The Latest: Automaker closing Europe factories over virus
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 169,000 people and killed more than 6,500. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms but most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or people with existing health problems. More than 77,000 people have recovered from it so far, mostly in China.
The French automaker whose brands include Peugeot and Citroen says it is closing its factories in Europe until March 27 “due to the acceleration observed in recent days of serious cases of COVID-19.”
PSA Group said Monday that along with severe illnesses close to its production sites, it decided to close the factories because of supply chain disruptions and “the sudden decline in the automobile markets.”
The company said the shutdowns would be staggered beginning Monday in Madrid and France’s Mulhouse, and continue to other factories in France and Spain.
Labor unions that represent workers at two car plants in the Czech Republic are demanding a two-week quarantine for all workers over fears of the new virus.
The unions for workers at Skoda Auto, which belongs to Germany’s Volkswagen Group, say the measure would possibly prevent the spreading of the virus among the employees.
The unions say if their demand is met, production lines would stop at the plants.
Israel’s Health Ministry says more than 1,000 doctors and a similar number of nurses have been quarantined because of the new coronavirus.
The country’s health care system is already suffering from budget limitations linked to the prolonged political deadlock in Israel, which has not had a permanent government in more than a year.
Israel’s has 250 confirmed cases.
Trading on the Tel Aviv stock exchange was halted Monday after the two main indexes fell by over 8%.
A spokesman for the public health ministry in Afghanistan says 37 patients who are suspected to be infected with the new coronavirus ran away from a hospital.
Ministry spokesman Waheed Mayar confimed Monday that the patients escaped from the hospital in western Herat province with the help of relatives who assaulted doctors and nurses and shattered windows at the hospital.
An American broadcast journalist based in Rome who says he tested positive for the new coronavirus has used his professional platform to warn people to take COVID-19 seriously.
CBS News correspondent Seth Doane said Monday that he had tested positive for the virus over the weekend. Doane says he is self-quarantining at home with fairly light symptoms of a fever, chest pressure and cough, and so far his illness has been more psychologically than physically difficult.
Doane went on the air to get the word out about the seriousness of the virus and how people must behave responsibly if they are in contact with others already infected.
He said: “This is not what I want to be discussing on TV. It is not what I want to be known for. But I’m trying to be public and open because I think it’s vital that we stop the spread of this thing. It is vital that people inform people they’ve had contact with. I took it very personally.”
Sri Lankan authorities say they intend to take legal action against an individual infected with the new coronavirus who ignored repeated calls by health officials to seek testing and treatment after his traveling companion tested positive.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said Monday that the two Sri Lankans had traveled together in four European countries and returned on March 11. One was confirmed as infected with the virus the next day.
Rohana says health officials repeatedly asked the other person to undergo medical tests but he ignored the request for three days. He eventually admitted himself to a state-run hospital and tested positive for the virus.
The Netherlands has recorded its biggest daily jump in the number of coronavirus infections., with 278 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours.
The new cases reported Monday brought the country’s total to 1,413.
The Dutch public health institute said four more people also died of COVID-19, bringing the national death toll to 24.
The government on Sunday ordered all schools, bars, restaurants, sports clubs and sex clubs closed until April 6. The closures also affected the country’s famed marijuana-selling coffee shops, sparking panic buying of pot before the coffee shops closed Sunday evening.
Health Care Minister Bruno Bruins said more restrictive measures are expected to follow.
An orchestra conductor in England has been diagnosed with the new coronavirus.
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra said Monday that music director Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, is recovering in self-isolation at home.
The 33-year-old conductor from Lithuania announced Feb. 28 she was pregnant with her second child, with a due date in August.
Grazinyte-Tyla is next scheduled to conduct the orchestra on May 4.
The orchestra says that due to the coronavirus pandemic it is canceling all 10 concerts on an upcoming European tour.
Austrian Airlines is suspending all regular flights starting Thursday morning.
The Lufthansa subsidiary said Monday that it is cancelling all flights until March 28 and, where possible, will book passengers onto other airlines.
The last scheduled flight will arrive in Vienna from Chicago on Thursday morning. Austrian Airlines will keep two planes in service for flights to bring home Austrians from abroad.
Austria has reduced public life to a minimum in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
Lufthansa said that the Lufthansa Group, which includes Eurowings, Swiss and Brussels Airlines as well as Austrian Airlines, will cut its overall long-haul seat capacity by up to 90%.
And starting Tuesday, capacity on European flights will be only about 20% of what was originally planned. The new timetable is valid through April 12.
The Swiss city of Geneva is banning all gatherings of more than five people in response to the new coronavirus in one the most drastic limits on public gatherings short confining people to their homes.
Geneva social affairs department spokesman Henri Della Casa said the measure was about “common sense” and not “splitting up families” with more than five members.
The ban is one of a panoply of orders from the Geneva regional government set to take effect at 6 p.m. local time on Monday.
The regional government also is ordering the closure of all restaurants, bars, and retail shops aside from grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations, and the halting of all sporting events, religious services and “prostitution activities.”
Prostitution is legal but regulated in Switzerland.
Serbia’s army troops are being deployed to the country’s borders and streets of the capital, Belgrade, to reinforce a nationwide state of emergency that has been introduced in an effort to try stop the coronavirus outbreak.
Serbia’s Defense Ministry said Monday the soldiers will guard hospitals treating COVID-19 infected patients, border checkpoints, airports and train stations where bigger crowds are expected.
Serbia has closed its borders to foreigners and demanded self-isolation for returning Serbian citizens to up to 28 days, depending which country they visited. The measures also include voluntary isolation for all citizens except for visits to the shops and pharmacies and walking pets. People older than 70 were told not to leave their homes till further notice.
Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that if people continue to ignore the self-isolation orders, as they appear to be doing in Belgrade on Monday, the government will introduce a police-enforced curfew. Serbia has 55 infected patients.
Turkey highest religious authorities says it is suspending Friday prayers and other communal prayers in tens of thousands of mosques across the country in a bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Ali Erbas, the head of head of religious affairs directorate, said Monday prayers are suspended until the threat from the virus dissipates. He urged worshippers to hold prayers at homes.
In further measures to prevent an outbreak, Turkey’s justice minister said earlier that the country was postponing some court hearings and sending on leave judges and prosecutors above the age of 60.
Turkey, wich has reported 18 confirmed cases of the virus, has stepped up measures to combat its spread.
It has suspended inbound flights from 15 locations, closed schools and universities, ordered bars and night clubs shut and set up locations to quarantine more than 10,300 people returning from pilgrimages to Islam’s holy sites in Saudi Arabia.
Greece is imposing a compulsory 14-day quarantine on anyone entering the country and extending shop closures to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
So far, all restaurants, bar and cafes have already shut down, except for deliveries and take-aways. Deputy government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said the expanded closures as of Wednesday would not affect supermarkets, pharmacies, banks or gas stations.
Peloni also said people were required to maintain a two-meter distance from each other in supermarket queues and to avoid cash payments by using credit or debit cards,
He said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his family had tested negative for the virus. Greece has 331 infected and four deaths.
Spain has become the fourth most virus-infected country in the world, surpassing South Korea with a sharp curve of contagion, and closing its borders is a “real possibility” being considered.
The topic will be discussed by European Union members on Monday, according to the country’s interior minister.
Coronavirus cases in Spain rose by roughly 1,000 cases in 24 hours to 9,191 on Monday, and the number of fatalities reached 309.
Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said a total lockdown could be the next step, after deploying the army to the streets and to clean train stations, ordering 46 million to stay at home and taking over control of private hospitals.
Portugal and Spain have already agreed to halt tourism across their 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) shared border. Goods and workers will still be allowed in and out. About half of the deaths have been in the capital, Madrid.
Hungary’s prime minister says the country is closing its borders to foreigners and only citizens will be allowed in. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Monday in Parliament that international coordination about the border closures is underway.
Orban also said all bars, restaurants and shops will have to close daily at 3 p.m., with only food stores, pharmacies and drug stores allowed to stay open longer.
Cinemas, cultural institutions and nightclubs will also be closed, while sporting events can still be held if organizers assume responsibility, but only without spectators.
Schools were closed to students on Monday, with distance learning programs starting to be implemented. So far, 30 people in Hungary have been infected with one virus-related death.
The former Soviet republic of Georgia is banning the entrance of foreign citizens beginning Wednesday in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.
European Union leaders will hold a video-conference summit on efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has now infected around 40,000 people across Europe, and claimed some 2,000 lives.
EU Council President Charles Michel, who chairs summits of prime ministers and presidents from the 27 EU nations, said via Twitter on Monday that he was calling on Tuesday what will be the second meeting of its kind in two weeks.
“Containing the spread of the virus, providing sufficient medical equipment, boosting research and limiting the economic fallout is key,” Michel tweeted.
The EU is urging its member countries to put common health screening procedures in place at their borders to limit the spread of the virus, but not to block the transport of important medical equipment.
U.K.-based airlines, including British Airways and Ryanair, are scaling back flights dramatically in response to the coronavirus crisis that has seen Europe and the wider world go into lockdown.
EasyJet said it is introducing “further significant cancellations” as a result of the restrictions and “significantly reduced levels of customer demand.” It added that these will continue on “a rolling basis for the foreseeable future” and could result in the grounding of most of its fleet.
BA’s parent company IAG, which also owns Spain’s Iberia, also announced plans to reduce capacity. For April and May, it said it plans to reduce capacity by at least 75% from the previous year. It also said it is reducing operating expenses, by grounding surplus aircraft and implementing voluntary leave options.
And Ryanair said its expects that the restrictions will mean the grounding of the majority of its aircraft fleet across Europe over the next seven to 10 days.
China is relaxing travel restrictions in the hardest-hit virus province of Hubei, sending thousands of workers back to jobs at factories desperate to get production going again.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that cities just outside the epicenter ofWuhan were chartering buses to send back to work residents who had returned home for the Lunar New Year in late January.
The move comes as Chinese officials say the outbreak that spread from Wuhan starting in December has mostly run its course domestically, while they remain vigilant against imported cases.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has has a devastating effect on China’s service sector and industries from autos to cell phones, although President Xi Jinping has pledged that economic growth targets for the year will still be met.
Xinhua cited local officials as saying that 750,000 migrant workers alone in the city of Huangguang adjacent to Wuhan have been unable to return to their jobs.
Iranian state TV says the new coronavirus has killed another 129 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 853 amid 14,991 confirmed cases.
Iran is struggling to contain the worst outbreak in the Middle East. Monday saw the biggest one-day rise in the death toll since the epidemic began. Even senior officials have been infected.
World Health Organization officials say that Iran’s outbreak is being reported.
Belgium’s political parties have agreed to temporary put their differences aside to fight the coronavirus outbreak more efficiently. After months of failed negotiations, opposition parties agreed to grant Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes’ caretaker government special powers for up to six months.
Wilmes said late Sunday on Twitter that her team will be “driven by a sense of duty. This great union is up to the challenges of the moment.”
Belgium has been in a political impasse for months after last May’s general election exposed deep linguistic and regional divisions in the country. Belgium’s first female prime minister, Wilmes was appointed in October to succeed liberal leader Charles Michel, who became president of the European Council.
In an attempt to stop the spreading of the COVID-19 virus, Wilmes’ government has closed schools, bars and restaurants and suspended all sports and cultural events. Belgium has 1,085 confirmed cases and four deaths.
The Czech Interior Ministry is calling on all citizens to use any face protection available, especially while shopping and using the public transport.
“Any protection is better than no protection,” the ministry said. It advised people to stay at home, if possible.
Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech acknowledged over the weekend that the medical sector lacks up to a million respirators.
The government has banned traveling across the country, starting Monday. People still can travel to work, visit doctors or do shopping. The Czech Republic has 298 COVID-19 cases.
South Africa will revoke nearly 10,000 visas issued this year to people from China and Iran, and visas will now be required for other high-risk countries that had been visa-free, including Italy and the United States.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says a lockdown might be necessary if tough new measures announced Sunday, including travel restrictions and school closings, don’t work. He warns of a high risk of internal virus transmission with “the problem of inequality in our society.”
South Africans worry about the spread of the virus to crowded townships or public transport. Confirmed virus cases have doubled every two days over 10 days to 61, a rate he called “explosive.”
Elsewhere, Africa’s second most populous nation, Ethiopia, has suspended schools, sporting events and other large gatherings for 15 days.
Bavarian authorities say that runoff mayoral elections in the southern German state will be conducted entirely by postal vote to reduce risks of infection with the new coronavirus.
Polling stations opened as usual, though with increased hygienic precautions, for the first round of municipal elections on Sunday.
On Monday, though, Bavaria’s state government tightened its restrictions on public life, saying that it would close bars, cinemas and some shops among other things. The regional interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said that the runoff votes in two weeks will be held “exclusively by postal ballot.”
Among the cities and towns where a runoff vote will be needed is the state capital, Munich, where center-left mayor Dieter Reiter fell narrowly short of the 50% support needed to avoid a second round.
The government of Kosovo has declared the state of emergency due to the coronavirus threat. Kosovo has 13 COVID-19 cases. It has closed all its borders and suspended flights from its only international airport. The government has closed all schools, cafes, restaurants and gyms and banned mass gatherings.
Germany has partially closed its borders with five neighbors, leading to queues at some crossings.
German police launched new controls at the usually check-free borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark on Monday. Police turned back some pedestrians at Kehl, across the Rhine river from the French city of Strasbourg.
People who commute across the border to work are still allowed to cross, as can trucks carrying goods, and Germans are being allowed back in. But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that people “without a valid reason to travel” wouldn’t be allowed across.
That, for example, ends trips to shops across the border for now.
Denmark shut own border over the weekend – as did two eastern neighbors of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Lithuania’s government said a convoy of some 500 vehicles — mostly Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Ukrainians — will be allowed to enter Poland from Germany and transit toward Lithuania on Monday.
Germany has confirmed over 4,800 infections with the new coronavirus, including 12 deaths.
Bangladesh’s government has shut down all all educational institutions and private tutorial centers across the country until March 31.
Education Minister Dipu Moni said at a news conference Monday in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, that the measures were taken as a precautionary step against the coronavirus. Bangladesh confirmed three more cases of infection on Monday, taking the total to eight. ___
Czech authorities are ordering a lockdown of 21 towns and villages in an area some 250 kilometers (150 miles) east of the capital to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
The health authority in the nearby city of Olomouc barred residents from leaving those places and no one without residency can travel there. The extraordinary measure initially for two weeks includes confining people to their homes except to shop for food and medicine and go to and from work.
The Czech Republic has 298 cases of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.
The measure comes just hours after the government banned traveling across the country.
Iranian news agencies say a 78-year-old member of the Iranian clerical body that chooses the country’s supreme leader has died from the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
He was the latest of several senior Iranian officials to have been infected in the worsening outbreak.
The outbreak has infected nearly 14,000 people in Iran and killed more than 700, with the toll jumping by more than a hundred in the last 24 hours. The real numbers may be even higher, as some have questioned the government’s reporting.
The Peace Corps is evacuating all of its volunteers and suspending operations in dozens of countries.
Director Jody Olsen says Sunday’s decision comes as “international travel becomes more and more challenging by the day.” She said the agency wanted to avoid leaving volunteers stranded in host countries.
As of September 2019, the service program run by the U.S. government said it operates in more than 60 countries and has more than 7,300 volunteers and trainees. Volunteers in China and Mongolia have already been evacuated over virus concerns.
Olsen says host country staff will remain in their current roles.
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