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Wednesday, Jun 16, 2021

WHO urges world to fight coronavirus: ‘This is not a drill’

WHO urges world to fight coronavirus: ‘This is not a drill’

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls on governments to ‘pull all the stops’ to slow epidemic’s global march. Rest of world has about 17 times as many new infections as fresh cases in China

The global march of the new virus triggered a vigorous appeal from the World Health Organisation on Thursday for governments to pull out “all the stops” to slow the epidemic, as it drained colour from India’s spring festivities, closed Bethlehem’s Nativity Church and blocked Italians from visiting elderly relatives in nursing homes.

As China, after many arduous weeks, appeared to be winning its epic, costly battle against the new virus, the fight was revving up in newly affected areas of the globe, unleashing disruptions that profoundly affected billions of people.

The UN health agency urged all countries to “push this virus back”, a call to action reinforced by figures showing about 17 times as many new infections outside China as in it. The virus has infected nearly 98,000 people and killed over 3,300.

“This is not a drill. This is not the time for giving up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva. “Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans.”

As Chinese manufacturers gradually reopened their factories, antivirus barriers went up elsewhere.
In Italy, the epicentre of Europe’s outbreak, workers in latex gloves pinned “closed” notices on school gates, enforcing a 10-day shutdown of the education system. Italy’s sports-mad fans are also barred from stadiums until April 3.

A government decree that took effect Thursday urged the country’s famously demonstrative citizens to stay at least 1 metre (three feet) apart from each other, placed restrictions on visiting nursing homes and urged the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.

A government decree that took effect Thursday urged the country’s famously demonstrative citizens to stay at least 1 metre (three feet) apart from each other, placed restrictions on visiting nursing homes and urged the elderly not to go outside unless absolutely necessary.

That directive appeared to be widely ignored, as school closures nationwide left many Italian children in the care of their grandparents. Parks in Rome overflowed with young and old, undercutting government efforts to shield older Italians from the virus that hits the elderly harder than others. Italy has the world’s oldest population after Japan.

“It’s an absolute paradox!” said Mauro Benedetti, a 73-year-old retiree called upon to watch his grandson. “They tell us to stay home. How can we help our kids and grandkids at the same time?”

“Grandparents are now at risk,” he said.

Italy’s death toll climbed Thursday to 148, and its confirmed cases to 3,858.

Iran, which has registered 107 virus deaths, also closed schools and universities and introduced checkpoints to limit travel between major cities. Iranians were urged to reduce their use of paper money. Iranian state television also reported that Hossein Sheikholeslam, a 68-year-old diplomat who was an adviser to Iran’s foreign minister, had died of the virus.

Amid the string of bad news, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani urged state television to offer “happier” programmes to entertain those stuck at home.

Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said the United States offered humanitarian aid to help Iran deal with its outbreak but “the regime rejected the offer”. He said the offer would stand.

Virus fears also affected the joyful Indian celebration of Holi, in which Hindu revellers celebrate the arrival of spring with bursts of colour, including bright powders smeared on faces. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders said they would not attend Holi events and the Holi Moo Festival in New Delhi was cancelled.

In the United States, where 12 have died from the virus, hundreds were placed in self-quarantines due to cases in a New York suburb.

A suburban Seattle school district with 22,000 students announced it would close for up to two weeks because of coronavirus concerns and Seattle’s normally clogged motorways were nearly vacant for Thursday’s morning commute as large tech employers like Amazon encouraged employees to work from home.

Off the coast of California, a cruise ship carrying about 3,500 people was ordered to stay put until passengers and crew could be tested because a traveller from its previous voyage died and another two were infected.

A helicopter delivered test kits to the ship, which has people aboard with flu-like symptoms – lowering the kits by rope to the 290-metre (951-foot) Grand Princess

Across the globe, travellers faced ever-greater disruptions, as countries sought to keep the virus out. But South Africa confirmed its first case on Thursday, becoming the seventh African nation to report infections. Britain and Switzerland reported their first coronavirus deaths.

“The virus doesn’t care about race and belief or colour. It is attacking us all, equally,” said Ian MacKay, who studies viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia.

The outlook for the travel industry was increasingly grim. The International Air Transport Association said the outbreak could cost airlines as much as US$113 billion in lost revenue. The struggling British airline Flybe collapsed on Thursday amid sinking demand.

Australia, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates were among the countries banning entry from people coming from countries that had outbreaks.

Germany’s Lufthansa and its subsidiaries Austrian Airlines and Swiss said they will cancel all flights to and from Israel for three weeks starting Sunday after Israeli authorities announced tough restrictions on travellers from several countries because of the new virus.

Palestinian officials closed the storied Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem indefinitely, weeks ahead of the busy Easter holiday.

Japan said visitors from China and South Korea would face a two-week quarantine at a government facility and be barred from public transit. Sri Lankans arriving from Italy, South Korea and Iran will be quarantined at a hospital once used for leprosy patients.

A state visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping was postponed. It was to have been the first for a Chinese leader since 2008.


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