatalities in France and Spain have been surging at a pace just days behind that of Italy, the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe where hospitals in the worst-hit northern regions are stretched to breaking point.

Greece is imposing a compulsory 14-day quarantine on anyone entering the country and extending shop closures.

So far, all restaurants, bars and cafes have already shut down, except for deliveries and takeaways.

Germany has partially closed its borders with five neighbours, leading to queues at some crossings.

German police launched new controls at the usually check-free borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark on Monday.

People who commute across the border to work are still allowed to cross, as can trucks carrying goods, and Germans are being allowed back in.

But interior minister Horst Seehofer said that people “without a valid reason to travel” would not be allowed across.

Iran reported another 129 fatalities on Monday, the largest one-day rise since it began battling the Middle East’s worst outbreak, which has claimed more than 850 lives and infected a number of senior officials in the country.

Businesses in the capital remained open even as other countries in the region moved towards full lockdowns.

News agencies said a 78-year-old member of the Iranian clerical body that chooses the country’s supreme leader has died from COVID-19.

Spain has become the fourth most virus-infected country in the world, surpassing South Korea, following a sharp rise in cases.

Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said a total lockdown could be the next step, after deploying the army to the streets and to clean train stations, ordering 46 million to stay at home and taking over control of private hospitals.

Portugal and Spain have already agreed to halt tourism across their shared border, while Belgium has closed schools, bars and restaurants and suspended all sports and cultural events.

Switzerland’s government has declared a state of emergency, ordering shops, restaurants, bars and other facilities to be shut down.

The measures exclude healthcare operations and supermarkets but include entertainment and leisure facilities, which will be closed until April 19.

The government approved the use of up to 8,000 members of the military to help in hospitals, as well as where needed with logistics and security.

Serbia said troops are being deployed to its borders and the streets of the capital, Belgrade, to reinforce a nationwide state of emergency that has been introduced in an effort to try to stop the outbreak.

Czech authorities are ordering a lockdown of 21 towns and villages in an area some 150 miles east of the capital to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, while Hungary is closing its borders to foreigners and only citizens will be allowed in.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said all bars, restaurants and shops will have to close daily at 3pm, with only food stores and pharmacies allowed to stay open longer.

Malaysi has announced a two-week lockdown following a sharp spike in the number of cases, with all religious institutions, schools, businesses and government offices to be  shut from Wednesday until March 31.

All mass gatherings will be banned and only essential services including supermarkets, banks, petrol stations and pharmacies will be allowed to stay open.

Malaysians will not be allowed to travel overseas, and all foreign visitors will be banned. All Malaysians returning from overseas will have to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Canada will close its border to anyone not a citizen or a permanent resident, but Americans will be exempted.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the move outside his residence, where he is self-isolating after his wife tested positive for the virus.

Liberia and Greenland reported their first coronavirus cases.

Russia is also shutting its borders to foreigners starting Wednesday until May 1, while Moscow schools will temporarily close and large public events will be rescheduled.

There were about 100 cases of the new virus reported in Russia, most of them in Moscow, but no one has been reported to have died from the illness in Russia.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced it is suspending production across most of its European plants through to March 27.

The Italian-American carmaker is closing six plants in Italy that make cars under the Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati nameplates as well as plants in Serbia and Poland.

Amazon says it needs to hire 100,000 people across the US to keep up with a crush of orders as the coronavirus spreads and keeps more people at home, shopping online.

“We are seeing a significant increase in demand, which means our labour needs are unprecedented for this time of year,” said Dave Clark, who oversees Amazon’s warehouse and delivery network.

Amazon warned shoppers that it could take longer than the usual two days to get packages and it has sold out of many household cleaning supplies and is working to get more in stock.

-with AAP

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