Spain’s government is to declare a state of alert over the rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday after infections soared to 4,209 with 120 dead.
“There will be a cabinet meeting tomorrow to declare a state of alert across the country for a period of 15 days,” Sanchez said. “Unfortunately we cannot rule out that over the next week we could reach more than 10,000 infections,” he said.
The government would adopt a series of extraordinary measures in order “to mobilise all the resources of state to better protect the health of all of its citizens”, he said pointing to both public and private resources, as well as civilian and military.
“Several very tough weeks are ahead of us,” Sanchez added, saying Spain was “only in the first phase of the fight against the virus”.
“Victory depends on every single one of us. Heroism is also about washing your hands and staying at home.”
Spanish authorities have shut off four communities in the northeastern region of Catalonia from the rest of the country for the next two weeks.
Some 70,000 residents of the neighbouring municipalities of Igualada, Vilanova del Cami, Santa Margarida de Montbui and Odena are banned from travelling.
Catalonian authorities said police were enforcing the quarantine, though residents are free to move around within the region, which lies 60km (37 miles) northwest of Barcelona. Many Spanish regions plan to close schools in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Italy remains 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 the country registering more than 17,000 infections and 1,266 dead.
In Germany, police imposed stricter measures in the southwestern state of Saarland along the border with the Grand Est region in France after German health authorities declared it a high-risk area.
Those crossing the border, which is normally open, are currently being subjected to spot checks for the virus, a Federal Police spokesman said on Friday.
The German government promised businesses an unlimited line of credit to offset the effects of the outbreak on Friday.
It is also retaining the option for the state to take stakes in key companies, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Der Spiegel magazine.
As the impact of the pandemic grows on economic and social life across Europe, several other nations announced new travel restrictions, border controls, school closures and the cancellation of large events.
The European Commission said it could suspend EU fiscal rules for member states in the case of a severe economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Another 18 people have died from the coronavirus in France over the last 24 hours, bringing the total deaths from the virus to 79, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Friday.
Another 154 people were still in a serious condition, the minister added, while the total number of people infected with the virus had jumped to 3,661 – from 2,876 Thursday evening.
France banned gatherings of more than 100 people, after earlier allowing events for up to 1,000.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told TF1 television that he took the decision after consulting scientists and it will come into force “very rapidly.”
“Our objective is of course not to create hysteria,” but to “slow down the progression, the circulation of the virus across our national territory,” the French premier said.
“One hundred people, that of course will mean major consequences for theatres, for cinemas,” Philippe said, adding that experts had advised it would be counterproductive to shut down public transport.
Iceland followed France in banning events for more than 100 people and announced the closure of schools and colleges for four weeks from Monday.
Switzerland will make 10 billion Swiss francs (US$10.5 billion) available in immediate assistance to support businesses hit by the pandemic, the government said on Friday.
It will also impose checks on all borders and close schools until at least April 4, it said, as the number of confirmed cases of the flu-like virus in Switzerland and Liechtenstein surpassed 1,000. The government also banned events with more than 100 people, tightening existing curbs.
The Austrian government said most shops would be shut next week, while a quarantine was imposed on two virus-affected Alpine regions.
Ankara shut Turkish schools and universities, ordered sports events to be played behind closed doors and imposed limits on government travel late Thursday.
Estonia declared a state of emergency with special measures, including the closure of schools and universities, until May 1.
The Estonian government has also banned public events and will introduce health checks at borders, airports and ports.
Serbian and North Macedonian leaders have agreed to cancel rallies in the run-up to elections scheduled in April to reduce the risk of an epidemic.
The Czech Republic will ban entry to the country to all foreign nationals as well as ban its own citizens and permanent residents from travelling abroad, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Friday.
The restrictions are to take effect as of Monday. Special regulations and exemptions will apply to commuters who live or work 50km (31 miles) from the border with Germany and Austria, truck drivers and diplomats.
European football governing body UEFA announced the suspension of all matches in the Champions League and Europa League next week, while the German football league (DFL) suggested suspending the Bundesliga and second division from next week until April 2.
The English Premier League also suspended all football games until April 3, partly because a manager and several players are infected with Covid-19 and others are in self-isolation.
Queen Elizabeth and heir to the throne Prince Charles both postponed upcoming engagements in Britain and abroad on Friday, the royal household said.
The 93-year-old monarch had been due to visit Cheshire in northwest England, and Camden, in north London, from next week, while her son, 71, was set to tour Bosnia, Cyprus and Jordan.
The British government said on Thursday that it would not ban mass gatherings as scientific advice indicated there was less risk of transmitting the virus than in smaller venues.
But as the number of confirmed cases in the country jumped to 798, with 10 deaths, a string of events were cancelled, from rugby matches to London’s annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
The 40th edition of the London marathon has been postponed from April 26 to October 4, race organisers said on Friday.
On Friday, Britain announced it was delaying May’s local elections – including for London mayor – for a year.
“We will bring forward legislation to postpone local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections until May next year,” a government spokesman said.
Sweden also declined to use the tougher measures introduced by other countries but was expected later Friday to authorise school principals to close schools.
As in the UK, several Swedish regions have shifted strategy to no longer testing all suspected cases of coronavirus, opting to focus on high-risk groups.
The World Health Organisation insisted that continued tracking, testing and isolating of new cases had proven highly effective in curbing the virus.
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