SOAVE, Italy (AP) — The battle to halt the coronavirus brought sweeping new restrictions Monday, with Italy expanding a travel ban to the entire country, Israel ordering all visitors quarantined just weeks before Passover and Easter, and Spain closing all schools in and around its capital.
Even as workers in Beijing returned to their jobs and new infections in China continued to subside, Italians struggled to navigate the rapidly changing parameters of the nation's self-imposed lockdown.
The fears fanned by the virus sent Wall Street stocks tumbling to their biggest drop since 2008, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 7.8 percent. Global oil prices suffered their worst percentage losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War.
“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 intensifying struggle to halt the virus' spread emerged as a cautionary tale.
“There won't be just a red zone,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, in announcing that a lockdown covering about 16 million people in the north would be expanded to the entire country starting Tuesday.
Italian doctors celebrated one small victory after the first patient diagnosed with the illness, a 38-year-old Unilever worker, was moved out of intensive care and began breathing on his own. But the virus' rapid spread was forcing them to operate like war-time medics, triaging patients to decide who get access to scarce ICU beds.
“Unfortunately we’re only at the beginning,” said Dr. Massimo Galli, head of infectious disease at Milan’s Sacco hospital.
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.
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.
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 methadone.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass alone at the Vatican hotel where he lives, live-streaming the event, but he did resume some meetings.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the WHO, people with mild illness get better in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
But that came only after Chinese officials put massive quarantines in place. Around the virus spreads, officials are embracing less strict, but still aggressive measures.
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.
Spain's health minister on Monday announced that all schools in and around Madrid, including kindergartens and universities, will close for two weeks after a sharp spike in new virus diagnoses. The rising caseload “imply a change for the worse,” the minister, Salvador Illa, said.
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.
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 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.
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.
Geller reported from New York. Associated Press writers Ken Moritsugu in Beijing; Lori Hinnant in Paris; Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Maria Cheng and Carlo Piovano in London; Nicole Winfield in Rome; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
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