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Governments close borders and tighten restrictions to tackle coronavirus

EU leaders have agreed to shut down the bloc’s external borders for 30 days.

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Screening for the virus is carried out in Carolina, Puerto Rico (AP)

Screening for the virus is carried out in Carolina, Puerto Rico (AP)

Screening for the virus is carried out in Carolina, Puerto Rico (AP)

Governments around the globe are seeking to implement border closures, travel restrictions and lockdowns to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

European Union leaders have agreed to shut down the bloc’s external borders for 30 days, while the US and Canada are reportedly working out the details of a mutual ban on non-essential travel between the two countries.

In south-east Asia, the causeway between Malaysia and the financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet after Malaysia shut its borders, while the Philippines backed down on an order giving foreigners 72 hours to leave a large part of its main island.

American president Donald Trump’s administration is reportedly considering a plan to immediately return all people who cross America’s southern border illegally to Mexico.

The coronavirus has now spread to every state in the US, with West Virginia becoming the last to report an infection.

Hawaii’s governor encouraged travellers to postpone their island holidays for at least the next 30 days, while the governor of Nevada – home to Las Vegas – ordered a month-long closure of the state’s casinos.

Amid increasing fears about the economic fallout of the global shutdown, the US, UK and the Netherlands announced rescue packages totalling hundreds of billions of dollars, while longtime International Monetary Fund critic Venezuela has asked the institution for a five billion dollar (£4.1 billion) loan.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Major Asian stock markets opened higher on Wednesday following Mr Trump’s promise of aid to get the US economy through the outbreak.

In Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said there had been “a unanimous and united approach” to the decision to prohibit most foreigners from entering the EU for 30 days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European leaders agreed in a conference call to the commission’s proposal for an entry ban to the bloc — along with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and the UK — with “very, very limited exceptions”.

Germany will implement the decision immediately.

On Monday, the EU issued guidelines to ease the flow of critical goods like food and medicine, while helping individual nations restrict non-essential travel.

Haneda International Airport
A list of cancelled flights at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo (AP)

However, on Tuesday there was chaos at many borders, with traffic backed up for dozens of miles.

A queue of cars and trucks in Lithuania was about 37 miles long after Poland closed its border. Similar traffic jams were visible on the borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, droves of Malaysians endured hours-long traffic jams as they sought to get into Singapore before the border closure. More than 300,000 people commute daily to Singapore to work and many have chosen to stay there during the lockdown.

Malaysia’s restricted movement order came after a sharp spike in coronavirus cases to 673, making it the worst-affected country in south-east Asia. About two thirds of the cases are linked to a mass religious gathering at a mosque in a Kuala Lumpur suburb that has also led to illness in participants from Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia.

Security checks in the Philippines
A security guard checks on Chinese passengers covered with plastic bags at the departure level of Manila’s International Airport (AP)

The self-governing island of Taiwan said on Wednesday that it would ban foreigners from entry and Taiwanese nationals would have to self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

In Thailand, Bangkok’s notorious red light districts were due to go dark on Wednesday after a government order closing bars, schools, movie theatres and many other venues.

French president Emmanuel Macron tightened internal guidelines, allowing people to leave home only to buy food, go to work or carry out essential tasks. He said people had not complied with earlier guidelines and “we are at war”.

The global number of cases worldwide of the virus now exceeds 197,000, though more than 81,000 of them have recovered, mostly in China.

Quiet streets in Brooklyn
A pedestrian walks their dog through a quiet street, in the Brooklyn borough of New York (AP)

Iran said another 147 people have died, pushing the death toll to 1,135 in the country’s biggest 24-hour rise yet

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, the disease caused by the virus, has killed more than 7,900 people.

In Italy, infections jumped to 27,980 on Tuesday. With 2,503 deaths, Italy accounts for a third of the global death toll.

Spain, the fourth-most infected country, saw its cases rise by more than 2,000 in one day to 11,178. Deaths from Covid-19 jumped to 491, a toll that included 17 elderly residents of a Madrid nursing home who died over five days.

Some bright spots have 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 for a second straight day on Wednesday.

In the US, the death toll surpassed 100, and officials urged older Americans and those with health problems to stay at home. They also recommended all group gatherings be capped at 10 people. California’s governor said most of the state’s schools would probably be closed until the autumn.

The pandemic roiled US primary elections Tuesday in four states. Ohio called off the vote hours before polls were to open, but voting went on in Illinois, Arizona and Florida.

PA