- The UK is in lockdown, as Prime Minster Boris Johnson orders people to stay at home.
- The Tokyo Olympics are postponed for a year.
- This is how countries around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across the globe, there have been more than 395,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus, as of 24 March.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games have become the biggest international event to be affected by the spread of the virus, as they have now been postponed for a year.
The new coronavirus has been characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained: “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
As new cases continue to be reported around the world, here’s a glimpse of the measures being taken to contain the outbreak.
On 17 March, European leaders agreed to close the European Union’s external borders. The decision followed a proposal by European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Only essential travel will be allowed for at least a month – but the ban doesn’t affect trade.
On 13 March, Slovakia, Malta and the Czech Republic announced they would close off their borders to fellow EU member states in an effort to contain the outbreak.
Switzerland, not a member of the EU but part of the European Schengen free-trade agreement, has tightened border controls with its neighbours. Geneva closed commercial activities and banned meetings of more than five people, as well as religious services.
France went into lockdown on 17 March, with President Emmanuel Macron saying people should only leave home to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise or receive medical care. It will deploy 100,000 troops to enforce the new rules.
On 20 March, the country known for its Tour de France cycle race, went a step further and banned recreational cycling. It also ruled that people could only exercise within a mile (2km) of their homes.
The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the strictest measures for the country yet on 23 March, which amounted to a partial lockdown. He said people could only leave home to buy essential food and medicine, to exercise once a day, and travel to work where “absolutely necessary”.
He banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods. The new measures came at the end of the first day of school closures, as many parents were coming to terms with homeschooling.
In a bid to draft extra health-workers to tackle the outbreak, letters have been sent to more than 65,000 retired doctors and nurses in England and Wales asking them to return to the country’s National Health Service.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told up to a million British tourists currently on holiday overseas to consider staying abroad as countries close borders, saying it would be an “epic challenge” to get them back.
Meanwhile, in an effort to help slow the virus’ spread, Norwegians were asked to return home from their holiday mountain cabins. The recommendation was made to ensure smaller municipalities could support their core populations. Anyone caught breaking their quarantine or self-isolation at home could face a fine or imprisonment, according to new guidelines from the Norwegian government.
Italy, which has the highest number of cases of coronavirus after China, has extended its emergency measures. These include scrapping the final exams of 10,000 student doctors. They will be immediately deployed to work as general practitioners or in care homes for the elderly, freeing up more experienced doctors to go to hospitals and ease the burden on the country’s health service.
In Italy, nationwide restrictions on travel are in place and all shops – apart from food stores and pharmacies – are closed, as are schools, gyms, museums, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs.
On 21 March, as the country announced nearly 800 deaths in a single day, Italy expanded its lockdown by ordering the closing of all non-essential businesses and factories. The government has also called in the military to enforce the lockdown.
However, one town in the worst-hit northern region of Italy has managed to slow the spread by experimenting with blanket testing. Vò, near Venice, began testing its entire population of 3,300 people when the pandemic began.
It imposed strict quarantine on those infected and their contacts and, as of 13 March, the town has not registered any new cases.
Spain on 14 March announced a 15-day state of emergency, ordering bars, restaurants and most shops to close, and restricting transport.
Many other European countries have closed schools, urged people who can to work from home to do so and banned mass gatherings. (As of 13 March, 61 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America had announced school and university closures, affecting almost half a billion students around the world.)
On 16 March, Germany closed its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland, except for commercial traffic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a press conference on 11 March that 60-70% of the population could contract COVID-19. The cities of Berlin and Cologne have closed all bars, clubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.
Governments and businesses are taking steps to mitigate the impact on business and to help provide essential equipment. The Danish government announced that until 9 June the government would pay 75% of employees’ salaries for private companies who are struggling, providing they didn’t cut staff.
“If there’s a big drop in activity, and production is halted, we understand the need to send home employees. But we ask you: Don’t fire them,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a news conference on 15 March.
The US has urged people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, superseding the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on 15 March, which asked Americans to cancel or postpone gatherings of 50 people or more over the next 8 weeks.
On 20 March, California ordered its 40 million residents to stay at home, as modelling showed without action more than half of them would contract the virus in two months, requiring nearly 20,000 more hospital beds than the state could provide.
On 15 March, New York City closed nightclubs, movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues. Restaurants can continue to operate, but from 17 March, they could do take-out business only. As cases continued to rise, New York mandated the closing of all non-essential businesses in the state by Sunday 22 March.
Nearly one in four Americans have been ordered to stay at home at this point.
Canada became the first country to boycott the Tokyo Olympics on 23 March. The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the event due to take place this summer, saying the global health crisis was “more significant than sport”.
On 16 March, the country closed its borders to anyone who was not a citizen or permanent resident.
In January, Wuhan, China, which is home to more than 11 million people, was the first city to go into lockdown, with buses, trains and flights out of the city cancelled. The restrictions were extended to other cities in Hubei province, creating a huge quarantine zone of around 50 million people.
On 11 March, some key industries in Wuhan were told they could resume, a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited for the first time since the outbreak began.
On 13 March, just five new cases were reported in Wuhan, and no locally transmitted infections were reported in the rest of China.
Then, on 19 March, no new domestic transmissions were reported in China for the first time. Wuhan is the only city in Hubei still considered ‘high-risk’, but if no new case is reported for 14 days, the lockdown could gradually be lifted.
And South Korea – where an outbreak surged at around the same time as Italy’s – reported the number of people recovering from the virus outpaced new infections for the first time.
Hong Kong, meanwhile, stepped up its travel restrictions. From 13 March, all arrivals from Italy, and parts of France, Germany, and Japan were put under mandatory quarantine for 14 days.
At the same time, Taiwan, China announced plans to ramp up the manufacturing of medical protective masks – in a bid to supply 100,000 masks per week to the United States.
On 24 March, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the postponement of the Olympic Games, which were due to be held in Tokyo in July.
Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach agreed to the year-long delay – a first in the history of the modern Games – with Abe telling reporters they will be held by the summer of 2021.
Saudi Arabia imposed a curfew on 23 March – to keep people indoors between 7pm and 6am for 21 days.
It comes after the country recorded 119 new cases of the virus on 22 March, bringing the total to 511, the highest number in the Gulf region, according to the Health Ministry.
Dubai-based Emirates Airline announced it would suspend passenger flights from 25 March for a two-week period, which could be renewed. It came after the United Arab Emirates stopped all inbound and outbound and transit passenger flights – although cargo operations will continue.
India has quarantined itself for a month, restricting entry to UN officials and other diplomats. The country received praise from the WHO for taking “fast and aggressive” action to limit the spread, including encouraging social distancing.
Dr. Henk Bekedam, the WHO’s representative in India, told the New York Times
coronavirus cases in the country were all “traceable” and there was no evidence yet of community transmission or a higher unofficial patient count.
“I have been quite impressed with India,” Dr. Bekedam said. “From the onset they’ve been taking it very seriously.”
“Apart from ensuring the safe return of hundreds of Indians from China, Iran and other countries, the Indian government has taken decisive measures to contain community spread,” said Sriram Gutta, Head of Community Development, India and South Asia at the World Economic Forum.
On 18 March, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared a national human biosecurity emergency and announced new measures including an indefinite new ban on indoor groups of 100 people or more, with exemptions for schools, public transport, universities, prisons, courts, supermarkets and worksites.
He also urged people not to panic-buy, saying hoarding was “un-Australian”.
Australia has banned entry to anyone from mainland China, Korea, Iran and Italy. The chief medical officer of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, said models suggested 5% of the state’s population – some 350,000 people – would need hospital treatment as a result of coronavirus.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country would go into a month-long lockdown from 23:59 on 25 March.
Schools, businesses and all-but-essential services would be required to close down to stem the spread of infection, as cases rose past 100.
Ardern said: “The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable, it would represent the greatest loss of New Zealanders’ lives in our history and I will not take that chance.”
She had previously announced everyone arriving in the country will have to isolate themselves for 14 days.
Nations in South and Central America have also increased measures to contain the infection. Panama has banned entry of non-resident foreigners and Honduras closed its borders to passenger traffic for a week.
The World Economic Forum’s Head of Business Engagement, Latin America, Silvio Dulinsky, said as reported cases leapt from 100 in just over a week across the region, it was stepping up action.
“Currently more than 10 countries already have closed their borders allowing only nationals and residents to enter (and stay in quarantine).”
But he added that experts were raising questions on the effectiveness of the measures as the virus is already spreading among the population in the countries.
“At this stage, the only effective measure is to minimize social contact among residents.”
Trade was not affected by the border closures, to avoid further disruption to the countries’ economies, and some governments were exploring ways to collaborate, which Dulinsky said was good news.
“In a region that can benefit so much from further integration this might be an unexpected positive side-benefit of this terrible tragedy.”
The South African government declared a national disaster on 15 March and banned travel to the most-affected countries, amid concerns that coronavirus will derail economic recovery. Kenya has also imposed sweeping travel restrictions.
African countries are adapting lessons from Ebola, says Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum.
“While young adults seem to suffer less with the virus, we could still see increased strain on healthcare systems. Limiting the spread of the virus will be important.”
The African Centre for Disease Control – the pan-African authority on public health created to respond to Ebola – has been supporting countries with the repurposing of screenings, surveillance systems and isolation wards for COVID-19. Forty-three countries can currently test for the virus.
Economically, there are multiple concerns, says Kanza.
“With a global market slowdown, governments are likely to be looking at how to buffer the economic impact of the spread of this virus.
“We are likely to see a temporary hit due to the slowdown of European markets – a major trading partner for Africa – but the good news is that China’s factories are starting to switch back on and this could mitigate lasting damage.”