Stunned World Reacts to the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 383,000 people and killed more than 16,500. Here is a roundup about the world’s response.

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VATICAN CITY
The Vatican is under pressure to let more of its employees work from home after several offices remained open even after Italy shut down all nonessential industry.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at his Santa Marta residence at the Vatican on Friday. (Vatican News via AP)

Vatican employees in three offices expressed alarm Tuesday that superiors had adopted different policies about working from home. The concern has been heightened because many Vatican employees live in priestly residences and eat together in communal dining rooms. Already, members of two religious orders in Rome tested positive for the virus, evidence that the close quarters of religious communities can spread the virus.

The Vatican has adopted some shutdown measures, but has lagged behind the rest of Italy, which is the European epicenter of the outbreak.

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COLOMBO
Sri Lankan government on Tuesday imposed an indefinite curfew in three districts that includes the capital Colombo as a part of its stringent measures being taken as the number of confirmed cases rose to 97.

The government said the three districts have been identified as high-risk areas and the highest number of cases are reported from these districts.

The indefinite curfew was imposed in Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara districts. The three districts have been under a three-day curfew since Friday. Curfew was lifted only for eight hours on Tuesday to allow people to purchase food and other essentials.

The island is divided into 25 districts for administrative purposes. Curfew prevails in the other 22 districts, but the government said curfew in those districts will be lifted on Friday for a few hours.

The government on Monday banned nonessential travel between the districts.

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PRAGUE
The Czech Republic registered its second death caused by the coronavirus.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech said Tuesday the 45-year-old patient died in hospital in eastern town of Havirov. Vojtech said the man was suffering from an unspecified cancer at an advanced stage and the coronavirus worsened his condition.

Several other hospitalized people with Covid-19 are in critical condition in the Czech Republic.

Vojtech said the country received remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug from U.S. company Gilead Sciences to treat the first patient who is in critical condition at a Prague clinic.

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JOHANNESBURG
South Africa’s coronavirus cases have leapt again, to 554. It’s the most of any country in Africa. Its 57 million people are rushing to prepare for a three-week lockdown that begins Thursday.

Across Africa, 43 of its 54 countries have reported cases, with the total at 1,788. Thirteen countries have reported 58 deaths.

Elsewhere in Africa, Nigeria’s ban on international flights is beginning. And Ethiopia has issued a proposal to the G20 global forum for economic cooperation before its summit, saying “Covid-19 poses an existential threat to the economies of African countries.”

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BRUSSELS
Business activity in Europe has fallen at the sharpest pace on record, according to a survey that began in 1998.

The purchasing managers’ index, a gauge of business executives’ outlook on the economy, fell to 31.4 points in March for the 19-country eurozone, from 51.6 in February, as governments put limits on business activity to contain the virus outbreak.

The index is at the lowest since the survey was started and is below the trough registered during the global financial crisis in 2009. The 50-point level separates economic growth from contraction.

The index, which is compiled by research firm IHS Markit, shows the biggest hit to the services sector, particular tourism and restaurants. Companies in this sector were cutting jobs at the fastest pace since 2009.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said the survey suggests a quarterly economic contraction of 2%, or more than 8% in annualized terms, though that forecast is likely to worsen.

“Business sentiment about the year ahead has plunged to the gloomiest on record, suggesting policymakers’ efforts to date have failed to brighten the darkening picture,” he said.

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BRATISLAVA
The new government in Slovakia is planning to tighten restrictive measures. Prime Minister Igor Matovic said Tuesday it will be mandatory for all citizens to wear face masks in all public spaces. People should keep a distance of 2 meters between one another.

All essential retail businesses that still can be opened, such as food stores and pharmacies, will be closed on Sundays to give employees time to rest.

From the end of March, the temperature of all people entering stores or hospitals will be measured.

Only pensioners will be allowed to do the shopping from 9 a.m. till 12 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

The government is planning to acquire 200,000 test kits. Slovakia has reported 204 people infected.

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MADRID
Madrid’s ice-skating rink is being used as a makeshift morgue.

Security forces guarded the outside of the Palacio de Hielo (Ice Palace) complex on Madrid’s northeastern outskirts Tuesday as funeral service vans entered the building’s underground car park.

City authorities took up the rink’s offer to use the 2,150 square-yard center after the city’s municipal funeral service said it could take no more coronavirus bodies until it restocked with protective equipment and material.

Madrid is one of the hardest-hit of Spain’s 17 regions with some 1,300 deaths, approximately half the national total.

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VIENTIANE
Laos has confirmed its first two cases of Covid-19. Deputy Health Phouthone Meuangpak announced the two cases at a Tuesday press conference in the capital city Vientiane, where both patients were hospitalized.

Laos is the last country in Southeast Asia to report any coronavirus cases. Myanmar reported its first two cases Monday night.

A 36-year-old woman who worked as a guide this month for visitors from Europe is one patient, and the other is a 28-year-old male staff member of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Vientiane who is thought to have contracted the virus while attending a workshop in Bangkok.

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MANILA
The Philippine Congress on Tuesday approved a bill declaring a national emergency and authorizing the president to launch a massive aid program for 18 million families and tap private hospitals and ships to fight the coronavirus.

President Rodrigo Duterte can realign huge budgets of the executive department under the proposed legislation, which will punish officials who disobey quarantine orders and people spreading “false information” about Covid-19, legislators said. The law will last for three months but can be extended by Congress.

A man is disinfected before entering City Hall to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Manila, Philippines, on Tuesday. (AP photo/Aaron Favila)

The Senate and the House of Representatives, which are dominated by Duterte’s allies, held emergency sessions Monday and worked beyond midnight to deliberate on the bill, with most lawmakers participating online as a health precaution. Duterte is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

 

Duterte has locked down the main northern island of Luzon, home to more than 50 million people, by restricting travel to and from the region, where the capital Manila lies. Most residents have been ordered to stay home and work and classes have been suspended under the monthlong containment.

Opposition groups fear Duterte’s extra powers could lead to abuse and called on the government to provide more protective suits for health workers, safety nets for the poor and considerably more tests for the virus.

Philippine officials on Tuesday reported a total of 552 Covid-19 cases in the country, with 35 deaths.

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LONDON
Confusion rippled through Britain on the morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all nonessential activity.

The government told most stores to close, banned gatherings of three or more people and said everyone other than essential workers should leave home only to buy food and medicines or to exercise.

But photos showed crowded trains on some London subway lines Tuesday, amid confusion about who is still allowed to go to work.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all nonessential use of public transport now. Employers: please support your staff to work from home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.”

The government said police will break up illegal gatherings and fine people who flout the rules. But some expressed doubts about whether the lockdown could be enforced.

“There is no way really that the police can enforce this using powers. It has got to be because the public hugely support it,” Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, told the BBC.

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JAKARTA
Indonesia reported its biggest daily jump of 107 new Covid-19 cases to bring the country’s total to 686 on Tuesday, as 125,000 rapid test kits have been distributed across the archipelago nation. The government reported 55 deaths from the coronavirus.

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HELSINKI
Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president, U.N. diplomat and recipient of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The office of the Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Tuesday that Ahtisaari, 82, was doing fine “under the circumstances.”

No details were provided of how Ahtisaari became infected, but his wife was confirmed positive with coronavirus on Saturday.

Ahtisaari was the Finnish head of state for one six-year term from 1994 until 2000.

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BANGKOK
Thailand’s prime minister said his government has agreed to declare a state of emergency to implement stricter measures to control the coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his Cabinet agreed Tuesday at its weekly meeting to put a one-month state of emergency into effect on Thursday. It will give the government enforcement powers not normally available to it.

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NEW DELHI
Indian authorities have cleared a demonstration site that has been continuously occupied by Muslim women since December to protest a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for some immigrants from neighboring countries but not Muslims.

Authorities cleared Shaheen Bagh early Tuesday amid a citywide stay-at-home order.

Indian health officials say there are 446 active cases of Covid-19, and seven people have died from it. Thirty-six people have recovered.

More than 200 million of India’s 1.3 billion people have been on lockdown since Monday, including the metro areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai.

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BEIJING
Chinese authorities are lifting the tight lockdown of Hubei province, where the virus originated.

People who are cleared to do so will be able to leave the province after midnight Tuesday.

Wuhan, where the outbreak started in late December, will remain locked down until April 8. China barred people from leaving or entering Wuhan on Jan. 23 and expanded it to most of the province in succeeding days.

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CANBERRA
Prisoners vulnerable to the new coronavirus and low risk to society in Australia’s most populous state would be eligible for early parole under emergency legislation introduced to the New South Wales Parliament.

It is unclear how many of the state’s 14,000 prisoners could walk free under the legislation proposed by New South Wales Attorney General Mark Speakman.

The emergency legislation includes a raft of reforms that Speakman said will provide public authorities with the powers they need to respond appropriately to the crisis.

“The threat posed by Covid-19 is rapidly evolving, and the needs of families, businesses, workers and governments are changing every day,” Speakman said in a statement.

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