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VOL. 44 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 13, 2020

World hunkers down at home, stranded travellers scramble

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BERLIN (AP) — Tens of millions of people hunkered down in government-ordered isolation Tuesday as borders slammed shut, schools and businesses closed and increasingly drastic restrictions on movement took effect. Others were scrambling to get home, caught up in widespread travel restrictions that aimed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

From Southeast Asia to Europe to the Americas, people found their lives upended by lockdowns and social distancing.

Shoppers in Malaysia stood in long lines to stock up at picked-over supermarkets. Commuters in the Philippines waited in huge traffic jams at checkpoints set up to take their temperatures before entering the capital of Manila. Seven counties around San Francisco issued a sweeping shelter-in-place mandate, ordering millions to stay at home and go outside only for food, medicine and essential outings.

Spain, now the fourth-most infected country, saw infections rise Tuesday by more than 2,000 in one day to 11,178 and virus-related deaths jump by almost 200 to 491. Only China, Italy and Iran had more infections.

With the number of cases worldwide topping 183,000, a surge of patients in Madrid's hospitals has fueled worries across Europe of what lies ahead. Pleas went out to send masks and ventilators to places like Italy and Spain that are struggling with soaring caseloads.

"There is no easy or quick way out of this extremely difficult situation," Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said in the first televised speech by a Dutch leader since 1973.

Iran state TV warned the virus could kill "millions" in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps on traveling, ignoring health guidance. World Health Organization officials have said the number of cases there — nearly 15,000 with 853 deaths — have been sharply underreported.

Airlines across the world have slashed flights due to a plunge in demand but also because many countries have been barring foreign arrivals.

Turkey planned to evacuate 3,614 citizens stranded in nine European countries after flights were suspended, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.

Germany launched a 50 million-euro ($56-million) effort to bring home thousands of tourists stranded in popular winter vacation spots across the globe, including up to 5,000 in Morocco alone.

"Even if we will do everything humanly possible, we cannot in every case provide a solution within 24 hours," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned.

In Lithuania, trucks seeking to enter Poland backed up in a line 60 kilometers (37 miles) long after Poland closed its border to foreigners due to the new coronavirus. German police organized a convoy to help stranded citizens from Baltic states get back home by ferry after the Poland closure.

Italy reported another jump in infections, up to 27,980. With 2,158 deaths, Italy now accounts for well over a quarter of the global death toll.

The cascade of event cancellations continued, with Thailand calling off its water festival in April and the Kentucky Derby reportedly prepared to delay the famous U.S. horse race for the first time since World War II. India shut down the Taj Mahal.

Some bright spots emerged. Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was first detected late last year and which has been under lockdown for weeks, reported just one new case Tuesday.

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. COVID-19 has killed over 7,100 people so far but more than 79,000 have recovered.

The economic toll from the crisis to both companies and individuals was only escalating. Shares reversed early losses in Asia on Tuesday after the U.S. stock market plunged to its worst day in more than three decades. Huge swaths of many economies have come to a standstill as businesses and travel shut down due to the outbreak.

"It's shocking, in a way. I'm still in the throes of processing it. It means I need to find a way to support myself from home," said Tyler Baldwin, a 29-year-old bartender in Seattle.

A senior South Korean health official, Kwon Jun-wook, urged people to take the virus seriously.

"In a similar way to how the Sept. 11 attacks completely changed people's perception about security, quarantine authorities like us believe the daily lives of all the people around the world will be changed because of COVID-19," Kwon told reporters Tuesday. "From now on, if you are sick, you should voluntarily rest to prevent a spread to others."

Malaysia banned foreign travel and is allowing only essential services to stay open. France allowed people to leave home only to buy food, go to work, or do essential tasks. French President Emmanuel Macron said the restrictions were tightened because people hadn't complied with earlier guidelines and "we are at war."

The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Somalia, which has one of Africa's weakest health systems.

As the pandemic expanded across Europe, the Mideast and the Americas, China and South Korea were trying to hold their hard-fought gains. China is quarantining new arrivals, who in recent days have accounted for an increasing number of cases, and South Korea will increase screenings of all overseas arrivals starting Thursday.

Infections have continued to slow in South Korea's worst-hit city of Daegu. But there's concern over a steady rise of infections around Seoul, where new clusters have emerged.

In the United States, officials urged older Americans and those with chronic health conditions to stay home, and recommended all group gatherings be capped at 10 people. Americans returning from abroad encountered chaotic airport health screenings that clearly broke all virus-fighting rules against crowds

School closings in 56 countries kept more than 516 million students home, the United Nations said. New York City joined those ranks Monday, closing a school system with 1.1 million students.

Some countries that had resisted more stringent measures snapped into action, too.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to eliminate unnecessary contact with others, working from home where possible and avoiding bars, restaurants, theaters and other venues. Schools remained opened for the time being.

Some scientists, and many worried Britons, have said the government should have taken tough action sooner.

Britain's dramatic escalation of social restrictions to fight COVID-19 was sparked by new scientific evidence suggesting that 250,000 people in the U.K. and more than 1 million in the U.S. might die if the country did not suppress the spread of the new coronavirus.

The analysis, published by Imperial College London epidemiologists, drew on the latest data from Italy. It found that a strategy of "mitigation" -- slowing but not stopping the spread of the virus while protecting vulnerable groups like the elderly -- would still lead to a huge number of cases that would overwhelm the health care system.

The scientists said a tougher "suppression" strategy would sharply reduce deaths but would "need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more)."

As the virus ebbed domestically, China promoted its efforts to help other virus-stricken countries, including Italy, South Korea and Iran.

"When everyone needs to work together to fight the epidemic, no country can stand aloof, and we all must work together to get over the difficulties," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang Geng told reporters.


Blake reported from Bangkok. Associated Press journalists Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Adam Geller in New York, Mike Corder in Amsterdam, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, Chris Bodeen and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, Kim Tong-hyung and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi contributed to this report.


The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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