A man covers his face with a football scarf as he waits at a tube station in London. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but for some older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
A man covers his face with a football scarf as he waits at a tube station in London. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but for some older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Europe, at epicentre of coronavirus pandemic, takes drastic measures

By dpa correspondents Time of article published Mar 13, 2020

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Madrid/Berlin - As the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, Europe was taking extraordinary measures on Friday to stop its spread, with Spain planning to declare a state of emergency and countries closing their borders to foreign arrivals.

Spain's move came as latest figures showed it was the worst-hit European nation after Italy and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the continent the new epicentre of the global pandemic.

Spain is to declare a state of emergency after 70,000 people were placed under quarantine. The move, which is expected to be confirmed during a special meeting on Saturday, comes after Spanish authorities shut off four communities in the north-eastern region of Catalonia from the rest of the country for the next two weeks.

"We want to mobilise all of the state's means in order to be able to better protect citizens," said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Spain was facing an "extraordinary crisis" that would bring "difficult weeks," he added, speaking after virus-related deaths rose in the country by 36 in 24 hours to 120.

The pandemic's global death toll has reached 5,000, while the global number of cases has surpassed 132,000, the WHO said on Friday.

Leaders of the G7 major industrialized nations are to hold a videoconference summit on Monday to discuss the coronavirus.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the meeting had been called after discussions with US President Donald Trump and other leaders of the group, composed of the biggest Western economies and Japan.

"We will coordinate our efforts on a vaccine and on treatments and will work on an economic and financial response," Macron tweeted.

As the impact of the pandemic grows on economic and social life across Europe, nations announced new travel restrictions, border controls, school closures and the cancellation of large events.

Italy, which has seen the worst outbreak outside China, remained under near lockdown with people banned from leaving their houses without good reason and all shops except food stores, pharmacies, newspaper stands and tobacconists closed.

Italy's health system is straining under the outbreak, with more than 17,000 infections diagnosed and 1,266 deaths by Friday evening.

In Germany, many of its 16 states announced school closures and the country's death toll rose to eight.

Denmark plans to close its borders as of noon Saturday in a drastic move to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, said Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Friday.

Frederiksen said the country currently has 801 diagnosed cases.

"All tourists and foreigners who can't prove they have an important reason for visiting Denmark will not be allowed to enter," she said.

Denmark has notified neighbouring Germany, Sweden, and Norway.

Starting on Sunday, Poland will ban entry to the country for foreigners, and international air and train connections will be suspended, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Citizens are allowed in but will be subject to a two-week quarantine upon re-entry.

Borders will remain open for the flow of goods, he stressed.

Poland will also close stores in shopping malls, except for pharmacies and grocery stores. Clubs, casinos, bars, pubs and restaurants will be closed as of Saturday, although food deliveries will be allowed.

Belgium is to close all restaurants, cafes and bars as of midnight on Friday until April 3, while Iceland and France reduced the upper limit on gatherings down to 100 people.

"Our objective is of course not to create hysteria," but to "slow down the progression, the circulation of the virus across our national territory," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told TF1.

The iconic Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, home to the "Mona Lisa," said on Friday that they were closing indefinitely in following the rule.

French cinemas and theatres will be able to stay open, Culture Minister Franck Riester told BFMTV television, but they would have to keep attendance to a maximum of 100 and respect a 1-metre distance between attendees - which Riester admitted would probably make theatre performances unfeasible.

All museums under the aegis of his ministry will be closed, said Riester - who is himself in isolation after testing positive.

The Catholic Church in Paris has cancelled all Sunday masses and France's main Islamic religious body called for a suspension of collective Muslim Friday prayers.

Austria said most shops would be shut next week to stem the coronavirus outbreak and imposed a quarantine on two virus-hit Alpine regions.

Estonia and Bulgaria also declared temporary states of emergency, with both governments granting themselves broader powers to restrict travel and introduce checks at borders, airports and ports.

Turkey has suspended flights to nine European countries and the Danish Foreign Ministry issued a travel recommendation to avoid non-essential trips to any part of the world for the coming month.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ignored calls to postpone all large events and close schools and said late Thursday that health authorities will stop testing non-serious cases, fuelling a fierce debate on his government's policies.

However, Queen Elizabeth II decided to postpone planned visits to north-western England and north London "as a sensible precaution," Buckingham Palace said.

The queen, 93, will continue to give royal audiences, it said.

dpa

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