The intensifying spread of COVID-19 beyond Asia has dashed hopes about a quick containment, even with travel and social events curbed drastically.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken over daily lives around the globe, overwhelming hospitals, shuttering schools and offices, halting US presidential campaign rallies and world sports while increasing fears about the financial toll.
The intensifying spread of COVID-19 beyond Asia has dashed hopes about a quick containment, even with travel and social events curbed drastically. And political leaders were among those infected or quarantined due to potential exposure.
Asian markets were sinking further on Friday, after US stocks had their greatest losses since the Black Monday crash of 1987 and bad European results. Benchmarks in Japan, Thailand and India sank as much as 10 per cent. Losses in mainland China, where the virus is subsiding, were less severe.
In the United States, Congress neared a deal with the Trump administration on a sweeping aid package with sick pay, free testing and other resources to help reassure anxious Americans and calm markets, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
People fretted over the health risks to the elderly, threatened jobs and dwindling savings while caring for children staying home from shuttered schools. While Washington scrambled to shape an economic rescue package, the EU pushed back against President Donald Trump’s sharp restrictions on travel from Europe to the US, slamming Trump’s “unilateral” decision and declaring the virus a “global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation”.
The spread of the virus in Europe, North America and the Middle East has drawn contrast with waning epidemics in the hardest-hit nations in Asia. China, where the outbreak emerged late last year, still accounts for more than 60% of global infections.
The pandemic’s new epicentre is Europe. Italy’s death toll topped 1,000 on Thursday with more than 15,000 confirmed cases. France, Spain and Germany all exceeded 2,000 cases each. In Italy’s hardest-hit Lombardy region, hospitals were overwhelmed with both the sick and the dead. The country’s restaurants, cafes and retail shops closed in a lockdown on personal movement, though grocery stores, pharmacies and markets were allowed to operate.
France, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania Algeria and Slovakia shut down their schools, and Europe’s most successful soccer team, Real Madrid, put all its players into quarantine after one tested positive.
The Czech government tightened border checks for some countries, and Slovakia closed its international airports and ground transport hubs. Europeans were adjusting to new US travel restrictions, which exempted Britain and Ireland, raising questions about the policy’s coherence.
In Iran, which exceeds 10,000 cases and 400 deaths, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the Trump administration to immediately lift sanctions over the country’s nuclear program. He said the sanctions made it difficult to import medicine and medical equipment, including to identify and treat coronavirus patients.
State-run TV reported a positive test and home quarantine for Ali Akbar Velayati, a trusted adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the 80-year-old leader of the Islamic Republic. Iran’s senior vice president, Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials are also infected.
Amid the fear, it can be easy to forget that more than half of the world’s 128,000 people infected have already recovered. Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, though severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was isolating himself after his wife tested positive. Trudeau’s office said he has no symptoms of COVID-19 but will stay in isolation for 14 days. Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is in isolation at a hospital after testing positive. In Spain, a leading member of a far-right party tested positive for the virus.
The Brazilian president’s communications director tested positive just days after meeting with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Despite that, Trump has no immediate plans to be tested or self-quarantine, the White House said.
Trump did, however, halt his trademark political rallies, leaving the US presidential campaign trail all-but-empty with leading Democratic contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders canceling events, too.
Across the US, where cases have topped 1,600, a sense of urgency was pervasive. Professional athletes and entertainers were among those infected.
Schools emptied of students and workplace cubicles went vacant. Crowded gatherings were restricted from New York to California, and dozens of cultural hubs were closed.Disneyland and Disney World will close in the coming days. And sports fans couldn’t cheer their favourite teams from the safety of their living rooms since basketball, baseball, hockey and other leagues cancelled and postponed games.
Workers disinfected schools, public transit vehicles, government offices and places of worship. In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, the government launched a cleaning campaign for 10,000 mosques. Amid all the cancellations in sports, the biggest athletic competition of them all — the Summer Olympics — was still firmly on the calendar.