Lockdowns, self-isolation fight global coronavirus spread

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An empty Piazza Duomo is pictured, as the Italian government continues restrictive movement measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak, in Catania, Italy. Photo: Reuters
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France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people, Australia ordered self-isolation of arriving foreigners, and Argentina and El Salvadore extended entry bans as the world sought to contain the spreading coronavirus.

Panic buying in Australia, the United States and Britain saw leaders appeal for calm over the virus that has infected over 138,000 people globally and killed more than 5,000.

Several countries imposed bans on mass gathering, shuttered sporting, cultural and religious events, while medical experts urged people to practice "social distancing" to curb the spread.

All of Pope Francis' Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending, the Vatican said on Sunday, in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.

The services, four days of major events from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, usually draw tens of thousands of people to sites in Rome and in the Vatican.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said from midnight Sunday international travellers arriving in the country would need to isolate themselves for 14 days, and foreign cruise ships would be banned for 30 days, given a rise in imported cases.

"What we've seen in recent weeks, is more countries having issues with the virus and that means the source of some of those transmissions are coming from more and more countries," Morrison told a news conference.

Australia's latest restrictions mirror those announced by neighbouring New Zealand on Saturday. Australia has recorded more than 250 coronavirus cases and three deaths.

Travel bans, Airline cutbacks

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday. The United States has recorded more than 2,000 cases and 50 deaths, but has been criticised for slow testing.

Travel bans and a plunge in global air travel saw further airline cut backs, with American Airlines Inc planning to cut 75% of international flights through May 6 and ground nearly all its widebody fleet.

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Police officers wearing protective face masks stop a car, as the Italian government continues restrictive movement measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak, in Catania, Italy. Photo: Reuters

The dramatic announcement by the largest U.S. airline came hours after the White House said the United States would widen new travel restrictions on Europeans to include travellers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, starting Monday night.

Washington has already imposed flight restrictions on China.

China tightened checks on international travellers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row.

Anyone arriving to Beijing from abroad will be transferred directly to a central quarantine facility for 14 days for observation starting March 16, a city government official said.

China, where the epidemic began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.

China has reported 80,984 cases and 3,203 deaths, according to a Reuters tally, of which 66,911 have recovered in mainland China, which has imposed draconian containment policies, locking down several major cities.

Lockdowns, stay home

Spain put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown on Saturday as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the epidemic in Europe's second worst-affected country after Italy.

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People enjoy a meal inside a restaurant in Paris, France, as France's Prime Minister announced to close most all non-indispensable locations, notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas and so on. Photo: Reuters

Spain had 193 coronavirus deaths and 6,250 cases, public broadcaster TVE said on Saturday, up from 120 deaths reported on Friday.

France will shut shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from Sunday with its 67 million people were told to stay home after confirmed infections doubled in 72 hours.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government had no other option after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected.

"We must absolutely limit our movements," he said.

Britain is preparing to ban mass gatherings, while isolating people aged over 70 for up to four months is part of its action plan to tackle coronavirus which will be implemented in the coming weeks, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

Argentina banned entry to non-residents who have travelled to a country highly affected by coronavirus in the last 14 days, the government officially announced late on Saturday.

The ban will last 30 days. Argentina has 45 cases of coronavirus, the health ministry said, up from 21 on March 12.

Panama said flights arriving from Europe and Asia would be temporarily suspended, with the exception of flights that transport doctors, medical equipment or other humanitarian aid.

Colombia will expel four Europeans for violating compulsory quarantine protocols, just hours after it closed its border with Venezuela, the government said on Saturday.

Anti-terrorism tracking to fight virus

Israel will use anti-terrorism tracking technology and partially shutdown its economy to minimise transmission risks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

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An empty street in Nice, France, as France's Prime Minister announced to close most all non-indispensable locations, notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs and shops. Photo: Reuters

Cyber tech monitoring would be deployed to locate people who have been in contact with those carrying the virus, subject to cabinet approval, Netanyahu told a news conference in Jerusalem.

Starting Sunday, South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to stricter border checks, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran which have major outbreaks.

Visitors from those countries now need to download an app which will report whether they have symptoms. South Korea has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers using cell phone and satellite technology.

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