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Millions stay home and troops on standby as world tackles coronavirus

About 137,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 5,000 have died.

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A woman rides along an almost deserted Piazza Navona in Rome, Thursday, March 12, 2020 as a sweeping lockdown is in place in Italy to try to prevent it from becoming the next epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)

A woman rides along an almost deserted Piazza Navona in Rome, Thursday, March 12, 2020 as a sweeping lockdown is in place in Italy to try to prevent it from becoming the next epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)

A woman rides along an almost deserted Piazza Navona in Rome, Thursday, March 12, 2020 as a sweeping lockdown is in place in Italy to try to prevent it from becoming the next epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)

Tens of millions of students are staying home on three continents, security forces are on standby to guard against large gatherings of people, and bars, restaurants and offices have closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus edged closer to the world’s power centres, with positive tests for the Canadian prime minister’s wife, a senior aide to Iran’s supreme leader, a Brazilian official who met President Donald Trump, and an Australian cabinet minister who met the US attorney general and also Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

French President Emmanuel Macron announced that leaders of the world’s largest democracies, the G7, would hold a video-conference summit on Monday to discuss co-ordinating research on a vaccine and treatments, as well as an economic response.

Channelling wartime rhetoric in the face of a microscopic enemy, leaders appealed for solidarity to battle a threat that appeared to expand exponentially. They vowed to protect not just the sick, but those sacrificing their livelihoods and education for the greater good.

With promises of financial support from the European Commission, France and Germany, stocks surged on Wall Street and in Europe a day after the market’s worst session in more than three decades.

With new infections rising sharply in Spain, the government put 60,000 people in four towns on a mandatory lockdown — the nation’s first and Europe’s second after drastic nationwide measures in Italy.

Waiters shut up shop in central Madrid
Waiters shut up shop in central Madrid (Manu Fernandez/AP)

In Madrid, which is struggling with nearly 2,000 infections, many in nursing homes, the government was pooling intensive care units and considering offers by hotel chains to transform rooms into sick wards.

Prime minister Pedro Sanchez announced a two-week state of emergency and pledged to “mobilise all resources”, including the military, to contain a sharp rise in cases.

In China, where new infections have tailed off, authorities mobilised to prevent a boomerang effect, quarantining new arrivals for 14 days. But the intensifying spread of Covid-19 beyond Asia dashed any hopes for containing the virus, despite drastic curbs on travel and social events.

Worldwide, 137,000 people have been infected and more than 5,000 have died, but half of those who had the virus have already recovered.

Most patients have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, but severe symptoms including pneumonia can occur, especially in the elderly and people with existing health problems.

While Washington scrambled to shape an economic rescue package, European officials pushed back against Mr Trump’s sharp restrictions on travel from Europe.

German finance minister Olaf Scholz said: “This is a virus, if I may say so, and it actually shows that solidarity is the only way that we can move forward as human beings.”

The exponential spread of the virus in Europe, North America and the Middle East has drawn contrasts with waning outbreaks in the hardest-hit nations in Asia. China, where the virus emerged late last year, still accounts for more than 60% of global infections but on Friday reported just eight new cases and seven deaths.

President Xi Jinping told the UN leader his nation is returning to normal and wants to conduct joint research on drugs and vaccines and offer “as much assistance as it can” to countries in need.

A Chinese medical crew arrived in Italy and surplus supplies were sent to Iran.

In South Korea, which had nearly 8,000 cases overall, Friday marked the first day recoveries outnumbered new infections since the country’s first patient was confirmed on January 20.

The pandemic’s new epicentre is Europe, the World Health Organisation confirmed. Italy’s death toll topped 1,200 with more than 17,000 confirmed cases. France, Spain and Germany all exceeded 2,000 cases each, and panic buying was seen around the continent.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

In Iran, which exceeds 10,000 cases and 400 deaths, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the Trump administration to immediately lift sanctions over the country’s nuclear programme. He said they made it difficult to import medicine and medical equipment.

State-run TV reported a positive test and home quarantine for Ali Akbar Velayati, a trusted adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the 80-year-old leader of the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s senior vice president, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials are also infected.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was isolating himself after his wife tested positive, and Canada’s House of Commons voted to shut down for at least five weeks.

Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie
Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press/AP)

Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton was in isolation in hospital after testing positive. He returned home on Sunday from Washington, where he met US attorney-general William Barr, Ivanka Trump and senator Lindsey Graham, who has self-quarantined.

Despite meeting a senior Brazilian official who tested positive, Mr Trump has no immediate plans to be tested or to self-quarantine, the White House said.

Across the US, where cases have topped 1,700, a sense of urgency was pervasive. Professional athletes and entertainers were among those infected.

PA