Countries around the world are tightening measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, bringing non-essential store shopping to a virtual standstill and emptying once-bustling high streets.
Roughly 100 million Europeans are living in a partial lockdown mode as France and Spain issue sweeping restrictions engineered to stem the spread of the deadly disease, as Europe has become the new epicenter of an outbreak that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the turn of the year.
The actions follow Italy’s decision to shut down schools, business and travel last Monday.
Italy, considered ground zero for Europe’s outbreak, has already recorded more than 1,440 deaths and more than 21,000 cases. With more than 6,000 cases and 191 deaths, Spain appears to be the worst-hit country after Italy.
In Spain, newly announced emergency restrictions ban people from leaving their homes except to buy food and medicine, or to go to work. And in France, which has 91 deaths from the virus, most restaurants, cafes, stores and movie theaters are now closed.
Germany where more than 5,000 cases are confirmed, said it will close its borders to France, Switzerland and Austria, which Sunday banned public gatherings of more than five people, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. People in Austria, where more than 800 cases and one death have been reported, are permitted to leave home only for work, to make essential purchases like food, and to help others.
In a press conference just days ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that up to 70 percent of the country’s population, or 58 million people, could be infected by COVID-19.
The United Kingdom has yet to impose countrywide restrictions but seniors over the age of 70 have been warned to prepare to self-isolate “within weeks,” an indication that the country could follow its European counterparts and shut down bars, restaurants and stores to slow down the spread of the virus.
In the U.S., President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a press briefing shortly after noontime on Saturday to update on U.S. plans to combat the virus. Trump on Friday declared a national state of emergency, and The White House said Saturday that the president’s coronavirus test results came back negative.
“We’re using the full power of the government to defeat the virus,” Trump said Saturday.
Late Friday night the House of Representatives and the White House agreed on a financing package to help the nation combat the rapidly spreading virus, and free testing is part of that deal. The package, a bipartisan negotiation that Trump said was achieved through the efforts of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and will be presented before the Senate on Monday. Trump already said he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
At the briefing, Trump said there are a “lot of other things we’re doing,” but didn’t elaborate.
“We’re all in this together. It came out of China. It’s one of those things. It’s nobody’s fault. We’re all in this together,” Trump reiterated.
After cases rose quickly in the U.K. overnight, Trump has also banned entry from people traveling to the U.S. from that nation and Ireland beginning Monday at midnight, on top of the restrictions announced Friday banning travelers from the rest of Europe. U.S. citizens will still be allowed entry, but will undergo mandatory virus checks and agree to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“We continue to emphasize that the risk to most Americans remains low,” Pence said, adding that senior citizens with serious underlying conditions are at the greatest risk.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist who heads up the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, has become a fixture at White House coronavirus briefings.
“As of late Friday afternoon, globally 129 countries have the virus. Over 132,000 [people] are infected, with 7,500 new cases,” Dr. Fauci said.
The U.S. confirmed between 2,200 to 2,600 cases as of Friday afternoon, with 50 deaths. The data indicated 532 new cases and nine new deaths, reflecting an acceleration in the spread of the disease.
“We have not reached our peak,” Dr. Fauci added, referring to the bell curve that shows a high spike in the number of cases as it hits its peak. “Built in that is a challenge. The challenge is still an opportunity to influence that curve.”
The procedures that Fauci said are being instituted will attempt to flatten that curve. By slowing down the spread over a longer period of time, the top of the bell curve will be lower–a flattening–and therefore reflect a slower rate of infections. This is why experts are encouraging the practice of social distancing, on top of the decisions by state, local and federal governments and the private sector to limit or close certain venues or businesses.
Globally, other countries not in the hot-spot zones are mobilizing and planning their own procedures to curtail the spread of the virus.
Argentina is planning a 10-day lockdown, per a radio interview Sunday with Argentinian president Alberto Fernández. The country already has suspended flights from the U.S., Europe, Iran, South Korea and China, all nations that have been or are now the “hot spots” for COVID-19.
Australia and New Zealand have imposed a 14-day self-isolation period for anyone entering the countries, starting Sunday at midnight. And Canada has urged its citizens to return, while they are still able to do so.