Borders close and travellers scramble to return home as virus crisis deepens

Tens of millions of people are hunkering down in government-ordered isolation as borders slam shut, schools and businesses close and drastic restrictions on movement take effect across the globe in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Others are scrambling to get home, caught up in widespread travel restrictions.

From south-east Asia to Europe to the Americas, people’s lives are being upended by lockdowns and social distancing.

In the US, the White House is understood to be proposing a roughly 850 billion dollar emergency economic stimulus to tackle the effects of the illness.

Spain, now the fourth-most infected country, saw infections rise on 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 have more infections.

With the number of cases worldwide topping 183,000, a surge of patients in Madrid’s hospitals has fuelled worries across Europe of what lies ahead.

Pleas have gone out to send masks and ventilators to Italy and Spain, which are struggling with soaring caseloads.

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

Iranian state TV warned the virus could kill “millions” in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps on travelling, ignoring health guidance.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(PA Graphics)</figcaption>
(PA Graphics)

World Health Organisation officials have said the number of cases there – nearly 15,000 with 853 deaths – have been sharply under-reported.

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

Turkey plans to evacuate 3,614 citizens stranded in nine European countries after flights were suspended, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Germany launched a €50 million effort to bring home thousands of tourists stranded in popular winter holiday destinations across the globe, including up to 5,000 in Morocco alone.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(PA Graphics)</figcaption>
(PA Graphics)

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

In Lithuania, trucks seeking to enter Poland backed up in a 37-mile queue after Poland closed its border to foreigners.

German police have organised 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 famous US horse race the Kentucky Derby delayed until September – the first time it has been postponed since the Second World War.

Meanwhile, India shut down the Taj Mahal.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Workers disinfecting a mosque in Indonesia (Trisnadi/AP)</figcaption>
Workers disinfecting a mosque in Indonesia (Trisnadi/AP)

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 on 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 more than 7,100 people so far, but more than 79,000 have recovered.

The economic toll from the crisis to both companies and individuals is escalating. Swathes of many economies have come to a standstill as businesses and travel shut down.

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 carry out essential tasks. President Emmanuel Macron said the restrictions were tightened because people had not complied with earlier guidelines, and declared: “We are at war.”

As the pandemic expands across Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, China and South Korea are 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 on Thursday.

Infections have continued to slow in South Korea’s worst-hit city of Daegu. But there is 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 which clearly broke all virus-fighting rules forbidding large crowds.

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

Shoppers in Malaysia stood in long queues to stock up at picked-over supermarkets, while commuters in the Philippines waited in huge traffic jams at checkpoints set up to take their temperatures before entering the capital of Manila.

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

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang Geng told reporters: “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.”

    Useful information

  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people – this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department;
  • GPs Out of Hours services are not in a position to order testing for patients with normal cold and flu-like symptoms. HSELive is an information line and similarly not in a position to order testing for members of the public. The public is asked to reserve 112/999 for medical emergencies at all times.
  • ALONE has launched a national support line and additional supports for older people who have concerns or are facing difficulties relating to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Ireland. The support line will be open seven days a week, 8am-8pm, by calling 0818 222 024


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