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Europe locks down as global virus panic spreads

Update: March, 17/2020 - 11:01

 

People walk past the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium on March 13. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday that she had informed the G7 that she proposed to the heads of state and government to introduce a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the European Union (EU). — XINHUA/VNA Photo

PARIS — European leaders are set to ban non-essential travel into the continent on Tuesday, the latest drastic attempt to curb the coronavirus pandemic that has upended society, battered markets and killed thousands around the world.

With French President Emmanuel Macron describing the battle against COVID-19 as a "war", governments around the world are imposing restrictions rarely seen in peace-time, slamming borders shut and forcing citizens to stay home.

The crisis is infecting every sector of the economy and Wall Street stocks sank on Monday more than 12 per cent in the worst session since the crash of 1987, despite emergency interventions by central banks and governments to shore up confidence.

After an initial outbreak in a Chinese city in December, Europe has emerged as the epicentre of the virus with more deaths now recorded outside China than inside.

Italy – the hardest hit nation in Europe – announced another surge in deaths, taking its overall toll to more than 2,000 from a worldwide total of more than 7,000.

More than 175,530 cases have been recorded in 145 countries.

In a sombre address to the nation, Macron ordered the French to stay at home for 15 days starting midday Tuesday, banning all non-essential trips or social contacts and warning violations would be "punished".

With European nations already closing their borders, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would ask the leaders of the bloc's Schengen-free border zone to stop all non-essential into the area.

"Concretely, all trips between non-European countries and EU countries will be suspended for 30 days," Macron said in his address.

This follows a ban on inbound travel to the United States, whose President Donald Trump steeled the nation for a fight against the virus that he warned could last months.

‘Apocalyptic vibe’

Trump said he was asking Americans to restrict gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 people – as the streets of New York and the capital Washington stood largely deserted.

One customer at a French restaurant in Brooklyn said she felt the moves were unprecedented.

"I want strong leadership, but it's scary. I've never experienced anything like this before and I don't think my parents have, I don't think anyone has," Kelly McGee said.

"There's something about being in this apocalyptic vibe and being with other people and experiencing it together that I think I still crave."

Trump acknowledged the United States "may be" heading into a recession due to the virus, as G7 leaders vowed to coordinate their response to the virus and "do whatever it takes, using all policy tools" – after a meeting held via video-conference.

Every sector from tourism to food to aviation is affected, as the global economy effectively goes into shutdown.

European car makers including Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot began shutting down their factories and major world airlines axed almost all flights temporarily, triggering pleas to help carriers survive.

Emergency measures by the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan failed to lift spirits on Wall Street, which plunged nearly 13 per cent and Asian stocks continued the volatility, Japan's Nikkei-225 swinging from red to green in a choppy session.

‘Test, test, test’

The head of the World Health Organisation called for every suspected coronavirus case to be tested, something which would send the known tally of the sick sky-rocketing.

"You cannot fight a fire while blindfolded," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists. "Test, test, test. Test every suspected case."

Very few countries have been left untouched by the virus as it continues its relentless march across the globe, and a cascading number are taking increasingly drastic responses.

Britain called for an end to all "non-essential" contact and travel, while Switzerland declared a state of emergency.

Germany banned gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues and said playgrounds and non-essential shops would close.

Tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia were ordered into effective home quarantines, with Malaysia and the Philippines announcing on Monday unprecedented lockdowns.

In India, the world's second most populous country where most schools and entertainment facilities have already shut down, the Taj Mahal was on Tuesday closed to visitors.

Iran, the country with the highest number of infections and deaths in the Middle East, on Monday closed four key Shiite pilgrimage sites.

Chile, Peru announced a total closure of their borders, while Canada closed its borders to foreigners, except Americans for now.

Security forces on motorcycles enforced a "collective quarantine" in Venezuelan capital Caracas.

And around the world, people are having to contend with disruption to almost every aspect of daily life and new border restrictions have caused pandemonium as travellers scramble to get home.

There are also growing doubts over the European football championships set to take place in 12 countries this summer and the Olympics in Japan, as the virus decimates the sporting calendar. — AFP

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