Spain, France impose tight controls as global infections pass 150,000
Cafes, shops and restaurants shut down across France and Spain on Sunday and travellers faced chaos at some US airports as measures intensified to restrict the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened more than 150,000 people and killed almost 6,000.
While France ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, Spain went a step further and banned people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.
The two countries are among the worst-hit in Europe although Italy, which imposed Europe’s most draconian lockdown on its 60 million citizens last week, still dominates in terms of infections from COVID-19.
The disease has now hit all global regions, ripping up sporting and cultural calendars, causing panic in stock markets and companies — particularly airlines — and prompting a wide range of often contradictory responses from governments.
The United States imposed a travel ban on countries in Europe’s Schengen free-movement area last week and announced an extension to cover Britain and Ireland from midnight on Monday.
China, where the disease originated, is now imposing its own crackdown on international travellers — all will be put into quarantine on arrival — after linking most of its new infections to those coming from overseas.
As the global spread of the disease widened, the plight of existing hotpots intensified.
Iran announced 113 new deaths on Sunday taking its total to 724, the world’s third-worst outbreak after Italy and China, and officials urged people to heed the advice to avoid public gatherings.
– US travel spat –
The US travel restrictions threw airports into disarray with passengers taking to social media to complain of massive queues as staff battled with new entry rules and stipulations on screening for the virus.
The restrictions threw airports across the country into disarray, with incoming travellers forced to wait hours for medical screenings before passing through customs.
Illinois governor JB Pritzker said the long lines at Chicago’s O’Hare airport were “unacceptable” and demanded that President Donald Trump take action.
“The federal government needs to get its [email protected]#t together. NOW,” he tweeted.
Trump tested negative for the disease, having come into contact with several members of a Brazilian presidential delegation who have since tested positive.
Governments in Europe also struggled to respond clearly.
Britain, which had avoided crackdowns and instead tried to manage the spread and create “herd immunity”, cancelled local elections and hinted that it would follow most other affected European nations and ban mass gatherings.
On the other hand, France allowed municipal elections to go ahead on Sunday even as officials imposed a drastic nationwide shutdown on all non-essential businesses providing and promised to progressively restrict long-distance travel.
The risk from voting for the elderly was no greater “than going shopping”, insisted Jean-Francois Delfraissy, chairman of France’s coronavirus science council.
Several countries have announced bans on foreigners entering their countries.
Austria banned gatherings of more than five people on Sunday, telling its citizens to restrict movement unless absolutely necessary.
Norway announced it would shut ports and airports with international connections on Saturday before retreating a day later and saying although foreigners would be turned away the facilities would remain open.
– The isolated turn to music –
The spread of the virus has spooked even those countries without significant outbreaks — both Australia and New Zealand saying that anyone arriving from overseas must self-isolate for two weeks.
“We are going to have to get used to some changes in the way we live our lives,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency on Sunday despite having just eight confirmed infections.
In Africa, which has been spared the worst of the disease, half a dozen countries announced new infections over the weekend.
The announcements sparking restrictions on gatherings in Rwanda, panic-buying in the Seychelles and furious recriminations in Zimbabwe — a country yet to register a single case.
“Coronavirus is the work of god punishing countries who imposed sanctions on us,” said Zimbabwe’s defence minister Oppah Muchinguri on Saturday.
Latin America has also recorded only small clusters of infections, though Colombia was prompted to shut its border with Venezuela over a rise in cases there.
Chile has also taken some protective measures — quarantining more than 1,300 people aboard two cruise ships after an elderly Briton aboard one of them tested positive for the coronavirus.
However, the cancelled events, closed schools and restrictions on movements have driven people to great lengths to avoid isolation and disappointment.
Romans have been singing to each other from their apartments, and across the US on the weekend hundreds of youngsters posted their cancelled high-school musical numbers on social media under #SunshineSongs.