Global action: French police on patrol to enforce pandemic emergency orders

Associated Press

The Associated Press

The Latest on the world's coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 183,000 people and killed more than 7,100. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 79,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

As clocks around France struck noon, the police patrols commenced, stopping anyone outside to try to contain the spreading virus.

Normally swarming with visitors 365 days a year, the empty Eiffel Tower guarded over a Paris gradually going into lockdown.

Some Parisians looked out on their changing city from their wrought-iron balconies as the deadline hit.

Dozens of police deployed along the tree-lined Champs-Elysees, whose luxury boutiques stood shuttered, its wide sidewalks devoid of shoppers or selfie-takers.

Essential workers still allowed to circulate showed papers allowing them passage. A few joggers and bikers were waved on, after the government said solo sports activities are still allowed.

Tourists were told to go inside.

France's government ordered the confinement as the number of virus cases topped 6,600, including 148 deaths.

France's government is pledging 45 billion euros ($50 billion) in aid for small businesses hurt by the spreading coronavirus.

That's in addition to tens of billions already promised for French workers forced to stop working because of store and restaurant closures and strict new confinement measures.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced the new aid Tuesday morning, after another dark day for French markets. The makers of Renault, Peugeot and Citroen cars suspended all production and other companies were forced to sharply curtail activity to stem the virus' spread.

The aid will include tax breaks and a "solidarity fund" for struggling small businesses across the economy.

Le Maire said the pandemic "will be a catastrophe for all countries of the world. The shock will be violent."

France now has more than 6,600 cases of the virus, including 148 deaths.

Canada

Canada's largest province is declaring a state of emergency amid the pandemic.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says all organized events of over 50 people are prohibited.

Ford says all restaurants and bars will be closed except for takeout or delivery. Grocery stores, pharmacies, corner stores and public transit will remain open.

Schools, child care centers and theaters are also closed in Canada's most populous province.

He says no expense will be spared to support Ontarians in need.

Canada's second largest airline is suspending all commercial international and trans-border flights for a 30-day period as it helps operate rescue and repatriation flights in partnership with the Canadian government.

Westjet says it will suspend normal service on Sunday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says now is the time for Canadians to come home.

The government is mandating airlines to screen passengers for symptoms of the virus before allowing anyone to board a plane.

Russia

Russian health officials ordered coronavirus testing for everyone who returned from European countries in the last 14 days. 

The decree released Tuesday by the country's public health watchdog also outlines mandatory testing for everyone who returned from abroad in the past month and exhibited flu-like symptoms.

Previously, testing in Russia has been limited to people who showed symptoms and either returned from countries severely affected by the pandemic or had contact with those who had already been diagnosed with the virus.

The measure is one of the many Russian authorities took this week to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in the country, which has reported 93 cases. On Monday, the Cabinet announced that Russia's borders would be closed to all foreigners starting Wednesday. Authorities in different Russian regions imposed restrictions on public events and recommended people to work and study from home.

In Moscow, all schools will be closed Saturday and all mass gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. City authorities also require travelers from all European countries along with the United States, the U.K. and Russia's ex-Soviet neighbors Ukraine and Belarus to self-isolate for 14 days upon return.

African nations

African nations are seeing two major investments in their coronavirus response. 

Jack Ma, founder of the Chinese tech company Alibaba, says his foundation will donate more than 1 million testing kits. That's 20,000 testing kits to each of Africa's 54 countries as the coronavirus starts to spread on the continent. 

Thirty African countries have confirmed cases but about a dozen lack testing capability. Ma says "we cannot ... assume this continent of 1.3 billion people will blissfully escape the crisis." 

And Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $40 million initiative to help vulnerable countries, notably in Africa.

Greece

Greece's government has published its decision banning religious services of all faiths across the country in the government gazette, bringing the restrictions into force in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the decision Monday night, after the Greek Orthodox Church's Holy Synod announced it would limit, but not halt, religious services. 

"The protection of public health requires clear decisions," Mitsotakis tweeted.

The ban applies from Monday until March 30, and halts all religious services. Churches had been expecting increasing numbers of faithful for services leading up to Orthodox Easter on April 19.

US response

Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the federal response to the virus, is calling on the "army of millennials" to lead the charge in fighting back against the coronavirus.

Birx said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the nation needs millennials out doing everything they can to protect themselves from getting infected, but also protecting their parents and grandparents.

She says millennials who get infected typically will have milder symptoms than at-risk and older Americans. She says millennials, a term referring to those born in the 1980s to early 1990s, also tend to be good at networking and sharing information.

Spain

The number of deaths in Spain due to the new coronavirus has jumped from 309 to 491 in 24 hours and new infections have risen to 11,178, nearly 2,000 more than a day earlier.

The numbers were reported Tuesday by the nation's health emergency center director, Fernando Simón. With a population of 46 million, Spain became on Monday the fourth country in the world with most coronavirus cases, surpassing South Korea and edging closer to Iran.

Spanish police started enforcing land border checks Tuesday after the country, already under strict lock-down measures, banned people from entering or exiting the country in an attempt to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

At the La Jonquera border, a key crossing point for trucks from and to France in northeaster Spain, masked agents of Spain's national and Catalan regional police stopped cars and trucks, checked documents and redirected some of the vehicles back to France.

Spanish citizens and residents are allowed to return home, and goods are allowed in and out.

Britain

Britain's dramatic escalation of social restrictions to fight COVID-19 was sparked by new scientific evidence suggesting that 250,000 people in the U.K. and more than 1 million in the U.S. might die if the country did not suppress the spread of the new coronavirus.

Imperial College London epidemiologists advising the U.K. government have published an analysis drawing on data from Italy, the hardest-hit European country with nearly 28,000 cases and 2,158 deaths.

They found that a strategy of "mitigation" -- slowing but not stopping the spread of the virus while protecting vulnerable groups like the elderly -- would still lead to a huge number of cases that would overwhelm the health care system.

The scientists said "even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in (Britain), and 1.1-1.2 million in the U.S."

They said a tougher "suppression" strategy would sharply reduce deaths but would "need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more)." 

On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to eliminate unnecessary contact with others, working from home where possible and avoiding bars, restaurants, theaters and other venues. Some scientists said the government should have taken tough action sooner.

Europe

Border closures are causing problems across Europe. 

In Lithuania, the cargo truck line on the border to enter Poland stretched 60 kilometers (37 miles) long after Poland closed its border to foreigners due to the new coronavirus.

On the Polish-German border, hundreds of vehicles have been stranded because they are not allowed to transit through Poland to go back home but don't want to return to Germany. 

German police helped stranded citizens from Baltic states get back home by ferry after Poland closed its border.

Police in the northeastern city of Stralsund on the Baltic coast said they escorted 30 cars Tuesdsay with citizens from Lithuania and Estonia via a bridge to the German island of Ruegen's ferry port, the German news agency dpa reported. The cars needed an escort because access to the island has been mostly limited to residents. From Mukran, the stranded Baltic citizens were hoping to catch a ferry to Lithuania.

A Lithuanian military plane flew 31 people stranded in Germany back to Lithuania. 

Malaysia

A 60-year—old church pastor has become the first victim of COVID-19 in Malaysia. 

The pastor died Tuesday in eastern Sarawak state on Borneo island. State officals were still trying to identify the source of his transmission. 

It said 193 of his close contacts have been put into quarantine. Malaysia is the worst affected country in Southeast Asia with 553 cases. 

The government has announced a near-lockdown of the country beginning Wednesday, closing borders and shutting down all businesses except essential services for two weeks.

Sweden

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is urging high schools, universities and other educational institutions to close but not kindergartens or schools, which he could be shut down later.

Lofven told a press conference on Tuesday it had not been decided how long they would be closed, adding the government would follow the recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

Education Minister Anna Ekstrom said that the Swedish "society must continue to function."

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's defense authorities are warning more than 100 Sri Lankans who have evaded quarantine process after returning from coronavirus-hit countries to register with the police immediately or face legal action that includes six months imprisonment.

Sri Lanka's defense ministry says all citizens who arrived from European countries and Iran, Italy and South Korea from March 1 to 15 must register with the police or face legal action.

Sri Lanka says it will add more quarantine centers to help fight the coronavirus in the Indian Ocean island nation.

Army commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva said Tuesday that 23 army vacation bungalows will be used as quarantine centers for a group of travelers who arrived recently from London.

The government, meanwhile, said it has imposed new measures to limit gatherings. Court cases to be taken up from March 17 to 20 will not be called in open courts. The public can obtain information on their cases at courts in the first week of April.

Sri Lanka has confirmed 28 cases of the virus, with no deaths so far.

Turkey

Turkey is bringing home more than 3,600 of its citizens who have been stranded in nine European countries after Turkey suspended flights to 20 destinations over the coronavirus outbreak.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday that the citizens will be returned to Turkey later in the day, on board 34 Turkish Airlines flights.

He said the returnees will be placed in quarantine for 14 days in Istanbul and in the nearby city of Kocaeli.

Germany

Germany has launched a drive to bring home thousands of tourists stranded in popular winter vacation spots across the globe — particularly people on package holidays in Morocco, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the Maldives and Egypt.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday that the government is spending up to 50 million euros ($56 million) on the effort to bring Germans home over the coming days in cooperation with airlines including Lufthansa.

Maas didn't give a precise number of stranded Germans but said there was a particularly large number in Morocco, with around 4,000 or 5,000. He said that "even if we will do everything humanly possible, we cannot in every case provide a solution within 24 hours."

Maas said his ministry has issued a formal warning against tourist travel to any country.

Japan

Japan's Defense Ministry says it has indefinitely postponed an international defense conference of Pacific island countries that Japan was to host in April because of the coronavirus outbreak.

India

India says it will bar all passengers — including Indian citizens — from entering the country on flights from the European Union, Turkey and the United Kingdom beginning Wednesday.

According to a statement issued by India's aviation regulator, travelers coming from or transiting through the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar will be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine when they arrive. Arrivals from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, Spain and Germany are already subject to similar restrictions, while many border points with neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar have been shut.

India's tourist ministry announced this week that it is shutting down the Taj Mahal, its iconic "monument of love," to visitors.

Several other important monuments have also been shut across the country to keep people safe amid the coronavirus outbreak. Most schools and entertainment facilities have also been shuttered across India.

Australia

Qantas, Australia's largest airline, says it will cut its international passenger capacity by 90 percent until the end of May due to falls in travel demand due to the new coronavirus and travel restrictions across multiple borders.

Qantas said in a statement Tuesday that domestic capacity will be cut by 60 percent until at least the end of May.

This represents the grounding of around 150 aircraft, including almost all of Qantas' wide-body fleet.

A third Australian government lawmaker has tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of the planned resumption of Parliament next week following a scheduled two-week break.

New South Wales state Sen. Andrew Bragg said Tuesday that he had suffered flu-like symptoms and tested positive for the virus after attending a friend's wedding on March 6. Authorities say at least six wedding guests have contracted the virus.

Queensland state Sen. Susan McDonald said she tested positive on Monday after becoming unwell on Friday evening. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who is also from Queensland, tested positive after showing symptoms a day earlier. Dutton has since been discharged from the hospital but remains in isolation at home. McDonald was admitted to a hospital on Monday, which is standard procedure in Queensland regardless of the severity of symptoms. Bragg is expected to self-isolate at home.

Lawmakers have been told to bring minimum staff back to the national capital, Canberra, when Parliament resumes to legislate a 17.6 billion Australian dollar ($11.4 billion) economic stimulus package meant to stave off a recession due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Only around 90 lawmakers of 151 in the House of Representatives are required to return under a deal struck between the major parties. Planning is also underway to excuse some of the 76 senators from attending.

Also, Australia's highest court has decided not to sit as a full bench to hear cases until at least August because of the coronavirus. The High Court announced on Tuesday that hearings that were to be heard by what's known as a full bench of seven or five judges will be postponed starting next week.

South Korea

South Korea has further postponed the beginning of the new school year by two weeks to protect students from the spread of the coronavirus.

Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye said Tuesday that kindergartens as well as elementary, middle and high schools nationwide would now reopen on April 6, which is five weeks later than usual. It was the third time the country delayed the start of new school terms amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Yoo said in a nationally televised briefing that the Education Ministry is also looking closely into the rise of infections among people under the age of 19, which rose from 379 on March 7 to 505 on March 14.

She said education authorities are also considering rescheduling college admission processes to ease disruption for high school seniors. She said it's unclear whether the country will be able to announce the date for the national college exam on March 31 as scheduled.

A South Korean province surrounding Seoul has threatened to shut down nearly 140 churches that have failed to implement preventive measures amid a spread of the coronavirus in the country's most populous metropolitan region.

Gyeonggi Province said Tuesday that it has issued an administrative order for the churches to list the names of attendants, screen them for fever and ensure that they wear masks and are at least 2 meters apart during services until March 29. The province can close the churches and fine them as much as $2,400 if they fail to abide by the order.

More than 70 of the province's COVID-19 cases have been connected to gatherings at Protestant churches. Forty-six of the infections have come from a small church in the city of Seongnam/

South Korea has confirmed 84 new cases of the virus and six more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing its total numbers to 8,320 infections and 81 fatalities.

China

Wuhan, the city at the center of China's coronavirus outbreak, recorded just one new case on Tuesday as officials said they believed the country was over the worst of the crisis. Another 20 cases were recorded around the country, including nine in Beijing. All were reported among people who arrived from overseas. 

Beijing has required all arrivals to undergo 14 days of quarantine but has not closed its borders. Other Chinese cities have adopted similar measures, even as authorities work to restart industries that are key to global supply chains.

With foreign universities closing classes, thousands of Chinese studying overseas are seeking to return home, shifting the focus from domestic containment to preventing infected people from bringing the virus back with them.

Wuhan has closed emergency field hospitals and state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday reported the nation is now counting down to its final domestic cases. With the infection still growing overseas, China has sent personal protective gear and medical experts to Italy, Iran and other nations grappling with the epidemic.

Philippines

The Philippine Stock Exchange was closed with no trading Tuesday after the president placed the northern part of the country including Manila in quarantine.

The exchange's CEO said the end of trading activity would be "until further notice."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte placed the northern third of the country under an "enhanced community quarantine" that requires millions of people to stay mostly at home in an attempt to contain the coronavirus.

Most office work and mass transit on Luzon Island, including Manila, will be suspended for a month. Public movement will be restricted and large gatherings banned except for medical and other emergencies.

Banks, hospitals, drugstores and supermarkets will remain open but only one family member can make such trips and should observe "social distancing."

The Philippines has 140 cases of infection and 12 deaths.

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