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Millions hunker down around the world as coronavirus crisis deepens

From south-east Asia to Europe, the Americas and Africa, people’s lives have been upended by Covid-19.

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Workers wearing protective gear disinfect as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Tuesday. South Korea’s baseball season is one of the countless events and institutions affected by the coronavirus (Lee Jin-man/AP)

Workers wearing protective gear disinfect as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Tuesday. South Korea’s baseball season is one of the countless events and institutions affected by the coronavirus (Lee Jin-man/AP)

Workers wearing protective gear disinfect as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Tuesday. South Korea’s baseball season is one of the countless events and institutions affected by the coronavirus (Lee Jin-man/AP)

With borders slamming shut, schools and businesses closing and and increasingly drastic restrictions on movement, tens of millions of people hunkered down on Tuesday, heeding government calls to isolate themselves and slow the spread of the 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 city.

Officials in seven San Francisco Bay Area counties issued a sweeping shelter-in-place mandate, ordering millions of residents to stay at home and go outside only for food, medicine and outings that were absolutely essential.

The cancellations of treasured holidays and community events continued to build.

Thailand said it would likely call off its water festival in April, and organisers of the Kentucky Derby reportedly preparing to postpone the horse race for the first time since World War II, pushing it from May to September.

Fresh moves to contain the virus came even as 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 fronts in the battle have now shifted outside China, with its caseload now outnumbered by those outside its borders.

Spain is now the fourth-most infected country, surpassing South Korea, where new cases have been subsiding, and edging closer to Iran.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The number of deaths in Spain has jumped from 309 to 491 in 24 hours and new infections have risen to 11,178, nearly 2,000 more than a day earlier.

The numbers were reported by the nation’s health emergency centre director, Fernando Simon.

Spanish police started enforcing land border checks Tuesday after the country, which is already under strict lockdown measures, banned people from entering or exiting the country in an attempt to contain the spread of the illness.

At the La Jonquera border, a key crossing point for trucks from and to France in north-eastern Spain, masked agents of Spain’s national and Catalan regional police stopped cars and trucks, checked documents and redirected some of the vehicles back to France.

Spanish citizens and residents are allowed to return home, and goods are allowed in and out.

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

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. More than 79,000 people have recovered from the illness.

Nevertheless a growing sense of crisis has hit financial markets. Shares reversed early losses in Asia on Tuesday after the US stock market plunged to its worst day in more than three decades and huge swaths of many economies came to a standstill.

Virus Outbreak Indonesia
Workers disinfecting a mosque in Indonesia (Trisnadi/AP)

Only China, Italy and Iran have more infections than Spain.

A somber Mr Rutte told viewers “a large part” of the Netherlands’ 17 million people were likely to contract the virus. So far, 1,413 people have tested positive there and 24 have died. The government closed schools, restaurants and bars and banned gatherings of more than 100 people.

Countries from Canada to Switzerland, Russia and Malaysia announced sharp new restrictions on the movement of people across their borders.

“We have a window of time at the moment to slow the spread of the virus,” said Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Germany’s government, which reversed its earlier insistence that border controls would not work.

Germany imposed new limits on crossings with France, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Luxembourg, after German infections increased by more than 1,000 over 24 hours.

Malaysia, which has seen a surge of new cases, 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 complete other essential tasks, restrictions President Emmanuel Macron said were heightened because people had not complied with earlier guidelines.

The first confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Somalia were reported. The country has one of Africa’s weakest health systems after nearly three decades of conflict.

As the pandemic expanded its reach, 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 from Thursday.

Italy reported another jump in infections, up more than 3,000 to 27,980. With 2,158 deaths — including 349 more in just the 24 hours to Monday night — Italy now accounts for more than a quarter of the global death toll. Cases, however, slowed in Lombardy, the hardest-hit region.

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 having packed crowds close together.

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.

PA