The global march of the coronavirus has triggered a vigorous appeal from the World Health Organisation for governments to pull out “all the stops” to slow the epidemic.
It comes as the virus 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 impacted billions of people.
The UN health agency urged all countries to “push this virus back,” a call to action reinforced by figures showing there are now about 17 times as many new infections outside China as in it.
To date, the virus has infected nearly 97,000 people and killed more than 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 at a daily briefing 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, anti-virus 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.
Italian sports fans are also barred from stadiums until April 3.
A government decree that took effect on Thursday urged the country’s citizens to stay at least one metre 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 across the country left many Italian children in the care of their grandparents.
Parks in Rome overflowed with both 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. Italy’s death toll climbed to 148 on Thursday and its confirmed cases to 3,858.
— Reuters (@Reuters) March 4, 2020
Iran, which has registered 107 virus deaths, has also closed schools and universities. Now it has introduced checkpoints to limit travel between major cities. Iranians were urged to reduce their use of paper money.
Amid the string of bad news, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged state television to offer “happier” programs to entertain those stuck at home.
“I urge all artists, scientists, psychologists and all who can bring smiles to people’s faces, come into the social media,” he said.
— ISCResearch (@ISCResearch) March 4, 2020
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 wouldn’t attend Holi events and the Holi Moo Festival in New Delhi was cancelled.
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.
A school district north of Seattle with 22,000 students announced it will close for up to two weeks because of coronavirus concerns.
Across the globe, travellers faced ever-greater disruptions as countries sought to keep the virus out.
South Africa confirmed its first case on Thursday, becoming the seventh African country 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 $US113 billion ($171 billion) in lost revenue. The struggling British airline Flybe collapsed on Thursday amid sinking demand.
Indonesia announced restrictions on travellers from parts of Iran, Italy and South Korea after previously banning those coming in from China.
The United Arab Emirates warned its people not to travel anywhere abroad.
Palestinian officials closed the 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.
In South Korea, with the highest number of infections outside China, exports of masks will be prohibited beginning on Friday and people will be limited to buying two masks a week.