Coronavirus: Europe named new epicentre of pandemic
Death toll climbs to 514 in Iran as European nations begin shutting down schools and sports events
US President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency as the World Health Organisation named Europe the new epicenter of the coronavirus Friday, with countries sealing borders, shutting schools and cancelling events in a frenzied attempt to slow the ballooning pandemic.
Wall Street stocks rallied as financial markets endured a rollercoaster ride after a week of spectacular losses triggered by fears that the deadly outbreak will lead to a worldwide economic recession.
"To unleash the full power of the federal government, I'm officially declaring a national emergency," Mr Trump said, announcing $50 billion (Dh184 billion) in federal funds to battle the fast-spreading pandemic.
The measure came as infections and deaths soared in Europe, with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying the continent now had "more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China".
He described it as a "tragic milestone", and warned that it was impossible to say when the virus would peak globally.
With new infections rising sharply in Spain, the government put 60,000 people in four towns on a mandatory lockdown — the nation's first — echoing draconian measures in Italy. In Madrid, which has more than 2,000 infections, the government announced it would pool intensive care units and consider offers by hotel chains to transform rooms into wards.
Iran, the centre of the coronavirus crisis in the Middle East, reported 85 new deaths and 1,289 new cases. Among the dead was Nasser Shabani, a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Fars agency reported.
Despite a Twitter feud between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called the oubtreak biological attack, Iran's military said it will clear streets nationwide in 24 hours and all citizens will be checked.
A newly formed commission has been charged with overseeing the "emptying of shops, streets and roads" within that timeframe, armed forces chief of staff Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri said.
"During the next 10 days, the entire Iranian nation will be monitored once through cyberspace, by phone and, if necessary, in person, and those suspected of being ill will be fully identified."
China cases slow
In China, where new infections have tailed off to the point where Hubei province only reported five new cases, authorities mobilised to quarantine new arrivals for 14 days.
But the intensifying spread of Covid-19 beyond Asia dashed any hopes for containing the virus, despite drastic curbs on travel and social events.
In Europe and the United States, leaders and medical experts tried to predict the future — or at least the next few weeks — by scrutinizing the virus' trajectory so far, especially in China and Italy.
The Italian town of Codogno, which had all but shut down hours after recording Italy's first coronavirus infection, showed that changing habits does make a difference. New infections have slowed drastically there compared to the rest of Italy, where draconian measures came far later.
“More than a sigh of relief, there was some concern over the risk that all of the sacrifices were in vain,” said Mayor Francesco Passerini, who like most in the town wears a mask.
The goal of all authorities is to slow the spread of the virus to avoid overwhelming hospitals with those sickened by an illness that no one in the world has immunity to. Worldwide, more than 137,000 people have been infected but about 70,000 of those who had the virus have already recovered.
Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, but severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in the elderly and people with existing health problems.
While Washington scrambled to shape an economic rescue package, the European Union pushed back against President Donald Trump's sharp restrictions on travel from Europe, slamming Mr Trump's "unilateral" decision and declaring the virus a “global crisis, not limited to any continent”.
Mr Trump defended his decision to not notify all EU leaders ahead of the announcement. “When they raise taxes on us, they don’t consult us,” he said.
Coronavirus travel woes
Exchange student Orsan Emge was trying to catch her flight home to San Diego from Madrid.
“It hasn't been cancelled yet, but it's heading in that direction,” she told the Associated Press. "I want to get back to the United States before I have to be put in quarantine.”
The exponential spread of the virus in Europe, North America and the Middle East has drawn contrasts with waning outbreaks in the hardest-hit nations in Asia. China, where the virus emerged late last year, still accounts for more than 60% of global infections but on Friday reported just eight new cases and seven deaths.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told the UN leader his nation was returning to normal and now wants to conduct joint research on drugs and vaccines and offer “as much assistance as it can" to countries in need. A Chinese medical crew arrived in Italy and surplus supplies were sent to Iran.
In South Korea, which had nearly 8,000 cases overall, Friday marked the first day recoveries outnumbered new infections since the country’s first patient was confirmed January 20.
The pandemic's new centre is Europe. Italy's death toll topped 1,000 with more than 15,000 confirmed cases. France, Spain and Germany all exceeded 2,000 cases each. Panic buying was seen around the continent.
In Italy's hardest-hit Lombardy region, hospitals were overflowing with both the sick and the dead. The country's restaurants, cafes and retail shops closed. Grocery stores, pharmacies and markets were allowed to operate, with orderly lines of evenly spaced customers forming outside to avoid crowds inside.
World leaders test for coronavirus
The virus was getting closer to the halls of power in many countries.
Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro said on Friday he had tested negative for the new coronavirus, after a scare over a trip on which at least one infected member of his staff rubbed shoulders with US President Donald Trump.
The far-right Brazilian president posted his test result to his Facebook page, along with a picture of himself flashing an obscene hand gesture.
"Don't believe in the fake news media!" he wrote.
Media reports said earlier that Bolsonaro had tested positive for coronavirus and was awaiting the results of a second test to confirm.
Despite meeting the Brazilian delegation at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, Mr Trump has no immediate plans to be tested or to self-quarantine, the White House said. Mr Trump did, however, halt his trademark political rallies, following the lead of Democratic rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
State-run TV reported a positive test and home quarantine for Ali Akbar Velayati, a trusted adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran’s senior vice president, Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials are also infected.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was isolating himself after his wife tested positive. The Australian home affairs minister was hospitalised in isolation after testing positive. He returned home on Sunday from Washington, DC, where he met US Attorney-General William Barr and Mr Trump's daughter, Ivanka.
Across the US, where cases have topped 1,700, a sense of urgency was pervasive. Professional athletes and entertainers were among those infected.
Schools emptied of students and workplace cubicles went vacant. Crowded gatherings were restricted from New York to California. Disneyland and Disney World will close in the coming days. And sports fans can even cheer their favorite teams from the safety of their living rooms since professional basketball, baseball, hockey, football and other leagues cancelled and postponed games.
Yet decisions still loomed for the biggest athletic competition of the year — the 2020 Summer Olympics — which was still firmly on the calendar.
The International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo organising committee were not considering canceling or delaying the games, "absolutely not at all,” said Japan Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto.
Updated: March 14, 2020 01:03 AM