Lockdowns and stocks down as virus fight shifts away from China

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The global battle to contain the coronavirus has reached a new level of urgency as governments locked down borders, millions of workers, students and worshippers were ordered to stay home, and pleas went out to send masks and ventilators to places struggling with soaring caseloads.

The shifting fronts in the battle were made clear by figures showing that cases outside China — where the virus originated — surpassed those inside its borders for the first time.

The US stock market plunged more than 12% on Monday, surpassing drops in Asia and Europe, for its worst day in more than three decades as voices from Wall Street to the White House said the coronavirus is probably dragging the economy into a recession.

The S&P 500 has plummeted nearly 30% since setting a record less than a month ago, and is at its lowest point since the end of 2018.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 2,997 points, or 12.9%, and also had its worst loss since the Black Monday crash of 1987.

Spain officially became the fourth-most infected country in the world, passing South Korea as its arc of contagion curved higher.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The actual figure is presumed to be higher because Spain has switched to a new system of reporting.

Countries including Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Spain announced sharp new restrictions on the movement of people across their borders.

Germany’s government reversed its earlier insistence that border controls would not work, imposing new limits on crossings with France, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Luxembourg, after cases of the virus increased by more than 1,000 over 24 hours.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen suggested a 30-day ban on people entering the bloc for non-essential travel reasons in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

She said people with long-term EU residency or who are family members of European citizens, plus diplomats, doctors and health care workers could be exempted from the ban. Transport workers could also be exempt to help keep goods flowing.

All countries must “test, test, test” people for Covid-19, the head of the World Health Organisation said.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged widespread testing to keep track of the pandemic, saying the WHO has shipped almost 1.5 millions tests to 120 countries.

Among the most drastic measures, the Swiss city of Geneva banned gatherings of more than five people, though exceptions were made for business meetings that followed public health rules.

Switzerland’s government declared a state of emergency, ordering shops, restaurants, bars and other facilities to be shut down. The measures exclude health-care operations as well as supermarkets, but include entertainment and leisure facilities, which will be closed until April 19.

In Asia, where the virus has been a brutal fact of life for months, authorities urged vigilance to keep hard-won gains against the microscopic foe that has shut down travel, severely rattled financial markets, upended daily life and was threatening the livelihoods of millions.

In the US, health officials recommended a limit to groups of 50 or more people and a government expert said a 14-day national shutdown may be needed. Americans returning from abroad encountered chaotic airport health screenings that clearly broke all virus-fighting rules against having packed crowds close together.

Worldwide, more than 179,000 people have been infected and more than 7,000 have died. Over 78,000 have recovered, most of them in China.

China, where the virus was first detected in December, now accounts for less than half of the world’s cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. On Monday, China relaxed travel restrictions in the hardest-hit virus province of Hubei, sending thousands of workers back to jobs at factories desperate to get production going again.

South Korea on Monday reported only 74 more cases but there were still worries that infections might surge again from those returning from Europe or from local people attending church services.

Prime minister Chung Se-kyun called the country’s decline in cases a “hopeful sign” but said South Korea should “never loosen its guard”.

Malaysia’s leader announced a drastic two-week lockdown, with travel in and out of the country banned and only essential services allowed to remain open.

India further tightened its borders, while Greenland and Somalia reported their first confirmed cases.

Ireland ordered all pubs and bars to close for two weeks — including on Tuesday, St Patrick’s Day.

Turkey’s highest religious authorities suspended Friday prayers in tens of thousands of mosques across the country.

Italy reported another jump in infections, up more than 3,000 to 27,980. With 2,158 deaths — including 349 in the last 24 hours — Italy accounts for well over a quarter of the global death toll. Cases slowed in Lombardy, the hardest-hit region.

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