One by one, more and more countries are reporting cases of the new coronavirus. Governments and doctors on the front lines are scrambling for solutions and everyday life around the globe is being disrupted in a manner that’s not been seen in recent times.
The spread of the virus is having an impact around the world. Here are some of the latest developments:
LOOKING FOR CONNECTIONS
From California to Italy, France, Germany, Spain and beyond, more cases are popping up in which the source of the virus remains a mystery. People who weren’t exposed through travel or contact with someone previously infected are testing positive. Health authorities in all these places are working hard to find the original source of infection using what’s called contact tracing, or finding all the people the latest patients were in contact with. In a highly mobile world, that’s increasingly difficult.
MARKETS DIVE DEEPER
U.S. President Donald Trump had reason to worry as stocks tanked further on fears about the virus’ global spread. And not only Trump: all gains built up this year have been wiped out – and more. No region is immune. Standout losers Thursday were Britain’s FTSE 100 index, which slid 3.5% and Japan’s Nikkei, which ended 2% lower. It’s not looking much better on Wall Street, where both the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader S&P 500 index are down. A global pandemic that leads to barriers and restrictions has the potential to seriously disrupt the global economy by draining confidence and stalling activity. A more protracted panic on stock markets could perpetuate the downturn — and that’s bad news in an election year.
STAY AWAY, FOREIGN PILGRIMS
Saudi Arabia has responded to the fears by banning foreign pilgrims from visiting Islam’s holiest shrines. That will change the face of this year’s annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and disrupt plans for millions of faithful from around the world who come to the kingdom to pray together. The decision illustrates how tense the situation is across the Gulf region and the wider Middle East as a whole largely as a result of the spike in deaths and infections in Iran. Iran has now seen more virus deaths than anywhere except China, where it first emerged at the end of 2019.
JAPAN SKIPS SCHOOL
Japan, too, is increasingly worried, and made a decision Thursday that’s sure to have its 12.8 million schoolchildren secretly celebrating. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he wants all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide to remain closed until spring holidays in late March. Japan now has more than 900 cases, including hundreds from a quarantined cruise ship. France, Germany, Monaco and other countries near Italy are telling parents to keep their kids home from school if they’ve been anywhere near the growing number of zones worldwide hit by virus outbreaks. One reason for the school warnings: growing concern about the rise in the number of untraceable cases of the virus.
BEEFING UP BORDERS
Germany is thinking ahead. To retroactively track down everyone who may have been exposed to an infected individual, the German government is introducing airport landing cards for passengers arriving from the countries hit hardest by the virus. The procedure started with China but has been expanded to include South Korea, Iran, Japan and Italy. Elsewhere, authorities are struggling to keep the virus away. Pakistan halted flights to and from neighbouring Iran. Slovakia is checking cars coming from Austria and everyone on flights into its three airports. Cyprus has a special problem: the Mediterranean island nation is ethnically divided, with an internationally recognized state in the south and a self-declared Turkish Cypriot state in the north. Authorities in the south are deploying police and health officials at the dividing line.
WHO’S PAYING FOR IT
France, like many countries, has seen years of funding cuts to its once-renowned public health care system – and the virus is exposing personnel and equipment shortages. So when French President Emmanuel Macron visited a Paris hospital Thursday to vaunt how his government’s preparations for an outbreak, staff members seized the moment to beg for money. “We’re at the end of our rope,” a leading neurologist pleaded. “Give us the means to do our jobs.” In the United States, the Trump administration and congressional leaders are scrambling for money to bolster virus preparedness after the Centers for Disease Control previously had its budget cut. Trump’s proposal: $2.5 billion. The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, wants $8.5 billion instead.
CHINA’S GROWING CONFIDENCE
Now that there are more cases being reported outside China than inside, Chinese authorities are eager to shed the virus stigma and questions about its early handling of the epidemic. President Xi Jinping said Thursday: “We have the confidence, the ability and the certainty to win this war against the epidemic.” And famed Chinese respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan predicted China’s outbreak should be “basically under control” by the end of April. He credited strong measures taken by the government and the work of medical workers for helping curb the spread.
The Associated Press