Virus fears bring tough new restrictions in Israel, Italy

March 09, 2020

SOAVE, Italy (AP) — The battle to halt the coronavirus brought new restrictions Monday, with Israel ordering all visitors quarantined just weeks before Passover and Easter, Italy shutting down its ski lifts and Ireland even canceling St. Patrick’s Day parades.

While many of Beijing’s white-collar workers returned to their jobs as new infections subsided in China, about 16 million people under a widespread lockdown in northern Italy struggled to navigate the new rules of their mass isolation.

Global oil prices suffered their worst percentage losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War, and U.S. stocks dropped so quickly in the first few minutes after markets opened that it triggered a 15-minute halt in trading. At the Milan Stock Exchange, investors’ fears drove stocks down by 11 percent.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The great advantage we have is the decisions we all make as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals can influence the trajectory of this epidemic.”

More than 113,000 people have tested positive for the disease and over 3,900 people with the virus have died, most of them in China. More than 62,000 people have already recovered. But Italy’s struggles to halt the virus’ spread are emerging as a cautionary tale.

Inmates at more than two dozen Italian prisons rioted against restrictions on family visits and other containment measures, and six died after they broke into the infirmary and overdosed on anti-psychotic medicine.

Travelers at Milan’s main train station had to sign police forms self-certifying that they are traveling for “proven work needs,’’ situations of necessity, health reasons or to return home. They also needed to provide identity documents, contact numbers and an exact reason for travel from the financial hub.

Both Milan and the popular tourist city of Venice were among the places under the lockdown. Across Italy, museums and archaeological sites were closed, weddings were canceled and restaurants were told to keep patrons a meter (more than 3 feet) apart. Officials ordered ski lifts across the country to close, even those outside the quarantine zone, after students whose classes were canceled began organizing trips to winter resorts.

Italy reported a big jump in the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 9,172 cases and 463 deaths, more than any country except China. Pope Francis celebrated Mass alone at the Vatican hotel where he lives, live-streaming the event, but he did resume some meetings.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government has decided to quarantine anyone arriving from overseas for 14 days. The decision comes barely a month before Easter and Passover, typically a busy travel period.

In Ireland, officials canceled all St. Patrick’s Day parades in a bid to slow the virus’ spread, including the one on March 17 in Dublin that typically draws half a million to its streets. Trying to send a message of confidence in the economy, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife walked on Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue but kept a one-meter security distance from passersby. “I’m shaking hands using my heart,” he said as he waved to people from a distance.

He called for a proportionate government response. “We cannot shut down the country but we need to protect the most fragile people,” he said. China’s slow re-emergence from weeks of extreme travel restrictions offered a grim sense of the longer-term effects the virus can have on a country’s economy.

“Our business is one-fifth of what it was before,” said Cheng Sheng, who helps run a stand in Beijing that sells sausages and noodles. “There’s much less foot traffic. There are no people.” Infections were reported in more than half the world’s countries, and flashpoints were erupting around the globe.

“We are working for valuable time, time in which scientists can research medicines and a vaccine” and in which governments can help stock up on protective equipment, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has reported over 1,100 cases and, as of Monday, its first two deaths.

In Iran, state television said the virus had killed another 43 people, pushing the official toll to 237, with 7,161 confirmed cases. But many fear the scope of illness is far wider there. In the United States, where more than 600 infections have been reported, the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland, California, after days idling at sea while dozens of those aboard were tested.

Fleets of buses and planes were ready to whisk the more than 2,000 passengers to military bases or their home countries for a 14-day quarantine. At least 21 people aboard have been confirmed to have the infection.

In Florida, passengers disembarked from the Regal Princess after it received clearance to dock. Two crew members eyed as possible carriers tested negative for the virus. The Caribbean Princess cruise ship, meanwhile, cut short a Fort Lauderdale-Mexico cruise because crew members had been on another ship where people were infected.

In Washington, the Capitol’s attending physician’s office said “several” members of Congress had contact with a person who attended a recent political conference and subsequently developed COVID-19. They “remain in good health,” the office said. Two members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar, said they are isolating themselves after determining they had contact with the person.

Countries showed a willingness to take tough steps to try to stop the virus’ spread. After earlier closing its land borders, Saudi Arabia cut off air and sea travel to and from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. All Saudi schools and universities closed beginning Monday.

Qatar cut off travel to 15 countries and said it would shut down schools and universities beginning Tuesday. The Czech Republic banned visits to hospitals and retirement homes and began random checks on vehicles arriving at border crossings, including taking the temperatures of occupants.

Organizers of the annual Holocaust remembrance march in southern Poland postponed it this year due to coronavirus fears, and soccer authorities said at least four major matches — in France, Germany and Spain — would take place with no fans.

China reported 40 new cases of the virus, its lowest number since Jan. 20. More than three-quarters of the country’s surviving virus patients have been released from treatment. South Korea reported 165 more cases, bringing its total to 7,478.

Albania and Brunei announced their first cases of COVID-19, and the president of the Philippines declared a public health emergency.

Hinnant reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; Ken Moritsugu in Beijing; Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Maria Cheng and Carlo Piovano in London; Adam Geller in New York; Nicole Winfield in Rome; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.

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