World girds for months of trouble as virus pushes west
Bangkok, Mar 5: People around the world girded for months of disruptions from the new virus Thursday as its unrelenting spread brought ballooning infections, economic fallout and sweeping containment measures.
Countries should be preparing for sustained community transmission, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, leader of the World Health Organization, said of the 2-month-old virus outbreak.
Our message to all countries is: This is not a one-way street. We can push this virus back. Your actions now will determine the course of the outbreak in your country.
In places around the globe, a split was developing. China has been issuing daily reports of new infections that are drastically down from their highs, factories there are gradually reopening and there is a growing sense that normalcy might not be that far off.
Meanwhile, countries elsewhere are seeing escalating caseloads and a litany of cancellations, closures, travel bans and supply shortages.
There are about 17 times as many new infections outside China as in it, WHO said, with widening outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran responsible for a majority.
The virus doesn’t care about race and belief or color. It is attacking us all, equally, said Ian MacKay, who studies viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia. We’re looking at a pandemic in all practical reality. Desperate to keep a crisis from expanding within their borders, countries have been further tightening travel restrictions.
Australia said Thursday that it is banning travel from South Korea by those who aren’t Australian citizens or permanent residents, following similar bans for China and Iran. Indonesia announced restrictions on travelers from specific parts of Iran, Italy and South Korea after previously banning travel from China.
The United Arab Emirates warned its people not to travel anywhere abroad and said those who do could be subject to quarantines when they return.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said visitors from China and South Korea would need to complete 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 for leprosy patients, health authorities announced. And in Iran, where the case count rose to 3,513 and the death toll climbed to 107, checkpoints were to be set up to limit travel between major cities.
Still, no country has matched China’s willingness to turn to draconian measures to keep the virus from spreading, but around the world, governments took drastic steps.
Italy closed all schools and universities and forbade fans from attending sporting events. Saudi Arabia barred citizens from Islam’s holiest sites. In the United States, where 11 have died from the virus, hundreds of people were placed in self-quarantines due to cases in a New York suburb.
In places around Europe and the U.S., anxiety was causing supplies of hand sanitizer and face masks to sell out, as people stood in snaking lines to stock up on food and water.
A new risk is always scarier than one we’re familiar with because it has elements of the unknown, said David Ropeik, who authored the book How Risky Is It, Really?
South Korea, which has the highest number of infections outside China, announced strict controls on face masks, which have been in such high demand that people have stood in line for hours to buy them.
Beginning Friday, exports of masks will be prohibited and South Koreans will be limited to buying two masks a week, and only on specific days determined by the year of their birth.
The supply side hasn’t been able to keep up, said Kim Yong-beom, the vice finance minister in South Korea, which reported 467 new infections Thursday, bringing its total to 6,088.