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Borders, carmakers close as coronavirus deaths climb

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Coronavirus has now infected more than 200,000 people and claimed more than 8000 lives, with more nations closing borders and shutting down industry is a desperate attempt to slow the pandemic’s spread.

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Latest overnight figures show the virus has infected more than 204,000 people and killed more than 8700.

In Italy, the death toll is approaching 3000 with an average of 350 a day, with more than 35,000 cases.

Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has climbed to 1135 with 147 new deaths in the past 24 hours, a health ministry official says, adding that the total number of infected people across the country had reached 17,361.

“Unfortunately there were 1192 cases of infected people in the past 24 hours … please follow the guidelines and stay at home,” Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi told state TV on Wednesday.

Spain’s tally of coronavirus cases has risen to 13,716 and the number of fatalities is 598, says Fernando Simon, the head of the country’s health emergency centre.

He said the number of cases rose from a previous tally of 11,178 cases and 491 fatalities on Tuesday.

French health authorities reported 89 new deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, taking the total to 264 or an increase of almost 51 per cent.

Indonesia’s death toll jumped on Wednesday from five to 19 and Malaysia warned of “a tsunami” of cases if people did not follow new restrictions as infections surged across Southeast Asia.

Pakistan confirmed its first coronavirus death as the total number of infections climbed to 260.

The countries with the most confirmed cases were China, Italy, Iran, Spain and Germany.

The countries with the most confirmed deaths were China, Italy, Iran, Spain and France.

The US reported more than 7700 cases and at least 116 deaths, almost half of them in Washington state, where dozens of residents from a suburban Seattle nursing home have died.

Johns Hopkins University in the US said more than 82,000 people have recovered from the virus, which causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough in most cases, although severe illness is more likely in the elderly and those with existing health problems.

Events and carmakers shut down

The Eurovision song contest has been cancelled, and the plug has been pulled on England’s Glastonbury music festival.

BMW is halting all production in Europe for four weeks, as the crisis impacts demand in key auto markets, disrupts supply chains and threatens workers’ health on factory floors.

“Starting today, we will power down our European car factories and the Rosslyn plant in South Africa. The interruption in production is currently planned until April 19,” BMW chief executive Oliver Zipse said on Wednesday.

The Munich-based company’s announcement follows similar moves by its competitors in Germany and abroad.

On Tuesday, Daimler and the Volkswagen Group, including its Audi subsidiary, also announced temporary production halts.

The big three US car companies – General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford – will also start instituting a “rotating partial shutdown” of their facilities, the workers’ union said, in a move which would see about 150,000 workers stood down.

Border chaos

The US has closed its border with Canada to non-essential traffic.

Similar steps were taken across Europe, while leaving many frontiers open to cross-border workers and trucks carrying critical goods like food and medicine, prompting major traffic jams.

To alleviate some of the pressure from eastern Europeans stuck in Austria and trying to return home, Hungary opened its borders in phases.

Bulgarian citizens were first allowed to cross in carefully controlled convoys, then Romanians had a turn. Serbs were also allowed to pass through.

But at one point early on the Austrian side, trucks were backed up for 28km and cars for 14km.

“The traffic jam is slowly starting to dissolve,” said Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer. “We’re trying to manage the traffic situation as best as possible.”

Thousands of trucks were backed up in Lithuania on roads into Poland. Traffic was similarly jammed along Germany’s border with Poland.

The European Union said that it was trying to help about 80,000 citizens stuck outside Europe get home but that it faced huge challenges, including finding flights.

In Southeast Asia, the causeway between Malaysia and the financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet after Malaysia shut its borders, while the Philippines backed down on an order giving foreigners 72 hours to leave from a large part of its main island.

Taiwan said that it, too, would ban foreigners from entry and citizens would have to quarantine at home for 14 days.

US ramps up response

Calling himself a “wartime president,” US president Donald Trump said he would sign the Defense Production Act “in case we need it” as the government bolsters resources for an expected surge in cases of the virus.

With a growing number of people in the US thrown out of work by the near-shutdown of much of the country’s economy, he also said the Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions from public housing through April.

Meanwhile the administration pushed forward its broad economic rescue plan, which proposes $US500 billion in cheques to millions of Americans, with the first cheques to come April 6 if Congress approves the plan.

Britain shuts schools

Britain has ordered schools, nurseries and colleges to close for millions of children until further notice after criticism that the government was being too slow to react to the spread of coronavirus.

Most schools will close from Friday, although some will be asked to stay open to support the children of essential workers like health care employees, education minister Gavin Williamson told parliament.

“I know the situation has become increasingly challenging. I said before that if the science and the advice changed such that keeping schools open would no longer be in the best interests of children and teachers that we would act,” he said.

“We are now at that stage. The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated.”

The shutting of so many schools will have huge economic and social repercussions for the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

It will alter the lives of almost 9 million British children and force parents to stay home from work to look after them.

The decision came after head-teachers were increasingly having to turn away pupils anyway because of staff shortages.

The move to shut schools is a reversal of the government’s recent cautious stance towards tackling the virus.

Britain had previously resisted pressure to follow the lead of Italy, France, and Spain, saying that school closures would not halt the outbreak and would deprive the country of key public sector workers.

The school closure comes after the number of deaths of people who tested positive for coronavirus in England rose to 99, a 48 per cent jump from the day before.

Williamson said some schools will stay open to support the children of key workers like doctors, the police or delivery drivers, including during the upcoming Easter holidays.

Economic impact

The United Nations’ International Labor Organisation estimated that the crisis could cause nearly 25 million job losses and drain up to $US3.4 trillion ($A5.9 trillion) in income by year’s end, but that a co-ordinated global response in the form of fiscal stimulus and other measures could help reduce the toll.

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